Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast
For the past few years I have been passionate about playing Magic competitively. Today, I find myself identifying as a professional Magic player. The process has been much more gradual than I would have expected. It was not too long ago that attending Friday Night Magic was the highlight of my week. As time passed I devoted slightly more and more time to Magic to the point that it represented the majority of my everyday life. Magic has provided me astounding opportunities that never cease to make me feel lucky. This year I have done everything from snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef to playing roulette at the Monte Carlo Casino following nearby tournaments.
At the beginning of the calender year I contemplated retiring from Magic. I was in my first year at an elite university in a foreign country—there was a lot going on. Another deterrent to attending the Pro Tour was that I was invited without a paid flight, via Gold level. I lacked confidence in my ability to compete on the Pro Tour—at the time I had attended five Pro Tours without earning a cash or Pro Point prize a single time. The fortunate combination of spring break coinciding with PT Born of the Gods and a gracious friend purchasing my flight was too good to pass up. The stars aligned nearly perfectly, ending in a second place finish! One of my favorite parts of this PT was seeing how my teammates were completely invested in helping me once I made Top 8 and enjoying it all the while. Team Face to Face as a whole performed incredibly well at this event, strengthening our team morale and camaraderie.
Following Valencia I took a break from Magic in an effort to fully experience an authentic college lifestyle. I did not play in a Magic tournament from February 23rd to May 15th (when you are addicted to something, that is a long time).This extensive break left me itching to play again and questioning my interest in a formal education. I attended as many events as I possibly could during summer, desperately in search of the final Pro Points needed for Platinum status and a seat at the World Championship.
I had a respectable end of the season, including two Top 16s at Grand Prix and a Top 50 to finish at Pro Tour Magic 2015. I had hoped that both Josh McClain and Alexander Hayne would qualify for Worlds with me, unfortunately they both missed on tiebreakers to Kentaro Yamamato for the final slot. Nonetheless, the season was a major success for Team Face to Face including three Platinum-level and two Gold-level players out of six core members (You can bet your bottom dollar that Dave Shiels will be back on the PT). Being a part of a serious team is an entirely different experience than my initial Pro Tours and one that I am grateful for. Each Pro Tour I look forward to the week(s) of preparation with my team as much as the event itself. I consider all of my teammates respectable players as well as friends—I have even visited the homes and met the families of the majority of my teammates. Whether or not I do well at a particular event, having a team of friends to succeed vicariously through is always a plus.
When the school year began I immediately noted that final exams overlapped with Worlds week. The choice between school and Magic was, ultimately, an easy one. I decided to take a semester off to pursue professional Magic. In previous years I struggled to balance school and Magic, with mediocre performances in both. Giving a partial effort is dissatisfying—I want to focus on reaching one goal.
The highlight of this season so far was definitely winning team Grand Prix Nashville alongside Jesse Hampton and Matt Nass. When I first started playing Grand Prix they were deeply meaningful to me—they granted Pro Tour invitations. Being qualified for the PT and the existence of a GP cap have since diminished the allure of Grand Prix. Considering that there are more Grand Prix than there are weeks in a year, each one is relatively insignificant. The main reasons that I go to Grand Prix these days are that I enjoy spending time with long-distance friends and that I love playing Magic—the big fields, lengthy days, and current DCI tournament software I could do without. In Nashville I was able to experience playing for a Pro Tour invite once again—playing for each of my teammates’ potential invites. Helping them reach that goal was incredible.
The World Championship
I was ecstatic to be a part of this year’s main event. I have spent each of the past few years completely jealous of the participants while I was watching from home. The World Championship is extraordinary difficult to qualify for—only 24 players are invited. During the tournament it quickly became apparent that nearly all of my opponents were better prepared than I was. As I am beginning to play more with and against the best in the game, I am humbled. It is clear to me that the elite players of the game understand Magic in ways I have yet to realize.
My preparation was substantial in quantity but severely lacking in quality as it was primarily on Magic Online. I was practicing nearly every day for four months leading up to Worlds, yet I felt a little lost. In order to succeed in any competitive environment you need to find an edge somewhere. This tournament is unlike any other I have competed in before. In a typical tournament I can rely on outplaying my opponent and have an average deck be serviceable. In the end I chose safe, well-known Constructed decks and Limited strategies. In the World Championship you need a balance of well positioned Constructed decks and as close to perfect play as possible. I now appreciate the the significance of the World Championship—I will certainly take full advantage of the opportunity should I qualify again. Congratulations to Shahar for winning Worlds, his is an accomplishment that will remain universally impressive.
One specific aspect of my game that I have been focusing on improving is discipline. As an example, I once flew to a tournament and voluntarily put Hidetsugu’s Second Rite in my Legacy deck. I love cute, tricky, fancy cards and plays just as much as the next goofball. Playing like this is fun if I’m playing for no real stakes. The fact of the matter is that if I am going to rely on Magic as my only source of income and, more importantly, seek improvement, every event is high stakes. Investing significant time and money flying to an event and then handicapping myself with ridiculous cards is unsustainable. I certainly do not mean that I am not going to have fun with Magic—fun is crucial. Personally, winning is the most fun there is in Magic.
2014 Photo Essay
To close out the year, I would like to share a gallery of comedic, ridiculous, and degenerate memories of my 2014.
At Disneyland we rolled dice among friends, and high roll had the privilege of picking out a hat at Disney’s Mad Hatter store. Low roll had to pay for and wear said hat at GP LA. Winner (me) and loser (Sam Pardee):
He was later generous enough to purchase me a beautiful aboriginal design boomerang. Queen Elizabeth has served me well.
Here I am in my Krispy Kreme hat in the feature match area. Tomoharu Saito later asked me if they were my new sponsor.
In hot Hawaii: Josh McClain and I flipped to see who would have to purchase an umbrella and shade the other during the arduous walk to the hotel.
Here I am presenting 12 scoops worth of Ice Cream to Jon Stern that he was awarded. Our team each ordered an ice cream, we then randomized who payed and who received each item.
On a party bus of Magic players in Hawaii: Hayne and I flipped to see who would have to climb to the top of the pole.
The nature of Pro Magic can be exhausting, physically and mentally, to the point that I have declared I am quitting countless times.
Who am I kidding? I’m living the dream.
Thank you for reading,