Pro Tour Journey into Nyx begins in just a few hours in Atlanta, Georgia. There's a lot going on at the PT, so I've put together a primer on the event. I'll provide a quick run-down of the PT structure, the Theros Block Constructed metagame, Journey into Nyx/Born of the Gods/Theros draft, and what each ChannelFireball player is looking for at this event beyond the Top 8. If you're completely new to the Pro Tour or just looking for some specifics, this article can help!
You'll be able to follow Wizards' video coverage of the Pro Tour all weekend long, and we'll be updating the team pages for Team ChannelFireball, Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon, and the rest of our contributors competing at the event with records and other information.
Pro Tour Structure
The structure of the Pro Tour is simple—broken down into 3 days, the event alternates between Draft, Constructed, Draft, Constructed, and then Constructed for the Top 8.
Day 1, 8 Rounds: Journey into Nyx/Born of the Gods/Theros Draft, then 3 rounds played, paired only within their pod.
5 rounds of Theros Block Constructed
A record of 4-4 is required to advance to Day 2, although 3 losses is generally considered the maximum to Top 8 a Pro Tour. Players at 4-4 can generally be considered out of contention (but there's still plenty to play for!).
Day 2, 8 Rounds: JBT Draft, 3 rounds, then 5 more rounds of Block Constructed.
At Pro Tour Theros, 12-3-1 was a hard cutoff for Top 8, the same was true at PT Dragon's Maze, two 12-4s made Top 8 at PT Gatecrash, and three 12-4s made Top 8 at PT Return to Ravnica. So as you can see, it's not a hard rule, but even when players at 12-4 made it, only a portion of them did so. Generally, 3 is the Magic (get it?) number.
Day 3, Top 8: 3 single-elimination rounds of Theros Block Constructed.
Here are the prizes, once we have a Champion and final standings:
And don't miss Florian Koch's Pro Tour Journey into Nyx Special, with interviews from Sam Black, Pat Chapin, Melissa DeTora, Patrick Dickmann, Owen Turtenwald, Matej Zatlkaj, Kenji Tsumura, and Andrew Cuneo!
Theros Block Constructed
Block is a unique kind of Constructed Magic. Most players at the PT will probably know every single card in the format. Nothing goes unnoticed. The PT's scheduling matters more for this tournament than any other. It comes on the heels of a new set release, so Journey into Nyx represents more than a quarter of the format.
On top of all that, there's not much information on Theros Block Constructed. Long ago, Block Constructed was a PTQ format with broader appeal. Now, Block isn't played anywhere outside of Magic Online—and Journey into Nyx has only been available there for about a week. What do we do with this? Deck lists from Daily Events are unreliable—there won't be much innovation Online while the Pros are keeping their tech secret, and card availability matters quite a bit. You'll see red/white aggro decks with no Mana Confluence, and Block is generally treated as a budget entry-point to Constructed Online for many new players.
Let's start, then, with the perceived pillars of the format. If you can't see exactly what the popular decks at the Pro Tour will be, yet, at least you'll be able to discern the major influences in the format. These pillars are not necessarily the best cards (though many of them are), but they offer incentives and disincentives. You may want to play one strategy because it gives you access to one of these cards, or conversely because it sidesteps one in an important way.
Pillars of Block
Let's start at the top. Elspeth is the most powerful card in the format, hands down. Some non-white decks would try splashing just for Elspeth, and were instantly better as a result. Elspeth puts a few points of pressure on the format:
• Small ground creatures can't get through the tokens.
• 4-power creatures are suspect.
If you see a deck with white mana, you can bet it's playing Elspeth.
Mana in Block Constructed is always shaky because of the smaller card pool. That means any green deck will want the Caryatid, which brings with it a few side effects:
• 2-power creatures are much worse. If anyone who plays a Forest gets a blocker with their Rampant Growth, aggro decks have to adapt (or not get played).
Temples and Mana Confluence
The mana in this Block format isn't as terrible as some previous formats like Scars of Mirrodin or Shards of Alara, though any 3-color deck is going to have trouble casting a double-colored spell. That being said, the Temples add an incentive that pushes you to include them for reasons other than mana-fixing. Not since Grove of the Burnwillows have we seen a dual land that decks will run even if it's off-color. That means that even the two-color decks want more than 4, and at that point you are practically adding a third color anyway. As a result, 3-color decks are more common than the quality of mana-fixing would suggest.
Mana Confluence means two things:
• Two-color aggro decks have better (though not great) mana-fixing than they did before Journey.
• If players are taking more damage from their lands, aggro decks are better.
If you play Standard you will recognize this one. The best answers in Theros block are totally universal. Whatever sweet tech you came up with, whatever ace you've got up your sleeve, your opponent can answer it for one mana and 2 life. What does this mean? One of two things: card advantage is good, to pull you ahead during all these 1-for-1 trades, or cheap, redundant threats are good—your opponent is paying a small premium for the universality of their removal, and you can punish them by making the threat they are answering cost less than 3, or by mitigating Thoughtseize with a bunch of cards that all do the same thing.
Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow
This is the only effect in the format that looks anything like a Wrath of God. You can Extinguish all Hope and you can Fated Retribution, but those are clearly too expensive to be played as 4-ofs. If you are playing a creature deck, you can be certain that if you overextend, only these cards can reliably make you pay.
This means only red or black decks threaten to wipe the board, and remember what I said about double-colored spells—neither be totally reliable on turn 3. On top of that, it's safe to overextend with 4+-toughness creatures.
Draw your own conclusions from these variables. For instance, you can tell that Courser of Kruphix is even better than it is in Standard—it dodges Anger of the Gods, Elspeth, generates card advantage to help compensate for 1-for-1 trades, trades evenly on mana with Hero's Downfall and Banishing Light, it's in green so you can play Caryatid, and it helps offset lifeloss from Mana Confluence!
Ok, let's take a look at a few deck lists from Magic Online. Take these with a grain of salt—I only picked decks that put up repeat strong performances, but we're dealing with a small sample size alongside the factors I mentioned before.
This is just a small selection, but each of these decks were the most commonly appearing on Magic Online—and everyone at the Pro Tour will be building with these in mind.
Theros Block Draft
Journey into Nyx didn't change the draft format drastically. Most decks still build one large creature, removal is still pretty hard to come by, and heroic is still good. However, there were some general trends to note:
• The format is slower. With no common bestow creatures in Journey, only 1 pack of Ordeals, and fewer quality heroic creatures, that archetype is not what it once was.
• Black didn't get great removal, and now has a chance to get aggressive.
• Red is much, much better. (It would be hard not to be, considering where the bar was set before.)
The top 3 commons in each color (according to Luis Scott-Vargas):
For a little editorializing on my part, I think most players, including Luis, would put Bladetusk Boar above Starfall now—but that's just a guess.
Don't just listen to me though, watch Pro Tour Born of the Gods finalist Jacob Wilson draft this format instead!
ChannelFireball Player Pro Point Goals
Naturally, every player on the Pro Tour wants to reach the Top 8. That honor is unfortunately reserved for only 8 players, so it's inevitable that many players will need to set their sights on more attainable goals at some point in the tournament.
With that in mind, I've set each player's alternate goal to being on pace for Platinum. The benefits of Platinum are clear, with appearance fees, travel, and prestige, but keep in mind of course that not every player will care about Platinum as much as his peers.
For each player, I've listed the finish that will lock them for Platinum at this PT, and what I deem a respectable finish. Since there are 2 more PTs, there's a lot of room to maneuver, but for PT Journey into Nyx I've determined that a good goal would put the player "on track" to reach Platinum. By "on pace," I mean a finish that would put them about 2/3 of the way there or better.
If you're following a few specific players, this should give you a good idea of where they want to end up if they pick up that 4th loss.
Remember that every player gets 3 points just for showing up to a PT, and that future GPs are totally excluded from this analysis.
Here's the prize structure, again, for reference:
And goals per player:
Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon
Special thanks to Matt Nass for number crunching.