This morning, Wizards of the Coast announced that both the Magic Pro and Rivals Leagues would be disbanded at the conclusion of the upcoming 2021-2022 season.

“Before we can implement our new vision for play, we need to successfully transition from the current system in the upcoming season,” Wizards said. “The 2021–2022 season’s primary goals are to sunset the current system of play and allow us the freedom and flexibility to create a new play system for the future.”

“This will be the final season for the Magic Pro and Rivals Leagues,” Wizards continued. “Players will not be competing for another League season. Instead, they’ll be competing for a place in the World Championship.”

There will be fewer MPL and Rivals events as the leagues wind down. The Set Championships will remain, but the League Weekends will be discontinued, and there won’t be any postseason gauntlets at the end of the 2021-2022 season since there won’t be another season.

“High level play is not going away,” Blake Rasmussen, Senior Communications Manager at Wizards, emphasized later on Weekly MTG. “What is going away are the guaranteed contracts” and things like appearance fees for professional players. “We’re not going to subsidize the lifestyles of the Top 200 players,” he said.

Rasmussen cast today’s announcement as an attempt to re-balance where Wizards spends its organized play resources. “For the longest time, [esports] sucked up all of the resources,” he revealed, leading to a top-heavy organized play system that didn’t serve competitive Magic well.

He explained that Wizards has identified five pillars of play that they want to balance, both organized and casual: friendly play, like kitchen table Magic and FNM; aspirational play, liked PTQs and Grand Prix; elite play, like the MPL and Rivals; festivals, like CommandFest; and digital play on MTG Arena and Magic Online. Over the past few years, according to Rasmussen, elite play has received an unbalanced amount of resources at the expense of the four other co-equal categories of play.

“While we’re not ready to publish the details for the 2022–2023 season and beyond, we did think it was important to share our current thoughts on that future,” Wizards said in their statement this morning. They will focus on balancing those five pillars of play, recognizing that in-person play is “a unique strength for Magic,” that “digital play is here to stay,” as well as a focus on accessibility, flexibility, and patience.

A Rocky End to a Rocky Era of Organized Play

News of the end of the Magic Pro League comes two and a half years after the league was announced in December 2018 at the Game Awards. It was originally made up of the Top 32 players in the world, who were awarded contracts worth up to $75,000 as members of the league.

Initially, the league was divided into four divisions and competed in a “split,” or a round robin tournament on MTG Arena in which each divisional winner would earn a bye into Day 2 of Mythic Championship III. The first such split, the Spark Split, went so poorly that it forced Wizards to rethink their approach to the MPL, resulting in significant changes for the next split and eventually the introduction of the Magic Rivals League for the 2020 season.

The effectiveness of those changes were immediately thrown into doubt just three months into the new season when Wizards was forced to shut down the 2020 season entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic that March. Even when MPL play resumed in the Fall with the promising addition of League Weekends, Wizards still wasn’t satisfied with its league system. “Trying to just tweak the MPL/Rivals system was determined that it wasn’t going to work,” Rasmussen said. “We needed a clean break.”

Continued Instability in Competitive Magic

The Magic Pro League’s formation heralded Magic’s shift towards digital competitive play on MTG Arena and marked the beginning of an ongoing period of instability in competitive Magic.

In conjunction with the introduction of the MPL, Wizards ended the venerable Pro Tour series and replaced it with hybrid series of seven digital and tabletop Mythic Championships for 2019. But the Mythic Championship system turned out to be a short-lived compromise between the old Pro Tour structure and Magic’s push into digital competition. By the beginning of 2020, Wizards had moved to a new tabletop Players Tour system with regional Players Tours feeding larger Players Tour Final events, alongside a series of Mythic Invitationals to be played on MTG Arena.

The first three regional Players Tours were played in January and February 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cancel the first Players Tour Finals and Mythic Invitational Ikoria, and eventually all of the originally planed Players Tours and Mythic Invitationals, in addition to the MPL’s 2020 season. Wizards moved some of those events online to MTG Arena but the damage was done and the Players Tour era came to an unexpected conclusion by the end of the summer.

In their place, Wizards introduced Set Championships that were fed by qualifiers held on MTG Arena. Both the Zendikar Rising Championship and Kaldheim Championship were well received and the Strixhaven Championship is scheduled for June 4-6. They will continue through the 2021-2022 season but its clear that there are even more changes on the the horizon.

While the form of Magic’s next organized play structure has yet to be determined, Rasmussen said that returning to the Pro Tour and Grand Prix branding is “on the table.” In fact, he continued, the people in charge of developing the new system are veterans of the old Pro Tours and Grand Prix structure, and that we should expect to see some of the same DNA in whatever they come up with.

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