The Happy Recap and Below the Line

Posted in The Week That Was on February 17, 2012

By Brian David-Marshall

Pro Tour Dark Ascension was an amazing weekend, with a Top 8 that goes on the short list of all-time greats, with three actual Hall of Famers and one player coming onto the ballot this year. Those four players—Hall of Famers Jon Finkel, Brian Kibler, and Jelger Wiegersma, as well as the seemingly unstoppable Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa—had all won Pro Tours previously. At the end, we got to see Brian Kibler win his second Pro Tour in just three seasons. Fittingly, it was at the site of his return to the Pro Tour that took place a couple of years ago in Hawaii, where he "merely" made the Top 8.

Traditionally, we would have only had the chance to see these players on camera during the Top 8 webcast. With the expansion of the video coverage that started with Round 1 and continued throughout the weekend, we got to see Jon Finkel play his win-and-in match in Round 15 and both Game 3s in Round 16 that put Jelger Wiegersma and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa into the Top 8.

The video content did not end with Brian Kibler's win over Damo da Rosa, though. Rich Hagon and I stayed an extra day in Hawaii (it is grueling work, I must say) to put together the Friday Night Countdown, which recaps the decks and Dark Ascension cards that will change the face of Standard when you go to your next Friday Night Magic. We caught up with a local game store—Da Planet—about its viewing party for the event, provided a clip of Ben Stark's insightful analysis of the new Limited format, congratulated Raphael Levy on his 500th career Pro Point, and ended the video with something special.

Just minutes after his win, Brian Kibler sat down with me backstage at a jerry-rigged mic stand made out of some headphones, duct tape, and his trophy, to walk through his staggering Game 5 against Jon Finkel in the semifinals. Brian had just topdecked a second Whip Flare in Game 4 to force the deciding game, but there would be even more drama as these two titans slugged it out to see who would advance to face off against Damo da Rosa in the finals. Think of it as DVD commentary of the match—and expect more of this in future coverage.

In the Day Two wrap Rich Hagon and I did, we commented that the 9th–16th finishers would have made for an impressive Top 8 on their own, and these players warrant a closer look for their tremendous weekend as well. There was plenty of Top 8 experience lurking just below the cutoff line, as six of these players were vying for the second Top 8 of their careers.

    Lukas Jaklovsky

Lukas Jaklovsky of the Czech Republic came in 9th on tiebreakers—the dreaded virtual Top 8—and continues to post impressive finishes in a relatively short Pro Tour career that started at PT Geneva and has seen him now rack up 97 Pro Points in just thirteen Pro Tours. He previously made the Top 8 of Worlds in Chiba, at the tail end of the 2010 season, and now has 31 Pro Points for the 2011–12 season. He played a blue-black control deck in Standard to a 7–3 record and went 5–1 in the draft portion.

Lukas Jaklovsky's Blue-Black Control

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    Robert Jurkovic

Robert Jurkovic has more lifetime Pro Points than any other player from the Slovak Republic, with 139 in a career that spans back to Pro Tour Mainz in 1997. His virtual Top 8 this past weekend was the third Top 16 finish of his Pro Tour career, to go along with a Top 32 in Nagoya. All of his success has been backloaded to the past several years, after earning a berth in the 2009 MOCS at Worlds. He played the same deck that Jaklovsky played. Jurkovic went 9–1 with the deck—only Matt Costa had a better record in Standard at 9–0–1—but fell short of the Top 8 mark at the draft tables with a 3–3 record.

Robert Jurkovic's Blue-Black Control

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    Kenny Oberg

Sweden's Kenny Oberg was the last of the virtual Top 8 competitors. It would have been his second actual Top 8 had his tiebreakers been better. Who can forget his Top 8 debut in Berlin when he earned his nickname, The Tezzerator? He made his PT debut at Worlds in 2004 and since then has racked up 141 lifetime points. Oberg, who was 7–3 in Standard, played a decklist very close to the one his countryman Denniz Rachid piloted into the Top 8.

Kenny Oberg's Humans-Delver

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    Samuele Estratti

I owe Samuele Estratti something of an apology. The Pro Tour Philadelphia winner, who came up one match short of making the Top 8, played to a perfect 6–0 record in Limited, including a masterful bluff against Tom Martell that got lost in the shuffle as I learned my way around multiple camera feeds in the broadcast booth. I could not see the tabletop play as it was happening, and while we recounted what happened later it does not do justice to a smooth play by someone who caught the attention of a fair number of the established Pro Tour veterans this weekend.

Estratti was playing Tom Martell, who was threatening to get a Beguiler of Wills online to take control of the Italian player's Fiend Hunter, which was sitting atop Martell's Makeshift Mauler. Martell was at 8 life and Estratti attacked with the Hunter, which was a 5/5 thanks to Demonmail Hauberk. Before Martell had declared blocks, Estratti played Moment of Heroism and started to tap mana as if he had a second copy. Martell was shocked and pointed out that he had not blocked yet and had to put the Beguiler of Wills in its path, thinking he was going to get killed otherwise. From the booth, I could only see the players' faces and hear them talk through the play and basically missed what turned out to be a sublime bluff by the Italian.

Estratti lost playing for Top 8 with his Delver deck that relied on Runechanter's Pike to deal as much as 15 extra damage in one blow over the course of the weekend. This was only the 12th Pro Tour for Estratti, who debuted at Worlds in Memphis, and he crossed over the 100-point mark this week, making him eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2018.

Samuele Estratti's Delver

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    Tom Martell

Tom Martell has been on a roll of late. After a stop-and-start career that began back in 2000 at Pro Tour Chicago, he has a Top 8, this Top 16, and two more Top 32s over the past few seasons, and is more than three-quarters of the way toward Hall of Fame eligibility in just ten PT appearances over those twelve years. Martell was playing the Delver Spirits deck that put both Jon Finkel and Jelger Wiegersma into the Top 8. The deck—designed primarily by Sam Black—posted a 67% winning percentage by the all-star team that piloted it.

Tom Martell's Delver Spirits

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    Jesse Hampton

Seattle-based player Jesse Hampton nearly missed this event when he underwent an appendectomy just weeks ago. He made his Pro Tour debut in Philadelphia last season and quietly made the Top 8 of that event. Two PTs later and he was fighting against Jelger Wiegersma in the final round of the event for a Top 8 berth. That's pretty impressive, and I caught up with Hampton for a quick interview to find out more about him.

BDM: How long have you been playing Magic and how did you get started playing competitively?

Jesse: I was introduced to Magic about fifteen years ago, and started playing competitively about eight years ago when my friends told me about the Junior Super Series and PTQs.

BDM: What was the extent of your Magic career prior to PT Philadelphia? How long were you trying to get onto the PT?

Jesse: Prior to the PT, I had won Washington States and qualified for Pro Tour Nagoya on rating, but had decided to save my rating invite for the domestic PT. I have been playing in PTQs since I was in high school, but only in the last two years have my finishes at them been noteworthy.

BDM: Once you got there you made the most of that opportunity with a Top 8. What was that experience like for you, and how did your local playgroup react to you doing so well?

Jesse: In Philadelphia, I felt nervous and didn't know what to expect, since it was my first PT. However, once the first round started it was all business. The best part of the Pro Tour was meeting and socializing with all the different players from various countries around the world.

I think that the local community in the Northwest knew that I was capable of performing at the highest level since I was consistently in the Top 8 at many local events.

BDM: You had a burst appendix just prior to the event. How did you deal with that and how did it affect your playing this past weekend?

Jesse: I actually had chronic appendicitis for the last two months but I just had the surgery on it two weeks before the event. I was almost fully recovered from the surgery three to four days before I left for Honolulu. I was happy to be free of pain in paradise, which gave me a positive attitude coming into every match.

BDM: Congrats on the Top 16—that, along with a Top 8 in three Pro Tours, is pretty amazing. What are your goals and plans for the remainder of this season?

Jesse: I plan to go to GP Baltimore, Nashville, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Salt Lake before Barcelona. I am only 9 points from locking up Platinum for next season, so hitting that before the Pro Tour would be ideal.

Jesse Hampton's Delver

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    Dan Jordan

Dan Jordan is a player who has had great success on the Star City Open Series and continually threatens to break out at the Pro Tour level, so keep an eye out for him in Barcelona. Playing White-Blue Humans with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Jordan went 8–1–1 in Standard ,but a 3–3 Draft record kept him a match out of the Top 8.

Dan Jordan's White-Blue Humans

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    Shouta Yasooka

Japan's Former Player of the Year and Pro Tour Charleston winner Shouta Yasooka could have solidified his Hall of Fame resume with a second Top 8. He was also the sixth player in the Top 16 with a Pro Tour victory under his belt. Despite only having one Top 8, you can get an idea of what a consistent finisher he is by his 272 lifetime points across thirty-two Pro Tours.

Shouta Yasooka's Blue-Black Control

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As I said, it was great weekend, and it is only going to get better in Barcelona for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. If you are looking for more coverage of the game's best players, don't forget to tune in for Grand Prix Lincoln for live video coverage as well as some CoverItLive from Grand Prix Kobe.

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