Wizards of the Coast announced yesterday that the previously cancelled and upcoming Players Tour and Mythic Invitationals in 2020 will be combined and moved to events on MTG Arena.

“While we share in the extraordinary sadness felt by our players and fans” about the cancellation of all in-person events in 2020, Wizards said, “we can’t predict when it will be safe to resume the large-scale gatherings. For this reason, we are choosing to hold replacement events online over the next few months. The alternative was waiting indefinitely for the world to return to normal, with no guarantee that the new normal would even allow our old systems to exist.”

From the original 2020 schedule for in-person Magic esports, only Players Tour Series 1 took place as planned. Now, due to disruptions from COVID-19, the remaining 2020 Players Tours, all Players Tour Finals, and all Mythic Invitationals will be combined into three separate events on MTG Arena:

  • Players Tour Series 2 will be combined with Players Tour Series 3 to form a single online Players Tour with four events. The events will use the Standard format and have a prize pool of $150,000 per event for a total of $600,000.
  • Players Tour Finals Houston will be combined with Players Tour Finals Minneapolis to form a single online Players Tour Final. The event will use the Standard format and have a prize pool of $250,000.
  • Mythic Invitational Ikoria will be combined with Mythic Invitational Core Set 2020 and Mythic Invitational Zendikar Rising to form a single online Mythic Invitational. The event will use the Historic format and have a prize pool of $250,000.

Wizards is also adding a new event, the 2020 Season Grand Finals, that will feature the Top 16 players from the new combined Players Tour Finals and Mythic Invitational events with a prize pool of $250,000.

All of Magic Esports’ 2020 events, except for Players Tour Series 1, have now been reorganized into four new events.

These four new events represent significant departures from the original 2020 schedule in multiple ways. The Players Tours and Players Tour Finals are changing from tabletop to MTG Arena, and their formats are being changed from split Pioneer/Standard, Modern/Standard, and Limited/Standard events to all Standard events. Additionally, the four new events will award a total of $1.35 million in prizes—down significantly from the $4.2 million of combined prizes that were to be awarded from the originally scheduled two Players Tours, two Players Tour Finals, and three Mythic Invitationals.

Despite the significant changes to the schedule, structure, formats, and prize support for its 2020 esports events, players who have earned invites to any of its 2020 Players Tour or Mythic Invitiational events will only be able to use those invites for these new online tournaments. “Invitations [to previously scheduled events] cannot be deferred,” Wizards said, “as no future Players Tour events will be scheduled in 2020.” While originally saying that “players will use their personal MTG Arena account to compete,” Wizards later changed course and said they would provide fully-stocked accounts for all players.

The Players Tour

While Players Tour Series 1 was completed as scheduled, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Wizards to cancel Players Tour Series 2 and now Players Tour Series 3. Those six events (three per series) will be combined into four tournaments on MTG Arena over the course of two weekends: June 13-14 and 19-21, 2020. Invited players will be made up of the Magic Pro League, Grand Prix winners, the Top 8s from Mythic Championships IV and VI, the top finishers from Players Tour Series 1, and anyone that previously qualified for Players Tour Series 2 or 3.

If the weekend of June 13-14 sounds familiar, it is because Wizards scheduled an MTG Arena-based event for players who couldn’t attend in-person Players Tour Series 2 events before eventually cancelling Series 2 altogether.

The four online Players Tour will be 15 rounds of Standard played over two days. Day 1 will be be nine rounds and players with 15 match points or more will advance to Day 2, where they will play and additional six rounds of Standard, followed by a Standard Top 8. While the two cancelled Players Tours would have awarded $1.2 million over six events, the online Players Tour events will each have a prize pool of $150,000, for a total of $600,000, with $8,000 being awarded to the winners and a minimum prize of $250.

The Players Tour Finals

COVID-19 took hold before the first Players Tour Finals even took place, forcing Wizards to cancel Players Tour Finals Houston and now Players Tour Finals Minneapolis. It is unlikely that the yet-unannounced Players Tour Final for Players Tour Series 3, which was scheduled for 2021, will ever happen.

The swiss rounds of the combined Players Tour Finals will take place on July 25-26, 2020, while the Top 8 will be the next weekend on Saturday, August 1. It will invite the Magic Pro League, the players who qualified for Players Tour Finals Houston and Minneapolis, the players that finish with 33 or more match points in the online Players Tours, as well as the finalists from MagicFest Online’s Season Finals.

The online Players Tour Finals will be 14 rounds of Standard played over two days, seven rounds per day. All players with 12 or more match points will advance to Day 2. The event will have a $250,000 prize pool, down from $500,000 across the two cancelled Players Tour Finals, with $10,000 to the winner and a minimum prize of $1,000. The Top 16 will also advance to the 2020 Season Grand Finals.

The Mythic Invitational

None of the three Mythic Invitationals scheduled in 2020 will take place as planned. Instead, all three will be combined into an online Mythic Invitational that will take place on August 28-30, 2020. The players in the Invitational will be the entire roster of both the Magic Pro and Rivals Leagues, as well as the players that will join Rivals for its next season, plus the remaining Top 8 Mythic Point earners and all players who qualified via Mythic Qualifiers.

Those players will compete in the very first premiere event to feature the new Historic format. The players will play seven rounds of Historic on Day 1, with those who reach 12 match points or more advancing to Day 2 to play seven more rounds of Historic. They will then cut to the Top 8 and play even more Historic to determine a winner.

The online Mythic Invitational will award $250,000 in prizes, down from $2.25 million that would have been awarded from the three cancelled Mythic Invitationals ($750,000 each), with $10,000 for first place and a minimum prize of $1,000. The Top 16 will also advance to the 2020 Season Grand Finals.

The 2020 Season Grand Finals

Wizards is adding a new event, called the 2020 Season Grand Finals, as part of the restructured 2020 schedule. It will feature 32 players, made up of the Top 16s of the online Players Tour Finals and Mythic Invitational, who will play for a prize pool of $250,000. The date and format of the event has yet to be determined.

Magic Esports in Flux

Like many companies, Wizards of the Coast is facing new realities due to COVID-19. Though Magic’s revenues were “up significantly” in the first quarter of 2020, Wizards was forced to delay the release of their latest set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, by a month to last week—while many local game stores have yet to open.

2020 was already slated to be a year of transition for Magic’s esports initiative. After Wizards jettisoned the venerable Pro Tour brand in 2019 for the Magic Pro League and Mythic Championships, the first eight months of 2020 were supposed to transition competitive Magic to year-long seasons made up of a split system of Players Tours and Mythic Invitationals. Instead, only one event—Players Tour Series 1—from this shortened 2020 season actually happened as scheduled. And now Wizards has cancelled all of the remaining events in 2020, including the first two events of the planned 2020-21 season: Players Tour Series 2 and Mythic Invitational Zendikar Rising.

On top of that, COVID-19 has resulted in the cancellation of all MagicFests until at least July, though it is unlikely that any of the remaining 2020 MagicFests will be held given today’s announcements. In response, Wizards and ChannelFireball created both MagicFest Online and CommandFest Online, as well as announcing the Arena Open.

Magic esports was already in an unstable phase to start 2020 before the arrival of a global pandemic. And now that COVID-19 will be with us for a while, Magic esports has entered a period of unpredictable flux. The 2020 partial season is in ruins and the 2020-21 season, of which we knew very little about other than the start and end dates, appears to have changed dramatically nonetheless. “As we conclude the 2020 Partial Season,” Wizards said, “our focus will shift to shorter length seasons with a structure that provides more flexibility so we can quickly pivot and adapt in the current global landscape.”

The only thing that seems certain for now is that competitive Magic will be moving MTG Arena for the foreseeable future with no timeline for the return of a tabletop series. Is this the end of professional tabletop Magic? In the form we knew it, almost certainly. We can only hope that large gatherings become safe quickly and that Wizards is willing to return to renting large convention centers for events.

The (hopefully temporary) death of tabletop Magic and the rise of MTG Arena to take its place leaves professional Magic in a strange place. MTG Arena makes professional Magic much more accessible. Asian and (especially) Latin American players have always had a paucity of local events and have been forced to travel much farther distances to get to North America and Europe, where the vast majority of events in-person are held. Tournaments on MTG Arena don’t require travel, thus greatly reducing the cost for those players to attend. MTG Arena is also a free-to-play game, which allows players to expand their collection via daily quests and win rewards. A player could therefore compete in professional events on MTG Arena without spending a dime on their deck, in contrast to the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars required to acquire a physical deck for a tabletop tournament.

But MTG Arena still doesn’t have a way to run a paired tournament in-game—the Arena Open, like the Mythic Qualifiers and Mythic Point Challenges, will use the existing asynchronous “event” pairing system—and there are no safeguards against players cheating by sharing their screens to get in-match help from friends. And prizes have been cut dramatically, though there’s always the possibility of unannounced events that could restore some of the lost prizes.

2020 hasn’t played out like anybody thought it would. Today’s announcement is Wizards’ latest attempt to cope with the fallout from COVID-19 and is akin to taking a mulligan on the 2020 schedule by deeming the season “unrecoverable” and merging and transitioning the in-person events into online events. The move has been met with a lot of negativity from the professional Magic community, but it’s not clear that there were any better options while we’re all in the midst of a pandemic.

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