This week, Starcitygames’ Cedric Phillips released an announcement about some changes being made to Season One of the SCG Tour. A somewhat small part of this announcement involved changing set release weekend Opens from Standard to Team Constructed. What this did, consciously or not, was completely eliminate Standard Opens from Season One of the SCG Tour. Combine this with the 2018 Grand Prix schedule containing an impressive 17 team Grand Prix, nearly 30% of all Grand Prix in the year, and a pattern begins to form about the future of competitive Magic. I like team tournaments. I think they’re a fun and a great way to spend a weekend with friends. However, they’re not what is best for competitive Magic, in my opinion. Here’s why:
I’m a competitive player. I grind PPTQs, GPs, SCG Opens, and everything in between. I love competition in its purest form and it influences most of my opinions on issues related to Magic’s competitive scene. This is part of the reason why I’m not a fan of special Pro Tour invites for public figures who play the game. To me, it diminishes the accomplishments of those who have made the Pro Tour and actively hurts these players’ chances at success in the tournament. I understand that they’re a powerful marketing tool for Wizards of the Coast, but as a player who is constantly striving to qualify for the Pro Tour, I’m against them.
Team tournaments are fun as well. They offer a different set of challenges compared to a traditional single-player tournament. Deckbuilding for you and your teammates in Team Sealed or coordinating Team Unified Modern decks with your teammates introduces a sense of uncertainty and uncharted territory, as team events haven’t reached the critical mass yet where all players have arrived at a consensus of how to build decks or metagame. They introduce collaboration with friends in a somewhat solitary game, and they bring the fun aspects of team competition to Magic.
That being said, the structure of Grand Prix currently makes team tournaments take away from the pure competition. Since Grand Prix only give 8 players a shot at the trophy after 15 rounds, the rest of the tournament is only aiming for Pro Points and Pro Tour invites (ignoring cash prizes, as realistically no one is making money off of grinding Grand Prix alone). Pro Points and Pro Tour invites have no applications in the real world. No one will trade you a Snickers for a Pro Point. Pro Points (and Pro Tour invites) are how you measure high level accomplishments in Magic. They really are the backbone of high level competitive Magic.
So why allow two other people to help decide your accomplishments in competitive Magic?
Team events are an odd thing for competitive players. On the one hand, it’s very nice that if you’re having a rough tournament, you can be picked up by your teammates and still have a shot at getting a result you’re aiming for. On the flip side, when major achievements such as Grand Prix Top 8’s, Pro Tour invites, and a good amount of Pro Points are on the line, it can be remarkably frustrating to have these major achievements “taken away” from you if your teammates don’t have as good a tournament as you. Additionally, they somewhat change the definition of Pro Tour invites and Pro Points, as someone who didn’t perform well enough to achieve these in solo tournaments gets rewarded as if they did.
This isn’t necessarily a problem for competitive Magic on the whole on a small scale, but the increase of team tournaments to nearly 30% of all Grand Prix means that team events now have a very significant affect on the overall competitive Magic scene, who qualifies for the Pro Tour, as well as who gets Platinum, Gold, etc. What this then creates is a pressure for competitive players to team with players who will give them the best competitive shot of winning rather than their closest friends or people who they think will make their tournament more enjoyable. In small amounts, these competitive players who play in a dozen or more Grand Prix a year can afford to throw one away, so to speak, but when 3 or 4 of these dozen are team tournaments, it would be counterproductive to take any unnecessary risks when qualifying or remaining on the Pro Tour, or striving for the next level in the Pro Players Club.
What this leads to is a cheapening (in my mind) of the fun aspects of team tournaments. Team tournaments are incredibly fun when the stakes are somewhat lowered. Sure, competition is more fun when there’s something to win, but the cruel nature of competitive team tournaments is lessoned when your “competitive livelihood” isn’t at stake. It turns team tournaments into more of a pressure cooker. This currently isn’t the general thought around team tournaments, but I expect this to be the case as players begin to see the affects of this increase in competitive team tournaments.
So what do I suggest?
Team tournaments thrive when they’re a unique a somewhat rare event, where it turns them into a spectacle for all to enjoy, rather than an integral part of the competitive Magic fabric, demanding that you must master them in order to succeed at the highest level of the game. Players are very willing (as they’ve shown in the past) to travel greater distances for tournaments that offer something completely different and exciting. The yearly Grand Prix Las Vegas draws competitors from near and wide, just as team tournaments used to. Moving team tournaments to only 3 Grand Prix a year (just as Legacy does, with one in North America, one in Europe, and one in Asia) helps create more hype around them and reduce the variance around the most crucial parts of competitive Magic.
Additionally, team tournaments should be avoided as a solution to competitive Magic’s problems. The change to more team tournaments from both the Grand Prix and SCG circuits is likely a direct reaction to declining tournament attendance and viewership numbers in Standard events. This isn’t necessarily a problem with so-called less exciting tournament formats, but rather a reaction to a few Standard formats in a row that have become stale and monotonous very quickly. This issue will likely be solved in time as new cards rotate in and old ones rotate out, but the temporary solution of increasing the number of team tournaments isn’t the move that does the most good for the competitive Magic scene.
For me, and it’s very possible that I’m stuck in my ways and somewhat of an alarmist about most changes, the increase of team tournaments is bad for competitive Magic. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know why.
Until next time,
For many players, it seems nearly impossible to metagame Modern, a format so diverse that you could feasibly play against a different deck every single round of a large tournament. However, Riccardo Monico has good ideas of how you can attack the format, which you can read here.
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