At 12:00 am Pacific Time January 1, 2013, I was streaming Magic Online. No other way to end the year than to spend it reflecting on how I grew as an MTG player and as a person over the past year. And what a year it has been.
My main concern coming into the year was my career as a content producer. In previous years I had the luxury of only writing when I was compelled to write, so I was scared that maybe Woo Brews and Channel TWoo would grow stale with forced weekly content. I would have to write even if I didn’t want to write, even if I lost the passion, even if I didn’t have a hit.
Well, I did it. I mean, I didn’t have a hit every week, but I played Magic every week, felt passionate about it, and put out content I was proud of week after week. This gives me a lot of confidence going into 2014 that I can continue to support myself through MTG.
I was able to keep Woo Brews and Channel TWoo going by treating playing Magic more like a job. I would play Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. That way I would always have something real to write about over the weekend and would never have to scramble for flimsy philosophical or weekly metagame fluff.
Since I was going to play Magic five days a week, I settled into streaming every week night. Streaming was not only a fantastic Magic outlet for providing a massive community soundboard for developing MTG strategies—it was also a huge success in that I gained an outlet for publicly embarrassing myself by exposing my growing pains night after night. Thanks to everyone who was a part of that. It will continue.
The main consequence of my lifestyle as a daily MTG streamer and weekend MTG content producer was that my MTG career now no longer hinged at all upon tournaments. Even more, playing in tournaments became extremely inconvenient, as the travel time would cut into time that I would usually use for my actual production job.
As it was, I figured I would probably never play on the Pro Tour again. I would only play in the occasional tournament for personal pleasure, and I wasn’t going to try to qualify. After all, it didn’t really matter, because win, lose, or sleep in I would still have Woo Brews, Channel TWoo, and TWoo TV.
Surprise, surprise—things didn’t go according to plan.
March: SCG Las Vegas
Excited about my semi-viable 4 [ccProd]Griselbrand[/ccProd] Standard deck, I decided it would be a good “marketing expense” to go play at SCG Las Vegas. It wasn’t good.
I ate questionable food and was disgusted by the tap water. I ended up not winning, I was miserable to my opponents, and I came back Monday to throw up and sleep for a day. I felt a lot of ire from the community for being a disappointing human being over the weekend, but I figured a lot of stuff out.
I started to make the connection that a Magic tournament was just as physical a competition as a basketball tournament. Poor sleep, poor food, and dehydration would not cut it in any kind of physical competition.
If I was going to play in more tournaments this year I would have to take better care of my body. Losing doesn’t feel good, but getting sick feels even worse. I wanted to win and I wanted to feel good.
April: SCG Atlanta
I was winning a ton in Standard with the loved and widely ridiculed FogDoor deck, and I knew I had to play in a tournament before I missed my chance. I decided to fly out to Atlanta to compete with it, and I would treat the competition as a physical tournament.
[draft]Door to Nothingness[/draft]
The night before the tournament was cold and wet, but that didn’t stop me from walking 3 miles to and back from the nearest grocery store so I could pick up produce for the weekend. I snack on fruit and vegetables in my day to day, so I would be compromising my performance if I broke what I felt was a very important routine.
I picked up some carrots, apples, oranges, bananas, and some dark green veggies. I consumed an item between every round. It made a tremendous difference.
I felt I was a pleasant opponent. I won. I did not get sick. It felt good.
I also gained a valuable supporter in my tournament roommate Michael Hetrick. He bought into the fitness idea and I shipped him produce between rounds. He ended up Top 8’ing the Invitational and attributed some of his success to “Travis Woo’s Garden in his backpack.”
May: GP Portland
GP Portland was only a three-hour drive, so I figured I would road trip it with some friends. It ended up being more on the Vegas side of things as the friends I stayed with had a bit of a party house on Friday night.
I did get to the grocery store, but I ended up only getting a couple hours of sleep in a garage lined wall-to-wall with cans and bottles. The scent was so thick it was hard to breathe. And that is where I slept.
I started off my physical competition with about as much success as you would expect someone who slept an uncomfortable 2 hours. I played terribly to start the day and was on the brink of being out of the tournament in a flash.
After eating as much as I could I began to regain my bearings and clawed my way back up, winning 8 consecutive matches into Day 2.
Really it was just Living End being a great deck, so I didn’t have to think too much.
The real highlight of the tournament for me was giving away the original Living End deck. I wanted to do something to give back to the community so I fished out my old deck, signed the cards, and posted to see who wanted it. I ended up giving it to a Portland kid, Dylan Nollen, with the hope that it would be a catalyst for growth.
I had my own selfish reasons for doing this, and it felt good.
August: GP Oakland
And then there was GP Oakland, which turned out to be the big breakthrough of my year, and possibly the big breakthrough of my Magic career.
My preparation was accidentally incredible. The whole weekend and prior week were managed beautifully. I was crystal clear and emotionally stable from the start and finished with a vision of how the Magic community will be (and be perceived) in the future.
I wasn’t planning to go to the tournament until I randomly asked my brother Elliott on TWoo TV. He said he was down to go. We both had friends we wanted to see in the Bay, so that’s what the trip was to be about. Magic was extra.
I got down to San Francisco early. I occupied myself by doing yoga in a studio I found and wandering around looking for pick-up basketball games. I ate the best food I could find and stopped at grocery stores for produce when I could. I made sure to have plans to play basketball on Sunday so that I could be okay with losing. I was physically peaked and emotionally divested. This is a good combination to have going into a tournament.
I didn’t do much Magic-specific preparation for the tournament, but the preparation I did was very efficient. The format was M14 Limited. Instead of drafting, I read articles by the top players on CFB and SCG. The night before the tournament I participated in the “CFB Bounty” event where I got to build and play a Sealed deck between Ben Stark and LSV.
Between talking to all these people and absorbing information from the internet, I got the strategy I needed. Play 18 lands, choose to go second, err on playing 7-drops over 2-drops. Simple, but not at all obvious to the 1600-player mass in the room, as I got to play second every game for 16 rounds.
After bumming around the Bay I would be staying on site with Elliott, our friend James Nguyen, and Dylan Nollen. When I got to the room Friday night alcohol was everywhere, but any concerns I had were calmed when James ordered me to go to the store to pick up bottled water for our “team.” I gladly did so, and picked up some bunches of bananas for everyone as well.
We were a really tight group and developed something of a between-round ritual. My double [ccProd]Kalonian Tusker[/ccProd] deck usually won the match in about five minutes so I would go find James and Elliott and watch them with pursed lips. After we were all done we would go back to the room upstairs.
After walking to the room we would drink water, use the bathroom, eat bananas, and talk over our last round to get emotionally grounded after a tough win or loss. More than anything, it was a chance for me to get out of the auditory stimulation overload of the tournament hall. I personally get overloaded easily on sound and feel my thoughts get deafened over time.
I honestly think this was the key to our team’s success. It doesn’t seem like much, but the alternative is literal 12 hours of auditory overload, maybe water, probably not food, probably not a proper opportunity to vent and get grounded.
Both Elliott and I finished in the Top 8, Dylan finished 17th, and James finished 35st. That’s 6th, 7th, 17th, and 35th out of 1632. Our worst finisher was in the 98th percentile. I think that’s more than chance, and certainly can’t be attributed to the MTG-specific preparation none of us did.
That’s MTG fitness.
And here is my vision.
Magic tournaments are a physical competition. The brain is a physical organ. You can have the best deck in the room, but if you didn’t sleep the night before you’re at risk of getting disqualified round 1. More and more people are starting to see that.
So I think we will see a shift. Players will see that the best way to be on top of their game is to get plenty of sleep, to eat the right food, to get a good sweat leading up to the tournament. Magic preparation will happen, but it will be acknowledged that preparation isn’t efficient if the team isn’t physically prepared.
The top players will become more fit. The fit players will become more on top. The top will trickle down towards the bottom. This is what I think we will see.
The snapshot of a Magic: the Gathering player will be a person of mental and physical fitness. They will be proud and humble people.
This is my hope and my vision. But more than anything it’s my mission.
February 2014: Pro Tour Born of the Gods
My next tournament is Pro Tour Born of the Gods. I am getting in ten days early, and I am going to spend the week before looking to play sports and work out around the city. I am going to overcome jet lag and eat the best food.
I am going to prepare for Magic too, and I hope to find and play the best deck, but I think I will be okay regardless. It’s hard for me to imagine not having an edge over the mass of players who are sick from jet lag and overemphasis on MTG preparation.
And, if all that fails, I will be emotionally divested from my own result, as Living End and Ninja Bear Delver will be in the field. I can’t lose!
<3 Travis twitchtv.com/TravisWoo