Pro Tour Magic 2015 Event Coverage Roundtable

Posted in The Week That Was on July 24, 2014

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Magic players from all over the world are congregating in rented houses from Boston to Portland in preparation for next week's final Pro Tour of the 2013–14 season. As we have discussed over the past couple of weeks, there is a lot more on the line than "just" the $40,000 first prize. Competitors are vying for position heading into the next season, trying to capture their National Championships, and trying to elbow their way through a pack of the game's all-time greats for a precious seat at the World Championship.

We will be bringing you all the action—in live video and text coverage—from that Pro Tour from the opening drafts, to the announcement of the 2014 Class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, and through every match of the Top 8, as we get to watch the game's elite players put the Standard format through its paces. I talked with some of my coverage cohorts to find out which players and what cards they are looking forward to talking about next week. Joining me for the roundtable were Richard Hagon, Marshall Sutcliffe, Randy Buehler, and Zac Hill from the video side; Mike Rosenberg and Adam Styborski from the text team; and Walker of Planes Nate Holt.

BDM: A summer getaway conflicted with my opportunity to Prerelease. I need to live vicariously through you all. What was your first experience with Magic 2015 like? I plan to draft like a lunatic all week.

Nate: Arrgh, I missed it too! Family vacation. No game stores in the middle of the New Mexico desert. The South Philly Kitchen Table Pro Tour (SPKTPT for short) will be holding M15 Draft events as well. I will try my best to do what I haven't been able to do with any recent Magic set: draft something other than black.

Mike: Well, my Magic 2015 Prerelease was actually my first Wizards of the Coast internal Prerelease, and it was a blast. While my fairly unexciting black-green deck—the only real deck I felt I could build with my Sealed pool—only got me to a paltry 2–2, I did get a chance to battle against senior software developer and Great Designer Search 1 winner Alexis Janson as well as Magic designer Gavin Verhey. The match against Alexis was a lot of back-and-forth, though ultimately her Cruel Sadists proved to be...uh, rather cruel in our matches. My deck did not fare very well against Gavin, either, although admittedly I can't complain that my two losses in the Prerelease were to players well versed in designing Magic cards.
Adam: Finding my Siege Dragon both overwhelmingly powerful against Necromancer's Stockpile and woefully useful against double Indulgent Tormentor was awesome: I really enjoyed seeing both sides of my Prerelease promo in action. The Souls cycle is full of nifty tricks and made flooding out feel good. It was a great time.

Marshall: The Prerelease was fun. I had a strange experience where I picked green the first day, really hoping to open any card starting with "Hornet." My wish came true (Hornet Nest), but I ended up playing a blue-black deck. The second day, I picked blue and ended up playing black-red. I went 3–1 both days, so mise I suppose.

Zac: My first experience involved picking the blue Prerelease deck, opening Soul of New Phyrexia, Soul of Innistrad, and double Jorubai Murk Lurker—only to go 6–6 (spellslinging) because I think blue is rather weak as a base color aside from Welkin Tern. I switched decks for the second flight into green, managed to open the literal best Sealed pool I've ever seen, and went a savage 22-0 on the back of Hornet Queen; Ajani Steadfast; Yisan, the Wandering Bard; Phytotitan; and Kalonian Twingrove.
I'm practicing very aggressively for the Team GP in Portland following the PT with my teammates Jackie Lee and Jon Shunamon. We want a victory *badly*, and my record at team tournaments has been pretty good since I "came back." So, we're optimistic!
Rich: I love core sets, and Magic 2015 was awesome fun. I played several decks over the weekend, and, as I expected, had the most fun with Black-Red "Kill Everything That Moves." Highlight: A turn-five three-for-one and attack with a 2/1 for 8 damage against an empty board: Cone of Flame and Altac Blood Seeker. Filthy.

Randy: #FreeRandy

BDM: We rarely get a chance to see the pros drafting core set at a high level and have not seen it at this level since Pro Tours started lining up with Core sets. I love the aggressive red cards and can't wait to draft an Altac Blood Seeker. What has the draft format been like for you?

Marshall: So far, I would describe the format as "normal speed." I have built control decks and have seen people play aggro decks. I think the key is to figure out if there are any obvious archetypes and play those. If there aren't, then it's value-evaluation time.

Zac: I think the format is all about 3-power creatures and 5/5 tramplers. I think Glacial Crasher is hugely underrated and that Siege Wurm is the best green common, and even the very aggressive decks can get brick walled until the game turns into a slugfest. Beyond that, I think white token-based strategies are rather solid, and blue really needs three or four Welkin Terns to be a strong base color—although Research Assistant is criminally underrated, in my opinion.

Rich: Schizophrenic. I'm really looking to learn a ton from the pros in Portland.

Randy: We've reached a critical mass of coverage folks in the Seattle area, so we're all getting together at Wizards to draft tonight. My one draft so far was at the fundraiser tournament for Mariah Pagliocco. Ask me again after tonight.

Nate: I think aggro is pretty darn good, which is a nice change from Magic 2014's dominant blue control decks.

Mike: There are clear archetypes with each color combination, although I admittedly have a preference for white and green over the other colors (although not necessarily paired together). That said, I'm all for jumping into a color combination if it means playing these guys.

BDM: I was so happy to see Genesis Hydra doing some work this past weekend at the SCG Standard Open. What M15 Card are you most hoping to see projected on the wall during a deck tech?

Randy: Most "hoping" for? Sliver Hivelord! I'm not sure how realistic that is, though, so I'll go with Nissa, Worldwaker.

Nate: Sunblade Elf. I'd love to see GW aggro make a return to the top tables.

Marshall: I'd love to see Chasm Skulker do some work in Standard. It seems fragile, but the fact that it basically replaces itself after a removal spell, and that it must be dealt with at some point, intrigues me. Failing that, I'd love to see a deck with Caustic Tar as the finisher. I don't have a lot of hope that either of things will happen, but I'll be keeping an eye on them for sure.

Rich: Aggressive Mining—as soon as I saw it, it seemed like a card that would make you feel absolutely disgusting if you could pull it off. I mean, three cards a turn feels like Ophidian/Capsize levels of depravity, and that's the single vilest thing I've ever done to someone in a game of Magic. Imagine the feeling if you could do that in Standard and be winning a Pro Tour whilst doing it. I am literally shaking my head at the thought of it.

Zac: Waste Not. But really because I want Whispering Madness to be a "thing."

Adam: Chasm Skulker: Drawing cards is always blue's shtick, but getting a pile of Squid tokens for it? That's a deck I'd like to see.

BDM: This is most swollen the Standard format ever gets, with both core sets and two entire blocks of cards. Is there room for the deck designers to get their evil genius on or is this going to be a deck tuner's event?

Adam: I expect to see some of both. Certainly decks like Mono-Black Devotion and Red-White Burn got new tools, but I think there's plenty of new things to do in Magic 2015 that something different had to appear. The mana and leader for Slivers is here, so my hope of hopes is out there for me.

Marshall: Based on early tournaments, this looks like a tuner's paradise. There are a few cards I have my eye on that could be powerful enough to upset the apple cart (Aggressive Mining comes to mind), but overall I think we'll see similar Standard decks to what we have seen all season.

Nate: I'll be surprised if one of the Big 3 doesn't take the trophy. But if anyone brings something bold and spicy to the Top 8, I will hire heralds to trumpet their achievement in the streets of Portland.

Randy: While I think M15 will have a bigger impact in October than it will in Portland, I do think somebody will break something. At a minimum, I expect to see multiple new tier-2 decks emerge, and there's a decent chance we'll shake up tier 1 as well.

Zac: I think there's a lot of room for innovation. It's going to be difficult because Mono-Black—the format's boogeyman—got some powerful new tools from M15. But the deck was hardly an unbeatable monster, and there are a HUGE number of build-arounds and new paths to explore within M15 that will reward experimentation and curiosity.

Mike: While I feel the power level of some Magic 2015 cards is very high (see: Nissa, Worldwaker and Genesis Hydra), I suspect that this Pro Tour will primarily shine as a deck-tuner's format. The key archetypes have a lot of power to them, and the new cards fall into the line of fire for some of the top decks' key cards.

Rich: I'm going to take a guess that a lot of players are going to be quite conservative in their deck choices in Portland and, if true, that's going to disappoint those who want Standard to be "wild west." However, that's only part of the story. Fast forward one week to Grand Prix Utrecht, and, with a baseline established, I expect to see all sorts of wacky hit the tables.

BDM: Rookie of the Year seems like it is a stone-cold lock for Jared Boettcher. He has had a tremendous season with two Top 16 finishes in the only two Pro Tours of his career—along with a handful of GP Top 8s. What are you expecting from him in this last event of the season?

Jared Boettcher, leader of the Rookie of the Year race
Mike: 11th?
Okay, I kid. Boettcher has put up an incredible season, and while I suspect this event may see his performance slide a bit from the last two Pro Tours, simply due to the odds of finishing in the Top 16 in three consecutive Pro Tour being very slim, I also wouldn't be very shocked to see him in the Top 8 either. Time will tell!
Randy: I expect to see his worst Pro Tour performance ever, which doesn't actually narrow it down much, as all I'm really predicting is "11th or below."

Rich: It's going to be really interesting, as he's one of the few players who genuinely doesn't have a lot to play for—beyond $40,000!!! At the very least, you can expect a performance that indicates the "rookie" bit is largely irrelevant, and that "of the year" might not be in the future.

Nate: Probably another Top 16. Fair to say he's the dominant rookie since Alexander Hayne?

Marshall: I wouldn't be surprised to see him coast to the finish. It's been a long, crazy season for him and, as his first year on the tour, he has to be feeling pretty winded at this point. He doesn't have a ton to play for at this point (besides large amounts of money and glory, of course). Still, he has been rising to the occasion all season, maybe he'll finish strong and do it again.

Adam: Another solid performance with a potential run at Top 8. His consistency is something I've marveled at for several events, and it's getting eerily regular. It's odd to think about him not doing well.

Zac: I'm expecting a Top 8. Honestly. Jared is on fire this season, shows no sign of slowing down, is a Standard deck building genius, and has had some time to get used to the PT stage. I'd be shocked if he fizzled out now.

BDM: To me, Player of the Year is just a race between Reid Duke and Jérémy Dezani. I am hard pressed to pick against Dezani but Duke has just been getting stronger as the season goes on. Who do you like in that race—and feel free to identify a dark horse who can close several lengths in this last event.

Jérémy Dezani and Reid Duke, current leaders for Player of the Year
Rich: It is, I will, there isn't, Dezani. I'm never that unequivocal. Or that brief.

Mike: Duke. And I honestly feel the chance of a Player of the year dark horse is so marginal that I wouldn't even pick someone who can leap-frog both Duke and Dezani.

Zac: I think Dezani is going to get there. Reid has momentum and popularity, no question, as well as a star-studded CFB Pantheon team behind him. He's popular, sincere, humble, and driven, and I think most people would say he's the "favorite" in the race. But Team Revolution—already one of the PT's most successful and yet paradoxically most underrated teams—picked up two HUGE additions in Brad Nelson and Joel Larsson, and I think Dezani is a monster at Pro Tours specifically in a way that Reid is still getting used to. It's going to be tight, but I'll give Dezani the edge.

Randy: Reid Duke. His team is more likely to equip him with a better deck and I think he's a (slightly) better player. Maybe. Just barely. Mostly I'm enjoying the best PoY race since 2005, when Hall of Famers Kenji Tsumura and Olivier Ruel were flying around the world chasing points at GPs and things weren't decided until the last round of the Swiss at Worlds, with Kenji taking the title by a single point.

Marshall: It's pretty easy to pick Dezani, as he is currently ahead in the race. It's entirely possible for both players to scrub out and not get any more pro points than the 3 for showing up. I don't think this is likely, but it happens all the time to even the best players. Counting Duke out at this point is madness, however.

Adam: Duke is the caliber of player who could pull off back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8s, and I'd love to watch him make the Sunday cut again to put an exclamation point onto his Player of the Year run. That said, it wouldn't surprise me to see Dezani make a run for Sunday, too, although I have a hard time seeing the crown land elsewhere than on the Duke's head.

Nate: Here's a prediction: Duke and Dezani both Top 8 and POY goes to whoever advances the furthest on Sunday. With Huey Jensen and Owen Turtenwald's coaching, I think Reid gets one round further.

BDM: There is so much on the line at the last PT of the season—WMC, World Championship berths, Players Club status—what is the race you are watching the most closely as the PT winds down next weekend? Keep an eye on William Jensen as he tries to nab one of those at-large berths and join Duke and Turtenwald in Nice.

Pro Tour Hall of Famer William Jensen
Mike: Jensen is definitely one story I am actively following. He's had a remarkable 2013–2014 season, but he's also in the running for those at-large slots with a number of very good competitors. However, I am also going to be following the race for one of the two remaining Latin American Pro Point leader slots (since one goes to virtual lock Willy Edel). Both Marcelino Freeman of Mexico (22) and current Rookie of the Year Felipe Tapia Becerra of Chile, AKA "Captain Rookie," (21) are not too far behind the current holder of the second Latin American slot: Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (27). Barring an unfortunate tournament for PV and a Top 25 finish from either Freeman or Becerra, we could very well see the all-Brazilian lock on the Latin American representation in Nice broken, and a well-earned invitation go to either player, both players having gotten a mere one match away from Grand Prix titles this season.
Marshall: I'm keeping an eye on fellow booth guy Ben Stark. He is tied with a bunch of people for that last at-large bid in the World Championship. After a ridiculous beginning to his GP season, he has been looking for that big PT finish to put him over the top in the World Championship. That list *will* get shaken up, that's for sure.

Nate: I think you nailed it. Will Huey play in Worlds? Or will the Peach Garden Oath brothers lose their gentle giant in the quest to capture the World Championship?

Randy: Player of the Year is the headliner, but those Worlds at-large bids probably have the most at stake, what with the prize money at Worlds, the pro points available at Worlds, and the general awesomeness of just getting to compete at Worlds. I'm actually really happy with what the Magic World Championship tournament has evolved into.

Rich: For me, the most exciting thing will be the way in which the races collide down the stretch. So, in Round 13 you'll see something like a Dutch Hall of Famer (Frank Karsten), needing a win to keep his hopes alive of being their World Magic Cup captain, up against, say, an American Platinum Pro (Tom Martell), who needs a win to keep his hopes alive of an at-large seat at the World Championship. On Saturday afternoon, that sort of matchup is going to happen a lot, and friends are going to stare across the Feature Match tables at each other and know that someone's dreams are going to be utterly shattered. It's going to be carnage.
Adam: The final push for World Championship slots is what I'm looking forward to most. It's the most prestigious tournament of the year and among the most desirable prizes a pro can earn. Hearing Patrick Chapin get pumped for both winning a Pro Tour and earning a slot for the World Championship really shows how much those in the running care about it. Personally, I'm on board with Huey staking his claim with a standout performance next weekend.
BDM: I am just going to pick the winningest player of all time to close out the tournament and get his spot on the German National team—Kai Budde. Who is your pick?

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Kai Budde
Randy: Well it's a new(ish) Constructed format so it's really hard to pick anyone who isn't on Team Pantheon. They've had by far the most success recently, up to and including Patrick Chapin's win in Atlanta. Maybe the fact that the format is played so widely makes this PT more analogous to Valencia than Atlanta, and thus it'll be a "lone wolf" Magic Online grinder, but I'm going to go with the best storyline possible and pick Reid Duke.
Marshall: Josh Utter-Leyton. As one of the hardest workers with one of the best recent track records, I always keep my eye out for Wrapter.

Mike: A member of the Peach Garden Oath (William Jensen, Owen Turtenwald, or Reid Duke). That's the easy pick, and certainly not a far-off bet given the season that all three of these players have had, especially given their Standard performances this year (hint: they've been winning a lot of Standard matches). Of those three, I'd favor Turtenwald taking down this tournament.
Adam: I said Reid Duke last time and he made Top 8. While we're not playing horseshoes, darts, or grenades, it's close enough for me to ask if lightning can't strike twice.

Rich: Twice this season, I've watched my pick for Portland sit at 6–2 at a GP (which, because of three byes, was only 3–2 in actual matches). In short, not a great record. Lose the next round, and he's out at 6–3/3–3, and miserable. The first time I saw him sneak into day two at 7–2, he "only" made it to the Top 8. The second time, he won GP Milan and took the lead in the Player of the Year race. Whilst I appreciate that "unstoppable" is hyperbolic in a game where everyone gets stopped all the time, Jérémy Dezani is as close to that ideal as I've seen in a very long time. He is, therefore, as a choice for Portland, in a very real sense, as good as anyone else. And wouldn't that be a fantastic end to the season, if POY won the final PT!?!?!
Zac: I think the winner, honestly, is going to be Brad Nelson. He's an absolute superstar at the Standard format, is in a rare position to be playing Magic all day, posted a solid finish last event working with just two other people, and hasn't put up a big result in a long time. I think he wants it, which matters a huge amount—but more than that, I think a lot of things are positioned similarly to back when Brad was absolutely unstoppable. As I mentioned before, he joined Team Revolution, and I see him integrating into the team dynamic more successfully there than within CFB Pantheon. The stars, in my opinion, are aligned for another big moment from the big man.
Nate: It's time for Josh Utter-Leyton to finally hoist a trophy on Sunday.

Join us next week when we bring you live video and text coverage from Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland, Oregon, where we will also induct the 2014 Class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.

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