Mind-Boggling Technology – The Experiences of a Level 46 Archmage

As the title of the article suggests, I am a level 46 Archmage; that’s a ton of events! I have played FNM consistently since Winter of 2001 up to last week. I grinded the PTQ scene from 2006 up to the beginning of 2010 and my stellar performances of last year allowed me to also qualify for seven consecutive Pro Tours. The different experiences I have gained from playing in all of these events should conflict, but they do not. Each season I see the same occurrences as last year on every level of the tournament scene. Sure, there have been some major changes to Magic since 2001, but the people have largely stayed the same.

PTQ Ascension

How many of you have ever played in a PTQ? There are so many different stereotypes that have been related to the players who frequent these events.

-All they care about is winning.
-They are all assholes.
-It removes the spirit of the game because of their competitiveness.

I have heard this over and over again over the years and it can be true to some extent. Most of the players who enter a PTQ are locals. I recently went to a PTQ in Garden City, Michigan and seven of the top 8 competitors are from the local area and happen to be extremely nice guys. They have not made it on the professional scene, but can hold their own throughout the region. The other player in the top 8 is also a nice guy who I knew from tournaments and I can confidently say that none of them are jerks.

The reason I chose to bring up this issue is because of the severe misconception at the local level. There have been many players in my local area who have asked me how to get better at Magic and I suggest for them to try a Pro Tour Qualifier. They retort with the myths of the PTQ scene and I tell them the same thing: it’s not as cutthroat as you think. Many of these players were in fact serious about improving their game and have become the ringers of the area.

Once these players have gotten more confident about their abilities, they begin to travel out of state for tournaments. They may stick with PTQs for the short run while others may try playing the annual regional Grand Prix (Mid-west in my case). It probably does not end well in the beginning, but they all do better if they stick with it long enough.

The players in each area tend to travel together and they can build themselves up as a team. There are a few stragglers here and there, but many players want the same thing: live the dream of the professional Magic player. As time goes on, many of those players who have worked to the top of the region begin to find their calling in life. It can be frustrating to work so hard and not get any recognition for it. Those players may even make a triumphant return from time to time, but the same fire isn’t there.

Most of us begin playing at a young age with the very highest aspirations (it was 11 years of age in my case). We all begin with the expectation that we would get crushed at a local event, but our confidence grows over time after a taste of success. This definition of success is used loosely because we could become hooked on the dream by something as simple as winning an FNM.

We were kids- what were we doing with our time? Many of those who begin in middle school are not star athletes- this can be our claim to fame. We are not spending our Friday nights on dates, but rather at our local game store. The dream is our main focus in life and we want it at all costs. This game is used as our outlet to socialize with others that share similar interests.

A majority of my friends quit the game when we left high school due to the commitment of college. They came back, but it wasn’t the same after getting a girlfriend etc. Work and other real world responsibilities came first and only a few remained.

Even more of my friends quit for the first time at the end of the college experience because they needed to find a real job. Once they start making real scratch, who would want to spend their time grinding for a few hundred dollars. After all, the hours of preparation and dedication could result in going home empty handed. Why would you want to put yourself through that week-in and week-out? Most of them do not come up with an answer and don’t think much of it. It’s more profitable to just go to work, right?

You know what they say: nobody ever quits forever.

I have seen so many players from the past make their return to the game, but it’s never the same. It resembles Michael Jordan when he made his return to the NBA- he wasn’t what he used to be. Sure, they still have the skills from before, but win or lose, it just doesn’t matter like it used to. The adrenaline used to rush when you got each game closer to the top 8, but now it’s just a box and a pin. The honor of qualifying for the Pro Tour becomes just a chance to see a new city.

What happened to them?

They used to be just like you- trying their very best to earn that blue envelope. Now they are just killing a weekend and you most likely lent them their deck in the first place. Your main connection was MTG, but now it’s difficult to relate. They have their goals aimed in other directions these days. Most of your discussions were about the past rather than the present- the glory days as it’s called.

It may sound depressing, but you have the chance to make a mark. The reason I was able to establish so many connections in the Magic community was because of this cycle of interest. My best friends were my travel buddies because I spent so much time with them. We shared common interests and a common goals- winning and improving.

Everybody knows at this stage that they are the best in the area, but what does that even amount to? You dominate on a regional scale, but never break through on the international stage. We call this the “Colosso Fuentes Syndrome” (CFS)- a very serious illness. What happens when you win a PTQ, but you do badly in the Pro Tour? This means you go back to “the grind.” How many players could honestly stand this for more than a few seasons? CFS is a serious disease and is the main cause for players to “lose the fire.”

The goal of improving is almost as critical as winning itself. Many players say things like “it doesn’t matter, I won didn’t I?” The lack of critical analysis will create an aura of comfort and ultimately kill your goal. I have seen many players in my local area who refuse to accept they need help to get better. Those players could perhaps be one of the best in the area and are convinced their time is coming. The sad thing is that it will never be so- unless they accept help from those around them. You could ask them why they went 0-2 again and probably hear the same tired excuses. After a while, it becomes comical because it’s unbelievable that a human being can be so blind. Please do them a favor- tell them their problem. Snickering behind their back will hurt you in the long run because they can help you grow as a player and human being.

Magic is like anything in life in the respect that only a few can arrive at the top. It begins with many participants, but only a select few will rise to super-stardom. This leaves you with two options: go for it with all you got or do something else. There are obviously many choices in the middle, but this is the basic spectrum. If you half-ass it, you will ultimately be weeded out by the players who are giving it their all. Have you ever watched someone at a PTQ and just knew they were going to succeed? I have seen it so many times it’s not even funny anymore. It’s not even a question of who anymore, but rather a question of when.

PTQs are not for everyone because not everyone fully wants the goal. I think of it like an interview to see if the applicant is actually serious about the job. It can be tough at times, but we don’t call it the grind for nothing. Sure, it would be cool going to the Pro Tour, but you can sleep at night knowing it will have to be next season. That second place sucked, but you will get em’ next time, right?

In my experience, those who try their very best at the PTQ scene often propel themselves into the national and international spotlight even for just fifteen minutes. If your intention is to take your game to the next level, it will definitely happen.

The taste of success on the Magic scene is unlike anything else. It’s irrational to spend so much time for such a little reward. When you top 64 a Grand Prix, the thought of winning outweighs the fact that you barely broke even on the trip (if you’re lucky). We still want to do it despite our brain telling us it’s not the best use of our time because the passion is there. The thought of justifying our strange hobby to friends and family can be a pretty powerful force. You can go from that strange kid who plays cards in the basement to a respected veteran of the field.

It’s why you’re reading this article in the first place, right?

Playing the game and seeing the world.

Real World Vs. Magic World

Not everyone can keep it up forever and we have seen it very rarely. Let us look at the finalists from the 1995 World Championships to illustrate my point.

Alexander Blumke

Marc Hernandez

Do these names ring any bells? I had to look this up in the event archives to find out myself.

How about the top 8 players from Pro Tour I: New York?

1 Michael Loconto $12,000
2 Bertrand Lestree $5,000
3 Leon Lindback $2,500
4 Preston Poulter $2,500
5 George Baxter $1,000
6 Mark Justice $1,000
7 Shawn Regnier $1,000
8 Eric Tam $1,000

Sure, the name Mark Justice rings a bell, but do you see him playing still?

Pro Tour II: Las Angeles top 8 competitors.

1 Shawn Regnier $17,000
2 Thomas Guevin $10,000
3 Darwin Kastle $5,900
4 Mark Venhaus $5,900
5 Scott Johns $3,500
6 Preston Poulter $3,500
7 Vaughn Sandor $3,500
8 Jeffrey Wood $3,500

Darwin Castle still grinds, but who else do you see playing Grand Prixs and Pro Tours?

Top 8 competitors from Pro Tour III: Columbus.

1 Olle Rade $22,000
2 Sean Fleischman $12,800
3 Alvaro Marques $7,500
4 Peter Radonjic $7,500
5 BrianWeissman $4,400
6 Javier Garavito $4,400
7 John Immordino $4,400
8 Scott Johns $4,400

There are some names that ring a bell, but they are doing other things. 1996 is a long time and it’s tough to keep up the grind for fifteen years.

The last thing I want to do is discourage you from trying to live the dream, but I just want to say that it doesn’t last forever. I’m sure these people could still play Magic and hold their own with the incumbent generations, but at what cost?

PV really hit the nail on the head in this article.

Kai Budde is living proof and happens to be arguably the most successful magician, but he illustrates these points. I want to say to stay in school, but it will have more of an impact coming from Kai Budde himself. It can be tempting to take off a semester of school in order to chase the dream, but it’s not a good idea. $20,000 is nice, but when will you be winning that amount again? Why not try to live the Pro Tour dream, but also take classes that tickle your fancy? Too much Magic can burn you out and can eventually lose the fire altogether. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what you wanted to do in the first place?

I wish I could change how I approached school last year because of all the traveling that was done. There needed to be a more delicate balance in order to gain more relevant experience. Here I am applying for jobs with very little in-field experience and there was so much opportunity to learn- untapped potential if you will. Even being apart of a Finance/Economics club during my run in 2010 would have done wonders for my resume. It’s not like I would have dedicated all of my time to the group, but at least something to get the ball rolling.

The message of this portion of the article should be to take things in moderation. Magic players in general are pretty short-sighted from my experience. This does not mean I have not learned anything from them, but rather that I want to offer a different perspective.

“Wanting it” is obviously very important, but we need to realize that there’s so much more to life. It’s easy to say you just want to be a grinder for life, but what about in 15 years? Do you remember what kind of person you were fifteen years ago? I hardly doubt it was anything like you are today. I hope that you aren’t the same person fifteen years from now either- we need room to grow.

Traveling to different countries to play a game you love is a remarkable experience, but it becomes a chore after a while- hence the reason you see different players rising to the top and others fading away. I still love the competition, but that may change in ten years or maybe five, it’s hard to say for sure. The best course of action is to have a plan B because life doesn’t always go as planned. Find something in life that you are passionate about and do your best to learn the ins and outs. If you take that dedication to Magic and put in the same level of effort in another field, you will become wildly successful.

The way this article is constructed is as if your time on the grind is for nothing. This is far from the truth. Think about everything you learned. Think about the valuable connections you have made. I would not know the correct way to go about getting jobs if it wasn’t for Magic. The confidence I have in myself came from Magic as well. I’m sure that I am not alone in these feelings as well. Magic players are smart individuals and we should all be proud of being able to compete in such a complex game.

Play the game, see the world, then conquer it!

Thanks for reading.




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