Welcome to Pro Tour–San Diego! The crack reporting squad of Bill Stark, Josh Bennett, Nate Price, Monty Ashley, Rashad Miller, and Craig Gibson are combing the halls of the San Diego Convention Center for all the inside information.
TABLE OF CONTENT
Saturday, February 20, 10:51 a.m. – David Vogin Becomes Level 5
Newly minted Level 5 David Vogin
If you were to ask judges around the world who the most well-known judge is, odds are a lot of them would say "David Vogin." He's well-traveled, having judged major events on almost every continent on which Magic can be found, in particular spending a lot of time building the Asian community. Matching his public leadership is his tireless behind-the-scenes work, launching projects such as the Judge Pyramid, DCI Family and a streamlined investigations process that has cut the turnaround time dramatically. This just scratches the surface of his involvement over the past ten years.
Given his global perspective and extensive contributions, it is no surprise that the DCI has chosen to promote him to the highest level in the judge program. These promotions don't happen every day; as the fourth active Level 5 judge (along with Sheldon Menery, Toby Elliott, and Riccardo Tessitori) he will be charged with helping to lead the program, bringing his considerable community-building skills to an even higher platform.
Judge Community Manager Andy Heckt had high praise for David.
"David brings a personal, caring nature to the judge program, providing a global focus on the individual. Davis is a strong mentor to many judges in so many countries, not just France where he has been very influential. For over five years he has inspired and lobbied for more fun in our community, events, policies, and rules. He constantly questions what value our strategies have for the individual player and judge. I look forward to the direction his council, guidance, focus and energy will bring to judges and the DCI."
Tessitori was equally profuse with his accolades and had this to say:
"When I went to my first Grand Prix, David was there. When I went to my first Pro Tour, David was there. When the first Grand Prix was split, David was the Head Judge. When I needed good advice, David was always ready to help me. When a judge needs [anything], David is always there. His contribution to the entire judge program is enormous, and I'm sure it will continue for a very long time. Thanks, David, for being with us!"
Menery echoed his compatriots' thoughts about Vogin.
"Every continent on the Magic map felt the touch of David Vogin, from his home in France to the farthest reaches of Asia and Latin America. His impact on the breadth and depth of the worldwide Judge Program is second to none."
David has consistently outperformed expectations, and this promotion represents a great day for the program and the Magic community as a whole. Congratulations David!
Saturday, February 20, 12:27 p.m. – Welcome to the Big Show
Ali Aintrazi lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. A Magic player for four years, he qualified for San Diego, his first Pro Tour, through both total rating and a Pro Tour Qualifier win. It took him about a year chasing the PTQ slot to finally take one home. "I Top 8 a lot, but it's really hard to get first."
The first thing I noticed upon sitting down to interview Ali was his intense focus. In just his second draft at the Pro Tour, with Limited typically being the bigger stumbling block for newer players, Ali was honed in on building his deck, making each choice count. He didn't so much as look up as a coverage reporter sat down right next to him to bird his entire deck-building process.
When I finally interrupted his thought process to discuss his weekend so far, he explained what his original goal for the event was: "My goal was to Top 64, but now I'm hoping to do better. Today is going to be harder because the players are better. I still hope to Top 64, but I'd like to do better." Aintrazi readily admitted he identified as more of a Constructed player, but quickly added "I'm worse at Limited, but I still feel I'm pretty good at it."
He discussed preparing for the event with friends Daniel Genkins, Robert Gathings, Jonathon Brostoff, and Walker Trull. "I tested two days a week for about 2-4 hours those days." A busy schedule with work, his girlfriend, and helping to run the family catering business prevented him from putting in more hours. Had he used Magic Online to help test? "I play Magic Online, but I like going out and playing with my friends. It is good for draft practice though."
We closed our conversation discussing Ali's entrance to the tournament world. "I started with Friday Night Magic," he explained. "I used to play at Underground Games, and now I play at Parker, Banner, Kent, and Wayne." For this silently focused player, Friday Night Magic was the gateway to the beginning of a potentially auspicious Pro Tour career.Jeff Chen of Houston, TX
If Ali Aintrazi was focused like a laser on preparing his draft deck at Pro Tour–San Diego, Jeff Chen of Houston, Texas, was nearly the polar opposite. I caught up with him in his ninth round of competition, where he was jovially playing against an opponent who spoke English slightly and as a second language. That didn't stop Jeff from having a good time goofing around. "This match is funny, because we actually played each other in the final round yesterday!" he said, forcing both players to laugh.
Chen arrived at the Pro Tour as a lapsed player, having started just after Unlimited was released but taking a break between Mirage and Scourge. "I started playing Prereleases during Scourge, but I really started playing again when they released Time Spiral. All my friends were like, 'Hey, we recognize these cards!' and the nostalgia factor brought us back."
From there, Jeff slowly started finding tournaments to play in. For Friday Night Magic he began with the Shadowmoor set, getting his game on at Montag's Games. He also started drafting with a crew of players at Midnight Comics, but his true love was at Asgard Games: Legacy. "I'm actually mostly a Legacy player," Chen said, describing his relationship with his preferred format. "I've traveled to Gen Con, Philadelphia, and events in Texas for Legacy."
If he identified as a Legacy player, how had Jeff qualified for the Pro Tour? "I won a PTQ, my first one!" Chen answered the question with a huge grin. For players who've chased the PTQ circuit for years without earning the golden ticket, Chen added a still-had-all-these to his story: "My Sealed pool was pretty good, but I thought my Draft deck was terrible. But somehow I kept 2-1ing all my matches and ... here I am!" Making the story even more interesting was the fact that it was Chen's girlfriend who actually got him to go to the PTQ. "My girlfriend likes to play Limited, so we went so she could play."
For the Texas player, it was a lucky push from his significant other that sent him to his first Pro Tour, and now his first Day 2. He had had to readjust his plans from his original expectations, which were to do terribly at the Pro Tour and spend a weekend playing Legacy at the Public Events stage. Instead, he was playing for the Top 8, or at least a solid Top 64+, but he had to cut the interview short. Keeping in line with his nice guy image, he had to rush off to find his opponent from the round, who had mistakenly left his coat on the back of his chair at the table.
For Ali Aintrazi and Jeff Chen, their Pro Tour stories have just begun. To start yours, check out the Events Locator on the magicthegathering.com website to see where you can play Magic in your area! And thanks to players like Ali and Jeff, the Pro Tour has many successful years ahead of it.
Saturday, February 20, 12:43 p.m. – Finding the Cure
It's Friday. I'm in love.
I'm pretty sure that in this day and age, everybody's working for the weekend. Luckily for us Magic players, the weekend is when things really start to pick up, and it all begins with Fridays and Friday Night Magic.
Friday night at the last few Pro Tours I've been at has been the one night I don't just go hunting for any draft I can elbow my way into, which is a huge statement. I have other reasons to crack packs, and each time, I'm joined by a couple hundred other players who look forward to the Super FNM that runs at every Pro Tour. More players participated in Super FNM last night than in the PTQ that was running alongside it!
Admittedly, at most Pro Tours, there is an incredibly large contingent of players that are local, or at least local-ish. As big as the West Coast's Magic scene is, you see a lot of players traveling from all over California. It's really easy to forget sometimes how big the state is, though. I heard a guy tell his opponent that he was here from Fresno, to which his opponent responded, "Oh, that's not too bad." It turns out that Fresno is actually a slightly longer drive than his opponent's drive from Phoenix!Michael Rothkopf traveled further to be here than plenty of pros did.
I think my favorite player from the tournament had to be my Round 3 opponent, Michael Rothkopf. Michael made the trip here from San Diego from Washington DC, unqualified for the Pro Tour. He played in the Last-Chance Qualifier the previous evening, but the real reason he was here was just to play some Magic of any variety.
"I wanted to take a vacation, there was a Pro Tour coming up, and San Diego seemed like a great place to go."
Michael has only been playing the game for a few months, but he was already ready to make a 2,200-mile trip to sling some cardboard with a bunch of other gamers. I asked him if he was planning on playing in any of the upcoming Constructed events over the next couple of days, such as the Legacy events, Extended PTQs, or the Wizards Play Network Open for a trip to San Juan on Sunday. That's when he smiled and admitted, "I haven't really been playing long enough to jump into Constructed. I've only really played in Zendikar and M10 events. But I'll definitely be playing in that."
We talked for the next few minutes about some of the other random stuff going on, including getting to play with the Phyrexia vs. The Coalition theme decks in the Champion Challenge area. I told him to challenge Mike Turian, who always plays with such exuberance that he seems more like a new player himself than the Hall of Fame player and seasoned Magic developer he actually is.
Meeting people like Michael and seeing how much they enjoy the game and how far they are willing to go to do so is always something I love. So if you're looking for a cure for the work-week blues, remember—you can never get enough, enough of this.
It's Friday, and I'm in love.
Saturday, February 20, 3:54 p.m. – Oh Brother
We’ve brought you stories of brother duos doing well on the Pro Tour before. The Brad Nelson / Cory Baumeister team, the Kornelissens, and of course Antoine and Olivier Ruel. Add one more to the list: Belgium’s Pascal and Peter Vieren.
The duo, from the Dutch-speaking half of the country, play with some of the game’s top Belgian minds, including Christophe Gregoir, Jan Doise, and Marijn Lybaert, all of whom have Pro Tour Top 8s within the past two Pro Tour seasons. Peter is older by two and a half years even though he stands half a head shorter than his brother Pascal. So who started playing first?Brothers Pascal (left) and Peter Vieren of Belgium played their first pro-level match against each other here at PT–San Diego.
“We started together,” explained Pascal. “Our nephew introduced us to the game. We saw his cards and got really interested.” Their first forays into Magic weren’t without trial and tribulation as their younger nephew hadn’t quite figured out all of the rules. “You could play more than one land a turn, and there were multiple attacks, but creatures that already blocked couldn’t block again ....”
Which of the brothers has had the better finishes? “Ouch,” said Peter with a smile. “I finished 19th at Grand Prix–Brussels ....” before trailing off at what he clearly considered a lackluster resume.
With a beaming grin, Pascal cut in, “I was the National Champion!”
“Yeah, but I qualified for the Pro Tour first! And I have more consistent finishes!” his brother fired back.
Their good-natured ribbing of one another belied the fact they have a very close relationship. “Yeah, we’re pretty close,” Peter said, when asked about the nature of their familial bond. Pascal added, “Otherwise we wouldn’t have the same hobby!”
In addition to being close as a family, the two have shared numerous experiences together through Magic. When asked which was the better player individually, both demurred. “That’s the eternal question between us,” said Peter. “To be honest, we’re very, very equal. We learned each trick together, and share what we learn with each other.”
Pascal agreed. “I think we’re about equal. We practice together.”
On the subject of making a name for themselves as a celebrated fraternal duo, they seemed hesitant. “I think it’s impossible with the Ruels.” Was how Pascal answered the question before being interrupted by his brother.
“But yes, that’s the goal!”
Pascal fired right back, “I think it’s hard to beat two [Hall of Fame inductions].”
Despite both players having been on the Pro Tour numerous times previously, San Diego marked a special milestone for them: the first time they had both qualified for the same event. “We’ve actually never played each other in a PTQ, GP, or Pro Tour in a match we had to play,” Peter said, a relative oddity of a statistic. Of course, that all changed this weekend as well. The two brothers found themselves in the same Draft pod to kick off the second day of competition (alongside Belgian countryman Christophe Gregoir). Both had gone undefeated in their Draft pods the day before, and after two rounds of battling on Saturday were playing to leave the Limited portion of the event with unblemished Limited records of 6-0. Unfortunately, they were standing in each other’s way.
That meant their first actual professional match played together. It was the younger of the two, Pascal, who proved the victor. Still, both had solid records with the Top 8 closing in. I asked each of them whether he would prefer to make Top 8 himself, or see his brother enjoy the honor first?
“Me, because I’d love to Top 8,” said Pascal. “It’s something I really want. He would be my second choice.”
Peter wasn’t far behind with his answer: “Winning is best. Pascal winning? Second best.”