We're into the final stretch of the 2013-2014 Premier Play Season, so that means there's a lot more at stake this weekend beyond the usual mix of glory, Pro Club Levels and cold, hard cash. Pro Tour Magic 2015 will set the stage for Magic's most prestigious Tournament: the World Championship. At the start of December, twenty-four of the game's best players will square off in France for their share of $150,000 and a place in Magic History. Now, the majority of those invitations have yet to be decided. Some of the races are looking more settled than others, but even those with a big edge can get caught out by a poor performance coupled with a surprise Top 8 from one of their rivals. Consider this your cheat sheet as you follow all the action.
So just who gets to play in the World Championship? First you have the nine "trophy winners" of the year. Three of them are still up in the air (Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Pro Tour Magic 2015 Champion) but the remaining six are set in stone. They are:
2013 Magic World Champion - Shahar Shenhar
Captain of 2013 World Magic Cup Champion Team - Raphael Levy
Pro Tour Theros Champion - Jeremy Dezani
Pro Tour Born of the Gods Champion - Shaun McLaren
Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Champion - Patrick Chapin
Magic Online Champion - Lars Dam
Next, there are ten slots given out to the Top 2 Pro Point earners for each of Magic's five global regions: North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Japan. That leaves five invitations. Those are the "At-Large" slots, going to the five otherwise uninvited players with the most Pro Points.
However, there's a catch. If a player earns multiple qualifications, those extra invites become "At-Large" invites. So here's a possible scenario for this weekend: Jared Boettcher wins the Pro Tour, and no-one else finishes high enough to stop him from becoming Player of the Year. That would give him a whopping FOUR qualifications: Pro Tour Magic 2015 Champ, Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, and Top North American Player. He uses one of those, and three At-Large invitations are added to the existing five.
Now let's talk numbers. Every player competing this weekend will earn a minimum of three Pro Points, even if they lose every match they play. A Top 50 finish will only earn them six. Top 25 is ten. Top 16 is fifteen. Playing in the Top 8 on Sunday guarantees you at least 20, and the champion will book 30. Keep those in mind while you're watching the races.
Armed with that knowledge and the awesome power of mathematics, we come up with a couple additional certainties. First, Jeremy Dezani will be one of the Top 2 European players, so that guarantees a sixth At-Large slot. Second, Reid Duke will get an invitation. Even if he gets the minimum 3 points, loses the Player of the Year race, gets passed by two North Americans, AND the eight players beneath him all Top 8, he will still have enough Pro Points to earn one of the At-Large slots. So let's throw his smiling face up there.
Now let's take a look at the various races.
The Rookie of the Year spot is about locked up by Jared Boettcher. He'll have a minimum of 49 points, so there are only four players in competition this weekend who can conceivably overtake him: Raymond Perez, Jr, Dimitriy Butakov, Petr Sochurek and Martin Müller. They would need at least a Top 4 finish to do it. His spot is looking pretty secure.
The Latin America race is looking good for Willy Edel, well out front with 38 points plus whatever he earns this weekend. The battle for the second slot is mostly between Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa with 27 points and Marcelino Freeman with 22. Freeman needing to gain 5 points on PV means he'll need a Top 25 at least, depending on PV's record. There's also dark horse Miguel Angel Rodriguez at ten points, who could stage a huge upset with a Top 8 finish.
The APAC race is even more buttoned up, with Lee Shi Tian sitting comfortably on 46 points, and Nam Sung Wook behind at 42. Their closest competitor is Park Jun Young with 26, so he'd need at least a Top 8 to overtake Nam. Others with a similarly thin shot to make it are Tzu-Ching Kuo, Kelvin Chew, Hao-shan Huang and Chapman Sim.
Europe only has one non-Dezani slot to give, and the current frontrunner is Pro Tour Champion Stanislav Cifka. He's ten points ahead of Shahar Shenhar, which means it would take at least Top 16 finish to surpass him, but that also applies to Pierre Dagen. There's a laundry list of misers who could steal it with a Top 8, including Raphael Levy, Patrick Dickmann, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Matej Zatlkaj, the red-hot Robin Dolar, and Martin Juza, just to name a few.
In the battle for Japan it will take two strong finishers to knock Yuuya Watanabe off his regional invite. He's seven points ahead of Kentaro Yamamoto, and eleven ahead of Hall of Famer Shuuhei Nakamura. They'd need to put up at least a Top 25 and a Top 16 respectively. However, that Nakamura / Yamamoto fight for slot two should be a close one. End bosses Makihito Mihara and Shouta Yasooka, as well as Pro Tour Journey into Nyx seminfinalist Yuuki Ichikawa will need at least a Top 16 to have a hope of sneaking in. Also you can't count out Ken Yukuhiro and Tomoharu Saito, who could earn a shot with a Sunday appearance.
The really crazy race is for North America. Reid Duke stands a full eighteen points ahead of Owen Turtenwald and Shaun McLaren, so he'll be hard to topple into an At-Large slot. However, after those two at 52 points, you have Josh Utter-Leyton at 51, Tom Martell and Patrick Chapin at 49, Sam Black and Paul Rietzl at 48, Jared Boettcher at 46, and a logjam of five names at 44 points: Hall of Famer Ben Stark, Alex Hayne, Jacob Wilson, Chris Fennell and Josh McClain, with Hall of Famer William Jensen just behind at 43. A three-point differential is hardly insurmountable, and for players of this caliber a Top 16 finish is always in play. Every match win will be crucial. Especially because those tight races carry over into the At-Large slots.
Our coverage will be following all these closely, so stay tuned to see how your favorite players are faring in the race to the World Championship!