Basically, the next two weeks are all about the upcoming Pro Tour—learning all the card names and their elusive pronunciations, understanding the implications of the new cards on the existing Block Constructed metagame, and sorting out the shifting and evolving rosters of the major teams preparing for the event. But the easy part of preparing for the Pro Tour is getting as much draft practice in as possible between now and then. After all, the first three rounds of the Pro Tour will feature the new draft format.
I also have a PTQ coming on May 10 in New York and would like to be ready if I somehow make it to the Top 8. But more practically, I want to also have as much practice for the coverage team drafts that will commence Wednesday before the PT and carry on pretty much every evening thereafter. As of this writing, I am very much in the black on the draft ledger, with a 3–0 in my first full-block eight-person draft, that we ran with packs we won at the Prerelease. My love for one-drop heroic creatures is no secret—I am approaching 100 Favored Hoplites on Magic Online—and I have had my eye on Satyr Hoplite since the moment it appeared in the Card Image Gallery.
True to predictions I made throughout preview season, it ended up being my first-ever first pick from a Journey into Nyx pack, and I came away from the experience very happy with the results. My next two picks were also heroic cards—a pair of Bloodcrazed Hoplites—and I never looked back from a black-red aggro deck that I was not thrilled with during deck building. Despite my misgivings about the deck, I went 3–0 in a pretty brisk fashion and my respect for two strive spells went up considerably. Rouse the Mob was pretty spectacular—and there may in fact be a third copy not pictured in that snapshot of my deck—and Blinding Flare just flat out ended games for me when opponents thought they had stabilized the board. I was even able to use it to get a couple of heroic trigger on my own guys in a couple of games.
Some other quick thoughts on the draft format based on very small sample size:
Nyx Weaver is much better than I initially gave it credit for. Matt Ferrando drafted a deck that was the closest thing I have seen to a Spider Spawning deck since the halcyon days of triple-Innistrad draft. His deck, which featured a pair of the gold Spiders, was able to stock his graveyard with key cards to return. Mostly, he just played Revel of the Fallen God multiple times in each game and ground his opponents under his sixteen heels. I am not sure how replicable his deck will be, since it relied on multiple uncommons and a rare, but I certainly have my eye on it for the future.
Strive in general was pretty amazing and really adds a sense of urgency to the draft format. Desperate Stand just demolished me at the Prerelease, dictating that even if I survived an all-out attack I would have no creatures left when the dust settled—a moot point since I could not live through the attack. Hour of Need was just a backbreaker and I was very fortunate to not have to face that card the way our matchups played out. It should be noted that Zachary Orts managed to be the first person to pull off one of the dream scenarios in this new format, with a Battlefield Thaumaturge that let him cast Hour of Need for and for each additional target, as well as cast Glimpse the Sun God for just a single to tap his opponent's entire team.
Again, I just have one draft under my belt and getting to peek over the shoulders of some of the best players to ever play the game at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. The ranks of Limited masters seems to steadily swell and there is no shortage of players to keep an eye on, from a pair of Hall of Famers in Ben Stark and William Jensen; to Top 8 competitor from the most recent Pro Tour, Chris Fennell; to players looking to make names for themselves, like Adam Mancuso, who has secured a berth for himself at the next two PTs via Grand Prix Top 8s—including a Limited Top 8 in Philadelphia.
Some of the other players I am going to be looking at when we get to Atlanta:
With the implementation of a Grand Prix cap that only takes into account a player's Top 5 GP finishes, the finishes at the four Pro Tours are going to play the most-significant role in determining the Player of the Year this season. With a win at Pro Tour Theros and a Top 20 at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Jérémy Dezani is more than a GP win out in front of the next player in the standings, with 63 points to Reid Duke's 50. One more deep run into Day Two and Dezani could coast to the finish line for the last PT of the season, in Portland.
As good as Dezani has been this season, he may actually still be underrated. In addition to two outstanding Pro Tour finishes this season, he has three Grand Prix Top 8s and has proven himself to be adept at multiple formats.
If Reid Duke is going to catch Dezani, it will have to involve him getting the 500 pound Kird Ape off his back. Despite all of his success, which includes being a Magic Online Champion, World Championship finalist, and Grand Prix dominator, he remains one of the players with the most Pro Points to never play in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Take that in for a moment. He is in 2nd place in the current Player of the Year race and has yet to play on Sunday at the PT. If there is a Player of the Year trophy to go on Reid Duke's ever-expanding mantle, it is going to involve playing deeper into a Pro Tour than he has ever gone before.
If you watched the webcast from Valencia, you know we introduced a new feature called the King of the Hill, which follows the winner of a feature match into a feature match the next round. The winner each round stays in the area until, eventually, we have a Pro Tour champion, who kicks off the next Pro Tour as the reigning King of the Hill. As a result, how Pro Tour Born of the Gods Champion Shaun McLaren follows up his breakthrough finish is going to be examined under the bright lights of the Feature Match area right from Round 1 of the tournament. McLaren worked apart from the various super teams for the last PT but has a new Canadian squad to work with this time out. Team MTGCanada includes Pro Tour Champion McLaren, Grand Prix Richmond Champion Brian Liu, Magic Online Championship competitor Farand Lee, and Rookie of the Year hopeful Raymond Perez Jr.
Leading the Rookie race is Pro Tour Born of the Gods 9th-place finisher Jaren Boettcher, who will be looking to build on the best finish of his young career. He is only 2 points ahead of Sweden's Rasmus Björklund and fellow American Neal Oliver, and a breakout finish from any number of players—Dimitriy Butakov, Yann Guthman, Raymond Tan, or the aforementioned Adam Mancuso (to name just a few)—could completely rearrange to top of this field, which is very narrowly bunched together and likely less constrained by the Grand Prix cap than the Player of the Year race.
Player of the Month for April (#MTGPoM)
It is that time again. We look back at the past month of results, nominate several players for the title of Player of the Month, and you vote on Twitter using the hashtag #MTGPoM to tell me who you think should win the honor. With a Prerelease weekend to close out the month, there were only a smattering of events to factor in.
Twenty-eight-year-old Austin, Texas, consultant Robert Berni took down the field at Grand Prix Phoenix with his Mono-Black Standard deck that featured the usual suspects of Pack Rat, Thoughtseize, and Underworld Connections. Berni defeated GP San Diego Champion Nathan Holiday to earn the first GP title of his career, which had previously seen him Top 8 GP Kansas City.
Twenty-five-year-old Ryousuke Kasuga is a care worker from Chiba, but at Grand Prix Nagoya he was the antithesis of a caring Magic player, as his Top 8 deck was stocked with removal spells (although it did feature a pair of Pharika's Cures), including the board-sweeping Anger of the Gods. People have talked about how black was underdrafted in Born of the Gods/Theros Draft and Kasuga was happy to exploit that in all three of his drafts on Sunday.
Twenty-three-year-old Magic columnist Frank Skarren won the second Grand Prix of his career in a star-studded Top 8 at Grand Prix Philadelphia—a Top 8 that saw him have to get through William Jensen in the quarterfinals, Reid Duke in the finals, and two-time GP Top 8 competitor Adam Mancuso in the semis.
It is a three-horse race. Get yourself to Twitter and let me know which one you are backing. You can address your comments to me at @Top8Games or @MagicProTour but even if you just discuss it with your own social network and use the hashtag #MTGPoM I can follow the discussion and count your votes.