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A Story and a Thought – Of PTQs and Invitations

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I played the wrong deck in Fargo. At the very least, I wasn’t well equipped to combat any double Lingering Souls draws, and that’s exactly what I lost to in round one. I was handily dispatched by Andrey Yanyuk. You may know him as Reynad; we Minnesotans know him as Kid Magic. He was playing some zonky Glittering Wish deck, which he demonstrated to me is much better when you draw Lingering Souls in multiples instead of its namesake card.

Then I kept a couple land light hands in round two and never drew adequate lands to actually play. It happens. It’s Magic. It wasn’t the first time I’ve 0-2 dropped and odds are slim that it will be the last. If anything, they 0-2 drop days are dramatically better than the bubble days, because at least I get an early start on drinking and Cubing.

Car mate Matt Tickal was not so lucky.

See, while I was off casting an un-kicked Rude Awakening to make my Sublime Archangel lethal, Tickal was slugging his way deep into the tournament.

His weapon of choice was Melira Pod. He’s been playing that deck in Modern for as long as there’s been a Modern. He has a propensity to play too quickly and miss some decidedly stupid things in game, but I would easily take him playing Pod over piloting the deck myself. Frankly, Demonic Tutor on a stick gives me headaches.

At the Des Moines PTQ Tickal piloted the deck all the way to second place, ultimately losing to a B/W tokens deck. For his trouble he was given a box of Gatecrash.

Now, if you’ve never battled in a top 8, winning a box sounds like a pretty solid end to a day of playing Magic. For only $30 of entry I’d say it’s easily an above-average pre-release. That said, PTQs and prereleases are entirely different animals. Sure, there will be people at both such events just there for some laughs and battles, but first prize is different in every relevant respect. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that the store didn’t have enough cases on hand to trade for such a prize, and one box just isn’t close.

Sure, San Diego isn’t the most glamorous of destinations, but this is the Pro Tour we’re talking about. I may be a bit jaded about the big stage myself, but I’m not going to pretend like I never lost sleep the night before a PTQ just daydreaming about playing on the PT, and I absolutely won’t lie about the fact that I stream as much coverage as possible during the event.

Playing in the finals of a PTQ is about as emotionally charged as a sleep-deprived, hungry nerd’s brain can get. Winning is literally a dream come true, and losing amounts to a few drafts and a “better luck next time”. I mean, they don’t even give you top 8 pins anymore!

Where was I? Oh yes, the dagger-laden life of Matt Tickal.

Descent into Madness

Fargo yielded yet another top 8 for Tickal, and once more he didn’t stop there. When I returned to the event site I found him easily dispatching his semi-finals opponent. The most notable excerpt from the match being his opponent reading his Master Biomancer, an achievement that many seek to unlock in single-elimination competition.

Then it was time for the finals.

Once again Tickal found himself battling against Black/White tokens for all the marbles. In game one his opponent lead with Tidehollow Sculler into Lingering Souls and proceeded to drop double Honor of the Pure on turn four. He barely got to play that game. He sunk in his chair as he made what few plays he had.

“You weren’t supposed to have two…”

While sideboarding he turned to me and said, “That was pretty nuts.” I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say. What I knew for certain is that I didn’t want anybody walking away from the finals of a PTQ content to say that they were nutted out.

“Welcome to Magic.”

Maybe it was a little cold at the time, but I knew that if I were complaining in such a time I would want some tough love from my friends.

“Two more games, bro.”

Unfortunately, either from tilt or exhaustion, Tickal kept a miserable seven in game two. Naturally he drew nothing but lands and found himself finishing second to BW Tokens on back to back weeks.

I encouraged him to write an article to try to “play” for the sponsor’s exemption. Anybody that contends winning one PTQ is more difficult than finishing second at two, especially on back to back weeks, is just plain wrong. If he’s lucky he’ll just win the Minnesota PTQ this weekend, but if he’s not and he’s smart he should push for it.

Drawing Meaning

So why share this story? Well, I suppose this is my anecdotal defense of sponsor’s exemptions. For many the results of certain special invite competitors at PT Gatecrash, most notably Melissa DeTora, altered the perspective many had about such invites. For myself, the question of plight is much greater than the question of results. Whether somebody scrubs out of the PT or takes the whole thing down doesn’t factor into the equation of whether they have earned their trip there. Anybody can beat anybody else on any given day, and that is one of the aspects of Magic that contributes to the game’s greatness.

What I don’t care for is the nebulous nature of special invites. “Community contribution” is a phrase that I’ve filed under the category of “things that can mean literally anything”. I would personally be in favor of some manner of point system that allowed PTQ competitors to earn invites each season. Not something awful like Planeswalker Points that rewards just playing mind you, but something that allows multiple top 8+ finishes to equal an invite on an actual objective scale. I’m not saying that two second place finishes alone should necessarily be the ticket, but give me something to work with!

Or, you know, we could just bring back ELO, which was easily trackable and rewarded consistent players with some sort of ratings decay for those who would “sit” on theirs.

Or we could keep on with nebulous nonsense and endless grinding. It doesn’t make a tremendous amount of difference to me and I’ve long since learned to stop expecting things to play out logically. This system would better reward those dreamers that are actually chasing PT dreams, but obviously I, like WotC, don’t have all the answers.

All I know is that no matter how they structure their events I’ll always have a Cube to draft when things don’t work out. This won’t stop me from pondering how things could be better, but it’s a nice place to hang my hat.

Good luck to everybody playing the Minneapolis PTQ this weekend. I likely won’t be able to participate on account of my sister’s wedding reception starting around six, but I’ll probably stop by and bird/Cube for a little while anyway.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan Overturf
@RyanOverdrive on Twitter

3 thoughts on “A Story and a Thought – Of PTQs and Invitations

  1. I have to disagree with you. I think the nebulous nature of the sponsorship invites is part of what makes it good.

    To my mind, the Pro Tour exists for two reasons. One, because humans in general and guys specifically are very competitive. Any activity that can be a competition has some sort of higher level of play. I mean, there’s a Rock, Paper, Scissors world championship. The PT provides that competitive outlet for Magic. Two, because we like to celebrate excellence. Being on the Pro Tour is basically saying “I’m one of the best in the world at this thing”.

    As you said, sometimes, you have a bad tournament. I had a very good shot at T8 in Lincoln last year before I ended day 2 with a slide. I turned around, went to a PTQ the next weekend and went 0-2 drop. Sometimes, you get bad luck for a match. Or a tournament. Or a week. Or an entire season. But being one of the best in the world is not something that changes just because you had a bad week. Being a name player who draws spectators doesn’t change just because you didn’t qualify one season.

    Sponsorship invites give Wizards a tool that allows them to bring those players onto the Tour. It gives them a tool to make the Pro Tour exactly what it says it is, a tournament where the best players in the world compete. Making sponsorship invites into a numbers game means it’s just another bar set that won’t catch the players you’re trying to catch to begin with.

    1. How would having a point system stop them from also inviting the big names? Dave Williams absolutely was getting special invites back when ELO invites were a thing, so you’re only disagreeing with me in part. If anything you’re adding an addendum and not disagreeing at all.

  2. I am conflicted about the idea of a points system. On the one hand, it creates a strong incentive for good players to play and applies positive selective pressure for the PT (ensuring that PT players are indeed pros), but on the other hand it opposes the rather egalitarian efforts of WotC, who seem to be trying to say (through planeswalker points and PTQ’s) that anyone can be a pro, not just people who can afford to go to as many tournaments as possible.

    On another note, I am personally opposed to any idea of “special exemptions” (though if anyone ever deserved one your friend does). I believe that if a rules system exists, especially if it exists to preserve a specific level of play or to ensure a fair playing field, that violating that system (for any reason) is inherently opposed to both of those goals. Anyone who doesn’t qualify wasn’t a good enough player (by the metrics they used to measure player quality) and if you elevate one player to pro status because of celebrity you are not incentivising good play but good advertising. I would not mind improving the metrics (see my comment on points above) but once rules are established, they should be followed.

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