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Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings Preview

July 17, 2023
Rich Hagon

Magic is a game of winning and losing, and today we're going to talk about both. Since it's probably a better read, we're going to concentrate on the winning bit. Winning is fun, winning is exhilerating, winning is emphatically not losing, and is just a generally superior life experience, at least if you talk to most Magic players. Next weekend in Barcelona, three hundred or so Magic players will be attempting to do more winning than losing, and, as always, our broadcast team (the standout lineup of Maria Bartholdi, Mani Davoudi, Cedric Phillips, Will Hall, Paul Cheon, Riley Knight, and Corey Baumeister) will be with you every step of the way to experience the wins and losses across three wonderful days.

Of course, winning typically has a lot of losing that comes with it. The best boxers in the world all share the somewhat distressing characteristic that winning involved them all being punched in the face many hundreds of times. The very best golfers almost never win—golf is a game of being consistently good, not consistently "the best."

Winning simply doesn't happen without a ton of losing. And at the Pro Tour, despite almost every match featuring the apparent zero sum of one winner and one loser, there's a lot more winning going on. It just depends on what you see as winning.

Winning 1 – Barcelona

One of the finest cities in the world, you're always winning when you're in Barcelona. When you're there because you happen to be good at a card game, that's definitely a win, and guarantees that you'll have something amazing to do if this Magic bit doesn't go as you hoped.

Winning 2 – Your First Pro Tour

The chances are that you're not going to win your first Pro Tour. The odds say that you're not going to win any Pro Tour. But your first? That's really hard. Brad Nelson, former Player of the Year, almost reached the Top 8 of his first PT, and Jackson Cunningham went all the way to the finals on his first attempt at Pro Tour Magic 2015. But, taken as a group, the first-timers are definitely the underdogs, with many not making two. Fewer will be in contention, and maybe one will get all the way to Sunday.

OK, so this sounds more like losing than winning. But the starting line at a Pro Tour is also a finish line—a finish line that is the culmination of a journey sometimes lasting decades. To simply play in a Pro Tour is a treasured experience, and any match wins are precious. Plus, until you sit down and play, you can dream that you are, in fact, the one who is going to go the distance, knock out multiple Hall of Famers along the way, and begin your dominance of the global game.

Suggestion: While you're doing that, come and enjoy the free food at the player registration party—nobody's trying to keep you from that win.

Winning 3 – Friday Morning Draft

I genuinely believe that 9:00am on the first morning is the purest moment of winning at a Pro Tour there is. Everyone can share in the excitement. Everyone can wonder what they're going to open. Everyone can anticipate which stars of the game are going to be at their table of eight. And, at 9:00am, nobody has picked the wrong card, drafted the wrong archetype, built the wrong deck, failed to mulligan correctly, or misplayed a tricky board state. By 9:05am, the field is no longer equal, but at 9:00am, anyone can still dream.

Winning 4 – Friday Afternoon Modern

By lunchtime on day one, the majority of the field will have at least one match loss. Only one player from each table can have a perfect 3-0 record, and that equates to something like 37 players out of 300. The good news for everyone else is that there's still time to reach the next goal, which is 12 match points, or a 4-4 record, to advance to Day Two.

Winning 5 – Friday Afternoon Modern

Forget the players for a moment; this one's about us, the fans. Modern is a fantastic format. I would argue that it has been the single greatest Constructed Pro Tour format ever. So many great matches, so many great decks, so many great metagames. Modern always delivers. One of the great pluses to Modern is that you can play just about anything and feel you have a shot. Aggro, Combo, Midrange, and full-on-honest-to-God-oh-we-love-it-just-so-much Control (completely unbiased, obviously) are viable.

More than that, though, is the fact that everything is so deliciously powerful. Not powerful in the "end the game on turn one" sense of some of the even more powerful formats like Vintage, but in ways that make you giggle. Everything is just that bit more in Modern. Whether that's seeing old friends like Goblin Guide in Burn, the wackiness of Living End, the brain melt that is Amulet Titan, or the "I don't think they knew what I was going to do with this card when they printed it" of Death's Shadow, Modern is jam-packed awesome top to bottom, and we the fans are going to get thirteen rounds of it next weekend. Yum.

Winning 6 – Saturday Morning Draft

With 4-4 the minimum required, most people entering Day Two have a winning record. That's an achievement by itself, but competitors will be looking forward to what can be achieved during the second part of Saturday.

Winning 7 – Saturday Afternoon Modern

Rounds 12–16 are more Modern, and there's a bunch of winning to be had. Thirteen wins guarantees you a spot outright in the Top 8 on Sunday, and you won't have to play out your remaining matches. Can anyone get to 13-0? Unlikely, but it'll be fun to watch the last person standing try. That's the tip of the Top 8 race, with most seats in the knockout rounds being determined at the very end of Saturday, in rounds 15 and 16. But even for those who know the Top 8 is receding, there are big reasons to win on Saturday afternoon...

Winning 8 – Coming Back Again (and Again)

The Powers That Be (Wizards of the Coast) know that qualifying for any Pro Tour is a big deal, so there are a number of ways to get invited back. We don't get many chances to talk about this on the broadcast, but anyone who reaches 10 wins by the end of Saturday gets invited back to the first Pro Tour of the following season.

So, while we'll be focusing on feature matches at, say, 12-3, there's a ton to play for at the matches at 9-6. There's also the not-so-small matter of World Championship invites. With Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings being the last Pro Tour of the season, the final seats at the World Championship will be filled, courtesy of the season-long Adjusted Match Points that players have accumulated. 32 slots (plus anyone tied for 32nd) amongst players who haven't already qualified for the World Championship will be finalized in Barcelona.

Typically, this fills out the WC field with a slew of great players. Amongst a ton of players looking to get the job done in Barcelona are French standout Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, Hall of Famer Willy Edel, 2021 World Champion Yuta Takahashi, and Portugal's finest, Marcio Carvalho. On Saturday, every single match win is going to matter for those precious World Championship seats, and we'll bring you the full field during our Top 8 coverage on Sunday.

Winning 9 – the Top 8

In some ways, the pressure is off for our returning Top 8 competitors. They've scored a seat at the World Championship, and now they get to see just how far they can go. Matches on Sunday will use the same Modern decks they've been battling with the past two days and are best three out of five, with sideboarding starting after game two. So, a strong matchup can mean a lot in the Top 8. Ultimately, that zero sum game will occur—there'll be a Final, and there'll be one winner and one loser.

Winning 10 – the Champion

I hope I've demonstrated that there are a lot of ways to win in Barcelona. There's no denying, however, that this is the one bit of winning that everyone remembers. Sometime late on Sunday afternoon, someone's Modern deck will come up trumps one last time, and they'll claim the trophy, the $50,000 first prize, and the piece of Magic history that only belongs to the champions, the ultimate winners.


Play even a little bit of Magic, and you'll know that there isn't always a way to win, but there's always a way to lose. Next week in Barcelona, make sure losing doesn't happen to you and join us for all the action across all three days. It's the season-ending, power-drafting, Modern-mastering extravaganza that tops it all.

See you there!

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