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What It Takes To Be A PPTQ Grinder

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited, Magic Culture, Modern, Standard

The path to the Pro Tour starts at Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers (PPTQs), a somewhat new system that requires a player to win a PPTQ to qualify for a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ). Any player who makes top 4 of their RPTQ receives invite plus travel to the corresponding Pro Tour, while top 8 qualifies them for the next RPTQ.

With the old system, there was a single tournament called a Pro Tour Qualifier (PTQ), in which the winner would receive an invite plus travel to the corresponding Pro Tour. There were usually only one or two a month within driving distance, which meant you didn’t have many chances to qualify. Most of the ones I went to were in the Atlanta area and had no less than 200 players. Atlanta is a popular Magic city with many above-average players, so winning one of these PTQs was a real challenge.

But which path is easier to qualify? I would argue that the old system was easier, as you only had to prepare for one event. A player could spend weeks preparing for a PTQ, come with a well-positioned deck, and spike the tournament; whereas now, they have to prepare for two separate tournaments months apart. The fact that there is usually at least a month between when a player wins a PPTQ and when they actually play in their RPTQ means that the metagame will most likely shift drastically in between.

Does that mean the old system is better? I don’t think so. The new system allows for more traffic at the LGS level, which is good for the game. Without local game stores attracting new players to the game and encouraging them to attend events, there would be no Pro Tour to qualify for.
It also allows for a new type of competitive player: the PPTQ grinder.

A PPTQ grinder is someone whose main goal is to qualify for the Pro Tour but can’t go to every single Grand Prix, whether it is because of money, time, work, or some other factor.

This’s where I fall.

Since PPTQs are run on a much smaller scale than traditional PTQs, there will usually be at least one within driving distance every weekend. Being from north Alabama, most of the ones I go to are either in Birmingham, Atlanta, or Chattanooga.

Faces will eventually become familiar, as you start to see many of the same people week to week all chasing the dream of qualifying for the Pro Tour. I’ve made a lot of friends at PPTQs, which is something I really love about Magic in general. A lot of us Alabama PPTQ grinders have even developed a team in which we discuss deck ideas, tournament results, newly spoiled cards from an upcoming set, and make travel arrangements for events.

Once you win a PPTQ, you can’t play in any others until the next season begins, so this past weekend was the first PPTQ I’ve had a chance to play in for a couple of months. I also took a short break from playing any Magic due to personal reasons, but before that I was going to a PPTQ almost every weekend. This meant that almost all of my free time was spent either playing Magic Online, reading articles, watching videos, or listening to podcasts, while also maintaining my personal life involving my wife, dogs, and work. Learning to balance grinding Magic tournaments and my personal life was a challenge, and I’m lucky enough to have a wife that supports me.

While winning a PPTQ is significantly easier than winning a traditional PTQ, it’s still no cake walk. Skill level of players at PPTQs can vary from players who were convinced by the shop owner to take their recently purchased structure deck out for a spin to professional players who had some bad runs at Pro Tours and fell off (meaning they’re not currently qualified for a Pro Tour).

The majority of PPTQ players, though, are those like me who try and play in as many as possible and have an average to slightly above average play skill. They tend to be up to date on the current metagame and play whatever deck they think is best positioned to win the tournament. Beating these players means you have to be familiar with your deck. Know what your game plan is going into the tournament and know how to execute that game plan in every popular matchup.

Everyone has their own method of play testing, but what works best for me is taking the five or six decks I know I will see at the tournament and proxying each of them. I usually just write the names of the cards on the back of commons. I do this for all 75 cards of the deck (including basic lands so I don’t have to use sleeves). It helps to find play test groups who are familiar with the cards so you’re not forced to write what all of them do, which can take up a lot of time that could be spent actually play testing.

The night before the tournament, no matter if I feel prepared or not, I make sure to go to bed at a decent time. Not getting enough sleep has caused me to lose many matches of Magic, as my brain isn’t operating at full capacity and I’m generally in a bad mood. My body doesn’t require the full eight hours, so I usually plan to give myself six to seven hours of solid sleep. I usually plan on getting to the shop the PPTQ is at an hour early because of the chances of traffic, road work, or getting lost (which will literally always happen regardless of how many times I’ve been to the shop). I always eat a good breakfast on the way and try to find out ahead of time if the shop sells snacks and drinks. If they don’t, I’ll stop at a gas station to grab a few things to tide me over if I don’t get the opportunity between rounds to go and eat lunch. I can’t express enough how important it is to stay hydrated and to eat when you get hungry. Playing five to eight rounds of Magic can make you forget these things, and your decision-making will suffer because of it.

I try not to think about anything else while the tournament is going on. I’ll put my phone in my bag and only check it every couple of rounds. I don’t know if the “zone” is a real thing, but I’m not taking any chances.

So let’s say you’ve done it. You’ve won a PPTQ and are now qualified for the RPTQ. What do you do now? Well, I definitely tend to play a little less Magic after I win a PPTQ, but it also gives me the opportunity to go to other events coming up, such as SCG Opens, Grand Prix, IQs, or local tournament series events (in my area we have one called the Birmingham Championship Series and another called the Legacy Tour).

The buildup to an RPTQ is a surreal feeling. As it gets closer, you start to realize that this is your chance to qualify for the Pro Tour. This is what all your hard work (and money) grinding PPTQs has brought you to. Hopefully some of your friends also qualified, and you can test together with them. All of the preparation that goes into PPTQs also applies to RPTQs, but it’s much more important to get your testing right. Expect the competition to be significantly tougher than a typical PPTQ. Remember that the players here will be the grinders who successfully mastered the process of winning a PPTQ. You’ll see a lot of the same faces you’ve been seeing, but the tone is much more serious. Players here are not here to make friends. They’re here to win. They’re here to qualify for the Pro Tour.

I’ve played in a single RPTQ, but it didn’t go the way I had planned. I had originally planned on riding over with my friend and fellow PPTQ grinder Chi Hoi Yim, but my alarm clock was set for PM instead of AM, so I woke up about an hour and a half late. I don’t think I’ve ever been more upset with myself. The tournament was two and a half or three hours away, but I somehow managed to get there in an hour and a half (Georgia State Troopers must’ve been on strike that day or something). I didn’t have time to eat breakfast or even stop and get snacks for the tournament. I got there right as the players meeting was ending, but had called ahead of time to make sure I would still be allowed to play. Chi Hoi filled out my deck registration sheet for me, and I was finally ready to play in my first RPTQ. I quickly fell to 0-2 thanks to the awful morning I had, but I decided to stay in just for the experience. I ended up winning the next four rounds and found myself in what could’ve been a win-and-in. I ended up losing a close one, and my dreams of qualifying for the Pro Tour that day ended with a 4-3 record. I knew I needed something amazing for dinner so I didn’t feel like the day was a complete waste, so I drowned my sorrows in a rice bowl from Chipotle.

Thanks for reading, and hopefully I was able to give a little insight into what it’s like grinding the PPTQ circuit. I’ve got at least one PPTQ coming up this weekend and the RPTQ next weekend which are both different formats, so hopefully I can rattle off a win or two in the coming weeks and come back for a tournament report. Until then, follow me on Twitter @AwsumAwstun.

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