"So what do I need to do to lock up Player of the Month?" asked Matt Sperling on the Friday before the start of Grand Prix San Jose.
"I dunno, I guess a Top 4 finish would all but lock it up for you," I said, perhaps a little prematurely and without enough qualification. Short of winning a Pro Tour or a World Championship, it is pretty hard to "lock up" the honor. In non-Pro-Tour months, I nominate a handful of players and leave it to vocal players on social media to make the case for the various nominees. As it turns out, Sperling would not only go onto Top 4 the event—alongside Paul Rietzl and David Williams—but he would reach the finals. Beating them in the finals—well we'll get to that a little later, when we discuss the nominees for January.
"This award honors outstanding performances over the previous month, from taking down large tournaments to mastering the Sunday stage at the Pro Tour. Being named Player of the Month often means bigger things are yet to come…" reads the introduction for the Player of the Month archive. All twelve players who won the award last year could very well win the honor again for February by winning the Pro Tour. Let's look back at the players who won last year's monthly honors and see where they stand heading into Pro Tour Fate Reforged this weekend.
January 2014—Alexander Hayne
Alexander Hayne started off a hot year for the Team Face to Face guys when he won Grand Prix Vancouver—his third GP win over the previous six months. His team would continue to post solid results and the upcoming PT would put multiple members into the Top 8. For Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Hayne is 5% of the most intriguing storylines at the event. His team has joined forces with Team ChannelFireball to form a 20-player playtesting conglomerate. What makes the story all the more fascinating is trying to figure out who will fill the role of Limited expert Ben Stark, famous for wrangling the greedier instincts of the team.
February 2014—Shaun McLaren
Shaun McLaren won Pro Tour Born of the Gods to nab the February honor. It is especially notable in regard to this weekend's event since Pro Tour Fate Reforged shares the format of that event and McLaren is working with the same playtest team he worked with for Born of the Gods. McLaren is the mythic lone wolf of the Pro Tour, eschewing a large playtest team in favor of theory-crafting and Magic Online playtesting by himself. It has worked well for him so far, with a PT win and another PT finals in the past year.
March 2014—Nam Sung-Wook
Nam Sung-Wook found his way onto Team MTG Mint Card by virtue of his Grand Prix win and Grand Prix Top 8 during March of last year. Since then, they discovered that he was the notorious NSW on Magic Online, one of the most successful players online—and he's continued to post results offline as well. He made the finals of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx and captained the South Korean team into the Top 8 of the World Magic Cup. Team MTG Mint Card has remained largely unchanged for this event and, whatever success they find, Nam Sung-Wook will be a big part of it.
April 2014—Frank Skarren
Frank Skarren won Grand Prix Philadelphia for the second Limited Grand Prix win of his career. He's had a relatively quiet year on the Pro Tour front, but he holds an in-case-of-emergency Pro Players Club Silver membership should he choose to attend this event. With Limited experts always in demand, a team might be wise to scoop up this 40-card specialist.
May 2014—Patrick Chapin
Despite playing the game for almost as long as it has been around, and making a Pro Tour Top 8 in three different decades, Chapin had yet to hoist the trophy at the highest levels of the game. When he won Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, it was remarkable for how focused Chapin remained on his ultimate goal—winning the World Championship. Ever since reading about Magic's first World Champion, Zac Dolan, Chapin has wanted to hold that title and he qualified for one of 24 berths. He came agonizingly close to his goal, only to fall one match short against Shahar Shenhar. Chapin will still be working with the Pantheon, a team that has undergone some roster shakeup with Tom Martell, Sam Black, Paul Rietzl, and Matt Sperling all playing elsewhere for this event.
June 2014—Jérémy Dezani
Dezani lost out on Player of the Month in October, despite winning a Pro Tour that month, when Sam Black put together an insane run of events. Dezani made a late lunge forward in the Player of the Year standings with his dramatic win at Grand Prix Milan, and would go on to maintain that lead when the season ended a couple of months later. Dezani continues to play with Team Revolution for this weekend and the team added a couple of new players, including November Player of the Month Brian Braun-Duin despite being down founding member Melissa DeTora—who has taken a role at Wizards of the Coast.
July 2014—Huang Hao-Shan
Huang Hao-Shan became just the second player from Taipei to win a hometown Grand Prix, and earned the second Player of the Month honor for a Team MTG Mint Card member. Hao-Shan will be playing this weekend on a PTQ invite and has some work to do to keep up with his Gold and Platinum teammates.
August 2014—Ivan Floch
Ivan Floch had been one of the most tenured names on the list of players without a Pro Tour Top 8 coming into Pro Tour Magic 2015. Not only did he scratch himself off that list with authority, but he did so with style. His white-blue control deck turned a pair of Nyx-Fleece Rams—alongside an Archangel of Thune—sideways to seal his win. He would then make another Pro Tour Top 8 just one event later and is one of the most successful players on Team Cabin in the Woods, a team made up largely of players from the Slovak and Czech Republics.
September 2014—Brandon Nelson
Brandon Nelson is the most under-the-radar name on this list of a dozen players, but he will be working with the Team ChannelFireball conglomerate for this weekend. He earned his inviation for this event when he won Grand Prix Salt lake City, and will be looking to build his résumé by emulating his more successful teammates.
October 2014—Ari Lax
Another player who crossed his name off the list of the most successful players without a Top 8 was Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir winner Ari Lax. Ari had come close before—a 9th-place finish at PT Return to Ravnica—but this was his breakout performance. It adds another Pro Tour Champion to the Team TCGPlayer roster joining Craig Wescoe. The team will surely be glad to have Lax for this event as his next best Pro Tour finish came in the Modern format.
November 2014—Brian Braun-Duin
The second Grand Prix win of BBD's career came in the largest Constructed Grand Prix in the history of the game, when he won Grand Prix New Jersey. Braun-Duin also won a PTQ during the month and will be working with his Open Series running mates Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson as one of the newest members of Team Revolution. He is also one of the players I have my eyes on for a breakout Pro Tour performance during the coming year.
December 2014—Shahar Shenhar
Probably the most notable name on the list of players without a Pro Tour Top 8—which seems like an odd distinction for a two-time World Champion—is Shahar Shenhar. While he does have the two Final Day wins, they are not Pro Tours. But there is nobody who has watched him play over the last few years who doesn't expect that to change in the near future. Shenhar is still testing with the ChannelFireball conglomerate.
Which all brings us to a new year and…
January Player of the Month (#MTGPoM)
I am going to throw out a handful of names. You are going to take to social media and use the #MTGPoM hashtag to tell me which of these players you think have distinguished themselves from this pack of competitors. That person becomes the Player of the Month announced next week (when we will also have a pretty good idea of who is winning the February honors as well).
You can make a case for GP Manila winner Joseph Slauzero, GP Denver winner Andrew Brown, GP Shizuoka winner Akito Shinoda, GP Omaha winner Erik Peters, GP San Jose co-Champions Eric Froehlich and Luis Scott-Vargas, or Grand Prix Mexico winner Pascal Maynard…but for me this battle comes down to two players.
Not only did the aforementioned Sperling finish 2nd at Grand Prix Denver—going undefeated until that last round—but he also finished 11th at Grand Prix Omaha this month and finished up by finishing 2nd at the team Grand Prix this past weekend. It was a month that many Magic players would strive for as a career.
Paul Cheon also finished in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Denver although he skipped Grand Prix Omaha. By doing that, he put himself in an all-or-nothing position at Grand Prix San Jose. ONLY a win would earn him enough points to qualify for Pro Tour Fate Reforged this weekend. It all came down to his second game against Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl to determine if he would be the 20th member of ChannelFireball this weekend or if he would be sitting home ruing not pursuing at least 1 point at GP Omaha. In the end, Cheon took the final game and booked a last-minute ticket to Washington, DC.
Who is it going to be for #MTGPoM? You can take to Twitter and discuss with your friends using the hashtag. You can also discuss it with me at @Top8Games or @MagicProTour. As long as you use the hashtag, we'll be able to see who you think has distinguished themselves this month. In the meanwhile, you should be watching the Pro Tour coverage all weekend at Twitch.TV/Magic See you there!