The Magic World Championship is the pinnacle of professional Magic competition, in which only the best of the best qualify to participate. One of the hardest routes to secure attendance is to win the Race for GP Master, a feat that requires a dedicated, world-striding schedule of consistent performance against thousands of Magic players across the globe.
This year the race ends at GP Sydney. Only four contenders are left standing at the end of the marathon; Brian Braun-Duin (53 points), Tomoharu Saito (52 points), Seth Mansfied (48 points) & Reid Duke (48 points). All four players are in attendance at GP Sydney so the race is still very much alive. For Mansfield and Duke, the chances of overtaking Braun-Duin and Saito are slim, as they both require winning the GP for any hope of taking the mantle of GP Master. However, with only a point between them, the battle between Braun-Duin and Saito is incredibly close.
“I’m a point ahead.” said Braun-Duin, “This is the decider. I feel okay. This whole race has been fun. I didn’t really think I had a chance in the race until recently, and it’s all coming down to this. I have worked really hard this year. I was just going to GPs to try to hit Gold (Pro Player Status), and try to further myself professionally, and the fact that I’m in this race and even have a lead is kind awesome, so whatever happens, happens. Obviously I want to win it, but I’m just happy to have been a part of it, either way.”
“One point looks hard,” confessed Saito, “Because if Brian goes X-4, I need Top 8 to beat him. But here, Sydney, is my special place, I’ve achieved three Top 8s in last five Sydney GPs, and I think Limited means it’s my turn. I made second place, second place, third place in Limited GPs this season; all my Top 8s have been Limited; Mexico, Lyon and Santiago.”
“Saito is just one of the best players of all time”, said Braun-Duin, “So it’s definitely a challenge knowing he’s going to do pretty well in this tournament. But I’m just going to focus. I’m not going to worry about how Saito or Reid or Seth are doing. I’m just going to play my rounds and do the best I can, and at the end of the tournament I’ll look at the scoreboard and see if I got there.”
This season both players have clearly demonstrated their ability to extend themselves and push their performance to the next level.
“I’ve definitely “levelled up.” Braun-Duin said. “And I think it comes down to deck selection. I’ve been better at choosing decks for tournaments. I would gravitate towards decks I enjoyed playing, that I had a proficiency for. If there was a deck that was really good but I didn’t think I’d play it very well, I’d never play it. This year I decided to change that and always play what I thought the best deck was. I’ve found that I’ve actually been able to play those decks reasonably well, and I’ve done well with them, so deck selection has been a big thing.”
“I used to put a lot of emphasis on results and how I did at a tournament.” Braun-Duin continued. “Every round I would think about what my record is, and how many more wins I need to get to here, and things like that. I would put a lot of pressure on myself to do well at events. This year I approached it a lot more relaxed. I just want to do well, over the course of the entire year. If I do poorly at an event I just shake it off and go to the next event and start working on that.”
“Practicing with the Face-to-Face team is really good. I’m definitely one of the worst players on the team, so I’m basically playing against people who are better than I am. I did a ton of drafts and I had an almost 50/50 record, which is good for me, playing against all these Platinum-Pro, Hall of Fame level players. It really helps improve you.”
Saito has changed his approach as well.
“I’m spending more of my time on Magic.” explained Saito. “I have a card store, Hareruya, and now I have over 100 people working in my company. I used to do everything myself, before, but now I have a great staff and can use my time and brain to play Magic.”
Saito went on to explain his approach to the Race of GP Master this year.
“At the beginning of this season I decided my target was to play all GPs this season. I didn’t miss any - with GP Sydney I caught them all. Originally I wanted to return to Gold level, but by the middle of the season I was already in 1st place in the Race for GP Master and Gold level. So I set a new target - to win the Race for GP Master. It’s a door to becoming one of the top players. Right now I’m a top player in globally, but amongst Pro Players I’m Tier 2. If I win the Race for GP Master, the door is open to become a top level player - the World Championships is the top of the top.”
“Winning would mean a lot.” said Braun-Duin. “The last three years I’ve put a lot into trying to become a professional Magic player. For two years I was trying to hit Gold. I barely missed, and I finally hit it this year. My next step is Platinum and Worlds. To be able to go to Worlds would just be unbelievable, it’s not even something that I was thinking about this year.”
Regardless of the outcome at GP Sydney, the two already have goals for next season.
“I’ll go to a lot of GPs.” said Saito. “If my condition is good, I’ll try again. It’s very fun, to meet people, play the game. Though I’m tired! I’ve already travelled a lot. But now, airplanes make me very relaxed. I don’t do any work in airplanes, just sleep, read a book, watch a movie. I don’t even access Wifi in airplanes. A tick in the box for Road Warrior, I think.”
“I’m interested in the World Magic Cup, but it’s a very tough challenge. Japan has many pro players, many good players. In fourth place is Lee Shi Tian, and I’m somewhere tenth to fifteenth. Trying to achieve the pro points necessary to be WMC Team Captain would take a lot of time, and I’m still a company CEO. I played a lot of Magic this season, and I’m a father; next season I’m thinking, more company, more family. But I do want to win a Pro Tour.”
Braun-Duin was a little more circumspect. “I know one thing next year is that I’m definitely not going to be trying to do the GP Master thing again; it’s just too much travelling, and it really drained me this year. I’m definitely taking a break from that. I’m still going to play in a lot of Grand Prixs, but you won’t see me flying to Brazil to play.”
“I’m just going to try to hit Gold again, that’s my plan for next year. Stay on the Pro Tour, see how it goes in the beginning part of the season, and if things are going well I might try to hit Platinum. I’ll play in Grand Prixs where I’m prepared, and where the travel is not so ridiculous. Probably just most of the North American GPs; I’ll play in those. I’ll skip some of the ones I’m not prepared for. I’m not going to go to every single thing, and just kinda see where that takes me.
For the next two days, all eyes are on these two adventurers as the Race for GP Master comes to a close. With both players off to a blistering start at GP Sydney, the top spot is still very much up for grabs. The thrilling conclusion will be revealed within the next 24 hours, and the title of GP Master will be claimed.