This weekend, one of the most iconic cities in the world, a city known in every country you've ever heard of, and plenty that you haven't, will play host to one of the most iconic games in the world. This weekend, the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour comes to Washington, DC, and I couldn't be more excited without the need for medical intervention. There are a massive 450+ qualified players just days away from descending on the capital of the United States, and finding the winner is going to be like the proverbial problem of the needle in the haystack.
Fortunately for us, fellow Magic fans, we don't actually need to work out the winner ahead of time. Instead, we can let the drama unfold over nineteen glorious rounds, spread across three tremendous days of competition. Nonetheless, we've assembled some pointers to help you get the most from your viewing and reading experience, and where better to start than the first round?
"Before Round One" is the correct answer to that one. Tune in on Friday morning for the first round and you'll already have missed one of the best parts of any Pro Tour—the first draft. Each of our players will be drawn randomly into a table of eight players, and their first three rounds of opponents can only come from within that table. Then they draft, and because this is Pro Tour Fate Reforged, that's where we start—with brand-new packs of Fate Reforged in front of every player, waiting for them to make their first fateful pick. They'll follow that up with thirteen more as the boosters flow clockwise around the table. With their direction set, but by no means certain, they'll move on to two packs of Khans of Tarkir before assembling their drafted cards into working 40-card decks packed full of goodness (they hope).
So what might we see on display in those opening Fate Reforged packs? Well, for a start, there's this lot:
Whether or not it's the best of the bunch I'll leave for others to observe, but to my mind the brooding menace of the artwork by Steven Belledin, coupled with an outrageously flavorful name, makes Silumgar, the Drifting Death a creature I wouldn't want to meet on a dark night. Or on the streets of Washington, DC, on a Thursday afternoon, come to that. If such an eventuality did ever come to pass, I'd feel a little more confident with one of these by my side:
Every bit as flavorful as their flying counterparts, the khans are pretty awesome on the Magic battlefield too. As the three rounds of Draft unfold on Friday morning, watch out for long, drawn-out games featuring the Abzan on both sides of the battlefield. Those are the games where Daghatar the Adamant can get utterly filthy, and just in case you didn't read the card really carefully at the Prerelease (you did go to the Prerelease, didn't you???), this seems a good moment to point out that those counters come from anywhere. Good times.
Speaking of good times, it's looking like Fate Reforged is going to be an awesome addition to the Khans of Tarkir drafting experience. Khans has cemented itself firmly in the upper echelons of drafting formats, so fans of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" have certainly had their fingers crossed that their draft experience was going to be reforged, rather than melted down for scrap. Fate Reforged delivers in spades, and not always in ways you'd expect. I could go on about this for a long time, but here are just half a dozen things that are going to make me all warm and fuzzy when I see them happen at the Pro Tour in the Limited rounds:
- The look on a Platinum Pro's face when a turn-one Aven Skirmisher beats him or her to airborne pecking death. Friends don't let friends play Aven Skirmisher, which is precisely why this is going to be so much fun.
- At the Prerelease, I spent approximately 15 seconds wondering how I was going to deal with my opponent's Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, before my opponent's next turn consisted of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. This is going to happen to somebody at the Pro Tour, and I'm not going to feel sorry for that person. At all.
- Look under there!—Darling, morph is just sooooo 2014. And by that, we mean that morph continues to be an utterly awesome mechanic that leads to fantastic moments of drama, humor, skill and cunning, and occasional stupidity. Plus, a match between Dave Williams and Paul Rietzl at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir that should be required viewing for, well, everyone.
- No, not there, look under there!—R&D clearly wanted to find a mechanic that operated in a similar space to morph, but that took it to the next (or should that be previous?) level. When they cracked it, that was what I like to call their manifest—Oh!—moment. As an incredibly pleasurable mechanic in terms of smooth, silky gameplay, manifest is a real home run, and once you factor in all the awesome mental space in gameplay that it opens up, we're talking crushed out of the ballpark "backbackbackback…gone" home run territory.
- While manifest may be an across-the-board mechanic, there are games within games opening up all over the place, not least with the delicious Channel Harm. The week after the Pro Tour, there is certainly an article waiting to be written about the ins and outs of combat with and without this card, and although it's uncommon (which is probably just as well), I fully expect to see and hear multiple stories involving this card, ranging from the totally absurd blowout right through to the "it was like he could see my hand the entire game."
- The Sieges—all right, okay, I get it, I'm neither big nor clever for draining the life of my opponent for 2 every turn (Palace Siege). Yeah, yeah, it doesn't mean that I'm better than you just because your best creature always seems to be turned sideways every turn (Citadel Siege). And no, I would never find it amusing if I was able to draw an additional card and then discard every turn (Monastery Siege). You only get to cast them the once, but that feeling of yum as your Siege delivers yet again is truly spectacular. If we get some Siege-on-Siege battles, that could be quite the sight.
I've stopped at six, because sixty seemed like a lot. Six, incidentally, is also the total number of Limited rounds at the Pro Tour. The first three are on Friday morning, where you'll see two drafters pick-by-pick. We'll repeat the dose on Saturday morning, but this time the players won't be seated randomly—but by record—meaning that table one is likely to feature the one (or two) perfect 8–0 players, plus six players with just a single loss. That's going to make for some compulsive viewing for sure.
However, to get back to Limited action on Saturday, the players will have to navigate five rounds of Constructed, and this means Modern. It's possible that some of you may not know much about Modern, so before I get into how spectacular it is, let's take a moment to give you the 'back of the envelope' version:
Modern is a Constructed format, so you play 60 cards, plus a sideboard of no more than 15, that you can swap in and out for games two and/or three of your best-of-three game matchup. The format is called Modern because the cards you're allowed to use in it (we call them 'legal') begin with the change to the 'modern' card frame. That means 2004, and that means Eight Edition from the core sets, and Mirrodin for the regular expansions. Fundamentally, you're allowed to play with the usual up-to-four copies of every card printed since then, so a little more than a decade of cards are at your disposal.
However, because that's a lot of cards (think many thousands), there are a few cards that are just too brutal, and would warp the game entirely if players could use them in their decks. More often than not, these cards led to so-called "combo" kills (i.e., a combination of cards) that could end the game very, very quickly, or in such a way that it was almost impossible for an opponent to interact successfully. At that point, Wizards of the Coast step in, and force players to adopt strategies without using these super-powered cards.
All Right, 60 cards, plus a sideboard, 2004 onwards, ban list. Happy so far?
Right. What makes Modern so wonderful is that there are so many decks that you can play, covering every conceivable play style, and with every opportunity to outfox, outwit, outspeed, outfight, outdraw, outthink, or plain old outpunch your opponents. This is the part of the preview where I have to be very, very careful, because, as I type this, those 450+ souls are busy trying to work out what they should be playing, and some of them have been sharing their plans…so, since I can't talk about them, here's something I can talk about: Grand Prix Milan 2014.
Oh good, I hear you cry, a history lesson.
Well, no, at least, not really. As I'll explain shortly, a couple of really important things have happened since Milan. But that's okay, as I'm not intending to show you the winning decklist from Pro Tour Fate Reforged right here, right now. However, what I do have in front of me is a copy of every single archetype that got played on day two of that Grand Prix. How many do you think there are? Five? Ten? Fifteen? No, 27.
Through the Breach
Jeskai Ascendancy Combo
5 Color Zoo
If you can pull up a mental decklist in your head of what all these archetypes do, congratulations, you're a true Modern expert! But if you can't, that's half the fun. Somewhere in that list is certainly a deck you're going to love to play, and to root for, or love to hate. Modern lies in the sweetest of spots where everything you do can feel simultaneously extraordinarily powerful, and yet also vulnerable. Gratuitous, yet not inherently unfair. Modern is a format where almost anything goes—I mean, a world where Slivers, Bump Burn, Martyr Proclamation, Hexproof, and Robots all co-exist (and all can succeed) is one hell of a trick. For sheer variety of deck choice, Modern is impossible to fault, and you can expect a dizzying array of exotica to populate the feature match area across all three days.
I mentioned a couple of things had changed since Milan, didn't I? Well, Fate Reforged is one of them. Now, don't let your imagination run away from you. This is a small set, coming into an enormous format. If just two or three cards make some kind of a splash at the Pro Tour, that's a pretty good showing. However, the second change concerns that Banned List I mentioned earlier. On January, 15th, the players got a significant curve ball coming their way. Newly banned were both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time out of Khans of Tarkir. Golgari Grave-Troll was unbanned at the same time. But the biggie was unquestionably the toppling of one of the most iconic cards Modern has ever seen—Birthing Pod was banned. What does this mean for the shape of the format? Lots of people with Pro Tour titles would kill me if I told you, but thankfully we have less than a week to wait to find out.
What is clear, however, is that whoever wins this supreme test of Magic skill and perseverance will be someone who truly understands the format. Modern has shown us, both at the Pro Tour and Grand Prix level, that a deep understanding of the format is rewarded, arguably more than anywhere else in Constructed Magic. Here are just six players you might want to keep an eye on over the weekend:
Willy Edel, Jérémy Dezani, and Reid Duke
So what links this Frenchman, this American, and this Brazilian? They're all very good at Magic, that's a given. Dezani and Duke were locked in battle down the stretch last season, trying to find the result that would make them Player of the Year. That accolade was taken by Dezani, becoming the first French holder of that title since Gabriel Nassif, one of the most decorated players of all time. Duke has been involved in all three of the re-invented World Championships, finishing rock-bottom, almost top, and somewhere in the middle. He remains one of the best players in the world, and is best-known for his friendship with Owen Turtenwald and William Jensen, the three collectively known as"P.G.O.," or the Peach Garden Oath. Edel is a four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor who led his Brazilian team to the Top 8 of the World Magic Cup in December last year in Nice.
They're all great players, but they're together here for a reason, and that reason is this word:
Remember that list of Day Two archetypes in Milan? There was no Jund among them. The combination of many of the best and most efficient black, red, and green spells in the format was hampered by the success of Birthing Pod decks, and with the hyper-successful artifact destined to be watching from the sidelines, maybe these decks can rise to prominence. What links these three? They are all absolute masters of the Jund archetype. Their skill sets are ideally suited to formats where their deck can be anything they want it to be from game to game. Make a move to be the beatdown, they're at home dictating the red zone action; rip a hand to shreds then eke out value; fight tooth and nail to survive the onslaught, then win at leisure. Jund can do all of these things, and few players do each of those things better than these storied three. If they're not playing Jund in Washington, it's because they think they've found something really powerful.
So that's three players who might have benefitted from Birthing Pod going away. Now here are three more:
Sam Pardee, Jacob Wilson, Josh McClain
For a barometer of the new Modern, I'm going to be extremely interested in the Day One standings of these three gentlemen. While they don't collectively have the success of the first three, all of them are outstanding Modern performers. However, they've built their reputations playing Birthing Pod decks. Like Jund, Pod decks had a lot of complex decisions to make, and were not decks for the faint of heart (or skill) to be playing. To be a master of Pod was a rare and wondrous thing, and long after these three gentlemen have retired from the game, loaded with honors and trophies, it will be Birthing Pod that they tell their grandkids about.
So what can these three do in Washington? Having been associated with one powerhouse deck for so long, can they transform their plan for Pro Tour success in just a couple of test-intensive weeks? Tell Frank Karsten or Alex Majlaton that they couldn't play Robots, or Patrick Dickmann that he couldn't play Splinter Twin, and you'd likely be met with horror on their faces and despair in their hearts. But knowing Pod means that you really do know Modern, and that you know it in ways that most players can only aspire to. I fully expect at least two of these three to show up and be outstanding, whatever deck they choose to play.
There's a lot to keep track of at the PT for sure, but we've got you covered. And, indeed, Covered. Our text team will be all over the action, bringing you in-depth Draft analysis, the shape of the new Modern metagame, play by play of the biggest matchups, the inside track on the best that Fate Reforged has to offer, and special features aplenty. Over on the live video streaming, I'll be hosting the Newsdesk, keeping you entertained with all the deck techs, player interviews, draft viewers, Inside R&D videos, and of course all the ups and downs of the tournament itself.
Then there's every round across the three days live, and we're excited to be welcoming Ian Duke to the broadcast team in Washington. Ian, some of you may have noticed, shares a surname with a rather famous player seen elsewhere in this article, and they are indeed brothers. Ian joins us from his regular Monday to Friday job, the small matter of being a member of Wizards of the Coast research & development team—in other words, he spends his time making Magic! We can't wait to get his insight into Fate Reforged, the new Modern format, and all the behind the scenes goodness he brings direct from WOTC headquarters in Seattle.
As always, by Saturday night the six rounds of Limited and ten rounds of Modern will have taken their toll, and we'll be down to the Top 8 to battle it out on Sunday. You'll see every turn of every match played out, with the quarterfinals taking place one by one, ensuring the best viewing experience. Then it's down to the final four, before our finalists play out a best three-out-of-five encounter for their slice of Magic immortality.
For the champion, whoever he or she may be, there are thousands of cards to choose from, dozens of decks to choose from, and hundreds of decisions to make. For you, though, there's only one question that you really need answering:
What time does it start?
|Washington D.C.||9 a.m.||9 a.m.||9 a.m.|
|Los Angeles||6 a.m.||6 a.m.||6 a.m.|
|Chicago||8 a.m.||8 a.m.||8 a.m.|
|London||2 p.m.||2 p.m.||2 p.m.|
|Paris||3 p.m.||3 p.m.||3 p.m.|
|Berlin||3 p.m.||3 p.m.||3 p.m.|
|Moscow||5 p.m.||5 p.m.||5 p.m.|
|Tokyo||11 p.m.||11 p.m.||11 p.m.|
|Sydney||11 p.m.||11 p.m.||11 p.m.|
See you on Friday.