Let's start this preview with the really important stuff. Ready?
"My kind of town, Chicago is."
The first words of the iconic Frank Sinatra, serenading our Pro Tour venue for this first stop of the 2024 season. But seriously, "My kind of town, Chicago is." Forget Sinatra.
Shouldn't this be Yoda?
275 talented and brave souls will head to the Windy City next week for the opening salvo of the tabletop season: Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor. It follows a brilliant return to paper Magic post-pandemic. Pro Tour Phyrexia showcased Pioneer, and the Hall of Fame talents of champion Reid Duke. In May, it was the reigning World Champion Nathan Steuer who took center stage yet again at Pro Tour March of the Machine. The Lord of the Rings story certainly highlights the power of the underdog, so it was thematically appropriate that Barcelona in Spain played host to a champion who was playing in their very first Pro Tour, Jake Beardsley. And then the season wrapped up with France's Jean-Emmanuel Depraz becoming World Champion in typically understated fashion, while Denmark's Simon Nielsen turned ultra-consistent performances across the season into a Player of the Year trophy that he'll receive in front of his player peers in Chicago.
That's a formidable group of five to take on for the other two hundred and seventy. What's the gauntlet they all face? The schedule for this one is tried and true. Three days, two formats, one champion. We start on Friday morning with Murders at Karlov Manor Draft. World Champion Depraz is known for his Constructed prowess, but you don't become the best by being one-dimensional. As the highest echelons of the game have become more data driven, it's no surprise to find him putting up incredible numbers online. It wouldn't surprise me if, come Friday morning, we're sitting right alongside Depraz as he stares at that first pack of minty fresh cards.
Since players spend the morning drafting and playing within their own table of eight players, we can expect thirty-something to reach lunchtime with a delightful zero in the loss column, all at 3-0. From there, it's time to unpack Pioneer, and there's pleasing symmetry to the constructed format this time around. Pioneer begins with cards from the back end of 2012, so as we leave the Limited play of Ravnica behind, we transition to a format that begins with Return to Ravnica, and contains 50 or so expansions across 12 years. As you might expect, there have been several really powerful cards printed across those 12 years, and occasionally that leads to problems. The result? Roughly two dozen cards that you won't be seeing in action, since they're banned from competitive play. So, no
What will we see in action? Pioneer is a wide-open format with hundreds of cards that can legitimately claim a place in a starting 60, but here are half a dozen cards that I'm excited/nostalgic for coming into the weekend:
Thoughtseizein Rakdos Midrange
- The titular
Arclight Phoenixin Izzet Phoenix Supreme Verdictin Azorius Control Chord of Callingin Abzan Amalia Combo Sheoldred, the Apocalypsein Mono-Black Midrange Smuggler's Copterin Gruul Aggro
For more on the Pioneer format, you owe it to yourselves to check out the wise words of our resident analyst, Dr Frank Karsten, which you can find right here.
Whether it's from three rounds of Draft, or five rounds of Pioneer, any player who wants to advance needs at least a 4-4 record on day one. Achieve that, and they can spend Saturday doing what they did on Friday—Murders at Karlov Manor for the first three rounds, and then Pioneer for five down the stretch. Those final five rounds are where the Top 8 are made, ready for Sunday.
After a well-earned break for commiserations and congratulations, Sunday is a straight knockout affair, all in Pioneer. The Top 8 features best three-out-of-five gameplay, with Sideboarding permitted after the first two games. Single elimination gameplay is about more than playing skill. There are players who can hold their nerve, and those who can't, overwhelmed by the stakes (first prize is a not-to-be-sneezed-at $50,000). There are good matchups and bad, mental and physical fatigue when it matters most, and moments when you're certain that nothing can stand in your way. It's the best players of the weekend competing with the best decks of the weekend that culminates in our first trophy presentation of the season.
So, beyond the gang of five who've done it all before last season, where might the winner come from?
Almost 100 of our competitors come from a route that you could take—if you like the idea of joining us on the game's biggest stage, that is. The Regional Championship path is now well established and starts with you getting down to your Friendly Local Game Store to compete. Play well there, and you punch your ticket for the RC; and from there, you're one step from the Pro Tour. It's a big step, but plenty of people have made it, and you could too.
This time around, here are five to follow from amongst the Regional Championship crew:
- Daniel Weiser, who added to his two Grand Prix Top 8s with victory in the Dreamhack Regional Championship.
- Samuele Estratti, the Italian who won the first ever Modern Pro Tour in 2011 at Philadelphia.
- Denmark's Christoffer Larsen, who has two RC Top 8s to go with his 11 GP Top 8s.
- Derek Pite, known as misplacedginger online, who already has three RC Top 8s to his name.
- Piotr Głogowski, who has Top 8s in the MOCS, Players Tour, Mythic Championship, Mythic Invitational, Grand Prix, Pro Tour, and World Magic Cup!
There are lots of good reasons to come in person to a MagicCon event, and high amongst them for the competitive crowd are a series of opportunities to qualify for the following Pro Tour. At MagicCon: Barcelona, Italy's Mattia Rizzi (GP Copenhagen 2017 Champion) booked his ticket, while Patrick Fernandes (Top 8, Season Grand Finals 2020) made his trip from Brazil worthwhile by dominating the Pro Tour Qualifier. Meanwhile in Las Vegas, one of the returning headline acts is undoubtedly Andrea Mengucci, the winner of the 2019 Mythic Invitational. He claimed his spot in Chicago in the 100K flagship event at MagicCon: Las Vegas.
Of course, you don't have to travel to qualify, with both Magic Online and Magic Arena offering paths to the Pro Tour. Amongst players making their debut is Ethan Saks, co-Host of the Lords of Limited podcast. It's going to be a busy weekend for Saks, since he and Ben Werne will be recording a live episode direct from the Mana Stage on Sunday morning. Also taking the digital path to Chicago are former Constructed Master Sebastian Pozzo of Argentina, who reached the final of the MOCS last August, and the Champion of that event, Lukas Jaklovsky, one of the most talented players from the European Grand Prix circuit.
Plenty of familiar faces return for the 2024 season. They may not have had trophies last season, but consistency has led to their invites, and there are some real heavy hitters lying in wait. Here are just five:
- Autumn Burchett—the original Mythic Champion from 2019 and the even more prestigious England National Champion 2017.
- Márcio Carvalho—twice a World Championship finalist and multiple Grand Prix Champion.
- Yuuki Ichikawa—The Innistrad Champion in 2021 and MOCS Champion that same year.
- Eli Kassis—The Neon Dynasty Champion from 2022, and World Championship finalist.
- Yuta Takahashi—the World Champion from 2021.
I could easily have given you a dozen more, all of whom have marquee moments to their MTG career.
And then, of course, there are the historic best of the best, the Hall of Fame. It will be great to see the likes of Paul Rietzl, Ben Stark, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa in action once again, with the pinnacle of aggro, Limited, and control play all represented. And then there are the HOFers who are still actively playing, and that includes the likes of Kai Budde, Seth Manfield, Gabriel Nassif, Willy Edel, and Shuhei Nakamura. With a field like this, every win has to be earned. And remember, if you want to test yourself against these Regional Champions, digital dominators, and decorated deckmasters, it all starts at your local store.
When the lights dim on three memorable days, the Pro Tour will pack up and move on. It will move on to the home of Wizards of the Coast, for Pro Tour Seattle in April. It will cross continents, and set up shop on European shores, with Pro Tour Amsterdam slated for June. And then into the desert for the legend-creating week in Las Vegas that is the World Championship in October. Seattle, Amsterdam, Las Vegas—storied cities for a storied game.
Chicago, too, is a fantastic city, but you know what? Anywhere that's hosting a Pro Tour is my kind of town.
I'm done. Last word to the little green one:
Pro Tour, you say?
Watch, you must.
See you next Friday, we will.