If you look at the top Europeans in this season's Pro Point Standings, then you will find many well-known names: Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar Top 8 competitor Martin Müller, three-time Grand Prix champion Fabrizio Anteri, Pro Tour Fate Reforged winner Antonio Del Moral Léon, two-time World Champion Shahar Shenhar, Magic Online Champion Magnus Lantto, and two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Ondřej Stráský.
Clicking on any of those player's names will take you to a short interview from earlier this year. But just behind these heavyweights in this season's European Pro Standings is a player who, to most fans, may be relatively unknown.
Who is Petr Sochůrek? Hailing from Prague, the 21-year old had decent runs at Grand Prix events this season and a 32nd-place finish at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, and as a result he has already racked up 18 Pro Points. He is also qualified for the next two Pro Tours, and Ondřej Stráský called him "one of the Top 3 players in Europe right now." More than enough reason to sit down with Sochůrek to learn more about his background, his rivalry with Stráský, and his ideas on improving as a player.
His Magic Beginnings
Sochůrek picked up the game around 2006. "Several guys came to school with these Magic cards, and I learned the game from them. The first deck I built was a green/black dredge deck, but I didn't know how dredge worked, so I just replaced the dredge cards with huge green Wurms and added some extra cards. So it became a random black-green creature deck in the end with like 80 cards. Still, I eventually became the best player in my class, so I started looking for better opponents. I went to the local store and started improving.
"The first competitive deck I ever played was Kithkin at a Pro Tour Qualifier around 2007. Because I was small and cute, I apparently looked like a Kithkin. So people started calling me Kithkin, and that turned to Kiki. It has stuck around as my nickname."
His First Magic Travels Abroad
"A player who was instrumental in my improvement in the game was Lukas Blohon. He is from Prague as well, so we saw each other often at tournaments in the local store. When I was 16, he took me to a Grand Prix where I had my first money finish: Grand Prix Barcelona 2011. I shared a room with him, Martin Jůza, and Shuhei Nakamura; played Caw-Blade; and finished 50th. They probably needed another guy for the room, and I was lucky enough to be that guy."
After that, it still took Sochůrek a while to qualify for his first Pro Tour: last year's Pro Tour Born of the Gods in Valencia. "I qualified by finishing 9th with a 13-2 record at Grand Prix Vienna. I did well at the Pro Tour, finishing 16th with Merfolk. I played the deck a lot back then and still like it, but I would avoid playing it at a competitive event nowadays. It can never beat Affinity, and I prefer a deck that has a decent matchup against everything so that I can try to outplay opponents."
That attitude is illustrated by Sochůrek's favorite Magic card, Venser, Shaper Savant. "The card is good, but not overpowered, and there are so many things you can do with it. It has everything I like about Magic."
After Pro Tour Born of the Gods, Sochůrek participated in five more Pro Tours. He hasn't been able to improve on that 16th-place finish yet, but he was happy to finish 32nd at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar two weeks ago.
His Rivalry with Ondřej Stráský
Sochůrek is not the only young player from the Czech Republic who has been doing well at the highest level of competition recently. "I've been a friend of Ondřej Stráský for a long time," Sochůrek told me, "and we've always been trying to trump each other. I was first to get a Pro Point. Then he was the first to play a Pro Tour. Then I was the first to Top 16 a Pro Tour. And then, last year, he went completely over the top by being the first to make a Pro Tour Top 8, then another, and Platinum status as well. So I was a bit frustrated that his results from the past season were so much on another level, and that motivated me to push forward this year."
His rival Ondřej Stráský had some kind words to share about Sochůrek. “I think Kiki is in the Top 3 players in Europe," he said. "Martin Müller is probably number one, but Kiki is really good too. He plays a lot; when he picks a deck, he plays it all the time and becomes really good with it. Whenever I talk about a game play situation with him, I feel like he understands it way more than I do. Plus he has great hair!”
His Srengths and Weaknesses
"The weakest part of my game may be that I sometimes miss something completely obvious. For instance, several years ago, I was in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour Qualifier where I had boarded in Jump to kill Illusionary Servant. Eventually the game came down to a situation where my opponent was at 2 life while I had a 2/2 in play and Jump in hand. However, I only thought about the card as a way to kill creatures and I lost. I also tend to play super badly when I'm tired or nervous. The Pro Tour always starts with draft, so I never do well in those rounds. Even though I don't feel I'm better at Constructed than at Limited, my Constructed records have been better at the Pro Tour.
"The best part of my game may be that I notice the mistakes that I'm making. Many players like to complain a lot about their luck, but I prefer to focus on the things that I could've done differently. I make at least one mistake per game, maybe more. There's always something that I could have done differently, from making a different attack to sideboarding differently. I believe that if you play completely flawlessly, then you will rarely lose. So if you lose a lot, then you shouldn't complain or think about things that you can't change, but you should realize that you could have probably made better plays. So that's my main advice to new players: Be objective and don't complain."
His Magic Goals for This Season
Like most top Magic players, Sochůrek was striving to gather enough Pro Points at Grand Prix or Pro Tour events to reach a threshold in the Pro Players Club. You need 18 points for Silver, 33 points for Gold, and 50 points for Platinum. Gold is the level that qualifies you for all Pro Tours and comes with flights to those events as well, and it is the goal that Sochůrek set for himself this season.
"I have already locked Silver, and I need nine more points (on top of the ones that I get for attending the Pro Tours that I'm already qualified for) for Gold. I'm almost certainly going to play all the European GPs in an attempt to reach it.
"Currently I'm going to school, studying Japanology (also known as Japanese studies), and I also have a girlfiriend who I'm spending a lot of time with. But I still have enough time to test on Magic Online and to travel to events. Magic used to be mainly a hobby for me, but now it's a lifestyle. I love the game."
We surely would see a lot more of this young master in the future. He opened a great Sealed pool with Gideon, Ally of Zendikar at Grand Prix Lyon, so stay tuned for our continuing coverage to see whether he'd be able to get another taste of success!