This is the second time these two have met in the feature match area today—in both draft pods. Pro Tour Hall of Fame member (4) Paul Rietzl and Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch champion Jianchen “JC” Tao are both sitting at 11-2 with two rounds to go. For one player, this would be the last match of Top 8 hopes.
These two actually have a lot in common, but are on opposite ends of their careers. Both have full-time careers, only traveling lightly to Grands Prix, and are quite content with that. However, whereas JC just earned his first Pro Tour win, Rietzl adds to his own win, three more Top 8s and sits in the Hall of Fame. And heck, Rietzl has 14 Grand Prix Top 8s to JC’s 0. These are two similarly situated life-wise, just in different moments on their Magic timeline.
JC has just begun to consider what a life of Magic would entail, but Rietzl decided long ago that he would always be half-in, half-out. Rietzl said he’s always been a long-term planner, and that traveling lifestyle wouldn’t line up with what he wanted out of life. Additionally, he said something that echoed what Neal Oliver said yesterday. He said that playing Magic competitively is inherently self-centered. “You have to be; you have to be concerned with your results in your game.” And that troubled him a bit on a macrocosmic level.
“I worry that I’m self-centered sometimes. Like, yesterday, Matt [Sperling] asked how I finished up. I told him how I did, and a story and all, and then I didn’t ask him about himself. It just didn’t come to my mind.” To anyone who’s interacted with Rietzl would know that his personal fear is misplaced, but he thinks it’s justified. Maybe on the grand scale it is. Rietzl worried that shaping his life around the tournament might have increased those effects. Neal Oliver made apparent how he avoids that pratfall while engaging positively in the game. But Rietzl has his own way.
JC has his choices ahead of him—and the considered person he is, he’s surely weighing the options appropriately. Right now though, he was weighing how best to score his first-ever Grand Prix Top 8. And get his resumé looking more like Rietzl’s.
Both decks were very strong. JC was on Blue-Black Madness, while Rietzl had drafted Red-Black Vampires full of all the vampire madness you could want. If the Hall of Famer could get out of the gates guns blazing, JC would have a hard time catching up. But with just a few stumbles from the other side, JC could stabilize too early to ever allow momentum to shift bavk.
And in the first game, boy did Rietzl stumble. Tao was on a tear. He used Reckless Scholar to both see more cards, and filter things away with Nagging Thoughts. All the while he was building up low-drop blue and black creatures, capping with a recursive Prized Amalgam.
Rietzl had nothing. His three land were lonely, and were looking for friends.
Rietzl couldn’t get any offense mounted. After missing his fourth land drop, he cast what he hoped to be a board stabilizer, Olivia Mobilized for War. Tao casually cast Deny Existence then followed up with Startled Awake—threatening to end the game in short order. Rietzl thought about continuing to play, then decided he wanted to start the game anew. He scooped up the cards.
Both Ben Seck and Jamie Parke observing thought Rietzl might have scooped prematurely. But Rietzl was confident. “I think I was 1%; I think I was under 1%.” The two observers sounded like they talked Rietzl up from his original number, but eventually Rietzl just had to shrug and move on.
Hoping for a better draw in the second game, Rietzl started with Insolate Neonate and Sanguinary Mage.
But again, Rietzl stumbled on lands.
And again, Tao made him pay for it.
Drunau Corpse Trawler, Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice, and again Prize Amalgam kept up pressure on an aggro deck firing on two cylinders. Rietzl kept up appearances, but the game was not getting any better than the first. Eventually he extended his hand.
“Sometimes these things happen,” Rietzl said. He was rattled for a moment, but then shrugged it off, and in two minutes was back to his normal self. “I’m confident that I’ve [had people’s mana messed up] more times than I’ve been [stuck with messed up mana].” Rietzl feels comfortable in his engagement with Magic as a whole, and wasn’t going to let one match rattle that, even one as frustrating at that was.
As he walked away from the table, he joked to Ben Seck, “Went to a GP, lost a win-and-in three times in a row. At least I’m famous.”
Jiachen Tao was happy with the result, if not the process. He was well on his way to securing his first Grand Prix Top 8. Tao has his whole Magic career ahead of him. And there’s tons of change he can choose to make going forward. Whether he sticks to his workaday guns or chooses a lifestyle more centered around the community, words of wisdom like both Neal Oliver’s and Paul Rietzl’s serve as amazing guides.
One more round to go for Jiachen Tao.