For those familiar with the Pro Player's Club, structure for the highest-level events Magic has to offer and a lot has changed. This starts right at the top of Wizards of the Coast, as there have clearly been both changes that we as players can easily see, and those that we can infer based on recent events. There seem to be new people calling the shots, and they certainly aren't scared to make major changes. I am going to try to get inside the heads of the decision makers at Wizards of the Coast, while also explaining the impact of these changes from my own perspective as a pro.
Three out of the four Pro Tours will be held in the United States, with the other one in Spain. It seems Wizards is putting more effort into accommodating to its largest player base in the United States. While traveling to unique places is cool, oftentimes players don't get to fully experience a destination because of effort put into testing and preparing for an event. Having more Pro Tours in the United States will save money in plane tickets, and seems to make sense overall.
There is a lot of news to digest, but this looks to be the single biggest event in the history of Magic. Wizards announced a little while ago it would be incorporating a Team Pro Tour into its suite of events next year, but until now we didn't have a lot of information to go on. This will be the largest prize pool in Magic's history: a cool million dollars will be given out between the Pro Tour itself and an exhibition tournament. The exhibition tournament will be held in Minneapolis, alongside the Pro Tour.
Personally, I'm interested to hear more details about the exhibition tournament itself and how Wizards chooses to allocate this prize money. In any case, it is good to see Wizards putting more money into tournament prize pools as that really is a great way to draw more attention to the Pro Tour, and give back to the players. Right now, I would consider myself one of the top pros, but even as a top pro it is incredibly difficult to make a living off prize money from tournaments alone. This could change though, as putting more money into tournaments like the Pro Tour and Worlds provides the opportunity to spike a big payday.
Making the biggest Pro Tour in the history of the game a team event is telling. Ever since the introduction of the Team Series, Wizards has been trying to put more and more focus on team trios. We are seeing more team Grand Prix as well as now a Team Pro Tour. When looking at other similar games to Magic in the eSports arena, team play has been a huge factor in their success. Putting more focus on team events is an exciting way to attempt to replicate that established success.
When choosing the format for the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour, Wizards had a couple of options. Many thought that it would be Team Unified Standard, alongside Team Booster Draft or Team Sealed. Instead, each player plays a different Constructed format: one player will be on a Standard deck, one Modern, and one Legacy player. It has been quite a while since we have seen Legacy as part of a Pro Tour.
Part of the reason for this decision is to try and give the audience what they want. Traditionally Team Limited Grand Prix aren't as popular for viewers, and this plays into the idea of eliminating Limited from this Pro Tour. While I love Limited, I understand it isn't as fun to follow from a viewing perspective. This new Team Trios format, which has had some success when employed by StarCityGames, means teams will want to have a specialist on the team who is dedicated to mastering a specific Constructed format. Since Legacy isn't played as much as the other formats, and hasn't been played at the Pro Tour level in quite some time, it will likely be most difficult for teams to choose their Legacy player.
With the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour being such a big deal, most players are naturally wondering how they can qualify for this unique event. For me the answer is simple—I can qualify through pro level—but most players will be looking to RPTQ's as a way to qualify. Because this is a team event rather than an individual one, Wizards needed to change the procedure for qualifying for this Pro Tour. The PPTQ's will be the typical individual events, but the RPTQ's will be Team Unified Standard.
There will be only 30 RPTQ's total around the world, and none of them will be Online. Each RPTQ will qualify two teams for the Pro Tour, or six people total. This means that the ones which are held will likely be larger than usual. The other part of this is that a PPTQ winner can choose any two teammates they want to play in the RPTQ. This is going to mean many players playing in the RPTQ without needing to win a PPTQ.
This is a completely new structure which has both positives and negatives for the average PPTQ player. It is more likely you get to the RPTQ stage, because a friend can put you on their team if they win an RPTQ, but on the flipside it will likely be more difficult to win these RPTQ's than it would be for an individual event.
The other way to qualify for the 25th Anniversary Pro Tour is by making Top 4 of a Team Grand Prix, and there are going to be a ton of them. The team Grand Prix will vary from Team Limited, to Team Trios Constructed featuring Standard, Modern and Legacy, to Team Unified Modern. While there are a lot of Team Grand Prix, many more as compared to any year prior to this one, that still doesn't mean making the top 4 of one is easy. I'm still trying to digest what this means for Magic. The idea of emphasizing team events is clearly a priority at the Grand Prix level, as well as the Pro Tour level.
There are more Grand Prix in the United States than ever before. This is nice for those that do live in the states, but for all the players from overseas it looks like tough luck. Channelfireball Events is the tournament organizer for all Grand Prix, since they are based in the U.S. it does make sense. The opinions on the locations are likely going to very polarized based on where players live.
The last part of the Grand Prix schedule is the best part, in my opinion. There are going to be a number of double Grand Prix weekends, featuring two Grand Prix in a single weekend. I really enjoyed the experience of Grand Prix Vegas, getting a chance to play multiple tournaments back to back. These weekends will feature two separate Grand Prix, so if you don't do well in the first one, simply play a second one!
This is a great idea, as it sucks to travel a long way for a Grand Prix only to not do well and be dejected the entire weekend. Now there is a second opportunity! This should be a way of attracting more players to Grand Prix in general, when faced with the potential of attendance numbers going down.
The past few years Modern has been one of the formats at Worlds. Booster Draft and Standard will be the only formats this year, and as someone who has had to test for Worlds I have mixed feelings about the change. Testing for three formats is much more difficult than two. Now all the pressure will be on having a good Standard deck and knowing the Limited format. I like Worlds being unique by having so many formats all in one event, but there is a good reason to go down to only two formats.
Worlds will be taking place shortly after the release of Ixalan, which will mean a relatively new Standard and Draft format. I like this, as it will be very similar to testing for a Pro Tour.
This will be a new addition to Worlds this year, and so it still is a bit of an experiment. However, I'm worried Wizards isn't doing enough to showcase this event. Players will be flying across the world to play in the final where the best two teams from this season will square off. I would like to see more than building and playing Team Sealed, which is what Wizards has announced: Team Draft, or adding some element of Constructed, seems worth it and would help create more hype around this part of the World Championship.
I'm very happy to hear about the introduction of the Bronze level Pro Tour player. This level doesn't qualify a player directly to a Pro Tour, but instead offers a free invitation to an RPTQ and guarantees one bye at GP's. The one bye is pretty irrelevant since Bronze players will have plenty of planeswalker points, but the qualification to the RPTQ is a nice perk. There should be some reward for players who grind the GP circuit in an attempt to get to the Pro Tour, but fall just short of their goal. The gap between zero and 20 pro points is sizeable, so having something in the middle at 10 points seems fair.
This change may be difficult to understand for the average player who isn't intimately familiar with how the Pro Players Club works, and what benefits it provides. The key is that rather than a player receiving benefits at the end of four seasons, levels can fluctuate every three months or so, after each Pro Tour. In addition, a player will only be able to use three pro point finishes in each season towards their players club level.
I like the system of having cycling changes of Pro Tour levels as an idea but I would like to know some additional details, like if there is going to also be an adjustment in the amount of pro points needed for each Pro Club Level Threshold. This new system will prevent end of year concessions from pros since every tournament is relevant, and there is no end of year tally of points. It does seem like Wizards might need to adjust the Pro Tour level requirements slightly to accommodate for the new system.
A couple years ago Wizards announced that it was putting more emphasis on making Standard great, and that all Pro Tours would be Standard. Part of the reason for this is Modern doesn't change as much, so there isn't necessarily a ton of preparation or innovation at Modern Pro Tours. However, a banning or unbanning does have the ability to shake up the format if done directly before the Pro Tour. The other way to make a Modern Pro Tour more interesting is by printing Modern playable cards in the latest Standard set. A good example of this was the last Modern Pro Tour, which was dominated by Eldrazi.