What an amazing performance by Stanislav Cifka. He tore off a fifteen-match win streak to start Pro Tour Return to Ravnica before losing Round 16 against Kelvin Chew. He then won his next three single-elimination matches to win the event in his first appearance on the Sunday stage. He was playing great Magic with the perfect deck for the weekend. Who could have seen this coming?
Stanislav Cifka celebrating his victory in Seattle
Actually, Cifka would have been a pretty reasonable pick to do well at this event based on his short Pro Tour career. This was just his seventh Pro Tour appearance, but in that handful of events he already had a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored as well as an 18th place finish at Worlds in 2011. He was a Platinum member of the Player's Club last season and looks like he will be in great shape to defend that status for next year. Historically, if a player is able to snag a Pro Tour Top 16 and elite status, he or she is more than capable of making it over the tiebreaker hump and into the spotlight.
Pro Tour Return to Ravnica semifinalist David Ochoa is another player with a Top 16—back at Worlds in 2009—on his resume and elite status in the Player's Club on the strength of three Grand Prix Top 8s last season. With this finish, he finally got himself off the list of the game's top players without a Pro Tour Top 8. One of the ways players get themselves onto that list is by virtue of close calls like Ochoa's performance at Worlds or Cifka's showing in Barcelona.
I like to pay some attention to those Top 8 near misses so when the players finally do come out on the right side of the tiebreakers it is not a total surprise. Let's take a look at the next tier of the standings from Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.
Ari Lax was rocking a throwback Team Unknown Stars
jersey polo shirt this past weekend that saw him place 9th in the Pro Tour. Players who have worn that shirt include the likes of Gavin Verhey, Matej Zatelkaj, and Christian Calcano. Going all the way back to his days on the Junior Super Series, Lax has been someone who has eloquently shared his Magic experience with others. He played a BUG Infect deck to within decimal points of the Top 8 and gave a detailed primer to his creation in a Deck Tech with Zac Hill that is a must watch if you plan to play at Grand Prix Chicago in just a couple of weeks.
This was not the first such finish for Lax, who placed in the Top 16 at his Pro Tour debut in Kyoto. With three Grand Prix Top 8s on his resume and now two Top 16 finishes, you have to add Lax to the list of players waiting on their seemingly inevitable Sunday breakthrough.
There was a lot of bated breath as Scott Larabee read the names of the Top 8. Near the bottom of the bracket there was room for three players with four losses and seven players hoping their breakers held up to secure one of those spots. Pro Tour Hall of Famer Gabriel Nassif came within a hair's breadth of his tenth Pro Tour Top 8, which would have put a little daylight between him and the newly enshrined Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, with whom he is tied for lifetime Top 8s.
Gabriel Nassif, Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa
Nassif's weapon of choice for the Modern rounds? Robots.
Gabriel Nassif's Robots
Modern – 10th place, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
Nassif is a two-time Pro Tour champion and a nine-time Top 8 competitor. When you have that many Top 8s you lose track of the near misses, but there have been abundant Top 16s in the Frenchman's career. One thing was clear about his finish: The sun has not yet set on the career of one of the game's greatest players.
Maksym Gryn came into the two-weekend stretch of Grand Prix San Jose and the Pro Tour with just 2 lifetime Pro Points. After a 2nd-place finish at the team event and a Top 16 in Seattle, he has increased those points by an order of magnitude. In his profile for the Grand Prix, the 22-year-old student wrote: "I won a match at a Pro Tour, one time." He will have much more to write for his next Top 8 profile after an impressive stretch of eight days.
The weapon he chose to battle with was Jund.
Maksym Gryn's Jund
Modern – 11th place, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
Costa Rican player Miguel Gatica followed up his 9th-place finish from his local Grand Prix with a tie for 8th place at the Pro Tour. Like Nassif, he played Robots in Modern. Gatica has been a member of his National Team four times and had 46 lifetime Pro Points coming into the weekend. He flew under the radar all weekend but rest assured he will find his way toward the feature match area more often once Pro Tour Gatecrash rolls around.
I feel like every time I write one of these columns, Dan Jordan's name is going to come up. This is his third Top 16 in just seven Pro Tour appearances. His first came at Pro Tour Amsterdam and then another last season at Pro Tour Dark Ascension—his second Top 16 of the calendar year. Jordan played a RWU Delver deck that included a sideboard Gifts Ungiven package that allowed him to put Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn into his graveyard by just searching for those two cards.
Dan Jordan's RWU Delver
Modern – 13th place, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
If you want to see how this deck works, two-time Grand Prix Champion Shahar Shenhar (who posted a Top 64 finish) did a Deck Tech with Zac Hill early in the weekend featuring a similar build.
Matthew Costa made a name for himself last season during his Platinum campaign, which saw him nab 7th place at Pro Tour Dark Ascension and win Grand Prix Baltimore. Costa lost a Round 15 mirror match to Wily Edel that likely cost him his second Pro Tour Top 8, but anyone not considering Costa for their Fantasy Pro Tour has not been paying attention to this impressive young player of the last two seasons. Check out the match here (and while you are at it, you might as well read more of the excellent text coverage for the event).
Sebastian Denno is a Canadian player who worked with a second Mana Deprived squad that included Noah Long, Mike Vasovski, and Jeremey Schofield. The first team, which featured the likes of Pascal Maynard and Alexander Hayne, recently joined forces with World Magic Cup champion Tzu Ching Kuo to keep pace with other super teams. After Denno's great finish, expect him to get the call up to work with the A team.
Denno took a different route with his take on the Eggs deck—call it a Second Breakfast with a dash of Tabasco sauce—which used Krark-Clan Ironworks and Banefire. He also earned an approving nod from none other than Aaron Forsythe when the head of Magic R&D witnessed the Canadian win a match with a sideboarded Laboratory Maniac.
Sebastian Denno's Spicy Breakfast
Modern – 15th place, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
Satoshi Yamaguchi of Japan, who finished 16th, posted a semifinal finish at the Modern Grand Prix held in Yokohama this year and did so playing the ubiquitous Jund deck. Before you roll your eyes thinking I am going to show you another cascade of red, green, and black cards brace yourself for something completely different. Yamaguchi played the deck I am most excited about trying out on Magic Online as soon as I am done writing this column—Mono-Blue Merfolk, aka Fish!
Satoshi Yamaguchi's Fish
Modern – 16th place, Pro Tour Return to Ravnica
Despite the success of Shouta Yasooka with Aether Vial at the Magic Players Championship, we did not see a lot of it in action at the Modern Pro Tour. Yamaguchi was one of the few who did although he played it in a much more traditional archetype than the one Yasooka played—and that you have to believe only Yasooka can succeed with.
If you are planning on attending Grand Prix Chicago in a couple of weeks you can expect to see decks like those featured in this article, as well as similar ones from the Top 8. Hope to see you there!