Setting the Gold Standard: A Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Preview

Posted in ARCHIVES - ARTICLES on October 7, 2014

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

Let's start with some economics, because that's always a good way to engage the audience, right? Take a look at this:

I want to draw your attention to the words, "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of twenty pounds." You see, what we call "money" isn't really that at all. Instead, it's a promise, a belief. We believe that, were we to turn up at the Bank of England, we could actually demand money from them. They have, after all, promised that they'll do so, and the way that they'll do that is to give us £20 of value in gold, because that's what fundamentally underpins our whole economic system of what money is.

Since we can all agree that a £20 note is worth—brace yourself—£20, we don't actually need to see the "real" money. Although Tom Cruise yelling out, "Show me the belief system equivalent of a tiny amount of gold" isn't quite as catchy, that's the reality of our everyday transactions. We don't need to show each other the money—we just believe each other when we say it's there, waiting for us on demand whenever we want it.

Today, I'm going to show you the money. I'm not just going to tell you that Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir is going to be three amazing days of Magic. I'm not just going to ask you to believe me. I'm not just going to issue each of you with a note saying, "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of awesome." I'm going to peel back the curtain, and show you how the new gold Standard is something you can put money on, when it comes to the next generation of Magic entertainment. So let's see. Reasons for you to believe me:

Platinum & Gold

As elements go, Platinum is even rarer than Gold, and the same is true of our Pro Club system featuring the best players in the world. There are 28 Platinum Pros this year, and there's a very good chance that approximately 28 of them will be playing in Honolulu. They include ten Pro Tour champions, featuring our full roster from last season—Jérémy Dezani of France (Pro Tour Theros), Shaun McLaren (Pro Tour Born of the Gods), Patrick Chapin (Pro Tour Journey into Nyx), and Ivan Floch (Pro Tour Magic 2015). Then there's the so-called "Peach Garden Oath" trio of close friends—Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and William Jensen. There's two-time Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe of Japan, and his compatriot Yuuki Ichikawa, who is arguably the world's most popular Magic streamer. Add in the likes of Rookie of the Year Jared Boettcher, Modern masters Josh McClain and Patrick Dickmann, and reigning World Champion Shahar Shenhar of Israel, and you have an amazing array of talent. If only there were other good players coming to Honolulu to challenge them...

The Gold Pros

They may not have had quite the stellar seasons of their Platinum colleagues, but the ranks of the Gold-level pros are packed with excellence everywhere you look. You could start with three former Player of the Year winners—Shota Yasooka (2006), Shuhei Nakamura (2008), and Brad Nelson (2010). You can find Pro Tour winners (Craig Wescoe, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa) and finalists (Matej Zatlkaj, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Joel Larsson, Willy Edel, Pierre Dagen), a Magic Online champion (Lars Dam), a Team World Champion (Timothee Simonot), and many of the most recognizable faces from the Grand Prix and Pro Tour circuit over the last few years.

Players of the Year Shuhei Nakamura (2008) and Brad Nelson (2010)

The Hall of Fame

In Honolulu, we'll be celebrating the addition of three new members of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. They are 2005 Pro Tour Yokohama champion Guillaume Wafo-Tapa of France; 2006 World champion Makihito Mihara of Japan; and 2010 Pro Tour Amsterdam champion Paul Rietzl of the United States. Part of the benefits of becoming a member of the Hall of Fame is the opportunity to attend and play in any Pro Tour. Ever. We won't know until the last minute which of the game's greats will be joining us in Hawaii, but anytime you can watch people like Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Gabriel Nassif, Kenji Tsumura, and Luis Scott-Vargas in action, it's definitely worth your time to tune in. The hall really does contain the true giants of the game.

The 2014 Hall of Fame class, Makihito Mihara, Paul Rietzl, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Grand Prix Greats

It takes huge skill, perseverance, concentration, and no little amount of luck to emerge from a scrum of two, three, four thousand players, and qualify for the Pro Tour through a high finish at a Grand Prix. Just a few of the standout players who will be in Honolulu thanks to successful Grand Prix campaigns over recent months include:

  • Paul Cheon, once widely considered to be a better player than his regular playtest partner, Luis Scott-Vargas
  • Former Austrian National champion Oliver Polak-Rottmann
  • Huang Hao-Shan, one of the finest players ever to represent Chinese Taipei, which he'll be doing at the World Magic Cup in Nice this December
  • 2007 Team World champion Nico Bohny of Switzerland
  • 2007 Player of the Year Tomoharu Saito, one of the most prolific deck builders of recent times

In total, 82 players have earned their shot at Pro Tour glory through the Grand Prix circuit. Which of them can repeat their Top 8 success?

The Golden Ticket

That brings us to the most romantic group of qualifiers—the Pro Tour Qualifier winners. While many will be taking a crack at PT glory for the first time, there are also plenty of PTQ winners with form to their name. Spain's Joel Calafell and Chinese player Xin Sui were in the Top 8 together of Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur in 2008. Adam Koska managed to finish 9th at two Pro Tours in a year, and that's where Roberto Gonzales finished at Pro Tour Gatecrash.

Toni Portolan has yet again qualified to represent Croatia in the World Magic Cup. And if you want someone who knows exactly what it takes to be in the winner's circle, how about France's Guillaume Matignon, the man who famously forced a Player of the Year playoff by winning the World Championship in 2010.

Guillaume Matignon and Roberto Gonzales

Here's the crazy thing: I've just talked about 44 of the best players in the field. There's every chance I haven't mentioned the winner. There's every chance I haven't even mentioned a single member of the Top 8 come Sunday. For the highest levels of competition, the Pro Tour takes no prisoners, shows no mercy, and is, as they say, as good as it gets.

Okay, sure, there's a ton of great players on show. But you want more. Okay, then.

Honolulu

If you're sitting at home watching and reading the coverage, I suppose you might not care that this event is being brought to you from Honolulu, arguably the single greatest tourist destination on Earth. That's fine, but the truth is that a Pro Tour in Honolulu is that extra bit special. Why? In part, because of this piece of human interaction which has never ever happened:

Magic Player: So I'm off to Hawaii for a week to play Magic, but I'll see you when I get back.

Significant Other: Sure, that sounds great. Have fun.

Nope, never happened. And that's why, alongside all the regular testing teams, endless playtest sessions, drafting rivalries, and desperate quests for those final missing cards, Honolulu Pro Tours are packed to the rafters with girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, husbands, parents, and even grandparents. For many of them, it's their first exposure to the highest levels of the game, and it's often a real eye-opener. We may understand why the Pro Tour matters so much, and by the end of a Honolulu PT, they do too. It all adds to the carnival atmosphere in a room where 400 or so players know exactly how lucky they are to be there. It really is a special PT.

New Clans, New Mechanics

Unless you had an incredibly good excuse, you were presumably camped in your local games store for Prerelease weekend for Khans of Tarkir. Now it's the turn of the best players in the game to see just what can be accomplished with the Abzan, Jeskai, Sultai, Mardu, and Temur, and their companion mechanics—outlast, prowess, delve, raid, and ferocious. Many of you will already have experienced these mechanics in a Sealed Deck setting, but that can be misleading. At the Pro Tour, we'll be able to see which of the new mechanics make the grade.

Three Days of Live Coverage

Throughout the weekend, we'll keep you up to the minute with what's happening in Hawaii. For those of you eager to read about the exploits of your favorite players, and to get more decklists than humankind truly deserves, turn to our text team, featuring Blake Rasmussen, Nate Price, Mike Rosenberg, Nick Fang, Ray Walkinshaw, Marc Calderaro, and Corbin Hosler.

Meanwhile, I'll be hosting the video coverage at the Newsdesk, alongside Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall, Hall of Famers Randy Buehler and Luis Scott-Vargas (if he doesn't make the Top 8), Limited Information host Marshall Sutcliffe, Pro Tour Honolulu Top 8 player Zac Hill, GGslive founder Rashad Miller, and our intrepid floor reporter Tim Willoughby. Our coverage begins on Friday morning with...

Khans of Tarkir Booster Draft

Make no mistake, working out Khans of Tarkir Booster Draft is hard. Maybe you've already had the chance to sit down with seven of your best friends and explore the utterly labyrinthine options available in our latest set. On Friday and Saturday, we'll open proceedings with three rounds of draft. It's still true that the eventual winner on Sunday will play thirteen rounds of Standard, and only six of draft, but I honestly can't remember a recent Pro Tour where a developed understanding of the Limited format is so likely to be rewarded. There is so much going on inside the draft that those teams (or, perish the thought, individuals) who don't pay a ton of attention to drafting pre-Hawaii are going to get battered. Get the first draft wrong on Friday morning, and you're close to being out of the door before you've even sleeved up your precious Standard 60.

So what are the questions that the pros will need to answer? Here are a few to get you started:

  1. What is the speed of the format? We all know that the Abzan are meant to outlast their opponents, but before you can outlast them you have to "outfirst" them. Having outlast operate at sorcery speed is a huge deal, so how do you make sure the game isn't over before you start taking turns off to make your creatures bigger?
  2. What's the ideal structure for a Jeskai deck? Prowess only works if you have noncreature spells to power it. Lots of noncreature spells, especially cheap ones, want creatures on the battlefield to target. Without the other half of the puzzle, both prowess creatures and combat-changing spells can be awful. So where does the balance lie? Sixteen creatures, seven spells? Eight creatures, fifteen spells? Twelve-eleven? Good Jeskai decks are going to be really tough to stop. Bad ones are going to be abysmal.
  3. How many basic lands will you be queueing up for at the end of deck building? A full cycle of tap-lands. Five wedge tri-lands. Five fetch lands. And those tap-lands are common, so they're going to be all over the draft. How many do you want, and, more importantly, what price are you going to have to pay to get them? Are lands first picks? Do you spend the whole of pack one prioritizing mana fixing? Or do you make a deal with the devil and end up with the dreaded "Satan's mana base" of six each of three basics?
  4. Of course, part of the answer to number three lies with this: How many colors are you going to play? We all know that multicolored spells and creatures are inherently more powerful than their monocolored counterparts, but if you're not asking yourself during the draft how many colors is too many, you're probably doing it wrong.
  5. One word: morph. I could be suffering from memory fail, but I'll hazard a guess that the last time you wanted multiple 2/2s for three mana with no abilities in your draft deck might have been somewhere in the mid-1990s. Arguably, facedown morph creatures are even worse than having no abilities, as, if you want to protect them for later, you can't dare attack or block with them. It's like they're a Gray Ogre that has suspend 2, with an enters-the-battlefield-face-up cost of four, five, six mana. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? Of course, morph has upside too, but working out which morph cards are actually worth having on your team is going to be absolutely huge.

Reckon that's a lot to think about? We've barely started. A lot of very, very good players are going to get themselves in deep, deep trouble on Friday morning.

Bye!

Once the Khans, er, Khanage (sorry) is over for the morning, it's time to turn our attention to the new gold Standard. Although each of our Pro Tours is "tied" to the release of a new set, the Constructed formats they showcase are definitely not created equal. When Standard is already huge, adding a small set (say, Born of the Gods) won't necessarily have a vast impact. This Pro Tour isn't like that. For one thing, Khans of Tarkir is a big set, bursting with possibilities, as we'll see shortly.

But first, let's just take a moment to remind ourselves of some of the things we won't be seeing in Honolulu:

How many cards will be drawn by Sphinx's Revelation? None. How many discarded to Rakdos's Return? None. How many board states will be wiped clean by Supreme Verdict? None. How many Pack Rat tokens will be needed? None. How many players will casually tap two mana for the likes of Mizzium Mortars, Dreadbore, Ultimate Price, Doom Blade, Azorius Charm, Devour Flesh, Selesnya Charm? None.

If you're looking for space in the new gold Standard, there are gaping holes waiting to be filled.

Hi!

So how about some candidates for Khans of Tarkir cards that might make the grade in new Standard? Get your thinking caps on for ways to use and abuse this lot:

Butcher of the Horde—Yeah, that's what gold does. Not just a 5/4 for four mana. It flies. And then gains all kinds of awesome if you feel like it.

Sorin, Solemn Visitor—Sorin's already solemn, and he'll likely to be wiping the smile off a lot of opponents' faces. That ultimate ability really isn't a long way away.

Savage Knuckleblade—Remember how Butcher of the Horde had all these abilities on top of an undercosted powerful body? Savage Knuckleblade is like that, only it happens earlier in the game. Who's the beatdown? Maybe this guy.

Anafenza, the Foremost—Speaking of 4/4s for three mana, here's the leader of the Abzan Houses, Anafenza. Her second ability has some awesome flavor attached—the Abzan want to grind their opponents to literally nothing, obliterating them from the face of the plane—but could that ability come in handy in Honolulu?

Sagu Mauler—Even if you had all those two-mana removal spells that have just left Standard, they wouldn't be targeting the Mauler. Chump blocking isn't really an option either, thanks to trample. B-dot-tings, as the cool kids used to say in 1998.

Crackling Doom—Of course, there are always answers to cards like Sagu Mauler, and here it is. I was about to say, "Rarely has a first sentence on a card been less relevant," before I realized that doing so would guarantee that Crackling Doom deals the final 2 points on Sunday.

The Charms—With fifteen abilities to choose from, surely somebody is going to want a charm or two in their decks?

All right, so you've solved Draft and rearranged the new set into Standard. You've clawed your way to a 12–3–1 record, or (just maybe) 12–4. Do that, and there's only one thing left:

Super Sunday

On Sunday, you'll see every turn of every game of every match. We'll stack up the four quarterfinals for you, making sure that every member of our Top 8 gets the attention, acknowledgment, admiration, and single-table-spotlight he or she deserves. At lunchtime, we'll turn our attention to Paul Rietzl, Makihito Mihara, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, the latest members of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Then it's back to the action for our two semifinals back to back, before the big one. It's the moment every competitive Magic player dreams of, and someone's dreams will come true, live from Honolulu sometime next Sunday afternoon.

I've tried to show you why your only logical choice this weekend is to join us for all the action from Honolulu:

A field comprised of the very best players in the world, looking to keep the romance of the plucky PTQ winner at bay; a phenomenal location, literally the stuff of dreams; new Hall of Famers; a super-deep draft format; a Standard landscape waiting to be sculpted; hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line and a lead in the fledgling Player of the Year race; almost 40 hours of live video coverage; and the best writers bringing you all the action.

In the end, though, the bottom line is this:

Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir is going to be gold. You can take it to the bank.

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