We have just about reached the home stretch of the 2013-2014 season of the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour. After Pro Tour Magic 2014 in August, the final standings will be locked in, with Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Pro Players Club membership levels, and the eventual invitees to the World Championship officially known quantities. There is still a reasonable amount of wiggle room coming into this weekend, but that all changes with next week's Pro Tour Journey into Nyx. The next to last Pro Tour of the year, it doesn't have the ability to make dreams, but it will almost certainly crush them for some. Players looking for an end-of-season award have to perform well to keep their hopes alive, as the sheer number of points available to top finishers at the Pro Tour tends to cause massive shifts near the tops of the leaderboards.
Coming into this week, Jeremy Dezani of France has a chokehold on the Player of the Year race, one that can only be undone by the power of the Pro Tour. With a 13-point lead on his nearest competition, American Reid Duke, Dezani is in control of his own destiny at this point. It would take a Top 8 finish at the Pro Tour for Duke to overtake him at this point in the season, and even that wouldn't matter much unless Dezani utterly bombed. Given his recent Finals appearance at Grand Prix Vienna, he appears to be on top of his game at a very crucial time in the season.
The way that the Pro Points contributions are laid out, with only the top five Grand Prix performances contributing to a player's total, success at the Pro Tour is paramount to any hopes of winning Player of the Year. Still, Grand Prix performances will almost certainly be a major factor in the eventual winner of the race, as well as the fates of players vying for Pro Player Club standing. With each Top 8 awarding at least four points to players, consistent success at the Grand Prix level can account for a significant portion of the points needed to hit Gold (35) or Platinum (45).
Once you've had the taste of the good life, it's hard to go back, and a number of Platinum-level Pro players are here this weekend hunting for crucial points to keep them on the level. One of the players with the easiest run of it is 18th-ranked Paul Rietzl from Team ChannelFireball. Work commitments significantly impact Rietzl's ability to travel to Grand Prix, but he hasn't let that stop him from amassing 33 points coming into this Grand Prix. Combined with the three points he is guaranteed for attending the remaining two Pro Tours, Rietzl only needs six more points to lock up Platinum for next season, as well as put him in position to have a reasonable shot at a spot at the World Championship.
"I'm searching for, wait, what am I playing for again," Rietzl laughed as he thought. "Platinum?! That sounds like a nice metal! Right now, I've got a bunch of Top 64s on my record for this season. With the six points for the remaining Pro Tours, I'll be six points away from Platinum. There have to be six points I can pick up somewhere. I might as well start here. It's hard for me to do a lot of the east coast Grand Prix. With work, it's hard to get out and back to Phoenix to go to them, so I have to sit down at the beginning of the season, figure out which ones I can make it to, and add them to the list. And I have to make the ones I do get to count."
Right next to him was teammate Eric Froehlich, sitting on 24 points himself. His Pro Tours will put him, at minimum, shy of making Gold next season, let alone Platinum. He, like many of the members of ChannelFireball, are sitting in the 20-30 range, which is close to Gold, but likely going to need some good Grand Prix and Pro Tour showing through the remaining three months of the season to return to Platinum. As such, they began their testing early, opting to leave themselves the option to fly here to Minneapolis to try and grab a few last-minute points.
"A lot of our team decided to come here to chase points," Froehlich said. "We've been testing in Las Vegas for the past week, so we don't really need to head down to Atlanta early and do additional work. There are a lot of us sitting at around 20-30 points, so the points really matter. A bunch of us are staying down in Atlanta after the Pro Tour to play in the Grand Prix, too."
For some players, the goals are a bit on the higher side. Take Brian Kibler, for example. As a Hall of Famer, Kibler doesn't need points to assure himself of qualification for the Pro Tour. He's already got that locked down. Still, the appearance fees that are associated with the Platinum level are an incredibly big reward for players. In addition, qualification for the World Championships only includes the top players in the world, and the spots are incredibly coveted. It is easily the most difficult tournament of the year, but the payoff is spectacular to match. Add to that the prestige of being the World Champion of Magic after having defeated the top names in the game, and qualification is a big deal.
"For me, I either need a lot of points, or points don't matter," Kibler explained. "I don't need the Pro club status to qualify for the Pro Tour, but I do want to hit Platinum and hopefully have a chance at the World Championship. Without the Pro Tour qualification, there is very little difference between Silver and Gold for me, but there is a massive difference between Gold and Silver. I think I've only got two Grand Prix that are giving me points for the year, so I've still got room for improvement, but I'm so far behind on points at this point that it's honestly all about the Pro Tour. If I'd had my way, I would have just gone to Atlanta last week and spent all of this time beforehand testing for it. I have to Top 8 a Pro Tour to realistically have a chance at making it to Platinum. In fact, if I bomb at the Pro Tour in Atlanta, it's unlikely that I'll stick around for the Grand Prix afterwards. If I do well, then I'll definitely be going to chase those final points."
A lot will change in the wake of the Pro Tour next week, but the eight points that go to the winner here at Grand Prix Minneapolis are going to be a huge boon to any players looking to level up next season. With so much on the line, and so many top players in the field, they're sure to be hard-won points, as well.