Rivals League 2020: What is at Stake?

Wizards of the Coast just announced the full roster for Rivals League in 2020’s partial season (partial because it will be a shortened season while they sync the calendar to a mid-year cycle).  The list of players in the Rivals League can be found here.

There is a lot going on in competitive Magic these days.  It’s hard for me to keep up—and I’m pretty invested. So today I wanted to zoom in on the inaugural season of the Rivals League and what’s at stake for players who made it into that league.

So what exactly are we (full disclosure, I’m one of the League members) playing for?

1) A Big Pool of Prize Money

Although Rivals was billed as a sort of “relegation” league with the objective being to move up to MPL if you do well, I think that misses the most valuable component of being in Rivals, at least to this competitor.  Even in the partial season, the Rivals League members will be invited to multiple Regional Players Tour events (awarding $600,000 across the 3 regions), one or more Mythic Invitationals (each awarding $750,000 in prizes and having a field of only 128 players), and will be earning appearance fees on top of any prizes earned that total $15,000.

I put this first because although getting to the MPL would be awesome, it would mostly be awesome because it would mean invites to Players Tour events and Mythic Invitationals, and appearance fees in each of those events.  The fact that Rivals players get some of that means we will be competing in the top tournaments and for the top prizes, at the same time we hope to “play our way up” into the MPL.

2) 8 Slots into the MPL (4 from Rivals, 4 from Rivals or MPL)

And not to skip over the obvious, we’re playing to win our way up to an MPL contract that includes even more invites, even more prize money, and even more visibility for those of us building a streaming or video content brand (ahem: youtube.com/mattsperlingmtg).

The way it works is that the top 2 Rivals in Mythic Points (shortcut: think of these as points you earn in the highest-stakes Arena events) and the top 2 Rivals in Players Points (shortcut: think of these as points you earn in the highest-stakes paper/tabletop events) will all be invited to join the MPL for the full 2020-2021 season.  That’s a big carrot.

Four more slots in the MPL will be up for grabs when the Rivals who didn’t quite make it and the MPL players who didn’t quite earn the right to automatically stay square off in a 16-player MPL Gauntlet tournament that will propel 25% of its participants into the MPL.  If you come close on points, you can go earn your MPL slot in this Gauntlet. That’s another big carrot.

3) Stay in Rivals for 2020-2021

The last of the carrots before we get to the stick.  The 12 players in that MPL Gauntlet I just went over that don’t make the top 4 will make Rivals 2020-2021 rather than MPL.  The full season of Rivals will offer even more opportunity and financial reward, so this is not at all a mere consolation prize, at least in my view.  If you start in Rivals and make it back to Rivals, you’ve just had a really impressive 12-24 months of Pro Magic.

4) Avoiding “Falling off the Train”

Ah, the old stick.  For folks like me that have been around the block a few times, we can recognize the shape and the sting of this weapon.  Sometimes what you accomplished in a season just doesn’t get you where you hoped to go, and you go back to being a challenger, to use the parlance of our times.

(Note: there is no World Championship at the end of the partial 2020 season, so to get to the next Worlds, the best path is to make MPL or Rivals and then continue to win in the full 2020-2021 season).

My Goals for Rivals League 2020

My goal is to stay in Rivals.  Would I like to make MPL? Sure.  But I look at this roster of Rivals players and I see a lot of talent.  And I look at what Rivals is offering me in this partial season and I’m pretty happy with it.  So I’ll be trying my best for one of those 8 MPL slots, but if I end up in Rivals again I’ll count it as a major success.

Aside: Revisiting the Question, “Does Top 8’ing a Regional Players Tour event count as a ‘Pro Tour Top 8’?”

After some more reflecting on the topic, I think it’s fair to count Top 4 at an RPT as a “major finish” in the same way we count Top 4 at Worlds, but making Top 8 is not quite enough to count.  To arrive at this conclusion I looked at the total number of players who will achieve this result (4 per region per event, or 36 per year), in addition to the 24 players who make Top 8 of the three Players Tour Finals events, and I think it’s about right, while counting all 8 players who Top 8 an RPT would result in a comical 96 top 8s in calendar year 2020.  This isn’t the only way to slice and dice it, but I think I’d be more inclined to recognize fewer finishes (top 2 perhaps) in the Regionals than more.

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