The PT Invite System Is Still Broken

After the nightmare that was Planeswalker Points (thanks for that trip to Hawaii!) that set out to make PTs highly accessible (literally anyone could queue with Planeswalker Points; you just had to show up to things and not be banned), lower the average player level with the removal of performance-based invites other than the winners at GPs and the Top 8s at PTs, and abolish the Pro Player system, Wizards completely changed course with the implementation of the new system.

Pro Tours are now meant to be exclusive, small, and something one should be honored to qualify for as the removal of the one hundred Planeswalker Point–based invites allowed Wizards to extend invites (with flights) to the Top 4 of GPs (used to be Top 16 before PWPs) and the Top 25 of PTs (was Top 50 before PWPs). However, with the removal of both the ratings system and Planeswalker Points, Wizards left one class of players disenfranchised: players who consistently almost make it but can’t come home with anything more than a set of steak knives. [Editor's Note: Link is NSFW, but awesome.]

Ironically, these were the players Wizards was seeking to reward with the original PWP system but failed to help due to the ease with which the system was gamed (playing is required; winning is quite optional).

The Numbers

The following table summarizes the type of player to win an invite to Pro Tour: Avacyn Restored from one of the fifteen GPs this season. It was hard to give names to each player type, so each category will be described below the table.

Top 8’d but not qualified?Top 4’d and already qualified?Both people playing for invite?Was an invite “stolen”?
45173114
Was an invite produced?Playing for an invite?Did both have an invite?Qualified only from a GP?
1226343

Top 8’d but not qualified? These are the players to Top 8 a GP but not receive an invite to Pro Tour: Avacyn Restored from that GP (two of them would win invites later on: Jackie Lee, from a second GP she Top 4’d and Andrejs Prost, who won a PTQ). There are actually only 43 individuals who fit into this category as both Caleb Durward and Pascal Maynard Top 8’d two GPs.

Top 4’d and already qualified? These are the players to Top 4 a GP but who were already qualified for the Pro Tour from something else. Only 16 individual players fit in this category—Tom Martell Top 4’d two GPs during this period.

Were both people playing for an invite? This is the number of Top 8 matches in which both players were not qualified coming into the event.

Was an invite “stolen”? I consider an invite stolen when, in a Top 8 match, someone who was already qualified beats someone who was not. Tom Martell, Crusher of Dreams, was the only person responsible for multiple steals.

Was an invite produced? I considered an invite to be produced if a person who was not qualified beat someone who was.

Playing for an invite? This was the number of the sixty Top 8 matches played in which one player was qualified and one was not.

Did both have an invite? The number of Top 8 matches played in which each competitor had an invite going into the match.

Qualified only from a GP? The number of players who only qualified for Pro Tour: Avacyn Restored from a GP Top 4. Note that more people Top 8’d and went home without an invite (45) than managed to earn an invite, although at the same time, 43 of the 60 invites given went to people who were previously not qualified.

What’s Wrong with the System?

As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the problem with the current system is that it’s binary—you either win an invite or you don’t, and there’s no reward for performing consistently well. The three people most affected by this change were Caelb Durward, who lost a PTQ finals and then Top 8’d two GPs in a row, Pascal Maynard, who Top 8’d two GPs, and Eric Meng, who came in twenty-sixth at ProTour: Dark Ascension and Top 8’d a GP. I’m sure there are other, less noticeable players who fall into the same category as well—maybe those who Top 8 multiple PTQs but just can’t seem to close or those who quietly Top 16 GP after GP after GP. Some will say that there will always be people who “just miss it,” and they’ll complain that the system is unfair regardless, but this system, with absolutely zero rewards for consistent, excellent performance, needs to be opened a little.

How Do We Fix It?

Before proposing possible new methods of addressing the issue, it is necessary to first cover why the original two systems for gradual invites—Elo and PWPs—were bad and should not be re-implemented.

The main problem with Elo is that it encouraged people not to play; someone could have done well at an event a year ago and sit on his rating until a PT was nearby or was at a location that he wanted to visit. In order to not repeat the mistakes of Elo, there should be an extra incentive provided to continue to play events even after you meet some threshold.

On the other hand, the problem with PWPs is that it didn’t benefit the people whom it was designed to benefit, and instead, the benefit went almost exclusively to a new class of players: grinders. PWPs had noble intentions, but the ease with which the system was completely gamed led to some very undesirable consequences.

Now that the problems with Elo and PWPs have been discussed, I’d like to attempt a proposal that gets around those issues: Qualifier Points.

  • Qualifier Points would be given on a seasonal basis; they would not carry over.
  • Qualifier Points would be awarded only at events where PT invites are given out as prizes already (PTs, GPs, and PTQs).
  • Once a player reaches a threshold of Qualifier Points, that player would be guaranteed an invite to the Pro Tour, but he or she would still be allowed to play in PTQs in order to earn a flight. This would be an attempt to solve the Elo problem of encouraging players not to play.
  • Qualifier Points would only be given for the Top 8 of a PTQ, the Top 50 of a PT, or the Top 32 (maybe more or less) of a GP, making it hard to game the system. Very few opponents would be willing to give up money or chances at an invite to help an opponent earn Qualifier Points.
  • The system would be set up with the basis that two GP Top 8s should guarantee an invite.

Here’s a sample implementation:

  • Threshold for qualifying: 10 QPs
  • PT payouts: 4 QPs for Top 50
  • GP payouts: 5 QPs for Top 8; 3 QPs for Top 16; 1 QP for Top 32
  • PTQ payouts: 4 QPs for finals; 2 QPs for Top 4; 1 QP for Top 8

I know the old VS System card game used to have a similar system to this, but I don’t know the details of it. If you have any suggestions to make the system better or if you think it’s awful, make sure to comment.

Project Manchester Update

I am currently writing this article in Aberdeen, Scotland, so Project Manchester was a success.

Something strange happened at customs: I was almost turned away because of Magic counting as an “employment,” which would require me to have a special working visa, so I’m currently not totally sure I’m going to go to the actual event, and I might just use this time to have a nice vacation instead.

Financing international travel through Magic Online is not a good idea; in case anyone ever thinks about doing that in the future, just don’t. This trip will probably end up with me being essentially broke, which isn’t the best place to be in the world, but I felt that I had to make it.

#sometimesyouhavetofightforsomething #IthinkIlostbutatleastItried #onetime

– Chris Mascioli

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Postscript on Sponsor’s Exemptions

Sponsor’s Exemptions were added after I wrote this, so I’ll add a little section on about them. I’m uncomfortable with them because they are, in the end, arbitrary, which doesn’t provide much faith to the community. They clearly agree that two GP Top 8s is worth an invite, but how many PTQ Top 8s, Top 4s, and/or Top 2s does it take to earn one? How much is community involvement weighted in the decisions? What the hell does community involvement even entail?

A system as arbitrary as this is going to produce some winners and losers, and the losers are going to be very unhappy. For example, Paul Nemeth (known mostly as Zwischenzug on Magic Online) had two PTQ Top 8s, two MOCS Top 8s, and three PTQ Top 16s (ninth, eleventh, and twelfth), and he was not awarded a Sponsor’s Exemption.

Postscript on Special Invites

Both I’m-not-famous special invites were awarded because of players missing Pro Tour: Dark Ascension due to canceled flights (which Wizards booked).