I had the PTQ routine down, you see. Look at the season calendar and set aside the Saturdays for three or four nearby PTQ’s. If they are more than a few hours away, plan to go up the night before, work out sleeping arrangements. Start playing the format the week before, buy snacks the day before, get plenty of sleep the night before. I was accustomed to the warehouse spaces, hotel conference rooms, large game stores, church basements, etc.

Now, the last PTQ schedule is ending, and instead we have the new world of PPTQs. With so many more events, I struggled at the beginning of the first PPTQ season to generate the necessary urgency to arrange my calendar around them, until a couple of weeks ago I realized I might go the entire season without playing in one. And then there I was, out in the Portland suburbs, in a shop that has been around since Magic was invented. From the look of the bathroom, that may have been the last time it was cleaned, too.

My first PPTQ had 60-some sealed deck players, and I was dead after round three: I never felt the level of competitive urgency I routinely summoned at PTQs. It has me thinking about the differences between grinding PTQs and grinding PPTQs. Here’s what I see, and some strategies for approaching the changes:

1. No single format — The single-format seasons of yore really let a competitive player with only moderate amounts of practice time focus on learning a format. That situation certainly describes me, and learning a format has always been key for me as well. For now, the best antidote appears to be focusing strongly on Standard, as Standard is by far the most common PPTQ format so far. This is too bad, because it doesn’t feel like this will change from season to season, so the natural cycle of PTQ formats is going to be replaced by… endless Standard. This is one of the things I find least interesting about the SCG circuit.

2. Too many PPTQs — I guess this is a good problem to have, but it seems like there are too many PPTQs to just put all of them on my calendar, as I’ll have no weekends left for anything else. Sticking to “just standard” helps a bit here, but it’s going to be tough to turn down any PPTQ until I win one. Perhaps the plan should be to put 2-3 on the calendar that are early in the season, then consider the second half of the season based on how that goes.

3. Horrifying event conditions — Some card shops are just… incomprehensibly disgusting. Also, some card shop staff are just obstinately bad at organizing events. With PTQs, as big as they were, the problems were exceptions and players could convince Wizards to lean on, or cut off, poor organizers. The interaction between this issue and issue #2 is nice, though. I can just take certain events off the schedule immediately.

4. That casual-tournament feel — As I get older, I find it easier to slip into casual-magic mode. In casual-magic mode, I can win a Friday Night Magic, and I’m not particularly bothered if I don’t, anyway. PPTQs, though, are still one prize tournaments. The person who wins is going to be one of the people who scratched and clawed every round. I think this problem will solve itself, but one of the ways I can help myself is by playing decks that require a lot of focus, to keep me zoned in—at least until I adapt to these events.

5. Size — PPTQs aren’t going to be as big as PTQs have been, at least not for a while. Five or six rounds of Swiss sounds easy when you are used to having to fight your way to 7-1 to make a top 8. That lack of extra rounds, though, also means less of the grind! Slow decks have less time to wear you out over the day, making them an easier selection.

I have two shots at Standard PPTQs this weekend. I can’t do much about my failed scheduling earlier in the season, but I can select a high-focus deck without too much concern for wearing myself out. Excuse me, I have some Perilous Vaults to dust off and Ugins to borrow.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ (and now PPTQ) grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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