This Pro Tour, like every Pro Tour, was full of interesting stories, of exciting matches and memorable events. These are our Top 5 picks, the five monumental moments that will live on in Magic history!
#5 – Jon Finkel Makes It 16 out of 100
In Round 6, Jon Finkel squared off against Luis Scott-Vargas and fell in two straight games. It would be Finkel's only loss of the Swiss rounds.
By Round 14, his 13-1 record made it official: Finkel had put up the sixteenth Pro Tour Top 8 of his career. He himself attributed much of his success this weekend to sheer fortune. He had a long list of names, mostly of teammates, who he considered to be better players nowadays. But he also acknowledged that, percentage-wise, the difference probably wasn't much, nothing that couldn't be helped along with a little good fortune in any case.
Sixteen Pro Tour Top 8s is the kind of accomplishment that's hard to wrap your head around. After all, no one else could even lay claim to more than ten. Finkel has been part of the Pro Tour from the very beginning, playing in the Junior Division at Pro Tour New York in 1996. He reached his first Top 8 in 1998, and his most recent before this weekend was barely half a year ago.
There have been 20 years of Pro Tours, and Finkel had been in the Top 8 of more than a seventh of them. We can think of no better way to celebrate the 100th Pro Tour than with a Jon Finkel Top 8. His career casts a long shadow and pushes his fellow competitors to find that next level of greatness inside themselves.
#4 – A Top 8 for the Record Books?
Saturday's announcement sparked a discussion all over social media: Where did this Top 8 rank in terms of star power?
There was a lot to like about it. For one thing, three sitting Hall of Fame members made it to the elimination rounds this weekend: Luis Scott-Vargas in back-to-back Top 8s, deck builder extraordinaire Shota Yasooka, and Jon Finkel, arguably the greatest player of all time.
With Seth Manfield, we had the reigning World Champion in the mix, and Andrea Mengucci served as a representative of the most recent World Magic Cup–winning team from Italy. Brad Nelson added yet another Player of the Year title to the ones the Hall of Famers brought with them, and even somewhat lesser-known Luis Salvatto could account for a Super Sunday Series Championship title.
Meanwhile, Steve Rubin transformed from someone who had quietly amassed Pro Points with consistent, solid finishes in the previous season, enough even to earn a spot in the 2015 World Championship, to a true star of the game.
#3 – Team Blitz Finds Life After Death
For a few years, the members of Team Blitz have been near the top of the Magic scene. But roughly one month ago, the team came to a difficult decision. Though they respected each other's skills as players, they knew they weren't operating effectively as a team. They disagreed and fought often. So often that even a team name was difficult to agree on. It was showing in their results. After some discussion, they amicably went their separate ways.
"We're all great players," Brad Nelson said. "We felt that we could add our value better apart."
Most everyone landed well and found new homes. They are, after all, fantastic Magic players. For example, No. 23 Brad Nelson flew across the Atlantic, joining Team EUreka; No. 2 Seth Manfield was drafted by Team East West Bowl; and Steve Rubin met up with his friends at Team Face to Face Games.
Fast forward to Saturday's Top 8 announcement, and those exact three are called up to stand under the lights together. Three different teams, three different decks, but really, Team Blitz was the best-performing team at the Pro Tour.
"And now we finally have a name we can all agree on," Brad Nelson said. "Team Former Team. It's the best, 'cause it's true."
#2 – "Are there really eight different archetypes in the Top 8? Really?"
There had been a few Standard events in the two weeks preceding the Pro Tour, and many players came into the weekend with clear expectations as to the most likely decks to beat, Bant Company and Humans. Of course, the big pro teams added their own creations to the mix, their own innovative designs, their own solutions to the puzzle of Standard.
And when, finally, the smoke had cleared late on Saturday and the Top 8 was announced, we found ourselves with quite a surprise on our hands: while several representatives from the major teams had indeed made the cut, no one group had more than one person in the running, and no two decks looked alike. The pros had tried, but the format wasn't solved at all!
The two Esper control decks had the most in common, but each employed a route to victory so different from the other that not even those could be legitimately considered to be the same deck. One had four different planeswalkers and no creatures, while the other heavily relied on Dragons.
Then there were two black-green decks in the Top 8, but those too could hardly have been more different. One was based on getting a flurry of cheap creatures onto the table, specifically Zulaport Cutthroat and Nantuko Husk, with Collected Company to speed things along. The other barely included any creatures at all, relying on discard, removal spells, and Seasons Past for an extreme control strategy.
The engine of Pyromancer's Goggles, Magmatic Insight, Tormenting Voice, Drownyard Temple, and Fall of the Titans found a home in two different decks. One was a red-green ramp deck, the other a more midrange-oriented build with a set of Eldrazi.
And then there were the two decks that squared off in the finals: Bant Company and Green-White Tokens...
#1 – Playing Like True Champions
Pro Tour tournaments are incredibly long, and incredibly draining. And no competitor plays longer than the finalists. Both Andrea Mengucci and Steve Rubin had played at the highest levels all weekend long, but even they could slip up once in a while. In the third game, each player caught themselves in a series of suboptimal plays that they noticed immediately afterward. It was the Magic drain finally catching up.
But everyone makes mistakes; Magic is an incredibly difficult game. The difference is that, with champions, they know how to deal with it properly.
After the game ended, both players just shook it off. They talked about it between games to get it out of their systems, then they straightened up and played a stellar final game.
"I just couldn't catch my feet in that game," was what Rubin said about it. "Then I thought, I'm still ahead, everything's good." He then went on to be a Pro Tour Champion, and he earned it.