Down the Stretch of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

Posted in Competitive Gaming on May 4, 2016

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad is in the books Journals, and it had one of the most exciting Top 8s in recent memory. Coming into Sunday, all but one player had won a trophy, from Luis Salvatto's Super Sunday Series Championship win to any of Jon Finkel's three Pro Tour wins. There were multiple Players of the Year in the Top 8, between Finkel, Shota Yasooka, and Brad Nelson. There were multiple World Champions in Finkel and Seth Manfield. Only Steve Rubin, coming off a quiet but very successful Platinum season, had a bare mantel. His Green-White Tokens deck tore through a murderer's row of Jon Finkel in the quarterfinals, Shota Yasooka in the semis, and World Magic Cup Champion Andrea Mengucci in the finals.

As is always the case immediately after a Pro Tour, I am not here to talk about the Top 8. You can see all their decks collected in one place, read and watch their Sunday highs and lows, and look forward to their tournament reports on the various content sites they write for. Instead I want to look at the players who came within decimal places of where every Magic player hopes to be on Sunday. I am going to look at the players who finished 9th through 16th.

Virtual Top 8s

Lukas Blohon is one of a handful of current pros who will come onto the Hall of Fame Ballot that will get sent out between now and Pro Tour Eldritch Moon. With only one Pro Tour Top 8 on his résumé, his name is not being bandied about in that discussion with the same passion that Owen Turtenwald and Yuuya Watanabe are generating. You do have to wonder what that discussion would sound like if the math had allowed him to leapfrog past Andrea Mengucci into the last spot on Sunday.

This was a virtual Top 8 for Blohon—there were two players who made it in with 12-4 records and five players who missed on tiebreakers—and his Jund deck was the ninth different Standard deck as you work your way down the standings in order. He won his last two rounds, against Max Molesh and Justin Cohen, but lost a critical match to Oliver Tiu in Round 14 to pick up his fourth loss. Overall he had a 7-3 record in Standard and went 5-1 in the Limited rounds.

Lukas Blohon's Jund Midrange—Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

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Imagine playing on the Pro Tour and finishing with just two losses in Limited and two losses in Standard. That is sometimes not going to be good enough to play on Sunday. It was almost enough to propel Poland's Grzegorz Kowalski to what would have been his first-ever Pro Tour Top 8. Kowalski picked up his fourth loss against eventual Top 8 competitor Luis Salvatto in Round 14, but rebounded to beat Michael Majors and Yuuya Watanabe in the last two rounds to put up an 8-2 finish in Standard with his Sultai Midrange deck. The deck, which also featured the breakout card Dark Petition, was the tenth different deck in a row as you work your way down the standings.

Grzegorz Kowalski's Sultai Midrange—Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

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I had the opportunity to spend some time prior to the Pro Tour with Joel Larsson and the rest of Team EUreka. Their Goggles Ramp deck is the first deck to repeat in the standings—it was also played by quarterfinalist Brad Nelson—and Larsson was one of many players on the team to do well with the deck in Standard. Designed by teammate Pierre Dagen to defeat Bant Company, Goggles Ramp saw Nelson and Aleksa Telarov go 8-2 in Standard while Larsson, Fabrizio Anteri, Thomas Hendriks, and Magnus Lantto all went 7-3.

The Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion's fourth loss came in Round 13 against fellow virtual Top 8er Kowalksi, but he finished strong, beating Lauri Pispa, Matt Sperling, and Kyle Boggemes. While another Top 8 would have obviously been amazing for Larsson's résumé, his goal coming into the tournament was to clinch Platinum—which this result accomplished for him. When we talked to the members of the house about the transformational moments in their careers, Larsson mentioned his win in Vancouver that allowed him to play the game full-time, and ultimately he gets to continue playing at the highest level again next season.

We go three for three on repeat archetypes with Pro Tour Geneva Champion Mike Hron playing Bant Company to a 7-3 finish in Standard with a 5-1 record in Limited. You may recall Mike Hron recently winning a Team Limited Grand Prix alongside his Team Ultra PRO teammates Rich Hoaen and Justin Cohen, but he does not pursue Magic full-time, which may explain why he chose to run the more established Bant archetype over the Black-Green Aristocrats deck that landed in the Top 8 in the hands of Luis Scott-Vargas.

Mike Hron's tournament was a tale of two very different days. He squeaked into Day Two with all four of his losses already on his record. On Saturday he would not drop a match. He was perfect in Draft and then went 5-0 in Standard, dropping every single person he played deeper and deeper in the standings as he clawed his way back to the top tables.

Our last virtual Top 8 competitor was Olivier Tiu, who you may recall from a similar feature I wrote after the previous Pro Tour. With three rounds to go in the event, the eighteen-year-old rookie from New England found himself in the feature match area against Lukas Blohon in a showdown between Jund Midrange and Tiu's own Grixis Control deck. Tiu emerged victorious only to lose to Top 8 competitor Shota Yasooka in the penultimate round to pick up his fourth loss.

Can we stop and take a minute to appreciate what this young man has accomplished so far this year? He has vaulted to the top of the Constructed Master standings for a Magic World Championship invite. His 66 match points in Constructed this season are second only to Sam Black's 67. It is worth noting that those 66 points are also the sum total of the all the Constructed match points of his Pro Tour career. His first Pro Tour was Battle for Zendikar, and with his virtual Top 8 finish he is also the leader in the Rookie of the Year race—ahead of two players who have actual Top 8s in Ricky Chin and Frank Lepore.

He is doing this all without yet working on a superteam. As he comes down the home stretch of his high school years, he has not been able to find the two weeks often needed to attend PT boot camp with the more established teams. Instead, he has worked with a collection of qualified players and attempted to figure things out on his own. So far it seems to be going pretty well for him, but Pro Tour Eldritch Moon will take place after graduation, and one can only imagine what the last chapter of his rookie campaign might look like if he gets the call up to one of the major-league teams.

Oliver Tiu's Grixis Control—Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

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11-4-1 Records

Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Ondřej Stráský lost a win-and-in against eventual PT semifinalist Seth Manfield in the last round. It was the same matchup that Manfield lost in the Top 8 against Stráský's teammate Steve Rubin with Green-White Tokens. In addition to winning the Pro Tour, the deck Team Face to Face Games brought to the tournament put up the best winning percentage in the Standard field. Both Rubin and Josh McClain went 8-2 in the Swiss with the deck. Stráský went 7-2-1, while Brian Braun-Duin, Sam Pardee, and Mike Sigrist all went 7-3.

Portugal's Marcio Carvalho posted a sterling 6-0 record in Draft but finished just a smidge over .500 in Standard at 5-4-1 to miss out on the Top 8. With even one more Standard win, Team DEX Army could have propelled two players into the Top 8.

11-5 and See You in Sydney

Malaysia's Chye Yian Hsiang came into the Pro Tour with just an 11-5 record as his goal. He hoped to qualify for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in Sydney, Australia. With three rounds to go in the tournament, he was 11-2, and suddenly he found his expectations had shifted somewhat! But he also found himself facing three of the biggest names in the game. Can you imagine going to the Pro Tour and—needing just one more win for a chance to shake hands into the Top 8—seeing the names of Hall of Famer Jon Finkel, Player of the Year Brad Nelson, and Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas as your last three opponents? He was 6-1 in Standard at that point with Mono-White Humans, but would not add another win to his tally.

Chye Yien Hsiang's Mono-White Humans—Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad

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In the end, Hsiang did accomplish his goal and will get another crack at the Pro Tour in Sydney along with everyone who finished 11-5 or better. Hsiang, who was one of three players in this article without a Top 8 (along with Kowalski and Tiu), will be very much on my mind as we head Down Under for the last Pro Tour of the season. I am especially interested in seeing where Tiu goes from here with two end-of-season awards within his grasp—one of which could propel him from finishing in the shadow of the Top 8 of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad to playing in the World Championship as the Constructed Master!

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