PTQ Reform: The Line between Epic and Unreasonable

Magic the Gathering has grown. A lot. A year ago, getting a PTQ with more than 200 players was rare, and a PTQ that broke the 226-player, eight-round threshold was almost unheard of. Now it is becoming more and more common in some corners of the world. Some tournament organizers have risen to the challenge, renting out larger venues and bringing on larger judge staffs to accommodate. Some TOs have even moved the start times of their PTQs earlier in the day to ensure the event ends before 3 a.m. at a 24-hour coffee shop. But in other areas, players haven’t been so lucky: some TOs have started putting caps on attendance; some have just jammed more tables and chairs into an already over-crowded venue.

To help combat the issue of Grand Prix and PTQ overcrowding, and to account for the growth of the game, Wizards restructured the GP and PTQ system as outlined in Helene Bergeot’s article here.

Part of that restructuring involved changing the GP system so that if more than 1,200 players are in attendance, the number of Pro Tour invites doubles from four to eight. Moreover, if the event is super huge, all players with at least 39 points (13-2 record or better) get an invite. In addition to assuring that invites scale based on attendance, this also helps change the system so that you never have to play more than nine rounds of Swiss on day one and nine rounds total on day two, ensuring a healthy experience for players, judges, and TOs.

But all the PTQ system got was an extra season, which may result in more PTQs per year overall, but in some areas might also result in even fewer PT invites per season since there is now going to be a fourth Pro Tour. The issues of poor invite to player ratio? Not dealt with. The problem of long days? Not solved.

Back in June, I ran a PTQ with 367 players. At that event, I was expecting a max of 250 players, and we blew that out of the water. Luckily, we were able to grab a few extra judges, get through the registration line only an hour late, and find some extra tables and chairs so the day went off without too much trouble. My judges worked for more than 14 hours each, however, and the players had to slog through nine rounds of Swiss plus a top eight. An event that started at 10 a.m. finished at nearly midnight. And this was constructed!

For November 9, our second PTQ, I was more prepared. I rented a 12,000 sq. ft. venue, and we had comfortable seating for over 500 people and a judge staff of more than 20 working shifts so no one judge (head judge aside) had to stay for more than 12 hours… We were ready for anything. The day went really well, but it wasn’t easy and it was certainly out of the ordinary. Most PTQ organizers don’t want to shell out compensation for 20 judges and expect their judges to work the whole tournament, even if that is 14 hours or more. I can sympathize with all sides: asking judges to volunteer for more than 12 hour days for a booster box isn’t fair, but asking TOs to pay more than $2,000 in labor for a one-day event isn’t fair either, and asking players to let $2,000 out of their prize pool isn’t something they are going to be thrilled about.

Many people I know skipped the PTQ because they “didn’t want to play in a 400-person tournament with only one prize” or because they simply couldn’t take 16 hours out of their life to play Magic. And, honestly, I didn’t blame them—nine rounds plus top eight is a crazy long day! And what happens if we top 410 players? Ten rounds of Swiss?

Here is what I propose for changes to the system to make PTQs more accessible to players, judges, and TOs.

PTQs with 226 or fewer players stay exactly the same. For the summer 2013 season, this would mean all but seven PTQs. For the PTQs with more than 226 players in attendance they would get upgraded to being a “Super PTQ,” and the following elements of the tournament change:

1) Rounds change to “Swiss –1” (meaning that 227–410 player events play eight rounds of Swiss rather than nine, and 411+ play nine rounds rather than ten).

2) At the end of Swiss you then cut to top 16 rather than top eight.

3a) For limited events, the top 16 then break into two separate top eights, one with players ranked 1, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 16 and the other with players ranked 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15. These players are then seated randomly for their separate drafts, as players normally would for a top-eight draft portion of a limited PTQ.

3b) For constructed events you would then play out the top 16 by standing order (1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, and so on).

4) Both of these events would then end after three rounds, once you have a final top-two players. Both players would receive a Pro Tour invite and airfare as the first-place winner currently does. They would also receive any additional prizes as supplied by the TO.

One tournament, two winners. Two plane tickets, two Pro Tour invites.

This change would have huge implications to the PTQ scene, worldwide. It would keep long days shorter by at least an hour, it would give frustrated players who “don’t bother with PTQs anymore” a reason to get back on the wagon, and it would help avoid judge and player fatigue.

As I said before, during PTQ Theros season this past summer, there were seven PTQs (that I could find) that actually broke the magical 226 number, so although this would increase the size of the Pro Tour (and the cost of running the Pro Tour to Wizards), it wouldn’t change the system drastically. And, even if this new system grows PTQ attendance and creates more demand, it would only grow the Pro Tour in relation to the overall growth of the game—once again, a scaling system just like the PT invites offered at Grands Prixs.

This would also have one other pleasant side effect: tournament organizers would now have a good reason to try to attract more people to their PTQ! Currently, many TOs simply throw up a box for top eight and know that they can phone-in the event and still get 120 players to come and throw down their $30 or $40, while others go out of their way to get extra players to attend by promising better prizes, hosting good side events, and creating incentives for early registration. A system like I am suggesting would give TOs a reason to put some effort into their PTQs, which ultimately would result in greater attendance and better-run tournaments for everyone.

Ultimately, this game is growing, and if the Pro Tour is still going to be attainable for players at a local level, increasing Pro Tour invites based on local tournament attendance and maintaining a reasonable tournament length at the PTQ level is the only way to make sure everyone has a fair shot at the Pro Tour.

I’m aware that this is just one solution to the problem, and there are probably other problems this system might create, but the point is that change has to happen. My solution might not be the best, but I just want to start the conversation and help start the process of change for the benefit of everyone.

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