In a few weeks, sixteen of the world’s most prominent players of the Magic ® card game will face each other in a multi-format marathon. No, this is not a Pro Tour™. This is the Magic Invitational—the Magic: The Gathering variant of the All-Star game created by Mark Rosewater.
Here is how it works: sixteen players have been selected by various means (from a popular vote among pro players to tournament accolades). They compete for several days across a number of wacky formats (see below). Everyone gets to play everyone else once. In the end, the top 2 players square off to determine the champion. The prize is a chance to design your own Magic card—and be featured on its art work! Some previous Invitational cards include Darwin Kastle’s Avalanche Riders, Chris Pikula’s Meddling Mage, and Jon Finkel’s Shadowmage Infiltrator. Thanks to the new deal recently announced by Randy Buehler on magicthegathering.com, each of the sixteen attending players will also earn a $1,000 appearance fee. Getting paid to play in Magic competitions has never been sweeter!
One final twist to this tournament is that it will be played on Magic: The Gathering Online! Every single game (players’ commentary and all) will be available for anyone with a Magic Online account to view. Players will compete at Electronic Entertainment Expo—the largest trade show of computer and console gaming and a perfect venue to showcase Magic Online to PC game fans.
Having had the privilege to participate in the Invitational twice, I must say with confidence that it is just about the most fun and unique Magic experience one could ask for. The level of competition is insanely high—after all, every match you play in could be selected as a feature match on the Pro Tour—yet there is no immense pressure. Games are friendly. Although everyone wants to win, this is one tournament series where Pro players’ generally untamed competitive spirits are set aside and the pros remember what it feels like to just play for fun.
Play formats this year will be as follows:
- Standard – Betrayers of Kamigawa™ becomes legal May 1, and there are no major Standard events over the next few weeks, so most of the Magic community will watch in anticipation to find out what decks the top pros will select to play in this format (now 100% “Affinity”-free!). Monoblue control, “Monored Ponza,” and “Tooth and Nail” seem to be some of the top choices, but the Invitationalists are likely to surprise us with a new archetype or two.
- Online Extended – Since not all Magic sets are available on Magic Online, there is a special format called Online Extended. It allows all sets released in digital form—that is, everything from Seventh Edition™ and Invasion™ through the current set. Online Extended and regular Extended will eventually become the same format, as older sets are going to rotate out of the format sometime next year. It is difficult to predict what decks will be played in this format, though Affinity and “Blue-Green Madness” are both likely to make an appearance.
- Auction of the People – This is a unique format that has become a staple at the Magic Invitational over the last few years. Competitors are presented with a choice of seventeen decks built by the online Magic community. This year, the theme of the decks is a key word. Some of the key words the decks are built around are “light,” “burn,” “blood,” “lose,” and “word.” Decks range in their quality from competitive to completely unplayable. To balance things out, players get the chance to bid on each deck. Starting bid is 8 cards and 25 life. That is, if you bid on a deck and face no competition, you will get to start with that card and life total. If someone else wants the deck, they can place a bid stating that they are willing to start with less—say, 7 cards and 18 life. In the history of the Invitational, we’ve seen players go down to 4 or 5 cards and 10 or so life to get the deck they wanted. There are many interesting skill-testing mechanics here involving psychology and game theory—right up the alley of the group converging on Los Angeles for this tournament!
- Invasion Block Draft – One of two Limited formats is Invasion Block Draft. If you are wondering why this is cool, consider that Invasion block is Magic Online’s equivalent of Type 1. Few players own the cards from those expansions. A digital version of Pernicious Deed or Spiritmonger might trade for as much as $80 worth of other cards! Besides, Invasion Block Draft was a cool draft format that many pros will not mind revisiting.
- Vanguard Sealed – Another format designed to play off Magic Online software strengths, Vanguard Sealed allows each player to select an avatar that will adjust the starting hand and life totals and allow a player some built-in ability. For example, if you start with a Viridian Zealot avatar, your initial life total will be 22 and you will always be able to activate the following ability:
2, Sacrifice a creature: Destroy target artifact or enchantment. Search your library for a card with the same name as the creature you sacrificed, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.
These formats are diverse and will test a variety of skills. However, if anyone is up to the task, these sixteen challengers are. Here’s a brief rundown of who will be competing.
Bob Maher - One of the best players even in this distinguished group, Maher’s numerous accomplishments include winning Pro Tour: Chicago and coming in second at the 2000 World Championship. He also won the Invitational last year, and the card he designed should be debuting in the upcoming standalone set this autumn.
Gabriel Nassif - This French player skyrocketed onto the Magic tournament scene just a couple of years ago, but he has been a force to contend with ever since. Nassif earned the coveted Player of the Year title last year and is already having a great season as a member of the winning team Nova at PT Atlanta a few months ago.
Julien Nuijten - This young Dutch player took home the World Championship title last year.
Kai Budde - Uncontested as the game’s best player, Budde has earned over $350,000 to date playing the Magic game.
Carlos Romao - 2002 world champion, Brazil’s Romao is probably the best player from South America—so it’s quite fitting that he will get to represent his continent at the Invitational.
Osyp Lebedowicz - PT Venice champion, Lebedowicz is one of only four Americans in the Invitational.
Masashiro Kuroda - The only replacement player on the ballot, Kuroda is attending instead of another Japanese player, Masashi Ooiso, who could not come due to school obligations. Kuroda won PT Kobe in 2004.
Pierre Canali - This Frenchman is invited on the Rising Star ticket as the most successful rookie player of the season. Canali’s victory at PT Columbus secured him the Pro points needed to earn this invitation.
Tsuyoshi Fujita - PT Tokyo and PT Amsterdam finalist, Fujita holds the honor of being invited as the “Resident Genius”—a title mostly based on one’s deckbuilding prowess. The Japanese have dominated the Constructed tournament scene over the last couple of seasons, and Fujita has certainly contributed to this fact.
Olivier Ruel - Invited as the most traveled player this season, Ruel is no slouch, with four Pro Tour top 4 finishes.
Eugene Harvey - Three-time PT top 8 finisher and U.S. National champion, Harvey won the judges’ vote to participate in this tournament.
Sam Gomersall - It’s not what you know—it’s whom you know. Gomersall does not have a single PT or GP top 8 finish, but he is liked and respected by his peers. He was voted in by the Pro Player vote—a significant accomplishment on its own.
Jeroen Remie - While players voted England, writers voted Holland. A member of PT winning Team Von Dutch, Remie is very much liked by his peers—much like Gomersall—and his appearance at the top of the ballot is hardly a surprise.
Antoine Ruel - Olivier’s brother, Antoine Ruel is one of the better players in Magic competitions in his own right—as witnessed by his recent second-place finish at PT San Diego. He was voted in as one of two fan favorites.
Tim Aten - The only other player in this group with no professional accolades, Aten is the dark horse of this tournament. Outclassed by the other players in this group, his victory would make for a very exciting story.
Terry Soh - This Malaysian player has two PT top 8 finishes and was selected by the Wizards of the Coast® R&D department, as they felt he was as deserving of the Rising Star vote as Canali, who got that slot.
Follow coverage of the Magic Invitational online all week!