This weekend is the kickoff for another exciting season of Professional Magic. Columbus, Ohio -- one of the United States' true hotbeds of Magic -- will play host to the Pro Tour on Halloween weekend. The game’s best and brightest will explore the mysteries of the Extended format, with their eyes firmly fixed on a share of the $200,000 prize purse. Even if you weren't fortunate enough to earn a spot in the main event, there are plenty of Magic activities to keep you busy.
Columbus has been the site of several of the largest Magic tournaments ever to be held in North America. Seven hundred players for a Regional Championship is not unheard of, and last year’s Grand Prix briefly set the attendance bar for its part of the world at a lofty 854 players (New Jersey cleared that bar later in the year with an even more impressive 958). What the number will look like for this weekend’s Last Chance Qualifier is anybody’s guess.
The day before every Pro Tour begins, there is one last mad dash for players hoping to qualify . . . and Pro Tour–Columbus is no different. Beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28, players can fork over 20 clams and try their hand at the new Standard format. That’s right -- a Standard format PTQ, and a four-slot one to boot! I know of many East Coast players making the trek inland to try their hand at the LCQ, so expect one of the most contested qualifiers in recent memory.
There should be a wealth of information about the new Standard format available on this very site with Top 8 deck lists from countless State, Province, Territory, and Prefectural Championships pouring in from various tournament organizers. Mono-Black Control with Horobi, Death’s Wail and Relic Barriers proved to be a formidable opponent for Affinity by many early accounts. Each of the Top 8 decklists will have a downloadable Magic Online text file, so you can get to playtesting as soon as possible.
The format for the main event is Extended, the most wide-open incarnation of the format since it was first introduced. Not only is Champions of Kamigawa being thrown into the mix, but the recent bannings of Skullclamp and Metalworker also profoundly affected the metagame.
Players to Watch
So if you are fortunate enough to earn a last minute slot for the tournament (of if you are just following the action at home), who are the players to keep an eye out for? Which names are likely to bob to the top of the standings and make a Top 8 appearance on Sunday? Here's what we're looking at:
Kai Budde: Any list of potential Pro Tour Top 8 players has to begin with the game’s all-time winningest player. In 2001, Kai was dubbed the game’s best after winning an Extended Pro Tour (his fourth Pro Tour victory of the year), and although he has had an “off year” Kai remains one of the game’s most consistent performers.
Much like Tiger Woods' recent “slump,” Kai still finished 8th in 2004's Player-of-the-Year race, taking down an additional $18,400 in end-of-year money. It was the first time in three years that Kai did not win Player of the Year and as a consequence finds himself having to pay for travel and accommodations to a Pro Tour for the first time in that many years (part of winning the Player of the Year is that you get to go to all the Pro Tours on Wizards' dime). Will the dent in Kai’s wallet ratchet his game up a notch for this tournament, and another run at Player of the Year? If he doesn’t do well this weekend, don’t expect to see him in Nagoya -- Kai’s whole season may hinge on his performance in Ohio.
Gabriel Nassif: Nicknamed "Yellowhat," Nassif managed to unseat Kai as Player of the Year. With his Top 8 performance at Worlds, Nassif secured a year of free trips to the Pro Tour despite not winning a single Pro Tour over the course of the year. He narrowly edged out two-time Pro Tour victor Nicolai Herzog, largely on the basis of his remarkable consistency.
Beginning with Pro Tour Venice, the only Constructed Pro Tour over the past two seasons that did not feature Gabriel Nassif in the Top 8 was 2003 Worlds (where he finished ninth!). Nassif is clearly the foremost Constructed mind in the game and there is no reason to expect the French superstar to start slacking off now.
Nicholas LaBarre and Yann Hammon: Speaking of the French . . . at last year’s Extended Pro Tour in New Orleans, these two friends ignited a mild controversy when they were paired up in the quarterfinals of the Top 8. They were playing identical decklists and had identical return airfare scheduled for Sunday morning -- at the same time as the Top 8. They had figured that if one or the other made Top 8 they could simply pay the penalty and change their itinerary. They did not count on both of them making the Top 8, much less being paired in the first round. In the end, Labarre conceded to his friend and flew home on schedule.
Overlooked in the controversy is that both players emerged, seemingly from nowhere, to put identical decklists into the Top 8. Neither player has had any remarkable finishes to follow up New Orleans but it will be interesting to see what these French mad scientists unleash in Ohio.
The Ruel brothers: When you discuss the French, it would be foolish to ignore the accomplishments of Antoine and Olivier Ruel who both had impressive seasons last year. They work closely with Nassif and it would surprise nobody if either or both made a Sunday appearance this weekend.
Eugene Harvey: Is Harvey the best American player in the game right now? There are a number of players on his TOGIT team that can lay stake to that claim -- most notably Osyp Lebedowicz -- but Harvey was the lone American in the Top 8 of Pro Tour–New Orleans last year and is coming off a 6-0 performance during the Block portion of Worlds. As a team, TOGIT is looking to rebound from their Worlds performance in the Standard portion and have thrown themselves into the new Extended format with their usual level of focus and determination. If not Harvey, look for Osyp, Jon Sonne, U.S. Champ Craig Krempels, or any of their usual suspects to make a Sunday appearance.
William Jensen, Ben Rubin, and Jon Finkel are all players to keep an eye out for at any given Magic tournament. Notably absent should be Bob Maher, who has allegedly retired, and Brian Kibler who will be taking part in the final event of a LARP that he has been involved with for many years. YMG has fallen on hard times of late when it comes to Sunday appearances, but Justin Gary is making a concerted effort to succeed this year. Gary has an Extended Pro Tour victory under his belt, so keep an eye out for the red dragon this weekend.
Masashi Oiso and Tomohiro Yokosuka: The Japanese have become a dominant force on the professional Magic scene and it has been some time since there was a Sunday without a Japanese representative. Former Rookie of the Year Osio gets the top billing as the first Japanese player to post two Pro Tour Top 8s with his fourth place finish in New Orleans. There seems to be an open-door policy for the Japanese into the Top 8, with any number of players likely to do well. Yokosuka made a name for himself last year but there are any number of Japanese players who could occupy that seat this year -- with almost any deck you could imagine. The Japanese have proved themselves adept at the format since Worlds 2003 when their GobVantage deck led to the banning of Goblin Recruiter. Also keep an eye out for Akira Asahara. Two years ago he had an impressive Alluren deck that finished just out of the Top 8 with Academy Rectors that just might get good again, with Tinker-based decks going away.
Julien Nuijten: Julien is just the latest in a long line of Dutch players to experience success at the Pro Tour. While most players his age were looking forward to JSS action, Julien was winning more than $50,000 at this year’s World Championships. Can he follow up with another strong Pro Tour performance? With a playtest group that includes Jeroen Remie, Jelger Wiergesma, Frank Karsten, Kamiel Cornelissen, and other top “Dutchies” it would hardly be surprising. What would be surprising is if one of the aforementioned Dutch players is not sitting down to play come the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Even if you don’t get a chance to play in the Pro Tour itself there will be no shortage of Magic-al events to keep you occupied. There are plenty of eight-person single elimination side events, going off all weekend as they fill up. Booster Drafts, Sealed Deck Standard and Constructed could keep you busy from start to finish but there a few intriguing larger events to be had as well.
The big guns come out Saturday, starting with a Sealed Deck PTQ for Nagoya. There should be abundant pack prizes to be had. The tournament gives away three packs for every competitor, and that should be something approaching three or four cases of Champions based on Ohio attendance numbers for big-time events. And if at first you don’t succeed, there will be another one Sunday.
If you are an amateur player -- that is, you've never attended a Pro Tour or made the Top 32 of a Grand Prix -- then you should be intrigued by Saturday’s $2,000 Amateur Challenge. The format for the tournament is Standard and only players without a Pro Point are eligible to play. That $2,000 in cash is spread out among the Top 8 like so: 1st place $800, 2nd place $400, $200 apiece for 3rd/4th, and a c-note each for 5th through 8th. The tournament begins at 2 p.m. Saturday and costs a mere $5 to enter.
Later on Saturday, there will be a Grand Prix Trial for GP Chicago. This is three-person Team Limited and is almost as good as a PTQ. The team that wins this tournament will either find themselves Q’d on rating or within a couple of matches' striking distance. Rating invitations to Team Pro Tours are done on a threshold basis -- if your team’s rating is 1750 or above, you are automatically invited. A dedicated team can usually manage a ratings invite with one tournament victory and a couple of extra wins here and there. It is definitely your best chance to get on the Pro Tour (it’s the only way I ever get to play!).
On Sunday there are two unusual tournaments worth mentioning. The first is the Femvitational. At every Pro Tour there is at least one event that is open to only female players. Like the $2000 amateur tournament, it is Standard format and costs only $5 to enter. According to the fact sheet, the winner receives a box of Champions and "possible sponsorship to a future Pro Tour."
The second interesting Sunday event is an Unzipped Sealed deck tournament using two Unglued Boosters and two Portal Boosters for each player to build with. It is only $15 and the winners will nab complete sets of Unhinged as well as other cool Unhinged-related prizes. If you are planning on playing this tournament, leave your Levi’s at home!
Of course there are always plenty of other activities to make the event a memorable experience. There will be so many players there that you should be able to trade for any card you ever wanted. Failing that you can always buy that last crucial piece of your collection from any of the authorized dealer tables. (Please be aware that you cannot actually buy or sell cards for cash to anyone but a dealer on the tournament site.)
There will also be two Magic artists on hand all weekend to sign cards and sell original artwork, prints, and artist proofs of your favorite Magic cards. Glen Angus is best known for the Extended-format staple Spiritmonger and should have his hands full signing that beast all weekend. If Turboland shows up in force, expect Jeff Miracola to be staring down long lines of Horn of Greed come Friday.
If you can’t make it to Ohio, we will be bringing you all the action with the event coverage team. Look for video coverage, bloggery, feature matches, photos, and all the latest Standard and Extended deck tech here on magicthegathering.com, culminating in Sunday's live webcast starting at 9 a.m. ET.
If you do make it down, swing by the feature match tables and say, “Hi!”