Pro Tour - Los Angeles Preview
It may be hard to believe, but the Pro Tour makes its fifth trip to the Queen Mary on February 3-6. "The Boat", as Pro Tour regulars affectionately refer to it, is located in Long Beach, California - just outside Los Angeles - and it has been home to many famous moments in Magic history. David Mills was ejected from the PT finals on the boat (and Mark Justice then tried to start a riot). Dave Price was crowned the "King of Beatdown" on the boat. And who can forget that Hammer made his reputation by mentally destroying Tom Guevin and winning the first ever Pro Tour Los Angeles with an innovative control deck that he somehow pieced together out of 4th Edition and Homelands packs. The Boat certainly has more history than any other Pro Tour site. With it's crooked rooms and narrow hallways it's our Wrigley Field. And just like no one forgets their first trip to the ballpark, so too no one forgets the first time they walk down the stairs toward the tournament area and see 3 floors of Magic junkies just like them.
Hammer won a qualifier and will make his 5th trip to Long Beach in a few weeks. Dave Price will be there as well. Pete Guevin is qualified, but not his brother Tom. Meanwhile Dave Mills and Mark Justice have dropped off Tour, but rumor has it that Mike Long will come out of semi-retirement and play on the Boat for a 5th time. Ben Rubin made his debut two years ago on the boat and made the Top 8 partially on the strength of a bluff that a certain Pro Tour Champion (who now works for R&D) bit hook, line, and sinker. Now he returns as the Magic-equivalent of a grizzled veteran. Even the New Jersey old guard of Dave Bachmann, John Chinnock, and Eric Phillips are going to be there. Who could pass up another opportunity to play on the boat? Bachmann gets to revisit the site of his first top 8 and I'm sure Chinnock will be thinking about Happy times as well.
There will be plenty of new players too. For the first time since Pro Tour I (when you could qualify via speed dial), a husband and wife have qualified for the same Pro Tour. Beth and Denver Liston won PTQs 20 days apart in Indianapolis and Columbus. Young phenom Billy Jensen will be trying to cement his reputation as one of the best Limited players in the world while older players like Mike Turian and Gary Wise will be trying to defend their own claims to that title.
As the fourth of six major events in the Pro Tour season, PT - LA is where the Player of the Year race starts to get really interesting. Bob Maher's win at Grand Prix Seattle pulled him within 6 points of Darwin Kastle while Kyle Rose is 9 points back and in third place. A whole bunch of players, including last year's LA champion Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz, this year's Grand Prix superstar Alex Shvartsman, and (surprise) Jon Finkel are just one PT top 8 away from contention.
The format for PT LA 5 is Mercadian Masques booster draft. The Pro Tour regulars that I've been talking to are universally singing the praises of this format. The word on the street is that this is perhaps the most skill-testing limited format that has ever existed. It's the slowest Limited format since Ice Age so good players have time to implement their strategies and bad players have time to make mistakes. It also appears to have fewer broken cards than previous formats so it's almost impossible to lose to some one card that your opponent was lucky enough to draft and then draw. Furthermore, Spellshapers add consistency to decks and the Rebels both add strategy to the draft and increase the importance of being able to read your neighbors.
No color is as powerful as Black was last year or Red was in Mainz. The consensus best color appears to be white. The combination of utility spells, above-average creature control (for white) and those great Rebels makes white the best and deepest color. Second place is either blue or black, depending on who you talk to. Black has many Dark Banishings and the Mercenaries aren't exactly bad, but none of black's commons are as good as Stinging Barrier or Waterfront Bouncer. Green and Red round out the set, of course, and their ordering is open to debate in my mind. Green looks weaker on the surface, but because of that it's not that hard to get a critical mass of fatties that will overwhelm almost any opponent. For more on this subject check out Gary Wise's series of articles on the Mercadian Masques Booster Draft.
All in all, I'm really looking forward to this Pro Tour. Of course, I always look forward to the camaraderie and excitement of any major Magic event, but PT - LA is even better. The Boat brings out a lot of players who might not otherwise show up. Brian Selden is essentially retired, but the former World Champion will almost certainly show up and play in this, his local Pro Tour. And Gab Tsang finally requalified. Back before time began Gab finished #1 in the Swiss at two straight Tour Stops (PT Rye and Worlds '97). No one else has ever done that. One of these years Gab is going to reclaim his rightful spot on the Gravy Train. Maybe it will happen this year on the boat.
If you can't make it to the boat yourself, tune in to the Sideboard Online. We'll have standings, pictures, and feature match reports going up every round. See you then!