In this issue:
Travel can be the bane of the full-time Magic player. When you are starting out and going to events infrequently, traveling someplace far away is an alluring part of playing the game—sometimes even the justification for taking a long trip to play in a Grand Prix.
That can start to change when you do it every weekend.
The greater the distance between two points, the more time you have to spend on a plane, in a strange hotel room, and adjusting to a weekly kaleidoscope of time zones. That is why I was more than a little surprised when I saw Platinum pro Craig Wescoe's picture on the screen next to the words "Grand Prix Beijing" this weekend.
Mining Platinum in Beijing
There was a perfectly serviceable North American Grand Prix taking place in Canada just a week after a North American Pro Tour, so what would possess someone to travel all the way around the world instead? The chance to play with two of the best Limited players in the game in Wescoe's favorite format made the opportunity impossible to pass up.
"Rich (Hoaen) is my fellow Team Ultra PRO teammate, and we stayed together for Pro Tour Vancouver, where I mentioned the idea of teaming together for GP Beijing. He said it was not out of the question, since he would be traveling to Asia for work around that same time," said Wescoe. "A month later he invited me to team with him and Mike (Hron), and I immediately accepted the offer. Team Limited has always been my best and favorite format, and I was not going to pass up an opportunity to play with two of the strongest Limited minds in the history of the game."
Rich Hoaen was coming off a ninth-place finish at Pro Tour Magic Origins last season, and Mike Hron is a former Pro Tour Champion and two-time Limited Pro Tour Top 8 competitor. Hoaen and Hron also teamed to win Grand Prix Tokyo with Alexander Hayne two years ago. Wescoe was not sure where Hron would be on the Battle for Zendikar format, but was happy to see that the Madison, Wisconsin-based player had a great handle on the new cards.
"He and Rich both played terrifically all weekend. During the player meeting on Saturday morning, I thought to myself, 'I would honestly not trade either teammate for any other player in the room,' and this room contained several of the very best players in the world!" he said of his confidence in his teammates.
"One match, I watched Mike sideboard approximately eight cards to win an otherwise very difficult matchup. And I watched Rich pull out multiple games from what looked like dire board states by knowing exactly when to switch from offense to defense and back to offense. Those are the sorts of adjustments that only the very best and most experienced Limited players are able to pull off."
From left, Craig Wesoe, Rich Hoaen, and Mike Hron
Wescoe has traditionally been the leading man on his past teams, but with Hoaen and Hron only losing a combined total of three of their matches all weekend, Wescoe was able to settle back into a supporting role and focus on winning those rounds where one of them went down and contributing to the discussion about mulligans and lines of play. The weekend breezed along for him, and suddenly he found himself in the position to earn the first Grand Prix trophy in his career.
There was, however, one little obstacle sitting in his way—an obstacle who had collected a staggering seven Grand Prix titles and who was looking to break a three-way tie between himself, Shuhei Nakamura, and Kai Budde.
"Yuuya Watanabe was playing for the title of most GP wins ever while I was playing for my first title. My draws were pretty bad, and he ran me over handily, though I think his deck was better than mine overall," said Wescoe of the finals matchup against a Japanese powerhouse team of Watanabe, Yuuki Ichikawa, and Makihito Mihara. "Fortunately, Mike's deck was the best at the table, and Rich was able to defeat Mihara on the back of Drowner of Hope—a bomb rare that Yuuya passed to him in the draft. Three of my last four Team GP finishes were twelfth in Portland, sixth in Nashville, and third in San Jose. It feels great to finally get the victory!"
Grand Prix Master Update
With the win, and the 6 Pro Points that come with it, Wescoe got himself up on the board for the Grand Prix Master invite to the World Championship. Deep into last season, Wescoe was quietly right behind Pascal Maynard and Alexander Hayne for the invite, but fell off toward the end.
While Hayne and Maynard were chasing that title down pretty doggedly, that is not how Wescoe approaches competitive Magic—which is not to say he won't be playing the game every weekend if he has the opportunity.
"I don't really have any specific accomplishments I'm striving for this year. I just want to play the best Magic I can play and to attend as many tournaments as possible. Wherever I end up at the end of the year, I want to know I put forth my best effort," said Wescoe, who has just shy of 30 players ahead of him for the Grand Prix Masters invite.
Let's take a look at the top of the leader board, where there are thirteen players with at least double-digit point totals already this season.
|2||Paul Rietzl||United States||13|
|2||Reid Duke||United States||13|
|2||Brian Braun-Duin||United States||13|
|6||Eric Froelich||United States||11|
|9||Michael Majors||United States||10|
|9||Owen Turtenwald||United States||10|
|9||Sam Pardee||United States||10|
|9||Eliott Boussaud||United States||10|
With a flurry of events between now and the start of the new year, we will see plenty of turnover in the coming six weeks. But the top of the leader board is an impressive mix of veteran powerhouse players with a smattering of new names looking to join their ranks. Both Reid Duke and Oliver Polak-Rottmann posted Top 8 finishes at Grand Prix Quebec City to push their way into the Top 10 in the standings playing Standard, but neither of them was the victor of the weekend. That trophy went to Dan Lanthier, who landed in the Top 20 with his 8 points from the victory.
Flashing Silver in Quebec
For the past couple of years, I have had regular conversations with two subsets of Canadian Magic players. The first is made up solely of Dan Lanthier telling me how exciting the state of Canadian Magic is, and the other is the rest of the Canadian Magic players saying super nice things about Dan Lanthier and hyping him as the next big player to follow in the footsteps of Jon Stern, Alexander Hayne, Shaun McLaren, Jacob Wilson, Pascal Maynard, and Lucas Siow.
"Most people don't know I've been playing Magic competitively for the better part of seven or eight years now—there was just a large stretch of time where I was in school or just getting into the working world where it was difficult to allocate enough resources to the game to excel," said 2008 Canadian National Champion Dan Lanthier.
Lanthier is working hard to level up this season from a Silver level last year in the Pro Players Club. At the start of the Pro Tour year in Milwaukee, he was fortunate not to have to cash in the one invite that level awards for this season thanks to winning an RTQ for that tournament.
"I haven't been qualified for the first Pro Tour of the year for several years, so I was really looking at Silver status as the perfect springboard for a good season this year," said the two-time Grand Prix Champion, who can sit on his Silver invite for one more Pro Tour now. "Fortunately, an RTQ win and now the Grand Prix have put me in great position to finally get back on the Pro Tour full time, so I'm hoping all of this is just the beginning."
Lanthier is certainly aware of the expectations his contemporaries have for him, and while it is flattering, he knows he has to do more to elevate himself to their level.
"I need to find a way to step my game up at the Pro Tour level. I need to start making better deck decisions for new formats, and I need to start playing better on that stage. I want to hit Gold this year; my plan all along was to use my Silver status to help me start this season strong, and so far so good. I have a good head start, and I have a lot of tournaments left in the year to build off of what I've started, but I just need to be able to take my game to the next level to do that."
Lanthier played Dark Jeskai in the Grand Prix after playing mono-red at the Pro Tour the weekend earlier.
"I had the fortune/misfortune of facing Jon Finkel in the second round of Constructed, and got thoroughly beaten by his Dark Jeskai deck. I thought the way he approached the archetype was pretty brilliant, and I was really impressed with the deck's matchups against the better decks in the format. The deck also just so happens to cater to a lot of my strengths as a player, so it was kind of a match made in heaven for me," he said of how he came to play the tournament-winning deck.
Lanthier loved the deck, but so did a lot of other people, and he found himself scrambling for a sideboard plan in the mirror as he plowed deep into Day Two.
"If I had to do it again or make changes moving forward, I would make room for a Mastery of the Unseen in the sideboard and I would add a Dragonlord Silumgar to the main deck," advised Lanthier for anyone thinking about playing the deck in the coming weeks. "I would also give more consideration to adding Disdainful Strokes back to the sideboard, as I think there will be more reason to need them moving forward. But I'm glad I cut them for the Grand Prix last weekend."
There were a couple of decks that caught his eye if you are in the market for something that might beat Dark Jeskai.
"I think the Green Ramp deck piloted by Jake Mondello, Jon Stern, and Mike Sigrist has potential to be a big player in the format moving forward. They boasted good results against Dark Jeskai, and I'd be inclined to believe them, as the matchup looks really scary for anyone unprepared to face it. If there's a number-one candidate out there to dethrone Dark Jeskai, I'd vote for that deck or the Bant tokens deck that Shahar Shenhar played, as both seem well equipped to fight the tools that most Dark Jeskai players are bringing to the table right now."
You can find the Mondello list in the Top 8 decks from the Grand Prix, it was the top seed after the Swiss rounds. As for the Shenhar list, it finished in 13th place and was based off the deck that Sam Black piloted to an 8-2 record at the Pro Tour the weekend before the GP. You can find that and each of the 9–32-place decks here.