A Player of the Year, a Pro Tour champion, and an announcement announcing an announcement. Just another week in the world of Magic: the Gathering.

Ultimate Masters Grand Prix

Shortly after Ultimate Masters was announced, CFBEvents revealed that two Grand Prix would feature the final Masters set. Grand Prix Vancouver (December 28-30, 2018) and Grand Prix Prague (January 11-13, 2019) will both feature Ultimate Masters Sealed on Day 1, and Draft on Day 2 and in the Top 8. Both Ultimate Masters Grand Prix have an attendance cap of 2,500.

Grand Prix Vancouver was originally scheduled to be a Team Grand Prix but that changed in advance of the new set becoming public knowledge. Instead, there will be two Team Limited Pro Tour Qualifiers at Grand Prix Vancouver—one Guilds of Ravnica and one Ultimate Masters.

Direct Challenge on Arena

Direct challenge—the ability to play against a specific player —will be coming to Magic: the Gathering Arena on November 15th.

Upcoming Announcement

On Friday, as Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica was in the midst of its first Draft, an announcement went up on the Magic homepage. The article announced that a “major competitive play announcement” will be coming on December 6th both at the Game Awards and on the Magic homepage. The article also linked to two previous announcements about paths to the Pro Tour, the Pro Tour schedule, and the introduction of Magic Fests. With the official announcement still several weeks away the world of Magic will have to wait just a little bit longer to find out the full picture for competitive play for the year ahead.

And speaking of that Pro Tour schedule…

Player of the Year Playoff

The day before Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica kicked off in earnest, there was the small matter of determining the 2017-18 Player of the Year. Seth Manfield, winner of Pro Tour Ixalan, was mere hours away from being inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame as he sat down to play a best-of-seven set against Luis Salvatto, the winner of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. After Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, Manfield led the race for Player of the Year with Salvatto and Reid Duke hot on his heels. What ensued was a month-long race from Grand Prix to Grand Prix, jockeying for position. It came down to Grand Prix Stockholm, where Salvatto made the Top 8. If he had won his quarterfinals match, it would have all been over. He didn’t, and the result was the second ever Player of the Year playoff.

Manfield and Salvatto each brought four decks to the table. Before each game they would select one and square off. Once a player had won with a deck, that deck would be retired. The first contender to four wins would be the Player of the Year.

The first game was a Mono-Blue Tempo mirror match that went to Manfield. For the second game, Salvatto stuck with the same deck while Manfield opted for Mono-Red Beatdown. A timely Chart a Course pulled Salvatto back into the game and he evened the score. From there Salvatto took his Jeskai Control to a win over Manfield’s Boros Weenie and then a win with Mono-Red Aggro over Izzet Drakes. Needing to win one more game, Salvatto took out the last deck in his holster—White Weenie—while Manfield decided to run it back with Boros Weenie. The red splash netted Manfield the victory and forced a sixth game where Salvatto was forced to play the same White Weenie deck. Manfield brought Mono-Red Aggro to the table but couldn’t keep his dream alive. A few short turns later, Luis Salvatto earned the title of the 2017-18 Player of the Year!

Hall of Fame

The Pro Tour Hall of Fame added two new members on Thursday: Seth Manfield of the United States and Lee Shi Tian of Hong Kong. Manfield is a Pro Tour Champion, a World Champion, and has four Pro Tour Top 8s. Lee has five Pro Tour Top 8s to his name and the honor of being the first player from the APAC region who is not from Japan to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Congratulations to the latest inductees on their hard earned and well deserved honor!

Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica

Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, with over 500 competitors, was the largest individual Pro Tour to date. All eyes were on Atlanta to see if the Standard format was as healthy as the run-up to the event would lead the community to believe. The event did not disappoint. Although Golgari Midrange made up over 20% of the Day 1 field and was a significant presence on Day 2, not a single copy of the deck made it to the Top 8. Instead, the elimination rounds were dominated by Red-White Aggro—a nearly mono-white aggressive deck that splashed for red either in the main deck in the form of Heroic Reinforcements, or out of the sideboard. Six copies of the deck made it to the Top 8.

The Top 8 featured two legends of the game, a Pro Tour Champion, and five first-time Sunday competitors. Luis Scott-Vargas made his ninth Top 8 with Red-White Aggro. Also playing the strategy was Jeremy Dezani in his second Top 8, and Michael Bernat, Kasper Nielsen, Tay Jun Hao, and Andrew Elenbogen on their first trip to the elimination rounds at a Pro Tour. Wilson Mok made his first Pro Tour Top 8 on Jeskai Control and Yuuya Watanabe made his fifth Pro Tour Top 8 with Izzet Drakes. Watanabe and Mok fell in the quarterfinals, which meant that the winning deck would feature some number of Sacred Foundry.

Andrew Elenbogen dispatched Mok before squaring off against Tay Jun Hao, who defeated Watanabe. It took four games for Elenbogen to secure his seat in the finals. On the other side of the bracket, Scott-Vargas defeated Bernat while Dezani took out Nielsen. That set up a showdown between the two Pro Tour champions competing for a second title. Scott-Vargas, despite being the lower seed, won the first game, then the second. Moving to sideboard, Scott-Vargas brought in Settle the Wreckage. On the decisive turn the Hall-of-Famer had the sideboard bullet in his hand. Luis started to set up with a copy of Adanto, the First Fort and three lands in play. Scott-Vargas reached for the pile of tokens to help his opponent set up blocks. Dezani then swung in with his team and right into the Settle the Wreckage. With an extension of the hand Dezani admitted defeat and Scott-Vargas was on to the finals.

The first two games saw nigh-perfect draws from each of the victors. First, Scott-Vargas curved into two copies of History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal. Elenbogen matched that in the second game and the match was knotted at one. In game 3 Scott-Vargas showed off some of the power of Team ChannelFireball’s technology with Ajani’s Pridemate. Thanks to Healer’s Hawk and Leonin Vanguard, the 2-drop grew to near Tarmogoyf size and there was nothing Elenbogen could do. In game 4 Scott-Vargas had access to Settle the Wreckage, but his opponent smelled a trap and attacked in such a way to protect his army. Despite casting the game-breaker, Scott-Vargas fell to Elenbogen’s superior army.

It came down to the fifth and final game. On the play, Scott-Vargas took a mulligan to six. Elenbogen kept. Then Scott-Vargas took another mulligan. Then another. Starting with four cards, Scott-Vargas made a valiant effort. But Elenbogen was not going to let this opportunity pass him up. He snuck into the Top 8 as the only 36 point player. He defeated Wilson Mok, a player who came ready with Deafening Clarion and Cleansing Nova in five games and he was not going to let a Hall-of-Famer stand in his way. Once Venerated Loxodon hit the table, the writing was on the wall. Two attacks later, Elenbogen received a handshake and a trophy as your Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica Champion! With the win, Elenbogen’s Team—Cardboard Live—takes an early lead in the 2018-19 Pro Tour Team Series.

Red-White Aggro

Andrew Elebogen

Looking Forward

Next week the Grand Prix circuit makes two stops. Grand Prix Melbourne will feature Guilds of Ravnica Limited while Grand Prix Milwaukee will give us another look at the latest Standard environment.