World Championship Preview

Posted in Feature on August 29, 2016

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.

I've been dreaming lately about winning a Pro Tour. Like most of us who have this dream, I've allocated myself some "fortunate pairings" through this imaginary tournament. It looks something like this:

Day One—Draft Rounds 1–3: I only recognize one pro at the table. Beat two RPTQers, and then find a Silver pro in Round 3 who can't find red mana in either game. 3-0.

Standard Rounds 4–8: My deck, given to me by the Pantheon just because they like me, is utterly broken. Even the Gold pro I meet in Round 8 doesn't stand a chance. 8-0.

Day TwoI'm the only player at the table who drafts white, and go 2-1, losing to Paul Rietzl because even dreams have to be realistic. At 10-1, I lose to Owen Turtenwald, and then Alexander Hayne, and I'm in trouble. But then I get lucky again. I beat a first-timer doing incredibly well, someone who went 13-2 at a recent Grand Prix, and win my "win and in" for the Top 8 against Jelger Wiegersma, who first looked at his deck shortly before Round 4.

On Day Three, the Pantheon's deck comes up trumps again, giving me favorable matchups. When I beat Owen Turtenwald in the final, he's gracious enough to acknowledge that, even though he thought he was the best player in the world, he was wrong and it's actually me.

Then I wake up.

For me, and for almost all of us, this dream has a relatively small chance of becoming reality. Nonetheless, it genuinely represents the best-chance scenario. Those are the breaks that normal, mortal Magic players would need to beat the odds and emerge as a Pro Tour Champion.

Now let's try a different dream. In this one, you're already a Pro Tour Champion, and what's more, a Pro Tour Champion this season. You're a Platinum pro, one of the Top 25–ranked players in the world, you have tested with a handful of outstanding teammates, and your goal is to win the World Championship. Here's how those "fortunate pairings" look this time:

Thursday, Rounds 1–3: Eldritch Moon-Shadows over Innistrad Booster Draft

You're thrilled to be at a table with Rookie of the Year and Constructed Master Oliver Tiu; Magic Online Champion Niels Noorlander; the most successful Grand Prix player this season, Brian Braun-Duin; Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch Champion Jiachen Tao; EU representative and Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion Joel Larsson; Latin America representative Thiago Saporito; and World Magic Cup winner Andrea Mengucci.

Thursday, Rounds 4–7: Standard

After a 2-1 draft, you manage 2-2 in Standard. That doesn't sound too impressive, until you remember that you lost to Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas and Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad Champion Steve Rubin, and scraped wins against former owners of the Player of the Year title, Brad Nelson and Mike Sigrist. You go to bed at 4-3, which is only one win off the lead, because nobody can escape the utter carnage of a field this strong.

Friday, Rounds 8–10: Eldritch Moon-Shadows over Innistrad Booster Draft.

Here we go again, only this time your table has five elected Hall of Famers in Owen Turtenwald, Yuuya Watanabe, Luis Scott-Vargas, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and Shota Yasooka, plus reigning World Champion Seth Manfield and Draft Master Márcio Carvalho. Yeah, good luck with that.

Saturday, Rounds 11–14: Modern.

Another 2-1 in the draft, but you begin your Modern campaign with a tough matchup against an acknowledged expert in the format, Sam Pardee, fresh off his Top 8 at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. Now you're 6-5, and you need three wins in a row to make it to Sunday. Those three rounds see you travel around the Magic world—first it's Ondřej Stráský of the Czech Republic (Platinum), then Ryoichi Tamada from Japan (Platinum), and finally, in your match for a Top 4 slot, Reid Duke (Platinum) from the USA.

Still standing? Then it's time for...

Sunday, Top 4: Standard.

Back you go to Standard, and, thanks to your enormous reserves of skill, cunning, concentration, strategic planning, and tactical execution, you now have a 25% chance of becoming World Champion. After making the Top 8 of the last three Pro Tours, Luis Scott-Vargas must expect to win almost every match he plays at the moment. But you don't let that worry you, and somehow you advance to the World Championship final. Last year, you watched Seth Manfield and Owen Turtenwald battle each other to a virtual standstill across an epic encounter for the ages. Who is sitting between you and true Magic greatness? Which Hall of Famer, global representative, Pro Tour Champion, or Player of the Year will be the last to be vanquished?


Unless you're one of the 24 invitees to the World Championship taking place later this week in Seattle, your dreams of lifting the trophy will have to wait at least another year. But the imaginary journey through Worlds we've just been on together is about to get very, very real for our competitors. When the starting gun gets us under way on Thursday, many of our Round 1 matchups could grace any final—some of them likely already have. This is true no-hiding-place Magic, and it's just one of the many reasons that the World Championship is such a beautiful, brutal, spectacular, and glorious event. There is nothing to match it, and you'll get to see every twist and turn unfold on your devices various.

As usual, we've assembled a team of dedicated journalists, storytellers, game-callers, and strategic experts to bring you all the action. Your play-by-play team is headed by Limited Resources host Marshall Sutcliffe, joined by Tim Willoughby and Gaby Spartz. Beside them will be Ian Duke from inside R&D at Wizards, and Pro Tour Berlin 2008 finalist Matej Zatlkaj, who will bring his deep knowledge of the global game to bear on the feature match action. Rashad Miller and Neil Rigby will keep an eye on all the numbers and cards in the feature match area, while, over at the news desk, I'll be joined by Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall to bring together all the developing stories as the week progresses, with special features courtesy of many of our 24 storied players.

Away from the live stream, a powerhouse team of writers include Hall of Famer Frank Karsten, World Magic Cup perennial Chapman Sim, and popular Magic journalist Corbin Hosler. The guys from Walking the Planes, Nate Holt and Shawn Kornhauser, will be on hand, as will our dedicated photographer, Craig Gibson, along with what feels like 78 tons of tech and talent backstage, all there to bring you the action from every viable viewpoint.

While we're on the subject of coverage, I've got to be straight with you and tell you that our start times are not as simple to remember as for a typical Pro Tour—9 a.m., 9 a.m., 9 a.m. isn't too tricky, but this week the World Championship is just part of a larger Magic extravaganza. Larger than the World Championship? Absolutely! The Magic presence at PAX West this year is simply off the charts, and throughout the week we will be bringing you everything from across the Magic Multiverse, focusing on the launch of Kaladesh, coming soon to a booster pack near you. If you want the complicated version of our Worlds start times, you can find it here:

  • Day One—Thursday, Sept. 1, beginning at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET/4 p.m. UTC
  • Day Two—Friday, Sept. 2, beginning at 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET/9 p.m. UTC
  • Day Three—Saturday, Sept. 3, beginning at 10 a.m. PT/1 p.m. ET/5 p.m. UTC
  • Day Four—Sunday, Sept. 4, beginning at 10:45 a.m. PT/1:45 p.m. ET/5:45 p.m. UTC

However, if you have even the slightest interest in what's going on in the wider world of Magic, I highly recommend simply tuning in on Thursday morning and not letting go until the end of Monday, when our PAX West coverage finally winds down, 24 hours after our latest World Champion is crowned. With unrivaled insight into the new set, the inner workings of R&D, a ton of fun and silliness, plus as many new cards from Kaladesh as we can legally bring you without melting the internet, "twitch.tv/magic" are just about the only words you'll need. Apart from "Sorry I didn't come to work for the last five days." Obviously.

We'll talk a little more about the players in this year's field in a bit, but first, a quick word about the formats. In the pro Magic calendar, we position the Pro Tours the way we do in order to facilitate (and indeed demand) innovation from our pros. The vast bulk of the community has only had the chance to play in a handful of drafts before the pro examination of the PT Draft rounds, and experience has taught us that Standard Metagame Week 3 Edition (aka the Pro Tour) is not the same as Standard Metagame Week 1 Edition (aka Bill and Fred's New Standard Adventures in Hillbucket, Wyoming). Note: Hillbucket is a lovely town, and I absolutely did not find winning there very easy.

At the World Championship, that space for the pros to do their work is conspicuously missing. We begin with Draft, and any of our competitors with either A) a computer, or B) friends has by now had plenty of opportunity to attempt dozens and dozens of drafts, encompassing every color pair and niche strategy. For these players, Draft does not hold surprises. What it does offer, however, is the opportunity to evaluate how each individual expectation of the format matches what everyone else is planning. In other words, this is classic Patrick Chapin "next level" territory. I know that you know that I know that XY is the best color pair, and that I value commons S, T, and U as the top three picks. But since I know that you know that I know that, I can leave S and T in the booster, secure in the knowledge that you know that I know that you know that I know that XY is the best color pair, and that you will therefore assume I'm not in XY, but XZ, and then...

Yeah. Something like that. Less convolutedly, these players know each other. Many of them will have worked with each other on multiple Draft formats. Some of them will already have worked together on this Draft format. I cannot emphasize just how helpful this knowledge can be. The single best Draft deck I've ever had (and I've had thousands spread across the last 20 years) came when I found myself sitting next to Guillaume Wafo-Tapa one evening, about to draft Lorwyn. The chances of Guillaume wanting to be blue in that format were very high, and the chances of him wanting to draft white weenie (one of the best available archetypes in that format if you could get it) incredibly low. On my right, he drafted blue. I drafted white, and beat exactly three Hall of Famers on my way to a 3-0 record where even I couldn't possibly lose. Watch for player knowledge to play a big part in the Draft rounds.

Sandwiched in between the two drafts is Standard. Pro Tour Eldritch Moon delivered innovation in spades in Sydney, but the two Standard Grand Prix in Portland and Rimini a week later suggested that the reprieve from an oppressive Bant Company regime was only temporary. On the plus side, Portland delivered us a fabulous deck (and story) in the hands of one Chris Botelho, who finally cracked the code for making Demonic Pact work at the highest level, paired up with the kitty that could, Harmless Offering. Will any of our 24 be brave enough to sleeve up the combo? And, more pertinently, how many will incorrectly believe that they've broken the Bant Company mirror that could yet determine the destiny of the title on Sunday?

Before the Top 4 get to test their Standard theorems on one last day of competition, they'll have to get through the Modern minefield on Saturday. Modern is a wonderful format, loved by huge swaths of the community, and rightly so. As a fan of watching the game at any level, I love Modern. So many decks, so many strategies, so many favorite cards with favorite stories attached to them, whether it's a Friday Night Magic misplay or a Pro Tour–clinching topdeck.

But, for a tiny, tiny subset of players—let's for convenience's sake call them "the 2016 World Championship competitors"—Modern is the format that has them up at night, scouring decklists for inspiration in the desperate hope that there may be some tiny edge somewhere that they've overlooked. For, despite its beauty and magnificent vastness, or maybe because of it, Modern is the format that "cannot be beaten." Ultimately, you bring the deck you want to play, you play it at an incredibly high level, and you cross your fingers that the bulk of the field hasn't decided that it's your archetype that's going to get burned to a crisp. Because, if you pick wrong, you're in big trouble. If there's one "behind the scenes" moment that's going to define the World Championship this year, it's the moment the field discovers the shape of the Modern metagame—exactly 24 decks that will be the canvas on which the deciding Swiss rounds are painted on Saturday. That metagame moment is going to be huge.

So, with 24 of the best players in the world to watch across three different formats and four days of competition, how are you meant to choose who to root for in front of your giant TVs or not-so-giant smartphones? Conveniently, we've divided the field up into four groups: the Masters, the Champions, the Regions, and the Pros. Let's meet them:

The Masters

  • Owen Turtenwald: Mid-Season Master (also Player of the Year, also Top Pro Points—North America)
  • Luis Scott-Vargas: Outstanding Hall of Famer (also Top Pro Points—North America)
  • Oliver Tiu: Constructed Master
  • Márcio Carvalho: Draft Master
  • Brian Braun-Duin: Grand Prix Master

What links the Masters is their success at A Thing across multiple events throughout the calendar. At the halfway point in the season, Owen Turtenwald led the world. Because he's like that, he led the world at the end of the season too, clinching the Player of the Year title in the final round of Swiss play at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. Luis Scott-Vargas allegedly joins us for coverage on Sundays, but since he's now made the Top 8 of the last three Pro Tours, we aren't holding our breath. You never know, he might lose in the semifinals...

As Rookie of the Year, Oliver Tiu has had a comprehensive breakout season, and that Constructed Master title means that nobody had a better record across 40 Constructed rounds on the Pro Tour this season. Not a single Hall of Famer or Platinum pro could best him over that course. Nuts. Márcio Carvalho emerged as the mightiest in the 40-card format. Eight drafts, four Pro Tours, one Draft Master, and Portugal will have their fingers crossed for Carvalho this weekend. Then there's Brian Braun-Duin, who contributed hugely to a fantastic contest in the waning weeks of the season, crisscrossing the globe in search of the points that he ultimately secured, giving him the Grand Prix Master slot and ensuring that there would be one Gold pro underdog against a 23-strong Platinum tide.

The Champions

One magical weekend—that's what links our Champions. Yes, they exhibited world-class play, but that's never enough to go and win the whole thing. For that, you need a prevailing wind, a moment or two of out-of-your-hands luck, maybe even a sense of destiny hovering over your shoulder. For the Champions, it all came together. Seth Manfield comes here as the reigning World Champion, having defeated Owen Turtenwald in the final last year. But for Turtenwald's last-day heroics, Manfield would be here as Player of the Year too. Did someone say rivalry? Niels Noorlander arrived at the Magic Online Championship as a little-known outsider. He left as the Champion, with a seat at the World Championship and a new job—professional Magic player. Our season kicked off with Kazuyuki Takimura claiming the win at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, in his first Sunday appearance. That trend continued when Jiachen Tao knocked over the Top 8 at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. More first-time success ensued when the incredibly impressive Steve Rubin took down Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, and it wasn't until Pro Tour Eldritch Moon that we had a Champion with previous Top 8 experience, Lukas Blohon of the Czech Republic, claiming the last available seat at the World Championship.

The Regions

  • Shota Yasooka: Top Pro Points—Asia-Pacific
  • Yuuya Watanabe: Top Pro Points—Asia-Pacific
  • Ryoichi Tamada: Top Pro Points—Asia-Pacific
  • Martin Müller: Top Pro Points—Europe
  • Joel Larsson: Top Pro Points—Europe
  • Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Top Pro Points—Latin America
  • Thiago Saporito: Top Pro Points—Latin America
  • Reid Duke: Top Pro Points—North America

Accumulating points over multiple continents and multiple formats spread across the entire season, the representatives of the Regions are established pros near the very top of the global game. In Shota Yasooka and Yuuya Watanabe, the Asia-Pacific region is headlined by two Hall of Famers, while, at a much earlier stage in his career, Ryoichi Tamada will be one of the outsiders in this stellar field. Both hailing from Scandinavia, Martin Müller and Joel Larsson have silverware on their mantelpieces—Müller as World Magic Cup captain for Denmark, and Larsson as the Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion. They'll represent Europe (with Lukas Blohon). In Latin America, two players have dominated the race for the World Championship slots, and it's no surprise to see Thiago Saporito sitting alongside Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. For North America, the bulk of the Region slots were swallowed up by Owen Turtenwald, Seth Manfield, and Luis Scott-Vargas, leaving just one seat open in this category. To the delight of many, that seat fell to Reid Duke, in no small measure thanks to another standout performance at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, which saw him get all the way to the Top 8 on Sunday. Can the former Worlds finalist go one better?

The Pros

  • Sam Pardee: Top Pro Points—At-Large
  • Ondřej Stráský: Top Pro Points—At-Large
  • Andrea Mengucci: Top Pro Points—At-Large
  • Brad Nelson: Top Pro Points—At-Large
  • Mike Sigrist: Top Pro Points—At-Large

Winning a tournament outright is an amazing feeling, but the Pros—all of whom reached the World Championship by virtue of Pro Points won across the season—have time and again demonstrated that they belong amongst the very best. Sam Pardee used Pro Tour Eldritch Moon as a springboard to this, his first World Championship appearance. A tremendous devotee and proponent of Modern, if he's still in with a shout come Saturday, watch out. Ondřej Stráský is at the forefront of the latest wave of players from the Czech Republic who are constantly near the top of the standings. Still young, still learning, he's one of the players for whom brilliant is a genuinely appropriate word. Staying in Europe, up next is Andrea Mengucci, part of the glorious buccaneering foursome that claimed the World Magic Cup for Italy. Brad Nelson knows all about consistency, having won Player of the Year in a nerve-wracking playoff in 2011, and Mike Sigrist can also point to a Player of the Year title. Both will expect to do well at Worlds, and with good reason.


So, the stage is set—and when I say "the stage," that's exactly what I mean. For five days of PAX West, we're making the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle our home, and it's going to be a spectacular backdrop to all the festivities of our Kaladesh kickoff and the best players taking on the biggest challenge in the World Championship. From the opening number to the fall of the final curtain, this is the hottest ticket in town, and we can't wait to have you with us for every second of this thrilling live performance.

See you in Seattle,

R.

Latest Feature Articles

FEATURE

September 17, 2021

The Returning Legends of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt by, Doug Beyer, Ari Zirulnik, and Grace Fong

A return to Innistrad means the return of some of our favorite characters! In case you missed it, make sure to check out the new legends of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt from yesterday's artic...

Learn More

FEATURE

September 16, 2021

The New Legends of Innistrad: Midnight Hunt by, Ari Zirulnik and Grace Fong

Harvesttide is wild this year! Tons of new faces showed up to the party—let's do some introductions. Adeline, Resplendent Cathar Adeline is an excellent tactician and an unyielding fo...

Learn More

Articles

Articles

Feature Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All