Like the Super Bowl or World Series, you never know when it’s your last chance to play the Magic World Championship. It’s so difficult to qualify for, takes so many good finishes, and so much time away from home that I don’t know if I’ll ever get to play again. I certainly hope so, but my mindset going in was to play for first, because I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance again.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t win. I didn’t come close. Javier Dominguez, a criminally underrated player, made the finals for the second year in a row, and closed out this time. A big congrats to Javier, as he’s one of the most friendly and humble players you’ll ever meet.
I won’t get into the tournament itself much as the formats are long gone and I had an average 10th-place finish. I tested with Matt Severa and Matt Nass for the event, and had a great time with them.
What I want to talk about was some of the surrounding circumstances of the event. A lot went on this year, before and during the event. I hope that the community as a whole learns from it, and that positive things will come after.
This is my third time competing in the event and there was never an issue like this before. When the players received their invitation emails, there was a lot of information to sift through. The emails arrived later than usual from WotC, so in the meantime my wife and I planned our trip. She works full-time, and is a full-time nursing student. Two days a week she gets home from work, eats dinner quickly with me and our two daughters at around 5 p.m., and goes straight to school until 10 p.m. On Saturday, she has clinical, which lasts 12 hours. She managed to book a flight right after her 12-hour shift the Saturday of Worlds to arrive at midnight in Las Vegas. All on the off chance that I make Top 4—she wanted to be there to watch if I did, and would fly home right before school the following Wednesday. She works really hard and doesn’t get out much, so she wanted to take this opportunity to get away while she could. Again, this could be my last time, and she didn’t want to miss it.
After eventually getting the emails, I had already figured out the details, so I barely looked at the email because, well, I’ve been here before.
WoTC put a guest deadline in the emails that I overlooked, as did many of the other players, most of whom had played the event before. At one point, Ben Stark messaged me and asked if I got Heather in, and I asked what he was talking about. He informed me of the deadline. I emailed those who could help and asked if there was any way they could fit our guests in, and received an email back saying that there would be no exceptions.
Now before anyone rushes to judgement, WotC had a good reason for this deadline. Since the Jacksonville Madden Tournament shooting, WotC has decided to up their security and make the playing environment safer for everyone. This means taking things like these deadlines more seriously. So while it caused a lot of the players stress, and eventually everyone was allowed their guests, this is a move in the right direction. Feeling safe is important.
As players, we need to pay more attention to what’s sent to us. I know that several first-time competitors saw the deadline and adhered to it, and us veterans just continued business as usual. Next time, I’ll read the email more thoroughly. Treat each tournament as new, etc.
On WoTC’s side, I think if they’re going to make a major change like this, it needs to be sent in its own email with a change in how they’re approaching a detail like this. One of the most memorable parts of Worlds last year was seeing Huey’s father there, and seeing Wrapter’s mom show up, spur of the moment, to watch her son compete. Losing this value over a deadline is silly to me, and we should leave the door open for loved ones who would like to attend and watch a competitor play for the World Championships. As a player, this is the biggest moment in some of our lives, and our families and friends want to be a part of it. We can both have effective security and maintain that atmosphere.
We were asked to arrive on Tuesday before the event, which we all did. This was the very same day decks were due. We didn’t know that decks were due until the week prior, but it being an older format… it wasn’t that big of a deal. I do think this should be changed in the future, however. Players need to know far in advance when deck lists are due so they can schedule their testing around that due date. I spent the week before I knew deck lists were due drafting Dominaria. I may have spent that time playing more Standard and waiting until after deck lists were in to focus on Limited. Maximizing my testing time is important these days, as I don’t get to play as much as I used to.
So the day I arrived, I showed up sick. I spent the day sleeping, woke up at night to submit my deck list, eat a quick bite, and then go back to sleep. The rest of the week I stayed in with Matt Severa and Matt Nass, and drafted Dominaria.
The Player Meeting
The player meeting at Worlds is exciting. Every year they give us a tour, and explain how the tournament is going to run. They always made us feel great about our accomplishments, how much work we put in, and how difficult it was to get there. They always made me feel special for managing to qualify for Worlds. I was excited for the meeting this year. That was supposed to be the moment when it began to feel real.
This year, the vibe was different. With all of the talk about how poorly the tournament was promoted and all of the issues with guests and whatnot, the player meeting was strictly business. We were told when and where we had to be somewhere, and what would happen if we weren’t. Instead of feeling like a person who dedicated themselves to achieving this incredible goal, reaching that goal, and being rewarded for the accomplishment with this tournament, I left the player meeting feeling saddened. I spent the night thinking and talking about it, and it disappointed me. Some new players asked me if it was always like that. I, of course, responded, well, no.
Later in the event, WotC apologized about how the meeting went. I sincerely thank them for recognizing how we may have felt, and acknowledging that they could have handled it better.
On Day 1, most of us showed up around 8 a.m. The tournament had a 9 a.m. start time. They had water and coffee, and some light breakfast for us. All of the players sat together and chatted. Everyone was obviously nervous about how the first Draft would go. Around a quarter to 9, someone said, “Gerry’s not playing—he’s protesting.” We were all confused, rushed to Twitter, and saw his post.
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t read the Reddit post, but I did read his tweet. I still couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe the sacrifice Gerry made. We didn’t get much time to talk or think about it because, well, the show must go on.
We left the player lounge, which was in one building, and got escorted around that building into the production building. We entered the production building, and it was dark around the edges with the tables all lit up. The judges told us our pods, and I walked up and Jared Sylva said, “Siggy, you’re feature pod.”
Cool! My mom had taken the day off to watch the entire event, and had the Siggy jersey I gave her on. Even if I did poorly, she’d at least get to see some of me. I drafted what I thought was a slightly better-than-average U/W Flyers deck with a couple of rares. The card pool was pretty mediocre, and I was taking the best card out of most packs. I couldn’t complain. After the Draft, we headed back to the player lounge, which was also the designated deck building space. Initially, we were supposed to have only card pools for round 1, but since the deck building area was too small, I built only two chairs away from other players in my pod. They decided to give full deck lists for the entire event. I think this was the best fix, and it should just be the norm. As Matt Nass said to me countless times, if you’re going to go 90% of the way on deck lists and pay the cost of having the deck lists public, you may as well just go the full 100% and make it less stressful for everyone involved. It’s kind of neat being able to show people in your pods your deck without worrying much about it. I spent some time discussing the Draft with people before the rounds, which I wouldn’t have been comfortable with doing if we hadn’t had full deck lists. I’m a student of Magic above all else, so any extra time I can spend discussing strategy and learning about the game I love is a bonus.
Once I was done building my deck, I checked my phone and saw a text from my mom that said, “How come you’re in Gerry’s spot?” She informed me that Gerry’s graphic was still used for the moment in the seat I ended up drafting in. As a spectator who knows little about Magic, it confused her. I quickly came to the conclusion that if Gerry’s graphic was there, then that means that they just moved me to his spot in the Draft. This makes sense from WotC’s side as they didn’t want to feature a seven-person pod.
What’s not necessarily fair was that since the pods were random, and that pod was chosen as the feature pod, once Gerry decided not to play players like Seth Manfield, the feature drafter, didn’t necessarily get a fair shot at having a seven-player table. Being at the seven-person table means you were live for a bye, and could never go 0-3. I was chosen at random (which I definitely believe) to fill in for Gerry, but the fairest way to do things would be to re-randomize the pods, and then choose a new feature table and drafter.
WotC was taken by surprise by Gerry, and were forced to make a tough decision. Re-randomizing and all of that would take time. And the tournament would have had to been delayed to re-do all of the graphics.
Did they make the right decision? Well that’s for you, the viewer, to decide. From where I was sitting, I get both sides of it. Tournament integrity is important to me, yes, but I also want the viewers at home to enjoy what they’re watching. So if the viewers would be turned off enough by a 30-minute-or-so delay, I understand this decision to “play it as it lies.” (Can you tell that I watched Happy Gilmore on my flight?)
All of it worked out well for me, as I managed to 3-0 the feature pod, not losing a game (nbd), and then it was off to Standard.
In Standard, I went 1-3 Day 1, resulting in a 4-3 Day 1, but still left me in Pod 1 for Day 2.
I left the venue after Day 1 feeling pretty off. I was tired, sicker than I had been before, and congested. I wanted to go to bed, but ultimately went out to dinner and went to bed later than I had anticipated. I managed to see Gerry in the hotel and talked to him a little. He was visibly sad. You could tell that not playing hurt him. This wasn’t a situation where he gave up nothing. He gave up a lot to stand for something he believed in, and if nothing else, you have to respect someone willing to make that sacrifice.
I spent a lot of time since seeing Gerry’s protest thinking about it. Every time I think about what he did, and saw how he felt after, the act just feels more surreal to me.
Gerry, thanks for what you did. I didn’t and still don’t know how to articulate how much your stand means to me. For some reason, it’s harder for me to say one-on-one to you than it is for me to type it here, but I know what you did was hard, and what you gave up was irreplaceable. As a person with a family who needs Pro Magic to succeed, and who couldn’t even consider taking a stand like that if I wanted to, I can’t express how much I appreciate what you did enough. I’ve told you before how much I respect and look up to you, and you’ll always be bigger than life to me.
Day 2 led off with a minor player meeting. They told us that they were sorry for making the original player meeting all business, which we all appreciated, and told us in the mess of everything going on they forgot to announce that this year’s champ would be invited back next year. I personally love this decision. The chance for repeat champions is always a cool storyline that keeps me hooked to coverage.
The second Draft started off kind of funny. We sat down and as I opened my first pack, I noticed that one card was noticeably scraped up on the back. We hadn’t seen the packs yet but I showed the judge. They replaced the pack, and we paused for a minute. I jokingly told the judge, “Don’t you ever tell me the contents of that pack.” Ben Stark sitting next to me said, “One card flipped up already—it was a Teferi.” Haha, funny, etc. The Draft begins, and sure enough, I open a Teferi. I pick it, and never move from U/W. Ben, who was feeding me, was Jund, so it should work out perfectly. Unfortunately, despite having Teferi, four or five other legends, and an Urza’s Ruinous Blast and Karn’s Temporal Sundering, my deck was short on win conditions, and every game I didn’t win with Teferi was an uphill battle from the start. I 1-2’d the pod and my chances for Top 4 were slim to none.
After the Standard rounds, I ended up 7-7 for 10th place.
By the time I get to the player’s lounge after round 14 I was having dizzy spells, trouble breathing from chest congestion from my illness, and I was also feeling feint. I asked Sam Pardee if he could walk back to the hotel with me, and in the midst of that found out that Ken Yukihiro was disqualified. Sam told me it had something to do with a sideboard card main deck, but no one had any details.
I go back to the hotel feeling really off, I asked the hotel if they had onsite paramedics. I wondered if my oxygen was low, because my daughters, who have the same illness, had surprisingly low oxygen. They said no, but we can call someone. I debated if they should, went back to my room for a few minutes, and my wife pleaded with me to go. So I went down and asked if they could get someone to check my oxygen. Right dead in the center of the casino, they had a stretcher rolled in, and checked me out a little. They decided to admit me to the ER to get some tests done. A lot of players saw me and were concerned, and I tried to let them know that it was just precautionary.
It turns out I needed a breathing treatment and some sleep, and I was good to go. It’s a few days later now and I’m still wheezy and coughing, but I feel much better knowing I got checked out. As I get older, I’ve been much more cautious with my health and always err on the side of seeing someone if I’m concerned. Every time I’m in a situation like this these days I think about my kids and want to make the right decision for them, despite how embarrassing it may be for me. For those I worried, I apologize. For those who were concerned, thanks for caring.
While hooked up to a breathing mask at the hospital, I learned who made Top 4 and tried to get to the bottom of the disqualification. My initial reaction to second-hand stories is that a DQ was too harsh. I’ve talked about it with many people since, and I’m coming around to thinking a disqualification and only disqualification is the right penalty.
Paulo made the most convincing argument to me. You can’t let someone sit and think about turning themselves in—what if the game ends in the meantime? What if they turn themselves in when they’re going to lose, and say nothing when they’re going to win? This is a valid point. I can also understand that some may need a moment to internalize what they did and what they should do. Human instincts tell us to hide when embarrassed, so my original thinking was that if someone has to think about what they’re going to do and makes the right decision, then why are we still punishing them harshly? But there is definitely room to exploit this situation, which means we need to make it a harsher penalty.
I respect Ken no less now than before, and I even saw him the day of the Top 4. He smiled and waved like he always does and he seems to be handling the situation with as much grace as one could in his situation.
So the tournament is over, and while it wasn’t the same as prior years, I still had fun and I’m truly grateful for the experience. Competitive Magic is hard, and only getting harder. I never know when and if I’ll have an opportunity to play this tournament again, so I really appreciate every chance I get to play it.
In the future, I hope that the tournament feels more like it did for me the first couple of times for everybody. I don’t know if the “all business” feeling I got from the event was because the experience isn’t new to me anymore, or if it was because of the changes made in the production of the event, but what I want for everyone who qualifies for this event in the future is to feel like I did when I was first thrust onto the big stage. I felt bigger than myself, like I had accomplished a goal I never thought possible. I felt special.
Please, WotC, take the feedback from this event to heart. Whether it’s the formats, their guests, or anything else. Don’t make the players feel like you hired them to put on a show. Make them feel good about what they accomplished, let them share their excitement, and how privileged they feel to be part of this awesome event. Make the players feel special and the viewers will come. I have faith that WotC is trending in the right direction, and that Gerry’s stand will make a positive impact in our community and get the conversation moving in the right direction.
Thank you WotC for the opportunity to play your most prestigious event, and giving me the opportunity to do something I love for a living.
Thank you Gerry for trying to make sure that remains possible in the future.
Thanks to the production team. You had a hard job this weekend, and I know from talking to you afterward that you were proud of how you handled it. You should be.
Thank you to players at home for reading this and supporting professional Magic.