Pro Tour Magic 2015 is upon us, and this one will be interesting. I mean, every Pro Tour is sweet and the high point of a competitive Magic season, but the last Pro Tour of the year is special. While some players have clinched Platinum already, everybody else still has work to do. For some, this is a last chance to turn a poor season around with a great finish. For others, the primary goal is not to do too badly, because a 100th place secures Gold and thus another year of Pro Tour invites. And yet a few other players will compete for the remaining slots at the World Championship later this year.

I don’t think I have to stoke your enthusiam any further, and if it needs stoking, Rich does that better than I do anyway. For the Magic 2015 Pro Tour Special I have talked to one player from each of the four big Magic continents. I am very grateful to Fabrizio Anteri, Kuo Tzu-Ching, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, and Conley Woods for taking the time and the effort to answer my questions!

After the last issue of the Pro Tour Special and my article on finding a better way to measure Pro Tour success, I have re-evaluated which data I would like to have in a player profile. I decided to use three values:

• The median, because it is such a universally accepted concept, despite its flaws when applied to Pro Tours.

• The 10/20/30-Quantile because I still think it is a good way to measure how well a player is doing when he is doing well.

• Win percentage, because it is the most honest overall measure. I actually would have used this one before, but although I collected a lot of data since I started this, using win percentage meant that I would have to look at every single Pro Tour again and check how every player did in every portion of each event. That was a lot of work, but my impression is that on the one hand the average win percentage is the stat that you want the most and on the other hand it is the stat that is least accessible.

Finally you might wonder why I only talked to four players this time. The reason is that there will be a second part to this Pro Tour Special tomorrow. It will be a second part with a twist, but I am sure you will appreciate it when you see that tomorrow. Enjoy the Pro Tour Special and the Pro Tour Coverage!

-Florian

Pro Tour Magic 2015 Special

Fabrizio Anteri

Name: Fabrizio Anteri

Age: 24

Nationality: Venezuela / Italy (living in England)

Qualified via Top 4 GP Warsaw, and Top 8 GP Manchester

Pro Points: 49 (33 in 2013–14)

Pro Tour Debut: Pro Tour Dark Ascension

Pro Tours played: 4

Win percentage: 50%

Median: 258

10/20/30-Quantile: n/a

Top 8: 4 Grand Prix (2 wins)

Planeswalker Level: 45 (Battlemage)

Fabrizio Anteri is one of the rising stars of the European Grand Prix circuit. Originally from Venezuela, Anteri moved to the United Kingdom a few years ago, and is currently by far the most successful player in the country.

Anteri qualified for his first two Pro Tours, Dark Ascension and Dragon’s Maze, by winning PTQs in Milton Keynes, UK. However, even before Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze started, Anteri Top 8’d his first GP, London 2013, which meant that he was essentially double qualified for his second Pro Tour. Another GP Top 8 followed in Antwerp later that year.

After a pair of GP Top 8s and a number of other decent finishes, Anteri topped his performances this year with back to back Grand Prix wins in Warsaw and Manchester. Going into Pro Tour Magic 2015 Fabrizio is in the comfortable position of knowing that he will be Gold after the Pro Tour either way, but reaching even Platinum is not impossible. A Top 16 finish would catapult him from nothing before the season to the highest echelon of Magic Pro play.

Q: You are originally from Venezuela, but moved to Italy some time ago, and for a couple of years now you have been living in the United Kingdom. The Magic communities in all three countries are surely quite different. What is it like to play Magic in Venezuela, and how is that different from Italy and the UK?

A: I lived in Venezuela until the age of 17, moved to Italy for 18 months, then moved back to Venezuela for two years, and finally moved to the UK in late 2011.

The communities are quite different indeed. In Venezuela it is very small. When I started playing there was just one PTQ per season and Nationals was only one day with 6-7 rounds. 50-80 players was the average attendance for those important tournaments. Prereleases used to bring the attention of more players, reaching sometimes 100 players. Driving in Venezuela is basically free because of the price of the oil, so the location usually was not a problem when playing Magic.

Despite the small number of players, the level of competition was extremely high, and the atmosphere was very competitive even in the prereleases. In a 60-person PTQ, 40 of them had the skills to Top 8 and 20 were considered good enough to win. Then in Italy, the atmosphere was much more friendly, and more kids were playing for fun. The numbers were bigger. There were 3 weekly sanctioned events, and any other day of the week whenplayers were up for something, the organizer was willing to do it. So my impression in Italy was that people were playing quite often, and as a consequence the level of those taking the game more seriously was very high. The difference from Venezuela is that there were probably three times as many active players in Italy (just talking about the store I was attending), but the number of competitive players was the same as in Venezuela.

Finally, playing in the UK, I found it funny that my first 4-5 PTQs were each “the biggest PTQ in the UK ever.” Basically PTQs in UK have been growing from 120-150-180-200-250 in the last 2.5 years… Two seasons ago was the biggest one with an attendance of 409, but frankly the skill level is quite low. Very few players take the game seriously enough to try to get on the train. I guess that because the community grew very fast, it will take time for them to develop.

You have done extremely well on the European Grand Prix circuit in the last one and a half years, including four Top 8s and a couple of money finishes. This May was especially good to you with back-to-back Grand Prix wins. Where does this sudden explosion come from?

I’ve been asking myself the same question. I didn’t even have the time to enjoy my first Top 64 in a Grand Prix when I was already doing better in the next one, and the next one, and the next one. After winning a PTQ for Atlanta, I was pondering my chances to do well and reach Silver, then Warsaw came and I was suddenly Silver before Atlanta and had a shot at Gold, then after Manchester I virtually locked Gold, all in three weeks time, and now I have a chance for Platinum with a Top 16 in Portland. I feel somehow like I am getting better with the experience of every Grand Prix I play, but such success in such a short period of time is inexplicable to me.

Your best Grand Prix finishes so far have been twice in Limited (different formats), and twice in Constructed (Block Constructed and Modern). Are there actually any formats that you prefer to others, or do you just play whatever comes up and enjoy it?

The only formats I don’t like/play/know are Legacy and Vintage. There are not many competitive events in these formats and there is not much motivation for me in an expensive format without much rotation of cards, decks, and metagames. Sealed Deck, on the other hand, is my favorite format. I can show up for a Limited Grand Prix without having played Magic in months and still do well. I usually play enough Standard on MTGO to keep myself updated and normally that is my preparation for that format. With Modern I admit I’ve been lucky. When I first tried Modern for the PTQ season of last year, I decided to just buy the cheapest deck (Tron) and got rewarded with a win and invitation on my first try. Then I didn’t use the deck or play the format until GP Antwerp, where I managed to get to the finals. The third time I used it, I finished in the Top 64 of GP Prague. Overall I play any competitive format, enjoy Limited the most, and get bored when there is a lack of rotation. For example I haven’t played much Standard in the last year with the Mon-Black Control/Mono-Blue circle.

So far your Pro Tour finishes have been lacking a bit compared to your Grand Prix finishes, and you are [as far as I know] not part of any major team, which might well be a big part of the reason. You have also said that so far you have viewed Magic as a hobby, but your successes make you consider whether you should take a more professional approach. It seems like all these things would go well together, and your Grand Prix performances seem to indicate that you have the required skills. Have you taken any steps in the direction of going Pro in Magic?

In my first 2-3 attempts I didn’t remotely prepare for the Pro Tour, just thinking of it as another PTQ or Grand Prix where I can do fine by having an idea of the current decks. I remember even having to read some cards from Dark Ascension in the draft in Honolulu. I think I’ve used the experience of each of these Pro Tours, and my preparation and testing process have improved. I tested with Matej and the Swedes for Atlanta and finally got a decent result (Top 75), despite not being happy with our deck choice.  I will be testing for Portland with a team of mostly PTQ winners, but they are regulars in the Pro Tour and had some nice results in Grand Prix. I am happy with these guys so far, I have good expectations for our testing once we are together in Portland, and I also expect a positive team result at the end of the Pro Tour.

Ideally I would like to be part of a team with qualified players for all the Pro Tours (Basically Gold, Platinum, or HoF players), simply because I expect the testing process to be  much easier once you start working with the same people. I hope this will happen eventually when I become a Pro Tour regular and get to meet more and more people.

As to going Pro, my first chance to play a Grand Prix and generally to play at a more competitive level was when I moved to London. I’ve been playing more and more since then and I expect to keep doing so. This next Magic year will be of vital importance for me and my chances of starting a Pro Magic career. I will be invited to all the Pro Tours, should be representing England as their captain at the World Magic Cup, and will be playing as many Grand Prix as possible. My target is to maintain the Gold level for the year after or even reach Platinum. The first step I have taken to make this possible is becoming a part-timer in the company I work for. That will happen next week, giving me two weeks of preparation for Pro Tour Portland.

Kuo Tzu-Ching

Name: 郭子敬 (Kuo Tzu-Ching)

Age: 33

Nationality: Taiwan

Qualified via 2013–14 Pro Club Level Gold

Pro Points: 217 (23 in 2013–14)

Pro Tour Debut: Pro Tour Chicago 2000

Pro Tours played: 24

Win percentage: 52.5%

Median: 136.5

10/20/30-Quantile: 53.5

Top 8: 10 Grand Prix, 8 Nationals (3 wins)

Other accomplishments: 2011–12 and 2012–13 National Champion of Taiwan, Captain of the 2012 World Magic Cup winning team of Taiwan

Planeswalker Level: 49 (Archmage)

Kuo Tzu-Ching has been the face of Taiwanese Magic for more than a decade. He might even be the best known non-Japanese Asian player in the game. His first notable finish was a Top 8 at Grand Prix Taipei early at the beginning of the year 2000 (credited as Chi Jin Guo), but after another three Top 8s within 18 months Kuo Tzu-Ching mostly disappeared from the scene for a couple of years.

A few intermittent Pro Tour attendances later, Kuo was suddenly back in full swing at the beginning of the 2009 season, where he managed back-to-back Grand Prix Top 8s. He attended most Pro Tours since, and came closest to a Top 8 at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored where he won all eight rounds on the second day, only to finish in 10th place. After a tough season this year, his first Pro Tour Top 8—or at least a Top 16—would probably be exceedingly welcome for Kuo, as that would grant him Gold for the next season.

And although Kuo has not won an international individual title so far he is one of the most successful players when National competitions are involved. Kuo won the Taiwanese Nationals five times, which ties him for the most National titles in the world. As a result of one of these titles Kuo led his teammates to the 2012 World Magic Cup title, his biggest title yet.

You are the Magic Pro Player from Taiwan, and have been considered the face of Taiwanese Magic for a very long time. What does the rest of the community in Taiwan look like? Do you do groundwork for your local community, or is your focus exclusively on your team?

The Taiwanese Magic community is very small. There are just a few local tournaments occasionally, so I just focus on our team for the Pro Tour. And we also work together for the Asian Grand Prix.

Team Mintcard could rightfully be named East Asian All-Stars. How did that team come together? With Bo Li you even have a Chinese (PR) player on the team. Is there a special relationship between the two Chinas when it comes to Magic?

There is nothing  political about China and Magic. It is just that no Chinese player can keep playing Magic for very long. Then at every Pro Tour there is a different player from China.

Although most coverage watchers should recognize you, they probably don’t have a clear picture of what kind of a player you are. Are you a Limited or a Constructed player? Which types of decks and formats do you like? And do you prefer to create new decks or would you rather try to improve something that already existed?

I think I can confirm that I am primarily a Constructed player. I just play some deck that I find interesting, or whatever I feel like at the moment. However, I usually don’t build new decks. I just change a few things with a deck that sparks my interest.

Taiwan won the first World Magic Cup with an inexperienced team, where you were clearly at the helm. Why do you think your team won over the other teams, that might have looked stronger on paper?

Hah, I think our team just had way better players than before and we were very lucky!

You are one of the best players that never made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. How would that make you feel if you retired from Magic now? Do you think your career would essentially be incomplete without that Pro Tour Top 8? Or is the World Magic Cup title something that proxies for a Top 8?

I will always fight for my first PT Top 8!

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Name: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa

Age: 33

Nationality: France

Qualified via PT Journey Into Nyx Top 25, and 2013–14 Pro Club Level Gold

Pro Points: 259 (37 in 2013–14)

Pro Tour Debut: Pro Tour Barcelona 2001

Pro Tours played: 30

Win percentage: 61.3%

Median: 97.5

10/20/30-Quantile: 7.5

Top 8: 5 Pro Tours (1 win) and 6 Grand Prix

Planeswalker Level: 48 (Archmage)

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is widely considered the most accomplished control mage in the game. After two Limited Grand Prix Top 8s in 2006 Wafo-Tapa had his real breakthrough at the 2007 Block Constructed Pro Tour in Yokohama. At that tournament he played a control deck he designed around Mystical Teachings, and eventually won the tournament with it.

Wafo-Tapa put up strong results throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, but failed to get anything going in 2009, and fell off the gravy train as a result. Asked at the end of the 2009 Worlds about playing PTQs again, and not even Constructed PTQs, Guillaume replied “It will be fine.” Despite the setback Guillaume didn’t miss a Pro Tour in 2010, even finishing the season with back-to-back Top 8s.

Wafo-Tapa has had his ups and downs since. After an 18-month pause in 2011–12 due to the “God Book” incident, he was back to playing PTQs once again. He didn’t make it back to the train right away, but apparently Wafo-Tapa never has a problem winning PTQs. Back on the big stage he made his fifth Pro Tour Top 8 at Pro Tour Theros. He added a Top 25 finish at Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx and thus will not have to bother with PTQs for the time being as he is back to Gold level, and even has a decent shot at Platinum.

Your name is linked to control decks like no other player. However, control decks are not all the same. Since the days of Zak Dolan we have seen purely reactive decks like Cuneo Blue, toolbox decks like your Yokohama deck, the Titan control decks of M11/12 that could change gears quickly, and the control decks of today that are quite reactive but do most of their interaction on the board. Even decks like Death and Taxes, Stasis, and some versions of Scapeshift could be considered control decks. What defines a control deck in your opinion? And what are you looking for in a good control deck? Do you prefer any of the different flavors?

I would simply define a control deck as a deck that plays not to lose. That sets it apart from other deck types which all play to win. A control deck is built around the concept of inevitability. It relies on the fact that inevitability is on its side (which causes trouble when it is not). A control deck looks only to close all opposing avenues of victory. Victory is then usually inevitable. In that regard Scapeshift is not a control deck. It only looks to survive long enough. Death and Taxes is not a control deck. It only plans to disrupt the opponent long enough for its bears to kill it.

Control decks can be sorted by the amount of instants they contain. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got tap-out control and at the other flash control. Most control decks fall somewhere in between. What I’m looking for and what I like in a control deck is to be closer to the flash end. Flash control is a blast to play and the good control decks usually feature a good deal of instants.

Most successful players are part of a team. You always seem to be one of the few lone wolves, but you are in fact on Team Revolution, a team that is more readily associated with players like Dezani, Dagen, and DeTora. That  is despite the fact that you are by far the most successful member of the team. How closely are you actually involved in the French Magic community in general and Team Revolution in particular? Is it more like a Pro Tour Joint Venture or do you test together all the time?

Team Revolution was a Pro Tour joint venture only. I play on Magic Online from time to time, but mostly for draft because it’s difficult to practice in real life. I prefer paper Magic with friends. As for my involvment with the French Magic community, it just amounts to playing locally. I draft at the shop once a week and practice Constructed with whoever wants to play.

In 2007 you won the Block Constructed Pro Tour in Yokohama. You played a blue/black Teachings control deck. You were still relatively unknown back then, but you took the event down in your first PT Top 8 no less. What do you think was instrumental for your success there? Is your Yokohama deck the deck that you are most proud of?

Looking back, Yokohama feels like a strange experience and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why I won. If I had to pick, I guess I would choose the deck being really good as the most deciding factor. But the deck I’m the most proud of is Dralnu.

Aside from your triumph in Yokohama the upcoming Pro Tour might become the biggest thing in your career. How do you feel about the Hall of Fame and your chances to get in? Who did you vote for yourself?

I try not to think about the Hall of Fame. There’s no point anyway. It’s complicated to grasp how others view me. I guess with my Dublin Top 8, my chances are pretty decent. I voted myself for Makihito Mihara, Paul Rietzl, Tomoharu Saito, and Shouta Yasooka.

Conley-Woods

Name: Conley Woods

Age: 27

Nationality: USA

Qualified via 2013–14 Pro Club Level Gold

Pro Points: 190 (20 in 2013–14)

Pro Tour Debut: Worlds 2007

Pro Tours played: 20

Win percentage: 60.4%

Median: 93.5

10/20/30-Quantile: 17.5

Top 8: 2 Pro Tours and 6 Grand Prix (1 win)

Planeswalker Level: 48 (Archmage)

Conley has made himself a name as one of the premier rogue deckbuilders in the game. Although his first Pro Tour appearance was back in 2007, his professional Magic career really began only in 2009. Still virtually a rookie, he Top 8’d his second Pro Tour in Hawaii, 2009. At that Pro Tour Conley played an innovative five-color aggro deck of his own design. Afterwards Conley also did well on the Grand Prix circuit, where he showed that his skills transfer well to other formats as he Top 8’d Grand Prix in Limited, Extended, Standard, and other Block Constructed formats.

In 2011 Conley made his second Pro Tour Top 8 at Worlds in San Francisco. Followed closely by his ChannelFireball teammates Conley cruised comfortably through the weekend, while sitting atop the standings at all times. Eventually he managed to defeat Craig Wescoe in five extremely close and difficult games, before falling to the eventual winner, Yun’ya Iyanaga, in the semis. Despite a couple of decent Pro Tour finishes Conley has fallen a bit on hard times since. At the upcoming Pro Tour he will have to fight to maintain his Gold level, and the ensuing right to attend all Pro Tours next season.

You are primarily known as a deckbuilder, but not all deckbuilders are the same. What are you looking for in a deck? Is there something that you think sets your brews apart from other deckbuilders’ creations?

I definitely utilize under-valued cards better than most deckbuilders. Some deckbuilders specialize in a genre, like Wafo-Tapa with control, because they know what to look for to make a good control deck. I tend to have the same skill, only instead of applying it to an archetype, I am able to do it with cards and synergies that go overlooked. This leads me to playing all sorts of different styles of decks, with the central theme of abusing unique cards that others are not.

I certainly value things differently for a Pro Tour though, where consistency is very important, but having a high ceiling is also nice. If a deck can win on turn three 2% of the time, while that would not be the reason to play the deck, it certainly is a reason, as it offers you free wins that another deck might not be able to produce. Those small edges are huge at a Pro Tour.

In 2011 you made it to the Top 8 of Worlds with a deck as unlike a Conley Woods deck as any, White (Metalcraft) Weenie. You did extremely well in that tournament, and in the quarterfinals you displayed some of the tightest gameplay ever captured on camera. Back then you attributed your success to trusting in the team deck instead of fielding your own. At which point did you decide it was time to bring a brew again, and what has happened since?

You have been on Team ChannelFireball for quite some time, but moved to TCGplayer before Pro Tour Born of the Gods. What were your reasons for the change and how has it worked out for you so far?

Let me answer both questions together.

I was always brewing, even while playing the team deck. What shifted was my process for choosing my deck. If I could not get my team to believe in any of my brews and they had a deck they did believe in, I would play it. So for the majority of Pro Tours in a 2- to 3-year stretch, I was playing the team deck and it might have appeared as though I was brewing. Pro Tour Montreal shows a good example of what was really happening.

For that Pro Tour, I was brewing, like always. The team was pretty set on a deck though and after bringing up my Mono-Black Control deck to the team and not getting much positive feedback, I set the deck aside and focused exclusively on the team deck for the next 3 days. At that time (and just a few days before the PT) all of the confidence that was in the team deck vanished and the various members of ChannelFireball went to what I would describe as comfort decks. We had quite a few solid choices available, but I was left in a spot where my comfort choice was a highly untested and untuned mono-black control deck. I decided to funnel my efforts for the last 48 hours before the Pro Tour and jam games on Magic Online. My list wasn’t perfect, but no other deck was putting Griselbrand into play on turn 5 and that was good enough to score me 11th place.

All along I was brewing. I think it became much more visible when I decided to leave Team ChannelFireball in favor of a new team, now Team TCGplayer. At that time I had realized that Magic was losing its fun for me. It had become a grind. I had a full-time job at home and now my weekends were consumed with this second job. Magic used to be pure joy and I knew I had to get back to that if I was going to keep playing. Deckbuilding is the part of Magic that I love and hiding from it was something I was no longer willing to do.

ChannelFireball is a group of very strong veterans and expecting them to experiment with me was not fair to either side, so I knew change had to come.  I wanted to be in an environment that helped enable my brewing a little bit better and a new team allowed me to do that. I am still going to play the best deck when I have not come up with something better. I played Birthing Pod in Pro Tour Born of the Gods, for example. But it has been fun exploring the part of the game that hooked me in the first place.

This season was a tough one for you so far. You had your usual pair of solid Pro Tour finishes, but not much happened on top of that. Now you are in a spot where you have to Top 16 to even get Gold again. Did you set any goals for this season. Which did you meet? And how much hinges on a Top 16 in Portland? Is there anything in particular that went wrong this season?

There is certainly a lot hinging on a Top 16 in Portland, but I have been in this spot before and welcome the challenge. It has been a pretty tough year for me away from Magic, which has spilled over into my Magic playing. I have had to make a lot of transitions that took a lot of my time and energy away from other things and I did not always manage what little time I had left the best that I could. It has been a learning experience, but my Magic results have surely suffered.

I really lacked Grand Prix success this year. One Top 16 was all that I can claim as even my late push in D.C. had me start out 10-0 and then finish 33rd. I would say I have not been playing my best, but that my play has been pretty good for the most part. If anything, the lack of study time has been the problem. As a deckbuilder, when you do not intimately know a format, it is tough to get any footing for new or successful ideas. Because I have spent too much focus elsewhere, I let my game suffer.

I have been on the train for five straight years, so even if the environment is at bit foreign, if it comes to it, I will certainly go back to PTQing. Sometimes starting over isn’t the worst, It allows you to appreciate the climb you made in the first place. That all said, there is still Pro Tour Portland and I intend to leave everything I have on the table, so don’t count me out just yet.

 

Images courtesy Wizards of the Coast.