The Pro Tour is one of Wizards most valuable means to promote the game of Magic, but it is far from perfect. Although the number of people playing Magic is ever growing larger, the number of people watching competitive Magic and following the Pro Tour climbs at a much, much smaller pace. In the past we’ve discussed the plight of tournament coverage but today we shine the spotlight on the structure of the Pro Tour itself. Though there have been small changes such as the recent one with PTQ events and the changes made to the National Championships several years ago, the overall design of the Pro Tour, Grand Prix, and PTQ circuits remains very similar to how it looked over a decade ago. Today we take a look at the seasonal structure, qualifying processes, and championship means for Magic with an eye to what can be done to help increase the ability of fans to enjoy the competition. For inspiration we will look to the successes of Golf and the FedEx Cup.

The Pro Tour Today

Season Structure

The Magic professional season runs from August to August with the summer-expansion Pro Tour marking the end of the professional season. The 2014-15 season will conclude on August 2nd with the end of Pro Tour Magic Origins. The 2015-16 season will begin the next day. This can be somewhat confusing because it does not properly line up with the Grand Prix seasons, which are each three months long. There are four Grand Prix seasons during the year, with the Grand Prix events of each season feeding a corresponding Pro Tour. The first season of the year begins in December and ends in February and feeds the third Pro Tour of the professional season. This misalignment is because the Grand Prix seasons are tied to the calendar year while the Pro Tour season is tied to expansion releases.

The only other event seasons are the Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier seasons which run almost concurrent to their corresponding Grand Prix seasons, but don’t line up quite exactly. For example, the next Grand Prix season, which feeds the first Pro Tour of 2016 (second of the 2015-16 professional season), begins on September 1st and ends on November 22nd. There is a Preliminary PTQ season that begins on August 22nd and ends on November 22nd, which is almost identical in dates, but those PPTQs will feed the Regional PTQ events for the second Pro Tour of 2016 (third of the 2015-16 professional season).

While I’m not saying any of this necessarily needs to be changed, there is a clear lack of consistency between PTQ, Grand Prix, and Pro Tour seasons which make it difficult to tie them together in a meaningful way. If you win a PPTQ one weekend and make Top-8 of a Grand Prix the next weekend they qualify you for different Pro Tour events. The nature of this structure makes it inherently challenging for fans of the game to understand what’s going on during any given weekend.

Qualifying Process

Magic players can qualify for the Pro Tour in one of two ways. They can either secure enough points to become a member of the Pro Players Club, or they can place high enough in a feeder tournament (RPTQ, Grand Prix, MOCS, Pro Tour, World Cup, World Championship). There is a third way to qualify which is to become a member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame but we won’t cover that here. Attaining membership in the Pro Players Club requires 20 professional points which are only awarded at Grand Prix and Pro Tour events and also at the World Championship and the World Magic Cup. In short, there are a lot of different places to look at to see who is qualified for the Pro Tour and a lot of different routes players can take to get there.

As a fan of the game it is challenging to see who is a Pro Tour competitor at any given time. There are  the Top 25 rankings, the Professional Point standings on the Planeswalker Points Page, and of course every few months when the Pro Tour comes around the list of invitees is published. The first of these is extremely limited, the second doesn’t account for those who qualified via tournament placement, and the last is only available for a short amount of time. Furthermore, thanks to the technical ineptitude of Wizards of the Coast, none of these lists are easily accessible to fans of the game.

Crowning a Champion

In a few weeks the World Championship will premiere at its new home at PAX Prime in Seattle. This is a big change for Wizards and is likely tied to more big reveals we can expect with relation to Battle for Zendikar and the future of Magic in general. It’s also great to piggy-back off of a huge event like PAX Prime. Fan awareness of the event should be very high, but how easily will they be able to engage the fans? After a year of competing at Pro Tours and Grand Prix tournaments, 24 of the top players in the world will be invited to the World Championship. They consist of the following players:

  • The defending world champion (1)
  • The winners of each Pro Tour during the season (4)
  • The captain of the national team that won the previous World Magic Cup (1)
  • The winner of the Magic Online Championship Series (1)
  • The Player of the Year (1)
  • The player who accumulates the most professional points from Grand Prix events during the season (1)
  • The top two players by professional points in each region who were not otherwise invited (10)
  • The top remaining players by professional points who were not otherwise invited (5)

That’s an incredibly diverse list of invitation sources and one would understand if the average fan has difficulty understanding who is working towards qualifying for the event, who is already qualified, and how anyone got there to begin with. After Pro Tour Magic Origins, all 24 invitees will be known and surely Wizards will publicize the list, but this is a difficult way to maintain interest. From the very start of the season there are players who can qualify for the following world championship without ever stepping foot inside of a Pro Tour event. That has to be confusing, to say the least.


The annual premier golf competition is the FedEx Cup. It is awarded annually to the winner of the PGA Tour. Similar to Magic, golf is both an individual competition and, to be blunt, not very exciting to watch on-screen. However, the PGA tour manages to provide fans with a year-long chase culminating in a playoff tournament and ultimately the awarding of the cup and $10,000,000. Magic can certainly learn a few things from golf, which has an estimated 25 million players in the USA alone, compared to Magic’s 20 million worldwide.

Season Structure

The professional golf season begins in October and ends in August. This is similar to the Magic season which begins and ends in August. Both circuits have their ultimate championship event held in September. The season is split into a regular season and a playoff season. The regular season consists of 47 events and is known as the PGA Tour. Four of these events are known as the Major events and include the Masters, the Players, the U.S. Open, and the PGA Championship. Each of the 47 events awards both cash and FedEx Cup points. At the end of the regular season there is a four-tournament playoff which I will discuss further below.

This structure is similar to Magic in that there are a small number of premiere events and a large number of standard events. The PGA Majors could be equated to the Magic Pro Tours with the rest of the PGA Tour equating to the Grand Prix circuit. The key difference however is that none of these events are open to the public in the way that Grand Prix tournaments are. So lets talk about how golfers qualify for the PGA Tour.

Qualifying Process

To get on the PGA Tour you need what’s commonly referred to as a Tour Card. This is similar to membership in the Pro Players Club. Once you have a tour card you are qualified for most, but not all, of the 47 regular-season events.  Getting a one-year card can be accomplished in one of the following ways:

  • Finish in the top 125 of the FedEx Cup standings at the end of the year
  • Finish in the top 25 of the Tour money standings at the end of the year
  • Finish in the top 25 of the Final Tournament standings
  • Win three tournaments on the Tour in one calendar year
  • Win a tournament on the PGA Tour (two-year card awarded, plus one year for each additional win up to five years)
  • Win the Tour Championship (three-year card)
  • Win a World Golf Championship event (two-year card)
  • Win a Major Championship (five-year card)

The Tour is the main qualifying tour for the PGA Tour and has even more qualifying paths, including placing high on the Latin America, Canada, and China PGA Tours as well as finishing in the 126-200 spots in the PGA Tour.

This is very similar to Magic in that you can either place high in the end-of-year rankings or you can win an event in order to gain your qualification for the top-tier of competition. Unlike Magic however, golf features a three-tier structure consisting of a top-tier (PGA Tour), a developmental tier ( Tour), and several regional-level tiers which feed the developmental tier. This is a very fascinating structure as it provides for weekly competition featuring the best-of-the-best players with smaller tournament circuits for the next generation of competitive players while also sustaining local growth through tournament circuits focused on regional play.

Crowning a Champion

At the end of the regular season, the top 125 PGA Tour players compete in the Barclays tournament kicking off the FedEx Cup playoffs. Points are awarded to the competitors and then the remaining top 100 compete on the Deutsche Bank Championship.  The process is repeated again with the top 70 playing on the BMW Championship and the final 30 points leaders battling for the FedEx Cup at the Tour Championship (presented by Coca-Cola).

This four-event playoff which features 125 competitors being pared down to 30 is very different from the Magic World Championship, a single event with the field already set at 24 players. One can’t help but wonder what a multi-event World Championship might look like for Magic. Perhaps the top 100 players compete in the first leg as a side event at a Grand Prix, with the top 64 following that competing at another Grand Prix, and so on until we get down to the 24 players at PAX Prime. Call it the Road to PAX Prime, perhaps?

Next Week

Now that we’ve outlined some of the deficiencies in the Magic Pro Tour and looked at the success of the PGA Tour, we’ll turn to other competitive circuits to look for more inspiration. Next week the focus will be on the ATP Ranking system which drives the world’s premiere Tennis competitions, and the PBA Tour for ten-pin bowling. Once we’ve outlined these two circuits, in addition to today’s analysis of the PGA Tour, we’ll be able to apply what we’ve learned to building a better Pro Tour. Stay tuned for that column in two week’s time, on the Monday following Pro Tour Magic Origins.

The Quick Hits

  • MJ Scott shares a fantastic Sorin cosplay by George Li [Gathering Magic]
  • Last week was Gideon’s week on the mothership and they put together a quick collection of some Gideon-related Vorthos materia [Magic Arcana]
  • Want a shot at the double-black, double-faced planeswalker cards from San Diego? They’ll be on sale July 28th if you have a quick internet connection [Quiet Speculation]
  • Speaking of Gideon, it turns out he’s actually Batman, on both Zendikar and Ravnica [Uncharted Realms]
  • Ross Merriam gets introspective about his goals for Pro Tour competition [Star City Games]
  • The Magic panel from San Diego Comic Con is finally online [Daily MTG]
  • Some more information for the World Cup and World Championship have been posted [Daily MTG]

Wallpaper of the Week

After five weeks of pre-spark planeswalkers we’ll now be treated to five weeks of post-spark planeswalkers beginning with the new Gideon, Battle-Forged. This image is obviously from the shard of Bant on the plane of Alara in case you were wondering what’s up with the rolling hills, castles, and legion of angels. This is, essentially, the standard triumphant battle pose we’ve seen before on Gideon Jura and Gideon, Champion of Justice. It’s nice to see the full art here because on the planeswalker card you get just a bit of sky and castle, not much else.

Grade: B-

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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