Nothing, though, comes close to the Pro Tour. It truly is the Big Show. Each PT has something that makes special moments in Magic history. It might be the visceral thrill of a topdecked Lightning Helix or Rakdos's Return. It might be the unveiling of the ultimate combo deck or a control deck that simply has all the answers. It might be an assault on the history books, as win follows win follows win. Sometimes it's about single-game shootouts that are genuinely life-changing for both winner and loser. Make no mistake, everything at the Pro Tour is bigger, and that includes the stakes.
So, as we head into another weekend of the best Magic has to offer, here are six reasons why Pro Tour Born of the Gods, coming to you from the beautiful Spanish city of Valencia, could be among the best ever...
Reason 1: Teams
So, you know how the problem with history is that it keeps repeating itself? Well, go back to the start of Pro Magic, and you find teams are a huge deal. Mostly organized along national lines, the eve of each Pro Tour was a feverish affair, as the strong speculated and the weak-willed panicked about what deck "The Dutchies," "The French," "The East Coast," would bring to the party. Each group "knew" that its testing was valid. But this was essentially in a pre-Internet time, and a team with the right insight could steamroll the opposition with a deck akin to bringing a nuclear missile to a knife fight. As the power of the game spread, so too did the diversity of the teams, and for several years there were hushed rumors of what "The Japanese" would use to blow apart the metagame.
Then—and almost without anyone noticing—teams went out of fashion. Sure, people still shared decklists with each other, maybe met for a few days before the PT to test in twos and threes. But the super teams? Gone, apparently forever.
Then came ChannelFireball, based around California, and Luis Scott-Vargas. In hindsight, every brilliantly obvious idea seems merely obvious, but it was CFB who reinvented the true team concept, and boy oh boy did it ever reap the rewards. With a roster of fabulous talent that would go on to become household Magic names—Da Rosa, Stark, Utter-Leyton, Ochoa, Froehlich, Nakamura, Kibler—CFB saw the rewards that authentic professionalism could bring, and tested its way to a global dominance that may well never be matched again. Why? Because it was the first, but it certainly wasn't the last. Other groups eyed up the opportunities of proper preparation, and a conglomeration of outstanding talent learned from the ChannelFireball trailblazers. Now, on the eve of PT Born of the Gods, there are dozens of testing groups who have beenChannelFireball holed up in apartments, hotels, and hostels, all focused on nailing down a new Draft format, and breaking the Modern metagame wide open. Among the likely favorites:
ChannelFireball: The originals, still trying to show they're the best.
ChannelFireball: The Pantheon: This CFB-sponsored squad features six Hall of Famers (Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, Patrick Chapin, Zvi Mowshowitz, Gabriel Nassif, and William Jensen), plus a collection of luminaries and fan favorites like Reid Duke, Brad Nelson, Sam Black, and Paul Rietzl—this list goes on and on, by the way!
Team Revolution: The simple version is that this is the team for everyone with a French passport, plus Melissa DeTora, who presumably got an honorary French visa. What is undeniable is that Revolution did the business last time around in Dublin at Pro Tour Theros, where teammates Jérémy Dezani and Pierre Dagen contested the final.
TCG Player: Another team with sponsorship, the headliners among this U.S. group are Ari Lax, who finally seems to be ascending to true world class, PT Dragon's Maze Champion Craig Wescoe, and former CFB rogue deck builder Conley Woods, a "free agent signing" that the team is hoping will help it attack the Modern format.
Face 2 Face Games: Although there are plenty of US players on the team, this is still very much "Team Canada," with Jon Stern and PT Avacyn Restored champion Alexander Hayne leading the way, surrounded by a lot of talented players looking to step up their game at the highest level.
Elaborate Ruse: A European team with a strong Czech/Slovak/Swedish base—that brings you the likes of Stanislav Cifka, Lukas Jaklovsky, Ivan Floch, Matej Zatlkaj, plus Joel Larsson, Olle Rade, Elias Watsfeldt, Ludde Londos, and Denniz Rachid. Throw in a PT Champion in Simon Goertzen, and Brazil's Willy Edel and Juliano Gennari, and you have a lot of Magic firepower in one room.
Team Doge: Top 25–ranked Christian Calcano headlines a new team, looking to mix it with the big boys. They have the numbers—there's ten of them to test—but outside Calcano there's a lot to prove.
Team Magic Mint: An exciting group of pan-Asia players, including World Magic Cup Champion Tzu-Ching Kuo, Japanese Pro Ken Yukuhiro, and consistent performers like Kelvin Chew and Lee Shi Tian.
Austro-German Alliance: I made that team name up myself, since I'm not sure it's bothered to give itself one yet. Essentially, it's a union of European Grand Prix circuit "good stuff"—think GP champions like Wenzel Krautmann and Patrick Dickmann, former Platinum Pro Thomas Holzinger, former team World Champion Nico Bohny, and current standout Valentin Mackl, together with half a dozen more from EU top tables.
Team Japan: Arguably the most exciting of the lot, with Tomoharu Saito a prime organizer in pulling together the disparate Japanese qualifiers into a meaningful force. For the best part of five years (2005–2009) the Japanese were the dominant force on the Pro Tour, and with a "big five" that includes Saito, Yuuya Watanabe, Katsuhiro Mori, Yuuta Takahashi, and Makihito Mihara, this could be a big week for the Japanese.
Reason 2: Players
For all that teams are critical, nobody else gets to play your matches for you, so once the lights go green and the packs are opened, it's every man, woman, and child for themselves. In the spotlight as we set off for nineteen rounds across three days are the Top 25 ranked players, representing the best of the current movers and shakers. This is the first season of the rankings, and as the weeks go by we're starting to see how the rankings get affected by Grand Prix around the world. Typically, a ranked GP winner moves up a handful of slots, dropping four or five rivals down a notch. There's typically a lot of action at the bottom end of the rankings, as new players join the Top 25, and others fall off the ledge. Typically, there's less movement at the top of the standings, with nine of the Top 10 after Pro Tour Theros still somewhere in the Top 10 coming into Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
Pro Tours aren't typical. Remember, the Pro Points accumulated during last season gradually decay, and that's most noticeable at a Pro Tour, where the largest number of Pro Points are given out. From Willy Edel of Brazil at No. 10 up to the current leader, Hall of Famer Ben Stark, there are just 12 points. It would be a bold prediction to suggest that none of the Top 10—Stark, Utter-Leyton, Duke, Shenhar, Dezani, Black, Martell, Nakamura, Watanabe, Edel—will make the Top 8 in Valencia, and any one of them who does make it to the elimination rounds could well find himself in pole position in the world rankings this time next week.
Of course, there are plenty of storylines away from the big names. As usual, there are a couple hundred Pro Tour Qualifier winners, and many of those will be sitting down to compete at this level for the first time. The format doesn't matter, the opponent doesn't matter, the city doesn't matter—your first Pro Tour match is always special, because you've earned the right to be there, and you're just one win away from a perfect record and a share of the lead! Players from fifty-six nations will converge on Valencia to take part, with an age range of sixteen to forty-nine. Whatever his or her Magic history, it's an epic weekend for every competitor, and somewhere buried among them is the next Pro Tour Champion.
Reason 3: Born of the Gods
The show kicks off on Friday and Saturday with Draft, and that means more than 400 Born of the Gods packs getting cracked simultaneously. What Draft stories will they each begin? There's a lot of double- and even triple-colored mana requirements, and that could have a significant impact. Will players get greedy and try to force colors, or will they pass up power in order to stay open and feel their way more cautiously into the draft? Devotion is back, and although the Gods need more this time around, this could be the time where more is, in fact, less. Two-color decks are going to turn on their Gods a lot.
Inspired makes its Pro Tour debut, and that's going to affect the way Limited games play out. Watch out for some apparently unusual attacks and for untap tricks that could lead to some bonus creature tokens on the battlefield. Monstrosity may be gone, but tribute presents opponents with some very difficult challenges. Sometimes, it really is "damned if you do, damned if you don't." And then there's bestow, offering players the chance to build their own monster to epic proportions, and sometimes not even heroes can stand up to that kind of assault. Marshall Sutcliffe will be keeping a roving eye on all things Limited as Draft takes center stage.
Reason 4: Modern
Time for a little math: according to Gatherer, the official Magic search engine on DailyMagic.com, there are 8,139 cards in the Modern format, from Abattoir Ghoul to Zur's Weirding. Born of the Gods contains 165 cards, or approximately 2% of the format. If Born of the Gods were an "average" set, we might expect to find two or three cards having an impact on Modern. That's a gentle way of saying that a vast format isn't generally the place to show off the awesomeness of a small set in the middle of a block.
That's not to say that we won't see some brand-new cards in action this weekend in Constructed. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is a very good Magic card. Courser of Kruphix has been generating a lot of discussion/optimism. Bile Blight is the kind of cheap board sweeper that token-haters might want on hand. Kiora is a Planeswalker, and Planeswalkers are always worth contemplating in Constructed. It's virtually certain that we'll see some of the Temples in action. And it is certain that at least one Born of the Gods will be in action, because Affinity/Robots is a very real deck in Modern, and that means Springleaf Drum! Nonetheless, it's in the draft rounds that Born of the Gods is really going to shine, and that leaves the way clear for us to focus on decks in Modern powered by some of the true standouts from Magic's history.
Modern has always delivered thrills, right from the debut of the format at Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011, with Samuele Estratti claiming the title. Since then, Modern has shown itself to be an unbelievably diverse format, and also a format of considerable "churn," with top decks changing from tournament to tournament. With Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Wizards of the Coast announced a major shakeup in the Modern format, with the banning of the ubiquitous (translation: really good) Deathrite Shaman, and the unbannings of both Wild Nacatl and Bitterblossom. For some insight into the seismic shifts these in/outs might create in Modern, I turned to Hall of Famer Randy Buehler. He explained:
"It's huge. Obviously Jund is weaker now and you can add Zoo, Faeries, and probably even WB Tokens to the list of good archetypes. For me, though, the biggest impact may actually be on the other decks: No Deathrite Shamans (and presumably fewer Scavenging Oozes) means graveyard strategies are much better now. That helps any deck with Snapcaster Mage, it helps Melira Pod (since graveyard hate can break up the persist combo), and it really helps reanimation strategies like Goryo's Vengeance."
Although the popularity of Modern is growing rapidly, we know that many of you will be seeing the format up close for the first time through our coverage in Valencia. I asked Randy what makes the format so awesome, and what newer players should do to get involved, once they see their favorite decks in action over the weekend.
"The sheer diversity of things you can do in the format is awesome. There are dozens of decks capable of winning a small tournament and dozens more still waiting to be brewed up from the gigantic card pool. If you're looking to get into Modern, find the strategy that looks like fun to you so you can put it together. With no set rotations and a huge card pool there's going to be a way to run just about any strategy you enjoy, and to keep running it for years to come."
As the ten rounds of Modern unfold, we'll begin to get a sense of the new Modern metagame, but with over 400 decklists to pore over, getting a quick overview won't be easy. Thankfully, I intend to solve the entire metagame conundrum for you (irony alert) by looking at just ten decklists. My (admittedly flawless) reasoning goes something like this:
Jérémy Dezani and Reid Duke: Great players love to play decks that have a chance against everything in the field. Pros call this "play," the idea of being able to materially affect the outcome of your match by utilizing your cards better than your opponents use theirs, and where there are very few outright "bad matchups." Some decks have a ton of "play" to them. Some don't (like a Goblin Charbelcher combo deck in Legacy, for example). Jund has lots of "play," but it also has lots of missing Deathrite Shamans. Dezani and Duke are masters of Jund, and if they're still sleeving up black, red, and green spells in Valencia, then Jund is still 100% at the forefront of the format.
Josh McClain: I believe that Melira-Pod decks should come with a health warning, because trying to play the deck unless you're really good at Magic is like juggling hand grenades with the pin taken out. Since the absence of Deathrite Shaman helps Melira-Pod, if Josh isn't playing it, the deck simply won't be winning this weekend.
Josh Utter-Leyton: I could have chosen many lists from the ChannelFireball squad, but I want confirmation that the unbanning of Wild Nacatl has brought authentic aggro decks in the form of Zoo right back into the mix. If Josh is running the little green 3/3 for one mana, Zoo is for real.
Patrick Dickmann: The German won his Modern Grand Prix in Antwerp last year with Splinter Twin, a deck he had played with on Magic Online in over one thousand matches. His intimate knowledge of the format and every matchup contributed massively to his success, and it will take a gigantic shift in his perception of the metagame to knock him off one of the premier combo decks out there. If he's not on Splinter Twin, Deceiver Exarch fans can despair.
Alex Majlaton: In an unknown format (which Modern has at least partially become), the value of proactive strategies goes up. Call it Affinity, call it Robots, Majlaton plays this artifact-aggro deck whenever he gets the chance. He has, we might say, Affinity for Robots, and if he's on anything else, that something else is going to be crushingly dominant, because nothing less would permeate his, ahem, Cranial Plating. Wow, I just did that.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and Yuuta Takahashi: These two appear to have little in common, but nobody had more success with assorted Faeries decks. The unbanning of Bitterblossom may be a huge deal. PV built much of his mid-career on simply playing the best deck in the room better than anyone else in the room, and that deck tended to be Faeries. Takahashi also won multiple high-level events with the Fae menace, and you have to imagine there will be few competitors more anxious to make Bitterblossom work in Valencia. If these two don't bring Bitterblossom to the table, Bitterblossom probably shouldn't be at the table.
Ari Lax: Having a terrific season so far, Lax finished 9th at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle in 2012. He did so with Infect, a deck that killed amazingly quickly, and had the added bonus of getting him to the front of the concession stand queue every round. You simply can't be prepared for everything, and that creates opportunities for "all-in" strategies like Infect. I expect Lax to be utterly poisonous this weekend, but only in a good way.
Conley Woods: Finally, Lax's teammate, brought on board specifically to "go rogue." That could mean almost anything—it's Modern, and it's Conley—but my best guess is a combo deck with a transformational sideboard plan. Maybe they all turn up with Living End, or Hive Mind, or Whims of the Fates. Except not Whims of the Fates.
Reason 5: Coverage
Randy knows a thing or two about Magic, and Modern, and Magic coverage, and it's great that he'll be part of the broadcast once again in Valencia. He'll be bringing all his Hall of Famer experience to bear as we break down the new Modern format for you, and giving us his expert in-game analysis in the booth. Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall and Limited Information columnist Marshall Sutcliffe anchor our play-by-play team, with a cast of casters that also includes Zac Hill, Tim Willoughby, and Rashad Miller. As usual, I'll be anchoring the newsdesk coverage, bringing you all the scores, standings, hot stories, interviews, deck techs, guests, and more, across sixteen rounds of live Magic action.
Then it's Sunday, and a new innovation for the coverage team. For the first time, every turn of Sunday action will be seen live. No more cutting between matches. No more getting across to a quarter final just as it ends. On Sunday, we'll show you every match in its entirety, one quarterfinal at a time, and then the two semifinals back to back, before our final offering. Both the quarters and semis are best two-out-of-three, making seeding even more important, so expect the last couple of rounds on Saturday to be wild, especially if team allegiances come into the mix. We're delighted to say that—unless he has something more pressing to do, like, say, playing in the Top 8—Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas will be joining us for all the Sunday action.
Finally, I can't wait to see how coverage members Frank Karsten and Luis Scott-Vargas (ChannelFireball), Matej Zatlkaj, Olle Rade, and Simon Goertzen (Elaborate Ruse), Raphael Levy (Team Revolution), and Chapman Sim (Magic Mint) fare. Good luck boys, and see you in the booth soon!
Reason 6: People
You might care about this Pro Tour because you have a friend on one of the superstar teams. You might be a fan of ChannelFireball because of LSV's puns, or David Ochoa's hat. You might love the fact that Owen Turtenwald keeps setting up winner interviews with Marshall Sutcliffe, and then winning the event. You might be a Chromanticore dreamer, praying to see Jon Finkel open the five-color rare in his Born of the Gods opening pack, and then take it to a 3–0 record. You might long for the days when Japan dominated the global game and are tuning in to see if Valencia will be the setting for that reemergence. You might be a brewer, with notebook at the ready for all the latest off-the-wall ideas for a new Modern format. Or, you may just want to find out which amazing Magic player puts it all together, and takes home $40,000 just for spending the weekend playing our favorite game.
Ultimately, Pro Tour Magic isn't about cards, or decks, or results, or teams. Pro Tour Magic is about people. Whether you're coming to be part of Magic history in person—and we can't wait to show you a great time if you do make it to Valencia to rub shoulders with your Magic heroes—or whether you're battening down the hatches to embark upon another epic viewing spree, it's people who make the Pro Tour what it is.
And people, it turns out, means you.
See you on Friday.