November 11, 2016

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Going for the Gold: The Road to the Pro Tour

This week, I’m taking a slight deviation from my regular type of content. Usually you’ll hear about how to improve your game, or how to play a certain format. But I’ve always wanted to write about how to get to a Pro Tour, and with an upcoming tournament dead zone, it’s never been a better time to write about this.

Back in my day (and yes as I say that I envision my parents saying this when I was younger), you could just show up to a random Saturday PTQ and try to obtain that coveted blue envelope. I used to think that the only people who went to these events had nothing better to do, and when attendance made it more than 6 rounds, I would just skip playing them completely. Wow, would I give anything for that to be the reality now!

In the past, you could qualify for the Pro Tour in the following ways:

  • Pro Player Club Invite
  • Hall of Fame
  • Winning a 40-60 player PTQ
  • Top 16ing a Grand Prix (averaged between 500 – 1000 players)
  • Top 50 the previous Pro Tour
  • ELO Rating (If you were top 25 in limited or constructed)
  • Planeswalker Points (For a few months, you could queue if you were in the Top X PP)

Now, in order to make it to the big stage you will have to do one of the following:

  • Pro Player Club Invite
  • Hall of Fame
  • Top 4 a Regional PPTQ
  • Achieve 39 points or better at an Individual Grand Prix (36 at a Team Grand Prix)
  • Finish 11-5 or better in the previous Pro Tour

As you can see, it has gotten much tougher to qualify.

The PPTQ Circuit:

This has become the most popular way to get onto the Pro Tour. Every weekend, multiple stores host events that are small cash tournaments with the first place prize being an invite to that season’s Regional PTQ. There are about 20 of these events happening per season, with a few overlapping with Grand Prixs or other PPTQs.

You can expect to find the best players in your area, who are not queued for the RPTQ, slinging at these events and even they will rarely win more than one or two PPTQs a year. That means if they are lucky, they have about 2 shots a year to qualify through the RPTQ system. Not only do they have to be free on that day (unless they want to travel upwards of 600 km), but to do well in a tournament you have to have variance on your side. All of the best preparation and skill will only get you so far, but if you continue to mulligan or brick when it’s critical to draw action, then you can easily turn a winning tournament into a losing one.

As most stores are focused on running PPTQs, its hard to find other options for tournament magic once you are qualified for the season’s RPTQ. Back when I was a Silver level pro in 2015, I was excited that I’d be able to play in PPTQs once my Silver elapsed. I didn’t have the fire anymore, and wanted to prove myself on the Grand Prix stage rather than on the Pro Tour stage. This was very difficult since I no longer had reliable tournaments that I could play in on the weekends, since they were all PPTQs.

I showed up to the RPTQ for Milwaukee and couldn’t believe my ears when I was told that I could not scoop to my opponent in the top 8, unless I wanted to be automatically qualified for the RPTQ. So I had to beat him, just so I could play PPTQs for a few months until I leveled up again. I felt really bad for my opponent since I had only showed up to pick up my foil Liliana. Since it was sealed deck, I stuck around and wanted to top 8 to get an extra box of product. This ended up working out for me and I started playing Pro Tours again and ended up Gold after a successful season. It’s funny how things work out!

However, I still think that being unable to play in PPTQs once you are qualified for the RPTQ, is a large flaw of the system since you basically ostracize yourself from playing tournament magic for a few months. Unless of course, you are lucky enough to have a bankroll that allows you to travel to many Grands Prix. But even then, you’ll still miss out on a lot of events. I spend my “testing” time, trying to help my friends qualify for the RPTQ.

The Regional PTQ system is typically between 6-7 rounds and it is actually much easier to top 4 this event than win a PPTQ, which sounds weird when you think about it. When you attend an RPTQ, you must make many strategic decisions.

  • Will you go to week 1’s RPTQ when the format is undefined or will you attend week 2’s?
  • Do you travel to a further location in hope that the RPTQ attendance is much smaller? The Edmonton RPTQ, which ended up qualifying Top 8 competitor Ben Hull for Pro Tour Kaladesh, had an attendance of only 18 players.
  • Do you concede or draw in the last round of the Swiss so that you don’t end up playing your friend for the slot?

Event Sizes:

Pro Tours and Grands Prix continue to grow in size each year. This is great for us, the game, and for Wizards of the Coast who use these events as their marketing tool to showcase their new cards. However, when it comes to trying to make it onto the Pro Tour, these large sizes make it even tougher.

If you achieve 39 match points at your average GP, you are likely in the top 10 of the tournament. This is 6 less slots than in the past. Wizards has tried to make up for it by paying the airfare component. In addition, they are also hosting more Grands Prix as another way to provide more slots. But for the average tournament magic player, the number of Grands Prix that they can attend hasn’t really changed. Also, since the locations are great, they may be more open to shelling out money to fly to a Pro Tour.

Why This Matters:

I play in more Grands Prix than your average PPTQ grinder, and I haven’t been able to achieve 39 points at a Grand Prix since 2014. This is a clear indication of the difficulty level of qualifying for the Pro Tour this way. Based on this, the “easiest” way to qualify for the Pro Tour is through the PPTQ system and because of all of the drawbacks I mentioned before, this is not sustainable long-term solution for many players. Players will qualify for their first Pro Tour and will have nowhere to turn. This causes them to usually bottom out the event and maybe requalify in another few years. This is why you’ve likely seen that there are much fewer new mainstay pros on the Pro Tour recently than ever before.

There is still a lot of work that has to be done, in order to cultivate and grow a newer pro player community. This is even truer in countries with fewer active magic pros. As many of you know, as of Pro Tour Kaladesh, I am now representing England.

As I was born and grew up in England, nothing would make me prouder than representing it nationally. I will be working with the UK community (not just England), to help foster their developing magic community. This will ensure that they are prepared for upcoming Grand Prixs and Pro Tours. It’s been a long time, since English Magic has been at the forefront of the community. The last few times included Craig Jones (PT Honolulu 2006), Quentin Martin (PT Prague 2006) and Matteo Orsini Jones (PT Kyoto 2009). Clearly having Jones in your name gives you an edge, but I’m sure the rest of us will find a way.

I hope that you found this change of pace refreshing. Until next time,

Sammy T