In this issue
Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir is right around the corner. Teams of players have ensconced themselves in farmhouses throughout the Belgian countryside to develop pick orders from the chaos of a new Draft format while sweating the results of two major Standard events over the two preceding weekends to understand the implications of the top decks on what they will bring to the table in Brussels.
Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Trailer
Excited yet? If not, maybe this will help.
Starting on Friday, all the hard work the Pros put in will be on display from the very first crack of a Draft pack on Friday morning, to the first presentation of a Standard deck in round four, and all the way through all the matches of the Top 8 on Sunday. I caught up with a handful of members from the coverage team that will be covering all the action to ask five burning questions about the tournament and the two nascent formats.
Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Round Table
Joining me at the roundtable were Walking the Planes host Nathaniel Holt, Pro Tour Hall of Famer and color commentator Randy Buehler, Wizards R&D member and color commentator Ian Duke, play by play commentator and Grand Prix coverage stalwart Tim Willoughby, and text reporter—usually recounting the European Grand Prix action—Tobi Henke.
BDM: Dragons of Tarkir has displaced Khans in the Draft format and it has also moved Fate Reforged to the back of the pack queue. I expect that this means some of the bomb rares in Fate Reforged will actually get passed now. What else can we expect from this Draft format?
Ian: The Dragons of Tarkir clans and mechanics are centered in allied colors. There are also powerful uncommon Dragons in allied colors. We can expect more players to start out allied, which is the opposite of Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged. That said, those who start in enemy colors still get access to the multicolor commons in Fate Reforged, which they can now pick up super late.
Nate: Lots of games with Dragons fighting other Dragons!
Randy: It is no longer a multicolor format, it's back to just being "normal" Draft. This is a huge change. Sure there are a few gold cards floating around (and FRF will reward you for being an enemy-color pair), but mostly you need to start reading signals again and finding the under-drafted color / get out of the color your neighbor is cutting off.
Tobi: While different people have claimed alternately that the environment would be either super fast or super slow, I expect the pace of games to be moderate. I expect to see a lot of Dragons. I expect Pacifism to be as bad as never before, thanks to exploit, formidable, and Center Soul. I expect to see regular main-deck inclusions of Return to the Earth. I expect blue-black to be the best color combination. Most of all, I expect I will be wrong on a number of counts here because I've only been able to take part in one actual eight-person draft so far (though I already did manage to unlock the achievement of winning with a pair of 1,000/1,000 Enduring Scalelords).
Tim: Fate Reforged being later in the draft certainly does mean that there is a better chance of the bombier rares being passed. I'm not sure that this will mean that there end up being a few very powerful decks at the table though. Many of my successful decks in recent drafts with Dragons have been very aggressive—meaning less time to draw the bombs and less opportunity for them to have a big impact. With plenty of quality removal spells knocking around too, we have a whole new context for Fate Reforged.
BDM: We have some information going into the Pro Tour based on last week's SCG Invitational. Both of the finalists are members of The Pantheon, a team notorious for clamping down on tech. Other than Sidisi, Undead Vizier; there was little innovation in either deck. Besides the fact that Jacob Wilson and Reid Duke were able to thrive with essentially stock lists, did anything surprise you in the results from that tournament?
Tim: There weren't too many big surprises for me. We've come to expect that at the very start of a format, decks fall into traditional roles, and that aggression gets paid off. Jacob and Reid went over the top of the more aggressive decks in the format with more midrangey options that contained a tried and tested collection of powerful cards. If you had to pick a tournament to unleash a big surprise, the Pro Tour is the one.
Tobi: The introduction of Zurgo Bellstriker, Lightning Berserker, and Dragon Fodder seems to have been quite the game changer for the mono-red decks. Suddenly, Foundry Street Denizen is the best 1-drop one can have, Stoke the Flames is even better now than before, and the mighty Goblin Rabblemaster finds itself shaved down to a mere one-of. That's some news!
Randy: Honestly I was a little surprised that the only two Platinum players in the room were able to meet in the finals, even though both were holding back and saving their tech for the Pro Tour itself. I guess Magic really is a skill game! In terms of cards and new decks, I thought there was a lot going on, especially with red as both Mono-Red Aggro and also Green-Red Monsters decks seemed to have lots of new toys worth playing with.
Ian: With the invitational happening on release weekend, it's no surprise that players were a little more conservative with their decks and card choices. Part of that may be secrecy headed into the Pro Tour, but I think more of it is lack of time to test, especially as teams. I think we can expect to see new innovations with Dragons of Tarkir to really hit in full force for the first time at the Pro Tour.
Nate: Jeff Hoogland's Dragon Tribal deck. Oh yes.
BDM: I am holding out hope for a Myth Realized deck that overloads on sweepers, card draw, and Planeswalkers; and just mops up with the Wessman-esque enchantment. Are there any DTK cards that you have your eye on that have yet to make an impact on Standard?
Randy: Yet to make an impact? The set has been legal for like 3 hours! Can I just answer with "whatever Sam Black cooks up?"
Tim: The card I want to see doing big things is Collected Company. Last week we saw Tomoharu Saito's first thoughts on the format with pictures telling 15,000 words in the form of 15 visual decklists. Collected Company was in a number of those lists, and feels like a powerful option if you want to surprise someone. Six is a lot of cards to look at, and if your deck is stocked with efficient creatures, it doesn't seem too hard to get a lot of value out of this instant.
Nate: Living Lore! (A man can dream.)
Ian: I'm most excited by the Dragons and "reveal a Dragon" cards (like Silumgar's Scorn). I'd love to see some full-fledged dragon decks show up at the Pro Tour. We saw a little bit of that already with Jeff Hoogland's Blue-Red Dragons and Shaheen Soorani's Esper Dragons at the SCG Invitational. I'd love to see some players build around Dragonlord Atarka. She's super powerful if you can reliably cast her!
Tobi: There are so many! I'd love to see Risen Executioner rise to the challenge and make a Zombie deck work, for example, and Assault Formation looks fun as well. Being more realistic though, I'll settle for an aggressive mono-black deck with Pitiless Horde or a resurrection of Blue Devotion via Shorecrasher Elemental.
BDM: I don't know if there is a hotter player on the Pro Tour than Seth Manfield. Who is on your short list of players to watch this weekend?
Tobi: I'm always waiting for Martin Juza to finally get around to make another Top 8. It's just implausible that someone has 22 Top 8s at Grand Prix but isn't good for at least three Sunday appearances at the Pro Tour. Meaning, Juza certainly is good for it and is due to catch up with variance anytime now. I'll also definitely watch Matej Zatlkaj. That's my short short-list; I'm afraid the actual short list is rather long.
Randy: Andrew Cuneo. The guy has finished in the Top 25 at four of the last five Pro Tours. Think about how crazy that stat is! He's just never managed to get the one last win he needed to crack into the Top 8 and thus he's been flying under the radar. (You know where he finished in the 5th one? 51st….) Meanwhile, he's been building Top 8-worthy decks since the mid-90s. I think everyone knows about his mono-blue "Draw, Go" decks, but did you know he was the first one to break Melira Pod? Just quietly one of the very best players on tour.
Nate: Savvy veteran Gerard Fabiano has been destroying tournament tables of late. But he's only 50% to attend the Pro Tour due to some scheduling conflict. If he does attend, I'd put him at 50% to win the dang thing. U-gin bet on it!
Ian: Because we've had two sets release since the last Standard Pro Tour, the format feels more open and less-explored than usual. I'm most excited to see what brews strong deck builders like Patrick Chapin, Yuuya Watanabe, and Makihito Mihara come up with.
Tim: I'm going to be watching Craig Wescoe, who is the premier builder of white aggro decks, and has got some nice tools to work with in Dragons of Tarkir. I also can't wait to see what Gerard Fabiano brings to the table. He's had a number of very exciting finishes in Standard lately with innovative control decks. While week one is typically a good week to be aggressive, the Pro Tour rewards players who go a level or so up from that, and bring the right answers.
BDM: Choose Khans or Dragons:
If you chose Khans pick me a tournament winner;
If you chose Dragons make a bold prediction about the tournament;
Entwine: If you entwined choose both.
Tim: How can anyone resist the option to entwine ever?
For my tournament winner, I'm going with Paul Rietzl, but it could equally easily be any of Team UltraPro, including: Ben Stark; Sam Black; and The Great One, Bob Maher. As a team, they have some of the best deck builders in the game, along with a number of the best drafters on the planet. The reason I've gone with Paul is that there appears to be room to play aggressively and be rewarded in this format, and that is very much Paul's comfort zone as a player.
For bold predictions, I'm going to go with the turn-three kill. While the plan with Assault Formation and a lot of Ornithopters doesn't seem realistic, I can well imagine that someone will pull off the kill of Favored Hoplite into Artful Maneuver into Temur Battle Rage and Defiant Strike. I just really hope that it happens in the feature match area.
Tobi: How is picking a winner out of a field of several hundred players, with so many deserving candidates, not making a bold prediction? Anyway, I'll pick Teruya Kakumae; not because I know a lot about him but simply because all of his good finishes are actual tournament wins. He is tied for most premier event titles in the season so far with just one other person. But again, I want to stress that this is a bold prediction, not founded in any science, reason, or mysterious clairvoyant powers. (Naturally, I'll take the last part back if Kakumae really does win.)
Nate: Dragons: Here's two—Living Lore will make an appearance in the feature match area. Owen Turtenwald's stranglehold on the #1 ranking will only tighten after he notches another Top 8.
Ian: Dragons for sure! On that note, I boldly predict that at least five different Dragons show up in top-performing decks. Bonus entwine: I'll pick Yuuya Watanabe as the winner. His technical play and deck building skills never cease to impress me.
Randy: The Dragonmaster himself, Brian Kibler, will make Top 8 with at least eight Dragons in his deck. How could this go any other way?
Changes to the Platinum Pro Level
The infamously pessimistic Jacob Wilson morbidly joked after his Top 8 appearance at PT Fate Reforged that he could conceivably end the season one point short of his goal. Hopefully Wilson could find some cause for optimism after Director of Global Organized Play Hélène Bergeot released news on Twitter yesterday—and specifically not on Wednesday, April 1st—that the threshold for Platinum would be lowered by 2 points, effective immediately.
While the full impact of this change will not be felt until the end of the season, it does have some immediate impact on players heading to Brussels. For Shahar Shenhar and Ivan Floch, it means that they will head into the last quarter of the 2014-15 season as Platinum Pros regardless of how they finish at the Pro Tour—3 points that are guaranteed for just participating will be enough to bump them into the next tier.
Just below them on 42 points, Sam Black inches closer to getting to Platinum sooner but was already assured of 48 points with two Pro Tours to go. The change guarantees that the three players behind them in the standings; Yuuya Watanabe (41 pts.), Jacob Wilson (41 pts.), and Seth Manfield (40 pts.) are all locked for the highest level in the Pro Players Club if they just show up to the last two major events of the season.
March Player of the Month: #MTGPoM
Despite only two weekends of Premier Level Play, with the Prerelease and release weekends for Dragons of Tarkir incinerating precious calendar, there were still four Grand Prix crammed into those two weekends. Which of the top players from those events distanced themselves from the pack to earn the title of March's Player of the Month? I will lay out the case for each and you can vote using the hashtag #MTGPoM. You can direct your tweets and posts to me @Top8Games or @MagicProTour to make sure they are right in front of me but if you just use the hashtag I promise I will find them.
Martin Dang took down the field of Grand Prix Liverpool, and the Danish student will be adding another Pro Tour to a career that has seen him play at that level ten times. He will also be taking part in the next MOCS Championship. He showed no fear in his draft, even when the table did not cooperate to put him into a clan. He started out Jeskai in his first draft but, down the stretch, had to fight uphill with Bant and then Grixis en route to his win.
Daniel Ceccetti displayed his Mastery of the Unseen at Grand Prix Miami with the breakout deck from that Standard Grand Prix—Green-White Devotion with Mastery of the Unseen and Whisperwood Elemental (two of my absolute favorite cards from the last set). Ceccetti, last seen as a member of the 2013 World Magic Cup team for the United States, is the latest in a long line of Wisconsin-based players who have seen their tide rise along with the deck's creator, Sam Black.
Teruya Kakumae hoarded all the Mardu cards throughout three drafts on Day Two of Grand Prix Auckland, and won the second Grand Prix of his career—and the second this season. With two Grand Prix wins—one in Modern with Burn and the other in Limited—Kakumae surged into the lead of the race for Grand Prix points leader, which earns the titleholder a seat at the World Championship when the season ends.
It was fun to watch Bill Tsang burn his way through the field of Grand Prix Cleveland. He'll be heading to his first Pro Tour thanks to his win, after just three GP attempts. Tsang has described himself as a casual player with an affinity for aggro. He certainly made Act of Treason look good all weekend long. He not only two-for-oned his finals opponent by stealing an Avalanche Tusker, but even got to Collateral Damage with a borrowed Hooded Hydra during the draft rounds.
Who do you want to see earn the honor for March? Head to the social network of your choice and make the case. Is there someone else you want to see in the mix? Let me know—I have responded to a compelling crowdsourced nominee in the past.