With the final attack from Ivan Floch's mighty Nyx-Fleece Rams, Pro Tour Magic 2015 came to a close—and with it, the 2013–14 season did as well. Without any more opportunities for Pro Points, players head into the 2014–15 season (which kicks off with Grand Prix in Portland and Utrecht this weekend) with their Pro Club levels established and any end-of-year invitations tucked into their back pockets.
Hitting Silver (20 Pro Points) in the last Pro Tour of the year means players will be qualified for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Hawaii if they choose to use their invitation there. If you can pull off the double-double of getting to Silver while making the Top 25 of the last Pro Tour, it is even better, because it allows you to forestall your Silver invitation thanks to the auto invitation to the next Pro Tour for everyone in the Top 25.
Jackson Cunningham came a hair away from Platinum—the winner of each PT is awarded that status regardless of point total—in his Pro Tour debut, but will have ample opportunity to get there next season. The Pro Tour finalist ended up with 24 points for his 2nd-place finish, which will qualify him for an auto-invitation to PT Khans of Tarkir in Hawaii and Silver status, which he can use at a subsequent Pro Tour.
Coming into the Pro Tour, Jackson prepared for the tournament with his brother Jeff Cunningham and told his older sibling he was just hoping to make Day Two. Jeff, a veteran of the Pro Tour with a Top 8 at PT San Diego in 2002, did not want to hear about that and pushed his brother to aim higher. It was as impressive a debut as I can recall in quite a long time, and I look forward to seeing what the younger Cunningham can do with two PT invitations safely secured for next season.
Melissa DeTora is another player who snagged the double-double in those final rounds. The Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 competitor finished in 23rd place to win $2,500 and what turned out to be a pair of Pro Tour invitations for next season. DeTora, who worked with Team Revolution for the tournament, was sitting on 16 points coming into the tournament, which meant she would need 1 more point beyond the 3 guaranteed for competing to earn an invitation to Hawaii.
"My goal was simple—to qualify for the next Pro Tour," said DeTora of her pre-tournament mentality. "I could do that by making Top 100, which would get me Silver and get me to Hawaii, but a Top 25 would be ideal because it would qualify me, get me a plane ticket, and I could use the Silver invitation on the next one."
Regardless of her goals, DeTora maintained the same approach as throughout the year with Team Revolution, which included ten to fourteen hours of Standard every day, and as many drafts as possible for the two weeks leading up to the Pro Tour.
"I remained positive throughout the testing process and at the actual event and didn't let emotions affect my games," she said. While the emotion may not have affected her games, that didn't mean the event itself was not emotionally turbulent. She was 11–4 heading into the last round of the event. That Top 100 was a certainty but she could draw into Top 25 and assure herself two PT invitations instead of just one. She found herself paired against Martin Juza, who needed to Top 16 in order to hit Platinum. Juza did not believe he could draw and the two players had to face off in the final round.
"I ended up losing the match and I was heartbroken," said DeTora, thinking at the time that she had fallen below 25th in the standings. "I was actually about to leave the venue after I lost and when I was heading out the door Raph (Levy) stopped me because coverage wanted to take a team photo, so I stayed for that. Martin then came up to me and said that I probably made Top 25 anyway, but I didn't get my hopes up. Everyone asked me how I finished and I said that I lost the last round and finished Top 50. When standings went up I didn't even go to the board to look, but then everyone came up to me congratulating me and giving high fives! I couldn't believe it, I finished 23rd, which meant two Pro Tour invitations! It was definitely an emotional roller coaster for me but it ended in the best way possible."
While many players you talk to will always set their sights on Platinum, Pro Tour Magic 2015 Top 8 competitor Pat Cox was just hoping for the best. Cox, who maintains a full-time job and cannot partake in as many GPs as his contemporaries, knew he needed a Top 16 finish if he was going to keep his multi-year streak alive.
"I've been Gold or the equivalent for four years now, but I'd had a lackluster season and it wasn't looking like I'd make it this time," said Cox, who tested with Team ChannelFireball for the tournament. "I didn't take a specific approach just because I needed a better finish; I am of course always trying to do well. I recently started a new job and unfortunately couldn't take that much time off. I instead met up with the team for the weekend, cramming in as much Standard as possible, and drafted with people locally—at Comics and Gaming in Gainesville, VA. I picked pretty much everyone on the team's brain about Draft on Thursday, which helped me finish 5–1 in the Limited portion of the event."
We did a deck tech with Cox about the Brave Naya deck that he was the only member from his team to play.
"While I was the only person on the team who ended up playing Brave Naya, LSV and EFro both tested the deck extensively and were incredibly helpful in tuning the deck and sideboard."
Cox's most nervous moments of the event came in Round One, when he made what he described as a "bone-headed play" that cost him a game: "I managed to win that match and end the day 7–1, but I was still incredibly nervous that I wouldn't Top 16. Not until I was truly locked for Gold with three rounds left did I relax a bit and realize I was probably going to Top 8."
Cox would love to achieve Platinum but is more than happy with being able to play in every Pro Tour next season despite having to curtail some tournament activity to appease his corporate overlords.
"I think the next event for me is GP Orlando at the end of next month," he said. "Part of me is looking forward to a little break, but I know I'll be wishing I was there while watching coverage of GPs Portland and Salt Lake City!"
Cox's longtime teammate David Ochoa, who came into the event with 31 points, also aimed for a Top 16 finish this weekend, but for him that would have meant hitting Platinum. As it was, he needed to make Top 100 for the elusive final point to hit the 35-point plateau needed for Gold.
"I thought I had to win my last round to finish in the Top 100 and make Gold, but I ended up losing and thought my time as a regular on the PT had come to an end. But as it turned out, my tiebreakers held up and I finished 94th, which was good enough," said the Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Top 8 competitor.
Not everyone needed to post a finish in order to secure Gold for next season. Former Player of the Year Brad Nelson and two-time Grand Prix Champion Fabrizio Anteri each needed to just make it to the tournament in order to get the 3 points necessary to cross 35—not that Brad Nelson was not nervous about messing that up somehow.
"My goals coming into Pro Tour M15 were simple. NOT TO GET DISQUALIFIED!" joked Nelson, who had 34 points coming into the tournament. "I have been Silver for the past two seasons and it was going to feel great not having to stress over every qualification. There are only so many times you can get lucky in Grand Prix, you know! I could have hit Platinum with a Top 16 finish, but I never let myself fret over things like that. I just came into the event wanting to play the best Magic I could. Like I always say, 'I just play Magic until the judges stop me.'"
Nelson ended up working with Team Revolution for this event, and as a fan of their previous work he had hoped to take a laid back role in his debut with team. That was not to be, though, as he and Tom Ross had the blueprints (are you even allowed to say that word about such a red deck?) for the Rabble Red deck the whole team ended up playing.
"Luckily for me, I was correct in my metagame predictions and the team showed firsthand how they can turn an idea into a working decklist," said Nelson of the Standard beatdown machine that was featured in a Tournament Center deck tech.
With Gold assuring him a year of Pro Tours, you can expect to be seeing a lot more of Nelson next year, even on the GP level.
"I missed Gold the past two seasons by 2 points each time, and now 5 points were between me and the promised land of Platinum," said the former Player of the Year. "I am going to step it up next season and start traveling to more Grand Prix in hopes of starting the season strong. Competing in the World Championship has been a goal of mine ever since its existence and I'm starting to realize I need to play in more events to make that a reality."
Perhaps the scariest thing about Fabrizio Anteri's season, which saw him utterly dominate on the European Grand Prix circuit, is that he claims he is only getting serious about Magic now. Anteri needed a Top 16 finish for Platinum but was assured Gold with just registering for the event.
"I've had an incredible season without taking Magic very seriously this year, and the better results I get, the more serious I became about playing," said the two-time GP champion, who will be heading up the English National Team at the World Magic Cup. "So my approach and commitment to the game have been increasing the past few months and will keep doing so for the upcoming year, for sure."
Anteri found his usual circle of playtest partners eroding as the year progressed and qualifications waned. He feels he is still something of an unknown quantity among the name players but hopes that he will catch their attention heading into the new season.
"I will be playing all the Pro Tours and the WMC so I will have a bunch of points secured, but I will still need to do well to achieve those goals," said Anteri of maintaining Gold and ideally transmuting it into Platinum next season. "I will be playing a lot more Magic than I did this year so I am expecting to keep the good results and hopefully improve them. Also, I would like to join one of the big teams for the Pro Tour; I was introduced to the competitive scene very quickly and many good players still don't know me, but I think after this Pro Tour my chances to join a bigger team are better."
Team ChannelFireball stalwart and Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 competitor Eric Froehlich came into the event sitting on 40 points and needed to find at least 2 more if he was going to maintain his Platinum status for the coming season. You will often hear players talk about changing their approach with a specific goal like that in mind; choosing a high-variance or safe deck depending on what philosophy they subscribe to. Froehlich dismissed the notion of changing things up based on a goal.
"The deck that gives you the highest winning percentage is the best choice at all times. No other factors matter, and that should only deviate when you are completely clueless as to a metagame prediction and you feel you need to completely gamble on what OTHER people play. Luckily, working with a great team, that is something I never have to worry about, as I feel confident we will always have a strong grasp on the formats," he explained.
As it turns out, the deck that Froehlich chose was good enough to carry teammate Matt Sperling into the Top 8, but he nearly crashed his tournament on the rocks of Limited right out of the gate with an 0–2 start.
"Having my back seemingly against the wall so early and in danger of failing to even make Day Two certainly added a world of pressure, and playing a Standard deck without as many opportunities to outplay opponents (Boros aggro) wasn't helping matters!"
Froehlich managed to right his ship and ended up with 6 Pro Points for his 44th-place finish, which locked him into another year of the game's best rewards. Always a passionate competitor, Froehlich has some pretty goals in mind for the coming season.
"Is it silly to say that my goal for next season is to win Player of the Year? On a more realistic note, there is a strong chance that I put my all into the coming season and really try to get Platinum for yet another year, return to Worlds, and add at least one more PT Top 8 to my stat sheet," said the Hall of Fame–eligible player, who heard his name bandied about on many voters shortlists this year. "My passion for Magic and competing at the highest level has never been stronger. I really love this game and I want to see how far some serious hard work and dedication can do for me."
We already heard from Melissa DeTora about locking up Silver despite losing her final-round match with Martin Juza. He obviously locked up what he needed with that win, which assured him Platinum, despite not knowing if he would even make it to Gold when the tournament began.
"While being Platinum is obviously great and it's a lot of money and recognition, my goal was to make sure I didn't have to start playing PTQs again. I had a pretty rough season, but fortunately realized what I was doing wrong in time and managed to change my method of choosing a deck for the PT," explained the player from the Czech Republic who worked with Team Lost in the Woods for the event.
"I worked with Frank Karsten, Ivan Floch, Stanislav Cifka, Robert Jurkovic, Matej Zatlkaj, Robin Dolar, Adam Koska, Petr Sochurek, and Nikola Vavra. We always meet in a mountain cabin in the Czech Republic that easily sleeps about 20 people that is very convenient for testing because there are almost no distractions," said Juza, explaining of the team name.
Juza came into Day Two on a 6–2 record and knew he only needed three more wins in order to secure Gold, but he found himself going to a dark place when he lost the first two rounds of Draft on Day Two to a parade of rares like Indulgent Tormentor, Hornet Queen, and an assortment of Souls.
"I was devastated. Fortunately, Nate Price, one of the coverage guys and a good friend of mine, gave me a good pep talk, told me to stop complaining because sometimes there are games where you just lose and there's nothing you can do about it, and just focus on winning the rest. So I did exactly that, sucked it up, and won the next six rounds and finished 11th, good enough for 15 Pro Points, 46 total for the season, and Platinum status for next year. Thanks Nate!"
I steered Juza back to the idea of deck selection and he elaborated on what he was "doing wrong" and what he planned to do throughout the next season.
"I need to start playing decks that I like and that fit my play style rather than decks that might have a slightly better win percentage against the field but I am not comfortable with," explained the two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor. "These days, you just aren't going to find a deck that's significantly better than all the other decks. All the little edges are in making sure you know your deck inside out, having a good sideboard plan, correctly predicting the metagame, and knowing how to play all the important matchups. My goal is to Top 8 another Pro Tour and get back to where I was a couple years ago," said the player who finished in the Top 10 for this year's Hall of Fame voting. "Everything else will be a failure."
Magic Player of the Month: July (#MTGPoM)
July was a quiet month for Magic tournaments, with just Grand Prix Boston and Grand Prix Taipei on the premier-event docket during the build-up to Pro Tour Magic 2015 (which will count toward August's award). That means we have what is essentially a heads-up battle between Taipei winner Huang Hao-Shan and Boston winner Robin Dolar. I am open to compelling cases for other players but you can use the hashtags #MTGPoM and either #PoMHuang or #PoMDolar to cast your vote for these two tournament champions.
You can tweet directly at me using @Top8Games or @MagicProTour or just talk among yourselves. Just use the hashtag and I will be able to see which way the wind is blowing and whose sail it will propel across the Player of the Month finish line.