The 2014-15 Pro Tour season is coming to an end. And what a season it has been.
The season started in Hawaii with the well-deserved induction of Makihito Mihara, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and Paul Rietzl into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Ari Lax ended up winning the tournament, after the first Top 8 of his Pro Tour career. Next up was Pro Tour Fate Reforged in Washington, D.C., and history was made when Antonio Del Moral León became the first ever Pro Tour Champion from Spain. It was also our introduction to Rookie of the Year frontrunner Justin Cohen. Most recently, we saw long-time player Martin Dang continue an amazing run for the country of Denmark when he defeated Shota Yasooka in the finals of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.
There is just one major event left on the calendar, and it's going to determine so much more than a winner. There are National Championships, World Championship berths, Player and Rookie of the Year titles, and Pro Player's Club levels all to be determined, along with the not-so-small matter of handing someone a check for $40,000 and entering their name into the history books as the Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion. We will be streaming all the action live, starting on Friday at 9 a.m. PT/12 p.m. ET/4 p.m. UTC on twitch.tv/magic. I caught up with some of the people I will be working alongside to make that coverage happen and sat them down to talk about what to expect next weekend in the closing act of the 2014-15 Pro Tour Season.
BDM, Hagon, Willoughby, Buehler, and Sutcliffe
BDM: At the event, I will be in the booth throughout the weekend in a play-by-play role, as well as preparing for the Hall of Fame announcement on Friday, driving people through the Deck Techs all weekend long, and getting ready for Friday Night Countdown. My plan is to play as much Magic with the new set between now and then as possible. In what capacity will you be at Pro Tour Magic Origins and how will you prepare for that role?
Rich Hagon: I will be hosting and producing the Newsdesk content as usual. This is an extra-busy Pro Tour for us, with so many important races coming to a boil. Obviously there's Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Then there's the mad scramble for World Championship slots, and those are super-exclusive. Then there's captains of the World Magic Cup teams to sort out—close to 50 countries are still up for grabs heading into Vancouver. And then there's all the individual storylines of the matches that are going to determine Silver, Gold, and ultimately Platinum, and those matches are arguably the most life-changing of all. So, all in all, a lot of my prep work for the end of season PT each year is about X, Y, and Z—if player X gets record Y, they will be captain of country Z; unless player R gets slot S, in which case slot T will go to player U with record V . . . and yes, I love this stuff.
Marshall Sutcliffe: I'm going to be in the booth as the play-by-play commentator, and at the desk as the host. I'll do some interviews probably, too. I prepare by reading the card list over and over to learn the names, and by drafting as much as I can before the tournament.
Randy Buehler: I'm doing my usual commentary gig (though I will unfortunately miss Sunday, as I'm taking a Saturday-night red-eye flight to the World Boardgaming Championships). My preparation consists of watching as much Standard as I can and playing as much Draft as I can. Covering Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth should help out, too.
Tim Willoughby: My role at the Pro Tour is dominated by the Feature Match area. Most of the time, I'm in there making sure that you have good matches to watch, interviewing winners, and ensuring that you stay up to date on the details of everything that's happening down there. For a few rounds each show, though, I will be in the booth commentating. As the rounds I commentate on tend to be Constructed, I've doing plenty of deck construction homework, as well as drafting enough to be confident that I know the cards in Magic Origins well.
BDM: What has your Prerelease—and now Release—experience been like with Magic Origins? For me, it has been the beginning of a summer-long escapade with the Thopter Spy Network.
Tim: I feel like the network is an ever growing one! At the Prerelease, I only got to enjoy the Thopters made by Pia and Kiran Nalaar. Following that, though, I got my first taste of how good the Network is in a Cube Draft later the same day. Honestly, it made for one of the most fun drafts I've been in in years.
Rich: It was really exciting to see Hangarback Walker and Thopter Spy Network being given a thorough public airing by Jeff Hoogland at the SCG Open series. I agree that the Network is a really interesting card. At the Prerelease, a lot of the focus was on renown. In the earliest Prereleases (midnight and 6 am), people were getting effortlessly run over by reasonably efficient—and cheap—renown creatures, which then got very good once their ability kicked in. At later Prereleases, you started to see some apparently very marginal cards—Yoked Ox, Maritime Guard, and Guardians of Meletis don't exactly hit very hard—getting played and thoroughly blunting the aggro starts of the red-white decks. I can't wait to see how this dynamic plays out in Draft.
Marshall: I've been in information-gathering mode mainly. Trying out cards that I can't quite tell if they are good or not. Seeing what the colors are like, which is best, which color pairs work well together. I started out 8-0 in matches in this format, but 0-2'd the last draft I did, so there is work yet to do.
BDM: Magic Origins has been very aggressive Draft format out of the gate, with players looking to push through their renown creatures at all cost. I am already seeing defensive cards get more main deck play than I can recall. What has your experience with the Draft format been like?
Randy: Can one be cautiously very optimistic? I enjoy the relative simplicity of core sets. This one seems to have slightly more depth than previous core sets, but the two-color archetypes don't seem to be too heavy-handed and I love the way the bombs (including the rares) seem to be a lot more beatable than they were in the Tarkir block.
Rich: If you don't have a turn-one play, you better know what you're doing. Actually, here's a better idea: Have a turn-one play.
Tim: One of the cool things for me about this Draft format, which is a little unusual, is that blocking is much more common than normal. I have already played more copies of Maritime Guard in this format than I think I've played in any other, and I'm actually kind of fine with that. Combat tricks have got a bit better, and the red zone is suddenly a busy place. I approve.
Marshall: I can remember some pretty deep core set Draft experiences, notably Magic 2013 and Magic 2014, and it's going to be tough for Origins to top those. Early signs are that it could be in the ballpark, thanks to plenty of build-around-me-uncommons and a flat power curve across the commons and uncommons. The punishing nature of renown on slow draws could get in the way, though.
BDM: I have forced Elves in multiple drafts now by starting on Shaman of the Pack. What commons or uncommons do you most want to see when you open your booster pack at the start of a draft?
Tim: I have a soft spot for "build around me" cards, so if you let me choose an uncommon to open, I'd likely go for something like Blightcaster, which lets me do just that. At rare or mythic rare, I would choose either the aforementioned Thopter Spy Network or something fun to try to draft around. While I don't think it's really first-pick material, I like the idea of trying to draft a Pyromancer's Goggles deck.
Marshall: My favorite cards in the early running are Jhessian Thief, Joraga Invocation, Possessed Skaab, Read the Bones, Sentinel of the Watch, Separatist Voidmage, Sigiled Starfish, Undercity Troll, and Whirler Rogue. Just those. For rare and mythic rare cards, I want to open a Thopter Spy Network more than anything. Failing that, a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy would do just fine. Looters gonna loot.
Randy: My favorite common right now might actually be Topan Freeblade. There aren't a surplus of high-quality cheap creatures, but this one is great and white is a fairly deep color as well. That said, I am disappointed when I have to take a common pack 1, pick 1. The uncommons tend to be a notch more powerful and a lot more interesting to try to build around.
BDM: Standard is now at its fattest state of the year—two full core sets and two full blocks. What does Magic Origins bring to the party that can emit a signal strong enough to rise above the noise?
Randy: I love the way the good cards in Origins do not seem to plug straight-forwardly into many of the pre-existing decks. Are Goblins a thing now? How about Elves? Artifacts?! And can anyone break Day's Undoing?
Tim: Languish is a very important card, in the grand scheme of things. Four-mana sweepers have been a cornerstone in Standard throughout the history of Magic, but were notably absent in the last two blocks. Aggressive decks have a new threat to worry about, and black decks get to do even naughtier things with Siege Rhino and Tasigur than they did before. Five toughness is suddenly very important.
I think that Abzan control builds get a decent shot in the arm thanks to Languish—with the aggro versions now finding themselves in a tricky position, since even Fleecemane Lion is no longer as safe. In terms of newer decks, I'm excited to see whether a decent Thopter Spy Network deck can compete at the top level while it is able to work with Darksteel Citadel, and whether Constellations comes back in force, aided by Starfield of Nyx and Herald of the Pantheon.
Rich: To me, one word links a lot of what might come out of Magic Origins. You might be thinking "Planeswalker," and of course that cycle is very interesting for Constructed, but the word I'm thinking of is "Tribal." Somebody is going to try to do something cool with Elves. Somebody already has done something with Thopters. And multiple somebodies are going to see if Goblin Piledriver can be turned into something close to the past ridiculousness associated with it. Now, I'm not certain that the Pro Tour is precisely where any of these three are going to be sufficiently honed to outmatch the giants of previous Standard, but watching them try could be a lot of fun.
Marshall: The most obvious standout card is Languish. It fits into an already-popular deck in Abzan, pushing it further towards the control end of the spectrum. I've also got my eye on Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy as cards I hope are good, but am not sure if they are yet.
BDM: Who are you hoping to see prepping in the Deck Tech area early on in the tournament? What letter of the alphabet do you casually flip to in the decklist folder to see what deck they have brought to the event?
Randy: B is for Black. Sam Black. He was already on my short list at previous events, and this time around he gets to bounce ideas off of new Ultra Pro teammates Patrick Chapin and Mike Flores.
Rich: I love this game! Now, if it is a game, then S is the correct answer, since you just get more decklists that way! But, I feel that's cheating . . . So, I'd go to F. If I do that, I get to see Eric Froehlich, and find out what the No. 1-ranked player in the world is bringing to the table. I get to see what Jon Finkel and his celebrated team have concocted for him to wield. I get to see two more grizzled veterans in Chris Fennell and Gerard Fabiano. And I get to see the latest PT brew of Michael Flores. Some of our readers won't even know who Mike is—or maybe they'll have just "met" him at fetchland.com—but to me, he was part of a triumvirate (with Adrian Sullivan and Zvi Mowshowitz) that simply was Magic: the Gathering writing. I'd love to see whether Mike has something extraordinary to mark his PT return.
Tim: I think if I had to look at one list, this time I'd want to have a look at what Bob Maher was playing. Not only is he on one of the super-teams at the Pro Tour, he has had enough success with decks that are off the beaten track to make predicting his choice difficult.
Marshall: S is for Stark. Ben chooses the kind of deck I like to play, and makes very solid decisions when it comes to deck choice. I look to see what he is playing, as it's a proxy for what I would likely choose in a given format. I also look at W, for Wrapter. Well, U for Utter-Leyton, but Josh is the rare mix of great technical player and also great deck brewer.
BDM: There is so much on the line this PT weekend in addition to just the PT itself. The Player of the Year race is as tight as we have seen heading into such a huge Pro Point payout, and it will be white-knuckled down the stretch. Which single race are you most looking forward to seeing play out?
Tim: I really like the races that hang around National Champion titles, and there are a few players looking to lock up a guaranteed spot on their national team. The closest of these is for Team Canada. Sean McLaren and Jacob Wilson are both on 51 points right now, so I'm sure they'll be frantically checking the standings even more than usual this Pro Tour.
Randy: Does the Hall of Fame count? You know what? I'll pick Shota Yasooka either way. I'm rooting for him to make the Hall of Fame, and I love the way he responded to being passed by Jason Chung for the third APAC invitation to Worlds:
@holdenpi I'm not worrying about it.It's because I have to win in PT after all.I just aim at 10 points in PT.— ヤソ (@yaya3_) July 1, 2015
Marshall: I'd like to say that there was one person I was rooting for, but mostly I'm interested in the World Championship slots and how that all shakes out.
Rich: Both the obvious—and the true—answer is Player of the Year. Going into GP Dallas, there are 50 (that's not a typo) players who could be POY. Now, for No. 50 to win, approximately 78 things have to happen in a precise order, but even if you want to be sensible about this, there have to be at least fifteen players who are battling for the title. The most likely scenario is that someone will be playing Round 16 for a Top 8 slot, and that win will give them POY. Then again, we could go deep into Sunday before we know.
That said, because I actually do lie awake at night thinking of stuff like this, I'm definitely pulling for that Round 16 showdown to be a repeat of the PT final between Shaun McLaren and Jacob Wilson—they are tied for the lead in Canada right now, and one defeating the other in the last round to claim Top 8, POY, and Team Canada captaincy would be just amazing. Insayne, even.
BDM: In addition to the races, there is also the matter of the Hall of Fame class to be announced. There has been a strong movement among the so-called "small hall" advocates. What do you think the composition of this year's class will look like?
Rich: I voted for Eric Froehlich, Justin Gary, and Willy Edel, but I'd be surprised if any of those—other than Eric—make it in. In fact, I'd be surprised if anyone other than Eric makes it in, period. This is not a "bang down the door" year for the HOF. It's more a chance for many players, who may well end up in the Hall over the next few years, to have be meaningful part of the discussion without being "drowned out" by the hype over the three or four "mortal locks" that we get some years. So, Eric alone is my best bet.
Randy: My best guess is that it will be just one player: Eric Froehlich. I'm not really a "small hall" guy myself, though, so I'm hoping we see more than just Efro. That said, I love the way the Hall of Fame process has become a giant melting pot of different ideas and different perspectives. For example, I'm not even sure what order the next batch of candidates will finish in (I'll predict Willy Edel, then Shota Yasooka, then Justin Gary, then Mark Herberholz, but I feel like I could easily be wrong about all four spots in that ordering).
Marshall: I am one of the "small hall" people, and I think that this year's induction will be appropriately small. I expect either one or two people to get in. Eric Froehlich and Willy Edel seem to be the frontrunners. But they are also the two I voted for, so maybe I'm just seeing things through Marshall-colored glasses.
Tim: This year's Hall of Fame voting is complicated because, while there are a few good candidates, each has a weak spot on their resume that means that they may not be slam dunks depending on your priorities. Eric Froehlich hasn't won a Pro Tour. Shota Yasooka doesn't have many Top 8s. Justin Gary simply hasn't played at Pro Tour-level in ages. Some people have called for this to be a year where people don't use all five votes on their ballot, and I can see the logic in that. There are a lot of players on the list who divide opinion—I can well imagine that this year has only one or two inductees, even ignoring people submitting short ballots. I'll be particularly interested to see how the community vote matches up with the overall voting.
BDM: With all the players and new cards, it may be a rule change I am paying the most attention to with the testing of a new mulligan rule. What is the storyline you will be paying the closest attention to over the course of the event?
Tim: I'm kind of hoping that the mulligan rule will be exactly the kind of good news that isn't exciting enough to end up being headline news—everyone liking it, but it not unbalancing anything. The storyline I'm going to be looking at is the colossal number of people at this PT. From Modern Masters Weekend alone, there were 62 Pro Tour invitations. By my count, there are about 450 invited players, and even if you include some Hall of Famers who might not be able to make it to play, we're still talking about a sizeable field. Will someone that made it from one of the super-GPs of Modern Masters Weekend make it on the grand stage? I'm excited to find out.
Marshall: My focus will be on the Draft rounds. I want to know how this format works. But my main hope is that it's a great Limited core set, like some of the ones we've had in the past.
Rich: I love core sets, and I always have. There's a wonderful future coming, but right now I want to savor the glory of Magic Origins. It may not be the biggest storyline of the weekend, and it will be over by Saturday lunchtime, but I just want to devour all things Draft this time around. Apart from anything else, I think I'm going to be streaming a ton of it, because I don't think I'm going to be able to stay away!
Randy: For me, it's the Worlds races. I love the big-picture context of how these players all got here and determining, finally, which of them will get to go to PAX.
BDM: Pick a winner and/or give me a bold prediction.
Marshall: Josh Utter-Leyton will win the Pro Tour.
Randy: Shota makes his second Top 8 in a row and makes a bunch of people who didn't vote for him for Hall of Fame feel bad for about 11 months.
Tim: A large Standard is one that most favors deck tweakers and tuners, rather than those trying to make something from whole cloth. One player who's been on the same deck for a while, who could easily enjoy the addition of Hangarback Walker and Magmatic Insight to the format, is Lee Shi Tian. Will Magic Origins make his Jeskai Ascendancy deck good enough? We'll have to see.
Rich: Fairytale prediction is Eric Froehlich. That's not because it's unlikely—he is the No. 1-ranked player in the world, after all! Rather, it's just what that would mean. Suppose he wins the whole thing. He'll be Platinum. He'll be Player of the Year. He'll be world No. 1. He'll have a fifth PT Top 8. He'll have his first PT Title. He'll be at the World Championship. He'll be captain of Team USA for the World Magic Cup. And he could be the latest member of the Hall of Fame. That's almost certainly the greatest weekend in Magic history.
My bold prediction is Kenta Harane. (Go on, admit it, you're dying to ask "who?"). Kenta is a 26-year-old from Japan, playing here in his first Pro Tour. He has 8 lifetime Pro Points, all this season, and he's only played in three GPs, ever. But, in those three GPs, he's finished eleventh at GP Shizuoka on debut, third at GP Kyōto, and then 549th at GP Chiba (which presumably means he was one win away from Top 8!). His 31-7-2 record gives him an 81.6% win rate, and if anyone who is only known by me and their Mom is going to emerge from the pack to win this crazy thing, it's Kenta Harane. You did say bold.
You won't want to miss any of the action next week—or this week for that matter. Before we get to the Pro Tour, you can follow Randy Beuhler, Marshall Sutcliffe and myself on twitch.tv/magic throughout this entire weekend as we bring you all the action from Grand Prix Dallas/Fort Worth. It's going to be our first in-depth look at the Magic Origins Limited format through a professional lens. And in addition to the Grand Prix title itself, a World Championship seat will be earned this weekend, as we find out whether Alexander Hayne or Pascal Maynard is declared the Grand Prix Player of the Year.