July 27, 2015

Pro Tour Magic Origins Preview

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I'm very excited. Very. Christmas is awesome, but it's basically the same awesome every year. With Magic, the final Pro Tour of the season brings you a different awesome every time. Hence, I'm excited. Very. And I have a problem.

I want to tell you about the Hall of Fame. I want to tell you about the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year races. I want to talk about what it's going to take to win Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver this week, and why you should be there in person if you can.

I want to talk to you about one of the great battles in recent Magic history, and the World Championship slots that are up for grabs. I want to talk to you about Player Club levels, and the life-changing matches that are going to mean Platinum, Gold, and Silver. I want to highlight some of the tightest races for one of the proudest accomplishments a player can claim: the captaincy of their national World Magic Cup squad. I want to showcase some of the latest additions to the Pro Tour—the Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers—who will battle against the very best in the world in the toughest of fields.

I want to shout from the rooftops about Magic Origins, the last ever core set, and a core set that many are calling the best of all time. I want to talk renown, and spell mastery, and Draft tempo. I want to talk about "red alert" Planeswalkers, the likes of which we've not seen before. I want to talk Standard, and a slew of Origins cards that might, or could, or should be seen all over the top tables.

I want to tell you about a player who could finish the weekend with one of the best seasons in Magic history, and a haul of goodies that would put even the craziest Christmas gifts to shame.

And the problem? I want to tell you about them all at the same time. Because I'm excited, very.

(10 minutes later . . .)

No, it can't be done. I shall have to contain my excitement, and impose some semblance of order. Okay then, let's start with . . .

The Hall of Fame

On Friday at lunchtime, I'll be joined by Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall at the Newsdesk to reveal the latest additions to the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame. This year, each and every one of you had the opportunity to contribute your voice to the debate about who should be enshrined alongside the greatest players in the history of the game. It has been an interesting year, with the consensus being that there is no consensus. This is definitely not a year where three or four players are head and shoulders above the rest as "auto-includes." While Eric Froehlich has the support of many knowledgeable insiders, there's been lots of good-natured debate around the possible inclusion of the likes of Willy Edel, Justin Gary, Mark Herberholz, Marijn Lybaert, Tomoharu Saito, Craig Wescoe, Shota Yasooka, and more.

From left: Eric Froehlich, Willy Edel, and Shota Yasooka

There could be as many as five new members of the Hall—or there could be none at all! The only thing we can say with certainty is that you'll be the first to find out who makes it in, as long as you join us on the live video stream after Round 3 on Friday.

The Titles

While there are lots of prizes and rewards on offer this weekend, actual titles are harder to come by. The big two are Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Now, if we're being honest, the Rookie race isn't exactly packed with tension right now. Justin Cohen has firmly announced himself on the Pro scene, and with just one Grand Prix remaining before the Pro Tour (at the time of writing), he has a commanding 12-point lead over his nearest rivals. Even if Cohen secures the bare minimum of 3 Pro Points, that virtually demands his rivals make the Top 8 to stay in the race, and that's a ferociously tough task—especially at the final Pro Tour of the season, where so many have so much at stake.

The Player of the Year race, by contrast, practically drips tension. With 30 Pro Points going to the winner of the event, any of the top 40 or so players in the season standings have a theoretical shot at winning one of the biggest honors in the game. Sure, most of them will need at least a Top 8 performance in Vancouver to do it, but more than 20 of the contenders have already achieved that level of success this season. Still, if you want a handful of players to keep an eye on as this race develops, try these five:

  • Eric Froehlich—The race leader, going into Grand Prix Dallas with 60 Pro Points
  • Lee Shi Tian—Hong Kong's finest, and already with two Pro Tour Top 8s this season
  • Sam Black—For a long time, one of the world's finest deck builders. Now one of the world's finest players too
  • Yuuya Watanabe—Two-time Player of the Year from Japan
  • Ari Lax—The Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Champion

All five are right in the mix, with a performance anywhere from 11-5 upwards potentially leading to the title come Sunday.

The World Championship

The World Championship will bring 24 players to Seattle at the end of August. Just 24, and only seven places will be filled before the Pro Tour this weekend. Of course, the Vancouver champion will join Ari Lax, Antonio Del Moral Leon, and Martin Dang as PT champs this season who have locked seats at Worlds. The Player of the Year gets a slot. Shahar Shenhar (Reigning World Champion) and Martin Müller (2014 World Magic Cup winning team captain) already know they're going to Seattle. Also locked in is Alexander Hayne, who finally vanquished Pascal Maynard to become the Grand Prix Player of the Year.

As for the rest, it's all about Pro Points. Around the global regions, competition is incredibly fierce. In Europe, less than a handful of Points separate Ondrej Strasky, Shahar Shenhar, Antonio Del Moral León, Jelger Wiegersma, and Ivan Floch. In the Asia Pacific region, Lee Shi Tian and Yuuya Watanabe have a healthy lead over the rest, while Jason Chung will be looking to represent New Zealand on the largest stage of all. He's currently in third place in the region. Latin America sees Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa leading the way, but he certainly can't relax. Both Willy Edel and Thiago Saporito are hot on his heels, and only two of the three can represent at Worlds. As for North America—well, even with four slots available, it would take a miraculous amount of foresight to correctly predict the players who will be joining us in Seattle. Sam Black? Seth Manfield? Pro Tour champions Paul Rietzl, or Shaun McLaren? Former Players of the Year Owen Turtenwald, Josh Utter-Leyton, or Brad Nelson? The good news for the nearly-but-not-quites of North America is that at least seven slots at Worlds go to the so-called "At-Large" players, those who get the most points across the season among those who aren't already qualified for Worlds in some other way (i.e., PT Champion, Player of the Year, and so on).

From left: Lee Shi Tan, Sam Black, and Ari Lax

The bottom line for the World Championship is that at least one slot won't be known until the final turn of the Final, and that several players will likely go into the Top 8 knowing that they need one, two, or the complete three victories on Sunday to secure a spot in Seattle.

The Levels

In terms of what's at stake, of course the highest-profile matches will be played out in the Top 8 on Sunday. In terms of life-changing matches, however, there are going to be plenty of those happening throughout the second half of Saturday. Pro Club levels are about a lot more than the recognition of your peers—they're about life-changing sums of cash and other benefits that are going to absolutely shape the Pro landscape for next season. On Saturday afternoon, every round is going to see multiple matches where someone has their entire season on the line.

If Silver is the goal, then winning the must-win match means a return to the Pro Tour next year with a single precious invite. Win your must-win for Gold, and you're locked on to the Tour for the entire season, and can begin to plan your season around the marquee events. Platinum, though, is where everyone really wants to be, and here's why:

  • Member receives three byes at all individual-format Grand Prix tournaments
  • Member is invited to World Magic Cup Qualifiers in his or her country
  • Member receives two byes at each World Magic Cup Qualifier in his or her country
  • Member is invited to all Pro Tours
  • Member receives a $3,000.00 USD appearance fee whenever he or she competes in a Pro Tour
  • Member receives expenses-paid air travel tickets and hotel accommodations at all Pro Tours during the current season
  • Member receives a $1,000.00 USD appearance fee if he or she competes in the World Magic Cup
  • Member receives a $500.00 USD appearance fee if he or she competes in a World Magic Cup Qualifier.
  • Member receives a $250.00 USD appearance fee whenever he or she competes in a Grand Prix
  • Member receives a complementary sleep-in special at all Grand Prix (where available)
  • Member receives 20 QPs for each Magic Online Championship Series season

The finishing line for Platinum is 46 Pro Points, and with 10-6 in Vancouver getting 6 Points, 11-5 getting 10 Points, and 12-4 being good enough for at least 15 Points, you can see how those Standard rounds on Saturday are going to be huge.

World Magic Cup Captains

For each of the 73 nations taking part in the World Magic Cup, someone has to be the captain of the team. That honor goes to whichever player from that country finishes the season with the most Pro Points. Some of those captains are already known, particularly from smaller communities that don't have a representative in Vancouver. A few—and by that I mean the USA—are utterly impossible to call, inextricably linked as they are to the Player of the Year race. However, several countries are sitting in the sweetest of spots, with some head-to-head clashes and tight races waiting to be resolved. Here are just a few to whet your appetite:

Australia—Don van Ravenzwaaij leads the way, but it's Grand Prix Sydney 2014 champion Paul Jackson who is coming up on the rails. With the leader sitting this one out, 11-5 should get it done for Jackson.

Austria—Valentin Mackl has multiple Grand Prix Top 8s in North America, and his globetrotting adventures give him a handy lead. That's in his favor, because chasing him is two-time Grand Prix winner Immanuel Gerschenson, and he's really good.

France—Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy could return to the scene of his greatest triumph, when he was the captain of a Team France that lifted the World Magic Cup in 2013. Chasing hard are Gold Pro Pierre Dagen and Silver Pro Thierry Ramboa.

Germany—There's barely room to put a pin between Christian Seibold and Patrick Dickmann, and a single match win either way on Saturday is likely to decide who captains the Germans in Barcelona this December.

Canada—The race for Canadian captaincy presents a mouth-watering clash between the two finalists from Pro Tour Born of the Gods. Shaun McLaren and Jacob Wilson are once again locked in mortal combat, with Alexander Hayne knowing that he may well need a Top 8 in Vancouver to challenge them.

From left: Raphaël Lévy, Patrick Dickmann, and Jacob Wilson


As you'd expect, we'll keep an eye on all the races that matter as the results pile in.

The New

Thousands of PPTQs led to 31 Regional PTQs, and now the proof is about to be in the pudding. With a galaxy of stars taking the start line, it's easy for the RPTQers to get lost in the mix, but here are a quintet to follow as the weekend progresses:

Michael Flores—Yes, that Michael Flores. One of the most prolific, inspiring, and hard-working deck builders and theorists in the history of the game, Flores fought his way through the PTQ system and now takes his chances once again on the biggest stage. Will he bring something unique for Standard?

Wenzel Krautmann—The German Grand Prix champion has frequently been seen earning airline loyalty points as he criss-crosses the globe in search of Pro Points. Whether he's in North America, Japan for Modern Masters 2015 weekend, or staying "locally" in Europe, Krautmann remains a very tough opponent.

Rich Hoaen—Widely regarded as one of the finest Limited players the game has ever seen, Hoaen simply adds to the lustre surrounding Canadian Magic right now. Once the standard bearer, and a lone one at that, now Hoaen finds himself back in the spotlight, having lost to Tiago Chan in the Magic Invitational of 2007—so that's why we ended up with Snapcaster Mage!

Michael Jacob—Michael Jacob has long been part of the Pro Tour, is the 2008 Team World Champion alongside Sam Black and Paul Cheon, and has been in the vanguard of streaming excellence as DarkestMage. Now the RPTQ brings him back to the Tour.

Mamoru Nagai—It's easy to see how tough qualifying via the RPTQ can be when you know that people like Mamoru Nagai are claiming slots. He has a Pro Tour Top 8 to his name, from Pro Tour Dark Ascension in 2012.

From left: Michael Flores, Rich Hoaen, and Mamoru Nagai


These, plus over a hundred more, will be looking to continue their PT journey all the way to Sunday. Good luck to all of them.

Winning the Pro Tour

Somebody has to win in Vancouver, but what will they actually need to do to achieve victory? We begin on Friday with three rounds of Magic Origins Booster Draft, followed by five rounds of Standard. A record of 4-4 or better allows players to return for Saturday action, where we follow the same pattern: three rounds of Draft, five of Standard. At that point it's a cut to the Top 8, who come back on Sunday to play Standard. Throughout the tournament, every match is the best two-out-of-three games—except for the final itself, where we can settle in for an epic three-out-of-five encounter.

If everything I've said so far makes you think there's a lot to keep track of, you're right, but don't worry. Team Coverage loves the Pro Tour every bit as much as you do, and we'll be right there for you across all eighteen rounds of action. Here's when the webcast goes live on Friday:

9 a.m. PST (West Coast, North America)

12 p.m. EST (East Coast, North America)

4 p.m. UTC/GMT (Europe, United Kingdom)

1 a.m. Saturday JST (Tokyo, Japan)

Between the photography of Craig Gibson, a frankly awe-inspiring number of decklists coming your way from the Daily team led by Blake Rasmussen, the R&D insight of Ian Duke, the expert analysis of Randy Buehler, the booth team led by Marshall Sutcliffe and Brian David-Marshall, the behind-the-scenes gossip and interviews from Rashad Miller and Tim Willoughby, all the social media you can handle with Nate Price, or the Newsdesk team hosted by yours truly, we'll get you close to all the action that matters.

Of course, if you happen to be within walking/riding/flying distance of Vancouver, we do encourage you to come and be a part of the live Pro Tour experience. There are some very cool exclusive goodies for sale that you can only get by visiting the Pro Tour shop onsite, and of course the coverage team would love to see you. Undoubtedly, though, the big draw is the Pro Tour itself. If you've ever wanted to meet the best players in the world, this is a great place to do it. Although the Feature Match area under the lights is something only the players themselves can experience, almost every other match is readily available for you to watch live, only a few feet away. If you want to catch up on the action, the live stream is available for you, and that's an experience in itself—especially on Sunday, when hundreds are glued to their seats in the viewing area. So, if Vancouver is within range, make sure you come by and say hi!

New Limited

Our morning action on both Friday and Saturday is Magic Origins Booster Draft. Headlining the last ever core set are the new planeswalkers. In a new wrinkle, they start out on the battlefield as legendary creatures, and players now have to work in-game to convert them into the planeswalkers that can so often spell victory. On Coverage, we love gameplay like this—you can see the creature in play, you know what's required to ignite the spark, and the game within a game ensues. Can your opponent stop you from gaining an incredible ally before the conditions are met? This is going to play out many times across the Pro Tour weekend.

Elsewhere in Limited, the speed of the format is, as usual, critical to understanding what strategies are going to work. Renown, the new keyword mechanic, plays a big part in this. Even without their renown triggering, many of the creatures are perfectly acceptable with their base stats. Trigger renown, and they're very good value indeed. Then there are innocuous cards like Bonded Construct, which might not be innocuous at all. Add in a Chief of the Foundry or two, and suddenly there's an extremely potent Aggro deck waiting to grind you into the dust. Are we about to enter a world where Yoked Ox and Maritime Guard are mission-critical?! And how tough is it going to be to stay patient to take full advantage of spell mastery if the hammer is going down from turn one? We've got two mornings, six rounds, two draft viewers, four drafters, and a ton of analysis to help us find out.

New Standard

Once we hit the afternoons, 40-card decks grow to 60 and we set about the business of defining the new Standard environment. Of course, cards from Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir haven't suddenly become unplayable overnight, but the hype surrounding Magic Origins suggests that there are a lot of cards that could be taking a starring role in Standard. It's not exactly news to think that the planeswalkers are going to be doing their thing in Constructed, and Languish is a card on everyone's minds and indeed lips. Demonic Pact could be a fascinating addition to Standard, while the aggressive Limited cards potentially translate into Goblin-based decks using Obelisk of Urd from Magic 2015, and the reprinted (amidst much hullabaloo and fanfare) Goblin Piledriver. What's the largest Piledriver we'll see on camera? It could get crazy.

Red is well served in Magic Origins, and if Goblins aren't your thing, maybe paying tribute to Jaya Ballard is—Pyromancer's Goggles could be a big deal in Vancouver. Tribal fans also get a boost with the plethora of Elves. While Elvish Visionary and Leaf Gilder have demonstrated their worth before, it will be interesting to see if Gnarlroot Trapper, Dwynen's Elite, and Sylvan Messenger can combine to be more than the sum of their parts. And, if you really want to push the boat out, how about a card like Thopter Spy Network or a deck archetype like Turbo Fog? By the end of Sunday, we'll have thirteen rounds of Standard, and over four hundred decklists at our disposal. Want to know about new Standard? You know where to come.

Everything All At Once

I told you at the start that I wanted to share everything with you all at once. Well, "everything all at once" could be the perfect description for one player this weekend—and that player is Eric Froehlich. Of course, it's possible that things won't go right, and Eric will leave Vancouver with just the minimum of three Pro Points. Oh well, he's already guaranteed Platinum for next year, and an At-Large slot for the World Championship. Not a bad season, all things considered.

But now allow for a small dose of fairy tale—imagine Eric Froehlich putting together the kind of monster performance he's been stringing together all season long, the kind of performance that sees him enter the fray in the thick of the Player of the Year race. On Thursday, he's already Platinum. On Friday, he could be announced for the Hall of Fame. On Saturday, he could secure his fifth Pro Tour Top 8, and captaincy of Team USA for the World Magic Cup. And then, on Sunday, the final day of the season, he could claim a first Pro Tour title, and in the process secure the Player of the Year title.

Everything, but Not All At Once

Thankfully, we won't try to bring you the entire story of Pro Tour Magic Origins all at once. Instead, we'll savor every round spread across the best part of 30 hours of live video coverage, tens of thousands of words across the website, and three days of ratcheting tension and drama as the final Pro Tour of the season unfolds.

The Big One is about to begin, and it's time to get excited.

Very.



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