Pro Tour Theros Preview

Posted in Feature on October 6, 2013

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

or an excellent Pro Tour, you will need the following ingredients:



Of course, it isn't actually as simple as that. For those of us lucky enough to attend multiple Pro Tours in any capacity, it can be easy to forget what a huge undertaking an event like this is on the part of Wizards of the Coast. Once you start looking at what goes into it, however, it becomes much harder to ignore the sheer audacity of the thing.

"Hey, let's put 450 people in a room to play a game for a share of $250,000."

"Sounds good! In fact, it sounds so good that we should do it multiple times a year."


Really? Okay, this conversation probably never took place exactly like this, but that's what the coming three days in Dublin boil down to—the best of the best going at it across two new formats until only one is left standing with an awesome trophy, $40,000, and a huge grin on his or her face. Let's take a closer look at our ingredients, and find out what makes Pro Tour Theros such a tasty proposition.

The Finest Platinum Pro players

If you make it to the very top of the game in any given season of play, you get awarded Platinum status. That's a badge of honor and recognition, but it brings with it huge tangible benefits, too. Benefits like free flights around the world, appearance fees at Pro Tours and Grand Prix, hotel accommodation, byes at Grand Prix,... and you even get a generous helping of Magic Online Qualifier Points each season. Of course, Wizards isn't just giving these goodies away willy-nilly. Oh no, to get this package you really have to be on the top of not just your game, but the game.

Heading the list right now is the 2012–2013 Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton, who took the title by 10 clear points from 2nd-place finisher Tom Martell, also of the United States. As you work your way down the list of Platinums, you're really dealing with the cream of the recent crop.

2012-2013 Player of the Year, Josh Utter-Leyton


There are former Players of the Year here, like 2011 winner Owen Turtenwald, 2009 and 2012 champion Yuuya Watanabe, and another Japanese great—Shuhei Nakamura—winner of Player of the Year in 2008. Half of the sixteen Platinums have the highest level of silverware decorating their mantelpiece, as Pro Tour or World Champions: Stanislav Cifka, Brian Kibler, Tom Martell, Makihito Mihara, Luis Scott-Vargas, Shahar Shenhar, Ben Stark, and Craig Wescoe. That leaves the likes of Willy Edel of Brazil; Martin Juza of the Czech Republic; plus Reid Duke, David Ochoa, and Eric Froehlich of the USA with their stacked career highlights of Grand Prix titles and Pro Tour Top 8s.

Turtenwald, Watanabe, Nakamura


So which of them is best right now? Few people like talking points more than Magic players, and to that end Wizards unveiled their brand-new Top 25 ranking system last week. If you missed it, you can read all about the new rankings, and who's sitting on top of the pile, here.

One of the emerging storylines in Dublin will be whether the reigning Player of the Year can hold on to his top spot once all the hundreds of Pro Points have been awarded.

1 core of Gold Pro stars

They may not have had the perfect 2012–13 season, but the Gold members of the Pro Players Club can boast a wealth of experience and a bulging trophy cabinet. The group is headlined by five champions: Shouta Yasooka, the 2006 Player of the Year; David Sharfman, Pro Tour Nagoya winner in 2011; Alexander Hayne, the Canadian who famously took his "miracles" deck to victory at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in 2012; Samuele Estratti, the extravagant Italian who took home the first Modern Pro Tour title in Philadelphia in 2011; and Paul Rietzl, who piloted a hyper-aggressive deck to victory in Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010.


Yasooka, Sharfman, Hayne
Estratti, Rietzl


Next up are players knocking on the door of Magic superstar status. Lukas Jaklovsky has long been respected on the European scene. Melissa DeTora made her breakthrough into the Top 8 of Pro Tour Gatecrash earlier this year, while Joel Larsson finished 2nd in that event; 2nd place can be tough—just ask Gold Pro Gaudenis Vidugiris, who lost out to Hayne in Barcelona last year. Then there's Ari Lax, who lost a straight shootout in the last match of the season with Luis Scott-Vargas for who would get Platinum status this season. Add in some of the finest deck builders in the world—Gerry Thompson, Sam Black, and Conley Woods to name but three—and it would be no surprise to see a Gold Pro claiming the $40,000 1st prize on Sunday.

Hungry Silver members of the Pro Players Club

As games within a game go, this one's great. The Silver Pros have one shot left in the locker—a silver bullet, if you will. For them, one Pro Tour door is open for the 2013–14 season. Do well with their shot, and they're back on the Tour full time. Get it wrong, and it's back to the grind of the Pro Tour Qualifier circuit—and we all know how tough that can be. Not all the Silver players will take their shot in Dublin. When there's only one chance left, you really want to give it your best, and for some that means keeping their powder dry for later in the season.

Nonetheless, among those who do cash in their chip for a chair, there are likely to be some familiar faces. Kenny Oberg of Sweden and Alessandro Portaro of Italy both have Pro Tour Top 8 experience, while Tomoharu Saito is a former Player of the Year. Andreas Ganz, Jonas Koestler, and Mike Krasnitski are all European Grand Prix fixtures. Then there's the likes of Eduardo Sajgalik of England, Tomek Pedrakowski of Poland, and Hao-Shan Huang of Chinese Taipei. For them, historically, they've come up fractionally short. This is their chance to go the distance.

Dozens of Grand Prix winners and top finishers

All across the world, thousands of players have been competing in Grand Prix tournaments featuring an ever-changing cavalcade of Magic formats, designed to test the skill, deck building, and stamina of the competitors to their limits. Whether it's the utterly dominant performance of Thomas Enevoldsen at Grand Prix Strasbourg, the return of Brock Parker to the winner's circle at Grand Prix Pittsburgh, Quan Zhou's triumph on home soil in Beijing, or Neal Oliver claiming the largest-ever event in Magic history at Grand Prix Las Vegas, there are a total of ninety-five players who can use recent Grand Prix success to mount a challenge at the highest level.

Hundreds of Pro Tour Qualifier winners

For most of us, the dream of playing on the Pro Tour is most likely to come true by winning our local Pro Tour Qualifier. While "local" may mean hundreds of miles and crossing into neighboring countries, we travel week in, week out, in our thousands, to battle for the fabled "blue envelope" that signifies our invitation to the party. Wherever you are in the world, winning a PTQ is an incredible feeling, not least because it's tough to accomplish. Nobody ever won a PTQ by accident, and a quick trawl through a list of winners makes me feel very sorry for some of the people who had to play in the finals. Somebody couldn't get past Pro Tour San Diego 2007 winner Jacob van Lunen. Team World Champion Nico Bohny ended somebody's run at the final hurdle. Someone found former Platinum Pro Thomas Holzinger of Austria in the way—and that PTQ was in Italy!

Other big names who used the PTQ route to Theros are Croatia's perennial team member Toni Portolan, former Team World Champion Robert Jurkovic, Germany's National Champion Bernd Bredemühl, former Rookie of the Year Matthias Hunt, and Pro Tour Venice 2003 winner Osyp Lebedowicz. However, arguably the most exciting addition to the starting lineup from the ranks of the PTQ winners is one Guillaume Wafo-Tapa of France. The Pro Tour Yokohama champion from 2007 is a master of control decks, and I for one can't wait to see what he's ready to unleash in Dublin.

The Top 25 from Pro Tour Dragon's Maze

Last time around, they came close. As you'd expect, many of the Top 25 from Pro Tour Dragon's Maze are some of the biggest names in the game, but this route into Pro Tour Theros allows those who couldn't quite claim it all to saddle up and have another crack at it. This time around, the group includes European Coverage member Matej Zatlkaj, looking for another Pro Tour Top 8; 2007 World Champion Uri Peleg; and one of the standout feel-good stories in San Diego, Rob Castellan. A Magic judge, Castellan wasn't even planning on playing in the PTQ he ended up winning, but there were one too many judges for the event, so he swapped his judge shirt for a seat in the trenches, and the rest is history, as he went on to make the Top 8 in San Diego.

Magic Online Championship Series Players

Looking to turn point-and-click into shuffle-and-deal with equal success, there are some terrific technical players among the MOCS brigade. Watch out for MOCS Champion Dmitriy Butakov of the Russian Federation; Canada's David Caplan; Grand Prix Portland winner Sam Pardee; Hannes Kerem of Estonia; and another Grand Prix winner this year, Seth Manfield.

Magic Online Qualifier winners

Anyone who has played in the Magic Online Qualifiers knows how tough they are. Hundreds of grinders ferociously looking for any sign of weakness in a seemingly endless succession of high-level opponents. Anyone who comes through that particular crucible deserves respect. One stands out, however. Kentarou Yamamoto has multiple Grand Prix Top 8s, and was on camera for approximately seven minutes when losing the final of Pro Tour San Diego in 2007 to the Sliver Kids, including Jacob van Lunen. What price a Yamamoto/van Lunen rerun?

Finals of Pro Tour San Diego


Magic Pro Tour Hall of Famers

Like the Forrest Gump box of chocolates, you never quite know what—or in this case, who—you're going to get from the Hall of Fame. While Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa will be looking to get back on track after a disappointing season, the team from StarCityGames boasts an incredible squad, headlined by arguably the three greatest players of all time, Hall of Famers all—Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, and Gabriel Nassif (this list brought to you alphabetically by surname!). Of course, while arguments rage about the greatest of all time, three more with incredible records to their names join the ranks of the Hall of Fame in Dublin...

The 2013 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

William Jensen.

Ben Stark.

Luis Scott-Vargas.

Jensen, Stark, LSV


Three wonderful players with an avalanche of great Magic behind them, and very likely ahead of them, too. Whatever their match scores in Dublin, nothing will ever take away from the Induction Ceremony in front of family; friends; their peers as the best current players in the world; and you, the millions of Magic fans around the world. Perhaps this is the year that a player wearing a new Hall of Fame ring can claim the title on Sunday.

3 Days

Speaking of Sunday, every Pro Tour is a three-day affair—we just can't squeeze that much awesome Magic into less! Set your watches, prepare your excuses, and make October 11–13 the days when nothing comes between you and the finest Magic money doesn't have to buy.

1 great venue in a terrific city

Every Pro Tour has its own special charm, but it's been quite a while since I've heard so much excitement among the players for visiting a city as for Dublin this week. It's not surprising—Dublin's great, not least because the people are so welcoming. If you watched the Irish in action during the World Magic Cup from Amsterdam earlier this year, you know what I'm talking about. It's going to be some seriously good times.

View of beautiful Dublin, from the River Liffey (courtesy Bonnie Bruenderman)


1 new Magic expansion for Limited

Hopefully, you've all had a chance to play some with Theros. Now's your chance to watch the pros make the set dance. New strategies, new Draft archetypes, new combos to discover and discuss. Gods, monsters, heroes, bestow, devotion, heroic, monstrosity... Theros is a huge set in all kinds of ways, and there's ample opportunity (although not Opportunity) for the players to stamp their authority on the Limited environment.

1 new Standard format

It's no accident that this Pro Tour features Standard as the Constructed format of choice. With the rotation of the previous block, Standard of October 2013 is a lean, mean machine absolutely setup for the standout cards from Theros to do their thing and put down a marker for the next two years. Somebody is bound to find uses for cards most of us can only dream of, but in the meantime, we can make some early guesses at cards that could, and should, make an impact in Standard.

How about decent removal? There's Lightning Strike; Hero's Downfall; Glare of Heresy; Magma Jet; and format-skewed cards like Fade into Antiquity, Destructive Revelry, and Peak Eruption. Mono-Red seems to be a big deal in the early days of Standard, so look for cards like Hammer of Purphoros, Firedrinker Satyr, and Fanatic of Mogis. Red doesn't end there, though, as there are scary monsters waiting to happen too, like Stormbreath Dragon and Ember Swallower, both of which could be big players come Sunday. Getting mana quickly and reliably is always good, and the new cycle of Temple lands, plus Sylvan Caryatid, can help you toward a giant helping of Polukranos, World Eater very quickly. Control players shouldn't feel left out, either, with a new counterspell to play with in Dissolve and two new Planeswalkers that seem right at home in rock-solid Esper control decks: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and Elspeth, Sun's Champion.

Whatever way you slice it, Standard is going to be tremendous.

6 rounds of Booster Draft

On Friday and Saturday morning, we'll open our coverage with three rounds of Theros Booster Draft. You'll get to see a player make all his or her picks live, and go through a full table of information with the website Draft Viewer. Although the majority of the rounds are Constructed, it's almost impossible to make the Top 8 on Sunday without at least an even 3–3 record in the two drafts. And remember, on Friday morning at every draft table, somebody's going to finish 0–3 and be that close to elimination...


10 rounds of Constructed

With eleven rounds played, the balance is still just favoring Limited play, but down the stretch it's Standard all the way. Each and every one of those last five rounds will see the field carved into tiny pieces of disappointment as the chosen few battle their way toward the Top 8. Personally, nothing matches the excitement of Round 15, when almost every match has something truly significant on the line.

1 best three-of-five climax on Sunday for the Top 8

Once the dust settles, only eight will remain. As one of the Theran oracles might put it, "Was ever thus, and ever shall be," or something similarly portentous. In any case, Sunday sees the format shift to best three-of-five. Sideboards are going to really matter, as it's Standard all the way. Will the one-mana spell of choice be the much-discussed Thoughtseize? Or will the humble Yoked Ox dominate a Pro Tour Top 8?


Most of us don't have $250,000, which is just one reason most of us will never put on a Pro Tour. Still, it's worth pausing for a moment and maybe saying a "thank you" to the people at Wizards who are saying thanks to us for playing their game.

Wall-to-wall video and text coverage of the event if you can't be there

Well, yes. And yes again. Brian David-Marshall , Rashad Miller, Zac Hill, Tim Willoughby, Marshall Sutcliffe, and yours truly will be the team bringing you all the action. You'll get nineteen rounds of live Magic, together with Inside R&D videos, deck techs, draft viewers, plus an eye-melting amount of text features, interviews, photos... if you can't be there, we've got it covered. Here's the time-check for when you need to be in front of your favorite streaming device:

City Friday Saturday Sunday
Dublin 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 11 a.m.
Los Angeles 1 a.m. 1 a.m. 3 a.m.
Chicago 3 a.m 3 a.m 5 a.m.
New York 4 a.m. 4 a.m. 6 a.m.
Rio de Janeiro 5 a.m. 5 a.m. 7 a.m.
London 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 11 a.m.
Paris 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Noon
Berlin 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Noon
Moscow Noon Noon 2 p.m.
Tokyo 5 p.m. 5 p.m. 7 p.m.
Sydney 7 p.m. 7 p.m. 9 p.m.
Find other corresponding start times around the world here.


Cool stuff to do if you can

Calling all Magic fans within reach of Dublin! The Pro Tour is open for business! From 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m.–6 p.m. on Sunday, you can come and watch the action. There'll be flat-screen TVs in the viewing area, plus you can watch your favorite players live. Come along, get some cards or playmats signed, and soak up the incredible atmosphere. Although there won't be general Magic play or card trading for spectators, the local Irish Magic community is planning to host a series of events, and the webcast will be streamed from Crowe's Public House on Merrion Road, just a block and a half away from the venue. Visit for more info.

1 Player of the Year Race

It's still a year before someone claims the 2013–2014 Player of the Year title, but that doesn't make Pro Tour Theros any the less important. By the end of the weekend, we'll know whether Shahar Shenhar has opened a commanding lead, springboarding off the back of his 2013 World Championship win, or whether new frontrunners have emerged.

Hundreds of Pro Points

Long after the spotlight has moved on up the standings, players will be battling down the stretch on Saturday for precious Pro Points that could ultimately determine their Magic futures. One extra point can make all the difference between Platinum and a full-time tilt at Professional Magic and a return to "real" life. Make no mistake—every Pro Point matters.

1 trophy

Yep, we've got one of those packed in the suitcase, too.

1 top secret ingredient...

And finally, the top secret ingredient that makes it all worthwhile.


See you all later this week, either on the webcast, or live in the hall. And, as ever, thanks for being part of this amazing game. I'm your host, Richard Hagon, saying bye!

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