With Amonkhet out and the Pro Tour on the horizon, everyone is talking about the new cards. This poses a problem for me. Secrecy is important for the PT players. Good tech is hard to come by in the internet age, so pro players keep a lid on things in the weeks before the PT. Now, I wouldn’t mind sharing secrets, but A) my teammates wouldn’t be happy B) I don’t really have much to share. When it comes to our testing, I’m not the guy who tries crazy new brews. I’m the guy who waits for the early results, picks the winning deck, and crushes everyone’s brews. Yeah—the guy who ruins everyone’s fun. I plan to cover Standard after the Pro Tour, along with my thoughts on post-ban Legacy, but today I will be talking about something different: me.
Growing up, I loved reading. I spent all my free time on books, newspapers, and anything else I could get my hands on. It was the same with Magic. I loved reading articles. Heck, I learned English just so I could read them. I kid you not—I remember reading articles with Google Translate open and looking up every other word. It was that hard for me, but I loved it.
Actually, I’m a little sad about the ways that Magic writing has changed. It used to be so much more about the stories and tournament reports. When I was reading them, I could feel the atmosphere of the PT. It made me more excited to qualify for one. Nowadays, everyone just writes about cards, but not about their stories. But I believe there is one author who stands above everyone else: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. You might have heard of him. He introduced the public to many fundamental concepts, and every now and then I still reread some of his classic pieces.
There is one article of his that I like the most. Those familiar with PV’s work may have already guessed it. It’s called “My Story.” In it, PV talks about how he started playing Magic, and what it took for him to eventually become one of the best in the game. It reads like a compelling book and it’s thoroughly informative.
Today, I will try to do the same. As PV did in his article, I will also try to include some lessons I’ve learned over the years—lessons that have helped me become the player I’m today. I finally believe that I’m one of the top players playing this game, but it took a long time to get here.
Here’s how it happened.
In the Czech Republic, we have 9 years of elementary school followed by 4 years of high school. There is one exception, called gymnasium. It’s for more talented kids who can leave elementary school after 5 years and study at the gymnasium for 8. It counts as a high school, but it’s useful mostly as preparation for college. That was where I first had contact with Magic.
One day in the first year, someone brought Magic cards to the class. I remember being late to this trend. I may have been sick, because I remember that suddenly everyone was playing the game, while I didn’t even know the rules. At first, I was reluctant. I had no money and I didn’t want to spend all of my allowance on some stupid game. Luckily, one of my classmates talked me into it. He asked why I save money if I don’t plan on spending it on anything.
He is now studying to become a lawyer.
I was hooked. The game started to occupy more and more of my free time. My classmates and I were playing for about a year, we played a local prerelease, and it was a blast.
After awhile, they found new interests and games to play. World of Warcraft was the new addiction. One after another, my friends started quitting Magic and sold their cards.
But not me. I loved the game. I just wanted to play more. When I was playing with my friends, we played with random cards—no direction and no format—we just played the game. That soon wasn’t enough for me. I went on the internet and found a Czech site that was purely about Magic, and there I found out about formats. One article talked about a Standard deck that looked like a lot of fun. It was around Christmas time, so I convinced my parents to buy me some cards for it. They obliged, and I became the proud owner of some Merfolk cards.
Armed with my new Standard Merfolk deck, I went to play. And since my classmates no longer interested, I’d have to find someone else to play with.
I’m not originally from Prague—I’m from a smaller city with around 100,000 inhabitants. There weren’t that many players—10-15 who played the game regularly, and the most popular format was Legacy. I had unknowingly shown up for a Legacy tournament. I obviously stood no chance. But as usual with the Magic community, everyone was incredibly kind. There was a guy who had all the cards and wasn’t playing. He told me to borrow his Force of Wills, Dazes, and Aether Vials. Even armed with those gifts, I still thought I would be an underdog. I wasn’t very good at the game. I regularly forgot to tick up my Vial, and Cursecatcher was just a 1/1 for 1 with no ability except for being Merfolk. Merrow Reejerey was complicated for me. But back then, believe it or not, Merfolk was actually a good Legacy deck. Everyone was playing slow blue control decks or Storm combo, and Merfolk was decent against both.
I played Legacy for a couple years after that. I spent a lot of time tuning and tweaking my Merfolk deck. Over the next few birthdays and Christmases I got my own Force of Wills, Dazes, and Aether Vials. My friends and I started attending various Legacy tournaments from Prague to Brno to compete. I was still very young, and Legacy was mostly enjoyed by players much older than me. It was a lot of fun beating people twice my age. Legacy used to be pretty big here, and we had the Czech Legacy Series every year—a series of 6 tournaments in different cities that were well attended. I always hoped I would win it one day.
I quickly became better with my Merfolk deck and started putting up some results. Top 8s here and there. The largest was in 2010 in Milan to play in one of the bigger Legacy events called Ovino. Around 300 players showed up, and I played my trusty fishies. I lost in the Top 8 mostly due to poor sideboarding. I played against Burn, trimmed too many creatures, and got punished with a spell-heavy draw. That was a harsh blow, as I had a bunch of good matchups throughout that Top 8.
Lesson #1: When Sideboarding, Remember Your Game Plan
Don’t go overboard and don’t make your deck worse than it was for game 1. I think that’s a common mistake for newer players. Sideboarding is one of the most complicated things in Magic, and to this day I’m still not sure I’ve mastered it.
In 2009, I played my first GP in Prague, and the format was Sealed deck. I went mostly for the experience, as I was very bad at Limited. I had no byes, and I got knocked out after 4 rounds. I still finished the event with a final record of 4-5. I remember Yuuya Watanabe losing the finals of that GP, and I hoped to be like him one day.
The fire was lit, and I wanted to play more GPs. The next was Grand Prix Madrid in 2010—a Legacy event. I had a good friend in Prague called Svatopluk, a Legacy player about 10 years my senior, who suggested we go. I asked my parents, and they consented.
I was so excited. No one from my hometown was going, so I had access to all the cards. Merfolk was already quite bad, so I had to look elsewhere. Luckily, one of the best local players had a different deck in mind. Entomb was unbanned a couple of months before this, and I think it was the first big Legacy tournament with that card legal, so we built a U/B Reanimator deck.
I don’t have the deck list, but I remember we built it poorly. For example, I didn’t play the full 4 Mystical Tutor. I played like 2. The deck was still great, but I dropped from the GP at 5-3. I clearly remember one mistake in particular, playing against Zoo. You usually wanted to search up and reanimate Empyrial Archangel, but in this one my opponent already had a couple of creatures out, so it would be much better to go for Iona and stall. I was just so used to getting Archangel that I searched it up, it died, and along with it my hopes of doing well at the tournament.
Lesson #2: Don’t Play on Autopilot
I believe my play would have been correct most of the time, but here the situation was different, and I failed to recognize that.
The GP was still an exciting experience. It was the first time I had ever flown on a plane. One of my friends made it to the finals of the GP, and that encouraged me to try and get better.
2011 was a big year for me. It started in May in Prague. It was my third GP, and my first Day 2. The GP was Sealed again, and I had this weird Jeskai deck. I know I had White Sun’s Zenith and I was just crushing everyone with it. Unfortunately, I lost my last round, so instead of being super happy at 8-1 I was sad with 7-2. Day 2 went about as well as I could expect. I went 2-1 in the first Draft, and I even got to play a feature match! But the wheels fell off in the next as I drafted a horrible deck. I started 0-2, receiving my first game loss at a GP for a deck registration error. I won the last round, but I still missed on cash. Nonetheless, it was a decent result, as I had never played Draft before that.
Lesson #3: Double- and Triple-Check During Deck Registration
I learned my lesson, and I’ve never had a problem with this since. Deck registration is a boring process, but you have to be meticulous.
The year went on and I managed to win the Czech Legacy Series—and that wasn’t all. There was another Legacy GP coming up, and a new set coming out shortly before. It included one cool card, called Delver of Secrets. One of my friends named Jaroslav decided to have something of a Legacy training camp for the tournament. It was fantastic. He and his family owned a huge tennis center with the space to accommodate all of us. About 15 of us showed up to play a bunch of mock tournaments. At the end of the week, there was a GP Trial in a town close by. Over the course of the camp, I came to the conclusion that R/U/G Delver was the best deck. Here is the list I played at the Trial and eventually the GP:
Oh how I loved this deck! Although, looking back, playing 3 Mongoose was probably incorrect. Across 3 events, including the GP, I put up a record of 21-3. I won the Trial quite easily, so I had 3 byes at a GP for the first time. On Day 1 I lost only one match—to a B/U/G deck that I considered a good matchup. Unfortunately, I once again misboarded, bringing in a Surgical Extraction that was useless. On Day 2 I picked up two losses early on to a G/W Hate Bears deck that I didn’t have much practice against. I managed to win out, finishing 11th, which meant I qualified for my first PT (back then Top 16 qualified).
At that point I was fully addicted to Magic. I used to play soccer growing up. I was quite good at it, playing at one of the top teams in the Czech Republic when I was 14. But in the end, Magic won out, and I quit soccer to focus on Magic. With my first qualification for the PT, I shifted my concentration to other formats as well.
Interest in the game was fading in my hometown, and the people who were still playing were pure Legacy players. If I wanted to get better, I had to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to play Magic Online. I was a poor student who was playing Magic all the time, so I didn’t have any part-time jobs. So I went with Magic-League. It was free to play, and I just played all the time. I would get home from school, throw my bag into a corner, sit at my laptop, and play all day before I went to bed. I often get asked questions about how to become a pro. I think the best answer is to just play and play and play. Being a pro at this game isn’t easy—at the top, everyone is extremely smart and most are very hardworking. So that’s what I did. I just played.
Lesson #4: Play a lot of Magic!
Magic-League was also very useful in that I was able to try every deck. I could always play the best deck, or try some new strategy that caught my eye. I was never just a control player or an aggro player. I always tried everything. I quickly climbed the ranks of Magic-League and became one of the top players there. They held a monthly tournament called Masters. It was a slightly bigger tournament where the 1st place finisher was supposed to get some small monetary prize—$50 or something. I won multiple times, and never got paid. I never cared, as it was so much fun and I just enjoyed knowing that I was one of the best.
The next big step in my development was my friendship with Petr Sochurek. I first met him at one of the Prague tournaments, and I have to admit we weren’t really friends at the start. He was acting really arrogant in the beginning. I didn’t like that, but luckily I soon got to know the real him, and saw that he was just acting like that because all the cool kids in Prague were doing it. The fact is that he’s actually a very nice guy.
We had one important thing in common: we both wanted to be great at Magic. We would talk for hours about Magic. We were young and pushing each other to do better. He was the first to cash a GP. I was the first one to qualify for a PT. We were always one-upping each other. It was a healthy rivalry and I think it helped Petr a lot to see me doing well at the PTs. It forced him to try harder than ever before because he knew that if it was possible for me to succeed, then it was possible for him. Looking back, it’s unbelievable. We were 15-year-old kids with dreams of becoming Magic pros one day.
Now we’re both Platinum. A dream come true.
Lesson #6: Find Friends Who Share Your Goals
If you can share your passion with someone, they tend to help you get better.
In 2012, I played my first PT in Hawaii. I almost didn’t go. It used to be that the top GP finisher didn’t receive flights for the PT. As a 16 year-old, it was basically impossible for me to buy a flight to Honolulu. Luckily, most of my family chipped in, and I was able to go.
With limited funds, the plan was to go just for the PT. I was supposed to fly in to Honolulu on Wednesday before the event and fly out on Monday. So here I am, 16 years old, flying somewhere alone for the first time and it’s basically the furthest place on Earth for me to go. Obviously, there were some problems. My first flight from Prague to Amsterdam was delayed, which meant that I missed my connection. There were no other flights available, so I had to stay the night in Amsterdam. I didn’t speak English very well, I was alone, and frozen in a city where I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t even have a credit card! Because of a pure coincidence, I had some Euros on me so I could buy food. Nowadays, I’m used to traveling, but I’m not going to lie—I was scared.
Luckily, the next day everything went smoothly. In Hawaii, I was supposed to stay with the Czech and Slovak pro players like Ivan Floch, Lukas Blohon, Stan Cifka, Robert Jurkovic, and Lukas Jaklovsky. I didn’t really know anyone except for Lukas Blohon, so I messaged him to let him know that I was coming late and would meet them at the venue the next day. My flight got delayed once again, so I missed registration. I didn’t have a working phone, so I just had to go to the hotel and hope to meet them there. Thankfully, nothing went wrong, and at around 9 p.m. the night before the event, I finally got into the hotel room full of people. They were quite surprised to see me.
As for the tournament, I wish I could have practiced harder. I didn’t really have anyone to play with me as I didn’t know the pros, and none of my other friends were qualified. I played a couple of Drafts and as for Standard, I settled on playing the most brainless deck in the format: White Weenie. It was actually W/U Humans. I was splashing for Geist of Saint Traft, and I had a special trump for the mirror and against Ramp in the form of Angelic Destiny. Here is the deck list:
I got some last-minute advice from the guys in Honolulu, mostly assuring me that the deck is okay and that I could do well if I drew well. Unfortunately, there were some problems with how I built my sideboard. There were no creatures, so I never had enough creatures in post-board games. As for Draft, I was told to try to draft aggro, which was different from the couple of Drafts I did where I strictly played control decks.
The tournament started quite well. It was 5 rounds of Constructed, followed by Draft, and you had to go 5-3 to make Day 2. I won the first 3 matches, winning a game on a mull to 5. After that I remember losing a game due to rule interactions that both my opponent and I missed. If either of us noticed, I’m 100% sure I would have won. It was also a good matchup, so I was devastated after losing the round.
I won the last match in Standard before it was time to draft and I was worried. I’d never really drafted. On Magic-League it was basically impossible, and no one in my hometown used to draft. Before this, I think I had played around 15 Drafts in my life total, which was an embarrassingly low number.
Still, I was determined to do my best. I was told to draft aggro, so that’s what I was going to do. That was the first mistake I made. In my seat, I think it was correct to draft U/B Control, which was an okay archetype. Instead, I tried to hard to force some sort of U/W deck and my Draft ended in a 3-color train wreck. I was really worried that I would miss Day 2 after starting 4-1, but luckily I squeaked out a round where my opponent got quite unlucky.
On Day 2 I went 2-1 in Draft, but Constructed didn’t go so well. I lost my last match playing for cash, which was heartbreaking as $1000 was a huge amount of money for me at that point. That loss basically meant that I couldn’t attend any more European GPs for the foreseeable future. Still, my first PT was an amazing experience, and to this day it’s my favorite tournament I’ve ever played in.
Lesson #7: Build Your Deck and Sideboard Together
For this tournament I just threw a bunch of hate cards into my sideboard and thought it would be good enough. Looking back, I really wish I’d had creatures like Leonin Relic-Warder and Fiend Hunter instead of the spells that served basically the same function.
The goal was clear—get back to the PT. Check back later in the week to find out if I succeeded in that goal (spoiler alert: I did) and how my Magic career developed from there!