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Have you ever had one of those dreams where you studied for a test, and then on the day of the exam—through a series of wardrobe malfunctions and leaden legs—you find yourself frustrated in your attempts to complete the test? I imagine that is how I would have felt in Ricky Chin's seat heading into Round 3 of his first Pro Tour, after playing Magic for thirteen years and starting out Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar with a 0-2 record. It would have been easy to spiral out from there and start looking to move your return flight up a day, but Chin kept his head down to focus on each round of the match at hand. When he looked up, it was time to take a picture for his Top 8 profile.
How was he able to keep his emotions in check and thrust himself to the top of the Rookie of the Year race? Chin, a 27-year-old financial advisor who hails from Quebec, Canada, was initially drawn to Magic as a teenager by the social aspects of the game in high school. He was not even aware of the competitive aspects of the game until he came back during the Return to Ravnica block.
"I played at my local game store's FNMs, and I won most of them for almost a year. I needed a bigger challenge, that's when I started looking for Grand Prix's and PTQs. After my first Grand Prix—GP Montreal 2014—I knew I wanted to play more competitive Magic. The challenges I saw during that event really got me hooked," said Chin of his decision to start trying to qualify for the Pro Tour.
He began playing in PTQs that year and, as he watched people he knew qualify, felt confident that he could play well enough to join them. That thought kept him playing through a string of disappointing finishes. He played in more than half a dozen PTQs before they were replaced with the new RPTQ system. He failed to qualify for the first RPTQ, but managed to time his first invite with the start of the current season when he made Top 4 in the second RPTQ season along with his friend—and playtest partner for the PT—Maxime Auger.
"Winning the RPTQ with a friend was really awesome! I was really happy for him. It also made it easier to plan the trip to Milwaukee. I had someone to hang out and playtest with," said Chin, whose Top 8 finish overshadowed a solid Pro Tour debut for Auger, who also made Day Two and finished with an 8-8 record.
Coming into the tournament, both Chin and Auger would have gladly signed up for any record that let them play all the way through the end of Day Two. Chin was hoping he could finish in the money, but his primary goal was to get as much experience under his belt as possible at the highest level of play. So what was the secret to righting the ship after getting off to such a rough start?
"I knew that the tournament would be really hard, so my morale wasn't affected by the two losses," said Chin. "It might have even helped me, because at that point, I was focused only on my next match and all the goals I had set were out the window already. I wasn't even looking at my overall score. I didn't feel any stress or pressure the entire tournament."
Ricky Chin plays in a feature match at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.
As soon as he made the Top 8, the deluge of congratulatory messages and friend requests started lighting up his phone—but it was the experience of meeting people at Grand Prix Quebec City the next weekend that really drove home what a life-changing event making the Top 8 of a Pro Tour can be.
"So many people who I didn't know before came up to me to either congratulate me, or to tell a personal story about how my Top 8 at the PT motivated them to keep grinding Magic tournaments to one day reach the Pro Tour," he said. "It was an amazing experience."
Chin has 21 Pro Points so far this season. He is able to convert his Top 8 into two Pro Tour invites, which means he is guaranteed 27 points at the very least. His goal is to lock up Gold status this year, which will mean finding 6 more points between now and the end of the season.
"For 2015, I plan on going to GP Pittsburgh with some of my friends. In 2016, there are 11 GPs that I might attend—I think that 7 GPs are before the end of the 2015–2016 season. I'll see how next year goes, month after month, and adjust accordingly," said Chin, who not only leads the Rookie of the Year race but is also one tick off from the lead for Constructed Master.
A Splash of Hotsauce
It is fitting that we checked in with RPTQ winner Ricky Chin this week, because last weekend was the Modern RPTQ weekend for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. Hundreds and hundreds of players were looking to fight their way onto the Pro Tour. As we build up to the Pro Tour itself, we often talk to the major teams preparing for the event. One of the characteristics of those teams is a roster with little turnover and plenty of Gold and Platinum pros.
It is, however, harder to keep a team together and moving forward when the players change each event. For Team Hotsauce Games, this RPTQ weekend was huge for increasing the stability of their roster. They had multiple members secure an invite this weekend—including former Rookie of the Year Raymond Perez Jr., who earned his invite by making the Top 8 of Grand Prix Indianapolis.
University of Minnesota Duluth student Greg Orange had a great season last year. He made the Top 8 of a Grand Prix and finished ninth at a Pro Tour, but still found himself short of Gold with 31 points on the season. By virtue of his Silver status, he found himself doubly qualified for the RPTQ weekend—he also made Top 8 last season, but failed to make the Top 4 needed to qualify.
"I attended the RPTQ in Burnsville, Minnesota. The RPTQ wasn't that big—there were 56 players. There were around 70 at the previous one, but I imagine that some people traveled to the Indianapolis RPTQ because of the GP. I recognized many local Minnesota players there, including Matthias Hunt," said Orange of the tournament that yielded him an invite for the upcoming Pro Tour. "I played Grixis Twin. It was the deck I played in GP Oklahoma city, and it was good enough to get me fifteenth place there."
Orange knew that several of his teammates had also qualified and was looking forward to preparing with them and hopefully reaching his goal for the current season.
"I would really like to make Gold this season and play in all of the Pro Tours."
Ben Moir has been playing Magic since Darksteel, and believed this was the seventh time he qualified for the Pro Tour. He played in a 60-person RPTQ at Face to Face Games in Toronto.
"Out of the about 60 people there, the most recognizable player was Lucas Siow, the one person I would prefer not to have to play. I've been somewhat out of the loop concerning Modern, so a friend of mine who's already qualified for Atlanta gave me his Splinter Twin list. The deck looked great, and performed great, except when all four Twins got clogged in my hand—I lost a lot of Game 1s."
For Moir, getting as many repetitions on the Pro Tour as possible—and working with players who he can learn from—is his immediate goal.
"I'm excited to start preparing for the PT with Team Hotsauce Games. I've worked with them on all the PTs I was qualified for last year, and I learned a lot. My goal is to keep learning from the great players I've got the opportunity to play with, and hopefully stay on the PT long enough to cobble together some good finishes."
A third member who will be joining Orange and Moir is Adam Jansen, who has been playing Magic on and off since 1995. Magic is woven throughout his life, as both his wife—whom he met through Magic—and his son also play. You may remember Jansen as the player who often uses tokens that are illustrated for him by his young son.
"I played in several Pro Tours in the '90s and then got back for PT Theros," said Jansen, who will be playing in his seventeenth career Pro Tour in Atlanta. "I have played in all three RPTQs that have occurred so far, although this was the first one where I didn't have a Silver invite to use as a backup. I attended the RPTQ in Indianapolis. We had an attendance that was just short of qualifying for eight slots, with 127 players. The field had a lot of good players who I recognized from around the Midwest. I played Jund in the tournament, because it is the deck I have the most experience with."
Mark Nestico is a Magic writer on the Select side of StarCityGames.com who first qualified for the Pro Tour last year at PT Dragons of Tarkir, in one of the last PTQs before the new system completely supplanted them.
"The RPTQ system gave me that shot again, as I was able to win a local tournament and then battle through an absolutely stacked Florida RPTQ to get back on the Tour. It was difficult, but extremely rewarding," said Nestico. "The field was one of the most intimidating I've ever seen at an event, featuring about 40 of the best players in the state. We featured SCG circuit standouts John Cuvelier, Logan Mize, and Brad Carpenter, GP Charlotte Champion Michael Malone, Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Steve Mann, former US Champion Antonino De Rosa, and more. The RPTQ set the standard for competition in my mind."
Nestico went to battle with the Naya Zoo deck (designed by Patrick Sullivan) that his editor, Cedric Phillips, played in the Modern Super League.
"It's extremely powerful and ridiculously punishing of an opponent's mistakes," he said as to why he chose the deck. "Due to the redundancy of some of the best one-drop creatures in Magic history as well as the best burn spells, you're able to project your will onto your opponent with incredible ferocity. I think of this version of Naya Zoo as like the kind of running back in football that always makes you hold your breath when they get the handoff, because every time they touch the ball you expect something huge to happen."
Nestico had the opportunity to work with Ari Lax's Team BMK Gaming for his first Pro Tour in Brussels, and was looking forward to working with them again.
"I honestly learned more with that group than I ever thought possible, so getting back to a team of that caliber is my highest priority," he said.
Another player who qualified at that same Florida RPTQ was Antonino De Rosa, who has played on both the US and Italian National teams in his career and has eleven Grand Prix Top 8s—with four wins—to go along with a Pro Tour Top 8 appearance. These days, De Rosa lives in Curacao, and was a little out of touch with which players in the room had ascended to being formidable.
"People I recognized when I got there were Keith McLaughlin, John Iglesias, and John Cuvelier. Those players were good when I played fifteen years ago. I am kinda out of the loop on who is good at Magic these days. Later one of my friends who was there told me that I played against Michael Malone, the GP Charlotte Champion, and PT Top 8 competitor Steve Mann."
De Rosa plays a fair amount of MTGO and focuses his energy on the Modern format, so he knew exactly which deck he was going to bring to the tables for the RPTQ—even if he didn't think it was the best deck in the format.
"I played Grixis Delver. I don't think it's the best deck—not even one of the top three decks in the format. But [with it] I do think you have game versus every single deck in the format. I feel you never have a non-winnable matchup. Serum Visions and Lighting Bolt are the best Modern cards. I think Delver of Secrets and Young Pyromancer are the best threats versus other blue decks, since you can play them before your opponent can counter them."
Want more on RPTQ winners? You can find a bevy of decklists in today's Organized Play.