One more week. Just one week until we get to see a distillation of the game's best players competing in Atlanta to be the Pro Tour Journey into Nyx champion. That person will win $40,000, a coveted seat at the World Championship in Nice, and Platinum status all the way through next season. We will be providing you a courtside seat from the first draft pack to the winner's interview at the newsdesk. I have persuaded (okay... okay.... bribed them with the promise of homemade cranberry/cherry/orange corn cookies) some of the people who I will be working with all weekend to bring you that coverage, to talk about what we expect to see next weekend and what ramifications the event will have on the various races as we enter the back half of the Pro Tour season.
Joining me at the table were Pro Tour Statistician Richard Hagon; Limited Information author Marshall Sutcliffe; Pro Tour Hall of Famer Randy Buehler; Command Tower author Adam Styborski; and our resident illusionist, Tim Willoughby.
BDM: I have been pretty busy leading up to the Pro Tour. In addition to having to do some late-night baking, I played in my local Prerelease, picked up some packs, and got a little drafting in. This weekend, I am excited to actually play in a PTQ with full-block Sealed Deck. What has your lead up to the tournament been like?
I've been bouncing between prepping for my son (coming immediately after the Pro Tour), updating and creating Commander decks (these Gods just aren't going to play themselves), and jamming Theros
-Block Sealed. The new Limited format feels different, and I like it.
Wizards let me crash their employee Prerelease, which was a great introduction. I expect to be many drafts in on the Wide Beta Spotlight on Magic Online
by the time this article goes up, and I'm looking forward to coverage drafts this weekend at Grand Prix Minneapolis.
I played a Prerelease event and did a draft with friends. The format still feels very fresh leading into the Pro Tour, even though two of the three packs are a known quantity. It's hard for one pack to have a massive impact on the format, but the fact that it's opened first means it gets to dictate the most possible.
Coverage, coverage, coverage. The weeks between Prerelease and Pro Tour are always jam-packed. We want to bring improvements to the coverage at every show, and this time around there are certainly some cool additions. So, once a new set comes out, it's all about the PT here at Hagon Towers.
Thus far, my preparation has been fairly low-key. I have managed to sneak in a couple of drafts, but things will really hit the big time this weekend. Grand Prix Warsaw will give us a first look at which European players have the best early take on the new Limited format, and the coverage drafts there should be a good warm up for the Pro Tour.
BDM: We lead off the tournament by watching the game's elite players make their first picks from a Journey into Nyx pack. I am really anxious to see how what cards the pros are looking to pick early. Across two drafts, I am averaging 2.5 Bloodcrazed Hoplites with a black-red aggro and blue-black aggro deck so far. The card has definitely overperformed for me thus far. What cards do you have your eye on heading into that first draft viewer on Friday?
Sutcliffe: Sigiled Starfish
. While this card may not be a new Merfolk Looter
, it has the potential to be a powerful early-game play for blue decks. Along those same lines, Dakra Mystic
is a difficult card to evaluate and I'm curious to see how much play it gets at the Pro Tour level.
Blue looks good to me, with War-Wing Siren
doing a pretty good Wingsteed Rider
impression (it may only start at 1-power, but the fact that it only requires a single colored mana is huge) and the lack of a Sigiled Starfish
was the biggest disappointment of my Prerelease experience.
I've been gravitating toward green-blue with the release of Journey into Nyx
has proven to be more than just a cleverly named card, and I have already found a variety of the strive options to be powerful in the archetype. Aerial Formation
might come as a surprise for people in week one of the format—I'm just intrigued to see how long that lasts.
How many players will have submitted their Block decklists, won't have the right number of Temples with them, and have to take one that they open on Friday morning?!? More seriously, in a Block that artifacts are not center stage, I really hope to see someone sweep opponents aside with Chariot of Victory
. First Strike, trample, and haste, for an equip cost of
? That thing can do a lot of damage.
I'm keeping my eyes open for any constellation
drafters. I love the idea of cards that change the value, and therefore pick order, of later cards in the draft, and seeing that play out at the highest level is always a lesson I enjoy.
BDM: Not only have I been picking up Bloodcrazed Hoplites, but I have been winning with them. Black Aggro seems like it is a thing you can pair with pretty much any color that is open. I really like to see what cards with the strive mechanic come around the table late in the pack. What archetypes—if any—have shifted in power level with the addition of Journey to the draft format?
Red-based aggro seems to be a thing again (like it was in triple-Theros
). Also, green seems to have mostly abandoned the heroic shenanigans to the white, blue, and red players in favor of some nice tempo-based Simic decks. That Cockatrice in particular is not messing around, and there's a critical mass of flash fliers where you can now consistently leave up tricks (including counterspells) and still keep adding to your offense if your opponent doesn't force you to react to something.
You have to think constellation
is the biggest game-changer. It isn't hard to see Strive
working—look! It's an instant combat trick! With multiple targets! Constellation is a tougher proposition. So, who will open Extinguish All Hope
and run with that theme?
The fact that the mix of classic heroes—those that get bigger with +1/+1 counters—has shifted already looks to have shaken things up a little. Black aggro decks in particular seem really solid now, with Bloodcrazed Hoplite
being the missing puzzle piece there. White doesn't look quite as dominant as it has been for much of the block, and everyone gets to take the aggro role a little more if they want.
It's too early to say anything definitive, but I'm hoping that white-black has shifted upwards, as it got some nice new toys in Journey into Nyx
. I am also hoping that blue-black control regains its strength after taking a bit of a dip in Born of the Gods
BDM: Players will have to perform well in Limited, but the bulk of the rounds will be played out in the relatively unexplored territory of Theros Block Constructed. I have had my eye on Draft all-star Gnarled Scarhide as a card that could push Mono-Black Aggro over the top in that format. Which of the Journey cards are you most hoping to see up on the big screen during a deck tech?
I'm not sure Mono-Black Aggro needed a push! It was already one of the best decks in the format pre-Journey (where you pretty much needed to either play Elspeth or win before she can come down). As far as what I'm hoping to see, it's definitely the Gods. I love new decks and if there are whole new archetypes that can be fueled by those Gods, then I expect the collective brain power of the Pro Tour is going to find them.
Sutcliffe: Nyx-Fleece Ram
! I love super-defensive cards and this one is most definitely that. I could see it being part of a control deck or a sideboard card against aggressive strategies.
As soon as it was previewed, the card that has been rattling around my head for Constructed is Eidolon of Blossoms
. I always loved playing Enchantress decks, and constellation
is the sort of mechanic that excites me, as it can end up triggering in a big way with the right build.
It's no powerhouse, but I'd love to see Mono-Red decks confronted with Nyx-Fleece Ram
out of the sideboard. Magic
needs more Sheep.
I have a soft spot for Polymorphous Rush
. The idea of copying something huge—even your opponent's—numerous times and bashing in sounds delightful.
BDM: What types of decks do you expect to see at the forefront of the metagame?
Planeswalkers are awesome, and the smaller the card pool, the awesomer the Planeswalkers. It doesn't require a lot of imagination to arrive at the likes of Ajani, Elspeth, and Kiora.
I'd be surprised if some sort of red-and-green monsters weren't among the top decks. It has access to a huge array of removal, efficient bodies that can get bigger, and the cheapest anti-aggro sweeper in Anger
of Gods—a card that's seen play across Modern. I'd also be surprised if a more controlling deck featuring some combination, or even all three, of the Esper colors didn't show up in force. White's tools for dealing with nearly any permanent were bolstered by both Deicide
and Banishing Light
; alongside blue's bounce and black's removal there're plenty of answers available, but are they the right ones?
With no good "Wrath of God
" effect like Supreme Verdict
to keep the weenie swarms in check, I think you'll see quite a few different takes on aggro. The mana is good enough that your aggro deck can consider splashing a color, but my first impression is that mono-black and mono-red are the best combination of power and consistency. Meanwhile, there are some very powerful effects available to you if you can survive that initial rush from the aggro decks. Elspeth and Whip of Erebos
have been particularly important to the pre-Journey metagame and should stay quite influential (the graveyard decks should actually get better). What I don't see room for are midrange creature decks... the aggro decks have finishers like Herald of Torment
and all the good midrange creatures die to Elspeth's -3 ability.
An Esper shell is probably the correct place for Elspeth to live, and as the flavor of the block would suggest, she remains a big player in the format. With the addition of Silence the Believers
, it sees a bit of a boost from Journey into Nyx
. However, the aggro decks appear to have gotten more of a boost, and I'm hoping to see mono-black aggro, as well as a few other heroic variations getting in there quick. Something black-green reanimator-ish also seems likely to be a presence in Atlanta.
Jérémy Dezani, Pro Tour Theros, with team MTG Madness
BDM: Is it somehow possible that Jérémy Dezani is actually underrated? Make the case—if you can—for someone passing him on the Player of the Year leaderboard this season.
He *may* be underrated. Currently sitting at the number one slot means that he has been on an insane tear of late. Staying at number one for an extended period of time takes consistent finishes over the long term. If he can do that, we will finally see a Jérémy Dezani who is Properly Rated.
No format favors the super teams more than Block Constructed. Both Team ChannelFireball
thrive on a fresh Constructed format where their superior deck building can give them a big edge. If Dezani and his team can repeat the deck-building success they had at PT Theros
(where they were among the teams that found the Mono-Blue Devotion deck he won with) then yes, sure, he just wins. However, I think CFB-Pantheon is the most likely team to "break it" and Pantheon members are currently 2nd, 3rd, *and* 4th in this year's Player of the Year race. (Reid, Owen, and Sam, in that order). Those guys are just one deep Sunday run away from catching and even passing Dezani.
The only scenario in which I see Dezani being caught involves the Pro Tour. Everyone within 20 points or so are members of two of the best teams in the game today, neither of which include Dezani himself. If Dezani has a poor showing next week, it's conceivable that one of his nearby competitors—Reid Duke, for example—makes a commanding leapfrog with a Top 8 appearance. Since most scenarios against Dezani involve a Pro Tour win—Tom Martell becoming a two-time champion, an incredible feat itself—and his nearest competitors have had similar successes on the Grand Prix circuit, it's really only the Pro Tour standing in his way.
It is absolutely possible that Jérémy is underrated. He's not necessarily one to toot his horn too loudly while crushing his opponents mercilessly under his boot. With the GP cap being a factor for many of those closest to being able to catch him in the race, we're basically talking about Pro Tour points being where it's at. If someone's going to catch him, it will basically require two things to happen—Jérémy to have the wrong deck for the weekend, and the Pantheon to deliver on having something pretty special. Reid Duke is obviously the best choice for catching Jérémy (he needs the fewest points), but Owen Turtenwald and Sam Black are on the same team and chasing hard, too. The team has an unbelievable pedigree when it comes to Pro Tour success, and I think that formats like Block Constructed are the ones where having a good mix of deck builders pays the richest dividends. It's not going to be easy, but I'm saying there's a chance.
It only takes one Pro Tour fail from Dezani, and anyone in the Top 25 could be back in the race. I don't expect a fail from Dezani, but 30 points to the Champion is a LOT. For what it's worth, I thought Tom Martell's run at PT Born of the Gods
, from 5–3 overnight to finishing 21st on 11–4–1, could yet be one of the most significant days of the season.
BDM: I have had the chance to interview a handful of the players in the mix for Rookie of the Year—Neal Oliver, Raymond Perez, and Jared Boettcher—and have been pretty impressed by all three. Any of them would make a worthy winner, but who have you seen from the rookie crop that you expect to be at the top of that list come the end of the season?
Martin Müller of Denmark is just sixteen and finished in the Top 25 at PT Born of the Gods
to re-qualify for Atlanta. He's a few points off the pace at the moment, but I can't wait to see if he can do well again. I hope he does.
While Jared Boettcher is currently riding high off his near miss at PT Born of the Gods
, I'm going to stick my neck out and say Dmitriy Butakov. If there's one thing we've learned from the ascendancy of Brad Nelson, Reid Duke, et al, it's not to underestimate the Magic Online
grinders. While Dmitriy might count as a "rookie" in the Rookie of the Year race, he's already got a Magic Online Championship
under his belt, and has shown he can play at the top level. The challenge for him will be that testing online for this tournament will be very tough until that special time of online release. Hopefully, he's got a good crew to test with offline, and is already well into his preparation.
I feel bad for picking the current leader, but Jared Boettcher seems like the real deal. Finishing 9th at the PT is impressive, but it's his consistently high finishes at Grand Prix that have really caught my eye.
BDM: Adam Mancuso is someone who has quietly qualified for this and the next Pro Tour with GP Top 8 finishes. I am excited to see how he builds on those finishes at the Pro Tour this weekend. As you have had the chance to watch players coming up onto the Pro Tour via the GP circuit, is there anyone you have your eye on for this event who viewers at home may not be familiar with?
Adam Mancuso at Grand Prix Philadelphia
It's not quite the GP circuit, but Magic Online Championship
winner Lars Dam was very impressive to me, and with the $25,000 in his pocket from that win, he says he's ready to make a serious run at stringing some Pro Tour success together for the first time in his life. I'm very curious to see how he does.
I've been quite impressed watching a number of the Italian players of late. Emanuele Giusti is someone whose crisp technical play I enjoy watching, and Allessandro Lippi, who works closely with Pro Tour Philadelphia
winner Samuele Estratti, is another player who is worth looking out for. They aren't necessarily new to the scene at all (Giusti already has two Grand Prix wins) but they have yet to really shine on the Pro Tour stage.
Joe Demestrio. Joe has been knocking at the door of the GP Circuit for the entire season and tests with a solid team. He is one big Pro Tour finish away from establishing himself on the train for a long time.
The last time you asked, I talked about Raymond Tan of Malaysia. He was tearing up the GP circuit, and was making his debut at PT Born of the Gods
. He faded—FADED—to 11–5, just outside the Top 25. So, he went home, and then went to Singapore to win a PTQ, to return in Atlanta. So, I'm sticking with him. The experience of his first PT in Valencia can only do him good.
BDM: I am going to pick Josh Utter-Leyton to go two places better than his last Block Constructed finish. You are going to be hard pressed to find someone who will put in more hours working on this new format. Your turn; pick a tournament winner with double points (cookies) for getting the deck right, too.
Naturally, I won't need the double points for getting the deck right, as I'm the only one who's going to correctly predict the winner! My player is a Hall of Famer who claims never to have won a Magic
tournament. He qualified for his first PT, many years ago, on ranking, and hasn't looked back. He was closest when finishing 2nd at Worlds in Yokohama 2005. In recent years, he's been focusing on his PhD in Game Theory, but now he's back. He's part of the awesome ChannelFireball squad, who looks ideally set up to exploit Block, and he's 11–1 at the last two PTs in Limited. This is his time, and I can exclusively reveal that the winner of PT Journey into Nyx
will be... Frank Karsten.
Given that this is Block Constructed, there is potential for some clever brewer to come out of nowhere and surprise everyone. I'm going to say that the clever brewer is going to be someone supported by a good team. While it might sound like I'm sounding the fanfare for the Euro coverage team a little too much, I'm going with Matej Zatlkaj on this one. Matej has quietly been putting up crazy numbers at the Pro Tour this year, flirting with a place in the Top 25 in spite of the fact that most of the GPs he's been to haven't involved his playing! Matej has had success with a range of decks, from Esper to Jund to Elves to Mono-Blue, which makes picking a deck for him a little tricky. I'm going to go for Esper control, although I kind of hope it will be something a little more spicy and new.
It's clichéd, but I'd love to see Reid Duke take down a Pro Tour. His level of play is indisputable, and putting one of the greatest trophies in the game behind it would ensure he'll be a part of Magic
history. What will he be playing? Perhaps a Jund-type monsters deck? I'd love to know what he'll be playing next weekend.
Reid Duke, with a black-green graveyard-based deck that hopefully has a better name than "Dredge." Note that I will want half-credit for Owen or Huey. :) While the full-time players on Pantheon are the most obvious picks in my mind, I do want to point out that they have another player who has put up a 14th and a 17th at the last two PTs, and who has historically been at his best in fresh Constructed formats where his legendary work ethic can give him a sizable edge. I won't be at all surprised if Kai Budde returns to the Sunday stage.
William Jensen. The guy has been at the top of his game for months, which puts him at the top of *the* game. He will win with some deck playing Elspeth, Sun's Champion
and maybe some blue cards.
BDM: Thanks guys! See you all on Wednesday with cookies, draft packs, and a couple of Commander decks in hand.
April Magic Player of the Month: Frank Skarren
Grand Prix Philadelphia featured an elimination bracket chock-full of previous Top 8 experience, which included not only a Hall of Famer but a whopping total of five players who already owned Grand Prix trophies. Largely on "strength of schedule," in a bracket that saw him facing down Hall of Famer William "Huey" Jensen in the quarterfinals, GP Richmond Top 8 competitor Adam Mancuso in the semifinals, and Magic Online Champion Reid Duke in the finals, I am giving the title of April Player of the Month to Frank Skarren.