Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Preview, Part 2

Posted in Competitive Gaming on August 2, 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.

Greetings, Magic fans. Yesterday, we took a look at the when, where, who, what, and how of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. Today, we're going to dig a little deeper into the why. Why does this final Pro Tour of the season matter so much? Everyone is looking for a share of $250,000, everyone wants to win a Pro Tour and raise the trophy aloft. But why does this Pro Tour matter so much more than any other in the season? In simple terms, three reasons:

  1. The World Championship
  2. The World Magic Cup
  3. Individual milestones and Pro Club levels

With each round that goes by in Sydney, the life-changing chances for hundreds of players are going to fluctuate. Around the world, players leading their World Magic Cup races are going to hope that their leads hold up, and that they're not caught right at the finish line. Some of the biggest names in the game are going to be hoping that Seth Manfield and Owen Turtenwald can just keep on winning, because that might open up an additional At-Large slot for the World Championship. And, wherever you look, up and down the standings—especially on the homestretch of Saturday afternoon in Sydney—dozens of players are going to win or lose a single match of Magic that will utterly change their plans for the next twelve months and beyond. I can't promise that we'll be able to keep track of every single race for you—it's entirely possible that the Panamanian World Magic Cup race and Matthew Light's quest for Silver may be early victims of the information overload that's heading to the news desk this weekend—but today we can go a long way toward setting the stage for a myriad of storylines. So, story and stat nerds, strap yourselves in, and let's get granular in the company of...

The World Championship

The World Championship is a 24-player, invite only, high-level Magic slugfest held against the backdrop of the fabulous PAX West gaming convention in the home city of Wizards of the Coast, Seattle, Washington. The competitors will face a range of formats, covering both Constructed and Limited disciplines, spread across three days of competition, before the Top 4 advance to battle for the title—currently held by Seth Manfield—of Magic: The Gathering World Champion.

Who's Already In?

As the 2015 Magic World Champion, Seth Manfield knew he would be back to defend the title. His opponent in the 2015 final, Owen Turtenwald, is guaranteed at least a shot at a rematch, since he claimed the Mid-Season Master title, er, half a season ago. The most recent addition to the cast list for Worlds is Magic Online Champion Niels Noorlander. Those three join the Pro Tour Champions from this season—Kazuyuki Takimura from Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, Jiachen Tao from Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, and Steve Rubin, champion of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad. Finally, after a season-long battle between Brian Braun-Duin and Tomoharu Saito, it's Brian Braun-Duin who claims the berth allotted to the Grand Prix Master.

Brian Braun-Duin
2016 Grand Prix Master Brian Braun-Duin

Player of the Year

Seth Manfield comes into the last Pro Tour of the season as the overwhelming favorite to claim the Player of the Year title. While the five players who could theoretically beat him to the punch represent a tremendous list of talent—No. 2-ranked Owen Turtenwald, No. 3 Steve Rubin, and then a three-way split for fourth between Shota Yasooka, Martin Müller, and Luis Scott-Vargas—only Turtenwald has a mathematical shot at the title without first reaching the Top 8 in Sydney. Any kind of solid performance from Manfield (say, in the 10-6 range) would stop the bottom three regardless of what they do, including winning the Pro Tour.

Bottom line: the first time Manfield will be nervous will be when one of the others is at 11-3 or better. While all are more than capable, that's a tall order any time you sit down for Round 1. Manfield is a big favorite.

Seth Manfield and Owen Turtenwald
From left: Seth Manfield and Owen Turtenwald

 

Outstanding Hall of Famer

Five players will start in Sydney within 5 Pro Points of each other. Tying for the lead are Shota Yasooka and Luis Scott-Vargas (57 Points), with Brazil's Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa on 54, then Paul Rietzl and Jon Finkel on 52. After a significant gap, we find Shuhei Nakamura on 43 and William Jensen on 41.

Bottom line: this is going to come down to the Constructed rounds on Saturday afternoon. With 10 Pro Points available for an 11-5 record, this is close to a five-way pick 'em. If Nakamura or Jensen are to win this, they'll likely have to do it on Sunday.

Draft Master

For fans of the history of the game, seeing the greatest player of all time claim a spot at the World Championship would be great—and that means plenty of scrutiny on Jon Finkel, who heads the Draft Master field with a fabulous 15-3 record from his six drafts so far this season. Christian Calcano and Marcio Carvalho are only a draw behind on 14-3-1, while another quartet—Thiago Saporito, Sam Tharmaratnam, Shota Yasooka, and Matej Zatlkaj—have 14-4 records. Seven players, then, sit within a match win of each other, with just six rounds to play.

Except there's a caveat. We'll be watching carefully on Friday afternoon during the Constructed rounds. While all seven will get to draft on Friday morning, a minimum of 4-4 is required to let them draft again on Saturday morning. A 3-0 Draft, 0-5 Standard record is unlikely, but the odds start to tumble once we're looking at 2-1/1-4. Potentially, the leader for Draft Master could be "in the clubhouse" on Saturday morning, waiting to see if he can hold off his remaining challengers. More likely, though, is that all seven will believe they're in a "single-elimination" race, where the first defeat is likely to knock them out of the running.

Bottom line: the two mornings are going to be fantastic entertainment as this tournament within a tournament comes to fruition. Only Finkel can reasonably think that 5-1 will be enough, while the others will be looking to ace two draft pods to claim the title. One of the real highlights of the weekend for sure.

Constructed Master

More of a marathon than a Draft Master sprint, the Constructed Master race is even tighter. So far 30 rounds have been played, with ten more to go (again with that caveat of needing to reach 4-4 or better to play the last Constructed rounds on Saturday). Sam Black, the 2008 Team World Champion, leads by a single point on 67 (that's 22 wins, seven losses, and a draw) over Michael Majors and Oliver Tiu. Owen Turtenwald is a draw further back on 64, while Paul Dean, Reid Duke, Seth Manfield, Josh McClain, and Paul Rietzl all sit on 63. To give a sense of what that means, if Sam Black were to post a strong 7-3 record, he would still miss out on Constructed Master if any of the other eight were to go 9-1. That's a massive ask, but when there are eight outstanding Constructed players trying to do it...

Bottom line: while Friday afternoon should make things a little clearer, this is all about the last couple of rounds on Saturday, with the tantalizing prospect that two of these could be paired head to head to determine the Worlds slot late on Saturday afternoon. Outstanding.

Region—North America (4 slots)

The first three in this contest—Seth Manfield, Owen Turtenwald, and Steve Rubin—are already locked in for their places at Worlds. Of the next players in a considerable queue, Luis Scott-Vargas (Hall of Fame), Jon Finkel (Hall of Fame, Draft Master), and Paul Rietzl (Hall of Fame, Constructed Master) all have other irons in the fire. For Alexander Hayne, meanwhile, a strong performance in Sydney would cement his claim to a Worlds chair, although he has every chance of an At-Large slot even if he can't wrap it up in Australia.

Bottom line: at least three of these slots are likely to move to At-Large, with Alex Hayne the most likely to put the North into North America and a sea of big names likely catapulting into the mix with strong Sydney performances.

Region—Asia-Pacific (3 slots)

This is a really interesting race, with plenty of possibilities. Shota Yasooka leads by 4 Pro Points over Ryoichi Tamada, with two-time Player of the Year Yuuya Watanabe 2 Points further adrift in third. Those are the three players who would currently assume their seats at the World Championship. Kazuyuki Takimura is already locked in via his Pro Tour title, while the next four (Lee Shi Tian, Shuhei Nakamura, Kentaro Yamamoto, and Huang Hao-Shan) all have a lot to do. They need a minimum of reaching the Top 8 to overtake Yasooka, but even reaching Watanabe, who currently holds the most vulnerable third slot, will require a rock-solid performance—and a stumble from Watanabe.

Bottom line: for Yasooka to miss out in this category would take a lot of stellar performances elsewhere and a poor performance from the 2015 Hall of Famer. That's an unlikely combination, but Tamada and Watanabe in particular will be looking nervously over their shoulders.

Region—Europe (3 slots)

I'm biased, sure, but the European race is a hot one. Martin Müller leads on 57 Points, 2 ahead of the World Magic Cup Champion Andrea Mengucci of Italy. On 51 there's Joel Larsson and Lukas Blohon, 1 Point ahead of Ondřej Stráský. Next, 48 Pro Points sees Ivan Floch 1 ahead of Petr Sochůrek, and then there's former Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto on 44. Even allowing for the front two to do what needs to be done and lock up two of the three slots (which is by no means certain), that would still leave Larsson, Blohon, and Stráský all within a single Pro Point of each other, knowing that there was only a single slot open, and with multiple great players lined up behind, waiting for any kind of stumble.

Bottom line: there's a fair chance that Martin Müller and Andrea Mengucci don't get passed. Who gets the last slot is anyone's guess. It's going to be brutal.

Region—Latin America (2 slots)

Okay, so not everything can be about the drama. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa heads this category on 54 Points, 7 ahead of Thiago Saporito (which is yet another reminder of just how good Saporito is). There is then a yawning chasm before the likes of Mexico's Marcellino Freeman, who would have to win the Pro Tour and hope for a slump from Saporito.

Bottom line: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Thiago Saporito will represent Latin America at Worlds unless something utterly extraordinary happens.

Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Champion

Somebody out of the 429 qualified players is going to wind up winning the Pro Tour late on Sunday. They'll get a slice of Magic history. They'll get $40,000. They'll get Platinum status for next season. And they'll get a seat at the World Championship.

Bottom line: nobody knows.

 

At-Large

So, for each slot won by a player who has already clinched their Worlds berth another way, that category disappears and the slot goes to one of the At-Large players. That's a straightforward list of the Player of the Year race, i.e., the season-long Pro Points totals, with the highest-placed finisher on that list who isn't already qualified for Worlds claiming the first available At-Large seat. This process cascades down until the music stops and there are no chairs left. The tricky part is knowing just how many seats are going to be available to At- Large players. Seth Manfield could easily create two At-Large berths, by being the 2015 World Champion, the Player of the Year, and one of the four North America regional slots. Jon Finkel could be Draft Master and Outstanding Hall of Famer, and go the distance to win the Pro Tour. That would create two more At-Large spots. Chances are that we won't know exactly how many At-Large slots exist until deep into Sunday, as there may well be players in the Top 8 with a slot at Worlds already locked who would create another At-Large by winning the tournament.

Bottom line: best guess is six to eight At-Large slots, meaning some very happy (and some very, very disappointed) big names when the last result slip comes in.

World Magic Cup

Around the world, 73 countries will acknowledge their World Magic Cup captains once Pro Tour Eldritch Moon concludes. Some 30 or so will be known ahead of the final event of the season, with players locked in thanks to an unassailable lead—multiple countries that are playing in Rotterdam later this year don't have players in Sydney, meaning their Pro Point leaders can't be caught. Joining the captains will be the winners of the three WMCQs for each country. Two of those have already taken place, meaning we already know that Pascal Vieren will be playing for Belgium, Jacob Wilson for Canada, Simon Nielsen for Denmark, Owen Turtenwald for USA, and so on.

While 40 or so races will be determined in Sydney, not all are close. Here are nine of the most interesting:

Australia

The home team battle looks like it should be a straight fight between two Grand Prix winners. David Mines has the lead at 21 Pro Points, with Paul Jackson 2 Points back on 19. Although a slender lead, that guarantees that Jackson will need 10-6 or better before Mines is under threat. However, five more players are playing on home soil at the Pro Tour, and a Sunday appearance from any of them could transform the contest.

Brazil

There's a one-on-one tussle for this one, between Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Thiago Saporito. Unlike the Latin America World Championship slots, where both can emerge as winners, here there can be only one. For it not to be Paulo, Thiago needs to reach at least 11-5, something that is well within his compass. Look for this one to get tight on Saturday afternoon.

Canada

Alexander Hayne leads the way, with a 5-Point margin over Pascal Maynard and 11 over Paul Dean in third. That 5-Point margin is pretty significant, meaning Maynard will need a minimum of 11-5 to wrest the slot away. The challenge arguably comes from further down the field, since Canada has serious representation in Sydney. Jacob Wilson, Ricky Chin, Jon Stern, Samuel Tharmaratnam, Dan Lanthier, and Shaun McLaren are all capable of sweeping past the field with a stellar Sunday performance.

Czech Republic

If you want just one World Magic Cup race to keep an eye on during the Pro Tour, make it this one. Lukas Blohon leads Ondřej Stráský by a single Pro Point, with Standard Grand Prix Champion this season Petr Sochůrek only three points further back. Add in Martin Juza, who would need to add to his Sunday collection to be part of the battle, and you have a power-packed quartet, any of whom would be a terrific captain for a country that is once again at the forefront of European Magic.

France

With just a single Point separating them, Pro Tour Theros finalist Pierre Dagen leads Hall of Famer and World Magic Cup 2013–winning captain Raphaël Lévy. This should be a straight fight between them, with the first step for Lévy being a positive record to give himself a chance. Looking to crash the head-to-head will be Pro Tour Theros Champion Jérémy Dezani, with Thierry Ramboa heading a group of others that will need at least a Sunday slot to become competitive.

Japan

Shota Yasooka leads the way on 57 Points, with Ryoichi Tamada second on 53 and Yuuya Watanabe on 51. What makes this race so compelling is the quality of the players who are well back in the standings, but could still claim the title with a Sunday run. They include Yuta Takahashi, Tomoharu Saito, Yuuki Ichikawa, Kentaro Yamamoto, and Shuhei Nakamura, not to mention Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Champion Kazuyuki Takimura. While Shota remains the favorite, I wouldn't bet against at least one of those six taking the contest to the final day of the season.

Spain

An excellent head-to-head looks certain, with Javier Dominguez leading Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion Antonio Del Moral León by 4 Points. That leaves León looking toward 10-5-1 as a minimum requirement. Dominguez will be in relaxed mood, since he has already won a WMCQ, so the only question for him is whether he will be heading to Rotterdam as a team member or as captain. León has no such assurance.

Sweden

Here is another where two terrific players go head to head. Pro Tour Champion Joel Larsson leads the way and has a 7-Point gap over Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto. This is one rivalry where their friendship won't be tested, with both happy for the other to claim victory. An 11-5 record for Lantto is the starting point to make this one close.

USA

Not for the first time, the Team USA conversation broadly mirrors the Player of the Year race. Seth Manfield leads comfortably over Owen Turtenwald (who has already won the initial WMCQ), with Steven Rubin and Luis Scott-Vargas another distance back. Both Rubin and LSV need to be playing on Sunday to have any hope at all, and even Owen needs a bare minimum of 12-4. Chances are, Seth wraps this up sometime on Saturday, along with Player of the Year.

 

Individual Milestones

The World Championship and World Magic Cup are both events that command a global audience and shine a spotlight on the players concerned. It's easy to lose track of everything that's at stake in this final Pro Tour of the season, so before we go, here are a few other "races" that are going to be life-changing for those in the trenches.

Rookie of the Year

It may not have a World Championship slot attached to it, but Rookie of the Year is still quite the achievement. It's in the nature of the Pro Point system that there are lots of people who could theoretically put together a single dominant performance and claim the title on the last day of the season. Although that's true this year, Oliver Tiu has a truly gargantuan lead in this contest, and it's important for us to acknowledge what a fantastic rookie season he's been having. It could yet culminate in a World Championship slot, as he's right in the thick of the Constructed Master race, but even if that doesn't work out, he has a ton to be proud of and is quietly becoming someone you really don't want to be paired against, whatever the format.

Platinum

Roughly 30 players have already secured their places among the game's elite for 2016–2017 by reaching the 50 Pro Point mark. Here are a few select players looking to join that club by the end of the Pro Tour:

Needing 10-6: Lee Shi Tian and Magnus Lantto

Needing 10-5-1: Shuhei Nakamura and Oliver Polak-Rottmann

Needing 10-4-2: Martin Dang, Paul Dean, Matt Nass, and Kentaro Yamamoto

Needing 11-5: Huang Hao-Shan, William Jensen, Sam Pardee, Jason Chung, and Justin Cohen

Gold

While the Platinums get the peak benefits associated with being among the best in the world, Gold pros have one central benefit: qualification for every Pro Tour in the coming season. That's a huge deal in terms of being able to plan travel, avoid the PPTQ/RPTQ circuit, and even maintain a place in one of the global teams that are so important to success in the top tiers of the game. The difference between Gold and Silver is enormous. Here are some of the players on the hunt for Gold:

Needing 10-6: Patrick Chapin, Thomas Hendriks, Nathan Holiday, Adam Jansen, Makihito Mihara, David Ocha, and Matt Sperling

Needing 11-5: Kyle Boggemes, Ben Rubin, Matt Costa, Chris Fennell, Adrian Sullivan, Kenji Tsumura, and Josh Utter-Leyton

Silver

This is where the bulk of the pros begin their journey. Silver has you grimly holding on to the coattails of the Golds and Platinums ahead. At Silver, you get one invite to the Pro Tour of your choice for the following season. Miss out on Silver, and it's back to the PPTQ/RPTQ slugfest. Get Silver, and you get your very own "Silver bullet" to give you the chance to chain together the multiple Pro Tour starts that are the lifeblood of anyone aspiring to play the game full-time.

The End and the Beginning

By the time someone claims the title of Pro Tour Eldritch Moon Champion sometime late on Sunday afternoon in Sydney, all the races will be determined. We will have a final PT Champion for the season. We'll have a Player of the Year, a Rookie of the Year, and Draft and Constructed Masters. We'll know who will be representing their regions at the World Championship, who fills the At-Large slots, and who will be captaining their World Magic Cup sides. We'll know the names of every Platinum, Gold, and Silver pro. For the 2015–2016 season, it will be the end.

But Magic doesn't stop for anyone or anything. How long do we have to wait for the 2016–2017 season to get under way? Six days. Six days, and then we'll be live in Portland and Rimini to bring you the Standard action from the first day of the new season. The best game in the world never stops, and we wouldn't want it any other way.

See you for story time in Sydney.

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