The Back-Up Plan

Posted in The Week That Was on January 23, 2015

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.

Nobody with a Pro Point on their resume attends a Grand Prix with the intention of coming anywhere near a side event on Sunday. Pro players will be pretty realistic about their chances to win, but they always aim to make Day Two and work on a yearlong resume of deep finishes that will get them to Gold or Platinum status in the Pro Player's Club. It doesn't always work out that way and even the best of the best will find themselves queuing up for the Sunday Super Series that runs on Day Two of Grand Prix all year long.

Players can play in one of two events, either Standard or Sealed, that each feed the Top 4 into a single-elimination Booster Draft that awards the winner an invite to the Super Sunday Series Championship event. The most current iteration of the Championship takes place this weekend at Wizards of the Coast headquarters in Renton, and the previous year's Super Sunday Series from around the world have been flown in and housed to play some new Standard as well as an intriguing new take on Limited. The prize pool is $20,000 for the event with the top finisher—last year's champion was Owen Turtenwald—walking away with $6,000.

Cash prizes, an extended look inside Wizards HQ, and hanging out with the people who make the game we all love all make this the coolest tournament nobody wants to be able to play in a qualifier for.

"Honestly, when I enter a Grand Prix, all I think about is making Day Two," said four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and European GP commentator Marijn Lybaert, who qualified for the Championship during Grand Prix Moscow. "On Day One I'll never think: 'Even if I lose, there's still a SSS waiting for me tomorrow.' But when I do happen to scrub out on Day One, it's nice to have a back-up plan."

Marijn Lybaert

Lybaert has one of the most impressive resumes among all the competitors in this year's field. The only player competing with more Sunday appearances at the Pro Tour level is Tomoharu Saito. Lybaert is looking forward to the tournament, but is hoping that when he plays in Grand Prix this coming year he has few opportunities to play in the Sunday Super Series. He is trying to get back to the Pro Tour to get a shot at a lofty fifth Pro Tour Top 8 finish.

His attempt to qualify at GP Moscow was frustrated by continuing to bump up against a bad matchup with Red-Green Monsters during the Standard GP despite a very diverse field. He joined the Sunday Super Series to get the taste of losing out of his mouth and advanced to the Top 8 draft via the Sealed Deck portion of the tournament. To get the invite, he needed to beat a couple of other players with Pro Tour Top 8 appearances in Patrick Dickmann and Trey Van Cleave.

With most of the players he would normally work with for an event focusing their attentions on Modern and the upcoming Pro Tour, Lybaert was unsure what he would be bringing to the table in Standard.

"I love new formats, but not when you don't really have a team to work with so you can actually playtest. I have no clue yet what I'm gonna play, but it will probably be an old deck with maybe a couple of Fate Reforged cards," he said. Even if he wasn't sure what he would be playing, he knew what cards he was expecting to see show up across the table from him. "I think Flamewake Phoenix is supergood, so we might see a lot of that card. Other cards that might see play are Monastery Mentor, Brutal Hordechief, and Ugin."

Another player heading to Seattle is Adrian Sullivan. It is unlikely that anyone else in the event has been playing the game for as long as Sullivan—it is unlikely that there are many people working at Wizards of the Coast who have been at it as long as him. Despite all that experience, Sullivan still didn't know exactly what to expect from the new Sealed Draft format that will be utilized for the first three rounds of play on Saturday.

Adrian Sullivan

Players open half a sealed pool—two packs of Khans of Tarkir and one pack of Fate Reforged—and register that as they would in a normal Sealed Deck event. Then they set those cards aside and draft two packs of Fate Reforged and one pack of Khans of Tarkir. When they are done drafting, all 84 cards—the 42 they opened and the 42 they drafted—are the pool they use to build their 40-card-minimum deck.

With only precious Prerelease winnings for his local playgroup to draft with, the focus has been on using the packs in the more traditional draft method. That is fine with Sullivan, who has been trying to learn the new Limited format—traditional Draft is the third format for the event—and he believes he can extrapolate the what the Sealed Draft decks will be like.

"To me, it feels like you are just going to supercharge all of the archetypes that already exist in Khans of Tarkir." said Sullivan, who had an ace-in-the-hole in the form of a local Hall of Famer. "I asked the Team TBD guys if they had any opinions, and Bob Maher shared with me his experience as a spectator on the format, mirroring my expectations: take every archetype and add Nitro to the engine. Mostly, I'll just be relying on 20 years of Madison Drafting experience."

Standard wasn't something Sullivan was very worried about. If you've watched him play over the last couple of years, his deck of choice for the tournament won't come as any surprise. After an unsuccessful Day One at a recent team GP, Sullivan found himself in the Standard portion of the SSS with what he considered to be the best deck in the format.

"GP Nashville didn't go so well, but I felt very ready for Standard, so I hopped into the SSS event the next day, feeling really confident on my chances—the Black-Blue Control deck I played was, in my opinion, easily the best deck in Standard. The Standard portion went incredibly well," said the well-known control advocate.

"I'll just keep playing Black-Blue Control. I think the deck didn't actually gain much, but there simply isn't time to explore the format as fully as I'd like," said Sullivan of his Standard choice for the event this weekend. Sullivan is known for playing some exciting one-ofs in his decks and sideboards and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that he will cast a Ghastly Conscription against a Sidisi Whip deck during an on-camera match.

The coverage starts at 9 a.m. PT with Marshall Sutcliffe, Randy Buehler, Rashad Miller, Nate Price, and Garth Avery bringing you all the action. The tournament kicks off with our first look at the supercharged Sealed Draft format, followed by three rounds of the new Standard with Fate Reforged. Sunday starts with a Fate Reforged Booster Draft and then the Top 8 will start and the players will do battle with their Standard decks. You can watch all the action on the Magic Twitch channel.

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