Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Preview, Part 1

Posted in Competitive Gaming on August 1, 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.

Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is one giant interconnected story, which features a labyrinthine collection of plots, subplots, walk-on parts, cameo roles, high drama, tension, and a ton of life-changing awards to, you know, award. It's a truly magnificent spectacle, and one we can't wait to share with all of you around the world.

Keeping track of all the characters and storylines as we wind our way through three high-octane days of competition is a Herculean task. I know this because I do it every year. Part of the beauty of Magic is that different aspects of the game appeal to different fans in different ways. If, for example, you are a player from the Czech Republic, you might be eager to discover who is most likely to be your World Magic Cup captain. If you're a Friday Night Magic Standard guru, you're doubtless wanting the latest decklists—either to beat 'em, or to join 'em. Maybe you've been following along all season as your friends from the local game store travel the world in search of reaching the top tier of professional Magic, the Platinum pros. Or maybe you just want to know if the greatest player of all time, Jon Finkel, can lock up a World Championship slot by becoming Draft Master.

But there's still a problem. See, when it comes to the last Pro Tour of the season, I'm a real nerd. I'm not ashamed of it, but that does mean that I want to talk about a lot of stuff with you. Like, a lot. So much so, that I'm pushing the boundaries of testing out whether you can, in fact, have too much of a good thing. Fortunately, there's a plan. It's possible—unlikely, I know, but possible nevertheless—that you don't feel the need to know about the sixth most likely winner of the Czech Republic World Magic Cup race, or how many World Championship slots Seth Manfield could theoretically convert into At-Large slots by the end of the coming weekend. If you are the kind of person who needs that gargantuan level of nerd-dom in your life (and I certainly do), then you can come right back here tomorrow, when I'll unleash hitherto undreamt-of sentences like:

"That 5-point margin is pretty significant, meaning Maynard will need a minimum of 11-5 to wrest the slot away."

Seriously, with journalism like that less than 24 hours away, how will you sleep?

Meanwhile, today I'm going to focus on some things that are just a tiny bit less esoteric, less niche, less—okay, let's own this thing—nerdy. Things like:

  • What a Pro Tour actually is
  • Who's playing at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon
  • Eldritch Moon Draft
  • Eldritch Moon Standard
  • The Pro Tour Coverage Team
  • Special on-air features
  • When to watch

You know, the actual nuts and bolts of what we're all going to be living and breathing for three days as a tumultuous season comes to a close. And for those of you who want to know all about Silver pros, World Magic Cup races, and why Joel Larsson will likely earn a slot at the World Championship even if it isn't a Top European slot...I'll see you tomorrow.

Pro Tour Eldritch Moon

The Pro Tour is the pinnacle of competitive Magic. Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is the fourth and final Pro Tour of the 2015–2016 season. Approximately 400 players from dozens of countries around the world converge on the Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia, for three days of competition starting this Friday morning local time, with $250,000 in prize money at stake, together with numerous financial benefits based on points accumulated throughout the season. These are the Platinum, Gold, and Silver Pro Club levels. Because it's the end of the season, there are also numerous awards for both the World Championship and World Magic Cup that Pro Tour Eldritch Moon will ultimately resolve.

The Field

Each Pro Tour has approximately 400 qualified players. The precise number of qualifiers varies between Pro Tours, and so does the eventual number of players who participate. Not everyone who qualifies is able to attend, and two groups of qualified players in particular—the Silver pros and the Hall of Famers—attend in relatively low numbers, although for very different reasons. For the Silvers, they are entitled to use one Pro Tour invite during the season. Now, because this is the last Pro Tour of the season, any unused invites will expire, so the Silvers who haven't yet played a Pro Tour this season will be hoping to make it to Sydney. As for the Hall of Famers, although there are plenty who are currently active players and a significant threat for the title—think Jon Finkel, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Paul Rietzl, Luis Scott-Vargas, and many more—there are also plenty of Hall of Famers who rarely make it to the starting line. Gary Wise, Anton Jonsson, Tommi Hovi, and several others are unexpected visitors when they attend a Pro Tour.

The field breaks down like this:

  • Top 4 (or Top 8) of Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers
  • Top 8 of Magic Online Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers
  • Winner of Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifiers
  • Winner of Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) Quarterly Playoff
  • Players with 11-5 or better record from Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad
  • Top 8 (individual) or Top 4 (teams) of recent Grand Prix
  • Winner of "Series-Style" event, e.g., SCG Invitational
  • Silver pros who haven't used their invite for the season
  • Gold pros
  • Platinum pros
  • Hall of Famers

Tournament Structure

Every player begins on Friday morning by drafting two booster packs of Eldritch Moon followed by a single pack of Shadows over Innistrad. Players draft at tables of eight, meaning that a typical morning of Draft action across three rounds results in a single 3-0 record, three 2-1s, three 1-2s, and one player looking for their first win.

Regardless of how many wins they have to that point, every player is entitled to continue playing for the rest of Day One. That involves five rounds of Standard, meaning a 60-card main deck plus sideboard. Even if you go 0-7, you still get to play the last round of the day—very possibly against the only other player in the field with a 0-7 record!

After Day One, the first cull takes place. Only those players with a 4-4 record or better are allowed to play on Day Two. It's worth noting that the players at 4-4 have a very, very, very small chance of actually winning the Pro Tour, as even with a 12-4 record at the end of Saturday, they are likely to have very poor tiebreakers, which would put them behind the other 12-4s. Saturday itself, meanwhile, is a replica of Day One—three rounds of Draft, then five rounds of Standard.

Once sixteen rounds have been played (eight on Friday, eight on Saturday), we cut to the Top 8 players on Sunday. On the first two days, every match is best two out of three games. But the Top 8 goes big, extending matches to five games and culminating in a best-three-out-of-five grand finale. Whichever player finished higher at the end of Saturday gets the choice of going first in the opening game, and that's often a big enough deal to see players who are already locked into the Top 8 with a round to go jockeying for position.

Whoever wins the final becomes the Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Champion. Simple!

Eldritch Moon Draft

Eldritch Moon is a small set following on from Shadows over Innistrad. In the past, that would have meant we could, with reasonable reliability, predict that the Draft format wouldn't change hugely. However, not only are we drafting Eldritch Moon first, we're drafting two packs of Eldritch Moon before we get to that solitary SOI booster. So what is Draft going to look like? It's hard to say, but there are a few things that are already apparent. First of all, the fundamental plans of the color pairs have not shifted with the addition of Eldritch Moon. Red-green, for example, is still going to feature Werewolves, although the likes of Ulvenwald Abomination, Conduit of Emrakul, and Erupting Dreadwolf all have more than a whiff of Eldrazi about them. If white-blue is your thing, you're going to hope to open Selfless Spirit and then find lots more Spirits to go with it. As for Humans, they continue to be the basis of the green-white deck, with a smattering of whatever Equipment is on hand in order to combat the increasingly horrific forces arrayed against them.

There is one color pair that's changed pace this time around. You could even say a new strategy for green-blue has...emerged. A card like Exultant Cultist may not look exciting, but it gets a whole lot better when you use it to emerge Wretched Gryff, or (go on, live the dream) Decimator of the Provinces. One of the interesting things to watch during the Draft rounds is how willing pros are to commit all their proverbial eggs into the one emerge basket.

Another thing to watch out for is meld—undoubtedly one of the standout features of Eldritch Moon. Simple math tells us that we may not see Hanweir Battlements and Hanweir Garrison together on the Limited battlefield, and if we get Brisela, Voice of Nightmares on camera, we've beaten the odds in incredible fashion. For black-aligned mages, however, it's a different story, as Midnight Scavengers and Graf Rats have every chance of ending up in the same deck and bringing Chittering Host to dominate the battlefield.

Eldritch Moon Standard

So, if we don't see Brisela in Draft, are we going to see her in Standard? Partnering a rare with a mythic rare to create some kind of "megamythic" monstrosity is, to use the word in a true context, Romantic—and Romanticism is something you expect to be in short supply at the Pro Tour. At the time of writing (hours before the first weekend of new Standard action) there is precious little to go on. However, the only way Brisela gets made at the Pro Tour is if someone thinks that is literally the best thing to be doing in Standard, and that's far from obvious at this stage. Discovering just how many flying, first strike, vigilance, and lifelink 9/10s Standard is going to need to handle is going to be fascinating.

In terms of footprints already left in the sand, Standard has four big players. Mono-White Humans leads the pack, with Green-White Tokens and Bant Humans in a virtual tie for second place and Bant Company a distant fourth before the rest of Standard trails off into the weeds of "niche." So which cards in Eldritch Moon might shake up the Standard order? Here are ten to keep an eye on:

  • Selfless Spirit—Many pros believe White-Blue Spirits is a real deck for the Pro Tour, which means Selfless Spirit has the perfect home.
  • Thalia, Heretic Cathar—Plenty of hype around this one, with good reason.
  • Unsubstantiate—Tempo cards are always useful for giving you a sense of how a new format is going to play out. Are they game-winners time after time, just too slow, or somewhere in between? If the answer is "game-winners," expect to see a lot of Unsubstantiate.
  • Cryptbreaker—It doesn't take a lot of brains (see what I did there?) to spot that Cryptbreaker is good news for Zombie fans. Now, if only McLaren wins the PT with Zombies, he can be Shaun of the Dead. Fingers crossed!
  • Tree of Perdition—I can't honestly say that I expect this to be a big deal. Oh, but wouldn't it be so sweet if it is?
  • Collective Defiance—Lots of words, lots of choices, lots of hurt equals lots of yes please.
  • Kessig Prowler—I'm not a fan of 1/1s for one mana, which makes me disproportionately a fan of 2/1s for one mana. So just imagine how happy a 2/1 that turns into a 4/4 makes me...
  • Distended Mindbender—"Like" isn't necessarily the word for how I feel about this. "Filthy" is probably closer.
  • Elder Deep-Fiend—See Distended Mindbender.
  • Spell QuellerSphinx's Revelation made me proud to play white-blue. Once we see the utter devastation this is going to wreak at the Pro Tour, I fully expect to say the same about Spell Queller.

The Coverage Team

So who has your back when it comes to keeping you on top of all the action in Sydney? Your friendly mostly-non-neighborhood coverage team, that's who. At the news desk I'll be anchoring as usual, alongside Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall. Our gameplay coverage will be led by Marshall Sutcliffe, with fellow play-by-play commentators Tim Willoughby and Gaby Spartz. Alongside them will be our regular color commentators at the Pro Tour, Ian Duke from Wizards of the Coast R&D and Hall of Famer Randy Buehler. If he doesn't make the Top 8 on Sunday—something we've found increasingly difficult to get him to agree to lately—you can expect another Hall of Famer, Luis Scott-Vargas, to join us for the Top 8 action. Behind the scenes, Rashad Miller and Neil Rigby will be keeping things smooth in the feature match area.

Over on the text side of the operation, a trio of seasoned writers will keep you up to speed. Marc Calderaro, Ray Walkinshaw, and Chapman Sim have a ton of experience between them, and their insights are always worth reading. Blake Rasmussen, Mike Rosenberg, and Chris Gleeson are your content managers and editors, while Trick Jarrett and Nate Price take care of our social media output.

Both video and text coverage are greatly improved by the potent imaging skills of longtime Pro Tour photographer Craig Gibson. And if you're around the venue during the weekend, you'll doubtless see the dynamic duo of Shawn Kornhauser and Nate Holt, the creative team behind Walking the Planes and the magnificent documentary Enter the Battlefield. All that, coming your way under the steerage of Executive Producer Greg Collins.

Special Features

With four matches in our feature match area every round, there's going to be a slew of great games under the spotlight. Eventually, though, those four matches will finish, and they won't always be the last matches still going on in the tournament. So what can you expect to see between the rounds? If Limited is your thing, you'll see two full drafts each morning, plus our comprehensive Draft Viewer coverage, which puts you into each and every seat of our feature draft. We'll also look at the early data from Magic Online, giving you the inside track on the key commons and uncommons to draft in the coming weeks, together with expert analysis of what makes each color pair tick.

Deck techs form the centerpiece of our Standard coverage, with players coming in to the news desk to explain how their newest creations tick off the wins. We'll also have an avalanche of interviews, covering key players in the race for the World Championship and World Magic Cup captaincy slots. Brian David-Marshall will spend the first part of Pro Tour week embedded with one of the very top teams in the world, and for more behind the scenes access we'll be showing Inside R&D, a look at how Eldritch Moon came to be.

And then, one of the highlights of every Magic season—the announcement of the 2016 class of the Hall of Fame. Up to five tremendous players will be added to the roster of all-time greats, and Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall will be right there to unveil the new additions and guide us through their storied careers.

All that, plus live coverage direct from the tournament floor as the clock ticks to zero, the best decks, the best players—if you're a fan of Magic, you're going to love these three days.

Global Timetable

At least, you're going to love these three days if you know when they are. We get it, Australia isn't necessarily near your own country, and that means that our idea of "9 a.m. Friday morning" may not be exactly the same as yours. Below, there's a more comprehensive guide to major cities around the globe, but here's the rough version:

If you're in Asia-Pacific, you'll be watching Draft in the mornings, Constructed in the afternoons and into the evening, with the final likely late afternoon on Sunday.

If you're in Europe, drafts kick off late at night (beginning Thursday night), with the opportunity to catch the later Constructed rounds when you wake up on Friday and Saturday morning. (Don't worry, there's a full replay each day to help with the inconveniences of the sun.) If you want to see the final live, you might need to set your alarms.

In the US, drafts should be in a prime afternoon or evening slot, depending on which coast you're closest to, with Constructed rounds stretching into the late night. For you, though, the Pro Tour begins on Thursday, so make sure you remember that Saturday night is finals night.

Finally, for viewers in Latin America, you'll be just a little bit later on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening than your North American counterparts.

Clear? Excellent.

Follow live streaming video coverage of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon on DailyMTG and Twitch August 5–7! Coverage begins all three days starting at 9 a.m. local time (AEST). Don't forget that because of time zones, that means Day One starts Thursday at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET/11 p.m. UTC!

All right Magic fan, that's part one done and dusted. You know the when, you know the where, you know the who, you know the what, you know the how. What you don't yet know is the whole of the why, because those milestones—the Pro Club levels, the World Magic Cup races, the World Championship slots—are what makes the three days in Sydney such an extraordinary event. Four hundred or so players are qualified to play in the Pro Tour, each attempting to reach the summit of the game and claim a prize that fewer than one hundred players in history have ever accomplished. For many of them, there's even more at stake—and I'll tell you all about that...tomorrow.

See you then.

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