The_Week_That_Was

Coming Back for Seconds

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The letter A!s the 2007 Pro Tour season got underway, Martin Juza was wondering about his place in the game. He was a two-time National Champion for the Czech Republic, had demonstrated an ability to successfully navigate the Day One waters of a Pro Tour, and was coming off of a 34th place finish at Worlds in New York. Still, he had been playing on the Tour since 2003 and only had 30 lifetime Pro Points across four years of play—and nearly a quarter of of those had come at Worlds the previous season. Martin was considering quitting the game if he could not get his 2007 season of to a strong start. He started that tournament on a 7-0 tear and ended up in 10th place. He has not looked back since amassing 81 Pro Points over the past two seasons, propelling him from relative obscurity to across the Hall of Fame eligibility threshold for the Class of 2013, and is fresh off back-to-back 2nd-place finishes in Grand Prix–Brighton and Grand Prix–Bangkok. With the finish last weekend in Bangkok he jumped to within 9 points of the Player of the Year lead.

When the 22-year-old full time gamer from Pilsen, Czech Republic is asked to fill in his occupation on increasingly frequent Top 8 player profiles, he will often joke, "No thanks!"

"I went to university for a year but ... I didn't like it and I am very lazy," said Martin. "So I just play poker, Magic, and travel. School can wait."

It was in his previous school experience that Martin first became exposed to the game that would allow him to dodge to the dusty corridors of higher learning.

"In my first year of high school I saw my classmates playing a card game," laughed Martin of his earliest fumblings at playing Magic. "Interested in any sort of gaming, I quickly learned the rules and started playing with them. We weren't really good with the rules though. We thought Black Knight survived Wrath of God, for example."


Martin and his friends continued to play throughout high school despite Martin's first attempt at a Constructed deck.

"It was a mono-blue deck with something like 20 lands, 32 counterspells, Treachery, Capsize and Morphlings," recalled Martin. "I loved it, but for some reason others didn't. We used to just play for fun between classes, not knowing there was something like a Pro Tour. After some time we discovered that there was a Czech magazine about Magic and read about GPs and everything. Reading reports where people did well was very inspirational, so we started attending PTQs."


From that point it took Martin about two years to break out of the PTQ ranks after just missing out on the elimination rounds at his National championships a year earlier.

"In my first Nationals, I needed one win in the last draft to make Top 8, which meant qualifying for the European Championship but since it was my first Rochester draft ever I only managed a draw," said Martin, who was the beneficiary of red tape the following season. "Next year I made the Top 8 but lost in the quarters, which meant not going anywhere again, since Wizards canceled the European Championships. The guy in fourth place didn't get a visa, though, and I was next in order, which meant I got to play Worlds 2003 in San Francisco. I won a PTQ for New Orleans around this time too."

Pro Tour–New Orleans was an eye-opening experience for Martin. He thought he knew what to expect from the Extended field heading into that tournament, which featured 28 copies of Tinker in its eventual Top 8.

"We came to Pro Tour–New Orleans with 4 decks: Psychatog, Tinker, Oath, and Blue-Green Madness," recalled Martin. "Then we got destroyed by cards I had never seen before, like Food Chain, or decks like Charbelcher. That was a nice lesson that testing and knowing the metagame is really important."

Martin played on the Pro Tour for about four more events before finally finding his way into Day Two. At the time he was so thrilled just to be on the Pro Tour that he was not even worrying about where he finished.

"Looking back, I think it was mostly because I was just happy to be there and didn't really have any high hopes, just dreams," said Martin. "Testing with decks that were one or more months old didn't really help either. And of course, I was bad. Really bad."

It was not until last season and that auspicious start to Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur that Martin was able to feel like he belonged on the Pro Tour and could compete with the best of them. He strung together an impressive season that would be a satisfying career for many players, and traveled outside of Europe to attend Grand Prix tournaments for the first time in pursuit of Level 7 Player's Club status.

"My Pro Tour finishes were 10th, 19th, 6th, and 50th, and I was always in contention for Top 8 in the last rounds," said Martin of his growing confidence. "People started to notice and I felt like my game was finally getting good enough to play at this level."

His breakout finish came last year when he placed in the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Berlin with Elves. Ever modest about his own abilities, Martin chalked up most of the credit for that finish to his deck—not that he would trade in the finish or the opportunity to play alongside his good friends. As opposed to his first Pro Tour experience in New Orleans where he was unprepared for the latest technological developments in Extended, in Berlin it was Martin and his friends who came armed to the teeth with cutting-edge decks.

Matej Zatlkaj and Sebastian Thaler.

 PRO PLAYERS CLUB BENEFITS  

Level 1: 1 point

  • One bye at all Grand Prix
Level 2: 10 points
  • Two byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals
Level 3: 15 points
  • Two byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals and to 1 Pro Tour or Worlds in the current season
Level 4: 20 points
  • Three byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals and all Pro Tours and Worlds in the current season
Level 5: 25 points
  • Three byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals and all Pro Tours and Worlds in the current season
  • $250 appearance fee at Pro Tours and Worlds
Level 6: 30 points
  • Three byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals and all Pro Tours and Worlds in the current season
  • $1250 appearance fee at Pro Tours and Worlds
  • One expenses-paid air travel ticket to a Pro Tour or Worlds during the current season
Level 7: 40 points
  • Three byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals and all Pro Tours and Worlds in the current season
  • $1750 appearance fee at Pro Tour and Worlds
  • $250 appearance fee at Grand Prix
  • Expenses-paid air travel tickets to all Pro Tours and the World Championship during the current season
Level 8: 50 points
  • Three byes at all Grand Prix
  • Invitation to Nationals and all Pro Tours and Worlds in the current season
  • $2250 appearance fee at Pro Tours and Worlds
  • $500 appearance at Grand Prix
  • Expenses-paid air travel tickets and hotel accommodations at all Pro Tours and Worlds during the current season

"It felt great," said Martin of finally stepping onto the proverbial Sunday stage. "Even better, since Matej Zatlkaj and Sebastian Thaler from our group Top 8ed too. Two Czechoslovak guys in one Top 8? Never happened before. The deck was awesome. I started 6-0, 12-0 in games, losing only once in two days. You can probably make a point that even a monkey could have probably Top 8ed with Elves in Berlin, but I knew how to play it very well—sideboard, matchups, everything. We had the deck for so long. I won an Extended tournament with Elves one month before the Pro Tour."

Martin continued his winning ways into the current season with a remarkably consistent string of finishes that included 17th at GP–Los Angeles, 12th at GP–Rotterdam, 12th at GP–Hanover, and 11th at Pro Tour–Kyoto. He has kicked things into another gear during the past two tournaments with second place finishes at Grand Prix–Brighton—losing to Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel in the finals—and Grand Prix–Bangkok—losing to PT Geneva Top 8 competitor Shinghou Kurihara. Has he done anything different in approaching these recent events.

"Not really. I just stopped losing the matches for Top 8," said Martin, who was in Niigata waiting to see if he could do just one win better at this weekend's Grand Prix. "Maybe I just stopped whining and started winning instead. It's hard to say since a lot of people think M10 is just a lottery."

Martin gets to return home next weekend when the Grand Prix circuit stops in his homeland for Grand Prix–Prague. He will have his hands full showing people around and playing host—hospitality Martin feels obligated to return to the community.

"It feels ... right," he said. "When I went to Kyoto for the PT earlier this year, Shuhei [Nakamura] offered to let me stay at his place with [Raphael] Levy and other Japanese players like Yuuya [Watanabe] and Kenji [Tsumura] and we had a really good time. It feels good to be able to sort of repay the favor by showing them, and other people interested in sightseeing, Prague. It will be a lot of fun."

I wrapped up my conversation with Martin by asking him a couple of quick questions:

Favorite deck of all time: "Elves from Berlin would be an obvious choice, but I'm gonna go with Charbelcher-Severance from PT–New Orleans and Tooth and Nail during Affinity-era Standard."

Favorite card of all time: "Counterspell with the green guy making a "V" with his fingers."



Player you least want to sit down to play against in an elimination match: "Probably Guillaume Wafo-Tapa and Shuhei Nakamura. I'm not nervous playing against anyone but I have the most respect for these two."

In closing, tell us something surprising about yourself: "At the beginning of last year I wanted to quit Magic if I didn't have a good finish in Kuala Lumpur. I partied all night, slept about an hour, and then 7-0'd Day One. Something probably wanted me to stick around."

Closing the Books on the Austin PTQ Season

This is the last weekend for players in the United States to win the proverbial Blue Envelope to Pro Tour–Austin at a PTQ. There are a handful of PTQs in Japan and Europe next weekend, and you could still finish in the top 16 at Grand Prix–Prague or play in the LCQ at the Pro Tour, but if you want to do it with your airfare covered as part of your prize the options are running out. I am going to try my hardest to make it to Edison, NJ for what is sure to be an impressive scrum for the slot. Good luck to everyone battling this weekend!



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