Pro Tour Cycles are coming and they’re coming as soon as next week! But what does it all mean? There’s a lot to digest in Elaine Chase’s massive organized play announcement and the effects on the Pro Tour and related events (Nationals, Grand Prix, World Cup, and World Championship) will be felt immediately.

But wait you say, Wizards says the changes go into effect in September of 2018, that’s 13 months away, why all the doom and gloom now Rich? Well fellow Planeswalker, even though the change in how points are counted won’t begin until next September, that change starts counting points beginning on July 31st of this year. That’s next week!

Don’t worry though, the Pro Tour Cycles likely aren’t going to be the death of the Pro Tour (sorry) but they are going to have a pretty significant impact. Some of the changes will be immediately felt, and most of those are for the betterment of the game. Some of those changes though won’t be felt until the long-term effects can be discerned, and those may be of some concern.

So How Does it Work?

Every new set release will be tied to a Pro Tour Cycle so we’ll be getting four of them every year. They’ll vary in length but expect them to be around 13 weeks. The first four are longer than that because it looks like Wizards is realigning the annual season reset to later in the year. At the end of each cycle (beginning with the fourth cycle’s end on September 16, 2018) your Pro Player Club level will be determined by the combined total performance of your previous four cycles.

Got it?

Okay, there’s one wrinkle. In each cycle you can only count your top three performances from an event that awards pro points. It can be any combination of events such as three Grand Prix or one World Championship, one Pro Tour, and one Grand Prix. However it shakes down, you’ll want to plan accordingly.

Why Make this Change?

First and foremost this eliminates the absurd difference in “value” of attending the first Pro Tour in a season vs. the last. If you manage to reach a new pro club level in the first Pro Tour in the current system you gain those benefits for the rest of the current season as well as the entirety of the following season, almost a full 24 months worth. If you do that at the final Pro Tour of a season you get the same benefits for 15 months at most. Now, a good Pro Tour finish will always count for the current cycle as well as the next four cycles, a maximum of 15 months.

On this point I think Wizards has done the right thing. There’s no reason for one Pro Tour finish to be worth more than another Pro Tour finish. There’s also really no reason for a Pro Tour, or any tournament, to boost your standings for nearly two years. That’s obscene. On this point I give the new system an A+.

Quality of Life

The next major point Elaine Chase made is about the quality of life for pro players. Wizards was not happy with the major swings that the old system created in a player’s tournament schedule. A bad first half of the year would lead to increased pressure in the second half. On the other hand, a strong first half meant you could pick and choose what events you went to in the second half.

In general, Wizards has been trying to structure the Pro Tour in a way that allows players to avoid having to grind out events to maintain their status in the pro player clubs. One way they did this in the past was to put a cap on Grand Prix events that count towards your club level. Wizards wanted to go further, at the suggestion of a pro player, and cap all events. This proved difficult in a 12-month schedule but less so in a 3-month schedule.

Is Wizards assessment correct?

Kai is somewhat correct and somewhat off the mark. Every cycle is going to look back at the previous four cycles, so you need to maintain a four-cycle rolling average that’s pretty decent. Let’s say these are your totals over the next four cycles:

  • Ixalan Cycle: 10
  • Rivals of Ixalan Cycle: 3
  • Dominaria Cycle: 14
  • Core 2019 Cycle: 10

At the end of the Core 2019 Cycle you have 37 points, good enough for Gold status. But, you have that Rivals cycle where all you did was show up to the Pro Tour and leave with your three consolation points. Are you screwed? Going into the “Spaghetti” cycle you lose the 10 points you accrued in the Ixalan cycle, leaving you with 27. You’ll need eight to maintain Gold status. Obviously that’s easier said than done. Maybe you pick up six, falling just short and dropping back down to Silver status. But, going into the “Meatballs” cycle, you get to drop the Rivals result and now  you have 30 points, needing only five to get back to Gold.

I don’t think players will be screwed if they have a bad cycle. What we’ll likely see though is more players fluctuate between levels, going back and forth say between Silver and Gold or Gold and Platinum. I don’t know if this is a desirable outcome though, so it’s possible Wizards will tweak the requirements for club levels, but I wouldn’t expect that to happen for a while yet.

So Everything’s Great?

Not so fast buckaroo. Let’s close out by talking about Latin American players. There are three Grand Prix held in Latin America every year. There are national championships. So that means that if you actually want three tournament results each Pro Tour Cycle you need to travel far away to earn them.

Now, that’s kind of always been the case for players from Brazil but in the past a single Pro Tour finish could carry them on Gold status for a very long time. In fact, it’s what we just talked about as being a problem. Latin American players could focus on the first Pro Tour of the year, and hitting Gold would lock them in for invitations to the next seven pro tours. Now they’re only going to be locked in for the next four until they have to travel again, likely to North America, to lock in Gold.

If we want to talk about the Quality of Life of pro players we can’t just talk about it for North Americans and Europeans who have better travel access to almost all of the Pro Tours, the World Championship, and the World Cup, as well as over 50% of the annual Grand Prix events. We have to talk about Latin Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and all other pro players who are being put at a bigger disadvantage.

While I don’t think Kai Budde is correct that one bad quarter will screw over a player, two or three in a row almost certainly will do so, as it will be much harder to recover. This will put a lot of pressure on players to travel to North America or Europe more frequently to maintain their status.

Will this result in fewer pro players from places like Brazil and Australia? It’s obviously hard to predict that sort of thing. In order to maintain your pro level in the new system you need to maintain a solid four-cycle average but you only get to use the top three events in a given cycle. There will never be three local events for a player from Brazil to go to in a single cycle.

In the current system, with a cap of five Grand Prix each year, a player could travel once or twice and finish their grind. Now, that player will have to travel at least twice and possibly three or four times. This puts them at an obvious disadvantage compared to their North American and European counterparts.

There’s no easy solution to this problem but the fact is that the quality of life for pro players living in North America is better, by far, and that players who want to take their careers seriously should move to North America. Elaine closed out the article by saying the new system allows them to experiment more. The first thing I’d like to see them experiment with is ways to grow competitive Magic outside of North America.

For now I’m tentatively positive about these changes, but I’m reserving judgment until we see quality of life improvements.



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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