Hunting Platinum and Worlds

Posted in Event Coverage on May 9, 2015

By Peter Rawlings

At the start of each season, pro players set out with one ultimate goal in mind: Platinum status. With Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in the books, players are heading into the last stretch of Grand Prix before Pro Tour Magic Origins and their last chances to earn those crucial last pro points for the season. With the threshold for the coveted Platinum status recently lowered from 48 to 46 pro points, a number of players on hand in Atlantic City have found themselves tantalizingly close to that threshold.

Since only a player's top six Grand Prix performances count toward their pro point total, those in pursuit of Platinum will need to put up a strong showing here in order to outstrip their earlier finishes. For several players, a strong finish this weekend could put them on the cusp of Platinum status in advance of the Pro Tour, allowing them to close out their season with some hard-won peace of mind.

On top of that, reaching Platinum should put players right in the mix for a slot at the next Magic World Championship. No. 10 Shahar Shenhar has won the last two, and the top pros are on the hunt for a chance to unseat the reigning champion.

With 25 uncapped Grand Prix pro points, Alexander Hayne is determined to battle his way to the World Championship.

No. 24 Alexander Hayne is sitting at 37 pro points as of today, and is looking to add another Top 8 Grand Prix finish to nudge him closer to Platinum status. Coming off a victory at Grand Prix Krakow, is current sixth-best Grand Prix finish is good for a single pro point, so any improvement on that here—requiring 31 match points or more—would improve his odds heading into the end of the season.

Despite disappointing finishes in the last two Pro Tours, Hayne was able to follow up those missteps with strong finishes in the Grand Prix in their immediate aftermath—winning in Krakow and posting a Top 4 finish at Grand Prix Vancouver in the wake of Pro Tour Fate Reforged. “I'm definitely more a Constructed specialist, and better in a more known format,” he said. So while he has made less-than-perfect deck choices for the undefined formats of the Pro Tours, he has been able to adjust and bounce back in their aftermath.

In addition to edging Hayne toward Platinum, a series of strong Grand Prix finishes to end the season would have him in the running to lock down a slot in the next World Championship, which awards a place to the player with the most pro points across all Grand Prix, the previous season. “Last year I missed Worlds by a single point, even though I won three Grand Prix, so it would be nice to able to get there this year,” he said. “For me that's even more important than Platinum.”

He is currently tied for third in that race, alongside No. 17 Craig Wescoe, he said, so there's a reasonable chance that if he can get three points in Atlantic City—requiring a minimum of 12 wins—he should be in a good spot. In pursuit of that goal, he plans to hit “as many Grand Prix as I possibly can” in the final weeks of the season. On the agenda: a trip to Florence, Italy next week, followed by stops in Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Providence, Charlotte, and possibly Buenos Aires. “If I win one of those tournaments, I might not end up going to all of them,” but otherwise it will be a busy few weeks of traveling for the Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion.

“I've been preparing and practicing so, so much the last few weeks” in order to unlock Platinum status, said Ben Stark.

No. 24-ranked Ben Stark, like Hayne, arrived in Atlantic City with 37 pro points in his pocket. He has his sights set on a Top 4 finish, which would earn him five additional pro points, meaning he would only need a single additional point to secure Platinum status with the three he'll earn for showing up at the next Pro Tour.

“It really upsets me when I don't prepare well, and I don't want to punt away Platinum,” said the Hall of Famer. To avert that unfortunate fate, Stark has been practicing as much as possible in recent weeks. “I've been playing so much Magic Online,” he said. “All week long I've been playing daily events and drafting—it's been all Limited all the time for me.”

This is not a Limited format where it's easily to automatically craft a strong deck, Stark said. Whereas in Khans of Tarkir Limited, “I felt like I had a huge advantage since not everybody knew it was usually right to splash as much as you could, now I feel like I have less of an edge.”

Stark plans to put that preparation into action at any Grand Prix within a reasonable distance in the coming months—that includes all the coming North American Grand Prix, as well as Florence next week and Buenos Aires. “I won't be missing a single Grand Prix,” he said.

A slot at the World Championship, well, that would just be gravy, Stark said. It's unclear what the threshold will be to earn a spot, but players generally don't need much more than Platinum to qualify for the tournament, so a few strong finishes at the many Grand Prix he plans to attend should put him solidly in the running, he said.

 At 42 pro points, Josh Utter-Leyton is a single, solitary point from Platinum.

No. 15 Josh Utter-Leyton is so very close. With 42 pro points he needs only a slight improvement on his two worst Grand Prix finishes of the season—where he earned no pro points at all—in order to secure Platinum.

With that achievement all-but-secured, Utter-Leyton has instead set his sights on the World Championship. “Worlds is the best Magic tournament I've ever played in,” Utter-Leyton said. “It's the most competitive but also sort of casual—you know everybody there. The feel of it is so different from any other tournament.”

Utter-Leyton has qualified for all the past World Championships, and put up a Top 4 finish in 2013. He's hoping to get nine additional points from the remaining Grand Prix this season, which he expects would be enough to lock up a World Championship bid. “I'll be going to all of the North American Grand Prix until I get those points,” Utter-Leyton said.

He's had a string of recent strong performances, finishing in the Top 16 at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir as well as Grand Prix Liverpool and Grand Prix Cleveland—both Limited format tournaments. Between those showings, and an earlier Limited Top 8 at Grand Prix Baltimore, Utter-Leyton seems to have a firm grasp on things in Tarkir, and he's hoping that proves true yet again in Atlantic City.

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