Wizards of the Coast made a huge splash at last year's PAX Prime with the dramatic reveal of double-faced cards during the Innistrad preview party at the Showbox Theater. It was an exciting moment from an amazing party and would seem impossible to top, but that isn't stopping Wizards from trying. In the days leading up to PAX, the theater will once again be transformed—but this year it will be into a tournament venue to host a concentration of the game's best and brightest playing for more than $100,000 and the title of Player of the Year.
The sixteen-person Players Championship will take place from Wednesday, August 29, through Friday, August 31, with a top prize of $40,000 and the most prestigious title in the history of the game. The winner of the event will be crowned the 2011–12 Player of the Year. 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald will be one of the players vying for that title in a unique opportunity to unify the Player of the Year titles that overlap from last year's calendar-based season to the newly reconfigured season that is ending—for everyone but the sixteen Player of the Year hopefuls—at the conclusion of the last elimination round of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored.
We will come back to the competitors—most of whom will not be finalized until after that aforementioned finals in Spain—in a few paragraphs, but in the meantime let's take a look at the Players Championship itself and the formats the players will engage in. There is more than $100,000 on the line for the players and payouts range from a $1,000-thanks-for-playing to a Pro-Tour-level $40,000 for being the last person standing.
Players also earn 1 Pro Point per win (2 Pro Points for wins on Day 3).
When the players sit down for their first round of play on Wednesday, they will be doing battle with Modern decks for three rounds. From there, they will switch to Limited for three rounds of Cube Draft. Then on Thursday they—
—wait, you want to know a little more about that Limited format for Wednesday? Yes, you did read it correctly. Three rounds of the Players Championship will be the first-ever live Cube Draft in high-level competition. Director of Magic Ramp;D Aaron Forsythe explained how he and other decision makers arrived at the formats for the event.
"The formats were chosen by members of the Premier Play Team—Helene Bergeot, Scott Larabee, Erik Lauer, Mike Turian, Greg Collins, and myself—to be a combination of relevant, skill-testing, and fun to watch. Standard is in a bit of a lame-duck period right before the rotation at that point, and the Limited format on shelves is the Core Set, so we used Modern and added Cube for some spice," said Forsythe.
Mental Agony | Art by Greg Staples
Organized Play Programs Manager Scott Larabee issued assurances that players would have advanced exposure to the new Cube list and opportunity to prepare for the event—presumably via Magic Online.
"Ramp;D has designed the Cube and we will be obtaining the physical cards for the Cube," said Larabee. "The players (and the public) will have access to the Cube list very shortly. Players will have ample time to practice with the Cube."
Day Two of the event will see the players drafting Magic 2013 for three rounds and then playing three more rounds of Modern. With twelve rounds of play in the rearview mirror, the event will cut to the Top 4 and they will play best three-of-five Modern matches on Friday to determine who will win the title and the lion's share of the money. In talking to people about the event, it was stressed time and time again that this event is not the Invitational, which was an exhibition event with little more than pride on the line. Forsythe underlined that sentiment with a bottom-line view of the event.
"These games count. The payout—both in Pro Points and dollars—is much more significant, and players aren't invited based on popularity—it's all from results. That said, the tagline Mark Rosewater liked to use for the Invitational was 'every match is a Feature Match,' and that certainly holds true here."
The best part of all of this is that every single round of the event will be covered with live video, text reporting, and enhanced Cover-It-Live floor reporting. Round after round, the game's best players will be paired up and you will get to watch them live. We already talked about Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald having secured a seat to the event. Other "locked" players include Pro Tour Philadelphia winner Samuele Estratti, World Champion Jun'ya Iyanaga, Pro Tour Dark Ascension winner Brian Kibler, and Magic Online Champion Reid Duke. The winner of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored will join them and then the final ten seats will be determined by regional and at-large Pro Point standings.
Samuele Estratti, Jun'ya Iyanaga, Brian Kibler and Reid Duke
Top Pro Points, North America: TBD
Top Pro Points, Latin America: TBD
Top Pro Points, Europe: TBD
Top Pro Points, Japan: TBD
Top Pro Points, APAC: TBD
Top Pro Points, at-large 1: TBD
Top Pro Points, at-large 2: TBD
Top Pro Points, at-large 3: TBD
Top Pro Points, at-large 4: TBD
Top Pro Points, at-large 5: TBD
Obviously, there are a lot of Pro Points on the line in Barcelona in a couple of weeks, and there can still be a good amount of upheaval to almost any position. If the cut were to happen tomorrow here is how these berths would fill out. *SPOILER ALERT: The field would be more than half ChannelFireball members*
Top Pro Points, North America: Luis Scott-Vargas
Top Pro Points, Latin America: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Top Pro Points, Europe: Martin Juza
Top Pro Points, Japan: Yuuya Watanabe
Top Pro Points, APAC: Jeremy Neeman
Top Pro Points, at-large 1: Josh Utter-Leyton
Top Pro Points, at-large 2: Matt Costa
Top Pro Points, at-large 3: David Ochoa
Top Pro Points, at-large 4: Shuuhei Nakamura
Top Pro Points, at-large 5: Tom Martell
When you look at the list of names that are jostling to jump ahead of anyone on this list it is impossible to imagine an outcome that will not end with this being one of the highest skill levels ever seen in a single tournament. Conley Woods, Sam Black, Richard Bland, Lukas Jaklovsky, Raphael Levy, Shouta Yasooka, Jon Finkel, Jesse Hampton, and Craig Wescoe are all within arm's length of an at-large bid. Pro Tour Avacyn Restored is going to have additional implications as players come down the stretch toward the final standings—and not just for the Players Championship. Players will also be vying for their National Championship crown with that last reservoir of Pro Points for the season.
"I'm really happy with the different pockets of excitement and drama that the World Magic Cup and Players Championship have added to the 'quest for Pro Points' beyond hitting the Gold or Platinum levels," said Forsythe—a two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor before coming to work at Wizards of the Coast. "There's so much to follow, so much to think about as you watch these events in the waning weeks of the season. I wish I was still playing!"
"We are going to see sixteen of the best Magic players playing Magic for three days," said Larabee. "In most events, you see them in a feature match or two and then maybe on Sunday if they make the Top 8. At the Players Championship, each player will get far more camera time. Viewers will really get a chance to see how these guys play the game." Larabee then went on to explain the influence of the Player of the Year playoff from the start of the 2011 season in Paris.
Battle Hymn | Art by Nils Hamm
"The Player of the Year playoff in Paris was a 'fortunate fluke' and the experience was definitely something we wanted to leverage again. When redesigning the Premier Play system last year, the excitement of the 2011 Player of the Year playoff and a desire to re-imagine the Magic Invitational led to the Players Championship."
For sixteen seasons, the Player of the Year title has been a straight point-accumulation run culminating at the World Championships. For Aaron Forsythe, the ability to watch the field of players get winnowed down round by round until just two players are left to fight for the title makes the new iteration of the title into must-see-TV.
"The historic list of Player of the Year reflects the true giants of the game in each era much better than, say, the list of World Champions under the old system did. There is reverence for the Player of the Year—even among his peers—that isn't there for the winner of any one event. I won't say that this new system is better at identifying that one single person empirically than the old system was, but I'm sure it is much more compelling. You get the title by winning the finals on camera, not because someone else lost in the quarterfinals of something you weren't directly involved in, which is how many old P.O.Y. races ended," said Forsythe.
Now that Avacyn Restored is upon us—and good luck to everyone at their Prerelease events this weekend—that means Pro Tour Avacyn Restored is not far behind it, and all of its implications for the World Magic Cup and the Players Championship. It is going to be one heckuva weekend with all the various contenders' fates tied to how well they can build decks and draft with the new cards. Pretty much must-see-TV as well!