New Magic Post: The Pro Tour Was Magic


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The early Pro Tour seemed amazing. When I followed the pro your ten years ago it was still extremely interesting. But I started interest years before the MPL. They have continually de-emphasized draft. They killed Rochestor draft in ~2005. Then they got rid of the all draft pro tours in 2008. In 2020 they completely removed draft from 'players tours'. 

De-emphasizing draft was bad enough. But the real death kneel was when they moved the Pro/Player's Tours so far back from set release. I am not sure exactly when they started doing this but it feels like it was a few years ago. For a long time, the PT was around two weeks after the set released. Players were incentivized to form testing houses. Usually, the format was still fresh by the time the Pro Tour rolled around. As I recall sometimes sets were even delayed a little on MTGO which helped a bit. If anything the PT should have been a little closer to set release but ~2 weeks worked well. Now the Pro Tours are usually stale formats. Sometimes exciting stuff comes out. But ever since they moved the PTs so far back I have lost interest.

For many reasons, I don't play serious magic. But I have been a fan and player for many years. I am very sad about what happened to the Pro Tour.

If we have many people that are highly skilled that are at the pro tour isn't it a lot of waste for human capital to give them full time jobs as magic players?

At the moment it's true that most Streamers and Youtubers are mainly about entertaining people and not about the art of clear and effective thinking, and to figuring out on a gears-level how things work. Paulo is here an exception in that he actually tries to teach effective thinking about magic in his videos. 

Instead of the art of clear and effective thinking building build in closed play-groups, the player will be incentivised to teach the art of clear and effective thinking to more people. 

At the moment there's no training group that trains for a tournament that makes their process of clear and effective thinking public because that would result in them losing part of their competive edge. If your goal is broad distribution of the effective thinking skills that's a huge waste. 

Zvi seems to be saying that the people likely wouldn't become highly skilled if not for being in the Pro Tour environment:

It's hard to know how much of this is selection, and how much of this is training and culture. I think both are important. Even if I am wrong about that and it is mostly selection, bringing such people together still lets them strive for new heights.


I don't expect Magic: The Gathering professionals to save the world, but as a group they're in my top five by probability for who might do such saving should the world get saved, and I wouldn't think that about the counterfactual people who would have been such professionals.

We might suppose that the environment takes the type of hypercompetitive nerd that spends years playing a card game, and pushes them to develop their abilities to a level where, as a byproduct, they've figured out some general rationality skills—and are surrounded by others who have done likewise.  If not for the Pro Tour environment, what else would be likely to push these hypercompetitive gaming nerds to do something similar?  (I'll say that, at least as games go, the ones that depend more on probability judgments and less on, say, reflexes seem more likely to lead to general rationality skills.)

One might counterargue at various points, of course.  But it's insufficient to say "it's a waste for these highly skilled people to be in this environment" without addressing the point "this environment made them highly skilled".

To your statement:

Instead of the art of clear and effective thinking building build in closed play-groups, the player will be incentivised to teach the art of clear and effective thinking to more people. 

What will incentivize that?  Because from what you and Zvi say, even in the current environment where there are a bunch of highly skilled already-famous former Pro Tour people, most of the dominant streamers are charismatic entertainers that don't focus on skill—and, if Zvi is right, even the skilled ones are incentivized to focus on entertainment rather than on developing or maintaining skill.  If there were no Pro Tour in the first place, what hope would "skill" have?  I don't think "removing the disincentive that you'll teach your opponents to be stronger" helps much.

A pro league with a rule like 'the maximum age is 28' might get the best of both worlds.

I do think that there are hypercompetitive nerds that play games hypercompetively even if they don't earn money for it because they want to be the best. Most of them don't do it full time, but I don't see why that's needed. 

 (I'll say that, at least as games go, the ones that depend more on probability judgments and less on, say, reflexes seem more likely to lead to general rationality skills.)

I do think there's an argument that MtG is better for general rationality skills then Go. MtG has a lot more uncertainty and when you cards are released the process of understanding how the new cards interact with the existing ones brings constantly new things that have to be figured out while go is relatively static. 

However in contrast to chess or go I think the average magic player puts less effort into becoming a good magic-player currently partly because of how MtG's culture differs from the culture of the others. Having the skill building centered around Pro Tour's seems to me like a way to limit the amount of people who focus on skill building.

(MtG and Go are the two games I know best and where I have an idea of how they work)

For another streaming "ecosystem", I have some familiarity with five Youtubers who have posted a lot of Rimworld videos; Rimworld is a single-player game and there are no tournaments.  The most popular one, Ambiguous Amphibian, is extremely entertaining, and is also clearly the worst player—I see him make plenty of mildly substantial mistakes even in recent videos.  The rest are all very good players and it's hard to say who's the best.  Pete Complete, definitely the second most popular, has a spectacular British narrating voice.  The other three have similar subscriber counts, and the view counts on their Rimworld videos vary widely, so it's hard to compare exactly; anyway, to introduce them, Francis John has the gleeful enthusiasm (and, seemingly, the general personality (note this isn't a bad thing)) of a boy playing with his toys; Rhadamant is somewhat entertaining, but his main attraction is being serious and competent while playing through interesting or difficult scenarios; and xwynns/"Crusha of Mans" projects a very "hyper" personality that is generally entertaining.

All five present most of their videos as challenge runs of some kind; the most popular type is "start with no tech and no resources in an extreme hot/cold climate at highest difficulty level".  All five players at least talk about strategy and what they're planning; Ambiguous Amphibian and xwynns are the most likely to talk about silly non-strategy things (although xwynns' final series was also one of the most technically impressive).  Francis John is the only one who goes as far as creating entire videos dedicated to teaching strategy or game concepts, which he calls "tutorial nuggets", wherein he uses dev mode to construct scenarios illustrating whatever lesson he has in mind, or to run large-scale experiments (like creating 100 characters and 100 enemies, dressing the characters in different kinds of armor, saving the file and letting them fight repeatedly, and collecting the results in a spreadsheet).  Francis John's day job is apparently network engineering.

What can we derive from this?  It's possible for "skill and teaching skill" to do well, when it happens to co-occur with charisma.  Skill does help, because it lets you do more impressive things as a streamer.  But the tradeoff of improving skill vs improving entertainment does seem weighted towards the latter.  And dedicated "teaching" efforts, among the top streamers, are mostly done by one guy who seems intrinsically motivated (and has a probably-well-paying day job).  It's possible that these effects are stronger for one-player games, of course.

Individuals do train in the open now reasonably often via streaming, the issue is that it is ephemeral. A few small teams did it in the MPL era at times, but it wasn't something one could properly follow reasonably.

If we take someone like Nassiv as an example, as far as I understand his daily schedule had time allocated for streaming and time allocated for playing with his team-mates.

Do you have a good example of a team that streamed in MPL era times where they stream a match in which they develop a new gears understanding of some aspect of magic together and communicate the process to the listener?

The streams I watched of Nassiv or Luis Scott-Vargas were not those people playing with their team mates and having discussions about what they learn in their training matches but those people playing online against other people and explaining their play decisions. 

As far as training the rationality skills of the listeners, you don't really get that by copying the play decisions from either of those. The important skill to transfer would be how to develop an understanding of the value of new cards or how to learn from the games you play which cards you should cut from your deck because they underperform as those two are much more about the skill of gears understanding.

I don't think people do the thing you're describing, where a team watches a match together and analyzes - either in public or in private. Closest thing would be some coverage teams doing it, but it's just not a thing and never was. 

The good streamers explain what they're thinking and how to a large extent (Jorbs is very good at this) but tag teams are rare, as are people doing explicit thinking practice. 

Sam Black is doing something along related lines at least some of the time.

There's definitely room for big improvements in these ways, dunno if it would be popular. I'd be curious to try but the startup costs of streaming, and the need for a full commitment, make it prohibitive unless an existing streamer wanted to experiment with me. I'd be down for that.

Paulo is great but his approach isn't that unique. A reasonable number of people (myself included) include large amounts of content about thinking and process. The problem is that such content typically doesn't get as many hits as other content, and also it's much harder to do well.