Halfway Marks

Posted in The Week That Was on February 28, 2014

What was your favorite moment from last weekend's Pro Tour Born of the Gods? For me there is little question that it was eventual Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren's Game 3 of the quarterfinals against Tim Rivera. The game had been a little grindy and Rivera needed to find the blue combo pieces for his Splinter Twin deck—he had an abundance of the red ones. He decided to cast the eponymous Splinter Twin on his Wall of Omens for a source of ongoing card advantage. McLaren had the perfect trump for that situation, though, and stole the Wall with Threads of Disloyalty. He was able to bury Rivera with the card advantage by making a copy of the wall every turn and drawing up a fistful of control cards.

While burn spells may have ultimately reduced Rivera's life total to 0 his comment after the match told a different story: "That stupid Wall killed me."

If you have ever looked at a tournament decklist and wondered about the value of having a single copy of a card residing there, you only need to look at McLaren's journey through the Top 8 to see how that one card can make all the difference in the world. Threads of Disloyalty played a prominent role in each step of the bracket, including stealing a creature equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine in the semifinals against Patrick Dickmann and a well-fed Scavenging Ooze in Game 5 of the finals against Jacob Wilson.

With the aid of that key card, McLaren was able to not only win the Pro Tour but locked up Platinum status over the remainder of this season and throughout the next one. It also guaranteed McLaren a seat at the World Championship in Nice, France, at the end of 2014. The bounty of Pro Points from winning the event also vaulted him into the lead for the captaincy of the Canadian National team for the World Magic Cup. McLaren will have a heck of a fight over the remaining half of the season before he gets crowned National Champion, though, with red-hot Alexander Hayne and finals opponent Wilson breathing down his neck, both with 37 points to McLaren's 40. And lurking just behind them is Jon Stern at 25 points. With two Pro Tours and plenty of Grand Prix (not to mention a Canadian Grand Prix, which lately seem to just belong to Alexander Hayne) between now and the finish line, this is going to be a great race all year long.

McLaren also propelled himself onto the Top 25 Magic Pro Rankings board as No. 21, after being unranked coming into the weekend. He was one of seven players to jump onto the big board based on their Pro Tour Born of the Gods finish. Jacob Wilson, who has been a force on the Grand Prix circuit prior to his breakout 2nd-place finish this weekend, led the new crop of players by jumping all the way up to No. 11. The other five players to scratch their way up the standings include quarterfinalist Lee Shi Tian (16), 11th-place finisher Josh McClain (19), quarterfinalist Chris Fennell (20), 12th-place finisher Gaudenis Vidugiris (23), and 10th-place finisher Matej Zatlkaj (24). Dropping off the board for the new faces were David Ochoa, Jon Stern, Raphaël Lévy, Brian Kibler, Craig Wescoe, Ari Lax, and Christian Calcano.

Shaun McLaren, Pro Tour Born of the Gods champion.

Sitting on top of the Magic Pro Rankings board is a new leader in Jérémy Dezani, who now has a 1st-place finish and an 18th-place finish in this season's two Pro Tours. He was ranked No. 5 coming into the weekend and moved up four spots to nudge out previously top-ranked Ben Stark, who mustered an extra Pro Point for the event courtesy of his 97th-place finish. The Top 25 looks at results over the last two seasons, but if you look only at this season's results, Dezani is also the leader in the Player of the Year race with a 12-point lead over Owen Turtenwald and Sam Black.

Coming into Pro Tour Theros, Dezani was a player who had a Constructed win percentage at the Grand Prix and Pro Tour levels that stood above the rest of the field despite not having a big PT finish at that point. We will be seeing a lot more of Dezani beyond just the Grand prix and remaining Pro Tours at this point. He already locked up his seat for the World Championship by winning the Pro Tour in Dublin, but when you add up the two PT finishes, he has a 24-point lead over Pierre Dagen, and if he keeps playing anywhere close to this level he seems destined to be the French National Champion at the World Magic Cup as well.

No. 1-ranked Jérémy Dezani, Pro Tour Theros champion.

The biggest mover on the Top 25 Magic Pro Rankings was Owen Turtenwald, who posted a 15th-place finish at the Pro Tour and leapt nine spots into No. 3 in the rankings. Turtenwald has been one of the hottest players in the game in the span between Pro Tours, with two Grand Prix victories and multiple Top 8s. Talking to his esteemed teammates this past weekend, they felt that Turtenwald was playing the best Magic in the game right now. He will be playing at the Team Grand Prix in Barcelona this weekend with two of those teammates—Reid Duke and Hall of Famer William Jensen—and there is an excellent chance that Turtenwald could continue his climb to the summit when the rankings are updated on Wednesday. Already the owner of a Player of the Year trophy, Turtenwald is just 2 points off the lead for a second one, tied with Sam Black at 44 points for the current season.

No. 3-ranked Owen Turtenwald, Grand Prix Albuquerque winner; Sam Black, frequent Top 8 finisher

Rounding out the Top 5 for the Player of the Year race we have Ben Stark (2) and Shaun McLaren (21), sitting just 16 points off the lead at 40 points for the current season. Remember that when the last Pro Tour of the year is settled, the Player of the Year race and the Top 25 Magic Pro Rankings will be aligned. As we make our way through the season, results from the previous season decay by a set percentage each week.

No. 2-ranked Hall of Famer Ben Stark

Let's peek in on another race that saw some new names crop up near the front of the pack. Rookie of the Year frontrunner Neal Oliver picked up the minimum number of Pro Points in Spain and was just passed for the top spot by Sweden's Rasmus Björklund and his 5 Pro Points for placing 70th—and winning $1,000 as well. The biggest leap to the top of the standings came from American Jared Boettcher, who landed in 9th place at the Pro Tour and pulled himself into a tie for 3rd place in the rookie race with Raymond Perez, Jr. World Magic Cup champion Yann Guthmann also walked away from Valencia with the minimum number of Pro Points and rounds out the Top 5 in the Rookie of the Year race.

Neal Oliver, Rasmus Björklund, Jared Boettcher, Yann Guthmann

If you needed any evidence of how wide open the Modern format is you only need to look at Boettcher's 9th-place decklist that featured multiple obscure cards including the rarely played Lightning Storm. Boettcher was playing Ad Nauseam and would use Angel's Grace to put his entire deck in his hand without losing the game. With a barrel full of Simian Spirit Guides, he would then cast Lightning Storm and have enough lands to discard to it for a very unusual win condition in the diverse Pro Tour field.

Taking a global look at the standings, we see a number of the races for World Magic Cup captaincies starting to settle into a handful of players with two Pro Tours still to be played this year. We already discussed the Canadian and French squads, but who else is in pole position to be their country's National Champion?

Germany's Patrick Dickmann had a pretty amazing event. The Grand Prix Antwerp winner not only iterated on his winning list from that tournament to create Tarmo-Twin—a deck you should fully expect to have to face at upcoming PTQs—but also built the Affinity deck that he faced down in the Quarterfinals of the Pro Tour, which he handed to his friend and teammate Christian Siebold before the event. You could even trace the provenance of Anssi Alkio's blue-red Splinter Twin list back to Dickmann's win in Antwerp, which Alkio said was the starting point for the deck that carried him through to the semifinals.

The Top 4 finish for Dickmann pushed him to 32 points and the top spot on the German leader board, but hot on his heels is a juggernaut—The German Juggernaut—in Kai Budde, who quietly finished in the Top 16 of the Pro Tour after converting to Jon Finkel's stormy ways during playtesting with The Pantheon. Budde has 25 points for the season and a collection of the best players in the world to test with for the remaining two Pro Tours. Budde rarely plays in Grand Prix and that will be Dickmann's best way to put a little distance between himself and the winningest player in the history of the Pro Tour. Also hot on their heels are Wenzel Krautman and the aforementioned Siebold.

Patrick Dickmann, Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 8

Hall of Famer Kai Budde

Lee Shi Tian's Blue Moon deck was without a doubt the most exciting breakout deck of the tournament. It can trace its lineage back to Pro Tour Return to Ravnica where Lee's MTGMint teammate Ken Yukihiro played the first version of the deck to solid results. The deck was a base blue deck that splashed red for Lightning Bolt and four main-deck copies of Blood Moon. During a deck tech at the end of Day Two, Lee described the deck's ideal hand as Lightning Bolt, Remand, Blood Moon, and three lands—exactly the hand he looked at in the decisive game that locked up his Top 8 berth and leaves him as the only player with any real point accumulation toward being the Hong Kong National Champion.

Lee Shi Tian, Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 8

Japanese players did not fare especially well at this tournament and there was little movement in the race to be the National Champion. Kentaro Yamamoto—you may remember him as the Pro Tour Theros competitor who played the Mono-Black Devotion deck into the Top 8 and Standard players' hearts everywhere—is still poised to be the champion, but the caliber of players within 10 points of the lead are the stuff of would-be-champions' nightmares. Shuhei Nakamura, Makihito Mihara, Shota Yasooka, and Yuuya Watanabe all loom as contenders and this is going to be one of the most exciting National Championship races for the remainder of the season.

Kentaro Yamamoto, Pro Tour Theros Top 8

Slovakia's Matej Zatlkaj has been on fire. In his last three Pro Tours he has finished in the Top 8 and the Top 16 twice. The last two Top 16 finishes are both this season and have him sitting in the catbird seat to be the National Champion. Big Z—as he is known to just about everyone who has spent more than five minutes in his company—does not play in many Grand Prix, though, since he is usually commentating on them as part of the European video coverage team. He is solidly 15 points ahead of Ivan Floch but has a lot of ground to cover before the finish line—don't be surprised if you see him playing in the Feature Match area for some late-in-the-year Grand Prix instead of commentating on them.

Matej Zatlkaj, Pro Tour Dragon's Maze Top 8

I know I will be accused of jingoism but I would be remiss if I did not highlight the race to be the United States National Champion as the best right now. You have seven players all within 10 points of each other, with Sam Black and Owen Turtenwald tied for the lead with 44 points. Reid Duke and Ben Stark are right behind them with 42 and 40 points respectively. Josh McClain has been a terrific player at the Grand Prix level and when you couple that with his Top 16 finish this weekend, he has an under-the-radar 38 points for the season. Behind him are a pair of players tied at 34 points in Hall of Famer William Jensen and Tom Martell. Pretty crazy when you think about it: of the seven players on top of the US standings, six of them are from The Pantheon.

Reid Duke, Grand Prix Miami champion; Josh McClain, Grand Prix Detroit champion

While they did not place any players in the Top 8 this past weekend, it was actually an incredibly solid weekend for the newly rechristened team that was headlined by half a dozen Hall of Famers. Gaudenis Vidugiris (12th place), Kai Budde (14th place), Owen Turtenwald (15th place), Andrew Cuneo (20th place), and Tom Martell (21st place) would be a remarkable set of finishes for any team. The fact that people seemed to think the team had a disappointing set of finishes may only make them angry and... well, you know the saying.

We get to do this all again in just a couple of months when Pro Tour Journey into Nyx comes to Atlanta, but before that, there will be plenty of Grand Prix to mix things up, including a pair taking place this very weekend. You can tune in live to watch—for the first time—all the Standard Grand Prix action from Melbourne, Australia, or the Team Sealed action from Barcelona, Spain—a field that is sure to be studded with Pro Tour stars.

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