By the time Alexander Hayne's five Angel tokens flew over to one-shot Gaudenis Vidugiris in Game 5 of the finals of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored I was so emotionally spent I barely had the energy for one more tapas dinner and a final round of Avacyn Restored coverage drafts—barely. The potential of every top deck by Hayne made for a white-knuckled adrenaline wave throughout the Top 8. It was a fitting end to the 2011–12 season that has been just as exciting—and almost as tumultuous—as the Hallelujah deck that gave us the final moments of it.
Alexander Hayne, Pro Tour Avacyn Restored 2012 Champion
Coming into the tournament, there were abundant storylines waiting for a final act on Sunday. There were National Championships, Players Championships berths, Players Club metallurgy, a Rookie of the Year title, and twenty-five spots for players to come back in Seattle to try it all again at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. Let's work our way up the standings from the 25th spot up to the Champion and look at how those finishes will shape the upcoming season.
25. Tamas Nagy of Hungary took the 25th spot on tiebreakers, and the difference between the 6 points for 26th and 10 points for 25th meant he hit Gold in the Players Club and qualified to play in every Pro Tour next season. His performance—fueled by a 7–3 record in Block Constructed—also guaranteed him the captaincy of the Hungarian National team and a chance to compete at the World Magic Cup during Gen Con this August in Indianapolis. He will join Máté Schrick, who won the first Qualifier for the three remaining slots.
24. Belgium's Vincent Lemoine was one of four all-stars to finish 4 crucial points away from Platinum status—basically one more match win down the stretch of any of the Pro Tours this season—along with Ben Stark, Lucas Blohon, and Jeremy Neeman. The Pro Tour Paris Top 8 competitor will have to console himself with being the Belgian National Champion—the second time in two years he has held that title. With Marijn Lybaert already qualified to join him in Indy to compete for the Cup, the Belgian team is starting out as one of the more formidable squads in the field.
23. A lot of attention was paid to the Black and Blue squads of StarCityGames and the ChannelFireball juggernaut this past weekend, but one of the young up-and-coming teams hailing from ChannelFireball's backyard is Team Panik, with two-time Grand Prix Champion Shahar Shenhar. While 40 points on the season did not get Shenhar within shouting distance of the American National Championship or any of the at-large berths for the Players Championships, he heads into the 2012–13 season as the first member of this young team to lock up Platinum status.
22. I had my eye on Osyp Lebedowicz as a returning pro likely to make a big splash this past weekend, but it was his old TOGIT teammate Gerard Fabiano who locked up an invite to Seattle. He'll get to check out the renovations that have been made to downtown Ravnica this October by virtue of his finish.
21. Playing with nothing other than Mountains and Plains as his basic lands in both Constructed and Limited, Paul Rietzl was fighting for a Top 8 berth in the final round of the tournament but fell one game short. As recently as two weeks before the event he had not been planning on attending. He explained to me during a Constructed deck tech that his girlfriend urged him to go and he ended up locking down Platinum status for next year—while she earned keeper status—with the 10 points he earned.
20. Brad Nelson had a bittersweet 20th-place finish. He placed higher than any of his former ChannelFireball teammates—as did fellow-former-Fireballer Matt Nass of Team Panik—and his StarCityGames Blue team propelled Joshua Cho into the Top 8 of the tournament. The former Player of the Year ended the season 3 points shy of Gold and will need to parlay his Top 25 invite for Pro Tour Return to Ravnica into another strong finish if he wants to stay on the Pro Tour next season.
19. Two-time Pro Tour finalist Willy Edel of Brazil struck Gold with his finish this past weekend. He could have won the event and still not caught his countryman—and PT Charleston teammate—Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa for the Brazilian National Championship. He has been a sporadic competitor over the past couple of years but can play in every Pro Tour next year if he chooses to do so.
18. Japan's Yuuya Watanabe finished the 2011–12 season with 67 points—a full 7 points clear of Brian Kibler for the end of season standings. In years past, that would have been good enough for him to earn his second Player of the Year title, but this season everything has changed. He will be one of sixteen players vying for the Player of the Year title at the Players Championships during the week leading up to PAX Prime in Seattle. He earned his spot as the top Japanese player and will be one of three Japanese players at the tournament. Watanabe earned Unobtanium status in the Pro Players Club and will be leading the Japanese National team at the World Magic Cup.
17. With so much going on this past weekend, American Zak Elsik fell in my blind spot. I am looking forward to finding out more about him in Seattle when he returns on the back of his Top 25 finish.
16. The same holds true for Germany's Phillip Jell.
15. Stanislav Cifka is one of three Czech players to earn Platinum status for the upcoming season, joining Martin Juza and Lukas Jaklovsky at that elite level. Cifka lost his win-and-in match against Naoki Shimizu for the Top 8, which would have vaulted him past Martin Juza for both their National Championship and accompanying World Magic Cup invite, as well as the top European berth in the Players Championship. Martin Juza was in agony down the stretch of the tournament as he had long since been eliminated from contention and was torn between wanting to compete in both of those events and rooting for his friends Cifka and Blohon—either of whom could have displaced him with one or two more wins.
14. Japan's Shouta Yasooka might only have his one Pro Tour Top 8 berth—his win alongside Tomohiro Kaji and Tomoharu Saito in Charleston—but he has become a Top 16 machine. He built the reanimator deck that propelled Ken Yukihiro to his Top 8 finish and didn't do too badly with the deck himself, going 9–0–1 with Falkenrath Aristocrat and Angel of Glory's Rise fighting side by side. Forty-card decks were Yasooka's bane this past weekend, as even a .500 record at the draft tables would have put him into the Top 8. As it stands, the finish was enough for him to snag one of the coveted at-large berths for the Players Championship—giving him an opportunity to become one of an elite handful of two-time Player of the Year winners. One more draft win and he might have even been able to make a run at Watanabe's National Champion banner.
13. Brian Hawley is one of a handful of American players who will get to return to Ravnica this October and build on their exciting finish in Barcelona.
12. Poland's Tomek Pedrakowski was leading the field at the end of Day One but fell just short of the mark down the stretch. He did lock up his Gold status for next season and will be commanding the Polish National team at the World Magic Cup this August.
11. Robert Jurkovic of the Slovak Republic has been playing Magic for as long as almost anyone in the field and made his way back to the Pro Tour via the Magic Online Championships. He has proven himself to be quite adept at Magic offline as well, with Platinum status for the coming year and a captaincy of the Slovakian National team.
10. Tzu Ching Kuo of Taiwan came close to earning his first career Pro Tour Top 8 but will have to content himself with (a) making Platinum for the upcoming season, (b) leading the Taiwanese National team at the World Magic Cup, and (c) upsetting Jeremy Neeman for the APAC berth at the Players Championship. He might be the most accomplished Magic player you have never heard of with 151 lifetime Pro Points, but he will have two bonus chances to make his mark this August with a shot at Player of the Year and to hoist the World Magic Cup.
9. America's Phil Summers rounds out the pack of players looking to make their mark in Seattle with their bonus qualification from finishing in the Top 25. Summers went 9–1 with red-green aggro but a 3–3 record at the draft tables left him one match and mere tiebreakers outside of the Top 8.
8. Which brings us to the Top 8, starting with Naoki Shimizu, who made the second Top 8 of his Pro Tour career. Shimizu had only 3 points coming into the event and needed a deep run in the Top 8 to lock up multiple qualifications for next year. Shimizu, who has contributed coverage to the mothership and also translated Japanese articles for StarCityGames.com in the middle of the 2000s, now works full time and is not certain he will be able to play in Seattle—he faces a two-man PTQ against his boss in the very near future.
7. Austria's Thomas Holzinger cleaned up at this event, with the captaincy of the Austrian team and Platinum status for the coming year.
6. There was a brief moment during the Top 8 of the Pro Tour where I was feeling bad for Sweden's Denniz Rachid. He made the Top 8 and was looking at an eventual quarterfinal exit for the second straight Pro Tour. Then it was pointed out to me that I was feeling bad for someone who had just rattled off back-to-back Pro Tour Top 8 finishes—I have a feeling he will be able to sleep well once he gets back home to Sweden. He is the captain of the Swedish National team and has earned Platinum status for the following season. On top of that, the Swedish Magic scene seems to be experiencing a resurgence with more than a dozen players—including Hall of Famer Olle Råde—taking part in this past weekend's festivities.
5. Speaking of back-to-back Top 8 finishes... Jon Finkel did it again and pushed his lifetime number of Sunday appearances to a staggering fourteen! Jon has won Nationals, been a World Team Champion, is a former Player of the Year, and won multiple Grand Prix and Pro Tours. He will have a chance to add a line to his resume with his at-large berth in the Players Championship. A second-place finish would have displaced Brian Kibler on the US National team. He took the eventual winner to five games, but it was not to be. Jon has consistently been near the top tables since his post-Hall of Fame return and, armed with Platinum status for next year, he will look to continue to add chapters to his legend.
4. When you talk to the Japanese Magic community, they all herald Ken Yukuhiro as the best player you have never heard of from a country that has consistently produced the game's best players for the past seven seasons. With his first Top 8, Yukuhiro will get a chance to prove them right with Platinum status filling his sails. He ended the season as one of four players from Japan to cross the coveted 40-point threshold.
3. I was very impressed with Joshua Cho this weekend. Playing in his first Pro Tour, he sat at Table One for the bulk of Day Two and led the SCG Blue team to the best finish from his squad—and only one player on SCG Black finished better than him. The 22 points he earned for his finish were all the points he has earned this season and the pressure will be on him in Seattle to follow up and remain on the Pro Tour beyond the return to Ravnica, with a Silver finish to show for the season. I will certainly be rooting for him.
2. The only player from an SCG squad to finish better than Cho was Gaudenis Vidugiris, who played the same Sam Black-designed Spirits deck that placed Finkel in the Top 8 as well. Vidugiris came into the event needing a Top 75 to reach Silver, Top 16 to finish Gold—and a win to finish Platinum. While he maintained his captaincy of the potential Lithuanian National team, he missed out on the spot in the Players Championship that was reserved for the winner of the event. Much like Rachid, it is hard to feel bad for Vidugiris when he wins $20,000 and gets to go to three Pro Tours next season, but to get so tantalizingly close has to be crushing.
Vidugiris played a full fifteen games of Magic in the Top 8 of the event, losing only to the miraculous Alexander Hayne.
1. Hayne had the most successful weekend of anyone in the tournament, earning multiple titles and tournament berths. The Canadian rookie became the first player from his country to win an individual Pro Tour since Terry Borer in 1997. Hayne will also have a chance to win Player of the Year, as he earned the last reserved seat in the Players Championship with his victory. In the meanwhile, he got his trophy collection doubled when he took down the Rookie of the Year title after Jesse Hampton looked like he had an unassailable lead coming into the event. Hayne also catapulted into the lead of the Canadian pro standings and will helm the Canadian National team at the World Magic Cup. Oh yeah, he also earned Platinum status.
All of this came after Hayne got his tournament off to a 1–3 start. He stayed positive, continued how to learn to play his deck, and went on an 11–0–1 tear to go from a Feeling of Dread to a much deserved chorus of "Hallelujah" from the jubilant Canadians watching from the lounge.
- Friday Night Countdown from Pro Tour Avacyn Restored
If you're heading to Friday Night Magic, it'd be a good idea to check out this video first. After spending three days up to our eyeballs in amazing Magic featuring the new set, Rich Hagon and I take a look at the highlights from the Pro Tour. The show includes an interview with winner Alexander Hayne immediately after his victory, a deck tech on his Blue-white Miracles deck, highlights of other key Block Constructed decks, an overview of three Avacyn Restored draft strategies, and a showcase of the top cards from the Fantasy Pro Tour. We also take a look at the 16 players invited to this year's Players Championship and spotlight Jon Finkel's 14th career Pro Tour Top 8.
- Live Video from Grand Prix Malmo
This weekend kicks off the new 2012-13 Pro season with Grand Prix in Minneapolis (Standard) and Malmo (Avacyn Restored Limited). I'm exicted to tune in to the live video coverage of Grand Prix Malmo courtesy of GGslive.com's Rashad Miller. He'll have Rich Hagon, Frank Karsten, Nate Price, and Tim Willoughby rotating through the announcer chairs at various times during the weekend as Wizards begins expanding Grand Prix coverage at European events. Will the best draft archetypes we saw at the Pro Tour continue to be the top strategies, or will players have developed new ones in the past week? Tune in starting at approximately 8 a.m. ET Saturday for the start of the live webcast.