Scratching the Surface of PT Journey into Nyx

Posted in The Week That Was on May 23, 2014

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.

There was a moment during the weekend of live coverage of Pro Tour Journey into Nyx where Dan Jordan was on camera, and I thought about what could have been for the twenty-two-year-old Gold pro.

He has played in just a dozen Pro Tours and already has made the Top 16 in three of those events. A couple of tiebreaker points to the left, a top deck to the right, and we could be talking about Dan Jordan with bated breath, as one of the best young players in the game as he jets around the world with his Platinum membership card to the Pro Players Club tucked into his pocket. Instead, we're left to wonder what could have been and what could still be.

Pro Tour Journey into Nyx was an amazing event with so many great storylines paying off on Sunday. Jamie Parke making the most of his PT invite to get a third Pro Tour Top 8 in a third different decade. Nam Sung Wook becoming the first South Korean player to stride onto the Sunday stage at this level of play. Reid Duke finally getting the monkey of "best player without a Top 8" off his back. And Patrick Chapin hoisting a trophy after excelling at this game for the better part of two decades, going all the way back to the Juniors Pro Tour in Dallas 1996.

Those players all had the spotlight shine on them this weekend with profiles and on-camera elimination matches. But once a Pro Tour is concluded, I like to look just below the cutoff mark at the next eight players. Pro Tour Top 8s may be the exciting stat when you look at a Magic player's career, but the bread and butter for those players involve posting strong finishes and getting large chunks of Pro Points to set them up for the coming season. Each of these players won $5,000 and 15 Pro Points for finishing in the Top 16, but just short of the Top 8, in Atlanta.

9th Place—Joel Larsson

Sweden's Joel Larsson has only been playing on the Pro Tour since 2010, when he debuted at PT San Diego. Since then, he has posted one other Top 16, as well as a 2nd-place finish at Pro Tour Gatecrash last season. His finish this time around was a result of an unintentional draw with Josh Utter-Leyton in the last round that allowed Jamie Parke to sneak into the Top 8—something that would have been less likely had Larsson and Utter-Leyton ended up with the same point total.

He worked with Team Elaborate Ruse and felt that the atmosphere around the team just keeps getting better each time out.

"This time, Matej [Zatlkaj] really brought together a group that really wanted to be there and was testing to their fullest, and the chemistry was absolutely great," said the twenty-two-year-old Gold Pro, who vaulted past the 30-point mark for this season with his finish.

"Top 16 means I will again have the lead as the captain for the World Magic Cup [Swedish National team], and it puts me in reach for that precious Platinum level that I have been so close to for two seasons in a row. Now with 32 points, I can try to achieve 3 more points before Pro Tour Magic 2015 to be able to grasp it with a top 25—a goal I would like to achieve!"

His Top 16 finish might not have happened if not for his willingness to continue playing in the face of a seemingly unwinnable game—which he and his teammates refer to as "a Reid Duke."

He was deep into a game against a Bant player and had just one dead card in his hand. Despite having an Elspeth on 7 loyalty, he saw no way to win, since his opponent could just attack his Planeswalker with Prognostic Sphinx. Courser of Kruphix was in play on both sides of the table and the cards on the top of each deck offered no outs to Larsson.

"His top revealed card was Kiora, while mine was a Sylvan Caryatid, which meant it looked far beyond bad," explained Larsson. "So the idea for my opponent was simple: attack Elspeth down to 4 loyalty, then kill me easily in two turns. He drew for his turn and revealed Ajani, Mentor of Heroes. Very excited and quickly he played Kiora, using her minus ability to draw Ajani, and then he put all the counters on Prognostic Sphinx, which was now lethal."

Larsson's opponent could not wait to get to the attack phase, but the Swedish player was holding his one-off main-deck Reprisal which suddenly could target the Sphinx. His opponent had to save the flier by discarding a card and tapping his own creature before attackers. Larsson was able to untap and ultimate his Elspeth to send his bogged-down board of creatures to the air for the unlikely win.

10th Place—Jared Boettcher

The twenty-two-year-old American player caught the attention of Magic fans when he landed in 9th place at Pro Tour Born of the Gods in his Pro Tour debut. Since then, he has posted a GP Top 8 and was able to draw his final round of this Pro Tour to finish in the Top 16 for the second time in two Pro Tour attempts. At his first Pro Tour he played the unlikely Ad Nauseam combo in Modern, and for this tournament he was one of the lone aggro players anywhere near the top tables with his White-Blue Heroic deck.

Whatever drummer's beats he is marching to should keep it on a permanent loop in his headphones. When he shook hands with Martell in that last round, it meant that he was accomplishing multiple goals that most players do not get to with just a pair of Pro Tours under their belt.

"My highlight was locking Platinum by the end of the weekend, and probably Rookie of the Year," said Boettcher, who is a full 12 points ahead of that race, with few people near him even qualified to play in Portland. Should that lead hold up, it would also put Boettcher in one of the highly coveted seats for the World Championship. The stakes for every single match of the tournament were extremely high—even all the way back in Round 3, when Boettcher's opponent attacked a 12/12 Hydra Broodmaster at him while he was at 14 life.

"He swings with mana open and cards in hand," recalled Boettcher. "My swing back is lethal, so I take it and ask if I'm dead; I survive and win that round. I was shaking and tanked for a good two minutes on my decision."

Despite the substantial lead, you can still expect to see Boettcher playing every weekend he can get himself to a tournament, perhaps looking to improve his position in the Top 25 Pro Rankings, where he just debuted as No. 23.

11th Place—Ben Friedman

Ben Friedman is something of a colorful character. When I saw him on Thursday, before the Pro Tour, he was sporting a sleeveless Face to Face Games T-shirt and was explaining some sort of friendly wager that would have led to him having to have reattached the sleeves with staples and wear the shirt throughout the weekend. Friedman is just twenty-one years old and has been playing on the Pro Tour since his debut in 2010 at PT San Juan. His previous best finish on the Pro Tour was a Top 32 at PT Philadelphia 2011.

While many players are driven by Pro Club levels and seeing if they can string together a Magic career, Friedman seems to be driven by something else. He certainly wants to qualify for the Pro Tour again, but he seems more motivated by getting the opportunity to hang out with his friends, such as Alex Majlaton, who he refers to as his "Day Ones."

Friedman, who possesses a gaudy Limited win rate of 70% at Grand Prix, credited a teammate with the Limited strategy that propelled to him a 5–1 record in the Draft portion of the event.

"I had a strong Draft record in part due to trusting Jacob Wilson's sage advice," said Friedman. "You can draft anything you want, as long as it is red, white, or blue."

12th Place—Stu Somers

This was the Pro Tour debut for twenty-nine-year-old Stu Somers, thanks to his win at a Charleston PTQ. Despite being new to the Pro Tour, Somers has been playing the game since 1994. He credits becoming roommates with PTQ grinder Steve Rubin for elevating his game in recent months. With his Top 16 finish, he is qualified for Pro Tour Magic 2015 in Portland, which is a good thing, since he seems to have acquired a taste for it.

"The highlight of any event I go to is getting to see friends I don't normally see, like Raymond Perez or Ari Lax," said the first-time PT competitor. "As for the tournament itself, my highlight was easily getting a feature in Round 16 with Ben Friedman. I had been up at the top tables for most of the tournament, yet always seemed to just miss out on a feature. Being up at the stage was definitely a great experience and one I hope to experience many more times."

Somers got off to a strong start in his debut by going 3–0 in his Day One draft pod, but if he is going to repeat that start, it will have to be drafting Khans of Tarkir.

"I unfortunately cannot make it to the Pro Tour in Portland due to my brother's wedding, so I will be at the Pro Tour in Honolulu next," said Somers. "I am currently sitting at 16 points on the season and need 4 more for Silver. I only have so much free time with my new job starting this past week, so I plan to at least get to GP Chicago and GP DC before the season ends. There is an outside shot I can make it to GP Boston as well. After a disappointing finish to my 9–0 start at GP Cincinnati earlier this year and just missing cashing at GP Philadelphia, I am eager to get another shot at the Top 8 of a Grand Prix. Not having to PTQ for the rest of the year also means I get to play a whole lot of Vintage in the coming months."

13th Place—Paul Rietzl

Four-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Paul Rietzl is on the short list of players in the mix for a precious Hall of Fame ring this summer—a fifth Top 8 would have pushed him into slam-dunk territory. He picked up a fatal loss to eventual quarterfinalist Stanislav Cifka in Round 14. He won his last two rounds against Conley Woods and Yuuya Watanabe to lock up the precious Pro Points needed for Platinum. A full-time job means he does not get to play in as many GPs as other players and needs to maximize his PT appearances.

While the loss to Cifka may have been the killing blow, he was already bleeding profusely from a previous match against a Pro Tour Hall of Famer.

"I'm going to remember my match against Jon Finkel in Round 13 for a while," sighed Rietzl. "I would have killed him on turn six of extra turns in Game 3, but the pace of the match (my fault as much as his) prevented it from coming to an organic conclusion. Had to settle for a draw, which may have kept me from the Top 8."

The twenty-eight-year-old Rietzl, who has been on the Pro Tour for an impossibly long time for someone younger than first-time competitor Stu Somers, took great joy in watching some of the players who have grown up in the game with him experiencing success.

"The highlight was definitely seeing Patrick Chapin get a long-awaited championship trophy, Jamie Parke get back to the Top 8, and Reid Duke get the monkey off his back. So happy for all of them. All three are very high on the list of 'if it couldn't be me, I'd like X to win,'" said Rietzl, who felt pretty confident that he had all but locked up an at-large bid for the World Championship.

"Ever since I first watched Tom Martell take Grizzly Bears over Sengir Vampire, I knew this was a tournament I had to play."

14th Place—Tom Martell

Despite having debuted at Pro Tour Chicago 2000, this was only the eighteenth Pro Tour of Martell's career—a career that has taken off over the past few seasons. Martell made it back to the Pro Tour for PT San Juan, and since then has posted three Top 32s, four Top 16s, and a pair of Top 8s—including his win at Pro Tour Gatecrash—to become one of the most dominating players on the Pro circuit during that time.

Martell pointed to the success of another member of his team—The Pantheon—as his tournament highlight.

"Definitely watching Patrick Chapin hoist that trophy," said Martell. "I've never seen him as locked in and focused as he was all week. I was not surprised he took it down."

Martell, who drew with Jared Boettcher in the last round, was able to cross plenty of things off his 2014 to-do list with his finish.

"My Top 16 finish means I don't have to worry about Pro Points for the rest of the season, as I've locked Platinum and look good for Worlds," said Martell, who flew home after the tournament to his full-time job and some grumbling about airfare. "The only real implication it has is I am skipping the GP in Atlanta this weekend."

15th Place—Eric Froehlich

If you follow the social media of some of the more famous Magic players, you may have seen an interesting thread on the Facebook wall of Eric Froehlich—a player known as much for his prodigious skill at the game of Magic as for his struggles with the ebb and flow of the game (a polite way of saying "tilt").

"After starting the tournament 4–0 and finding myself out of Top 8 contention with a 6–4 record early in Day Two, I was even more upset/tilted than I usually am and took to Facebook during a lunch break to ask people how they handle losing," recalled Froehlich. "I got some great and insightful answers from tons of friends, both online and live at the tournament. It was some great motivation and helped get my head in the right spot at the end of the day, not to mention all the amazing support I got from a new friend in SKT, who helped me more than anybody. I managed to pull out five straight wins in mostly extremely close and tight matches to pick up the Top 16 I so badly wanted/needed."

The finish exceeded Froehlich's goals coming into the tournament, but, like many of the other players who have been competing for as long as he has, he was mostly excited by the success of his friends in the Top 8—Chapin, Parke, and Utter-Leyton.

"It was all amazing. Couple that with some of my other best friends in the world getting the results they needed—with Paul Rietzl's Top 16 locking him for Platinum and a likely invitation to Worlds and my roommate William Jensen getting the finish he needed to lock up Platinum as well. All fantastic results that really made this PT one to remember for me."

16th Place—Michael Majors

You may recall Michael Majors's name from the first time we did a roundup of the Top 16 finishers from a Pro Tour this season—he finished 14th at Pro Tour Theros. Like Boettcher, he will be one of the players I am paying close attention to in the coming season and in Portland. Of course, coming into the event, Majors did not know if he would get that chance.

"This Pro Tour was extremely important to me, and going into the tournament, nothing less than a Top 25 was acceptable," he explained of his mindset coming into the tournament. "Although I had 22 Pro points, I was in the unique position of not actually being qualified for Portland, and as a result had a high amount of variance between placing myself in a great shot for Gold or Platinum, and simply remaining Silver next year. The fact that it was a local tournament both gave me quite the advantage in terms of support, but also made me place a ton of pressure on myself to succeed. I was already thrilled to have reached my goal when I won my last match, but finding out that I had made an extra $2,500 and 5 Pro Points by less than a percentage point was nothing short of a blessing, and being surrounded by friends when it happened made the experience incredible."

His entire tournament came down to a decision to keep a hand with two lands and Voyaging Satyr in Game 3 of the last round of the Swiss.

"After bricking on my scry and first draw step, the moment between the second card leaving the top of my deck and entering my hand—a Forest—felt like an eternity. It was probably the most valuable draw step of my life, as a friend commented after: 'a $15,000 land.'" Majors parlayed that Forest into his second Top 16 finish.

"Now at 37 points, I have locked up Gold and am 5 points away from Platinum, including the minimum finish from Portland. With only two GP finishes so far, I will be aggressively pursuing the rest of the domestic GPs before the last PT. I am in a good position to fulfill a childhood dream, and do not plan on squandering the opportunity."

You can expect to see Majors—as well as many of the other players who performed well this past weekend—via the live video coverage of Grand Prix Atlanta. When I reluctantly left the city on Tuesday, I was leaving behind a hotel lobby chock full of Magic players from all corners of the globe and what should be a star-studded weekend of Theros Block Limited.

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