Deep Dive into Magic's Organized Play Changes

Posted in Feature on November 2, 2011

By Aaron Forsythe

Over the past few months, Wizards of the Coast's Organized Play team has introduced Planeswalker Points and a reimagining of the structure of Premier Play. Because the timing of the two changes overlapped, as did many of the events they affected, the two programs have become intertwined and inseparable in players' minds—I suppose rightly so. Combined, these Organized Play changes have been met with a great deal of excitement, but there are also a number of valid concerns raised on social media, on our message boards, and on external websites. We're confident that today's announcement will generate equally passionate feedback, and we welcome it.

In my position as Director of Magic R&D, I try to channel the player—I was one for years, at the kitchen table, in the card shop, and under the Pro Tour lights—in all aspects of my job. I want to make decisions that players will be happy with, and if they aren't happy, I want to provide explanations that are, at the very least, satisfactory. To my benefit and yours, everyone at Wizards wants to do the same.

One such person is Helene Bergeot, Director of Organized Play. Helene and her team (with input from the R&D and Brand groups) were the architects of these changes. In an effort to address concerns raised about the changes, Helene sat down with me to answer questions I've gathered from players around the globe about what Organized Play is striving to accomplish under these new systems.

Q: Since we introduced Planeswalker Points, some Pro Players have voiced concern over the impact of the system on the Pro Tour. They feel Planeswalker Points is not robust enough to actually be meaningful for skill-based invites, and there's a perception out there that your chances to qualify for the Pro Tour are higher if you're participating (and winning) tons of small tournaments than if you're doing well at high-level tournaments. So what's the deal?

HB: The Pro Tour has only one goal: Foster high-level play, rewarding the best players in the world. As such, the Pro Tour is the highest level of play for competitive players, and provides aspiration for millions around the world.

We understand the perception is that you can become a pro by accruing Planeswalker Points (grinding at FNMs, etc.). Our intention is that you cannot qualify for the Pro Tour off of small tournaments alone, and we will be monitoring closely to that effect. As we see how the invitations shape up for Pro Tour Dark Ascension, if it ends up that players are getting to the Pro Tour by primarily grinding small events, we will make changes to the system.

Q: How is Wizards handling current Pro Tour players with all these changes?

HB: Aside from rewarding the best players in the world, our intent for the Pro Tour is to ensure that top-performing players are guaranteed Pro Tour invitations without the need to re-qualify for every event. In 2011, the current incarnation of the Pro Players Club is filling that role. Our intent is to replace the Pro Players Club in 2013 with a new system that accomplishes this goal of ensuring the top minds in the game always have a seat at the big game. In the mean time, Pro Players Club benefits will be honored through the 2012 season.

Q: The 3x multiplier for Friday Night Magic is confusing some people. Does it mean that we are forcing pros (and aspiring pros) to play in FNM events in order to qualify for the Pro Tour?

HB: Let me make it very clear here that FNM is not how you get onto the Pro Tour. We don't expect pro players to have to attend FNM to continue to participate in the Pro Tour, and grinding FNMs should not get you to the Pro Tour. Friday Night Magic will remain a fun and friendly non-pro-level competition, and if it turns out that the Planeswalker Points system as it exists today doesn't help create this environment, we'll make changes.

Q: Since we're on the topic of FNM, here's a random tangent... Why isn't Legacy an official format for FNM?

HB: Legacy is not the best format for a new player to get into organized play. FNM is meant to be a great place for a Magic player to get engaged in the local tournament scene, and Legacy doesn't really fit there.

There are a number of tournaments organized every week besides FNM, and many WPN stores actively support Legacy as a response to the demand of their local players.

Q: With Planeswalker Points in place, what's the best way to qualify for the Pro Tour?

HB: You qualify for the Pro Tour by either winning a Pro Tour Qualifier or accruing Planeswalker Points through large competitive events such as Grand Prix.

The majority of PT invites are granted through PTQs; for the next couple of Pro Tours, there'll be two hundred PTQ invites (in addition to the Magic Online qualifiers) and one hundred Planeswalker Points invites. We may change this breakdown in the future, but this is what we're planning for next year. Both PTQ and Planeswalker Points invites award plane tickets.

Q: Grand Prix events no longer have Pro Tour invites associated with them. Doesn't that mean that the total number of players in the Pro Tour will drop dramatically?

HB: The Pro Tours represent the top level of Magic competition, and the number of players will be reduced to represent just that. By decoupling the Grand Prix and Pro Tours, we also have the opportunity to run additional GP events without having a negative effect on the Pro Tour, which is something we knew the players wanted.

Q: On the surface, Planeswalker Points encourages people to never drop from events. Additionally, if you want to leave, you don't need to drop formally since you can't lose ratings points any more. Is this okay?

HB: No, we don't think that it's okay—and it is certainly not the intention. The system is designed to reward participation, not to encourage players to no longer be courteous to their fellow event participants. Organizers are expected to keep track of the players who are no longer active in the tournament; it's a function of good tournament management. With that said, if this behavior turns out to be a real issue, we'll address it.

Q: What do Lifetime Planeswalker Points get me? Why should I care?

HB: Currently, your lifetime points determine your overall PWP level—it's a great way to monitor your progression over time in the game. Remember that Lifetime Points are only one way of quantifying a Magic players' cumulative achievement within the game.

Q: The whole system seems very USA-centric. US players have more big events to earn Planeswalker Points (for example, Opens), there seem to be disproportionate numbers of Grand Prix in the US compared to Europe and Japan in the past, and now small countries won't even get Pro Tour invites for Worlds. Why? What is being done to address this?

HB: We allocate the maximum number of GPs to each region based on the size of their player populations. Each regional team can change that number based on their market specifics.

WPN premium tournaments (such as the Opens) are open to every region, and we hope that more organizations will be encouraged to run these types of tournaments. If players are interested, they should talk to their stores!

Q: With all these changes, it seems easy to take the view that Planeswalker Points has disrupted the way that Organized Play works. What do you think of that perspective?

HB: Planeswalker Points is a new ratings system that fosters participation and rewards play of all levels. Rather than disrupting the way OP works, I would say that it actually reinforces the reasons why we have organized play, and encourages players of all levels to get together. We're not looking to blur the OP lines—there will still be pro players and non-pro players, and we are committed to monitoring our systems and making sure that balance remains intact.

The changes we're making have a lot of implications for players around the world, and they can be a lot to digest.

The good news is that most of what we're doing is already working well. I've heard countless stories of players professing renewed interest in Organized Play and of stores with reinvigorated communities and skyrocketing attendance. The even better news is that we are dedicated to continually improving the whole system beyond where it is now. To do that, we need your feedback.

In fact, we're kicking off a player survey to help collect your thoughts. Click here to take the survey. You can also keep asking questions through Twitter (I'm @mtgaaron), and we'll follow-up with all of you when we have the results of the survey and answers to your additional questions.

A big thanks to Helene Bergeot, and thank you for reading.

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