Competitors, called Rivals, can make it into the MPL either through sustained success over the course of a season or through a tournament called Gauntlet.
Starting in August 2020, Magic: the Gathering’s Organized Play calendar moved away from seasons that follow the calendar year (the 2019 season) back to seasons that are split over multiple calendar years (the 2020–2021 season). The 2019 season ended in December 2019, so in order to fill the gap between then and the beginning of the 2020–2021 season, the Magic Pro League held a shortened seven-month season. The MPL was reduced to a 24-player league with players able to earn up to $50,000 in appearance fees in addition to prizes earned at tournaments.
At the same time, the Rivals League was introduced, which essentially is a second division for the Esports. The Rivals League is a talent-development league that feeds the MPL.
For the shortened 2020 season, the Rivals League roster featured 32 players. Participants were 2019's bottom twelve MPL players based on Mythic Points. The eight 2019 MTG Arena and eight tabletop highest ranked Challengers who were not invited to the MPL were also eligible. Their rankings were based on Mythic Points earned in the appropriate types of events. Four participants to the Rivals League were invited at Wizards of the Coast's discretion.
Because the 2020 partial season would have fewer events, both MPL and Rivals players would make less than a full season. Rivals players would have earned earned up to $15,000 in appearance fees, in addition to any prize money earned. The season was cut short as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the start of the 2020–2021 season, the Rivals League consisted of 46 players as follows:
- 1st–12th ranked digital players (not previously in the MPL)
- 1st–12th ranked tabletop players (not previously in the MPL)
- Bottom 12 players from the MPL Gauntlet
- The bottom 4 players from the previous MPL season
- 6 discretionary invites
Throughout the season, Rivals were to receive invites to events, including Players Tour events and their own Mythic Qualifier and could earn up to $20,000 in appearance fees in addition to prizes earned at tournaments.
However, with the cancellation of the 2020 Players Tour Season due to the coronavirus pandemic, only the first Players Tour was completed. Hence, the 2020 Rivals league was to be retained, and fifteen players would be added. These were the top eight Mythic Point earning players From MTG Arena who were not already a member of the MPL or Rivals League, and the top eight players in Player Points from tabletop Magic who were not already a member of the MPL or Rivals League. While originally there were seven new Rivals League slots available each for tabletop Magic and Arena players, both ended up with a two-person tie at 7th, so all were invited.
In this season, Rivals played against each other in recurring tournaments — League Weekends — where each match win awarded one point toward their league standings. Final league standings at the end of the season, after seven total League Weekends, will place players into the Rivals Gauntlet to determine the new invitees to the following season's MPL and Rivals League. All competitors who continue to succeed in their events across the entire 2020-2021 season will receive the best opportunities for an invitation to the next World Championship.
The final Rivals League consists of the following players:
- MPL players ranked 17th through 24th — the bottom 8 — from final standings for the 2020–2021 season.
- Rivals League players ranked 33rd through 36th — 4 players below the Rivals Gauntlet cutoff and above Challenger relegation cutoff — from final standings for the 2020–2021 season.
- The remaining 16 players at the end of the MPL Gauntlet.
- The remaining 20 players at the end of the Rivals Gauntlet.
In May 2021, Magic Esports announced a return to in-person play post COVID-19 for the 2022–23 Players Tour Season. Although digital play is considered a lasting feature of play it is supposed to be only part of the equation going forward. As a result, the 2021–22 Players Tour Season is going to be the last season featuring the MPL and the Rivals League. Players will not be competing for another League season. Instead, they'll be competing for a place in the 2022 World Championship.
- Elaine Chase (August 14, 2019). "The Future of Magic Esports". Magic Esports.
- David McCoy (August 14, 2019). "The Magic Pro League Will Have a Partial 8-Month Season to Start 2020". Hipsters of the Coast.
- Wizards of the Coast (April 1, 2020). "Esports Update: MPL, Rivals, and Competitor 2020 Partial Season Changes". Magic.gg.
- Wizards of the Coast (July 14). "The 2020-2021 Magic Pro League Season Overview". Magic.gg.
- Wizards of the Coast (May 13, 2021). "Esports: Transistions And Getting Back To The Gathering". Magic.gg.