Striving for Sunday

Posted in Event Coverage on August 29, 2015

By Chapman Sim

With just a few more rounds to go, the Top 4 announcement draws near. Historically, a 10-4 record pretty much ensures a spot in the final day. It is also possible to break through with five losses, but one would need the fortune of excellent tiebreakers.

First things first, (13) Shahar Shenhar's much anticipated three-peat will not be happening.

For those of you who have wagered eating hats or cinnamon powder if that happened, you should be relieved that you won't be required to honor your bet. Despite a lot of talk about the possibility of him becoming a three-time World Champion, Shenhar has had an abysmal weekend and is struggling to not come in last.

To be fair, this is an insanely difficult tournament, even for someone who has already won it twice.

"In all honesty, I am feeling a lot more pressure than I did last year," Shenhar admitted. "It seems like everyone is expecting me to do well again. I won't be going away. I still have stuff to accomplish in Magic and I'm working toward my first Pro Tour Top 8."

On the topic of difficulty, is winning the World Championship more difficult than winning a Pro Tour? While the two tournaments are vastly different, evidently it is!

All four Pro Tour Champions have fallen by the wayside. Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir Champion (7) Ari Lax and Pro Tour Fate Reforged Champion (21) Antonio Del Moral León were the first ones to burn out. Being the jovial person that Lax is, he didn't appear as sad as he should be despite his 2-10 record. Regardless, I offered him some chocolate to lift his spirits.

Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Champion Martin Dang and Pro Tour Magic Origins Champion Joel Larsson have also just picked up their sixth loss, which means that their hopes of becoming World Champion had evaporated.

"I was looking forward to make the Top 4 and beat Yuuya Watanabe in the finals," Dang said. "Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen because we're both dead."

While that was a disappointing disposition, they weren't about to lose hope because every round is still worth one precious Pro Point and thousands of dollars.

However, Dang seems to be the only person who was able to cause a dent in (4) Seth Manfield's insane record. Perhaps the most impressive story thus far is Manfield's unstoppable run thus far.

After finishing at the top of the standings yesterday with a 6-1 record, he followed that up by going 3-0 at his Magic Origins draft table. At the time of print, Manfield defeated (3) Paul Rietzl to lock up his spot in the Top 4.

That's plenty of breathing room considering there were three more rounds to go. He went on to defeat (10) Owen Turtenwald, bumping his record up to a ridiculous 12-1, literally steamrolling through the entire field.

We're at the stage of the tournament where everyone hovering in the middle of the pack is checking the standings every round, as players try to stay above that critical four loss line.

Being supremely ahead of the field does have its perks.

"I still need to keep winning though, since every match is worth one Pro Point," he said. In addition, there is also advantage to be gained if he could continue to crush his bad matchups in the Swiss rounds in order to improve his chances in the Top 4 playoffs.

Despite dropping the previous match, Turtenwald was still in a great position to make the Top 4, as were Martin Müller and Rietzl. All three players were at 8-4, and will likely only need to win one of their next two matches. Then again, they would need the stars to align and not have their tiebreakers upset.

The most incredible story next to Manfield's run is how Rietzl turned his disastrous 1-3 record around by rattling off six wins in a row. His path to resurrection and redemption did not come easy because he had to defeat Magnus Lantto, (11) Ondrej Stráský, (17) Steve Rubin, (1) Eric Froehlich, fellow playtesting buddy (8) Samuel Black, and (6) Jacob Wilson.

Also, there're a bunch of people rooting for the underdog Martin Müller. As the youngest player in this event, he also has a proportionately shorter list of achievements than most of his fellow competitors. However, he has already won a World Magic Cup, igniting his desire for yet another title.

"I'm actually in the midst of deciding whether to seriously pursue Magic as a career," he said. "I was one point short of Gold last year and I think if I had put in a little more effort, I could have made it happen. Being the youngest World Champion, even younger than Shahar Shenhar, would be an honor unlike any other and will likely motivate me to play more Magic than before."

(14) Shaun McLaren, Thiago Saporito, (24) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, (6) Jacob Wilson, (8) Sam Black) and Magus Lantto round out the list of potentials, all at 7-4 records and fighting for the lives.

As the last two rounds unfold, there will be a frenzied scramble to the top but only four will live to see the bright lights of Sunday.

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