Pro Tour Theros Coverage Roundtable

Posted in The Week That Was on October 4, 2013

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.

Pro Tour Theros is on the horizon and I caught up with some members of the coverage team to see which players they were expecting big things from, which cards from the new set will be shuffled to the front of the draft packs, and which cards will fill the void in Standard left by the departure of Innistrad and Magic 2013. Sitting down for the discussion were my Sunday boothmate Richard Hagon, newsdesk anchor Marshall Sutcliffe, Walking the Planes auteur Nathan Holt, returning video commentator Tim Willoughby, and text reporter Marc Calderaro.

BDM: The weekend is going to kick off with the induction of William "Huey" Jensen, Ben Stark, and Luis Scott-Vargas into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. It is the first time a Hall of Fame class has been made up entirely of Pro Tour Champions—and all still playing at the top of their game. Which one of these three do you expect to perform the best this weekend?
“Huey,” Stark, and LSV
Nathan: William Jensen has had a career renaissance that is impressive and inspirational, but it's hard not to pick one of the ChannelFireball aces. If a tier-one control deck presents itself to Ben Stark, I'll pick him. But if Luis Scott-Vargas can manage a good record in Theros Limited, his mastery in Constructed should carry him to the top. Tough to call, but I'm giving the edge to Ben Stark, who's been on an absolute tear in the last year.
Rich: Ben Stark. This is clearly a fool's errand trying to pick between three great players, but you have to imagine Ben will be 5–1 or better in Draft, so that's a good enough reason to make him my horse in this race.
Tim: Ben Stark. To me, Ben's greatest strength will always be to assimilate new Draft formats and figure out what's important. At the commencement of a new block, this skill is at its most relevant, so I'd hope to see Ben do really well.
Marc: Huey! I have to cheer on a fellow Battle of Wits cohort, right?
Marshall: Ben Stark. Ben has had the strongest Pro Tour results of late, and I see little reason why this wouldn't continue in Dublin.
BDM: We got a little bit of a peek into the new Standard this past weekend from the StarCityGames Standard Open, but between card availability and some of the top Pros not wanting to put their tech on full display I feel like there will be plenty of surprises in store for us. It certainly feels like there are plenty of tools for aggressive decks and I can't wait to see how Craig Wescoe tackles this format in his first PT since winning Pro Tour Dragon's Maze. Who are you going to seek out at player registration for some insight into Standard?
Marshall: Gerry Thompson. Gerry has the rare combination of cold logic with open-minded creativity and that sets him apart in many ways from other deck builders. He can pick out a trap card and think outside of conventional thought as well.
Tim: Brian Kibler. He likes to play the same sorts of decks as me, and he does a good job of both appraising formats and finding a way of attacking them in a way that is both powerful and suits his play style.
Rich: Conley Woods. We missed out on his mono-black last time, when he eventually finished Top 16, and I don't want to make that mistake twice!
Marc: You know, I'll go ahead and say Conley Woods. Whenever the environment is fresh, he's the first person I want to find. Crazy brews have their highest success rate in unfamiliar formats, with unfamiliar cards. Woods thrives in those situations and usually goes gung-ho for something rather than play it safe. Instead of being cautious with new cards, Conley feels most comfortable in unstable, new environments. If there were a bet about whose deck would have the most cards yet to see Standard play, I would bet on Conley's.
Nathan: Brad Nelson. In the last year, Brad has chosen to focus his game on Standard, and the force of nature that we saw win Player of the Year in 2010 is awakening. He constantly analyzes the format and has backed up his research with incredible results at Standard Grand Prix. Can't wait to see what he's playing.
BDM: One of the exciting things about covering events throughout the year is seeing players on the rise as they come up through PTQs and Grand Prix on their way to the Pro Tour. Which players have you been keeping your eye on who you feel are poised for a big breakthrough this year?
Nathan: Jacob Wilson. He's been brilliant at the Grand Prix level, and I believe a Pro Tour Top 8 is nigh.
Rich: I'm not sure "up and coming" really applies to the man who won the largest Magic tournament ever, but I'm really excited to see Grand Prix Las Vegas champion Neal Oliver in action.
Marc: I don't think it's fair to pick Pascal Maynard, as he already has three Grand Prix Top 8s, though I always look for him early on in events. So, Miguel Gatica. He was always good—three-time national champion (albeit in the less-competitive Costa Rica)—but after finishing 9th on breakers on his home turf last year, he's been making a concerted push toward the top rankings. The very next month he put up a Top 16 at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica (again on breakers). I think it's only a matter of time before he beats the breakers and smashes through the Top 8 ceiling.
Marshall: Neal Oliver. He won GP Vegas and came runner-up to Huey Jensen at GP Oakland not long thereafter. Both of those were skill-testing Limited formats, and I'm curious to see how he fares with sixty-card decks at the highest level.
Tim: Wenzel Krautmann from Germany. I was watching from home when he won GP Warsaw, which was Standard, but got a chance to see him play first hand when he just missed Top 8 at GP Prague in Magic 2014 Limited. Sometimes we see players who have difficulty converting GP success into good finishes at the Pro Tour, because they have lopsided skill-sets in Limited vs. Constructed. That doesn't seem to be the case for Wenzel.
BDM: The tournament is going to kick off with a Theros booster draft. I have been characterizing Draft formats as being either "Prince" or "Pauper." The former are Draft formats that really come down to the bomb rares while the latter are usually more about linear synergies in the commons and uncommons that can go toe to toe with the bomb decks. I originally thought this was going to be princely format but the more I draft the more paupery it has felt.
Nathan: Pauper. I expect linear synergies to be very powerful. Whether it's aggressive heroic decks, mono-black devotion decks, or battlecruiser-style bestow decks that rule the day, I'm not sure.
Marshall: So far, Theros Draft looks like a Pauper format to me. Sure, the bombs are very good, but I feel like a well-built heroic deck can defeat any of the big bombs. Same thing with a mono-black devotion deck.
Rich: Pauper for sure. There are plenty of archetypes where you can have the game well in control by turn three on the play—Tormented Hero into Ordeal into three-drop haste 4/2 is just one example. That said, turn-three Ember Swallower or Polukranos, World Eater is thoroughly gettable, and murder to face.
Tim: I feel like this format is the boy that would be king. There are quite a few commons and uncommons that feel like rares to me. In a format with more than its fair share of monstrous creatures, Sea God's Revenge is a monster of a whole different breed.
BDM: Wow! That's a lot of Pauper votes. What are the three top commons in your mind right now?
Rich: With late games so swingy, I gravitate toward getting the game won at top speed. A fifteen-land WU heroic deck can be very hard to handle, so cards like Battlewise Hoplite and Wingsteed Rider are high on my wish list, alongside things like Vaporkin and Voyage's End.
Voyage's End
Nathan: Very limited experience here, but I'd say Lightning Strike, Lash of the Whip, and Voyaging Satyr.
BDM: That said, what is the rare or mythic rare you would most want to open in a pack? I have had Medomai the Ageless a couple of times and it has treated me pretty well.
Marshall: Prognostic Sphinx. Such a solid, powerful card. I love to scry, and I love to attack. This encourages me to do both while giving me a reasonable way to protect it. Plus, that beard.
Rich: Ignoring my previous answer, in a vacuum it's hard not to want Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Tim: Have you played against Elspeth in Limited yet? I have, and upon careful reflection I'd much rather be on her side than against her.
BDM: There is such a huge hole in Standard right now with the departure of so many cards. What Theros cards do you think will define this new Standard? Fanatic of Mogis certainly announced its presence with authority when it won last weekend's event. I guess Flametongueing your opponent's Planeswalkers is good.
Rich: You can beat it by being quick, you can beat it by countering it, or you can beat it with one of your own, but whatever way you slice it, you better be ready for Hammer of Purphoros. Stop... hammer time!
Marshall: Thoughtseize. Turn-one Thoughtseize will be a play that every deck has to prepare for in Standard, and I expect to see a lot of it at the Pro Tour.
Marc: I don't want to say Thoughtseize, so I won't. Xenagos is probably the right answer, but Whip of Erebos and Soldier of the Pantheon both have a chance. In some older environments, these two would have been staples. However, once the format shakes out, we'll see whether a 2/1 for one is any good at all (I'm looking at you, Firedrinker Satyr).
Xenagos, the Reveler
Firedrinker Satyr
Tim: Soldier of the Pantheon. I don't think it's the most powerful card in the format by some stretch, but to me it typifies the fact that this Standard format is peppered with 2-powered creatures for one mana. Control decks have to make more concessions than ever to deal with the early rush from aggressive one-drops.
Nathan: Thoughtseize. It's good against nonlands. I've heard Magic decks often include nonlands.
BDM: What about cards that were already in Standard? Are there any cards in there that you think will suddenly have a chance to shine in this new version of the format?
Tim: Frostburn Weird and Boros Reckoner are two creatures that I expect to see more of now that devotion is a factor. Both are good friends with Fanatic of Mogis, and I'm hoping to see Master of Waves doing good work with the Weird too...
Nathan: Desecration Demon becomes an interesting four-mana threat now that Olivia has packed her bags.
Marshall: Mizzium Mortars for starters. It has seen some play in Standard, but I expect to see a whole heck of a lot more of it going forward. Jace, Architect of Thought is a card that has seen play in Standard as well, but I think his place in the metagame has risen dramatically since rotation. I'm hoping to see Duskmantle Seer and Gyre Sage make appearances at some point.
Marc: Blood Baron of Vizkopa is a safe pick; it was good in Block, and it was held in check by creatures that don't exist anymore. However, Advent of the Wurm looks to be pretty well-positioned, at least early in the format. The green-white builds that surfaced immediately could be pretty strong, and it eats all those cusp-y 4/5s from Theros like Ember Swallower—pre-monstrous of course.
Advent of the Wurm
Ember Swallower
BDM: You saw the recently unveiled Top 25 players heading into the Pro Tour. They are all amazing players capable of winning any given tournament they play in but I am going to ask you to throw a dart and pick your winner—feel free to go off the board for bonus points. I am picking Raphael Levy—mostly because I want to see him explain to his girlfriend about why he has to get a tattoo.
Rich: All right, this is the year that a Hall of Famer wearing a brand-new ring claims the title, and since I've already said he's my pick of those three, the winner of Pro Tour Theros will be Ben Stark.
Marc: Isn't it just always correct to pick among Josh Utter-Leyton, Shuhei Nakamura, Shahar Shenhar, and LSV?
Marshall: Owen Turtenwald. Owen is testing with a super team, and is going to be hungry to get back and finish the job after his Top 8 in Montreal earlier this year.
Tim: Reid Duke. Between the first Players Championship and the second, we saw how he responded to not getting the finish he wanted. I can't help but think that the 2nd-place there has lit a fire under him that could be hard to extinguish.
Nathan: I usually choose Josh Utter-Leyton to win in fantasy Pro Tour. No reason to stop doing that now. He's the no. 1-ranked Magic player in the entire Multiverse!

Player of the Month: September

September was a light month for Magic: The Gathering Premier Play, what with players getting down to the business of opening packs of the new cards at their local Prereleases. That does not mean there were not a handful of worthy candidates for Player of the Month. As with last month, I will put the candidates out there and you are encouraged to push your favorite candidate on Twitter using the #MTGPoM hashtag.

We kicked the month off in Prague, when Anatoly Chuhwichov emerged from a Grand Prix Top 8 that included the likes of Raphael Levy and Martin Juza. The format was Magic 2014 Booster Draft and the thirty-five year old from St. Petersburg, Russia, drafted a blue-black deck to win in his second career Grand Prix Top 8.

Josh McClain is a twenty-three-year-old student from Iowa City, Iowa, who has developed one helluva rivalry with Reid Duke. The two met in the finals of Grand Prix Miami earlier in the year only to have Duke gain the upper hand. When the two rematched in the finals of Grand Prix Detroit, the Melira Pod deck that has become McClain's calling card was able to gain the upper hand over the formidable Duke. But will it be enough to get him past Reid Duke for player of the month honors?

In addition to making the finals of Grand Prix Detroit, Reid Duke took down the StarCityGames Legacy Open in Philadelphia at the start of the month. It is the second month in row that Duke has had multiple finishes propelling him onto the monthly ballot, but it was the first time he had won a tournament on his birthday.

Finally, we have Philip Bertorelli to thank if you find yourself frustratedly losing to Fanatic of Mogis just as you were about to stabilize. The thirty-two-year-old business analyst from New York went to Worchester, MA, and took down the Sunday StarCityGames Standard Open—the first major tournament to feature the brand-new Standard format.


Pro Tour Theros starts next Friday in Dublin and will be fully covered on DailyMTG. Make sure to follow us on the webcast and at the channel.

Pro Tour Theros Webcast Schedule

The live video webcast will feature Rich Hagon, Marshall Sutcliffe, Rashad Miller, Zac Hill, Tim Willoughby, and myself calling the action.

City Friday Saturday Sunday
Dublin 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 11 a.m.
Los Angeles 1 a.m. 1 a.m. 3 a.m.
Chicago 3 a.m 3 a.m 5 a.m.
New York 4 a.m. 4 a.m. 6 a.m.
Rio de Janeiro 5 a.m. 5 a.m. 7 a.m.
London 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 11 a.m.
Paris 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Noon
Berlin 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Noon
Moscow Noon Noon 2 p.m.
Tokyo 5 p.m. 5 p.m. 7 p.m.
Sydney 7 p.m. 7 p.m. 9 p.m.
Find other corresponding start times around the world here.

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