Magic Esports Just Leveled Up

Wizards of the Coast just released a massive update to its competitive tournament landscape for 2020 and 2021. You can read the announcement here.

If I had to boil it down to one headline, it would be this:

Wizards is listening to feedback, and is making comprehensive changes to incorporate that feedback.

“Comprehensive” is key here, as although not every single piece of info is in this announcement, a ton of info is. I actually like that they aren’t announcing changes 5% at a time, which is criticism I had in the past. I’m going to do my best to break this into digestible chunks at the same time I offer my reaction to each piece. There’s no way I’ll cover everything or from every angle, there’s just too much here.

Magic Pro League Criteria

Path to pro Magic Pro League

Many people have expressed frustration that the most exclusive club sitting atop the organized play pyramid had no defined criteria for invitation, rotation, etc. Well, they fixed that. The MPL is shrinking to 24 players from a previous 32, and each of those 24 slots has a defined path. None of those slots is discretionary once it goes to 24 players, and if you get knocked out of the MPL you don’t drop completely out, you get relegated to the Rivals League, which I cover below.

My take: we asked, they listened. To get to the MPL you’ve got to beat other top players, and your tenure there is fairly anchored but not guaranteed. Good changes.

Rivals League

With the addition of a brand new Rivals League, Wizards adds a level below the MPL where players who might have previously been called “Gold/Silver Pros” can get some tangible benefits alongside a shortened path to the big time of the MPL. It will be 46 players and a mix of people falling out of the MPL, non-MPL members on the rise, and 6 discretionary slots, which will presumably be used to help promote diversity, correct some near-misses, or put some fan favorites in, we’ll see.

My take: time will tell whether being on the Rivals Tour feels like paradise or purgatory. But at first glance, it looks like a decent substitute for Silver type pro levels, and sets people up pretty nicely to make a run at MPL. The best thing about it is that they’ve defined how you graduate from it: you win high-level tournaments under tough conditions. So the cream will rise to the top, and nobody is getting anything close to a “free ride” to the top, as the discretionary slots only bring people to the table who then will need to compete to advance.

Players Tour – Is the PT Back?

Wizards is being very deliberate with its paper/tabletop Magic track and the fact that it is distinct from the MTG Arena track. While the Arena track is mostly the same (differences discussed below), the paper track is very different. There are now Players Tour regional events in Americas, Europe, and Asia-Pacific regions (3 per year, per region), Players Tour Finals to follow those (three per year, global), and the total prizes are roughly the same (for example, in the Americas there will be three $250k purse events, and when added to the 3 $250k purse finals events, you get $1.5m in prizes–equal to 2019’s three paper Mythics which awarded $500k each in prizes).

My take: this is an area where there are a lot of unrevealed details regarding where the regional events will be held, exactly how many qualifiers will be near you, etc. And overall, I’m a bit disappointed to see rewards getting spread out across regions and events, with more total invitees, and the total purse being relatively flat. There’s still enough here to pursue, but 500 players and $150k-250k in prizes shouldn’t blow anyone away.

So, it is a Pro Tour? Well, interestingly, I would say that the Players Tour regional events are part Nationals, part Pro Tour Day 1, and the Players Tour Finals are like Pro Tour Day 2s. So if someone makes the Top 8 at a Finals, I think we’re completely justified in treating that as a lifetime PT Top 8 on the resume. Top 8 in a regional will be equivalent to maybe two Nationals Top 8s or perhaps a Nationals win on a resume.

Arena Track and Mythic Invitationals

The big switch here is revealed in the nomenclature, Mythic Invitational is now used in place of Mythic Championship, but it’s not a true invitational since there is a qualifier track feeding directly into it. You can now make top 1200 instead of top 1000 as a first step, which is nice, but otherwise things look similar and they’re clearly liking how it’s going and want to do more of it, even if they’re doing a little smushing together of the Invitational and Championship events in 2019. $750k per tournament, presumably a small field of somewhere between 64 and 128 players (implied in the announcement but not stated), and a mix of invitation paths I’d say leaves us mostly in the status quo but with some details yet to be announced.

My take: The path to get to these top Arena events is mostly unchanged, as is the use of discretionary invites into an event that awards leaderboard points. I’ll continue to argue that the discretionary invites should be eligible for all prizes other than the leaderboard points, but they don’t seem to agree. Other than that I think this reflects a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (too much)” approach to the Arena path, and I’ll personally be trying to top 16 these qualifier weekends as I find it to be a fun way to play and try and spike.

Qualifying for It All

Wizards has laid out at least five ways to qualify for Players Tour regional events, and a few ways to qualify for Mythic Invitations.

Regarding Players Tour events, you can win a PTQ (a return to old-school style local PTQ events), a WPN Qualifier (local store-based path–something new), Premier Series (SCG Tour type events), Grand Prix (doing well in a GP can qualify you, and winning the GP can vault you right into the Players Tour Finals), and Magic: The Gathering Online PTQs (presumably similar to what you see today).

Regarding Mythic Invitationals, you have the Mythic Qualifier path I covered above, Mythic Points, and Rivals Mythic Qualifiers, so it’s mostly the same but there are some new paths for people accumulating points or already included in the Rivals league.

My take: Having a bunch of paths seems good. The details on each of those paths will matter and we don’t have all the details yet. But I like what I see here for newer players. Those doing the Arena thing will have something to aim at, as will local paper players. And I’d advise new players to tinker with both to see which fits or to get more opportunities.

The State of Grand Prix

Grand Prix will now offer a Players Tour regional invitation to the Top 8 or 39-point finishers, but the winner will qualify directly into the 120-player Players Tour Finals, which I’ve described as being roughly like a Pro Tour Day 2 (but with 50% of the prize pool already paid out to regional finishers). So the prizes in a Grand Prix are now extremely top-heavy. The distance between first and second place seems larger to me than the difference between second and last.

My take: I wish they hadn’t done the first-place-goes-right-into-the-finals thing. I am in the camp of people who want Grand Prix to be events that “pros” can skip without feeling like they missed an opportunity. That’s mostly true here, as players like me will probably not be flying to many of these trying to get exactly first place (and MPL members still don’t need to go). So I’m fine with it even though it isn’t ideal from my perspective. And of course, mine isn’t the only perspective and for those who wanted GPs to matter more, well now they do. There are a lot of events to cover now on Twitch, so I’m also fine with no video coverage for GPs.

Smart and Transparent Use of Discretionary Slots

With the exception of the Mythic Invitational, Wizards is quantifying how many discretionary slots it has (for the Rivals League in particular–6), and has decided to have zero discretionary slots for the MPL, even if someone drops out (they have promised to promote from the Rivals league, not from Twitter). That’s a big improvement in my book. Discretionary slots to the Rivals League will let them help a few people out, and I like that, and then those people are in the driver’s seat for converting that into something more, by winning against the top players.

Worlds Remains the Marquee Event, but the Partial Season has no Worlds

The World Championship will continue to be a small field and continue to award $1m in total prizes. That’s good news I suppose. The partial season to take place in the first half of 2020 while they switch over to a mid-year season will not culminate in a Worlds, so we’re losing/delaying Worlds by half a year, which will take some of the air of the room for that early 2020 partial season. I don’t really get the benefit of a mid-year season rather than calendar year season, so I’m skeptical of the total benefit here to players.

Overall, Worlds keeping it’s $1m prize pool is a good sign. We’ve seen many huge prize purse events come and go as marketing stunts. That this one is here to stay gives me confidence in the system generally.

Overall Takeaways

First, I love that they dumped a ton of info on a totally new structure all at once, info which we can now study like a textbook rather than the drip-drip-drip of new info that was typical in late 2018 and early 2019 announcements. Looking at what that new system entails, I think there’s plenty to like and I envision myself getting more engaged, not less, in the coming months. Paper Magic is continuing to receive investment and I’m happy about that. Regional events are here, but they feed a global event, and I’m happy about that. The MPL doesn’t offer discretionary slots, but the Mythic Invitationals do. That’s a mixed bag regardless of how you feel about them.

I’m feeling good, but I’m third on the Leaderboard. What will all this mean for newer players? What will it mean for grinders? I won’t put words in your mouths or pretend to know. Let me know in the comments what you think this new structure means for you and what you’re excited about or frustrated about.

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