I write a lot about the Pro Tour.
For good reason, of course. It's what initially drew me to Magic – reading the original The Week That Was run by Brian David-Marshall – and today I'm lucky enough to call it my job to document the Pro Tour for Magic history. I really nerd out about the game's history, and when I first got into Magic myself around 2007 I worked to learn as much as I could about the 15 years of the Pro Tour I missed. It's the pinnacle of competitive play, and the end goal of all those FNMs I grinded 15 years ago with an Alara Block deck.
But the Pro Tour is just a small part of the competitive Magic experience. Every week, Frank Karsten and I strive to document not just the Pro Tour and its associated Regional Championship circuit – plus online play avenues through Magic Online and Arena – because we believe strongly that it matters. Every week we tell the stories on the path to the Pro Tour, and every week there are many more that we can't get to.
And all of that only scratches the surface of competitive Magic play. From the regional circuits around the United States to the large gatherings in Europe to the tournaments held across more continents and countries, high-level Magic is just not just the Pro Tour, even if most roads do eventually lead there.
And Magic has had some unique tournament structures over three decades. Did you know Sam Black once won a car playing in a Magic tournament? Or that a handful of the larger one-off tournaments like Eternal Weekend have awarded special Legacy and Vintage-themed prizes over the years?
A perfect example of barely scratching the surface is the extravaganza that was MagicCon: Las Vegas and Magic World Championship XXIX alongside it. We spent dozens of hours on air, dozens more interviewing and working on feature content before and after the event with winner and newly crowned World Champion Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, and, if I'm being honest, I think we did a great job telling the story of the World Championship.
But the World Championship wasn't the only high-level Magic that was played at MagicCon: Las Vegas; there were two special events open to anyone. And there were some very special prizes involved. Before we get too deep into the next round of Regional Championships, I want to highlight a pair of worthy winners!
Las Vegas featured a special event that players have been clamoring for since the return to tabletop play: a high-stakes, open entry Limited tournament.
That came together into the $100,000 Limited Open, which gave players the opportunity to battle it out over two days of competition with Wilds of Eldraine Sealed and then Draft for Day Two and the Top 8. In other words, the exact structure Limited Grands Prix used to have.
And players responded. A large crowd turned out for the tournament, with the level of competition was high. I'm not going to start dropping names, but trust me when I say that nearly every Pro Tour level player who wasn't competing at the World Championship was having a run at the $100,000 Limited Open. It brought players from around the world who love playing the 40-card formats, something included at every Pro Tour but hard to find otherwise.
One of those players was Jason Ye, who feel deep into the hole that can be Magic drafting while spending time at home and was looking for an opportunity to showcase their skills.
"I love Limited, and I'm pretty good at it!" they began. "I got good mostly during the pandemic, so I haven't had much chance to prove myself in paper tournaments. The first and last time I have ever played in a Limited GP-style event was Grand Prix New Jersey in 2020."
As a veteran of the Magic Online draft queue streets myself, I fully appreciate how much fun it can be to devour a Limited format upon release. Throw on a review episode from Limited Resources or Lords of Limited and just lose yourself for a few hours in the Wilds of Eldraine.
Ye took it to the next level – they didn't just qualify for Day Two, they cruised through the draft rounds on to the Top 8, where a three-color Grixis deck took Ye to victory, the Pro Tour invite they were chasing, and a cool $20,000 first-place prize.
"I did have a bit of hubris going in. I felt very prepared and expected to do well – shoutout to the Sanctum of All testing team – but certainly winning it all was better than I expected!" Ye laughed. "I went 7-1 in Sealed and starting Day 2 I felt pretty good. The colors in this format are pretty balanced and decks on all ends of the aggro-control spectrum are viable, so it's most just about draft fundamentals. Wilds of Eldraine is also very deep, and I think one of my strengths with this set is that I'm really good at making use of that depth and squeezing everything I can out of a Sealed pool or draft, through knowing when and how to splash and when and how to play the more fringe, situational cards."
That's getting a little bit into the weeds, but honestly I find it really refreshing to hear players talk so passionately about Limited play. Obviously Constructed Magic draws the most attention for many reasons, but drafting has been an integral part of the Pro Tour experience for as long as I've been involved with the game (I earned my first pro point playing the original Modern Masters Limited Grand Prix in Vegas!). The bonus sheet in Wilds of Eldraine has introduced a lot of cards into drafts that players won't regularly see, and Ye is right that as a result there's more room for experimentation and innovation than most formats. They worked that formula to perfection, and next up is a chance to join the ultimate drat pod: the Pro Tour draft pod.
"It's great to prove that I'm really good at Limited and qualify for the Pro Tour" Ye said. "I'm looking forward to more high-level competitive Magic. With this result, I'm here to stay. And the prize money is nice, too!"
100k deck compilation (before top 8 lol) to have it all in one place:— JasonILTG (@JasonILTG) September 24, 2023
- 7-1 in sealed with straightforward RB
- 2-1 in first draft pod with a really good Bant tap deck that lost to a busted Selesnya deck
- 3-0 in the second draft pod with a 5c soup deck, just like I drew it up :P pic.twitter.com/EuB3moSfkw
While Ye was demonstrating their mastery of the Limited format, there was also high-stakes Modern happening. The event wasn't a high-dollar Open in name, but the Secret Lair Showdown had huge prizes on the line. The first was a special printing of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer that a lot of competitors wanted to earn by advancing deep into the tournament.
The second prize, given only to the winner, was something Magic players across the globe have openly dreamed about: one of only four Secret Lair Showdown prize printings of Brainstorm.
The tournament itself was a series of qualifiers on Day 1, and then a five-round, single-elimination 32-player bracket on Day 2 to determine a champion. Just like going 5-0 in a Magic Online league, right? No pressure.
Anuraag Das is used to pressure. As one of the innovators at the forefront of expanding Magic coverage, he's most often seen at tournaments balancing a dozen responsibilities and coordinating a broadcast stream on tight deadlines.
But Das is an avid Legacy player as well, and was one of the best in the format in its GP circuit years. He has Top 8 appearances at Eternal Weekend events and keeps up with most Magic formats. That makes him a skilled competitor when he decides to get into the trenches, and he proved that with a dominant run through the Secret Lair Showdown at Las Vegas.
"I wanted to go to Vegas and do something Modern-focused," he explained. "This was the premier event for anyone not playing in the World Championship and not interested in playing Sealed. There wasn't a Pro Tour invite on the line, but when it comes to Magic and wanting to win, every event carries that gravitas. You're sweating before you play the first round.
"That's how I felt playing. Everyone was very focused and playing Magic at a high level. There was a match I played on Friday against Burn where my opponent kept a one-lander and I flooded out so badly. Every turn I drew a land I realized I was asking my deck to give me a spell, and that's when I realized how much I cared to do my best. That environment, plus the longer round times for the Sunday showdown made it feel different and important. Those matches all add up to something great."
I got the chance to watch part of Das' run through the Top 8 of the tournament. He piloted an ambitious Four-Color Control deck with ease, adapting to a Modern format remade with the addition of Tales of Middle-earth. By the time he defeated Living End in the finals, it was clear to everyone that Das could perform as well under the bright lights as behind them.
Congratulations to #MCVegas Secret Lair Showdown winner Anuraag Das!— PlayMTG (@PlayMTG) September 25, 2023
Das played 4-Color Control, defeating Living End in the finals, to win the Secret Lair Showdown Brainstorm with art by Justin & Alexis Hernandez.
Congratulations, @anzidmtg! pic.twitter.com/BchMboBk53
With the title and the special Brainstorm added to his growing list of accomplishments, is this the start of more to come for Das? He's not ruling it out.
"I'm looking forward to more of these kind of events in 2024," he explained. "And I'm letting everyone know if I'm playing, beware!"