How Wizards Can Fix It’s Competitive System: A Rough Overview on the Structure as a Whole

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Hello everyone! If you knew me personally, or really at all, you would know I love Magic. I think it’s the best game in the world and I’m very unlikely to change that opinion, but that doesn’t mean we can’t scrutinize it. Complaining and Magic are eternally bound together, but there are two major complaints that I have been extremely sympathetic towards the past few years. One, is how Wizards can improve their card designs, a point I already talked about and many of you were very receptive to, something I greatly appreciate!

The second thing I want to comment on is Wizard’s competitive structure. I will say pre-emptively that this topic is absolutely mind-boggling huge with all the caveats and nuances, so I want to focus on the major points of the system. I won’t be breaking down individual tournaments or specified point amounts or prizes because that is simply too great of a task for a single article. Anyway, before I delve into my argument, let me quickly remind everyone of what the old Pro System was and what the new Pro System is.

OLD PRO SYSTEM

Old Fogey | Old Fogey - Magic: the Gathering MTG

Thank you to https://mtg.gamepedia.com for being a great resource for this section!

The “old” pro system (which is technically not the first system but the most well known) was the Pro Players Club implemented in 2005. The different levels of the Pro System were Bronze (which was added with the original statuses in 2017), Silver, Gold, and finally Platinum. The different tiers required different point requirements (10, 22, 37, and 52 respectively) and these points could be earned by having high placements in GPs and Pro Tours. These cycles would be yearly and at the end of each year, your points would determine your ranking. Let’s have a look at the perks of accumulating these points.

Bronze:

  • Two Byes at all individual-format GPs
  • Invitation to your country’s Nationals
  • An invitation to one Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ) during each RPTQ season

Silver:

  • Two Byes at all individual-format GPs
  • Invitation to the Pro Tour
  • Invitation to your country’s Nationals
  • 15 QPs each month for the Magic Online Championship Series
  • An invitation to one Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ) during each RPTQ season

Gold:

  • Three Byes at all individual-format Pro Tours
  • Invitation to the Pro Tour with expense-paid airline tickets
  • Invitation and one bye to your country’s Nationals
  • 35 QPs each month for the Magic Online Championship Series

Platinum:

  • Three Byes at all individual-format Pro Tours
  • Sleep in Special at GPs when applicable
  • Invitation to the Pro Tour with expense-paid airline tickets
  • Invitation and two byes to your country’s Nationals
  • 35 QPs each month for the Magic Online Championship Series
  • Appearance Fees for tournaments: Pro Tours $3000, World Magic Cup $1000, Nationals and Grand Prixs $1000 (GP payouts limited to 2 per cycle).
  • Players cards with their name, photo, and Team in the Team series (if any) printed on them

Neat. This system wasn’t perfect, but I knew so many people who wanted to chase the dream, get a Pro Status, go to Pro Tours, travel the world, etc. It was so amazing and mystical and kept me playing the game for a long time. However, in 2019 Wizards changed the structure, and the reception was…bad. Very, very bad. Mostly! However, it was not all bad, let’s talk about that briefly.

MPL AND RIVALS LEAGUE

Source: Magic.gg

There is a lot of minutiae with this system (as there was with the last system), but I’ll try to be on the concise end for clarity. The competitive structure is split into 2 factions: the MPL (Magic Pro League) and the Rivals League. The MPL and Rivals would get invitations to all the Mythic Championships (rebranded Pro Tours) which would give them Mythic Points to determine their standing at year’s end. Currently, the MPL consists of 24 players and the Rivals League consists of 48. With the situation the world is in at the moment, a lot of changes were made in response to accommodate the new virtual world we were all forced to live in.

A lot of the prize money for these two groups was severely cut, as was the prize money for many of the events in 2020. Furthermore, they changed how MPL and Rivals members stayed in their respective leagues by introducing the League Weekends. MPL members and Rivals members would play amongst themselves over the course of several different weeks which would determine whether they get moved into or stay in their respective League, whether they fight for a spot in the Gauntlet, or whether they’re demoted entirely. Furthermore, top finishers in each set’s Championship will also have an opportunity to fight for a spot in the Gauntlet as well.

I could explain this further, but honestly, there have been so many changes and caveats to these decisions that I literally can not figure it out past this point. I’ve asked MPL and Rivals players for help in clarifying this, but they’ve been equally, if not more confused on how everything works. Not great transparency for a system they actively play in. However, it’s more important to take the important points from this system for understanding. Let’s now compare and contrast the two systems.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD OF EACH SYSTEM

The Old Pro System was much better for those looking to chase the dream. It was straight-forward in how it works, gain this many points and you’re here. To accumulate points, you went to GPs or PTs. To get onto PTs, you have to get 11 match wins at a previous PT, get 13 match wins at a GP, win a PTQ (later on this would be RPTQ which was a huge mess in it’s own right), or already have some Pro Status. It was simpler, cleaner, and many were happy that if you were in Gold or Platinum, you could travel the world on Wizard’s dime going to Pro Tours.

This seems like the ideal system, and for a lot of reasons, it was excellent. However, there’s a huge problem that most people failed to address from this system when reliving the glory days. The best Magic Players could not make a reasonable living off of it. Let’s look at Platinum members, which was more or less the old MPL considering the prestige and the amount of members in it each year. There were 4 PTs a year, so that’s $12K, one World Magic Cup add another $1K, one Nationals add another $1K, and up to 2 GPs so another $2k. That’s a total of $16K in one year in appearance fees, for the top players in the game. Platinum Players were expected to supplement that with winnings, but that’s a very scary prospect for any player involved. No matter how confident or skilled you are, Magic is still a game with variance and one bad year could ruin someone financially if they were dependent on a higher income. No matter how you sliced it, this firmly kept Magic as a cool hobby and not a tenable career for functionally every person playing it. There were the occasional exceptions, but most players had to either move on to something else or supplement it with other revenue streams, Magic related or not. For the very best in the game, having a system that can’t financially support them is a HUGE detriment.

You’re not getting any less heat though MPL and Rivals. Let me first talk about the one good thing that’s come out of these Leagues, it gives Magic Players a real job. Those in either league can bank on a higher and reasonable income compared to the old system and truly make Magic their profession. This was an excellent move for the long term health of the game as it keeps the best on top longer, nobody wants to see a good player leave out of necessity. That’s about all of the good though, because there’s a lot of bad. First of all, the new tournament systems are ridiculously confusing with how many events there are, what matters, what doesn’t etc. I have yet to find a single professional player who is confident in how the system works.

That’s not even remotely my biggest gripe though. The biggest grievance I have with this system, bar none, is the all or nothing nature of it. It’s all or nothing, and in a game with variance, that’s not very inspiring. This is anecdotal, but literally all of my friends except one (current MPL member Chris Kvartek), completely gave up on competitive Magic when this new structure was introduced. It felt like it was a goal that was simply too far out of reach, and I don’t blame them. Who would want to spend so much time trying to be competitive in Magic only to get absolutely nothing to show for it if you whiff? Which leads me directly into the single greatest issue that this new system has which causes this all or nothing feeling to the current system. Only MPL and Rivals Players are guaranteed invites to the Mythic Championships. 

PLAYERS NEED CONSISTENCY

This change is the single, biggest reason the competitive scene is absolutely suffering at the moment. People were willing to chase the dream because there were reasonably obtainable goals that someone can shoot for, and those steps helped lead you higher and higher up the competitive scene. Say you’re a player looking to break into the competitive scene in the old system. You want to get the 22 points for Silver so you play every single GP and PTQ you can manage. You get reasonable placements to earn some points and you even spiked a PTQ! You go to the PT, you get dunked on, you go home pride a little wounded, but you now have enough points to get Silver. Now next year, you don’t have to grind PTQs because you have the invites to the Pro Tours, you still go to every GP you can to accumulate points and you can afford more testing specifically for the Pro Tours. Maybe you will do well and move up to Gold next year! Rinse and repeat. These milestones weren’t easy to reach, but the consistency of it and the ease of access made it feel more realistic.

Let’s take the new system for example, and let’s discount the changes they had to make because of the coronavirus pandemic. You are a player looking to break into the competitive scene. GPs don’t give you Mythic Points so now it’s all about the Mythic Invitationals. You grind PTQ after PTQ, play in every Mythic Championship Qualifier Weekend on Arena, and say you make it to a few. You play the best you can, you do reasonably well, but you fall short of the points you needed for Rivals, you needed to be a few spots higher. You get nothing for your efforts. Go home and do it again next year. I don’t know about you, but if hours upon hours of time spent all accumulated to nothing, the chances of them willing to try it again seem extremely slim.

Furthermore, making one of your tournaments completely worthless in the race is a bold move considering they still wanted people to attend GPs. I know they counted towards Mythic Points in the past, but they changed if, how much, and when they counted so many times I literally can’t figure out how GPs slotted into the old system, so I’ll just use what they have now in that they don’t count. This system is nothing short of soul-sucking, and it’s great for those who managed to get in early, but seemingly impenetrable for those who are newer or couldn’t make it the first try. So, what can Wizards do to cure these ails?

SMASH THOSE SYSTEMS TOGETHER

Shatterskull Smashing

It may seem like a rudimentary method, but if there was good in both systems, why not just take the best of each? I truly believe that the MPL and Rivals Leagues are good because they can provide a reasonable livelihood, but bad for everything else. The old system is good because it has reasonable goalposts that players can strive for and then improve upon, but nobody was able to really do it for a living. 

Here’s what I think should happen, the competitive system should break down into 4 tiers, named however they wish, the MPL, the Rivals, Silver Players, and Bronze Players. I would have these statuses be earned the same way as the old system, Pro Tours (Mythic Invitationals) and GPs would earn points towards these rankings. 

As a quick point, I wouldn’t let every GP count as a detriment of the old system was the monetary barrier that some players faced when chasing Pro Status. These Statuses should be earned ideally by the best, not the ones who can afford to fly to every GP, and this was exponentially more challenging for non-US players. I wouldn’t know the perfect number, but we’ll say that your 3 best GP finishes contribute to your points. You still have an advantage if you want to fly to every GP, but not nearly as large of one as the old system gave you. Furthermore, I won’t muse over the point values or how much each event is worth here, I’m looking at the big picture. Back to my proposed system.

What would the perks of the new system be? Let’s start from the bottom.

Bronze:

  • Invite to every Pro Tour (Mythical Invitational) in that year’s cycle
  • 1 Bye at all individual GPs

Clean and straightforward. Once you hit Bronze, you don’t have to grind PTQs anymore and get a Bye at GPs. This is a great stepping stone for those who want to break into the competitive scene.

Silver:

  • Invite to every Pro Tour (Mythical Invitational) in that year’s cycle
  • 2 Byes at all individual GPs

Same as Bronze, but this gives you an extra boost at GPs. For both this and Bronze, I would say that the QP amount would likely have to be higher than they were in the past for to justify these perks, but as long as it’s a clearly outlined goal, I feel like most people will feel a lot better about it.

Rivals:

  • Invite to every Pro Tour (Mythical Invitational) in that year’s cycle
  • 2 Byes at all individual GPs
  • Appearance Fees totaling up to X amount

This is where the biggest perks kick into gear. The appearance fees should be a reasonable enough sum to encourage people to shoot for this illustrious position and can make the dream chase a tenable goal if they actually make it there. Ideally, you want to dodge the soul crushing nature of if you whiff, so keeping the amount of byes the same can help alleviate some of that pain and keep it a more fair competition for Rivals Spots between Silver players and current Rivals members.

MPL:

  • Invite to every Pro Tour (Mythical Invitational) in that year’s cycle
  • 3 Bye at all individual GPs
  • Appearance Fees totaling up to 2X amount

You can probably add even more perks, but this is the gist of what I’m getting at. If you hit the Top of Magic, it should be easier to stay there with the assistance of multiple byes at GPs, but that doesn’t make your spot guaranteed, it still has to be earned year after year.

This, I think, would be about as close to the ideal system as we can reasonably ask for. The largest inhibitor of this system would be the money itself. Part of what Wizards was aiming for with the creation of the MPL and Rivals League was smaller tournaments overall. If the tournaments were smaller, the top prize can be heavier and even lower ranking finishers can walk away very happy with large chunks of cash. However, a natural consequence of this system is that the Mythic Invitationals would end up larger, and then the prize pool would have to be split up accordingly. This isn’t ideal for the players already at the top, but for the long term health of the competitive scene, I believe this is the only way to keep the competitive system healthy for the majority of the player base.

Now I’m not saying that the top prize should be completely gutted and winning doesn’t even feel good, but I think there’s definitely a way to disseminate the prizes in a way to fairly compensate everyone in what would be a larger tournament. Wizards would probably have to cut costs in certain areas, for example keep the Regional Mythic Invitationals around rather than paying for plane tickets to every international Mythic Championship so players can travel the world, but again, I’m trying to craft a system that is good for the majority of players while still being fair to those at the top.

Before anything else, I think it’s absolutely vital that the MPL and Rivals League members get paid a reasonable salary, no system that gets implemented should ever make the best in the game choose between Magic and another source of income to simply live. However, even when the competitive system was set up in such a way most couldn’t make a living off of it, enthusiasm was extremely high, so going back to something akin to it, but paying professional players real salaries is necessary for long term competitive player retention. I’m happy we still have a lot of long-time greats still playing professional Magic, but I always get bummed out when I think about Pros who were at the top of their game that had to leave for better job prospects.

This is the tip of the iceberg for what can be implemented, but I believe this is an infinitely better system than what we have now as it takes what was great about the old system and fixes a major injustice in it. To summarize, the old system was better for the majority, but not great for the top, while the new system is horrible for the majority, and great for those on top. I don’t think Wizards needs to pick and choose who gets the short end of the stick if there’s actual mobility to be had in these Professional statuses. At the end of the day, money is going to be the biggest factor in how they’re going to implement their competitive system, but as someone who’s competitive flame mostly died with the structural changes, I implore Wizards to re-evaluate their current system and make it better for everyone, not just one side or the other. If they have a set budget to do these things, allocate it in such a way that everybody can be satisfied in this system. Lastly, I believe that Arena can have a great place within the competitive structure, but that’s an article for another time. Magic may be a zero-sum game, but it doesn’t mean that it’s competitive system has to be.

Thanks for reading.

DoggertQBones

Robert "DoggertQBones" Lee is a streamer and high ranked Arena player. He has one GP Top 8, has 3-0d 3 professional draft pods, and loves writing and teaching!

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