hope you're sitting down while you read this as I have some pretty big news about the 2009 Pro Tour season. In addition to the dates, locations, PTQ formats, and PTQ season dates there is the little matter of which Pro Tours will be played in which formats. The number of Pro Tours is not changing from 2008 to 2009. There will still be three Pro Tours and the World Championship which created an uneven mix of Constructed and Limited formats this past season.
While I would prefer to live in a world with two Limited Pro Tours and one Constructed–actually in my ideal world it would all be Team Rochester but that's another story–that's just not a reality in terms of the amount of interest generated by the decklists, deck techs, and metagame breakdowns that are spawned by Constructed events. I know that whenever there is a Constructed Pro Tour I immediately look at the seating chart to find out what players like Wafo-Tapa, Bucher, Chapin, Cheon, and Fujita have cooked up. I'm sure you do the same thing sitting at home following the coverage. This is a large reason why every Pro Tour this coming season will feature Constructed formats.
Of course, Limited events have churned the best players to the final draft tables time and time again. Booster Draft is clearly an exciting, skill-testing format that is widely played and is a crucial piece of the competitive-play landscape. And as far as coverage goes, the draft viewers from past events are bookmarked in my browsers for repeat viewing. Who wouldn't like to see what they would have drafted sitting in Kenji Tsumura or Mike Hron's shoes at Pro Tour-Geneva? This is a large reason why every Pro Tour this coming season will feature Limited formats.
That's correct. Every Pro Tour in 2009 will feature a split format with half of the rounds being Constructed and the other half being Limited. It's a radical change, and before we get to the schedule I wanted to catch up with Head of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe for a little detail on the thinking that went into this exciting decision to do something more-or-less unprecedented in the 13 year history of the Pro Tour.
BDM: Can you explain what led to this dramatic change?
Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe
Aaron: We've been crunching a lot of information recently, some good (like the huge popularity of the recent Standard Pro Tour in Hollywood), and some not as good, and trying to come up with a schedule that lets us support all the formats we want to support while still giving players what they want to play. Our coverage audience absolutely devours Constructed decklists from top players. The written and video deck tech pieces we do blow away a lot of the other stuff we do on the coverage side, and unfortunately all-Limited events just aren't as captivating to that at-home audience, regardless of how fun they are to play in. A lot of casual players see Limited play as kind of decadent, I suppose; they want more info on cool new decks or little bits of tech on how to make their Elf, Kithkin, and Mono-red decks better. The Pro Tour is aspirational and a big show piece; we want a show that people will watch. To that end, we came up with a schedule–a whole new paradigm for the Pro Tour, really–that gives us Constructed lists every single time for people to eat up, while at the same time giving the gravy-train pros the ability to play their favorite format–Booster Draft. It's like a year of Nationals.
BDM: I am actually having a hard time processing this. My head is spinning. How will these changes affect the PTQ seasons that precede each event? Will they be split formats? Will they be Limited or Constructed? What distinctions will be made for PTQ seasons?
Aaron: We talked through a lot of options, from having alternating Limited and Constructed events in the same season, to having two simultaneous tournaments at each event, to having split-format PTQs where you had to play some rounds of both. But there were hang-ups with a lot of those systems and after the Organized Play department went through a lot of rounds of back-and-forth with all the stakeholders, we eventually settled on the status quo more or less: a season of Limited and two seasons of Constructed per year. The Limited season will typically happen when the new blocks come out, mainly because people want to get their hands on cards at that time.
BDM: Do you worry about the loss of so-called Limited Experts or Constructed Specialists?
Aaron: Those people will still have a chance to shine. I'm sure we'll focus on people who consistently 6-0 Limited formats, and there will always be single-format Grand Prix for those people to shine at. And I'm sure that as far as playtest partners go, the format specialists will be in high demand. In fact, I expect the results from multiple mixed-format events to give us a better picture of who the best "Magic player" is, not the best at one particular piece of it, because we'll be testing the whole gamut of skills over and over again. The people that are expected to do well at one event won't be radically different at the next event. We may see some real top-notch consistent all-stars arise here.
BDM: So the Swiss rounds will be two formats. What about the Top 8? How will you determine what format a Top 8 is played out in?
Aaron: There will most likely be one Limited Top 8 per year. Draft is still important enough to us to give it that much. We do the determining ahead of time and announce the whole schedule up front so that everyone will know well in advance what format the Top 8 of an event will be.
BDM: Why do you think this will be great for Magic?
Aaron: Each Pro Tour will now have something for everyone. The draft-hungry Pros will get to crack some boosters, the deck doctors of the world will get to break formats every time, and the people watching at home will get some terrific new ideas they can run with. And it'll all be done using a proven formula, the one we've been using at Nationals for years and years, so the risk of something not working is very low.
BDM: Historically the Magic community has not taken well to the announcement of change. Anticipating your critics, what criticism of this change would you like to head off at the pass?
Aaron: As should be evident from our test-runs of the Skins-Game payout and the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour, we're willing to try a lot of new ideas and later revert if they don't pan out. This is no different. If someone out there is convinced this is a bad idea, time will tell and we'll rectify it. Give it a chance. Personally, everything I know about playing in and watching tournaments tells me that this is going to be a home run for us, and I can't wait for next season.
Pro Tour Travel Itinerary
Personally, I can't wait for next season either. While I am excited about this new format change the truth of the matter is I am looking forward to the 2009 Pro Tour schedule like no other since 2006–the last time the Tour took me to Hawaii. Here are all the details about the upcoming schedule, which includes a return trip to the finest island this side of Manhattan:
February 27-March 1, 2009
Formats: Standard, Booster Draft
Top 8: Standard
QT Format: Sealed Deck
QT Dates: October 4 - December 28, 2008
This calendar year will mark the first time I have not taken a trip to Japan since I began doing coverage on a regular basis in 2003. I am excited that the Pro Tour will be returning there after a year's absence and that it will be making its debut in Kyoto, which in the past has been the host city for a variety of high level tournaments but not any Pro Tours.
"Kyoto is a fabulous, very historical city," said Pro Tour Tournament Manager Scott Larabee, as he laid out the new schedule for me. "Kyoto was the capital of Japan until 1868 when the capital was moved to Tokyo. The city is full of beautiful, historical buildings and sites. It should be a treat for every player that visits."
Mark Herberholz is the last Pro Tour-Honolulu champ.
June 5-7, 2009
Formats: Block Constructed, Booster Draft
Top 8: Booster Draft
QT Format: Extended
QT Dates: January 3 - April 19, 2009
Anytime a conversation about potential tournament sites starts it is not long before someone suggests a return trip to Honolulu. I had the good fortune to be able to take my wife with me the last time the Pro Tour traveled to the 50th state. That meant not a lot of after-hours drafting for me but memories of the trip will stay with me forever. We had a meal at Alan Wong's in Honolulu that was among the very finest dining experiences I have ever encountered. I cannot wait to go back.
"Honolulu was the site of one of the most exciting Pro Tours ever," agreed Scott Larabee. "We had an amazing turnout and we still get comments from players that went (and those that didn't) and would like a chance to go again. Every year since we were there, we have discussed when we would return, and now the time seems right. It will have been three years since we were there, but the popularity of Honolulu as a Pro Tour site is evident and should once again allow for a spectacular show."
October 16-18, 2009
Formats: Extended, Booster Draft
Top 8: Extended
QT Format: Standard
QT Dates: May 2 - September 6, 2009
I did coverage for Grand Prix-Austin and the city rocketed to the top of my Texas cities pick order. It had a real charm, great night life, and terrific food. I am much more excited about a Texas Pro Tour in Austin than I would be of one returning to Houston or Dallas.
"Austin is a smaller city, but that is not unheard of in Pro Tour Cities; Charleston is much smaller," said Larabee, who was at that same GP with me a few years back. "Austin is the capital of Texas and has a much different feel than the rest of the state. I was there in 2004 for a Grand Prix and was surprised about what a cool city it is. Lots of great restaurants, night spots, and history should make for a great PT stop."
November 19-22, 2009
Formats: Standard, Booster Draft, Extended
Top 8: Standard
To me, Rome is one of the great missed opportunities in my Magic career. If you search the net for archived Magic articles from that era you find a wealth of tournament reports from all the top players. More than half the players in the Top 32 of that event contributed detailed articles about how they approached a degenerate format where Tolarian Academy was legal yet Savannah Lions still managed to make the Top 8. That period of time seems like a golden age with the game's brightest stars playing at the top of their game.
This is the event my wife circled on the family calendar when we looked over the schedule last night. It probably means very little drafting for me...but I think I can live with that. When in Rome...
Build a Better Planeswalker
Sooooo...I am assuming you all saw this yesterday in Magic Arcana? I am not exactly jaded but it takes quite a bit for a single card to make my jaw drop. That is literally what happened when I got a sneak peek at this hot little number in preparation for this week's column.
I have been hearing plenty of buzz about Shards from people inside the walls in Renton and it has been a more insistent buzz than what normally precedes a set. If this card is any indication–and I have not seen anything other than this card so far–then Shards could be a real monster.
How good is this card? I have already been playing around with a white-red land destruction deck in Block Constructed that attempts to abuse Fulminator Mage with Order of Whiteclay and Reveillark. At one point I toyed with Poison the Well to get some more LD into the deck but this versatile card makes much more sense in that slot. Assuming you set your opponent back a land with a Mage on turn three this card becomes a targeted Tangle Wire for one over the next few turns. And if you happen to need to kill something you can do that too.
Being on the right side of a one-sided "Armageddon" has long been one of my favorite ways to play a game of Magic. Back in the days when Invasion block was still legal for Standard I built a deck, called Disco Queen, around Jolrael, Empress of Beasts and Pernicious Deed that was designed to create that game state. I expect that I will be getting a play set of the new Ajani to attempt a remix of that old deck. Remember you can get your hands on this card by playing in Prereleases or Launch Party events at the end of September/beginning of October. Stay tuned for more previews of Shards of Alara to start September 1, 2008.
Firestarter: Split Decisions
I'm not going to even try and drive this forum topic in another direction. What do you think of the decision to move Pro Tours to a split format? Head to the forums and let us know if you think this is exciting or if we should be taking cover in the air raid shelter with Chicken Little.