he 2010 Pro Tour season is coming to its close. Only Grand Prix–Nashville, Grand Prix–Florence, and The World Championships are all that remain on the schedule before the Player of the Year standings are written in permanent ink. With a 15-point lead, and Level 8 benefits wrapped up for next season, there will be plenty of attention paid to Brad Nelson at every event between now and the moment the Player of the Year hardware gets handed out in Chiba. For now let us look at some of the players hoping to level up over the next three weekends of action.
Last season saw eight players lock up Level 8 Players Club benefits complete with appearance fees, free airfare, and accommodations. Heading into Nashville only Brad has assured that status for 2011. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa has all but locked it up, needing only the minimum two points for playing in World Championships to cross the 50 point threshold and it would be hard to imagine the Hall of Fame inductee not finding 4 points between now and the last round of Worlds.
The next closest player is Luis Scott-Vargas, sitting at 42 points in the Level 7 lounge and hoping to get the 8 points needed for an upgrade with only two events on his itinerary.
"I'll be hitting up Nashville and Worlds, but skipping Florence. Unfortunately, Florence is on Thanksgiving weekend, which kind of rules it out," said Luis of the remaining schedule. "I don't usually have any sort of expectation when I play in tournaments, but my goal is certainly to hit 50 points for the year. Every point I get in Nashville is basically one less round I have to win at Worlds, so hopefully I'll go into Worlds needing a Top 200 instead of a Top 16!"
Luis has accrued the bulk of his points by playing the type of Pro Tour Magic that most of us can only dream about. He has monied all three Pro Tours this season starting off with that historic sixteen-match run in San Diego that ended in a 3rd-place finish. This is followed by what Luis views as a disappointing 40th-place finish in San Juan, and finally an 11th-place finish in Amsterdam. That adds up to 29 points from Pro Tour play with only 13 coming on the Grand Prix circuit.
With teammates Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Josh Utter-Leyton, and Brad Nelson making the Top 8 and David Ochoa one win off from the final table, Luis looked back at San Juan as a missed opportunity despite a solid showing.
"We had the best deck and the best draft strategy, and put 3 in the Top 8 and one in the Top 12," said Luis, referring to the Blue-Red-Green Burn deck his team played for the Block Constructed portion of the event. "My Top 50 finish is actually pretty disappointing, and I feel like I had the potential to do much better in the tournament. Losing the finals of both my drafts certainly didn't help."
Luis has been near the top of the Player of the Year standings for the last few seasons and has gotten accustomed to the benefits that come with the highest levels of the Players Club. While he would like to get eight more points he is also happy to head into the 2011 season knowing that he is assured of the penultimate level.
"Level 7 is really where you need to be in order to travel extensively, and not making Level 7 would have definitely been rough," said LSV. "The difference between 7 and 8 is pretty big, but locking up 7 is the biggest thing."
Once Nashville is in the books LSV's full attention will turn to the Constructed formats for Worlds.
"I'm doing a fair amount of testing both on and off Magic Online for Worlds, with a whole cast of characters," he explained. "Besides the usual crew—Josh Utter-Leyton, PV, David Ochoa, Brad, Ben Stark—we are meeting up with such notables as Pat Chapin, Paul Rietzl, Owen Turtenwald, Brian Kibler, Conley Woods, and probably more. I don't usually test with such a big group, but people are just kinda coming to California and gaming before Worlds."
After a long Pro Tour season Luis is going to reward himself with some extra time in the country that is playing host to the World Championships.
"I'm actually going to be in Japan for a while, both going early and staying later as a vacation. Japan is pretty awesome!" said Luis of his plans for the break between the end of the season and the start of the next. "The break is definitely appreciated. These past two months have been very busy, and having a few off is something I look forward to, at least now. Ask me in January and I'll probably be chomping at the bit to go battle! Besides, there is always more work to do on ChannelFireball, and hopefully the time off will let me improve the site even more."
Right behind Luis is Martin Juza who vaulted into Level 7 membership with his win at Grand Prix–Bochum. Before that event he was not sure if he would make it across the 40-point threshold this season but now finds himself looking to pick up nine points over three events. He will be attending the Grand Prix in Nashville and Florence before heading to Japan for Worlds.
"I don't really need to prepare for the GPs and I want to level up," said Martin, who has clearly demonstrated his Limited skills over the past two years. "I have averaged two points per Grand Prix, so if I can Top 32 both—or better—and Top 64 Worlds, that gets me to Level 8. On the other hand, focusing on Top 8ing Worlds is probably just better."
Getting to Level 7 was a big weight off of Martin's mind for next year as the benefits associated with that level allow him to travel all over the world doing the thing he loves to do most.
"Without the appearance fee it's really hard to go to all the GPs on the other side of the world and that's what makes Magic enjoyable for me," Juza explained. "Only playing Pro Tours means you always have to wait three months for another tournament—and I don't want to wait, I want to win!"
Martin will be preparing for Worlds on Magic Online with his countryman Lucas Blohon—who is Level 6 and needs just 7 points to hit the elusive next level—and will get to Japan on the Monday before Worlds to check in with other top players and fine-tune for the last event of the season.
"We'll probably meet with the Japanese and the ChannelFireball crew and see what we all came up with," said Juza.
Level 7 is going to be crowded during Worlds player registration as Brian Kibler, Yuuya Watanabe, Guillaume Matignon, Paul Rietzl, Shuhei Nakamura, and Simon Görtzen merely need to sign up for Worlds to cross into 40-point territory. Marijn Lybaert—who is apparently retired after his Amsterdam Top 8—and Kyle Boggemes need to find an extra point somewhere along the way to hit that next level.
The second-place finisher from Pro Tour–San Diego picked up more than half of his 2010 points from that first event. With only Nashville and Worlds on his docket, Kyle was confident he could find that one point.
"I expect to do well at Grand Prix–Nashville because I am confident with this Limited format," said Boggemes. "I am shooting for a minimum of Top 200 at Worlds because I can lock up Level 7."
While Level 8 is not out of the question for Boggemes he has to focus on the task at hand. Of course, if not for a cruel decimal point the task at hand would quite likely have been Level 8.
"I got 9th on breaks at GP–Toronto so if I had 1% better tie breaks, I would have possibly already been Level 7," explained Boggemes, who has a romantic reason for wanting to reach that next plateau. "I would still be able to attend all of the GPs if I am Level 6 but I am taking my girlfriend to Paris if I hit Level 7."
While most players focus on Standard and Limited for Worlds, Boggemes was thinking about that third format to make sure he gets every last Pro Point he needs.
"I am playing a lot of local events and doing Magic Online drafts to get prepared for Standard and Draft," said Boggemes. "I am going to look into Extended after the Winter King tournament since it will shape the format."
Hasbro doesn't underwrite Magic trips until Level 6 benefits kick in and there is a clump of players looking to get from merely being qualified to play to getting paid to play in every 2011 Pro Tour. Gaudenis Vidugiris was a Level 7 member throughout this season even though he has not been able to fully enjoy the benefits due to a full-time job that began this year. Still, he has made the most of his chances and needs only a couple of extra points for Level 6 next year.
Gaudenis has finished Top 32 at all three Pro Tours this season, which accounts for the bulk of his points. He knows he is going to get at least two more for signing up for Worlds and has to find two more between Nashville and the last round of play in Chiba—at least two more.
"Obviously it would be awesome to somehow get 14 between Worlds and Nashville," Vidugiris mused before adding, "but that is rather difficult."
Given how much more limited his free time has become, Vidugiris was excited to be able to continue playing in Pro Tours throughout next season.
"Given that I've started a full-time law job in January I knew that I wasn't going to be able to prep as much or attend as many events as I did last year," he explained. "So, I'm pretty thrilled with having Level 6 nearly locked."
A Top 16 finish at Grand Prix–D.C. was his best finish on that circuit but Vidugiris could not help but look at that event as the one that got away if he somehow missed out on Level 6 membership.
"I felt like all my losses were heartbreakers," Vidugiris recalled. "In particular, in the last round playing for Top 8: Game 1 mull to four, die. Game 2, win. Game 3 fail to see land number three, die."
Vidugiris, who will be playtesting for Worlds with his good friends Sam Black and Zvi Mowshowitz, has found that his perspective on event scheduling has changed now that he has to answer for his time to his employer.
"I wish events were a bit more spread out," said the Grand Prix–Tampa winner. "Conveniently located back-to-back-to-back events are awesome, especially when traveling like I was last year. But three or four events in a row gets to be too much, especially when they are on different continents."
Conley Woods is another player who needs to find two more points beyond registering for Worlds in order to lock up Level 6. Woods has definitive plans to attend Nashville and Worlds but has not discounted the possibility of a trip to Italy.
"I won't decide that one until after Nashville though as it depends on how I am feeling and how many points I grab from the Grand Prix," explained Woods of his uncertainty about attending GP–Florence. "I am aiming to grab 30 by the end of the year to pull home a level 6 honor. I am at 26 points right now so I am just trying to secure two more in addition to the freebies from Worlds. That seems like a reasonable thing to expect, so I anticipate getting there. Of course, I can never count out a big finish and possibly making a run at level 7."
Conley has had a solid season of Top 16 and Top 32 finishes after getting things started with a Top 8 at Grand Prix–Oakland. After breaking out last year with a Top 8 at Pro Tour–Honolulu, he had higher expectations for this past season.
"This season has definitely been an 'off' year, if you will," admitted Woods. "I haven't capitalized on a lot of close chances and as a result don't have many insane finishes or anything. That said, these types of years are bound to happen to everyone and you just need to make the most of it. Securing a Level 6 spot despite the somewhat lackluster year is a nice feeling, but the year has granted me much more than Pro Points. I feel I have learned more about myself and Magic this year than any other in my past, so I have no regrets. I am looking forward to having a big year next year though!"
There is no one event that Woods felt was "the one that got away."
"Can I pick a month?" laughed Woods. "I felt like my year was really turned around during the Nationals/GP–Gothenburg/PT–Amsterdam stretch, but I failed to make the most of all of those tournaments. Coming in 14th at Nationals was a bit of a letdown. But it was the 9th-place finish on tiebreakers that was especially brutal the following weekend, as I had the opportunity to play it out in the final round, but made a blunder with an intentional draw. To cap it all off, I let a big opportunity slip through my fingers after a perfect Day One the following weekend at the Pro Tour. 22nd was a nice finish, but it still felt like it got away from me."
Woods, who makes his living playing, writing, and talking about Magic, was going to be traveling to every event he was qualified for as long as he had the 20 points needed for Level 4 membership in the Players Club. The higher he finishes this year, the more events he will go to next year.
"The extra compensation is definitely a big enabler and allows me to make Magic a full-time thing," explained Woods. "If I were to hit Level 7 or 8 I would be going to more international Grand Prix, but without those benefits, it is hard to justify some of the further GPs."
While many of us look forward to the time between Worlds and the first PT of the new year as a well-deserved break, it is business as usual for Conley Woods.
"There won't be much of a break for me as there are still Grand Prix, 5ks, and testing for Paris. I am always immersed in Magic, as I am writing or recording videos for both TCGPlayer and ChannelFireball, which always keeps me busy. Two months doesn't even seem like much of a break at all, to be honest!" said Woods.