Improving Nationals

by Lee Shi Tian on 07 November 2017, Tuesday

Lee Shi Tian


Improving Nationals


All three weeks of Nationals have concluded and now that I'm on my way home from Pro Tour Ixalan, I found some time to share some thoughts on how we can improve Nationals, based on my personal experience.


First of all, I would like to say that Nationals is great. If there is one tournament which can gather all active players around the nationl, this is it. I got to catch up with players and friends I haven't seen in a while. Everyone is happy to meet one another and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed.


Let's take a look at some of the features of this unique tournament and how it can be improved.



Mixed Format


The number of players we get at Nationals is much bigger than WMCQs. I believe part of the reason is due to the fact that it featured mixed formats. WMCQs only used Constructed, and players who consider themselves "Limited" players will not even consider playing WMCQs because they feel they are disadvantaged.


Over the last couple of years, there are a couple of players in Hong Kong who have never played a Limited game during the year which they won the WMCQ. They focused on playing Constructed and did zero Sealed Decks and Booster Drafts all year around. While it is a great achievement to win a WMCQ, it might not be the best addition to the team, because the World Magic Cup utilizes Limited formats.


Number of Byes


Not every country was able to have a two-day Nationals.


For one-day Nationals, the arrangement of Constructed and Limtied rounds is tricky. At the Hong Kong Nationals, we had five Constructed Rounds first, and then three Limited rounds. Any player who went 5-0 at Constructed would only need to win one round in their booster draft, because 6 - 1 - 1 was guaranteed to make the Top 8. This can make booster draft seem less important than it is, because the Top 8 rounds are also Constructed.


However, putting the draft rounds at the beginning of the tournament is not feasible because of byes. It is simply very awkward to allocate one or two byes to the playes after they drafted their decks and they certainly cannot be awarded byes before the draft begins. So, I suggest putting the draft in between the Constructed rounds. It could be 2 or 3 rounds of Standard, followed by 3 rounds of Booster Draft, followed by the remaining 2 - 3 rounds of Standard.


I think this is the best choice for any one-day Nationals and it balances out the requirement to win at both Standard and Constructed.


Time Issues


Speaking of one-day events, time was definitely a problem. I believe there was a large group of countries which had between 128 - 256 players. This means that they will have an 8-rounds event. Assuming it takes an hour each round and if you factor in drafting and deckbuilding, that is at least 9 hours for all Swiss rounds. Assuming the Top 8 rounds take an hour a round, the total tournament length is 12 hours in total.


We had our Nationals start at 10am but due to some delay it only started at 10.45am. Additional pockets of delay here and there - draft logistics and setup as well as long extra turns due to Approach of the Second Sun mirrors - we only ended up finishing Swiss rounds at 9pm!


After the quarterfinals, we were forced to leave the venue because the exhibition hall closes at 10pm. To facilitate the finals, we had to travel to a hobby store which was 20 minutes away and as expected not everyone was willing to do that. This caused the "number of spectators" to not want to watch the playoffs anymore.


The only reason I went along is that one of my close friends made it to the semifinals and I wanted to show some support. In addition, I wanted to be the first to know who made it to Team Hong Kong. In the end, the finals finished at 1am and lots of players were unable to find out the winner of the tournament.


This is a terrible experience for the majority, especially when they could not watch the matches which decided the Hong Kong Team and the National Champion.


While you can improve this situation by starting the tournament at 8am or 9am, it still does not change the fact that the tournament length is too long, and we did not even factor in the lunch break and dinner breaks! I believe a unified two-day Nationals would solve the problem.




Side Events


Running Nationals (regardless of whether it is one-day or two-day) incurs tournament organisers overheads such as venue cost and labor costs. However, a lot of tournament organisers assumed that these costs could be mitigated with some side events.



In our case, the tournament organisers scheduled two PPTQs as side events, which (in theory) was great.


With only 8 rounds in the main event, players with two losses are unlikely to make the Top 8. Since these PPTQs were scheduled to start after Round 3 and Round 5, players who dropped from the main event could participate. However, the fact is, most players will NOT drop until the booster draft rounds are over, because there is a booster draft which they paid for in the entry fee of Nationals! As a result, both PPTQs fired off with less than 16 players, even when there was a cash travel award (for the PPTQ winner to travel to the RPTQ)


From the tournament organiser's perspective, this is definitely a poor turnout compared to usual PPTQs around Hong Kong. Also, there were zero on-demand eight-man booster drafts being fired all weekend.


In general, I think that side events are not a reliable income source for tournament organisers if it is a one-day event and for the sake of creating a great tournament experience, it needs to be reconsidered.




Based on these observations I had from my Nationals, I think that the best tournament structure should be the two-day structure. The tournament should start around 9am (which is a fair timing since all Grand Prix also begin at 9am), and we have three rounds of Constructed and then move on to Booster Draft #1. After Round 6, we can proceed with Booster Draft #2 and play one round of the draft. That way, players who don't wish to return on the second day don't have to come back "just to rare draft" and players do not "lose value" from Nationals. We certainly do not wish to create any "feel bad" feelings.


Then in Day 2, all those who return continue playing Round 8 and Round 9 (which are the last two rounds of Booster Draft #2). Thereafter, we complete the Swiss rounds with the final 3 Constructed rounds. That way, the length of the event will be approximately the same as Day 1.  Standard rounds can be added to Day 1 and Day 2's constructed portion depends on tournament size.


As for side events, we could have Premier Side Events in the morning and afternoon of Day 2. If players crashed out on Day 2, they still have side events to play while they can also stay back to mingle with friends and wait for the outcome of the tournament.


Nationals is a very special event to every country. Having a tournament which everyone is going to enjoy is an important goal for Wizards of the Coast. I can speak for the majority of my community that we're happy to see Nationals return. Wizards of the Coast has been doing a great job at listening to player feedback in the last few years.


As long as we continue to contribute useful feedback, I'm sure more improvements will be on their way!




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