I think I did this backward.
Last week, I looked forward to 2014 with fourteen predictions that have roughly the same probability of coming true as Jon Finkel does of not forcing Storm in the Magic Online Holiday Cube.
This week, with the new year nearly upon us, I’ll be looking back, throwing out end-of-the-year awards. I have a lot of words to give out a bunch of awards, so let’s not waste our time on an introduction. These are the best of the best from 2013 in a bunch of categories I felt qualified to comment on. Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree with my picks.
Article Series of the YearHow to Improve Magic Coverage was among the most influential and widely read articles of the year.
Let me be clear once more: The article was riddled with factual inaccuracies, unworkable ideas, and repetitive writing. However, it contained a lot of good ideas, some of which have been instituted in the meantime, such as, for example, the weekly rankings. Butler’s work kick-started a conversation and has pushed everyone on the coverage team to work harder and make changes. Things are changing, and while this article series wasn’t wholly responsible for the changes, it sure can take some credit.
Winner: How to Improve Magic Coverage
Article of the Year
However, there’s little doubt that this year was Reid Duke’s coming-out party as a strategy writer and Magic content producer. Few people understand the game the way Duke does, but even fewer are able to explain it as clearly and concisely as he does. For my money, no article drove that point home more than “Thoughtseize You.” It delves into the depths of when, how, and, yes, if to actually cast Thoughtseize. It not only demonstrated the depth of Duke’s strategic acumen, but it did so clearly and thoroughly.
Winner: “Thoughtseize You”
Magic Writer of the Year
Reid Duke. See above.
Video Recorder of the YearDisrupting Shoal thanks to his aggressive mono-blue Ninja of the Deep Hours/Delver of Secrets deck in Modern. LSV is more up my alley, and people certainly love to see him do his thing on camera, but this was the year of Woo.
Winner: Travis Woo
Set of the Year
Modern Masters was not only a brilliant way to help bolster Modern, but it was actually one of the best Draft formats ever. But don’t take my word for it—Ben Stark himself said Modern Masters was, well, the best Draft format ever.
The price was an unfortunate necessity, and it certainly costs it a few points, but it was such a success and was, by almost all accounts, widely loved, that I can’t imagine choosing anything else this year. And the evidence was found in the next winner on our list.
Winner: Modern Masters
Tournament of the YearPlayers Championship, which is an amazing spectacle. Throw in Reid Duke’s run and Shahar Shenhar’s win, and in any other year, it would have been a clear high point.
However, nothing topped the spectacle of Grand Prix Las Vegas, and it’s likely nothing will for a while. At 4,500 people, it was easily the largest Magic tournament ever, not to mention the largest TCG tournament of any kind. The twin attractions of Modern Masters and Las Vegas created a perfect storm that inflated attendance to incredible heights. It also had a bit of a storybook ending down the line, when winner Neal Oliver proved his win wasn’t a fluke by taking second in the very next Grand Prix he played in.
It was the Magic event of the year—and maybe of the next few years, too.
Winner: Grand Prix Las Vegas
Card of the Year
This one is incredibly tough, so I’m going to break it down into a few categories and then pick from there.
Standard Card of the Year
There are really only two options this late in the year. Sure, Thassa, God of the Sea, Mutavault, and Thoughtseize are all vying for the title, but their runs have been far less dominant or long-lasting as either Thragtusk’s or Sphinx's Revelation’s. Thragtusk has rotated, so it loses a few points for missing the second half of the year, but such was its domination that it’s right up there with the now-ubiquitous instant. Sphinx's Revelation has gone through periods when it wasn’t necessarily the best strategy, but it has never fallen much farther than Tier 2 at worst.
Given that Sphinx has had all of 2013 and Thraggy only had the first half, we’ll call Sphinx's Revelation the winner here.
Modern Card of the Year
I keep trying to think of other cards to point out, but Deathrite Shaman has been the card of the year in Modern by a Zendikar mile. Jund has been one of, if not the, best deck all year, and its closest rival, Birthing Pod variants, also play Deathrite Shaman. In a format with fetch lands, Deathrite Shaman is part Birds of Paradise, part graveyard hoser, part offensive and defensive weapon, all for a single mana.
Legacy Card of the Year
Wasteland, Brainstorm, and Force of Will are obviously all at the top of this list, but it feels like cheating to say, “Force of Will,” and be done with it. Besides, 2013 was the year when people really started shaving Force of Will as a mainstream strategy, and Wasteland strategies have suffered slightly because R/U/G Delver has lost a little bit of steam.
True-Name Nemesis has certainly staked a claim on the format in the last part of the year, but 2013 was the year of Show and Tell. OmniTell and Sneak and Show rose to prominence, and Sneak and Show was even the “best” deck for a while. Legacy is a relatively diverse format, but Show and Tell had a good year, and it is being rewarded here.
Commander Card of the Year
Even though it has only just joined us in Theros, no card in any of our local play sessions has earned more kill-it-with-fire moments than Prophet of Kruphix. Combining Seedborn Muse’s already-feared untap ability with Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir’s flash-granting ability, Prophet is easily the most ubiquitous new addition to Commander.
And the Award Goes to . . .
So, what card stands out above even these standouts? I’ll give the same answer I gave on Twitter a few weeks back. Deathrite Shaman is played at nearly every level, and it even saw Standard play before the rotation gutted graveyard strategies. For cross-format ubiquity and occasional dominance, this Return to Ravnica standout gets the nod.
Winner: Deathrite Shaman
Deck of the YearOlivia Voldaren, Farseek, and Thragtusk combined to prove dominant in the hands of Reid Duke and others. In Modern, Jund was so omnipresent that Bloodbraid Elf got the ban hammer, and some are calling for Deathrite Shaman to receive the same treatment. Jund even got love in Legacy for a while, but eventually, people went back to casting Brainstorms and Force of Will instead of Bloodbraid Elf and Hymn to Tourach.
Esper’s steady presence in Standard makes it a close second, but no deck owned 2013 like Jund.
Winner: Jund in all formats
Best Case for the Hall of Fame
With apologies to Guillame Wafo-Tapa and Paul Rietzl, no player did more to bolster his or her shot at the Hall of Fame than Makihito Mihara with a pair of Pro Tour Top 8 finishes and two more Grand Prix Top 8s, bringing his totals to six Pro Tour Top 8s (counting two Worlds appearances and wins) and seven Grand Prix Top 8s, including two wins. Mihara seems to be as close to a slam dunk as we’ll get next year.
Winner: Makihito Mihara
Most Valuable Player
You could easily make a case for Player of the Year and world number-two-ranked Josh Utter-Leyton or number-one-ranked Ben Stark. You could make a case for number-three-ranked Reid Duke, who went Platinum and then followed that up with a second-place finish at the World Championships. You could point to Owen Turtenwald or Sam Black, who have made late runs at greatness and look to be in the lead for the Player of the Year next year. It could be number-four-ranked Shahar Shenhar, who won the World Championship. You could even make the case that 2013 was the year of William Jensen, who completed his comeback by winning a Grand Prix and placing in several others.
Any one of those players could have made the cut, but I have to give the not do Reid Duke by the slimmest of margins. 2013 felt like the Reid Duke coming-out party, the year he finally ascended to the top of the game after a few years of being quite close. Ben Stark would have been my next pick, having secured both the number-one ranking and a Hall of Fame berth in the same year. Though it’s happening now with the rankings being very new, I feel that’s going to be an even rarer accomplishment years down the line. Owen and Sam have clearly owned the last part of the year, but we’re taking into account the entire year, and Owen’s oath-brother Reid Duke clearly owned 2013.
Winner: Reid Duke