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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


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The Southwestern Paladin

Living the Pro Tour Lifestyle
Wizards of the Coast Bets That Players Will Love It
by Jeff Zandi

Winning large sums of money… flying around the world from tournament to tournament…earning the respect of the Magic community. These and many other things make up the so-called Pro Tour Lifestyle. Wizards of the Coast believes that enjoying the Pro Tour Lifestyle, and just as importantly, CHASING the Pro Tour Lifestyle, will cause you and I to continue participating in Magic tournaments.

This year, Wizards is putting their money where their mouth is, pumping money, promotional support and a lot of other resources into the concept that they call The Pro Tour Lifestyle. Each year, Wizards of the Coast holds a Tournament Organizer’s Conference. Wizards uses this annual series of meetings to communicate directly with the people who actually run their tournaments all around the world. At these meetings, tournament organizers are made aware of new and better ways to run their events, as well as the direction in which Wizards of the Coast is interested in steering Competitive Magic for the upcoming year. In this year’s meetings, Wizards made it clear that the focus for Competitive Magic in 2005 is the Pro Tour Lifestyle.


A long time ago, around the first year of the Pro Tour, the DCI’s monthly publication, The Duelist, featured an article about a Texas player named Chip Hogan. Chip Hogan was one of the earliest stars in the world of competitive Magic, winning the U.S. National title at Origins in Philadelphia way back in the pre-Pro Tour days. In the Duelist article, Chip Hogan became the first person, in print anyway, to proclaim himself a “Professional Magic Player”. Chip’s statement was really stated more as an ambition, to be fair. The idea of Professional Magic Player was kind of shocking at the time. Since that time, guys have won tens of thousands of dollars playing video games, several Magic players have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in career Pro Tour prizes, and Magic’s own David Williams made the ultimate gamer score last Spring with a $3.5M payday finishing second in the 2004 World Series of Poker. The idea of earning a living playing a game is no longer shocking. Chip Hogan may not be remembered as the best Magic player of all time, but if he is remembered at all, he SHOULD be remembered as the guy who wasn’t afraid to tell all the world that he wanted to be a professional gamer. Today, EVERYONE wants to be professional gamer, and this desire plays directly into Magic’s Pro Tour Lifestyle.

Earning a living from doing something you genuinely enjoy isn’t anything new. It’s kind of the American Dream. I have a friend who designs video games for a company his older brothers invented. One time I called him up in the middle of the week. Simply making small talk, I asked him what he was up to, his reply was simply gleeful, “Oh, just living the dream” he said. I think about that little offhand remark all the time, whenever I find myself NOT living the dream thanks to whatever Square Day Job I find myself having to perform at in order to keep the bills paid.


From the first time you work up the courage to play in a Magic tournament, you immediately find yourself impressed, to some extent, by the players at the top of the game. You can’t help but admire the players whose skillful play places them in the top of seemingly every tournament you attend. And why wouldn’t you be impressed? They are showing a high level of prowess in a skill area (Magic: the Gathering tournament play) that you place value on.  The better you get at playing Magic, the better you start to perform in the tournaments you attend. How nice. Apparently this game you love is primarily skill-based after all.

Soon, you start playing in PTQs (pro tour qualifying tournaments) and your goal is obvious: you’re trying to make it to the Pro Tour. Almost no one finishes in the top eight of their first PTQ, and fewer still win their first PTQ. However, from the first PTQ you play in, the die has been cast, you are now dedicated (at some level) to making it to the Pro Tour level.

Because Magic IS a skill-based game, you can continue to work harder and harder and, in effect, grow more and more skillful at the game. Eventually, you will qualify for the Pro Tour if you work hard enough. I know more than one player for whom qualifying for the Pro Tour was the be-all, end-all achievement. When these individuals made it to their first Pro Tour events, they were so happy to simply be there that two things happened. First, they didn’t do particularly well at the Pro Tour event. Second, they didn’t really care about their Pro Tour performance because they had reached their goal, simply to play in the top level of the game they love. To some players, however, merely making it to the Pro Tour is not enough. These players are truly chasing the Pro Tour Lifestyle.

Wizards of the Coast has worked diligently over the years to refine their Million Dollar Black Lotus Pro Tour (as it was first known in 1996) into what is now known as the Pro Tour Lifestyle. A great new innovation is called the Pro Player’s Club.


Last week, WOTC revealed the creation of the Pro Player’s Club. The PPC has six levels of rankings, and a player’s PPC level is based on the number of Pro Points that player has accumulated in Pro Tour and Grand Prix events.
Level One members of the Pro Player’s Club get one bye at all Grand Prix events. This honor is bestowed on all players that have one current Pro Point. From this humble level of recognition, the benefits grow until, at the ultimate level, Level Six players gain free airfare and hotel accommodations to each and every Pro Tour event, as well as a $2000 “appearance fee” for each Pro Tour event they play in. Two players, Olivier Ruel and Julien Nuijten became the first players to achieve level six in the brand-new Pro Player’s Club in this past weekend’s Pro Tour in Philadelphia.
Professional gamers? You better believe it.

Whispers around the Pro Tour indicate that Wizards of the Coast is close to creating a Pro Tour Hall of Fame into which they will induct the world’s greatest Magic players in some sort of timely interval. Perhaps this means we will FINALLY see Magic player’s faces and lifetime Pro Tour statistics on the Magic equivalent of a baseball card.


Last weekend’s Pro Tour event in Philadelphia was a big hit with more players than ever before. While the Champions of Kamigawa block constructed format was probably very appealing to many players, the REAL excitement centered around the payout structure that was used for the first time at this event. Normally, the payout structure for a Pro Tour event consists of around $200K being divided up on a descending scale from around $30K for the first place finisher all the way down to $500 for the 64th place finisher.
Basically, two thirds or more of the day two players finish in the money at a normal Pro Tour. No day two, no money, it has always been that simple.

In Philadelphia, Wizards shook up the normal payout structure, assigning a cash value to each round, beginning with a humble $100 for round one and a more stately $10K for the finals match on Sunday. Whenever you won a match, you won the money associated with that particular round. In other words, as long as you won at least one match at Pro Tour Philadelphia, you got to take home some kind of a paycheck.

WOTC has gone out of their way to make it clear that this new payout structure, as appealing as it is to the larger number of Pro Tour participants, will NOT be the new payout structure of the Pro Tour. Wizards stressed repeatedly that the PT-Philly payout structure was simply used as an experiment. If the experiment was to make every potential Pro Tour player in the world sit up and pay attention, I believe the experiment can be safely called an incredible success. In a sort of acquiescence, WOTC is said to be considering the new payout structure for future events, a sort of alternate structure that could be used once a year. Of course, in the end, the Pro Tour is a consumer-driven beast. If Pro Tour players want the Philly payout structure bad enough, Wizards is likely to realistically consider switching to it permanently.


In the end, the real success or failure of Wizards of the Coast’s focus on the Pro Tour Lifestyle will be determined by how much competitive Magic players really care about the Pro Tour. The changes being made so far only affect the top players in the world. While the idea of being in the Pro Players Club and grabbing some of that fat Pro Tour Philly cash is a great dream, what is Wizards doing to create better incentives for the player that ISN’T already on the Pro Tour gravy train? According to Randy Buehler, Wizards is working on that challenge.

The leaders at WOTC are proud of their game and of the worldwide competitive community that their game has evolved into. They should be proud, the game is as great as ever, and the rewards for those that make it to the highest levels of the game are greater than ever.

However, traveling to Magic tournaments, for the non-professional player, is a time-consuming and expensive proposition. Players do it because they love the game, but a lot of them also do it because they are willing to do almost anything to attain what Wizards of the Coast unabashedly calls the Pro Tour Lifestyle.

Of course, I’m always interested in hearing what YOU think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


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