As the event that is taking place a week after the Grand Prix, it is unsurprising to see some serious powerhouse teams in attendance this weekend. Many of last season's top players are playing today, with unsurprising team-ups and collaborations.
One team however is far from surprising, and we're not talking about three Pantheon members oft associated with some kind of Peach Garden Oath.
I'm talking about the team featuring some of the core ChannelFireball team members, featuring good friends from Magic past. Paul Cheon, Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas, and No. 23 Ranked Player Erich Froehlich are working together this weekend to start off the 2014-2015 Premier Play season in the best possible way.
I got a chance to talk to each of these players to find out how their last season or few years of Magic have been, and what their plans are going forward.
Paul Cheon of San Jose, California is a name that may be very familiar to those who followed competitive magic in the mid-2000s. He was, after all, one of the powerhouse players from Magic Online, friends with Luis Scott-Vargas (also known as LSV), especially during the 2007 and 2008 season where five of his six Grand Prix Top 8 finishes – and both of his wins – look place.
However, after the World Championship in 2008, life outside of Magic drastically slowed down this ability to play. "I was offered a job that required me to move over seas," Cheon said. The job kept him away from the States, and from Magic tournaments, for about five years. In that time, he got married, now has a kid, and since the family wants to raise their child in the United States, Cheon is back and would love to be back on the Pro Tour again.
However, in the meantime, Cheon has also spent a lot of time building a new following of players in the present: through Twitch.TV as a Magic Online streamer. "I actually started streaming about a year ago. I wanted to stream because I thought it would be a really fun way to get back into the Magic scene, interact with people, and maybe help get other people onto the Pro Tour," he explained. "A lot of people have been handing me decklists, I've been emailing them back, and hopefully I've been helping people out."
Given his job now at ChannelFireball and his commitment to his new family, Cheon's time is strapped but he finds time to stream – and play Magic – when he can. "Right now I stream about three times a week, and because of that – and I'm very honored – I was voted into the Community Cup. I'm really excited for when they announce the formats."
While Cheon continues to stream, it goes without much surprise that Cheon would once again like to return to the Pro Tour. "It's hard to justify going to too many Grand Prix because of my family, but I've played in a couple local PTQs since I've gotten back. I just lost in the finals of one of them two weeks ago, which was heartbreaking, but I'll continue to play in PTQs," Cheon said.
"Or I can just win this Grand Prix!" he exclaimed.
For Scott-Vargas, the 2013-2014 Premier Play season could have gone better. While the Hall of Famer has had an incredible career, the last twelve months have not been his brightest. "I actually prepared a lot more this season than the season prior, but things didn't work out," he said. "It's kind of unfortunate." Over the course of the last year, Scott-Vargas was only able to earn enough Pro Points for Silver status, sitting at 31 after Pro Tour Magic 2015. Since Scott-Vargas's Hall of Fame status cements him into competing at every Pro Tour.
When asked about what this may do for LSV's rate of play, the answer was realistic. "My guess is I go to vastly less Grand Prix as a player," he said. "Maybe I'll go to more as a commentator. I'm planning on commentating Grand Prix Salt Lake City next month, but I haven't really thought much past that," he added. "I'm just going to be using my time a little differently. I do expect to go to all the Pro Tours though."
For the final member of this team, No. 21 Ranked Player Eric Froehlich, the season was a roller coaster. "I wasn't sure I was going to be gold," he said. "Going into Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, over two-thirds through the season, I was a small favorite to get gold. I had around like 20 points, so I felt there was a 70% chance I'd get gold but no chance to get Platinum."
According to Froehlich, getting Platinum wasn't even on his radar.
So, what changed?
"[Pro Tour Journey into Nyx] was tough. I started the tournament 6-4, which sounds like a fine record but it's really not when you need to put up a Top 16 finish. I was already out of Top 8 contention. We still had a draft and five Constructed rounds," he said. "I basically sat in a corner and posted an update on Facebook asking how do you avoid tilting. I got some really good responses, got my head back on straight, won my draft, won out in Constructed, then got Top 16. It turned around the entire season."
Froehlich explained how key the Top 16 in Atlanta was to his comeback in the season. "If I had gone down that 6-4 path, finish 10-6, get 4 or 5 points, then I'm looking at Top 25 just to get Gold," he said.
Last weekend, at Pro Tour Magic 2015, Froehlich again went through a similar beginning as Atlanta. "0-2 is a tough start to lock Platinum when you need a 10-5-1," he said, referring to a rough start at that event. However, Froehlich was able to overcome the early stumble and earn the record he was looking for, locking Platinum for the 2013-2014 season and remaining among the game's current top players.
When asked what his goals were for this season, Froehlich had a straight-forward answer. "Is it silly to say my goal is to get Player of the Year?" he said. "I have a very strong passion for Magic that is burning much brighter now than it has at other points of my life. I've been playing the game for twenty years.
It's not always easy to have your whole heart invested in something even if it's something that you love, and right now I'm really enjoying Magic. I'm really enjoying the people in Magic. I'm playing well. My roommate, William "Huey" Jensen is the best player in the world and I'd like to get closer to that level. I think I'm one of the best, but I'm not on his level or Owen Turtenwald's level, but I'd like to do that, put up some results, and make a run for Worlds or Player of the Year."
Three teammates this weekend. One player from the past wishes to get back onto the Pro Tour. Another, presently on the Pro Tour, must decide what to do in order to reach the achievements from a year ago. And one, motivated more than ever, hopes that his continued passion will lead him to one of the best titles a Magic player can have.
Cheon, Scott-Vargas, and Froehlich embody many elements of Magic's past, present, and future. They were here before, they're here now, and they're not going anywhere away from the game if they have anything to say about it.