Feature Article – The Pro Tour Top 8

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Tuesday, June 24th – Today, we have something a little different for you… Few of us have been so fortunate as to be able to play on the final day of a Pro Tour, but for those of us who haven’t, this is our chance: Marijn Lybaert brings us a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to play on a Pro Tour Sunday.

Few of us have been so fortunate as to be able to play on the final day of a Pro Tour, but for those of us who haven’t, this is our chance: today we get a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to play on a Pro Tour Sunday.

Of course, the path to Sunday starts much earlier than the Top 8.

It’s Saturday at Pro Tour: Hollywood. You’re checking the pairings for round 15 of 16. Win this one and you’re almost a lock for Top 8. Lose and you’ll spend your Sunday sleeping in and side-drafting. You find your seat and opponent’s name in the pairings, and realize you’ve got your best matchup: Merfolk! Your Red-Green Snow deck is tuned to beat it handily, but you’ve got to calm down. Things can get messy when you get too confident

As you sit down to your match, you recognize Matt “Cheeks” Hansen at the table next to yours. You chat a little about how you both really want to win this round, then wish each other the best of luck.

Your opponent arrives, and you turn to face your destiny. You’ve never seen the guy before, but he seems calm. His handshake, complete with sweaty palm, however, reveals he’s just as nervous as you are. As you shuffle, one thought keeps repeating over and over in your head: “Please let me win this one! I just want to Top 8!” Your nerves spoil things for you, however, as you inadvertently flip over a card from your deck, revealing Firespout for your opponent. Great start… you flipped over the most important card in the matchup! Wincing, you check with your opponent to survey the damage.

“Yeah, I knew you were playing Red-Green Snow. I didn’t know about the Firespout though. Thanks for sharing that one!”

You let his comment slide off your back; he could be bluffing about not knowing about Firespout, and even if he wasn’t, it can’t be helped. You’ve got to focus in on the game at hand, regardless of whether your opponent got to pick up some information for free. Your concentration turns to winning the die roll as you toss the molded plastic in the air and reveal… a one! The voice inside your head groans.

You get underway, and your hand looks pretty good. You’ve drawn a mana accelerator, Kitchen Finks, Firespout, Harmonize and some lands. You quickly keep, as does your opponent. This is it.

The early turns of the game see your opponent play turn 1 Ponder and turn 2 Silvergill Adept revealing Cursecatcher. You simply play your Into the North fetching a Mouth of Ronom. On his third turn, your opponent attacks with Silvergill Adept and Mutavault before saying go. He could have played his Cursecatcher there… but decided to play ‘around’ Firespout. You simply drop a Kitchen Finks and pump a mental fist, as the game is “in the bag.” Your opponent keeps on struggling though, using a Cryptic Command on your Colossus, Sage’s Dousing on your Cloudthresher, playing Merrow Reejerey times two. All of that leaves him with few cards in hand, and you’re able to deal with all his threats. Some turns later you finally resolve a Cloudthresher, and that is that.

While sideboarding you can’t help but look back at Matt Hansen’s game next to you. It looks pretty desperate for him. There’s a Reveillark on the board, Mulldrifter in the graveyard… seems like his opponent (your future quarterfinals opponent) is going to get this one. Channeling super-pro Tomohiro Saito, you slap yourself to re-focus and sideboard 4 Tarmogoyf, 3 Garruk, and 2 Pyroclasm in for 3 Cloudtresher, 2 Primal Command and… damn, what else should you take out? You randomly sideboard out some accelerators, and move to game 2.

Your hand is decent again, and he’s mulliganing… time to start dreaming! Then, out of nowhere he plays Wrath of God, threatening to kill your whole army. You do some quick math… if you sac your Furystoke Giant in response, you can ping him for 16. Wait! He’s at 18; that’s not a good plan. You’re only at 4, so if you do that you’ll die to his double Mutavault. Instead you just ping him with Mogg Fanatic, and he gets back double Mulldrifter.

Err… wait! That’s Matt’s game an the table next to you! Slap again.

Your opponent comes out quickly with turn 1 Cursecatcher, turn 2 Banneret, turn 3Adept. You’ve got Skred end of turn though, so you can slow him down a little, and if he counters you can just cast your Firespout. Kitchen Finks gets countered, though Goyf on the next turn resolves and is a 4/5 thanks to Sage’s Dousing. He Ponders to look for answers, leaving the top three. A second Ponder, and he decides to shuffle… Looking good! He goes for it! There’s the Reejerey to deal you some damage, but then your moment of glory. Firespout, another Tarmagoyf, Skred his follow-up creature, attack, attack, attack, attack, attack…

You did it!

Let me tell you something… you’re pretty excited at that moment. With your goal in hand, so close you can taste it, you want to run around the room cheering, but you hold back. You can’t show any of the emotion you’re feeling, as there’s a guy who just lost $4,000 during one game sitting in front of you. You shake hands with him, then when he’s out of sight you high-five Christophe Gregoir, who had been sitting behind you watching the whole time.

You quickly go up to your room on the 15th floor. All day you’ve been wearing white socks, but pictures for the Top 8 are impending. Must. Put. On. Black. Socks. When you get back to the tournament site, there are still 15 minutes on the clock. You feel like telling everyone in the room you’ve made Top 8, but instead you choose to look for Matt Hansen to see if he won. He didn’t, but he still congratulates you, and you wish him luck for the next round before moving on.

On the other side of the room is Zac Hill. He’s Cube Drafting (and yep, once again he’s managed to draft utter crap). He doesn’t ask how your tournament is going, but you can’t resist and tell him you’ve made Top 8. He jumps up, yelling so loud he can be heard throughout the hall, and high fives your whole body before hugging you for about two minutes. Awkward… (sometimes those Americans are strange)!

Up next was Shuhei Nakamura. You run into him at the side-event area where he’s testing one of his possible Top 8 matchups on Magic Online. There is a small chance that you won’t make it in if you lose the final round if you’re paired against Shuhei, and he doesn’t want to draw. A typical “Japanese player” / “non-Japanese player conversation takes place:

You: ‘Draw if we get paired?’

Shuhei: *looks confused for 10 seconds* ‘ooooooooh, yes, yes, yes! Draw! Me tired!’

The other five Japanese players (who were watching the exciting match on Magic Online) laugh. Gotta love those Japanese.

In the Pro Tour hall you hear time being called, and quickly head back. A few minutes later, pairings and standings go up; you’re in second, so with a draw you’ll be in for sure. Without further ado, you head to your table and draw with Shuhei. Later you’ll realize this may have been a mistake. If you had examined the standings and pairings a little more, you would have noticed that with a draw, and nothing spectacular like a DQ or a 2% tie-breaker shift, you’d end up playing the Reveillark guy, a terrible matchup, in the quarterfinals.

After the draw there’s the waiting. For 60 minutes you wait, knowing that after they declare the Top 8 pictures have to be taken so you can’t leave the tournament hall until the final round is over. It’s pretty annoying, but it’s well worth the effort. To pass the time you simply return to your room and listen to some Simon and Garfunkel. It’s an attempt to relax, but it doesn’t really work. Fifteen minutes later you’re back in the main hall, walking around checking out the feature matches. Some twenty people (some of whom you’ve never seen before) congratulate you during the round.

With 10 minutes left on the clock, you check the standings for a last time (just to make sure…) and you are indeed still in second place. It’s then that you realize the mistake you made in drawing. Chances were high you’d have to play a Reveillark player in the quarters.

As the clock winds down, you think back on a curious event from the beginning of the Pro Tour. Just before the event had started, you had chatted with Jan Doise, a close friend and one of the people who helped you build your deck, and told him you’d cut 2 Faerie Macabres for 2 Pyroclasm in the sideboard as you were expecting a lot of Elves and Merfolk. He told you that was stupid, but you didn’t want to listen to him. He started making jokes about how you would lose to Reveillark as a result, and you responded “You know what will happen, Jan? I’ll make Top 8 because of the two Pyroclasms, and then lose to Reveillark in the quarters because I cut your stupid Faerie Macabres!” Had it happened to someone else, it might have actually been funny.

The final standings are announced, and you manage third. After the necessary formalities (pictures, filling out some papers, tearing up a few Reveillarks, a short briefing by the head judge), you head to the mall for dinner. Food is the last thing on your mind, though. All you can think about are your matchup and how you can win it. The other Belgians and coverage reporter Bill Stark don’t allow you to start testing, dragging you instead to a restaurant called the ‘Pink Taco.’ It came as no surprise they were eager for dinner, as you’d all agreed beforehand that anyone who made Top 8 would have to pay for everyone else’s food.

You’re itching to start testing your quarterfinals matchup, and fortunately there’s a line at the Pink Taco, enabling you to quietly slip away to proxy up the deck that your quarterfinals opponent (Yong Han Choo from Singapore) will be playing. On your way back to the hotel you actually run into him, and he asks if there is a way to get back the 37% tax non-Americans have to pay on their prize winnings. It’s an unspoken reality of the Pro Tour, but winnings are taxed for any number of reasons. It turned out that for Pro Tour: Hollywood taxes were particularly higher due to odd California laws, but much of the money was reclaimable.

On the elevator to the 15th floor, you run into Adrian Sullivan, Zac Hill, and Stuart Wright. You show them your opponent’s decklist and ask them how you should sideboard, but they don’t know. What they do know (and they make it clear to you) is that you’ll have to get really lucky. Adrian suggests that if the matchup turns out to be really desperate, you should sideboard out some lands just so there is a greater chance that you’ll get a perfect draw. You keep it in mind and move on, still without a real sideboard plan.

Twenty minutes later you’re back at the Pink Taco. Frank Karsten has joined your group, and it’s not for nothing they call him ‘The Fanatic.’ Before you know it, he has the table cleaned up and takes out both decks. He hands you your Red-Green Snow deck and you start playing. After three games you’ve won just one, mainly because Frank didn’t know how to play the Reveillark deck. He’s kind enough to remind you once again that the matchup is really bad.

You order, and of course everyone gets the most expensive thing on the menu (after all, you’re paying). Hopefully you’ll be able to get all 37% back from that Top 8 check…

After eating, you quickly make it back to the hotel room. Frank and Jan immediately start testing, and you decide it’s better to watch the games from the sidelines; after coming this far, you’ve learned watching teaches you a lot more about how the matchup plays out, rather than simply playing yourself. You get to see both hands, make decisions for both decks knowing what the other player is holding, and you get to see what play was game-breaking and which was horrendous…

Two more games without sideboard, and Reveillark has won both. Damn it! It’s time to move on to the sideboard, as you have four Magus of the Moon waiting there. Two more games show it’s not getting a lot better with sideboard. You feel a little depressed, and lay down in bed to watch some NBA and take your mind off things, even if only for a short while.

The next thing you become aware of is Jan waking you up and telling you to go to bed. Half asleep, you ask him how the matchup is but he subtly avoids the question. You barely notice before crashing back into the comforts of sleep. Tomorrow is a big day…

Sunday, 7am

Of course, you wake up way too early. Stupid jetlag! Everyone is still sleeping, so you decide to take a swim, just as you had the previous two days. This time it’s different, and you can only think about one thing: ‘three more hours and I’ll be playing the Top 8.’ You get back an hour later, and Jan is awake. You hand him the Reveillark deck, knowing he wants to refuse, but as your friend and testing partner, he doesn’t dare.

1-0 for RG Snow!
2-0 for RG Snow!!
3-0 for RG Snow!!!
ZOMG! You’ve got a chance…

You look up to see that Jan has fallen asleep on the table. Pfffff… not the reason you wanted for why you were winning. Three more games, and it’s time to head to the tournament floor. You have to be there at 10:30, or else Scott Larabee will get very mad, and that’s definitely something you want to avoid.

At 10:20 you arrive at the ballroom, but the security guard in front tells you that you can’t get in. You inform him that you’re playing in the Top 8. “You’re the champion?” he asks. “Not yet. But maybe in 5 hours…” you think to yourself.

Two of the other seven players are already in the room. There’s a small table in the corner of the big room that is all yours. Extra (free!) sleeves await you, plus a complimentary Pro Tour pen. You re-sleeve your deck and shuffle up. Twenty minutes left… time to check out the quarterfinals opposition. He seems nervous. His hands are shaking. He’s freezing.

You realize you’re actually fine at that time, which is perhaps the only advantage of being the underdog. You had given up last night, so you can only win today. If you lose, that’s expected… if you win, it’s a miracle!

With five minutes on the clock, Sheldon (the head judge) comes over for the last time and reminds you: “No shenanigans!” Scott Larabee calls everyone over and shows you your table. You’re seated in the middle of the stage, which means that if your games go long enough and the match in the front is over, you might get some camera time. If you do things just right, you might become a movie star. Kinda…

Some guy comes over and hands you and your opponent a small microphone. You attach it at the base of your shirt and, distracted, start singing under your breath. Err… no shenanigans. Your finish putting it on quietly.

It’s for real now. The lights are on. The camera is getting ready. Everyone gets a microphone. It’s strange… but strange in a funny way. This is more than simply playing cards. A lot of people will be watching this, and everything’s gotta be perfect. Scott comes over for the last time. He puts your score-pad on the opposite side of the table from where you’ve placed it for a better potential camera shot. Even the smallest details matter now…

Rich Hagon is standing seven feet from you. He doublechecks who mulliganed, and passes it on to BDM and Buehler through his mic.


You get rolling.

Game 1 and 2 were described pretty well in the coverage. You were never in them. Game 1 he got turn 3 Consideration, turn 4 Mulldrifter, turn 5 Wrath your army. Game 2 you resolved a Magus, but he just drew all his basic lands plus Consideration again.

In the meantime, Rich Hagon is constantly briefing BDM and Buehler about what is happening. “Yong 2 – You 0. Consideration, Mulldrifter, Riftwatcher, Sower on Cloudtresher,” he informs the webcast.

Two games played in about fifteen minutes. You don’t wanna be the first one to lose his match, and decide it’s time to take some risks. You recall what Adrian Sullivan had said, and go back to your sideboard to side out 2 lands for 2 extra threats.

Game 3 is pretty epic. Your back is against the wall for about 20 minutes, but you keep coming back. After about ten turns, Hagon mutters into his microphone. ‘He’s losing any minute… I think it’s better to go to the other table.’ You don’t wanna give up, and fight back turn after turn. You survive for at least another ten turns, with your opponent at three life the whole time.

Eventually you make a mistake by playing around a counter and not thinking about a possible Wrath of God. You have eight lands (one of them being a Treetop Village). You’re at seven, and he had stolen your Cloudthresher with a Sower of Temptation. You were holding another Thresher, but if he countered it you were dead unless you first block with Treetop and before damage play the Thresher. You do exactly that, and he doesn’t have a counter so the Thresher resolves. He did have Wrath of God though, killing both your Threshers and the Treetop. The thing here is that if he had the counter you wouldn’t’t be winning anyway (as that would leave you with seven lands to a suspended Gargadon plus Thresher plus Sower). You curse under your breath for not thinking things through. If you had played perfectly you probably would have won that game and earned some camera time.

But you didn’t, and you lost.

You congratulate your opponent and tell him to calm down. He had been nervous the whole match and made some mistakes because of it.

You walk out of the room, and a guy comes up to talk.

“Hey man. Didn’t you just play in the Top8?”
“Yeah. I just lost.”
“Whatever, man! That’s fine! How much did you win?”
“Around 11k, I think. Depends on what Jan Ruess does.”
“Wow! That’s a whole lot! Don’t be sad man! Go get yourself a stripper!”

Sometimes it’s not the money that counts… it’s the glory, you think, as he heads off to play public events. If winning the Pro Tour had paid only half the money you won by losing in the quarterfinals, you wouldn’t hesitate. Becoming a champion is what counts when you’re up there on Sunday.

Yet all you can think is this… “Whatever dude. Let’s draft!”

And draft is what you do.

Until 2am.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time…

Marijn Lybaert