It took a while but Magic the Gathering finally returned to ESPN last week when they hosted the official announcement of the 32 players who would comprise the top tier of competitive Magic in 2019: the Magic Pro League. As the ESPN article explains, “The professionals are offered two contracts; one for competitive play, and one for streaming and content creation, which together are valued at $75,000. Those numbers are comparable to the baseline contracts in Overwatch League ($50,000), though not as lucrative as the LCS, which averaged around $320,000 per player in 2018 according to Riot Games.”

We still have many, many unanswered questions about the Magic Pro League, whose players will compete not only as part of the league but also as invitees of the ten Mythic Championship events which comprise the middle tier of premier competitive play for Magic the Gathering in 2019. The bottom tier, which is the qualifier events that will allow non-MPL players to qualify for the Mythic Championships are still having their details rolled out as well.

The picture however is becoming more clear by the day. A combination of open events (e.g. Grand Prix at Magic Fest) and invitational events (e.g. the Magic Online Championship Series) will feed the four paper Mythic Championships. A completely unknown set of qualifiers, likely to be held on MTG Arena, will feed the other six Mythic Championships, which are similarly held on MTG Arena. The 32 members of the MPL will presumably be invited to all ten events. This is all just for 2019 of course, as things could continue to change as we all embark on this new journey together.

Obviously this is a change that was not only long overdue but one for which the writing has long been on the wall. Since Chris Cocks took over running Wizards of the Coast, the push for viable digital consumer products has been clear. For Magic, that has translated to the wild success of MTG Arena and for Dungeons and Dragons it has produced D&D Beyond.

Although Magic the Gathering Arena is still officially in “Beta” mode, the fact that Wizards of the Coast has upped the stakes of competitive play to a whopping $10 Million and is guaranteeing $75,000 to 32 players ($2.4 Million total) is a clear indication of the massive investment Wizards and parent company Hasbro are making in the future of Arena despite the fact that many questions about that future remain unanswered in the public eye. For example, when is it coming to <insert platform here>?

But for now one answer has finally been unveiled: Who are the 32 lucky pro players that will compete for our entertainment and a shot at the millions of dollars on the line at the Mythic Championships? One question down, hundreds to go!

Alexander Hayne (Canada) – With 50 pro points last year, Hayne just made the cut for the Magic Pro League. He’s been incredibly consistent, making day two of the last nine consecutive individual Pro Tours. You have to go all the way back to Shadows Over Innistrad to find a Pro Tour at which Hayne missed the cut. On the other hand, Hayne only has one career Pro Tour top-8 finish, and for that you have to go all the way back to Avacyn Restored, the Pro Tour that Hayne won in 2012. Hayne is also one of only two competitors in the MPL to have won the Rookie of the Year title (the other one, ironically, comes last on our list alphabetically).

Andrea Mengucci (Italy) – Mengucci finished 12th in the player of the year race last year and was fifth among all European competitors. What may be more important though is that he finished tied for 2nd overall in the standings for the title of Draft Master. Much of this comes off of the back of a top eight finish at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan where Mengucci finished 6-0 in the limited portion of the event, but lost to Pascal Vieren in the quarterfinals. Mengucci also had a strong showing at Pro Tour Dominaria, finishing 7-1 on day one. Unfortunately, a 4-4 performance on day two wasn’t enough to secure a top eight finish.

Andrew Cuneo (USA) – Cuneo is coming off of a strong season in which he took home not one but two Grand Prix titles finishing first in Indianapolis (Limited) and Richmond (Legacy). Cuneo is one of the Pro Tour’s longest mainstay’s having played on the Tour since the late 90’s. However, Cuneo’s strengths and best performances on the Pro Tour came in team events and he hasn’t cracked the top 32 of a Pro Tour since Magic Origins.

Ben Stark (USA) – We now come to our first member of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame to secure a slot in the Magic Pro League’s inaugural season. Stark has built a reputation as a limited master and has one of the MPL’s most impressive resumes with five Pro Tour top eight finishes including one title (Paris 2011) as well as 25 career Grand Prix top eight finishes (two titles). He also finished third in last year’s World Championship competition.

Brad Nelson (USA) – Nelson is widely considered to be one of the world’s strongest Standard players and finished in a tie for fifth in the race for the title of Constructed Master last season. Since Magic Origins, Nelson has cashed out at 7 of the 11 Standard Pro Tours he’s played in, including a top eight finish at Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad and a top sixteen finish at Pro Tour Aether Revolt and top thirty-two finishes at Pro Tours Magic Origins, Eldritch Moon, Amonkhet, Dominaria, and Guilds of Ravnica. If anyone stands to benefit from the fact that MTG Arena only supports Standard as a constructed format, its Nelson, who hasn’t cashed a Modern/Extended Pro Tour since Philadelphia in 2011.

Brian Braun-Duin (USA) – Braun-Duin brings an interesting resume to the Magic Pro League as it contains 13 Grand Prix top eight finishes, two Grand Prix titles, and the 2017 World Championship title, but zero Pro Tour top eight finishes. Braun-Duin, or BBD as he’s more commonly known, has been a consistent mainstay of the Pro Tour since 2012, but only has a single top sixteen finish to his name. Though he finished fourth in the Constructed Master race last year, it will likely be an uphill battle for Braun-Duin in the Magic Pro League.

Carlos Romão (Brazil) – Romão has the distinction of being the first South American player to win a Pro-Level event when he took home the title at the 2002 World Championships. He has three Pro Tour top eight finishes to go along with eleven Grand Prix top eight finishes and five Grand Prix titles. After a four-year hiatus, Romão returned to the Pro Tour in 2016 finishing 2nd at Pro Tour Kaladesh and 3rd at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. However, Romão’s performances can be somewhat inconsistent as he missed the cut at three straight Pro Tours right after almost winning Pro Tour Kaladesh.

Christian Hauck (Germany) – Hauck had a solid year in 2017-18 finishing in a tie for fifth in the Constructed Master race and a tie for ninth in the Draft Master race. Hauck also finished in the top eight at Pro Tour Ixalan, losing the quarterfinals to fellow MPL competitor John Rolf. Hauck has been a consistent mainstay of the top tables of Europe’s Grand Prix scene since 2014 when he finished in the top four of Grand Prix Barcelona. Hauck has yet to secure any premier tournament titles, and has one of the shortest resumes coming into the MPL.

Eric Froehlich (USA) – The outspoken Froehlich, who has had a very successful poker career as well, is the second Pro Tour Hall of Fame member to grace the Magic Pro League. With 55 Pro Tour appearances and five top-eight finishes to go along with two Grand Prix titles, Froehlich’s career resume in Magic is very impressive. Throughout his career he’s excelled in team competitions with 11 team Grand Prix top table finishes, the most recent of which was in Mexico City in 2017 and a fifth place finish at Pro Tour 25th Anniversary. Individual event success may be Froehlich’s weak spot though and may make him an underdog in the MPL.

Gerry Thompson (USA) – Thompson has built himself a very successful career in Magic beginning with his first Pro Tour appearance in 2002. His early career showed promise with strong finishes at Pro Tour San Diego in 2003-04, Atlanta in 2005, and both the 2005 and 2008 World Championships. Thompson made his first Pro Tour top eight finish at Pro Tour Gatecrash in 2012. After a brief stint working in Wizards of the Coast R&D (and earning a developer credit for Dragons of Tarkir), Thompson returned to the Pro Tour in 2016 and went on to win Pro Tour Amonkhet and lose in the finals of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. However, going into the Magic Pro League, Thompson is best known for a tournament missing from his resume, namely the 2018 World Championship which he boycotted as a protest of the way Magic’s pro players were treated.

Grzegorz Kowalski (Poland) – Kowalski has managed to play on the Pro Tour consistently since Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, not missing a single event since then. In that time he’s finished 10th overall at Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad and has posted top 32 finishes at Pro Tours Kaladesh, Dominaria, and 25th Anniversary. In the 2017-18 season, Kowalski also took home his first Grand Prix title at Grand Prix Lyon. Kowalski is definitely not one of the household names coming into the inaugural MPL season, but would be a strong sleeper pick for a black horse candidate to perform well on this stage.

Javier Dominguez (Spain) – The 2018 World Champion will certainly have a target on his back when the MPL kicks off as the other 31 competitors look to prove they can defeat the champ but Dominguez has come a long way since taking home Spain’s national title in 2006. After finishing in 9th place at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar and again at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, Dominguez finally cracked the final tables with a 5th place finish at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan. Dominguez has cashed out at five of the last eight Pro Tours and has played in the last 19 consecutive Pro Tours, every single Pro Tour since returning from a seven-year hiatus from the game.

Jean-Emmanuel Depraz (France) – Depraz led Team France to victory this past weekend at the final (for now) World Magic Cup. That’s a pretty shiny jewel for a fairly short resume that also includes a top eight finish at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and the Grand Prix title from Warsaw last year. Depraz arrived on the scene in 2013 and didn’t make his first Pro Tour appearance until 2015 but he’s quickly made a name for himself and has an opportunity as a member of the MPL to inscribe a new chapter in the rich history of professional French Magic players.

John Rolf (USA) – Rolf is another relative newcomer to the pro Magic scene, though he played his first two Pro Tours in 2009 and 2010 respectively, he wouldn’t appear again until Pro Tours Theros and Born of the Gods. Rolf failed to make day two of all four of those events but finally hit his stride at Pro Tour Ixalan last year when he defeated Christian Hauck in the top eight quarterfinals and then lost in the semifinals to Pascal Maynard. Strong finishes at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan and Dominaria helped secure a seat for Rolf at the 2018 World Championship, capping off an incredible year that saw him finish tied for 7th overall in pro points.

Ken Yukuhiro (Japan) – Yukuhiro is one of the most decorated players in Japanese Magic history with four Pro Tour top eight finishes and nine Grand Prix top eight finishes on his resume which also includes two Grand Prix titles secured in Singapore in 2013 and Nagoya in 2018. Yukuhiro’s first Pro Tour appearance came in 2009 and he has appeared on the tour consistently ever since then. The most recent of his four top eight finishes came earlier this year at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan where he finished in fourth place.

Lee Shi Tian (Hong Kong) – Shi Tian was one of 2018’s most polarizing Magic players thanks to one of the most inflammatory Pro Tour Hall of Fame campaign seasons ever held. In the end, Shi Tian was voted into the Hall securing his legacy as one of the greatest players in global history, not just Southeast Asia where he’s been dominant since his first Pro Tour top eight finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. With three appearances in the World Championship as well, Shi Tian is easily the most successful Asian Magic player in the game’s history to not come from Japan.

Lucas Esper Berthoud (Brazil) – Berthoud made some sporadic appearances at the pro level in the late 2000’s but came crashing onto the scene when he won Pro Tour Aether Revolt. He followed that up by taking home the title at Grand Prix Santiago in 2018. Berthoud is one of three Brazilian players to join the MPL, all of whom have at one time or another been the national champion of their home country. Berthoud however has a much shorter resume than his compatriots, Carlos Romao and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. Still, he should not be discounted for that as his recent performances have been incredibly strong.

Luis Salvatto (Argentina) – Salvatto was the top Latin American player in the world last year, and defeated Seth Manfield for the title of Player of the Year resulting in back-to-back Latin American champions (Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa won the title in 2016-17). Salvatto will look to defend his title as he enters the MPL with relatively little competitive experience putting him in the interesting position of both being favored to win but being a bit of an underdog for the fans.

Marcio Carvalho (Portugal) – Carvalho is easily the most controversial player invited to the Magic Pro League thanks to a six-month suspension after being disqualified from Grand Prix Rotterdam in 2009 as well as a disqualification from the 2014 World Magic Cup. None of that changes the fact that Carvalho has five Pro Tour top eight finishes as well as 14 Grand Prix top finishes. Carvalho secured his Pro Tour legacy this season with back-to-back top finishes at Pro Tour Dominaria (4th) and Pro Tour 25th Anniversary (3rd).

Martin Jůza (Czech Republic) – No one in the world has as many Grand Prix top eight finishes as Jůza. His 32 top finishes, and five titles to boot, helped Juza secure a spot in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame in 2017. Juza made his Pro Tour debut in 2003 at the age of 16, became Czech national champion in 2005 at the age of 18, made his first Pro Tour top eight in Berlin in 2008 at the age of 21, won his first Grand Prix title in Portland in 2010 at the age of 23, and in 2017 at the age of 30 was voted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Now he’ll look to continue cementing his legacy as a member of the Magic Pro League.

Matthew Nass (USA) – Nass is one of the more quietly successful players of the modern pro era, having appeared in each of the last 13 Pro Tours and only missing the cut to day two a total of three times. Though he only has one Pro Tour top eight finish, he has an impressive 12 Grand Prix top eight finishes and five Grand Prix titles. However, Nass has had limited success in Standard, as all of those Grand Prix finishes were either team events or Modern events.

Mike Sigrist (USA) – The 2015 player of the year, Sigrist picked up his third career Pro Tour top eight last season, finishing in 5th place at Pro Tour Ixalan. Sigrist has been one of the most successful players in recent years, finishing in the top 100 in 12 of 22 Pro Tour appearances, and securing invitations to the last 20 consecutive Pro Tours. However, Sigrist has not secured a title at a pro-level event since Grand Prix Montreal in 2015 though he finished in 2nd place at Grand Prix Richmond several months ago.

Owen Turtenwald (USA) – Turtenwald’s resume is definitely among the most impressive in the MPL and he should be a strong favorite going into the inaugural season. 24 Grand Prix top eight finishes. Five Grand Prix titles. Five Pro Tour top eight finishes. Two-time Player of the Year. 2016 Pro Tour Hall of Fame inductee. Five appearances at the World Championship (including the 2012 Player’s Championship). If it weren’t for a few of the remaining players on this list, Turtenwald would easily be the odds-on favorite coming into the MPL.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa (Brazil) – If it weren’t for Jon Finkel and Kai Budde would we be talking about whether or not Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is the greatest player in the history of the game? In 2006, Damo da Rosa became the Brazilian national champion just before his 19th birthday. He repeated the feat three years later at the age of 21 and secured his first of two Pro Tour titles at San Juan in 2010 at the age of 22. All of this was simply foreshadowing a career that to-date includes 12 Pro Tour top eight appearances (second only to Jon Finkel) and 23 Grand Prix top eight appearances. Damo da Rosa’s resume also includes the 2017 Player of the Year title, and at 25 years old he was inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Now, at the age of 31 with the birth of the Magic Pro League, Damo da Rosa looks to extend his resume into places that Finkel and Budde could never go.

Piotr Glogowski (Poland) – Glogowski made a few intermittent Pro Tour appearances in the past five years but really secured his ticket with a top eight finish at Pro Tour Ixalan, his third career Pro Tour appearance. Since then he’s been a consistent performer on the Pro Tour, making day two of every event he’s played in, as well as at Grand Prix tournaments, where he’s achieved three top eight finishes. Glogowski enters the MPL as one of the least recognizable names, but with a great opportunity alongside fellow countryman Grzegorz Kowalski to leave a great impression for Eastern European pro Magic.

Rei Sato (Japan) – Everyone with 50 or more pro points last season was invited to the Magic Pro League (presumably Kelvin Chew declined and was replaced by Lee Shi Tian) and Rei Sato just made the cut (along with Alexander Hayne, Lucas Esper Berthoud, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa who also had 50 points apiece). Sato has zero lifetime Pro Tour top eight appearances but has five Grand Prix top eight’s and two Grand Prix titles in his career. It will be interesting to see if Sato can emerge beyond his much more well-known Japanese countrymen in the MPL to make a name for himself.

Reid Duke (USA) – If the Magic Pro League Title (whatever it ends up being called) was awarded to the player with the greatest hair, then Duke would be the strongest contender without debate. But, it’s not, so Duke will have to fallback on his MTG pro career resume which includes three Pro Tour top eight finishes, an absurd 23 Grand Prix top eight finishes, six Grand Prix titles, and multiple World Championship and World Cup appearances. I guess that will have to do. Duke has also established himself as a quality commentator at events and should be a fan favorite when the MPL kicks off.

Seth Manfield (USA) – Seth Manfield was elected to the Pro Tour Hall of Fame this year and it’s easy to see why. In his ten-year career he’s secured four Pro Tour top eight finishes with one title as well as 16 Grand Prix top eight finishes with five titles. He was also the 2016 World Champion and finished second in the Player of the Year race twice including this past year. Manfield is an easy favorite to find success in the Magic Pro League.

Shahar Shenhar (Israel) – Shenhar became a household name after winning back-to-back World Championship titles in 2014 and 2015 and almost became a three-time champion when he finished in 4th place in 2018. Of course, Shenhar’s claim to fame is that he’s accomplished so much without a single Pro Tour top eight title, calling into question just how important Pro Tour top eight finishes are for a player’s legacy. Shenhar enters the Magic Pro League as the only player without a Pro Tour title, so perhaps he’ll enjoy a little more success with Mythic Championships instead.

Shota Yasooka (Japan) – Yasooka is one of the game’s most decorated players and one of only 10 players in the game’s history with multiple Pro Tour titles. Making the two titles somewhat more impressive is that they came nearly 10 years apart, with victories in Charleston in 2006 (Team Constructed) and at Pro Tour Kaladesh in 2016. In-between he picked up a Player of the Year title and was inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, making him one of the few members of the Hall to win a Pro Tour after the fact.

William Jensen (USA) – Jensen is well known as the third and final member of the Peach Garden Oath trio, alongside his fellow Magic Pro League competitors Owen Turtenwald and Reid Duke. Of course he’s also well known for an incredibly successful and long Magic career that began with a Pro Tour top eight in Rome in 1998 at the age of 16 and continuing through his 2013 induction into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame and 2017 World Championship title. Jensen however is coming off one of his weakest Pro Tour seasons with only $2,500 in prize earnings, compared to $7,500 the previous season. It remains to be seen if this was simply a blip on the radar or the sign of the beginning of regression for one of the game’s storied veterans.

Yuuya Watanabe (Japan) – Last but certainly not least comes our second competitor to be crowned both Rookie of the Year (2007) and Player of the Year (2009, 2012). Watanabe is also a World Champion title-holder from winning the 2012 Player’s Championship which was later rebranded as the World Championship. Watanabe was inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame in 2016 and has since added two more Pro Tour top eight finishes to his resume at Pro Tours Amonkhet and Guilds of Ravnica.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.