Nationality: United States
Qualified via Pro Club Platinum Level, PT Dragons of Tarkir Top 25, GP Toronto Top 8
Pro Points: 242 lifetime (51 in 2014–15)
Pro Tour Debut: Honolulu 2009
Pro Tours played: 22
Win percentage: 61.1%
Top 8: 2 Pro Tours, 12 Grand Prix (1 win), 2 Nationals
Planeswalker Level: 49 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: Pro Player of the Year 2010, Part of the 2010 Magic Online Community Cup winning team
Brad Nelson first made a name for himself as FFfreaK on Magic Online, where he was one of the most active and successful grinders around 2009–10. His first Pro Tour qualification was for Pro Tour Honolulu in 2009. Although he finished 9th, his real breakout performance happened a year later when he won Grand Prix Washington. Only a week later Brad made the Top 8 of Pro Tour San Juan. Another Pro Tour Top 8, a Nationals Top 8, and two Grand Prix Top 8s followed in the same season.
Having been on a tear for half a year Brad went into the final event of the 2010 season with an 11-point lead over Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. And while PV indeed made Top 8 and threatened to take the title from Brad, eventually it was Guillaume Matignon that closed a 25-point gap by becoming World Champion. The Player of the Year race had thus been forced to a tie and consequently a deciding match between Matignon and Nelson. In the end Brad retained the trophy that had appeared to be his all along.
2011 and 2012 didn’t hold much in store for Brad, and it took him until the 2012-13 season to make another Top 8, this time at the Standard Grand Prix in Minneapolis. Brad has since cemented his name as arguably the best Standard player in the game by Top 8’ing another seven Standard Grand Prix and finishing each of the last five Standard Pro Tours in the Top 40. Going into the last event of the 2014-15 season Brad has locked up Platinum, and all titles are still on the table as well. A top 8 in Vancouver might even mean another Player of the Year title for him.
Q: At the beginning of your professional Magic career you were primarily a Magic Online grinder. Until 2010 you had made a name for yourself on MTGO, but starting with GP Washington in 2010 there suddenly was no stopping you in real Magic tournaments either. How did you become a Magic Online grinder? How did you make the transition to pro player? And how has your approach to Magic Online changed since? Is it still an important part of your tournament preparation these days?
A: There really wasn’t any method to my madness. I just played a lot of Magic Online since I was from an area that didn’t have many competitive outlets. I loved Magic, but would have to drive 3-6 hours to play in anything relevant. That caused Magic Online to be an outlet. This was also during a time where the Magic Online community and economy were in full gear. Many of the game’s best were cultivated during this time period thanks to Magic Online.
There really wasn’t a transition when “becoming” a professional player. Magic is a complex game, but constant and never ending improvement is really the only way to be good at it. At this time I was playing every day. When I wasn’t playing, I was talking to likeminded players about theories. I was fully immersed in Magic. When you play all the time and learn from your experiences it really isn’t difficult to get good.
Even though Magic Online was the tool I used to start my career, I would not consider it a boon to me now. I love Magic Online, but its current state is almost inexcusable. The economy is crippled due to redemption rates, it has bugs that never get fixed, and the prizes seem to be determined by the judge staff on “Whose Line is it Anyway.” This has caused many of the Magic Online greats to do other things with their time and the player skill to drop drastically. I find myself playing against weaker players every week which is not the best tool for me when preparing to dismantle the best in the game.
Q: After your Player of the Year title in 2010 you had a drought of 18 months, where you failed to put up any major finishes, and although you are not shy of the limelight you disappeared a little. What happened in that period?
A: The cliché answer would be “finding myself.” I was still living in North Dakota which meant it was terribly expensive to travel to many major events. I had outgrown my local players, so Magic Online was my only outlet for competition when I wasn’t traveling to my dozen or so events a year. I started getting lazy and complacent and began learning bad habits. My game and self-esteem were in the gutter. I decided that I either had to give up on Magic or go all in. I obviously chose correctly.
It wasn’t until I moved to Roanoke that I began to get my game back. I was hanging out with like-minded individuals again and traveling to tournaments. It took some time, but I did it.
Q: You are considered to be one of the best Standard players, and you have the Standard Grand Prix Top 8s to show for it. In fact, each of your Top 8s since your Player of the Year title are from Standard Grand Prix. Also, since Pro Tours Theros you have done extremely well at each Standard Pro Tour but poorly in both Modern Pro Tours. What makes Standard special for you? Do you think your skills line up particularly well with Standard, and not as well with other formats, thus explaining your relative lack of success in those formats? Was there a conscious decision to concentrate on the format you love most, and more or less ignore the rest?
A: Standard really isn’t special to me, nor do I think I am inherently gifted in the format. I began doing well at Standard once I moved to Roanoke and began making more content for StarCityGames. Standard was played at each and every Open weekend as well as being the most common format to write about due to Friday Night Magic. I just got good at it.
I had always liked smaller formats like Block Constructed and Standard due to their small sizes. To me the size of the format defines its difficulty. Standard is only 5-8 sets deep which makes it relatively easy to break down. That and the fact that I trust my gut in metagaming and am usually correct.
I honestly think that I just put the most work into the format. This is obviously due to the fact that I write for SCG and lean heavy on producing content on that format. What I do isn’t special. I treat preparation like a job or school work. I look at results, trends, past metagame shifts, and find things that will help me decide what deck is correct to play. I also test a lot which allows me to transition between certain decks without too many issues.
I’m as aware as you are that my percentages have a significant drop-off when I get to Modern. I recently realized what my issue was, and that is that I looked at Modern the same way I do Standard, which is a mistake. I recalibrated and you are now looking at a freshly minted member of the Jundlyfe.
Q: You have Top 8’d two Pro Tours so far, which were both instrumental in your 2010 Player of the Year title. A Top 8 in Vancouver might be huge for you again as Worlds invitations, U.S. National Champion, and even Player of the Year still hang in the balance. What would a third Top 8 mean to you? Would it be special, because it would be your first Top 8 in a Standard Pro Tour?
A: I play the next round. I know that doesn’t answer your question entirely, but that’s all I do. You see, whatever Brian David-Marshall and Rich Hagon talk about is fine. It helps the audience get to know who we are so they can follow story lines. What it doesn’t do is help the players in the tournament.
Being recognized for your accomplishments is nice, but worrying about what others think of you is only crippling. I once worried about where I sat at the dinner table which caused me to only be served scraps. That’s because I was putting unnecessary stress on myself to do well. I’ve learned over time to not stress about how the chips may fall before I put them in the middle. All I care about now is being my best and taking my swings. That’s really all a person can do.