I am clacking away at the keys of my laptop writing this even as the spectacle of Pro Tour Gatecrash is being assembled around us. My fellow coverage reporters on both the print and video side are giving me sidelong looks as my hands bang loudly on the keys during our preshow meeting to discuss all the points we will be hitting on this weekend, as well as some of the new bells and whistles that get added into the mix with each successive show. If you read Rich Hagon's preview article this Monday you may have seen some hint about some improvements you will be enjoying come Friday's action.
Part of the meeting is to discuss a particular feature we want to pursue individually this weekend. I have two of them, which works out nicely since I get to talk about one here and reserve the other for a Day Two video segment. The idea I am talking about today was inspired by David Ochoa's breakout finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, which saw him finish in the Top 8 for the first time in his long and successful career. With well in excess of 150 career Pro Points coming into the event, he was one the top five or six players by that metric who had never played on a Sunday at a PT.
With him crossed off the metaphorical list, I began to compile a literal one to look at the top eight invited players to Pro Tour Gatecrash without a Pro Tour Top 8 on their resumes. They are all incredibly talented, thoughtful players with Magic-playing careers you or I would love to have but, fairly or unfairly, when you talk about the best players in the game it is usually framed against the backdrop of the Sunday stage. These eight players are all invited—I am reasonably certain all of them will be here—but that does not guarantee they will play this weekend. That said, they all have some unfinished business to take care of.
Right at the top of the list is none other than Gerry Thompson (190 lifetime Pro Points), who could cross into the 200 lifetime Pro Points range with a strong finish in Montreal. Gerry has been playing the game forever and has shaped entire Constructed seasons of Magic with his decks. Remember Dark Thepths from the Extended Grand Prix and PTQ season a couple of years back? How about when the iterations of Caw-Blade kept evading the best efforts of their hunters for the better part of a year on the Standard Open circuit? That was Gerry Thompson and his trusty little notebook at work.
To my mind, Gerry is at his best when working in an established metagame and making the minute adjustments—often as few as a handful of cards—to emerge on top of the field. In the hackneyed scenario of a Magic-playing-alien-invasion where I had to play in an established metagame for my life I would want no one other than Gerry making the adjustments necessary to the deck that won during the previous week's alien invasion. Perhaps that has worked against him at the Pro Tour, where the field is not established.
Gerry is working with the ChannelFireball team for this event and finds himself in the unusual position of not being the best player on his team. I mean absolutely no offense by this, since he is working with multiple Hall of Famers, soon-to-be Hall of Famers, and Pro Tour Champions on that illustrious squad. I could see Gerry thriving here when those guys get to anticipate a metagame and build decks that he in turn gets to fine tune. Instead of being the best player on a playtest team trying to figure out what the likes of Luis Scott-Vargas, Brian Kibler, Shuhei Nakamura, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa are going to play, he actually knows. And, as such, he can more accurately extrapolate what the field is going to look like. And when Gerry knows what the field looks like he is at his most dangerous.
It is very easy to forget that Owen Turtenwald (174 lifetime Pro Points) is near the top of this list. He won the Player of the Year during a season in which he never made a Pro Tour Top 8. He tore through that season at a historic Grand Prix Top 8 pace and earned one of the game's most prestigious titles. Owen, who was with the ChannelFireball squad during his Player of the Year run, is now playtesting with the StarCityGames.com squad. As someone who has followed Owen's career from his earliest Grand Prix performances, I can tell you he has undergone more significant changes than just his team laundry. While he is still brash, it is counterbalanced by a more mature approach to his game and the people around him. I recall Rich Hagon talking to Owen about whether or not he could picture himself holding a Pro Tour trophy and Owen kind of laughed and said that he could not imagine it. It is quite clear from the way Owen carries himself and from talking to him that his self confidence is much greater—and more genuine—than it was in his younger days. Add to that a second chance with a team of powerhouse players who are significantly older and more experienced, and you have a recipe for crossing his name off of this list in the near future.
Chinese Taipei's Tzu-Ching Kuo (175 lifetime Pro Points) may not have made it to the Sunday stage at the Pro Tour level, but he made quite the impression on the world when he led his nation's team to victory at the inaugural World Magic Cup last year. A Grand Prix veteran with eight Top 8s to his credit, Kuo has toiled somewhat anonymously in the shadow of the Japanese heavyweights who have dominated the headlines at that level of competition.
Kuo has found himself at a preparation disadvantage over recent years on the Pro Tour as the game's best players have coalesced into superteams like ChannelFireball and Team StarCityGames.com (previously SCG Black). Kuo has joined forces with Pro Tour Avacyn Restored Champion Alexander Hayne and the rest of the Canadian-based—but increasingly international—Team Mana Deprived.
Robert Jukovic (166 lifetime Pro Points) of Croatia has been playing off and on the Pro Tour since 1997, and has come close to a Top 8 finish a handful of times with a pair of Top 16 showings in 2009 at Rome and Austin and a Top 32 at Pro Tour Nagoya in 2011. Like Kuo, he is also no stranger to playing under the bright lights with a country's hopes hanging on his performance. In 2010, alongside Patrick Surab and Ivan Floch, the Croatian National team won the Team Competition at the Magic World Championships over Australia.
Adam Yurchick (156 lifetime Pro Points) of the United States has come tantalizing close to a Top 8 finish when he was on the outside looking in at Pro Tour Hollywood. Yurchick has had his most success at the Grand Prix level with six Top 8s, including his win at Grand Prix Houston (playing the Dark Thepths deck mentioned earlier in the section about Gerry Thompson). Yurchick is working with another player appearing in this list further down to prepare for the event, and I expect big things from both of them.
Earlier this year, when covering Grand Prix Indianapolis, I spoke to Yurchick before the event and there was a level of confidence and preparedness with the format that led me to single him out for a Mystery Sealed Deck segment at the start of Day One. He went on to make a clean sweep of the Sealed rounds despite the absence of any rares in his deck and finished the weekend with his sixth Top 8. The prospect of him working with a solid team of like-minded players and putting the work in for this Pro Tour has me optimistic about his chances.
Robert van Medevoort (151 lifetime Pro Points) of the Netherlands is another player who feels like he is on this list via a technicality. It almost seems unfair to not credit winning the World Team Championships as being the same as winning a Pro Tour but that is the way the stroopwaffle crumbles. van Medevoort is here via gladiatorial combat—the bloodiest of blood sports... the Magic Online Silver PTQ.
Another player on the list is another former Team World Champion. Ivan Floch (123 lifetime Pro Points) was one-third of the Slovak team alongside Jurkovic and Patrick Surab that won the title in 2010. He got as close as the Top 16 of Pro Tour Nagoya in 2011 and always seems to be in the Feature Match area down the stretch of big events.
Matthew Sperling (98 lifetime Pro Points) of the United States is one of the players who will cross over into that rarefied air of more than 100 lifetime points. Looking to build on his win earlier this season at Grand Prix San Jose with Dave Williams and Paul Rietzl, Sperling is a member of the prestigious Team StarCityGames along with his San Jose teammate, Rietz. Boros cards are good in this format you say?
Ari Lax (97 lifetime Pro Points) of the United States got to experience the face-up-against-the-glass sensation that teammate Yurchick went through in Hollywood at the last Pro Tour. His Infect deck was one of the most exciting and influential decks of the event and it carried him all the way to 9th place at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Lax has coalesced a team with the likes of Yurchick and Craig Wescoe to prepare for this event and is hoping—along with everyone else mentioned on this list—to break through and shine on Sunday here in Montreal.