It was surprising enough that Canada put a pair of players into the Top 8 of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, but no-one could have predicted who those players would be. I sat down with the two to find out a bit more about them, what their whirlwind weekend was like, and what they’re looking to do with their newfound success.
First I talked with Quebec’s own Ricky Chin, who lived the dream of Top 8’ing his very first Pro Tour. A long-time off-and-on casual player, Chin came back to the game around the time of Return to Ravnica. Friday Night Magic at his local store gave him his first taste of competitive play and he was hooked. He became a regular and soon found himself winning much more often than not. In 2014, he attended his first big event: Grand Prix Montreal.
“It went terribly. I think I went something like 4-5. But it was those losses that really motivated me. They showed me how much better I could become. When you’re winning every time at your local store you start thinking, yeah I got this.”
It was an exciting, stressful event for Chin, but it was exactly the competition he was looking for. He started attending Pro Tour Qualifiers, but for the rest of 2014 he couldn’t crack the Top 8. He kept at it. He attended two more of the old-style single-tournament qualifiers in early 2015 and Top 8’d both, losing in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Then came Grand Prix Toronto, his first Day 2 and a 10-5 overall record. Later, at GP Montreal he would come one win short of a Top 8, notching his first cash finish.
“It felt great, you know, working to get better and getting these finishes. I felt like I could really do this.”
Still, his goals for his first Pro Tour were modest. “All I wanted was a 4-4 so I could Day 2.” After Friday he’d far exceeded his expectations, sitting at 6-2. Rather than getting excited, he took the rest of it one match at a time. “I never thought about making Top 8. I just thought about the next match, playing my best. When I actually got to the Top 8, it was just the best feeling in the world.”
For Chin’s fellow Top 8’er Paul Dean, the climb from early competitive play to Pro Tour Sunday wasn’t nearly so quick or so straightforward. Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, Dean started to play more competitively over six years ago. “I went to a Vintage tournament with some terrible Elves deck, and somehow managed to Top 4. I became friends with some of those Vintage players, and they would go to PTQ’s so I started going too. My first PT was Amsterdam, the one Paul Rietzl won.”
Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar was Dean’s fourth trip to the big dance. “None of them went well. I only Day 2’d once and even that I didn’t get any kind of finish from.” Still, he kept at it. He won his invitation to Milwaukee through a Magic Online PTQ he played during an 8-month stay in China. “Which was really something. The Internet I had was not great. This was actually the first PT that Lucas Siow and I were both qualified for, which was great.” That’s Grand Prix Toronto 2015 Champion Lucas Siow. “We have a lot of people in our group and everyone helped us prepare. Jamie Naylor, Denys Robinson, Fadi Hirmiz, Omar Beldon, Daniel ‘The Cheerleader’ Fournier and others. I really have to thank the whole group for all the work they did testing. Not everyone was qualified but they all came out to help. There’s no way I would have Top 8’d without them.”
How did the preparation go? “Coming into the Pro Tour I felt like we were really well prepared. I think we didn’t spend a lot of time working on bad decks. Lucas kind of went off the deep end trying to make Aristocrats work. In the end Abzan just felt the best, and I’d been playing it a lot in the old Standard. It’s what I Q’d with.”
After Day 1 Dean was 6-2 and looking at the best start of his career. Did he get nervous at all? “Not really. Even after I 2-1’d the draft. I think it was just that I’d played the deck so much. I wasn’t playing just some brew, this was a Lucas Siow deck.” However Saturday ended with Dean being put through the wringer, emotionally.
“In the last round I thought I was going to get to draw in, I was all excited. But I sit down to play Owen and he wants to play to give Reid Duke a shot at making Top 8. And he beats me. So now I’m thinking I’ve missed Top 8. So they’re announcing the Top 8, and there’s two photographers taking pictures as people get called up, and they announce ‘IN 8TH PLACE…’ and one of the photographers points his camera right at the Brazillian guy and my heart just sinks. Then they say ‘FROM CANADA!’ and it all just hits me. That whole hour was such a rollercoaster.”
Would the nerves hit Dean under the Sunday spotlight? “Well Lucas and Jesse Hampton tested the matchup against Owen and it looked pretty bleak. Plus he’d already beaten me and he’s probably the best player in the world right now, so I think in my head I’d just accepted things, that I’d just go out and play my best. Then Owen got two terrible draws and now I’m in the semifinals and I start thinking I might have a shot at winning. The semis didn’t go well, I drew two off Abzan Charm and still missed my fourth land for a bunch of turns. I got pretty tilted from that. Looking back on it though, I mean people got bad draws against me. The only reason I was in the semis was because of Owen’s bad draws. So I’m pretty okay with it.”
So what now for Canada’s newest members of the Sunday club? Will they pursue Magic a bit more strenuously, hit up the Grand Prix circuit? You’d better believe it. Both are looking very seriously at making a run at Gold Player Status, thanks to the points they’ve already gotten and invitations to the next two Pro Tours in their pockets.
“I’ve started looking at the Grand Prix schedule,” says Chin. “Gold status is a big deal, and I already have 18 Pro Points. I’m guaranteed at least six from the next two PT’s, so if I can pick up some points at Grand Prix it’s a real possibility. Still, with work it’s not like I can just go away every weekend, so I’m trying to plan it out.”
Dean is in the same boat. “Luckily my work as an accountant is pretty seasonal. November and June are the big months, I won’t be able to get away then at all, but I’m going to see about finding the time to go to more tournaments in the other months. The Pro Points at Grand Prix matter a lot more to me now, and the way I see it, all this money I won, I’m basically reinvesting it.”