Gabriel Nassif is one of the greatest players to have ever played Magic, with 9 Pro Tour Top 8s, including 2 wins. He is a full-time streamer and member of the Magic Hall of Fame.

In this in-depth conversation, we discuss:

  • Gab’s Magic & poker origin story
  • Pro Tour stories: the good, bad & funny
  • The streaming life
  • Deck innovations with Herberholz & Chapin

Listen to it here:

Humans of Magic is a series of deep and personal interviews with the brilliant minds of Magic. The focus is always on the things that matter most to each guest — personal growth, family, passions, and the competitive mindset.

To learn more about the project and win a copy of the new Humans of Magic book, visit humansofmagic.com.

Interview highlights

On missing out on Pro Tours

I had a period where my mom didn’t want me to play Magic anymore.

I played these PTQs (Pro Tour Qualifiers). But I don’t think my mom would’ve allowed me to go if I won a PTQ. So I would play these events and when I played against a friend, I would just scoop to them. I played the PTQs because they were the biggest tournaments.

There were a couple PTQs where I scooped to my friends in the later rounds, and they would go on to win it.

There was some PTQ on a Friday night, in the south of France, where we would have to drive eight hours to play in it. Drive eight hours, play, and not even go to the PT if I win? Sure, why not, man. Sign me up!

On false perceptions and bad manners

It was weird back then. You didn’t know as much about people. I had that false perception…I thought the pro players were so much better than everyone else, and it would just be impossible to beat them.

I remember playing my first PT in Chicago. It was Standard, and in round one I was paired up against Christian Luhrs. I thought, “Man, this guy is so much better than me.” We sit down, and I beat him pretty easily, 2-0. I was playing a Blue Skies deck and he was playing some kind of Grixis Control deck.

I even bad-mannered him. After the match, I asked him if he had Meekstone in his sideboard. That card was really good against my deck. He just smiled at me and didn’t answer. Obviously, when you beat your opponents, you don’t ask them what’s in their sideboard.

In terms of playing on the Pro Tour, I was like, “I guess it’s not that hard.”

On collaborating with Mark Herberholz

Mark likes to say that I have a lot of ideas, and that he’s pretty good at putting them into focus. He’s probably right — I’m not so good with words.

I just feel like we got along really well. Strong friendship and bouncing ideas off of each other. Having someone you really respect, when you’re working with them…that they’re on the same level. You know you can trust their judgment.

All roads lead to Dragonstorm, after the cheese drops

We’re at Mark’s place in East Lansing, Michigan. We’re testing for Worlds 2007 in New York. I’m playing some terrible White-Green Standard deck on Magic Online and queuing for an event. And Mark’s cooking. He’s making some pasta dish with mozzarella.

I take a little piece of the cheese. Mark looks at me, and he’s like, “Dude, that’s for the pasta dish. Don’t take any more. Don’t do it again, or else.

I take another piece and I’m laughing.

Mark quietly walks to my laptop, takes my laptop, and drops me from the tournament.

He says, “Dude, I told you not to take more cheese.” I was super mad, he just wasted my entry fee. I storm off.

We had that deck we wanted to try. [Patrick] Chapin had played some local event and he saw someone play with Dragonstorm. Since I was dropped from the event, I said, “Fine, I guess I’ll try the Dragonstorm deck.” I built the deck based on what Chapin had told us.

After I won 9 or 12 games straight on Magic Online, Mark and I were like, “This deck is busted.” And we stopped testing online, because we didn’t want other people to find out.

On accomplishment, entitlement, and zero-sum outlooks

Even if things don’t work out for you, just be happy with the people it happened to. The goal is that everyone wins, even if it’s not you.

It’s funny. It’s one of the first things I read in one of David Sklansky’s poker books. He says that as a poker player, he’s rooting for his opponent. This way, if his opponent wins, he’s happy. And if he wins, he’s happy too.

I try to have that approach. But in some ways, it’s easy for me to say because I’ve already had a level of success. But I try to have that mentality.