This is a fascinating topic, largely because (spoiler alert) there is no solution and it’s probably bad to make any change to the status quo. Speaking for myself, some of my favorite topics are those where you can bloviate endlessly and not accomplish anything. Seriously, I’m not even kidding. I love this kind of stuff.
One of the many reasons why Magic is so great is that it’s a game full of sub-games, each of which is compelling in a different way. Making the Top 8, or otherwise maximizing your winnings, is the defining sub-game in most Magic tournaments.
Even at our friendly 4-round $5 FNM, the top two people are likely going to intentionally draw in the last round and split the top two prizes. Who can blame them? They are merely exercising control over their circumstances to secure the best guaranteed outcome for themselves.
This is a baked-in characteristic of the Swiss rounds system. I do not believe there is any rule change that can eliminate intentional draws or concessions-as-favors from a Swiss tournament. At least, I have not personally seen any workable/enforceable proposals. The most common proposals seem to be 1.) Making draws worth nothing and/or 2.) Making concessions illegal.
1.) Making draws worth nothing.
If a draw was worth nothing, intentional draws would be pointless (haha, get it? point-less). I think this would serve to make legitimate unintentional draws – which certainly do happen – a miserable situation for both players. An honest draw deserves its fractional points, in my opinion. Making draws worth nothing would also foster a culture of pressuring opponents to concede. I don’t want players feeling incentivized to present little campaign speeches to their opponents about why they should concede. “Look, a draw doesn’t do either of us any good, so why don’t you concede because my deck is favored in this matchup and I have better tiebreakers and my grandma died last week so I could really use the pick-me-up and…” Imagine the sharkiest players from your local store having that kind of interaction with a newer or younger player who isn’t as savvy. No thanks.
2.) Make concessions illegal.
How could this possibly be enforced? Are judges going to be in the business of determining whether a player is intentionally misplaying so as to lose a match? What if the last-round pairings shake out such that a player has the opportunity to scoop his little brother into the Top 8? Trying to make such concessions illegal would be absurd. What’s a proper punishment? A tournament disqualification seems too harsh, so… maybe give them an automatic match win, I guess?
I get it, especially with regard to Magic’s growing status as a spectator sport, ideally everyone would want to play it out through to the end. A legitimate competitive pursuit isn’t typically understood to include a bunch of intentional drawing and conceding in the climactic rounds. It runs contrary to what people expect from a tournament. Certainly it’s bad television.
I also think this discussion is largely informed by a fear of “getting got” that exists in a portion of the Magic-playing community. It’s a broad topic, perhaps difficult to describe diplomatically. The tl;dr is something like “Butthurt donks can’t hang.” which is obviously not something you can print on the promotional materials to entice players to buy in at FNM. That’ll be a separate post sometime down the road.