Meet the Pro Tour Kaladesh 9th–16th Finishers

Posted in Competitive Gaming on October 19, 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.

The first Pro Tour of the 2016–17 Magic season culminated in a battle between two players looking to become the first repeat Pro Tour Champions since Brian Kibler did it a half decade ago in the very same venue. Hall of Famer and Pro Tour Charleston Champion Shota Yasooka and 2002 World Champion Carlos Romão locked horns in an old-fashioned, count-the-cards-in-your-library, discard-to-hand-size control match. In the end, it was Yasooka who had the last Torrential Gearhulk standing and posted a better finish than each of the more than 460 competitors who came to Honolulu for Pro Tour Kaladesh.

The Top 8 saw a fascinating array of decks and levels of Pro Tour experience. There were seven different Standard archetypes on display and players ranging from two different first-time Pro Tour competitors in Ben Hull and Makis Matsoukas to the veterans who met in the finals. You can find all the Top 8 profiles for the tournament here, but that is not who I am talking about today. Making the Top 8 is the goal of every Magic player, but at the first Pro Tour of the season just getting near the top of the standings can be the foundation for a great year and the launch pad for a professional Magic career. I caught up with many of the players who finished as little as one match win away from the Top 8 to find out a little bit more about them and the weekend they had in Hawaii.

9th Place: Matteo Moure

Matteo Moure
Matteo Moure battles in the finals of Grand Prix Stockholm 2016.

At Pro Tours with smaller fields, a 12-4 record will sometimes sneak into the last couple of spots in the elimination bracket. With Pro Tour Kaladesh being the largest Pro Tour in recent memory, that was not the case, and it was a clean cut with Italy's Moure being the highest finisher with that record. He went 5-1 in Draft and posted a 7-3 record with his Temur Aetherworks deck. He was playing at the end of Day One to post a perfect 8-0 record, but fell to Eric Froehlich.

Matteo Moure's Temur Aetherworks

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Moure qualified for the tournament when he made the finals of Grand Prix Stockholm. It was his second finals appearance at the level last season, as he also finished in the finals of GP London 2015. He played in one Pro Tour last season and went 10-6 at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. He worked for this event with the Italian contingent, which included Marco Cammilluzzi and fellow Top 16 competitor Davide Miani.

"We were already on a Marvel list, but it wasn't performing really well in our testing. The night before the PT, when we chose the final list, we found a really good configuration," said Moure of the deck that helped him reach the Top 16. Finishing in 9th place can have a special little sting that nobody finishing at any other place outside of the Top 8 can fully appreciate, but Moure was able to appreciate what he accomplished. "I've only been playing Magic at the Pro level for the last two years. Even though I [finished] in 9th, I am enjoying this moment. I'm qualified for the next three Pro Tours. I think 26 Pro Points is a good start."

Moure has been playing Magic since he was 12 years old, but has only recently been competitive—something that was spurred on by his desire to enjoy the social aspects if the game, ironically enough. He used to attend the older, larger PTQs as a way to meet other Magic players, but with the new PPTQ/RPTQ system there were just fewer large events for that experience. That led to him traveling to Grand Prix to be a part of the scene. From there it was only a matter of time before he was trying to get to the next level.

"I have a huge competitive spirit," he said, grinning.

10th Place: Reid Duke

Reid Duke
Reid Duke calmly faces down Black-Green Delirium during Pro Tour Kaladesh.

Just one event ago, Reid Duke got to play in the second Sunday of his Pro Tour career. His record in the Swiss at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon? 12-4. His record in the Swiss of Pro Tour Kaladesh? 12-4. But Duke knew coming in that he was going to need at least thirteen wins to go back-to-back Top 8s and was able to identify a key piece of where his journey to do so went off the road.

"I lost to Shota Yasooka twice yesterday in really close three-game matches. It felt to me as I was playing the games that I would've been able to beat the majority of the players on the Pro Tour, but in that case with his navigation of really close complicated games... I couldn't beat him," said Duke, who views such losses as opportunities to take the measure of himself and his game. "It was humbling more than anything else. It wasn't upsetting—I didn't feel like I got robbed or anything. This is what I'm here for: to play against masters from across the world. If I want to be winning more than I am, I just need to be a little better, you know?"

In addition to two Pro Tour Top 8s, this was the second Top 16 finish of Duke's Pro Tour career, and he, rightfully, considered the tournament to be a success. For every tiebreaker that goes your way, another will fall for someone else.

"It is just fair that this time I went 12-4 and missed. It is paying your dues over the course of a long career. You can't have everything work out perfectly for you every time," said Duke. He played (rather atypically to his play style) the Red-White Vehicles deck that was one of the first pillars to emerge from this metagame. The deck was running everyone down during playtesting, and Duke was impressed by its ability to do the things that aggro decks do well—beating an opponent who stumbles for even a turn—while not falling into the traps those decks have in terms of not being able to mitigate land flood or scarcity.

"You have Smuggler's Copter and Veteran Motorist to give you control over your draws," said Duke of the surprising amount of deck manipulation Vehicles offered. "You just don't have those games that are stupid where you draw eight lands with a red deck or you get stuck on two. The deck was very consistent. You get a lot of control over the battlefield with Vehicles and planeswalkers. It just felt like a great deck."

Reid Duke's Red-White Vehicles

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"Don't panic," Duke advised to anyone picking the deck up for an upcoming Standard event. "Don't feel like you have to win as quickly as possible. The deck has a lot more staying power than you might expect. You can play against a control deck where they kill your creatures, but everything you play is scrying or looting, or you are getting extra cards off of Depala, Pilot Exemplar. You can just beat them fair and square in a longer game if you play carefully."

11th Place: Davide Miani

It was a great tournament for first-time Pro Tour competitors. In addition to Hull and Matsoukas making their first Top 8 in their debut event, Italy's Davide Miani finished one match win off their result. To give you some perspective, that is a better debut finish than most members of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, including the two most recent inductees.

Miani qualified for the event playing Modern Merfolk in a Magic Online PTQ. He had much more modest goals than Top 16 heading into the event.

"I just hoped to make Day Two with a better record than 4-4," laughed Miani, who ended the first day with a 7-1 record and found himself, and teammate Matteo Moure, at a draft table with the likes of Shota Yasooka, Reid Duke, Eric Froehlich, Pierre Dagen, Ben Weitz, and Matt Nass. He would end up going 1-2 in that pod. He would only pick up one loss each day in Standard, playing a Black-Red Aggro deck that he settled on very close to the submission deadline.

Davide Miani's Black-Red Aggro

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"You have a lot of burn and great removal; Unlicensed Disintegration is just great," said Miani of his deck for the tournament. "I like to be aggro, but I like to have some interactive spells."

Miani will get to play in Dublin, Ireland, at Pro Tour Aether Revolt, and is looking to play more events in the hopes of getting more Pro Points and building on his success and confidence.

"I was really calm at the tournament—I don't know why," said Miani. Miani was only fazed by playing Shota Yasooka and his control deck that eventually won the tournament. "[Yasooka] played Grixis Control and they were quite close games, but he surprised me because he main-decked Ceremonious Rejection and countered my Smuggler's Copter on turn two. It was very, very bad."

12th Place: Travis Woo

Travis Woo
Travis Woo stares down his competition in the semifinals of Grand Prix Portland 2016.

Despite some modest success at Pro Tours, Grand Prix Portland finalist Travis Woo was not expecting to find himself pursuing high-level Magic competition this year.

"I thought I was gonna take a step back and do more YouTube [videos] and be more casual," said Woo of his Magic outlook prior to the GP. "Portland was close to where I was living, so I played in that. And I got 6 Pro Points and I got to go to Hawaii. Suddenly, I'm Silver and I'm going to Ireland and I can go to Japan. I could go to Nashville, and since I 6-0'd Draft I could make a run for Draft Master and Worlds. It's just crazy... it's so unbelievable."

While Woo has a reputation as a deck brewer, his best Pro Tour results have come while playing Limited. "The funny thing is my win percentage is much higher in Limited—maybe because of the brewing. I get too attached to things sometimes. I've had a 5-1 and 4-2 before. I think my Limited win percentages is over 60%, which is very good for the Pro Tour. My [Constructed] win percentage is right around 50%; if I can get that up, maybe I can Top 8 one of these. I have been pretty consistently 9-7 at my past Pro Tours. I [have] just been waiting for my breakthrough and I just got it. It feels awesome!"

Woo played a Jeskai Control deck in Standard to a 6-4 record, but knows that he could have done a little better as evidenced by his learning curve from the first round of Standard—when he played against Duke and his Vehicles deck—to the last round when he played Duke's teammate Brock Parker on the same deck. Woo faced identical decisions in each match; facing down a Depala with two open mana and a choice between killing the legend before it could attack, and potentially yield card advantage, or sit back on a Negate. When he played Duke he chose the former and found himself staring down a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar post-combat.

"The Jeskai deck has to do backflips to keep the planeswalkers from coming in," said Woo, who filed that experience away for future reference against Parker. "The second time it came up I took the Depala hit and he didn't even spend mana on her because it wasn't about cards it was about tempo. I was able to counter the Gideon and win that game. It was awesome because I came all this way to punt against Red-White Vehicles but then I got redemption and it was amazing."

Travis Woo's Jeskai Control

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13th Place: Jason Smyth

I was not able to track down Jason Smyth for this interview, but he was the highest finishing Black-Green Delirium player in the tournament. He took one of the breakout decks from the last Pro Tour and went 7-3 in Constructed and 5-1 at the Draft tables.

Jason Smyth's Black-Green Delirium

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14th Place: Matthew Anderson

Matthew Anderson
Matthew Anderson (far right) with the rest of Team Australia at the 2013 World Magic Cup.

As a level 2 judge, Matthew Anderson was working the last time there was a Grand Prix in Sydney and rarely gets the chance to play at the highest level. He competed at the World Championship in 2011 and again at the 2013 World Magic Cup in Amsterdam.

"It was quite a surprise to actually qualify for this event. I got in through an RPTQ and in the Top 8 playoff round I got paired against David Mines—this year's Australian WMC team captain. I ended up beating him to qualify, but he was here anyway—and he did really well too," said Anderson, who was happy that Mines also posted a good enough record to join in Dublin for Pro Tour Aether Revolt.

While Anderson may have been surprised to qualify, he was not as surprised as some of his opponents by the deck he went 8-2 with in Standard:

"My deck has been affectionately called Jeskai Garbage," laughed Anderson about his counterspell-heavy control deck that "combo'd" with Authority of the Consuls and Nahiri, the Harbinger. "They work really well together, bringing the creatures in tapped so Nahiri can exile them straight away. It also means creatures can't crew Vehicles when they come into play. It made the Vehicles matchup really easy."

It also turns out that Emrakul players were less eager to do their thing when she came into play tapped. Combine that with being able to counter spells at every stop along the mana curve from two to six and you can imagine this was a frustrating, unexpected deck to go up against—topping out with every judge's favorite card, Confirm Suspicions.

"I was playing two in my main deck and the curve would go Negate on turn two, turn three you had Void Shatter, turn four Summary Dismissal, turn five you had Confirm Suspicions, and on turn six you could Torrential Gearhulk flashing back Confirm Suspicions and have six Clues in play. So much fun."

Matthew Anderson's Jeskai Control

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15th place: Luis Salvatto

Luis Salvatto
Luis Salvatto considers a play in the quarterfinals of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad.

Argentina's Luis Salvatto made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad with his Red-White Goggles deck. That was his first Pro Tour since playing in Worlds 2011. He did not think the deck was very good.

"That deck was so bad," groaned Salvatto, who prepares for tournaments with DEX Army. "But in Draft I went 6-0, so that was really good, thanks to Márcio Carvalho's advice. I made Top 8; it was incredible for me. I skipped Sydney because of the visa issues."

Salvatto should be able to chain together invites to stay on the Pro Tour all year long thanks to his strong finish and a Silver invite he has not cashed in yet. He knows he would not have had that strong finish without a much better Standard deck this time out; he ended up on a Blue-White midrange deck that carried him to a 9-1 record in Constructed.

"It was the opposite of my last deck," laughed Salvatto. "And in this tournament, I started out 0-3. I lost my first draft. It was terrible. I drafted badly."

Salvatto was excited to play with the deck, and managed to end Day One without dropping another match.

"My goal the next day was to have a good draft," he recalled. "I may have gotten lucky against Sam Pardee in [Round 11]—he flooded out a lot—but I won the draft. Then I was 8-3 with a really good Standard deck. I had a really good matchup against the Aetherworks Marvel decks. I knew that I had won five matches; now I just needed to win three more to get to eleven wins and qualify for another Pro Tour. Then I was 10-3—ten in a row! That was amazing. People in Argentina could not believe it. After an 0-3 start everyone thought this tournament was over for me."

He took the fatal fourth loss in Round 14 and still needed one more win for that invitation to Dublin.

"I won both of [my last two matches] and made Top 16. It was an amazing tournament. The deck is really excellent!"

Luis Salvatto's White-Blue Midrange

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Salvatto has his eyes on Gold for this season and will be heading to Rotterdam to represent Argentina in the World Magic Cup next month.

"Maybe [I'll reach] Platinum, who knows?" he grinned.

16th Place: Rich Hoaen

Rich Hoaen
Rich Hoaen considers his options in the feature match area of Pro Tour Kaladesh.

"I try not to think about it," said Rich Hoaen of the sixth Pro Tour Top 16 finish in his impressive career against just one Top 8 that came thirteen years ago. As real life encroaches on his Magic playing time, between a recent marriage and a full-time job, he feels like he still has something to accomplish.

"I'm not gonna be able to dedicate myself to the game anymore, but I do feel there's an element of unfinished business," he admitted. "I probably wouldn't be going to tournaments as much if one of those Top 16s was another Top 8. I feel like there's something missing there."

Hoaen worked with Team ChannelFireball and Associates for this event and played the same Aetherworks Marvel deck as his teammate Matt Nass.

Rich Hoaen's Temur Aetherworks

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Congratulations to all the players on their successful results. I certainly look forward to seeing them all in Dublin, Ireland, for Pro Tour Aether Revolt!

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