I’ve felt a bit off this last week. I’m missing that I have an event to prepare for and have felt a bit lost. I don’t have the motivation to play random meaningless matches of Magic at the moment because the Neon Dynasty Set Championships reignited my competitive fire. With nothing to play in the near future, I’ve diverted my attention elsewhere to sustain that fire. I want to be excited for the next, and potentially last, event I play.
The impending OP announcement set for March 31 comes with high hopes, but in many minds, low expectations. I’m one of those people. The world, both real and MTG related, is so much different than it used to be. I don’t expect much, but I know what I’ll be looking for.
I spent some time this week playing Elden Ring but also watching Old Pro Tours and Grand Prix at www.twitch.tv/thewillhallexp. If you don’t know, this channel is live 24/7 for the duration of the war in Ukraine, and Will is donating proceeds to children who lose their fathers in the war. I’ve had it on in the background whenever I’m at my computer reliving the good old times.
I’ve been wondering why my feelings about current Magic events have changed over the years and why these old events are near and dear to my heart. Obviously a part of it is that I was in a lot of these events and happened to do well in a few of them, so I get to relive some of my greatest moments. This is a unique experience. Not everyone has a hobby or game that puts some of their greatest lifetime accomplishments on camera to rewatch and relive.
The storylines at the events felt so different. The storyline circled around the individuals and built them up to be larger than life. Every individual was on their own path with individual goals just in or out of grasp. A win to one person didn’t mean the same as a win to another. Rooting for each other to hit thresholds like Platinum, Gold, Silver, or even a single requalification as opposed to everything being zero sum.
Now there are few meaningful matches. They still feel incredible to watch, but they’re fewer and farther between. Watching the regular season is nothing like watching the playoffs, and everything currently feels like the regular season until the finals of major events, at least it feels that way to me. There are fewer goals to strive for, and for many, the possibility of anything but a one-off event is very narrow.
The first key for a successful OP system, in my eyes, is individual goals at all levels—something to strive for and climb up the ladder.
There was also a team aspect that felt more real than it does now. We still have teams, but they’re not referred to by name, and there aren’t officially sponsored teams. From my perspective, the team aspect has dwindled, which was an important part of the Pro Tour to me. Whenever I did poorly, I could count on teammates doing well. Even during the past Set Championships, I took great satisfaction in watching Eli Kassis win the event with a deck and process I was part of. That said, I think this is a symptom of a good OP system. When an OP system is working and people are engaged, the community will rally behind it.
Timing was one of the most important factors to making these events feel special. The release dates of current events are too far back. Neon Dynasty felt different because nobody is really playing Alchemy, so we got to dive into a relatively unexplored format.
In order for a new OP system to flourish, I think we need that back. We as players need to feel excited to play a format. Having it feel like a chore we need to do to maybe get to do something else we want to do won’t cut it for me and many others. Unless there’s enough of what we want to do, high level Limited in my case, to suffice. Having the excitement around the sets tied to the first major events always made them feel special, and I think we should move back to that. When I watch the old coverage, it’s amazing to hear the banter about what decks are breaking out and what the vibe in the room was like.
The number two key is well-timed events.
Event coverage is important for so many reasons. There were people tweeting about sweet team events and all this stuff, and I admit, I started to get a little FOMO about it—“Aw I miss team events.” But you know what? Once the event started, I had no way to watch or miss it or feel like I was part of it. It was easy to ignore and go on living instead of diving in and feeling involved. Coverage gives viewers the fire to show up to events and be the one on screen holding the trophy.
Also, it feels genuinely great to get a feature match, play really well, win, and have the world see just how great you are at a game you’ve given a lot too. Players need a platform for that and without coverage at all levels, it’s something we’ll miss. Do I expect something like an old school Grand Prix every weekend with coverage? No, but something close to it would help. Independent companies picking it up isn’t the same as WotC events themselves being covered so I can stay up on trends and how everyone is doing.
The last key is potentially the most important—event coverage.
To summarize, the three keys or pillars for how I’ll grade any OP system we may or may not have in store for us are the following:
- Individual attainable goals
- Well-timed events to build excitement for players and spectators
- Covering events to bring together the community
One thing I personally left off this list? Prizes. Money was never what motivated me so much with Magic. It eventually did because it became a possibility. When it became possible to only play Magic, I reached for that goal, but only when it was within grasp. It was never my main motivation. I’ve found over the years, the people who have let it be their motivation have more often than not fallen flat.
Magic is an incredibly difficult game with lots of nuance. It’s nearly impossible these days to play at a top level without living and breathing the game to learn your deck, your opponent’s decks, and the intricacies of the format you’re playing. Most people need to really love the game to do what many of us competitive players do, and it’s on WotC to make us love the game and the Organized Play system involved with that game. When the announcement comes out, assuming it has any details, these will be the three things I look for to determine if it will succeed.