TO Conference Call

Posted in The Week That Was on October 24, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

It has been a year of change for the Magic Organized Play programs as resources have been shifted around to create the Wizards Play Network, a new grassroots Organized Play program designed to acquire a broader player base. The changing tournament scene has also led to an entrepreneurial surge on the part of North American tournament organizers, bringing about the return of State and Provincial Championships in North America, spawning abundant tournaments with prize pools up to $5,000, and christening a cruise concept that will set sail just in time for the Conflux release.

"It was very exciting to see tournament organizers contacting us spontaneously to discuss ideas like the Magic cruise, $5ks or States," said Senior Marketing Manager Helene Bergeot. "After examining the ideas that were shared with us, we identified that they would nicely complement the events Wizards of the Coast organizes directly. This is a great opportunity to offer an even greater variety of tournaments to Magic players.

"All the credit for these initiatives really has to be given to the tournament organizers. Our contribution is to help them promote the events to the player community," she said, making it clear that Wizards would be playing close attention to how the community responds to these initiatives. "I'm looking forward to seeing how the tournaments will be received, and we hope to get more ideas like these that will bring more Magic to our players."

To get additional details about some of these programs, I arranged for a roundtable with three trailblazing tournament organizers who will be organizing upcoming State Championships, big cash events, and the very exciting Magic cruise—not to mention cruise qualifiers.

Rob Dougherty is a Hall of Fame Magic player, owner of Your Move Games, a tournament organizer, and a popular—if altogether too infrequent—columnist. Pete Hoefling operates the Star City Games website in addition to a store and events under the same name. He has long taken a forward-thinking approach to running tournaments with programs that have nurtured the Vintage and Legacy communities. And if you have been to a Pro Tour and played in a PTQ, an eight-person draft, a Last Chance Qualifier, or any sanctioned public event, then you have likely met Steve Port. He runs Legion Events, the company that handles all the ancillary tournaments on the Pro Tour scene.

BDM: Tell us who you are and how you got involved in Magic.

Rob: Company name: Your Move Games
Headquarters: Somerville, MA
Web site:

I was at the Gen Con where Wizards launched Magic. At the time I thought the game sounded terrible. "The more you spend the more game pieces you have access to. That game can't be good!" It was only after a friend twisted my arm that I gave the game a try. I never looked back.

Pete: Company name:
Headquarters: Roanoke, Virginia
Web Site:

A group of kids came into my comic book store and asked if we carried the game. We told them that we did not. Surprisingly, the group stopped in again the next day and asked the exact same question. We again told them that we didn't carry the game, but at that point decided to order one box specifically with them in mind. I was shocked to see that same group of kids buy every single pack out of the box the day it arrived. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and from that day on, we began stocking and promoting Magic in our store. A few years later, we stopped selling comics altogether in order to focus entirely on games such as Magic and in-store Organized Play.

Steve: Company name: Legion Events
Headquarters: Madison, WI (serving WI, MN and the Dakotas)

I was playing in a Blood Bowl league (sort of a board game version of football with elves and dwarves and orks) that I had organized with a couple friends and one of my friends was a co-owner in a comic/game store in the suburbs of Milwaukee. I had heard about Magic and asked him to bring me enough packs to get me playing so I could see what it was like. We started playing it before/after league each week and my good friend and eventual co-conspirator in organizing events, Chris Boles, got hooked hard. We'd be up playing against each other till 2-3 a.m. Then we'd get up at 6-7 a.m. to go do our jobs and work all day. Just couldn't make ourselves quit.

BDM: How did you get involved in running Magic tournaments? Was it pre-PTQs and if so, what kind of tournaments were you running back then?

Steve: Wes Beshears was a guy in Sun Prairie (just outside of Madison) who was involved in some little league clubs and such and had been playing Magic with his son. He organized a local Magic tournament that I heard about, played in, and—I think—took second in, losing to a good friend whose deck I also built. After the event we all got together and talked about organizing a local card club. Wes knew some folks at the city and we were able to get the community center to meet at every week. So we began meeting there every week on Saturday nights. It started with six or seven of us and quickly grew to 30-40, even 60 some nights. We started running events a couple times a year at the local VFW where I knew some guys and got a great rental rate as a "non-profit" so that we could fund cool stuff for our club. I'd go around to all the local stores and get $10-$15 worth of stuff from them to put in a prize pool and in exchange put their store info on flyers spread all over the Midwest.

Those events were pulling 120-140 players and are among the first events a few notable folks—Bob Maher, for instance—played at. This went on for a couple years.

In January 2001 I opened my first store in Madison after a couple other local game stores went under—rising from their ashes, as it were. They were conceptualized as a symbiotic relationship between the events I was already running and a retail outlet. My second store opened in fall of 2006 in Burnsville, MN. They are both continuing to work that model. Enough play space that I don't have to rent from hotels or convention centers for MOST events and have everything a gamer needs built in. It makes my life easier scheduling the multitude of events I run, gives the players a consistent venue they can always find, and assures they'll be provided with retail support at every event.

Pete: I started off running smaller in-store tournaments, but soon began setting up as a dealer at many of the larger events run by my area PTO (premier tournament organizer). Working with my area PTO enabled me to promote my store, acquire the Magic singles I needed for my customers and grow my business. After a few years, I caught an extremely lucky break; my area PTO decided to retire and Wizards of the Coast offered me his position.

Rob: I started running tournaments before there was a DCI, back when the rules were any 40 cards you wanted in your deck. I played in and sometimes ran some events with a playgroup at MIT. I got more serious about running events when I opened Your Move Games in 1994.

BDM: What is the biggest tournament you have ever organized?

Rob: A Boston Prerelease with over 1500 entries over the course of the weekend.

Pete: That number is currently somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 players, although I'm confident my team and I could handle a tournament of any size.

Steve: Whew. Biggest tournament is sort of a hard thing to say. I tend to run events with lots of people all over, Prereleases and with the Pro Tour Public Events I've been running since the first Pro Tour–Honolulu back in 2006. Biggest volume of people handled would clearly be Worlds Public Events in 2007. Single biggest tournament is probably still the Stronghold prerelease where we had 421 players show up and play 12 rounds of Swiss with a Top 8 playoff. It was directly after that event that we started breaking the players for the events up into pods (some TOs call them flights). That event was nuts. We had planned for about 300-350. The venue had shorted us space and chairs. We ended up hauling stuff down and setting up ourselves the night before into the wee hours and STILL didn't have enough when everyone showed up. We ran the hotel out of tables and ended up having the final few matches playing sitting down on the ground, a piece of masking tape with their "table number" stuck to the floor between them.

BDM: There were 2500 players across two GPs playing this weekend—almost 2K in Paris! What were you thinking as you saw those numbers come in?

Pete: Europe's amazingly efficient transportation system makes it fairly easy for Europeans to get to Paris, so their numbers didn't surprise me at all.

Steve: Europe has always had great GP numbers. A lot of that has to do with a population density and a solid working public transit system. But 750 in KC? Solid! Heard a few people calling for 1,000-plus like Indy got, but I was guessing at 600 or so myself. I'm looking forward to watching the GPs throughout the next year. I expect we'll continue to see stronger numbers as cash events become a bit more prevalent; Brennan Moody, Pete Hoefling, Rob Dougherty—all these guys around the country running cash events help to supplement the competitive player's needs. Tom Shea is running something in the New England area that has been going for a few years.

Rob: I'm thrilled with the strength of Magic in Europe. The U.S. Grand Prix numbers have been great, but in Europe they're just insane.

BDM: How have you created/branded your own tournament programs?

Pete: We've actually launched multiple large-scale tournament series supporting the Vintage, Legacy, Two-Headed Giant and Standard formats. Several of those tournament series are currently being redesigned, but our next $5,000 Standard Open takes place this weekend in Richmond, Virginia.

Rob: I've never been that concerned with brand recognition on my events. I just want there to be large events in the Boston area to help support the community and to give judges an opportunity to train and learn from each other.

Steve: I've started my own $5K series very recently. It was received very well and will definitely be doing another in the near future. I've also been working on the "Game in the Gulf Cruise". That event kind of came out of nowhere for me, a random "what if" conversation I had with Lindsey Kary (my girlfriend and Marketing Director). We began checking into some things and realized it was a possibility. The response has been phenomenal. If things continue as they seem to be right now, I fully expect this to be an annual event. We sort of stumbled into this cruise and port based on a few pre-existing things, but for the future we will be trying different destinations and different ports of origin. I'm pretty excited about this event and what the response means.

BDM: What tournaments have been most successful for you?

Steve: What's the definition of success? Most attendance? Most profit? Or is it emotional? Each of those would have a different "winner." I would call my $5K the most successful "emotional" but it had neither the largest attendance nor the most profit for me. When this cruise goes off... that will be the most successful emotionally. Back to the $5K series, I consider it the most successful because I used a network of local stores to run trials feeding the event, much like a Grand Prix would. It got local stores and dealers involved and really helped raise some competitive local play. All involved thought it was a great success for a first try and we'll tighten up the program a bit for the next ones and make it even better.

Pete: Speaking strictly in terms of attendance, our $5,000 Standard Opens have been the most successful for us. However, our "Power Nine" Vintage tournaments, "Duel for Duals" Legacy tournaments, and smaller $1,000 Standard Opens each help shape the overall metagame, energize entire communities, and drive demand for singles worldwide. I believe that a rising tide really does lift all boats, and that such tournaments benefit all Magic retailers in one way or another.

Rob: The Boston $5K Magic Day had a strong showing. I was particularly pleased with the number of casual players that turned out.

BDM: Are there any tournament programs that have not worked out as well as you would have liked?

Rob: Back in the day, when Wizards was considering switching to the Paris mulligan rule, Wizards asked me to run an event to test the new rule. So I put up a big cash prize, rented a big hall in Boston, advertised the event, and Mark Rosewater even flew out. Unfortunately, more casual players assumed the pros would break the new rule so they didn't bother to try, and the pros couldn't break the new rule so they weren't very interested in coming either! We ended up with 40 players in a hall that could seat 200.

Steve: I was disappointed in the slow downward spiral of the JSS/MSS events. I was really emotionally invested in those events and it made me sad to see such a great opportunity go away. But it simply wasn't hitting the market it needed to strongly enough to continue and I don't blame Wizards for pulling it. They certainly did try different things to reinvigorate it.

Pete: Sure, but I consider everything we do to be an ongoing work in progress. There is always room for improvement.

BDM: It seems to me that there is this vast pool of players who do not fit into the traditional mold of PTQ/Regionals competitive players. How do you attempt to reach out to these players with some of the events you have been brewing?

Steve: The cruise is definitely aimed at those people. We have some competitive types coming to be sure, but there's a nice cross-section of players from all levels. We initially envisioned this appealing to a slightly older Magic crowd...married with children. But it's actually bringing in a little younger base than we suspected. We are getting some of the folks we expected but we are actually also appealing to a younger crowd who want to come with friends and experience something truly unique with their hobby as a primary focus and exploring the world around them weaved through it. We specifically built in more casual play (Elder Dragon Highlander night, Grand Melee night, open league play) that all culminate in prize drawings at the end of the cruise.

Rob: I've been trying to craft activities that appeal to casual players, such as Gunslinging, seminars, and guest artists. At the recent $5K Magic day I gave a seminar on sideboarding, Darwin Kastle gave one on various forms of card advantage, and Lars Grant-West gave a seminar on art in Magic.

Pete: In the case of our "Power Nine" Vintage tournaments and "Duel for Duals" Legacy tournaments, many players love those formats, but not many organizers support them. Offering those fans quality events simply fills a void that is there to be filled. On the other hand, our $5,000 Standard Opens actually cater to the exact same players who enjoy events such as States and Regionals. Many players have told us that our $5,000 Standard Opens feel like "a really big States," and that's exactly what we're shooting for.

BDM: Tell me about your latest events be they a cruise, $5K, or $3K and what you are doing to make them special.

Pete: This weekend's $5,000 Standard Open is going to be an absolute blast. On Friday (tonight!), we'll be running 16-player trials late into the evening. These trials award the only byes available for Saturday's big event. Saturday is the $5,000 Standard Open itself, which is always huge and loads of fun. On Sunday, we're hosting one of the only Pro Tour–Kyoto Qualifiers being run this weekend. And if all of that isn't enough, we'll also be offering $10 Booster Drafts all weekend long. I'm really looking forward to it!

Rob: We have a $3,000 tournament this Sunday, October 26th at Gamingetc in Stratford, CT. The tournament is Standard format and should provide a great opportunity for people to test their States decks. Darwin Kastle and I will be there to do some Hall of Fame gunslinging.

Steve: I have said for years that I'm one of those guys that doesn't want a bigger piece of the pie. I want a bigger pie...which of course makes my piece bigger by default. To that end I've worked a lot with stores in my area, whether it be going in to help them set up events, finding them a judge when possible, offering advice on when and where to run events or even retail store advice.

The cruise does that with an even larger area. We've sprinkled "Cruise Qualifiers" around the country for this event to help raise awareness and bring the community of Magic players together. With the cruise we tried really hard to appeal to any level of Magic player. We have a PTQ for Honolulu for the competitive players, we have tons of casual play for the folks who just want to play when they want, we have a Conflux Launch Party for everyone to find something that appeals to them...and, Lindsey's personal favorite, we have a multi-format event where one night we will play three rounds of Sealed, one night we will play three rounds of Constructed, and the last night we will draft. The winner of the total tournament will get a refund for their cruise. We think we have something for everybody. Plus, it's on a cruise ship!

The 'Magic Icons' we're bringing along on the cruise also cover the whole spectrum. Patrick Chapin is great for the competitive (especially Constructed) players who are either already doing the PTQ/PT thing, or for those who want to get into it more actively. Evan Erwin hits the casual player base a bit more, and provides a lot of great commentary to go with it. Michael Turian will be incredibly interesting to all Magic players, as he is lead designer on Conflux, so that will be a great opportunity for everybody to chat with him about his thoughts on the set. And hopefully Scott Larabee will be there to get all EDH guys their fixes as well.

BDM: Bill Stark just did a profile on Glenn Godard and the return of States in the Grand Prix–Kansas City coverage. Are you running any of the new States tournaments? What expectations do you have for these events?

Pete: Players love States, and it wouldn't surprise me to see players showing up in droves to support its return. We will actually be running the State Championships in both Virginia and West Virginia...and I think record attendances are certainly possible.

Rob: Glenn did a fantastic job putting States back together. With the extra bells and whistles that Glenn added, this round should be better than ever.

Steve: I am. I am running Minnesota, Wisconsin, and this year South Dakota. Minnesota and Wisconsin have always had some of the best Champs attendances in the country and we're real proud of our active player base. When the announcement came that States was being put on hold until such time as something could be figured out, a lot of the TOs around the country were a little saddened. It's been likened by a regular player of mine (Gary Nawrocki) to a class reunion. He sees folks at States that he doesn't see any other time of the year. It brings a very specific and cool crowd to our area. I ran a 2HG "Challenge" earlier this year in place of the previous 2HG States on my own. Made up plaques, did prizes, the whole nine yards.

When Glenn volunteered to be the spearhead for organizing all the TOs into a cohesive plan, I was pretty happy. I had been considering doing it myself. Organizing that many people from that many areas is a tough gig and Glenn deserves some thanks for putting himself out there on this event. I expect to have similar numbers to previous years. We've topped 200 before in Wisconsin and, as I said, have consistently had among the highest numbers in the country. I picked up South Dakota this year after beginning work with the guys at Dragon's Den within the last year. They have a great little store there with some good play space but are generally not as interested in running the events themselves. So I came in to partner up with them on some of the big events. I bring in my crew and a few judges and they can sit back, sell stuff and enjoy the day. Feels like a win-win for both of us.

BDM: What advice do you have for anyone looking to start running their own gaming events?

Pete: My main recommendation would be to avoid scheduling against existing events if at all possible. Fragmenting the player base simply hurts everyone.

Steve: Do it because you love it. Your love for the games and for organizing is the only thing that will keep you going in the long amount of time it takes to get anywhere. I began organizing my first events back in the late '80s/early '90s when I would do Blood Bowl leagues and big expansive Damp;D games for a dozen or more players. So I've been at this for 20 years now and for the majority of that time the most I hoped for was to not cost myself too much money. As things began to shape into the form they are today, I thought making enough to pay a sitter for my kids and eat a meal out was a highly successful day. Start with your local stores. Lots of them are "mom 'n pop" sort of places and having an evangelist who does it just cause they love it is exactly the sort of thing they need to get their events buzzing. Love EDH? Start a league. Love to draft? Start a Draft night. Get involved! Get in some leagues and organized play for other things: bowling, darts, volleyball. Get some ideas from there and adapt them to your thing.

Rob: Don't be afraid to start small. Run events that you and your judges are comfortable with. Work your way up.

    Speaking of States

States has long had a tradition of tournament organizer enhancement. Years ago, Mike Guptil of Professional Event Services (and it may even precede his reign there) offered winners of his States Championships free entry into the coming year's events. For players who were regularly grinding away in PTQs, Regionals, and Grand Prix Trials, this was no small prize and was highly coveted. While many TOs would eventually adopt this prizing, not everyone did.

Glenn Godard built that component into the reborn program. Players who win their States can look forward to a year of free Constructed premier events (PTQ or higher) at any events run by a Tournament Organizer who participated in the States program. That means free entry into just about every Constructed PTQ, Grand Prix, and Regionals in North America. To track the winners of the events, Glenn created a custom DCI Card for the winners that will be sent out about two weeks after the events have taken place.

    Like (DCI) Totally

The announcement that next year's Pro Tours would be utilizing a split format similar to the way Nationals and World Championships are run, led to a lot of excitement but more than a few questions about how ratings invites for a Pro Tour that featured Limited and Constructed would work. The 2009 Premier Event Invitation Policy document has finally been released—it should be up on the site the same day this column goes live, in fact—and it actually reveals some big changes for the way ratings invites will work over the next few years.

Wizards is introducing a new ELO rating called DCI Total that is the total of all the matches a player has participated in: Standard, Extended, Block Constructed, Vintage, Legacy, Sealed Deck, Booster Draft, 3-Person teams, and 2-Person teams. Unlike Composite rating, this is not an averaged rating. It is one rating for all your matches other than ones where you play with more than two players in a single game of Magic (multi-player and 2HG).

"The major impetus for this change is simplicity," said The Week That Was regular and author of the new policy document Scott Larabee. "Having a single rating is less complicated than having a bunch of different ratings. We believe that this will be THE rating that people care about. Note that players will still be able to see how they are rated in an individual format. For example, if a player only cares how they are rated in Constructed, they will still be able to see this. We also hope to soon offer the ability for a player to see just their rating in the individual formats (i.e. their rating in Standard only). This functionality is being investigated and will hopefully be available sometime in 2009."

"Having a single rating is less complicated than having a bunch of different ratings. We believe that this will be THE rating that people care about."
–Scott Larabee

Why is this new rating relevant for the upcoming Pro Tour season? Well, it's going to be one of the ways that players can earn an invite in 2009. The top 100 DCI Total ranked players will be invited to each Pro Tour.

"We will also "grandfather" the previous ratings in 2009," explained Larabee, who was well aware that players may have been anticipating an invitation based on a high rating in one format or another. "The top 100 Constructed or Limited ranked players will be invited to the Pro Tour. Which of Constructed or Limited will be used for each Pro Tour will be based on the format of the PTQ round that feeds each Pro Tour. That means Limited for Pro Tour–Kyoto and Constructed for Honolulu and Austin.

"Our plan is that in 2010 we will only use the DCI Total rating," Larabee said. He estimated that the dual tracks of rating invitation in 2009 would yield about two to three dozen extra qualified players to each event next season.

Players can expect to see their DCI Total rating within the next month. It will be interesting to see if any new players—Vintage and Legacy players, even—will suddenly find themselves with a seat at the Pro Tour table.

"It could," Larabee answered when I asked him if that might happen. "The next logical question might be "Is that a good thing?" Answer: Sure."

    Firestarter: Metathesiophobia Support Group/Free For All

I think I have learned not to try and guide any discussion when there is a change to the way you interact with the game you all love and this column addresses multiple areas tangentially and directly. Head to the forums and share your thoughts on anything discussed here.

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