The Intro: Bringing the Flavor
Want an Act of Heroism? Then join us for the Overwhelming Splendor that is Pro Tour Hour of Devastation. You'll see Unconventional Tactics, Strategic Planning, and players with an Unquenchable Thirst to demonstrate their Supreme Will Without Weakness, as they Crash Through a succession of Grisly Survivors. The Hour of Revelation is 9 a.m. on Friday morning (if you're in Japan), when Proven Combatants will begin their Struggle to Survive. They will not Leave to Chance, since Swarm Intelligence has already shown them how to Overcome the Nimble Obstructionists who would be their Doomfall and their Dreamstealer, trying to Consign to Oblivion their Claim to Fame. Our heroes have Reason to Believe they can Grind to Dust and be the Champion of Wits, the Steadfast Sentinel, and the Cunning Survivor, even when opponents Refuse to Cooperate during the Hour of Promise, and even victory over a Devotee of Strength is a Hollow One, a Puncturing Blow, and they are Driven to Despair. Life Goes On, as the Resolute Survivors pursue their Hour of Glory, ignoring their Imminent Doom and their Fraying Sanity to Open Fire once again. After the Hour of Eternity, the Saving Grace for our Frontline Devastators is a short moment of respite. Meanwhile, Paul Cheon will be mercilessly trolled by a Dagger of the Worthy from LSV, just one of our Fervent Paincasters. His game really is Merciless Eternal. Our Seer of the Last Tomorrow will try to predict the outcome, and after another series of Tragic Lessons, the Hour of Devastation will be upon us.
The Intro: Bringing the Facts
Start Time – 9 a.m. Kyoto time each day; be aware this means coverage begins the day before for most of the world. For example, "Friday" coverage starts Thursday at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET/midnight UTC. Be sure to tune in to twitch.tv/magic to follow along at home!
Friday – Hour of Devastation-Amonkhet Draft and three rounds of Draft play, followed by five rounds of Standard. All players are eligible to play all eight rounds on Friday.
Saturday – Another draft in the Hour of Devastation format, featuring all players who have 12 points or more—equivalent to four wins. Rounds 9–11 are Draft, followed by five rounds of Standard. Everyone who qualified for Day Two gets to play all the rounds on Saturday.
Sunday – The Top 8 players after sixteen rounds advance to Sunday, where they will play the best-three-out-of-five games in a Top 8 bracket that concludes, naturally, with the Finals. Players use the same 60-card Standard deck they registered for Friday and Saturday, and may sideboard cards after the first two games in each Sunday round.
I don't know about you, but I thought the flavor version was the best. Not necessarily the most useful, but still.
Hi everyone, it's Rich Hagon here, advising you to strap yourself in for the nerdiest article of the Magic year. Yes, it's the one where I tell you about Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Draft Master, Standard Master, the World Championship, the World Magic Cup, the Pro Tour Team Series, the Pro Club levels, and more. Actually, not more, it's just the Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Draft Master, Standard Master, the World Championship, the World Magic Cup, the Pro Tour Team Series, and the Pro Club levels. Sorry about that.
Note: All numbers below are accurate as of Friday, July 21—meaning before Grand Prix Kyoto. Therefore, some of the individual requirements may have (mostly subtly) shifted before the final event of the season, Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, also in Kyoto.
Player of the Year
Looks can be deceiving, although not in my case—I really am this handsome in real life. In the Player of the Year race, it looks as if Portugal's Márcio Carvalho has a nearly insurmountable lead. Look, here's the leaderboard:
Click here to view the Player of the Year leaderboard
12 Pro Points is indeed a lot, and Carvalho is guaranteed at least 3 points by completing the tournament in Kyoto. So, Yuuya Watanabe, currently in second, needs at least 15 points, even if Carvalho only picks up the minimum. That means at least 12-4 for Watanabe, which is likely a virtual tie for the Top 8. That's the minimum he needs, even with a substandard Carvalho (and probably a sub-draft Carvalho too). However, although Carvalho is the single likeliest person to wind up Player of the Year, his chances of winning the title aren't necessarily that high. Why? Because, to lock down the title, he needs to finish no worse than 5th overall. Yep, he has to make the Top 8, and either win his quarterfinal or be the highest-ranked losing quarterfinalist to take the title on his own terms. If he does any worse than 5th—and even the very best in the history of the game only make a Top 8 at this level every five to six starts—the chance for someone else opens up.
That's where things get really interesting because it's just as true for everyone else as for Carvalho that making the Top 8 is incredibly hard, and every player begins a Pro Tour knowing that the chances of making that Top 8 are low. However, 30 points are on the line for the winner, so a poor finish by Carvalho means that the Player of the Year could be open on Sunday if any of the following players make the Top 8: Yuuya Watanabe, Reid Duke, Shota Yasooka, or Owen Turtenwald. Want to bet that none of those four will make the Top 8?
But wait, there's more—Kelvin Chew, Brad Nelson, Martin Jůza, and Lee Shi Tian. None of them to make the Top 8 either? Or how about Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Gerry Thompson, Ken Yukuhiro, Eduardo Sajgalik, and Eric Froehlich? If any of those thirteen players make it as far as Sunday, there's a good chance that Player of the Year will be up for grabs down the stretch.
Rookie of the Year
Like almost every year, the Rookie of the Year title comes down to the last Pro Tour of the season. Ben Hull leads by 6 points, with his highlight being a 4th-place finish at Pro Tour Kaladesh, kicking off the season (and his Pro Tour career) in outstanding fashion. The player closest to him is Makis Matsoukas, who was the other losing semifinalist from Pro Tour Kaladesh. Matsoukas is also in contention for Draft Master, and if that form holds up, he could be off to a good start on Friday morning. That 6-point gap translates into Matsoukas needing a minimum return in Kyoto of 11-5, with Ben Hull doing no better than a 9-7 record. Beyond these two, there's a sizeable gap. Here's everyone who could have everything fall right for them and end up with the Rookie of the Year title:
Click here to view the Rookie of the Year leaderboard
For many of these, nothing less than a win will do—that's "a win" meaning "Win the Whole Tournament," and even that won't be enough if Hull or Matsoukas does well.
Every Pro Tour is a marathon not a sprint, but if there is a sprinty element to a PT, it's Draft. With only six rounds, any mistake can be catastrophic, and the Draft Master tournament, which celebrates Limited excellence across the 24 rounds of Draft from the four Pro Tours in the season, is now right at the sharp end. Here's how things stand with eighteen of those 24 rounds in the books:
Click here to view the Draft Master race standings
So Travis Woo leads the way by a single point. I must confess: I don't know whether that Draw somewhere along the line was a "I can't believe I ran out of time; I had that game won" or a "wow, I can't believe I got a whole point out of that losing position." Either way, that single point equates to less than a single round, meaning that Woo can guarantee himself Draft Master, but only by going a perfect 6-0 across the two drafts on Friday and Saturday. And, not coincidentally, he and all his rivals will also have to ensure that they reach the minimum requirement of four wins on Friday (a 4-4 record), or they won't be allowed to draft on Saturday for the final three rounds of Draft Master competition. Of course, if they've opened the tournament 3-0, it's relatively unlikely that any of the major contenders will go 0-5 in Standard, but it is something to watch out for.
Woo is one of the most focused players in the game in terms of mental self-regulation, so he's well-equipped to avoid looking over his shoulder at the chasing pack when the only pack he should be thinking about is pack 1, pick 1. Still, there's quite the force assembled in the rear-view mirror. Martin Jůza is having a terrific season and is once again proving himself to be one of the best Limited players in the world. The other player on 45 points is former Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald. It feels like Owen has had a quiet season, but he's still locked for Platinum, has a shot at Player of the Year, World Magic Cup captain, a slot at the World Championship, a Team Series Final berth, and, of course, Draft Master. Yeah, "quiet season."
Once you're past the leading three, the next in line on 42 points will all think (likely correctly) that they will need a full 6-0 sweep of Draft to give themselves a fighting chance for the title. Those next three are Christian Calcano (fresh from his first Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Amonkhet), Timothy Wu (still representing at the highest level into his 40s), and Makis Matsoukas, who has all sorts of prizes in his sights in Kyoto. For the 39-pointers, there's a maximum finish of 57 points on the cards (or in the boosters, really), and it requires a fair amount of squinting at the leaderboard to think that's going to be enough. Surely one of Woo, Jůza, or Turtenwald will go at least 5-1, and even if they don't, there's still Calcano, Wu, and Matsoukas ahead of the 39-pointers in the queue.
In the end, the last phase of Draft Master is less about wins and more about losses. Once/if Woo loses, it's up to Jůza and Turtenwald to maintain a perfect record. If they slip, any of the Calcano group could step up.
With ten rounds spread across the two days, there's a little more room for things to go wrong for the Standard Master contenders (the 4-4 cut-off for Day Two isn't relevant here, since anyone missing the cut would be out of contention by then anyway).
Click here to view the Standard Master standings
So, that's Luxembourg, Canada, Hong Kong, Argentina, and Singapore leading the way—not exactly the spread we might have been expecting. Luxembourg is Steve Hatto and Canada is Shaun McLaren, with both players on 69 points. Winning two draft pods seems within reasonable range for some players, but 10-0 in Standard is much closer to impossible—not least because a player at, say, 8-0 in Standard may well be looking to lock themselves into the Top 8 with a draw.
Lee Shi Tian, who knows a thing or two (or five) about getting to the Top 8, is only 2 points behind the co-leaders, and is arguably in the strongest place to profit from being in a truly world-class team. MTG Mint Card are currently third in the Team Series standings, and there's every chance that LST will have one of the best decks in the room. Next up is Sebastian Pozzo, who is having a belting season. He knows that a strong finish in Standard Master will contribute mightily to his battle for the Argentina World Magic Cup captain race.
Rounding out the top five is Kelvin Chew. The man from Singapore has been a consistent presence on the Pro scene for several years, but this is the season that he's really putting it together, highlighted by his win at Grand Prix Beijing.
It's hard to see past the front five because—although the gaps are small and the numbers plentiful—Yuuya Watanabe in 6th and no fewer than nine players tied for 7th on 60 points are likely to find that even a phenomenal 10-0 performance won't be enough to overhaul the leaders. Both McLaren and Hatto will certainly back themselves to get at least a 7-3 finish out of Standard in Kyoto.
Pro Tour Team Series
Number Alert! Number Alert! Number Alert! Sorry (not sorry), there's no way to talk about the finale to the Team Series without doing a ton of number-crunching. Here I am, crunching the numbers—nom nom nom numbers nom.
Click here to view the Team Series leaderboard
This is the first time we've faced this particular scenario. Here, in the final event of the season, everyone on the team contributes their individual points toward the team total. While some of the teams lower down the standings have lost members along the way (who aren't qualified for Kyoto), the top dozen or so teams have all their bullets waiting to be fired. So what are we to make of the standings? Let's go with something simple: Musashi lead and have every chance of staying there. In theory, all six players could go no better than 8-8, collect 3 points each, and finish the weekend with a total of 137 points. In theory, team D3 Go! (currently in 21st place on 45 points) could place all five of their remaining players into the Top 8, and score over 100 points. Also in theory, fat-short-British Rich could beat slim-tall-American Marshall Sutcliffe at basketball.
In reality, which is where we tend to live most of the time, an average spread of results for Musashi might be 11-5, 10-6, 10-6, 9-7, 9-7, and 3-5. That totals up to 33 points, and a target of 152 points. That leaves all the other teams almost certainly needing to put someone into the Top 8 if they're going to be competitive. Fortunately for Genesis, currently in 2nd place 25 points behind Musashi, they don't actually need to overhaul the Japanese superstars because there are two team places up for grabs for the Final showdown (two teams in the Team Series Final? Weird.)
For Brad Nelson and the gang, their focus isn't on Musashi ahead of them, but the baying pack just behind them. The Genesis squad had a fantastic Pro Tour Amonkhet, but they likely need something similar in Kyoto. MTG Mint Card are only a half-dozen points adrift of a Final place, and definitely represent the stiffest challenge to Genesis. However, four powerhouse teams lie further down the standings, with Puzzle Quest, Mutiny, EUreka, and ChannelFireball Ice in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th, respectively. While they will almost certainly need at least one member of the Top 8 to overhaul Genesis, they are packed with players who've routinely done exactly that.
In between them lies the fairy-tale team of the series, Lingering Souls. What could charitably have been described as a "ragtag" group of disparate players with disparate goals and agendas at the start of the season has coalesced into one of the great underdog stories. It's not that the players aren't good—of course they are—but they shouldn't realistically be this good this deep into the season. When Gerry Thompson beat Marc Tobiasch in the quarterfinals of PT Amonkhet, that guaranteed Lingering Souls a place in the top four teams coming into this final event. That was crucial, because it also guaranteed that all six players would be on hand in Kyoto. Can they go even further on this incredible run? There are plenty of fans who will hope so.
The only certainty here is that we won't know the full field until sometime on Sunday. As a very rough guide, somewhere between 52 and 55 points might be the benchmark for getting an At-Large slot in the 24-person field for Boston later this year. That in turn means that everyone who comes into the final event of the season with 28 points or better can dream of finishing 2nd in Kyoto and claiming the unlikeliest of qualifying slots. Why 2nd? Because the winner of the PT gets a slot at the World Championship regardless, joining Shota Yasooka, Lucas Esper Berthoud, and Gerry Thompson as the previous winners of PTs this season. So how many people are in range of that 52 points? 103.
Still, we can make a bit more sense of things. It's likely that at least one of the Regional Top Pro Points slots will disappear, since Márcio Carvalho could well be Player of the Year. If Reid Duke or Yuuya Watanabe or Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa ended up Player of the Year, they too would wipe out their respective Regional slot at Worlds. That leaves us looking at something like thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen At-Large slots.
Heading the race for those at the moment is Owen Turtenwald, with Kelvin Chew, Brad Nelson, Martin Jůza, and Lee Shi Tian next in line. Ken Yukuhiro, Eric Froehlich, Eduardo Sajgalik, Carlos Romão, and Seth Manfield are all in At-Large slots, while the last three are currently filled by Steve Rubin, Martin Müller, and Donald Smith. Who's safe? Probably only the front four of Turtenwald, Chew, Nelson, and Jůza. Everyone else has work to do.
World Magic Cup
Seventy-three national teams will represent their Magic communities at the World Magic Cup. Roughly half of those races are locked ahead of the final PT of the season. Some of those that remain frankly don't catch the eye—several players will claim their team captaincy as long as they successfully get the minimum 3 points, for example. However, there are some cracking contests left on the slate. Here's my idea of the Top 10 races:
#10. Greece – This is the end of the season in which Greece won the World Magic Cup, and several members of that team have really taken advantage of Pro status. It should be a fight between Makis Matsoukas (35 points) and Panagiottis Papadopoulos (32), but watch out for WMC cornerstone Bill Chronopoulos (19).
#9. Australia – For the second year running, David Mines (35) finds himself in a WMC race. This time he's a single point ahead of Ryan Cubit (34), with Matthew Anderson (21) and Anthony Lee (16) a heroic finish away.
#8. Austria – This is a tale of the Big Three. Austria can claim three solid Pros in Valentin Mackl (32), Oliver Polak-Rottmann (31), and Immanuel Gerschenson (25). One of them will be team captain for sure, but which one is anybody's guess. My guess? Mackl.
#7. Italy – The front four of Federico del Basso (38), Mattia Rizzi (35), Matteo Moure (34), and Andrea Mengucci (32) ought to fight this one out, but past standouts like Marco Cammilluzzi (21) and Alessandro Portaro (14) are just about within range.
#6. Brazil – Willy Edel may be missing from the front ranks, but this is still a four-way battle. Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa sits on 53 points, 4 clear of 2002 World Champion Carlos Romão. Then it's 6 back to Thiago Saporito on 43 points, with PT Kaladesh Champion Lucas Esper Berthoud in fourth on 36. He may well need another Top 8 if he's to overhaul PVDdR.
#5. Czech Republic – This one might go nowhere. It's possible that the leader, Martin Jůza, will 3-0 his Draft pod on his way to becoming Draft Master, continue that form into Standard, and win this one at a canter. He's on 54 points, and has a really solid 11-point lead. So why the interest? Because the chasing pack are so good. Lukas Blohon is on 43 points, Petr Sochůrek on 37, Ondřej Stráský on 36, and Jan Ksandr on 31. All are capable of reaching Sunday and chasing Jůza into the last day of the season.
#4. Canada – Here's the Top 8 in the Canadian race: Eduardo Sajgalik (50), Ben Hull (41), Alexander Hayne (39), Paul Dean (35), Shaun McLaren (35), Pascal Maynard (32), Jon Stern (29), and Jacob Wilson (27). That's eight players who all have PT Top 8s to their name. 9 points is a decent lead, but you have to think that Sajgalik will need a minimum 11-5 / 12-4 to secure this one.
#3. USA – Reid Duke heads a star-studded cast on 64 points, 6 clear of Owen Turtenwald (58), Brad Nelson (55), Gerry Thompson (51), and Eric Froehlich (50). In the 40s we find Seth Manfield (49), Steve Rubin (47), Donald Smith (46), Oliver Tiu (44), Sam Pardee (43), Matt Nass (43), and Brian Braun-Duin (40). The bottom line is that everyone from Gerry Thompson down has to make the Top 8, regardless of what Reid Duke manages ahead of them. That's a big ask, but everyone in the race is capable of precisely that. If Reid doesn't make the Top 8 (and, if you've been paying attention, you know the numbers are against that for any one player, no matter how talented), this race could be decided on the final turn of the final match of the season.
#2. Japan – Ken Yukuhiro (50), Kentaro Yamamoto (42), and Yuuki Ichikawa (40) will all quietly go about their business, hope to get into the Top 8, and see where they are. Mostly, though, this is a straight head-to-head clash of the titans. Both Hall of Famers, Yuuya Watanabe (65) and Shota Yasooka (64), have a stack of titles on the line in Kyoto. Either could be Player of the Year. Both could cement places in the Team Series Final. One will likely be team captain. Finding out which one is going to be one of the true joys of PT Hour of Devastation.
#1. France – A decade ago, France could boast arguably the strongest group of pros outside the USA. Fortier, Nassif, Lévy, Canali, Tenenbaum, the Ruel brothers . . . those were heady days. We may not be quite there yet, but French Magic is definitely on the rise once again. The supporting cast in this year's WMC race includes Elliot Boussaud (26), Samuel Vuillot (24), Thierry Ramboa (23), Gabriel Nassif (20), Louis Deltour (20), and Alexandre Habert (17). That's a good group of players, but it isn't (yet) a group of world-beaters.
Ahead of that group, though, are three big hitters all within 3 points of each other. Pierre Dagen (38) leads the way, having secured his second PT Top 8 this season. Just a single point behind sits Raphaël Lévy, captain of team France the last time they took down the World Magic Cup with a wondrous Rakdos's Return. And then there's former Player of the Year Jérémy Dezani. He's 2 further back on 35 points. Realistically, this three-way race is certain to go deep into Saturday and has every chance of being decided on the final day of the season. Add in one of that second group making a deep run, and you have the makings of an exceptional contest.
Pro Club Levels
Unless you're a close personal friend of someone playing in PT Hour of Devastation, it's tempting to believe that the Pro Club levels don't really matter to you. But, if you're a casual fan of pro play and love watching your favorites in action each time the PT rolls around, this is a significant weekend. At Platinum, players are earning significant money for taking part, and it's at Platinum that being a "true pro" is most realistic. At Silver, there's an ever-rotating cast of up-and-comers, just-missed-outs, and former standouts, all taking their one Silver shot at getting back to the higher levels of the game. But it's Gold where the real tension exists.
Make it to Gold, and you're invited to every Pro Tour for the following season. Miss out, and it's just that one shot left in the revolver. So, among the slew of players jockeying for position and trying to reach their own personal goals, here are a few notable players to watch out for—players who have work to do if they're going to be regularly on our screens next season:
- Needs 9-7 to hit Gold: Sam Black and Oliver Polak-Rottmann
- Needs 9-6-1 to hit Gold: Noah Walker, Riku Kumagai, and Andrew Cuneo
- Needs 10-6: Niels Noorlander, Shahar Shenhar, Hao-Shan Huang, Jon Stern, and Simon Nielsen
- Needs 10-5-1: Gerard Fabiano
- Needs 10-4-2: Justin Cohen, Ari Lax, Martin Dang, and Jacob Wilson
- Needs 11-5: David Ochoa and Immanuel Gerschenson
That's a lot of big names at risk of falling off the Pro Tour circuit. Good luck to them all.
How on Earth Are We Keeping Track of All This?
With great effort, and a lot of people. Here's the squad we've assembled:
- Play-by-Play Commentators: Marshall Sutcliffe, Riley Knight, and Tim Willoughby
- Color Commentators: Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon
- News Desk: Rich Hagon, Brian David-Marshall, and Maria Bartholdi
- Feature Match Spotters: Rashad Miller and Neil Rigby
- Writer-Reporters: Marc Calderaro and Chapman Sim
- Content Managers/Editors: Blake Rasmussen and Mike Rosenberg
- Social Media: Nate Price and Chris Peeler
- Executive Producer: Greg Collins
Plus so, so, so many others.
You. Yes, you there. You, with the slightly glazed look in your eyes, and the trace of drool slipping slowly down your cheek. I get it (I don't, but I want you to feel better about yourself), you're not quite as into all these what-ifs, maybes, and lightning-strike scenarios as I am. Okay, so just because I like you, here's the too-long-didn't-read version of all the races:
Player of the Year: Carvalho the favorite, but most likely scenario is him watching from the sidelines on Sunday to see whether he gets the title, as one or two rivals make a last-minute dash for glory.
Rookie of the Year: Tons of outlandish scenarios, but should be a head-to-head between Ben Hull and Makis Matsoukas, with the Canadian in pole position.
Draft Master: 6-0 is a lot to ask, but somewhere among Travis Woo, Martin Jůza, Owen Turtenwald, Christian Calcano, Timothy Wu, and Makis Matsoukas, you've almost certainly got your Draft Master.
Standard Master: The front five—Steve Hatto and Shaun McLaren (1st), Lee Shi Tian (3rd), Sebastian Pozzo (4th), and Kelvin Chew (5th)—look likely to fight this one out.
World Championship: The Pro Tour Hour of Devastation Champion gets in and Regional slots get decided, along with more than a dozen At-Large berths. Rounds 15 and 16 are going to be utter, utter carnage.
World Magic Cup: At least a dozen great races. Watch out for France, Japan, USA, and Canada as the four biggest we'll be keeping an eye on.
Pro Club Levels: Literally hundreds of stories waiting to be written. Perhaps most importantly, some big names are at risk of missing out on next season and creating multiple spaces in top teams for the Team Series.
One more thought before I go: 20 years ago, Frank Adler won the Pro Tour, and that was the last time we got to see, on camera . . .
. . . a Mirage Mirror.
See you on Friday,