Two new ideas are being tested at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in Sydney in a couple weeks. These test features were just announced to the Pro Tour participants. Wizards has been reaching out to a group of Pro players for feedback and brainstorming about many aspects of Professional level play. I am a part of that group, so I got to help think through both the challenges that these two proposals attempt to address.
Let’s take a look at the announcement:
“New!! – Electronic Decklist Submission
At Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, decklists will be collected electronically. This is being done as a TEST for this Pro Tour.
To submit your decklist, go to [Decklist URL]
• Decklists must be submitted before Thursday, August 4, 2016 at 7:00 PM (1900) Sydney-local time (this is the time that registration ends on Thursday).
• You must submit your deck using only ENGLISH card names.
• If you submit a decklist and want to make changes, simply return to the page and submit a new one.
• If you submit multiple lists for yourself, the latest-submitted list takes priority and will be the list we expect you to play during the Pro Tour.
New!! – Pairings in the Tournament Hall
In order to help address the issue of team scouting of decks, we are testing the following procedure for posting pairings. After the Pro Tour has concluded, we will evaluate how this system worked and make adjustments accordingly for future Pro Tour events:
• Pairings will be posted in the venue as usual, however they WILL NOT list the names of opponents.
• At the time that pairings are announced, players cannot use electronic devices until the end of their matches.
• Feature matches will not be announced as pairings. They will be announced simply as a list of players. Players will receive their pairing assignments from the judges in the Feature Match area.
• Pairings that are posted to the Wizards of the Coast website will not be posted until a few minutes after each round begins.
• The period of time from pairings being announced until matches begin will be strictly timed at 4 minutes.”
Electronic Decklist Submission
Here is a list of frustrations from prior Pro Tours:
• Buying cards the night before the Pro Tour involves an extra level of secrecy, and almost every event someone knows more than others about which cards are sold out, and sometimes even which teams did the buying.
• Writing a decklist out manually is annoying for players.
• Receiving handwritten decklists is annoying for both staff and coverage.
• Receiving decklists so late keeps coverage guessing as to what will be played on Day 1.
• Players who need to translate to English can’t use an electronic translation tool.
I think if you scan that list and look at this proposal, it’s as close to a no-brainer as you’ll get. I would even add that from a personal perspective I like that the deadline has moved up. I want to use all the time available to me, but I work best as the deadline is approaching and if that deadline is 9 a.m., it creates sleep and stress issues I’d just as soon avoid. Setting a “fake deadline” works for Paul Rietzl but doesn’t always work for me—in part because I have teammates I have to help who have no such deadline.
Pairings in the Tournament Hall
This one is much less of a no-brainer. In fact, if there are “win-win” solutions, I haven’t seen them.
• Preventing all scouting, all the way up to watching any game and talking with any friend about what people are playing, is an enforcement nightmare and a “no fun zone” nightmare of big brother watching you on your phone, etc.
• Taking no action against any scouting—the status quo—has made newer players feel ganged up on, feel watched and uncomfortable, and feel like the same “old boys clubs” were running the show.
• Pro players are naturally scouted—everyone knows what Owen Turtenwald is playing without really trying much. He’s in the feature match area, all your friends know what he looks like, and his teammates or a chunk of them are usually playing the same deck.
• Making all decklists public (by exchanging them before the match begins, for example) takes away an element of surprise in deckbuilding.
• Top 8 matches involve public decklists because of coverage and scouting issues (if you can discover the info, and will, why make it hard?)—so the status quo is that Swiss matches have a different information standard than Top 8 matches.
• If you make only the land portion of the decklist public, the information exchange varies by archetype, and many benefits of scouting, especially in the early rounds, remain unchanged.
• If you just put up table numbers, but don’t ban other scouting or electronic devices or talking, sitting down first is a disadvantage as your friends can see you and scout you. It’s also harder to verify you’re at the correct table as match slips can’t arrive until everyone is seated.
• If you put up table numbers and ban electronic devices and talking just before pairings go up, players are disincentivized to wear team clothing or even hang out together between rounds as association with others playing similar decks is now a larger cost.
• If you put up names and table numbers as pairings but ban electronic device usage and talking right before pairings go up, you incentivize scouting and memorizing a list of players with your same record before pairings go up.
These tradeoffs are not simple to navigate. Personally, my favorite is public decklists (each Pro Tour round plays like a Top 8 or a Worlds round with a decklists exchange). My second favorite is where Wizards landed (but I would add a clarification that no devices also means no talking, just to go slightly further).
The benefit of pairings without names is that now newer players will not feel like targeted outsiders. Players will not need to coordinate scouting results and can relax more between rounds.
Now, many Pros have said both before and after this was announced that scouting doesn’t actually benefit Pros, scouting hurts Pros, because there was never a scouting system that came close to giving Pros as much information about Joe Blow as Joe Blow had about Owen Turtenwald and Luis Scott-Vargas.
My response to these Pros is that a) perception matters—when things feel unfair that always counts for something, and b) the scouting of Luis Scott-Vargas is natural, while the methods of scouting Jane Doe were unnatural (and I suspect the perception issue tracked with the unnatural elements).
Jon Finkel is in many ways at or near the center of professional Magic. People are going to know what he is up to because they care. Not only that, there is no question that a small information gap at the start of a round will chip away slightly at his expected win rate, but that his expected win rate will be just fine. Once we recognize that something has to give, someone has to feel unfairly scouted (or we all have to work hard to scout everyone and some players will still feel unfairly scouted), I think having the burden land on the recognizable Pros and the superteams is perfectly fine. They can not only handle it, but I again remind you that placing the information gap here is natural since it was created by the popularity gap.
Fame comes with these kinds of exposure disadvantages, and even though only Brian Kibler is actually famous among us, some of us are small-pond famous and have to deal with small-pond exposure.