"History" is a loaded word in the Magic world. With 25 years of cards and tournaments to match, it's nearly impossible to do something in the game that hasn't been done countless times before in one way or another. And yet, as we enter a new Pro Tour season and Magic embarks on its second quarter-century of life, two players stand poised to make history. In those 25 years, just once before has there been a tie in the Player of the Year race—and what a show it treated us to.
Now Seth Manfield and Luis Salvatto—both already Pro Tour Champions—will etch their names into another piece of Magic history: the second-ever Player of the Year playoff after a thrilling race that resulted in a tie.
Player of the Year races are always filled with drama, but rarely do they come down to such a tight finish; Salvatto caught Manfield on the last tournament of the season, and it took a quarterfinals loss at Grand Prix Stockholm to eventual winner Ondřej Stráský to keep Salvatto from winning the title outright. It was a thrilling finish to a title a year in the making—and it turns out it wasn't a finale at all.
At 3 p.m. on Thursday, November 8—the Thursday before the kickoff of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica—see the race to crown a victor once and for all. You can find the full details here, but the short version is that both players will submit four unique Standard decks without sideboards and then play a best-of-seven match to determine the winner.
It's a unique format that's fitting for a unique event in Magic history, and both players are skillful veterans who understand the gravity of the moment.
"I've been in high-pressure situations before," Manfield said. "Playing against a competitor like Luis, that gets me even more excited. This is a special thing I'm going into it with the goal just have fun and not go crazy stressing out over it."
Manfield knows a thing or two about pressure. Entering this wild season, he was already a Pro Tour Top 8 regular and former World Champion. Then at the first event of the season, Pro Tour Ixalan, he took one more step and won the entire tournament, adding an exclamation point to a career that will see him inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame this year.
There's only one more title out there for Manfield. He's come close several times over the past five years but has never been able to go all the way. Manfield has done it all in Magic—except for winning a Player of the Year title.
"You know, I don't feel like I really 'need' the title; to win it you have to have a lot of things go in your favor and my season was already great—I won a Pro Tour last season, that was the highlight and that's a pretty good one to have. Of course," he admitted, "it would be great to win."
For Salvatto, the pressure has been there all along. From his win with Lantern Control at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan to the insane six-week stretch that saw him trot across the globe—stops included Richmond, Detroit, and Stockholm—it was a whirlwind of planes, hotels, taxis, and time changes. Salvatto confessed it was more stressful than fun, but it was all worth it to close the gap at the final possible tournament.
"When I saw we had finished tied, my first reaction was just full happiness—I didn't even plan on going to Stockholm at first, but in the end it was my last shot so I took it," he explained. "Being in this position is already a huge thing so I feel like I already won despite the result. Seth is one of the best in this game and I respect him a lot; he defeated [me] twice in the same Pro Tour. I'm glad to play against such a great player for one of the best titles in the game."
It's been a meteoric rise to the top for Salvatto, who is one of a handful of recent standouts from Latin America who have taken the Magic Multiverse by storm. He may have never seen it coming, but he's loving every minute of it.
"I think the three big accomplishments in this game are winning a Pro Tour, being the World Champion, and being the Player of the Year, so this could be the second of those lifetime achievements," he said. "I never imagined this position a few years ago so I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can."
As for that unique format? Both players are keeping their cards close to the vest, but both are excited that it will allow them to play a variety of decks in a way that is new to Magic. Testing time before a Pro Tour is always busy, but this pushes things well into frenzied territory. Of course, that's why they have teammates to lean on.
Hundreds of games. Thousands of spells. Dozens of tournaments, a crazy six-week sprint across the planet—it's all led to this. Seth Manfield and Luis Salvatto will play one final match to determine the 2017–18 Player of the Year title.
It's all happening at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica—and you can be sure tens of thousands of fans across the world will be watching the pair scratch their names into Magic history.