Digging Deeper at PT Fate Reforged

Posted in The Week That Was on February 13, 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.

I hope you enjoyed the webcast of Pro Tour Fate Reforged as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you. It's three days of wall-to-wall action, with sixteen rounds of Swiss play culminating in an eight-player elimination bracket for one of the rarest titles in all of Magic—Pro Tour Champion. Even making the Top 8 is a huge accomplishment, as you can see when people start racking up a handful of such finishes inspires talk of Hall of Fame legacies.

Both Eric Froehlich (already eligible for the Hall of Fame) and Lee Shi-Tian (not eligible until the year 2019, when he will have been playing ten years at this level) picked up their fourth Top 8 finishes. Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma picked up his fifth. While those stories are worthy of further discussion, they've already had the spotlight shine on them during the Sunday action. On the week after a Pro Tour, I like to look a few spots deeper in the standings and take note of the players who came within a match win—perhaps even within a topdeck—of achieving a career milestone.

When all the intentional draws were settled, it turned out there was one seat left on Sunday for a player with four losses. Jesse Hampton had the tiebreakers to be on top of that scrum of players and moved into that seat. It left seven players on the outside looking in with what I like to call "Virtual Top 8s." Their records were good enough to play in the Top 8 but they did have the tiebreakers—based on Opponent's Match Win %—to make it from a handful of players with the same record.

9th Place—Park Jong-Sun (KOR)

Park (Jong-Sun is his given name) qualified for the tournament via a PTQ in Seoul, South Korea. He had just 5 lifetime Pro Points before the breakout finish of his career. The emergence of the APAC powerhouse, Team MTG Mint Card, was a huge boost for the PTQ winner. He gained entry to the team through his friendship with Pro Tour Journey into Nyx finalist Nam Sung-Wook. Park played Jund in the tournament while most of his teammates chose to play Burn.

Park Jong-Sun's Jund Deck

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The tournament started off strong for Park with a 3-0 of his first draft and a 3-2 record in Modern to close out the day. He wouldn't lose another Constructed match, but his second draft was the difference between playing or cheerleading on Sunday as he went 1-2, and landed in 9th place. That finish assures him another crack at Top 8 during Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels. With 15 Pro Points awarded for his finish—and 3 assured for playing in the next PT—he'll only need to muster 2 points to hit Silver and string together Pro Tour appearances for the next two Pro Tours after that.

10th Place—Jon Finkel (USA)

I feel like we take non-Top 8 finishes from the game's greatest player completely for granted. Since Finkel returned from retirement for his Pro Tour Hall of Fame induction, he's played in 22 PTs. He's won Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur, made Top 8 another two, made four additional Top 16s, and another three Top 32s. He's assembled a Murderer's Row of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers to prepare for events, and it's unusual to see a PT go by without a member of ChannelFireball's The Pantheon playing on Sunday—case in point, Jelger Wiegersma this past weekend. Jon has done well at previous Modern Pro Tours and can usually be found keeping track of his storm count so he can Empty the Warrens or fire up the Grapeshot. This time, he came in with something completely different.

Jon Finkel's Infect Deck

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The deck was one of the best-performing Constructed archetypes in the field despite missing out on getting anyone into the Top 8. Finkel lost one just one round of each leg of the Pro Tour with a pair of 2-1 drafts, and two 4-1 Constructed days. The deck, which was championed on the team by off-season pickup Tom Ross, was among the fastest in the room. It was even capable of outracing the Burn decks with some combination of Spellskites and Wild Defiance. With Wild Defiance in play, they could bounce a spell or ability back and forth between two Spellskites for an extra +3/+3 on each activation and kill an opponent "fairly" without poison counters. Something to keep an eye out for at GP Vancouver.

11th Place—Jason Chung (NZL)

Chung is an Auckland PTQ winner, who put up a respectable 55 Pro Points in his career before tearing off a chunk of 15. That chunk came from the best PT finish of a career that has seen him play at this level a total of five times. Chung played Burn for this tournament—a deck that many groups of playtesters iterated on—but his best results came in Draft, where he went 5-1. Of course, 7-3 in Constructed is nothing to be ashamed of either.

Jason Chung's Burn Deck

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12th Place—Roberto Esposito (ITA)

Draft can be a cruel format, especially when you are playing in your first Pro Tour. Italy's Roberto Esposito won a PTQ in Viterbo, Italy, to qualify and got off to a flying start in the tournament with a 3-0 in his first draft pod and a 4-1 record in Modern. He returned on Day Two to sit down for Pod 1 of the draft alongside the last remaining undefeated players, a Hall of Famer, and the most recent World Magic Cup Champion—and that was not even the toughest-looking table in the field. Esposito's tournament wheels came off in this draft as even a 1-2 finish would have carried him into the Top 8. He lost all three rounds and would not lose another through the rest of the day, once the tournament went back to Modern.

Roberto Esposito's Affinity Deck

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An invitation to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, 15 pro points, and minimum payout of three Pro Points will no doubt give Esposito the incentive to find 2 more Pro Points at the upcoming Grand Prix in Europe.

13th Place—Tyler Hill (USA)

I would not be at all surprised if Tyler Hill was home right now firing off 8-4 queue after 8-4 queue with "Eye of the Tiger" blaring in the background. He rattled off a gaudy 9-1 record in Modern with his Infect deck only to go 3-3 in his two drafts. A virtual Top 8 is certainly impressive in a debut performance, but one more draft win and Hill (who won a Garden City PTQ to get there) could have given Justin Cohen a race for the Rookie of the Year lead. While there were two versions of the Tom Ross Infect deck in the Top 16, Hill's version appears to be of a different provenance without the signature Spellskites and Wild Defiance in the board.

Tyler Hill's Infect Deck

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Same rules apply to Hill as several other players listed in this article. He can be qualified for the next 3 Pro Tours if he finds just 2 points between now and Pro Tour Magic Origins. It is also worth noting that any of these players can lock up Gold for next season if they win the Rookie of the Year title—which was announced by Hélène Bergeot during the live webcast.

14th Place—Huang Hao-Shan (TWN)

Huang Hao-Shan is the second member of Team MTG Mint Card to be featured in this article and the third in the Top 16 when you account for Lee Shi-Tian's historic career fourth Top 8. It's hard to overstate the importance of teams these past several years. We are consistently seeing more members of the APAC community able to string together good results and have a network of qualified and motivated players to test with and draft against.

Draft was really where Huang (Hao-Shan is his given name) shone in this tournament, as all four of his losses came in Constructed—still good for a positive record of 6-4. His perfect Draft record was matched by only a handful of other players in the tournament: Robin Dolar, Yuuki Ichikawa, Justin Maguire, Seth Manfield, Lucas Michaels, and Jelger Wiegersma.

Huang played the same Burn deck that carried Lee Shi-Tian into the Top 8 and put one more member into the Top 16 alongside them.

Huang Hao-Shan's Burn Deck

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Huang came into the tournament with 10 Pro Points on the season, and will go into the back half of the season with 25. That guarantees that the MTG Mint Card squad will have him for the next three Pro Tours. If he can find 4 points over those PTs and any Grand Prix he plays in, he will lock up Gold for next year.

15th Place—Yam Wing-Chun (HKG)

The last of the players with a virtual Top 8, Yam (Wing-Chun is his given name) came into the tournament with four Points on the season and has virtually locked up Silver and invites for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, Pro Tour Magic Origins, and the first Pro Tour of next season. All in all, it was a very successful tournament for Team MTG Mint Card, which can count on four players in the Top 16 of this event for the rest of this year and into the coming season.

Yam (who qualified via PTQ in China) was the reverse of Huang, with a spectacular 9-1 record in Modern and a middle of the road 3-3 in Draft. He went 1-2 in Draft on Day One and 2-1 on Day Two. You had better be prepared to get your Skullcracked in Modern because you have seen this decklist a few times before in the both the Top 8 and Top 16 of the event.

Yam Wing-Chun's Burn Deck

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16th Place—Austin Bursavich (USA)

Bursavich was one of the overnight leaders after Day One with a perfect 8-0 record, but he only won three matches on Day Two, drew one, and lost four. Bursavich won an online PTQ to earn his spot and I spoke to him about his Day One in the comfortable chairs of the Tournament Center. We discussed the Infect deck that he played, his friendship with Tom Ross that led to him playing the Pantheon's deck, and about him being an MTGDad and the challenges that brings when preparing for events.

Austin Bursavich's Infect Deck

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Bursavich went 1-1-1 in the second draft and 2-3 in Constructed on Day Two. He was the highest finisher at his record at which level the Pro Point payout drops to 11. Bursavich will be qualified for the next Pro Tour by virtue of his Top 25 standing, but will need to find 1 point to convert a Silver level in the Player's Club that would see him qualified through the next three Pro Tours.

January Player of the Month (#MTGPoM): Matt Sperling

It seems only fitting that in a column where we look a little deeper in the standings than just focusing on the Top 8, that we reward a remarkable month with three strong finishes, including a pair of Grand Prix 2nd places, over a handful of players with Grand Prix wins in the same month. Matt Sperling started off his run with just a single loss at Grand Prix Denver. Had that single loss come ANYWHERE other than in the Top 8, he would have won the tournament. Instead he lost in the finals. Joining him in that Top 8 was Paul Cheon, who would go on to win the last event of the month in San Jose.

Sperling followed it up with a Top 16 finish at Grand Prix Omaha (where, it should be noted, Pascal Maynard continued his incredible run at recent Grand Prix with his Top 8 finish) before closing out the month with another 2nd place finish at GP San Jose. That same weekend, Maynard would win Grand Prix Mexico City while Sperling's team would lose to Cheon's in the finals of San Jose. It was a close race with abundant pleas for Maynard and a chorus of #Pauls for Cheon. It was literally too close to call and I was trying to figure out how to adjudicate when the deciding vote—for me—came in over Twitter from Paul Cheon.

Congratulations to Matt Sperling, the January Player of the Month...although something tells me we have not heard the last of Pascal Maynard or Paul Cheon, who both seemed poised for great years.

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