2013 was a year of catalysts for change in the highest levels of organized play. Now it’s time to see who will deliver the best tournament circuit in 2014. The undisputed top tour is the Wizards-sponsored Pro Tour which will culminate in the World Championship in France. However, building momentum is the Star City Games Open Series which culminates in the SCG Player’s Championship. Today we’ll take a detailed look at both these tours and see what they have to offer for players and fans alike.

Wizards World Championship
SCG Player’s Championship

Virtually every weekend in the 2014 calendar is filled with a high level Magic tournament thanks to the combination of the Wizards Pro Tour and the Star City Games Open Series. However, as can be expected, these events sometimes overlap causing a conundrum for fans and players alike. For some who are more inclined to focus their efforts on a single tour, it can be an even more nerve-wracking decision. After all, a lot of time and/or money will be invested by those who play or even just enjoy the coverage of either tour. They should know that their efforts are well worth it.

Both tours have their merits and their drawbacks, so as we begin the new year let’s take a deeper look at both and find out just what they’re all about. We’ll break down several categories which will be important to either players, fans, or both. The first category is the structure of the tour including the championship, premier, amateur, and qualifier events. The second category is the event schedule where we’ll take a look at the geographic locations of each tour. Next, we’ll analyze the prize payouts. You may think this is only important to players, but as a fan there is always more excitement when there are bigger rewards to be had. Finally, we’ll consider the differences in event coverage for both tours, something that mostly applies to fans, but since most players are also fans remains exceedingly important.

Tour Structure

There’s a lot to consider when looking at the overall structure of one of these tours. Personally I find it’s easiest to start at the top and work my way down to the very bottom. At the top of the Wizards Pro Tour is the Magic World Championship which begins this year on December 2nd in Nice, France. It will include three days of competition on the 2nd, 3rd, and 7th. In all, 24 players will earn invitations to the Championship event, but they will come through a variety of paths. Three of them, in fact, are already known to us. They are the 2013 World Champion, Shahar Shenhar, the 2013 National Champion of the World Magic Cup winner, Raphael Levy, and the winner of Pro Tour Theros, Jeremy Dezani. That leaves 21 spots to fill, and they won’t be easy to earn. Three of them will be awarded to the winners of the remaining three Pro Tour events in the 2013-14 season (which ends on August 3rd, with the conclusion of Pro Tour Magic 2015). With 18 spots left to go, two of them will be awarded to the 2013-14 Player and Rookie of the Year, both of which will be known on August 3rd. Another spot goes to the 2013 Magic Online Champion. This is awarded at the culmination of the MOCS which has yet to be scheduled. 10 of the remaining 15 spots will be awarded to the top two ranked players from each geo-region (Asia Pacific, Europe, Japan, Latin America, and North America). The final five players will be the top ranking players in the world who have not yet been invited.

This makes August 3rd a hugely important date for the Wizards Pro Tour. It’s possible that many of these spots will be filled by then, but at least one, the winner of Pro Tour Magic 2015, will not be. It should be interesting to watch the build-up towards this date, but more on that later. In the meantime, what about the rest of the Pro Tour? Running the same week as the championship event is the World Magic Cup, which is an invitation-only team tournament. As mentioned above, it awards one of the 24 invitations to the Magic World Championship, in addition to other prizes. Invitations to this tournament are awarded to four players from each country that is represented. Three of the invitations go to the winners of three qualifier tournaments held throughout the year. The last invitation goes to the top-ranked player at the end of the 2013-14 season, adding more suspense to the August 3rd excitement.

Good grief that’s a whole lot to keep track of. Keep that in mind later when I talk about the coverage of both tours. Meanwhile, we haven’t even talked about the structure of Pro Tours, Grand Prixs, the Magic Online Championship, or the events that provide invitations/byes to each of them. I’ll try to keep things brief. Pro Tour invitations are given to players who have amassed a certain number of pro points (awarded by finishing well at Pro Tour and Grand Prix events), or players who finished highly in a feeding Grand Prix, or players who won a Pro Tour Qualifier. Grand Prix events are open to the public, but byes are awarded to players based on their performance over a three-month mini-season, or winners of Grand Prix Trials. For more details on all this, please check out the official policy.

So what about the StarCityGames Open Series? Is it nearly as complicated? Thankfully it is not, but there’s a reason for that. SCG is not endeavoring to crown a World Champion or a National Champion of Magic each year, they’re just trying to build a competitive tournament circuit that people can enjoy playing on and watching. At the very top is the Player’s Championship, a 16-player, two-day invitational that will be held from December 20th to 21st this year at the SCG Game Center in Roanoke, VA. I would spend a few paragraphs and explain how this works, but SCG has already done that job for me! Check out these links:

Don’t feel like reading all that? Fine, I’ll break it down. Each SCG Open season is roughly 12 months long and culminates in an SCG Open Invitational. At the end of each season, the winner of the Invitational and the top performer by points in the season will earn invitations to the championship tournament. There are four invitationals this year: Charlotte, NC on March 28-30, Columbus, OH on June 13-15, New Jersey on August 29-31, and Seattle, WA on December 12-14.

There are several ways to qualify for one of these four invitational events. There’s no limit to the number of invitations, but it is fixed by the number of events that award the invites themselves. Invites can be won from an SCG Open Series event (top 8), an SCG Classic Series event (top 8), a previous SCG Open Invitational (top 16), player’s club levels achieved in the 2012 and 2013 seasons (discontinued for 2014), an SCG Invitational Qualifier (winner), an SCG Super Invitational Qualifier (top 2), or an SCG Elite Invitational Qualifier (top 4). Invitations are also given to all of the content producers for SCG.

In short, if you want to qualify for the Player’s Championship you have to do well in all the events that SCG holds/sponsors throughout the year. Eight invitations are allocated to two players from each season, and the top 8 performers from the calendar year who have not yet qualified. It’s as simple as that. Play more tournaments, perform well in those tournaments, build towards an invitation to the championship. The Magic World Cup and World Magic Championship are similar, but have a much longer and slightly more convoluted path to get through.

Advantage: The Player’s Championship has a slight edge here. While both tours basically boil down to the same thing, the SCG Open series is a little easier to explain on paper.

Event Schedule

It’s not easy to compare the event schedule of the two tours without immediately pointing out that the SCG Open Series is exclusive to the United States. Meanwhile, the Wizards Pro Tour encompasses North America, Latin America, Europe, Japan, and the Asia Pacific region. This makes travel a completely different beast for players and also makes it challenging for fans of the tournament series. By being isolated to the United States, the SCG Open Series live coverage is not at a convenient time for fans on the other side of the world in Magic-playing nations like Australia, Japan, Korea, and China. Meanwhile, it isn’t practical for players from outside of North America to travel regularly to participate in the SCG Open Series.

Moving on, the number of events in both circuits is impressive. For the SCG Open, the schedule is only released through the end of June, but over these next six months only four weeks will find themselves without an SCG Open or Invitational event. One of them is because SCG is hosting a Grand Prix tournament. Another one is because it coincides with Pro Tour Journey into Nyx which will take place in Atlanta, GA (another Pro Tour earlier this year will take place in Valencia, Spain). The other two empty weekends are aligned with the pre-release weekends for the next two expansions.

It’s important to note that the SCG Open itself takes off for a North American Pro Tour event, and for pre-release weekends which are by far the biggest events in the Magic community. However, outside of a conflict for the tournament organizer, they have a high-level event every weekend through the first six months of the year. There’s no reason to believe that this won’t be the case for the second half of the year. This is mostly a positive for players and fans alike. For players, there are plenty of opportunities to get points and build up towards the quarterly invitationals and the annual championship. For fans, this means that there’s always a tournament to follow every weekend.

Wizards Pro Tour schedule has a few more gaps in it, but this gives it a feeling of exclusivity that is not present in the SCG Open Series. Through the first six months of the season, which runs from December to November, there are 24 Grand Prix tournaments and two Pro Tour tournaments. That would even out to an event every week, but the gaps are a result of multiple events being held on the same weekend. In fact, 16 weekends this year will feature two Grand Prix tournaments. They are always in different regions and usually in vastly different time zones. This allows players to avoid feeling like they need to participate every week, making it easy on travel. For fans though, this means having to pay attention to a schedule of events.

Advantage: For players the advantage goes to the Pro Tour. There’s plenty of down-time and a lot more geographic options for where to play. For fans, the advantage goes to the SCG Open Series which guarantees an event to enjoy virtually every weekend.

Prize Payout

The prize payout is one of the most important aspects of the tournament circuit. At the end of the day the players want to be playing for a worthwhile reward and the fans watching want to know that the best players are playing for the top prizes. Both tournament circuits pay a substantial amount of money. It is a very strong measure of how seriously Wizards and Star City Games take these events and how dedicated they are to supporting the players.

Looking at the SCG Open series there are cash payouts for the Player’s Championship ($50,000), each Invitational ($50,000), each Standard and Legacy Open ($10,000), and each Classic Series ($5,000). It’s worth noting that all three varietals of Invitational Qualifier also have a cash payout, but those are provided by the tournament organizer, not Star City Games. By extrapolating out the published schedule for the first half of the year, we can expect that SCG will hold 42 of each Open, along with five Classic Series, four Invitationals, and the Player’s Championship. This, in total, comes to just over $1.1M which is a very significant amount of money.

However, and perhaps this is reflective of the role of each circuit, Wizards puts up almost three times as much money in cash prizes for their events. The smallest of Wizards’ events, an individual Grand Prix, pays out $35,000, which is almost double what is paid out in an Open weekend consisting of a Standard and Legacy Open. A team Grand Prix pays out an additional $10,000 bringing the total to $45,000, but only four times a year. More astoundingly, as attendance rises over thresholds of 1,200 and 2,400 players, the payout of a Grand Prix increases up to a maximum of $54,000 for individual GPs and $63,000 for team GPs. This is, by far, the most money that a non-invitational Magic tournament pays out.

This brings us to the pinnacle of Magic tournament payouts which is the Pro Tour. Though these events only take place four times a year, they each pay out $250k to the top 75 finishers. The top prize alone is $40,000, the equivalent of winning all four SCG Invitationals in a year. Adding in the World Magic Cup and Magic World Championship, Wizards will pay out a whopping total of just over $3M on the Pro Tour this year.

Advantage: If you want to win the big money, you’ll aim for the Pro Tour. However, given the wider travel options it’s possible that on a case-by-case basis the value of attending a tournament may be higher for the SCG Open. That’s a completely different conversation though. For now, players and fans looking to see the biggest prizes will stick to the Pro Tour and Grand Prix events.

Event Coverage

I won’t delve too deep into this topic because it has been discussed ad nauseum for the better part of the last year. Suffice to say, it seems like SCG has been putting more effort into improving their event coverage following their support of John Butler’s paper on improving coverage. Wizards has begun to pick up the slack, but so long as there are still major events without North American video coverage, and especially when some of those events take place in North America, it’s simply not at the level it needs to be.

The bottom line is that event coverage is sorely lacking across the board and it’s a race to see who will capture the biggest audience.

Advantage: There’s plenty of time for Wizards to improve upon this, but for now SCG Live is the undisputed king of Magic coverage. The Pro Tour events and the World Championships are very well produced, and the talent on Wizards highest level events is second to none. However, on a week-to-week basis, the most consistent coverage for fans and players comes from Star City Games.

What to Watch For?

Ultimately, the Wizards Pro Tour is the marquee circuit, but the SCG Open isn’t too far behind. If the Pro Tour had superior overall tour coverage, a more amiable schedule and travel options, and an easier to decipher structure, it could compete with some of the smaller sporting/skill competitions such as golf, tennis, bowling, and poker. On the other side of the coin, if SCG could expand outside of North America, fund a larger payroll, and attract some top talent away from the Pro Tour, they could really give Wizards a run for their money.

What’s most important is that competition between the two tournament circuits is not what we’re looking for. NASCAR for example has shown how successful a two-tiered circuit can be, with the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series. This kind of relationship for Magic could be hugely beneficial. We could spend every week watching amateurs play on the SCG Open circuit and follow their stories as they move onto the Pro Tour.

We’re still years away from either tour reaching that level of maturity, but so long as the fans and players keep demanding it, Wizards and SCG will deliver.

The Quick Hits

  • Mashi Scanlan and LSV chat about the newest planeswalker, Kiora, the Crashing Wave [Magic TV]
  • The Top-8 of the EDH Battle of the Blocks kicks off with Mirrodin taking on Lorwyn/Shadowmoor [StarCity Games]
  • Worth Wollpert finds himself absent from this MTGO holiday greeting card… [Daily MTG]
  • Travis Woo reflects on his performance in 2013 and some commentary on personal fitness [Woo Brews]
  • Zach Barash makes some resolutions for his Magic career in 2014 [Drawing Live]
  • Jason Alt also puts together some theoretical resolutions for himself in 2014 [Jason’s Alticle]
  • Brian Demars… wait… did I miss a memo that this was 2014 resolution week? [StarCity Games]
  • Heather Lafferty interviews MTG Finance guru Chas Andres. Spoiler: This interview contains no satire [Gamer Boy, Gamer Girl]
  • Sheldon Menery is also looking forward to the new year [Star City Games]
  • Melissa DeTora ranks the top five decks she’s played in her lengthy competitive career [TCGPlayer]
  • Caleb Durward recaps his 2013 performances in the Legacy format [Legacy Weapon]
  • Mike Linneman <insert something witty about resolutions, etc., etc.> [Gathering Magic]
  • Alex Ullman reviews 2013 from the perspective of Pauper Magic [StarCity Games]
  • Brian Braun-Duin writes fan-fiction because it’s fun and everyone’s doing it [StarCity Games]
  • Conley Woods suggests looking at tweaking old decks sometimes instead of brewing new ones [Breaking Through]
  • Nassim Ketita kindly combines his 2013 review and 2014 plans into one compact column [Gathering Magic]
  • The Brew Crew says goodbye to 2013 in their first podcast of 2014 [Brainstorm Brewery]

Wallpaper of the Week

I wouldn't try to put coal in that stocking.

I wouldn’t try to put coal in that stocking.

It’s hard not to love this little fella, but I have to admit that the color scheme is not one that I enjoy having up on my desktop. Luckily I’ll be able to balance that out with how adorable the Stocking Tiger is. I get the nostalgia value because Nielsen did the art for the original Stalking Tiger, but I don’t think this is on par with her recent work such as Angel of Jubilation.

Grade: B+

The Week Ahead

The Pro Tour returns this weekend with a Grand Prix event in Prague for two days of Modern competition. The Czech capital most recently hosted a core set limited GP back in September, and has been home to five previous GP’s in total along with a Pro Tour event in 2006. GP Prague is presented by Gordion Knot Games who are the TO for seven different European GP events this year. Covering GP Prague for Wizards will be Marijn Lybaert, Hall of Famer Frank Karsten, Simon Gortzen, Rich Hagon, and Steven Leeming over at DailyMTG and Twitch.

Meanwhile, back on this side of the pond, the Star City Games Open Series continues in sunny Orlando, Florida. As always this event will feature Standard on Saturday and Legacy on Sunday. Coverage will be available at SCGLive with commentary by Cedric Philips and Patrick Sullivan.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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