They say everything is bigger in Texas but that’s apparently not true of Rivals of Ixalan limited Grand Prix tournaments as GP London attracted just under 2,000 players and GP Houston attracted just under 900. That’s a huge difference and there are a lot of factors at place, most notably Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan which is next weekend in Spain being a driving force for most pro players going to London in lieu of the North American event.

Then again, maybe there were other factors besides the impending Pro Tour. After all, only a few hundred players are heading to Spain to compete next weekend. Why the major difference otherwise? Both events had the same format, and the same playmat awarded, so that can’t be it. GP London was almost $10 more expensive to play in, so that can’t be it. Both events had similar side events with Iconic Masters drafts (yay?), plenty of constructed events, and of course the Pauper Sunday event.

What did GP London have that GP Houston did not have, to justify the additional cost of being in London and paying in British Pounds instead of American Dollars?

Do I think that The Professor is the reason why there were 2000 people in London and 900 in Houston? Yes. London also featured spellslinging by pro players Andrea Mengucci, Joel Larsson, and Lukas Blohon as well as community personalities Life Begins at 20, Master of Magics, Orc’s Head Magic, PleasantKenobi, and TOTALmtg. There was a Friday night bounty event that awarded bonus prize tickets for beating any of 9 pros in the event including two-time world champion Shahar Shenhar.

Houston had the usual slate of artists and vendors but having the features I just described made Grand Prix London feel like a more important event than just any other Grand Prix. It felt more like a Magic Convention, something I’ve talked about in the past as being an event that I expect Grand Prix tournaments to slowly morph into. Houston’s event was very tradition. London was pushing the envelope in the right direction.

The attendance in Houston is especially disappointing considering that last winter Grand Prix Houston attracted 1800 players for Standard Constructed just after Aether Revolt came out. That event was well after the Pro Tour but did not have to compete with any other GP events that weekend. Then again, in 2013 just over 1000 players showed up for limited in the middle of the summer and in 2010 649 players showed up for Modern. The game has grown considerably since then, so only attracting 900 players has to be somewhat disappointing.

GP London wasn’t the only event competing for attendance with GP Houston. A StarCityGames team event in Philadelphia certainly siphoned many northeast Magic players who might have otherwise made the trip to Houston. Also, GP Memphis is only a month away and GP Phoenix is less than two months away, and with the rising costs of Grand Prix events and the ever dwindling disposable income of middle-class millennials, well maybe Houston just wasn’t in the cards (The cost of living in Houston is 16% higher than in Memphis and 10% higher than in Phoenix).

Then again, the last limited Grand Prix in London (2016) was attended by 2,566 players, almost 600 more than this weekend’s event. So while we can argue about why London attracted way more players than Houston this weekend, there’s a deeper discussion that needs to be had about the overall downward trend of Grand Prix attendance in general.

What We Learned about RIX Limited

Black and White are solid colors in this format and four players (half the table!) drafted one or both of those colors at GP London and GP Houston. Green and Red were each played by six and seven players across the two events and four players decided to play Blue. It was a Black and Blue deck that took down the entire tournament for Marcelino Freeman who also went 8-1 on the first day of competition.

This is an aggressive format with many of the top decks favoring a lower curve with a solid suite of a few high-end creatures to close out games. That said, I was surprised not to see and U/G Merfolk deck drafted in the top eight in London, but that’s not terribly indicative of the deck’s status vs. Dinosaurs and Pirates which ran rampant at that table.

In Houston there was one Merfolk drafter and two Vampires players and with the results coming in its hard not to take a stab at ranking the four tribes in limited play so here goes:

  1. Vampires
  2. Dinosaurs
  3. Pirates
  4. Merfolk

That said, I think it’s definitely possible to draft a Merfolk deck that can crush the Vampire decks but you really need to pick up Negate and Swift Warden. Make sure you check out my Wednesday column for my ongoing adventures with Merfolk in sealed play.

How About Those Pro Club Thresholds

Wait what? Thankfully Pascal Maynard is here to explain!

So on the one hand is the updated Pro Tour Players Club guidelines which clearly states that 35 points are needed for Gold, but on the other hand is the Pro Club page which says you need 37 points. So John Rolf was told that he was still Silver and was getting a round loss for the third round, since he only had two byes at the Grand Prix.

Now, before you get outraged, you should know that the judges sorted out the problem, awarded Rolf a match win, and everyone went on their merry way. The website that Pascal linked above even got updated. Good job everyone! But, this still highlights some of the problems with maintaining the pro tour policies through static websites like this. There are inevitably going to be discrepancies and it’s not clear how to get them resolved without directly contacting someone in Organized Play.

All’s well that ends well but what if this hadn’t been resolved quickly and it prevented a player from making the top eight of a Grand Prix or securing an invitation to the Pro Tour. Sure, Wizards of the Coast might get it right in the end, but why don’t they get it right to begin with? Does this happen in other eSports? Have those competitions been around for over 20 years?

Are my expectations too high? Tweet at me and let me know what you think!

Rich Stein is a retired Magic player, an amateur content creator, and a Level 2 Social Justice Sorcerer. He hopes to eventually become a professional content creator and a Level 20 dual class Social Justice Sorcerer/Bard but he’s more than content to remain a retired Magic player. You can follow his musings on Twitter @RichStein13.

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