Another Pro Tour is behind us with only one more to go before the conclusion of the season. This is when players really start to sweat their deadlines. Are there enough events left for them to clinch Gold or Platinum status—both of which come with qualifications to all the Pro Tours next season—in the Player's Club? Is it time for them to start thinking about hitting some more Grand Prix? The focus is always on making the Top 8 as it is a huge contributor to your season's bottom line in terms of Pro Point payout. But you need look no further than Christian Calcano's emotional reaction to clinching a Top 8 berth to know that success on the Pro Tour stage is about much, much more than just that bottom line.
After each Pro Tour, I try to look below the cutoff at the next eight players. Often they will have the same record as the person in eighth place with just decimal points of tiebreakers being the difference between this column and filling out a Top 8 profile form.
9th place—Gerard Fabiano
At the front of the line of players with a 12-4 record—which was identical to the 7th and 8th place finishers after the Swiss—was the iconoclastic Gerard Fabiano. Fabiano thought there was a slim chance he would make the Top 8 when he pulled off an incredible win in the last round but needed some help from other tables.
"I was down a game and then mulliganed to five on the play," recalled Fabiano of his last round. He was then further set back by a Transgress the Mind on turn two. "I was down to just two cards and two lands by turn two, but I kept fighting and made an insane comeback. I knew I was an underdog to make it—I needed Reid [Duke] to win over Yuuya [Watanabe] since me and Reid had close breakers. Once I knew Reid lost, I put myself at about 3% to come in 8th and 97% to come in 9th."
He got there on the back of a 5-1 record in draft and a 70% win-rate with Temur Marvel, a deck he decided to play after testing online and with some local friends who were not qualified for this Pro Tour.
"The only people I spoke with about Standard were two friends, Allen Jackson and Matt Tumavitch. Both were not Q'd but wanted to help, and I trust their thoughts. Matt's friend won a [Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier] with it and I played it on [Magic Online] and even though I only did average with it, I saw the mistakes I was making and knew I liked the deck. It played to my style."
Fabiano was playing in his 51st Pro Tour this weekend, nearly fifteen years removed from his only Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Boston as a member of Team Slay, Pillage, Gerard. Even if the math did not work out in his favor for a second this weekend he was happy with how he played and to add to his career accomplishments. Especially balancing playing the game competitively with his fulltime job. He now has 318 lifetime Pro Points and is the 6th highest player in Planeswalker Points in the world—and second in North America behind only Sam Black. You can expect to see him at Grand Prix Montreal next weekend looking to add to both totals.
10th place—Timothy Wu (Massdrop East)
Tim Wu has been playing Magic for a long time. His Pro Tour debut came at PT New York in 1999 and he played on a handful of Pro Tours around that time without much success. He never retired fully from the game—there was always some drafting to be done on MTGO once or twice a month—but it was not until a nearby Grand Prix in Washington, D.C., rolled around that he felt that competitive spark fire again.
"That kind a got me hooked," said Wu, who has not really looked back since then. "It has been great. I made Top 8 of GP Baltimore, which qualified me for Brussels. Brussels qualified me for Vancouver. Somehow I got to Silver that year. I have just been hitting every Pro Tour since somehow. This finish locks me for Gold this year. So another four Pro Tours."
Wu knew he was going to be a longshot to make the Top 8 but was relieved to have finished the tournament strong and not mirror what had happened at the end of Pro Tour Aether Revolt in Dublin where he found himself at 10-3 before the wheels came off in the last three rounds.
"I found myself in that same situation yesterday; 10-3 and then I immediately lost. And I was thinking, 'Oh no! Not again!' I was able to pull it together and get the last two wins—that's what I'm most excited about. I wasn't really expecting to [Top 8] once I got that fourth loss."
Wu went 5-1 in the draft rounds and 7-3 in Standard playing Mono-Black Zombies, one of the breakout decks of the tournament. He credited his Massdrop East teammates for getting him more preparation than he might normally get while dealing with a full-time job. Because the tournament—and GP Richmond the weekend before—were all within driving distance of his home, he was able to let his teammates stay at his house and immerse himself in Magic in a way he cannot always achieve testing online.
Jon Stern, Pascal Maynard, and Massdrop West's JC Tao all came to stay with him over an arc of time that included the DC Draft Camp that is organized by Alex Majlaton and continued through the Grand Prix right up until they left for the PT.
"Being on a team is huge," said Wu who was the highest finishing member of Massdrop East, now in 11th place in the Pro Tour Team Series. He kept them theoretically within reach of second place if they have another Eldrazi-like team showing in Kyoto. "Pascal Menard and Paul Dean were the ones who really worked on this Zombie deck, so being able to take their decklist, their sideboard notes . . . I never tested the mirror match, but they told me what the keys were and I applied those notes to go 2-0 in the mirror. What they said was exactly correct. Back when I was younger, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I would kind of get upset if I didn't win or had bad finishes, but now I'm much more relaxed, and it has allowed me to focus," said Wu of the difference between the first leg of his PT career and his current success. "I look back and I would struggle back then. Maybe qualifying for one PT per year — which I think is very good. My goal when I came back was to see if I could maybe qualify for one more PT. That's probably the most excited I got—when I qualified for Brussels. Since then it's all been kind of surreal."
10th Place—Ryan Cubit (Team Tapas)
Ryan Cubit has been playing Magic for almost sixteen years, split between his time in Melbourne and his current home in Tasmania. He picked the game up as a teenager when he was playing video games at a friend's house and saw a stack of cards on a bookshelf.
"We didn't really know how to play, but from that we started going to Prereleases and then it developed into what it is now. I have been playing competitively for the last two years. I went to my first Pro Tour last year in Madrid," said Cubit who achieved his goal of making Day Two at his first attempt at Pro Tour–level play. He would go on to win a World Magic Cup Qualifier later that season and got to be a part of the Australian National team at the World Magic Cup. A Top 8 there earned him an invite to Pro Tour Aether Revolt. "I went 11-5 in Dublin to qualify for this Pro Tour and now I have gone 11-4. Now, when I arrive in Kyoto I will be Gold."
After starting the tournament 5-1, he lost his last two rounds to fall back to 5-3 at the end of Day 1, which was better than his 4-4 start at his last Pro Tour. While his Day 1 record is at 9-7, his record on the second day of PTs is now 14-2 as he has only lost one match each time he has advanced. He needed every one of those wins to assure himself Gold when he gets to Japan.
Cubit played Mardu Vehicles in Standard but added a little spicy bit of tech to his version.
"I normally like to add some flavor to my decks and with this one I added Reckless Bushwhacker. I got a few people with it on the weekend. Especially in the Zombie matches, which tend to be kind of a race. Play two or three creatures on the same turn and get them all in with Bushwhacker and get them for exactly lethal. That happened three or four times on the weekend."
He had been excited just to make Silver and keep stringing Pro Tour appearances together, but now he knows he has five straight attempts to improve on the 11-4 finish. He is also leading the race for the captaincy of the Australian National team. As he thought about all the tournaments that he was suddenly qualified for he realized: "I am going to need to call my work."
Cubit remembered watching coverage at home when he was younger and idolizing the players who were doing what he is going to get to do for the next year. Currently in his 30s and working, he did not expect that he would have this opportunity. "Now all of this has happened, and I think my sixteen-year-old self would be pretty happy."
"Team Tapas was formed with the World Magic Cup team and we added two other Australian guys and we chose the name because we really like the food," laughed Cubit when I asked him the origin of his team's name. "It has nothing to do with tapping Magic cards or anything like that. We got a t-shirt and a playmat made up and it was lots of fun. There were only two of us here this time so I tried to pull the team up."
Cubit was keeping a keen eye out for more Australian players doing well and hoped that his country could field a team for next year's Team Series entirely made up of players qualified for all the Pro Tours.
12th Place—Tyrell Wheeler
After winning a slot for this Pro Tour at his local Regional Pro Tour Qualifier, Canadian Magic player Tyrell Wheeler reached out to some Canadian Magic royalty for coaching advice: Jeff Cunningham. He was urged to reach out to other players, including Rookie of the Year hopeful Ben Hull. Cunningham worked with Wheeler for more than two months to get him in fighting shape and urged Wheeler to switch up decks at the last minute as the Zombie deck became more prevalent online.
Wheeler went 5-3 on Day 1 but put together a 7-1 record on the second day as he adjusted to both the speed of the Pro Tour and the deck that he had just picked up that week.
"Early on I dismissed Zombies as an option after only one league," Wheeler recalled from playtesting. "Zombies kept on getting better and better while Mardu was stagnating. Jeff convinced me to change decks on the Tuesday before the [Pro Tour]. I lost my first two rounds of Standard. Day 2 I showed up and was on. I knew my cards much better and gained a lot of confidence after navigating a pretty tough draft, changing colors several times pack one as I picked up signals that I needed to abandon my first two picks."
While he is qualified for Kyoto and Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, this has been a hectic year for Wheeler—in the best possible way. He is getting married, but that will leave him short on vacation days and a trip to Japan may not be in the cards for him. Now that he has seen the Pro Tour up close, he can't wait to get back.
"I was incredibly intimidated going to this [Pro Tour], but everyone was so nice—the games were so fun. I played several epic matches that I managed to squeeze out at one or two life. I don't think a lot of people know how much fun Magic can be at the [Pro Tour]," said Wheeler, dismissing the notion that the Pro Tour is some cutthroat den of hardened veterans. "The pros are so nice. I wasn't even playing against Paul Cheon, and I said my hometown was Vancouver and he said it was his favorite place to visit. And the pros get nervous too. He looked nervous in his match; it looked super tight and super interesting."
13th Place—William Jensen (Puzzle Quest)
While Team PuzzleQuest has not put anyone into the Top 8 of a Pro Tour yet during the two events in this team series, they head into Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in 5th place in the overall standings. That is because of strong finishes like the one from Hall of Famer William Jensen who led the team in 13th place but had Reid Duke and fellow Hall of Famer Owen Turtenwald also finish in the Top 25 in the field.
Of course, when you are a Hall of Famer, you hold yourself to a higher standard than most other players on the Pro Tour. "I've had only okay results personally this season on the [Pro Tour]: 8-8, 11-5, 12-4-1. Certainly not awful, but no breakthrough performances. I'm in a position where if I do okay at one of the Grand Prix I go to, I'll likely need a 12-4 at the final Pro Tour to make Platinum."
One of the most epic matches of the tournament was the round between him and Martin Müller. Game 2 stood out as a key moment for the Hall of Famer.
"I had a bit of mana trouble in the early game and he got off to a great start. I played roughly twelve turns thinking I had no chance to win, but somehow I was able to get in a position to cast Ulamog, and I had to [hope none of the] three cards [on] the top of his [library were] Chandra. [It] was, and [I] was eliminated from contention. I've played Martin quite a few times now, though. He's a tough opponent and deserving of his good result."
With two members of Team Musashi making the Top 8—and finishing 2nd and 3rd in the final standings—there is a very high likelihood they will be in the Top 2 teams that get to playoff for the Team Series at the World Championship. For Team PuzzleQuest, that means catching and passing Team Genesis at the next Pro Tour.
"My goal is simply to do the best I can to hopefully put Team Puzzle Quest in position to make a big run at Genesis and try to get into the finals of the team competition. We'll likely need a very, very good result, in the neighborhood of two Top 8s or a Pro Tour champion. Hopefully I can contribute to that."
14th Place—Daniel Grafensteiner
Pro Tour Amonkhet was a great showcase for German Magic with three players in the Top 16. For Grafensteiner, it is his second Top 16 in as many Pro Tours played this season. Between the invite for finishing 11-5 or better and achieving Silver, he will be able to continue to play on the Pro Tour, but he couldn't help but look back and think maybe there was a missed opportunity or two along the way.
"I need 11 more points for Gold. I know it's going to be very hard but I will try my best. Maybe I should have played more Grand Prix this season—I only played two—that would make it easier to get Gold, but overall I am very happy with my results this season."
15th Place—Patrick Dickmann (Team EUreka)
Germany's Patrick Dickmann came into the tournament looking for double digit Pro Points to ensure himself Gold by the end of the season. He was also looking to keep Team EUreka within striking distance of the Top 2 heading into Japan—the same country where his PT career began.
"For the first time in a long time, I managed to start out drafting 3-0. When I first started playing Pro Tours at Pro Tour Nagoya, I actually drafted 6-0 and was really good at Limited. Over the years my focus shifted to Constructed, and I started playing less and less Limited. It really showed in my results. I was really happy when I was able to go 3-0 there," said Dickmann of his tournament start. He had an exciting new deck for Standard—Jund Gods, which he did a deck tech for—and was eager to play it.
"I really liked my Constructed deck, but I started out 0-2. I was pretty upset about that of course, but after that I managed to recover and go 3-0. I managed to play almost the maximum amount of games on Day 1. I played 23 out of 24 possible games—all very close games."
He started out drafting again on Day Two with a win, but then lost four straight games to Glorybringer.
"It attacked me three games on turn five. I was like "what is happening?" All of a sudden, I was in a pretty bad spot. I was 7-4 but I managed to go 4-0-1 in Constructed and redeem myself and lock up Gold."
His Top 16 finish combined with Marc Tobiasch's Top 8 finish put their team into 7th place heading into Japan but like PuzzleQuest will need a huge finish to the season to get into the Top 2.
16th place—Michael Majors (Genesis)
Between a Martin Müller Top 8 finish and Michael Majors's Top 16, Team Genesis clawed their way up into the second spot on the Pro Tour Team Series leaderboard. With Masashi pulling away from them with a 23-point lead alone in first place, everyone else's sights will be on Majors' team heading into Kyoto. This was the third Top 16 in a seventeen Pro Tour career, but he may need to do a smidge better in Japan if they are going to fend off the horde of teams chasing them down for one of the two spots for teams at the World Championship.
A huge part of the team's success this weekend was at the draft tables where they put up the best results of any of the big teams. They also put forward a planeswalker-powered twist on the Marvel deck that really nailed the Standard format and did exactly what they needed in key matchups.
"We thought Marvel would be the best and that Zombies would be heavily played. We knew Mardu would still be a factor, and we though blue control would be more popular—it was only like 6%, which was kind of surprising. We were actually a little worried about that matchup. Apparently the numbers say we had the best deck in the room. Chandra Flamecaller was a huge innovation," he explained.
Chandra really shined when sweeping away boards swarmed with Zombies with her minus ability. Her zero ability gave the deck a way to dig for cards. While discussing his experience with the planeswalker with teammate Martin Dang, Majors came to a surprising realization about the traditionally widely used +1 ability.
"I did not plus my Chandra once the whole tournament. Lots of killing Zombies and drawing cards. Being able to dig five cards in this deck is pretty sick.
Majors finds himself knocking on the door of Gold with one Pro Tour to go this season and not a lot of GP travel under his belt this year. He laughed that he might have to start consulting the schedule with Platinum also within his reach.
"That's kind of tournament Magic for you. Once the carrot is in front you, you kind of need to keep going."