hree days. Close to four hundred players. Dozens of countries. A brand-new Magic expansion. Nineteen rounds of live coverage.
It must be Pro Tour time!
Clear your diary, lock the door, cancel family and friends—or, better yet, get them in front of your viewing medium of choice—and settle in at 9 a.m. local time (Eastern) to join us for Pro Tour Gatecrash, coming to you live from Montreal in the fabulous country of Canada. For the next few minutes, and for much of those three wonderful days, I'll have the privilege of guiding you through the first Pro Tour jamboree of 2013, complete with new mechanics, new teams, a new Standard, a new tournament structure, and something special coming to the coverage that you're going to like very, very much.
So, where to start?
Pro Tour Player Statistics
For all those hardened coverage veterans who have been glued to your monitors, plasma screen TVs, tablets, and phones for hundreds of hours across many years, this is familiar territory. Sixteen rounds of Swiss pairings—the computer pairs you against an opponent on a matching record to yours each round—leads to a Sunday shootout for the Top 8. On the first two days, each round is the best two-of-three, with the elimination matches on Sunday a mind-stretching three-of-five. As usual, this is a mixed format Pro Tour, this time combining Standard with triple-Gatecrash Draft.
Now for the first change: We begin with draft! Yes, you'd better not be late for the start of the webcast on Friday, as we'll be launching straight into the wide-open new environment that sees three packs of Gatecrash being opened and passed round tables of eight. For the first time in several years, those tables will be a truly random sampling of the field. Now we don't have to wait until round six to see which big names will be facing each other in the drafting bearpit. Instead, one of the most dramatic moments will come straight after the player meeting, as everyone gets to find out who they'll be facing around the drafting table. Friend against friend, teammate against teammate, and first-time PTQ winner against Hall of Fame legends. Did I mention that you should set your alarm?
Once they sit down to draft, what surprises will Gatecrash have in store? If Return to Ravnica taught us anything, it was that there was a lot more to drafting a guild set than meets the eye. Sure, we can say that Boros is aggressive and wants to get three creatures into the red zone to trigger battalion. We can say that Gruul is going to use bloodrush to make large and angry attackers very large and very angry. We can certainly say that Orzhov draining opponents with extort is going to happen a lot. We can say that Simic is going to turn power and toughness into higher power and toughness thanks to the evolve mechanic. And we can't say anything about what the Dimir will be doing, because they won't let us.
That takes us so far, but Pro Tours are often won by the bold (see Stanislav Cifka and Alexander Hayne in the past twelve months), not the timid. So, will we see players stretching mana bases to the breaking point with three-, four-, or even five-color monstrosities? Will we see players totally ignoring life totals as they pursue the milling mechanic so popular with Dimir fans during the first Ravnica block? Will players join the guildless and attempt to concoct green-white "Selesnya" decks? With live coverage of all six draft rounds across two days, including draft tech videos, both drafts live at a top table, the ever-popular draft viewer, and behind-the-scenes info straight from the heart of R&D—the folks who make the cards—you can be sure that Pro Tour Gatecrash is going to get off to a tremendous start on Friday morning.
Alexander Hayne, Stanislav Cifka
Once those three draft rounds have got us under way, it's over to Standard and a chance to see what the best players in the game can do with the new weapons at their deck-building disposal. This is often where the Pro Tour is won and lost (see Stanislav Cifka and Alexander Hayne in the past twelve months!), and however much Magic is a game played alone, Pro Tours are as much about preparation as execution. So who is sitting down with whom in the weeks leading up to the main event, trying to puzzle their way to the new Standard benchmark?
There's no better place to start on our tour of the Tour than in the homeland of Magic, the USA. While the fortunes of Magic's largest player base have ebbed and flowed over the years, there's no doubting the strength and depth of the US forces right now. There are at least three superteams vying for supremacy in Montreal, and each has a distinctive identity.
Team Panik is very much about the young guns trying to take their game to the next level. While they have plenty of high-level experience—the likes of Shahar Shenhar, Matt Nass, Jacob Wilson, and Christian Calcano are all Grand Prix winners—the team has plenty to prove at the highest level. Think of them, if you will, as the Stars of Tomorrow. (Team Roster: Christian Calcano, David Gleicher, Jesse Hampton, Michael Hetrick, Matthias Hunt, Jackie Lee, Matt Nass, Sam Pardee, Andrejs Prost, Shahar Shenhar, Jacob Wilson, Jia Wu).
Next up is Team StarCityGames.com (previously SCG Black). For the uninitiated, "SCG" is StarCityGames, a noted strategy website. Of the three teams spearheading the US assault, Black is the group with the widest spread of experience. From the earliest forays into competitive Magic back in the mid-1990s come greats like Zvi Mowshowitz and Jon Finkel, plus fellow Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif. Among the modern brigade are 2011 Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald, Pro Tour Amsterdam 2010 champion Paul Rietzl, and Pro Tour Avacyn Restored finalist Gaudenis Vidugiris. The team is rounded out with exceptional precocious talent, with the likes of Reid Duke and Matt Costa. And their potential trump card? Sam Black. Over the last couple of years, Sam has shown himself to be one of the premier strategic deck-building minds in the history of the game. As a blend of minds, this team encompasses the whole of Magic history. The Stars of Yesterday, the Stars of Today, and the Stars of Tomorrow. (Team Roster: Sam Black, Matt Costa, Andrew Cuneo, Reid Duke, Jon Finkel, Tom Martell, Zvi Mowshowitz, Gabriel Nassif, Paul Rietzl, Ben Seck, Matt Sperling, Owen Turtenwald, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Patrick Chapin)
That leaves the perennial powerhouse, Team ChannelFireball. Luis Scott-Vargas. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Josh Utter-Leyton. David Ochoa. Martin Juza. Ben Stark. Eric Froehlich. Shuhei Nakamura. Conley Woods. Brian Kibler. And Gerry Thompson. Yes, you read that right. Firmly under the heading of "the best just got better," the mercurial talents of G. Thompson are being harnessed to the ChannelFireball brains trust. This is a truly phenomenal squad of cardslinging talent, and they'll be looking to dominate the Pro Tour as they have on multiple occasions during the last few years. These are very definitely the Stars of Today.
So much for the USA pack leaders. What's going on across the Atlantic Ocean in Europe?
Thomas Holzinger of Austria came to prominence with his Top 8 performance at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored last year. He heads an Austro-German team that features former Worlds finalist David Reitbauer, German Pro Bernd Brendemühl, and the talented Klaus Joens among others. There's a Scandinavian force in operation, combining the talents of Sweden (Denniz Rachid, Kenny Öberg, Elias Watsfeldt, Joel Larsson, and Bertil Elfgren) and Finland (Max Sjöblom and Sami Häggkvist).
The British-Norwegian alliances of the past couple of years have been expanded for Pro Tour Gatecrash. While the likes of Daniel Royde, Eduardo Sajgalik, and Richard Bland all have experience of working with Norwegians Andreas Nordahl and Sveinung Bjørnerud, two more countries have been added to the mix. From Switzerland comes Andreas Ganz, a true global grinder, who attends nearly every Grand Prix on planet Earth. Also joining the cosmopolitan squad is Vincent Lemoine of Belgium.
One group that hasn't gone beyond national boundaries is the Italian testing team. Italian Magic is definitely on the rise, and although Samuele Estratti is clearly a star—he won the first Modern Pro Tour in Philadelphia 2011—there are a stack of talented players chasing him hard, including Alessandro Portaro, Marco Cammilluzzi, and Ciro Bonaventura. Of all the European teams, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Italians outperform the rest in Montreal. There are some very good players on that squad.
Go back a few years, and you'd have to ask in hushed tones about the Japanese superteams and what they were likely to bring to the party in terms of the latest, greatest deck design. That's not the case anymore, but that's not to say that Japan is struggling when it comes to Magical excellence. As ChannelFireball team member Shuhei Nakamura told me, 2006 World Champion Makihito Mihara and current runaway leader in the Player of the Year race Yuuya Watanabe may not actually test together, but they're likely to compare notes on what deck to play in Standard. Always the lone wolf, Shouta Yasooka doesn't need to bother with teams, as he always seems to come up with something jaw-dropping. If you don't believe me, just go and watch his utterly dominant displays at the inaugural Magic Players Championship in Seattle last year. As for Watanabe, with or without input from Mihara, he's playing incredible Magic this season. The reigning Player of the Year has a gigantic lead on top of the standings right now, and that's because—surprise!—he's playing Magic better than anyone else on the planet, just as he did in 2009 when he claimed his first Player of the Year title.
One of the great joys of covering Magic over the years for me has been a gradual exposure to the wonderful Japanese players, and their beautiful and fascinating country and culture. Don't be surprised if the Japanese players as a whole outperform themselves in Montreal. Why? Because the recent and much-regretted passing of longtime Magic Pro Itaru Ishida may well make the Pro Tour an ideal stage to honor his memory, and that's something the Japanese Magic community as a whole take very seriously. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear "for Ishida" come from the winner's mouth on Sunday. May Ishida rest in peace.
"Okay," you say, "I understand all these teams are really powerful. But what about a dark horse group, with an intriguing mix of characters and storylines that cross national boundaries, age groups, and Magic histories?" For that, I offer you a group that, if the chemistry works out, could come at the Pro Tour with devastating effect, and potentially provide us with the Alexander Hayne of Montreal. (This should, of course, not be confused with the Alexander Hayne of Montreal, who is, ahem, Alexander Hayne. Of Montreal.)
This team is headlined by the man who has played more Pro Tour Magic than anyone, ever: Raphael Levy of France. He's joined by compatriot Louis Deltour, who is fresh off another Grand Prix Top 8 in Bilbao. Then there's recent Grand Prix winner Jérémy Dezani, and a certain Olivier Ruel, who you may recall is a Hall of Famer. Two players from the Czech Republic are next. First, the last Pro Tour champion, Stanislav Cifka. While it's unlikely he'll be able to put all his eggs in one basket, as he did at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in Seattle last year, Cifka showed all the skills necessary to be right in the mix again in Montreal. I'm particularly interested in seeing Lukas Jaklovsky in action. With a Top 8 finish at Worlds in 2010, and a finalist slot at Grand Prix Bilbao just last month, among the players without a true headline finish to his name, I doubt there's a better player at the Pro Tour. He's an absolute monster. Next door to the Czechs are the pair from the Slovak Republic, former team World Champions Ivan Floch and Robert Jurkovic. Then there's a transatlantic element to the team, with Melissa DeTora of the United States. The living embodiment of "play the game, see the world," Melissa may easily turn this terrific team into a springboard for an epic result come Sunday.
And then, of course, there's the home team. While Pro Tour Avacyn Restored gave Canadian Magic a serious publicity boost, that was only the publicly visible result of something much more profound: a grassroots organization of talented players determined to take Canadian Magic to the next level. This time around, home hero Hayne (easier to type than say) is joined by compatriots Doug Potter; Pascal Maynard; Jon Stern; Marc Anderson; and longtime Magic folk hero in Northern parts, Rich Hoaen. But there's more to the Canadian squad, with international influences joining the testing team. From Costa Rica comes Miguel Gatica, a four-time National Team member. Then there's the Chinese Taipei duo of Hao-Shan Huang and Tzu-Ching Kuo. Chinese Taipei are, of course, the reigning World Magic Cup champions, thanks in no small measure to the glorious dominance of Tzu-Ching Kuo, who in addition to being a great player is one of the nicest guys on Tour.
The Canadians are leaving nothing to chance in a bid to keep hold of the Pro Tour trophy on home soil. At the time of writing, a mass exodus to Toronto is on the cards, with many Gatecrash drafts planned with the likes of Lucas Siow, Maksym Gryn, and Jamie Naylor. They, you may recall, were the finalists at Grand Prix San Jose late last year. Anybody who wants to take the title away from Canada is going to have to earn it.
The challenge facing all these teams, and all the poor souls trying to win the Pro Tour by dint of sheer solo inspiration and hard work, is to make sense of a Standard format that always sees seismic shifts (that's not easy to say, either) when the best of the best get their hands on untrammelled deck-building territory. That's not to say that there won't be some clues tantalizingly out there for us all to see. Look at the set reviews around the web, and you'll quickly find the Gatecrash cards that the big names are looking hardest at to find the cornerstone of a great new strategy. Traditionally, getting a true sense of what's coming is like getting blood out of a stone, as testing teams bury themselves away from pressing column deadlines and instead offer their readers "My 51st–75th Favorite Odd Casting Cost Artifacts in the History of Block Constructed" when all you want is "My Pro Tour Winning Decklist For Next Week." Well, I can't give you that, but I was rather pleased to find this addition to my inbox earlier today. Let's just say this came from a Platinum pro:
"By the way, about testing. Gatecrash is kind of cool for brewers. There is a seemingly endless amount of new strategies and decks, because of the now-complete mana base (the remaining five guilds completing all ten color pairs). I think whoever is able to read the metagame for the Pro Tour and build a consistent deck against the field will be rewarded even more than usual in Montreal."
Seemingly endless amount of new strategies and decks? Now that sounds like a lot of fun!
Once the players are past the opening three rounds of draft, they'll then face five rounds of the new Standard to close out Day One. To advance to Saturday, they'll need 12 points or better, equivalent to an even 4–4 record. Those who make it will start Day Two with another triple-Gatecrash draft, before Standard once again takes center stage down the stretch, with five more rounds determining the lineup for Super Sunday.
Of course, when there's no known Best Deck in the room, speculation abounds, and when it comes to bragging rights, nothing says "I told you so" more than finishing on top of your friends in the Fantasy Pro Tour. As usual, you'll need to select a team of heavy hitters that includes a planeswalker; a large, medium, and small creature; a sorcery; an instant; an enchantment; an artifact; and a nonbasic land. This time, however, there's an added wrinkle.
We want to know what you think the most successful Gatecrash card will be, so there's a brand-new slot for that. You can double up, so if you think Gideon, Champion of Justice is going to dominate proceedings, pick him for both your Planeswalker and Gatecrash slots. Get it wrong, however, and you're going to take a hefty points penalty. For your tiebreaker, you'll need to select
Yuuya Watanabe a pro player who you think will do well. As always, Brian David-Marshall and I will be using our stellar combination of luck (mine) and skill (his) to bring you some last-minute tips on the eve of the Pro Tour. Meanwhile, get your thinking caps on, and head on over to Facebook to complete your roster.
As you'd expect, whatever direction Standard takes, we'll have it covered on DailyMTG.com across text, CoverItLive, and video. You'll see multiple matches in all ten Standard rounds live, with our lineup including Marshall Sutcliffe, Brian David-Marshall, Zac Hill, Rashad Miller, Tim Willoughby, and yours truly. As usual, the newsdesk will be in full swing, bringing you the latest updates, stories, interviews, and scores, together with Standard deck techs galore at the video wall. For those of you who love the flavor and behind-the-scenes gossip, Pro Tour Gatecrash will also see the debut of the latest "Inside R&D" videos, chronicling the arrival of this latest expansion with concept, design, development, art, and flavor brought to you in their own words by the people who made it happen.
It's almost time for me to go. I know this because there are seven people sitting across the room, all waving Gatecrash boosters in my direction and suggesting that if I don't hurry up my seat will be taken by an empty pizza box—thinner, better looking, and smarter. With friends like these...
I've just time to tell you one more thing, except that it's a thing I can't...actually... tell you. Hmm. Let me put it like this: Everyone on the coverage team loves that you enjoy Magic as much as we do, and we love hearing from you about how we can improve your viewing and listening experience. When you tune in to Pro Tour Gatecrash, I can safely say that there's something new coming to the Pro Tour coverage that's going to be extremely... handy. Just sayin'.
Meanwhile, I hope you get to play a ton of Gatecrash with your friends and neighbors before the big show. I managed to play each of the five guilds over Prerelease weekend, and although Azorius is where my heart truly lies, and Boros is philosophically my guild of choice in Gatecrash, there's no doubt that the Church of Deals made a pretty compelling case. Orzhov handed out the beats, one extort trigger at a time, and I expect Orzhovian death and taxes to abound during three wonderful days in Montreal.
Whatever the deck, whichever the Guild, and whoever the player, Pro Tour Gatecrash is going to come piling onto your screens starting 9 a.m. local time (Eastern). We can't wait for you to join us!
As a final, additional note, the fine gents from Walking the Planes put together a Pro Tour Gatecrash trailer to help get you excited for the tournament.
Pro Tour Gatecrash and Magic Online
Double your Gatecrash pleasure by playing Magic Online while watching the Pro Tour! Gatecrash Release Events are running right now and the scheduled Sealed Deck and sixty-four-player Booster Drafts begin Friday. In addition, there will be special Standard Spotlight tournaments this weekend to give you a chance to try out the newest Standard deck debuting at the Pro Tour. These Premier Events feature reduced entry requirements but have normal Premier Event prizes. Check out the full event details below.
Standard Spotlight Tournament
Start Times: Friday, February 15, at 9 a.m. Pacific; Saturday, February 16, at 9 a.m.; and Sunday, February 17, at 11 a.m.
Location: Scheduled Event room
Entry Option(S): 5 Event Tickets
Product: Standard-legal deck
Duration: Number of Swiss pairing rounds determined by attendance. The Top 8 will be three rounds, single elimination.
||33 Gatecrash booster packs
||24 Gatecrash booster packs
||15 Gatecrash booster packs
||6 Gatecrash booster packs
||3 Gatecrash booster packs
Magic Online will also be running Two-Player Standard Gold Queues from Friday, February 15, until the downtime on Wednesday, February 20. Want to put that new Standard deck you saw from the Pro Tour in action but don't have a lot of time? The two-player queues are perfect for you!
Two-Player Standard Gold Queues
Start Times: On demand on Friday, February 15, and ending at the downtime on February 20.
Location: Constructed Queues room
Entry Option(S): 10 Event Tickets
Product: A Standard-legal deck
Size: Two players
Duration: One round, single elimination
|| 5 Gatecrash booster packs