In this Issue:
After a year of grinding Qualifier Points by playing in Seasonal Preliminaries and Season Finals, it's finally time to see who will earn the ultimate title in the Magic Online year. The Magic Online Championship is taking place this weekend in Seattle, and for the sixteen players taking part in the tournament there is a lot on the line: Gold status in the Pro Players Club, a berth at the World Championship, and a $25,000 first prize.
One of the players who will be participating is someone who has been playing the game since long before there was a digital way to play Magic, and who has in his long career accomplished just about everything there is for a Magic player to do in this game. Sweden's Olle Råde burst onto the Magic scene in the very first year of the Pro Tour with his victory at Pro Tour Columbus. He quickly followed it up with another Top 8 at Worlds to close that first season. He went on to finish in five Top 8s, win the first ever Magic Invitational—commemorated with the card Sylvan Safekeeper—win Grand Prix Stockholm, and become a member of the inaugural class of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame.
An interview with Olle Råde
I will always remember Olle Råde as a small child when he piloted his Spider-themed Ice Age-Alliances Block Constructed deck to the title at Pro Tour Columbus. Råde is quick to point out that he was older than he looked at the time. He was all of 17 years old but recalls feeling older and wiser than his years at the time.
Hall of Fame Pro Olle Råde
"Now it's quite the opposite," laughed the Hall of Fame pro nearly twenty years later, on the eve of competing in the Magic Online Championship. "I feel younger and more talented than I fear I might be, so it's going to be a challenge. To be completely honest, I don't see myself as a front-runner to do well at the Pro Tour these days. I focus more on the local Magic scene and on contributing to the game by working with coverage. But online I still feel like I'm one of the 'good' players. I've lived a long Magic life, and there's a lot of nostalgia coming back to Seattle, which I first visited 19 years ago to play the World Championship."
Råde enjoys playing online, and being able to come to a tournament without having to worry about going overweight on a suitcase packed with Magic cards. Playing online has been a learning experience for Råde. Normally, we see a digital-only player making the transition to face-to-face tournaments and needing to learn the physical aspects of the game. But for the Swedish player, it has been about learning how to read someone who is not sitting across from you and mastering the keystrokes in such a way that it becomes automatic—not distracting you from the game.
"In the end it's still Magic, but two quite different experiences. So I'm looking forward to it," he said.
One of the highlights of the Magic Online Championship is certainly going to be watching these players tackle the Vintage format. Since the release of Vintage Masters online—and with the wildly popular Vintage Super League—the format has been gaining traction. This will be the first chance to see Vintage being played for a title that will feed into the World Championship. It is also the format that Råde is most looking forward to. And the one that contributed to a big win for him many years ago.
"It's a format that I fell in love with when I won the Invitationals in 1997," said the Sylvan Safekeeper himself. "The finals was against Mike Long, and I played an artifact-based combo deck that won by generating a million mana with Mana Crypts, Mana Vaults; and making snakes with Snake Basket. I was very excited last summer when Vintage Masters finally made the format available online, and I've been playing it again ever since."
Olle Råde knows he has a tough road ahead of him with fifteen of Magic Online's best standing in his way. But he was hopeful that he could book another trip to Seattle this year to play in the Magic World Championship. Even if it means having his baggage be a little heavier on that trip.
"It would be a tremendous challenge to play with the current best players of the world in face-to-face Magic. It's also the same weekend as the PAX convention here in Seattle, which I've always wanted to visit. So I feel really motivated to win this weekend!"
Living at Large
Olle Råde is not the only Pro Tour Champion playing in the Magic Online Championship this weekend. There are two others and both of their wins came during the current season of the Pro Tour, which is very significant for a handful of Platinum Pros watching from home this weekend. Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion Antonio Del Moral León and Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Champion Martin Dang are competing this weekend at the Magic Online Champs. By virtue of their PT wins both are already qualified for the World Championship which means that if either of them win this weekend they would create an extra At-Large berth for the World Championship.
Antonio Del Moral León | Martin Dang
That extra berth is of keen interest to the scrum of players who are currently jockeying for the last spot that would go to Andrew Cuneo if the tournament invites were handed out today. Cuneo is sitting on 44 Pro Points. There is still time for the chasing players to pass him—especially with one Pro Tour still to go for the season. Opening up another berth would make the likes of Steve Rubin, Craig Wescoe, Jelger Wiegersma, Josh Utter-Leyton, and William Jensen—to name a few interested parties—breathe a tiny bit easier as they sprint after points and toward the finish line of the Pro Tour season.
What to Watch For at the Magic Online Championship
If either Dang or Del Moral Leon are in the mix come Sunday, you can expect a pretty prestigious cheering section for them on Twitter. The hashtag for the event is #Magic OnlineChamps but you don't need to make a note of it since you will obviously be watching all the action on Twitch with Marshall Sutcliffe, Randy Beuhler (the fourth Pro Tour champ in the room), and me…being joined by coverage newcomers Eric Froehlich and Kenji Egashira.
We will be kicking off the action with Vintage on Friday, and Olle Råde has already expressed that he is looking forward to the format. Two of the seasonal winners, Lukas Dusek and the aforementioned Martin Dang, won their way here in Vintage Masters Sealed finals. That said, it doesn't begin to approach the power level of the game's most expansive format. Magnus Lantto might be a little closer to the mark with the seasonal win in Legacy which earned him his golden ticket to Seattle.
Modern is up next on Friday for four rounds, and only Daryl Ayers qualified for the tournament playing that format. All eyes will certainly be on Antonio Del Moral León, who won a Pro Tour playing Modern. Will he stick to Splinter Twin as his weapon of choice, or did his win with the deck paint too large a target on the deck's back?
Saturday kicks off with Dragons of Tarkir booster draft—the same format as Day Two of this past weekend's star-studded Grand Prix Atlantic City—and the players who had to draft their way to Seattle include Dusek (Vintage Masters), Shintaro Ishimura (Khans), Råde (Holiday Cube), Jasper de Jong (Magic 2015), Nathan Smith (Khans), Dang (Vintage Masters), Timothy Divelbliss (Khans), Lucas Duchow (Holiday Cube) and Maxim Martin (Khans).
The closing four rounds of the Swiss will feature Standard, and Standard Pro Tour champion Martin Dang will get a chance to keep his momentum in the format going. Players who qualified in Standard include fellow Pro Tour champion Del Moral León, Sebastian Pozzo, and Aleska Telarov.
The top four players will come back on Sunday, and the Standard semifinals will be played out one after the other so you don't miss any of the action. The finals will be played "best two out of three matches" with the sequence being: Vintage, Modern, and then—if necessary—Standard.
See you then!