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Pro Tour Theros Special

Pro Tour Theros is right around the corner, and as quite a few people seemed to like my Worlds Special it was just the natural thing to do a follow-up for Pro Tour Theros. A few things are different this time around, though.

I interviewed different players. Although I could have chosen to revisit a few, I thought it would be more interesting to focus elsewhere as well. There are so many good Magic players around, that if I continue doing this, I will not run out of players to talk to for quite a while.

The Theros Special is shorter. Where the Worlds Special had some history and general information in it, the Theros Special focuses only on the players. I did this because a single Pro Tour doesn't have its own legacy like the World Championship, and thus there was just less to write about. Instead of struggling to get something in there, which you might not find all that interesting, I focused on the strongest point of the Worlds Special, the interviews.

The format is different. I did the Worlds Special in LaTeX, but the Theros Special will be web-based.

Just as with the Worlds Special, I am very happy with the way the interviews turned out. Each player was very forthcoming, and the players' answers give a good impression of the personalities: Narciso answered in a cheerfully ironic way, Kai is a bit more direct, and Olle's answers seem thoughtful and reflective.

These are just a few examples, but in my opinion that is just the way you would experience these guys if you talked to them in person. To all twelve, thanks a lot in helping me to make the Theros Special what it is. I wish you all the best for Pro Tour Theros!

(Images are property of Wizards of the Coast.)

Back in Business

Kai Budde

cfb_author_146_x_169_kai_budde

Nicknames: The German Juggernaut
Age: 33
Nationality: German

 

 

 

Qualified via Hall of Fame
Pro Points: 0 in 2013-14, 510 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 1997 Pro Tour Mainz
Pro Tours played: 48
Median finish: 44.5
Average finish: 71.2
Standard deviation: 86
Top 8: 10 Pro Tours (7 wins) and 15 Grand Prix (7 wins)
Planeswalker level: 48 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: Pro Tour Player of the Year 1998-99, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2002 German national champion, 2007 Hall of Fame class (vote leader), 2002 World Team Champion (with , 2001 Invitational winner (created Voidmage Prodigy), 2002 Masters Osaka champion (Team Limited with Dirk Baberowski and Marco Blume), first player to reach 500 Pro Points

The German Juggernaut is one of the two undisputed best players Magic has ever seen. Kai's career started at Pro Tour New York in 1997. It was the last time the Pro Tour had a Junior Division, and Kai chose to attend that one instead of the main event, feeling that he was not yet good enough. One year later Kai was definitely good enough, at least for the European Grand Prix circuit. After a second place finish at Grand Prix Birmingham, he won consecutive Grand Prix in Barcelona, Vienna, and Amsterdam. Meanwhile he had had a couple of solid finishes on the Pro Tour, too, but nothing that would have made him a candidate for Player of the Year. However, in 1999 there was no stopping Kai. The World Championship provided a first taste of what was to come. He won the Worlds semifinals to lock up the Player of the Year title, and then walked over Mark LePine in about 20 minutes, including shuffling, to take down the trophy.

The next season didn't yield any exciting results for Kai. It was the calm before the storm—a storm of three years, six Pro Tour titles, and various other trophies. Eventually it was said that, "Kai doesn't lose on Sundays." It didn't matter where the Pro Tour was held or the format. Kai won Pro Tours in six different formats, and hoisted trophies on five different continents. After 2003 Kai took a step back from the game, and has basically been in retirement since 2005. About once a year Kai still attends a Pro Tour, meets some friends, and maybe adds another Top 8 to his vita.

In the last few years you played on the PT on and off, but now you have announced that you will attend all PTs this season. What made you want to get back into pro Magic?

It is more of a temporary return and I don't plan to play any GPs either. It's a combination of things. First of all, there's two Pro Tours in Europe. That's a great start. But the main reason is that the last two seasons it wasn't all that complicated to be the German team captain for the World Magic Cup. The World Magic Cup was started way after I stopped playing so I have never played in it. It would be nice to 'fix' that.

In the past two seasons you needed about 20 Pro Tour points to qualify in Germany. There's just no one playing all that seriously here right now. However, Wenzel Krautmann is already on 15+ points before the first PT is even played as he had a very strong run over multiple Grand Prix, so if Wenzel does well at only one of the Pro Tours, I would have to Top 4 one most likely.

I'm definitely attending the first two as they are in Europe and afterwards I'll just have to see. It's kind of annoying for me to take enough time off work to seriously prepare for a tournament, and if I don't have a real shot at qualifying for the WMC, I will most likely not play overseas events.

After all these years you certainly have some perspective on the game. In your opinion where has the game improved in that time? What did you like more about the game when you started playing?

In general the game is a lot more bomb-heavy now. The cards are more powerful and games are more swingy. In some Standard games, every turn you think someone else is winning as every card has such a huge effect on the game. The same is true for Limited. 12 years ago a great Limited deck was mostly defined by your overall quality, having no fillers and a number of very good commons. These days a great Limited deck is mostly defined by having multiple mythics or rares.

I don't like that change, but then it's also very tough to compare. There were certainly huge issues back then as well, for example cards like [card]Pestilence[/card] or [card]Sparksmith[/card] and so on. There's ups and downs for both design approaches, but you can safely say that things are very different now.

You had an impressive run in 1999, but your achievements on the Pro Tour in 2001 easily dwarf even that run, and really everything else in pro Magic. (Arbitrarily) not counting Worlds you won three Pro Tours in a row back then. At that point you were used to having success on the Pro Tour, but that must still have felt unreal. Can you explain what circumstances made this run possible?

Obviously winning literally all my Top 8 matches meant I was heavily on the positive side of variance. I don't think it's all luck, though. Doing insanely well at each team Pro Tour for example wasn't just me. I wasn't running those drafts or anything. Dirk, Marco, and I were all responsible on the same level.

Back then, without MTGO, it was super important to have good players around you that dedicated a lot of time to Magic as well. In Cologne, the guys that taught me how to play were very good, one of them being the first German to win a Pro Tour (and one of the first PTs overall, Atlanta 1996). When I moved to Hamburg in 2000, there were Marco Blume, Christian Luehrs, Patrick Mello, Dominik Hothow, Peer Kroeger, and lots of other people that regularly played on the Pro Tour.

It's no coincidence that the good players of the pre-MTGO era all had a strong local community. For example NY with Finkel, Mowshowitz, and lots of others; the Ruels in Paris; Ronaldson, Marsh, Ormerod, and Dobson in London; Herzog, Eskeland, Nitter in Oslo; and Jonsson, Thoren, Sadeghpour in some village in the Swedish woods. I think without having those guys around, it would have been pretty much impossible to do so well.

You won seven Pro Tours in six formats. So we can safely say that you are competitive in any kind of Magic format. Do you have a favorite format? Which kinds of decks do you most enjoy playing?

Team Rochester was my favorite format by quite a bit. Afterward comes regular Rochester Draft. I think the skill level of the average Pro Tour player compared to the top Pros was way worse then it is these days. Magic Online says, "Hi - #blameWorth." And Rochester Draft just gave you a lot more control. You saw what people were doing and it just made everything easier. I would expect that if Rochester was a format these days, it would be much, much worse.

If everyone is good, it's very obvious what you have to do. People just settle into the obvious colors and you just distribute the cards. That wasn't the case back then, fortunately.

In Constructed, I always tried to play blue control-ish decks. The perfect deck for me was the blue deck that won Pro Tour New Orleans, in Extended. It was nearly mono-blue, had a decent amount of control with [card]Counterspell[/card], [card]Force of Will[/card], and [card]Fire // Ice[/card]. It also had great library manipulation and won with a very strong combo, [card]Illusions of Grandeur[/card] + [card]Donate[/card]. Whenever similar decks are good in a format, you can count on me playing that. But if I am playing a big tournament and I think Jund-Cascade is the best deck—which was a deck I think is absolutely terrible and insanely boring to play—I'll still play that. I am way too competitive to play a deck that's more fun to play but with which I expect to put up a worse result.

Frank Karsten

cfb_author_146_x_169_frank_karsten

Age: 29
Nationality: Dutch

 

 

 

 

Qualified via Hall of Fame
Pro Points: 1 in 2013-14, 325 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: Worlds 2000
Pro Tours played: 56
Median finish: 49.5
Average finish: 97.5
Standard deviation: 99
Top 8: 3 Pro Tours and 6 Grand Prix
Planeswalker level: 49 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: 2009 Hall of Fame class, 4 Dutch National Championship Top 8s, Top 4 Masters Osaka (Team Limited)

Frank is best known for his highly analytical approach to the game. While many of the game's best players are analytical, Frank takes this one step further. When you read an article of Frank's, it will inevitably have quantification, that most would be fine discussing in general terms. Sorting all cards of a set in the order they should be picked, writing a program that analyzes 20 million matches in a hypothetical metagame, or building and playing a Faerie deck that is an amalgamation of all deck lists online? These are just a few of the crazier things Frank has done, but on most days a thorough metagame breakdown of a Grand Prix will do.

Frank Karsten's Magic career started with a bunch of near misses. In 2000, he made Top 8 of the Dutch Nationals, but lost in the quarterfinals, thus qualifying for the European Championships, but failing to make the National team. At the European Championship he finished 9th, one place short of Top 8, but at least the good results qualified him for the World Championship on rating. In Brussels, Frank had another good showing, finishing 17th, actually one win short of Top 8 yet again.

It took Frank a string of further near misses—including a 5th place at Pro Tour Boston, the Team Pro Tour—until he finally made it to the Top 8. After six Top 20 finishes, Frank finally had that bit of extra luck at the Rochester Draft Pro Tour in Nagoya, and finally made the Top 8. He finished that season with his best finish to date, a 2nd place at the World Championship in Yokohama. Afterwards, Frank put up further good results, but only reached the Top 8 of one other Pro Tour, Worlds 2008 in Memphis. After the 2009 season Frank reduced his commitment to pro Magic, still playing every other Pro Tour, however.

In the last few years you played were playing the PT on and off, but now you have announced that you will attend all of this season's PTs. Where did that decision come from? Did the fact that despite all your successes you have not won a title yet play a role?

The last few years, I wasn't really focusing on Magic, instead spending most of my time on my PhD project in game theory. I have essentially finished my PhD by now, but was really doubting whether or not to continue in academia near the end, so I decided to take some time off to figure out my next steps in life. In the meantime, my passion for Magic had returned. It had cooled down a bit over the years, but it's still such a great game and I started to miss it.

So, my decision to attend all PTs this season is based on both having the time available and a rekindled passion. The fact that I haven't won a title yet gives me something to strive for, but it didn't play a big role in my decision.

After all these years you certainly have some historical perspective on Magic. In your opinion, where has the game improved in that time? What did you like more about the game when you started playing?

The game has improved in many ways, but let me mention one: Limited design. Back in the old days, sets weren't really designed for drafting. The Limited formats were slow, with poor card quality, and hardly any synergy. It wasn't fun. Nowadays, Limited play is an important design consideration: common cards are powerful and fun, colors are well-balanced, and there are many directions and deck archetypes to try out.

One aspect of the game around 1998 that I liked was that there were many possible Constructed deck archetypes. We not only had aggro, midrange, and control, but combo and prison (e.g., [card]Winter Orb[/card] or [card]Wildfire[/card]) decks as well. In today's Standard format, there are many midrange battles, but combo and prison strategies are missing. Creatures have gotten a lot better, and we have planeswalkers (which makes for nice, interactive games), but combo or resource denial cards are few and far between, and I miss that. I always enjoy drafting them in Cube, and I would enjoy having access to them in Standard, too.

You are known to have an extremely analytical approach to the game. At which points do you think this approach has allowed you to find strategies other players were not aware of? Have you ever felt that this approach stood in the way of success?

I'll just tell a couple of stories.

First story. When preparing for a big tournament in an established format, I like to draw up an entire worksheet consisting of playtest results, matchup percentages both before and after sideboard, and a probability distribution over the metagame distribution. I can then use a mathematical formula to determine the best deck (the one that gives the largest expected money winnings). I also like to do the math to figure out mana bases and sideboard plans. Sometimes, when everyone is testing games, I am sitting behind my computer to do the calculations.

Second story. At the 2005 World Championships, I was paired against Akira Asahara in the semifinals. I was playing my Greater Gifts deck. He was playing Enduring Ideal, and his only main-deck kill conditions were [card]Form of the Dragon[/card] and [card]Confiscate[/card]. So, if I never played a Confiscate target, then he'd have no choice but to play Form of the Dragon. That would get him down to five, in range of a [card]Goryo's Vengeance[/card] on [card]Yosei, the Morning Star[/card]. The only problem was getting a Dragon into the graveyard in time.

After taking the time to analyze the matchup, I found the solution. When I won the die roll, I elected to draw first. On my first turn, I did not play a land, discarded [card]Yosei, the Morning Star,[/card] and that was that.

Third story. Coming into the 2008 World Championships, I knew I wanted to play Faeries but didn't know what build to play. To solve this, I took as many winning versions of the deck as I could find, determined the average, and piloted this well-rounded Aggregate Faeries (which featured such hits as a single [card]Ponder[/card]) to a Top 8 finish.

Nevertheless, my approach may very well have stood in the way of success from time to time. I am a slow player, I focus too much on tweaking existing strategies rather than exploring new ones, and I sometimes manage to out-think myself.

Which formats and deck types do you like most? Do these preferences reflect that your analytical approach works particularly well for those formats/decks?

The [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] deck in Kamigawa Block Constructed stands out to me. The mirror match in particular played out differently every game, requiring the players to think on their feet. I love analyzing where the game is going, methodically considering all possible Gifts Ungiven piles, and planning ahead with [card]Sensei's Divining Top[/card].

More generally, I like Block Constructed because due to the small card pool, it becomes possible to figure out all feasible strategies and to analyze the format exhaustively. I gladly spend as much time as it takes to understand all that can be gleaned from the card pool, find the best deck, and prepare for virtually everything.


Still Going Strong >>


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Third Time's the Charm

Narciso Ferreira

cfb_author_146_x_169_narciso_ferreira

Nicknames: .truelove
Age: 39
Nationality: Portuguese

 

 

 

Qualified via Winner of Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier
Pro Points: 3 in 2013-14, 18 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 2008 Kuala Lumpur
Pro Tours played: 2
Median finish: 245.5
Average finish: 245.5
Standard deviation: 5
Planeswalker level: 43 (Battlemage)

"Big guy, bigger heart" is probably the easiest way to describe Narciso. The Portuguese has been around for quite some time, but has made himself a name mostly as a grinder on Magic Online, where he goes under the name of .truelove. It was also on Magic Online that Narciso qualified for Pro Tour Theros. As grinders often do, Narciso likes to play aggressive decks. Taking less time on average to complete a match, they are better suited for a grinder's playstyle than control decks. Although Narciso is not one to multi-table a PTQ, being familiar with Blitz from grinding the deck certainly made it the logical choice for a PTQ as well.

This is not the first time on the Pro Tour for Narciso, however. His first appearance was at the Booster Draft Pro Tour in Kuala Lumpur 2008. Unfortunately that one didn't go too well for him. Almost three years later Narciso qualified for the Pro Tour again, this time via the Nationals route. Again the Pro Tour did not go all too well for the Portuguese, and for his team for that matter. But this is never something that bothers Narciso for long. He is one to talk even about his most heart-breaking losses with a big smile on his face.

You have been a Magic Online grinder for quite some time. How do you manage a full-time job, an active social life, grinding Magic Online, and attending most of the major tournaments in Europe?

The secret for being successful in anything in life is to have no social life—joking of course. In fact, if there is something I have learned, it is that we always have time for things that really are important to us. It is all a matter of priorities, and when you do something you love, everything is easy and everything can be achievable, and you still have time to write articles, do a podcast about Magic in Portuguese, help new players, help develop the Magic in your hometown, and (please do not tell my number one girlfriend ) have five girlfriends. Although the fact that I'm completely nuts also helps a lot.

Not surprisingly, you qualified for Pro Tour Theros by winning a Magic Online Qualifier. You piloted Naya Blitz in that tournament and at Grand Prix Verona. Is that generally the kind of deck you like, or was that just your choice at that moment? Which formats do you like most?

I play mostly aggressive decks, because they tend to relate with my way of being. I like being proactive and reach out and fight for what I want, not necessarily to wait and react to what life throws at me. I truly believe we should play according to our personality, while obviously not underrating my capacity as an MTGO grinder, aggro decks do allow me to run two or three games simultaneously—which, in turn, has an effect on my deck selection.

This is the third time you are qualified for the Pro Tour. The first two times you didn’t do all that well. What are your expectations for Pro Tour Theros? Who do you test with, and why do you think you will/should do better this time?

My expectation is to always play at the highest possible level, while taking each game at a time. I particularly enjoy being on the PT once again, grinding against the best out there and hanging out with my friends in the game. I often say that one of my advantages over most of the other competitive players is that I'm always having fun, even when I'm losing—and that, no one can take that from me.

Regarding testing, I am very lucky to have Marcio Carvalho, who is in my opinion the best Portuguese Magic player ever, playtesting with me. He recently formed a group of the best Portuguese players to prepare for the major events, like PTQs, PTs, and GPs, and by some mistake they invited me as well.

We played each other in the finals of the Theros PTQ. We have only one PTQ per season in Portugal. I lost to him using exactly the same list that got me the win on the MTGO PTQ, which was fortunate, given that it allowed us both to qualify, sending one more Portuguese to the tour.

At Dublin, we will be joined by the elite of Brazilian players, including some of the best MTGO grinders and, last but not the least, my teammates from MTG Madness—which has some of the best European players.

Portugal is far from the center of Europe, thus it is probably harder for your to attend PTQs and Grand Prix. What is it like to play Magic in Portugal? Your country has a few high-caliber players, including a World Champion. How does the community work? Are there a lot more players than the few well-known players? Do the best players prepare together when it comes to Grand Prix or the Pro Tour?

We do have a strong community in Portugal that seems to have more active players than ever. We have currently 21 stores, just in the Lisbon area (25 km radius). In competitive terms, though, it's less obvious: We went from 4 PTQs per season to a single event and the fact we are at the tail of Europe does not really help. It is complicated to travel to GPs—and the Wizards policy on the allocation of PTQs and Premier Events does make life much more difficult for Portuguese players—and that's a shame, really, given that more events of that nature would naturally translate into a further development of the national players.

One of the big hits was, naturally, the end of the Nationals—which was really important in smaller countries like Portugal. That's unfortunate, because there are a lot of really competitive players in Portugal who due to these conditions do not have the ability to go out there and demonstrate the quality of our Magic. However, the community is united more than ever. We have entered the streaming world, with lots of our best players frequently engaging, we started a weekly podcast in Portuguese and we're driving a convergent effort to create a “community portal” to gather the best Portuguese magicians and share articles, strategy, and engage in debate. Portuguese Magic, despite the many obstacles faced, certainly holds good things for the future and we remain hopeful and are playing to the best of our abilities.

Felipe Tapia Becerra

cfb_author_146_x_169_felipe_tapia_becerra

Nationality: Chilenian

 

 

 

 

Qualified via Top 4 Grand Prix Warsaw
Pro Points: 12 in 2013-14, 40 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 2013 Pro Tour Gatecrash
Pro Tours played: 2
Median finish: 33.5
Average finish: 33.5
Standard deviation: 30
Top 8: 2 Grand Prix
Planeswalker level: 41 (Battlemage)
Other accomplishments: 2013 Rookie of the Year

Felipe Tapia Becerra is the reigning Rookie of the Year. As such, he has really only been around since the beginning of the year. His campaign started off well with a 12th place at Pro Tour Gatecrash, where he played his own style of Jund deck, an aggressive Zombie-based version. Not many take notice of some rookie finishing 12th. Felipe added his first Top 8 appearance to his resumé just a week later at GP Quebec City, though. There he played basically the same deck and made it to the semifinals. His next Pro Tour appearance yielded another money finish. While it was not the high profile finish that gets the attention of the cameras, it was sufficient to win Felipe the Rookie of the Year title.

Felipe has since captained the Chilenian team to a 9th place at the World Magic Cup, and made another Grand Prix Top 8 at Warsaw a week later. On both occasions he chose his aggressive, under-the-radar Jund version again. Those Zombies served Felipe well, but for Pro Tour Theros the "Lord of the Undead" will have to find himself some new minions.

You finished 12th at Pro Tour Dark Gatecrash, came in 2nd at Grand Prix Warsaw, 3rd at Grand Prix Quebec City, and led your national team to a 10th place at the World Magic Cup. These are all outstanding achievements, but there comes a real surprise: You did it all with the same deck—an aggressive Jund version with a Zombie sub-theme—and yet nobody seemed to notice. Can you explain what made the deck work so well for you?

The deck started out even before Ravnica block. Originally I played Zombie Pod, but when the rotation binned that deck I had to look at many lists. I searched for a deck that I liked. I looked at many lists with Zombies, but I didn't like any of them. So, I made my own version of Jund, very very aggressive, and some mini-combos like [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and [card]Gravecrawler[/card]; or [card]Blood Artist[/card], [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], and Gravecrawler.

In that period where I did well, the most-played decks were UWR and Jund, and they were very good matchups for this deck. However, I think the most important reason was that this deck was under the radar, and people don't have sideboard cards against it. Another reason why I played it is that I like black/green, but this is a personal reason of course. I actually like all decks in this color combination.

So far you have played in two Pro Tours. You have done well in both, and then there are all the aforementioned achievements. What are your expectations for Pro Tour Theros? And what comes after that? Who are you preparing with?

I don't have greater expectations for Pro Tour Theros because I never have great expectations for any kind of tournament. However, Pro Tours are awesome.

After Theros I will prepare for the GP in Chile, November 2-3, organized by store 'La forja de Stone' by Jorge Peñailillo. My next tournament after is the Mexican Grand Prix in February. Then comes the Pro Tour in Valencia, which I have a Silver-level invite for, and beyond that I haven't planned anything yet.

What is it like to play Magic in a country like Chile? Chile is far away from places with a bigger Magic community, the country is very much stretched out, yet thinly populated. These aren’t exactly the best conditions if you want to play Magic on a competitive level, are they? What does it mean for you personally? Taking a look at your exploits this year, one would assume that you have it in you to become a professional Magic player, if you wanted to pursue that career. Is that something that you would consider being possible while living in Chile?

Is difficult play Magic competitively, because the players don't travel for tournaments and even when a player wins a PTQ they usually don't prepare all that much for the Pro Tour. It's more like a good opportunity to travel for most of them.

But this is becoming better now. There are a lot of players now that practice a lot to achieve a great level of playing skills.

What kind of Magic player are you? What strategies do you like and what formats do you like to play?

I can't really answer the first part of the question, because I never thought about that. I like aggro strategies or midrange, because I like to play with many creatures. I like all formats, because I just like to play Magic either way.


Dinosaurs! >>


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Rogue's Perspective

Nico Bohny

cfb_author_146_x_169_nico_bohny

Age: 29
Nationality: Swiss

 

 

 

 

Qualified via Winner of Pro Tour Qualifier in Stadel
Pro Points: 0 in 2013-14, 142 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: Worlds 2004
Pro Tours played: 21
Median finish: 104
Average finish: 160.5
Standard deviation: 133
Top 8: 2 Pro Tours and 1 Grand Prix (1 win)
Planeswalker level: 47 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: 2002 World Team Champion (with Manuel Bucher, Christoph Huber, and Raphael Gennary)

Nico Bohny is the kind of player that is always all smiles, seemingly having a very good time—and thus easily underestimated. However, Nico is not only a nice guy, but also a competent Magic player. It turns out that tournaments are not won with smiles, but having a taste for competition doesn't mean you have to be badass about it either.

Nico had his first appearance on the Pro Tour as early as 2004, and qualified for Worlds by making the Swiss National Yeam. Although Nico won Grand Prix Torino in 2006, it took him a while longer to get things going on the Pro Tour. At the end of the 2007 season a young, talented Swiss team with Nico Bohny on board won the national team competition of the World Championship. Half a year later, Nico added his first big individual finish. At the Standard Pro Tour in Hollywood, he piloted a Doran midrange deck to a Top 8 finish.

Afterwards Nico's finishes have displayed a high variance, arguably due to the nature of his deck choices. Nico has often been seen playing rogue decks. While this led to a bunch of sub-par finishes, Nico is never one to count out. When he is at the top of his game, he is a candidate to go deep as evidenced by his second Pro Tour Top 8 in Paris 2011 and his 13th place finish at Worlds 2011. After the 2011 season Nico has slowly pulled back from pro play.

You have said several times, that “this” would probably be your last Pro Tour, but you are still around, or should we say again? Why have you considered to stop playing pro Magic? What brought you back yet another time?

When I started attending Pro Tours, I just finished my education and started working as a teacher. While only working 50%, doing substitutions, there was plenty of time left for playing Magic, grinding all the FNMs, testing for the tournaments, and having a great time spending my spare hours doing a great hobby. Attending the tours was great fun—we frequently rent an apartment at the place the PT was at, do a week of testing, hang around and enjoy the places. After my initial year as a substitute teacher at different places, I took over a job-sharing position at a school and had my own class. Therefore, I had less and less time for other stuff, didn't get extra vacation as easily, and I started playing the PTs without much preparation. I still enjoyed the PTs nearby, but doing the tournaments further afar was exhausting, traveling to distant places just to play a PT jetlagged, coming back, and teaching heavily sleepy at school. Magic was still fun, but not what it used to be. I realized that I was best at playing Magic when I enjoyed it the most. I came to a point where I started to dislike the grindy competition, and there I made my choice to leave the pro circuit.

Then I Top 8'd Pro Tour Paris, I was back in, motivated again and willing to do some more. But after two more years on the pro train, even skipping some American PTs, I fell off by finishing PT Barcelona in 51st Place, leaving me with 29 Pro Points that season (Top 50 would have been my 30th point for Gold). I still attended my last PT for Silver status, and that was it for the moment.

When I saw the locations for this year's PTs, I tried to qualify for the European PT, and won (or to be honest: got a concession from my opponent in finals) the Swiss PTQ. I'm glad to be back for once, I'm looking forward to play on the tour again, but don't expect to become a mainstay again (except maybe if I...)

A player sitting across you has to expect the unexpected, as you always seem to go for a rogue deck if at least a semi-competitive choice presents itself. Why do prefer the surprise factor to raw power? What are you looking for in a rogue deck to consider playing it in a Pro Tour? Presumably you do not choose just any kind of rogue deck at random. However, you reached your two Pro Tour Top 8s with decks that were neither rogue decks nor actual tier one decks. Overall, do you think when you opted for rogue decks that has rather hindered your success or was it a key element to your successes?

Hard to say, because the most rogue-ish decks I played were mostly the ones for PTs I tested the least. I never liked the idea of playing a tier 1 deck at PTs without much testing, because everyone who prepares for the metagame knows better how to play and sideboard against me than vice versa. And since I didn't just want to have bad matchups against everyone, I decided to go with the unexpected. Those decks were often inconsistent and therefore depended on luck, but I think if you don't have time to test, you have to stay away from the tier 1 (especially the midrange-y and control-ish decks) and go for the high risk/high reward-deck. Also, those decks were the most fun to play.

Don't get me wrong, I actually built some decks which were rogue, but really strong. For example, I built a BW tokens deck back in the Lorwyn days and wrote an article about it. After Manuel Bucher wrote about the deck in an SCG article, the deck actually became popular and was the second or third most-played deck at the next Pro Tour (needless to say, I lost every mirror match). Another great example was a blue/white [card]Story Circle[/card]/[card]Runed Halo[/card]/white Leyline deck which I played at an Extended Pro Tour in Amsterdam. The deck was rogue, but it had like a 80% matchup against the top tier 1 deck ([card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card]), and lots of other good matchups with the exclusion of Fairies and Ascension.

Still, there were lots of rogue decks which were crap, mostly because I didn't test them post-sideboarded. For example, the Modern deck I played at PT Return to Ravnica, [card]Griselbrand[/card] reanimator, with [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card], [card]Goryo's Vengeance[/card], [card]Fury of the Horde[/card], and [card]Noxious Revival[/card] to go off, was great against most decks in game 1, but lost most of its sideboarded games.

Switzerland was crowned Team World Champion in 2007, and you were a part of that team. At that point you had already won a Grand Prix, but Team Worlds marked your first major success at Pro Tour level Magic. Does this title have a special significance for you either due to its impact on your further career, or due to the nature of the competition? Would you say that the format being 2HG-draft—one of the most roguish formats ever used on Pro Tour level—played into your hands?

Winning the Team World Champion title was maybe my greatest experience in tournaments, not because of the money and Pro Points we won or the title itself, but because it was a team success. If you're successful in a tournament as an individual, people cheer for you and share your big moments, but celebrating a win as a team is just a much greater experience than enjoying it on your own. I love team competitions, but still hate 2HG. I'm looking forward to Team Sealed, and hope we will see Team Constructed again soon!

You are one of the most accomplished writers in the German speaking community due to your unique and entertaining style. Is getting back to Magic writing something you would like to do someday? Your articles are usually at their best when you are free to explore new forms of writing. However, most of your articles for the English speaking community were rather conservative in their form as they were mostly draft walkthroughs and "Ask the Pro." Do you care to amuse the English speaking community with your hilarious prose some day?

I surely would love to return to writing, but I don't have the same time resources I used to have. Still, I think I might give a comeback sometimes soon, if there's something to write about, since I still love writing.

Writing in English is much more difficult for me. You see, most of my articles are based on experimental, creative writing, including some puns and quotes, which is much easier in your native language. Still, I'm not averse to writing or recording something new in English, I just fear it won't have the same entertaining level as it would have in German. I might try doing a 10-rare challenge in English, as this was maybe the most fun thing I did in my German recordings (as well as my GP Day Twos when I was out of money contention). Hop in an online Swiss draft, draft at least 10 rares, play them all in your deck and win as much as possible. I managed to 2-1 my first rare challenge, 3-0 the second (which sadly doesn't count, because I only had 8 rares and had to treat Archangel (I mean it was rare back in time after all!) and a foil common (also pretty rare, if you ask me) as rares. As I said, the challenge is fun, there were lots of German draft videos around doing the rare challenge. So whoever reads this, go for it—or if you want me to show it to you in English, let me know.

Makihito Mihara

cfb_author_146_x_169_makihito_mihara

Age: 31
Nationality: Japanese

 

 

 

 

Qualified via Top 25 Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, Pro Club Platinum level
Pro Points: 0 in 2013-14, 281 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 2003 Pro Tour Venice (233rd)
Pro Tours played: 33
Median finish: 78
Average finish: 109.2
Standard deviation: 101
Top 8: 4 Pro Tours (1 win) and 6 Grand Prix (2 wins)
Planeswalker level: 49 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: 2011 National Team Champion, 6 Nationals Top 8

Makihito Mihara had his first appearance on the Pro Tour in 2003. Despite Top 8'ing Japanese Nationals three times in a row between 2003 and 2005, it was only his win at the 2006 Worlds in Paris that put him on the map for non-Japanese Magic players. Rather uncharacteristically, Makihito won the tournament with a regular [card]Dragonstorm[/card] deck. Afterwards he would become known primarily as a quirky deckbuilder. One of his more curious creations was already around this time: CAL! CAL? CAL stands for (Solitary) Confinement, (Seismic) Assault, (Life from the) Loam. It was a control deck that tried to lock the opponent out of the game with the help of Solitary Confinement, using Life from the Loam and cycle lands to pay the upkeep indefinitely.

Despite further Top 8 appearances in 2007 and 2008, it still took a long time before Mihara was noticed as one of the top Japanese pro players. At Worlds 2011, Mihara led a young Japanese team to the title, and in 2013 he reached the Top 8 of a Pro Tour again after a 5-year absence. He played Esper Control, a standard archetype in Return to Ravnica Block Constructed, albeit with a twist. He had discerned that [card]Perimeter Captain[/card] gave his deck a new strategic dimension, allowing him to employ an aggro-control tactic occasionally. It was arguably this Top 8 that finally made it plain to most that Mihara is not just a one-time World Champion, but a top-level player and one of the most talented deckbuilders in the game.

When you won the World Championship in 2006, you were largely unknown outside of Japan. How did you experience that tournament? Before the event did you believe that you had a realistic chance of winning?

The 2006 World Championship is very special to me. It remains in my memory. It was the first title in a premier event, and moreover it was the World Championship.

I believe actually that I can always win a tournament with a probability of about 0.5 to 2.0% depending on the circumstances.

Many of the decks you created are highly synergistic. Is that what usually gets you started when trying to build a deck? What does your process of building a deck look like?

In order to carry out deckbuilding I look at a card list first and then select all cards that could be good in the deck. That will leave me with about 60-100 cards. Then I will extract cards and adjust the list so that maybe about 35 cards remain. The idea is to remove cards, but try to remove as little synergy as possible. Also I don't mind when there are many colors left in the end.

Extended has been your favorite format, but that is officially gone now. What did you like so much about Extended? Is Modern a suitable replacement?

I like a combo, and in Extended there were various combos, thus I liked it. Of course, it is similar to Modern. However, with so many banned cards it is difficult to build good combo decks.

When the results for the Hall of Fame were announced last year you didn’t get a single vote. This year you were suddenly one of the most talked-about candidates, and came close to making it in. You played a good season 2012-13, but probably not so exceptional that one should have expected such a leap. What do you think has changed in between? What would it mean to you to become a Hall of Famer? Is the perspective of the Hall of Fame something that motivates you?

I appreciate to have received many votes. However, I do not understand the reason, either. Probably, having played an active last season made me go up to the 5th place in votes.

The Hall of Fame is very special to every Magic player, and I am no exception. It will always be my goal to get into the Hall of Fame.


Third Time's the Charm >>


<< Back to Introduction

Dinosaurs!

Christopher Pikula

cfb_author_146_x_169_louis_chris_pikula

Nickname: Meddling Mage
Age: 38
Nationality: American

 

 

 

Qualified via Special Invite
Pro Points: 0 in 2013-14, 135 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 1996 Pro Tour New York
Pro Tours played: 30
Median finish: 76
Average finish: 96.6
Standard deviation: 90
Top 8: 3 Pro Tours and 4 Grand Prix
Planeswalker level: 44 (Battlemage)
Other accomplishments: 2000 Invitational Winner (created [card]Meddling Mage[/card])

When the Meddling Mage played his first Pro Tour, it was the first Pro Tour for everybody else as well. Chris has been around since the beginning, Pro Tour New York in 1996. He did well, too, finishing 26th in the end. A couple of months later, at the beginning of the 1996-97 Pro Tour season, Chris managed back-to-back Top 8 finishes, but after a string of mediocre finishes he fell back behind the Canadians in the Pro Player of the Year race.

Chris has had a bunch of solid finishes since, but only made it to the single elimination stage once again, at Worlds '98. Between 2000 and 2005 Chris played on the Pro Tour on and off, but retired from Pro Play afterwards, and has only played Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011 since.

Chris's contributions to Magic pro play go well beyond his personal performances, however. People around at the time still remember Chris as one of the most eloquent storytellers, often having a crowd of people around him listening. Apparently he used his charisma and popularity, time and again to make a cause for more sportsmanship on the Pro Tour. While it is probably too much to say that Chris's calls alone made the Pro Tour a better place to be, they certainly helped to push things in the right direction.

You attended the first Pro Tour in New York in 1996. What was that event like? Why did you attend, and how did you experience it?

Pro Tour 1 was fantastic. I had a group of people I played with at Cornell (David Price, David Bartholow, Bob Kline), and we had been going to a lot of large local tourneys in upstate New York and New York City. Usually first prize was a [card]Black Lotus[/card] or $500 or something similar. We really owe Bob for getting us into this tourney, because he is the one who called and registered us. I ended up playing a WRG (we'd call it Naya these days) [card]Land Tax[/card]/[card]Stormbind[/card] deck. I think I went 7-2 and got 26th place. The tourney was in the Puck Building in Manhattan, and they had a huge TV screen with feature matches being shown. I watched David Humphreys use his [card]Sylvan Library[/card] on the big screen and I was basically hooked forever.

It is often said that in the early pro Magic scene you were probably the most vocal person calling for more sportsmanship and a harsher handling of cheating and unsportsmanlike behavior. What was it like to play a Pro Tour in the '90s, and what has changed since? What do you think were the quintessential factors, that helped professional Magic to become a gentleman sport instead of a cutthroat competition?

It is true that there were some pretty miserable situations due to cheating back then. There were many players who made Pro Tour Top 8s who people considered to be habitual cheaters, which was very frustrating. It was really horrible to have to play against the cheaters too, just a taxing and joyless experience. I honestly think that everyone got sick of it, especially the judges. Even the cheaters were sick of it. I don't really know if there was someone at WOTC who made the call to clean things up or not, it certainly wasn't Mark Rosewater. It really is just a better experience now.

You missed induction into the Hall of Fame by a small margin this year. What would it mean to you to be inducted in the Hall of Fame? Knowing that induction is actually a realistic possibility, is that something you consider making an effort for?

I just really love playing Magic, so I guess I'm always making an effort in a way. But, I don't let the HoF affect my decisions much. There have been times where I went to an SCG tourney or a PTQ instead of a Grand Prix, even though obviously a GP is better for a HoF push. I turned down playing with Team SCG for a variety of reasons for PT Theros, even though I'm obviously handicapping myself by not testing with them. The Hall of Fame would be completely amazing, but I guess I have the attitude that if I'm good enough to deserve it, I'll get there eventually, so I don't really change my behavior in order to maximize my chances.

You won the 2000 Magic Invitational in Kuala Lumpur. What was the process of creating [card]Meddling Mage[/card] like? How close is the card to the card you had in mind, and how much say did you have in how the card turned out? Are you happy with the outcome?

I absolutely love the outcome. The card I submitted was terrible, but I don’t think I ever thought that would be the final card. Basically I told them the concept of what kind of card I wanted it to be, and they made it fit into what they were doing. I just wanted a cheap threat that you could play in a control deck that would be really strong against combo decks. Meddling Mage was basically perfect.

Olle Råde

cfb_author_146_x_169_olle_rade

Nickname: Littlest Viking
Age: 34
Nationality: Swedish

 

 

 

Qualified via Hall of Fame
Pro Points: 2 in 2013-14, 179 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 1996 Pro Tour Columbus
Pro Tours played: 22
Median finish: 49.5
Average finish: 68
Standard deviation: 66
Top 8: 5 Pro Tours (1 win) and 1 Grand Prix (1 win)
Planeswalker level: 45 (Battlemage)
Other accomplishments: 1997 Invitational Winner (created [card]Sylvan Safekeeper[/card])

When Jon Finkel attended his first Pro Tour, New York 1996, he chose to attend the Junior Division because he didn't know if he was good enough for the Master Division. When Kai Budde played his first Pro Tour, New York 1997, he played in the Junior Divison because he felt he wasn't good enough for the Master Divison. When Olle Råde played his first Pro Tour, Columbus 1996, he just beat the hell out of everybody else in the Master Division.

Back then Olle was 16, a little kid with long blond hair, and no volume to his voice. He had his cards sleeved up nicely at a time when most real men played their cards as they came. At that Pro Tour, most of his opponents must have felt very lucky to be in for such an easy round. Sure that kid must have won a PTQ somehow, but he probably got lucky and it was just in Sweden anyway...

Olle's "luck" didn't run out in Columbus and it didn't at Worlds in Seattle either. Instead he added a 4th place and claimed the first Player of the Year title. Good results followed more good results and it was quickly accepted that Olle was just one of the best players in the world. After five Pro Tour Top 8s in two and a half years at the top of his—and really anyone's—game, Olle retired from Pro Play and was not seen for a long time. He played back-to-back Pro Tours in 2001, but except these and his Hall of Fame induction Pro Tour, he was not seen playing on the Tour between 1999 and 2011. However, in recent years Olle seems to have rediscovered his love for the game. Grand Prix, Pro Tour, MTGO, coverage—he is does it all, albeit like a connoisseur (instead of a grinder).

In 1996 you attended your first Pro Tour in Columbus. You won that one, followed it up with a Top 4 at Worlds, and thus became Pro Player of the Year. At the start of the next season you added a 32nd place and another Top 8 to your resumé, having won the Invitational in between. You were only 18 years old, and your nickname ‘Littlest Viking’ reflected that, but people were calling you the best Magic player in the world by that time anyway. How does it feel to basically a kid, having absolute success immediately? When you couldn’t get much going in the next three Pro Tours how did you handle that?

To be honest it's been a long time (17 years), so it's a little hard to remember my exact feelings. But my first answer would be that I was surprised. I never really expected to do that well, and my goals were set on just making the money at the first Pro Tour I played (and ended up winning). So surprise and a lot of joy I would say.

Naturally I was having the time of my life skipping high school and travelling the world as a teenager to play a card game I've always loved playing. Getting to visit places like California, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and New York was pretty awesome as well.

I've actually never reflected on that string of worse finishes. I missed making the money in three straight Pro Tours, but I did make Top 16 at the World Championships that year and Top 8 of the Pro Tour following it (Chicago). I also don't think my happiness was based on doing extremely well or making money in the tournaments. When you're young and experiencing things for the first time, I don't think you are as goal-oriented as when you're an adult, and might, for example, skip events because of bad expected value. I was just happy that there was a Pro Tour circuit and that I was lucky enough to be on it. Since I was Player of the Year that season I also had free flights and hotel for the events, so there was never really any pressure do to well to be able to afford keep going to events.

It has been remarked that sportsmanship on the early Pro Tour was not what it is today. How did you experience that? Did you feel that you had to pay a lot of extra attention to players doing things they were not supposed to? Did they maybe even think they could take advantage of playing a younger player?

Truth be told I was actually on the other side of that equation. A lot of people back then didn't know the rules that well, such as timing issues or card specific rules. For example if a player would attack with a [card]Whirling Dervish[/card] (that gets a +1/+1 counter at the end of turn if it deals damage to an opponent), they would immediately reach for a die to put a counter on it. However that would also indicate that they went to the end of their turn. I do feel kind of bad about it when looking back, but me and Tommi Hovi were two of the worst "rules lawyers" back then, and we would almost compete about who could "get" their opponents the most with
stuff like that. I'm very glad the rules have changed now to go more by a players intent rather than the actual play. Although players should always be careful when playing at the highest level events.

So I would say there wasn't a lot of sportmanship, although we didn't really regard that as unsportsmanlike, only a technical advantage due to knowing the rules better. Keep in mind that we were very young at the time, and hence pretty immature.

What kind of decks and formats do you like? Back then you seemed to prefer aggressive decks to control decks. At least the decks you made Top 8 with always had a lot of creatures. Is that still your style?

Yeah, I've always resorted to aggressive decks with a lot of creatures. Maybe it's because there were no real sweepers in the very first format I played on the Pro Tour and I've subconsciously forgotten that aggro isn't always the best strategy. On a serious note though, I think aggro is a bit underrated since the "best" players tend to play control decks designed to beat midrange rather than the pure aggro decks. In almost every format I think there is an aggro deck that is good enough to win a WMCQ or Top 8 a Pro Tour. It is also fun to see that some players, like Paul Rietzl, also do well with aggro decks in modern Magic. The torch has been passed on from old school aggro masters like David Price, which is fun to see!

After you won the Invitational it took a long time for your card to be published. Why did your card take so much longer than the other cards? How close is it to what you had in mind, and how much say did you have in how the final card turned out? Are you happy with the card?

At first I didn't really have any ideas what card to make. I've always been more of a player than a person that toys around with deck ideas and thinks of wacky combos. I just take whatever tools are available and try to make the most of them. So I couldn't come up with a card. But when I saw other players getting portrayed on cards after winning I thought it'd be nice after all, so I cooked up a card together with Mark Rosewater. It's very fun that the card sees a little play in Legacy, which is more than you can say about a lot of the Invitational cards, so I'm very happy with how the card turned out.


<< Back to Introduction

In a Flash

Alexander Hayne

cfb_author_146_x_169_alexander_hayne

Age: 25
Nationality: Canadian

 

 

 

 

Qualified via Pro Club Gold level, Top 8 Grand Prix Strasbourg, Top 4 Grand Prix Calgary
Pro Points: 11 in 2013-14, 94 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 2011 Pro Tour Philadelphia
Pro Tours played: 7
Median finish: 134
Average finish: 148
Standard deviation: 112
Top 8: 1 Pro Tour (1 win) and 3 Grand Prix (1 win)
Planeswalker level: 46 (Archmage)

Alexander Hayne certainly ranks high on the list of players least known at the time of their Pro Tour victory. However, similar to other previously-less-known Pro Tour winners in recent years, it didn't feel like a victory by chance, more like Alex had been at the top of his game all weekend, and one step ahead of his peers. The Canadians including Hayne had built a blue/white miracle deck for the event. The deck didn't perform very well at first and Hayne was off to a disappointing 1-3 start. Meanwhile, his team mates weren't doing much better. At that point, Alex didn't have any more ground to give, and wouldn't for the rest of the weekend. Another loss would mean certain elimination from Top 8 contention. As we know, Alex didn't lose another round. The solution to a problem can be so simple at times...

Since his memorable performance in Barcelona, Alex has Top 8'd the Legacy Grand Prix in Strasbourg with RUG Delver. Afterward he gave himself a birthday present, winning the Standard Grand Prix in Calgary the day he turned 25. Considering the options available in that Standard format, it might not come as a surprise that Hayne won piloting UWr Flash.

So far, whenever you have done well in a professional tournament, blue was involved. Even in your one Limited Grand Prix Top 8 you drafted a blue deck, that you almost took to the title, no less. Is it a coincidence that you are seen mostly with blue, often tempo-oriented decks? More generally what decks and which formats do you like most?

I would say it is not a coincidence that I tend to do well with blue decks. (Besides the Limited Grand Prix Top 8, I drafted 2 non-blue decks on the way to that Top 8.) First of all, I tend to play those decks more than others, which both means that from a numbers standpoint I'm more likely to do well with a blue deck, but also I have much more experience with those types of decks. I definitely like the consistency that blue card draw provides, so that I feel that my deck over the course of a game will perform in a reliable way. I do like blue decks, and am particularly fond of cheap cantrips. Legacy is my favorite format in large part because I get to run 4 [card]Brainstorm[/card] and 4 [card]Ponder[/card].

Going into Pro Tour Avacyn Restored you were certainly not considered a favorite to win the tournament, yet afterwards it felt like one of those triumphs that are logical even though nobody had seen them coming. Before PT Avacyn Restored, started were you aware of how well you were positioned with your deck? What do you think were the most important factors that made your triumph possible?

The miracle deck was designed to beat up on midrange decks, and other control decks. The hard matchups were definitely the aggro decks, such as RW Humans. Going into the site on Thursday, the dealers were all sold out of [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card]s, which we rightfully took to be a good sign. However, the field was not entirely devoid of aggressive decks, though they were continually knocked out of the top tables by the midrange Naya decks. A lot of my teammates running the deck ran into a bunch of such decks, and by losing, made them play against them even more. I also started out poorly, with a 2-3 record in Constructed, but then 6-0'd the Limited portion. I was drafting black decks when everyone else thought black was unplayable, and so both my draft decks were very strong. Of course, when I got back to the Constructed portion, I was facing people who had midrange decks instead of aggro decks, since I had a good record, and the pattern continued through the Top 8. Though, when you are playing a deck with 16 miracles in it, getting lucky at times helps too.

In the quarterfinals of Pro Tour Avacyn Restored you had to play against Jon Finkel. What was it like for you—a relatively new player on the professional level—to play against the most seasoned veteran of the game? Were you happy to face him right away, or would you have rather waited for the finals to play against him?

My feelings on this are a bit mixed. First of all, I did want to play him. I wanted to get on the Pro Tour so I could challenge myself against the very best players in the world, so that I could learn from them and improve, so playing against Jon was definitely something that I wanted to do. However, I was very nervous, not entirely because I was playing against Jon, but because I knew our match would be very high profile. I was very worried I would do something stupid and embarrass myself on camera, and disappoint all the people who had supported me. That worry kept me from sleeping properly that night. If I could have guaranteed to play against Jon in the finals, once I had experienced playing under the lights a bit first, I would have rather done that, but there was no such guarantee. Altogether, hindsight being 20/20, I am happy with the way it worked out, not only because I won, but because I was able to zone out everything but the match at hand throughout the Top 8, so the nervousness I had felt the night before was gone after we began to play.

Even when taking into account that most of Canada’s population lives in the south, it is still one of the most spacious and least densely populated countries in the world. How does that impact the Magic community in Canada?

The issue with Canada's population, Magic-wise, is not a north-south problem, but an east-west problem. It is a big country geographically, and so for many Magic players, it is difficult to find PTQs or high-level tournaments in their area. It used to be that top players from around the country would not talk to each other, or even know who the other was. Flights across Canada are also extremely expensive, since only 2 carriers fly those routes (for example, a flight to Calgary and a flight to Rimini were almost the same price for me). Nowadays, the top Canadians from around the country know who the others are, and often prepare together for Pro Tours, but the large distances are definitely a factor. I myself am lucky to live in Montreal, the second biggest city in the country, with a fairly strong Magic scene, however sometimes getting together a draft with players around my level can be difficult, and at times I wish I had access to the strong players in Toronto (the largest city in Canada) for testing for Grand Prix and other events.

Matthew Costa

cfb_author_146_x_169_louis_matt_costa

Age: 21

Nationality: American

 

 

 

Qualified via Pro Club Gold level, Top 8 Grand Prix Miami
Pro Points: 6 in 2013-14, 107 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 2010 Pro Tour San Juan
Pro Tours played: 9
Median finish: 138
Average finish: 139.7
Standard deviation: 122
Top 8: 1 Pro Tour and 5 Grand Prix (1 win)
Planeswalker level: 44 (Battlemage)

In 2011 an 18 year-old Matt Costa burst on to the Magic scene with almost back-to-back Grand Prix Top 8 appearances. However, it took some more time until the broader public really appreciated Matt's talents. Maybe Top 8s with random 40-card collections are not appreciated as much as successive achievements with 75 handpicked cards. When Matt Top 8'd Pro Tour Gatecrash in early 2012 and quickly followed that up with a win at Grand Prix Baltimore, more people took notice. Conveniently, Matt played the same deck at both events—UW Delver. Henceforth this became known as his deck of choice. When you would play Matt in a tournament back then, you knew it would be Insects and legendary Spirits, and you knew he would wield his weapons well.

After the Standard rotation in October 2012, Delvers fell out of favor and Matt didn't quite stay true to the Spirit either. Blue and white are still his colors, but [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card] is the new toy. Apparently Matt is comfortable with this somewhat more control-oriented approach as well as his two Grand Prix Top 8s with UWr Flash show. Matt Costa playing Standard without [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s might seem wrong by now, but this is precisely what he is lookwing forward to doing in Dublin.

You are well known to like blue-white tempo decks. In fact, every great Constructed finish you've had so far, you achieved with a UW(R) Flash deck in Standard. There are probably few people that dread the disappearance of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] from Standard with the upcoming rotation as much as you do. Or do you? What does the departure of Snapcaster Mage mean for your PT Theros preparation? Are you the kind of player—like Guillaume Wafo-Tapa—that will stick to his guns regardless, or can you see yourself exploring different archetypes?

It will definitely be a huge change, but I wouldn't say that I'm dreading the disappearance of Snapcaster. I've been lucky the past two Standard seasons to find decks early on in the format that I was able to play for basically the whole season. I think this gave me a huge advantage, because of all the practice I had going into events and the hand I had in evolving those decks. Helping build or evolve a deck really gives me an increased understanding of the moving pieces and non-intuitive aspects of a deck.

As for PT Theros, I'm willing to play whatever deck I think gives me the best chance of winning. That said, I recognize my strengths and understand that my biggest edge against the field is when I play tempo-oriented or control decks, so I'll likely gravitate toward those strategies if they prove good enough. I think I've been typecast fairly accurately as someone who only plays blue decks, but in reality I just like playing decks that are 50% against the field and have lots of interaction, like Jund in Modern (which I played at PT Return to Ravnica).

At Pro Tour Dark Ascension, until the Top 8 you had the best Standard record of all competitors. You said that you were more confident in your chances in the Limited portion, however. What made it possible that you widely surpassed your own expectations in the Standard portion of that event? Why didn’t the draft go as well as anticipated?

Up until that point in my career, most of my success had been in Limited, including both of my Grand Prix Top 8s at the time. However, for Hawaii, I didn't really get a chance to test much, and I hadn't done more than 2 or 3 drafts with Dark Ascension before the Pro Tour. I think my natural ability at Limited is good enough to understand a format without much practice, but I certainly would've benefited from more practice.

With regard to Constructed, I would say that Pro Tour was the first time I ever felt good about my deck choice for the Pro Tour. I decided to play the default "best deck" from before the release of the new set, and make only the necessary changes. I actually think people tend to go overboard with testing for PTs where there is already an established field. Playing new cards for the sake of doing something different doesn't always make for a better deck. I also had plenty of chances to practice for the PT, since the deck hadn't changed much in the months previous.

Compared to the Spirit Delver of Finkel’s crew, your deck looked rather low-tech, but after going 9-0-1 in Standard one might have expected you to run away with the title anyway. In the end you couldn’t overcome Finkel, though. What was it like playing Jon Finkel—you a relatively new player on the Pro Tour, him the most seasoned veteran of the game? Were you happy to face him in the quarterfinals right away or would your rather have him be in the other bracket?

I wasn't really worried about if/when I had to play Jon in that Top 8. In my mind, you have to beat the best to be the best, so in many ways it felt fitting that I had to go through Finkel. I just wish that I'd been able to get further in the tournament. That loss was a defining moment in my Magic career and inspired to continue to improve as much as possible.

In your six pro-level Top 8s you have made it past the quarterfinals just once. Do you think that is just variance, or were there situations where you believe you could have done better? In Baltimore you didn’t fall in the quarters, and then there was no stopping you. What made Baltimore different?

I'm not surprised that I lost early in my first Top 8, at GP Kansas City. I was paired against a great player with much more experience (Tim Aten), and to be honest I was probably in a bit over my head. I feel good about the way I drafted and played, but I was definitely nervous and I undoubtedly made some mistakes.

That said, I do think that Baltimore was the "most likely" of my Top 8s for me to actually win. I honestly just had the best deck for the tournament and a tremendous amount of experience with it. I was still riding a high from the Pro Tour, which was only a couple weeks before, so I was really confident going into the tournament and the Top 8.

Grand Prix Miami is probably the quarterfinals loss I feel the worst about, because of how comfortable I was with my deck. I think I had a really good matchup in the Top 8, but I was also facing a really strong opponent in Brad Nelson. In the end I just didn't play well enough to beat Brad, who played really well in our match.

Beyond those two, there is probably some variance in my quarterfinal losses. At GP Montreal, I had probably the 2nd or 3rd best deck in the Top 8, but my opponent (and good friend) Rich Hoaen had by far the best deck. At GP Atlantic City, Jon Stern was probably 80% to beat me in our matchup—I simply wasn't prepared for his deck. Despite this, I believe that every match is winnable, and that players lose because they make mistakes. I really don't like it when I hear players say that they played perfectly or better than their opponent and still lost—I think this is the type of attitude that prevents you from improving and learning from your mistakes.


Rogue's Perspective >>


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Still Going Strong

Raphaël Lévy

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Age: 32
Nationality: French

 

 

 

Qualified via Hall of Fame, Pro Club Gold level, 2013 WMC Top 4
Pro Points: 12 in 2013-14, 558 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 1997 Pro Tour Paris
Pro Tours played: 79
Median finish: 53
Average finish: 88.4
Standard deviation: 90
Top 8: 3 Pro Tours, 18 Grand Prix (4 wins)
Planeswalker level: 50 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: 2006 Hall of Fame class, 2 European Championship Top 8s, 2013 World Magic Cup champion (with Yann Gutmann, Timothée Simonot, and Stephane Soubrier)

Raphaël won the first Grand Prix held in his home country, France, in 1998 when he was 17 years old. However, it was not the first time he did well. Two weeks before, Raphaël had missed the Top 8 of Grand Prix Madrid just barely. It didn't take Raphaël long to be successful on the Pro Tour either. Although his first attempt at Pro Tour Paris was disappointing, by the end of the year Raphaël had secured his first Pro Tour Top 8 at Worlds in Seattle. Another Top 8 followed in Houston at the end of the next year. What came afterwards is what one might expect of a very long career. Some seasons went very well and others a bit worse.

For a time in the 2000s, Raphaël traveled the world with the Ruel brothers, but eventually settled for playing European Grand Prix and the Pro Tours. While Levy had a lot of success throughout his career, there are a few incidents that stand out. In 2006 Raphael was voted into the Hall of Fame, at that point the only active player to have received this honor. Only a few months after that Raphaël had his best run so far when he won back-to-back Grand Prix in Dallas and Singapore. Both Grand Prix were Extended and both times he took a near identical Zoo deck to the title. Just this year he led his National Team to the title at the World Magic Cup.

Congratulations on attending your 80th Pro Tour in Dublin! You have attended every single Pro Tour in the last 15 years. In all that time, have you ever been tired of the game, considered taking a break, or even quitting altogether? What keeps you motivated to not just play the game, but to prepare for yet another event, and compete on the highest level almost every other weekend?

A lot of things happened in 15 years: I graduated high school, I studied and graduated at university, I moved to other countries, I moved back to France, I had some successes and sometimes pretty bad losing streaks, depending on how much time I invested to prepare. My motivation hasn’t always been the same. The one thing that kept me playing in the times I wasn’t playing much was that I needed to travel. I love traveling and Magic gave me the opportunity to do so. Back when the Hall of Fame didn’t exist, you needed to perform to stay on the “train” (remain qualified). There were some times I didn’t really have the time to prepare for a Pro Tour, or just didn’t want to go or had exams. But the fact that I needed to keep earning points in order to keep traveling (as in remaining qualified) was a motivation on its own.

There were times when I wanted to quit, to move on and do something else with my life. I started a lot of other things but somehow, I always found time to play on the PT. I needed a very good reason to break my streak of X PTs in a row. Winning is definitely a great motivation. I do like the game, but I like winning a lot more. When you know how to do something well, and beat most people in the world at it, it’s a pity to just quit…

You have been a part of professional Magic forever, but you have also taken a more active and verbal interest in the fate of pro Magic at various points. How do see the evolution of Magic pro play in the last decade and how would you assess the state of professional Magic today?

The Pro Tour has known ups and downs. I’ve voiced my opinion a few times in the interest of the players of the Pro Tour and of the Pro Tour itself. 2008 was a key year for the Pro Tour. WotC decided to cut a PT, which probably made sense from their point of view, but hurt us players a lot. I remember traveling a lot the year before, I invested so much money in trying to reach level 6 (top pro player level), just to be told that there was going to be one less Pro Tour and that my investment wasn’t worth all the trouble. The problem wasn’t the PT being cut, but the very poor communication between WotC and the players. They made it clear that we had no influence on their decisions and it was very rough for us—but then they started to open the communication.

In 2011, when they announced the big PWP change, they invited some people to Seattle to expose their plans. They had already set up the whole qualification process and they wanted us to give our opinion. It was a step in the right direction, but it was already too late. We saw that the PWP program to qualify for PTs was flawed on many, many levels. Thanks to the actions of a lot of players, WotC changed the program and we now have a system that’s evolving every year, and adapted to the new needs and expectations.

It has now reached a point where WotC consults the players before they make big decisions. This is what we were looking for 6 years ago. I like pretty much everything that happened in the last two years, how the discussion goes between them and us. I’m very confident the pro scene is going to improve year after year and will get more recognition.

There are a few players like Martin Juza, Shuhei Nakamura, and yourself who do very well on the Grand Prix circuit, and also have Top 8'd Pro Tours before, but haven’t been able to replicate that success in recent years. However, you all have consistently good finishes on the Pro Tour, yet somehow you are always one or two wins shy of Top 8. Do you have an explanation for that?

Pro Tours are rigged! ;-)

More seriously, I don’t really have an explanation. I know that I make about one or two costly mistakes every tournament, a mistake that costs me a game. It usually happens early in the tournament, 1st or 2nd round (I’m not a morning person). In a GP where players aren’t as good as on a PT, you can make up for it and win the match anyway. That’s usually not the case at a PT. I’d say that the day I stop making those costly mistakes, I’m gonna start Top 8’ing PTs a lot more often!

How do you see yourself as a Magic player? Looking at your tournament history one might imagine that you took a fancy to Constructed in 2007-08, but otherwise you have been mainly focusing on Limited. Do you prefer Limited to Constructed? When you do well in Constructed it seems to be inevitably with aggressive decks. Why do you favor aggressive decks? Do you play control decks at all?

I just play with the cards I’m given and what I’m required to play, sometimes I’m inspired and find a way to break the format in a certain way, and that applies to both Constructed and Limited. There are some draft formats that I really loved and did very well with because I managed to find good ways to draft it, triple-Innistrad for example (Finals in GP Milan ‘11 and win in GP Austin ’12), and sometimes I just can’t find the solution (Gatecrash or Return to Ravnica block draft). Same for Constructed, sometimes I find a deck that I really like, I tune it right and it becomes competitive.

When I play aggressive strategies, it’s because I believe the control decks in the format don’t have the right answers or aren’t stable enough. By definition, an aggressive deck is supposed to take advantage of your opponents’ bad draws. Add to that the fact that even when they draw well, they might not have the answers. In theory, they are better. However, it doesn’t always work. In Montreal, for example, aggressive strategies had a very hard time beating control decks: [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]—that was all just too much. That’s one of the reasons I played Bant back then.

I usually play aggressive decks when no one else is. I don’t mind playing the mirror, as I believe players in general don’t know how to play these matchups. I think I have an edge when it comes to combat. Players think it’s the “easy part” of the game, that it’s about sending your guys in the red zone, and it's really not that hard. They’re wrong; they make mistakes and lose. They might not even realize why they lose because they don't look for their mistakes in combat, the easy part.

So yes, I often play aggressive decks when I feel it’s the right choice and also because I know how to play them well. But I don’t mind playing control decks. My pet deck in Legacy is UW Miracles…

Luis Scott-Vargas

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Nicknames: LSV
Age: 30
Nationality: American

 

 

 

Qualified via Hall of Fame, Top 25 Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, Pro Club Platinum level
Pro Points: 5 in 2013-14, 356 lifetime
Pro Tour debut: 2004 Pro Tour San Diego
Pro Tours played: 33
Median finish: 47
Average finish: 97.5
Standard deviation: 113
Top 8: 5 Pro Tours (1 win) and 10 Grand Prix (4 wins)
Planeswalker level: 49 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: 3 Nationals Top 8 including 2007 United States national champion, 2013 Hall of Fame class (vote leader)

Luis is the antithesis of the "all work and no play" pro player. Whereas some players are all business, LSV has made himself a name for being indulgent when not playing for high stakes. Between drafting five-color decks, playing Sealed decks with mana curves starting at four, and playing "sweet" combo decks, Luis certainly likes to find out what he can get away with. On the other hand, LSV has demonstrated time and again that he means serious business when Pro Points are at stake. One of the most impressive displays of his abilities was his two-year run in 2010-11, that started with winning all matches in the Swiss portion of Pro Tour San Diego, included two further Pro Tour Top 8s, and ended with Luis having won well above 75% of his Pro Tour matches in that two-year period.

That is not the only good run Luis has had on the Pro Tour, however. After his first Pro Tour appearance in 2004 it took some time until Luis was able to compete on a level with the best. Beginning with the 2007 season he started to have good results consistently. At the end of 2008 Luis won Pro Tour Berlin—with a sweet combo deck, no less. For that Pro Tour, several test groups had individually broken the Extended Elfball deck and created one of the most potent combo decks that was ever unleashed on the Pro Tour. Eventually, Luis triumphed in one of the greenest Top 8s of all time. Afterwards he quickly added two more Grand Prix titles to his resumé, Top 8'd Pro Tour Kyoto, and finished 11th at Worlds in between.

Roughly in late 2010, LSV formed Team ChannelFireball with a few of his friends. While a team is, of course, collective, Luis is often identified as the captain of ChannelFireaball. This might be due to Luis being a bit more eloquent than most of his team members as well as Luis's prior position as content manager of ChannelFireball's website. While Luis has since moved on from that position to pursue a career in game design, he has found other ways to cater to Magic fans worldwide. Starting with being a guest commentator in Pro Tour Top 8s, Luis is now frequently a part of the coverage, at least when he doesn't Top 8 that Pro Tour.

There are very few players that have attended more Pro Tours in the last 10 years than you. In that time you have won a Pro Tour, Top 8'd four more, had incredible streaks, and helped your teammates to great successes. What keeps you motivated to not just play the game, but to prepare for yet another event and compete on the highest level almost every other weekend?

The two main things that keep me coming back to the Pro Tour are the friends I’ve met playing Magic and the fact that I just love to play Magic. I’ve been dialing back my attendance to some degree when it comes to Grand Prix, but I don’t think I’ll be skipping Pro Tours anytime soon. The Pro Tour is just so insanely fun, and all the people I get to see there are such a big part of my life.

Lately there seem to have been a lot of changes in your personal life. You have moved from the Bay Area to Denver. You are now a full-time game designer instead of a full-time Magic pro. Now you are also a Magic Hall of Famer, and yet still a Platinum-level pro. How will these changes impact your Magic career? What goals do you still have in the game? Also becoming Platinum seemed very important to you last season, although one might have assumed that your priorities are changing a bit right now. Why was it such a relief to reach Platinum again?

I certainly have less time to play Magic than I used to. It’s been tough getting used to having 10 hours a week to practice instead of 30, and sometimes I don’t even have that. I’ve had to become more efficient, and I did start doing better the second half of the last season after having more time to adjust (to having less time). I still think I can compete at a high level, and even if I don’t have any specific goals, I’m not ready to move on from competition just yet.

One of the reasons Platinum was so important to me last season was that I went to so many events, way more than I’m planning on going to this year, and to miss my goal after expending such an effort would have been very frustrating. I luckily managed to get there almost exactly, needing a Top 16 at the last Pro Tour of the year, and finishing in the Top 16 (after a 1-3 start). It was a good way to end the season, and I’m much more relaxed this time around. I still would like to hit Platinum, and think it’s very achievable, but I’ve accepted that by skipping more Grand Prix this year, I’m not giving myself the absolute best shot.

In the Swiss portion of Pro Tour San Diego you had the best run any player has ever had on a single Pro Tour. That run ended in the semifinals. However, not ten minutes later you were reportedly seen drafting. Wasn’t that loss particularly heartbreaking? Or is drafting your way of dealing with disappointments? Would you say, that dealing well with losses is one of your strengths?

My loss to Simon was indeed the most heartbreaking loss of my career. I was in a position to potentially 19-0 a Pro Tour, something nobody had ever done before, and losing that match meant giving up my (likely) only shot at doing so. Of course, it being so heartbreaking is partially what led to me drafting. Team drafting is among the most fun forms of Magic, and is such a contrast to the Pro Tour that it’s a great way to unwind.

I’ve usually been pretty good at dealing with losses, though my tolerance for that has diminished recently. I’m not sure why, but losing has felt worse over this last year and a half.

At professional events you are very competitive, but in your draft videos you prefer durdling away. How do these two sides of the Magic player LSV fit together? Are they in conflict with each other, or do they fertilize each other?

They definitely synergize. As much as I’m willing to play Zoo or Tempered Steel at the Pro Tour, I’d much rather be playing [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] and [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. Those are the decks I tend to test more, and sometimes they are good enough. We got to play Esper at PT Dragon’s Maze, and it was really good, which is a win-win in my book. I admit that I do not always take the optimal line while recording, but part of that is because I see my job first and foremost to entertain. I don’t do things I think are just terrible, and there’s certainly much to be learned even from the durdliest draft, but I am more prone to take the 7-drop than the 2-drop.


In a "Flash" >>


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