Petr Sochurek is a 23 year old Czech platinum Pro player. He recently won GP Barcelona with 4c Saheeli. This is his second GP win (Grand Prix Paris in 2016, and second place finish at GP Rimini) and that is why I decided to write about him and interview him now. At first, I was waiting for him to top8 a Pro Tour to do an interview but that has eluded him so far, even though he certainly is one of the players that should end up in it sooner or later and I believe that he can become a Pro Tour Champion one day. Before I get to the actual interview I'd like to tell you a story of how I met Petr Sochurek. In order to understand how unique he is I will have to digress a bit.
During Lorwyn block I moved to the Czech Republic, a country that is in the middle of nowhere for many but which has a high density of good Magic players. I did not really know how to find friends and did not really have many ideas of what to do with my free time. Magic was usually what was helping me with that so one day I decided to take my Legacy deck and check out some stores in the nearby capital. I learned fast that Legacy nor Vintage is not a thing here and that the closest format to these was Extended. Otherwise everyone was playing Standard.
When I first showed up in one of the local game store I was very young looking. While I was older than many thought it didn't change the fact how players looked at me and treated me. One local player was nice to me and even bought me a deck later (mono black rogues). He was showing me current Standard. I was reading every single card because I hadn't seen any card from Lorwyn block before. A certain player watched us play. I knew that this player was a bully, because that day, he was asking little kids or new players to play a game with him and then he just killed them with his Legacy Elves and was really delighted about that. I expected him to choose me as his prey as well that day. He did. He came to me and asked me for a game expecting to win with ease. I said yes but instead of the Standard deck I played earlier I took out Legacy Slivers and beat him with ease instead. Since that day I learned that many would just underestimate me as a player and probably no one would take me seriously even if I would win. I was right about that. Before Nationals many good players came to play in FNMs and were often swearing a lot when they lost to me and were complaining to their friends that some 10 year old girl beat them. Neither of them considered that there might have been some skill involved. One day the person who provided me with Mono Black Rogues was present as well and told one of those players, still complaining, this: 'You know, that little 10 year old girl has played Magic for over 10 years'. I remember this day well because of the facial expressions of the players who heard that. Unfortunately it didn't change much as I was still considered lucky.
From this short story you can probably see that coming to tournaments was often a torture but it was worth it because I got to play the game I loved and was relatively good at. People that coped with their losses well were rather rare. Actually so rare that this meeting with one young prodigy is still in my memory to this day.
The Kithkin player
At one Extended event I played against a little boy, who like me did not seem to care about the recommendation age for Magic: The Gathering. He was on mono white Kithkin which wasn't common in Extended, since players tended to play tier 1 decks at the time or Burn if budget was an issue. We played a very intense match that was very close but the Kithkin player in the end lost to his own mistake because he miscalculated. He didn't swear, he didn't complain and that was very odd. Instead he spent some time thinking before scooping his cards and then asked me 'I could have won this game, right?'. This was even more odd, because he actually talked to me and was literally the first tournament opponent that did not tell me 'You were just lucky'. I acknowledged what he said because it was true. I wasn't supposed to win the game. He left then, content with his realization. That is how I met Petr Sochurek, the very first player that showed me the ability to count damage a few turns ahead and devising a plan how to beat tier 1 decks while not having access to these decks. Not only that, he showed that he realized what his mistake was and took a lesson from it. Note that this was just a regular Extended tournament. At that time I was certain that Petr would make it to Pro Tour. It was just a question of when. I expected him to qualify soon but maybe he wasn't even thinking about that at the time. He was a kid back then, but analytical, self-critical and with the desire to get better at the game while already knowing he's way better than many.
I played against Petr later more often and learned that he is a player that could handle a more complex deck easily and I wondered why he sticks to the Kithkin deck. At that time I did not even know his name. Other players just called him Kiki or Kikac. I learned that 'Kikaci' or 'Kikini' was how Kithkin were called here (it's difficult to pronounce that for Czech people). At that time I thought that the reason why Petr was playing the same deck still was simply money. Buying fetches wasn't easy, especially if you were a kid and did not have any support from the parents whatsoever. Those were cards out of reach for many and jealousy towards players running Domain Zoo was not uncommon. But maybe there was a bit more to it than that. But I never asked.
Years later we started to ran into each other again at different kind of events - PTQs. While I didn't strive to win any of these, Petr obviously did. I was glad he made the choice to make it to Pro Tour. Petr's deck of choice was Merfolk. Facing Merfolk usually meant an easy win for me but it wasn't the case with Petr. He was the one who showed me that these blue creatures can win against anything and I realized how bad of a pilot I'd be playing that deck. He top8ed many of the Qualifiers but never won one. But that was soon to change.
He qualified for PT Born of the Gods in Valencia by placing 9th at GP Vienna. The Pro Tour went well for Petr, he placed in top 16 playing the deck he was known for - Merfolk. He was truly a Merfolk master but I wondered why he decided to play the deck at the PT. I was very happy for him though and I hoped we would see him in top 8 soon but unfortunately this still needs to happen.
'4c Delver control'
Petr is not just playing Standard or Modern. He plays other formats and he proved us that he can play Legacy very well. He finished 6th at GP Lille. He piloted 4c Delver deck that another Czech player - Tomas Mar - is known for. I'm also a 4c Delver pilot and I've been playing this deck even longer than Tomas. Each of us though took a different direction when fine tuning our decks. I valued control while Tomas valued 'value'. I was afraid to step over the line and make it more of a control deck while still being able to put pressure on the opponent when needed though. Petr Sochurek and Tomas Mar though were not afraid of anything and played a more control version of the deck. While still the deck is a 4-Color Delver deck it starts as a control deck and switches to a tempo deck. When I saw Petr playing with this deck I could clearly see that he is good at playing a deck that needs to be switching roles around and in Eternal formats this skill is more important and rewards the players more. Even the Eldrazi menace did not stop Petr from playing 4c Delver. While I brought Shardless BUG into MKM Series Frankfurt field full of Eldrazi, he found use for Baleful Strix and Diabolic Edict and piloted the deck to 9th place. The future 4c Control deck features many one-ofs and requires the players to come up with the right plays at the right time. Only a player who can always look at the board state with fresh eyes can do such plays no matter how strange they are. Petr excels at this and this is the skill that the current Standard requires and many players underestimate this skill. We may have 2-3 different decks played in Standard, but the complexity of the board states is something that often requires different kind of decision from the player. That 'often' might be 20% but many will misplay in those 20%. Standard is a good format now, because it rewards skill. The better player is now more likely to win.
Petr Sochurek the Hareruya Pro
After the PT Petr put Merfolk aside and started to play decks that were good and suited for the metagame. This way he top8ed 5 GPs. He won GP Paris (Grixis Control) and GP Barcelona (4c Saheeli), he was the finalist of GP Rimini (Bant Company) and he placed 6th at Legacy GP Lille (4c Delver). He, Pavel Matousek and Tom Ristovsky placed 4th at GP Kyoto (team sealed).
Petr became a member of Hareruyas Pros and is currently Platinum level Pro so we will certainly see him often.
Hello Petr, first, I'd like to congratulate you on your second GP win and also I'd like to wish you Happy belated Birthday.
I know that everyone is asking you this, but how did you start playing Magic? What aspects of the game caught your interest? When did you decide that you'd like to qualify for Pro Tour?
I started playing Magic when I was 11 in the first year of my "high school" (I attended an 8 year gymnasium). Someone brought it and it didn't take long for everyone to start playing. Soon I started to beat everyone and it wasn't satisfying for me to play anymore, so I had to look for better opponents and that's how I got myself into a Magic store. You have to understand my personality if you want to know why am I so good at Magic - I always thought about myself as the best and I've never doubted it. Also, I was way smarter than most people in elementary school so I was just used to be the best. I started playing Magic then and I wasn't actually that good at it at the beginning - yeah I was probably slightly above average, but there were many kids of my age, who were much smarter and talented than me. The problem was that I just wasn't willing to accept that ever and I wanted to prove everyone wrong - I just spent way more time playing Magic than other people (this also includes reading articles etc.) So at the beginning it wasn't that I liked the game THAT much - I just wanted to be the best at something. As the time goes though you start to appreciate many aspects of the game; it's very complicated and you can always learn something new and you get to talk to a lot of smart people (for example being part of Ben Stark arguing with PV about random stuff is one of the best things ever). I decided that I would qualify for the PT the first time I heard about it - I was never playing the game just for fun, I wanted to be the best and in my child's head I just assumed that it's going to happen - I wasn't doubting it (at least not at the beginning).
It took you a long time to qualify for Pro Tour even though you certainly had the skills already. Was there some kind of wake-up call that made you change your perception or give you more motivation? Or was it the friendly rivalry with Ondrej Strasky?
I think that I was way better than a lot of people who already played a PT, but I don't think I was good enough to qualify assuredly - most people who qualify for a PT got very lucky and you have to be very very good to qualify consistently - that being said once you realize that qualifying for a PT is just the first step and if you have a problem with that, then you are just not good enough - people are complaining that I have the pro level to qualify for the PTs and that helps me to qualify to even more PTs, but in every PT I played I was also qualified from a tournament (not just a level). The first couple of times I qualified I was already pretty good I think, but I got really lucky, the first time when it was deserved in my opinion was at the beginning of the last season, when I started to play a lot of Magic Online and I started to be really good in my opinion. And yeah Ondrej's success is definitely what pushed me (and still pushes) me ahead, because I just didn't want him to be better than me and I am grateful to him for pushing me to my limits.
Are you now a full-time Magic player or do you still have plans to study?
I am full time Magic Pro now. Multiple times during my past 2 years I started saying to myself, that I should also do something else, but anytime I stopped focusing on Magic 100% my play just went extremely downhill - I have a very specific playstyle - I don't take anything for granted and I am trying to play perfectly and around everything and to do that you have to understand Magic very deeply and I just wasn't able to do that with other things on my mind. When playing around everything it often means that a game someone else would have won easily by just slamming a threat and winning if they don't have an answer you get to play a way closer game - it takes longer, but you make sure that they have no combinations of cards to beat you - problem with this is, that if you are not on the top of your game, you're gonna misstep somewhere and lose the game, which "worse" player might have won easily by just slamming the card and your win percentage goes way down. This is also why I do really bad when I am tired/not feeling well/unprepared. (btw often times it's obviously right to just slam it, it was just to explain my point).
Did you start playing on Magic Online when you decided to become serious about Magic or were you playing Online already before? Do you find it necessary to play on Magic Online in order to become better player?
I always played some Magic Online, but previously it wasn't a ton because it was expensive to afford a deck or to even draft. I started playing a lot of it (now it's like 6-7 hours a day on average - there are days I don't play at all, which makes the number smaller) before the last season and that's why I started to win way more. And yes I think it's necessary (at least at the beginning - once you become really good and you understand the game very well you can play less - I am still not at that point).
When Magic Online introduced Leagues and cross-pod drafts how did this affect you as a pro player trying to prepare for a PT? Do you rather play with other team members in paper? I'm asking this because what I always liked in a draft were signals, knowing what other players have in their decks and some hate picks from time to time. All this is gone and for me the current draft is totally different. In the paper world this does not happen and I wonder how big a difference drafting Online and IRL is for players of your caliber.
I prefer playing in paper with my teammates, but I think it's important to also play on MODO before the PT, because your team might be biased about a lot of things and it's good to play a format in a wild random environment. As for the introduction of Leagues - it's great you get to play more matches and save time and I don't think that the hate draft thing makes that big of a difference.
Are there any features you are missing from Magic Online?
I am not missing any particular features, I just think the program is very outdated and it sucks in general.
What do you think about current Standard? I find it very skill intensive and that it rewards those that are good players. This seems like the ideal format for top level play now but I may be wrong.
Yeah, most of the Standard formats are about luck and at the same time skill dependent. There are these nut draws or cards like Gideon that lead to free wins, but at the same time the games are very hard and difficult to play well. It's also a lot about preparation - knowing how to sideboard is very important - you need to know what exactly is your opponent going to do.
We can see you play competitive Legacy relatively often so I suppose you like the format? What do you like about Legacy that formats like Modern or Standard do not offer?
Well, I like to play competitive paper Magic and the other formats are just way too easy to win in, but the Legacy players here are really good so it's a challenge. Also the games and sideboarding is super skill intensive, because you have infinite decisions every game from turn one and that's just great.
Legacy is about card selection rather the deck we choose and finding the right use for the cards is something very important and it shows who is the more skilled player. I'd say this is a skill that one develops in limited but you are primarily seen as a better constructed player. How did you become so good at solving unusual board states?
I just don't take anything for granted, I don't care that people are shaking their head for me taking so long - "it's so obvious just to play this right??" - "Well, I was thinking which land to play - also I am super far ahead and if he draws Life from the Loam I get into a bad spot." Silence. Basically at any point I quickly go through the options - how can I get punished from the lines, what is my long-term plan etc. and then come up with decisions. People just don't like to make plays that "look bad". You see players in limited taking damage from random Boros creatures, because it's just too bad of a trade to trade a common for your rare, but they don't see the bigger picture, that your life total is your most valuable resource that game and you are going to win the lategame anyway so you should just block. There are infinite things like this - you just need to have the will to want to understand the game and don't be lazy to think about it - that's how you start improving and how you start making the good plays. I will give another example - you play against a Sneak Attack and you have them dead relatively soon and you have like 5 counterspells in your hand. You are tapped out and your opponent didn't play anything last turn and has only few cards in a hand and they play a Gitaxian Probe - most people wouldn't even think about Forcing it, because it's just too bad to Force a Probe. Guess what; the resolved probe allowed them to draw and use Boseiju the turn before they died and you lost because of it. It doesn't matter that the exchange is bad - just try to think about what is important - once you untap you are not going to lose to regular spells anyway (you have 3 more counters), so you should give them less draws to draw the unusual card that can kill you.
Thank you for your time and I wish you good luck in your career and life.
Thank you very much! I will try my best.
You can follow Petr Sochurek on Twitter @PetrKikac. He is providing content for Hareruya Pros. His articles bring insight to the game and decks he plays.