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Pro Tour-Charleston Preview: First Steps

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The letter T!eam Pro Tours have always gotten something of a bum rap with people often dismissing career stats in regard to trios: “Sure he has a Top 8 but that was teams… that doesn't count.”

I don't see why this would be the case. Look at every single team that has ever won a Team Pro Tour and you will find some of the best players ever to play the game. In fact, you'll barely find a player who has not met the minimum career stats for Hall of Fame eligibility.

Pro Tour-Washington, D.C. 1999-00: Your Move Games (Darwin Kastle, Rob Dougherty, and Dave Humpherys)

You could very well see this entire team enshrined in the Pro Tour Hall of Fame by the time the Pro Tour rolls into Paris for the second set of inductions. Darwin was a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I voted for both his teammates on my 2005 ballot as well. This team has 18 career Top 8s, with their win in D.C. as the highest finish for each player. This will be a recurring theme as we stroll down team memory lane.

What made the win extra sweet for the YMG squad – especially for Darwin – was the fact that they had to traverse Antarctica to get there. They faced the Jon Finkel-led squad in the semifinals, highlighted by a Kastle-Finkel showdown. Darwin had seemingly finished behind Jon at every step of his career to that point, and when he overcame his nemesis many people wondered if that wasn't a bigger win than the one his team racked up the finals.

Pro Tour-New York 2000: Potato Nation (Scott Johns, Gary Wise, Mike Turian)

Johns, Wise, and Turian cemented their legacies with a win in New York.
What could be better than winning a Pro Tour? How about winning it in Madison Square Garden? Like the YMG team from the previous season, this is the career highlight for a stellar squad with 14 Pro Tour Top 8s on their collective resumes. Scott Johns could very well be stepping up on the stage in Paris when the HoF rings are handed out this year, as could former Week in Reviewer Gary Wise. Mike Turian will be part of an incredibly crowded third-year class that has more likely first-ballot Hall of Famers than available rings.

The finals included a feature match with the first Limited format writer Gary Wise squaring off with the site's first editor, Aaron Forsythe.

Pro Tour-New York 2001: Phoenix Foundation (Kai Budde, Dirk Baberowski, Marco Blume)
Pro Tour-Boston 2002: Phoenix Foundation (Kai Budde, Dirk Baberowski, Marco Blume)

Phoenix Foundation was the first – and I believe only – team to win a Pro Tour that also contained a member who had already achieved that feat as an individual. Kai was already using extra Pro Tour trophies as doorstops by the time he demolished the field with Pro Tour-Chicago winner Dirk Baberowski and future Grand Prix-Atlanta winner Marco Blume as wingmen. The threesome would rack up 17 Top 8 appearances over the course of their careers and would be the single most dominant team ever to play the game. They won again in Boston in 2002 before being derailed in their effort to pull off the threepeat the following season.

Remember that crowded year three Hall of Fame class from a couple of paragraphs ago? Kai is the only no-doubter on that list and should become the only unanimous inductee when Worlds comes back to North America. Dirk and Marco wisely waited a year before earning their professional player status and do not come online until Year Four. Through the first four Team Pro Tours there is not one player from a winning team without the requisite 100 lifetime Pro Tour points to get into the Hall of Fame.

The Brockafellars navigated a loaded Top 4 for their win in Boston.
Pro Tour-Boston 2003: The Brockafellars (William Jensen, Matt Linde, and Brock Parker)

William Jensen was long regarded as one of the very best players never to have won a Pro Tour before he, Parker and Linde defeated the Original Slackers in the finals in Boston. Once again the only thing standing in the way of all three members reaching the Hall of Fame is the passage of time, as each has over 100 lifetime points.

Much like Darwin's momentous win in Washington, D.C., Jensen had to get past some formidable semifinal competition. It was the third Top 8 of the calendar year for Jensen but if he wanted to win, he personally had to go through Kai Budde. It took him the minimum two games and his team the minimum two matches to get the long-deserved win. No one can conceivably claim that one doesn't count.

Pro Tour-Seattle 2004: Von Dutch (Kamiel Cornelissen, Jelger Wiegersma, Jeroen Remie)

Three monkeys were slain when Von Dutch took down www.shop-fireball.com2 in the finals of Seattle. The highlight of the finals was a showdown between Jin Okamoto and Kamiel Cornelissen – two players with a legacy of second-place finishes. After their teammates split the first two matches, the Pro Tour came down to a gripping Game 3 that ultimately ended Kamiel's trophy drought.

Brockafellars was the first team to not have its members post double-digit Top 8 finishes but Von Dutch – with all three members still going strong – stand at 11 and counting. They also maintained the streak of having all three members be Hall of Fame eligible, although the full squad won't be on the ballot until the 2009 season.

Pro Tour-Atlanta 2005: Nova (Gabriel Nassif, David Rood, Gabe Tsang)

Tsang, Rood, and Nassif are the reigning Team champions.
Talk about a long time coming. Gabriel Nassif posted his very first Top 8 at Pro Tour-New York 2001 and put up another fruitless four Sundays before his win in Atlanta alongside prodigal Pro Gab Tsang and Team Limited master David Rood. The win was even longer in the making for Tsang, who was eligible for the Hall in year one. Tsang put up two Pro Tour Top 8s during the second season of the Pro Tour and was on the short list of the very best players during the game's first few seasons. Rood is one of the most accomplished Team Limited players in the game but he has never posted similar results in singles. As a result he is the only player ever to win a Team Pro Tour without the minimum 100 points needed for Hall of Fame eligibility.

As the team Pro Tour touches down in Charleston, South Carolina, you can't help but look back at the collection of once-and-future Hall of Famers and wonder who will finally hoist a trophy for the first time in their career this weekend. Adding to the intrigue of the weekend is a brand-new format never before seen in Pro Tour play – Team Constructed.

Players will be bringing their own decks to the table rather than hoping to navigate Sealed Deck/Team Rochester waters. While they won't be hoping to open Skeletal Vampires, Glare of Subduals, and Lightning Helixes, that doesn't mean they won't be seeing play. Ravnica Block Unified Constructed is the format on the menu. That means you can only have four copies of any card across all three decks – or as I like to think about it, you have to be able to stack all three decks and still have a legal deck.

Frank Karsten needs two teammates? Hmm, how about the Ruels?
If you are looking for a team that combines a mastery of Constructed formats along with some personnel in need of Pro Tour hardware, you don't have to look hard to find the team I feel has to be a favorite to win the whole thing. The only thing missing from the team to make the story perfect is the fact that Antoine Ruel already has a Pro Tour trophy – which is not to say he wouldn't mind stopping a door with another. His two teammates for this event are the trophy-deficient Olivier Ruel and Frank Karsten. Frank tried to downplay the fact that his team was an early favorite when I spoke with him in Toronto, but the best he could offer when I asked him for someone with better odds was “there must be a better Japanese team.”

It is certainly arguable that the newly revamped P.S.2 is that team. When the squad featured Masahiko Morita, Katsuhiro Mori, and Masashiro Kuroda – and the team format featured 40-card decks – they won back-to-back Limited Grand Prix in addition to the Venice Masters. You would imagine that a team would suffer when you remove Pro Tour winner Kuroda from the lineup and replace him with someone who has yet to achieve that level of success. How about if the person you are replacing him with is the reigning Player of the Year, Kenji Tsumura?

Kenji has already had a fair amount of success in the team format when he made the Top 4 of Atlanta as a member of One Spin with Tomohiro Kaji and Tomoharu Saito. Kenji's departure left Saito and Kaji with a hole to fill, which they spackled with Shouta Yasooka. You may not be familiar with the name but my Japanese sources insist Yasooka is THE GUY to watch from Japan this year. He has multiple Grand Prix Top 8 finishes – including one in Kuala Lumpur just recently – and practices with Akira Asahara, Shu Komuro, Itaru Ishida, Ryu Ogura, and Takuya Osawa.

The last three players in that testing group will be playing together as Limit Break. Ishida is perhaps the most experienced player Japan has on the Tour. He has been playing the game for 12 years (since the days of the Junior Pro Tour) and has been Yoda to many a young Japanese Jedi, including his Pro Tour-winning teammate Osawa. Ishida is Hall of Fame eligible this season and a long-awaited win would go a long way to improving his already good chances.

One of the exciting aspects of team competition is seeing players who have not played in some time coming back for a taste of Pro Tour competition.

Okamoto is returning to action in Charleston.
"Team Competition is wonderful format, because I can team up with a great player who retired from competitive individual Magic," said Worlds Top 8 competitor Akira Asahara who accepted an offer from Tsuyoshi Ikeda to travel to Charleston with one of the greatest players in Japanese magic history: Jin "Last Emperor" Okamoto.

Asahara: "Play the game…See the world. With your friends, of course!"

I made much ado about the Hall of Fame throughout this preview. Hall of Fame members achieve lifetime Level 3 Player Club benefits which qualifies them for every Pro Tour. There was some question how this would play out for teams, and as a result a special exemption was made for Hall of Famers that allows them to bring anyone they want to this Pro Tour.

Jon Finkel is getting the Antarctica band back together for Charleston, playing with Steve and Dan O'Mahoney Schwartz. Perhaps he can get a rematch against Darwin, who will be fielding a slightly modified Your Move Games. Dave Humpherys will not be making the trip, with Justin Gary playing in his stead. You may remember the OMG YMG headlines from Pro Tour-Houston when Darwin, Rob, and Justin all reached the Top 8 and Justin eventually cashed the big check.

Rob, Justin, and Steve are all playing for more than just the trophy as each would like to fortify their Hall of Fame credentials as the second ballot looms on the horizon. Dan OMS is looking for the last couple of points he needs to become Hall of Fame eligible.

It is unclear how these old-timers will fare in this brave new world of Constructed teams – or if Tommi and Olle will field teams – but if you are looking for a North American team to follow in the standings, you should keep an eye on Billy Moreno's squad. Billy has posted a Top 8 and virtual Top 8 in his last two individual Constructed events and is teaming with red-hot Jon Sonne and former U.S. Champ Craig Krempels, who was in a dead heat for highest-finishing American at Worlds with a Top 16 finish.

With multiple ways to qualify for this event on rating, this should be far and away the most highly attended Pro Tour in the game's history. Teams with seven more wins than losses during the PTQ season should all be able to clear the relatively low 1700 average needed for three players to qualify. Teams that can average out individual Constructed ratings of 2000 can also come to play in Charleston. Will one of these teams rewrite the history books which have seen top player after top player finally achieve a Pro Tour victory?

If you are not lucky enough to find yourself in South Carolina this weekend – where you can take part in the Last Chance Qualifier, Super Friday Night Magic, a couple of PTQs, and more side events than you could possibly play in – you can follow all the action here on magicthegathering.com. Randy Buehler will be on the podcast prowl; Jon Becker will have trusty cameraman Mort in tow; and I will be working on my Carpal Tunnel syndrome along with Aaron Forsythe, Ted Knutson, and Noah Weil. It all comes together Sunday for the webcast, when Randy and I take to the microphones at 10:45 a.m. ET.

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