The_Week_That_Was

What to Watch For: Jockeying for Position

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The letter T!hree events left. That's it. That is all that stands between this season's Pro Players club and an assortment of titles, berths, and membership cards for the upcoming season. Only Grand Prix Portland and Grand Prix Beijing, taking place next weekend, and Pro Tour Dragon's Maze in San Diego, the following weekend, are available for players scrambling for Pro Points in search of Gold, Platinum, National titles, and at large berths for the Magic World Championship. Perhaps even more importantly—and much more quietly than any previous race I can recall—we will be crowning the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year at the conclusion of the Top 8 on Sunday in San Diego.

Last season saw the Magic Players Championship become the method for determining the Player of the Year, as the Top 16 players in the game battled for the title in a tournament format, memorably won by Japan's Yuuya Watanabe. What was once the Players Championship is now the World Championship, with the winner being crowned the World Champion—a title that was not given away last season. The Player of the Year once again will be determined—as it had been every other season since its inception—by the player with the most Pro Points over the course of the 2012–13 season.


With the turbo boost of Pro Points from winning the Player of the Year title coupled with a 2nd-place finish at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, it seemed like Yuuya Watanabe was going to run away with the third such trophy in his relatively young career. He had a quiet Pro Tour Gatecrash and has not been going to as many GPs as he had in previous seasons. Yet, even if he did not show up for either GP or the Pro Tour he could coast into the coming season with Platinum locked up and a shot at winning the Player of the Year title—although it would take some pretty impressive Magic players all putting up unimpressive numbers at those events.

Watanabe

Let's take a look at the top of the standings heading into the weekend:

Rank Player Country Pro Points
1 Yuuya Watanabe Japan 62
2 Ben Stark United States 56
3 Josh Utter-Leyton United States 53
4 Tom Martell United States 52
5 Shahar Shenhar Israel 50
5 Eric Froehlich United States 50
7 David Ochoa United States 49
7 Willy Edel Brazil 49
9 Shuhei Nakamura Japan 48
9 Stanislav Cifka Czech Republic 48
11 Owen Turtenwald United States 45
12 Brian Kibler United States 44
12 Martin Juza Czech Republic 44

What was once a comfortable lead has become a tad snug for the two-time winner of the title. I have extended the list to the Top 12 players, although someone like Martin Juza or Brian Kibler would need some very strong finishes to close an 18-point gap, with Yuuya presumably playing in two events as well. Stark is the only player with a puncher's chance of passing Watanabe in Portland, but even just a Top 8 or Top 16 could close precious ground for the others.

Juza
Kibler

The Player of the Year title is prestigious—and winning for a third time would put Watanabe even deeper into elite territory as the only player other than Kai Budde to win it more than once—but for most of the players at the top of the standings, all eyes are on next season and getting off to a good start with the extra Pro Points awarded at the Magic World Championship and the World Magic Cup. It is all but a foregone conclusion that Yuuya Watanabe will captain of the Japanese team, with only one of his countrymen joining him near the top of the standings.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
1 Yuuya Watanabe Japan 62
9 Shuhei Nakamura Japan 48
24 Shouta Yasooka Japan 31

It is not inconceivable that Pro Tour Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura could catch and pass Watanabe, as 14 points over two events is not a stretch for someone with twenty Grand Prix Top 8s (including five wins) and five Pro Tour Top 8s in his career. He has not had a Top 8 at the Pro Tour level since his 2008 finish at Pro Tour Hollywood. He does have two Grand Prix wins this season—one after defeating a tremendous Top 8 bracket in Costa Rica and the other just one month later in Philadelphia, navigating through another loaded Top 8. Shouta Yasooka, Watanabe's opponent from the finals of last year's Players Championship, could win both a GP and finish 2nd at PT Dragon's Maze and not pass Watanabe. The only way Yasooka is alive in the race is to win both events—which would bring him to 69 points—and not have Watanabe finish in the Top 25 of the Pro Tour or pick up some extra points in a GP.

Nakamura

The race for the rudder of the United States team in much more contentious, with players on the two biggest Magic powerhouses in the game—ChannelFireball and Team StarCityGames—rubbing elbows as the finish line approaches.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
2 Ben Stark United States 56
3 Josh Utter-Leyton United States 53
4 Tom Martell United States 52
5 Eric Froehlich United States 50
7 David Ochoa United States 49
11 Owen Turtenwald United States 45
12 Brian Kibler United States 44
16 Gerry Thompson United States 38
17 Conley Woods United States 37
17 Reid Duke United States 37
22 Luis Scott-Vargas United States 32

On the ChannelFireball side we have Ben Stark, Josh Utter-Leyton, Eric Froehlich, David Ochoa, Brian Kibler, Gerry Thompson, Conley Woods, and Luis Scott-Vargas. For Team SCG we see Pro Tour Gatecrash champion Tom Martell, Owen Turtenwald, and Reid Duke. With so many top players working together, who also clumped together in the standings, it is going to be even harder to put any distance between the other players vying for the National Championship. Look at an event like Pro Tour Paris, where the ChannelFireball squad broke the Standard format with the Caw-Blade deck. They ended up pushing six players into the Top 16 with that deck (including many of the same players on this list, although some affiliations have shifted).

If it is going to be hard to get an edge on deck choice I would always look to Conley Woods to make some noise, but he has the third-steepest hill to climb among the contenders, needing 19 points to just catch Stark's current point total. Theoretically, Luis Scott-Vargas is in a slightly "better" position than Yasooka, who we talked about in the Japanese race. Catching Ben Stark is not the task that LSV—not Thompson, Woods, and Duke—will be focused on these next two weekends, as he needs to cobble together 13 points or he will not hit Platinum for next season. For Duke and Woods, they need to find 8 points, while Thompson needs 7. A Modern Top 16 in Portland would go a long way to relieving some of the pressure on these players as they fly down the coast to San Diego.

Woods
Scott-Vargas


Brazil's captaincy seemed like a foregone conclusion given how far ahead of his countrymen Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa has been in the standings year after year en route to his Hall of Fame career. This year has been something of an off-season for PV and he finds himself in 3rd place with a Sisyphean task ahead of him if he wants to steer the team at the Magic World Championship. Heck, he needs to find 20 points just to get back to Platinum for next year.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
7 Willy Edel Brazil 49
38 Pedro Carvalho Brazil 27
44 Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa Brazil 25

Willy Edel has been having a resurgent season after coming out of the gates strong in the mid-2000s and he is comfortably ahead of both Carvalho and da Rosa—but it is not insurmountable. No offense to Carvalho, but all eyes will be on Paulo if he is anywhere near the top tables as the event hits the last legs of Block Constructed. In order to pull off the seemingly impossible task, Paulo is going to need to win the event—a 2nd-place finish will not cut it—and have a strong showing in Portland, with Edel failing to get out of the blocks.

Carvalho
Damo da Rosa


Stanislav Cifka had been doing well previous to his win at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, but after his convincing win over Watanabe in that event he established himself as another player to watch from the Czech Republic. He is in the lead heading into the last two weekends but he may be doing the watching as Martin Juza—heading onto the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this coming season—tries to finish his season strong.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
9 Stanislav Cifka Czech Republic 48
12 Martin Juza Czech Republic 44
28 Lukas Jaklovsky Czech Republic 30

Lukas Jaklovsky is a player who has seemed poised to break out for the past couple of seasons and while 18 points is a strong wind to be running against, should he have a similar weekend to the one Cifka had at the start of the season, both Cifka and Juza could be watching him pass them at the finish line. At the very least, Jaklovsky is looking to assemble the 15 points to get above the Platinum threshold heading into next season.

Jaklovsky
Cifka


In an interview with Nathan Holt for the most recent edition of Walking the Planes, Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphael Levy lamented the current state of the French Pro scene (although he did think there were some young up-and-comers on the way. At the top of the French standings we have two Pro Tour Hall of Famers separated by only 9 points.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
28 Raphael Levy France 30
55 Gabriel Nassif France 21
55 Jérémy Dezani France 21
62 Louis Deltour France 19
89 Timothée Simonot France 14

We also see some of the new talent Levy is hoping to see step up their game in the coming seasons to return France to its place as one of the game's powerhouse nations. Jérémy Dezani could make a statement about the future of French Magic players by passing Nassif and Levy—two of the four HoFers from that country—and captaining the National team.

Levy
Dezani


In England, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Top 8 competitor Eduardo Sajgalik already locked up a WMCQ slot just in case Daniel Royde or Richard Bland can close the dozen point lead that separates 1st and 3rd in that country's race.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
50 Eduardo Sajgalik England 23
98 Daniel Royde England 13
125 Richard Bland England 11

It is not like Bland has not closed out a season strongly before. Bland was relatively unknown heading into the final weekends of the 2011 season but put up a 2nd-place finish at Grand Prix San Diego and then repeated that finish in the World Championship in San Francisco. Even a couple of Top 16 finishes by either of these players would be enough to pass Sajgalik, who is not qualified for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze and will be standing pat on his 23 points.

Bland
Sajgalik


At the end of last season we saw another relatively unknown player catapult into the spotlight with a win at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored. Alexander Hayne's win was the apex of a resurgent Canadian Magic scene and the newly formed Team ManaDeprived. Hayne needed to pick up some points at the end of that season to lock up his various titles and will have a similar amount of work ahead of him—along with a teammate—if he hopes to repeat as the Canadian National Champion.

Rank Player Country Pro Points
21 Jon Stern Canada 33
28 Alexander Hayne Canada 30
50 Maksym Gryn Canada 23
55 Lucas Siow Canada 21
67 Sebastian Denno Canada 18
125 Pascal Maynard Canada 11

Jon Stern is coming off a strong Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Gatecrash but fending off Hayne in a Block Constructed tournament is going to be tough. Hayne also has his Grand Prix game on coming off of a Top 4 finish in the Legacy Grand Prix in Strasbourg. Lucas Siow is the lone player on this list not qualified for the event. Both Maksym Gryn and Sebastian Denno won PTQs to qualify for this one and have a chance to let their blue envelope ride with a shot at the World Magic Cup.

Stern
Hayne


One player will also lock up a seat at the World Championship, which is awarded along with the $40,000 for winning the Pro Tour. Also to be settled in the waning rounds of San Diego will be the regional invites as well as the at-large bids. Don't miss a minute of the Pro Tour coverage in two weeks, which will be coming to you live all weekend long. And to whet your appetite, you can tune in to video and text coverage of the Modern GP in Portland or check out the text coverage of Beijing's Block Limited GP. Dragon's Maze has been released into the format and it will be our first chance to see the new cards in action.




 
Brian David-Marshall
Brian David-Marshall
@Top8Games
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Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

 
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