The concept of a heel originates in professional wrestling and refers to a character that everyone loves to hate. Most professional sports and competitions have these sorts of people at the top levels of the game. Sometimes it’s because they’re perceived as cheaters, like Alex Rodriguez. Sometimes they have a bad attitude, like Plaxico Buress. Most Magic players don’t fit this mold. Magic players tend to be in the mold of the stoic, respectable, humble athlete. This includes players like Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, and Wayne Gretzky. But at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, we may have met Magic’s new heel.

Does the Pro Tour Need a Heel?

Nearly every week we tune in to watch a Pro Tour, or a Grand Prix, or an SCG Open and we watch our favorite players compete for the top prizes in the world. We actively root for the good guys. LSV. Kibler. Chapin. Levy. PVDDR. Nelson. The list goes on. We cheer for people we played against growing up. We cheer for people who come from our home countries. But there’s something missing. Someone to root against.

Enter Ari Lax.

I’m not here to talk about whether or not I think Ari Lax is a “good person” or whether or not I agree with his actions (I don’t) or if I would behave the same way (I wouldn’t). If you want to read about that, I highly recommend pieces written by Jason Alt and Gavin Verhey. What I’m interested in is whether or not Ari Lax can be the heel of the Magic Pro Tour.

By winning the first Pro Tour of the 2014-15 season, Lax has locked up Platinum for the rest of this season and the entirety of the 2015-16 season. He will appear at the next seven Pro Tour tournaments along with the 2015 World Magic Championship. That’s almost every single major tournament over the next two years. Over that time, given Lax’s objectively high skill level and dedicated work ethic, we can expect to see a lot of him in video coverage.

The thing is that video coverage of Ari Lax is incredibly polarizing. Countless social media debates sprung up during the matches in which Lax was on camera. His demeanor, body language, and actions divide the community into those who support the player and defend him against those who view him as offensive and a poor representation of the game.

Think about this for a moment. This sort of discussion of a match or player is virtually unprecedented. The two most high-profile controversial players that most fans could name off the top of their head are Alex Bertoncini and Mike Long. Bertoncini has never been good enough at the highest levels of the game and Mike Long’s career ended long before the modern era of internet coverage. So now we have Ari Lax and social media has lit up whenever he is on camera.

This could be the best thing to happen to tournament coverage since they clipped a microphone to the lapel of Luis Scott-Vargas. If the game is going to grow, it needs to continue to improve the way it is presented to fans. This much has been established and Wizards has vastly improved the online video coverage of tournaments. What remains missing is narratives. The stories of the Pro Tour and the competitors on it largely remains untold.

Until now.

Ari Lax presents a unique opportunity because he is both loved and hated. Fans want to watch him win, and fans want to see him lose. The story of Ari Lax is one that can genuinely turn into a true heel for Magic. Lax can be our Alex Rodriguez, or Plaxico Buress. Is that a good thing?

What do you think? Does the Pro Tour need a heel?

Pro Tour Update

Grand Prix Los Angeles


Hot off of a Pro Tour in Hawaii, the City of Angels was loaded with the best of the best in the world. An impressive 16 of the top 25 players in the world were in attendance. By the end of the first nine rounds of competition, a few familiar names were well-positioned to make it to the top tables. (11) Eric Froehlich rounded out a top 16 that included (16) Patrick Chapin, Brad Nelson, and, at 9-0 and in first place, Brian Kibler.

Day two was full of exciting matches at the top tables. In round 11 Brian Kibler lost to Brad Nelson, but then rebounded with wins in round 12, 13, and 14 but fell just short of the top 8, finishing in 12th place. Chapin came even closer, finishing in 9th place. Nelson managed to make it to the final tables but lost to Carlo Falcis in the quarterfinals.

The top 8 featured four Abzan midrange decks, one Mardu midrange deck, two mono-red decks, and one red/green monsters deck, a holdover from the pre-KTK format—and the eventual winner.

Congrats to Daniel Scheid, your Grand Prix Los Angeles 2014 champion!

Top 25 Rankings

While it wasn’t entirely unexpected it was still a bit surprising to see that 24 of 25 spots changed hands after Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. Most importantly, I guess, is that Owen Turtenwald is now the top-ranked player in the world. Ari Lax was the biggest winner, obviously, moving up to 7th place all the way from having previously been un-ranked. Also returning to the rankings after a brief absence were Raphael Levy, Shahar Shenhar, and Christian Calcano. Falling out of the rankings were six players including rookie of the year Jared Boettcher.

The Quick Hits

  • Scott from MTGO Academy is the latest to throw in their voice to the ever-growing chorus of complaints about MTGO, this time in the form of a detailed open letter to Mike Turian [MTGO Academy]
  • John Dale Beety explores the content of Uncharted Realms versus the eBooks and novels that Wizards has discontinued [Star City Games]
  • Alex Ullman has the breakdown of all the information on the newly announced Magic board game from the Essen games convention [Gathering Magic]
  • Also from the floor of Essen were the latest in Cube storage technology and a release announcement for the second wave of Funko Pop vinyl planeswalkers. Which reminds me, I still need to pick up Jace, Liliana, and Nissa from the first wave [Gathering Magic]
  • Conley Woods talks about the emotional roller-coaster of no longer being on the Pro Tour gravy train [Breaking Through]
  • Adrienne Reynolds has this incredibly poignant piece about Hong Kong’s Lee Shi Tian, the Umbrella Revolution, and an incredible trip to the Pro Tour that Wizards conveniently refused to cover properly [Gathering Magic]
  • I might have to make a new weekly section for rants about MTGO. Here’s one from PureMTGO’s Emerson Leicht [PureMTGO]
  • Finally, the biggest story of the past week or so has been the value of Black Lotuses, including this $100k 10.0-graded Beta version [Quiet Specualation]

Wallpaper of the Week

I’ve actually played with Duneblast at the pre-release and never realized there’s an actual person at the middle of the art casting the spell. That said, for such a powerful spell the act of casting isn’t very impressive.

Grade: B

The Week Ahead

The flavor of the week continues to be Standard constructed as we travel to the Swedish capital city of Stockholm for another Grand Prix tournament. Will it be another field full of Abzan midrange decks or will the format begin to diversify a bit more? Unfortunately for those of us at home, there doesn’t appear to be any video stream planned for the event. Be sure to follow all the usual Twitter and other internet feeds or check back here next Monday for the recap!

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.