In the final draft of Grand Prix Las Vegas, in the first pick of the second pack, Pascal Maynard deliberated over the decision to choose Burst Lightning, which fit the strategy he had picked in the first pack, or foil Tarmogoyf, which is conservatively worth $300. Maynard chose the Tarmogoyf which leads us to the most important question we should be asking ourselves:

Why is a Foil Tarmogoyf Worth More than Winning a Grand Prix?

When Maynard sat down to draft in the final table of the tournament, he was already guaranteed at least $1,000 for making it to the top 8, plus 4 pro points. Winning the opening round of the draft would earn him another $500 and 1 pro point. Winning the second round would earn him another $1,200 and 1 pro point on top of that. And winning the whole event would net him an additional $1,300 and 2 more pro points.

The foil Tarmogoyf would earn him, based on the lowest TCG Player price for a NM Foil MM2 Tarmogoyf, $300 minus shipping cost. The Burst lightning, in theory, would make his deck better and improve his odds of winning the first round of the event. Let’s say, for arguments sake, that the Burst lightning made his deck 10% better. Does that mean it’s worth $50 and 1/10th of a Pro Point? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Would it give him a 60% chance of making his deck better and therefore be worth $300 and 6/10ths of a Pro Point?


Maynard had less than a minute to make this decision. The $300 Tarmogoyf versus the potential value of the Burst Lightning. He chose the Tarmogoyf. The question is not “should Maynard have taken Burst Lightning.” The question is not “what is the actual value of Burst Lightning.” The question should be, why is rare drafting even remotely appealing to a player at the final table of a Grand Prix?

Living La Vida Pro Player

It’s not easy being a professional Magic player, trying to pay your rent with the money earned by winning tournaments, writing articles, and speculating on cards. The total prize pool for a Grand Prix is normally $44,000 and the total prize pool for a Pro Tour is $250,000. The World Cup pays out a total of $250,000 and the World Championship pays out another $150,000. With 54 Grand Prixs, 4 Pro Tours, the World Cup and the World Championship, Wizards lays out a total of just under $3.8 million dollars. It’s enough money to pay 125 people the equivalency of working a full-time job earning $15/hour ($30,000 annually). There were 407 players at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, meaning Wizards is allotting an average of $9,227.64 annually per Pro Player. That’s below the poverty line.

But wait, what about appearance fees? Wizards is trying to help people augment tournament winnings by paying an appearance fee! You’re absolutely right, so let’s take a look at these. First off, they are only paid out to platinum level pro players. This means players with at least 46 pro points this season, and 48 points last season. 15 players currently qualify as members of the Platinum club (Martin Dang gets in at 41 points for winning Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir). 16 players qualified last season. 7 players overlap giving us a platinum club of roughly 25 members.

Each Platinum Pro receives $3,000 for appearing at the Pro Tour, which is an additional $12,000/year with the flight and hotel paid for. They get $250 at each Grand Prix they attend, which realistically is only going to be about $2,500 to $3,000 for the year. So if we aim high, that’s 25 players who get a bonus of $15,000 on top of the $9,227.64 average that Wizards allots from the prize money for all major tournaments. That $24,227.64 is still below $15/hour, which is the minimum wage in Seattle, WA, the major metropolis that Wizards HQ is near.

Obviously looking at the averages doesn’t paint a proper picture. Each Pro Tour winner, for example, earns $40,000. The World Champion earns $50,000. The World Cup Champion team earns $12,000 apiece. That’s $258,000 for nine players. The remaining 398 pro players compete for a pot of $8,839 each. What gives?

In short, the prizes for tournaments hasn’t come remotely close to matching the growth of the game. Pro Tour New Orleans in 2003, 12 years ago, for example, paid out $30,000 to first place and a total pot of $200,000. Now, at first glance that’s less than the $40,000 paid out to first now and $250,000 total pot. However, there were six Pro Tours in 2003. That’s a total of $1.2 million compared to the current Pro Tour pot of $1.0 million. It’s amazing to think that despite the growth of the game, the prize pool is $200,000 lower than it was 12 years ago.

Grand Prix tournaments are even worse because of the way attendance has skyrocketed. For example, Grand Prix Detroit in 2003 had a total attendance of 604 players with a prize pool of $25,000 with $2,400 going to first place. That’s an average of $41/player which is actually higher than the $20/player advance registration. In fact it’s double! Grand Prix Detroit in 2013, ten years later, had a total attendance of 1,459 players. That’s more than double the growth of the game in ten years! Top prize had gone up to $3,500 and the total prize pool was $30,000. Wait a second… That’s an extra 854 players and only $5,000 to split between them? So the average prize is now $20/player and the cost to enter was $40. That’s half! What the fuck?

In summary, the cost of entering tournaments has doubled while the expected value of tournaments has been cut in half. The average “pro” player couldn’t make enough money to live above the poverty line. The attendance at Grand Prix tournaments has more than doubled and in many cases tripled while the prize pool has only increased by $5,000. The Pro Tour pays out $200,000 less annually than it did more than a decade ago despite this growth. Something isn’t adding up here and the bottom line is that if Wizards doesn’t do something to sustain the idea of a professional Magic player then many top Magic players are going to start leaving for games that will pay better than minimum wage.


For Charity

Let’s end today on a high note. With just over one day left, Pascal Maynard’s Tarmogoyf is currently going to sell for $14,200. Half of that money, after eBay fees, will be donated to Gamers Helping Gamers. This is a fantastic charity which was the recipient of the proceeds from Modern Hero. This is a great story both for Gamers Helping Gamers and for Pascal.

The Quick Hits

  • Brock Steele has a little rant about his frustrations over MTG Finance and Modern Masters 2 [Legit MTG]
  • MJ Scott chats with Cat Ward, the cosplayer behind the massive Sliver Queen and Ugin costumes you may have seen [Gathering Magic]
  • Matt Sperling is back for another round of complaining about things on the Pro Tour that anger him [Sperling’s Sick of It]
  • Jenna Helland introduces everyone to the future of Magic storytelling beginning with Origins [Daily MTG]
  • Jacob Van Lunen shares the powerful story of how Magic literally saved his life [Daily MTG]

Wallpaper of the Week

The new art for Etched Champion is pretty much a strictly worse version than the original art for Etched Champion. Therefore this wallpaper is strictly worse than finding a high-res version of the original art and plastering that to your desktop for the next week.

Grade: D

That wasn’t so difficult was it?

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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