Let’s get right down to it. What we have here are twenty-four of Magic’s best players all preparing for the biggest tournament of their lives (well, in terms of the prize for first place, that is.) Some are dark horse longshots. Some are verifiable GOATs. Any of them could be holding a massive six figure prize check come this Sunday, and therein lies the fun. For those of us who love watching high stakes Magic, this is the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Finals all in one. This time, it’s even better than in previous years, with a brand-new Standard format and a brand-new Limited format to juice up the spectating value for all of us in the virtual bleachers. Will Christian Calcano beat Owen Turtenwald with a hyper-synergistic Pirates deck in Draft? Will Lee Shi Tian beat Marcio Carvalho with an untouchable Carnage Tyrant in Standard? Will Eric Froehlich peel an Approach of the Second Sun to beat Sebastian Pozzo in a crazy, swingy final match? No one knows for sure, but this clash of the titans is poised to be one of the best Magic tournaments of all time in terms of excitement and novelty, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Of course, what good is an All-Star Game without the ever-controversial power rankings? Sports handicapping is an art form as old as organized sport, so it seems almost mandatory to add my voice to the chorus of pundits and make an ordered list out of the murderers’ row of talent here at this tournament. As always, these views are my own, and if you don’t agree with them, feel free to sound off in the comments. Without further ado, your Worlds 2017 Power Rankings:
1. Yuuya Watanabe
Yuuya-san is just an astonishing player. His consistency is unparalleled, he was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame in 2016, and he just plays at an elite level. This is a man who knows how to win, plain and simple. He won the Players’ Championship in 2012, he’s got two Pro Tour finals appearances (Return to Ravnica and Amonkhet), and his name strikes fear into the hearts of those who are unfortunate enough to get paired against him. At a local level, many of us remember the infamous “PTQ End Boss”. In many local scenes, there is a big fish, a player who dominates the competitive tournaments in the area, a player who you simply have to beat if you have any hope of winning your PTQ (or PPTQ, RPTQ, IQ). I’ve been beaten by local end bosses time and time again, beaten local end bosses in some of my proudest Magic moments to date, and even been a local end boss after many years of practice. Playing against them is a big deal, and beating them is a massive accomplishment. Take your local PTQ end boss, and multiply their skill tenfold. Now you’re talking. If there is a single end boss to the Pro Tour, his name is Yuuya Watanabe, and if he ends up holding the trophy this weekend, no one should be surprised.
2. Owen Turtenwald
Except, of course, for Yuuya’s Hall of Fame classmate, the equally-dominant Owen Turtenwald. Owen also has a metric ton of insane finishes, a pair of Player of the Year titles, and the exact persona that typifies an end boss. Owen’s lost in the finals of a Pro Tour and the World Championships in recent years, and if any title still means something to him, it’s the immortalizing World Championship title. Look for Owen to play circles around some of the weaker players at this event, and prove once and for all that he deserves to be in the discussion of an all-time great.
3. Shota Yasooka
Shota is my first possibly-controversial pick, but he certainly deserves a spot in the top five competitors, and he’s already proven his worth at picking apart a new Standard format with an untuned control deck (see: Pro Tour Kaladesh, or if you want to dial it back, Team Unified Standard at Pro Tour Charleston 2006). Rest assured, Yasooka will be making his opponents’ eyes cross while they try to figure out what they can (and what they should) play around every game. Torrential Gearhulk and Vraska's Contempt never had a better shot than they do with this man at the helm, and if there is even a remote possibility that Standard can be shaken up by some off-the-wall control deck, you can bet that Shota’s stoic mug will be gracing the coverage page come Sunday.
4. Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa
Another two-time Pro Tour Champion (San Juan 2010 and Hour of Devastation), Paulo is unquestionably one of the best to ever touch a Magic card. He belongs firmly in the upper echelon of the Hall of Fame, alongside Jon, Kai, and LSV. His career is even on a bit of an upswing right now, as PVDDR is coming off a Pro Tour win and seems to be playing as well as ever. The only surprise here is that he isn’t ranked higher, and it’s quite possible he should be.
5. Josh Utter-Leyton
Wrapter is a machine. He doesn’t make dumb mistakes, he knows how to math out complex boards, and he stays cool under pressure. It’s no surprise that he won the Magic Online Championship Series this year, just like it’s no surprise that he was a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame this year alongside Martin Juza. Give Josh a solid deck, and he’ll give you the wins. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him hoisting the trophy with a little help from Hazoret and friends, and it would make a poetic capstone to his already monumental Hall of Fame induction year.
6. Marcio Carvalho
Ah, the would-have-been-but-for-cruel-fate Player of the Year. Let’s be honest, Marcio has been on an absolute heater this past season. Second at the World Championships last year. Second at PT Aether Revolt. Top four of the MOCS. A couple of Grand Prix wins to tie the room together. A Limited juggernaut. If Marcio doesn’t go at least 5-1 in Limited at Worlds, it would surprise me. Grant him that finish, and a solid Constructed deck all but guarantees him a Top 4 berth, and another shot at glory that he missed last year. He’s a great player, he’s a polarizing figure, and his matches stand to be some of the most intense of the entire World Championships. I’m personally looking forward to learning about this Draft format through watching his Draft recaps, and you should too. He’s going to put on a clinic.
7. William Jensen
Unflappable. Imperturbable. Inscrutable. Huey’s got a mental game honed through years of professional gaming, whether it be Magic, Poker, sports betting, Blackjack, you name it. The man, quite simply, doesn’t tilt, doesn’t let up, and doesn’t pack it in. He’s testing with the Peach Garden Oath for this tournament, and it wouldn’t shock me one bit to see a mirror match in the finals between two of the team’s members. In fact, it would be a storybook ending to a great event, considering how hard these guys push each other. Look for Huey’s stoic game face in the feature match this weekend, because it’s bound to be there quite a lot.
8. Martin Juza
Martin is a player who I’ve long thought to be way better than his Pro Tour results would indicate. His clear dominance of the Grand Prix circuit pushed him over the line for induction into the Hall of Fame this year (although his Top 8 finish at Pro Tour Aether Revolt certainly pulled a lot of weight as well). He’s a Limited master, and if he gets a good Constructed deck, he’ll doubtless make a deep run. If a heater is forthcoming for old Marty J, what better time than now, with $100,000 on the line? After all, he just won a team Grand Prix with Andrew Baeckstrom and Corey Burkhart, beating none other than Peach Garden Oath in the finals! I’m seeing a Top 4, and maybe more, if Martin toes the line and plays a great deck like Sultai Energy or Mono-Red. And I’ll be first in line to congratulate him if he wins!
9. Reid Duke
The third member of Peach Garden Oath, Reid has had a relatively quiet year, with only a single Grand Prix win in Louisville (alongside the obvious team Grand Prix dominance) to punctuate the season. Why rank him here? Sure, there are players with better resumes, and players who have had hotter individual seasons recently. However, in a field of immense talent, Reid’s edge is twofold. One, he has an insane testing squad (the aforementioned PGO group.) Two, he has the competitor’s spirit down to a T. Reid is a fit-or-fold kind of player, and if he is in the right mental groove, he’s liable to win the whole event. Let’s hope for his sake that he finds a deck he likes in the new Standard format, because I wouldn’t want to be sitting across from him if he does.
10. Seth Manfield
Ah, the one, the only, your 2015 World Champion, “Sexual Seth” Manfield. Just say his nickname once or twice, enjoy the alliteration, and get ready for that classic Seth laugh when he opens up a Carnage Tyrant or a Charging Monstrosaur or a Vraska, Relic Seeker in his very first draft pack. Seth’s been to the top before, and he’s a strong candidate to do it again. After all, do you know why they call him “Sexual Seth”? Because he always finishes first.
11. Brad Nelson
Bradley. J. Nelson. If anyone can make an undefeated Standard run at this tournament, it’s going to be Brad. Of course, there’s the fact that he’s on a Standard heater. But it’s not just that. He plays so much Constructed, tests his heart out, and seems to always find whatever critical element exists each week of the format and how to exploit it. Brad is the most lopsided player in the field, with an edge in Constructed honed on the SCG Tour and GP circuits that puts him right at the top, but a middling draft resume that puts him squarely in the middle. If he finds a Limited strategy that works to earn him four wins in Draft, then we are extremely likely to see him making a run that could result in a huge win.
12. Eric Froehlich
EFro is a consummate gamer, and his Hall of Fame resume backs him up. He’s got what it takes to win against any of these guys, but a poor start could send him spiraling into the darkness of tilt and self-pity. Eric has a love-hate relationship with Magic, where if he’s feeling off, he won’t play particularly well, but a good mood and a few early wins could push him to the top of the standings throughout the Swiss rounds. Clearly, no one will be surprised if EFro is playing on Sunday, except maybe the man himself! (It’s well documented by this point that Eric has a propensity to focus on bad beats.)
13. Lee Shi Tian
Five Pro Tour Top 8’s speak for themselves. Lee’s got the chops to win, and win big. He’s played on the big stage enough to lose the nerves, and he’s hungry for a big win to put the cherry on top of an already Hall of Fame-caliber career. MTGMintCard has done a stellar job placing a number of its members into Worlds, and Lee’s crack testing squad will doubtless have a respectable Standard deck and a draft strategy to give them an edge. Those on his testing team (Christian Calcano and Andrea Mengucci) constantly sing the praises of Lee’s amazing ability to pinpoint the best deck in a moving format, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him battling deep into the tournament with whatever deck they do come up with.
14. Sam Pardee
Sam’s a longtime friend of mine, since we were both on-and-off Silver and Gold professionals going back to 2012-2013. I’m pleased he made it to the finals of PT Hour of Devastation, although it was a shame he lost to Paulo. Sam is a guy who finds a card he loves in a format and plays it forever. Birthing Pod. Grim Flayer. Traverse the Ulvenwald. Will it be Hazoret or Winding Constrictor in this one? Sam’s highly likely to play Sultai Energy or Mono-Red, and I’ll be rooting very hard for him, hoping he clicks with one of those archetypes. Of course, he’s certainly no one’s first pick to win the event, but it’s not out of the question. It sure would go a long way toward developing a nascent Hall of Fame resume.
15. Sam Black
Et Tu, Brew-te? Sam is a stand-up guy and a consummate brewer, and if anyone pilots a rogue strategy designed to exploit Red, Energy, and Approach decks, it’ll be him. I fully expect to see Hidden Stockpile or some even crazier concoction in his hands on camera, and if he finds a sweet spot in the metagame, it might just pay off with a Top 4 finish. I respect Sam’s mentality about Magic immensely, and would be thrilled to vote for him for the Hall of Fame with a win here, but he’s a bit more longshot than frontrunner. Of course, he’s a high-variance horse to pick, because he might just come riding in on a Crested Sunmare and stomp all over the competition. Who knows? We’ll have to wait and see.
16. Gerry Thompson
Gerry! Gerry! Gerry! Like EFro, Thompson has a love-hate relationship with Magic, where if he’s feeling himself and his deck and the format, he is the equal of an Owen or a Yuuya, but if he’s not, he might just end up in the middle pile with a 5-9 record. It’s just the way he is. I’d be happy to watch him pick this tournament apart like so many SCG Opens and Invitationals, but he’s shown on camera that he can succumb to brain farts and nerves like the rest of us. A great player, but a mortal in the face of some of these competitors, Gerry has to hope to get a little lucky in some spots, play well, and hit a couple of nice draft picks to push him over the top. Will he get there? Well, he did win PT Amonkhet a few months back, so I’d be a fool to count him out. Let’s just see what he ends up playing at the event.
17. Ken Yukuhiro
Now we’re into the realm of the dark horses. Not that any of these guys aren’t capable of winning Worlds, for sure, but most of them don’t have quite the resume of the top-tier players. Remember, in a sea of Hall of Famers and Players of the Year, a mere Platinum Pro is an underdog. Ken Yukuhiro has dominated with Constrictor in the past year, racking up massive Constructed finishes at the Pro Tour level. He’s working with his Musashi squad, two of the top three players in the whole tournament, so if they come up with something spicy, he could easily be a Top 4 competitor.
18. Martin Muller
I can’t wait for Martin to make the Top 4 of this tournament, only to blurt out a swear word in his interview and give Brian-David Marshall a heart attack. The young blood of Worlds, Martin experienced a small heater toward the end of the season that drove him from the brink of not making Gold all the way into the World Championships. Martin’s biggest weakness is his lack of experience, which I count fairly heavily when it comes to my power rankings. The Worlds stage is nerve-wracking, and Martin is young and fairly new. He’s a stellar player, but the pressure could easily cause him to throw away a few key matches. Let’s hope that things hold up for him, if only for the entertainment value of watching Rich Hagon sweat while interviewing the kid.
19. Christian Calcano
It breaks my heart not to rank Calc higher, it really does. I would be beyond ecstatic to see him take home the big prize, almost singlehandedly justifying the years he’s dedicated to the game he loves. I fear that the awe factor, the nerves, and the tension of playing in his first ever Worlds event may get to the Calcfather, but I hope that he can find his zen spot and just roll over a field that underestimates him. If there is a “People’s Champ” of this Worlds event, it’s Calcano without a doubt. If he could hear his fans cheering for him, it would probably boost his chances, but we’ll have to settle for aggressively spamming his social media with inspirational messages and notes of encouragement.
20. Javier Dominguez
A Platinum pro with a pair of heartbreaking ninth place finishes at Pro Tours, Javier Dominguez is a sturdy competitor with a long Pro Tour resume. A few tiebreaker points here and there, and we’d be counting him as one of Spain’s best players, but now he has a chance to put those tiebreaker debacles behind him and knock the ball out of the park on the biggest stage. No one is expecting too much out of him, but the lack of expectation may prove to his advantage. Suerte!
21. Kelvin Chew
Another less-well-recognized name in the tournament, Kelvin has a single PT Top 8 from five years ago and seems a bit out of place in this event, but he’s testing with MTGMintCard and could very well rise to the Top 4 on whatever strategy they come up with. He’s a high-caliber player, for sure, but there’s just not the resume to justify placing him any higher on the list. Still, watch for an MTGMintCard surge that could propel him to a strong finish.
22. Donald Smith Jr.
A member of the “Lit Boi Fam Squad
23. Sebastian Pozzo
If you’ve played on MTGO for any serious stretch of time, you know the screen name “sebastianpozzo”. Well, this is the man behind the handle. Pozzo is one of the less-famous folks here, with no massive finish to lean on, but so was Brian Braun-Duin last year, and we all know how that turned out. Best of luck to him, as he looks to prove that his Constructed Master slot wasn’t just a fluke.
24. Lucas Esper Berthoud
Ah, our final player. Lucas, the Esper who won a Pro Tour playing Mardu, is the true underdog of the event. With no other major finishes (save a Grand Prix Top 8) to his name, most folks would chalk his win up to a fluke and dismiss him completely. This is why they make inspirational sports movies. Lucas is a Toon Squad member to Yuuya’s and Owen’s Monstarz. He’s the everyman who has a shot, and it’s fun to root for the underdog. A match between him and one of the top-ranked players is sure to be a hoot, if only because we all love to see a dark horse eke out the win against the heavily-advantaged thoroughbred. Let’s hope Lucas can embrace his shot here and give it his all.
Whew! What a lineup. If you aren’t excited about the new season of competitive Magic, this World Championships will change your tune in a heartbeat. It stands to be an event for the ages, and we are fortunate enough to get to watch it unfold live. If there’s one thing Worlds never fails to do, it’s give us something unexpected. Bring out your banners and your Tweeting fingers, because I have a feeling we’re going to be talking about this one for a long time to come.