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The Future of Competitive Magic

Written by Kris McCord on . Posted in Competitive Magic

The Future of Competitive Magic

Kris McCord

Kristopher is a a semi professional grinder that has mostly focused on the Grand Prix/Pro Tour circuit. His biggest accomplishments to date are a top 8 at Grand Prix Indianapolis in 2017 as well as an SCG Open Top 8 in Atlanta.

On December 6, Wizards of the Coast made a pretty big announcement. Organized play is evolving into an esports structure, utilizing MTG Arena as its medium. Details, or lack thereof, can be found here. The gist of this article/announcement is that a new professional circuit will begin, called the Magic Pro League (MPL). MPL is made up of the top 32 ranked Magic players in the world (not sure what the criteria is at this point, since pro points will be removed in this new system), who will compete at the highest level in MTG Arena events, as well as being given a contract *worth $75k. I say *worth, because, at the current time, no details have been given regarding the contracts. The $75k could potentially include travel and lodging and other perks for big tournaments, so I would assume the take home pay is less than $75k, though I may have just misinterpreted that. The top 32 players will also compete in seasonal weekly competitive events on MTG Arena; I like this idea a lot. It seems like the Randy Buehler super league except with better production (hopefully), and a lot more on the line. There will be a $1 million MTG Arena Mythic Invitational event at PAX East on March 28-31; this event includes the top 32 players as well as other challengers (still unclear how to qualify for this). Finally, more money is added to the prize pool of the Mythic Championships (MC), formerly known as Pro Tours, but travel awards have been removed (ouch). It is also unclear how to qualify for these Mythic Championships, though it was mentioned that MTG Arena will have some sort of qualifying system. One last thing: every player cashes at MCs! There is more money in the pool but it trickles all the way down (nice way to offset the newly required travel costs – London and Cleveland MCs will provide airfare and new prize structure!!!).

After reading this article a couple of times, I am left with a lot of questions and concerns (I will address a few). One of the first things I noticed, is that there is going to be a new point system rather than the old pro point system (it will still be based on finishes so not sure it changes much). This system is what keeps track of the top 32 players, which leaves me wondering: if the top 32 changes constantly, how can you award the $75k contracts? Are they quarterly, perhaps? Meaning at the end of 3 months/MC the top 32 players will be re-contracted? This makes it seem like it would be a very volatile profession/job to have. I have no idea how this system operates and would definitely like to know (as I am sure the current top 32 players also would). If it uses a season/cycle system, then it really isn’t any more sustaining as it was this past year; however, one advantage this Pro Circuit/contract would provide is exposure – something WotC has done a pretty poor job at doing in the past years. Another advantage is that GPs at Magic Fests may not be necessary in order to get on the train and stay on the train. If you are top 32 player, Mythic Level events and weekly events should allow to stay there (with some luck and a lot of hard work). This would save the very active players among the top 32 lots of money. When going to a Grand Prix, you can expect to spend about $150-$200 on the flight, another $50-$100 on hotel, throw in $75-$85 for the main event and you are looking at $275-$385 just like that. Throw in the Sunday PTQ if you don’t do well in the main event and that’s another $50-$60. We are looking at over $300 at least. That is quite a steep cost of entry. Of course, you can save money stacking 10 humans in a Motel room, but generally the top performing grinders aren’t people hurting for money (if they are, they aren’t great investors!). Still, if you can play in the comfort of your home at Worlds level events weekly, you are making $300 a week in a way. This new system seems to be good if staying in the top 32 doesn’t require the amount of travel it would currently.

Another thing that caught my attention was the following: there is little to no mention of GPs at Magic Fests and how a performance in one of those events affects top 32/MC. I am assuming the tournament structure will stay unchanged (I am assuming a lot of things, aren’t I?!), meaning top 8 of a Grand Prix will likely still award an invite to MCs. I believe the size of MCs is going to be relatively close to that of Pro Tours (a little smaller), meaning there are quite a few invites awarded besides the top 32. The only information I found is that WotC wants to make a separation between “Pro” Magic and open events. This sounds like pros are not going to be incentivized to play in open events such as Grand Prixs, which makes me think the online qualifying/pro system will provide enough “fuel” to stay on the pro train. This could mean that, however, Grand Prixs won’t award invitation to Mythic Championships in the future. This is all speculations and assumptions based on the very few details that were shared, but it is a possibility. I would imagine my interest in traveling will only be for the SCG Tour and the occasional local Grand Prix.

From reading the eSports announcement article, it is clear that MTG Arena is the future of Magic. This actually excites me, as I have really enjoyed the program thus far. I have not felt the need to file for reimbursement yet, and the program is still in Beta! The gameplay is very fluid and user friendly; auto-yields and auto-tap are very nice. I have heard some complaints about auto-tap sometimes tapping a land that wouldn’t make sense to tap: any time you have to make a non-intuitive tap you can manually tap your lands (just as you would on MTGO). The only negative aspect of arena is previously owned MTGO collections. I am not one of the players that took a hit, but prices have plummeted (mostly knee-jerk reaction due to Arena’s popularity). It is unfortunate that a lot people lost value on MTGO unless they sold out a while ago, and hopefully some of the losses can be recouped over time through Arena. As far as eternal formats go, I’d imagine MTGO will “live” for as long as those formats exists, and WotC hasn’t made any announcements (to my knowledge) of any older formats being removed any time soon. They may become more casual formats, as it looks like Standard and Limited (yay!) will be the focus of competitive Magic starting with Arena championships, but they shouldn’t disappear into thin air. One more interesting discussion I’ve had with fellow magic players is the idea that a new competitive constructed format might develop with Arena (possibly a rotating old format like Frontier). I’d imagine it would only include standard legal sets and maybe a few sets back, in order to run smoothly (and avoid weird interactions like KCI). After all, WotC still wants the game experience to be positive and fluid, not some messy PC resetting experience like on MTGO.

Overall, though my chances of qualifying for the Pro Tour might be decreasing, nothing’s going to stop me from playing Magic and trying to improve my game every day and I am very excited about the changes in store!

Bonus! Since I’ve been playing Arena quite a bit lately, I’ll toss out a list I’ve been having fun with and winning quite a bit with:

Game 1 you can beat white weenie if you can keep the board somewhat clear and buy yourself enough time to not die to Adanto Vanguard. That card is a beating! Post board, however, you get access to 8 very good cards and 5 clean answers to Vanguard. GB is laughable, and I just can’t help myself but build decks that punish the most popular strategies (UR is good, and if you can run Jeskai out of counterspells you go way bigger). Mono red can be tough just because they have so much burn. Your best way of getting out trouble is killing every creature so that you can soak up at least half of a Risk Factor. Post board it gets better but they can still burn you out quickly. Let me know if you end up trying the deck and if you have any questions/recommendations! This Standard format is great, and I am looking forward to battling more of it on Arena (#notsponsored)!!!

Until next time,




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