GP Dallas marks the end of our MTG calendar year, so it’s time for our Year in Review article. As you might know, 2013 was a very rough year for my Magic career, so expect this article to be a little more introspective than the previous ones.

The year (but not the season—the season started in the middle of 2012) kicked off with GP Denver, which was the first tournament in what has by now become my yearly summer escapade. Since our summer vacation happens in January-February, it’s the ideal time for me to chain together a string of events, and this year it meant Denver, Atlantic City, Bilbao, London, Montreal, and Quebec.

GP Denver was Legacy, and though I really like the format, I rarely have the chance to play it, so I thought I needed to do some preparation to at least decide what type of deck I liked more. I borrowed some online cards and jammed a bunch of games in MTGO queues with many different decks until I eventually settled on playing Sneak and Show. This marked a change from my usual deck selection process in the sense that it was entirely individual—I tested many decks, chose that one, chose the configuration and then played it all by myself. We are a big group, and it’s rare that I’m the only one playing a given deck, but I suppose that’s Legacy for you.

By that time, Sneak and Show was not a very popular deck—people knew it existed, and it had been played before (I certainly didn’t make the deck), but no one else that I knew had even considered it and there weren’t any in the Top 16 of the event. I might have been the highest finishing one. I wasn’t sure why, since it seemed very good to me. I felt vindicated when, many months later, it suddenly became “the best deck in Legacy,” even though nothing had really changed. Now I’m not saying I’m a genius ahead of my time, but I kind of am, ain’t I?

The deck performed well and I ended up drawing into the Top 32—which, at the time, felt like an average result, not great but certainly not bad. Little did I know that it was going to be my best result of the year.

In the end, the tournament was won by Vidianto Wijaya with an Esper Stoneblade variant:

[deck]Main Deck
1 Academy Ruins
4 Flooded Strand
2 Island
1 Karakas
2 Marsh Flats
1 Plains
3 Polluted Delta
1 Scrubland
1 Swamp
3 Tundra
3 Underground Sea
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Batterskull
4 Brainstorm
1 Counterspell
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Force of Will
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Lingering Souls
1 Ponder
2 Spell Pierce
1 Supreme Verdict
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Thoughtseize
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Vindicate
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Sideboard
1 Cabal Therapy
1 Darkblast
1 Disenchant
1 Force of Will
3 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Perish
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Spell Pierce
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Zealous Persecution[/deck]

After GP Denver came GP Atlantic City, and Luis was kind enough to offer his place in Denver between the two tournaments. What was not very kind was the weather, which got us severely delayed and almost killed on our way to the airport. After some airport hassle where I was given the boarding pass of a woman called Laura Major and tried to go through security with it, we made it safe and sound to Atlantic City. Atlantic City turned out to be a little disappointmenting; I’m sorry if you live there, but it’s just not the “Vegas of the East” I was led to believe

I ended up playing a Naya deck that wasn’t great, but also wasn’t bad—just your average [ccProd]Restoration Angel[/ccProd]s, Huntmasters, Bonfires, and so on. I finished 36th. The tournament was won by Jon Stern, piloting the breakout deck of the tournament and the most disgusting deck to ever walk the face of the earth (figuratively speaking):

[deck]Main Deck
3 Cavern of Souls
4 Forest
1 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Hinterland Harbor
1 Island
2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Invisible Stalker
3 Silverblade Paladin
4 Abundant Growth
4 Ethereal Armor
2 Increasing Savagery
4 Rancor
4 Selesnya Charm
4 Spectral Flight
Sideboard
1 Angelic Overseer
2 Feeling of Dread
2 Loxodon Smiter
3 Nearheath Pilgrim
1 Negate
2 Nevermore
3 Rest in Peace
1 Rootborn Defenses[/deck]

Hexproof is usually the kind of deck that is very good for a tournament, then unplayable for some months, then very good for a tournament, and so on. For that particular tournament, it was very good—people just weren’t prepared to fight it, they had those slow clunky decks that could neither control nor race you. I think my distaste of the archetype and the fact that the deck has as close to zero play as possible blinded me to how good it actually was, and I should just have played it along with Josh and Web.

After Atlantic City I took a plane to Europe, intending to play in GP Bilbao and GP London. At first, I stayed with Daniel Royde in London and then with Peter Dun in Belgium, which is a country I did not know before. I quite liked it—I got to visit the European Union buildings and at least pretend to be a dedicated International Relations student, and I also got to eat a lot of french fries and chocolate.

GP Bilbao went OK, I played Eggs. It was quite a challenge, since my experience with the deck was limited to three playtesting games for PT Seattle with a deck that was all proxied up (that did not go well) and a few practice games against Shahar’s Zoo deck during the byes, but in the end everything worked out well—the deck was not that complicated to play, after all. I got a game loss in Day Two because I was watching my friends play a team side event and missed pairings, but still managed to Top 64. At that point, I was 3-for-3 in cashes, but without any actual great finishes. The tournament was won by Mitchell Manders playing an aggressive version of UWR:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
2 Tectonic Edge
2 Aven Mindcensor
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Snapcaster Mage
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Vendilion Clique
3 Electrolyze
2 Izzet Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Remand
Sideboard
1 Baneslayer Angel
1 Batterskull
2 Counterflux
1 Disenchant
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Pyroclasm
2 Rule of Law
1 Spellskite
1 Tempest of Light
2 Threads of Disloyalty[/deck]

In April, [ccProd]Second Sunrise[/ccProd] was banned from Modern. I can’t say I blame them—the deck was incredibly annoying to play against and was the cause of many enormous delays. Now all we have to do is ban Gabriel Nassif and maybe tournaments can actually finish on time.

Sometime between those tournaments, the Magic Online Championship (MOCS) happened. The MOCS is probably the best EV tournament in the world, maybe discounting the World Championship—there are only 16 players (and the competition is not as strong as at Worlds, where you will legitimately face 16 of the very best), the prize pool is enormous, and winning qualifies you for the World Championship and for the next MOCS. I’ve always been incredibly jealous of MOCS players, but to qualify for it you have to grind many hours on Magic Online and then spike a gigantic tournament, so it never really seemed worth it for me. Nowadays they give some QPs to pros, but then they go ahead and schedule all the MOCS during GP weekends, so it becomes hard to play.

I did play one of the Last Chance Qualifiers, which promptly crashed after round 7 when I was 6-1. The tournament was Sealed, and it restarted with an entirely different pool an hour later. I was able to Top 8 anyway (no doubt I wasn’t the only person sleeping on my keyboard after playing 14 rounds in a day), but I couldn’t get past the semifinals. Maybe I’ll try to give myself more opportunities to qualify for the MOCS in the future, if they ever sort this thing out. In any case, the tournament was won by Dmitri Butakov.

I left from Spain to Belgium and then, before GP London, I went with Rich Hagon to his local store, where we did some drafts and some talking with the locals. At one point we had sort of an interview, and Rich asked me the following question (paraphrased):

“When you lose a match, everyone can see that it really hits you—it devastates you, it affects you very, very deeply. But, in Magic, you’re always going to lose matches. No matter how good you are, you aren’t going to win 100% of your games. How do you deal with the constant emotional roller coaster, how do you deal with the losing that inevitably happens when it causes you so much emotional pain?”

At the time, my answer was something like, “it’s true that losing affects me more than it does most people, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing—it’s just because I care a lot. I think that, when I win, I get even happier—it just feels incredible to me, it’s why I do what I do. So far I’ve won more than I’ve lost, so the good moments make up for the bad ones—I have sort of a cushion of good finishes in reserve that absorb the blow of the bad finishes. If that changes and I start continuously losing, then that cushion of comfort will disappear and I’m not sure how I’ll deal with it.” It turned out I was going to be tested on that very shortly.

GP London was Return to Ravnica Limited, and that one was a bit of a disappointment. I had what I thought was a very decent looking control deck, with 10 removal spells, and in six rounds I played against three [ccProd]Domri Rade[/ccProd]s and two [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd]s—by far the hardest cards in the format for my deck to beat. I ended up a win short of Day 2’ing, but I felt like I had learned a lot about the format in that week. I later found out that much of what I had previously thought was wrong, but a lot of it was correct as well.

I flew to Montreal on Monday, and arrived to a team that had been testing for a while and wanted to play UWR. I did not like that decision much, but by the end of it most of us moved to Esper, and that I liked a lot more.

Thus began my quest of trying to ever do well with Esper in a tournament. I did not succeed in Montreal, with a 4-4 record. We did pretty badly overall with the deck, with Ben Top 8’ing and everyone else going 1-9 or thereabouts. I had liked it before the tournament, but, after playing, it seemed like you just had to go through too many things, and in retrospect I wish we had played something else. What that something else is, though, I’m not sure—there was no deck that I felt was just better than the rest of the field.

This is what we played:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Godless Shrine
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Plains
2 Watery Grave
4 Augur of Bolas
3 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
2 Devour Flesh
2 Dissipate
1 Dramatic Rescue
2 Planar Cleansing
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Think Twice
1 Ultimate Price
Sideboard
2 Angel of Serenity
1 Dispel
2 Duress
3 Gloom Surgeon
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Negate
1 Psychic Spiral
1 Rest in Peace
2 Witchbane Orb[/deck]

Our list was different than most others because it included [ccProd]Restoration Angel[/ccProd], which is just a very powerful card that plays the role of blocker and planeswalker removal—plus it combos with Snapcaster and Augur. I think that was definitely an improvement over most other Esper lists in the tournament. Other highlights include [ccProd]Planar Cleansing[/ccProd] as a way to deal with planeswalkers, and sideboarded [ccProd]Gloom Surgeon[/ccProd] against aggro decks. We laughed at Gloom Surgeon at first, but it turned out to be great, and I’ve caught myself wishing for a Gloom Surgeon in Standard many times now that it has rotated out.

The tournament was won by Tom Martell, as I’m sure you know because he kept reminding everyone of it on a daily basis for a couple months. Have you ever watched that Big Bang Theory episode where Howard has just come back from the space station and manages to insert it in every single conversation? That was how following Martell on Twitter felt after that tournament. This was the deck he played:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Clifftop Retreat
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
3 Knight of Infamy
1 Restoration Angel
2 Silverblade Paladin
2 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Zealous Conscripts
2 Lingering Souls
4 Orzhov Charm
Sideboard
2 Blasphemous Act
2 Lingering Souls
1 Mentor of the Meek
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Rest in Peace
1 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
3 Tragic Slip[/deck]

This is a very weird deck—it’s basically WW and Falkenrath Aristocrat, but Aristocrat is so good that it’s worth adding two colors for. This deck showcases a difference between SCG and ChannelFireball—they will usually play a completely unknown deck. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a better choice all the time, or even most of the time, but they always end up playing a deck that we did not know about before the tournament, whereas we mostly end up playing a version of a deck everyone knows. There are benefits to both strategies. If you play a different deck you have surprise value and you might just break the format wide open, but at the same time if a deck is established as good it’s, well, good, and it’s probably going to be better tuned.

This tournament was also a first time for a lot of things. Owen Turtenwald and Gerry Thompson, both players who would have been on most people’s list of “best players without a PT Top 8,” finally got to play on Sunday. Ironically, it took Owen going from TeamCFB to TeamSCG and Gerry going from TeamSCG to TeamCFB for that to happen.

Melissa DeTora also Top 8’d with a Bant splash Wolf-Run deck, which marked the first time in the history of the game that we saw a woman on Sunday of a PT. Melissa and EFro were both qualified due to special invites, as was 9th place Roberto Gonzales, which justified the policy in the eyes of many people (I don’t really think that logic follows, but whatever). The invites were nonetheless removed afterwards, with the introduction of the Silver ones.

During PT Montreal, they also announced that they were going to hold a fourth yearly Pro Tour. This is one of the best possible changes for professional players or those who aspire to be professionals, since Pro Tours are basically what we play for—GPs are interesting, surely, but they are means to an end, and that end is the PT. By having a fourth PT, you increase the prize pool by a substantial amount and you make it so that there is less pressure on people, since they have more opportunities to get the bulk of their points. You also just give away more money in appearance fees to those who are Platinum. The return of the fourth PT gave me a lot of faith in Magic as a profession, because I was used to them just taking things out when the situation was bad and never “giving back” when the situation improved, and the fourth PT showed me that we do see some return from the fact that the game is doing well, it does impact our lives positively after all. It also made me more upset that I was likely not going to be Platinum, since the fourth PT improves the rewards of the level by about 5K just by existing (extra hotel + plane ticket + $3,000 appearance fee).

The next tournament was GP Quebec, which was very convenient for me because I was already in Canada—those GPs right after PTs are the best for the people who live far away, like me. I met the other Brazilian players and we rented an apartment in Quebec. It was by far the coldest place I’ve ever been to—nothing else really compares. I actually quite liked it. I suppose if you have to constantly live with it it’s not nice, but if it’s once in awhile, snow is quite fun and different. We even got to go to some sort of snow park; it turned out to be mostly for kids (or so it seemed from the average person there), and we were somewhat unequipped to deal with it, but we still had a lot of fun and got to do some different things (at least for us), like ice skating and snow rafting.

At the tournament itself, I again played Esper, to a Top 64 finish. I thought Esper was a good choice, but I needed to have more sideboard against combo Reanimator, which was a dreadful matchup that I played against twice, because it was what all the Canadian players played (and there were a lot of those, the GP being in Canada and all that). I also lost to a Jund player who took my [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd]s with [ccProd]Slaughter Games[/ccProd] game 1, so I feel like I can be excused there. Nico Christiansen ended up taking it all with his version of Naya Blitz, which was a deck I couldn’t stand because the mana was bad, the cards weren’t great either, and it had zero play to it—you’re basically rolling die to see if you’re going to win. Sometimes it’s correct to do so, when they are very much loaded in your favor (like with Hexproof in GP Atlantic City) but it did not feel like that with Naya Blitz.

[deck]Main Deck
4 Cavern of Souls
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
3 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
4 Boros Elite
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Experiment One
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Frontline Medic
1 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Mayor of Avabruck
3 Giant Growth
4 Searing Spear
Sideboard
3 Boros Charm
2 Fiend Hunter
2 Gruul Charm
2 Nearheath Pilgrim
3 Pacifism
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/deck]

At the end of this tournament was when I felt like I was running out of time. I had done incredibly badly throughout the season, but there were always many tournaments left to make up for that. No longer—there was just one PT and two GPs left, and I had to make those count. I started feeling the pressure of needing good results as the season closed in on me, and I’m sure that didn’t help my play.

After that I took a two-week break, skipping Charlotte and Yokohama, and then came GP Rio. Brazilian GPs are always very exciting for me, because I know basically half the people in the room, and those I don’t know are always very nice. Unfortunately, it’s balanced by the fact that the tournament is usually not great, and GP Rio was no exception. The biggest issue was the weather—it was incredibly hot and there was no air conditioning, and many people were just dripping with sweat, creating a most uncomfortable environment. From someone who did not mind -10° C in Quebec two weeks before, getting hit by a 41° C wave was not very pleasant.

As for the tournament, I chose to play—you guessed it—Esper. I felt like it was well positioned and I thought the deck was good, but I lost my match for Day 2. Maybe it was time to abandon Esper, but it always performed well in testing and looking at how the matches should play out, it seemed to me like I was favored by most of them, so it was tough to give up on that. In retrospect, I should probably have played the Junk Reanimator list Martin Juza had sent me, which was a new deck at that point and later on became the best deck in the format. In the end, the tournament was won by Brazilian player José Dantas, playing Aristocrats:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
3 Cavern of Souls
1 Clifftop Retreat
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Plains
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Swamp
1 Vault of the Archangel
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
4 Knight of Infamy
1 Restoration Angel
3 Silverblade Paladin
2 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Zealous Conscripts
3 Lingering Souls
3 Orzhov Charm
2 Tragic Slip
Sideboard
1 Cathedral Sanctifier
1 Faith’s Shield
1 Mark of Mutiny
1 Mentor of the Meek
3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Rhox Faithmender
1 Sever the Bloodline
1 Skirsdag High Priest
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Tragic Slip
1 War Priest of Thune[/deck]

Another break followed, and at some point during that time they announced two major changes to Organized Play. First, Silver players would get an invite to a PT. This was huge because it let people who came close to Gold still get something, and meant their efforts weren’t wasted if they don’t get there. The second major change is that there will be a cap of five GP finishes for each player, which means that, if you have five good ones already, then there’s not much to gain by going to extra tournaments. This is good for people with full-time jobs or for people who live very far, like me, though it’s not the greatest for people who wanted to go to more events but are basically discouraged to do it, like Martin. Overall, I think it’s a good change, though.

After staying home for a while, I traveled to Las Vegas to test for PT San Diego. I had never been to Las Vegas before, and it was quite an experience. I had a lot of fun at EFro’s house—it’s really big, fits everyone, has a great table for drafting and playing, a swimming pool, and his dog Honey (whom I like despite her having eaten my flip-flops).

Before we had the chance to play in the PT, though, there was the matter of GP Portland. GPs before PTs are much worse than GPs after PTs, and they’re even worse if they’re far away and an entirely different format. Still we went, because we’re stupid. No one did any Modern testing, except for Conley who did all Modern testing and no Standard testing (and came up with Eggs without Second Sunrise. Go figure.) I ended up playing Scapeshift, which was a deck I liked, and did not Day 2. Sam Pardee won it all with Melira Pod featuring the new [ccProd]Voice of Resurgence[/ccProd], which was probably the best deck for the tournament:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Forest
3 Gavony Township
1 Godless Shrine
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Overgrown Tomb
3 Razorverge Thicket
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden
4 Verdant Catacombs
1 Woodland Cemetery
4 Birds of Paradise
1 Cartel Aristocrat
3 Deathrite Shaman
1 Eternal Witness
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
2 Murderous Redcap
1 Orzhov Pontiff
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Reveillark
1 Spellskite
2 Viscera Seer
2 Voice of Resurgence
1 Wall of Roots
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Birthing Pod
3 Chord of Calling
Sideboard
1 Aven Mindcensor
2 Dismember
1 Harmonic Sliver
3 Lingering Souls
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Shriekmaw
4 Thoughtseize
1 Voice of Resurgence[/deck]

Melira Pod would go on to be the best deck for several more Modern tournaments, until people eventually started to adapt to it. GP Portland also featured the epic, “And, in 8th place, with 37 points, David Shiels!” *clap clap*. “Oh wait, nevermind, he’s 9th place. 8th place is Joe Demestrio.” This feat was repeated two weeks ago when Robert Jurkovich was announced 8th but had, in fact, finished 23rd.

We went straight to San Diego from Portland, with the intention of getting a big room and setting up a play area, but it turned out they couldn’t get tables in there, so they just gave us the conference room, which was sweet. We tested a lot more and ultimately came to the conclusion that the best deck was, well, Esper. At least most of us did; some people ended up playing Junk *cough* Kibler *cough*, and Josh, Ben, and Patrick Sullivan (our addition for that tournament) played Boros. This is what we played:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Aetherling
3 Sin Collector
3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Syncopate
1 Psychic Strike
2 Detention Sphere
4 Azorius Charm
4 Far Away
1 Devour Flesh
4 Azorius Guildgate
2 Orzhov Guildgate
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Watery Grave
4 Godless Shrine
4 Island
3 Plains
2 Swamp
Sideboard
2 Nightveil Specter
1 Underworld Connections
1 Sin Collector
1 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
3 Precinct Captain
2 Dispel
1 Psychic Strike
1 Angel of Serenity
1 Merciless Eviction[/deck]

PT San Diego was by far the most important tournament of the year, since it was my last shot to get Platinum or even Gold. Since I’d become a professional player, in 2006, I had hit the important level (the one that pays your plane tickets—very crucial if you’re from Brazil) every year. There were years in which I didn’t think I was going to, but a nice finish in the last PT always came through and it worked out, and I was hoping it would work out again. In fact, I was sure it’d work out again. Why wouldn’t it?

It didn’t. I started 3-0 in draft, which made me think this was maybe the tournament where I’d do well again, because draft was certainly the toughest part. Unfortunately, I then lost three in a row in Block and it all went downhill from there. I think our deck was very very good, perhaps the best deck in the tournament (tied with all other good Esper lists, I suppose), and our win percentage reflected that (around 70% overall), but I was the sole person to do badly with it. I’m not sure why—I don’t think there is one reason, I don’t think I played badly, and I certainly don’t think the deck was bad. I Day 2’d, but at 4-4, and in the end fell short of my goals for the first time in my life.

At that point, I was devastated. I didn’t really know what to do—I’d always been a Magic player, but could I be a professional Magic player if I wasn’t at least Gold? Could I even afford it? I’m sure you’re thinking I’m too melodramatic (I kind of am), since everyone has bad breaks in their lives and has to deal with it like a normal person, but Magic had been my job for all of my life, and then, all of a sudden, I felt like I had just gotten fired.

It wasn’t for no reason—I wasn’t doing well—but I couldn’t pinpoint the reasons that led to my not doing well. Imagine you’re a renowned cook, and you’ve been doing it for most of your life, and then all of a sudden your dishes start tasting badly. You aren’t doing anything different, you don’t know how to fix it, you just can’t produce a good dish anymore and you have no perspective of being able to ever again, since you don’t know what is wrong. You’re fired, and you understand why, but what do you do now? You don’t actually know anything else!

I started thinking on explanations for why I had done so badly for so long, and whether I thought that would continue—had I just become a bad player? It was possible. But how does someone just get worse? You can stagnate, sure, but it didn’t feel like I was doing that, and it certainly didn’t feel like everyone around me was improving greatly. I knew I wasn’t playing perfectly, I definitely wasn’t playing as well as I had before, but I was still pretty good, still better than the great majority of the people I played against or watched playing, because my strong point has always been a deep understanding of the game and that never really went away. Rather than putting myself in the top 10 players, I’d put myself, say, in the top 30 or top 50—still much better than my results that year would indicate.

Maybe I was getting old? I was 25! Maybe I was just very unlucky? That’s possible, but it’s a very long period of time, of what is theoretically a very good player, doing very badly, for it to be all blamed on luck. Good people doing well all around me didn’t help my case that the game was becoming more luck-based, either.

I was disheartened, upset about the game, and seriously considered just quitting, because I didn’t want to commit so much to something, materially and emotionally, if I just wasn’t good enough anymore. I didn’t want to commit to something that would leave me this devastated every time it broke badly, and that could break badly at any moment—maybe I could just try to do something else with my life. Rich Hagon was right. Losing affected me too deeply, it hurt me too much. Even if I know I can’t control all of it (and believe me, I know), it didn’t make me feel any better, and how do you stop feeling badly? I didn’t seem to be able to do it on command.

How can someone who is so emotionally fragile as me, who gets affected so much by setbacks, dedicate so much time and effort to a game where the outcome is uncertain, no matter what you do? What was I thinking? At that time, I thought it was a wonder I hadn’t gone crazy years before.

I spent most of the rest of the tournament moping around, barely registering that Josh had become the Player of the Year by Top 8’ing, even though he lost a matchup he could almost never win against Craig Wescoe’s 4 Unflinching Courage, 4 Trostani GW deck. I was happy for Josh—he had been on an absolute tear throughout that season, which marked the ninth year in a row that the Player of the Year award has been won by a Japanese or American player. Craig Wescoe’s build of GW was only the first deck with 4 [ccProd]Judge’s Familiar[/ccProd] to win the PT that year:

[deck]Main Deck
9 Forest
9 Plains
1 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Temple Garden
4 Dryad Militant
4 Experiment One
4 Judge’s Familiar
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Voice of Resurgence
4 Advent of the Wurm
4 Call of the Conclave
1 Civic Saber
4 Rootborn Defenses
4 Selesnya Charm
Sideboard
2 Druid’s Deliverance
1 Gift of Orzhova
2 Glaring Spotlight
4 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
4 Unflinching Courage
2 Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage[/deck]

Wescoe’s deck was much more aggressive than your usual GW deck, containing a [ccProd]Civic Saber[/ccProd] of all things. I think it was a good choice, but I was fully expecting him to lose to any version of Esper containing Blood Baron. Fortunately for him, Mihara’s multiple maindeck Blood Baron/Woodlot Crawler Esper deck did not make it to the finals, and he was able to dispatch his opponent running a more normal Esper build.

At some point they closed the venue, and people went to a nearby bar to continue drafting. I went with them at first, but quickly got tired of it and went back to the hotel, with the intention of just lying in bed and letting my sorrow consume me (told you I was melodramatic). Then, everything changed when the fire nation attacked I ran into Lauren Lee on my way back to the hotel, and she said some people were going to play some games by the pool and asked if I wanted to come. I said sure, sounds like fun, and we went.

“Some people” turned out to be an understatement, as what started with five or six ended up with over twenty, some my good friends, some I had never met, and an epic game of Werewolf, “DM’d” by Patrick Chapin, with multiple different roles (since, you know, twenty people is a lot) in which I happened to be the Medic (Doctor? Angel? Guardian? Whatever you call it, the person who saves lives. You’re welcome, Amanda).

We chatted and played more through the night, and I was reminded that doing well in tournaments, money, Pro Points, are not the only reason I play Magic. I really like the people, the moments, the experiences. When the tournament is happening I’m very tense and it’s all I care about, but after it’s done I always have some of the most fun in my life, be it playing games, going to dinner, singing Mulan and Aladdin at Karaoke, scuba diving in Hawaii, visiting a volcano, snow rafting, or just hanging out doing nothing in particular. I realized having friends from all over the world, whom I get to hang out with in a different continents, is a big part of my life, is part of what I’ve constructed for me throughout the years, and I wasn’t ready to give up on moments like those, on friends that I like so much, not yet.

So I decided to give myself a second shot at playing Magic professionally—I’d try for another year and we’d see what would happen then. It’s possible that, at the end of the season, I realize I’m still not doing well and I actually need to find a different job, and then I’ll do it, but I like playing Magic professionally too much to not give it another chance.

I’m going to leave you here, since this is already pretty big, but next week I’ll finish the recap of my year and I’m also going to hand out some awards for my picks for the best player of the year, best card of the year, best deck, and so on. If you have any suggestions on something you’d like “awarded,” let me know in the comments!

See you next week,

PV