It's the travel that bothers Brian Braun-Duin the most.
“I'm enjoying the tournaments, but the travel gets to me,” he admitted as he rested between rounds at Grand Prix Atlanta, his seventh such event in the last 12 weeks. “I used to only go to Grand Prix in driving distance, but this year I'm flying to at least every North American GP, and the travel can be rough.”
Rough it may be, but Braun-Duin will consider the hassle well worth it if it leads him to his ultimate goal: the title of Grand Prix Master a seat at the 2016 Magic World Championship.
A new qualification method for Worlds, the Grand Prix Master title is awarded to the player who accumulates the most Pro Points in Grand Prix throughout the season. Unlike the structure used to determine levels in the Pro Players Club, the Grand Prix Master title will count all Pro Points earned at Grand Prix, not just the best six finishes. It's designed to reward those who consistently perform well at the Grand Prix level across the 2015-16 season.
It's a new metric, and one that hasn't been fully explored by many. Except, that is, for Braun-Duin.
“After I made the Top 8 at Oklahoma City I looked and saw I was in second place, and that's when I thought maybe it was a realistic goal,” he said. “I decided then to commit to it.”
That commitment is what led to the increased travel load for Braun-Duin, who typically plays in 8-10 Grand Prix a year but is looking at a schedule that will feature around 20 Grand Prix, and more if he decides to travel overseas to chase the title (“It depends on how I'm doing in three or four months,” he explained). It's a workload that will mean a lot of time in airplanes and hotels, and even more in the Grand Prix trenches, all for the cause that has become his driving desire.
Brian Braun-Duin has his eyes set on the Grand Prix Master title, and hopes to kickstart his campaign with a strong performance this weekend.
It won't be an easy road, travel inconveniences aside. The current leaderboard for the Grand Prix Master race reads like a veritable who's-who of professional Magic, with such luminaries as 14th-ranked Reid Duke, fifth-ranked Paul Rietzl, No. 3 Eric Froehlich and current World Champion Seth Manfield all sitting in the top 10, with No. 2 Owen Turtenwald and No. 8 Jacob Wilson lurking right outside it.
Braun-Duin entered Grand Prix Atlanta tied for third place at 15 points with Duke, with No. 22 Fabrizio Anteri ahead at 19 points and Tomoharu Saito leading the way with 20 following his Top 8 appearance at Grand Prix Lyon two weeks ago.
“Of everyone, I think Saito will be the hardest to pass,” Braun-Duin said. “Not only does he have a little lead right now, but he travels to a ton of events. Plus, he's an excellent player.
“The advantage I think I have is that no one has put that much thought into it, besides myself. In three or four months it will really start to be a big thing, and I want to have a leg up at that point by playing in all the events I can now.”
It's a sound strategy, if a grueling one. Thus far, that hasn't slowed Braun-Duin, who has just one Top 8 to his name — a second-place finish in Oklahoma City — but has put together a series of consistent finishes that has saw him earn Pro Points at five different events, a feverish pace for the season exactly what could make the difference assuming the players near the top finish with a roughly equal number of Top 8 appearances.
No matter how the eventual winner gets there, it will be a prodigiously difficult task to earn the title and the World Championship spot. But there's at least one person who believes Braun-Duin can pull it off.
“When he sets his mind to something, he almost always accomplishes it,” said 12th-ranked Brad Nelson, himself no stranger to success on the Worlds stage after his 2010 run to Player of the Year. “He's put a lot of thought into this, and he's completely focused on the goal. He's got a great chance.”
After Braun-Duin won his Round 3 feature match in Grand Prix Atlanta to remain unbeaten, he took a few minutes to himself, thinking about the challenging path he's placed in front of him.
One match, one day, one tournament at a time. One more down.
Just a few more to go.