Pro Tour Amonkhet Preview

Posted in Competitive Gaming on May 8, 2017

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.

Hello everyone, and welcome to this whirlwind preview of everything you can expect when Pro Tour Amonkhet rolls into town. That's "town," acting as a catch-all for "every electronic device known to humankind, including all reputable brands of microwave, toaster, shoe phone, hydro watch, and teledog." All thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and the wonders of the internet.

It's also available for direct-to-retina scanning if you happen to live in Nashville.

For those of you who can't take advantage of the wondrous technology known as "being there," we guarantee you something even better—it's like being there, but with jokes. For example:

"I've recently taken over as chief advisor to Gerry Thompson, and told him that he needs to scowl more, to intimidate his opponents. It feels good to be the Vizier of the Meaner Gerry."

It's hard to imagine that all this comes free, right?

Anyway . . .

As usual at the Pro Tour, there'll be three days of action to determine the Champion, and, also as usual, you can keep up to the minute with all the action in a variety of ways. Frank Karsten and Corbin Hosler will be driving the written word into your cerebral cortex (edited/sanity checked by Mike Rosenberg and Chris Gleeson), with a great range of features, interviews, analysis, and all the decks you could pack into a pyramid. Social media posts, Twitch chat, and the like will be handled by Nate Price and Chris Peeler. Over on the video coverage, I'll be anchoring the news desk alongside our new addition to the team this time around—I know you're going to love the energy, passion, and professionalism that Maria Bartholdi brings to all she does. Rarely has something been so profoundly misnamed as Magic the Amateuring!

The Team Series was a huge success when we launched it in Dublin, Ireland, earlier this year, and with so much on the line, we're expanding our teams coverage in Nashville. Spearheading our insatiable quest for all the news that matters is the man with the inside track on all the players, Brian David-Marshall. He'll be visiting two of the top teams ahead of the Pro Tour, and then expect him to be everywhere at once (at least, that's what it seems like) as he brings you the most important stories each round, moments after the matches that count are done.

We've got some cool new features lined up for those between-rounds moments at the news desk. In particular, we're switching up our Limited coverage, with new special features designed to help you make even better choices in your upcoming Amonkhet drafts. Over in the booth, we're not messing with success. Our expert analysis comes from Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas along with Ian Duke, on loan to us from his day job making Magic inside R&D (you'll get the Amonkhet edition of Inside R&D over the three days, too). For play-by-play, look no further than the smooth-as-butter Marshall Sutcliffe and the English class and style of Tim Willoughby.

Whether you're wanting to know the best Draft archetypes; what the brand-new Standard looks like; or just want to follow your favorite players as they battle for Pro Points, their team, glory, and tax-shelter status on a remote island, we've got you covered.

But wait! Some of you are likely reading one of these preview articles for the first time. That means you've got questions. Questions like: When does it start? What are the formats? Are there free cheeseburgers? I'll answer these in no particular order.

Cheeseburgers—I've been doing Pro Tours for over a decade, and, if there are free cheeseburgers, I've not found them. This means, you may be assured, that there are no free cheeseburgers.

Start Time—If you're on Nashville time, like those of us in Nashville, we'll be starting our live coverage each day at 9 a.m. CT. Since Richard Garfield invented the sun and moon rather earlier than god invented Magic (or is that the other way round?), 9 a.m. in Nashville may not be 9 a.m. where you are. Here's a handy guide:

  • EST: 10 a.m.
  • PST: 7 a.m.
  • UTC: 2 p.m.
  • GMT+9 (Tokyo, Japan): 11 p.m.

Formats—Every Pro Tour has two formats, featuring both Limited and Constructed play. The Limited rounds feature the latest set (that's Amonkhet) and the Constructed format is Standard. Here's how it breaks down across the three days:

  • FridayAmonkhet Draft, followed by three rounds of Draft play, then switch to Standard for Rounds 4–8.
  • Saturday—Exactly the same pattern as Friday, so three rounds of Draft and five of Standard, but only players who got themselves to at least four wins on Friday get to come back and play again on Saturday.
  • Sunday—After sixteen rounds across the first two days, the Top 8 are the only ones left standing as we enter the third and final day of competition. This time it's all Standard, and players continue to play the exact same Standard deck they've been using all weekend; there's no chance to switch for the Top 8. Things are a little different on Sunday, though. The matches are all best-three-out-of-five (rather than two-out-of-three in all the rounds on Friday and Saturday), and players will get the chance to sideboard after the first two of those games and from then onward.

One other thing about Sunday. If you are a regular Pro Tour watcher, hopefully you already got the memo, but just in case:

On Sunday, we're playing a straightforward Top 8 bracket. That means four quarterfinals, leading to two semifinals (where you can see from the bracket who could possibly play who in each semi), leading to two finalists and eventually one Champion. If that all sounds like "normal" to you, it is!

Okay, so that's the what, but at Pro Tours it's every bit as much about the who. Before we dive in to all the great players and teams who are competing this weekend, I want to take a moment to thank you all for your overwhelmingly positive response to the Team Series. Of course, everyone on coverage is a sucker for a good story, and the Team Series delivered us dozens of them, neatly wrapped and wearing shiny new shirts with logos on them! But I also know the pro players were both excited and touched by the way that so many of you embraced the new team structure and quickly started rooting for your favorites. Dublin was just the first steps in the Team Series adventure, and with two events left this season, things are going to get even more interesting.

32 teams set out on the Team Series journey, but it's fair to say that not all 32 are still in contention for one very important reason: plenty of teams don't have all their players coming to the Pro Tour! We always knew this was going to be part of Team Series play; the only rule was that the players had to be qualified to play at Pro Tour Aether Revolt in Dublin. For several teams, not everyone did well enough to come back in Nashville—some teams have only one or two players left standing! So, here's the state of play for the top dozen teams, plus a few others to keep an eye on:

MTG Mint Card—1st Place, 49 Points
Lee Shi Tian, Jason Chung, Huang Hao-Shan, Kelvin Chew, Eduardo Sajgalik, and Nam Sung Wook

On a team of Asia-Pacific all-stars, there's something weirdly appropriate about citizen-of-the-world Eduardo Sajgalik contributing Top 8 Points in Dublin. Sajgalik netted 23 Points with his semifinal finish, and with friends and fans in England, France, Canada, and South America, there will be conversations in many languages hoping he can put in another strong performance. The pressure is on, though, because Magic Online superstar NSW (Nam Sung Wook) isn't qualified. That means all the Pro Points from the other five count in Nashville. (Team Series rules state that the top five finishers from each Team have their Pro Points counted toward the overall total.)

Musashi—2nd Place, 49 Points
Kentaro Yamamoto, Yuuya Watanabe, Ken Yukuhiro, Yuuki Ichikawa, Teruya Kakumae, and Shota Yasooka

The next team sees us sticking with the Asia-Pacific region and the traditional Magic powerhouse that is Japan. Hall of Famers Watanabe and Yasooka are complemented by a wealth of Top 8 experience. Consider this: Four of the six members finished Dublin in the Top 100. The two who didn't? Watanabe and Yasooka. Now that's what strength in depth looks like.

Face to Face Games—3rd Place, 44 Points
Alexander Hayne, Samuel Pardee, Steve Rubin, Jacob Wilson, Ivan Floch, and Oliver Tiu

Although there was a clean cut to the Top 8 in Dublin, it was Ivan Floch of Face to Face Games who headed the list on the outside looking in. It's worth noting at this point that the Pro Point payout is very top-heavy, meaning that the difference between, say, Floch in 9th (15 Points) and the eventual winner Lucas Esper Berthoud (31 Points) is vast. How vast? That 16 Points is enough to cover the distance between MTG Mint Card in 1st place and Genesis in 11th place, so a lot can change over the course of three rounds on Sunday. Meanwhile, on a Team where the "worst" player might be one of the best Rookies of the Year the game has ever seen, it's no surprise that Face to Face are near the top of the heap. I expect them to stay in contention right to the wire.

DEXThird—4th Place, 43 Points
Felipe Valdivia, Patrick Fernandes, Cristian Cespedes, Jose Luis Echeverria, João Lucas Caparroz, and Lucas Esper Berthoud

Hmm. Okay, no easy way to say this—DEXThird got hammered in Dublin. First, the good news: YOU WON THE PRO TOUR! Lucas Esper Berthoud held his nerve and claimed a gigantinormous 31 Pro Points for his team. Now the bad news: I can say with certainty that Felipe Valdivia, Patrick Fernandes, Cristian Cespedes, Jose Luis Echeverria, and Joao Lucas Caparroz will not be winning Pro Tour Amonkhet because they're not qualified. Yep, Berthoud battles alone in Nashville. Now, that doesn't technically rule out DEXThird—in Dublin, Berthoud alone captured more Points than over half the teams in the field! But, realistically, step one on that particular journey involves Berthoud winning again in Nashville. That's "winning" as in "being Champion." Again.

Lingering Souls—5th Place, 40 Points
Shaheen Soorani, Chris Fennell, Travis Woo, Andreas Ganz, Ashraf Abou Omar, and Donald Smith

If there are superteams, it stands to reason that there must be, you know, just, teams. Lingering Souls is a team. It has a couple of interesting deck builders, a guy who really knows Limited, a Grand Prix Champion . . . and it has Donald Smith, who ended Pro Tour Aether Revolt $15,000 better off and with a third-place finish to his name. They'll likely need another Top 8 from someone to keep pace at the top of the standings, but then, that was true before Dublin. And it isn't called the Superteam Series, either.

DEX Army—6th Place, 39 Points
Willy Edel, Márcio Carvalho, Carlos Romão, Thiago Saporito, Luis Salvatto, and Antonio Del Moral Leon

To the nearest thousand, how many times do you think the members of DEX Army have wished Lucas Esper Berthoud was on this, the "number one" DEX-branded team? I mean, it's hard to say the glass is half full when you've just watched two players from the same "stable" contest the final of the first Team Series Pro Tour. We could wait a very long time for that to occur again. (Or, watch as Team ChannelFireball Fire faces Team ChannelFireball Ice in Nashville). Fact is, Berthoud + Carvalho + anybody else in the world = winning. Still, chances are that any one of these could make the Top 8 in Nashville, and that should keep them firmly on track for being in contention when Kyoto comes around, where the slots at the World Championship will be determined.

Magic Corsairs Crew—7th Place, 39 Points
Eliott Boussaud, Maxime Martin, Julien Stihle, Samuel Vuillot, Pierre Sommen, and Martin Hrycej

The classic underdog story. Unless you've read my worldwide bestseller, "Little-Known European Magic Players of Round 13 Grand Prix Pairings Files, 2012–2017" (available wherever good books aren't sold), you don't know much about these guys. Hey, I wrote it, and even I don't know much about these guys. But here's what I do know: Boussaud, 10 Points in Dublin; Hrycej, 10 Points; Vuillot, 10 Points . . . that's fully half the team with a 10-6 record or better. Do it again in Nashville, and you can change "underdog" to "Cinderella" for the Pro Tour Hour of Devastation preview. I actually wouldn't bet against it; they've been in a lot of Grand Prix Round 13 Pairing Files.

ChannelFireball Ice—8th Place, 37 Points
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Mike Sigrist, Joel Larsson, Ben Stark, Ondřej Stráský, and Eric Froehlich

The classic underdog story. Sorry, cut and paste error. Yep, it's one of the teams that lets us say "Super" with a straight face. So, da Rosa made the Top 8 last time. Stráský went 10-6. Sigrist, Larsson, and Froehlich were all outside the Top 100. Stark had the proverbial game of two halves, starting out 7-1 and finishing 9-7. In other words, this was arguably a below average performance overall, and they're still in the Top 10 teams. Be afraid. Or just cheer at their general awesomeness.

Conflagreece—9th Place, 36 Points
Panagiotis Papadopoulos, Bill Chronopoulos, Dimitris Triantafillou, Petros Tziotis, Makis Matsoukas, and Nikolaos Kaponis

Continuing to bring anguish to website editors (and joy to just about everyone else), Conflagreece made it into the Top 10, ahead of many, many teams they shouldn't, in theory, be able to match. The team put three members into the top 100 in Dublin, with Papadopoulos (14th) and Triantafillou (18th) leading the way, and they didn't even have the full squad in Dublin, with Nikolaos Kaponis breaking his leg days before the event. He returns to the fray in Nashville, and who would begrudge them more success even if they aren't destined to be the Greeks bearing Gifts Ungiven?

Puzzle Quest—10th Place, 36 Points
Reid Duke, Owen Turtenwald, William Jensen, Jon Finkel, Andrew Cuneo, and Paul Rietzl

Turtenwald and Jensen both went 11-5 in Dublin, with Finkel and Rietzl at 10-6. Magic is a game where "average" isn't rewarded very highly. A 66% win rate—one of the best in history—gives you an average of somewhere in the 10-6 to 11-5 range at a Pro Tour. For the Top 8, somewhere better than 12-4 is necessary. In a few years, this team could be made up entirely of Hall of Famers, and you don't get to that kind of possibility without some serious above-averageness. Much like ChannelFireball Ice, look to the Puzzle Quest stock to rise in Nashville.

Genesis—11th Place, 35 Points
Brad Nelson, Lukas Blohon, Seth Manfield, Michael Majors, Martin Dang, and Martin Müller

Nelson, Blohon, Manfield, and Majors (a fine name for a firm of attorneys) all made the Top 100 in Dublin, and all six will be expecting at least that in Nashville. It's easy to think of the shakeup of Standard as being a neutral proposition for all the teams—Standard was going to look like X, now it's going to look like Y. But a team that includes Nelson, Manfield, and Majors is ideally situated to take advantage of a format that is going to be far fresher than it might have been. It's impossible for us to cover everyone at a Pro Tour, but it feels to me as if Genesis had a good case of "under the radar" in Dublin. Nelson was only 1 Point away from the Top 8, and it won't be long before one of the best Standard players of his generation gets back into the Sunday swing of things. If that's this Sunday, Genesis could be in at the start of something huge. Earthshaking, even.

Massdrop East—12th Place, 32 Points
Pascal Maynard, Jarvis Yu, Ricky Chin, Timothy Wu, Eric Severson, and Jon Stern

There was a case to be made that the Team Series might not be good for the Artists Formerly Known as East-West Bowl. The Series concentrated a lot of minds on the value of team interaction and preparation, and with a lot of smart people invested in finding the right answer, teams were likely to catch up to East-West fast. The conglomerate was so successful during the 2015–2016 season in part because of their "musketeer" approach to testing—it really was a case of one for all. Well, one event proves nothing, but their three squads sit 12th, 21st, and 30th out of 32 teams, and that's not good. So, it's take two in Nashville.

ChannelFireball Fire—14th Place, 30 Points
Patrick Cox, Matthew Nass, Martin Jůza, Josh Utter-Leyton, Corey Burkhart, and Paul Cheon

D3 Go!—15th Place, 29 Points
Ben Rubin, Tom Martell, Matthew Costa, Jelger Wiegersma, Shahar Shenhar, and Brock Parker

Hareruya—16th Place, 28 Points
Tomoharu Saito, Shuhei Nakamura, Yuta Takahashi, Jeremy Dezani, Oliver Polak-Rottmann, and Petr Sochůrek

Sitting within a couple of Points of each other are three squads with incredible depth. On ChannelFireball Fire, Nass, Jůza, and Utter-Leyton have all had excellent seasons (more on Jůza in a bit). Over at D3 Go! (the other part of the Pantheon, er, Puzzle, as it were), there's a group of six who are easily in the Top 10 teams overall, and I expect them to be in that group by the time Nashville is done. As for Hareruya, the jury is still out on the marriage between two former Player of the Year winners from Japan, plus the always-excellent Takahashi, and the European contingent that includes the player in the field with the best overall Standard win rate, Petr Sochůrek.

Top Level—25th Place, 22 Points
Craig Wescoe, Raphaël Lévy, Patrick Chapin, Brian Braun-Duin, Mike Hron, and Dan Lanthier

Last Samurai—28th Place, 19 Points
Kenji Tsumura, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Masashi Oiso, Makihito Mihara, Kazuyuki Takimura, and Ryoichi Tamada

Mutiny—29th Place, 19 Points
David Ochoa, Joshua Cho, Gerry Thompson, Justin Cohen, Matthew Severa, and Samuel Black

And, to round things off, three teams for whom things did not go to plan in Dublin. Top Level is a good name, but if they're going to be next level (ho ho, see what happened there?), things have to turn around fast. It's hard to know whether chemistry is a factor, but it's also hard to see the narrative of how this group came together, and teamwork and trust and structure don't come automatically alongside pure gameplay ability. Last Samurai came into Dublin with the possibility of being an incredibly romantic throwback to the days of Japanese dominance and the possibility of being an irrelevance, full of nostalgia and empty of match wins. The latter is how it turned out. And then there's Mutiny. It's not clear whether they suffered from coalescing late in the team-building process, but suffer they surely did. 19 points is a horrible return, and with the World slots surely beyond them, it will be interesting to see if this group survives into the next season.

With teams featuring so prominently, it's easy to forget that we're closing in on a number of prominent competitions. Here's a quick refresher on where we stand:

Player of the Year:

Márcio Carvalho (left) and Shota Yasooka
Márcio Carvalho (left) and Shota Yasooka

Márcio Carvalho leads Shota Yasooka by 17 Points. Does that sound like a lot? It is, especially during a period of Grand Prix where a typical pro result might be 2 or 3 Points, with maybe a 4 or 6 sprinkled in with a Top 8 appearance. In that context, 17 is enormous. However, a Pro Tour Top 8 averages out around the 20 Point mark, and that means a good weekend for Yasooka could seriously diminish Carvalho's lead. However, there are gaps from there downward, too. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is 3rd, but 22 Points behind Carvalho, and then it's 2 more to Reid Duke and 4 more to Eduardo Sajgalik in 5th. Carlos Romão and Owen Turtenwald currently share 6th place, but even if they win the Pro Tour in Nashville, they'll be behind Carvalho. So, like I said, 17 Points is a lot.

Rookie of the Year:

This one is never over until the last day of the season, and it won't be any different this year. Ben Hull has 8 Points of daylight between him and Makis Matsoukas, and both of them have a Pro Tour Top 8 this season. Whichever rookies emerge from the pack in Nashville to do the same will be right in contention when we go to Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Japan to end the season.

Draft Master:

We may be only halfway through the contest, but with twelve rounds down, Martin Jůza sits alone in 1st place with a fabulous 11-1 record. It's not a massive surprise since he's been one of the world's best Limited players for at least a decade, but still, 11-1 is absurd. So absurd, of course, that it likely won't translate into 22-2 when the competition ends in Kyoto four drafts from now. Clear in second is Travis Woo, on an unlikely 10-1-1 (who draws in Limited?), while Matt Nass, Owen Turtenwald, Makihito Mihara, and Donald Smith are the quartet on 10-2. It's worth remembering that only those players who reach 4-4 or better on Friday will get to play in the Saturday draft, so some of the big players will have some work to do during the Day One Standard rounds to keep their Draft Master hopes alive.

Standard Master:

The same issue faces the Standard superstars, with 4-4 guaranteeing they'll play all ten rounds of Standard across the first two days (Sunday matches don't count toward Standard master). With 20 rounds played and 20 still to go, Steve Hatto of Luxembourg leads the way on a fabulous 17-3, with Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren on 16-4 in second. Then it's Eduardo Sajgalik and Lee Shi Tian, both on 15-4-1 and both on MTG Mint Card, suggesting that they must be doing their Standard testing right. A Pro Tour Top 8 goes a long way toward getting you into contention in this competition, but it's worth noting that the reigning Draft Master, Márcio Carvalho, is well within range of the Standard Master lead, currently in a tie for 7th with Jun Ishihara.

Lest We Forget:

Not everyone competing in Nashville is on a Team. Not everyone is in the hunt for Standard or Draft Master. Not everyone is a rookie, and not every experienced veteran is looking toward the Player of the Year title. In a field likely to top out at around 400 players, there are thirteen-year-olds in their first Pro Tour, 40-somethings sharing the first-time label, players from Magic Online qualifiers, players from RPTQs, players who made it through the Top 8 of a Grand Prix, and players in the Hall of Fame coming in their once-a-year bid to recapture old glories. Every one of them wants to win, and every one of them has a story to tell, and we'll be right there to help them tell it.

And Finally:

It might seem like one million dollars is a lot to pay me for a single preview article, but I like to think that, among the many reasons for justifying such a reasonable price tag, my format analysis takes pride of place. Yes, there are dozens of strategic articles you could read, but the reality is that when it really matters, I'm the one bringing the depth of insight you can't get anywhere else. And so, to close, my official format analysis for Pro Tour Amonkhet:

Draft: Fast.

Standard: Different.

See you in Nashville.

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