World Championship Preview

Posted in Feature on August 24, 2015

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.

Three days.

Four formats.

24 players.

The single greatest display of Magic firepower, assembled in one place, ready to stand toe-to-toe for your entertainment. If you believe William Shakespeare, all the World's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. These 24, though, are no "mere" anything. These are the finest players from the last twelve months of premier Magic play, and their combined talents are borderline scary.

If you want to know how to tackle Modern Masters (2015 Edition) Draft; if you want the inside track on the 40-card Magic Origins Limited format; if you want a masterclass in Modern; if you want the absolute bleeding edge of Standard tech; if you love drama from the top of the deck; if you want Pro versus Pro all the time; if you want to see awe-inspiring rivalries played out on the biggest—yet most intimate—stage of all; hell, if you just plain love Magic; THIS is the tournament to set your watch by, and—speaking of watches—here's the timings you need to know:

Event Date Time PT Time ET Time UTC Stream
Day 1 Video Coverage Thursday, August 27 9 a.m. PT 12 p.m. ET 4 p.m. UTC Magic Twitch channel
Day 2 Video Coverage Friday, August 28 9 a.m. PT 12 p.m. ET 4 p.m. UTC Magic Twitch channel
Top 4 Video Coverage Sunday, August 30 11 a.m. PT 2 p.m. ET 6 p.m. UTC Magic Twitch channel

If all the live action doesn't quite line up with your personal biorhythms, don't forget that you can get a full replay of each day's action as soon as we're done in Seattle. Ah yes, Seattle. The home of Wizards of the Coast, and the home of PAX Prime, the incredible gaming convention that has become famous throughout the world. Now PAX and Seattle become the focus of the Magic World, as the tournament that began life in 2012 as the Players Championship takes up residence in its new home.

As Shakespeare knew, all great stories need a great structure, and our World Championship production takes place across five distinct acts, with the tension and the stakes ratcheting upwards with each round. Here's the synopsis:

Dramatis Personae

The Champion—Top of the Pile

Shahar Shenhar—Once, twice, can Lightning Strike thrice? That's the challenge for the back-to-back reigning World Champion, Shahar Shenhar. The "three-peat" would arguably be the single greatest achievement in Magic history. No pressure then.

The Player of the Year Race—Ecstasy and Agony

Mike Sigrist—The 2014-2015 Player of the Year. A new father to precious twins, Sigrist came from the clouds to claim the Player of the Year title, and now looks to cement his claim to a seat at the highest of tables.

Eric Froehlich—Long-time leader in the Player of the Year race. Pro Tour Magic Origins saw him swing wildly from hopeless cause to odds-on favorite, to the cruellest of near-misses. Now he's back, and ready to claim the World No. 1 spot from Sigrist.

The Titled—Four Gentlemen of Trophies

Ari Lax—An organizer and a team leader, with a career fulfilled by his victory at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. A superb work ethic, a formidable mind, and a table presence that has thrown many a worthy opponent off their game.

Antonio Del Moral Leon—The swashbuckling Spaniard, triumphant at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, looking to forge another link for the strength of Spanish Magic, which is finally seeing a growing armada of great players following a few years in the doldrums.

Martin Dang—Dang the Dane claimed the title at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, and as one of the oldest competitors, he'll be looking to leverage that experience against this stellar field.

Joel Larsson—The immaculately presented Larsson turned second into first by going one better than his finish at Pro Tour Gatecrash in 2013, taking the trophy at Pro Tour Magic Origins in Vancouver. Close to the scene of that wondrous triumph, can the Swede keep on winning against the best?

From left to right: Mike Sigrist, Ari Lax, and Joel Larrson

The Maple Leafs—A Trio From the Free States of Canadia

Alexander Hayne—The Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Champion, and now the Grand Prix Pro Points Leader. One of the ultimate closers in the field, Hayne revels in finishing the task. Watch him cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war.

Shaun McLaren—The victor from Pro Tour Born of the Gods, McLaren is the lone wolf of the field, plotting strategies deep in the internet jungle through the night, planning his Worlds campaign one meticulous click at a time.

Jacob Wilson—The vanquished runner-up from Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Wilson has had a difficult Pro season and now looks to start 2015-2016 with a powerful statement of intent.

From Scandinavia—The Nordic Warriors

Martin Müller—Blessed with both talent and the time to use it wisely, the teen sensation led Denmark to a spectacular triumph at the World Magic Cup in Nice, France. Now he fights for himself in the fiercest arena.

Magnus Lantto—Claiming victory with mind over mouse, Lantto is the reigning Magic Online Champion, and you can be sure that we'll be monitoring his key board states.

From Asia and the Pacific—Excellence in Any Language

Kentaro Yamamoto—Stoicism in human form, Yamamoto recently won hearts and minds on his eleventh-hour bid for Player of the Year honors at Pro Tour Magic Origins. "Box office" he is not, but win he certainly does.

Lee Shi Tian—High class from Hong Kong, LST may still have a ways to catch LSV, but sharing an address at the Pro Tour Hall of Fame is a distinct possibility for the man who leads the hugely successful MTG Mint Card band of travelling professionals.

From Latin America—Passion and Flair

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa—If you want an argument with your Magic friends, claim that PV is the third-best player of all time. If you don't want an argument, say he's in the top five. Everyone will nod. Everyone will be right.

Thiago Saporito—If everyone in the field is in the top 0.01% of players, there are still going to be people who are rated underdogs against the rest. Can Saporito step out from the giant nine-PT-Top 8-shadow of da Rosa and take the trophy back to Latin America?

The Home of the Brave—Two Houses, Both Alike in Dignity?

Paul Rietzl—Four Pro Tour Top 8s? In the past. Champion of PT Amsterdam 2010? Ancient history. Hall of Fame? Last year's news. This just in: Rietzl is No. 3 in the world, and worth every inch of it. Ice in the veins, competition in every sinew—don't discount him. Ever.

Owen Turtenwald—Seven Grand Prix Top 8s in a single season propelled him to the Player of the Year title in 2011, but the path to greatness has not always been smooth. He comes here looking to find the devastating edge to his game that leaves most others in the dust.

From left to right: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Paul Rietzl, and Owen Turtenwald

The Pretenders to the Throne—Ambition Unbound

Seth Manfield—Three Grand Prix titles headline a career that looks to be kicking into overdrive. Like Sigrist, Manfield has recently become a father; he's looking to be the next Sigrist when Player of the Year honors come due in 2016.

Ondřej Stráský—The Czech dazzles, amazes, and confounds in equal measure. A bundle of explosive caprice and whim, Stráský knows when it's time for the game face, and that game face is the real deal. This is just as well, since nothing short of the real deal will be required.

Steve Rubin—Perhaps only Yamamoto has a lower profile than Platinum Pro Rubin, but the media spotlight doesn't let you start on 30 life, draw extra cards, or have perfect mana. Where it counts—at the table—Rubin speaks plenty loud enough for those who pay attention to hear.

The Master Builders—Decks to Delight

Sam Black—Gifted with insatiable curiosity in and out of the game, one of the most fascinating and unusual minds on the Tour comes here ready to yet again puzzle his way through intricacies of argument and counter-argument most players can only dream of processing. Few have more universal regard within the Pro community.

Brad Nelson—Nelson might be one of those few. Like Black, he's a purveyor of outstanding game plans in 75-card packages year upon year, and he backs it up with what are almost outlandish numbers as he rushes towards Constructed immortality. But this tournament isn't only Constructed. . .

Wata Winner—The Man They All Fear

Yuuya Watanabe—To know what he once was is to see the flowering of genius. To know what he is now is to recognize the proverbial Hall of Fame "mortal lock." To know that he is only 26 and see that his best years may still be far ahead of him? To the neutral, a thrill down the spine. To opponents, a shiver. Come crunch time, nobody wants Watanabe—the only player to participate in this tournament the past four years—to be in the way.

From left to right: Sam Black, Brad Nelson, and Yuuya Watanabe

Also Performing :

Mr. Randy Buehler and Mr. Luis Scott-Vargas—Hall of Fame pros

Mr. Ian Duke and Ms. Jackie Lee—Magic Research & Development

Mr. Tim Willoughby—a gentleman about town

Mr. Marshall Sutcliffe—one of your Limited Resources

Mr. Brian David-Marshall—the Historian

Mr. Richard Hagon—an Anchor

Plus a vast array of roles played by members of the company, including writers, journalists, photographers, reporters, spotters, statisticians, graphics artists, scriptwriters, technicians, carpenters, stagehands, producers, directors, wardrobe artists, camera operators, press liaison officers, company representatives, judges, scorekeepers, player welfare officers, and so many others.

Act 1—Thursday Morning—Modern Masters (2015 Edition) Draft

Enter 24 Players, drawn from around the World. Now another draw takes place, which sees them pitted in three distinct arenas, each a Draft Table where three boosters of Modern Masters 2015 await.

Personally, I can't wait to see the opening seating for the draft on Thursday morning. However the seatings come out, chances are that there will be one table that leaves us all gasping with the rarefied atmosphere of talent on display, and where every win will feel like a Pro Tour final. Equally, there will almost certainly be a table where one or two of the less-heralded competitors will quietly take stock of the opposition, note the absence of some of the biggest sharks in the tank, and begin to sit up a little straighter at the prospect of a fast 3-0 start to the event.

As for the format, Modern Masters 2015 quickly established itself as a popular 40-card experience, headlined by the record-breaking participation at Grand Prix on three continents on a memorable May weekend that saw more than fifteen thousand of you playing competitive Magic at the Grand Prix-level. Whether it's the artifacts of blue-white, the graft of green-blue, the aggressive bloodthirst of red-black, or the double strike and Equipment one-two punch of red-white, there are clearly defined draft "pathways" for our players to choose . . . or avoid.

Act 2—Thursday Afternoon—Modern

Buoyed, or chastened, by their morning's work, our players face the metagame maze that is Modern with only four rounds, but dozens of potential decks to face.

The range of options available in Modern is both a deck builder's paradise and the stuff of a metagamer's nightmares. It's likely that multiple players will leave the battlefield on Thursday night having played a succession of uphill struggles against decks that simply stack up well against them. Just like the tango, however, it takes two to metagame, and things start to look a lot more rosy when your deck has a natural edge over your opponent. Where might those edges be found amongst the sea of viable decks in Modern?

Act 3—Friday Morning—Magic Origins Draft

The players return. Some will be dreaming of glory. For others, respectability may seem many rounds distant. For all, it begins one pick at a time.

Unlike Thursday's draft, where the players are seated randomly, Friday will see them seated by record, which has several significant ramifications. First, it gives the overnight leader the chance to blast off into the "out of sight" category. A 3-0 sweep of the prime Draft table would leave someone at 9-1, or maybe even 10-0, and that's all kinds of good news for making Sunday.

That's one possibility, but seven others at table one will be looking to rewrite that script. Last time we checked, seven is rather more than one, so simple math says that the overnight leader won't be the one to sweep the table. And if that holds up, the top of the leaderboard is likely to contract massively as the leading contenders beat each other in a dog-eat-dog Limited dustup. For the second-ranked Draft table, it's a chance to stealthily move into contention, or potentially quietly slide downwards into the night. For the final Draft table, things are much more stark. Only one player can walk away with the perfect 3-0 record. For everyone else at the table, only perfection in the final format of the weekend is likely to be enough to see them into Sunday. Even that might not be enough. Want your swords keen as a razor's edge? The bottom table is where many big names will see their challenge cut to ribbons in the Friday Draft rounds.

Weight of the Underworld | Art by Wesley Burt

Act 4—Friday Afternoon—Standard

And now the die is cast. The bit parts soldier on, battling for Points that will eventually translate to Silver, Gold, or Platinum a year from now. For the protagonists, however, center stage awaits in the feature match area.

I wouldn't always say this, and I would never say this if I didn't think it was true, but Standard may be the most exciting format of the World Championship this year. I say this even without the automatic upswing it receives from being the last format of the week, when every match has significance within the world of 2-0, 2-1, and 0-2. No, Standard is anything but solved right now, and any of the players in contention on Friday afternoon would give their right arm for the opportunity to "break" Standard, if only for a few precious rounds, spread across Friday and Sunday.

That you'll see Abzan in action seems a given. That Hangarback Walkers will be in abundance looks more than likely. That artifacts will be Ensouled must be our expectation. That's three things to watch out for, but we could talk Abzan Aggro, Red-Green Devotion, Mono-Red Burn, Jeskai Tempo, Bant Heroic, Green-White Megamorph, Green-White Constellation, Esper Dragons, Goblins, Mardu Dragons . . . okay, enough.

Here's the thing, though: Most of the players are not working alone. Instead, they're busy testing with small groups, and that may make Standard appear a little less diverse on Friday afternoon than it is out in the "real world" at, say, your local Friday Night Magic. If it's true that each of the playtest groups arrives on some form of consensus Best Deck, this raises the tantalising prospect of one of those groups finding The Answer. That answer may not be viable come Monday, or indeed at the afore-mentioned FNM, but finding The Answer to the World Championship Standard Metagame? That's the stuff that Titles are made of.

Ensoul Artifact | Art by Jasper Sandner

Act 5—Sunday—Standard

After a day of anticipation, the final four competitors come to battle, this time over an extended best-of-five semifinals Standard set-to, with the winners returning for the Final, knowing that History rarely remembers the runner-up.

There's an old theatre tale of two much-vaunted Shakespearean actors "drying" during a performance, totally forgetting how the play should proceed. The awaited line was delivered from the side of the stage, to no response. After increasingly loud whisperings repeating the line, the frustrated thespians raged,

"We knoweth the lines, but knoweth not who sayeth them!"

. . .and that, of course, is the truth of our wonderful World Championship. We know the general shape of the narrative. We can rightly anticipate ebb and flow, pathos and bathos, the sublime and the ridiculous, the heart-pounding, the fist-pumping, the deflation, the slump of the shoulders. We know, because the script demands it—that only four characters can remain onstage come Sunday. We know that one will emerge holding the trophy, knowing that they have come out on top against one of the toughest gauntlets any Magic player could ever wish to tackle, much less tame.

They will speak in wondering terms of friends and family, of the touchstone moments on their journey to World Championship glory. Yea, verily, we knoweth the lines. But we knoweth not who sayeth them.

On Sunday, we'll know. And so will you. If Magic be the food of love, play on.

Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. This year's performance of the Magic: The Gathering World Championship is about to begin.

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