There were eight former champions at the outset but only two remain in the Masters quarter-finals at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Last year’s winner Judd Trump is out, alongside fellow marquee names Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Mark Allen, and Mark Williams.
A high-quality line-up remains, but such is the prestigious history of this tournament that, with only two out of the world’s top eight left, it’s one of the weakest sets of quarter-finalists in memory at the invitational tournament.
In fact, the first round was surprisingly bereft of a great deal of quality overall as the majority of last 16 matches developed into scrappy affairs.
The only tie that stood out was the battle between Stephen Maguire and Neil Robertson when the Scot stormed back from 5-1 behind to pinch an unlikely victory in a decider.
David Gilbert, this year’s only debutant, was probably the player of the round as he easily dismantled a tired challenge from Northern Ireland’s Allen to coast through to the last eight.
As it happens, Maguire and Gilbert face each other in the Masters quarter-finals on Friday afternoon.
At 38 and experiencing the exclusivity of the event for the first time in his career, Gilbert won’t want to just make up the numbers but will surely be ecstatic simply to be there in the mix of it all.
Maguire, also 38 but vastly more experienced, will look at the rest of the draw and think that this could be his best opportunity ever to land the sport’s second biggest trophy.
The Glaswegian was a surprise finalist in last month’s UK Championship and will be looking to carry forward his renewed confidence from York, as well as his subsequent fight back against Robertson, into the rest of this week.
Maguire has a 3-1 head-to-head record against Gilbert but the pair hasn’t crossed paths since 2015, before any of the latter’s four appearances in ranking event finals.
English duo Stuart Bingham and Kyren Wilson are also in the bottom half of this year’s draw.
Wilson won six frames on the trot to beat a ragged Jack Lisowski on Wednesday afternoon before Bingham repeated the scoreline against Mark Williams later that evening.
Bingham is obviously a former world champion but it’s Wilson with the only know-how from this section who understands what it takes to reach the title deciding encounter in the Masters.
Interestingly, it’s the Kettering cueist who additionally boasts a far superior record against Bingham, winning five out of their six previous duels.
Meanwhile, the semi-finalists from the other side of the draw will be determined first on Thursday.
A similar outlook means that there is another all-English battle and an England versus Scotland tie to look forward to.
Shaun Murphy’s victory over world number one Trump has resulted in many people granting the “Magician” with the favourite’s tag – something that is probably a curse, rather than a blessing, this week in the English capital city.
Murphy, the champion five years ago, faces Joe Perry, who is playing in this tournament for the first time since he reached the final in 2017.
The 2005 world champion has won six out of their nine encounters and should be galvanised by what transpired to be a confident downing of the world champion at the opening hurdle.
Two-time champion John Higgins is the most illustrious name still in the running, with the “Wizard of Wishaw” set to compete in the Masters quarter-finals against Ali Carter.
Higgins has often been labelled with a poor record in this event but there can’t be many who have worse than Carter’s, whose triumph over Selby represented only his third ever in a dozen appearances in the tournament.
History would suggest that the “Captain” will have a tough time against Higgins too, as Carter has only beaten the four-time world champion five times from 19 prior attempts.
With his last success almost 15 years ago, Higgins maybe thought that his days winning Masters titles were numbered but he too will be starting to fancy the job now that the draw has significantly opened up.
The Masters quarter-finals has thrown up an octet of contenders that few would have predicted on Sunday when the first shots were taken in this season’s second Triple Crown event.
Still, there’s a huge amount to play for in the coming days, including a whopping £250,000 champion’s cheque and the coveted Paul Hunter Trophy.
If it was difficult to call the winner in the beginning, it’s probably even harder now.