by Alex Shvartsman
Over the course of this week, the second Pro Tour of the season is about to take place. Eagerly anticipated by pros and spectators alike, it is to be the very first Pro Tour since Dallas in 1996 to feature a Standard format.
Chicago has become one of the regular Pro Tour stops, but this event's history is shorter than those of New York or Los Angeles. In fact, this will be the fourth Pro Tour held in the Windy City. Its shorter lifespan makes this Pro Tour stop's impact on the history of competitive Magic no less important.
Randy Buehler won the very first PT Chicago in 1997 with his Necro deck. Chicago was Buehler's first Pro Tour and he went on to become Rookie of the Year (losing a close Player of the Year race to Jon Finkel) as well as one of the all-time top players in the game.
On the following year yet another rookie managed to win Pro Tour Chicago. He too went on to earn the Rookie of the Year title. This player's name is Dirk Baberowski. He and his teammates from Cologne, Germany had plenty of impact on the Pro Tour scene since then, culminating in Kai Budde winning the World Championship last year.
The most recent Pro Tour to be held in Chicago saw Bob Maher snatch victory from the jaws of defeat as he managed to defeat Brian Davis' Necropotence deck with his well-tuned Oath strategy. It was Davis who went on to win Rookie of the Year title last season. Maher was no rookie, but he did not have any top Pro Tour finishes until that point either. Maher went on to place second at the World Championships this year, earning the Player of the Year title in the process.
And so, every PT Chicago winner to date has gone from anonymity to greatness in the game of Magic. It is impossible to predict whether the pattern shall continue this year, but let us take a look at some of the players who might continue the streak this year.
While it is impossible for me to intelligently discuss the rookies, for obvious reasons (no, the OTHER obvious reason), here is a list of some of the more likely candidates without an actual top 8 finish:
Franck Canu - Canu is one of the top French players today, along with the Ruel brothers and several others, coming up to challenge old favorites like Levy, Labarre and Hernandez. He has distinguished himself with a number of solid Day 2 placings on the Pro Tour, but lacks a Top 8 or (to my knowledge) a Top 16 finish so far.
Igor Frayman - Member of the illustrious team DKLA, this professional Poker player has proven his has skill with Magic cards as well with a fair share of Top 64 finishes. However, his real strength is in playing Limited formats, making him somewhat of a long shot for this tournament.
Donald Gallitz - Hard worker, solid player, original deck builder and a networker - Gallitz has everything a serious pro player needs to succeed. He has placed in the money more consistently than almost anyone else on the Pro Tour but has failed to make it to the single elimination rounds so far.
Gary Krakower - Winner of GP Dallas and a two time Canadian National Champion (coming within a single match from taking the title for the third time), Krakower is well overdue for a top finish.
Satoshi Nakamura - Nakamura was the first Japanese player to compete in the Magic Invitational and the one to win the first ever APAC Championship. Although Nakamura does not speak much English, he is recognized and respected by most players for his unique style and fun attitude toward the game. Like others on this list, Nakamura has plenty of accolades and is the most likely candidate to become the first Japanese pro to make a Pro Tour Top 8.
Alex Shvartsman - Who writes about themselves? Sheesh. Well, I do think I belong in the category. Having come within striking distance of the Player of the Year title last season on the strength of a single PT top 16 finish, I "broke" the Grand Prix system according to the number of other pro players who are trying to repeat my success plan by traveling to as many GPs as possible this season. My goal for this season is to earn a Pro Tour Top 8 and although I expect it will happen in a Limited PT, Chicago is as good a place as any.
David Williams - Much like me, Williams has been around the tournament scene for a few years without seriously trying to compete on pro level. Once he set his mind to it though, Williams quickly made it onto the gravy train and has enjoyed success on PT and GP circuits both. Williams, too, is seeking his first Top 8.
There are plenty of other quality players that can fit into this category - but it is difficult to list them all. Instead, let us take a look at the subject sure to be a lot more popular with those following our online coverage from home - the decks.
Invasion replacing Urza Block in Standard has changed the format beyond recognition. Gone are the broken cards like Masticore, Morphling and Replenish. Instead, we get what looks like a very balanced format where old fashioned creature decks are allowed to co-exist with control. Some of the decks likely to make an appearance at this tournament follow, in no particular order:
Control is back. U/W has not been a tier one deck since the Ice Age (well, not literally) and so the fans of Wrath of God are happy to play with the card once again. Most U/W strategies I've seen are very controllish, relying on mass removal to keep creatures at bay and countermagic to deal with anything else. Most versions maindeck Story Circle, a potent weapon in the format where almost every deck relies on creature damage to win the game. Some versions of the deck play Mageta the Lion and/or Blinding Angel, while others prefer a creatureless strategy and rely on another very old favorite - a Millstone - to win.
NetherGo (U/B Control)
This deck essentially replaces white for black in its quest for the solid board control cards. Although it lacks the versatility of Disenchant or raw power of Blinding Angel, "NetherGo" is a solid choice with its Nether Spirits, Recoils, Lobotomy, etc. While white has the best board control spells, black has the strongest sideboard options by far, and so this deck benefits from such spoilers as Massacre and Perish.
Fires (R/G Beatdown)
This aggressive deck is almost monogreen. It takes advantage of the speed boost Birds and Elves provide in this otherwise slow environment. Fires of Yavimaya is a powerful combination with cards like Blastoderm and Saproling Burst. Other red cards often include Earthquake and Assault/Battery.
There is a wide range of rebel strategies - from a controllish deck with countermagic and only a handful of rebels, to a very aggressive "Bears" deck that does not even bother to play Lin Sivvi "because it is too slow." In addition to the rebel creatures, this deck might utilize powerful cards like Crusade, Armageddon, Parallax Wave and Reverent Mantra.
There are quite a number of other viable decks. Monoblue beatdown (with or without Rising Waters), R/B discard with Void and Pyre Zombie, monored beatdown and monowhite control. The one thing this format appears to lack is any kind of a combo deck.
The closest an existing strategy comes to combo is an Ankh Tide deck, relying on Ankh of Mishra to deal lots of damage to an opponent after their lands are released from Parallax Tide. To the best of my knowledge this deck is only mediocre though.
So what deck is superior? I guess we will know in only a few short days.