Delving Into the Pro Tour

Posted in The Week That Was on February 27, 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 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.

Grand Prix Memphis was quite a showing for Team TCGPlayer.com, with five different players reaching the Top 8 of the tournament, including the eventual champion Jack Fogle. The 24-year old from Lexington, Kentucky, was taking his last shot at qualifying for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir armed with Sultai Control.

Grand Prix Memphis Champion Jack Fogle

Joining Fogle in the Top 8 was Brad Nelson, who—along with Brian Braun-Duin—just joined Team TCGPlayer.com for the upcoming Pro Tour. Brad has an astounding number of Standard Grand Prix Top 8s over the past several years, and has become known as possibly the best Standard player in the world.

Others who made the Top 8 were Chris Fennell, who made his first Constructed GP Top 8 after seven Limited elimination appearances; Alex Majlaton, who made his first Standard GP Top 8 after seven elimination appearances in other (mostly Modern) formats; and Abzan innovator Steve Rubin, who reached Gold with his finish.

Of the quintet, the only person I knew little about was Fogle. I didn't even know he was a member of Team TCGPlayer.com until I caught up with him while he was waiting for the rest of the Top 8 to be determined. I was even more surprised to learn that he had only been playing Magic since Scars of Mirrodin was released. After falling out of touch during high school, Fogle ran into an old middle school friend with whom he used to play other card games. During the intervening years, the friend had grown into Magic and wanted to share the game with his old friend.

(Left to Right) Ben Stark, Chris Fennell, and Alex Majlaton

"He convinced me to come to a local draft with him and I opened up a Wurmcoil Engine pack 1 pick 1 and managed to win some games with it against much more experienced players. I was hooked the first time I smashed someone for 6 and gained 6," recalled Fogle, who was almost immediately drawn to tournament play. "I started playing competitively about six months later in the summer of 2011 when I made day two of the first Grand Prix I attended—GP Kansas City—and qualified for the last Nationals."

He began attending PTQs in 2011 and did not have high expectations for himself. His goal was to learn from more experienced road trip companions like Lukas Parson, Christian Valenti, and Cody Damm. He spent a couple of years toiling away with the occasional Top 8 to show for his efforts before he earned the legendary "blue envelope" for the first Pro Tour of this season.

"I finally won the 27th PTQ I attended in Richmond, Kentucky," said Fogle. "The format was Modern and I played WUR Kiki Control à la Shaun McLaren. I defeated my good friend, Lukas Parson, playing Affinity in the finals for a bittersweet ticket to Hawaii."

(Left to Right) Eric Rath, Steve Rubin, and Brad Nelson

Fogle prepared for the first Pro Tour of the season—nicely timed to be the first of his career—with Nerd Rage Gaming; a team that included Spencer Garnier, Dan Musser, David Ellwood, Danny Goldstein, Kevin Gerhart, Devin Koepke, Chi Hoi Yim, Josh Milliken, and Adrian Throop. Multiple players on the team made it through to Day Two, including Fogle.

"We rented out a condo for a week before the tournament and tested very hard every day," he recalled of his first taste of Pro Tour preparation. "Most of the team played Abzan Midrange and Spencer narrowly lost his Top 8 win-and-in to Lee Shi Tian, while I had a miserable Day Two after starting out 5-3 on Day One."

Despite making it through to Day Two—no small feat for a first-time Pro Tour player—he had to go back into the PTQ circuit to qualify for Pro Tour Fate Reforged. When he won an invitation to that event, he was able to join up with Team TCGPlayer.com thanks to an introduction from another Kentucky player, Andrew Shrout. There was another Day Two for him, but no way to keep his momentum going without finding another invitation. Coming into this weekend in Memphis, Fogle was sitting on 7 Pro Points and was not qualified to compete in any of the upcoming Pro Tours this year. This past weekend was his last chance to get back for a third try in as many Pro Tours.

His weapon of choice for the Standard tournament was a tournament winner for Gerard Fabiano at the StarCityGames.com Open Series on the first weekend the new Fate Reforged cards were legal. In spite of its performance at that tournament, the deck hadn't gained a lot of traction with tournament players in the ensuing weeks.

Hall of Famer Ben Stark

Winner Grand Prix Memphis—Jack Fogle's Sultai Control

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"I was attracted to the Sultai list by the style of the deck and by its position in the metagame I expected for the GP. I expected very little aggro and mostly just different flavors of midrange decks that this control deck goes over the top of by having more card advantage, more robust threats, and by blanking their removal game one. The number one thing I like to see in a deck is just straight up powerful Magic: The Gathering cards, which Sultai has—especially compared to Blue-Black Control."

If Fogle had to pick a style of play that defines his approach to the game you could not find a better match than control. Even in his player profile for the Top 8, he listed Planar Cleansing as his favorite card. Every time we watched a match with Fogle playing, he was chaining Dig Through Times together and finding powerful Planeswalkers like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver; Kiora, the Crashing Wave; Garruk, Apex Predator; and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to close out his games.

He was undefeated at the end of Day One and was at the top of the standings throughout Day Two. While it was the first Top 8 of his Grand Prix career, his opponents in the Top 8 had a combined 34 Top 8s between them, with quarterfinalist Alex Majlaton "only" having eight of them, semifinalist Brad Nelson playing in his eleventh, and finalist Ben Stark checking in with fifteen Top 8s. Fogle was the last person standing when it was all over, and not only was he qualified for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels, but he had enough Pro Points that he could envision a scenario where he was qualified for the next three Pro Tours.

"I need 2 Pro Points in order to attain the Silver level in the Player's Club," said Fogle, who has 15 points after the win and will be assured 3 points for the Pro Tour, which leaves him just shy of the 20 points needed for Silver. "I will try to attend the next four North American Grand Prix: Miami, Cleveland, Toronto, and Atlantic City. Hopefully, between those and PT Brussels I'll be able to scrape together 2 points to chain into PT Vancouver!"

I asked Fogle about his goals for Magic beyond the immediate events he listed.

"I have two main long-term goals as a Magic player," he replied. "The first is to be the best player I can be and to challenge myself. The second is to have fun and enjoy myself. Of course, getting on the Pro Tour and having success at the highest level are great things to strive for and influence my short-term decisions, but in my mind they should be products of my first goal rather than goals in their own right. As for the second goal, who doesn't want to have a good time?"

Based on the slumped posture of Fogle's opponents all weekend long as he buried them under a slew of card selection, card advantage, and other powerful spells, you don't want to be sitting across from Fogle when he is having a good time—something he might be doing on the Pro Tour level for the next three Pro Tours.

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