Last week, Wizards dropped a pretty big bombshell announcement on the 2017 professional Magic scene. First, the minor part of the announcement was around the sunset of the Grand Prix Trial system. More on that in a moment. Second, a big part of the announcement involved the return of Pro Tour Qualifiers (aka PTQs, not PPTQs or RPTQs) to the Sunday schedule at Grand Prix tournaments. Last, but not least, is the massive announcement about the changes to the World Magic Cup and the return of Nationals.

As recently as December, I wrote about the need to reconsider the current design of the World Magic Cup. Sure, the drastic suggestions I made aren’t being enacted, I’m not a psychic, but it is good to see that Wizards is willing to make changes to this event and hopefully for the better.

That said, I couldn’t be more excited to learn that Nationals are returning to the pro circuit. In the modern era of Grand Prix tournaments serving as mini-Magic the Gathering conventions, I expect National Championship events to be held on an even grander scale. There will be artists. There will be cosplayers, there will be tons of Magic. What’s not to love?

Okay, let’s not speculate too much on National Championships we know nothing about. Let’s focus on what we do know. Here are the facts:

  • The top Pro Point earner for each country will captain the country’s team at the World Magic Cup
  • The two top finishers at each country’s National Championship will be the other two members of the team
  • Team size is shrinking from four players to three players due to awkwardness of a non-playing team member
  • National Championships will be held on September 9th, 16th, or 23rd
  • Players have until May 28th to accumulate enough Planeswalker Points to qualify for their National Championship
  • The constructed portion of the World Magic Cup will be Standard
  • The format for Nationals will be Standard
  • More details about Nationals will be released no later than the end of May

I’m pretty indifferent on the change in team size at this time. I would prefer larger teams and more competition, but so long as the format remains a 70+ nation free-for-all then perhaps fewer players is better. It’s a bit curious that everyone will have to decide whether or not to try to qualify for Nationals before more information is released, but if anyone was planning on qualifying for the WMCQ they might as well try to qualify for a National Championship.

Scheduling these events in September solves one of the mysteries of the Magic schedule. This timing will put Nationals at the end of the Hour of Devastation Standard meta-game. That’s somewhat disappointing. The fall expansion will release several weeks later in early-to-mid October, which would have provided a far more interesting Standard environment.

Speaking of Standard, this announcement was another piece of ammunition for the argument that Wizards of the Coast does not care to support non-Standard constructed formats. Not only is Modern being replaced by Standard at the World Magic Cup and National Championships, but the end of Grand Prix Trials means the end of a tournament offering that could be used for sanctioned Legacy events with prize support.

Standard is in an interesting place these days. There’s more scrutiny than ever and now that Standard is the only format played on the Pro Tour and now the World Magic Cup and Nationals as well. The pressure is surely on Wizards of the Coast to deliver a better Standard experience than they are currently doing.

There’s two sides to this issue. Can Wizards provide a quality Standard experience versus should Wizards throw more support behind non-Standard environments? As harsh as it may sound, if Wizards can’t create a positive playing environment for Standard, in which skill is highlighted, the meta-game is complex, and players are rewarded for out-thinking their opponent, can they be expected to do the same for Modern and Legacy?

The spotlight shines solely on Standard these days and the community is not entirely happy with what they see. However, reducing that spotlight and shining it on Modern and Legacy as well is not the solution. We’ve seen what happened to Modern with only a single Pro Tour each year for a few years. I dare consider what Legacy would be like under the scrutiny of a Pro Tour.

Here’s one demonstrable fact though: Modern and Legacy continue to have thriving communities and be played across the globe despite the fact that Wizards removed Modern from the Pro Tour, and that Legacy support is almost non-existent. The formats, as well as Vintage and Commander, are strong on their own without needing the competitive spotlight shone on them. Would they benefit from that spotlight? Not necessarily.

Last but not least, PTQ events are returning in the form of Sunday events at Grand Prix tournaments. With a maximum of 225 players you’ll be looking at an 8-round event, with a cut to top-8, and then a magical first-place prize of a trip to the Pro Tour. Good luck!

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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