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Breaking Through – Questions Answered

I tried to get all meta with that title, but that’s actually just all this article is. Originally, I had written up a primer on a Standard deck I’ve been fiddling with, but a friend of mine is planning on playing it. Originally, the he was going to do so this weekend, so a primer tonight would be totally fine. Unfortunately for me, he did not get to play in that tournament, so he’s waiting until next week. So, to be a good friend, I promised him I would not write about the deck and spoil all of his surprise factor until after he had time to play it.

But, that left me without an article for this week. There are plenty of things to write about though, right? Write? After an hour of staring at a blank screen, I realize I had come down hard with a case of writer’s block and was making no progress. So, without much time to spare, I turned to a little inspiration from PV in order to come up with something.

Paulo has run the AMA-style article a few times now, and usually gets some great questions, so I figured I would give the column a shot myself. All of the following questions came from Twitter, so thanks for all the help guys/girls!

I’ve mentioned this one a few times, but this is a good place to post the list as well! My first ever Grand Prix was Grand Prix Dallas in 2007. Prior to that, I had never even been to a PTQ. For context, this was Extended, just after Planar Chaos was released, and was the first of back-to-back Grand Prix wins for Raphael Levy, playing Tribal Zoo.

For that tournament, because I didn’t really know how tournament prep worked, I basically played everything by the book. For three months, myself and a couple of buddies of mine tested every matchup. We had over 20 decks in the gauntlet, as well as our own three decks. Those decks were Affinity, Tenacious Tron, and UR Trash For Treasure.

We ended up playing 50-game sets with each of our decks against each of the 20 gauntlet decks. That was 20 games of pre-board and 30 games post-board, so needless to say, despite being my first ever tournament, this was the tournament I prepared for the most. And what did I arrive at?

[deck]Main Deck
1 Academy Ruins
4 Cloudpost
2 Great Furnace
1 Island
2 Mountain
2 Seat of the Synod
4 Shivan Reef
4 Steam Vents
4 Vesuva
3 Sundering Titan
2 Chrome Mox
2 Crucible of Worlds
2 Demonfire
2 Fact or Fiction
4 Izzet Signet
3 Mindslaver
2 Oblivion Stone
4 Remand
4 Thirst for Knowledge
4 Trash for Treasure
4 Wildfire
Sideboard
4 Chalice of the Void
3 Detritivore
2 Engineered Explosives
3 Platinum Angel
3 Silent Arbiter[/deck]

Every gimmick in the book, that’s what! I had [card]Cloudpost[/card]s and [card]Vesuva[/card], [card]Trash for Treasure[/card], [card]Wildfire[/card], even [card]Detritivore[/card]! I was very proud of this deck after putting in so many hours, and it really set the stage for my future Magic career. I ended up taking 10th on breakers at GP Dallas, missing out on Top 8 by the slimmest of margins. Amateur prize made the result even sweeter, and winning some money finally legitimized the game to my parents, so this is where everything began and is still one of my favorite decks of all time.

For the sake of answering as many questions as I can, I am just going to answer one of the 3 questions here relating to the hardest deckbuilding skill.

I actually didn’t have to think very long or hard on this one, because I have been trying hard to shore up some of my deckbuilding weaknesses lately. Right now, I think my biggest issue is that I consider cards sacred far too long into the process. Put another way, I have pet cards.

One of the first big hurdles I overcame as a deckbuilder was learning to live without a pet deck. Being able to adapt and improvise is so important in competitive Magic, and pet decks tend to hurt that ability. Rather than being progressive, you cling to the hope that this deck you really like is still viable. Some amount of the time, it was never viable to begin with!

But when it comes to cards, sometimes I become too attached to an idea or a synergy or a function and I miss the fact that that idea, synergy, or function was never needed in the first place. Testing for Pro Tour Gatecrash for example, I had [card]Diabolic Revelation[/card]s in my deck up until the day before the PT. My goal was noble—I wanted to have the mono-black equivalent of [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. What I was missing however, was that I already had that in [card]Griselbrand[/card]—except I was only running two copies of it. I honestly tested for over a week with two Revelations over two Griselbrand. Boy, was that dumb.

Absolutely! I am always down to sign anything and talk with readers, fans, friends etc. Tournaments can be a busy place, so sometimes rushing to a pairings board or scrambling for last-minute singles will take precedent, but if there is ever a lull in the action, stop by and say hi!

What made me WANT to be a professional was always the allure of being the best at something. I have always been very competitive, from high school sports to random video games during my teen years, and the drive to be the best was always there.

I got into Magic as just a hobby that transitioned over from other card games (Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh), but immediately latched on to it as something I could do competitively (not professionally, but competitively). I heard stories even around my local card shop of people like Jon Finkel and Kai Budde, and it always seemed sweet, yet so far away. I wasn’t watching coverage or reading articles, but I knew who the best in the world were, and I wanted other people to one day think of me like that.

I didn’t really think I could make any of that a reality until after that Grand Prix in Dallas. After that, I had a little more support from my dad, who otherwise wouldn’t have any clue what I was doing, but he knew I could make some money at it at least. Dallas added legitimacy to my passion.

Over the next few years, I ramped up my tournament attendance, going to Nationals in 2007 based on rating, and then began traveling to more Grand Prix in 2008. In 2009, I won a PTQ in Albuquerque that would qualify me for Pro Tour Honolulu 2009. I was fortunate enough to make Top 4 of that Pro Tour, which gave me the resources I needed to try to pursue things more seriously.

Once I graduated from college in the winter of 2009, I figured I would give full-time Magic a shot. By that point, I was writing for a little extra cash on the side, and figured I could support myself in some crappy one-bedroom apartment for awhile before real life would kick in and send me to some 9-to-5er. Luckily for me, to this day, real life has never come looking for me and I hope it never does! Oh, and that crappy one-bedroom has been upgraded too, so everything worked out!

This question is actually a little inverted from how I approach things. While there are certainly some decks that are just so powerful that playing anything else is wrong (Caw Blade), that is usually not the case. Rarely do we see a deck with the same power level as Affinity or Caw Blade, and even during those eras, I managed to find some rogue decks to play.

What actually matters is how good my rogue brew is in relation to the mainstream deck. Rogue deckbuilding stems from ideas, and sometimes you just don’t have any ideas. Much like the writer’s block I suffered from that lead to this article, sometimes when something isn’t coming to you, it just isn’t coming. You can’t really force a deck into existence just like you can’t force a joke or an article. If I am trying to do that, it is better to just play the mainstream deck.

Sometimes, I will have a brew I think is legitimate, but it proves not to be—which is ok. Assuming I did some decent testing and my theories were rooted in sound reasoning, those are the risks I can live with. Knowing that your deck is not good and still forcing it over just playing a real deck is when I, as well as many brewers, run into problems. If I ever feel like my brew is just not up to snuff, expect to see a real deck out of me. When it comes to Pro Tours, the team can easily arrive at a very solid deck, such as Tempered Steel, in which case I will trust my teammates and just play our deck unless I have something extremely good as an alternative.

I believe that is when you put ranch dressing on something, like a chicken nugget or maybe even a carrot!

A great question to go out on! The Magic media has definitely called out the fact that I enjoy rogue decks and I like to do things a little differently than most. However, there is a big difference between calling it out and creating it. The reason I was seen as the rogue deckbuilder guy is because I like to build rogue decks. The media isolated that trait about me, because it is fairly unique among people with successful careers, but they did not breed it into me.

As I mentioned before, my very first high-level tournament had me playing a rogue deck. The media did not convince me to do that. I have always been a creative person. I write, make music, cook, even try to invent things around the house that help me accomplish some daily task. Building Magic decks is just an extension of that side of me and is my true love inside the game. Near endless possibilities and combinations of cards just get me excited, and unlike other areas where I try to be creative, Magic gives you immediate feedback on your creation, allowing you to constantly iterate a project, which is great.

So, yes, the media isolated the rogue aspect of me, but why wouldn’t they? It is what sets me apart from many Magic players and I am not about to deny that. I did not begin playing rogue decks to be different, I played them because I enjoy them. Any fallout beyond that has just been trickle down, but I don’t mind.

Wrap Up

Thanks to everyone who submitted questions! Obviously I could not answer them all, and a few of them would take a little too long to answer, but I have a few article topics for the future from some of your questions. I will keep my eye on the comments section to answer what questions I can there as well. Thanks for reading!

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