Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Preview

Posted in Making Magic on May 12, 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.

I t's that time again: the time when you cast all your cares aside, leave your worries on the doorstep (where someone else can trip over them), and plant yourself firmly in front of your plasma, laptop, phone, iPad, or other presumably-failing-in-the-event-of-the-zombie-apocalypse device, and settle in for three glorious days of Pro Tour action.

That's right boys and girls, Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is just a few days away, and we're getting ready to bring you all the Southern hospitality we can muster from Atlanta, Georgia—home of the Hawks; the Falcons; the Thrashers; the extremely irritating perennial NL-East-winning Braves (Go you, Mets); and, this Friday through Sunday, the best game on Earth—Magic.

We begin with three rounds of Theros Block Draft, followed by five rounds of Block Constructed, comprising every card from Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey into Nyx. Players who get to four wins or better on Day One get to do it all again on Saturday. Then, the best of the best—the Top 8—will return to battle for a first prize of $40,000 on Sunday.

So how do you follow all this gloriousness? Simple. The live webcast starts at 9 a.m. local time. Strangely, Atlanta doesn't set the time for the whole planet (yet), so we've devised this handy guide to the start times in your neck of the woods, so you know exactly when to tune in to

City Friday Saturday Sunday
Atlanta 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.
New York 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 9 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 10 p.m. 10 p.m. 10 p.m.
Sydney 11 p.m. 11 p.m. 11 p.m.
Find other corresponding start times around the world here.

That's the video stream, and of course you can follow all the action with our talented team on the text coverage too—you'll get in-depth analysis, metagame breakdowns, feature match reports, deep-digging deck techs, and much more, with the squad of Blake Rasmussen, Adam Styborski, Nate Price, Mike Rosenberg, Nick Fang, Sean Gibbons, and Trick Jarrett, not to mention the awesome photography of Craig Gibson—plus the Walking the Planes team of Nate Holt and Shawn Kornhauser.

All that, though, starts on Friday, and last time I checked (about five minutes ago), it's Monday. This means we still have a little time together, so let me tell you a story. Last week, I received the following email:

Are you ok?

Hadn't heard from you for a bit.

Thought you might have fallen into the numbers.


That becomes slightly less cryptic when you understand that "Paul" is Paul Jordan, and between us we piece together all the stats for each Pro Tour—PT appearances, winning % in Block, Season Pro Points, number of Boulderfalls in Magic Online Accounts, and so on. (Actually, we only track up to seven-drops.) The thing is, he was right. Put thousands of numbers about Magic players in front of me, and I'm hooked. I've been that way since I was a little kid, whether it was throw-ins at soccer, bowling averages for cricket, winning distances on left-handed tracks over two miles four furlongs for horse racing, or WARP for baseball.

As my math teacher used to say, however, there's more to numbers than, well, numbers.

"HAGON. What's the answer?"

"Twenty-seven, Sir."

"Idiot. Twenty-seven WHAT, Hagon? Bananas? Computers? Days in the month?"

"Twenty-seven reasons I hate math, Sir..."

Things have changed a bit since then, but I've never forgotten that numbers are essentially meaningless without context. The important bit isn't the "twenty-seven," it's the "twenty-seven what?" So, today, as we head toward a pivotal Pro Tour weekend, I thought I'd share some of my favorite numbers with you. And, hopefully, with some context. Here we go:

Number: 30339

Probably most of you outside the United States won't recognize these five digits, but that's okay, since they're likely to be most useful to people who are inside the United States this coming Friday. You see, 30339 is the zip code for the Cobb Galleria Centre, the venue for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. Now, not all of you will be able to make it there in person, but if you do, there's a great, and unusual, Magic experience coming your way.

First up, the viewing of the actual event is going to bring spectators closer to the action than ever before. Almost every match in the tournament will be accessible to spectators, so you can follow your favorites in person all weekend long. Between rounds, you might meet Elspeth, Liliana, Chandra—or all three at once, in the person of cosplayer extraordinaire Christine Sprankle.

Every day, there are special activities to take part in, ranging from R&D discussions, the chance to spellsling against Hall of Famers, have yourself turned into a Magic token, or even play alongside R&D members in special VIP Drafts. And just in case you get the urge to get your Magic shop on, there's a fully stocked merchandise booth on site, featuring the amazingly gorgeous Pro Tour Journey into Nyx playmat.

If you're anywhere within orbit of Atlanta this weekend, you should come join us. It's going to be a great weekend, and it's spearheaded by a Frenchman who is slicing his way through event after event...

Number: 63

The number 63 is how many Pro Points currently in the possession of Player of the Year–race leader Jérémy Dezani of France. His lead is 13 at the time of writing, but 13 is just a number. Here's your context: He's 13 clear of Reid Duke. THE Reid Duke. Former Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald is 4 points further back. Hall of Famer Ben Stark is 23 points adrift. World Champion Shahar Shenhar? Down on 38. Former Players of the Year Shuhei Nakamura and Yuuya Watanabe are almost 30 points away. That's far enough that, if either of them won the Pro Tour, and Jérémy Dezani forgot to get out of bed and didn't bother coming, they'd still only be level with him. There's one caveat: This is a long season, covering fifteen months, culminating in Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland, so Pro Point numbers are going to be inflated compared to recent years. Nonetheless, Dezani has simply dazzling numbers, and many fine judges regard him as legitimately the best player in the world right now.

Jérémy Dezani, Pro Tour Theros winner

Number: 389

That's how many players have a chair with their name on for Friday morning. In reality, not that many will make it. Remember, every Hall of Famer has a standing invitation to play Pro Tours, and there are several—Anton Jonsson, Ben Rubin, Tommi Hovi, and Gary Wise spring immediately to mind—who we haven't seen for a while. Then there are the players for whom "real life" gets in the way, although it's hard to imagine mundane items like exams, marriages, births, and deaths getting in the way of a Pro Tour appearance. Best guess is that somewhere around 360 make it to Round 1.

Number: 1–3–1

The Coverage team love to bring you stories. Magic is a game of stories, and we know that however hard we try, there are hundreds of stories that just won't get told. That's because there are so many different goals for players at a Pro Tour. "To win" is obvious, but it's also largely unrealistic—more than 350 won't achieve this, after all. As the rounds progress, different goals come into focus. Maybe it's about getting to the Top 25 (a record of 11–5 usually puts you at the mercy of tiebreaks for this), because that's the winning line for returning at Portland. Maybe it's about finishing with a record that achieves a certain number of Pro Points, because that guarantees Silver, Gold, or Platinum Pro status for the 2014–2015 season. For the likes of Reid Duke, Sam Black, or the "Mc" pair of Josh McClain and Shaun McLaren, it's about closing the gap on Dezani in the Player of the Year race. Everywhere, every round, stories.

So, what's the 1–3–1 about? This is where I "fell into the numbers." In 2002, Matt Stone played in the Team Pro Tour at Boston, won by Kai Budde, Dirk Baberowski, and Marco Blume—the Phoenix Foundation. Matt and his two friends won one match, lost three, and drew one. That's 1–3–1. Since then, Matt hasn't played on the Pro Tour. In the twelve years since Matt and the Pro Tour last crossed paths, I have no numbers to tell me how many wives, pets, houses, jobs, Happy Meals, or episodes of the West Wing he's been through. What I do know, however, is that in Round 1 on Friday, the thirty-three-year-old Matt Stone, winner of a PTQ in S. Attleboro in the United States, has a chance to double his lifetime Pro Tour match wins. I really hope he does.

In case you're wondering, I've never met Matt Stone. If he comes up to say "hi" in Atlanta (come and say "hi" in Atlanta, Matt), I'm pretty sure I'll never have set eyes on him. His is one of hundreds of stories I could have told, because behind every number lies the game we all love, and it matters.

Number: 45

This one isn't funny, and is the kind of number that keeps the weak-willed awake at night. When the flag falls for the start of the action, our 360 or so will be spread into draft pods of eight. For the first three rounds, they can only play others within their pod. As they take their seat, they'll know that somebody at their table will be starting the Pro Tour with three straight losses. Since records began (a phrase statisticians use to equate to "three days after Noah"), nobody has won a Pro Tour from an 0–3 start. It's theoretically possible, but with wretched tiebreakers guaranteed, the 0–3 players are confronted with, in all likelihood, thirteen straight elimination matches. Even imagining a historically high win percentage (say, 70%), the odds of achieving thirteen wins on the bounce are less than 1%. And, for the most part, players are 0–3 for a reason...

... three days after Noah

Still, on the plus side, 45 is also the number of players who will ace their draft pod and go into Block Constructed at 3–0. Think positive...

Number: 100

This 100 is the number of life you gain if you successfully activate the ultimate ability on Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Since Journey into Nyx will be the first pack opened in Draft, it's perfectly possible for someone to open Ajani and craft a deck in green-white. Will anyone pull the trigger on his ultimate during the first three rounds? And, more excitingly, will someone have that done to them, and win the game anyway? I sure hope so.

Number: 564

Including basic land, there are 564 cards in Theros Block Constructed. I've always loved Block (I got to play in a Block Pro Tour at Philadelphia in 2005), not least because it offers the tantalising glimpse of the "right" answer just staring you in the face. When you're confronted with Standard, or one of the giant formats like Modern or Legacy, you know that you face hours of wading through Gatherer before you even scratch the surface. In Block, you can look through the Player's Guides for the three sets in about ten minutes, and know with absolute certainty that you've just seen every single card from the winning decklist.

When there are this many (or rather, this few) cards available, it's easy to dream of the situation where almost any card could be a game winner. In Block Constructed, if you want to be hexproof, or to exile nonland permanents, or exile multiple God cards, or make sure that each player can't cast more than one spell each turn, or repeatedly exile creatures with a mythic rare sword, or create a fleet of attacking 1/1 Soldiers, or gain a life and say "baa" as you do so, or force your opponents to pay a heavy toll to attack or block, or to destroy a giant creature...

You can do all of this, and more. Just from Journey into Nyx. Just from white cards in Journey into Nyx. 564 doesn't sound like a lot, but when it comes to Block Constructed, for a deck builder, the possibilities are, well, maybe not infinite, but very large indeed. And yet, 564 is a number that lets you think that you could be the one to break the format. Block rocks!

Number: 70.9%

Sometimes, if Paul and I see a bunch of numbers we don't like, or don't trust, we get rid of them. For example, my good friend David Sutcliffe has a 100% match win record against Hall of Famers, having played, and beaten, Kai Budde. Once. That isn't, as we like to say, statistically significant. Instead, it's a cool story. (Tell it again, bro.) Once we've filtered out the "noise" of the occasional result, we can get a clearer picture of what's really going on.

Block Constructed isn't a format that's widely played. To play a bunch, you mostly have to have done that at a bunch of Pro Tours, or been playing for a really long time, when entire seasons of Block Constructed PTQs were de rigueur. Nonetheless, taking fifty matches as a minimum requirement, it turns out that 70.9% is the best Block record in the field. Bear in mind that the greatest players of all time manage somewhere between 60–65% across all formats in their careers, so 70.9% is quite something. The record (as I'm sure you're desperate to discover) belongs to a Pro Tour champion. He's known for attacking, a lot, with creatures, frequently small ones. Yep, that record belongs to Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Champion Craig Wescoe. Better than Finkel. Better than Budde. Better than Nassif, Scott-Vargas, Da Rosa, Kibler—better than Dezani. Better than everyone—Craig Wescoe.

Round about now, I'd be scrabbling for the Player's Guides again, just to see what a White Weenie deck is going to look like...

Number: 35

I hope you have some time free this coming weekend, as the video coverage team has approximately 35 hours of live Magic coming your way. The team of Brian David-Marshall, Randy Buehler, Zac Hill, Tim Willoughby, Rashad Miler, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Rich Hagon (that's me) can't wait to get you deep into the action. For those of you new to coverage, you'll be very welcome. You'll see up to four Feature Matches every round. You'll get to watch some of the best players in the world draft live (and we have a plan to bring you even more draft coverage than usual—stay tuned). We'll bring you the inside track on every major Block deck. We'll show you every game of the Top 8 live on Sunday, where we'll be joined (Top 8 permitting) by Luis Scott-Vargas in the commentary box. We'll have interviews with Pros throughout the weekend, bring you the announcement of the new fall set, take you inside R&D for a look at how Journey into Nyx was made, and—as we like to say—much more. Talking of which...

Number: #

Well, all right, # isn't technically a number. Indeed, in this context it isn't a number at all, as it's used here for its ubiquitous property as "hashtag." So, at this Pro Tour we want you to get involved with the coverage on Twitter. Throughout the weekend, we'll be showing tweets by you, the viewers. Who are you supporting? Where are you watching? How do you rate the draft you just watched? What plans do you have for Pro Tour parties on Sunday? We'll be showing you the Tweets of many of the players taking part in the Pro Tour. Also, if you've got a question that you simply have to ask, we'll be doing Ask Us Anything during the weekend too.

So, take that # symbol, add the letters PTJOU, and you have the best way to stay in touch with us all weekend long, at #PTJOU.

Number: 8

However many players make it to Round 1, the simple fact is that by Saturday night, there will be eight. Seven players who won't win the Pro Tour on Sunday. One who will. That one will be quite interested in our next number...

Number: 40,000

That's 40,000 dollars, the prize to the winner. Except, even a number that apparently significant, is misleading. In reality, there's a lot more than $40,000 on the line. The winner is guaranteed Platinum status through the rest of this season, and all of next. Factor in flights and accommodation, and that's probably worth another $20,000 or so. There's more. Win the Pro Tour, and you get a seat at the World Championship. That's a twenty-four-player tournament taking place as part of Worlds Week, and there's a $100,000 prize purse resting on that. Still not done—almostcertainly (this might not be true if the winner is from the US and has come from nowhere in the Player of the Year race to win the PT), the winner in Atlanta will be the captain of his or her national World Magic Cup team. That's going to make for a very busy week in December. Oh, and of course, there's more opportunities for Pro Points, feeding in to the Player of the Year race in 2014–2015. That's without sponsorships, writing contracts, streaming revenue...

$40,000? For the winner on Sunday, the real number could be as high as $100,000.

$100,000? On the turn of a card?

Now that sounds well worth watching.

See you all on Friday.

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