Navigating Grand Prix Warsaw, there is a slightly unusual buzz about the room. As much as there is the normal clamor of a sizeable Grand Prix with a new set, things are a little different. The reason? Pro Tour Journey into Nyx is just a few days away, and for many there is a fair amount of cramming going on.
Normally getting opinions on cards from players is the easiest job in coverage. Everyone has one, you just need to ask. The week before a Pro Tour though, people are a little more guarded it would seem. While there is a big prize at hand this weekend, for many the flight that they are taking on Monday half-way across the world is weighing on their thoughts.
When it comes to building block constructed decks in a new format, often there simply aren't any templates to work from, and there is plenty of opportunity for players to 'go deep' on unusual cards that might not see much play in formats with deeper card pools. This leads to a situation where information is at a real premium, and for many that information is being kept fairly close to many chests.
Christian Seibold finished in the top eight of Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and is working with various German players including his friend Patrick Dickmann who was there with him. He admitted that there was still work to do - with new decks appearing all the time to consider, compare, test and tune. While Dickmann's familiarity with the Modern format was a huge asset in Valencia working on a deck tuner's format, it would be interesting to see how he would fare when creating something new without as much information on how the metagame might look.
Having catapulted himself to the top of the game in the last few months with a top 8 performance at Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and playing in the Magic Online Championship in Seattle, Anssi Alkio seemed pretty chilled out in his approach to Magic.
While scouting the room for stories I found the young Swede quietly going through a land box, carefully picking out a set of lands with identical artwork. Anssi was keen not to give away small edges to his opponents who, if they got to see his hand with something like Thoughtseize, might be able to determine if he the land he played for each turn was one they'd seen or not. Little rituals of a tight player.
As he shuffled through a stack of lands from a variety of different sets, he let me in on a little of how his time had been since the Pro Tour. The Players Championship, while a fantastic experience, had been a little bit of a letdown for him, in his performance in Standard. Anssi had made the top eight of Pro Tour Born of the Gods primarily from his constructed prowess, and an 0-4 Standard record clearly still stung a bit.
For this weekend he would be all about learning more about the limited format before Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx, taking a deck that he believed to be 'a little above average' and trying to ride it to the wins he needed to draft. Anssi's finish at the Pro Tour had secured him a couple of byes for the Grand Prix, but he still had a few more big finishes to put up before he was in the 'three byes' zone. The flight to Atlanta would be at 6am on Monday, so there would be little time for rest after a deep finish in Warsaw, but Anssi didn't seem to mind. He'd been testing with a fairly widely geographically spread group of qualified players in the run up to the Pro Tour, but was keen to get on American soil and commence the home straight of testing in the right time zone.
If you want to talk about softly spoken players who make waves with their plays, then few can compete with Guillaume Wafo-Tapa of France. He already has a Block Constructed Pro Tour title from Pro Tour Yokohama, and Time Spiral block constructed. A player known for his love of control decks, he took that one down with Mystical Teachings, and I was keen to know how he felt about a block constructed Pro Tour where he'd have a chance to play with Elspeth, Sun's Champion.
Wafo-Tapa has been testing all week in Warsaw, with a star-studded French team including Raphael Levy, Jeremy Dazani and Pierre Dagan, all of whom have seen considerable success recently. After having had a fairly sprawling collection of players working together for Pro Tour Born of the Gods, testing has been pared back to a hub of about eight in France (great for drafts), to which there a few American pickups once the crew get to the US on Monday.
When it came to what to play in Atlanta, Wafo was not particularly cagey in saying that a week out, he was still not sure what he'd be playing. The lack of a Supreme Verdict effect, combined with the power of aggressive decks in Theros block meant that an Esper control variant wasn't quite a slam dunk for him, with more testing required before he made a decision. With a return to school in September to finish a mathematics degree, Wafo-Tapa also admitted that his attention was a little divided, and that he would have to focus on other things following this Pro Tour.
When the notion of Hall of Fame came up, he made a little smile. With three Pro Tour top 8s (including the win in Yokohama) and a finals showing at the World Championships, Guillaume is very much in the conversation for receiving a ring, and with it invitations to all future Pro Tours. Would that ensure that even with school, we would have a Guillaume at the Pro Tour? A nod and a chuckle seemed to suggest so. While Wafo-Tapa is not one to toot his own horn, it seems likely that come voting time, there will be just plenty of people tooting on his behalf.