Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Coverage Roundtable

Posted in The Week That Was on October 9, 2015

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.

In this issue:

Coverage Round Table | Team Follow-Up | September Player of the Month

The professional Magic community is converging on the state of Wisconsin. This weekend is Grand Prix Madison, our first look at the Battle for Zendikar Limited formats from the professional perspective, and then it is on to Milwaukee for the first Pro Tour of the new season. I rounded up a small handful of the people I have the good fortune to work with covering these Pro Tours to get their take on what we can expect to see over the next two weekends and who we should be keeping an eye on.

Joining me for the discussion were Pro Tour Hall of Famer Randy Buehler; your resource for Limited Information, Marshall Sutcliffe; Walking the Planes frontman, Nate Holt; sideline reporter Tim Willoughby; Pro Tour Champion Jacob Van Lunen; the commanding Adam Styborski; and the inimitable Richard Hagon.

From left: Randy Buehler, Marshall Sutcliffe, Nate Holt, Tim Willoughby, Jacob Van Lunen, Adam Styborski, and Richard Hagon


BDM: We are going to spend a weekend watching the pros play Sealed Deck and Draft from Madison and then kick off the Pro Tour with a Battle for Zendikar draft. What can we expect from this Draft format? Is it dominated by the rares and mythic rares, or can the commons and uncommons overcome a powerful rare?

Sutcliffe: Both! In our set review show on Limited Resources, LSV and I gave a lot of A grades out to the rare and mythic rare cards. The story doesn't end there, though. With the awesome synergies available in the format, you can build decks that aren't focused around powerful rares but around powerful synergies instead.

Hagon: Easily. So many rares and mythic rares only have a small niche within the format, meaning that they will be seen in play less often than some other sets. That's especially true of the biggest Eldrazi, which only work in Draft with a real support network of cards to get them into play. Often, that support network can't be found and won't materialize, and at that point there are some very powerful cards in sideboards, never to be seen again.

Buehler: I love the fact that it's not all about the rares. I think that pendulum is swinging back after getting a little bit out of whack during the Tarkir block. That said, the uncommons are a lot better than the commons, so positioning yourself to build around and/or get passed the good ones could be key.

BDM: You get to craft the ultimate Draft table for the first draft of this Pro Tour. There are some consensus Top 3 drafters, but what does your Top 8 look like?


  • Ben Stark
  • Jon Finkel
  • Huey Jensen
  • Eric Froehlich
  • Shuhei Nakamura
  • Owen Turtenwald
  • Luis Scott-Vargas
  • Yuuya Watanabe



  • Rich Hoaen
  • Sean McLaren
  • Ben Stark
  • Nicolai Herzog
  • Andrea Mengucci
  • Eric Froehlich
  • Seth Manfield
  • Yuuya Watanabe


Van Lunen:

  • Seth Manfield
  • Martin Dang
  • Joel Larsson
  • Antonio Del Moral León
  • Jon Finkel
  • Kai Budde
  • Owen Turtenwald
  • Yuuya Watanabe

BDM: What did we learn in Week One of the new Standard from the results of the SCG event in Indianapolis?

Holt: I'm not surprised that red decks did well. They always do in Week One after rotation, and red decks won the last two PTs as well. That said, the mid-rangers and controllers won't take long to catch up. Abzan Aggro with Drana is something to watch out for.

Buehler: The mana is insane. You can basically play any cards together that you feel like. Three of each fetch land, one of each battle land, one of each basic, and go nuts . . .

Hagon: Every Pro Tour features a number of ways that the best players can separate themselves from the also-rans. Sometimes that's about incredibly tough Limited gameplay decisions, sometimes sideboarding for Constructed. This time, one window of opportunity is definitely going to be the mana base. Proper mana building is a skill almost nobody in world Magic outside the true top tier has, and many of those players struggle as well. Josh Utter-Leyton, Sam Black, and Brad Nelson are all players who could gain a huge edge over much of the competition through their understanding of mana.

Willoughby: Seeing Siege Rhino in successful Abzan decks was hardly a shock, but seeing it in five-color decks was a little more interesting to me. The combination of fetch lands and battle lands is one that makes both constructing and playing out mana bases very intriguing. How many basics is the right number? When is it right to fetch them to make sure that later lands come into play untapped? I'm still kind of feeling out mana bases in this format, but the short answer is they are pretty good.

BDM: Thoughseize is gone, which could open the door for a combo deck. Is there any other card that will have as big an impact by its absence in new Standard?

Holt: Nykthos is gone. The Devotion decks were a staple of Standard for two years, and Nykthos into mana sinks of your choice was one of the best ways to "go over the top" in the format. I'm curious to know what kinds of trump cards the big decks will play. Of course, Ugin is still around, but I hear there are some similarly costed big guns rolling into town that Ugin can't handle with his -X ability . . .

Willoughby: Elspeth, Sun's Champion departing from Standard is a big deal, as is the loss of Stoke the Flames. What does this mean? Well, it could easily mean that now is the right time for big creatures. The tricky thing about that is that we don't have the mana engines of Elvish Mystic and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. I can see the format dividing into the decks that do a huge amount in the first three turns (principally red decks) and the decks that do a great deal on turn five and beyond, potentially running as many colors as they can. I wouldn't be surprised to see this be another Pro Tour where an aggressive red deck is a good choice. As to combos, my answer is the same as for most Pro Tours: I hope there's a good combo deck, but not a great one, so that we all get to have nice things.

Buehler: Losing the scry lands will have a huge impact on the consistency of the control decks too, but for me the real dance will be around red beatdown decks. They won two Pro Tours last season, and the mana in Atarka Red is actually good now. But everyone knows that. Everyone will want to play lots of lands that hurt them and/or comes into play tapped most of the time. But you can beat the red decks if you show up prepared, and Searing Blood can't punish you for running Jace, Vryn's Prodigy any more. But will people really be prepared? (It's taking unreasonable amounts of self-control not to refer to this dance as a tango.)

BDM: What storyline will you be looking forward to following at the Pro Tour?

Van Lunen: New decks. The new Standard is still in Wild West mode and there are a lot of angles that haven't been explored. I want to find well-known players who are piloting innovative strategies and pushing the evolution of Standard.

Styborski: Seth Manfield. He put on the greatest show yet at a World Championship, and he's eager to earn Platinum standing again as soon as possible. Can he win a Pro Tour next? I'm excited to see how the newest World Champion carves out the rest of the season.

Sutcliffe: Me being me, I am looking directly at what is going on in the Booster Draft portion of the event. Is this format a prince, a pauper, or even both? Is it slow or fast? Which removal lines up the best with the good threats in the format? I have so many questions and many of them will be answered at the Pro Tour.

Buehler: Which teams are on top of the game right now? The emerging dominance of Team Ultra Pro looks unstoppable, but then again Team Thommo won a lot of hardware last year. And are we really ready to knock The Pantheon and CFB out of tier 1 after just a few bad events? Plus the team formerly known as TCGPlayer put four players into Worlds and won it! I love how many team-based storylines we have right now. When was the last time we had this many good ones—was I on one of them?!

Holt: I wanna see the Scandinavians go back-to-back-to-back with a three-peat. We saw Martin Dang and Joel Larsson take down the last two PTs. I think it's Martin Müller's turn.

BDM: Finally, pick me a winner—I have a no-prize if anyone gets this right!

Hagon: If the smaller, leaner, meaner, retro CFB team is an experiment that works (and I've already mentioned Josh Utter-Leyton as being a potent weapon when it comes to building new Standard), watch out for multiple Grand Prix champion Matt Nass.

Van Lunen: Kenji Tsumura—a boy's gotta have dreams.

Styborski: Sam Black. He's one of the many excellent players there, and I felt his semifinals exit from the World Championship was an unfortunate shortfall for his efforts that weekend. I'm looking forward to him showing even more on his (almost) home turf.

Willoughby: My pick for a winner this time is Martin Müller. Watching him play at the World Championships, I was very impressed. He has a huge amount of talent, and is working with a very good team that seems to be on a bit of a roll when it comes to Pro Tours lately.

Buehler: Someone from Team Ultra Pro. I guess I'll say Paul Rietzl.

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Team Follow-Up

Last week I wrote about some of the teams testing for this event and left the door open for any teams I did not cover to give me the rundown of their roster. Here are a couple of the teams I did not cover, including one featuring an incoming Hall of Fame pro.

Team Dex Protection

Willy Edel

The headliner of this team is Hall of Famer-elect Willy Edel, who will be enshrined before the Pro Tour in Milwaukee. As usual, he will be working with as many of the South American RTQ winners as he can round up, along with some of the bigger names from Brazil, Spain, and Portugal.

  • Antonio Del Moral León
  • Thiago Saporito
  • Pedro Carvalho
  • Marcio Carvalho
  • Javier Dominguez
  • Marcelino Freeman
  • Daniel Ward
  • Thiago Rodrigues
  • Frederico Bastos


A name from the past with a roster of up-and-coming players led by some familiar names. Silver Pro Joey Manner is the new proprietor of the New Jersey game shop that was once associated with some of the biggest names in the game. He is working with the team that was previously known as Day1Magic and looking to make the name TOGIT the only game in town once again.

  • Alex Majlaton
  • Ben Friedman
  • Dan Jordan
  • Christian Calcano
  • Joey Manner
  • Ben Lukas
  • Tim Wu
  • Tommy Ashton
  • Mark Jacobson
  • Louis Deltour
  • Marco Cammiluzzi
  • Oliver Tomajko
  • Pascal Maynard

I will be catching up with Oliver Tomajko on the eve of his Pro Tour debut in next week's column about getting to the PT at such a young age, playing Hall of Famer William Jensen in a Grand Prix Top 8 win-and-in, and what his preparation for the event has been like.

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September Player of the Month: Zac Elsik

Zac Elsik

There were not many major events in September, just two Grand Prix and the Community Cup, and I did not open this up to discussion last week. The Grand Prix Oklahoma City Champion was the runaway winner in my mind. Not only did he win a Modern Grand Prix, but he did so with a deck that he was basically the only person playing—Lantern Control. He was undefeated with it on Day One, and once he made the Top 8, after a small Swiss hiccup, he was able to steadily demolish the competition—one excruciating card at a time.

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