To Play or Draw is Determined by the Structure

Posted in NEWS on October 5, 1999

By Wizards of the Coast

Douglas Saadeh

How often have you been to a seven round Pro Tour Qualifier where the players were determining what they needed to do after the fifth round? Do you remember when a win was worth two points instead of three and a draw still counted as one point? These questions relate to the final eight of a Qualifier and the impact of the intentional draw on the tournament structure itself. Rather than focus on the intentional draw, I would like to call attention to playing and the structure itself.

With the current Pro Tour Qualifier format, a player is basically in the running to make the top eight as long as they have no more than one loss and one draw. This allows undefeated players to intentionally draw during the last two rounds to guarantee a spot in the top eight. Of course similar logic applies to the final round but players with one loss risk not making the final cut due to tiebreakers if they intentionally draw. With this type of flexibility, a player should technically be able to decide whether they want to draw any individual games even after the match has started. This makes sense because players can concede at any time without penalty.

When a decision to play has been made, usually both players believe they need to win to get into the final eight. The 50 minute time limit can make this difficult in a limited event due of creature standoffs. Players realizing that time is running out might secretly decide who wins the match using some random method. Though it is legal to concede, it does rob another player that might have otherwise advanced into the final eight had neither player won. This could further be affected by the three point win versus the old two point win, but that rule was put into place to prevent the players from drawing into the final eight with three rounds left to play.

Since there is so much concern about making it to the final eight that it would cause players to concede and do things that are not in their best competetive interest, then why not consider changing the structure. If a prize structure were created to award anyone that had a specific record or better after the swiss rounds, then players would still have the same incentive to stay in the tournament even after a loss. Eliminating the final eight would have an incredible effect on drawing in the later rounds.

The dynamics of drawing would change if the tournament were structured such that there were one or even two rounds more than required to produce a clear winner. Players would not want to accept draws as easily because there would be no top eight to start over. An undefeated player after seven rounds would still have to prove they had the best deck for one or two more rounds. The old scoring system of two points for a win and one for a draw could be reinstated. Given the new 50 minute rounds, a draw in the limited environment would not be penalized as heavily.

How much collusion would there be in a tournament without a final eight? It is hard to say, but I believe that the play level would increase because eight will no longer be the magic number. Each player will be aiming for the top spot, and intentionally drawing is probably not the way to go about getting there. A couple of long unfinished matches won't hurt as much with a two point win because the player will still be in the running due to the extra rounds. One other point to consider, since the final eight requires three additional rounds of single elimination, the tournament will take less time to complete. Maybe the rounds could go back to 60 minutes, stranger things have happened (remember the 70 minute rounds).

Douglas Saadeh (Level III)
August 23, 1999