On This Date in Magic History: Pro Tour Los Angeles

Jacob LacknerCommunity

Nizzahon joins the CK writing crew, jumping in with a look back at this day in MTG history and Pro Tour LA 1996!

Hello Card Kingdom readers! I’m Jacob Lackner, and I’m a new columnist here on the Card Kingdom blog. You may already know me from my YouTube channel “Nizzahon Magic,” where I produce multiple videos a week covering Magic history. If you’re reading this, you’re about to read the first edition of my new weekly column “On This Date in Magic History.” In this series, I’ll write about a historically significant event in Magic history on the anniversary of that event. Each of these articles will give you an overview of the event and discuss its historical significance. 

We’re kicking things off with a look at Pro Tour Los Angeles, which concluded 26 years ago today (May 5th, 1996). It is a good time to take a look back at the early Pro Tour, since it was recently announced that these major Magic tournaments will be making a return in the near future!

A Brief History of Competitive Magic Before Pro Tour Los Angeles

Pro Tour Los Angeles was held very early in Magic’s competitive history. Before 1996, there had only been two major events – the 1994 and 1995 World Championships. The Pro Tour began in 1996, and it introduced a series of major tournaments that would be held every year in various locales. The inaugural Pro Tour was held in New York in February of 1996 and that means May’s Pro Tour Los Angeles was just the second Pro Tour ever. 

The First Invitation Only Pro Tour

Pro Tour Los Angeles introduced two major innovations to competitive Magic that are still reflected in the game today. For one thing, it was the first Pro Tour to be an invitation-only event.  In other words, you had to qualify for the event. Pro Tour Los Angeles was open to anyone, provided they managed to dial a phone number and sign up for a seat at the event before they were all gone. No, I’m not making that up.   

For Pro Tour Los Angeles, you didn’t just have to be good at dialing your phone. You could only play in Los Angeles if you had done well at Pro Tour New York or won a Pro Tour Qualifier. This set a precedent that continues today. While qualifying for Pro Tours has changed over the years, one thing has always remained true: you have to have accomplished something at another event in order to compete at them. This leads to a smaller number of participants, but also a higher level of skill. This is the whole reason Pro Tours are viewed as elite events that are a tier above Grand Prixs, Magic Online Showcase Challenges, and other events. For example, in the new system of Organized Play which will debut in the 2022-2023 season, a player has to do well at a Regional Championship in order to receive an invitation to a Pro Tour.

The First Time Limited Was Played at a Competitive Event

In addition to transforming the Pro Tour into an elite invitation-only event, Pro Tour Los Angeles was also the first competitive Magic event to be played in the Limited format. Every major tournament before this had been Constructed, meaning you had a large pool of cards from several sets from which you could play any cards you wanted. In Limited, players receive a pool of cards either by opening sealed product and constructing a deck or by drafting a deck from three booster packs that are passed around a table of eight players. At Pro Tour Los Angeles, the format was Draft, with players passing around two packs of Fourth Edition, and one pack of Homelands.

At the time, Limited Magic did not have the best reputation. Many felt that Constructed was a “fairer” way to play.  Many players, especially the European ones, felt that building one’s deck and playing it well was the best way to test someone’s skill. Limited was looked at as a format that was entirely determined by luck. After all, your deck was only as good as the cards you opened, right? Well..it turned out that wasn’t really the case.  As a Limited player, you have to be good at evaluating cards and determining what the best pick is given your previous ones. As Mark Rosewater wrote in his 2004 retrospective on this Pro Tour, the Europeans “…didn’t practice. I mean, what was the point? Then came the cut to Day Two. Sixty North Americans. Two Japanese. And two Europeans. Let’s just say, the Europeans didn’t make the same mistake twice.”

This event really validated the idea that Limited was a legitimate way to play Magic, and one that was just as skill testing as Constructed. It became part of the fabric of the Pro Tour following this. Over the years, there were events that were only played in Limited, and other events that were split between both Limited and Constructed. Today, Limited continues to be one of the primary ways that people play Magic, and it is by far my favorite format! So I’m glad Pro Tour Los Angeles established that Limited was a legitimate way to play Magic, and not a format entirely dependent on luck.

Ultimately, Shawn Regnier won the event. He had finished in the Top 8 at Pro Tour New York earlier in the year, and his success at both events established that he had a mastery over both Constructed and Limited. Let’s take a look at the deck he won the event with.

The Winner: Shawn Regnier

It is always interesting to look at the kind of Limited decks people were drafting all those years ago. These days, sets are designed with Limited in mind, but that definitely wasn’t the case back in 1996! Constructed was the focus, so decks often looked like random piles of cards. There weren’t specific archetypes or synergies intentionally put into sets. Homelands is also one of the weakest Magic sets ever, so it is no surprise that these draft decks don’t look especially imposing to us today.

That makes it all the more impressive that Shawn managed to draft an extremely synergistic deck. His deck is made up almost entirely of defensive creatures and spells. He got about as close as you could to drafting a prison deck. He had two Circles of Protection in his main deck, along with 4 copies of Gaseous Form. In short, his deck was really good at keeping the opponent from damaging him.

Of course, the deck also had a problem. It didn’t really have any creatures that could function as win conditions. Giant Tortoise and Grapeshot Catapult can only do so much. Shawn didn’t have any cards in his deck to mill his opponent, but his deck ran 43 cards so that the opponent would always run out of cards first. As a result of this, he called his deck “I’ll deck you” because the deck’s main win condition was to lock the opponent out of doing any damage and just wait until the opponent ran out of cards. Failing that, he could also steal opposing creatures using powerful spells like Control Magic and Animate Dead. Obviously enough, this strategy worked, and on May 5th, 1996 Shawn became the first player to ever win a Limited Pro Tour.

Parting Words

Pro Tour Los Angeles might have had decks that look quite different from the Limited decks we see today, but it established the validity of Limited as a competitive format, while also transforming the Pro Tour into the invitational format that it is today. I’ll be back next week with a look at another important historical event in Magic history!