Today Wizards of the Coast announced the end of Professional Magic as it currently exists. The article focused on a return to in-person play, with a focus on smaller events first before things such as CommandFests or MagicFests can be considered. This emphasis on tabletop play was somewhat refreshing given the largely digital nature of Magic during the times of Covid.
In order to move to this new phase of Magic, the article goes on to say that the current professional system needs to meet its end. The current season, which is approaching its postseason, will continue to qualify players for both the Magic Pro League and the Rivals League for the 2021-22 season. The 2021-22 season will be the final season for both leagues. The 2021-22 season will feature Set Championships and a World Championship, but there will not be any League Weekends nor end of season Gauntlet tournaments.
What comes next? That is still unclear. While there is a promise of Grand Prix and Pro Tour like events the nature of these tournaments have yet to be defined. Much of this is related to the ongoing pandemic and due to the length of time (approximately 15 months) between today and the onset of what would be the 2022-23 professional season. One thing has been made clear: there is no plan for Wizards to support direct professional Magic as a career with salaries or appearance fees beyond the 2021-22 season.
Understandably this news was met with both outrage and concern. Several current and former professional Magic players made their opinions on the update known while others had a more emotional response. Several hours after the article went live WeeklyMTG aired a Question & Answer episode with Blake Rasmussen which provided some additional clarification on certain issues.
When asked why the announcement was made today, Rasmussen correctly identified that players would be qualifying for Leagues starting this weekend and that asking these players to make long term employment decisions without the sunset information would be unfair. Rasmussen also noted that some of the funding that would be directed at the top level of competitive play would find its way to the foundation – tournaments at smaller venues and local games stores, in the hopes of building from the bottom up. Once confronted with the question of why should players trust Wizards now, after Organized Play has been in a state of flux for years with promises of improvement, Rasmussen cited a change in the decision makers. Rasmussen also noted that the Hall of Fame is currently on “pause”.
This represents a massive change in the way elite Magic will be played starting later this year. For many involved it represents a flashpoint that could mean a career change and for others it could represent the start of their journey. Editorializing for a moment, I have been a huge fan of professional Magic since I first learned about the Sideboard magazine. I watched the 1996 US Nationals VHS tape so many times that it started to wear out, even though I knew the outcome. I got to live my dream of doing Grand Prix coverage and got to watch other folks live their dream of qualifying for the Pro Tour. Like many others today, I hope these won’t be the last such dreams realized.