Today I got my credit card bill in the mail and my jaw dropped. Did I really spend $2,000 for a
plane ticket to play in a Grand Prix? Apparently I did. On top of my $2,000 plane ticket to GP:
Brisbane I also have my plane ticket to PT: Valencia and my hotel room from GP: San Francisco
littering my unthinkably expensive bill.
Needless to say, playing in this tournament is a huge financial burden for me and I’m wondering:
Why am I dropping $2,000+ and traveling for 60+ hours round trip to play in a GP?
It’s really hard to make the decision that it’s time to go for the next level, be it playing in your
first tournament, buying your first set of Wrath of Gods, playing in your first PTQ, building your
first Extended deck, taking your first road trip to a PTQ, taking your first flight to a GP, deciding
to play in all the PTQs within driving distance, deciding to fly to all the GPs in your country,
deciding to play in every major tournament that you can conceivably attend, or literally attending
every major tournament in the world.
Deciding to play more Magic can be a really hard decision to make. Each step requires you to invest
huge amounts of time and money.
When I started to write this article I intended to emphasize this idea by making reference to
abstract, hypothetical situations in which a person is faced with some sort of dilemma on whether or
not they should play in any given tournament. Once I started writing this I realized that there was no
reason for me to make up hypothetical situations when I’ve been playing tournament Magic on a variety
of different levels for almost seven years.
I started playing when I was young (about 12), and I got bitten by the competitive bug the very first
time that I walked into Neutral Ground and found out that there was such a thing as “Magic
Tournaments” and that they “have a different one every day!” At the time, the big recurring event at
Neutral Ground was the Grudge Match qualifiers, a weekly standard event that qualified players for the
Grudge Match finals, an invitation only event with thousands (!) of dollars in prizes, the winner of
which faced the winner of the Your Move Games Grudge Match finals in a showdown for another thousand
I was hooked. A couple of weeks later, after what I considered to be some intense research on the
internet, I decided that U/W control with Blinding Angel was the deck for me. I walked into Neutral
Ground, bought my copy of the deck, then proceeded to play in every Grudge Match Qualifier for the
next 2 years.
During this time, even though I was playing Magic constantly I couldn’t imagine the idea of driving to
play in a PTQ. Of course this sentiment didn’t last too long, and by the time I was 14 I was going to
pretty much every PTQ within 5 hours driving distance.
I was fortunate enough to win a PTQ for PT: Amsterdam ‘04, when just a couple of months before I
hadn’t wanted to go “all the way to Detroit just to play in a Grand Prix.” Playing at PT: Amsterdam
really lit my competitive fire, it was my first Pro Tour, but I felt pretty good about my chances. I
started off 2-0, but then lost a close match to Mark Zadjner. The loss got me pretty rattled and I
proceeded to tank my next draft and lose 2 more straight. Even though I didn’t do well at that event,
I knew that this was something that I wanted to continue doing.
That season I flew and drove to a couple of GPs and despite having good day 1 finishes in a few, I
wasn’t able to so much as cash at any of them.
After this series of what I felt were poor finishes, I decided that I should scale back my
tournaments, instead focusing much of my gaming time on VS System. However, after a few months of that
I decided that, even though I was having a lot of success at VS System, I really just wanted to play
Magic and stopped playing VS at all.
During the 2005 season I managed to qualify for PT: Atlanta and PT: London. I did very well at PT:
Atlanta posting a personal record of 8-2-1 helping my team consisting of Paul Jordan and Mike Clair
post a 12th place finish.
In this tournament my personal results were:
Round 1: Cedric Phillips W
Round 2: Shouta Yasooka W
Round 3: Aaron Vanderbeek W
Round 4: Kenji Tsumura W
Round 5: Jelger Wiegersma W
Round 6: Tiago Chan L
Round 7: Kenji Tsumura L
Round 8: Zach Parker D
Round 9: Roel Heeswijk W
Round 10: Mike Thompson W
Round 11: Brandon Scheel W
At the time I didn’t realize how difficult my opponents were at that tournament, as many of them were
yet to fully establish themselves. Even though I didn’t really take it for much, looking back at PT:
Atlanta showed me that it was possible for me to achieve success at the Pro Tour level and helped to
inspire me to continue playing competitive Magic. While I’m sure I would have continued playing no
matter what, having a good finish under my belt helped give me confidence to continue shelling out
money to fly to tournaments including PT: London later that season.
PT: London was going very well for me at a number of points. I started the tournament off by 3-0ing my
first pod, but I then proceeded to drop my next 2 matches against eventual winner Geoffrey Siron and
2007 HOF inductee Nicolai Herzog. After starting 3-0 I found myself playing for Day 2. I was on
complete tilt at this point but I was somehow able to pull out the match, thus giving me a Day 2
berth. My third draft deck was sick: I had a very good R/B deck with Umezawa’s Jitte! I won my first 2
matches in this pod, but then lost a very close match to Antonino De Rosa. At this point I was 6-3 and
feeling pretty good about myself. My next pod was relatively easy, with the player that I most feared
playing against being Patrick Sullivan. I then drafted what was easily one of the best draft decks
I’ve ever had. I had U/W deck with all the U/W cards I could possibly hope for. And… you guessed it…
First round of the pod I was paired against Patrick Sullivan and I beat him in a Jitte powered
At this point I was 7-3, with a ridiculous deck and I had just beaten the best player in my pod. The
Top 8 was within reach, my deck was so good I might as well have been 9-3 already, then all that I had
to do was win a couple more matches. The way things had been running for me that weekend… of course
that was going to happen.
Then reality struck. I got far too excited and proceeded to lose my next four matches before receiving
a bye in the final round, leaving me in 81st place.
After this happened I felt miserable. I didn’t want to fly to any more tournaments, I was an absolute
failure, I had a sure thing and I blew it. I still went to PTQs and Nationals, of course, because I
still loved playing Magic, but I just didn’t have the competitive fire that drives a person to want to
win, and it really showed in my play.
A few months later the Legacy GP: Philly rolled around, and I obviously went because it was within
driving distance. I played a R/g/b beatdown deck and I finished Day 1 with a 7-1 record. I was
excited, I could smell a Top 8, I had a good deck and I was playing well. I was thinking this could be
my breakout tournament.
Things didn’t end up breaking my way, and I wound up finishing a match out of the money. Even though I
didn’t finish well, GP: Philly rekindled my competitive spirit, and I started really trying to qualify
again. I made the Top 8 of the first two PT: Prague qualifiers I played in, but I was unfortunately
unable to convert on either, losing in the semis of both. The day after that second PTQ I got my
wisdom teeth pulled and wound up just feeling absolutely miserable. I was in a ton of pain, I found
out I was allergic to Vicodin so I had to get by just on aspirin. Everyone that I talked to said I
should be fine in a couple of days, but I just couldn’t recover. For weeks, my face was completely
swollen and I felt miserable. Getting my wisdom teeth pulled caused me to miss almost the entire PTQ
season (which was far more upsetting to me then any physical discomfort I had to deal with). It wasn’t
until a few months later that I found out the reason why I had been laid up so long was because I had
caught the mumps (?!) from my dentist.
Must (be nice to get the mumps).
After I recovered from my condition I started working at Top8Magic, and my first responsibility was to
collect all of Flores’s articles for what would become Deckade. While I was collecting them, I read
every single one. This wound up helping my game immensely as I was able to really engage myself with
Magic and internalize a ton about Magic in a fairly short period of time.
I was able to put some of the skills that I had learnt from reading Mike’s articles to helping Mike
Flores, Paul Jordan, and myself qualify for PT: Charleston. Not long after I was able to win a PTQ for
PT: Kobe and I found myself for the first time ever qualified for multiple events at the same time.
PT: Charleston went pretty well for us. Our team went 9-5, Mike went 12-2-1 (!), and Paul and I both
went 8-5-1. But Charleston was unfortunately the biggest PT in history, with 500+ players, and they
let too many teams into Day 2 so our 9-5 record left us in 26th place, one spot out of the money.
I played a lot of Magic that summer and I really enjoyed myself. However, at the end of that summer I
started my first year at Sarah Lawrence College and I decided that Magic was going to take a back seat
for a little while.
I wasn’t playing much Magic that (academic) year, though I did make time to play in PT: Kobe, I was
playing with almost no practice and wound up finishing 1-3 and subsequently bombed out of the PTQ the
following day. Even though I didn’t do well at this tournament, I had a great time and the trip made
me sure that I wanted to keep Magic as a big part of my life. I just didn’t want to invest the time
required to succeed at major events at that moment.
Taking this break made me much, much better at Magic. The biggest weakness in my game, at the time,
was my inability to keep my cool. I would go on tilt whenever I made a mistake, or when I got too
excited, or when I lost a key match… It was a mess. I could play very good Magic to start the
tournament, but whenever I received my first big mental blemish (which could sometimes occur before I
had even lost a match in the tournament) I would start spiraling down.
At the end of my school year I flew to GP: Columbus for what I had planned would be the start of a
Magic intensive summer that would result in me qualifying for PT: Valencia. I was playing in GP:
Columbus completely cold, so I wasn’t expecting much. A couple of days before the tournament, Billy
Moreno gave me his Counterbalance Flash deck. The deck was simply amazing. I only had one bye going
into the tournament which, oddly, wound up being a blessing in disguise as I was able to learn how to
play my deck better during the early rounds of the event. I won the tournament with my only blemishes
being a loss in round 5 against my eventual finals opponent Owen Turtenwald and a draw in round 6 both
of which were caused because I literally didn’t know how my deck’s combo worked.
After this I had 8 PT points and was unable to PTQ. I went to GP: Montreal a few weeks later and
played a Mono Blue Pickles deck that was great for 56 cards. Unfortunately, the four cards that I had
wrong were Errant Ephemerons instead of Brine Elementals. I had been expecting a lot of Mono Red,
Teachings and Mono Blue, in which case I Believed Ephemeron would have been slightly better.
Unfortunately I played against 2 G/W decks and a G/U deck, and lost pretty badly against all of them.
So there I found myself with 8 PT points, unable to get a teammate on points for PT: San Diego. I was
bummed. I really wanted to have a chance to reach Level 3, this year but now it was looking like I was
going to have to Top 16 Valencia or make the Nationals team to do so.
I spent Sunday at the GP asking around to see if there were any Level 4+ people or people with ratings
invites who were looking for a teammate. After a lot of trying, and no success, I gave up. I began
asking people if they knew anyone who wanted to go to the PT to try to Grind into the Pro Tour with
me. I had made up my mind that I was going to try my hardest to qualify for this PT. I found a couple
of potential leads, but no definite teammates… and then I asked Antonino De Rosa if he knew anyone who
would want to play in the Grinders with me. He told me “No, I don’t know anyone who would want to play
in the grinders with you…” I got sad and started to thank him for thinking about it, but he didn’t
give me the chance “…but I do know that Dave Humpherys is looking for a teammate for the PT.” When I
heard this I literally did a dance of joy. It wasn’t a sure thing yet, but I had a fighting chance of
playing at PT: San Diego.
When I got home the first thing I did was I emailed Dave and asked him if he wanted to team with me
for the Pro Tour. I had never so much as exchanged ten words with Dave before this email, but there
was no way that I was going to give up this chance. Before Dave got back to me I booked my flight and
crossed my fingers. That night Dave gave me a call and told me yes, he would team with me! I was
ecstatic. I was once again drawing live to Level 3!
The only problem was that Dave hadn’t played in over a year and hadn’t seen a single card from TPF.
I gave Dave a call when I got into San Diego to ask him when he wanted to meet up to do some practice
drafts. We made plans to test the next day and he told me some good news “I’ve played with most of
these cards before, only they were in different colors then.”
The PT went pretty well. We started off 5-0 but then proceeded to drop our next five matches. The
fifth straight loss really got to me, but fortunately at just this time they rolled a container of
Haagen Dazs ice cream bars into the player’s lounge. I had two of them and I felt like a new man. I
bounced back, we 2-0ed our last pod and finished in 37th place good for a few hundred dollars and five
Pro Points, which are worth their weight in gold to me.
A few weeks ago I played in GP: San Francisco and finished in the Top 32 giving me two more Pro
I have some more stories from this year’s Nats and GP: San Francisco but I’ll save those for my next
So back to my initial question:
Why am I dropping $2,000+ and traveling for 60+ hours round trip to play in a GP?
The answer has a couple of different parts to it.
The first part is the technical, logical, economic reasoning justification for it
Right now I have fifteen Pro Points, while I am hoping that I will pick up at least the five points
that I need to reach Level 3 at Valencia this weekend I recognize that that might not happen, in which
case I would be willing to travel to the farthest corners of the globe to do what it takes to get me
to Level 3, which is exactly what I am going to be doing. And, if I do pick up five or more points
this weekend I want to put myself in a position to shoot for Level 4 this season, meaning that the
potential for points once again becomes very valuable to me as Level 4 is worth about $4,000 more than
I should also note that I expect Brisbane to be a relatively easy GP as Australian GPs have much
smaller attendances then the large, 600-1100 person, American GPs that I’m used to playing in (not to
mention the HUGE European GPs which regularly bring in 900+ players) additionally, Brisbane is also
the same weekend as the Invitational which knocks out some of the scariest players.
But the real reason is that I just really want to engage myself with Magic and the Pro Tour as much as
possible, and I feel that attending GP: Brisbane is an important step towards becoming as engaged with
the game as I would like to be.
I guess what it comes down to is that this is what I want to be doing with my life right now.
Gotta keep playing,
PS: What leaps are you making or thinking of making in your Magic career right now? Are there any big
leaps that you’ve made recently that you are proud of? Are there any leaps that you regret not making?