Where were you in November 2011? Had you discovered Magic? Had Magic discovered you? Reid Duke was winning the Magic Online Championship.
Where were you in March 2012? Reid Duke was winning Grand Prix Nashville, the first of six titles.
Where were you in July 2013? Reid Duke was reaching the final of the World Championship.
Where were you in 2018? Reid Duke was winning the Team Series, in a group of six where elite deckbuilder Andrew Cuneo was the only player not in the Magic Hall of Fame.
It's not just his success, it's the range of his success that's so astonishing: Grand Prix; Magic Online Championship; Team Grand Prix; Magic Online Community Cup; Vintage Championship; Pro Tour; World Championship; Mythic Championship—Duke can reflect on a high level of achievement in almost every premier event format from the last fifteen years.
Where were you, Reid Duke, in 2019-2023? For all the history, Magic is very much a game of "What have you done for me lately?" Through the turmoil of the digital era, it wasn't clear whether Duke was going to be able to reinvent himself again. Phase one: online grinder. Phase two: Grand Prix master. Phase three: superteam superstar.
Phase four? Hang with the new breed of "Clicker Kids" sweeping away all before them in the digital space.
And then, our return to tabletop.
Where were you in February 2023, when Hall of Famer Reid Duke, Magic Online Champion Reid Duke, World Championship Finalist Reid Duke, defeated Benton Madsen in Philadelphia to claim his first Pro Tour title?
Hopefully you were right there with us, watching it all unfold. From first turn to last, the names of Magic's premier events may have changed, but our commitment to bringing you the best of the action remains unaltered. And so, Pro Tour March of the Machine is upon us, and we have one of the most celebrated players from thirty years of this glorious game as our defending Champion. What a weekend this promises to be.
Over 250 players have the right to test their skills in Minneapolis. From veterans with Hall of Fame careers to a slew of first timers, the path to the trophy remains the same: Randomly chosen tables of eight players will contest three rounds of Draft—in this case, March of the Machine Draft—with all three opponents coming from within their table (or, rather, "pod") based on record (so the two 2-0 players contest Round 3 for the perfect start).
Then it's on to Standard for Rounds 4-8. However well (or badly!) they're doing, every player gets to complete the Day 1 course. But to come back on Saturday requires a minimum of 12 match points. Most typically, that means 4 match wins, but occasionally involves a lot of drawn matches, which count for 1 match point each. Of course, 4 wins and 4 losses on Day 1 doesn't exactly put you in a great position for Day 2—most of the eventual Top 8 will be at least 6-2 overnight.
Those who do make it back for the weekend keep their records, and repeat the programme—draft in the morning, Standard in the afternoon. For the absolute pacesetters, getting to 36 match points (12 wins) before the last round guarantees them a place in the Sunday Top 8—they don't play the remaining rounds on Saturday, and instead get to watch the chasing pack scramble for those precious seats in the knockout rounds.
And those knockout rounds all happen Sunday, with Standard once more the setting. Matches are the best three out of five (contrasting with the best two out of three on the first two days), with standings determining the pairings (1 vs. 8, and 4 vs. 5 in the top half of the draw, 2 vs. 7, and 3 vs. 6 in the bottom half.) The two that emerge from the semi-finals contest the Championship match, with all Sunday play seeing Sideboarding after the first two games of each match.
The Pro Tour: A Marching Machine
Every Pro Tour creates a challenge that's unique—the formats and cards involved are always a new puzzle to solve—but Minneapolis is lining up to be particularly great. There's a caveat to that, of course, since both Limited and Constructed formats evolve at lightning speed, and there may be clear consensus by the time round 1 begins about the shape and feel of both March of the Machine Draft and Standard. But, as things stand, this could be one for the ages.
Draft is always a complex beast that rewards thoughtful analysis, flexibility, and old-fashioned hard work at the coalface, be it digital or tabletop. One wrinkle for viewers to watch out for in Minneapolis is the impact of DFCs—that's double-faced cards. In our feature draft each morning, you'll see the players showing the rest of the table the DFCs they've got as each pack gets opened. We'll certainly be watching carefully to see if there are any draft-warping opens, because this is just about the only time you might get the opportunity to get a read on what your neighbor might be picking first.
While many will be looking to pick up an edge or two in draft, the "Solving of Standard" is a constant ritual at all levels of the game, and the churn can be enormous. March of the Machine, like any new set, will have significant impact on the shape of Standard, but this time around there's the added spice of a brand new mechanic. Battles have been almost universally welcomed, which is quite a feat, and the Pro Tour is our first chance to see them on the biggest stage. We can expect to learn a huge amount from our three days in the company of the world's best players, even if it's not yet clear at the time of writing which Battles, if any, will be center stage at the top Feature Match tables.
But even if they don't dominate, Standard looks to be in a fantastic state. That, also, is quite a feat. With Regional Championship Qualifiers monitored weekly, there's always been something new to see, and a format that began with an apparent Grixis Midrange overload has developed and matured to the point where, even without March of the Machine, it would be bold to predict the shape of the Pro Tour metagame—and that's just the way we like it.
So who will lead the charge to dethrone Duke? The start list for this one is every bit as good as the health of the formats that will determine the outcome. More than half the field qualified via the Regional Championships, and that's your most likely path to the big show, if you can hang with some seriously tough opponents. Antipodean fans can get behind Anthony Lee (Australia) and Zen Takahashi (New Zealand). Vagner Casatti and Guilherme Merjam (both Brazil) very much embody the Play the Game, See the World mantra. RCs in Canada have brought us the welcome return of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Champion Alexander Hayne. Familiar faces from around Europe include former Team World Champion Nico Bohny (Switzerland), Kaldheim Championship winner Arne Huschenbeth (Germany), the always-delightful Andrea Mengucci (Italy), and the winner of Mythic Championship IV, Germany's Thoralf Severin.
The Regional Championships continue to send great players to the Pro Tour. In Japan, Kenta Harane secured a spot, and the former National Champion, World Magic Cup Champion, and Players Tour Champion will be a fearsome opponent. The likes of Adan Calzada (Mexico), Cristian Zuniga (Costa Rica), Nonthakorn Kositaporn (Thailand), and Yung-Ming Huang (Chinese Taipei) will look to put smaller Magic communities on the map, while the largest contingent came through the meat grinder of the United States Regional Championship. One of the standouts from the digital events, Austin Bursavich (2020 Season Grand Finals Champion) is joined by tough outs like Andrew Baeckstrom, Corey Burkhart, and Jordan Berkowitz. Twenty years after reaching the semifinals of Pro Tour Venice 2003, Berkowitz is back—there really are no easy matches at the Pro Tour.
Speaking of which, it isn't just the Regional Championships that are bringing the fire to Minneapolis. Jonny Guttman, and Hall of Famer Seth Manfield, both punched their tickets via the Arena Championship 3 Qualifier Weekend. Stefan Schütz, Dominik Prosek, and Bart Van Etten are among the usual suspects coming out of the Magic Online Champions Showcase. Allen Wu (Champion, Pro Tour 25th Anniversary) and Josh McClain (5 Grand Prix Top 8s) are among those securing their place in Philadelphia in the hotly-contested Pro Tour Qualifiers. Nine match wins in Philadelphia last time round is also enough to earn a repeat performance, so watch out for former World Champion Javier Dominguez, Hall of Famer Willy Edel, and two-time World Championship finalist Marcio Carvalho. Oh yes, and the Top 4 from the last World Championship—Nathan Steuer, Eli Kassis, Jakub Tóth and Karl Sarap—will all be there too.
It really is quite the lineup. Speaking of which, our regular lineup of casters will be with you when the flag drops on Friday morning. Join Maria Bartholdi, Mani Davoudi, and Cedric Phillips at the Newsdesk, together with Eilidh Lonie and Corey Baumeister, and Marshall Sutcliffe and Paul Cheon in the commentary booth. Oh, and there'll be a Guest Host on Friday morning too, while Maria's on the Main Stage at the event. I dare say we'll find someone to keep her seat warm for a couple of hours.
So, get drafting, get brewing, and get ready for three days that, if it all comes together, could be one of the best Pro Tours in a long, long time. See you there.