Honolulu Watch List

Posted in The Week That Was on October 17, 2014

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 DailyMTG.com, 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.

I can vividly remember researching the 9th- through 16th-place finishers at the first Pro Tour in Honolulu eight years ago. I had heard about Guillaume Wafo-Tapa when Pierre Canali credited him as one of the co-designers of his Pro Tour Columbus–winning Affinity list, but Makihito Mihara was a new name that I had not been previously aware of.

The nascent idea behind that long-ago column was to shine some more light on players who were posting incredible results but were falling short of the Top 8 mark. Ten Pro Tour Top 8s, a pair of Pro Tour trophies, and two Hall of Fame rings later I feel pretty good about that decision to peer deeper into the standings. Both 2006 World Champion Makihito Mihara and Pro Tour Yokohama Champion Guillaume Wafo-Tapa—along with Pro Tour Amsterdam Champion Paul Rietzl—were inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend on the eve of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. While the players were giving their induction speeches I found myself wondering who we would be talking about from outside this Top 8 almost ten years later.

Greg Orange

Greg Orange has quickly made himself a fixture at the top tables after just two events. At Pro Tour Magic 2015 he occupied the King of the Hill seat for several rounds with his take on White-Blue Control but ended up in 18th place—which qualified him to play this past weekend. In a deck tech at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, Orange explained that he always plays control, which led him to build his Esper Control deck that eschewed countermagic for pinpoint removal and mopped up the board with End Hostilities.

Orange veered from the blueprint of his previous deck and actually played main-deck creatures this time—a trio of Nyx Fleece Rams—but was once again relying on Planeswalkers to finish off his opponent. It seems to be working for him, as he finished 9th in a tie for the record needed for Top 8. Orange played in one Pro Tour earlier in his career with nothing to show for it, but he will now be playing in his third straight event at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, and you can pencil him in to be playing something similar. In just two events, he has managed to join Andrew Cuneo, Ivan Floch, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa as the most stubborn champions for the archetype in the game.

Yoshihiko Ikawa

If you are looking for something a little more aggressive to play in Standard, you need look no further than the 10th-place decklist as played by Japan's Yoshihiko Ikawa, who narrowly missed out on the second Pro Tour Top 8 of his career. He had previously made it as far as the quarterfinals of Pro Tour San Diego in 2010, playing Jund in Standard. For this event, he went smaller. His weapon of choice was a tight little beatdown machine of red and white weenies with more ways to enhance and protect his creatures—24—than actual creatures themselves—15.

RW Soldiers by Yoshihiko Ikawa

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We had a chance to watch him play in the last round of the main event when he was paired up against Pro Tour Hall of Famer Bram Snepvangers. The Hall of Famer was playing Abzan Midrange and was looking like he was going to take control of the final game of the match with Polukranos, the World Eater snacking on a token creature. Ajani's Presence meant that not only was Ikawa able to save his unblocked token but it gave him the extra points of power he needed to win the match and lock up a nearly Top 8 finish.

No. 1 Owen Turtenwald

Just three seasons ago, Owen Turtenwald won the Player of the Year title without making the Top 8 of a Pro Tour thanks to his record-setting Grand Prix performance during the 2011 season. He has only gotten stronger since then and has been steadily crossing things off his to-do list. He has made the Top 8 of two Pro Tours since then (including the previous Pro Tour at the end of last season), he has won multiple Grand Prix, and he nearly posted a third Pro Tour Top 8 this past weekend with Blue-Black Control. His 11th-place finish has landed him on top of the Top 25 Rankings.

Owen Turtenwald's UB Control

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Watching Turtenwald play these last few seasons has been a rare opportunity to watch someone realize his potential and become one the game's most elite players. He lost in the final round to Yuuya Watanabe, to fall into the scrum of players tied with the same record for the eighth berth in the Top 8. I would not be surprised to see him hoisting multiple trophies this year, and he will have a shot at two this December in Nice, when he is the captain of a US National team and is also in the 24-person World Championship.

Denniz Rachid

Sweden's Denniz Rachid made every (aka both) Pro Tour Top 8 during the truncated 2012 season, but had the misfortune to do so in the shadow of Hall of Famer Jon Finkel doing the same thing. The next two seasons were relatively quiet for Rachid, with just a pair of Grand Prix Top 8s for notable finishes. He joined up with Team Revolution for this event and ended up playing the same Red-White Tokens deck that was featured in a deck tech with his teammate Brad Nelson.

Nelson used the suffix "MAC" on his deck registration sheet to describe his Boros build. The acronym stood for "Midrange/Aggro/Control" which were all the speeds the deck could be played at based on adjusting the sideboard dial. The deck, which was capable of attacking on turn one in its starting configuration, could add land, Planeswalkers, and End Hostilities to become an actual control deck. I am looking forward to seeing much more of Nelson and Rachid, two of the newest members of the successful Team Revolution, over the remainder of the season.

Adam Jansen

Adam Jansen looked to strike a blow for MTGMoms and MTGDads everywhere by becoming the first parent to win a Pro Tour. The Grand Prix Detroit Top 8 finisher and frequent SCG Open competitor finished in a virtual tie for the 8th seed but fell victim to his tiebreakers while playing a Naya Planeswalkers deck in the tournament, just missing out on joining Rob Dougherty in one of the rare instances of players making the Top 8 of a PT as parents.

Adam Jansen's Naya Planeswalkers

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You may remember Jansen from Pro Tour Theros last year on his way to a Top 50 finish, when he was featured for his custom-drawn creature tokens that were made by his eight-year old son.

Don Van Ravenzwaaij

Don Van Ravenzwaaij was the last of the 12–4 players with a virtual Top 8 finish. He made his Pro Tour debut at PT Gatecrash, where he posted a Top 50 finish. He started out 9–1 at his first event and emerged on top of a star-studded draft pod that included multiple Hall of Famers but fell off the pace on Day Two. This time out, he remained strong throughout and finds himself qualified to come back and continue his upward trajectory after defeating multiple Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Marcio Carvalho in the final round of the Swiss.

Rounding out the Top 16 were a pair of veteran players who drew in the last round to kick off their Pro Tour season with 11 Pro Points to show for the weekend.

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark played Jeskai Wins and jumped up the seven spots in the Top 25 rankings to land in 14th place after the first benchmark of the season. He was the highest-finishing player on the ChannelFireball team.

Andrew Cuneo

Stark shook hands with two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Andrew Cuneo in the last round of the tournament. Cuneo has been building control decks going back into the 90s, when Guillaume Wafo-Tapa was still years from winning his first PTQ. This time out, Cuneo built the Perilous Control deck that carried him and Owen Turtenwald to Top 16 finishes for the best two performances on the ChannelFireball Pantheon team.

Andrew Cuneo's UB Control

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While many players were lamenting the death of control and the dearth of board sweepers in Standard with the rotation of Supreme Verdict, Cuneo just went about his business. Perilous Vault became the deck's board sweeper while Pearl Lake Ancient emerged from the depths of obscurity to become exactly the type of finisher control players have turned to since the days of Rainbow Efreet. I heard more than one player name the card with Phyrexian Revoker over the course of the weekend. Bouncing the lands to save the Ancient and getting to reset scry lands and even the oh-so-Cuneo Radiant Fountain made the deck resilient and frustrating—depending on which shore of the Pearl Lake you stood on.

I know I was excited to see the Whidisi—and no, I did not name that deck—deck that used Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Whip of Erebos, and will be tuning that up for my FNM forays. What decks and players were you most excited about last weekend?

As in the past, the coverage team put together a slideshow of images taken by Pro Tour Photographer Craig Gibson at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir.

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