Regionals: Where Skill Is Irrelevant

It is that time of year again.  The annual Magic ritual commences once again, players all over the country start testing Standard decks feverishly in preparation of that one fateful day in the spring where they will be thrown into an over-crowded, under-air conditioned room with 300 or more other players to battle it out for a slot in the US Nationals during the summer.  That’s right.

Regionals is almost here.

I’ve been playing Magic for quite awhile now, playing in three Regionals and judging in a fourth, and I’d like to offer a little bit of perspective on this event, particularly to new players who haven’t had the opportunity to play in Regionals in the past.

Let me say this first, Regionals is a blast.  I love going.  Regionals tend to attract the single largest gathering of players in the area of any tournament.  Casual players don’t like PTQs because of the environment and because of the fact that only one player will walk away with anything, and some tournament players don’t like pre-releases just because it simply doesn’t hold much interest to them.  Casual players show up at Regionals since the Top 8 all get to Nationals, and tournament players show up because, well, it IS Regionals.  As a result it’s like a big family reunion, getting to meet up with people you haven’t seen in awhile.  Here in Dallas, it’s become a tradition of several players to go visit bars after the tournament, and they enjoy going to the event because of that as much as they do for the competition.  I wouldn’t miss Regionals for the world.

That said, one has to have the proper perspective going into Regionals.

Every year, and this year is no exception, I know players who playtest massively and who spend many hours determined to do well at Regionals, intent on proving themselves this year so they can get to Nationals.  Many of these people get to Regionals, then are crushed by the reality of the event and walk away with their spirits broken.

When it comes to Regionals, play skill is practically irrelevant.  How well you do at Regionals is not indicative of how good or how bad of a player you are.  Great players show up and get spit out after going 1-2.  Bad players show up and somehow they walk out with a slot at Nationals.  Now you may be a good player and make Top 8 at Regionals, that’s acceptable, even preferable.  But if you credit that victory strictly to your play skill, you’re deluding yourself and are in for a wake up call when you sit across from the best in the country at Nationals.

Regionals is usually eight or nine rounds of swiss.  Let me repeat that.


Despite amazing feats at the recent PT-Tokyo, where a player went 14-0 in the swiss rounds, the odds of not losing at least one time to random mana screw or the perfect draw of your opponent’s is astronomical.  When you factor in that you’re at Regionals, playing a format that has been playtested by the entire country for the last month or two, you’re likely to hit one bad matchup, at least.  And that is all you need to two losses and your ticket home.

I figure it would save everyone a lot of time if everyone who came to Regionals rolled a 20-sided die, then everyone who rolled a 20 gets to play single-elimination rock-paper-scissors until only eight people are left standing.

Go have fun at your local Regionals competition this year.  Enjoy throwing Blastoderms or Chimeric Idols or whatever at your opponent’s skulls.  Be happy if you do well, and play well, keeping an eye one when you make mistakes.  Whatever you do, though, don’t stake your Magic career on Regionals.  The event is just too random to be a true accurate measure of the skills of everyone in the room.  If you succeed, great, but as Han Solo said “Don’t get cocky.”  If you fail, don’t get too down on each yourself.  Enjoy the opportunity to hang out with a bunch of friends and have a good time.

Either way, good luck at your Regionals this year.  I don’t care how good of a player you are, you’ll need it.

Tim Stoltzfus