Going into the second Draft today, some things had shifted in the race for the Draft Master invitation to the World Championship since the Pro Tour began, the biggest one being the unlikely dark horse, Donald Smith getting back into the frame, after a 3-0 draft yesterday when everyone else went 2-1 or worse. Drafting an archetype he hadn't drafted before, Smith thrust himself into the conversation for Draft Master, and stayed there thanks to his God-Pharaoh's Gift + Gate to the Afterlife deck in the second draft.
Though Smith would love the title, his last two years have been such a ride that he's already got other goals in mind. "I need three wins today for Platinum, and four wins for a soft-lock [for the World Championship]," he said. Things have certainly been on the upswing for the team Lingering Souls workhorse.
Outside of the Smith press, going into Round 9, there were nine names that mattered, but that number quickly dwindled.
After the first round, Travis Woo bit the dust. He had held on to hopes despite a 1-2 first pod, but another loss knocked him from contention.
"I'm not feeling bad about it," Woo said. "It was fun; I'm feeling fine." The often-laidback Woo had a good head about these things, so he brushed it off and moved on.
After the weekend's race leader fell short, the footrace began. Additionally, losses from (5) Owen Turtenwald and Smith in the same round meant only five names remained. They were:
- Makis Matsoukas, the Greek Rookie of the Year hopeful, clad in his Conflagreece team shirt;
- Both team Massdrop East's Timothy Wu and Team MTG Bent Card's Christian Calcano, who found themselves in almost this exact same position last year;
- Pro Tour Hall of Fame member (10) Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, who was 9-0, sitting atop the standings;
- And Pro Tour Hall of Fame elect, (7) Martin Jůza was still one match ahead of everyone else.
If Jůza went 2-0, there was nothing anyone could do about it, not even the undefeated Damo da Rosa. But with a single loss, the math would get a bit fuzzy.
Much of the drama happened in Round 10. In the feature match area sat four of the five players in contention— Jůza, Calcano, Wu, and Damo da Rosa.
Many of the players chasing the 2016-17 Draft Master title were battling in the Round 10 feature match area.
Both Da Rosa and Calcano were on Blue-Red decks, looking to get in damage hard and fast. For Da Rosa, the deck worked well, as he defeated Shintaro Kurata to remain undefeated. But for Calcano, Elias Watsfeldt made the Calculator work for every point of damage, and despite two great games that they split one apiece, in the third, Watsfeldt's turn-three Pride Sovereign ran away with the match. Tim Wu also fell to (12) Martin Müller, despite seeming to race three 4/4 angels well.
It was down to Jůza's match against Pro Tour Amonkhet champion, fourteenth-ranked Gerry Thompson. Despite Jůza having lackluster draws, and seeing his Sandwurm Convergence destroyed on its first turn, the Czech player took the match 2-0, further cementing his lead.
After the second-to-last Draft round, Martin Jůza was still ahead by a match. It was only Da Rosa and Matsoukas who could even tie him. And it was Jůza's teammate Corey Burkhart who served Matsoukas his loss to start the day, further cementing Jůza's lead.
In Round 12, all Matsoukas and Damo da Rosa could do was win, and then hope Jůza lost. Though both of them won, so did Jůza. It was his race to lose, but he sprinted through the finish line.
Your Pro Tour Draft Master for 2017 is new Hall of Fame–elect Martin Jůza!
After the dramatic win, I sat down with Martin, who's having the weekend of a lifetime.
"It can't possibly be better," he said. "This is one of the best weekends of my life!" At that moment, the usually cavalier, jokey Jůza exuded genuineness.
"It was nice to win that last one," he said, referring to the previous round. "After Paulo and I won the last round, we looked at each other's decks to see our chances. When I saw Paulo's deck, I thought 'Oh, he's definitely going to win; I have to win this one.'"
He was right, as Paulo had taken it down with ease. In fact, the ever-competitive Damo da Rosa turned across the feature match area after winning and asked Jůza if he had won as well. When he nodded, Damo da Rosa let out a big involuntary eyeroll, as if you say, "Of course you did."
At this moment, Martin Jůza was the envy of the only 12-0 player in the room. Jůza said that felt a bit good, and smiled. (Though he admitted he'd like to trade for Damo da Rosa's record if he could...)
On his performance over this life-changing year, Jůza said, "I had been doing different things in the last couple years." He took some breaks from his GP globe-trotting that made him famous. "I even skipped a European GP, which I had basically never done before."
He said this was because he was on "autopilot." "Each year, I had things locked up way before the end of the year—I was Pro Point flooded—and it wasn't good for my motivation."
But he saw some things that made him want to change the cycled he'd gotten into.
"You can't plan to Top 8, but you can plan to play better," he said. "And when you see others do it—commit to doing better, like Lukas [Blohon]—you want to do it too. Lukas had been on autopilot, happy with being Gold, but he made a commitment, and then he won a Pro Tour."
"It clearly works," Jůza said. "It's just me being lazy. I'm very lazy." He shook his head.
But Jůza reared back this year, and made the commitment, and as we can see, it paid off it spades. And this Draft Master title is a fitting one for Jůza, as he usually has Pro Tour drafts locked down.
"For some people," he said, "they go into the PT and are going to go great in Constructed. People like Brad [Nelson] and Shota [Yasooka]. They are aiming for 7-3 in Constructed, and are just trying to do good enough in draft. For me, it's the opposite. I'll probably 4-2 or better in Limited, and I'm just looking for a good Constructed deck."
This time around, Jůza had a clear strategy. "I like aggressive formats; I like to attack. Between River Hoopoe and Oketra's Avenger, for me, I take the Avenger." He continued, "People undervalue Aerial Guide and Unsummon. I'd rather go two-drop, three-drop, four-drop, bounce your guy."
Jůza is excited for both the Draft Master title and the Worlds appearance, but he didn't do it all himself. "My [friends and] teammates did some good work this tournament," he explained. "Sam Pardee bested Travis Woo, and Corey Burkhart beat Makis Matsoukas." Going further he said, "I owe a lot to the whole ChannelFireball testing team, especially Sam Black and Justin Cohen who are great at Limited, and more importantly great at explaining everything you need to know about how to draft certain archetypes."
It's been a fantastic weekend for Martin Jůza so far, but he's still live for the Top 8! Though there are still five rounds ahead, that could take this weekend from one of his best into the all-time pantheon of incredible Magic weekends. Good luck, Martin, and congratulations.