f you have not already seen the announcement about the 2010 Pro Tour schedule you should check it out the fine array of places the Pro Tour will be stopping at in 2010. Even more importantly, the announcement explicity says that there will be opportunities for players to qualify for the Pro Tour via MTGO PTQs. It is a schedule that has prompted a lot of buzz in the Magic community and I wanted to catch up with some of the people responsible for where we go and how we will play in 2010. DCI program manager Scott Larabee sat down with me to discuss the formats for the upcoming season before finding out a little more about how the 2010 season was constructed.
"The schedule this year is the same as 2009. Only the locations have changed—Standard and Draft with Standard Top 8 in San Diego, Block Constructed and Draft with a Draft Top 8 in San Juan, and Extended and Draft with an Extended Top 8 in Amsterdam," said Scott Larabee as we prepared to go to dinner at Gen Con. "Amsterdam is interesting because we have moved that event forward to the beginning of September. That was traditionally the October Pro Tour that we wanted to take place after the new block rotated in so we could have a fresh new format. But with Extended rotating every year now we decided it would be better if we were able to move that into August or September and space the three PTs and Worlds pretty evenly so that there is an event every three months—and something going on in late summer."
San Diego Convention Center, Puerto Rico Convention Center, Amsterdam Convention Factory, and Makuhari Messe in Chiba.
I asked Scott if Magic players should get comfortable with that pattern of formats from now on or was their room for something else to mix things up down the line.
"I would never use the words 'from now on' when talking about the what the Pro Tour formats are," said Scott. "We're not planning formats out three years in advance. Aaron [Forsythe, director of Magic R&D] and I get together and talk about what we want to do for the next year. What we did last year worked pretty well and we want to do it again. The possibilities are open. One of these years we could run a Block Constructed qualifier season instead of Standard, there's no reason we can't. We could run a three-person team Pro Tour again. And with Grand Prix formats now being independent of the qualifier season we can do one-offs. There is no reason we could not run a three-person team Grand Prix and not run a three-person anything else the rest of the year."
After what has seemed like a full year of Constructed PTQs, the qualifier season for San Diego that starts in October will be Sealed Deck with Booster Draft Top 8. With the heady attendance numbers we have seen at Standard PTQs this year, I asked Scott whether he thought the numbers would go up or down when the Sealed Deck season rolls around.
Scott Larabee and Mark Rosewater.
"I think that if we were running Sealed PTQs right now with M10 they would be insane," laughed Scott. "But who knows? Traditionally the Sealed qualifiers have done better than Constructed ones but I don't know if that is the case anymore. Everytime I think I figure out something like 'Constructed is more important for people' we go and have an event like Grand Prix–Boston, which is the third largest Magic tournament event in a Limited format. Magic seems to be firing on all cylinders right now."
The biggest change from the 2009 to 2010 season will be the fact that players will only have to concern themselves with Total Rating from now on in terms of earning byes at GPs and rating invites.
"I have not gotten to writing next year's invite policy yet, but I will be doing it very shortly because it has to be done before the qualifier season," said Scott, who could not speak to where levels would be set for byes yet. "We did the one-year grandfathering-in of the old ratings. I think it worked out very well this year. When we were looking at bye lists for Grand Prix, the number of people that had the same number of byes based on Total and their other ratings was at like 90%. When it came to the invites for Nationals, however, there was a pretty wide disparity in some countries where only 10% of the people were qualified under both ratings. The players who got in only on Total are very happy because they were not invited last year on just their Composite rating. When you look at a Total rating that adds everything up as opposed to a Composite rating that averages everything out, you end up with specialists having higher ratings than they would have otherwise."
Scott did say that there was a chance that rating invites could be extended below the Top 100 players for the 2010 season but will not know what the correct number of invites is until he has completed crunching the numbers from last year and finalized the invite policy. As for the online PTQs, there was no additional information available about them as of this column being written but there should be an announcement shortly.
San Diego (February 19-21)
For more details about how the schedule took shape and why these specific locations were chosen Scott handed me off to events manager Renee Roub for an after-dinner interview.
"The first thing I would say is that it's done," laughed Renee, who lives two years in the future from the rest of us, when I asked her about the 2010 Pro Tour schedule. "Now it's time to work on 2011."
According to Renee, it was an easy choice to return to San Diego. It is a great city that has played backdrop to some great moments in Magic history and has always been a favorite of players who have been there.
"Players talk about that site a lot and seem to really like it. People have a great association with the city," said Renee. "It is a manageable city too. People who have not traveled before are not afraid to travel there and once you are there there is so much available within walking distance. I think that there are some very hospitable players in that community so they make it very welcoming. People really enjoy San Diego. You know what you are going to get. It is going to be sunny and it is going to be a six-minute cab ride from the airport to the hotel."
Great fish tacos right across from the Convention Center and excellent Mexican food pretty much anywhere you go are also compelling reasons.
San Juan (May 28-30)
The site that took most people by surprise was the announcement of a Pro Tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, although it is something Renee has been working toward for many years.
"I have been looking to get us into the Caribbean for the past seven years, but most of the Carribean islands are vacation destinations and there just aren't exhibit spaces in those locations," she explained. "The biggest exhibit space in the Bahamas is like 7,000 square feet. We need about 40,000 square feet to run a full-sized Pro Tour. I had been keeping my eye on the Caribbean and subscribed to some trade magazines for the event industry, and one of them had a big cover picture of the drawings for the new San Juan Convention Center. I have to admit, and I am pretty good at geography, that I was not exactly sure where Puerto Rico was. I was shocked how far east it is. So many people from the East Coast will go there for the weekend that I assumed it was off the coast of North Carolina or something, but it's further east than Cuba and quite a ways into the Caribbean."
"We decided that there was a lot to offer in the area," Renee continued. "We always do a site survey before we decide to go somewhere, because brochures and pictures can be deceiving. We were looking for something that could complement or contrast Hawaii. Our most successful qualifier rounds have been for Hawaii and we wanted to keep that feeling while having a geographical spread. There's a travel burden for somebody in the world no matter where we go so we try to spread that out."
Puerto Rico does not have the density of players that other sites might offer, but Renee has been heartened by the response from the local Magic community and was optimistic that many players would seize the opportunity to play Magic in paradise.
"The announcement of this event has gotten them really excited, and I hope the local player base turns out as strongly as it did in Hawaii. Depending on the price of flights we might get a lot people coming in from the South and the East Coast. There are often bargain prices on flights to Puerto Rico from the New York airports. I am hoping people will keep it in mind as a vacation spot. During the day and half we spent there on a site visit it has a great welcoming feel like New Orleans. Everybody is really laid back and open. They want to know where you are from, if you are visiting for the first time, have you tried this food or drink .... Old San Juan is awesome. To me it felt like mixing New Orleans and Hawaii in a great way. I had some amazing ceviche. For anyone over 21 it is the land of rum. I didn't have a chance to do it, but there is a Bacardi factory tour that is infamous. It's a lot like Hawaii in that way. Old San Juan had a bunch of street vendors with really cheap food that was fun to try."
One of those local players Renee spoke about is Christopher Fernandez, a 21-year-old aspiring pro from Veja Baja, Puerto Rico, who is a focal point of the island community as the admin of www.mtgpr.forumakers.com.
"I couldn't believe it. I was in total shock," said Christopher upon reading that there would be a PT near his home. "An overwhelming surge of excitement just rushed over me and I was running around the house. It's the first Pro Tour here in Puerto Rico. I mean, pro players? On my island? This is like a dream come true for most of the comptetitive players out here. Now they have a reason to come out to PTQs, they have a reason to put more time into the game and hone their skills. Means I might see more enthusiasm from this lot!"
Christopher went on: "To quote a friend of mine: 'I'm going to the beach with the pro players!' We just never had the chance to actually have the pros as our guests. This is our chance. Not only that, but the chance to compete and defend our home turf gives us no bigger pride. Playing to make the first Pro Tour–San Juan champion is, well ... an incredible feeling. During Grand Prix–Boston, we were all psyched to have our first Puertorican to ever reach Day 2 in a GP or bigger event. Imagine Day 2 in PT–San Juan."
Despite vowing to qualify for this Pro Tour, Christopher did not list himself among the Puerto Rican players he would look to for a breakout performance.
"Luis Danilo Prieto won last year's Nationals and has been on the rise since then. Adrian Marquez is the first Puertorican to reach Day 2 in a GP, Jonathan Cruz has won quite a good number of FNMs and went undefeated on one of this year's National's Qualifiers. Rafael Ruiz qualified Nationals on rating alone," said Christopher. "There are so many good players here, they just rarely have the chance to prove themselves."
Like Renee, he urged players to come and visit even if they were not going to be playing in the main event.
"The Convention Center is actually close to the San Juan harbor. Puerto Rico is just surrounded by great beaches. It is just like every other tropical paradise, with your metro area consisting of just a few cities, and beyond that, are mountains and towns and more beaches! It's just beautiful out here," he said. "Hit the beach or just go out for a drink or shopping. To be honest? It doesn't matter what you come here to do, because whatever it is, you'll have a great time doing it. We have great beaches. Great clubs. And we have what is perhaps the biggest mall (Plaza Las Americas) in the Caribbean. The food here is ridiculously good, making it hard to pick anything specific. However, a very popular dish is white rice with porkchops or fried chicken with a side of ripe or unripe plantains—'amarillos' and 'tostones' respectively."
He had one piece of travel advice for people navigating the Island: "Avoid rush hour."
Amsterdam (September 3-5)
Amsterdam has been another popular destination on the Pro Tour and also has a rich Magic history that goes back to the earliest days of the Pro Tour and the very first Grand Prix.
"It was time to go back to that part of Europe, and Amsterdam is a great city," said Renee of the third stop of the 2010 season. "Nothing else around it is able to compete. It's a great city that is inexpensive to get to—it's a huge international hub. It's very easy to get around. They have a great tram system. We also found an amazing venue. For people who have been to the Pro Tour in Amsterdam before, we're not going back to the Rye Center. We're at a place called The Factory, which is an actual restored factory. They have done things there like a long-standing Blue Man Group performance and concert series. "
She went on: "It's right on a tram line, which makes it really easy to stay anywhere in Amsterdam. As long as you are on a tram line you can get there. It's a well-known space in Amsterdam because of the type of events they run there, so people know the Factory name. They also have a secluded area with a stage and theater seating. Using that for the Finals and the webcast is going to kick up the performance and technical quality of our Sunday Finals. It has a lot to offer."
The city beyond the venue has plenty to offer as well. "There are also amazing cultural things to do in Amsterdam," said Renee. "I know a lot of players don't always take the extra day to sightsee. The Van Gogh Museum is fantastic and has Van Goghs I never even knew existed before. It's a really well-done museum. The Anne Frank House and Museum is amazing and the way it is presented is very approachable and poignant when you go through it."
For manamaze.com editor Sven Dijt the announcement of the return of Pro Magic to his hometown was very welcome.
"It's very special to just be able to take your bike and go to a Pro Tour. Your city becomes the center of the Magic universe for three days," said Sven. "I will try very hard to qualify for it, but otherwise I will enjoy playing the public events and watching the games. And of course it's a chance to meet friends from over the world."
Amsterdam played host to the first ever Grand Prix and Sven had the opportunity to take part in the Top 8 of that event.
"In 1997, me and a few local players—Wessel Oomens and Noah Boeken amongst others—wanted just one thing: to qualify for this new amazing tournament series that Wizards had started the previous year, the Pro Tour," recalled Sven. "Then something crazy happened, a new sort of tournament was created, a sort of mini-Pro Tour: the Grand Prix. And the first one would be held in my own city, even in my University! After some serious testing, I sailed through the tournament, making the Semifinals (as did Wessel) with our mono-red deck, qualifying for our first Pro Tour! Nothing will ever beat that memory, making Top 8 at the very first Grand Prix, a few hundred meters from my house."
Despite having three Dutchies in the Hall of Fame, says Sven, the Pro Tour scene in Amsterdam is brimming with new blood waiting for their big moment to shine.
"There is a talented group at our monday evening draft, four of them lost a PTQ final for PT Austin—Daan Pruijt, Peter Florijn, Joeri Wijker, and Floris de Haan—and one actually qualified, Johan van der Beek," said Sven of players to keep an eye out for. "I'm 100% sure a few of them will qualify for PT–Amsterdam, but how they will do there? No idea. Another player to watch, one you might think to have quit the game, is Dutch Magic celeb Noah Boeken. He plays more Magic than poker now, so watch out for his comeback in Amsterdam.
"If you want to party, everyone knows Amsterdam is the place, but there's so much more to Amsterdam than that," said Sven of Amsterdam's reputation. "I would suggest taking a stroll throught the less tourist-infested part of the 17th-century city center called the Jordaan. Walk along the canals past the crooked houses, stop to take coffee, and eat the worlds best apple pie at Cafe Winkel. Walk though one of the many open markets there, through the small streets unchanged for 300 years. Have a look at the wonderful small shops in 'de 9 straatjes' (nine little streets). Take a beer at one of the hundreds of cafes. Or rent a small boat and see Amsterdam from the water. Best place in the world."
He was less glowing when it came to the local cuisine.
"Well, authentic Dutch cuisine is just ... not very good," he admitted. "Potatoes, vegetables, and meat. You should try a kroket—a beef-ragout surrounded by some crispy layer and then deep fried. You can get them from the wall (rows of little windows with coin slot) at snack bars of even McDonalds. The best 'Dutch' food to be had is Indonesian food. Indonesia used to be part of the Dutch Empire and that is still visible in the abundance of Indonesian restaurants and takeaways in Amsterdam. Indonesian food is a bit like Thai food, only much better! Get a rijsttafel, which consists of small portions of all the dishes available at the restaurant. Nasi goreng (fried rice), sate ajam (marinated skewered chicken with peanut sauce), and kroepoek (shrimp crackers) are as Dutch as windmills and attacking football."
World Championships in Chiba (December 9-12)
While at first blush you might say that you've never heard of the Pro Tour's final stop in 2010 (unless you've read Neuromancer, that is), Chiba is part of the sprawling Tokyo metropolitan area. Renee explained that this gives us a chance to see a new side of a familiar Pro Tour town.
"It's not Yokohama and it's not the Pacifico in Yokohama that everyone knows. It's time for us to try something new, and the Pacifico is hosting an OPEC event so there were no dates available during that time of year. The venue we chose is where they hold all their big shows in Tokyo—their boat show, their car show, their toy show. It is going to be a huge convention center and we will have a small part of it. It is also very easy to get to by the Tokyo subway. It be easy to use and easy to find. Some of the largest Duel Masters events in history have been held there, with over 10,000 Duel Masters players."
Firestarter: Faraway places
So that's next year's Pro Tour schedule at a glance. Where would you like to see the Pro Tour visit in the future? Head to the forums and share your thoughts on which stickers you would like to see slapped on the Magic steamer trunk.