In just eight days, the highly anticipated Pro Tour Phyrexia will take place at MagicCon: Philadelphia. But what elevates the Pro Tour as the crown jewel for competitive Magic players, and how does one go about qualifying? In this special edition of Metagame Mentor, we'll explore the different paths to qualification and what it takes to earn your place on the Pro Tour stage.
What is the Pro Tour?
Magic: The Gathering's Pro Tour is an invitation-only tournament series hosted by Wizards of the Coast, dating back to 1996. Before the advent of the Pro Tour, the tournament scene was unstructured, but the Pro Tour and its system of qualifiers changed the game forever, offering players a chance to prove their skills against the best from around the world. Due to its prestige, large cash prizes, and international reach, the Pro Tour is the highest level of competitive Magic apart from the Magic World Championship.
For players looking to take their game to the highest level, the Pro Tour offers an opportunity to showcase their skills on a global stage with live streaming coverage. The electric atmosphere of high-stakes Magic at a pinnacle tabletop event is something that cannot be matched online. Winning a Pro Tour solidifies a player's status as a top competitor, and those who have claimed multiple victories, such as Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, have cemented their place in Magic competition as legends of the game.
For over two decades, Pro Tours were held several times per year, leaving a rich history in their wake. After recent detours involving Mythic Championships, Players Tours, and Set Championships with focus on digital play, the tabletop-made Pro Tour is back. Three Pro Tours are held per year, each offering approximately 250 qualified players the chance to compete for their share of $500,000 in prizes, invitations to the Magic World Championship, and the right to claim their place among the best in the world.
Qualifying for the Pro Tour has come a long way since the first Pro Tour in 1996, where players had to call a phone number and whoever called first got in. Now, players must prove their skills in paper or digital tournaments to earn their place. Let's take a closer look at the various paths to qualification.
The Regional Championship Path: Tabletop
The most common path to Pro Tour qualification is by performing well at Regional Championships. Regional Championships, held three times per yearly season in every geographic region, are invite-only events that players can earn entry to through various means, including Magic Online or Last Chance Qualifiers. But the most common way is via Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) held at local stores or larger conventions. You can find RCQs around you by using the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. They are open to everyone, and the players who conquer their local scene compete for Pro Tour invites and other prizes at their Regional Championships.
One example of a player who took this path is Miguel Castro, the reigning European champion. After winning an RCQ at Tienda Itaca—"the best Magic store in Madrid (and Spain)" according to him—he triumphed over hundreds of players at the European Championship using the same Pioneer deck: Izzet Phoenix. Having attended Pro Tours several times before, he was excited to qualify again, and he described the return of the Pro Tour as "something really special". While he feels a bit of pressure, he's feeling better about his chances than ever before: "I feel more confident after demonstrating myself that I can compete at the high stakes."
Another example is Alejandro Sepulveda, the reigning South American champion. He won an RCQ at MagicSur Chile and subsequently crushed the South American Championship with his favorite Pioneer deck: Mono-Red Aggro. "Competing at the Pro Tour means a lot to me", he said as he recounted his experience at Pro Tour Ixalan several years ago. "It was a dream come true. I had been grinding local qualifiers until I finally got there, I did terribly at the Pro Tour, but I didn't care much about that at the time." But Pro Tour Phyrexia will be different, and Sepulveda is hungry for more. "I'm working really hard to up my game and unleash the great player I know I can be. I really want to make the most of it not only because it is good for me, but also because it is good for our South American community."
These Regional Champions, along with over 150 other players whose Regional Championship performance was good enough to qualify, may represent their regions at the Pro Tour in the knowledge that they're cheering them on back home. For more details on this first cycle of Regional Championships, including an overview of the region-specific number of invites for Pro Tour Phyrexia and the top Pioneer decks, check out my primer. More information on upcoming RCQ formats and promo cards is available here.
The MTG Arena Path: Digital
Another way to earn a Pro Tour qualification is by reaching seven wins in Day Two of a Qualifier Weekend on MTG Arena. To earn a spot in these monthly Qualifier Weekends, as described in more detail on MTG Arena Premier Play page, there are various methods: by finishing in the Top 250 of the Constructed or Limited ladder at the end of the preceding month, by reaching enough wins in Day 2 of an Arena Open, or—most commonly—via a Qualifier Play-In event.
Seven-win earners from Day Two of a Qualifier Weekend not only earn a Pro Tour qualification but also clinch a spot in the Arena Championship, which represents the apex of the MTG Arena Premier Play pyramid. To bring this thrice-yearly event to 32 competitors, remaining Arena Championship invitations are given to players with the most total Day Two match wins in contributing Qualifier Weekends. However, Pro Tour invitations are only awarded to seven-win earners.
One of the players who reached seven wins at the November Qualifier Weekend was Simon Nielsen. Although the difficulty of having to go 7-1 on both days made him initially hesitant about the effort required, he eventually realized there was a reason why Qualifier Weekends were difficult: "The payoff is through the roof. Not only is it a way to qualify directly for the Pro Tour, it also gives an invite to the Arena Championship, a tournament that's almost like a mini Worlds. With just 32 players and a huge prize pool, it certainly feels like it... I had to take them seriously, and put in an amount of preparation like I would for a Regional Championship. Outside of Regional Championships, these are some of the only events to qualify directly for the Pro Tour and should be treated as such. So for the November Historic Qualifier, Team Handshake spent a week trying out the many deck options in Historic, eventually finding the broken Goblin Trapfinder deck."
Nielsen was eager to return to the Pro Tour, where he has the chance to relive past victories. One of his fondest Pro Tour memories was from Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, where he achieved a new personal best that secured his spot in subsequent Pro Tours. "The feeling of joy as I won my last round was incredible. I remember Christoffer Larsen lifting me in the air in celebration", he reminisced. "Pro Tours offer this unique opportunity to really achieve something. You know that you get nothing for free; everyone tries their hardest. And if you can beat that, the payoff is immense."
The Magic Online Path: Digital
The Magic Online Premier Play program offers two paths to the Pro Tour, one direct and one indirect, and I've created my own flowchart to visualize this for us:
The indirect path involves performing well in one of the many Qualifiers or Super Qualifiers, which grant invitations to a Regional Championship. These Magic Online events come in a variety of formats, including Standard, Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Pauper, and Limited.
The direct path, on the other hand, is through the Magic Online Champions Showcase (MOCS) tournaments. Three times a year, they culminate in the eight-player Champions Showcase. To qualify, players can win an invite-only Showcase Qualifier, a Limited Showcase Open, or secure one of two at-large spots on the Leaderboard. All eight players also earn invitations to the Pro Tour.
One such player who earned his Pro Tour invitation through the Magic Online Championship Showcase is Kiran Dhokia, better known online as Cherryxman. "Whilst the Pro Tour has never been a goal of mine, it is an exciting new opportunity for me to compete at a high level," he told me. And as the Pro Tour features both Constructed and Limited formats, it presents a new challenge to Dhokia: "I am especially excited to develop my skills in Limited as I prefer Constructed, but learning formats that are new to me is very enjoyable."
When asked why Magic Online is his preferred platform, Dhokia had a clear explanation: "it's due to the great diversity of formats, decks, and the huge number of high level players online. The flexibility on offer, through leagues as well, allows for a great opportunity to practice and improve."
Previous Championship Success
Another qualification path is via top finishes at previous Pro Tours or World Championships. The details get a bit complicated, especially given that 2022-23 is a transitional season. But one thing is clear: The Top 4 players from the 2022 World Championship (Nathan Steuer, Eli Kassis, Jakub Tóth, and Karl Sarap) are qualified for all Pro Tours this season, raising the level of competition.
Additionally, players who score enough match wins at a Pro Tour will automatically earn a qualification for the next one. At Pro Tour Phyrexia specifically, a 9-7 finish or better will grant an invite for Pro Tour March of the Machine. There's also an Adjusted Match Point system, which rewards players with high finishes over the previous three rolling Pro Tours, allowing solid performances to earn Pro Tour invitations as well. However, since Pro Tour Phyrexia is the first tabletop Pro Tour in years, these systems do not yet apply. Instead, all 32 players from Magic World Championshi[ XXVIII and players who finished 9-6 or better at the New Capenna Championship received invitations.
Among the New Capenna Championship qualifiers is Sam Bogue, better known online as IslandGoSAMe. Bogue regards Pro Tour Phyrexia as "definitely the most important tournament of my life so far." As he explained, "it's been a dream of mine to compete at a tabletop Pro Tour ever since I started playing this game 10 years ago; I'm sure the friend group I played with in Middle School would be proud of me. I've played in various Regional events before, but never an event that brings together players from all around the world."
As the Pro Tour features Pioneer just one week after the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One, it incentives format experts to come up with new and innovative brews. "I was very excited when I realized that this Pro Tour was Pioneer," Bogue said. "Since my Twitch and YouTube content has been Pioneer-focused for about a year now, I'm super ready to put my format knowledge and experience to the test here. Pioneer right now is one of the best formats to brew in, and Phyrexia: All Will be One will definitely give players a ton of new tools and strategies to work with for this event."
Magic Hall of Fame: The Legacy of Success
The Magic Hall of Fame enshrines the most significant and influential competitors of the game, and its members are invited to one Pro Tour per yearly season of their choice. Many Hall of Famers, including the likes of Luis Scott-Vargas, Shota Yasooka, Reid Duke, and Gabriel Nassif, are already qualified for Pro Tour Phyrexia through aforementioned qualification paths, so they don't need to use this special invite. Other Hall of Famers, however, plan to use their once-per-year invite immediately to compete at Pro Tour Phyrexia.
Among them is the record holder for the number of Pro Tours played—Raphaël Lévy. With over 100 Pro Tours under his belt, he's the most experienced player in the field. For years, his life revolved around the Pro Tour, and to him it offered something truly unique: "Recognition from your peers is one of the most precious and hardest thing to achieve in any competitive activities. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 (what seems to be a lifetime away) was a milestone in my career but also an incredible moment. Playing at the Pro Tour with the Hall of Fame tag was and still is a driving force and a source of never-ending motivation."
Although Lévy took great pride on his string of consistent finishes that kept him on the Pro Tour train for decades, the organized play system and his priorities have changed since his competitive heyday. Most notably, he's become the proud father of two young kids. While he remains excited to attend Pro Tour Phyrexia, Lévy's Magic-related goals are different from before.
"Consistency isn't on the menu anymore, so now I'm more interested in posting a few more flashy finishes, if I can," he said. We're looking forward to seeing if his drive and experience can propel Lévy to yet another Top 8 finish, perhaps this time with loud cheers from his family back home.
Pro Tour Qualifiers: Tabletop's Fast Lane
Pro Tour Qualifiers—not to be confused with Regional Championship Qualifiers—are the most direct way to the Pro Tour. The first of these events will be held at MagicCon: Philadelphia. There's one on Friday and one on Saturday, and each will award four invitations to Pro Tour March of the Machine, taking place at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5–7. The format for these Pro Tour Qualifiers is Phyrexia: All Will Be One Limited.
To me, these PTQs are reminiscent of the old Grand Prix events. Although they are not held as frequently, they are open to anyone attending MagicCon: Philadelphia, held at a large convention, draw players from all around the world, and reward top performers with direct access to the Pro Tour. As an additional benefit, any Pro Tour qualification (regardless of qualification path) extends to an automatic invitation to the corresponding Regional Championship as well. Especially if you're a Limited expert, these PTQs may be perfect for you, so don't miss out on the opportunity!
Pro Tours: A Part of Magic's History
There are several qualification paths towards the Pro Tour, ranging from tabletop tournaments to digital avenues: there surely is one that can work for you. Each winner has their name carved into competitive Magic history, making memories that last a lifetime.
We'll watch someone make their own history at Pro Tour Phyrexia, featuring live streaming coverage on February 17—19 with a stacked broadcast team. See you there!