The Pro Tour Players Club isn't a place, a secret room filled with the game's great players. While it is packed with fantastic competitors, it's really about status, prestige, and benefits at Grand Prix and Pro Tours that make it so attractive.
At the very top sit the Platinum players, those invited to every Pro Tour—with flights and accommodations—and receiving the largest benefits for appearing everywhere in between. It's the status after the Pro Tour Hall of Fame that players seek the most and work the hardest to maintain.
While there are plenty of excellent players that have managed to stay in Platinum standing for two years or even longer, the crop for this year is a surprising mix of faces new and old. For some, like eighth-ranked Brad Nelson or Pro Tour Hall of Fame member Shota Yasooka, it was a return to the limelight and benefits of a year past.
For Nathan Holiday, it was just the next step up to make.
"I got Platinum at the last Pro Tour," Holiday said. "I got Gold at the last Grand Prix but then I got Top 16 at the last Pro Tour. I was trying to lock up Gold all season and kind of got Platinum on accident. I wasn't expecting it."
Nathan Holiday wasn't expecting Platinum status. He just happened upon it while going for Gold.
Holiday was a competitor first, and worked hard to make it onto the Pro Tour at every opportunity. "Before I made Platinum I qualified for this Pro Tour by making Top 4 of a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier before the Grand Prix where I made Gold," Holiday said with a grin. "I think I'm the only Platinum that also played in the Regional PTQ. It's pretty funny on my badge."
"I got second at Grand Prix Phoenix in 2014, but I won the first one I made Top 8: San Diego 2013. That put me onto my first Pro Tour. I think this is my seventh."
While Holiday worked hard to ascend the ranks of the Pro Players Club, his expectations were more modest. "It's unrealistic to expect to hit Platinum on the last Pro Tour," he said. "I was expecting to be Gold, and I did really well at Grand Prix the season before and made Silver. I kept doing a little better and expected Gold—it was a happy thing that happened."
"If you're consistently finishing well, you'll make at least Gold. I've been putting in a decent amount of testing for Pro Tours, which helps a lot," Holiday continued. "The last two Pro Tours I worked with both teams ChannelFireball and Face to Face Games. It really helps to test with good people. I think it's really important."
Another new-to-Platinum pro that puts in work with the game's greats was Steve Rubin. He hit the mark just before the last Pro Tour.
"I locked Platinum at Grand Prix Toronto," Rubin said. "I didn't need anything at the last Pro Tour in Vancouver."
Like Holiday, constant competition and strong teammates made the difference. "I pretty much only play Magic now. I'm a part-time student so it hasn't changed much. We do a three week break before the Pro Tour to play at events leading up," Rubin said. "We dip into Standard right away, Limited the week before, then the Pro Tour. That also has something to do with convenience. This time, Indianapolis to Madison to Milwaukee is all within a few hours."
The teammates he referred to included Gerry Thompson, Chris Fennell, Brian Braun-Duin, eighth-ranked Brad Nelson, and freshly minted 2015 World Champion Seth Manfield.
Platinum Player Steve Rubin just kept focusing last weekend, and as a result, he just kept winning.
Was it finding camaraderie with those greats that was the turning point for Rubin? "There wasn't a turning point; I just enjoy playing Magic and I assume that's the case for everyone here—judges, staff, coverage," Rubin said. "Once I went to tournaments and sustained myself, it was great. The way the system is now, once you start doing well, you don't ease up. You want to keep going for points: Silver, Gold, Platinum, Worlds—there's something for anyone in my position to chase after."
"I was thinking 'Wow, I might hit Gold this year!' At the Pro Tours I kept going 11-5 and was thinking I just needed to keep doing that to keep going," Rubin continued, explaining his mindset in Magic. "I don't know if that thinking helped me, but it definitely didn't hurt me. I had a goal of Gold—from no standing to Gold was a pretty big leap last year. I'm just going to keep playing. I'm off to a poor start here, but I'm not worried about it: I'm qualified for all the Pro Tours. Most of the players here aren't, so all of them have to battle with qualifying again. It's a very real thing because I've experienced it myself. It's nice not to be stressed about it."
Halfway around the world from both Rubin and Holiday came another fresh Platinum: Jason Chung. His lead up to the top of status was a true "zero to hero" tale.
"Last year I won a Pro Tour Qualifier to Pro Tour Fate Reforged," Chung explained. "I had to go without any preparation and played Burn. I went 12-4 and came in 11th. In between I played a Grand Prix where I make Top 8. Then at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir I made Top 8, and it put me seven points short of Platinum, with three guaranteed from the last Pro Tour. I went to as many Grand Prix as possible before the final Pro Tour—Vegas, Charlotte, Providence, Singapore, and Dallas—and over the course of those five I got three 12-3 finishes, which was good enough for 9 Pro Points. It gave me enough for Platinum for the Pro Tour."
If that wasn't an impressive enough run, it was a hair's breadth from being better. "I just missed the World Championship because Kentaro Yamamoto made Top 8 in Vancouver as well," Chung said.
A qualification for Pro Tour Fate Reforged turned into far more than that for Jason Chung, who got a Top 8 at the Pro Tour following that one and some solid Grand Prix finishes after that to lock Platinum.
"Last year, I always played any competitive event I could," he continues. "Because I wasn't qualified for anything overseas, I didn't put that much into Magic. When I was just short of Platinum, I just went for it. Now that I'm qualified for all the Pro Tours I'm taking things more seriously. I've taken a sponsorship with MTG Mint Card and I'm writing articles now as well."
While Grand Prix take place all over the world, New Zealand isn't the most frequent location the events visit. "There aren't as many Grand Prix locally, but the ones we do have twice a year are smaller—one was 400 players. It's easier to make Day Two and to do well," Chung said. "Last weekend was Grand Prix Sydney, and there were just two of us with three byes. While there's the downside to less events, the smaller events are a bit easier."
With a new competitive year ahead, does starting off at Platinum change Chung's approach? "I made the decision earlier to travel more and make it to two or three Grand Prix together," he said. "It's expensive to travel to one, but if I fly out and travel to two or three in a row, it's easier. I haven't decided where or when, but I'll go to several at the same time. With the appearance fee and a sponsorship, it definitely helps a lot."
Keeping pace with Chung was another player from that side of the world. "I tested [for this Pro Tour] with the Australians. I'm lucky enough that Paul Jackson Top 8'd the last Pro Tour and he's Gold—qualified for all the Pro Tours as well," Chung said. "There's not many in Australia or New Zealand that qualify for many Pro Tours. For one you'll work with one, then the next it's another group. It's harder when you're testing with different people all the time."
Jackson echoed what many rising players have said before. "Next Pro Tour we'll be testing much better." Battling to get better was a tying thread across every player. For Holiday, Rubin, Chung and the rest of the new Platinum crew, it was the only way to earn—and keep—the top status.
After all, the Paul Jacksons of the world are racing right behind them.