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, taking inspiration from golf, tennis, and bowling, we present our proposal for radical change to the landscape of competitive Magic.

The Pro Tour Today

After taking a long look at competitive golf, tennis, and bowling, a few things really stood out to me. First and foremost was the existence of multiple tournament circuits on the PGA and ATP tours (bowling is not big enough for multiple tiers of competition). Players worked their way up from the lower rungs of competition all the way to the top, earning their keep there. Magic’s Pro Player Club is a form of this structure but it doesn’t extend to the tournaments themselves. The Grand Prix and Pro Tour for all intents and purposes are the same set of tournaments.

The second thing that really stood out to me was how the multi-tier structure also tapered off the number of players at each level, like a pyramid. At the lower rungs of competition there are a lot of players fighting to make it to the next level. At the highest levels you only have the best of the best in the world. For example, just under 100 players competed at the 2015 Masters (golf) and 127 players make it to the main draw at Wimbeldon (tennis). In contrast, there were 409 players at Pro Tour: Dragons of Tarkir, and there will be even more at Pro Tour: Origins, while Grand Prix tournaments consistently have attendances over 1,000.

Finally, the thing that more than anything else flashed bright signs to me from other competitive tours was the existence of a build-up to the end-of-season championship event and a playoff system to accompany it. In fact, it was NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup that inspired this entire series. It turns out that NASCAR has very little otherwise that can be applied to Magic, but tennis, golf, and bowling all have exciting finales which are built-up across the year. Magic gets very exciting with every Pro Tour, but the build-up to the World Championship isn’t really tangible at any of those events, and then it kind of just shows up out of nowhere and then goes away until the following year.

Clear divisions of competition. A direct path to the premier tier. Limiting attendance at the top tiers to the elite players. A season-long build-up to the championship. A playoff system.

These were all things that I wanted for Magic to have because I believe wholeheartedly that they will not only improve competitive Magic for players, judges, and tournament organizers, but they will improve Magic for the fans and help to grow the game worldwide.

The Pro Tour of Tomorrow

So where do we begin? Let’s start with the new Path to the Pro Tour which is pictured below. You can literally start at the top (or any of the other oval entry points) and follow the road to either the World Magic Cup or the Magic World Championship. Take a look and then I’ll break down the basics of each level, how you qualify, and how you advance.

Please note that this is not a perfect system, in that I don’t have exact thresholds for things like how many players at each level would be ideal. This is more of a high-level overview, which I hope we can build on to create a new landscape for competitive Magic.

The New Pro Tour 2

My (Proposed) New Path to the Pro Tour

The DCI Open Tour

This is where it all begins for new players. You’ve enjoyed Friday Night Magic. Maybe you’ve even won your local shop’s Game Day competition. It’s time to step up to the next level. Today that means Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers. However, the problems with PPTQ’s are well documented. It’s time to bring back the legacy Pro Tour Qualifier system, but not quite as it was, since it had its own problems.

The DCI Open Tour is a collection of tournaments which are open to the public. Tournament organizers will be entitled to run some number of these annually. It may be once each season or it may be once each year or some other denomination. That is an implementation detail to be worked out later. Regardless, these tournaments will be the new world replacement for tournaments like PPTQ’s and Grand Prix Trials. Many of the details of these events will be left to the TO’s to plan out as their needs allow, but some guidelines will obviously be set by the DCI.

Regional Tour Qualifiers

Performing well on the DCI Open Tour can lead you to one of two places. Since it’s a replacement for PPTQ’s then one of the logical places it will lead is to the replacement for RPTQ’s, what I am calling the Regional Tour Qualifiers. Unlike today’s regional events however, you do not need to win a DCI Open Tour event to qualify. Instead, the RTQ’s will cater to players who perform with consistency on the DCI Open Tour.

For example you might play in six or seven Open Tour events over the course of a three-month season. You didn’t manage to win any of them (more on that in a moment) but you finished in the top eight of five of them. That’s really impressive. So impressive in fact that you accumulated enough Planeswalker Points on the Open Tour to earn an invitation to the Regional Tour Qualifier. Congratulations.

The Silver (Regional) Tour(s)

So what is the regional tour anyways? Where do I go from the Open Tour? This is what I’m calling the Silver Tour and there are going to be several of them, one for each geographic region of competitive play. This is where things start to heat up because you’re officially now on the ranked ladder of competitive Magic working your way up to the World Championship. On the Silver Tour any PWP you earn will count towards your professional rankings. But let’s step back for a second, how did you even get here?

Think of tournaments on this tour as the equivalent of today’s Star City Games Open Series. These are basically Grand Prix Lite tournaments. You qualify for them by earning your Silver Tour Card (this is a concept I stole from golf). There are only three ways you can be granted a Silver Tour Card. First, you can win a tournament on the DCI Open Tour. Just like in the days of yore, when PTQ tournaments didn’t have an extra P or R at the beginning, if you win one of those open-to-the public events, you get your shiny new tour invitation. The second way you can get your card is by earning it at the aforementioned Regional Tour Qualifier. Lastly, if you finish the competitive season as one of the top-ranked players in your region (North America, Latin America, Europe/Middle East/Africa, Asia Pacific, or Japan) then you will retain your membership for the following season.

That last part is another implementation detail. The Silver Tour organizers may decide they want to support having a thousand players on the tour or maybe only five hundred or maybe even five thousand. We can cross that bridge when we get to it and obviously the exact numbers will take some tuning.

There are two more important concepts here which I’ve taken from tennis and the ATP tour. In addition to players with a Silver Tour Card, each event on the Silver Tour will also have last chance qualifiers open to the public on the day before the event. This is a critical piece of the tour for several reasons. As we’ve seen with PPTQ’s, there can be geographic challenges to qualifying. Also, some players who fall off the tour because they needed to take time off or they simply hit a slump will want a way to bypass the Open Tour completely. Furthermore, tournament organizers can award Wildcard spots, which are basically exemptions allowing players to compete without a tour card. This is helpful for boosting local players or for players who may have barely missed out on acquiring a tour card.

National Qualifiers

At the Silver Tour level and above, players will be ranked nationally based on the PWP they accrue during the year as part of the tour. In the past, World Magic Cup Qualifiers have been open to the public. For many countries this will remain the case and there may not even be a National Qualifier. This will obviously be handled for each country individually. Countries will fall into one of the following categories:

  • No Nat’l Qualifiers, Public Nat’l Championship
  • Public Nat’l Qualifiers, Invitation Nat’l Championship
  • Invitation Nat’l Qualifiers, Invitation Nat’l Championship

In the first two scenarios we have nothing to talk about here. For the final scenario, which would likely apply to a country like the United States, players who reach a to-be-determined ranking on the Silver Tour will be invited to their country’s National Qualifiers. The path from there will continue…

The Gold (Grand Prix) Tour

In the meantime, players who win tournaments on the Silver Tour or manage to perform consistently across the course of a season on the Silver Tour will earn their Gold Tour Card. This is a more exclusive club, obviously, and will also be open to the top-ranked players in the world. This threshold will be tweaked as needed to get the right amount of players. Tournaments on this circuit will be essentially like Grand Prix tournaments today, but they are not open to the public. You must have your tour card, or a higher-level tour card to compete.

Ah yes, the drop-down concept. If you have your Gold Tour Card, can you compete on the Silver Tour? Yes, of course you can, but should you? Tennis allows this, but the tournament payouts at lower levels including cash and rankings simply aren’t worth the effort. However, there will be times when it makes sense to do so, such as when there’s a Silver Tour event in your backyard and you have nothing else to do that weekend. This will likely be more common for players with a Platinum Tour Card to drop down and play in Gold Tour events.

The Gold Tour will still allow for exemptions into events which will be awarded at the discretion of the tournament organizer. These should be more special situations such as former top-tier pro players who have been out of competition for a couple years looking to jump right back into the thick of things.

National Championships

Quickly revisiting our national categories above, lets talk about scenarios two and three which have invitation-only National Championships. In both cases invitations will be awarded to any national player who has a Gold Tour Card or a Platinum Tour Card or finished with a high enough placement in the National Qualifier. How high of a placing? That’s for the organizers to determine in order to have a healthy competition.

In the case of scenario one, the National Championship will be open to the public. This will be for countries where it obviously doesn’t make sense to have any restrictions on competitive level for the national team.

The Platinum (Pro) Tour

We now get to the highest tier of competitive play. By finishing the season as one of the top-ranked players in the world you’ll earn your Platinum Tour Card. This gets you onto the highest level of competitive play, the Platinum Tour. Additionally, players who win, or place high enough, on the Gold Tour will be awarded Platinum Tour Cards for the rest of the current season (you may be noticing a pattern here). There will be exemptions at this level but only for unique circumstances such as members of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. These players (I can’t think of anyone else who would qualify yet) would be given a lifetime Platinum Tour Card.

This tour will essentially consist of the four Pro Tours which take place today, and perhaps a few more tournaments could be added in as well to expand the competition some. The prize payouts would be very high and the competition would be fierce with only the best of the elite players in the world competing at these events. This would basically be the equivalency of golf’s majors or tennis’s grand slams.

The World Magic Cup

Simply enough the top players at the National Championship will comprise each national team. There’s very little changing here.

The Magic World Championship

At the end of the season every player will have accumulated points on either the Silver, Gold, or Platinum Tour. The top-ranked players will qualify for the playoffs and then the chase is on. The World Championship today is a 24-player affair and that doesn’t need to change. However, there would be some added excitement if there was some kind of playoff system to take the top X players, perhaps 64, and narrow them down somehow.

I don’t know what an ideal playoff would look like but I think some serious thought should go into bridging the gap from the end of the competitive season to the World Championship. Golf and NASCAR have a multi-event playoff where the field is narrowed down at each stage. Bowling has the top competitors play in multiple formats and the top players of each format then make up the championship field (in a new format). Such a system could only create excitement.

Wrapping Things Up

So there you have it. Four tiers of competition. At each rung of competition you can either spike an event or perform consistently to move on to the next rung. Play well enough to remain there at the end of the season or fall back down. Each season will remain tied to the cycle of expansion releases with the Pro Tour events serving as the pinnacle of each season. Details like formats and the number of players at different levels will need to be fleshed out but the core structure is there.

To summarize:

  • The DCI Open Tour – This collection of tournaments replaces PPTQs/RPTQs and is open to the public. Players who win at this level or perform consistently will be able to move on to ranked competitions.
  • The Silver Regional Tours – These are five regional tours that consist of miniature Grand Prix tournaments (structured like the SCG Open series). Players at this level may qualify for National Qualifier Events and can perform well to move up to the next tier. Fail to perform and wind up back in the public events space. Public Qualifiers can provide invites to these events. Exemptions can be awarded at the tournament organizer’s discretion.
  • The Gold Grand Prix Tour – This is a global tour which mimics today’s Grand Prix structure but is only open to the top-ranked players in the world and players who perform well at the silver level. Players at this level may qualify for National Championship events and can perform well to move up to the highest tier. Fail to perform and wind up back on your regional tour or worse yet, at the public level. Exemptions can be awarded at the tournament organizer’s discretion.
  • The Platinum Pro Tour – This is the highest level of competition only open to the top players in the world, players who proved themselves on the Gold Tour, and members of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Perform well at this level to maintain your ranking and earn a spot at the World Championship. Fail and find yourself falling back down the ladder.
  • The World Magic Cup – This team tournament will feature the best players from each nation competing for the glory of the World Cup. The winners of this event will take home cash prizes along with a large amount of rankings points to secure their place in the following year’s Platinum Tour.
  • The World Championship – The best of the best at the end of the year, based on rankings, will compete for the ultimate prize: the title of World Champion, and also some cash.

I’m sure you have many questions and possibly many ways to tear my system apart. However, I stand by the fact that the Pro Tour today is antiquated and that the lessons we can learn from other competitive tours can only help us improve the Pro Tour. The system I’ve outlined is a radical departure from what we have today in many ways, but not so much in others. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below and together as a community I believe we can come up with a vastly superior competitive landscape to what exists today.

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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