"Who is this random kid?"
"Is he any good?"
"This guy is Platinum?"
At the beginning of the season, you'd have to do a double take when someone mentioned Oliver Tiu. A year later, the eighteen-year-old has transformed into a household name, as well as our 2015-16 Rookie of the Year and Constructed Master, dispelling any doubt of his capabilities.
Tiu's first taste of success at the Grand Prix level was at Grand Prix Providence 2015, and it was there that he earned his very first Pro Tour invite, awakening the sleeping titan within. Stepping into the 2015-16 season with a fresh slate, he had one shot at the Rookie of the Year title, just like any other aspirant.
"Before attending Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, I won a Legacy Cube MOCS, beating Luis Scott-Vargas in the finals," he explained. "To a new player such as myself, perhaps that was a source of affirmation that I was maybe decent at the game. Going into Milwaukee, all I wanted was to experience the Pro Tour wholeheartedly. After all, it was only my first time."
He ended up 9-7 at his debut, which was not too shabby. However, Tiu was not entirely satisfied.
"If you asked me beforehand, I would have said a 9-7 was a great result for someone who's green," he said. "However, I went 6-2 in Day 1, which elevated my expectations a lot. 9-7 just wasn't enough anymore, and I wanted to do better than that. Sadly, I crashed out in my second Booster Draft, going 0-3."
He couldn't just brush off the lackluster performance because that was not wired within his unwavering heart. Tiu sought ways to improve upon his game, and being roped into Team Hot Sauce Games by Thien Nguyen and Jake Mondello was pretty much a godsend.
"Having gone solo, I realized that it wasn't easy and I couldn't do it on my own," he recalled. "This is why I am extremely grateful to Thien, Jake, and the rest of the guys who took me in and made me feel like one of them. We playtested together for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, even though some of them weren't even qualified, and to me that is a sign of passion for the game and a gesture of unparalleled solidarity. Later on, I prepared with Team Suites 4 Dayz for Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, and for Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, I was really honored to be invited to Face to Face Games. I cannot thank all of you guys enough, for helping me every step of the way and helping me acquire the correct mindset to succeed."
With the newfound support, he finished in 13th place at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, picking up 15 Pro Points and upgrading himself to a Silver pro. At that point, the thought of "perhaps" becoming Rookie of the Year arose, but seeing as how Ricky Chin and Frank Lepore were also performing very well, it wasn't totally clear who would make it to the finish line until the very end.
Then, at Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, he placed 13th again, picking up another 15 Pro Points for Gold, also leapfrogging his above-mentioned rivals to assume a runaway lead. Last season's Player of the Year, Mike Sigrist, couldn't have been happier when he received confirmation that Tiu had successfully closed the race.
"He's fresh to the competitive scene and probably still overwhelmed by all the success," Sigrist said. "I mean, he's won more Constructed matches than anyone on the Pro Tour, and that's unreal for a newcomer. He's a great kid, even if he is still pretty tender. At times, we think of him as our silly, little brother, who misplaces his wallet among other dorky antics. Yet he has a brilliant mind and is also very sorted outside of Magic."
Platinum pro and two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Ondřej Stráský also had nothing but praise, calling Tiu an insanely stunning player disguised under an unassuming demeanor.
"He's lit," Strasky put it plain and simply.
Oliver Tiu, 2015-16 Rookie of the Year
Indeed, Tiu's combined Constructed record of 30-9-1 across all four Pro Tours this season was a testament to the community's belief in him. This fall, he will be headed to the World Championship as the inaugural Constructed Master.
Despite the echoing acclaim, Tiu still has some insecurities. After all, you are often your own worst critic, and Tiu humbly laments that he has a lot of room for improvement when it comes to Limited. To put things in perspective, if he had won just one more Limited match during his Pro Tour debut instead of going an abysmal 2-4, he would have cashed. To further iterate, even if he had just picked up a single match point at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad, he would have made the Top 8 at his second and third lifetime Pro Tour appearances.
Absurd. Simply absurd.
Lastly, Alexander Hayne was quick to express his delight at new young talent emerging. Not only is Hayne a Pro Tour Champion and a perennial Grand Prix crusher, he is also a former Rookie of the Year.
"He's definitely up-and-coming," Hayne said. "I mean, he's just over 18, and already playing so well at the highest level. Sometimes, he makes me feel old, but it gladdens me to see the next generation of Magic players rising up the trenches. Oliver is living proof that it's not just the veterans who can succeed."
As the Olympic Games in Rio begin, our curtains are drawing at the Sydney Olympic Park. The Olympic cauldron directly outside the venue was relit yesterday, igniting our spirits as much as Pro Tour Eldritch Moon did. Deep within each heart, there lies a Magic spark.
Oliver Tiu's triumphs are powerful motivators for the entire Magic community, and his story will continue to inspire new goals and dreams for all of eternity. Congratulations once again, to our 2015-16 Rookie of the Year!