Not Quite To the Maze's End

Posted in The Week That Was on May 24, 2013

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, 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.

Pro Tour Dragon's Maze was simply an amazing weekend of Magic, with five players getting to the Top 8 with previous Pro Tour Top 8 experience, two players getting there on their debut performance, and one longtime veteran getting as far as the finals in the best finish of his career. But you can read all about that and go see them play on Sunday in the coverage. What I like to do after a Pro Tour is acknowledge the players who had a great weekend but came up just short of the Top 8.

Magic Online Champion Reid Duke posted the best finish of his young offline career with a 9th-place finish in his second year of Platinum status on the Pro Tour. Not a bad season for a man who kicked things off by finishing last in the Players Championship. Duke's weapon of choice for the event was the Bant Control deck that was played by the entirety of Team and saw more than half of the deck's pilots finish with six wins or more in Constructed.

Reid Duke's Bant Control

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Duke was in good position with just a couple of rounds to go but ran afoul of eventual Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton with just three rounds left in the tournament. While Bant Control had many powerful tools at its disposal, Duke could not afford to stumble for even a turn against the ultra-aggressive Boros build Utter-Leyton was running people over with all weekend. Mulligans in Game 1 put him in a hole he could not draw his way out of and in Game 2, despite playing some of his best cards, Utter-Leyton emerged victorious. It was a key round for both players that could very well have altered the course of the Pro Tour had it played out differently, as none of the Bant Control decks were represented in the Esper Control–heavy Top 8.

The finish ensured that Duke would get a second chance to prove himself in a sixteen-person field of the game's best players as he locked up an At-Large berth for the newly rechristened World Championship in Amsterdam this summer, joining SCG teammate Tom Martell in the event.

Speaking of the World Championship, we will get to see Eric Froehlich continue his amazing run of Magic finishes. The Top 8 competitor from Pro Tour Gatecrash followed up with a 10th-place finish piloting the ChannelFireball take on Esper Control, with its main-deck Blood Baron of Vizkopas.

Eric Froehlich's Esper Control

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Early on Day Two, Eric Froehlich made a push for Player of the Year when he took down frontrunner Yuuya Watanabe to start the action, after both players were 6–2 on Day One. Froehlich went 5–1 in Draft on the weekend and heads into the World Championship with a squadron of his ChannelFireball teammates. You can look forward to him getting the jump on the 2013–14 season at Grand Prix Providence, where he will be teaming with none other than Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon.

Rich Hagon and I were graced by the presence of Luis Scott-Vargas in the booth for the Top 8 coverage, but it was not for the lack of his trying. LSV's 11th-place finish was especially remarkable when you consider how his event started off and how the events preceding this one had played out. After a tepid season that seemed to frustrate the normally unflappable Pro Tour Berlin champion, he got off to a 1–3 start in the opening rounds that included us peering over his shoulder during the first draft of the tournament.

LSV has been Platinum season after season, but going into Round 5 against shoutcasting celebrity Sean "Day9" Plott, he only had one loss left to give if he was to have a shot at the necessary Top 16 finish. He rattled off eight wins with the same deck Froehlich was playing in Block Constructed and swept his second draft to claw his way back to Platinum. With four losses LSV thought his run was at a close when he faced down Jérémy Dezani's Assemble the Legion. Previous game interaction had revealed that Dezani was holding a counterspell. When LSV hopelessly played a topdecked Jace, he was shocked to find his dream was still alive when Dezani had a mental lapse and did not counter it, thinking he would just counter any cards drawn off the Jace. Luis was able to -1/-0 the tokens all the way back into the Top 16, leaving the French player with something bitter to chew over during the offseason.

I asked LSV about his mindset after Round 4 of the tournament and he explained that he knew he would have plenty of time to feel bad about his finish after the event should he not course correct in the remaining twelve rounds. He decided to just play his best Magic each game and try and forestall what seemed inevitable at one point. I can go on tilt down one game in the opening round of an 8–4 draft on Magic Online, but I am going to try and follow LSV's example from this event and save the negative thoughts until after the event is fully over.

I have known Tom Martell for a long time and it is easy for me to take for granted what a formidable pro he has become in the past several seasons, since he made his Top 8 debut at Pro Tour Paris. Playing the same list as Reid Duke, Martell came close to making back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8s and, with their apparently favorable Esper Control match-up, he might have been a favorite to win back-to-back Pro Tours as predicted by Sheldon Menery prior to the event.

When we look back at this event—perhaps as inspiration for Theros-era Standard—the story will clearly be about Esper Control, which placed multiple players in the Top 8, but Bant Control as played by Duke, Martell, and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif certainly warrants a closer look. Nassif came just a hair shy of a stunning tenth Pro Tour Top 8, which would have made the captaincy of the French National team much clearer. As it stands now, he is tied with Raphael Levy on Pro Points and multiple levels of tiebreakers. Whether or not a Team Grand Prix finish outside the Top 4, but technically a Top 8 finish, counts as a GP Top 8 finish is currently under debate. (When we compile career stats for the Hall of Fame we only count Top 4 finishes from Team GPs and PTs under the heading of "Top 8s.")

"I always thought I would be talking about Limited," laughed Floridian Chris Fennell about his Studio B appearance to talk about his San Diego Zoo Constructed deck. He (15th) and David Sharfman (14th) both finished a match away from Top 8 playing this aggro strategy. You can see a deck tech with the player who has the best Limited winning percentage at PT and GP play. If he can continue to back that kind of Limited play with sixty-card finishes to match, he might break through into a Sunday finish in the near future.

Chris Fennell's San Diego Zoo

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From 9th to 15th, you have a litany of players who have won just about everything in the game, from Reid Duke's Magic Online Championship to Chris Fennell and Eric Froehlich's Grand Prix titles to Luis Scott-Vargas's, Tom Martell's, David Sharfman's, and Gabriel Nassif's Pro Tour titles. You can even throw a Hall of Fame ring into the mix (and possibly more next year), which all kind of overshadow 16th-place finisher Nicholas Cuenca, who had to win a PTQ to earn his slot to this event and made his way through the tournament with nary a feature match.

Cuenca played his own Bant Control list and will be back at Pro Tour Theros in Dublin—along with everyone else who placed in the Top 25—and we will be sure to take a closer look at him and how he fares in the wake of this tremendous finish.


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