Halfway Marks

Posted in The Week That Was on February 20, 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.

With the trophies for 25 Grand Prix, the World Championship, the World Magic Cup, and two Pro Tours all handed out, we find ourselves in the back half of the 2014–15 Pro Tour season. It seems like a perfect time to check in on the various year-end titles and what we have to look forward to in terms of the ensuing races over the course of the next two set releases.

Justin Cohen has propelled himself into a commanding lead for Rookie of the Year with his finals appearance at Pro Tour Fate Reforged with the crazy Amulet Bloom deck. Cohen, who is Sam Black's roommate, was hoping to get qualified for the remainder of the season to spend more time with his friend. The recent Organized Play changes announced at the Pro Tour stated that there is no longer an invitation to the World Championship for the Rookie winner, but they now get granted Gold membership in the Pro Player's Club. That status would allow Cohen to play all next year as well. Cohen is already qualified for the next two Pro Tours this season—and at least one next year—by virtue of his Top 25 finish earning him one invitation to PT Dragons of Tarkir and another for hitting Silver, which also gets him one invitation next year.

Of course, Cohen is in pretty good shape to hit Gold regardless of the Rookie race. He will get 6 points minimum from his next two PTs, and just needs to pick up 2 more at either of those events or the remaining GPs this year. This very weekend there is a Modern Grand Prix in Vancouver and I would not be surprised to see Cohen and his Amulet-buddy Sam Black playing their trusty—and sometimes bewildering—deck in the hunt for those points.

There are a handful of players chasing Cohen for the Rookie of the Year title, including US National Team member Isaac Sears, Grand Prix Portland finalist Ben Weitz, Pro Tour Fate Reforged Top 16 finisher Tyler Hill, and Grand Prix Orlando Champion Eugene Hwang. You get the feeling that it is going to take a deep run at a Pro Tour for any of these players to catch Cohen, though, with 9 points between him and his closest rival.

Another interesting thing to come out of the OP announcement at Pro Tour Fate Reforged was the rejiggering of the World Championship invitations to include one for the player with the most Pro Points from Grand Prix competition. Right now, the top of that list features some of the biggest names in the game. Case in point, Eric Froehlich is sitting on 23 points after his win at Grand Prix San Jose alongside Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon. Right behind him is Pro Tour Champion Craig Wescoe, 22-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Martin Juza, the aforementioned San Black, January Player of the Month Matt Sperling, and the person Shouta Yasooka credited with the current Burn deck in Modern—Teruya Kakumae.

Froehlich is coming off a couple of VERY good weeks of Magic. And while he sits atop the leaderboard for the GPs, he does not expect that to last very long since he doesn't expect to be able to travel to as many Grand Prix as he managed in the first half of the season. Sitting on 50 pro points, locking in Platinum for the rest of this year and into the next, you can hardly fault him for taking a couple of weekends off.

"I honestly can't believe that I didn't win the PT considering how hot I was running. It just felt like it was going to happen. That said, it was tremendous getting to live through that and I recommend it to everybody!" joked Pro Tour Fate Reforged Top 8 competitor Froehlich about the torrid stretch from San Jose to Washington, DC. Froehlich is someone confident in his own abilities but could not recall a similar streak in his long career—nor was it precipitated by a change in preparation.

Shifting Loyalties | Art by James Ryman

"I don't think I did anything different, quite honestly. My record in team GPs is fairly absurd and I can't remember the last time I entered one without being fairly certain that we were at least going to compete for the title. Playing a Modern PT, however, I thought was going to be a crash and burn. I noted in my report that I wanted to play a deck that could safely bring in a 5-5 or 6-4 record and lean on Limited to guide me to the 11-5 mark I needed to lock up Platinum. What ended up happening was a series of good fortune and hopefully some pretty solid play on my part. It was amazing," he explained.

Froehlich's Platinum and the guaranteed points from the remaining PTs also have given him a fair level of confidence that he won't start out next season with the same disadvantage he came into this season with. I have never met anyone who more avidly devours Magic coverage than Froehlich, but he would much rather have been in Nice, France, playing in the World Championship than having to cheer on his friends from the virtual sideline. While Froehlich is loath to call anything a lock that is not actually bolted down, he did feel like history was on his side with 56 points—his minimum for the year right now—has been enough, traditionally, to get there.

"I'm not sure I can come up with the right words to express how much playing in that tournament means," he said of the World Championship. "Competing with the best of the best is why we play this game. We're competitors. It's honestly the biggest stage and you have all the Magic world watching you compete in such a prestigious event. This year I watched every minute of action despite it starting at midnight each day! Having so many of my best friends in the world being among Magic's elite just makes it an even more special event to share it with people I love."

Froehlich is currently in second place in the Player of the Year standings, behind only Hong Kong's Lee Shi Tian. Both players are coming off the fourth Pro Tour Top 8 of their respective careers. Froehlich already has a substantial number of solid GP finishes and will have a hard time improving on those numbers at that level. Because he missed out on the World Championship last year, he doesn't have the extra points that other players competing for the Player of the Year title have to boost their numbers.

"That title means so much, as getting to add your name to the list of Jons, Kais, and Bobs always does," said Froehlich who is a keen student of the game. "I'll be gunning for it as best I can. It's going to come down to the big stage, at the Pro Tours, down the stretch…and I wouldn't have it any other way. I'll be ready!"

Cached Defenses | Art by Zack Stella

Froehlich has been one of the most consistent players on the Pro Tour over the past several seasons, with multiple Pro Tour Top 8s and even more Top 16s and Top 32s at the Pro Tour. I asked him if there was a secret to performing so regularly at the top tables against the toughest players in the game.

"There certainly isn't one key to consistency but many little things going together. Of course, being lucky is great. There is only so much you can do to avoid bad matchups, bad mulligans, bad mana, etc. etc., that's just a part of Magic," explained the four-time PT Top 8 competitor. "The key is consistently making good decisions and not being affected by the mistakes that you will inevitably make. Nobody is perfect, but as the great poet Taylor Swift says, you gotta shake it off. The key to being great at games like Magic is getting your opponents to make more mistakes, since everybody is going to make them. The rest is just in preparation. I have the best team in the world for the PTs, great friends who I can talk to while preparing for GPs, and honestly I don't think anybody watches more Magic than I do. I have Magic streams on in the background every day while I do my work, I watch the coverage of every event—often multiple times—and I study play lines that other people make."

Froehlich is sure to be watching this weekend as there are two different North American Grand Prix taking place. I will part of the coverage team at Grand Prix Memphis, bringing you all the Standard action with Simon Goertzen and Jacob Van Lunen. Marshall Sutcliffe will be presiding over the Modern goings-on in Vancouver with Randy Buehler and Gabe Carlton-Barnes joining him in the booth. To accommodate both streams, we've added a second Twitch channel. Memphis will be streamed on twitch.tv/magic while Vancouver will be the debut webcast on twitch.tv/magic2. Be sure to join us as we dive deeper into the second half of the Pro Tour season.

Player of the Year

Lee  Shi Tian Hong Kong 53
Eric Froehlich United States 50
Owen Turtenwald United States 49
Ari Lax United States 48
Shahar Shenhar Israel 45
Shaun McLaren Canada 44
Ivan Floch Slovakia 43
Jacob Wilson Canada 41
Samuel Black United States 40
William Jensen United States 38

Rookie of the Year

Justin Cohen United States 27
Ben Weitz United States 18
Isaac Sears United States 16
Tyler Hill United States 16
Eugene Hwang United States 15

Roberto Esposito

Italy 15
Francesco Giorgio England 15
Ian Farnung United States 14
Simon Nielsen Denmark 14

GP Leaderboard

Eric Froehlich United States 23
Craig Wescoe United States 20
Martin Jůza Czech Republic 19
Samuel Black United States 18
Matthew Sperling United States 18
Teruya Kakumae Japan 18
William Jensen United States 17
Paul Cheon United States 17
Pascal Maynard Canada 17

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