From Prerelease to Pro Tour

Posted in The Week That Was on March 20, 2015

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.

In this issue:

Grand Prix Pro Points Race Update

This past weekend saw a pair of Grand Prix serve as glorious send offs to the Khans of Tarkir Limited format. In Auckland, New Zealand, rising Japanese star Teruya Kakumae (Shota Yasooka pegged him as someone to watch during an interview at PT Khans of Tarkir) won the second Grand Prix of his career. His Top 8 Draft deck was a brutal Mardu horde highlighted by Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury that helped him dash to victory. A victory which propelled Kakumae into the top spot, earning him the Grand Prix invitation to the World Championship.

Meanwhile halfway around the world, in Cleveland, Ohio, relative unknown Bill Tsang—who described himself as "mostly a casual player" when I spoke to him—was also playing with the dash mechanic en route to winning a GP. A trio of Mardu Scouts meant that it was impossible for opponents to know how to leave enough creatures back to stem the aggressive tide from Tsang. Even when they did leave enough back, there were a pair of Act of Treasons. That included a climactic traitorous act by finalist Jake Mondello's Avalanche Tusker, which took down itself and a 4/3 Highland Game to close things out.

Tsang was a real bracket buster in a Top 8 that included Ross Merriam, Christian Calcano, Gerard Fabiano, Andrew Cuneo, and Yuuya Watanabe. For Watanabe it was the 22nd Grand Prix Top 8 of his career, and he was playing for a historic 8th win which would have broken his tie with Pro Tour Hall of Famer Kai Budde. He ran afoul of Andrew Cuneo, quietly one of the most consistent players on the Pro Tour for the last year, in the quarters when Cuneo showed off the power of Howl of the Horde. You rarely see the card played in Limited, but Cuneo claimed to have nearly two-dozen game-worn Howls in his Magic Online collection. He used the card twice on camera, once to draw SIX cards off of his Tormenting Voice, and then to deal 12 damage with his Jeskai Charm.

While Kakumae made it to the top of the GP points list with his win in Auckland, nobody else in his Top 8 or in the Top 8 of GP Cleveland got anywhere near the top of the list. Below the elimination bracket in Cleveland, the next four contenders for the title were all in action. The one who claims the most Pro Points, with no cap on the number of GPs played, gets an invitation to the World Championship. Eric Froehlich picked up one extra point while Sam Black and Pascal Maynard picked up three apiece. On the outside, looking in at the points, was Craig Wescoe, who missed out on Day Two.

Rank First Name Last Name Nationality Points
1 Teruya Kakumae Japan 26
2 Eric Froehlich United States 24
3 Pascal Maynard Canada 23
4 Samuel Black United States 22
5 Craig Wescoe United States 21
6 Seth Manfield United States 20
6 Paul Cheon United States 20
8 Martin Juza Czech Republic 19

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Maynard Chases Points

Maynard has racked up three Grand Prix Top 8 finishes just in this calendar year, and has four for the current Pro Tour season. Maynard confessed that he and Wescoe have enjoyed a rivalry as they both have been traveling to as many events as possible with an eye on the World Championship berth.

"Absolutely, in fact, Craig Wescoe and I have been constantly rooting against each other the last couple GPs, even rubbing in each of our losses," laughed Maynard. "Of course I'd still be happy for him if he beat me in the race."

Maynard has been expecting to go up against some heavyweight competition since he resolved to make a run at getting the invitation, but he wasn't expecting to see a new player at the top of the standings from the Auckland results.

"This was definitely unexpected. I assumed EFro wouldn't be attending that many GPs because he's already Platinum and almost a lock for Top NA Worlds slot. My two fears were Martin Juza and Craig Wescoe as they are both playing as many GPs as I am," said Maynard of what he thought he was up against coming into the weekend. "Teruya Kakumae was not on my radar, and he's killing it. My best hope is that he's doesn't come and shark our North American GPs."

The World Championship invitation was only announced at the last Pro Tour and it was good news for Maynard, who had already been planning to go to as many events as possible in pursuit of Gold—or even Platinum—status in the Pro Player's Club. He'll be heading to Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in the hope of making up a large chunk of points toward his pro status in Brussels. Maynard will be there with a small team of fellow Canadians, which includes Dan Lanthier, Paul Dean, Jesse Moulton, Philippe Asselin, and Jamie Archdekin. In the meanwhile you can expect to see him at just about every remaining GP for the rest of the season, but this weekend he will be judging the Dragons of Tarkir Prerelease at the store he manages—Boutique Donjon in Quebec.

"Hopefully I can answer a few ruling questions and gain some useful knowledge for the Pro Tour. As soon as I have friends winning packs … DRAFTO !!!"

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Wescoe Switches Teams

Maynard's rival, Craig Wescoe, did not fare well at the GP but has been on a solid run with six Top-16-or-better finishes in the first half of the year, including a Top 8 finish in Baltimore and a Top 4 finish at GP San Jose.

"Given the cap, my plan was to attend fewer GPs," said the Pro Tour Dragon's Maze champion of the rule that only counts your best six finishes toward your Player Club status. "But with the Worlds slot announcement, I found myself in second place and with a new reason to continue attending every GP. It's a close race and I'm unlikely to win it, but I'm going to give it my best shot."

Craig Wescoe has been a central figure in Team TCGPlayer since before his Pro Tour win (which he gave abundant credit to his team for helping him prepare for), but he will no longer be working with them as of this Pro Tour. It may also herald a name change for his old team since there are barely any TCGPlayer authors remaining on the team. Instead, Wescoe will be working with Team Ultra Pro—formerly Team Work at the last PT—and relying mostly on Magic Online and message boards for preparation.

"I helped Sam Black test for Worlds and I worked with him for a few GPs since then. I wanted to see what we can do together for a PT," explained Wescoe. "In addition to Sam, Team Ultra Pro also has Paul Rietzl and Pat Cox, two of the most accomplished aggro players in the world who are each very interested in the type of decks I like to play. Ben Stark has been my draft guru ever since we were 15 year old rookies on the Pro Tour and I'm looking forward to discussing draft strategy again with him for this PT. It's impossible to predict how things will go, but this team just feels like a better fit for me for this Pro Tour."

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Wilson Jumps to Pantheon

Wescoe is far from the only player changing T-shirts for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, and I had a chance to chat with two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Jacob Wilson. Wilson, who is coming off of a Top 8 finish at PT Fate Reforged playing with Team Face to Face Games, is going to be working with the likes of Jon Finkel, William Jensen, Patrick Chapin, Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and the everlasting all-star roster that is Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon.

"I joined Team Pantheon because I think it will increase my chances of winning the Pro Tour. When it comes to Magic fun and winning are interchangeable for me. I'm good friends with everyone on Team F2F and hope to maintain those relationships outside of the Pro Tour," said Wilson, who said he'd be playing ten hours a day for two weeks in the team's Belgian farmhouse to prepare for this event. Compared to his last Pro Tour, there should be little in the way of distractions for the young player who will all but certainly hit Platinum again this year.

"I was part of a documentary at the last PT which involved wearing a microphone, sometimes two, for several days and being followed by a camera crew," said Wilson, who is one of the subjects of an upcoming documentary about Magic. "It was certainly a unique experience that involved added responsibilities and pressures. Before the weekend was over I was much more comfortable with the crew. I was fortunate enough to have a great Constructed deck that was well positioned. The majority of my matches went smoothly—making me more confident and alleviating some of the pressure of a film crew."

You can expect to see Wilson at some as of yet undetermined Prerelease in the New England area, with two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar in tow, as they look to win some packs to supply precious drafting opportunities in preparation for the Pro Tour.

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Modern Rotisserie Power Rankings

During the Grand Prix weekend, the coverage team was talking about various formats that were streamed online. Vintage Rotisserie Draft was cited as a popular choice, but there was a little frustration with how predictable the first pick Black Lotus has become. I began to wonder if there was just a consensus first pick in every format and asked the table about what their first pick would be in a Modern Rotisserie Draft. (Imagine an eight-person draft where every Modern legal card is drafted face-up with the picks snaking 1- 8, 8 -1, and so on.)

I can tell you there was definitely not a consensus pick at the table; with Lightning Bolt, Glistener Elf, Splinter Twin, and Cranial Plating all being mentioned along with many others. I took to social media to ask what the Magic community thought the first pick should be and based on how many votes each card got I have listed the Top 5 suggested picks. What do you think?

#5 Path to Exile

This card started to pick up steam as the discussion continued—perhaps spurred by Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa flatly stating it was a better card than the much-ballyhooed Lightning Bolt. It is capable of mopping up cards that Lightning Bolt can only dream of killing, like: Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Tarmogoyf, and Siege Rhino. Further, it's a great complement to Bolt in a RWU deck, but it seems next to impossible that you could land both cards in a Modern Rotisserie Draft.

#4 Liliana of the Veil

This card has been a fixture in Modern and was one of the centerpieces of the dreaded Jund decks. She breaks up combos with her ability to strip players' hands and keep the animal population under control. After barely being mentioned in the first day of discussion, there was a flurry of support for the cheap and powerful Planeswalker on the second day, and she shot up the charts.

#3 Splinter Twin

There is an argument made for taking good, flexible cards and seeing what deck is open as the draft progresses. There is also a compelling argument for planting your flag in an archetype early and declaring it as yours. Splinter Twin is just such a flag. Is anyone going to hate draft Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch from you at the expense of precious early picks of their own? Even if they do, you could still pivot into red-white with Village Bell-Ringer and Midnight Guard playing the understudy role to your blue creatures. Plus you still get other combo pieces to work with in red, like Zealous Conscripts.

#2 Snapcaster Mage

Your deck is going to be full of good cards, but you only get one copy of each. Under those circumstances, Snapcaster Mage might be even better than it is in normal Modern. And it is a pretty big deal there.

#1 Lightning Bolt

It was not even close. Lightning Bolt was mentioned two to three times as often the next closest cards. It has been a staple of Constructed formats since it was printed in Alpha. And it leaves you open to be Burn, Zoo, Splinter Twin, Storm, or just about any deck that has access to red mana. You take Bolt first, sit back and watch the other seven players settle into decks and then move into the one that is open when the picks come back to you fourteen cards later.

Of course, your mileage may vary. I am eager to hear what you think the first pick should be in this format. We are going to be playing this out in mid-April and I need all the help I can get. Decks will be 40 cards, and players will get to draft 45 cards to build their deck with. I am waiting on Twitter as @Top8Games for your thoughts.

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