You’re Invited

Posted in The Week That Was on September 22, 2006

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.

If you have been paying any attention to the Pro Tour over the past year or so (and if you are reading this column I have every reason to believe that you do), you are aware that there have been multiple changes and improvements made to enhance players' experiences on the Pro Tour.

There have been big showy changes, such as bringing players to far-flung locations such as Honolulu, Prague, Kobe, and Paris for Pro Tour events. In addition to moving the Pro Tour to these highly desirable vacation spots, players who qualify for the Pro Tour on the Pro Tour Qualifier level get their airfare paid for as part of the PTQ prize – a far cry from the insufficient travel vouchers of days gone by.

Players gave a big thumbs up to Pro Tour-Honolulu.The Pro Tour itself has become a more user-friendly experience for attendees. Players attending Hawaii were treated to a luau, received a goodie bag of stuff that included a Hawaiian competitor shirts, and got a draft set on top of all that. Perhaps as important as the draft set there were also land stations set out to fill out draft decks. Free land might not sound like a big deal, but if you've ever had to scavenge for land on the Thursday night before a Pro Tour, you appreciate the simple, inexpensive, common-sense gesture immensely.

The Pro Players Lounge has been one of the most appreciated changes to the events themselves. Players are provided with an area to congregate when they are not playing, with activities such as pool and amenities such as free food, internet, and free international phone calls.

Perhaps the biggest change to be implemented was the Pro Players Club, which allows players to lock in a level of benefits for an entire season based on the past year’s performance. This replaced the end-of-year payout from seasons past, and at Level 3 locks a player into automatic Pro Tour berths with a $500 appearance fee. At the lofty Level 6 players receive an invite, $2,000 appearance fee, and paid airfare and accommodations to each Pro Tour (as well as $500 for each Grand Prix).

The result of all these changes has been an unprecedented number of attendees at every Pro Tour stop along the way. There has yet to be one stop on the Pro Tour this season that did not surpass the previous Pro Tour’s high-water attendance mark. Grand Prix tournaments have not only seen huge numbers, but with their increased value in pursuit of achieving higher Players Club levels, Pros have been globetrotting after these events like never before.

The improvements didn't come without changes elsewhere, however, as there are four Pro Tour events this season plus Worlds. Having to set up one fewer event allows for more high-end destinations but it also alleviates some of the pressure on players who were feeling ground down by the constant need to be testing for the next event right on top of the last event. Obviously Wizards wants the Pro Magic community to have Magic be a big part of their lives, but not the entirety of it.

Of course you cannot have changes without consequences of the unforeseen variety. Fewer events + far greater numbers of players at each event = much tougher time accumulating Pro Points. The Players Club has been great, but it only works if enough players are being pushed up to sustainable levels. This point was clearly illustrated after Pro Tour–Charleston, which had a staggering 525 competitors. Players needed to post at least 10 wins to pick up more than the minimum amount of points you get simply for showing up.

Earlier this summer, Randy Buehler sent a letter out to all the members of the Players Club that hinted steps that would be taken to ensure that a balance is maintained in the Players Club this season. No formal announcements have been made in that area yet, but it was apparent that some fine-tuning needed to be done for the 2007 season. Fine-tuning happens every year with the Magic: The Gathering Premier Event Invitation Policy, and this year’s has just been posted complete with some pretty significant changes in several areas.

"We have added more points into the system. Mainly what we have done for Grand Prix is to add more to the top and more to the bottom. For the Pro Tour you will be able to finish lower and get more points than you would have in the past."
– Scott Larabee

With me being at the Wizards of the Coast offices this week, I took the opportunity to talk to DCI Program Manager Scott Larabee over lunch at The Keg about the changes ... the most significant of which involved the number of Pro Points given away at Premier Events.

“Pro Points have changed,” explained Larabee. “We have added more points into the system. Mainly what we have done for Grand Prix is to add more to the top and more to the bottom. For the Pro Tour you will be able to finish lower and get more points than you would have in the past.

“Grand Prix winners now receive 8 points instead of 6 and it extends down to 64th place instead of 32nd,” he continued. “Basically if you make Day Two at a Grand Prix you will get a Pro Point. At Pro Tours we used to award 3 points at 129th but now you get 3 once you make at least 200th. We basically bumped the numbers up all the way down the line.

“We are getting 400-500-person Pro Tours now so it is just harder in the same number of rounds to finish in the points. When we set the Pro Point levels for each event they were set for five and six Pro Tour seasons with lower attendance. This is just a way to balance all that out. It should be easier for players to reach the plateau of Level 3 in the Player’s Club."

Another change was the definition of amateur status, which used to disappear as soon as a player earned a Pro Point – whether at a Grand Prix or Pro Tour.

“That status is no longer tied to Pro Points specifically," Larabee said. "It is tied to whether or not you have played at a Pro Tour or Worlds. If all your Pro Points come from Grand Prix finishes…you still have Amateur status. Basically the rules now say, ‘If you have played in a Pro Tour or Worlds…you are a Pro.’”

This all goes into effect prior to the Grand Prix in Sydney on October 8.

“We wanted to pay the Pro Points out to 64th place to help people with the Players Club levels but we knew that this would affect some people who did not want to lose their amateur status.”


Here's a quick rundown of significant changes to the Premier Event Invitation Policy. The complete document can be found at

  • More Pro Points at PTs and GPs
  • Amateur definition changed
  • Top 50 players from each individual-format PT and Worlds invited to next individual-format PT
  • Top 25 teams from 2HG-format PT invited to next individual-format PT
  • Rating-based byes at Individual GPs equalized for all regions at 1800 (1 bye), 1900 (2), 2000 (3)
  • Ratings used for GP byes calculated week before GP, not six weeks prior

One of the most intriguing elements of the new document is mention of something called City Championships. City Championships is a store-based program that has been running for many years in Italy and will be rolled out in North America during 2007. Stores in high-profile cities around the U.S. and Canada will run a series of tournaments that will propel players toward eight-person City Championships.

The only information that is contained within the new policy pertains to Invitations and Byes, so there was no more information to glean about these tournaments other than the pretty exciting announcement that they will award two-round byes at Regionals and the winners will get berths at Nationals.

“Yes, there is another path for players to qualify for Nationals,” was all Scott was ready to say on the subject at this time. More on this story will be coming in a column in the very near future.

Larabee also wanted to focus on a couple of additional changes at the Pro Tour level.

“Formerly the Top 32 players from a Pro Tour were invited the subsequent event but now it will invite the Top 50,” he explained/shifted the subject. “That is just a reflection of there being bigger Pro Tours. For Two-Headed Giant, the Top 25 teams will be invited to the next Pro Tour.”

Players have been looking for more information about how players will be invited to the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour apart from winning PTQs. The new document answers at least half their questions.

“The Two-Headed Giant will require the two player teams to have [a combined] five Players Club levels to be qualified for the Pro Tour. We have not included the ratings average yet because we are doing some more research.”

It seemed like one of the main goals of the new document was to not only make things better but to make them easier to understand and ultimately more logical for everyone involved. The way ratings based byes will be awarded – and distributed around the world – at Grand Prix tournaments is a telling example of this.

“There is a lot of new Grand Prix stuff,” Scott noted as he flipped through the revised document. “We have gotten away from the D-Day system. We used to freeze players' ratings six weeks before a Grand Prix season and that would be the basis for how many byes a player received. That is gone. The byes that you get are going to be based on the rating that comes out the Wednesday immediately preceding each Grand Prix. That is the major change there.

“We have also matched up the ratings levels worldwide for all the byes so there is not a different rating level for Japan, Latin America, etc. Based on the research that we do every year that says how many people in each region are eligible for byes, that has leveled out. Simpler is better. 1800 is 1, 1900 is 2, and 2000 is 3.”

There were a handful of things that were not fully outlined yet but Scott said that the omissions would be filled in shortly, saying that anything not spelled out completely in the document will be settled by the end of January.

Five Questions with … Erik Lauer

One of the most pleasant surprises to come out of my trip to Seattle was seeing Erik Lauer. Lauer currently holds the position of Magic intern that has been held by the likes of Paul Sottosanti, Matt Place, Mike Turian, and Zvi Mowshowitz. He was one of the founding members of CMU and taught Randy Buehler how to play Magic way back in the day.

My memories of Erik go back to a Pro Tour Qualifier that I ran back in 1996 when Lauer swept through three straight tournaments without picking up a single game loss. He won a Juzam Djinn, a Pro Tour invitation and $1,000 along the way. Erik, who was known as the Mad Genius of Magic, was one of the game's great deck designers and the secret to many a CMUer's success. He stopped playing Magic to finish his Ph.D. in Computer Engineering and had been away from the game, working in a real-world job, until his old friend Randy pulled him back in. I sat Eric down for five questions.

1. You were away from the game for some time. What were your thoughts about the state of the game when you finally picked it up again?

The Mad Genius

Erik: It is a lot of fun. I think the cards in Magic are much better than they were. Not more powerful, mind you, they just make a much better game. Creatures matter more. When I left, combination decks were winning very rapidly and it wasn't very fun. I think the sets are much more fun now. I would be playing now if I weren't working here.

2. The Great Designer Search contest is in full swing. Can you describe for the potential winners out there what a typical day entails for you?

Erik: It involves testing sets that people will play in the future, drafting with them, building decks and playing Constructed, telling people your comments on various cards. I tell them what I think will be fun or not fun and over- or under-powered. Part of it is finding out how the whole process is done and talking to smart creative people who like to talk about games, video games, and random math problems.

3. What is the first set you have been involved with from start to finish and what was that experience like?

Erik: It is a set that the code name has not even been revealed for yet. It was truly interesting to see how stuff is designed and how it all comes together. The people who make the stories hand stuff off to the people who design cards who in turn hand it off to the people that test them and change them. It is interesting to me to see the middle part of that process and seeing how (the design team) didn't start from scratch. They have concepts and limitations given to them by the people that do the creative work on the storyline. You can't make up things that are inconsistent with their stories but their stories give you a place to start.

4. I know that you taught Randy how to play Magic. What is it like working for him all these years later?

Erik: Randy is actually my boss's boss, but when Randy was on Team CMU he was definitely in charge. I was actually not as serious about tournament Magic and he dragged me to Grand Prix–Toronto to qualify. He always did all the organizational stuff. He looked on the Internet and put together what we would call 'gauntlet' decks. He set up tournaments where we would have more decks than we had players so that we could see as many deck as possible. He even set up playtest decks with cards we could vote on. We would argue over what card should be in a deck and he would set them up as a split card. You could choose which one you wanted it to be and you would put a mark on that half. At the end of the tournament we would figure out which one it should be. He was obvious for this role. He was always the guy in charge. He is good at that.

5. What should potential future interns know about working in R&D?

Erik: I have been employed at various places and this is the company that cares the most about its employees enjoying the work experience. They say, "We know you might work for free but don't worry, we pay you." They are right, it's truly that much fun.

Firestarter: Decks to Beatify

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of Magic talk in the Wizards offices. One of the discussions we had involved an imaginary Deck Hall of Fame where famous Magic decks could be enshrined. If you had to pick five decks from the history of tournament Magic to honor in the imaginary inaugural class, what would they be? Use the forums to post your 'ballot.'

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