Big Changes to Premier Play
Seth Manfield

For a while, Premier Play, run through Wizards of the Coast, made decisions without consulting the players first. Now, we are looking at a big shift in Premier Play moving forward; with the help of top pro input, we should be able to gain a larger audience for Magic, and gain interest in the Pro Tour. eSports are becoming bigger and bigger, and with so many players who play Magic around the world there is no reason why watching coverage of a Magic tournament, along with following the top players in the game, shouldn't be an enjoyable experience. I will be going over my thoughts on the announcements, though a more detailed explanation can be found on the mothership, or in this video TCGplayer made:

In order to sustain Magic's growth Wizards has decided to go ahead and make some pretty significant changes. These changes will effect anyone who follows coverage of events like Grand Prix, Pro Tours, and the World Championship. Even more significantly the players, like myself, will be affected as well. For the past few years the end of year changes to Premier Play have been relatively small to the ones this year.

Introducing the Magic Pro Tour Team Series

Let's start with perhaps the biggest announcement first. Up until now players have been forming their own testing teams to prepare for Pro Tours, but it is hard to know which players are on those teams, as they can change so easily. Now these sorts of teams are going to become much more formalized in order to start making Magic into more of a team sport of sorts. These teams can consist of anyone qualified for the first or second Pro Tour, but there will be an emphasis on Hall of Fame, Gold, and Platinum Pro-based teams.

The team must consist of nine players, which is definitely going to shift the dynamic of teams as they currently stand, as testing teams now can vary widely in terms of how many players are on the team. There will be more than $200,000 at stake so there is now an incentive to have a team of nine players that can be recognized by those watching coverage. The team competition will start as a soft launch at Pro Tour Aether Revolt but will not go into full effect until the 2017-2018 season. This means that there is still another year to ponder over what all this means, but it seems like the correct direction for the game to be moving in.

The reason why the Magic Pro Tour Team Series is specifically beneficial to Gold and Platinum players is that being qualified for all the Pro Tours for the entire year should be an advantage. The reason this will be an advantage is points carry over from Pro Tour to Pro Tour. A team's roster cannot change, so if player's start not being qualified for the next Pro Tour it will make it so there are less players on a given team who are eligible to accumulate Pro Points for that team. It should be very interesting to see not only who ends up being on these nine player teams, but how the teams do as a yearlong narrative.

From the perspective of a Platinum player, I am excited about these changes, as being able to play Magic with friends and fellow pros is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. I like that while the top pros have a leg up, anyone qualified for either of the first two Pro Tours can register with a chance to win. This will end up awarding 36 players total at the end of the year, as Wizards is starting to put more funds into prizes at tournaments. After the third Pro Tour is where like many of the year long races we should see the most excitement, as there will be less teams eligible to compete for the big prizes, and it will be easier to see which of the big teams are likely to make the final team playoff at the World Championship.

The World Championship will remain the most important event of the year, and should be the tournament that the community is most excited about. That is the perfect setting to have the top two teams face off head to head. Having 18 total players facing off against one another sounds pretty special. Putting more of an emphasis on teams makes sense for the game and the players, being able to root on friends is part of what makes tournaments so fun, even when as an individual not everything goes your way.

Changes to Worlds

The teams final will go down at the World Championships, but there are also going to be changes to the World Championship itself. The 2016 World Championship prize pool recently was increased, and it is good to hear Wizards is sticking to what they have said. Any updates that were previously announced are going to be implemented, while the changes for the World Championship in 2017 are going to be a bit different than the ones this year. One new update regarding this year is the formats which will be played.

I drafted a lot of Eternal Masters thinking that it might be a format at the World Championship. Honestly I'm not really sure why Eternal Masters draft isn't going to be a format at the World Championship; instead there will be two Eldritch Moon drafts. From a viewing perspective I believe that watching Eternal Masters draft would be more interesting than an Eldritch Moon draft. Standard and Modern as formats make sense. Those are the two main Constructed formats with Legacy being third.

I like that Worlds is now a four-day viewing experience; for me there is no such thing as too much Magic to watch.

For the World Championships in 2017 there are some changes to the way players will qualify for the tournament. In many ways the qualification process is going to be more simplified as some of the slots which were in place this year are simply going to top-ranked players in instead. The top-ranked Players are the players who have the most Pro Points that aren't already qualified for the World Championship in some other way. Now there are less ways to qualify based on region. Personally I like some slots going away and becoming Top-Ranked Players, but not the Grand Prix Master slot.

The Grand Prix Master slot provided an interesting story based around Grand Prix. Now that storyline is gone. The goal is to put less emphasis on Grand Prix and more on the Pro Tours, as traveling to all the Grand Prix is costly both physically and financially. There is no longer a way to make it into the World Championship by doing well at only Grand Prix, but there is a way to make it in by winning the Magic Online Championship. Personally I like there being a way to make it to the World Championship which doesn't require doing well at Pro Tours, but overall, the changes to the World Championship slots are smart.

As Magic is clearly getting bigger as a game so should the prize pool, and it looks like Wizards intends to continuously increase the prize pool at the World Championship, which seems like a good thing. There will be some pro points taken away from the World Championship which will give the competitors slightly less of an advantage for the rest of the year. This change makes it easier for players to qualify for the World Championship even if they were not qualified the year before.

Pro Tour Top 8 Bracket and Prize Payout Changes

For so long the Pro Tour has remained relatively unchanged, and we aren't really seeing much of a shift in prize payouts still. I fully expect and hope that Wizards will continue to increase prize payouts at the Pro Tour, this is very important in order to be able to work towards the large prize payouts that help attract attention. When we look at eSports we are seeing huge prize payouts as compared to Magic, so even a small increase in prize payout does help.

The biggest change to the Pro Tour is the way the top 8 is going to play out. For so long the top 8 has been straightforward single elimination matches where the winner of the Pro Tour simply needs to win three matches to win the Pro Tour. Now if you are not one of the top four seeds it means you need to win four matches in order to win the tournament. This is actually a pretty big change, and it means that standings after the swiss portion of the event are very important. I think this change will take a little while to get used to, but it does make sense to award players for having a great record in the swiss portion.

Changes to Platinum Level Benefits

The changes to the Pro Player levels this year are not that significant, which is good, the levels and benefits have worked well this year, so there is no need to make a big adjustment. Previously platinum players got a free hotel room, but as it turns out that benefit is costing Wizards more than it is helping the players. While Platinum players get more money for appearance fees at individual Grand Prix, players can only receive an appearance fee for six Grand Prix in a year. This means that players who don't attend as many Grand Prix are happy, while those players that attend a ton of Grand Prix are losing money.

The Grand Prix Schedule

The most exciting weekend of the year for most players should be the weekend in the middle of June featuring three Grand Prix in four days! This is the sort of spectacle that is great for the game. It is possible to actually play in two, or three Grand Prix in a single weekend. I expect many players to come to Vegas in anticipation of being able to play a ton of Magic across three different formats. Personally I would have liked the middle Grand Prix to be Legacy rather than Standard, since I feel like there are Legacy specialists who may come only to play Legacy, but either way I'm happy.

There is one unique type of Grand Prix on the schedule for next year and that is Team Unified Modern. Team Unified Constructed is definitely fun, as any sort of team event is an enjoyable experience. I would think that overall Team Unified Standard would be a better format though. It is more difficult to find three different decks to play with a smaller card pool of cards like Standard. I hope that Wizards switches the Team Unified Modern Grand Prix to Team Unified Standard. It isn't like I don't enjoy playing Modern, but I suspect it won't be a great option for Unified Constructed.

Wrap Up

There are a lot of changes going on here, most of which are positive, and some are more significant than others. The largest change is definitely the introduction of the Magic Pro Tour Team Series. My hope is that this is actually going to make playing in Pro Tours even more fun, and now following the Pro Tour Teams should become much easier. The fact that Wizards is now consulting a handful of players on these changes ahead of times means that the changes are much more likely to be changes the community at large will be in favor of. I suspect a lot of different opinions on the Magic Pro Tour Team Series, but for that we still have a little while to wait before seeing it take full effect.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield