Meet Rookie of the Year Sam Ihlenfeldt

Posted in Event Coverage on November 11, 2018

By Corbin Hosler

The Pro Tour is a serious place. Tens of thousands of dollars on the line. Pro Points worth thousands more. Hall of Fame hopefuls, make-or-break decisions, pros looking to seal legacies or break Legacy. There's a lot going on for very high stakes, and the mood can be somber enough to match.

Then there's your 2017–18 Rookie of the Year Sam Ihlenfeldt, playing Brawl with the remnants of his "front-desk Sealed" pool in between rounds.

Sam Ihlenfeldt playing Brawl for fun at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica

"One of the most important things to me is to make sure I have fun playing," he explained. "So I played Sealed with the [customer service] desk and then we made Brawl afterward and had a lot of fun. I want to make sure I enjoy Magic when I'm playing and not just when I'm winning, and that means doing more than just playing competitive Magic."

For Ihlenfeldt, that means things like Cube, Chaos drafting, or just playing casually when he gets the chance. It's a stark contrast with the rest of the professional community, but one that the Minneapolis native wouldn't have any other way.

"I like that when I go to Grand Prix I get to play competitive Magic on Day One and then sometimes play competitive on Day Two, but sometimes get to just hang out and play a Chaos draft or something else to get some variety in there. I got into competitive Magic through playing Vintage Cube on Magic Online, and I like forcing myself to play weird formats just to switch it up and keep it interesting when I'm not playing competitively."

Ihlenfeldt has proven to be an expert at both. He burst onto the scene by making the Top 8 of Pro Tour Ixalan at the beginning of the season in his first-ever Pro Tour appearance. It was one of the most dramatic entrances in the history of the game, and one that wasn't a surprise to anyone following Ihlenfeldt's young career, no matter how much his happy-go-lucky demeanor may suggest otherwise.

After the great start to the season, Ihlenfeldt picked up several more Pro Points and as he moved to the top of the leaderboard he began to realize the possibility of attaining the Rookie of the Year title—a distinction earned in the past by Hall of Famers such as Randy Buehler and Yuuya Watanabe. He began to chase the title, facing stiff competition from Bolun Zhang, who put up a pair of Grand Prix Top 8s this year alongside a slew of other notable finishes. As Ihlenfeldt entered his last event of the season at Grand Prix Minneapolis he had both the Rookie of the Year race as well as hitting Gold in the Pro Players Club on the line.

And like he had all season, Ihlenfeldt came through when it mattered most; he earned the points he needed for both and has now etched his name into the annals of Magic history.

"It matters to me because it's something I can point to for those who know me but don't know Magic; it's a tangible, real thing that shows that I worked hard for something and achieved it," he said. "I don't need to prove myself to anyone, but it's something I can always point to and be proud of. The best part about this game is the community, and this has given me the opportunity to travel and meet more awesome people in that community than I could have hoped for.

"And the best part about having three byes at Grand Prix is that you can get in a Chaos draft before you start playing."

Your 2017–18 Rookie of the Year, Sam Ihlenfeldt.

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