Recurring Nightmares – Measure a Year

If you had told me twelve months ago that 2012 would play out the way it has, I never would have believed you. Even having lived through it, I can honestly tell you that this year has exceeded all expectations and possibly ruined all future years for me for the rest of time.

It began innocuously enough. In January, Caleb and I had begun recording video matches of our Legacy battles—something I had been looking for a way to do for some time, but which only came to fruition for a few weeks before we decided the scheduling and procurement of cards was too tough when one of us is a brewer, the other is a tuner, and both of us have extremely hectic schedules that vary greatly from the others. We did get a few sweet videos in, but largely the experiment was deemed unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, in an effort to address some glaring holes in my game, I took an interest in some of the other formats—mostly on Modern, which was importantly the current PTQ season format. Normally this wouldn’t have a great deal of impact on my life, but the OP change that put PTQs into the store environment meant there was a Qualifier literally three minutes from my doorstep.

After the first few events with the rough draft of the Modern banned list, the format underwent a significant change and arrived in a satisfying place. Jon Corpora and I decided to review a few weeks worth of MTGO results to get a feel for the format, and we were sure the deck we wanted to play was RUG. It had a lot of similarities to the Legacy version of the deck, and got to play a bunch of strong cards like [card]Cryptic Command[/card] that were a little slow for Legacy, but seemed great for the Modern metagame. Then, we saw a 4-0 deck from a Daily Event, and my opinion changed quite a bit.

Turn 1: Forest, [card]Birds of Paradise[/card].
Turn 2: [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card] tapped, pass. On the opponent’s end step, [card]Raise the Alarm[/card].
Turn 3: [card]Temple Garden[/card] untapped, attack with three guys, activate Heights, cast [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card].

That’s all it took. Suddenly, I needed to know everything I could about this deck, and I knew that my opinion on the format had taken a strong shift to the left.

I took the deck to a local Modern event in an effort to get some experience with it, and see if it was all it was cracked up to be. I went 4-2, just missing out on the top 8, and decided that with a better board and a little luck, this deck was perfectly capable of being fantastic.

I took a break from writing and Magic in February. Things at work were heating up, and I needed the time to focus on the real world. In addition, I was prepping myself for a trip to Iceland, which was kind of unexpected and in no way budgeted for. It was one of those opportunities that pops up where you have to just jump on it, and worry about the details later. If you don’t, you’ll spend the next few years regretting it, and I’d much rather worry about money for a while than live with the “what ifs” that accompany missed opportunity. This would become a recurring theme for me throughout the year.

Iceland was, in a word, incredible. The country is drastically different from anything I’ve experienced in my life—it looked like an alien landscape.

Our trip centered on the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa in the lava fields of the island. As a hotspot for geothermal activity, the country is supplied electrically entirely by geothermal generators, which results in actual free energy for everyone living there. A byproduct of the geothermal energy plant is mineral rich water, ultra-heated by the process of bringing it up from the depths, where volcanic activity is in force. This water collects in pools to the south of the plant, and has incredible benefits to the skin, hair, and nails—in fact, it’s one of the world leaders in psoriasis treatment. A spa and treatment facility has sprung up around the lagoon, and this is where we were taking our reprieve.

Outside the experience of floating in 80 degree water in the middle of a snowstorm, the country had a lot to offer. As I said, the landscape—a wasteland of volcanic lava fields, overgrown with a green moss to give them the appearance of life, while utterly devoid of any living creatures—was alien, and the silence was absolute.

We experienced the depth of Icelandic culture during a trip to the capital in Reykjavik, where a mixture of extremely old-world traditions met with a modern way of life. We rounded out our trip with a tour of the southern coastline, where we visited a massive glacier wall (though the effects of global warming have severely reduced the size of the glacier over the course of the last few decades), explored the black sand beaches and massive cave formations of the North Atlantic sea, and walked behind waterfalls hundreds of feet high.

This trip was my first exposure to a culture completely foreign to my own. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, although I’m hoping to make it back.

When I returned to America after the vacation, I stepped back into my normal routine—and that meant it was time for the first store-run PTQ in Syracuse. Prior to the event in March, I had only minimal PTQ experience, as I’d never taken the qualification seriously. In fact, outside a few matches of “testing,” and a bit of theory work here and there, I didn’t take this qualifier seriously, either.

Then I won.

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that as far as Magic goes (for me), this event changed everything.

Suddenly I had a Pro Tour to prepare for, in a format I am completely unfamiliar with, with very little time to prepare a testing team, in a city where I’m the only one qualified to play in the event.

Considering those obstacles, I did pretty well.

I reached out to Caleb and his testing team first, and unfortunately they were pretty set on players. I ended up working mostly with Colin Chilbert (who had made Top 4 of GP Indy to qualify), a Texas transplant who used to be local in Syracuse. He and I worked with players in our respective towns to find a Constructed deck, and got in as many drafts as possible once the set was released. I assembled two copies of our Constructed deck, packed up my things, packed up my girlfriend, and headed to Spain.

If the trip to Iceland was unexpected, the trip to Spain was a complete surprise.

I arrived in Barcelona the Tuesday before the Pro Tour, with my girlfriend and her college roommate in tow. Her roommate is fluent in Spanish and had an in for a comp’d plane ticket, so she was a great help in both translating for us as well as entertaining my girlfriend during the time I’d need to spend focusing on the actual reason I was there. We did our best to explore the city, although we barely scraped the surface of what we wanted to see—Barcelona is a city that is thousands of years old, and there are centuries upon centuries of culture to absorb.

On Thursday night, I proposed. I chose an out-of-the-way corner in front of the Fuente mágica de Montjuic as the place, and took the plunge. After facing that moment, not even the Pro Tour could intimidate me.

As far as the tournament goes, Colin and I committed a cardinal sin and misevaluated the metagame. Our inexperience with brand new formats showed, and we overlooked the card that would define the format—[card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card]. As the block format prior to AVR was comprised of small Boros creatures, we focused much of our testing on beating WR Humans—and our deck did that admirably. Of course, we played more Naya decks than any other archetype, and had a bad matchup against the most popular deck. Given my experience with this event, I know much better what to take into account if there’s a next time.

On the flipside, my Limited game was much more on point, and I managed to 3-0 the Day One draft to make Day Two. I only put up a 1-2 in the second draft, despite my deck being just as strong as (if not better than) my Day One deck, but I was a bit unlucky when I needed help, and lost. Overall, my performance was mediocre, but there were a lot of high points to look back on from the event—not the least of which was watching the finals with Team Canada as one of their own took home the trophy.

Home from Barcelona, I focused my attention on the next leg of my life journey—buying a house. This was something I had planned for that summer even prior to winning a PTQ, and although I went from broke to flat broke because of the PT, I hadn’t changed my mind on this.

Fortunately, I’ve been a Legacy player since ancient times, and still had all these Magic cards.

Due to the help afforded me by my connections with various stores, and my expansive former collection, I managed to sell off the bulk of the expensive cards I owned. I don’t plan on giving up the game by any means, so I downgraded the staples where I could, so I could still build decks in most formats. I left the experience with beat Revised dual lands where once there were Beta, and played [card tarmogoyf]’Goyfs[/card] which once were foil, but all in all I came out WAY ahead of where I bought into the format—and had plenty of scratch for the down payment on the house.

Some players think they’re hot when they go from pack to power. Others go from pack to house.

The general theme of my year has been growth. I’ve grown as a player, as a person, and in my responsibilities. I’ve moved from the suspended adolescence of the modern 20-something into a new world where I’m starting a family and beginning to lay the groundwork for a future—and focusing much less on the present as a result. I think this was inevitable for me, it’s been written on the wall for some time, although I’d been doing my best to shirk responsibility for some time.

That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, nor is the undertaking of actual adult life. I’ve long known that I don’t have the disposition to pursue Magic on a professional level in the same way that many of my compatriots do. I’ve always been risk-averse, and living from tournament to tournament with little in the way of roots or stability just isn’t me. Gaining exposure to the world those players exist in has given me a taste, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there’s an allure to the pro lifestyle. Fortunately, it just doesn’t make sense for me to give up all that I have going in pursuit of that dream. I say fortunately, because it’s a great gift to have enough going for me to not want to give it up.

There could be room for both, if I was willing to put forth the effort necessary to make it all fit. There are players out there who manage to balance the life of a full-time worker, a full-time Magic pro, and a full-time boyfriend/husband. I have no hesitation or embarrassment in admitting that they are better at Magic than I am. They are mostly Platinum-level players that aren’t concerned with qualifying for each PT, or Hall of Fame players who did the heavy lifting at a time when they had less responsibility and demands on their time. There are very few players breaking through at the stage in life that I’m in—and I think there’s a reason for that. Someday I’ll write an article on that.

One of the byproducts of my exposure to professional Magic is that my focus on the game has changed. Rather than being immersed in the Legacy community, scouring the net for the last event’s results and analyzing them to death, I’ve felt a tangible shift in what interests me. I’m more likely to watch a Standard match on a given weekend than a Legacy match, and I’m more likely to test a Standard or Modern deck than a sweet Legacy brew.

In fact, I’m probably going to be Pride Drafting at an event between rounds, and leaving the Commander at home. The events I’m choosing to spend my scarce time on are the ones that have the off-chance of qualifying my return to the PT, and I’d rather skip a local event to save the time and money for a PTQ I’ll have to travel to on the weekend, than play a lower stakes event at home that I’d have a high chance of winning.

The challenge has become more important, and the goal is now to prove to myself that the first qualification wasn’t a fluke.

Last year, I wrote a “Fearless Magical Inventory,” in which I attempted to outline the weak points in my game so as to improve upon them. This year, my major focus has been on shoring up those weaknesses, and I think I’ve done a fairly reasonable job. I’m by no means perfect, and I have a long way to go, but I’m on the right path, and think I have a pretty exciting future in the game. This is in stark contrast to where I was at this time last year, when I felt like I had plateaued.

As far as my career with writing goes, I’ve explored some unfamiliar territory this year, and it’s been a mixed bag of responses. While my reduced volume of tournaments has caused me to write less tournament reports, I think this has been a great thing for me overall, as it’s forced me to step outside the comfort zone of the established article format, and explore the limits of my skill as a writer. Even when these experiments have failed, they’ve been successful.

I’ve also broken out of the mold of the “legacy historian,” which is still a mantle I’m proud to wear—but there’s plenty of room for exploration. Fortunately I have a wonderful team of editors who are willing to let me deviate from the path of the traditional from time to time, as long as I’m not writing poetry every week.

The next step is to translate that growth as a writer into other forms of content. I’d like to see our site incorporate our skill at bringing excellent video content into other realms, incorporating mixed media into our content naturally, in a way that feels organic. With the impending site redesign, a lot of resources have been focused in a different direction, but I have a good feeling that we’ll be able to push the envelope even more in the coming year.

And that’s what the goal is for every facet in 2013. Anything but forward progress is retreat, and I have no intention of going in reverse.

Happy holidays everyone, and I’ll see you next year!



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