"It may not be long before the first woman Top 8s a Pro Tour." – Feb 29th, 2011
A woman Top 8ing a Grand Prix is no longer a headline anymore. In just a couple years, Melissa DeTora, Jackie Lee, Mary Jacobson, and Lissa Jensen have broken the boundaries for what women can accomplish in Magic. It was just a matter of time before a woman finally broke through to a Pro Tour Sunday.
"What do you think about being the first woman to Top 8 a Pro Tour? Does the history mean a lot to you?"
"Umm, I don't really know about that. I am just glad to finally Top 8 a Pro Tour."
Despite understanding the presumed gravity of the situation and letting people make a big deal out of it, Melissa DeTora has never wanted special treatment. When it comes to Magic, she just wants to be good period. And that is one of things I love about Melissa.
I have known Melissa for almost six years now. I still remember when she X-0'd Nationals in 2007, defeating me and putting me in 2nd place for the Limited portion. I knew then that it was only a matter of time before she achieved PT success. While she took a few years away from serious competition, she returned with a vengeance!
After being the only undefeated player on Day 1, Melissa secured her first Top 8 on the strength of an innovative Bant Control deck featuring Kessig Wolf Run—turning all her creatures into potentially lethal threats. It'll be interesting to see how the numbers turn out, but from what I saw Wolf Run Bant was one of the best performing archetypes in the tournament.
Pro Tour Gatecrash was an epic weekend filled with a lot of good news and a lot of history. Perhaps the biggest reveal of the weekend was the expansion of the Pro Tour circuit to now feature four Pro Tours, each with a quarter million dollars in cash prizes plus all the usual Pro Club benefits. This makes the annual Pro Tour cash purse the highest it has been since I returned to the Magic scene in 2006 (when there were five Pro Tours, albeit with less cash per event and far fewer Pro Club benefits).
That doesn't even factor in the Magic World Cup or the World Championship. Once you include those, it's clear that the Magic Pro Tour actually has more prize money now than it ever has!
That's right; let's go all the way back to 2005, the year Magic had seven Pro Tours (counting Worlds). The Pro Tours featured just $200,000 in cash prizes, for a combined total of $1.4 million in Pro Tour prizes. Now with four Pro Tours totaling a million dollars, the Magic World Cup, and the Players Championship, we are up in the same neighborhood. Factor in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in Platinum benefits (appearance fees, hotels, and plane tickets) and you are talking about substantially more money than has ever been awarded at any point (and that is counting Grand Prix at zero dollars!).
Not everyone is playing highly competitive tournament Magic, but it is at an all-time high in both attendance and support. More money is being spent on Magic in all areas, having a powerful and positive impact on the game at large.
If the game continues the growth it's seen recently, you better believe WotC is going to continue increasing their support for it.
Magic has demonstrated just how strong it is, and frankly, WotC has removed any doubt about their support for competitive tournaments. The return of the fourth Pro Tour is a monumental step forward and a clear signal that we can expect great things in store for tournament Magic.
In addition to giant announcements like the fourth PT and From The Vault: Twenty, this weekend was a weekend of firsts. Obviously Melissa's first Top 8 carried with it a lot of history (and her matches were some of the most viewed of all time), but there were others to celebrate.
Gerry Thompson achieved his first Pro Tour Top 8 at PT Gatecrash. Gerry has long dominated tournaments of all shapes and sizes save the PT. In fact, before this event, Gerry had the record for most Pro Points without a PT Top 8.
A year and a half ago, I surveyed a number of top deckbuilders and historians about the best deckbuilders of all time. Gerry's name not only came up, but he ended up tied for 12th on the all-time list. His skill as a tuner is so advanced that many were forced to place Gerry even above original-concept designers like Alan Comer and Tsuyoshi Fujita.
So why was this his first time Top 8ing a Pro Tour? Surely a number of factors. Gerry is a tuner and likes old formats where he can figure out how to position himself within an established metagame. Pro Tours are always new formats. Gerry also much prefers brewing over testing. He wants to win, no question, but he loves to brew.
Honestly, part of it had to just be nerves. When you play a long time without achieving a particular goal, there is a risk of forming a mental block about it.
Do you have any idea how big a deal it was to Luis Scott-Vargas back before he ever Top 8ed a Pro Tour? He was already regarded as one of the top four Americans and had already had GP and Nationals success. Once he got that first Top 8 (his win in Berlin with Elves), he became a machine, Top 8ing PTs left and right. If any of the first-time Top 8 members goes off the deep end and starts Top 8ing basically everything (i.e., Luis-ing it), it is likely to be Gerry.
Speaking of the first-time Top 8ers, former Player of the Year Owen Turtenwald made his first with Jund. Reid Duke, The Ben Seck, and Owen all played a Jund list they had tuned extensively. While Owen ended up settling on Jund, his contributions spanned across every deck played by the team, providing not only a strong opponent to test ideas against but also reality checks for the crazy ideas brought up by Zvi Mowshowitz, Sam Black, me, and others.
Who is the best player without a Top 8 now? If Gerry had not Top 8ed this event as well, he would probably be the first player many would mention. Up until PT Return to Ravnica, David Ochoa would have been a great pick but is now (happily) no longer eligible. If we go back a few years, Paul Cheon has to be a strong candidate and may not be far off from a full-on comeback. In the meantime, who is the best player to never Top 8 a Pro Tour?
While it was not his first Pro Tour Top 8, it was Tom Martell's first win. SCG's newest star, Tom is a man who knows his way around some Lingering Souls. Tom was one of ten players to play the Sam Black-led The Aristocrats, a W/B/R Humans deck with Boros Reckoner, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Cartel Aristocrat, and Orzhov Charm.
- 4 Boros Reckoner
- 4 Cartel Aristocrat
- 4 Champion of the Parish
- 4 Doomed Traveler
- 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 3 Knight of Infamy
- 1 Restoration Angel
- 2 Silverblade Paladin
- 2 Skirsdag High Priest
- 2 Zealous Conscripts
It is important to note that while it was our best aggro deck, it is not super well positioned in the format. The quality of pilot was exceptionally high, the deck gained some advantage from opponents not knowing what to play around, and yet the overall success of the deck was not super high. It is worth noting that this is only a starting point in the format.
The deck is going to need to evolve, as its control matchups are abysmal; however, there are a number of important lessons to be learned from it. To start with, Sam correctly identified that Cartel Aristocrat is a more powerful card than people realize. It is more than just a sacrifice outlet on a Human (though that is great). The ability for it to gain hexproof, unblockable, and regeneration (i.e., protection) is super valuable when you have cards like Doomed Traveler and Lingering Souls to fuel it. While The Aristocrats deck may or may not survive in a similar form to this list, Cartel Aristocrat just on its own merits should be played more.
In settling on this list, Sam actually experimented with a variety of other shells, which I have no doubt he will discuss at length. I would pay close attention to the other places he considered putting this "package," as there are a lot of aggro decks that could benefit from some of the technology he explored (such as Orzhov Charm and the use of Cartel Aristocrats in Zombies, possibly with Blood Artist). W/B Tokens is another archetype that may experience a renaissance after adopting some of The Aristocrats' technology. It is interesting to note that The Aristocrats was designed to be a beatdown deck that beats other beatdown decks, so if your local metagame has a higher concentration of fast aggro than the Pro Tour did, it may prove to be better positioned.
As for Tom, the man is an absolute monster. We are going to be seeing a lot of Tom on Sundays in the years to come. I am not a big video guy, but Tom's are excellent and will be well worth checking out.
Tom wasn't the only Top 8 competitor from Pro Tour Paris in Montreal's Top 8. Probably the strongest player in this very strong Top 8, Ben Stark had a noteworthy performance because of the potential it has for pushing him into next year's Hall of Fame vote.
Stark is one of the greatest drafters of all time but is also no slouch at Constructed. When I surveyed a number of players about the best players of all time a few years back, Ben's name was mentioned on multiple occasions despite having just two Top 8s. To be fair, he did basically just compete for one year, so two Top 8s is pretty good.
Now that he is back from poker, it's a tougher game. However, two more PT Top 8s, including a win, along with his fair share of Grand Prix finishes have Stark looking like a promising candidate for the Hall of Fame next year. Before this Top 8, Stark would have had a pretty good chance to make it if he were simply from Europe (as the European vote is less divided). America has so many strong candidates that there is a lot more division among voters. A lot of potentials just need "one more Top 8" to set them apart.
Well, now Stark has it and is likely to build some serious momentum for next year, attempting to join Luis Scott-Vargas and William Jensen (and a host of other deserving hopefuls).
Speaking of professional poker players, Eric "Efro" Froehlich, along with Ben Stark and William Jensen, is the poster boy of incredible players who had their Magic career cut short when high-level tournament play was no longer as good an option as poker. All three have gone on to successful poker and related careers, but with the Magic scene bigger than ever, they have returned to the game. Among them, Efro returned first, having a big impact on the game even before he returned to the Pro Tour (playing for the love).
Eventually, he received a sponsor's exemption, partially due to his success in poker. He advanced to the gravy train (which is not the easiest move to make with one invite) and was qualified for everything up until this PT. He had finished 26th at the last PT, 3rd at a Team GP that awarded only the Top 2, and was just short despite a good year. As a result, he received a sponsor's exemption. As always, Efro was not one to let an opportunity go to waste.
It's actually quite fascinating just how well the special invite and sponsor's exemption people did. Fourth, sixth, ninth, and thirteenth? That is pretty impressive considering just five players received sponsor's exemptions and six received special invites.
Ninth place Roberto Gonzales is a long time Magic Cruise veteran who also received a special invite. His invite was a pretty open-and-shut case, where he was up a game in the finals of a PTQ and then was wrongfully ejected from the tournament based on an atrocious ruling. Fortunately, the DCI righted this wrong and invited the man. Seizing the opportunity, Roberto was actually a very small favorite to finish 8th after the final round, but being up 0.1% in tiebreakers is pretty close to a coin flip. It proved to be a coin flip he lost.
Joel Larsson, aka Swedish Kibler, got his nickname by looking like a younger, more European Brian Kibler who clearly does more underwear modeling. Larsson takes the jokes in stride in his trademark, overwhelmingly positive mood that he always seems to be in.
I have known Larsson for years, and he has always done his part to help make the PT parties super fun for everyone. This was certainly not his first strong showing, but it was his first PT Top 8 proper, so I'm definitely super excited for him. While Swedish Kibler debatably has American Kibler beat on hair, he is a bit less experienced and still has a number of tournaments in front of him. They will reveal what sort of player he really is.
I can't tell you how awesome it was to see seven of my friends competing with each other on a Pro Tour Sunday. While I don't have any info to share on him, it is worth mentioning the eighth competitor, Stephen Mann, who managed to sneak in on the tiebreaker miracle. Mann, a Magic Online player, piloted a Jund deck to his first big PT finish.
As for my tournament, it was definitely disappointing to 0-3 the draft on Day 1, derailing the tournament from the start, particularly after such a challenging and time-consuming process to be able to attend the PT in the first place (Canadian immigration is not always trivial). Still, I like the formats and had a great time preparing for the event. We correctly identified the three biggest decks as U/W/R, Esper, and Jund, and I'd play Esper again in a heartbeat. Here is the list Wafo-Tapa and I ran:
The only differences between Wafo's list and mine were:
If I were to play this in an upcoming event, I would probably add a Psychic Spiral since there is going to be too much Esper and Bant to ignore. We originally had one for Montreal but replaced it with a third Jace for extra percentage against Jund. Going forward, it is not clear if the third Jace is better or the fourth sideboarded counterspell.
The only real difference between our list and Ben Stark's was his use of Planar Cleansing instead of Detention Sphere (a preference I think is perfectly reasonable). If you end up playing Planar Cleansing, I would be sure to sideboard a couple Pithing Needles for protection against planeswalkers. Sure, the Cleansing wipes them off the board, but the walker they were stopping is gone too. You need some cheap answers to planeswalkers, particularly Domri Rade and Liliana, which can be devastating if allowed to ultimate. I did beat a Domri Rade emblem that was active for ten turns this past weekend, but it is really tough.
Pro Tour Gatecrash was an incredible weekend filled with amazing stories and tons of awesomeness for Magic. The gender barrier having a major hole punched in it may have been a story that had significant interest to people, but it was only one of many. Melissa would be the first to mention that she wants to be judged on her own merits as a player, a point that was crystal clear from the numerous interviews throughout the weekend.
As for the return of the fourth Pro Tour, a special thanks to everyone that came out of the woodwork to show support for the cause. First, we had the missing fourth Pro Tour replaced by the World Cup and the Player Championships, but now we are getting a fourth Pro Tour back...and keeping the other tournaments!
I remember about fifteen months ago when the Magic community rallied behind Organized Play and took matters into their own hands. That movement was the most powerful and most unified the community has ever seen, and we are continuing to experience the consequences of it today. I have no doubt there will eventually be a fifth Pro Tour, but it is useful to remember that the number of Pro Tours isn't nearly as important as the strength and health of the game and the tournament scene. That WotC is actually listening to the community at large is awesome and makes it crystal clear that Magic's explosion is only going to continue.