I may have missed the mark to qualify for Pro Tour: Phyrexia in Philadelphia last weekend, but I watched every second of the coverage. The electricity in the room was felt through my screen as players returned to the paper Pro Tour stage. I’ve played twenty paper Pro Tours over my career and it’s a feeling like no other. It’s truly great to see the triumphant return.
There weren’t many misses in coverage so I’m going to focus on the many things the team got right and some highlights from the event. Despite not doing Magic coverage since 2010 it’s a passion of mine to see it done well and last weekend they knocked it out of the park.
Professional online events don’t carry the same weight for me. There’s something magical about big paper events. I remember looking forward to each Pro Tour Friday as a spectator. It was always a school/work day for me, but watching the games was my top priority.
Qualifying for a Pro Tour can be bittersweet as it takes an enormous amount of dedication. Making it to the big dance does not guarantee success as you’re going up against the best in the world. I’ve felt many Pro Tours that I performed badly and didn’t give it my all.
It’s hard to put life on pause ahead of a big trip to a Pro Tour. There’s a reason those who put in the reps are rewarded over a stretch of time.
The overall energy of the show did make me regret not trying harder to qualify. I hope others feel the same way and it revitalizes competitive Magic.
CASTERS DID GREAT JOB OF AVOIDING COVERAGE PITFALLS.
I often see casters make avoidable mistakes in coverage and was pleased to see very few of these basic coverage mistakes made throughout the broadcast:
-BEING UNAWARE OF THE FORMAT
Expert commentators are required to understand the format nuances and boil them down concisely. Play by play commentators must also understand the format in order to ask the expert relevant questions. The show falls flat when one of the casters isn’t on the same level.
-SPECULATE ON BAD LINES OF PLAY
Only focus on the future if it’s fairly certain. It’s an unneeded knock on your credibility to poorly predict the game’s outcome.
-ASK THEIR CO-CASTER A QUESTION THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
I don’t often have difficulty focusing for a long period of time, but it tests me when I’m watching a game and the casters are spouting nonsense. If you want to make a joke use a statement instead of a question to avoid dragging it on for too long. Nothing wrong with a little humor, but don’t detract from the game.
-COMPLAINING ABOUT NEW CARD ARTS
Look, I’m the old guard and things change faster than I would like. However, most players like some variety and we need to move on. It’s tiring to hear crotchety casters call the game wrong and then complain about unfamiliar arts.
-MAKE JOKES ABOUT PLURALIZED NAMES OF CREATURE TYPES
Maybe I’ve just been around the block, but derailing the commentary to ask the plural of a creature type is not amusing. It has been done to death.
-COMMENTATORS NOT STAYING IN THEIR LANE
Play-by-Play tracks the game as it’s happening. They can set up their expert co-commentator to drop some knowledge about the format and what’s going on beneath the surface. Staying in your lane helps maintain continuity.
Experts should pick their spots to wax poetic about the inner workings of a game or format otherwise Play-by-Play needs to interrupt as new events transpire. Don’t give a five minute lesson on turn two of the game.
There are many other caster faux pas to call out, but I mention them only to say the Pro Tour: Phyrexia coverage largely avoided these pitfalls. There was great synergy among the casting pairs as they have been working together for years and it takes time to get right. They were also knowledgeable of both Phyrexia Draft and Pioneer.
INNOVATIVE COVERAGE HIGHLIGHTS
-CASTERS WERE POSITIVE ABOUT THE PLAYER’S DECISIONS.
This is a good attitude as watching the match from a screen is different from being immersed in the game and details willbe missed. Calling out misplays without 100% information creates a risky situation where youmust walk back your critique. There’s also not much upside in being critical in the first place.
Shoutout to Mani Davoudi for doing the homework on the APAC players near the top of the standings. It’s easy to call out Reid Duke and Gabriel Nassif, but adding some color to the lesser known players take more effort.
I wasn’t familiar with Phyrexia Draft coming into last weekend, but the materials covered on the streams were able to help get me up to speed without sacrificing the story as it unfolded. It surprised me I didn’t skip the limited coverage even as Pioneer was available to watch.
-CEDRIC INTERVIEWING THE PROS.
Not only is Cedric the best to ever do commentary, but he has known most of the big names for over a decade. I enjoyed hearing everyone’s take on the return of the Pro Tour and their tournament preparation. Great for enhancing the storylines.
Simple, yet elegant. Playmats loaded with advertisements and sweet card art distracts from the game. I was playing a match on a mat with card art a few weeks ago and literally didn’t see a the token I had on the battlefield because it was so busy. Magic is a complicated game; less is more.
-SIMPLE TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE.
Oh how I missed the days where I actually understood the professional tournament structure. Three rounds of draft followed by five rounds of constructed. Go to sleep and do the same thing in day 2 with a 4-4 record or better. A cut to best three out of five rounds in the top eight. Simple. Tried and true.
The era of the MPL shrunk the size of professional events. Pro Tour: Phyrexia had 212 competitors creating compelling storylines rather than a blur of pros duking it out.
Smaller, exclusive tournaments create inbred metagames. If I’m going to watch Pioneer I want to apply what I learn in the games rather than see a weird version of a deck that is bad outside of the small field.
-BENTON MADSEN AND TWO OTHER TOP 8 COMPETITORS IN THEIR FIRST PRO TOUR.
Benton made a deep run at Pro Tour: Phyrexia, his first Pro Tour. It’s hard not to want to root for the newcomer making a historic run at the title taking down pro after pro. He qualified for the Pro Tour playing The Brother’s War Sealed on his iPhone.
Benton’s expectation at his first Pro Tour was to lose every round and maybe get a couple on day 1 with some luck. I expect big things from Benton in the future and will cheer him on in future Pro Tours.
Takumi Matsuura also made the top 8 of his first Pro Tour with Mono White Humans and a lot of crisp play. Again, I expect big things from him in the future.
A third top 8 competitor was also playing his first Pro Tour, Derrick Davis. A mainstay on the NRG circuit with multi-color value piles in Modern; Enigmatic Incarnation was the perfect choice for him. He can return to the midwest circuit next time with a bit more swagger.
-REID DUKE WON THE PRO TOUR.
A long time coming. I remember traveling to Grand Prix: Providence with Gerard Fabiano back in 2011 and he told me his friend, Reid Duke, was going to be the next big thing. Like me, he got into Magic before he could read back in the Ice Age and played with his brother and cousin. The nicest guy on the Pro Tour. You love to see it.
-PROFESSIONAL VERSUS ASPIRATIONAL MAGIC CONVERGE
Once again, we’re moving back to the old way of thinking about professional play. The idea of the MPL was that the cream would rise and remain at the top and it wasn’t feasible to crack the upper echelon. That level of exclusivity left us on the outside feeling like we were watching matches being broadcast from an ivory tower.
Magic is compelling because you can envision yourself playing the finals of a Pro Tour. I have played one myself and the week before I was goldfishing a Jund deck in my basement and imagining I’m playing the finals. After winning GP Cincinnati I was totally convinced it didn’t happen for a solid week. Those were literal dreams coming true. Making the game slightly less exclusive allows for this.
-NO DOWNTIME BETWEEN GAMES.
The pre-recorded games allow for no downtime for sideboarding and shuffling. In the past I wouldn’t watch live tournament streams to skip the downtime and this was a big improvement.
It helps when the constructed format of the Pro Tour isn’t stale. When the top players were interviewed on their deck choices they mostly defaulted to something that fit their play style. Rakdos, Mono Green, Humans, Lotus Field, and Gruul Vehicles were all represented allowing for a healthy mix of matchups to watch. Even the best teams at the Pro Tour didn’t agree on one deck that was above the rest.
-GABRIEL NASSIF HARD CASTING SHARK TYPHOON FOR THE MEMES.
YellowHat hard casting Typhoon for Twitch Chat was awesome to see. He’s still memeing on the biggest stage. You love to see it.
-I KEPT TWITTER CLOSED WHILE THE TOURNAMENT WAS IN PROGRESS.
I seriously couldn’t be more excited to see a return to normalcy. The Pro Tour has been near and dear to my heart for twenty years and it’s awesome to see it back in a familiar form.