Wizards of the Coast Continues to Shake Up Magic: The Gathering Organized Play

Live spectators will become a thing of the past with invitation-only World Championship events

If you haven't been to a Magic: The Gathering event lately, then you've got a lot to catch up on. Wizards of the Coast has been rolling out a series of changes to their organized play programs, and the shakeups continued yesterday with major revisions to the Worlds tournament, National Championships, and the Pro Players Club.

For the newly re-scoped 2012 Pro Tour World Championship, Wizards has announced the 16-player invitee list:

  • 2011 World Champion
  • 2011 Magic Online Champion (determined at the 2011 Magic Online Championship held at Magic Weekend San Francisco)
  • Winners of the previous three Pro Tours (Philadelphia, Dark Ascension in Honolulu, and the second Pro Tour in 2012). Pro Tour Philadelphia champion Samuele Estratti is the first invitee to the 2012 World Championship.
  • The top-ranked player from each geo-region (Asia Pacific, Europe, Japan, Latin America, and North America) in the Planeswalker Points 2012 Professional Total who are not yet invited based on the above criteria.
  • The top-ranked players in the worldwide Planeswalker Points 2012 Professional Total who are not yet invited based on the above criteria sufficient to bring the total number of invited players to the 2012 World Championship to sixteen.

Notably absent are National Championship winners. While the tournaments won't be going away, Wizards felt that with the growing world-wide popularity of Magic, country-specific tournaments as World Championship feeders were a one-size-fits-all solution that no longer worked. Instead, National Championships will now grant players an 8x Planeswalker Point bonus for their participation, with the hopes that players can qualify for the Pro Tour based on regional points rankings.

Stay tuned for more changes as well. The Pro Players Club, which grants members tournament invitations, comped travel, and appearance fees, will be going away after 2012. The new system yet to be announced, but it is already known that it will lean heavily on Planeswalker Points.

Starting back in April, the focus of large organized play events shifted from the Pro Tour to the Grand Prix and in-store pre-release events. In 2012, the number of Grand Prix events is expected to double to roughly 40, while the success of in-store pre-release events has eliminated the need for large regional pre-releases. Since the national event schedule will grow significantly, dates will now be announced 6 months in advance rather than in a full annual schedule.

With a larger focus on Grand Prix events, tournaments such as this should become a common sight.

The other big news was that Pro Tour matches will become private events available for viewing only over internet live streams. With this invite-only admission and focus on video coverage, I'd expect the Pro Tour will feel a lot more like the World Series of Poker moving forward.

Changes to Magic organized play didn't end there, though. In September, Wizards retroactively converted DCI ratings into the newly-created Planeswalkers Points. Billed as a system that can unify the player community, the Planeswalkers Points encourage pro players to participate in regional sanctioned events and casual players to attend competitive events.

Players now earn points both for attending events and their success in matches, but receive a bonus multiplayer commensurate with the event's important. For instance, Friday Night Magic gets a 3x multiplayer, while Grand Prix gets an 8x.

While any change to such a long-standing system is sure to ruffle a few feathers among the player community, it's hard to argue with the changes. Many pro players were avoiding sanctioned play in order to protect high ratings and their associated perks. At the same time, sales of Magic: The Gathering and attendance at casual Friday Night Magic events have been booming while the rest of Hasbro's gaming division was faltering. Any change that can bring these new casual players further into the fold will ensure lasting success and a healthy organized play scene.

One major concern of the player community is that Pro Players Club status will be achievable by "grinding" through as many casual-play Friday Night Magic events as possible to earn Planeswalker Points. Wizards has already issued an FAQ in which they assure fans that this will not occur. While competitive event point multipliers should prevent the situation from playing out, Wizards will also be monitoring the invitee formula to ensure that an over-reliance on casual events does not lead to Pro Player status.

Expecting to get a continued wave of feedback on these changes, Wizards has put up a player survey, so feel free to sound off with your own opinions.