Beyond the Norm: A Guide to Watching the Pro Tour

Ryan Normandin
July 28, 2017


It’s been two weeks since the release of Hour of Devastation. Two weeks of watching the price of all the cards that you didn’t invest in skyrocket, dying on Turn 5 to Monored Aggro’s return to Standard, and trying to remain polite as you point out, for the umpteenth time, that “Devastation” is not spelled “Devestation.” What does all of this mean? It’s time to watch the Pro Tour!


This isn't confusing AT ALL, this is my favorite set since Emrakul, the Eldritch Moon

The Pro Tour (PT) is like the Magic version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? with a couple of small changes. First, instead of answering fifteen trivia questions correctly, players must play through sixteen rounds of best-of-three matches of a mentally grueling card game, accepting that even if they play perfectly, they might just lose to bad luck. Furthermore, they must do so on little sleep, little food, and fighting jet lag in a different time zone. But for Magic players, this wasn’t quite difficult enough. So, if you’re not a professional, you’ll be competing against individuals who have invested far more time than you and have pooled resources and information, ensuring that you are at a major disadvantage.


Actual Photo of Gerry Thompson after winning PT Amonkhet

This brings us to the final, small way that the PT is different than Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Magic is more difficult to win and the most popular trading card game in the world, with profits growing for years, which means that Pro Tour competitors are playing for no less than fifty thousand dollars! That’s right, the Pro Tour is basically Who Wants to be a $50,000-aire? But don’t worry! If you come in second place, you still win $20,000!


When the stakes are this high, you want to make sure that you don’t miss anything. That’s why I’ve put together this handy-dandy guide to watching Magic’s biggest event of the year!


The Pros

After reading about what’s at stake, it’s easy to see why people would choose to become professional Magic players. Wizards has made a big push over the last couple of years to make pros more recognizable and follow their stories from PT to PT. The biggest way in which they’ve done this has been to create the Team Series, which basically incentivizes pros (with, if you can believe it, even more prize money!) to form teams and stick with them for the entirety of a season. Wizards set out two requirements for teams. First, you need to make jerseys, but these jerseys need not look good. In fact, a t-shirt with your team name on it should suffice. Second, you get bonus points if your team name is fun and creative. If you’re not a top team, this is actually a requirement. Enjoy such hits as Conflagreece, EUreka, and… MTG Puzzle Quest. See if you can spot them all!


 To help you out with this, Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) will play a fun slideshow of various teams between rounds, awkwardly posed in full attire with vaguely creepy music playing. Find your favorite team (or pun) and track their progress throughout the PT! Just be careful; WOTC likes to show teams that aren’t qualified for the current PT mixed in with those that are. This is a motivational technique known as “public shaming” to try to encourage teams that have fallen off the train to get back on.


 There are also fun little prerecorded segments where one of the commentators goes into a big team’s testing house and looks around. Pros usually arrive on-location at the Pro Tour a week or two before the event in order to lock themselves away from society to test the formats, living and breathing card games and pizza. This is WOTC’s best attempt to make the pros relatable and show that they’re not much different from you and me... you know… aside from the fact that they rent a house in an exotic location for two weeks in order to play card games. You’ll get to see who on the team is the nerdy MTGO grinder and who is the fun prankster; who is the brains behind managing the team and who is the young kid who put up a good result at a recent GP and is just so excited to have been invited onto the team! Hopefully he doesn’t let his new friends down! Pro MTG teams are an eclectic collection of BFF’s, and with some hard work, that could be you and your BFF’s! There’ll also be an overdone scene where the reporter tries to get into the Super-Secret-Room-of-Standard-Tech, and the players refuse in a way in which they try to look friendly and playful, but just underneath is a kind of sad desperation and horror. It’s kind of like if your parents were to unexpectedly show up on a Saturday morning at your frat house and wanted to see your bedroom… except that instead of seeing your inclination toward questionable substances, habits, and company, they’d see your inclination toward questionable cards and decks in addition to the substances, habits, and company.

 Honestly, the pros don’t have any more of an idea of what they’re doing for this Pro Tour than we do. I feel pretty comfortable calling it now; the deck that wins the PT isn’t going to be doing anything fancy. In fact, it’s probably going to curve out at four and get a decent number of its kills with Ramunap Ruins.


Twitch Chat

Twitch Chat is Love... Twitch Chat is Life

 One of the true delights of any Pro Tour is Twitch Chat. In order to contribute to Twitch Chat, you need only a free Twitch account. This means that the chat is filled with none but the most skilled, brilliant Magic players in the world. Average number of misplays per tournament? Zero. Per event? Zero. Per year? Maybe one, if they’re feeling modest. The only reason they’re not playing on the Pro Tour is because they just don’t have the time, the qualifying tournaments are too far away, or, most likely of all… variance, bro. They’re just the unluckiest people they know.

Point is, you can count on chat to recognize when a player is playing too slowly, too poorly, or too unattractively. They’re fantastic judges of personal character, which can usually be determined based on physical appearance. (I forgot to mention, everyone in chat is also incredibly good-looking!) It’s definitely something that, as a viewer, you really have to experience once in order to truly understand. Get in on the action! Make edgy comments, and laugh as you watch the moderators try to keep up banning your witty remarks. Go crazy with the emotes! Let everyone in chat know that you would have/wouldn’t have played around that Blossoming Defense… whichever would’ve won you the game. You are better than the pros, and you’d be doing people a disservice if you didn’t let them know!


The Coverage

Wizards’ coverage is always top-tier. First, they have a team of commentators who each have their own signature move:


  • Marshall is prone to having his mind blown. If someone top-decks well, poorly, or generally just draws a card, he will freak out. Be prepared for frequent “wow’s” and reminding the audience of how exciting this all is.
  • LSV’s enjoys trolling. He will try to see how many puns and jokes he can slip into a single sentence without the other commentators noticing, usually with great success.
  • Rich Hagon is very excited about everything and really wants to reach LSV levels of pun. Instead, we cringe. We were able to recover the following text from Rich Hagon’s phone:

    Moving on from the classic commentators themselves, there are some fun things to look for in Wizards coverage of the event. Given their success with MTGO, they’ve built a reputation for technical prowess. Look for:

    • their stream to crash.
    • their cameras to cut to something random and unrelated, such as a wall, instead of a match.
    • them to struggle to fill awkward dead time.
    • them to linger for far too long on commentators who are clearly done speaking, forcing them to stare and smile awkwardly while they wait for that stupid little red light to go away


    The Magic

     How could we forget! In between the storylines, home invasions, and chat bannings, there are some people playing Magic, and they’re probably pretty decent to have gotten to where they are. Definitely some fun to be had there, particularly if you live in North America, where you’ll have to stay up all night to watch the Pro Tour live!

    But in addition to the players, watch the members of R&D; see if you can spot the quiet desperation in their eyes as they pray that finally, this time, no one but monored will win the game on Turn 4.