Pro Tour–San Diego is in the books! Congratulations to Germany's Simon Görtzen on his hard fought victory. I know that many people were dissapointed to see a Jund-on-Jund Finals to a Standard Pro Tour, but I assure you that the event—and the format—was not just Jund. I have also seen multiple posts that called out the format's most-played archetype a deck devoid of skill, and I would like to take a moment to refute that claim with the performances of both of the finalists from Pro Tour–San Diego. You simply do not reach the the Finals of a Pro Tour without the skill to navigate mirror matches, a field full of hate, and six rounds of Limited.
You need simply look to Kyle Boggemes's Semifinal match-up against Craig Wescoe. You would think that Craig's deck with four creatures sporting protection from red and another four with protection from black—in his main deck—would be an overwhelming favorite against a deck that not only prominently features both of those colors, but relies heavily on Sprouting Thrinax, which actually is both of those colors. Kyle narrowly defeated Craig in the Swiss rounds and knew he had his work cut out for him if he wanted to get past Craig in the Semis. While the players were taking their lunch break, Kyle told me that he planned to take out the Thrinaxes and attempt to make his deck "go green" with Beast tokens via Garruk Wildspeaker and the Great Sable Stags in his board. In the week leading up to the main event he had been testing his deck against A.J. Sacher and Owen Turtenwald when they were playing White Weenie. Faced with the impossible task of getting past sideboarded Kor Firewalkers, he began to formulate his eco-friendly strategy.
According to Kyle it was a strategy that neither A.J. or Owen had seen anyone else implement against them, and it seemed to work well for Kyle in the Top 8. After he evened the match at one game apiece with his lone sideboard Malakir Bloodwitch—a card that Wescoe was so scared of that he was running four copies of Dread Statuary so he could have something to attack into a protection from white flier—Kyle's Great Sable Stags spent significant and meaningful time in the red zone of Games 3 and 4 to snatch victory from the grasp of Kor Firewalkers. Kyle could have easily fallen back on "getting lucky," but he put the time in to playtest and prepare. He looked for ways that his deck could minimize the edge that Craig's deck had against him and got as far as the Pro Tour Finals, where he faced off against eventual winner Simon Görtzen—who had his own unique approach to Jund.
Görtzen dubbed his approach to Jund as the "No Removal, All Land" plan. While he was running Maelstrom Pulse and Lightning Bolt, Simon did not run any Terminates in the main deck in favor of going up to 27 lands—including the addition of Lavaclaw Reaches. This was not a case of someone being too lazy to test for a Pro Tour and just picking up Jund off their pile of decks. This was an innovative build honed through testing that did not look like the other Jund decks in the Top 8.
I was very impressed with Simon. When I had the chance to speak with him over the lunch break, he expressed excitement about playing Luis Scott-Vargas in the Semifinals. LSV was riding a 17-match win streak and had what seemed like the entire world cheering for him—other players in the Top 8 cheered when he he won his Quarterfinal match. There are not many players who would eagerly embrace the role of giant-killer, but Simon knew that if he was going to win the Pro Tour, his bracket crossed paths with history.
Sure, it is easy to write off the Finals as merely another Jund-on-Jund battle in the end but lets not take anything away from two players having breakout perfomances, making tough decisions, and tuning their lists to adjust to the new Worldwake-infused metagame. Besides there were plenty of other decks to take away from the event, not the least of which was the Boss Naya build played by Luis Scott-Vargas to the best record in the Swiss. Luis would go 11-1 with the deck that was designed by Tom Ross (who would go 9-1 with the deck himself) and came close to giving us Naya/Jund showdowns in the Finals of the last two Pro Tour events. If you want to get a close up look at the Boss Naya deck you should check out the Deck Tech we did with Tom "The Boss" Ross.
Craig Wescoe's tricked-out take on White Weenie was certainly a deck worthy of closer examination. At the time we did a video Deck Tech with him, an extremely nervous Craig did not know whether it was a Top 8 deck or a Top 16 deck. As it turned out, the deck was a Top 4 deck that defied the traditional job description for White Weenie. Day of Judgment and no creature-boosting enchantments meant that Craig could play a more controlling game that revolved around fetching up key Equipment thanks to Stoneforge Mystic without spending a card to boost his creatures like you might with a Crusade.
At 8-1-1 in Standard, Patrick Chapin's new twist on an old classic may be overshadowed by decks that got paired with better draft records in San Diego. Patrick has made no secret of his love for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and claimed that the Ultimate ability on Jace was his most frequent method of winning throughout the Standard rounds. It is not as though the deck has many other ways to win, with only four Celestial Colonnade and a lone Iona, Shield of Emeria to get him there via dealing 20. For those of you lamenting the demise of blue, I suggest giving this deck a whirl at your local Friday Night Magic (although you should probably bring a snack, since you might be there a while).
While Zvi Mowshowitz failed to advance to Day Two his deck creation put both Sam Black and Gaudenis Vidugiris into the Top 32 of the event. Sam went 7-3 with the Bant deck known simply as Mythic, while Gaudenis went 9-1. The deck takes full advantage of the new creature lands in Worldwake while dusting off Finest Hour and Rafiq of the Many for a deck that Zvi likened to his My Fires deck from Pro Tour–Chicago. Maybe he should have called it My-Thic instead. Zvi did a Deck Tech about Mythic and was encouraged by the deck's success enough so that he has declared that he will be testing for San Juan's Block Constructed format—a format he has had the most success in of any versions of Constructed over the years.
One deck that I was hoping to get into a Deck Tech video was Conrad Kolos' Duelist Deck version of White Weenie which featured Stoneforge Mystic but took a completely different tack than Craig Wescoe's build. Conrad's deck was running Kor Duelist and Armament Master in the Equipment theme, and also pushed the landfall mechanic harder than anyone else in the format with use of Adventurer's Gear. Despite the low mana curve of the deck, Conrad was playing 26 lands and would rarely crack a fetch land unless it was the turn he was trying to win the game. I witnessed at least one game where Conrad had two Kor Skyfishers holding Adventuring Gear and three fetch lands on the battlefield. He played Armament Master, broke the three lands to give his Skyfishers +6/+6, and then moved the two Adventuring Gears over to his Master for an additional +4/+4 bonus to the two Kor creatures. He was able to fly over for 24 points of damage with just those two creatures.
Conrad did not feel like he played as well as the deck deserved and had to scrap his way into Day Two, but it was an exciting deck to see in action and one that deserves a closer look in the wake of the event. I have put the deck together on Magic Online and would definitely like to give it a shot at Friday Night Magic sometime soon.
Perhaps my favorite deck from the event (and one that was quite feared by everyone else in the Top 8) was Niels Viaene's Esper deck that used Open the Vaults to return Filigree Angel—and whatever other artifacts and enchantments that happened to be laying around in there—from the graveyard to the battlefield. Niels was the one player who loved to play against Jund's Blightnings and even said that at least one player sided them out against him in the Swiss rounds rather than help Niels stock his graveyard. Niels's deck ran a little light on land—and a little heavy on cards at 61—and was further set back by a Maelstrom Pulse as a Stone Rain on one of his Borderposts. It was an amazing Pro Tour debut for Niels, who finds himself tied with Matt Nass for the Rookie of the Year lead two events into the season.
I interviewed the Belgian rookie about his GP Oakland / PT San Diego road trip, his Magic career, and the so-called "creepy Belgian doll" that was his good luck charm throughout the event. I met Niels in Oakland when he had taken to getting pictures taken with various people at the event holding his travel companion André the Astronaut. Little did I know at that point he would soon be making the Top 8 of his very first PT event.
BDM: We got all your biographical information in the Top 8 Profile, but tell me about how you got started playing Magic.
Niels: A friend of mine, Michiel T'Jampens, had learned the game at the time of Mirage and played with his brother. When his brother lost interest and I had received a Portal booster somewhere, he taught me. I had my first encounter with Magic at the time of the Zakk and Kazz set [a starter product from 1996 featuring two precons by those names], but it wasn't untill Michiel thought me in 2000 that I really started playing the game.
BDM: When did you become a "tournament" player?
Niels: My first tournament was an Odyssey Prerelease which was never reported. So officially my first event was the Darksteel Prerelease at The Brassman Gaming Club in Ostend. It took until Outpost opened in the city where I studied before I would begin playing decently. RAV / RAV / GPT was the first drafts I did, and by the time triple Time Spiral rolled around I was a regular, and had a bit of a grasp on the format.
BDM: Has the recent success of Belgian players on the Pro Tour impacted your decision to play competitively?
Niels: No, not at all. I have always done thing at my own pace. I had no contact whatsoever with the Belgians except the Vieren brothers, who came to the Brassman from time to time to beat me. Right up to GP–Paris '09 I was a scrub in Belgium, a decent player who got excited to break that 1800 rating ceiling.
BDM: That's where you qualified for Pro Tour–San Diego?
Niels: I went to Grand Prix–Paris just for fun. My goal was to make Day Two and not scrub out like the previous and only time I had made Day Two.
BDM: What made you decide to take the road trip through Oakland?
Niels: It seemed foolish to go to another continent for just a weekend, so the vacation was quickly increased. The fact that GP–Oakland was within range only added two days to the trip at that point. And I must say I am glad I did. It gave me time to wear off jetlag and let me visit Yosemite National Park.
BDM: What can you tell us about André the Astronaut?
Niels: André is a doll I found in a trunk of carnival clothing in my chiro (kinda like a Boy Scouts troup). He became my travel companion and I took him to America with the idea to do a comic book story about André tagging long secretly because he thought we were going to Houston so he could become a real astronaut. When I failed to make Day Two in Oakland I needed something to occupy me after I 1-2ed the PTQ, and I altered André's story a bit. He turned into a tool to get to know people and upon noticing the unusually high concentration of attractive girls they became prime targets.
I am glad to say this highly increased the fun I had when I had nothing to do and met some interesting people, especially the redhead Kim, who helped me convince other girls to have their picture taken, and Shannon, whom I saw again in San Diego and had a lot of fun talking to. By the way, you should remember her. She will become the first girl to Top 8 a Pro Tour—beating Evelyn Ng in the last round of Swiss ...
BDM: How do you respond to people calling it "the creepy Belgian doll"?
Niels: I was a bit upset when I read that on the coverage, and I tried to hide it from André as he is quite vain. He found out after all and locked himself in the bathroom for hours. But when he came out he had a flare in his eyes and seemed to be determined to show you what that "creepy doll" can do.
BDM: Who worked on the Open the Vaults Esper deck with you?
Niels: To be honest, I did very little work on the deck. It is the intellectual child of Mark Dictus, Belgian's old school Pro and community builder deluxe. It came so far that GPTs for Brussels featured Relic of Progenitus and Bojuka Bog in the sideboard to battle the deck. The "real pros" didn't side with it. In the end Mark, another Belgian player, and I played the deck, each with little personal tweaks. Mine was to leave the one Sharuum the Hegemon in, which gave me a few game wins where Open the Vaults would have been Negated.
BDM: If you were going to take the deck to a Friday Night Magic or other Standard event, what changes would you make? I know you said it needed one or two more lands when we talked at the Top 8 lunch.
BDM: Can you describe the whole experience of going to California and making the Top 8?
Niels: In one word: Unreal. I kept thinking I was going to wake up on the plane to San Francisco, that all of it had only happened in my imagination. I went through stages of disbelief, euphoria, and many other emotions. I had fun—so much fun.
BDM: Anything else you want to share?
Niels: Yes, I have unfortunate news. André has left us. He decided to remain in San Diego—he met a bikini girl on rollerblades and decided to roll with her. Take a picture if you see him and most importantly, become a fan of the little hero on Facebook. You can find him as "André, the Astronaut." Guess I'll have to find a new friend and companion to take with me to San Juan.
- WPN Spotlight: Pro Tour Top 8s at Friday Night Magic
We will return to our regularly scheduled interviews next week, but let's take a moment to see if there is a Pro Tour–San Diego Top 8 player attending FNM events at a location near you. One of the questions for the Top 8 Player Profiles included where each player went to play FNM. Let's see what everyone said.
Simon Görtzen: "Aachen."
Kyle Boggemes: "RIW Hobbies."
Luis Scott Vargas: "Superstars Game Center in San Jose, which is channelfireball.com's headquarters."
Craig Wescoe: "Yottaquest in Cincinnati, Ohio. Next Level Games in Nashville, Tennessee. Yottaquest in Cincinnati, Ohio. Next Level Games in Nashville, Tennessee."
Daniel Gräfensteiner: "Funtainment Nürnberg – Thanks to Leta and Domi who lent me all the cards!"
Niels Viaene: "I play in Outpost Gent."
Yoshihiko Ikawa: "Ignis (Ohizumi in Tokyo)."
Jeroen Kanis: "In Rotterdam South and sometimes at Gamers of the West."
- Full San Diego Winners List
There's a lot more that goes on at the Pro Tour than just the main event. Take a look here at the winners of more than 50 other prizes handed out across the four days of public events. Tom Raney, who won the WPN Open, will get to do this all over again in San Juan thanks to the prize of airfare and hotel at the next Pro Tour!