Between Friends

Posted in GRAND PRIX DALLAS/FORT WORTH 2015 on July 25, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

Pascal Maynard walked to his seat, deckbox in hand, and sat down across from his next opponent, fully aware of what was on the line in this match. His nerves were on edge and his heart racing as he squared off against his toughest foe of the day.

Staring back at him from across the table sat Alexander Hayne, one of the most-feared players on the circuit. The pair shuffled up and played a tense match, one that Hayne ultimately won.

It's a scene that has played out countless times over the years, and may again before the weekend — and the race for the most Grand Prix Pro Points to secure a World Championship berth — is over.

With one key difference. The match wasn't between two practiced veterans — truly, two of the best in the world, as evidenced by the 81 Pro Points between the pair this year — but between two kids playing in the Magic Scholarship Series. Nine years ago.

The birth of #HaynevMaynard.

The Hashtag

It's not just a social media tactic — it's the most engaging and dramatic race since Brad Nelson and Guillaume Matignon squared off in a best-of-seven for the 2010 Player of the Year title.

Neither player is any stranger to success. No. 25 Ranked Player Alexander Hayne already has a Pro Tour title and four Grand Prix wins to his name, while Maynard has nine Grand Prix Top 8 finishes. Both are excellent representatives of the now-potent Canadian Magic scene, and both entered this season with high hopes.

Alexander Hayne Miracle'd his way onto the scene when he won Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in 2012.

Not that the season started exactly the way they wanted. Hayne, who set the goal of making it to the World Championship after missing out on tiebreakers last year, wasn't able to work his way into the top four of the North American standings to earn an automatic invite, and for a time it looked like he was doomed to miss out again.

That is, until an unexpected win at Grand Prix Krakow in April catapulted him back into the race, if not quite in the way he expected.

"For a long time it was Pascal and Teruya Kakumae who were leading the Grand Prix points race, and I wasn't in it until GP Krakow," Hayne recalled. "After that I was only a few points behind and then two weeks later in Atlantic City I came in second at the GP and moved up."

With that, the Grand Prix Pro Points race was on. It may not be the first way pros think of qualifying for the 24-person World Championship, but it's as viable as any other. The slot goes to the player who earns the most Pro Points in Grand Prix alone, and — unlike the points that count toward a player's standing in the Pro Players Club — there is no limit to the number of Grand Prix finishes that count.

Thus the hashtag was born. Since then, it's been a back-and-forth race between the two, who have traded the lead and momentum all summer.

Hayne took the lead after Atlantic City, and it was Maynard's turn to worry. That is, until a memorable Top 8 finish at Grand Prix Las Vegas brought him a little closer. Still in search of points to reach Platinum (he's six short entering this weekend), Maynard decided last month to take more risks with his travel. That meant a trip to Buenos Aires and a brilliant run to the title that tied the race with two events to go. Not to be outdone, Hayne then picked up three points in Montreal to take a narrow lead into the final Grand Prix of the season this weekend.

"Three or four months ago I would never have said this would happen," Maynard admitted. "After a few GPs I was giving up; I thought they were too far ahead. I was going to keep going to GPs because I'm chasing Platinum, but then I won GP Buenos Aires to tie, so it was like 'I guess I'm back in it.'"

Maynard may be back in the race, but Hayne has no plans to let him stay there.

"Playing in Worlds means a lot to me," he said. "I missed last year on tiebreakers, and I do not intend to miss again."

There's no doubt the rivalry in the race is strong, not unlike their memorable match as kids playing for scholarship money almost a decade ago. In many ways, it's always been Hayne versus Maynard.

Except in the ways that matter most.

Beyond the Battlefield

Any casual observer of premier Magic knows about the race the two Canadians are in. They know about the difficulty of the travel schedule, and they know that it's been stressful on the players (Hayne admitted he's lost sleep over the race). They know about the spectacle that is the World Championship, and they know how important it is to Hayne and Maynard to beat each other to make it there.

What they may not know is that the pair are also best friends.

"Pascal was the first reasonable player I played against in Magic," Hayne said. "The Magic Scholarship series nine years ago, that was the first time I met him. After that we started playing together. In fact, the second GP I ever played in was on a road trip with Pascal. Everyone else went out and we were the only two left in the hotel room. We hung out, and that's when we really started to bond."

The pair of longtime friends joke around in between matches, even while they compete for a coveted World Championship berth.

Both players have strangers walk up to them and comment on the race, all the while not knowing that inside the friends are laughing along even as they play up the drama of the race.

"We grinded PTQs, together," Maynard said. "We helped build team Mana Deprived, which became Team Face To Face, together. We played in five Pro Tours in a row, together. And now we're in this race, together. If either of us wins, I'll be happy."

Teammates first; rivals second. It's been a decade-long journey for the duo and, despite the pressure of the moment, they appreciate the unique situation they're in.

Regardless of the outcome, this is one race they're happy to finish together.

"There was a point where we both grinding PTQs and looking for our first break, and I'm sure there are a lot of players out there like us, where they and their friends push each other to be better in tournaments," Hayne said. "We were there.

"Now, I guess we've made it."