hen Owen Turtenwald reached the finals of Grand Prix Washington DC this past weekend it was six and a half years after his first taste of high-level tournament success. Way back in the spring of 2007, Turtenwald reached the finals of Grand Prix Columbus—like this past weekend, it was also a Legacy tournament—and propelled him to the Pro Tour level in Spain at Pro Tour Valencia. Grand Prix Washington DC also fed a Pro Tour in Valencia but Turtenwald has not needed a GP or PTQ invite in quite some time, with multiple Platinum seasons and a Player of the Year trophy coming in between those two events.
Owen Turtenwald, Grand Prix Washington DC 2013 winner
What Turtenwald had not done in all that time was win a major tournament. Until last season, he was near the top of the list of players with the most career Pro Points without a Pro Tour Top 8—something he remedied at Pro Tour Gatecrash. His Player of the Year trophy for the 2011 season was the first time that award had gone to someone without a Pro Tour Top 8 during that season. He accomplished that with solid Pro Tour finishes—highlighted by a 12th-place showing at Pro Tour Paris—and a staggering seven Grand Prix Top 8 appearances.
In the two Grand Prix Top 8s from last season, the seven from 2011, and the two that preceded that season, the win eluded him, with two finals appearances, four semifinals, and five quarterfinal finishes. Turtenwald went into the Top 8 of this past weekend's event looking at perhaps one of the toughest brackets he has ever faced through all thirteen appearances. There were a pair of formidable Pro Tour veterans standing in his way to the finals in Andrew Cuneo and Sam Black, and all three of them were vying for their first Grand Prix trophy. In the end, it was Turtenwald, playing his trusty RWU Delver deck, who crossed one more item off his Magic to-do list and got to fly home with a Grand Prix trophy in the seat next to him.
His win also pushed him up six spots in the Top 25 ranked Magic Pro Standings, from No. 22 to No. 16. The freshly minted Grand Prix champion's career is still three more seasons away from the tenure needed for Hall of Fame eligibility, despite crushing the points total requirement with well over 200 lifetime Pro Points, and he is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
"I never expected then to have the results I do now, so in that respect it has been a pleasant surprise to get this far," answered Turtenwald when I asked him if he thought it would take this long to win a Grand Prix after starting his career out with that finals appearance in Columbus. "I'm proud of my accomplishments and I understand how tournaments work. There is a tremendous amount of luck involved and getting exactly 1st place in a tournament is a very hard thing to do."
Turtenwald was pretty emphatic that he never let himself get discouraged as he rattled off a dozen Top 8 finishes without being able to close. Like most great players, he tries to maintain a focus on the game and match at hand and not get distracted by the bigger picture. Certainly, the bracket he was looking at, which was made up of four pros in his half of the bracket and four relative unknowns in the other half, meant that he was facing one of the tougher roads to accomplishing his goal of winning a tournament than any of the previous dozen Top 8s.
"Andrew Cuneo and Sam Black are people I consider to be friends, teammates, and extremely skilled Magic players," he admitted, but he did not let that affect him. "I only ever thought about how to play the matchup and my own deck. It doesn't help you win games of Magic to worry about losing to someone just because they're a good player."
Do not mistake Turtenwald's in-game calm for dispassion. He still gets very stressed about Magic-related things like his Players Club status and qualifying to play in the World Championship. And once the final game against Jared Boettcher was over he allowed himself a small measure of enjoyment.
Owen Turtenwald in the finals of Grand Prix Washington DC
"I was really happy when I won. I am always relieved to win any match I play," he said. "I mean tournaments are just hard. Jon Finkel is the best player but how often does he get exactly 1st place?" he said, adding: "My biggest goal now is, of course, to win a Pro Tour."
If he does win a Pro Tour, Turtenwald will no doubt thank Jon Finkel and the rest of his StarCityGames teammates. He has been working with that team since last season and shortly after joining found himself playing on Sunday at a Pro Tour.
"There's no question in my mind that I've become a better player as a result of being on that team. I've gotten to test Constructed and Draft with some of the best players in the history of the game, which is an amazing experience. The team is a great group of guys who I have a ton of respect for and I can only hope that I have helped them as much as they have helped me," said the Pro Tour Gatecrash Top 8 competitor.
On a team chock full of Pro Tour Hall of Famers, Pro Tour Champions, and innovative deck designers, there are two players that Turtenwald has forged a special allegiance with. The 2011 Player of the Year, along with Magic Online Champion Reid Duke, and Pro Tour Hall of Famer William Jensen, have become like brothers. To describe their friendship, they reference The Peach Garden Oath from The Three Kingdoms.
"Three great generals of separate ancestry form an oath of solidarity and brotherhood to protect to realm," explained Turtenwald. In this case, "protecting the realm" could be a euphemism for "winning a Grand Prix"—something all three players have accomplished in this calendar year. "William Jensen and Reid Duke are the two best players in the world right now. Any tournament I see either of them enter I fully expect them to win, and in the last few months they have seemed to prove me right time and time again. I'm certainly lucky that they agreed to team with me in tournaments and they push me to play better and try harder than I ever have before. It's not a coincidence that I've made Top 8 of a Pro Tour and won a Grand Prix after having those guys around to help me."
The admiration is not one sided either. When asked about working with the Grand Prix DC Champion William Jensen had this to say:
"Nobody in the world impresses me with their Magic talent as consistently as Owen. I have no doubt that without his help I wouldn't have had nearly as much recent success."
And Reid Duke was similarly effusive:
"I practice with Owen for nearly every major tournament these days, and I know that he stands apart, even from other top players, in his talent for the game. Typically, I start the tournaments thinking, 'If I can play this deck half as well as Owen does, I'll be in good shape.' His win at Grand Prix DC—and his absolute dominance in the Top 8 over perceived bad matchups—proves that I'm not crazy. I'm glad to see Owen finish what he started three years ago, and take his crown as the King of American Grand Prix. People have called him the world's best player in the past, and I guarantee they will again."
Owen Turtenwald's Goblins
Legacy – 2nd Place, Grand Prix Columbus 2007
In that first Top 8 appearance in Columbus, the weapon of choice for Turtenwald was Goblins, but he has been playing RWU Delver pretty consistently in Legacy. He was able to add a powerful new weapon to his arsenal with the highly resilient True-Name Nemesis occupying the spot once held by Geist of Saint Traft. For Turtenwald, the ability for his deck to shift modes allowed him to handle two different broad deck archetypes.
Owen Turtenwald's RWU Delver
Legacy – Winner, Grand Prix Washington DC 2013
"I've been practicing a ton with various Delver decks in other tournaments and I wrote multiple articles on what I considered to be the optimal build of Delver and how to play specific matchups," explained the ChannelFireball.com columnist. "I knew my deck inside and out and with 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Swords to Plowshares in the main deck I was happy to face any creature-based matchup, plus I had 4 Daze, 4 Spell Pierce, and 4 Force of Will for any combo matchup, too. The deck was absolutely great. In previous tournaments, I actually did poorly with the deck but I just believed that it was a great deck and knew I could succeed if I stuck to my guns."
Next up for Turtenwald is Grand Prix Albuquerque and the Standard format: "I intend to attend every North American Grand Prix I can and each of the Invitationals and Pro Tours."
What to Watch For
Tune in this weekend to Grand Prix Albuquerque and you will certainly see the likes of Owen Turtenwald and William Jensen playing on camera. I will be doing commentary for this event, reunited with the person I started my webcasting career with—former head of Magic R&D and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Randy Buehler—along with Limited Information columnist Marshall Sutcliffe. The Standard format seems wide open, with no deck dominating the Top 8 of recent opens.
Conley Woods has promised something special for this weekend and I know he will be among the first players I check in on for an exciting deck to feature.
Of course, Sam Black always has something interesting up his sleeve and would love to accomplish the same feat that Turtenwald turned him away from in the semifinals of DC. Still, no player seems hotter right now, and combine that with his recent Standard success on the Pro Tour, and I would not be at all surprised to see Sam buying a seat for his trophy on Monday morning.
If you are playing in the event—and you see me not on the air—make sure to say hello and tell me about the deck you are bringing to battle with.
Over in Japan, Keita Mori will be anchoring coverage Saturday and Sunday (local time) on NicoNico for Grand Prix Kyoto, which features the Theros Team Sealed Deck format. That's 5 p.m. Friday night Pacific Time (8 p.m. Eastern).
The Grand Prix are not the only events to watch this weekend. Former Rookie of the Year Mathias Hunt and Grand Prix Philadelphia Champion Gerard Fabiano will be commentating on the Standard and Legacy Opens from Providence, RI, starting a few hours earlier each day.
Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.