What We Learned—Problems on the Gravy Train (Feb. 11)

Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

I don’t normally kick off this column with a link, but earlier this week Brian Kibler had a lot to say about the state of professional play on the Magic Pro Circuit. Kibler brings up a lot of good points, but ultimately the focus is around one core issue: Pro Points awarded at Grand Prix events. There are either too many Grand Prixs or not enough Pro Points awarded at them, and this is a problem for professional Magic. There was a time, long ago, when your author had aspirations of one day making what was once known as the “gravy train.” This was Level 5 of the obsolete Pro Player’s Club. Level 5 came with one huge perk which was an invitation to every Pro Tour event during the year along with an appearance fee at those tournaments and three byes at every Grand Prix. The PT has the highest payout on the pro circuit and invitations are the most sought after envelope in an amateur Magic player’s career. But then came the Planeswalker Point System and the new club levels. As Kibler points out, the new “gravy train” is essentially the Platinum level of the Pro Tour. What’s critical though is that with only three Pro Tours and the Player’s Championship and World Championship events providing pro points, it is still virtually impossible to reach Platinum level without either finishing in the top-eight of every Pro event, or a handful of Grand Prix events. Let’s look at the scenarios Kibler provides:

Jim manages to win the first Grand Prix of the season in his hometown, which qualifies him for his first Pro Tour! He finishes in the Top 32 there, which isn’t quite enough to qualify him for the next event. He manages to win two more PTQs that season, competes in both of the remaining Pro Tours, and finishes in the Top 32 of all of them. Final Pro Points: eight from the GP, six from each Pro Tour. 26. Not qualified. Sorry, try again next year.

Under the old ratings system, if you won three PTQs, finished in the top 32 of a Pro Tour and won a Grand Prix you would easily be qualified for all kinds of perks from the Pro Player’s club. Under the new PWP system it amounts to a pat on the back, two byes at every Grand Prix and an invite to the World Cup Qualifiers. Not really a huge payday considering Jim had to pay for transit to one of those Pro Tours and plenty more expenses. The cash payout from the events is nice, but it’s not enough to make things sustainable and he has no more invites to show for all his success. Let’s look at Kibler’s next scenario:

Eddie wins a PTQ for his first Pro Tour, where he makes Top 8! He loses in the quarterfinals, but his Top 25 finish qualifies him for the next Pro Tour, where he stuns everyone by making a second consecutive Top 8! His studies keep him from preparing sufficiently for the third event of the season, and he unfortunately misses Day 2. Final Pro Points: 43. Sorry, two PT Top 8s in a season just isn’t enough for Platinum.

This scenario is just as difficult to swallow. Two Pro Tour top-eight finishes and the payoff is three byes at Grand Prixs, an invite to the World Cup Qualifiers and invites to all Pro Tours. This is almost as good as Level 5 of the old system, but missing all of the appearance fees for playing in Pro Tours. So Eddie needs to spend all of his winnings on expenses for the next few Pro Tours, which he needs to keep finishing high enough in to continue paying his way. Ultimately this is unacceptable. The dream of making the “gravy train” and actually being able to have some modicum of profit as a professional Magic player is dead and has been replaced with the dream of grinding Grand Prix events and traveling the world doing so. But, this travel is not the “play the game, see the world” travel that Organized Play has touted all along. It is the kind of travel where you wake up, as Kibler opens, at six AM to catch an airplane to some random city where an event is taking place, only to leave as soon as the event ends so you can get back to your day-job because the Pro Tour is no longer a valid source of supplemental income. Let’s not kid ourselves, Wizards makes a crap-ton on Magic and its other properties and there’s no excuse for the lack of additional Pro Tours or proper payouts for success therein. I don’t have any answers for you, but I can tell you that there was once a dream of the Pro Tour and now that dream is so unattainable it might as well have been crushed under the heel of corporate cutbacks. We can only hope that the community outcry will force Wizards to address the problems quickly.

The Quick Hits

  • In case you missed it, Matt Tabak has an update on missed trigger rules (see what I did there). [The Mothership]
  • Earlier in the week, before Kibler’s piece, Darwin Kastle provided his own views on Pro Play. [Gathering Magic]
  • Brandon Isleib has begun a multi-part review of why the original Ravnica Block was awesome. If you never played back then you should read this so you know why those of us who were around then are better than you. [Tour de Cards]
  • Wizards is going to start charging $25 instead of $5 for redeeming online sets. Suck it online bots. [Magic Online]
  • Finally, in this short week for posts, I want to congratulate my good friend Anthony Lowry on being picked up to write for TCGPlayer.com. [American Brewery]

Wallpaper of the Week
This week we’re being subjected to the monochromatic Aurelia’s Fury. This is a huge downgrade, for me personally, from Hellkite Tyrant. While the technical art for Aurelia’s Fury is more exciting, the art of Hellkite Tyrant tells a much more dynamic story. I guess it comes down to whether or not you like to see explosions happening or not. Or something. I don’t like it. Deal with it.

Grade: B-

The Week Ahead
I’m moving this Friday. Come help.

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  1. […] the PT approached this week, Rich Stein covered Brian Kibler’s critique of the state of pro play, with the increasing burden to maintain pro […]



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