"Magic: The Gathering's organized play offerings will be undergoing some changes in 2012. These modifications will affect programs at Wizards Play Network locations all the way up to the Pro Tour, providing more opportunities to play at many levels."
Those were the words that opened up an announcement from Wizards of the Coast regarding changes to Organized Play programs reaching from Prereleases to the Pro Tour.
You can read the announcement here, but the highlights were the following three items:
1. The Grand Prix schedule is going to expand greatly in 2012—Wizards said their goal is to double the number next year, making weekends in 2012 without a Grand Prix somewhere on the planet a rare thing. That increased schedule will also provide more opportunities to expand the judge program. Additionally, the announcement said that there will be increased events for WPN stores with an expanded Grand Prix Trial program. Because of the increased number of events, the 2012 schedule would not be announced all at the same time.
2. Pro Tours will become private events, with less of the convention fanfare and public events the likes of which we saw at Magic Weekend Paris. The high level of play we have seen over the past seasons will remain the standard, combined with expanded online coverage of the Pro Tour. Players looking for public events, spellslinging, and artist signings will be able to fulfill those needs with the increased Grand Prix schedule, as those attractions become more of a regular feature at Grand Prix.
3. The release for New Phyrexia will be the last events to feature to large regional Prereleases in North America. With the summer release of the Magic 2012 Core Set, the focus for all new set celebrations will be at Wizard Play Network locations. Again, the expanded Grand Prix schedule is expected to fill the need for players looking for larger communal Magic experiences.
Wizards of the Coast has tinkered with their Organized Play programs since the very beginning of the game, and if there is one thing I have learned during that time it is that players are very wary of said changes. There is a lot to take in from this announcement—not to mention the myriad of questions it spawns. I sat down with Organized Play Programs Manager Scott Larabee to get some more detail about the things said in this announcement and to dig a little deeper into what it all means for us.
BDM: Let's start by talking about all these new Grand Prix events. What is the breakdown for how the additional events will be set by region?
Scott: The actual breakdown will be determined at a later date. The number of Grand Prix per region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Japan) will be based on the play population of each region. The largest portion will be in North America, the next largest portion in Europe, and so on. While the schedule has not been determined yet, we will be holding Grand Prix in each of those five regions in 2012.
BDM: Do these changes affect the Pro Players Club?
Scott: The Pro Club will be going through a transition in 2012 as we develop a broader system to address many of the benefits provided by the current Pro Club. To ensure that players are taken care of during this adjustment period, we will be honoring all travel, invitations, and appearance fee benefits at 2012 Pro Tour events based on a player's level at the end of the 2011 Pro season. We plan on holding the same number of Pro Tour-style events in 2012 as we did in 2011. High-level pros who are involved in our Pro Tour Players Club now will get a chance to become immersed in our new system as they play throughout 2012 with their hard-earned benefits from 2011.
BDM: And anyone playing and accumulating points in 2011 will receive the benefits for the following season that they came into this year expecting that they were earning?
BDM: Will the new system replace the underwriting of travel for the game's top players? Is something in the works to offset costs of traveling to Pro Tours?
Scott: Those concerns are being addressed as we continue developing the new system, and details about that will be announced in the coming months.
BDM: "Private Pro Tour" means what, exactly? Can I not attend the event at all if I am not qualified?
Scott: Private Pro Tour means the event will focus on the Pro Tour competition and the online coverage. These events are not intended to be open to the general public, as Public Events (including Last Chance Qualifiers), artists, and spellslinging will not be a part of the Pro Tour experience. Grand Prix will now be the events to feature attractions such as artist signings and spellslinging, giving more players the chance to interact with the many facets of Magic.
BDM: What about players who don't make Day Two? Will they have anything to participate in?
Scott: Starting in 2012, there will no longer be a cut from Day 1 to Day 2. Even if a player's record would exclude him or her from making the Top 8, they will be allowed to continue playing in the Pro Tour.
BDM: What does expanded online coverage mean?
Scott: We plan to increase video coverage to include live streaming of matches on Friday and Saturday similar to our current Top 8 webcasts. Additionally, we will offer more interactive content that engages the online spectator directly in the coverage, provide more analysis on the top decks via additional Deck Tech videos and player interviews, and focus the text coverage entirely on the main event.
BDM: I have certainly talked to players over the years who cite attending a Pro Tour as a spectator to be a galvanizing moment in their Magic careers. What do you think the ramifications of creating private events will be for aspiring Pros?
Scott: Our vision behind expanding the online coverage will bring the excitement of the Pro Tour to a greater number of people, including the aspiring Pros. We have new, engaging ideas planned for how we cover the private Pro Tours and are looking forward to bringing the event to an even broader group of Magic players worldwide. The increase in the number of Grand Prix will also allow more people to directly experience premier Magic play.
BDM: Pretend it is the first week of January, 2012. How much of the schedule do I know in advance? At what point on the calendar would I have the full schedule of events available as a player planning their year of travel?
Scott: We plan to announce Pro Tour and Grand Prix dates and locations closer to when they actually occur. We think this is something we can do on a quarterly basis throughout the year with roughly a three-month lead time. That means that in the first week of 2012, I expect that you would know all the Pro Tour and Grand Prix events scheduled through June 2012. The full-year schedule would likely be completed and announced sometime in the summer of 2012.
BDM: You talk about moving away from North American Regional Prereleases in 2012—how successful have the WPN events been? How much have they contributed to the surge in the player base?
Scott: Very successful. Since expanding Prereleases to WPN stores, we have given many more players the opportunity to attend a Prerelease. As a result, we have seen record-setting global Prerelease attendance as well as significant growth in the worldwide Magic player base. The attendance numbers at Grand Prix have also shown that those are the large-scale Magic events in the most demand by our players.
BDM: Why make this announcement now? What do you hope people take away from this announcement and this interview?
Scott: We don't want to get to the end of this season and say "surprise!" This is the first in a series of informational announcements we will be doing. We wanted to start making people aware that changes are coming and that this is more than just re-figuring the schedule for 2012. Our goal is to provide more opportunities to play at many levels. Because of the ambitious nature of this growth plan for global premier play, we also need time to train a larger group of professional tournament organizers and judge staff to ensure these events are run at the same level of quality players have come to expect at Wizards premier-play events.
BDM: Players will certainly have their opinions about all this. How can players communicate with Wizards regarding these changes, make suggestions for expanded event coverage, and give general feedback?
Scott: People can sound off using the message board linked at the bottom of this page, and they can send us an email via this form.