Dictionary.com is always a good place to start:
Gathering—an assemblage of people; group or crowd.
Other words for gathering—congregation, concourse, company, throng.
You'll have your own definition of what "gathering" means. We may not all be Avengers superheroes, but we certainly assemble. We are grouped together in draft pods and pairings, on the leaderboard, and in the Feature Match area. For some, our game engenders a fervor. Players, judges, casters, staff, and even fans travel the globe routinely. Collectively, we throng to acclaim the latest champion and the decks du jour.
The gathering means a lot. Yet for all the technological advances that have created the global village that's kept us connected for the last three years, it's still a challenge to fully represent our human senses in the virtual space.
Now, as we celebrate our season so far with Pro Tour Phyrexia, we're finally—truly—back. We can see the hesitation as a hand hovers above a creature, calculating the choice to attack or not. We can see the relief, the pride, or the puzzlement flicker across our friends' faces when they make decisions. We can hear the flick of the cards, the shuffling, and the dice rolling across the table. We can hear the myriad discussions on lines of play, the roar of triumph, and the hum of the feature match lights with the crowd watching. And we can really touch the cards in our hands, the firm handshake of our opponent, the consoling embrace of a friend, and the heft of a trophy by a champion.
This isn't just Magic—this is Magic: The Gathering.
Our Pro Tour Phyrexia showdown—taking place at MagicCon: Philadelphia February 17–19—begins with nearly 250 competitors settling in to three days of competition. First up, a true spectacle: the draft. Arranged in tables of eight, drawn at random, players will complete three packs of selections from Phyrexia: All Will Be One before whittling down their choices to a 40-card deck. Three rounds follow, with players facing only others within their draft table of eight. This "ringfence" around each draft both ensures fair play—all your possible opponents drafted from the same set of 24 packs as you did—and has the human dynamic of knowing that every good card you didn't take could be used against you.
By late lunchtime, 30 or so players will still have a perfect record at 3–0, 90 or so more will be at 2–1, with another 90ish at 1–2, and the final 30 odd players will still be looking to find their first win at 0–3. That's assuming no draws, of course.
Ah yes—draws. When a round ends, matches still being played have five additional turns to complete the match. If they can't, and the scores are level, it's a draw. Nobody claims the three match points for victory, but both get a single point for avoiding defeat. (Spoiler: draws are generally bad news for your overall chances.)
Whatever their Draft record, the players will spend Rounds 4 through 8 on Friday playing Pioneer, the Constructed format for the whole weekend. If creatures light your fire, watch out for all-the-way-from-Alpha
In the spell slots, you'll find efficiency everywhere you look, whether that's countering spells with
And this is Pioneer, so don't forget about the lands. You'll find a ton of nonbasic lands at the top tables, including
As Round 8 closes, 12 match points (or a 4–4 record or better) is needed to advance to Day Two. Little more than half the field will make it back. For those that don't, it's not all bad. They're still in Philadelphia—a fabulous east coast city—and they're still in a building that has amazing Magic opportunities at the rest of the MagicCon. You still want to reach Day Two, but there are some nice consolations if things don't go according to plan.
Saturday? That looks a lot like Friday, with Rounds 9–11 being Phyrexia: All Will Be One Draft, and then Rounds 12–16 returning to Pioneer—and yes, you keep the same deck you registered at the start of the tournament. For a very select few, playing all eight rounds on Saturday won't be necessary. Once you reach twelve match wins (that's 36 match points), you're a lock for Sunday's Top 8 and receive byes for your remaining matches on Saturday.
In theory, our Top 8 slots are open for business from Round 12 onwards. In reality, it's a monumental achievement to book your place early. Expect at least five of the Top 8 to book their appearance in the last round of the day.
That brings us to Sunday. Pioneer is the format once again, with a straight knockout bracket of quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. Each round is best three out of five games, with sideboarding happening once the first two games have been completed. Nine hours or so of knockout slugfests will bring us to a champion. But who might that champion be?
The obvious place to start is with winners, and there's literally no bigger winner than Nathan Steuer, reigning World Champion. His astonishing victory in Las Vegas last year showcased the beauty of in-person, high-level Magic. Literally (and remember, I use Dictionary.com, so when I say literally, I mean, like, literally literally) we saw tears of despair and of joy from Steuer, a player who embodies the journey, having been in the public gaze since eye-catching Grand Prix performances as a preteen, working his way up through the ranks to the highest point.
Next in line are the group of eleven regional champions. They began the journey just like you can at a WPN game store, reaching the Regional Championship via a Regional Championship Qualifier (RCQ). Can they do so again at the next level? They may not be household Magic names, but this weekend could go a long way to changing that for some of these:
If you want to root for people who are already household names, there are plenty. From last season, we have championship winners in Eli Kassis and Yuuki Ichikawa. Alongside Steuer are recent World Champions Yuta Takahashi and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. The Brazilian is in the Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, and you'll see more of his fellow Hall of Famers in action, including Reid Duke, Shota Yasooka, Gabriel Nassif, and Luis Scott-Vargas.
Whether it's a new regional champion, a Hall of Famer, or a Pro Tour first-timer taking it all down on Sunday, you'll be able to see it all unfold with our caster gang across the three days. Eilidh Lonie and Corey Baumeister will share the caster booth with Marshall Sutcliffe and Paul Cheon, while the newsdesk crew features Maria Bartholdi, Mani Davoudi, and Cedric Phillips, who will be out and about getting all the up-to-the-minute stories direct from our players.
Over the last three years, it's been noted that Magic is "the gathering" but now you can see it all, hear it all, feel it all—with us all gathered again.
Watch all the Pro Tour Phyrexia action right here (on Magic.gg) and twitch.tv/magic, beginning at 11 a.m. ET on February 17 and 18, and 9 a.m. ET for the Top 8 playoff on February 19. We'll see you at Philadelphia!