Thanks to an influx of blossoming talent and the rekindled interest of some of the legends of the game (not to mention a qualification structure that makes it borderline impossible for people outside the United States to get and stay on the train!) we’re in the midst of a renaissance period in American Magic. Most of the names atop the end-of-year Pro Point standings are American; three of the last four Players of the Year have been from America after a drought of almost a decade; and 13/16 of the Top 8 slots in the past two Pro Tours were occupied by Americans.
In this, the lull before the World Championship and the start of the new Pro Tour season, I figured we could look ahead to what we can expect out of some of the country’s top talent in the year to come. Is the future as bright as it seems?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin the conversation with the triple threat of Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and William Jensen. It seems like I can’t get on Twitter or Facebook or listen to ten minutes of coverage without hearing about how awesome Reid is—and with good reason. He loves the game and has put in the hours, and it’s really paying dividends. I think we’d all be surprised if he doesn’t get a Pro Tour Top 8 this year. Tragically, the trajectory of Owen and Huey hasn’t been as promising, with each struggling to so much as cash at Grand Prix. They both have the natural talent for the game, but only time will tell if they truly have the hunger to return to top form.
Beyond those three, Matt Costa, Tom Martell, and of course Jon Finkel are threats to go deep in any Pro Tour. However, the rest of Team SCG hasn’t been making many waves.
Patrick Chapin is busy with work and habitually self-sabotages by playing clearly suboptimal control builds. Sam Black has gone from “Limited specialist” to “master deckbuilder” to kind of just being there without putting up results. Gerry Thompson took ten years to finally Top 8 a Pro Tour, and he’s likely to spend just as long resting on his laurels. I’m not sure whether Andrew Cuneo, Brad Nelson, Jason Ford, and Todd Anderson are even qualified for anything. And c’mon, we all know that Michael Jacob, AJ Sacher, Adrian Sullivan, and Mike Flores aren’t. Last but not least, I’m not sure that Gaudenis Vidugiris is even alive.
It’s been difficult to keep track of who’s on which roster from Pro Tour to Pro Tour, but the core of CFB remains America’s strongest group of players. Like Chapin, Luis Scott-Vargas has been cursed with a raging case of realworlditis, but he’s still one of the Top 5 players of all time. Josh Utter-Leyton is our reigning Player of the Year, and he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. CFB even has a blazing hot rising star to rival SCG’s Reid Duke in the form of Shahar Shenhar, a buffoon yet a threat whose play skill LSV has repeatedly championed.
Even though Wrapter got the most points last year, my vote for best player in the game at the moment is actually Eric Froehlich. He’s who I’d nominate if we had to pick one person to play against alien invaders with the fate of the planet in the balance. (Or rather, he would be if I didn’t want the world to explode. My actual choice would be Morgan Chang.) I think Ben Stark will get into the Hall of Fame this year and that will have the adverse side effect of him getting soft and complacent.
There are some CFB members I’m not particularly bullish on, however. If I were you, I’d sell my stock in David Ochoa, Matt Nass, Pat Cox, Brian Kibler, and Conley Woods ASAP.
Of the streamers who get a significant number of views, there are three camps: those mired in mediocrity, those with flashes of success, and a few truly gifted players. The only person who I haven’t yet mentioned who falls into this last category is Paul Cheon. He’s been my vote for “Best player without a Pro Tour Top 8” for about six years now. Between work and the impending arrival of Cheon Jr., though, it may be a while before he returns to his former glory.
Two people in the “flashes of success” category happen to be two of my closest friends, Cedric Phillips and Josh Ravitz. Because I’m of the Louis CK “why would ANYthing nice EVER happen?” school, I always expect the worst for myself and my friends, so I can’t objectively speculate on their future.
Two streamers with moderate success that I’m not friends with are Alex Bertoncini and Andrey Yanyuk. I’d say their odds of doing well in the coming year are about the same as Tomoharu Saito’s of getting into the Hall of Fame.
And then there are the streamers who put on an entertaining show but really can’t hack it at the professional level for one reason or another. Greg Hatch and Travis Woo are at the “casual” end of the “casual-competitive” spectrum, and Kenny Hsiung, despite being one of the most entertaining humans on the planet, hasn’t been good since 2002.
The Lightning Round: Quick Takes on the Rest of the Field
Patrick Sullivan and Osyp Lebedowicz are in the same stage of their careers as I am: we’re too old for this s#%& and we know it, but we manage to forget that important fact for a couple weekends a year. You’ll see them on camera plenty in the year to come…but only in the coverage booth.
On a similar note, while I hope for the success of most of the old school players, my expectations aren’t very high. Brock Parker may have won one of the few Grand Prix he randomly attended, but he’s almost exclusively an online player. I’m also unsure how much more we can expect to see of Bob Maher, and if Chris Pikula doesn’t sneak into the Hall of Fame this year, he may never play in a Pro Tour again. Kind of sad.
Matt Sperling, Dave Williams, and Paul Rietzl have been pretty quiet since their Team Grand Prix win. In the coming year, I think Paul might randomly Top 8 a Grand Prix or two, but I’m not expecting much else from the team.
This just leaves a handful of DI ringing grinders, people who just can’t seem to get enough of GPs, and the odd judge. We can expect a few Grand Prix Top 14s from the group of Dave Shiels, Melissa DeTora, Chris Fennell, Ari Lax, and Ben Friedman. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a breakout PT performance from Seth Manfield, and Craig Wescoe will probably Top 8 another Pro Tour because that’s just how the world works. As for Alex Majlaton, Rob Castellon, Jackie Lee, and Christian Calcano…don’t make me laugh.
So what did we learn today? I guess we found out that America’s ostensible stranglehold on the Pro Tour is tenuous at best. Look for a widespread resurgence from literally everywhere else.
[Author’s Note: As was true of my Brainstorm article from a couple years back, this article is a revival of a concept from over a decade ago, this one originally the brainchild of PTR. Hopefully I’m not pigeonholing myself here. I’ll have you know I was a big, important writer with plenty of my own ideas that helped get me into the Magic Invitational before I got all old and slow-witted! Okay?!
Anyway, I’ll make a disclaimer similar to PTR’s, though mine will be somewhat more sincere: this was meant to be “all in good fun,” and no offense was intended to anyone other than the blatant cheaters.]
Pins and needles, nice to know you,