n the world of top-level Magic, nothing matters more than the last event of the season. There have been many twists and turns along the way, and more plotlines and characters than even Game of Thrones can muster. Now the maze is coming to an end, and while each guild of Ravnica may have only one runner in the race, out in San Diego later this week more than four hundred maze runners wait to take their chance across nineteen challenging rounds against the brightest and the best from around the world.
Across almost thirty hours of live coverage, we'll be keeping you up to date with every step toward the final podiums, because Pro Tour Dragon's Maze is a season-ending spectacular you won't want to miss. Let's take a look at what's on the menu.
Wrapped in the Flag
Winning a Pro Tour is the pinnacle of Magic achievement, but even decorated heroes of the game like Brian Kibler of the US, Masashi Oiso of Japan, or Paulo Vito Damo da Rosa of Brazil will tell you that to represent your country at Magic is a spectacular feeling. Across a whopping seventy-one countries, the highest points finisher for the season will lead the national assault on the World Magic Cup later this summer, in Amsterdam. As the rounds tick by, viewers in each Magic nation will be glued to the results and standings as they wait to find out who will be carrying the flag into battle. For some of the smaller nations, players in San Diego know that one determined push into the Top 32 might be enough to claim hero status back at home. For others, there's a battle royal about to happen. Among the most keenly anticipated races, USA is almost certain to have a tremendous player leading its team in Amsterdam. I'd give you the list of who is in contention, but on balance it's probably quicker to say that it's basically everyone you've ever heard of. Seriously, US Magic is in great shape right now, and it's reflected by the array of household names who have had terrific seasons.
Kibler, Champion 2009, and Damo da Rosa, Champion 2010
The global merry-go-round of Magic never stops, and as soon as Dragon's Maze is in the books, we'll be turning our attention to the Remix that is the 2013–2014 Pro season. Stretching across fifteen months of outstanding action, we'll see dozens of Grand Prix across the globe, spanning multiple Constructed formats, together with all the Limited goodness coming our way from new sets, including Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey into Nyx, and Magic 2014 !
This weekend, hundreds of the competitors in San Diego will be looking to cement their Pro Club levels for the new season: 15 Points gets you Silver and 30 is good enough for Gold, where automatic qualification for all four Pro Tours is the star attraction. Then there's Platinum, reserved for the best of the best at 45 Points or more, and it's worth setting out exactly what climbing that summit means:
- Member receives three byes at all Grand Prix tournaments.
- Member is invited to World Magic Cup Qualifiers in his or her country.
- Member is invited to all Pro Tours.
- Member receives a $3,000 appearance fee whenever he or she competes in a Pro Tour.
- Member receives expenses-paid air travel ticket and hotel accommodations at all Pro Tours during the current season.
- Member receives a $1,000 appearance fee if he or she competes in the World Magic Cup.
- Member receives a $250 appearance fee whenever he or she competes in a Grand Prix.
- Member receives a complementary sleep-in special at all Grand Prix (where available).
- Member receives 20 QPs for each Magic Online Championship Series season.
Now, if you're thinking that the sleep-in special is what the Platinum players really prize, I know at least one of them who would agree with you! Nonetheless, play in a dozen Grand Prix and the Pro Tours, and you're looking at $15,000 before you earn a penny, sou, or rouble in prize money. Want to see Magic that matters? Try Round 14, with Platinum on the line...
With so many events on the calendar, remembering who finished, say, 3rd at GP Verona 2013 can be tricky. (It was Jérémy Dezani, of France. I looked it up.) For many of us, it's the grand canvas that we see, the names writ large across the history of the game. That means Player of the Year, and on Sunday, someone will be added to a roll of honor that includes true giants of the game like Jon Finkel, Kai Budde, Bob Maher, and Gabriel Nassif, together with the Japanese standard-bearers: Kenji Tsumura, Shouta Yasooka, Tomoharu Saito, Shuhei Nakamura... and Yuuya Watanabe. Yuuya has the chance to become a three-time Player of the Year in San Diego, and although there are some great players jostling for position, few would outright bet against him, especially after his Magic Players Championship win last September.
Watanabe, Champion 2012
Before he was leading the entire world, Watanabe also won the Rookie of the Year race, and that competition this year is headed by Felipe Tapia Beccera of Chile, closely followed by Matteo Versari of Italy. That country is firmly on the upswing once again, and on the European Grand Prix circuit there are plenty of fine judges of Magical excellence who will tell you that Versari is very, very good. As usual, the Rookie of the Year may well go to someone emerging from the clouds via a Top 8 performance in San Diego, and if you want an outsider to keep an eye on, may I steer you toward one Joe Demestrio of the United States? Still only seventeen, he has the proverbial wise head on young shoulders and made the Top 32 at his first Pro Tour attempt in Montreal earlier this year. As I say, though, this is always the toughest race to predict.
Pick a Path
What isn't hard to predict is that Dragon's Maze is going to be front and center as we begin our coverage on Friday morning, as that's the first booster in our morning drafts—followed by Gatecrash and finally Return to Ravnica. I'm sure many of you will have dipped your toe into the drafting waters by now, and we'll be gathering every scrap of information we can from those in the know to give you an edge, whether you're at Friday Night Magic or sitting in front of Magic Online. Here are some of the angles to watch for:
Gates are good with Gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are good with Gates. You only get one pick at a time. When are these cards getting picked by the pros?
There are lots of gold cards in Dragon's Maze. Are most decks full-on three-color (or even more)? Or are the disciplined two-color decks going to shine?
Counterspells are good when players play lots of setup spells (Cluestones, Verdant Haven, etc.) in decks with relatively few big threats. Will the likes of Render Silent and Mindstatic be the perfect foil to ramp decks?
The fuse cards present an evaluation challenge rarely seen in Magic. Do you play them for one half and ignore the other? Do you take them first, and build your deck around trying to reach eight mana for the likes of Beck & Call? How greedy dare you be?
Dimir was pretty easy to get in many a draft. Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker is a pretty tasty invitation to get stuck into a mill plan, and with Doorkeepers wanting you to have multiple defenders, cards like Hired Torturer and Nivix Cyclops start to look interesting...
Burn burn burn burn burn. Take a Warleader's Helix. Then take Punish the Enemy picks two and three. Remember that Explosive Impact is in Return to Ravnica. You want 20 points of straight-to-the-face burn in your deck? It turns out that slower decks don't like that very much. Just saying.
And finally, because this is the kind of thing I dream about at night (don't ask), somewhere in San Diego (I'm guessing Table 73 in Round 2) there's going to be a matchup that's an Orzhov mirror, with both players staring at Pontiff of Blight on their side of the battlefield. What's going to be the record for extort triggers paid for off one spell? My over/under is set at six...
New Kids, on the Block
For me, the Block Constructed Pro Tour is the most exciting of the year. Why? Because there's the most chance of someone getting it spectacularly right, and others getting it chasmically (not a word) wrong. With Standard or Modern, everyone is building on what has gone before. Yes, technically Magic Online has a Block Constructed metagame already in existence, but Dragon's Maze is going to shift things radically. Some cards have obvious possibilities. If you haven't heard that Planeswalkers are a powerful class of permanent, let me introduce you to Ral Zarek. If you didn't know that gigantic undercosted monsters cast at instant speed were good, here comes Advent of the Wurm. If the idea of drawing lots of extra cards doesn't do it for you, take a look at Blood Scrivener. And if you like the idea of your opponent failing to draw lots of extra cards, and you drawing them instead, maybe you should check out Notion Thief.
Where the fun really starts, though, is in the off-the-wall cards. The dreamer cards. The surely-that-can't-beat-me cards. Without any comment from me (or my many pro deck-building spies), have a look at these five Dragon's Maze cards, and dream a little of the delicious, er, possibilities.
Who knows? Maybe none of them will amount to anything. Then again, maybe someone will get the job done with one of these, or something equally as unheralded. That's the joy of Block. Get it right, and you can slice through the opposition. Get it wrong, and you're staring at unwinnable matchup after unwinnable matchup, and your maze race is truly run.
We can't wait to lift the curtain on this final race of the 2012–2013 season. As usual, I'll be at the newsdesk with my colleagues Zac Hill, Marshall Sutcliffe, Rashad Miller, Sheldon Menery, and Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall all on hand to bring you great matches, great analysis, great decks, great players, and—above all—great storylines.
The race is about to be run: when the maze ends, this is where you need to be.
See you there.
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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.