For the Motherland

I didn’t play in the last two rounds of World Magic Cup Qualifiers (WMCQs), because I literally didn’t have enough Planeswalker Points to qualify me for competition.

Unless an eighth day is added to the week solely for the purpose of playing Magic – a day which also comes with a government-backed entitlement to free childcare – the odds are that I will find myself in a similar position come next year.

Does this mean that I don’t care about the glory of playing to represent my country?

Does this mean I wouldn’t love a chance to pull on a replica 1978 Scotland shirt and strut around some tournament centre in the USA, pretending I’m a better player than I actually am?

Does this mean I won’t be cheering on our boys this year, under the Twitter hashtag #tartantcgterrors?

No, dear reader, it does not.

A moment of inspiration

Having established that my passion for representing Scotland at the game I love is a real one, but also that I play infrequently enough in real life that I’m unlikely to grind enough points to meet the modest entry requirement for current WMCQs, it shouldn’t surprise any of you that I am interested in other options for the structure of qualification tournaments.

That’s what made this superb suggestion from Caleb Durward stand out so strongly, when I saw it in a recent CFB comment thread:

Caleb D Team event suggestion

All at once, I could see a new possibility: a team competition with a genuine team dynamic, focussed on the composition and chemistry of the teams. I thought back to the experience of playing team cube sealed with my friends at Spellbound Games… and I was instantly hooked.

Allow me to paint you a picture…

The World Magic Cup is on the horizon.

In just a few weeks, teams of four from across the country will descend on a glamourous, central location – say, The Pandora – and battle for the right to hoist the Saltire and sling spells against the nations of the world.

You drum your fingers on the keyboard, staring at the event details.

Screw it, you eventually conclude, before sending a portentous message to three of your closest Magic-playing friends:

WMCQ at the end of the month. You guys fancy a shot at the title?

A chorus of expletive-laden affirmations later, you’re getting the band back together: carving out some time to get around a table, test and shoot the breeze just like the old days. As the tournament approaches, you’re mapping out the format, scraping together the contents of the big decks and praying that you can beg, borrow or steal the last few cards which will complete your fleet of well-oiled TCG weapons.

The event itself is an incredible experience. Sitting down with your mates at either elbow, you fight and scrap for every game – no-one wants to let the side down. Every moment of drama is heightened by the preparation, collaboration and straight-up camaraderie you’ve brought to the table.

By the end of the tourney, who knows where you’ll be? The only certainty is that whichever team lifts the trophy, they will have been through the fire together. They will have been forged into something more than a motley collection of men and women who enjoy children’s card games: they will have taken on the mantle of Scotland, unified in purpose and bonded to each other by battle.

Are you telling me that doesn’t sound like a gig you’d want to be a part of?

How it would work

If anything below seems incredibly obvious, I beg your pardon – I’d rather it was a bit ‘Noddy’ than I missed anything important.

Players would be asked to pre-register in teams of four, under agreed team-names (which should be suitable for broadcast pre-9pm on BBC One, you cheeky monkeys).

They would show up on the day and:

  • Register decklists for each player
  • Nominate a numbered rotation order for their team, which will determine who plays in each round and against whom, eg.
    • Player 1 – Dave Shedden
    • Player 2 – Chris Connelly
    • Player 3 – Matt Bett
    • Player 4 – Some poor swine overqualified to play with us but emotionally blackmailed into it (read Joe Jackson, Guy Southcott, etc)

Rotation order would be used to ensure that each player took a turn of being the ‘runner’: sitting out a round in order to watch team-mates matches and offer advice, moral support etc. Each round, the team would select a player to fulfil the ‘runner’ role, with the proviso that no-one could do so again until every other member of the team had done so an equal number of times.

In each match, the lowest numbered players from each team would face each other in seat one, then the next lowest pairing in seat two, then the remaining pairing in seat three.

The winning team in each round would be the one with the most individual match wins.

At the end of the swiss pairings, the top four ranked teams would play two semi finals, with the winners playing out a final.

The champions on the day would be crowned Team Scotland, going on to represent our tiny but spirited nation in the World Magic Cup.

The Pros

  • Team events are beloved by the Magic community. They’re fantastic fun and drive an exceptional level of engagement.
  • As Mr Durward suggested, teams of strong players would likely be formed naturally, giving a certain pedigree to a proportion of the entrants but allowing teams of developing or lesser known players a fair crack at the title, motivating them to play Magic and attend tournaments.
  • Dropping a minimum PWP entry requirement would open up the opportunity for groups of friends to take part, even when half or more of the team were not regularly playing.

Tournament formats which bring players back to the game are good for business; those which bring friends back together are good for players and the community. Supporting these things is a great long-term-business-model play for Wizards of the Coast.

The Cons

  • Without a qualification threshold, tournament numbers might be large and difficult to manage.
  • A slice of bad luck might eliminate the (objectively) strongest team from contention at a stroke, while in a solo format, it’s more likely that some of the top spots will go to the best players even if a few experience bad beats.
  • The Status Quo argument: what exactly is wrong with the team Scotland have this year? Can we really argue with a system that produced this team?

To an enterprising TO, the first con is no con at all. Who could be upset with a large number of people showing up to pay entry fees? In terms of bad luck… certainly, we could lose a very good team at a stroke, but Magic is a skill-intensive game and I feel confident that which ever team managed to win this tournament would, by necessity, have credible members.

The Status Quo argument is actually pretty strong given this year’s results. If we held a popular ballot to determine the best Scottish Magic player, the odds are that most of our team would have appeared in the top 3 positions once votes were counted… and the only reason that I can’t say the same about our fourth is that I don’t know the gent and am not qualified to do so.

It’s a bloody good team.

In my opinion, the Status Quo argument still isn’t strong enough

Come on. This image was always happening; you knew it, deep down, as soon as you read the words ‘Status Quo’. Make peace with it and move on.

Here’s why: teams are made of more than aggregated skill levels.

I’ve worked in a fair number of project teams, functional teams …and even gaming teams. Just jamming the nominal ‘best’ people into a team is a recipe for under-performance, or even failure, in my experience.

  • What if they don’t like each other? At worst, much of your team’s preparation can be disrupted (and energy wasted) due to in-fighting. At best, your players might be discipline enough not to argue, but certainly won’t be able to inspire each other the way a team with real chemistry can.
  • What if some of them have a substantial skills overlap? The diminishing return on having people who fulfill the same role in your team is significant. I’d rather have one master-brewer feeding my team of razor-sharp grinders, or one exceptional organiser focussing their efforts, than four people who do exactly the same thing.
  • What if the mix of personas just doesn’t lend itself to really co-operative work? Sometimes teams and projects drift, because the members end up working their way into little individual rabbit-holes and lose sight of the overall goal. Sometimes goals are never clearly articulated, or members don’t buy into them. Sometimes, brilliant individual operators simply don’t play well with others.

For what is ultimately a team event, I believe we want competitors who showcase the very best elements of team play and co-operation. I also believe that we are most likely to see those from purpose-built teams, rather than teams assembled from individual tournament winners.

So what do you think?

I’ve ranted on for 1500 words about why I like a team-qualifying format. What do you think? Vote below and tell me why I’m an idiot in the comments.

Gaun yersel, Scotland!

Whether or not any changes to the WMCQ format take place, we still have a World Magic Cup to look forward to.

It wouldn’t feel right to sign off with anything other than hearty wishes of good fortune for our brave boys: Bradley Barclay, Alan Hutton, Stephen Murray and Jamie Ross.

Last year’s performance set a high bar, gents, but I’m ready to shout myself hoarse in front of the laptop if you can go one better. Your Twitter cheering section stands ready. #tartantcgterrors

2 thoughts on “For the Motherland

  1. I like this a lot. Imagine we could expand from this and have seasonal leagues with the teams. It ould be a difficult commitment but you could have, say, teams of 5 or 6 instead and 4 of them play every other week. Eventually sky will sponsor the league and we’ll be buying and selling players amongst the teams…

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