The Uncertain Future of Pro Magic Has Left Us Guessing

I’m not going to touch on Modern because frankly nothing has changed since the last time I laughed at the current status of the Modern banned list and Modern Horizons broke the format. Don’t worry, once Hogaak finally gets the axe, people will get to take advantage of how ridiculously strong a two-mana card advantage planeswalker is.

What gets me about the current state of competitive Magic is that for the first time in a very long time, if they pulled the plug on the entire competitive subset of the game I would just say, “Well that would be too bad.” I wouldn’t expect MTG to die–nor even suffer that big of a blow in the long-term. There would be some major repercussions in the short-term, but not nearly as badly as the average competitive Magic player would think.

That’s how much damage has been done these past two years with the ever-changing state of Organized Play and yet we’ve already seen that Magic will truck along just fine. It just had its best quarter ever and with MTG Arena still growing, this isn’t a short-term boost. Even if for some unforeseen reason the gravy boat suddenly stopped, it would take years to undo the giant leap the successful introduction of Arena has had on the ecosystem.

That’s why it feels bittersweet in that true professional Magic has effectively been limited to the Magic Pro League. People just don’t care about the Mythic Championships. I’m sorry if that offends you as a player, but when I was asking people this very weekend if they cared, the majority of responses were in the, “Ehhh,” “Didn’t watch” or “What?” camp and the few that did watch were much more intrigued by “Modern!” than the actual Magic being played or pros playing.

Professional Magic wasn’t a full-on career for even pros, not realistically, it basically meant being one of the few content creators making a significant living from those contracts (and now streaming) along with consistent strong performances. A ton of pros either had normal jobs or were essentially college kids with limited fiscal responsibilities and a ton of free time. However, one thing that always appealed was that you could simply go play in a tournament and if you were good enough, picked the right deck or practiced your Sealed and got a bit lucky you could win your way onto the Pro Tour. Just that allure was enough, but the idea that you could use that first appearance to build on was something that really hooked many of the people that got that far.

I want to reiterate how unique Magic was in that regard, you could just show up to a Pro Tour Qualifier, win that one tournament and then you were qualified to fly out somewhere to compete against the best of the best. That has tangible value associated with it and for several people it’s a really cool and unique experience they were never going to get anywhere else. It also helped prop up the sense of community among like-minded people, and many friendships were started from a similar drive. Plenty of conversations of ‘how much do you value a PT Qualification at’ have been had over the years.

Nowadays, you can show up an MCQ with 50-60 players for that same invite and a lot of those same people that would’ve traveled untold hours and miles for a shot against a harder field 3-4x as large just don’t care anymore. They Do Not Care Any More.

Some of that comes from age, they’ve simply moved past the point in their lives where this accomplishment was the end-all, be-all. They simply have better things to do with their time than try and invest it into this pipe dream that they won’t follow up on in any significant fashion. Others simply can’t afford it, because now you must pay your way to play, so even after winning there’s an extra hurdle, whereas before showing up and winning was the minimum.

Where Does Pro Play Go From Here?

Now let me pump the brakes for a moment and inject a bit of reality into this nostalgia trip I’m going on. There were many times this enticement could be described as a net negative for the people actually trying to accomplish it. There are people who have wasted significant chunks of time in their lives trying to chase a dream and end up isolating themselves from a lot of the outside world as a result. When they woke up, they were in places that nobody really wants to be.

Let’s not forget the masterstroke of having Planeswalker Points qualify for the Pro Tour where people were sleeping in parking lots, driving around from place to place and grinding 3-4 FNM events back to back to maximize point totals. Or even better, essentially ‘buying’ points by traveling to Worlds that year to play in side events with a ridiculous modifier attached to each event undoing the work some had spent months on.

I won’t forget the wonderful time I traveled two hours to play, paying for the privilege to sit in an unairconditioned warehouse in 100+ heat for nearly 12 hours. All because I was too stupid to say ‘**** this’ and leave when the event started 90 minutes late because they didn’t have enough chairs. Well not entirely stupidity, we had carpooled and it’s a lot harder for 4 people to decide collectively to bail. In a way, the community also has a way of bogging their own down in place almost by accident.

No, there were plenty of pitfalls with the older system as well and I think they’re almost on the perfect blend for local qualifying events that feel achievable without being huge time sinks and grinds. Unfortunately, that dream that drove so many to this no longer really exists in the eyes of many who these events appeal the most to.

There’s a reason we’ve seen the side event growth at MagicFest events explode while Grand Prix attendance drops to SCG Open sizes (or less!) in many regions. Until Wizards figures out exactly what they want to do with the MPL, Mythic Championships, pro system and assorted other events alongside it, there’s simply nothing to strive for. There’s still no clear criteria to join the MPL and it’s already been marred by a string of controversies and removals, some more deserved than others. In lieu of playing the hand they had been dealt, they instead generated even more dumb controversy by doubling down on the streamer angle.

Even the people with the drive and capability to keep going for it are losing they want. Here’s just a small selection of tweets from this weekend:

Ultimately, I think Wizards has one last chance to right this ship in 2020 and produce a clear outlook of what they see Professional and Promotional Magic as. If they don’t do that, I’m still guessing some iteration of Professional Magic will still be around in five years, I’m just not sure anyone will care. I’d throw out my own suggestions, but it feels like shouting into the wind, if people are interested though go ahead and let me know in the comments and I’ll do a follow-up article.

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