There is one of them in every playgroup. You know exactly who I mean, too. When Brian Kibler debuted Sword of Feast and Famine in the newly Mirrodin Besieged-powered Standard format for Pro Tour Paris, it changed the way people played competitive Magic for months afterwards. It was an eye-opening experience, as the synergy of Stoneforge Mystic into Sword and an equipped Squadron Hawk untapping five lands to deploy a post-combat Gideon was laid out on the deck tech.
I know I was caught off guard by the dominance of the Sword in Paris. Earlier in the block, Sword of Body and Mind had seen some play, but it was by no means dominating, and many players assumed the newly forged Sword would follow suit—it would see some play but mostly from sideboards in color-appropriate situations. Watching the game's best players identify the sharpest weapon in the Mirrodin Besieged arsenal and slice through the field like it was black-and-green butter is what makes following the Pro Tour so compelling for me.
There are always players who dismiss the deck building prowess of the game's biggest and brightest stars. They claim to have been playing the same exact card in the same exact deck since before the Prerelease. You know who I am talking about. By their telling, they had Treehouse built before Pro Tour Amsterdam, CawBlade before Paris, and... well... they must have the dominant deck from Pro Tour Dark Ascension already sussed out, right?
Now everybody gets to try predicting the Pro Tour metagame, and there is even a leaderboard to point to later to back up your claims. When I woke up this morning, my Facebook notifications were a page deep in invites from Magic players asking me to take part in the Magic: the Gathering Fantasy Pro Tour, which lets you select a roster of cards from Standard you think will appear the most often in the top Standard decks from Pro Tour Dark Ascension.
The upcoming Pro Tour is the first of the new model for these events, which will always occur one weekend after the set releases for the newest set of cards. There will have been one weekend of tournaments—with limited card availability—to draw upon and no Magic Online preparation. Players preparing for the event not only need to figure out what they want to play in Standard, but what the rest of the field is likely to be playing as well.
If you can do a good job of picking the breakout artifact of the set, as Brian Kibler did in Paris, you will earn 2 points for each time it appears in a top Standard deck, which will go toward your total score. The key words in the previous sentence are "top Standard deck"—or should I say, the key missing word in that sentence is "eight." You are not picking cards that just appear in the Top 8, but in the decks with the best record. The Top 8 for a Pro Tour takes into account the record for both Limited and Constructed rounds, and it's possible for a strong Limited performance to fortify a middling one from a Constructed deck.
Players are not just picking cards from the newly released Dark Ascension, but rather from the entire pool of Standard. Looking to the more established cards could be an edge for a savvy Fantasy Pro Tour picker, while many of your friends are preoccupied with the shiny new cards. Let's take a quick walk through the different categories you have to pick for your roster:
- Planeswalk the Walk
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad is the only new addition to this category from Dark Ascension, but he has to vie with some established superstars of this type who all have some top finishes notched in their belts. Andrew Cuneo finished in the Top 16 of Worlds behind an offensive line of Karn Liberated, Gideon Jura, and Elspeth Tirel—and each of them has posted other strong finishes both together and separately. The tricky part comes when a new set changes the value of existing cards. Is there some new synergy lurking in the Dark Ascension-enabled Standard format that allows Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas to get back to the Top 8 of a Pro Tour? Will Venser, the Sojourner get to lock players out? Choose wisely, because each appearance by your planeswalker in top decks is worth 5 points.
- All Creatures Great and Small
Your fantasy roster has three spots for creatures, which includes small (one and two drops) medium (three and four drops) and large (five and up), and each time one creature you pick gets over the threshold of being in a top deck it is worth 3 points. This is a tricky triptych of picks, since many decks with small creatures will not even have a medium-sized creature, much less a large one. So your picks could be spread out over multiple archetypes in this category—unless you think Jun'ya Iyanaga's deck from Worlds is going to see a lot of action with Birds of Paradise, Solemn Simulacrum, and Primeval Titan maxing out all three categories with four copies apiece.
Every Magic player's favorite speed is instant, and this category can encompass everything from direct damage to countermagic to token generation to enchantment and artifact removal to life gain. It would not be surprising to see top decks doing almost any of these things in Hawaii. Instants are worth a pair of points every time they appear in a top deck, and with such a range of capabilities this could be the area where you can put some distance between you and your friends who have similar creature rosters to you.
- Slow Hand
Sorcery speed and steady could win the race as you get 2 points for every correctly picked spell that gets main phased in the top decks from Honolulu. How do you like your end days, Day of Judgment or Zombie Apocalypse? Where do creatures come from, Green Sun's Zenith or Lingering Souls? Rampant Growth or Divination? There are so many possibilities for just one slot on your roster.
- Enchanted Evening
There are not a lot of enchantments that get played in Constructed, and Ray of Revelation makes them even trickier with the arrival of Dark Ascension. But if this draft was happening before Worlds, Tempered Steel would have been a jackpot pick with abundant copies of the deck of the same name rising to the top of the field through the Standard rounds. Can another deck that rotates around an enchantment—Burning Vengeance leaps to mind—dominate? Token decks have certainly shown off their Intangible Virtue, but can they hold fast against a room full of pros looking to get a leg up on the metagame?
- Shop Class
In the past, there was a Fantasy Pro Tour featured on Sideboard.com that involved picking a team of players who were going to perform well at the next PT. There is a nod to that old version in the tiebreaker that lets you pick one player to anchor your team. In the event of a tie, player finishes will be compared—no word on what the tiebreaker is when everyone picks Luis Scott-Vargas. Just look at this recent tweet from @magicprotour:
If you are looking for a smart pick not in lockstep with everyone else, you could refer to this tweet from the following day:
The big question for me coming into this next Pro Tour will be how Conley Woods follows up his breakout performance at Worlds—and his follow-up win at Grand Prix Orlando. While both finishes were amazing, one saw Conley play the team deck and the other saw him (successfully) revert to his "land death" standby of Acidic Slime. Will he be the rogue or in-team lockstep next weekend? Did his new serious mode, on full display in San Francisco, herald an ascent to an elite level of play? If you think so, Conley could be a sweet pick for tiebreakers.
I have a hard time not picking Jon Finkel at any Pro Tour he is playing in, and he is headed to Hawaii, but I am also loath to not pick Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa to keep racking up Top 8s at a historic pace.
Head to Facebook and play the Magic Fantasy Pro Tour and see if you can make the Top 100 leaderboard and beat all your friends. You have right up until next Friday (Feb. 10) at 2pm EST to lock your rosters. As the results come in from tournaments, you can change your picks right up until the last minute. Once rosters are locked, you will be able to see what your friends have picked and then follow all the live, round-by-round coverage to see which of you picked the new Sword of Feast and Famine—or the old one, for that matter.