Playing on the Pro Tour is a dream many players share. With qualifying tournaments held around the world nearly every weekend, the battle to earn the right is the first achievement the game's greats unlock. Among those that make their way here, what follows is natural: they try to win a Pro Tour. A feat of feats, winning a Pro Tour is something that's elusive for even fantastic players chaining together Pro Tour invitations for years.
And after winning, it's almost irresistible to continue battling for more.
Every Pro Tour is filled with players across this spectrum—from first-time competitors to grizzled Hall of Fame veterans—and if you want to win one you're going to have to compete with them all. It's what makes the Pro Tour so special, with both rising stars making their names known and great players clashing early and often. It's the latter we found first in Washington, DC with two recent winners squaring off.
Craig Wescoe, the 21-ranked champion of Pro Tour Dragon's Maze from San Diego in 2013, sat across from Ivan Floch, the second-ranked champion of Pro Tour Magic 2015 last year. The two were longtime competitors that took years to earn their wins. Closing the gap from "great competitor" to "among the game's greatest" in a single weekend each, both know how important the first rounds of each event are. Winning out the first draft puts players ahead of the race for the Constructed rounds, and it's nearly impossible to make the Sunday stage without successful Limited records.
Ivan Floch and Craig Wescoe, two Pro Tour champions who earned their titled after a long history with the game, got set for their first round of the weekend.
Only one would start on that path today.
Floch had drafted a two color red-green deck, filling his curve with flying monsters like Riverwheel Aerialsts and Lotus Path Djinn with Gore Swines and morphs to cover the ground. With Barrage of Boulders and Temur Battle Rage were ways to surprise opponents with plentiful damage, Siege Outpost was the signature rare in his main deck. Languishing in his sideboard was Flying Crane Technique, and none of the dual lands to help his cast the game-ending Instant.
Wescoe's draft had gone as it often does for Wescoe, netting a pile of white creatures. Paired up for a white-green deck here, Wescoe had to settle for the "mythic uncommon" in the powerful Temur Sabertooth. Alongside Sandsteppe Outcast, Ainok Guide, Aven Skirmisher, and Mardu Hordechief, Wescoe's Sabertooth could take over a game by itself. With two copies of Rush of Battle and Incremental Growth behind it, it was clear Wescoe's plan was to never let the games get to that point.
Smoke Teller, Alpine Grizzly, and a Soul Summons (manifesting a Plains) from Wescoe faced off against Floch's Gore Swine and Lotus Path Djinn in the first turns of the game. A second Gore Swine and raid-triggered War-Name Aspirant gave Floch a sizable army, but that didn't stop Wescoe from striking in with everything anyway.
Gore Swing traded with the Grizzly, and Floch fell to 15 life before Wescoe passed back without a play and five mana up. Floch morphed a Mistfire Weaver onto the battlefield before attacking with his other Swine and Djinn. Take up Arms made three Soldier tokens for Wescoe: one took out the Swine, and he followed his defenses up with Dazzling Ramparts on his turn.
Wescoe, the master of white mana, raises defenses while maintaining a steady offensive of small creatures.
Turning his Mistfire Weaver face-up, Floch dropped Wescoe to 12 life on the next attack before playing Jeskai Elder. A second Alpine Grizzly, as well as an Aven Skirmisher, gave Wescoe plenty of ways to hold Floch back. After attacking, Wescoe was ahead of the damage race with Floch at 9 life.
Then the game ended.
Barrage of Boulders didn't clear the path of blockers, but it did clear away half of Wescoe's forces. Floch piled in with everything, and Wescoe didn't block with his Grizzly and fell to 4 life: the Incremental Growth in his hand was enough to swarm Floch right back for lethal.
The second game featured a similar start for Wescoe, with Smoke Teller and Alpine Grizzly facing off against Floch's Jeskai Windscout and Gore Swine. The Bear and Boar traded after Wescoe make a 4/3 Frontier Mastodon. Floch's board wasn't shrinking either, with Mardu Scout and a morphed Glacial Stalker.
Sandsteppe Outcast gave Wescoe a flying Spirit token to block with, so Floch just left his five mana up and passed. Smoke Teller and Sandsteppe Outcast was Wescoe's next attack, and Floch unmorphed his Stalker in front of the Teller. Suspension Field exiled Floch's big creature and Wescoe morphed a War Behemoth into play. Riverwheel Aerialists was a flying stop sign for Floch, and all Wescoe could do was add Seeker of the Way to his side on the next turn.
The Aerialists came swinging, and Floch added a 3/2 War-Name Aspirant to his side. Unmorphing his Behemoth, Wescoe paused to figure out what his attack back would be. War Behemoth, Sandsteppe Outcast, and Seeker of the Way was his answer. After blocking Seeker to Windscout and his other two to the Behemoth, Blinding Spray took away all of Wescoe's power.
Floch's draft deck was fueled by some very ferocious monsters.
The battlefield was less cluttered, and the life totals were tied 13 to 13. Floch dashed his Goblin Heelcutter to keep the Spirit token from blocking, and suddenly Wescoe was at 1 life.
"Alright, that's game," Wescoe said after he drew for his turn.
The third game was off to the races again as Wescoe manifested a Temur Charger off Soul Summons, then revealed and played Smoke Teller to begin attacking. Floch morphed Canyon Lurkers, but hadn't played an Island by his third turn. The Charger and morph traded before Wescoe used Ainok Guide to put a Forest on top of his library. Floch morphed a Mistfire Weaver and missed his fourth turn land. Wescoe didn't have a fourth land either—just getting his third from the Guide—and had Alpine Grizzly.
Floch hit his needed Island and cast Rageform, finally holding Wescoe back. At 13 life to Wescoe's 20, Floch had some catching up to do: Goblin Heelcutter was a start. Wescoe fired back with a morphed War Behemoth, but Floch's Outpost Siege set to Khans.
"That's the one where you draw a card?" Wescoe asked.
"No, I exile the card and I can play it. It's like Chandra, Pyromaster," Floch said.
Behind on the battlefield, Floch's ability to gain an extra card every turn would be needed as Seeker of the Way joined Wescoe's wide forces. Mardu Scout was the first card exiled (Floch cast it) and Jeskai Windscout joined it, while Wescoe added Hooting Mandrills. Swiftwater Cliffs was the second card exiled (Floch played it) but Floch just passed. Wescoe passed back and at the end of the turn Bring Low fired off the Seeker of the Way.
The third card Floch exiled was Mountain (he played it, too) and Riverwheel Aerialists looked like the beginning of Floch's attacks. Wescoe had Smite the Monstrous, then Incremental Growth to make 6/4 and 5/3 Alpine Grizzlys, 7/7 Hooting Mandrills, and attack with everything.
[card image Outpost Siege cap=”The Siege slowly but surely did its work, piling a ton of extra cards onto Floch's battlefield.”]
"I'm fine with this," Floch said as fell to 7 life and his forces were reduced to just the Rageform manifest and morphed Mistfire Weaver. Waterwhirl reset both of Wescoe's remaining creatures, eliminating the +1/+1 counters. The Mandrills and Grizzly came right back but Floch had Lotus Path Djinn and another morph to his side as well.
Rush of Battle let Wescoe push in with his creatures again, and Floch put everything into blocking, leaving him with his morph and a Gore Swine. Glacial Stalker turned face-up at the end of Wescoe's next turn, but Temur Sabertooth and Mardu Hordechief were a powerful combination for Wescoe: he could begin attacking with the Cat, bouncing his Hordechief, and replaying the Warrior to keep blockers.
The value Wescoe produced on his next attack didn't matter.
"You're at 15?" Floch. Wescoe confirmed, and Floch counted.
Floch 2 – Wescoe 1