Hardcore cardboard slingers received some good news today after Wizards of the Coast announced that it would return to the Pro Tour format for trading card game Magic: The Gathering’s 2022-2023 competitive season.
The Pro Tour was unceremoniously cancelled in 2018 after 22 years as the standard path for Magic’s elite players to travel on their way to the world championship. Its return comes with expected caveats and more than a few uncertainties, and the community will likely remain a little shy of Wizards’ continued support for this new version.
If the only place you tap lands is around the kitchen table, it could feel a little daunting to consider competitive Magic in the first place. Here’s the gist: the Magic Pro Tour will be the structure of the upcoming competitive Magic: The Gathering season, which begins July 2nd. The previous convoluted qualifying structure has been simplified with in-person events at local stores, regional championship events, and three Pro Tour dates per season. How the COVID-19 pandemic will impact this structure is an open question, even to Wizards of the Coast.
Magic: The Gathering trashcanned the former Pro Tour model in 2018 to refocus its competitive scene on the then-new digital client, Magic Arena. Advertising for the Magic Pro League and related Rivals League centred on a supposed democratisation of competitive play by moving much of the events online and opening several new paths for qualification. The result was confusing for both pro players and spectators, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic mere years into its life was the final nail in a quickly assembled coffin.
Players interested in taking part in the new system will attend events at local games stores that are part of the Wizards Play Network. High performance at organised play, which can be structured around Standard, Limited, Modern or Pioneer formats - will earn them spots in regional championships where individuals will compete to earn spots at one of three Pro Tours scheduled for each competitive season. Wizards of the Coast did not provide much information on the number of players and prize pool for these first two levels, as they will be handled by third-party organisers.
Each Pro Tour will feature around 300 players vying for pieces of a $500,000 prize pool, and all three should be highly advertised opportunities for spectating. This was one of the biggest community complaints about the MPL and Rivals - folks were never sure when matches took place and how important they were. If competitive Magic: The Gathering wants to tout its ability as an esport, the Pro Tours should be where it happens.
Return of the Pro Tour: Your Path to Playing Magic at the Highest Level!— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) March 31, 2022
From your local game store to international competition, tabletop play returns with the Pro Tour.
FAQ: https://t.co/GZ8DzEL0GT pic.twitter.com/q2UwbH7MAM
Magic Arena players will still be able to take part in digital qualifiers, and other systems for clinching a Pro Tour invite were outlined in a recently published FAQ. All told, it’s a much simpler system that seems to emphasise paper Magic, including the first event focusing on the Pioneer format. Introduced in 2019, months before COVID-19 became a global concern, Pioneer has garnered ardent support from the playerbase who warmly welcomed its addition to competitive play on social media.
Speaking of the coronavirus, Wizards of the Coast had little to say about how the ongoing pandemic will affect the upcoming competitive season. The company did not outline its own mask or vaccination requirements for World Championship XXIX and said regional events will “comply with local laws and regulations”. For countries whose government is already beginning to act as though COVID-19 is a solved issue, this decision is an unsettling one. Dicebreaker has reached out to Wizards of the Coast for more information but did not immediately hear back.
More information on how Magic Arena and MTG Online will fit into the newly returned Pro Tour model is expected by the end of April. A detailed breakdown of paths to qualification and the FAQ can be found on Wizards of the Coast’s esports website.