Last weekend we watched the first Modern Pro Tour in what felt like a decade. We started by watching Nathan Steuer, the World and Pro Tour champion, navigate a tough seat in the LOTR booster draft, and we ended with watching a first-time Pro Tour player, Jake Beardsley, win the entire event.
Nathan drafted well, but packs broke poorly for him. His pack two was dry, and he ended up getting three Reprieve, which is too many, but there was no escape unless he passed one for a worse card the first time he saw it.
This is my first time in years caring about what Modern has looked like. The format looked rejuvenated and healthy. While there’s a lot of nonsense going on in the format, there are a lot of checks and balances in the form of free cards. Endurance, Grief, Fury, Subtlety, Solitude, and the cycle of Forces have all changed the format for the better.
These cards make it difficult to play unfair strategies that dominated Modern in the past, and in a world of decks that lean to the fair side, it makes sense we saw such a spectacular showing from Tron. Tron wasn’t on my radar leading up to this event, even though I was a part of the Handshake Discord.
The team worked on and decided to play the deck during in-house testing, which is refreshing to see that there’s still weight to getting together in person and discussing things. Discord testing is an incredible tool, especially for organizing thoughts, but there’s nothing like ironing out ideas in an in-person meeting and discussing the positives and negatives of each individual choice.
Christian Calcano, one of the most well-liked people in the Magic community for his relentlessly positive energy, made it all the way to the finals in an inspiring moment for many, myself included. Christian went from basically out of the game, decided to pursue Magic again, and within a few months he’s within a game of winning the Pro Tour and qualified for Worlds. Calcano lost to first-time PT player Jake Beardsley in the finals, which is yet another inspiring story. Many of us, myself included, did poorly at our first Pro Tour, so it was heartwarming to see someone have immediate success, especially someone who appears incredibly passionate about the game.
I was excited to watch one of my closest friends, Alexander Hayne, play a win and in. Hayne did virtually zero testing for the event. This is a classic Hayne maneuver that has made his stellar results far worse than they would be. He’s one of the most talented, if not the most talented, Magic players on the planet, and his motivation is all that holds him back. Watching him play a win and in for T8 was exciting, and it had the worst possible outcome as a spectator and friend with an unintentional draw after seven extra turns. One of the biggest downsides of paper Magic is that this outcome occurs far more often. This, along with some concessions in big moments, haunts the paper Pro Tour, while online we get bugs and crashes in its place. There’s no perfect system yet.
We saw arguably the greatest player of all time, Kai Budde, step back onto the Sunday stage after a long hiatus from the game. Kai was always an idol of mine. I’ve gotten to know him in the past few years, and on top of his incredible, analytical brain for the game, he’s just a great person to boot. Kai’s story inspires me. He’s able to put the game down to live his life and do what he needs to, but then come back, put in some effort, and get things done.
We all know I deserve all the credit though, right?
Two players were in PT LOTR Top 8 who also were in the previous PT Top 8. Simon Nielsen and Javier Dominguez both having back-to-back T8s is incredible. While we will see more of this now because the Pro Tour size is smaller, until it ticks back up, it’s still an incredible accomplishment to have back-to-back PT T8s, as that rarely occurred in the past.
Simon is another example of a person who is almost always in positive spirits and lifts up the people around him. He’s clearly one hell of a Magic player, and obviously his own talent and hard work are huge factors in his success, but Team Handshake has also played a part.
Javier, also of Team Handshake, is arguably the best player of the current generation. He's a World Champion, Mythic Championship Champion, and he has tons of top finishes under his belt. Javier is the perfect example of what tilts me about the Hall of Fame not existing anymore. He’d be a slam dunk to be inducted. He's also one of the nicest people on the planet, and someone pointed out that this Top 8 might have been the nicest of all time. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Of the six who I know personally, they’d probably all be in my Top 10 nicest people on the Pro Tour. Maybe nice people don’t finish last?
Personally, I was trying to take a little break from Magic. I’ve been focusing on my family and experiences with them this summer. As I finish writing this, I’m about to get ready for the Pink concert with my wife. However, despite having been comfortable playing whenever I can, the Pro Tour is so special that watching it from home for the first time in nearly a decade gives me the fire to pursue it. Maybe that fire will fade in a few days, weeks, or months, but right now I want to try and work my way back. I mostly blame Hayne for this, as he’s a close personal friend and I’d love to team back up with him. Unfortunately for me, I’m not a big fan of Pioneer and Modern and they're a big part of competitive MTG these days. I used to bite the bullet and play formats I didn’t enjoy much to get to play the others, but it was easier to travel and reliably reach my goals with tons of opportunities. Now, opportunities are few and far between, so even though the fire’s burning right now, there’s no place for me to grind toward a goal.
I’ll always be a fan of the Pro Tour, regardless if I’m competing in them or not. I’ve often thought, more so recently, about channeling my desire to grind into more content, so maybe I’ll move more in that direction. For now, I’m going to finish the summer with my family and get back on the grind when the kids are back at school.
We got a few peeks at cards from Wilds of Eldraine at the PT, and I’ll be looking over what’s available next week. See you then!