More than 1,300 players showed up to Grand Prix Pittsburgh with their eyes on the Top 8 and a run at the trophy. The first step to that is a strong start to Day 1, and as we entered the final Saturday round in the Steel City, a dozen players were vying for the chance to cap off an undefeated run.
A number of big names were still in the mix in the final round, including hall of famer Shuhei Nakamura, the world's No. 1 player in Seth Manfield and Pro Tour Shadows Over Innistrad champion, No. 3-ranked Steve Rubin.
It was Rubin who finished first, dispatching Nicolas D'Ambrose and his Mono-White Humans deck in two nailbiting-ly close games. Rubin, playing the same deck in Green-White Tokens that he won a Pro Tour with, rode his army of Hangarback Walker Thopter tokens to victory and the top of the standings.
Manfield was next, defeating Benjamin Reilly with the guidance of Archangel Avacyn, who along with Eldrazi Displacer provided a one-two punch that sent the world's top-ranked player into Day 2 unblemished. Vitally, his 9-0 finish gives him a leg up on Sunday over Brian Braun-Duin in the race for Grand Prix Master. Manfield is already qualified for the World Championship by virtue of being the defending champ, but another deep tournament run could propel him past Braun-Duin and Tomoharu Saito, who both lead him by two points. If Manfield does catapult to the title, the spot will become an at-large bid that goes to the first non-qualified with the most Pro Points.
Unfortunately for Nakamura, the Hall of Famer wouldn't be joining them in the undefeated circle. He fell to Michael Derczo in the feature match, opening the door for Derczo — who is coming off a Top 8 appearance in Costa Rica three weeks ago — to potentially follow it up with another Top 8 run in Pittsburgh.
Joining those three at the top are a trio of relative unknown players: Connor Bowman, Daniel Weiser and Eric Flickinger. But that doesn't mean they're 9-0 by chance. We sat down to get a quick word and make these former unknowns a bit more known.
Though it's just 9-0, Richmond, Kentucky native Eric Flickinger is already feeling a bit excited. “I've always wanted to play on a Pro Tour.” And this from a man who Top 4'ed two consecutive TCG Player MaxPoint Championships. “It's just always been a dream,” he said. “My father owned a card store since I was eight years old.” So I guess you could say it's in his blood. “I'm pretty sure I have 12 PTQ finals,” he said. It was very clear he remembers the many close calls.
He's finished Grand Prix Day 1s close to this record before, “but I've always crashed and burned,” he lamented. Flickinger is hoping to change his streak. He's feeling good, and he's hoping to put those PTQ memories into the distant past.
Minneapolis Minnesotan, Daniel Weiser is looking to do the exact same thing. However his painful memories are much more recent. If you've heard his name before, it's likely because two weeks ago, he 9-0ed Grand Prix Columbus. In fact, he rattled off twelve straight wins that weekend. But the last three were rough for him, and he had to leave Ohio content with 14th place. Good friend and fellow Tower Games player, Alex Johnson took down the last Grand Prix Minneapolis, and Weiser's hoping he can represent the store in similar fashion tomorrow.
And lastly, Connor Bowman. Oh man, Connor Bowman. He's a smart, crisp player from Solon, Ohio. He's running his Bant Humans, because like many of us, “I like casting Collected Company.” But that's not the “oh man” part. I mean, we all like throwing around some green instants from time to time. That's quite fine. But Bowman's Cleveland friends were so elated to see Bowman finish how he did, they were more than happy to express their adulation in picture form.
Connor Bowman and his Cleveland Crew
Isn't that wonderful? And one friend in particular, Derik Malenda, gleefully sung Bowman's praises, despite Bowman's much more reserved nature. “He's never lost a game of Magic in his life!” and “He makes cheese for a living!” One of those is true; I'll let you guess which one.
Whether any of these players will be able to close out the weekend in the Top 8, or perhaps even a win, we'll find out tomorrow. But for now, they get to go to sleep content that there's no a better-positioned player walking into the tournament hall tomorrow than them.
Daniel Weiser, (3) Steve Rubin, Eric Flickinger, Michael Derczo, Connor Bowman, & (1) Seth Manfield