From the latest volleys in a tight Player of the Year race to family matter at a Grand Prix and Day 1 undefeated decks, these were the biggest hits to happen on the first day in Providence.
The Friday Modern PTQ
If you haven't been to the Friday of the Grand Prix recently you may be in for a bonus at your next event: There's a Pro Tour Qualifier—PTQ—happening at many of the upcoming shows. Trying new things like an additional PTQ (in a different format to boot—Modern rather than Standard) means players can look forward to even more for attending.
Like Charlie Rinehart-Jones, who picked up an early bus to be at Providence in time to play it out.
“I used to play a lot." Rinehart-Jones said. A self-described “grinder” in years past, he made pushes to break through but narrowly missed. “I lost three win-and-ins in a row at GP Mexico City. I also don't have a ton of time to play anymore, and when I went to GP Minneapolis this year I didn't have byes. So I've been coming to events early to play in Trials on Fridays."
“I took a 7 AM bus from New York City to Providence to play yesterday." Rinehart-Jones said. “I played in a Trial and went 2-1. I knew I could play in the PTQ as well, and went 4-2 with Humans the weekend before. It worked out. I won the first four rounds, and since it was just five rounds of Swiss I could draw into Top 8."
There are dozens of competitive Modern decks, so what made Five-Color Humans Rinehart-Jone's pick for the win? “In my style of play I don't want to sit down against an opponent and be dead. With Humans there's no matchup where you just scoop. Modern is a really hard format for that." he said.
“Also people were roasting me for playing Direfleet Daredevil, but it won me my quarterfinals match. I was waiting for my opponent to go down to 2 life; He had a Lighting Bolt in his graveyard."
Congratulations to Charlie Rinehart-Jones, winner of the Friday Modern PTQ!
A Family Close at Hand
Paul Jordan—@magicPJ on Twitter and one of the stats masters that work on Pro Tour player data—doesn't attend many events. In fact, he usually finds time to get to one Grand Prix each year.
And his playmats from each one will tell the story.
“The first one was a gift from my wife. I dropped hints when there was a Grand Prix coming up," Jordan explained. “Every round people comment on it and think it's awesome—because it is. It helps me focus since I don't play a lot. I get nervous, even in the first round. It's a also conversation starter."
“This is the third one, but the youngest wasn't around for the first," Jordan said. “I'm going to be in trouble once he starts looking at them all since he'll ask where he is."
Of course, with a dad making Magic important it also rubs off onto the kids. “Hopefully I can take our oldest to a Prerelease." Jordan said. “He started ‘playing' when he was 5, but he's 7 now and just starting with decks that have creatures, instants, sorceries and enchantments. He's learning to wait to play the instants. ‘Wait until it's exciting!' he says."
“He's now trying to teach his younger brother who's now 5. It's hilarious."
2018 Player of the Year Race: Providence Edition
It's a three-way heat for the 2018 Player of the Year title. As it stands going into the weekend, 1st-rankled Seth Manfield holds a one point lead on 2nd-ranked Reid Duke, who in turns holds a one point lead on 3rd-ranked Luis Salvatto.
Everyone is looking to the last few events before the finish line of the 2018 World Championship. It's not the first run for Manfield either.
“Last time, it was 2015 and started out by winning the World Championship." he said. “I started in the lead for Player of the Year with that. Then I won some Grand Prix back-to-back and Top 4'd a Pro Tour. Going into the last Pro Tour there was only one person who could catch me: Owen Turtenwald. I'd have to do poorly and he'd have to Top 8."
Of course, that Pro Tour was Turtenwald's fourth Pro Tour Top 8—and best finish as finalist—which was enough to clinch his second Player of the Year title at the last moment. “Sometimes that's how things work out." Manfield said.
“Going into this year I started by winning the first Pro Tour which put me into the lead, but after that I didn't have any outstanding results. I felt the race was between Reid Duke and I, with Reid having the advantage going into the last Pro Tour. I knew I was in striking distance—I was always one finish away. With a better finish than Reid at that last Pro Tour I thought I was finally in the clear—but it turned out there's still a month left in the race."
“Luis Salvatto won a Pro Tour, and has done well and is in contention as well. It's going to come down to which of us make Top 8s—maybe multiple Top 8s—at these last Grands Prix." Manfield explained. “I just keep pushing myself. You can never relax as there's always something to attain in Magic. You just gotta keep pushing."
Pushing for every success is both how a player can achieve the title of Player of the Year and how Reid Duke carved out his incredible Magic career. He, too, is familiar with the chase to be among the game's greatest.
“This is the second time I was in the lead after the third Pro Tour. Last year I was in second after the third Pro Tour as well." Duke explained. “Player of the Year is a really important title—one of the most prestigious titles in the game. I've never won Pro Tour or World Championship so having that as a capstone in my career would be meaningful: I was the best at this one thing at one time."
Fighting for the last few points hasn't always fallen to Grand Prix finishes. “In the past when I've been close I book travel to Grand Prix, but realistically it's the top finishes at the Pro Tour that determines it. Now it's by those margins of one or two points it'll be determines and you want to give yourself all the edges you can." Duke said. “I'm definitely playing all the remaining US Grand Prix—here in Providence, Richmond, and Detroit. There's also two Grand Prix in Europe—Prague and Stockholm—I haven't decided yet."
Famously, Duke is part of the Peach Garden Oath team triumvirate with William Jensen and Owen Turtenwald—and the latter has earned the prestigious title twice. While success between teammates can be an issue, it's not for Duke and company. “I don't feel much rivalry with the guys in Peach Garden Oath." he explained. “In Pro Magic you know everyone and are friendly everyone, but there's also that sense of rivalry and wanting to do better than everyone. That's not how it is in Peach Garden Oath—we share our successes, and I 100% feel he's awesome."
With a solid finish on the road soon, Duke may have his chance to share that Player of the Year success back too. Unfortunately, Duke failed to make the Day 2 cut as Manfield narrowly missed going undefeated on Day 1. If Manfield needs to make Top 8 to add to his lead, but Duke already has his chances lined up down the road.
Day 1 Undefeated Players
With Standard in a stable spot, players came prepared knowing what to expect. To go undefeated meant having what looked like the best plan—or a plan for that plan.
There were a total of 13 players vying to be 8-0 after Day 1, and while the paired-down player didn't win we did end with six victories across the other matches.
Daniel Duffee brought Mono-Red Wizards to bear, but for a reason that makes total sense to players around the world: “It's what my friend had!" Borrowing a deck and going undefeated with it still counts, fortunately.
Edgar Magalhaes knew Red-Black Aggro was one of the best decks but still went in a new direction. “I was tired of playing the Red-Black mirror." His Blue-Black Midrange deck was working out just fine.
Case Johnson couldn't hid his grin after a hard-earned win against 1st-ranked Seth Manfield. While the World Champion would continue to chase his Player of the Year chances on Sunday, Johnson came out ahead in the Red-Black Aggro showdown. “I've been playing it for a long time and know all the matchups inside and out." he said. “I felt it was the best deck." So far, that looked true for him.
Jonathan Sukenik was also rocking Red-Black Aggro, going undefeated and feeling the same way: “It's the best deck in the format."
Nicholas Mohammed, too, was playing Red-Black Aggro. For him, it was an obvious choice after competing in Pro Tour Dominaria. “It's the same deck I played in the Pro Tour in June, so I wanted to play it again." he said. “I did look things up to make changes, and decided to play a lot of two-ofs in the deck—except for Goblin Chainwhirler and Hazoret the Fervent of course!"
Finally, Lucas Muxi Li brought something a little further off the radar than the others: White-Black Benalia. “My friends brewed the deck together," he explained, “and felt like it had a decent matchup against the metagame." Going undefeated is a pretty good way to start making that argument.
Congratulations to the Day 1 undefeated players at Grand Prix Providence!