It’s no secret that Wizards of the Coast has been spending a lot of resources developing Commander. As the most popular game mode Magic has to offer, Commander offers players a multitude of ways to engage with their favorite cards and themes.
That said, Commander wasn’t always Magic’s most popular format. For a long time, competitive Magic took this spot. Diversity for players who don’t necessarily want to play competitively is important, but the allure of competing at the highest level seems to be fading. Grand Prix with thousands of players no longer exist.
Players are showing concern for a lack of support for competitive play, worried that the new wave of Commander will bury the litany of different ways that players currently have to engage with Magic. Is this a real concern, and what exactly has players acting nervous?
No Lack of Creative Support
The topic started to balloon in the MTG community following a concern posed by Tumblr user ultra-chocolatebouquetkid to MTG designer Mark Rosewater on Blogatog:
“Hi Mark. I hope you’re having a nice Monday. I think it’s great that you guys are focusing more on Commander and the casualty side of Magic, which has historically been more in the background. However, I think the health of competitive is formats is being neglected. Many of the formats I used to enjoy no longer have the same compelling and engaging gameplay that they used to. At first I though it was just me, but many people feel the same way. Is there anywhere I can voice this concern? Thanks.”ultra-chocolatebouquetkid
Watching recent trends for Pioneer and Modern, in particular, does suggest this to be the case. Rakdos Scam and the new Discover Combo don’t exactly have engaging play patterns, forcing you to deal with their plan quickly or get overrun. On the other hand, in the case of Pioneer, as previously discussed, some players were rather excited about the shift to the format, even if the new play patterns are worse than before.
Fortunately, for players worried that Wizards of the Coast is pulling back on competitive support from a design perspective, Rosewater was quick to alleviate those concerns:
“I should stress that we’re spending just as many resources as we always have (if not more) on competitive play. Yes, we added a casual play design team, but never shrunk the competitive ply design team. In fact, we added people to it.”Mark Rosewater
From a design perspective, competitive play is getting more support now than ever, so players shouldn’t need to worry about future sets being designed without competitive play in mind. That said, if this is the case, why are so many players concerned about competitive support? The answer may not lie with set design but with tournament support instead.
Taking to Reddit, instead of players citing concern for the competitive design of sets, many players instead show concern regarding tournament support for competitive Magic:
“I feel like a large part of competitive magic was the investment on tournaments which have been crippled for years. In that sense, competitive magic has been neglected to a much larger degree now than in years past.”retrosgrader
“Honestly this seems like the real problem. I have my LGS that I love going to but there’s not a ton of events hosted by WOTC. I live somewhat near a large city that has an event every year or so but that’s not enough.”Cbone06
Investment in tournaments can mean a few different things but, for the most part, the frequency of tournaments and tournament payouts tend to be the issue most players are concerned about. Both of these problems can be put into context when taking a look at online availability for MTG Arena tournaments during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how those have disappeared.
At the beginning of Covid, tons of MTG Arena tournaments were taking place online. Between Star City Games’ Online Tour, and the Red Bull Untapped events, there were more than enough competitive events to satiate any MTG Arena player’s competitive curiosity. These tournaments all had opportunities to filter directly into high-level competitive events and, at the beginning of Covid, prizing was rather generous. In some cases, even the top 32 players received generous rewards.
If Magic Online is not for you, there are very little officially supported competitive tournaments in comparison to past events, online or in-person. MTG Arena still has Arena Open events and Qualifier Weekends, the latter of which does qualify for the Pro Tour and the Arena Championship, but these events are both difficult to qualify for, and are very difficult to win for most players. Most day twos of MTG Arena Qualifier Weekends have competition equivalent to a Pro Tour. This, in comparison to relevant tournament play every weekend, every day in some cases, is a big difference.
Regional Championship qualifiers, on the other hand, are a majority of the weekly tournaments players have the opportunity of attempting on a weekly basis in-person. Once you qualify for the next stage, however, there’s little alternative until either the season changes, or the big tournament arrives.
Monetary Prizing Changes
Tournament prizing, even in top-level events, have also taken a hit post-covid. When looking at past World Championship events, it’s easy to demonstrate this concerning change. Back in 2020, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa won the MTG World Championship. A one million dollar USD prize pool was up for grabs, and Paulo walked home with $300,000 worth of it.
In 2022, however, Nathan Steuer won the World Championship, but the prize pool was only a quarter of 2020’s. Out of the $250,000 total prize pool that was up for grabs, Nathan took home $100,000. Despite being the same level of event, this is only one-fifth of the prize that Paulo won just a few years before.
Fortunately, things have somewhat returned to normalcy in 2023, with the overall World Championship prize pool being a million dollars. The prize structure, however, has shifted drastically, awarding all entrants $4000 just for making it.
While this may seem like a positive change, the event’s winners might not agree. 2023 MTG World Champion Jean-Emmanual Depraz, for instance, only took home $100,000, just like the World Champion in 2022.
Even from these three events, it’s clear that there’s been a major change in prize support for MTG’s biggest tournament. To make matters worse, the absence of Grand Prix events is a harrowing sign that things aren’t back to where they once were. To some players, this is a clear sign that MTG will never return to pre-Covid life.
“No they were killing competitive before that. Phasing out legacy to only 2 events a year, the change from Grand Prix to Magic Fests and promptly dropping those down to only 3 MagicCons in 2024 are the killers. The massive push to force everyone to compete on Arena did not help either.”caucasian88
Changes are Coming
Even if competitive Magic is still returning from its pre-pandemic state, changes are still actively being made. MagicCons may not be like the Grand Prix of old, but there are similar events being hosted, like a $75,000 Standard Open with Pro Tour invites occurring at Magic Con Chicago.
Otherwise, it was recently announced that both Pioneer and Modern will be seeing ban list changes this coming Monday. This is rather exciting and, aside from killing both formats for a week, should have players heavily anticipating what changes will be made.