How Do I Qualify for the Pro Tour?

Posted in NEWS on October 19, 2012

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

I had the opportunity to play at Grand Prix San Jose this past weekend and had an absolute blast. My team for the event included two of my coworkers -- Rob and Ryan -- who did not have very much tournament experience coming into the event. Ryan had played in JSS qualifiers when he was in his early teens but only came back to playing Magic recently. Rob has been playing forever but has always been more of a Magic Online player and has eschewed tournaments occurring in meatspace.

We came into Day One with no byes and had to fight through each and every one of the eleven rounds if we had any hope of making Day Two. (Spoilers ? we didn't make Day Two) We made it to round 10 before we picked up the fatal third loss and headed back to the hotel for the night. Despite being at the tournament site from 8:30 in the morning until past 12:30 that night we had a great time. And for two players who had no idea what to expect from a tournament at this level of play they felt great about their play and their results ? rightfully so.

On Sunday, we took a Magic palette cleanser to watch NFL games before heading back to the tournament site to do some side drafting, hang out with friends, and watch the rest of the tournament ? that started out with close to 1800 players ? come to a conclusion with a three round playoff between the last six players standing. Once the event finally wound down we began a two hour drive back to the Sacramento area. It is highly unlikely that either of my teammates would have taken the tournament plunge for an individual Grand Prix. And I have to think this is true for plenty of the teams that played this weekend. I am pretty sure that some version of the conversation that broke our burger-full and sleepy-eyed silence took place in multiple cars driving in all directions away from San Jose.

Player A: "So that was a lot of fun."
Player C: "Yeah! We did better than I was expecting."
Player B: "You guys were great. You played really well."

The car lapses into the hypnotic rhythm of late night driving when the silence is broken by the sound of the fish hook being planted firmly in lip.

Player A: "Sooooo... How do you qualify for the Pro Tour anyway?"

    With Pro Tour Return to Ravnica upon us ? it begins the same day this article goes live ? this seemed like a great opportunity to look at all the different ways the players attending qualified to be here. While you are watching the live webstream of the event you can start planning out your assault on the unqualified players in your area to get to Pro Tour Gatecrash.

    Webcast Schedule

    City Friday Saturday Sunday
    Seattle 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 10:45 a.m.
    Los Angeles 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 10:45 a.m.
    Chicago 11 a.m. 11 a.m. 12:45 p.m.
    New York Noon Noon 1:45 p.m.
    Rio de Janeiro 1 p.m. 1 p.m. 2:45 p.m.
    London 5 p.m. 5 p.m. 6:45 p.m.
    Paris 6 p.m. 6 p.m. 7:45 p.m.
    Berlin 6 p.m. 6 p.m. 7:45 p.m.
    Moscow 8 p.m. 8 p.m. 9:45 p.m.
    Tokyo 1 a.m. Saturday 1 a.m. Sunday 2:45 a.m. Monday
    Sydney 2 a.m. Saturday 2 a.m. Sunday 3:45 a.m. Monday

    Pro Tour Qualifiers

    This is the most basic route to the Pro Tour, and they were put into place for the second ever Pro Tour that was held in Los Angeles. (Trivia -- the first ever PTQ was run at my old game store Neutral Ground and was won by StarCityGames's own Ben Bleiweiss.) The current PTQ season is Sealed Deck with a Booster Draft Top 8 and is for the first Pro Tour of next year, Pro Tour Gatecrash happening in Montreal, Canada. This season began in August and will continue through December 16th. These events are held in WPN locations and can range in attendance from 70 players to the mid-200's depending on the location and the population density.

    Players take part in a fixed number of rounds determined by the number of players and then at the end of those Swiss rounds?which means everyone can play in every round regardless of record?the Top 8 players based on record advance to a single elimination bracket. If players are tied for 8th with the same record there are a series of tiebreakers that determine who gets the berth.

    The PTQ Top 8 is one of the most harrowing gauntlets in Magic when you are trying to get to the Pro Tour. When you are in the middle of the Swiss rounds you see the mass of players around you and being the last person standing might not seem very real at that point. As you get to the Top 8 you can see a tunnel to the Pro Tour if you can just get past three more people (quarterfinals, semifinals and finals). Those three people have likely been seated near you all day so you know they are good. That ultimate winner gets the proverbial blue envelope (Pro Tour invites used to come in an actual blue envelope) and airfare to the Pro Tour.

    A few of the players taking part in Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, who won their berths at a PTQ, include three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitors Ari Lax and Caleb Durward, Pro Tour Kyoto Top 8 competitor Cedric Phillips, Pro Tour Prague Top 8 competitor Antonino DeRosa, and Pro Tour London winner Geoffrey Siron. In the past we have seen the likes of Brian Kibler restart his career into a Hall of Fame run after grinding in the PTQ ranks to get back on the tour.

    MTGO Pro Tour Qualifiers

    Magic Online runs a series of 16 qualifiers each season that function pretty much the same as a physical PTQ but they do not award airfare with the prize. Players who qualify via this method and show up will have a chance to play in 2-person events with a guaranteed payout of $1,000 for each player. The only difference between winning and losing is some booster pack prizes. The PTQ season for Magic Online started in September and also runs through December 16th with Return to Ravnica Sealed Deck and Top 8 Booster Draft as the format for the rest of the way.

    Former UK National Team member Daniel Gardner is certainly going to be on Rich Hagon's list of players to watch (as well as mine since Dan is a long-time Top8Magic listener). I am eager to see what John Cuvelier brings to the event. He is an up and coming Florida Magic player who worked with Bronson Magnan on his Grand Prix Nebraska winning decklist. He is willing to go outside the box?way outside if need be?and he has made my deck tech checklist that I carry to each Pro Tour.

    Grand Prix Top 4

    If you thought that Top 8 at a PTQ was harrowing how about that quarterfinal match at a Grand Prix? Grand Prix events start out with upwards of 1500 players?sometimes more than 2000?and are a great opportunity for regional players to rub elbows with the game's elite. Even the Pros don't go to a GP and just assume they will make Top 8. Fortunately the prizes pay out a little deeper than they do at other events. Money prizes and Pro Points are awarded as far down as the Top 64 finishers.

    Some players get byes for a Grand Prix which you can earn based on your Player's Club level (more on that shortly, as well as Pro Points), your seasonal Planeswalker Points, or by virtue of having won a Grand Prix Trial. These events are held regionally but there is a flurry of them the day before the Grand Prix at the tournament site. If you are trying to qualify for the Pro Tour you REALLY want to have three byes. You can do it without them but having the byes gives you a lot more margin for error. Players with byes will have the most robust tiebreakers and are the most likely players to emerge on top of a scrum of players tied in the results.

    Players on Day One are usually culled down to either 64 or 128 players based on the attendance of the event. Each Day is Swiss style and at the end of six or seven rounds on Day Two the cut to the Top 8 happens and the sweating begins for the non-qualified players sitting down to play. If you win that one match you earn a spot to the Pro Tour -- airfare included. Win two more rounds and you will come into the Pro Tour as a Grand Prix Champion but that is not really germane to today's narrative.

    Special Invitations

    These are not common and are usually reserved for players like David Williams and Eric Froelich who have won World Series of Poker bracelets and are identified on televised poker shows as Magic players. Eric has been so successful in competitive Magic over the past few seasons that he has not needed an invite. David Williams just won Grand Prix San Jose so he will be directly qualified for Pro Tour Gatecrash. Let's just chalk this category up as not terribly relevant to most of you.

    Sponsor's Exemptions

    There are a small handful of these handed out each season. They provide airfare for players who "showed excellence in play and positive community activity during the qualifying season but did not earn an invitation through other means. This consideration includes quantity and quality of finishes at Grand Prix events, Pro Tour Qualifiers, World Magic Cup Qualifiers, Pro Tour Avacyn Restored , and the World Magic Cup."

    Basically if you are playing hard, playing fair, and just missing in a series of heartbreaking finishes you just might find yourself coming to the Pro Tour anyway.

    Hall of Fame

    This, like Special Invitations, is another category that will not include the person asking the titular question, but it is presented here for completeness. We have seen Kai Budde, Jelger Wiegersma, Nicolai Herzog, and Jon Finkel, all make Top 8s after their induction into the Hall of Fame. Players become eligible for the Hall after they have accumulated 100 Pro Points in their career and 10 years have passed since their first time playing on the Pro Tour.

    If you tune into the Friday's webcast, prior to Round 1, you will get to watch me induct this year's class of the Hall of Fame live. The class for this year has: Patrick Chapin, Masashi Oiso, Kenji Tsumura, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.

    Pro Club Level

    There are some players qualified for this tournament under a grandfathered program that is very similar to the next entry so I will skip this category.

    2012-13 Pro Club Gold and Platinum

    Players accumulate Pro Points (note, not Planeswalker Points) by doing well in Grand Prix, playing in Pro Tours, playing on the World Magic Cup, and in the Players Championship. Players who accumulate 30 points for Gold membership are qualified for every Pro Tour during that season and lock in for the following season's club membership. You need 45 points for Platinum which is the elite class of the game. This is the goal of every Magic player and when you hear people talk about "getting on the train" or "gravy training" this is what they are talking about.

    Platinum level players are the game's best and brightest, the current Platinum roster includes new stars like Alexander Hayne and Hall of Fame veterans like Jon Finkel with every Luis Scott-Vargas and Yuuya Watanabe in between.

    Silver Level (15 points)
    Gold Level (30 points)
    Platinum Level (45 points)
      • Member receives two byes at all Grand Prix tournaments
      • Member is invited to his or her country's World MagicCup Qualifiers
      • Member receives three byes at all Grand Prix tournaments
      • Member is invited to his or her country's World MagicCup Qualifiers
      • Member is invited to all Pro Tours. Players will not receive their invitations until the Thursday prior to each Pro Tour.
      • Member receives three byes at all Grand Prix tournaments
      • Member is invited to World MagicCup Qualifiers in his or her country
      • Member is invited to all Pro Tours.
      • Member receives a $3,000.00 USD appearance fee whenever he or she competes in a Pro Tour
      • Member receives expenses-paid air travel ticket and hotel accommodations at all Pro Tours during the current season*
      • Member receives a $1,000.00 USD appearance fee if he or she competes in the World Magic Cup. Member receives a $250.00 USD appearance fee whenever he or she competes in a Grand Prix

    World Magic Cup Top 4

    For sixteen players at this event their career could easily have begun at a WMC Qualifier at their local WPN store. Three players from each participating country earned their berths at such a qualifier. Then each of the national teams were flown to GenCon to play in an international competition that culled the field down to Sunday's Top 4 teams. Next year's World Magic Cup is being held in Amsterdam!

    Previous Pro Tour Top 25

    When you first get to the Pro Tour you need to make the Top 25 if you want to be able to string a couple of performances together and start tallying up Pro Points to earn an invite via Player's Club membership. It has been a while since Pro Tour Avacyn Restored but newer players like 17th place finisher Zac Elsik. The 10 Pro Points he got at the event were wiped away with the annual reset, but he gets a fresh chance to tally up points!

    What happens once you get to the Pro Tour? Make sure to tune in all weekend and watch it live from Seattle as I will be kicking things off Friday morning with the Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies followed by round one feature matches for the new inductees.