I just got home from playing one of the first PPTQs at A to Z Comics in Kansas City. It was a solid three-and-a-half-hour drive, but a combination of curiosity about the new system, the fact that it was capped at 50 people, and that I had a good deck all convinced me to make the trek.
I played the Sidisi Cruise list from my video last week.
Aside from games where an early Sidisi ends things quick by doing its best Goblin Rabblemaster impression, I’m usually drawing the bulk of my deck, which provides a lot of decisions and it seems there’s always a line to win the game. Regardless of what my opponent is doing, some combination of Pharika, Whip, and Doomwake Giant should kill them.
After seeing the Sidisi decks pick up Ashiok during the World Champs, I was a bit worried about the card. Between all the self-mill and draw, I’ve never decked myself, but I have gotten close and a few Ashiok activations could be brutal. Still, they aren’t always going to have it, I usually board out the Commune, and the Thoughtseizes help.
The one time I faced Ashiok in the tournament, I had enough of a board presence to handle it.
0-1 UWR Tokens (Yuuya List)
1-0 Mono Red
1-0 GB Devotion
1-0 Mardu Aggro
1-0 UB Control (Ali Aintrazi List)
0-1 4c Rhino (Brad Nelson List)
I played well most of the day, and the deck continued to impress me. It’s powerful, versatile, and incredibly consistent. I played turn three Treasure Cruise multiple times. It has a lot of decision trees, and I like it when my decisions matter. Of course, that’s a double-edged sword, and I lost a round to misboarding in the Swiss and then the finals to screwing up my sequencing. Over the course of nine rounds, I dropped maybe three games to variance and at least double that to play errors.
Sometime during the day I saw a 4c Sidisi list that splashed white for Rhino and Anafenza. I’d seen 4c Rhino lists before, but Anafenza is more interesting to me because it’s such a solid hoser for the Sidisi mirror. I don’t like all of the comes into play tapped lands, though, and I think one of the main strengths of my list is that the manabase lets it out-tempo slower midrange decks and keep up with aggro.
Despite the disappointing finish, I had a ton of fun at the event, and it helped that the staff was super friendly. That said, I do have a few reflections and ideas:
One of the main concerns people had about the PPTQs was that they’d draw too many people, creating an absurd system where someone had to win a PTQ-sized event to play in the real PTQ. Some scoffed that Wizards was predicting an average of around 50 people per event, saying the true number would be about double that.
Well, after playing in one of these events and talking to others, it seems like Wizards was right. A large number of the stores that qualify to hold a PPTQ don’t have the space to hold a huge event, and they’ve been capping entry at 60, 50, or even 40 people.
I encourage stores to only allow the people they have space for. It sounds weird to cap an event at 48 people, but if that’s the number of chairs you can fit at your tables then you shouldn’t go over it. I’ve played in all sorts of overbooked tournaments over the years—FNMs where the matches spilled outside, and the wind was so bad the players had to use rocks to hold down their cards. PTQs where people were packed so tight that there was a ten-minute delay between every round while players slowly smooshed into their seats.
Capped events are necessary for some stores, but it’s also great from a player’s perspective. The dedicated players, the ones taking off work to play Magic, are the ones planning further ahead and reserving their spot. It sucks for people that get turned away, but that’s better than selling seats that don’t exist and overcrowding people to the point of misery.
Personally, I’m way more willing to plan around an event if I know it’ll be capped.
One thing that I took for granted about the old PTQ system was that store owners and players treated them seriously, escalating in reverence to a quiet, respectful finals with a few spectators and a table judge or two.
This is especially nice after a long, grindy day of Magic where it can be difficult to play your best game. Quiet does promote focus, and I understand why the golf clap exists.
The most important bit of advice I can give to smaller stores that never ran PTQs is that they need to make spectators realize that something important is on the line and that the Top 8 players deserve a respectful amount of space.
With the old PTQs, this space was created naturally with the playmats. Players realized that that area was special, and they moved their casual matches to the other end of the room. I’ve heard TOs announce that they’d send away spectators who were loud or even not allow spectators at all, which I always thought was a little strange and draconian. After all, no matter the prize, Magic is a game that’s meant to be fun.
This last weekend, I experienced the inverse of that experience, and it drastically changed my opinion. During the Top 4, a random spectator asked me why I had a large pile of exiled cards, despite there being a delve card on top of my graveyard. Fortunately, the other semifinal match was between us and the isle, and it provided a sort of buffer from most of the spectators.
The finals were much worse, as that buffer no longer existed. People moved in and played casual magic next to us, despite plenty of empty tables elsewhere in the room. My opponent’s friends, when they weren’t hitting him with good natured ribbing, asked me about my wrist braces. This would’ve been fine if we weren’t playing the finals. I told them I wanted to focus on the match, and they left me alone, but I don’t remember ever having to respond to an inane question in the Top 8 of a PTQ.
I could’ve made a stink and asked that people move, but who wants to make special requests like some kind of self-entitled diva when most people are tired and want to go home? To solve this problem, I’ve seen some Tournament Organizers/Judges ask the players if they’re fine with spectators before the match. At that point, it’s no longer a diva-like thing to say “I’d prefer a bit of space.” If the player agrees to spectators and then changes his mind later, it comes off as a more natural request, and just knowing that they could be asked to move tends to keep people from being too loud.
I’m not going through all this to blame the store or rage about the players or anything like that. It’s unreasonable to expect smaller venues to get it right on the first shot.
Perhaps the stores that used to run PTQs, the ones that turn their PPTQs into cash tournaments and still attract 100+ players, will still run that sort of Top 8 because, like me, that’s what they’re used to.
It’s possible that this is me valuing things differently than other people. I have a very good idea of my chance to Top 4 an 80-120 person event full of grinders, while others might value the invite less and thus treat the prize more casually. Still, one of the benefits to the new PPTQ system is that it exposes a whole new group of players to serious competition, and I hope it evolves in that direction.
One possible format for PPTQs is Sealed.
At most Sealed tournaments, after you sign up there’s this giant dead time where you wait for the event to start. When the player meeting and deck registration do finally happen, it has to be catered to the newer players, despite the fact that the majority of players at a PTQ have played in one before, or at least have registered a Sealed pool. But the head judge can’t ignore the newer players, so both the player meeting and the actual registration ends up taking longer than it should. An hour’s difference is huge.
There’s a better way, one that I’ve only seen at Collector’s Cash in KC. As soon as you sign up, you’re handed a Sealed pool and asked if you’ve ever registered one before. Most people have, so they go off, sit by their friends, and have something to do while they wait for the event to start. The newer players get special attention, as there’s a judge or two standing by in case someone needs directions. This is more effective for them, as they don’t have to strain to hear, there’s less of a chance they’ll miss things, and it’s a much more convenient setting to ask questions.
The end result is that a chunk of the player meeting—the largely redundant part detailing how to register a Sealed pool—is eliminated, as well as the actual time spent registering before the tournament can start.
To reiterate, registering pools during signups lets you:
- Cut about an hour off the run time of the tournament, making everything more pleasant for everyone.
- Give newer players more attention/clearer directions.
- Avoid the “This pool is soooo busted!” guy. You know who I’m talking about. He’ll still be at the tournament, but at least you won’t have to sit next to him while he’s registering.
Every time we go to Collector’s Cash for a Sealed tournament, we look at each other and say “Why isn’t everyone doing this?” We talk about it wistfully when we go to other events. It’s that much better.
Do any of you have PPTQ stories? I heard about one event in NJ that didn’t fire, which is wild. I’m guessing the onus of advertising these things falls on the stores running them.
I heard of a group of stores in Madison teaming up to do a sort of PPTQ super week, with one on each day at a different shop. I’m not sure about running these things on weekdays, but store collaboration is a great thing, and everyone that goes into one shop will see the schedule for the other shops, raising awareness and attendance with it. Even without a super week, shops can partner up for a master schedule to similar benefit.