Pro Tour Dominaria Preview

Posted in Competitive Gaming on May 28, 2018

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.

Pro Tour 25th Anniversary is going to be absolutely amazing. Hundreds of the best players in the world will gather in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in August to battle in an event that is going to be unique in so many ways. We'll see Legacy. We'll see Modern. We'll see Standard. We'll see them all in the same round. We'll see the power of the star names in full force, as they demonstrate their dominance in teams of three. We'll see unbreakable bonds of friendship tested as the Pro Tour season comes to its thrilling conclusion. Utterly, utterly thrilling Magic awaits us, as . . .

Ohhhh. You want me to talk about that one.


Pro Tour Dominaria is going to be absolutely amazing. Hundreds of the best players in the world will gather in Richmond, Virginia, later this week to battle in an event that is going to be unique in so many ways. It's Dominaria, which, in and of itself, guarantees that it's going to be legendary. And historic. And Saga-ic.

Look, I'm not sure this is going to work. Do I really have to hype PT Dominaria? Don't people already know the important stuff? Like, you know, it's a Pro Tour, which means it genuinely is a tournament featuring hundreds of the best players anywhere in the world? That there are hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line? That Dominaria Draft is a really sweet format? That we'll get to watch Standard determine the destination of the trophy on Sunday?

See, I want to get on to some of the stuff that's a bit more subtle, the kind of thing that isn't always true at every PT, the stuff that's going to give PT Dominaria its own unique charm. So, look, let's just agree I've done the opening act and reminded you that because it's a Pro Tour, it's obviously worth your time this weekend. Let's get down to the good stuff. Because, like a very fine wine, it's the complexities and subtleties of the blend that are going to define Dominaria as a Pro Tour not quite like any other.

That said, if you've been with us for any Pro Tour over the last few years, you're going to see a lot of the familiar. Here's the basic pattern of the weekend:

Friday – Everyone gets to draft Dominaria, followed by three rounds of Draft action, playing people exclusively from within their own table of eight drafters. Every match is the best two-out-of-three games.

Also Friday – Rounds 4–8, featuring Standard. Again, best two-out-of-three.

Also, Also Friday – After eight rounds, players on four match wins or better (that's 12 points) get to come back for Day Two.

Saturday – Those who are left get to draft Dominaria again, followed by three more rounds of Draft. Again, they'll only play people from within their own pod.

Also Saturday – With eleven rounds down (six Limited, five Standard), it's time to go Constructed for the rest of the tournament. Using the same decks as Friday afternoon, the remaining competitors play five more Standard rounds, bringing us to our traditional Pro Tour finish line of sixteen rounds.

Also, Also Saturday – After those sixteen rounds are done, the Top 8 players advance to Day Three.

Sunday – Still using the exact same Standard decks they registered ahead of the tournament, the remaining eight competitors battle it out for the title. This time, matches are the best three-out-of-five, with Sideboarding allowed after the first two games are done.

And for those with an even shorter attention span:

Friday and Saturday – morning Drafts, afternoon Standard
Sunday – Top 8, Standard

So, yeah, so far nothing out of the ordinary. But, astonishingly, I didn't open this preview talking about Pro Tour 25th Anniversary just for comedic effect. Minneapolis in August actually casts a very long shadow, and a lot of what we'll see in Richmond this weekend is affected by the mega-celebration that's coming at the end of the summer. Let me show you what I mean.

Team Series

Right now, the Top 8 in the Pro Tour Team Series competition looks like this:

8th place – Team Ultra PRO, 75 points

Samuel Black, Ivan Floch, Alexander Hayne, Matthew Nass, Samuel Pardee, and Steve Rubin

No PT Top 8s yet this season, and it's essentially impossible to win the Team Series without them. With eleven PT Top 8s from 173 starts, there's grounds for optimism that at least one of these players will hit the Top 8. As a group, they're likely to pass the $1,000,000 earnings mark during Pro Tour Dominaria, and every one of them has played on a PT Sunday.

7th place – MetaGame Gurus Sun, 76 points

Joshua Cho, Ben Friedman, Ondrej Strasky, Matthew Severa, Gerry Thompson, and Oliver Tiu

Unlike Team Ultra PRO, this squad is relatively light on Sunday PT experience. Tiu, Severa, and Friedman are all looking for their first Top 8, and it's likely that one of them will need to find it if this team continues going up the leaderboard.

6th place – ChannelFireball, 77 points

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Martin Jůza, Luis Scott-Vargas, Mike Sigrist, Ben Stark, and Josh Utter-Leyton

And this is why I say that MetaGame Gurus Sun is going to need some serious Top 8 action. ChannelFireball has 34 Pro Tour Top 8s between them, and even without the absurd numbers of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, this is still a team where everyone has at least three Pro Tour Top 8s. The only not-yet-Hall of Famer on the team, Mike Sigrist, has already done his bit, making the Top 8 of Pro Tour Ixalan in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Now, look for the rest to make their mark.

5th place – Connected Company, 82 points

Christian Calcano, Jeremy Dezani, Javier Dominguez, Raphaël Lévy, Andrea Mengucci, and Tomoharu Saito

Gotta be honest, I've still no idea how this unbelievably disparate group turned into a team. USA, France twice, Spain, Italy, and Japan—it's not exactly an obvious mix, on any level. Still, putting two players in the Top 8 last time around (Dominguez was finished in 5th place, Mengucci 8th) is going to put you in the mix in a hurry. Unfortunately, something similar may be required to keep the dream of a Worlds showdown slot alive.

4th place – Hareruya Latin, 83 points

Lucas Esper Berthoud, Márcio Carvalho, Sebastian Pozzo, Carlos Romão, Luis Salvatto, and Thiago Saporito

Another way to get into the Worlds conversation is to win a Pro Tour for your team, and that's what Argentina's Luis Salvatto did at PT Rivals of Ixalan in Bilbao, Spain. It's almost impossible to turn that spike into a trend, however, and a trend is what's needed. Still, there are other players on the team with PT-level hardware on the mantelpiece, so, although the odds are against them, we could see them in the final two at the World Championships.

3rd place – Genesis, 85 points

Corey Baumeister, Lukas Blohon, Brian Braun-Duin, Seth Manfield, Martin Müller, and Brad Nelson

While Luis Salvatto is one of this season's Pro Tour Champions, the other belongs to team Genesis. Seth Manfield claimed another title by winning PT Ixalan in Albuquerque to kick off the PT season. Most of this squad remains from last season, when Genesis reached the final against Musashi, and there's every reason to think they could get there again. As I write, the trio of Manfield, Nelson, and Braun-Duin are just coming off a final at Grand Prix Toronto, casually beating almost everyone as per usual. With a squad this good, it's harder to imagine a Top 8 without one of them than to visualize them there on Sunday.

2nd place – Musashi, 89 points

Yuuki Ichikawa, Teruya Kakumae, Yuuya Watanabe, Kentaro Yamamoto, Shota Yasooka, and Ken Yukuhiro

Last season's Champions are in the thick of it once again. Six Japanese all-stars they may be, but it's worth remembering that they're in second place right now after a disastrous first PT of the season, ending PT Ixalan in 15th place. Thanks in part to Ken Yukuhiro's Top 8 finish at PT Rivals of Ixalan, things are back on track for the reigning Champions, and they're continuing favorites to retain the crown.

1st place – Ultimate Guard Pro Team, 92 points

Andrew Cuneo, Reid Duke, Jon Finkel, William Jensen, Paul Rietzl, and Owen Turtenwald

As a team, this group will pass 3,000 lifetime Pro Points at the Pro Tour. That's an absurd number that neatly encapsulates the collective might of the squad across many seasons of pro play. The chances are good that they will add to Reid Duke's Top 8 from the last PT, and, assuming they manage that, there's every chance they will go into Pro Tour 25th Anniversary continuing to pace the field.

So, what's different this time around for the teams? Well, put simply, this is the last chance for the teams to be individuals. Pro Tour 25th Anniversary is a Team Pro Tour, meaning these squads of six will be divided up into two trios. That's going to mean a lot more variance in how teams do next time. Functionally, instead of six "horses" in the race, each team is down to two, with the fate of, say, Reid Duke, identical in points terms to those of William Jensen and Owen Turtenwald (assuming that those three play together). If either of the team squads has a bad day at PT 25th Anniversary, that entire sextet could plummet down the leaderboard.

Meanwhile, this is also the last chance for future teammates to make a major impact on the Player of the Year Race. For example, if Owen Turtenwald wants another shot at Player of the Year, he can't rely on catching Reid Duke with a good PT performance in Minneapolis, because he'll be scoring exactly the same number of points. This weekend is where players like Turtenwald need to make their move.

By the end of the weekend, the Team Series will effectively be "handicapped" ahead of the final event, and with big swings expected there, every point they can earn in Richmond is going to be hugely important.

Draft, and Draft Master

At this point, I'd usually be telling you that we've reached the third Pro Tour of the season, and that the assorted title races are shaping up nicely. This time, I'm here to remind you that we are two mornings of play away from crowning the Draft Master! Yep, Pro Tour 25th Anniversary strikes again! With no Limited play, and no individual play, Minneapolis makes this weekend the end of the line for the players in contention for Draft Master. To be fair, "in contention" is a slightly loose definition. "Just about in contention" might be more accurate, because, so far this season, one man has been flawless when it comes to the 40-card format. Allow me to tell you about Elias Watsfeldt.

Hailing from Sweden, 25-year-old Watsfeldt made his debut at Pro Tour Paris 2011. From fourteen PT starts, he averages a 58% win rate, which is four points behind his Grand Prix win rate of 62%. At the GP level, he has five Top 8s, two of which came in team play, including 3rd place at GP Madrid 2018, his first GP Top 8 in five years, although he hasn't been a regular GP player for much of that time. His premier event Booster Draft win rate of 63.7% is very, very high, and only two players have a better Pro Tour record this season. Currently a Silver pro, he's won more than $20,000 and has 121 lifetime Pro Points.

This information was brought to you by (oh, goodness) . . .

The "Elias Sports Bureau."

I have waited literally years to type a sentence like that.

Anyway, Watsfeldt leads the way, and has a 6-point (i.e., two-match) lead over his nearest pursuers, which include Pro Tour Champions Alexander Hayne and Craig Wescoe, plus former Belgian National Champion (and 3rd-place finisher from PT Rivals of Ixalan) Pascal Vieren. A further match win adrift is no fewer than fourteen players, with Reid Duke, Ivan Floch, Luis Salvatto, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Andrea Mengucci, Kentaro Yamamoto, and Ari Lax the biggest names among that group. For anyone other than Watsfeldt, though, it's basically all about hoping to go 6-0 across two drafts (which they can partially control) and hoping that Watsfeldt hasn't figured out Dominaria Draft (which they can't).

alt text
Elias Watsfeldt (left) with his Grand Prix Madrid teammates, Joel Larsson (center) and Per Nyström

This brings us neatly to the other subtle, but important, facet of the Limited rounds at the Pro Tour this weekend. You may have noticed that Dominaria has been with us for a little while now. The Prerelease was a month ago. To those of us who don't make a living from playing the game, that might mean that we've just about decided our favorite couple of archetypes, have now lost to most of the good rares and mythic rares in the set, and hopefully have a few tales of amazing comebacks and broken synergies. For those who do make their living playing the game, this last month has represented an enormous and important opportunity.

Many Draft formats get "solved" after a period of time, and what follows is a weird kind of self-correcting metagame "dance" where everyone knows what the best decks are, what color combinations are a trap or basically undraftable, and everyone makes a guess about what everyone else is going to do with that same information that everyone has. Dominaria isn't really like that, marking it as one of the more successful Limited formats of recent times (if you don't feel the urge to hype), or the Greatest Draft Format of All Time (if you do). Here's Hall of Fame pro Ben Stark—arguably the Greatest Drafter of All Time (and I don't feel the urge to hype)—talking about the format on Twitter a couple of weeks back:

If what Ben says stays true, players are going to arrive for the Pro Tour with every drafting avenue open to them. Just as importantly, it's going to require a huge amount of thought and effort to get ahead of the overall understanding of the format. Anyone who wants to take the time can easily have played 100 drafts of the format ahead of the Pro Tour, and anyone who hasn't done so is either giving up a lot or potentially has Ben Stark on speed dial. As for Watsfeldt, it's not a stretch to say that Dominaria is a very different, er, beast to Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan. So, with all this time to sort it out, can the Swedish player find an edge once again and claim the Draft Master title? Answers on Friday and (assuming he makes it through Day One) Saturday mornings.

Standard, and Constructed Master

It's the same deal with Constructed Master. Richmond marks the end of the road for this competition, but, as usual, it's all ten Standard rounds across two days that are going to count. That makes the single-point lead currently enjoyed by John Rolf exceedingly precarious. Brian Braun-Duin and Immanuel Gerschenson are next, with a 3-point (one match win) gap back to a group of Ben Stark, Christian Hauck, Jelco Bodewes, and Matt Severa. Piotr Głogowski and Reid Duke are still well in touch at 8th and 9th respectively, before a ton of talent on 42 points (7 points behind Rolf) that includes the likes of the Japanese trio Kenji Tsumura, Tomoharu Saito, and Shota Yasooka. That takes us realistically toward 20 players who could end up as Constructed Master by the end of the weekend, and the true shape of the stretch run in this competition won't be clear until the end of Day One.

As for the format, well, that too is influenced by the positioning of the Pro Tour somewhat later in the Standard lifecycle than we've traditionally had at this level. Again, with Dominaria out in the wild for more than a month, this is a mature format that already has some "known knowns" to it. Amongst them, seeing six places in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Birmingham filled by black-red decks—decks which, by the time you read this, may definitively have been categorized (or not) as Vehicles decks—really gave the fledgling format some shape and put a heavy target on a clear tier 1 deck.

So now, we move to the next level. Talking to some of the pros, there doesn't seem to be resignation and despair at this black-red prevalence. This doesn't yet seem to be a case of it being the single defining deck of the format. If that's what it becomes, we're into the metagame-warping choice of beat it/join it. But, as I say, we don't seem to be there yet. While the pros may not be able to come up with a completely new format-definer, the subtle edges needed in a more mature format may give us some unexpected results once the Standard rounds get under way.

And so, the penultimate Pro Tour of the season is almost upon us. Between the Team Series, the Draft and Constructed Master conclusions, a fantastic Draft format, and a Standard looking for a definitive exclamation point, Pro Tour Dominaria doesn't need a ton of hype. The coverage team can't wait to bring you all the action, analysis, and fun, which means you'll see and hear plenty from Maria Bartholdi, Brian David-Marshall, Tim Willoughby, Riley Knight, Simon Görtzen, Paul Cheon, and me. We'll be joined by Rashad Miller and Neil Rigby in the feature match area, plus our text features team of Blake Rasmussen, Mike Rosenberg, Adam Styborski, Tobi Henke, and Nick Fang, all under the watchful gaze of executive producer Greg Collins.

So, we'll see you on Friday morning in Richmond, and we could be just minutes away from seeing Lich's Mastery as the first pick of the draft.

Like I said, it doesn't really need the hype.

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