Arcane Teachings – Project Hollywood: Preseason

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Tom sketches out his schedule for the upcoming PTQ season, tells you why he is willing to travel so far to chase an invitation, and challenges you to do the same thing in pursuit of fun, personal improvement, and maybe even a ticket to Hollywood.

It’s almost time for PTQs to start again. I have the fire. I didn’t have the fire two weeks ago. What happened?

Sam Stoddard and I have had some conversations over the past few months about how we wish that Wizards would market PTQs differently. We feel like it is conveyed as though it were something for only a Truly Serious Magic Player to do, and that’s just not the case. Traveling for big tournaments is one of my favorite things in the world. You get in a car with a few good friends, have good chats during the drive, and spend a day with more good friends who you only get to see once every month or so. You even get to play tough games of Magic against good players. What’s not to love? We think this is a great marketing story and we know it’s not the story that Wizards has been telling, so we thought that we should try to tell it ourselves. Neither Sam Stoddard nor I were able to attend Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur, so we decided to take matters into our hands and do our own coverage of a PTQ in Columbus, Ohio on December 15 to see how we could tell the story differently. Tournament organizer Mike Guptil agreed to let us do it, so we showed up that morning with computers and a big idea.

That PTQ turned out very well for us. All of the area’s stars showed up; past and present national team members Mike Patnik and Michael Jacob, Worlds 2001 finalist Alex Borteh, and plenty of name Midwest-area players in Josh Wludyka, Mike Krumb, Adam Yurchick, DJ Kastner, Nick Eisel, and others. Sam and I both discovered that coverage reporting isn’t quite as easy as it seems; there are not many different verbs you can use to describe playing a spell, and it’s hard to turn a Limited game that degenerates into a giant topdecking stall into a coherent and compelling story. We did, however, learn a lot about how it all works and we think we could do a much better job in the future.

I was all business at the beginning of the day, but as I wrote about the titanic battles and dramatic moments that were going on, I started to feel something tugging at me. I eventually identified that as feelings of envy toward the players who were battling for the slot. It wasn’t supposed to be me watching- I was supposed to be in the mix. I wanted to fight again.

It also struck me how much fun everyone was having even if they were out of the tournament. The Pittsburgh guys who had dropped were side drafting. The Clevelanders were cubing with Gerry Thompson and having a blast. I took a picture of each of these things and walked off to continue writing. Multiple times during the day, I wanted to drop everything and just go draft because all of my awesome friends were having fun while I was writing up a random match.

I went into that day trying to sell the world on the idea that PTQs are unreal fun, but I must not have really believed that because, well, I didn’t play. By the end of the day, I regretted that and wished that I had played – I had sold the idea of the PTQ to myself.

Mike Belfatto also cornered me at the end of the day and delivered to me a message that I believe came directly from god/source/the universe/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. Mike is often flippant and crazy, but when he corners me and tries to talk to me seriously, he always has something extremely profound and important to say. The difference between Serious Mike and Fun Mike is so marked that I think that Serious Mike is what happens when Normal Mike is possessed by some kind of omniscient power. Anyway, a month ago I wrote in the StarCityGames forum that getting better at Limited was on my Fearless Magical Inventory. Mike walked up to me and point-blank told me that he was disappointed in my failure to play even though I couldn’t go to the Pro Tour. How was I going to get better, he asked, if I was not going to take my best chance to play against lots of good opponents? I had nothing to say for myself. Universe 1, Tom 0.

The end result of all of this is that I am ready to play in tons of tournaments for Hollywood. The information for all the PTQs is located here. Here’s my own schedule:

Project Hollywood

• 12/7: New York City (5-2, out after four rounds)
• 12/22: Winter King (8th, $75)
• 1/5: Garden City, Michigan
• 1/12: Cleveland, Ohio
• 1/13: Cleveland, Ohio (Mox tournament)
• 1/26: Louisville, Kentucky
• 2/9: Columbus, Ohio
• 2/16: Indianapolis, Indiana
• 2/23: Vancouver, Canada (Grand Prix)
• 3/1: Nashville, Tennessee
• 3/15: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Grand Prix)
• 3/22: Indianapolis, Indiana
• 3/29: Columbus, Ohio

I told you that I was going to play in a lot of tournaments, and I wasn’t kidding. Of course, this assumes that I don’t win an early one. If that happens, then I get to stop and that’s fine, but until I take one down you’ll see me at all of these places. This may look crazy, but then again, my belief in the awesomeness of the PTQ trip has returned. Tons of my friends will be at all of these events, I’ll get better at Magic by playing lots of matches against the best players in the area, and I’ll win a trip to California. You might look at this and say that I’m just doing it because I’m desperate to qualify. This is kind of true, but I would only be doing it if I thought the journey would be fun.

So I’m playing in tons of PTQs. That’s great. What about you? Well, I think you should too. Here are two reasons why:

You’ll get better.

The biggest thing holding most people who have Magic potential back is experience. Going to lots of PTQs will cure that quickly.

I think it is safe to say that most Magic players don’t play very often outside of their home stores, and while there isn’t anything wrong with that it can mean that they aren’t used to playing for comparatively high stakes. At your store, you might play the finals with six packs on the line. Have you ever played a match for the Top 8 of a hundred-player tournament? The winner gets a box and a chance to battle in the single elimination rounds; the loser goes home and gets nothing. Does that make you nervous? Will it affect your play? Can you handle when the crowd watches your Top 8 match? Sure, you can play for a box and not care, but what about when there’s a plane ticket to Japan on the line? What then? Playing in PTQs will put you in these situations, and you’ll learn about how you react to these situations, which you may never face regularly anywhere else in your life. If you want to be really good at Magic, you’ll need to actually get to the point where they don’t affect you, and you can only do that by being in lots of them.

I also know a pretty decent amount of people who I would describe as “local stars.” These guys win every local tournament at their store, and every once in a while when they go outside of their comfort zone, they meet other players who are as good as they are or better and don’t win as consistently. Then they go home again, and win more, but they don’t show much long term success. The only way that these guys are going to break out of that is to collect lots of good players and play them repeatedly, and the best way to do that is to go to tournaments where the prizes attract good people- say, PTQs. Otherwise, they’ll never find competition that will consistently challenge them to keep stretching and growing and they will continue to stagnate.

You’ll have fun and meet people.

Road trips are awesome. Playing Magic is awesome. Friends are awesome. Combine all of these things and you get an even bigger bundle of awesome. Meeting good players will also allow you to build a larger network that helps you get more information about things like deck selection and card evaluations.

If you don’t think that meeting people at PTQs is awesome, you might not be handling yourself properly there. Don’t hide in the corner cradling your decklist before the tournament starts; some of the people in the room are really good, and those are the people you need to meet so you can build your network. Go talk to people. Not everyone you meet at the tournament will be good, but you’ll quickly identify who is good, and the more people you know, the better. Even if someone isn’t good, that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun and worth knowing. It’s really hard for someone to be smart enough to want to play Magic and be a human being that has nothing to teach you, so be open-minded and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

If you end up not doing well, don’t leave immediately. You can still have fun, learn something, and meet good players. Look for people doing side drafts, and try to draft with them. I’m not talking about officially run eight-man drafts; I’m talking about team drafts For No Stakes Whatsoever, Especially Not Money. Overwhelmingly, the people you find doing that after a PTQ are the ones who are good, and playing with them will teach you something even if the tournament went badly. This will continue to help build connections, and will hopefully be enjoyable too. Team drafting is also great for making you less sensitive to pressure matches in real tournaments, so I highly recommend doing it at least a little bit. It may be rare that you play a pressure match in the main event that truly stretches you, but playing in an appropriate team draft will provide matches that challenge you almost every time.

There are a lot of PTQs.

If you’ve never taken a season seriously because there just haven’t been many opportunities to qualify, this season offers you no such excuse. My casual estimation shows that there are about twice as many American PTQs this season than there were last season; one can only assume that this is because the cost of plane tickets is lower. What this means for American readers is that this is the best chance you have had to qualify for a Constructed Pro Tour in a pretty long time. If you want to experience the Big Show, get out there and start battling.

You still have a week to get a head start on planning your own Project Hollywood. The schedule is here, and the first round of PTQ’s is on January 5. Find tournaments that are in driving distance, get the cards you need, fill up your car with friends so the drive is less expensive and more fun, and go on some road trips. You’ll have fun, you’ll learn a lot about Magic, and you might even win a trip to Hollywood.

Happy PTQing!

Tom LaPille

Special Bonus: For relatively obvious reasons, I thought that Beverly Hills by Weezer could make for a great theme song for this qualifier season, but then I read the lyrics and it’s actually incredibly depressing. Don’t take that song to heart unless you want to end the season without an invite. You don’t want to “watch the stars play” – you want to play against the stars and knock them out of the sky! Regardless, I was reminded of this wonderful little piece of parody and happily Anthony Avitollo, its author, gave me permission to reprint it here. If you spread this, credit him, because it is awesome.

Wooded Foothills
Adapted by Anthony Avitollo

My Boros deck isn’t all that great
The Selesnya deck is a piece of crap
Niv-Mizzet/Keen Sense is kinda whack
And my friends’ decks stink like rotten bleu cheese

My favorite deck has a clan called Gruul
But it never wins for me
Why should it, the mana sucks
There’s a land that should help things

Wooded FoothillsKird Ape is always two/three! (Red/Green Red/Green)
By sacking Wooded Foothills
Wooded FoothillsStomping Grounds or Taiga for me! (Red/Green Red/Green)
I want some Wooded Foothills

Look at all those dual-land cards
They all tap for a Red or Green
When the lands come into play
They fix the manabase, see?

I wanna play some lands like that
I wanna be just like Levy
Two colors in my pool
Help me win a GP!

Wooded FoothillsKird Ape is always two/three! (Red/Green Red/Green)
By sacking Wooded Foothills
Wooded FoothillsStomping Grounds or Taiga for me! (Red/Green Red/Green)
I need some Wooded Foothills

The truth is…I don’t stand a chance
It’s something you have to test for…
And my plays are too wrong…

No I don’t – I’m just a no-class, beatdown fool
And I will always be that way
I might as well enjoy my deck
Attack for two, yay!

Wooded FoothillsKird Ape is always two/three! (Red/Green Red/Green)
By sacking Wooded Foothills
Wooded FoothillsStomping Grounds or Taiga for me! (Red/Green Red/Green)
I got some Wooded Foothills

Wooded Foothills!
Wooded Foothills! Yeah!
Wooded Foothills!
I love Wooded Foothills!