Ever since you qualified for your first Pro Tour a few months ago, you’ve been trembling with anticipation. This is it. Finally. Your first foray into the Pro Tour. You’ve been trying to make it to the big show for years, losing heartbreaking matches in Top 8 after Top 8. But that’s all behind you now.
You have vowed to do well enough in this event to chain into the next event. You have been testing with your local group as often as possible, and playing pick-up games on Magic-League — Magic Online doesn’t have the newest set yet — when you can find the time. You may not have the experience or the time to test you think that some of the pros have, but you have tried your hardest and have been winning the majority of your playtest games. You’re excited to see what the pros have cooked up — inevitably they will have worked for a long time on some amazing deck — but you have found a lot out about the format in the time you had.
You have the metagame mostly figured out. There isn’t a lot of combo, or at least not good combo decks. The midrange decks are too swingy and situational, having to rely on drawing the right half of your deck in either match you play. The beatdown decks are fast, but you think people won’t underestimate them and will be prepared. You’ve decided to play a smooth three-color control deck, and have modified it to beat the aggressive decks to have a plethora of maindeck answers. You are going to have dead cards in control mirrors, but that’s okay because the same is going to be true for them.
The Limited portion is where you are a little concerned, but you have been drafting twice a week in addition to your Constructed testing. You haven’t played a lot with the new set in the block, but you have a good grasp on the basic pick orders and have drafted the other packs in the block a ton.
Your deck is built. You have all of the cards. You’ve playetsted as much as you can. You’re as ready as you’re going to be.
The week finally arrives. You fly in Thursday afternoon. It’s a long flight, but fortunately you’re not alone: two local players are on the flight too, and, after convincing people in three separate rows to trade seats, you all sit next to each other get in some games. It’s two guys you have been testing with, and, similar to your other playtesting, you win the majority of the games on the flight. Finally, you touch down and head to your hotel.
You’re staying alone at the hotel connected to the site, and so you drop your bags off and saunter over to the event site to see what’s going on.
The grinder is just getting underway. Nothing much to see there; it’s a different format than the Pro Tour.
More interesting to you, though, are what the pros are up to. You see a swarm of Japanese hovering over the dealer tables, buying cards and haggling. Paulo and the other Brazilians are watching their friends play in the grinders. Luis Scott-Vargas, Gabe Walls, and Gerry Thompson are team drafting against the Ruel Brothers and Raph Levy for 200 matchsticks a person. It’s boggling the number of professional players around you in one place; it’s unlike anything you have experienced before. But despite how they are all partaking separate activities, at one point or another, between drafts, you see them all doing one of two things: asking other pros for a good decklist to play tomorrow, or asking to borrow cards.
Multiple level five pro players rush past you, asking for chase rares and unplayable commons alike. Many of them aren’t prepared at all! Not only are they missing cards, but you can tell several have barely even playtested. They are huddled in corners gossiping about decks and the few players who have played a lot of games are explaining to others how the format works and handing them decklists they’ve spent weeks on. At one point, Gerrard Fabiano even comes rushing up to you asking for a decklist! He doesn’t even know you, and you politely decline as he races off to his next target.
Fortunately, in this gigantic convergence of pro players, there are a few that you know. Adam Yurchick recognizes you from a few past events and comes up to say hi, before asking for cards. You’re more than happy to provide Adam with cards as you have done so in the past, because he’s kind, fun to be around, and always gets your cards back to you. He invites you come eat at the player party with a few friends of his: Owen Turtenwald, AJ Sacher, Rashad Miller, Ben Swartz, and Matt “Cheeks” Hansen. You accept, and word of the table quickly spirals out of control. Before you know it, you’re registered, handed your t-shirt, and stuffed in with 11 other people you don’t personally know at the party.
The conversation is lively and starts with cheating in Magic, then moves to whether Pirates of the Caribbean can be considered a good trilogy of movies, then to how terrible the fourth Indiana Jones movie was, then to reminiscing to bad beat stories from the Grand Prix last week, before finally moving onto the topic of the Pro Tour. It’s just as you suspected: a lot of pros have no idea what’s going on. The players you always thought spent weeks preparing put it all together at the last minute. You watch as Brad Nelson educates the better half of the table of what decks exist and why certain sideboard cards don’t work.
Eventually the conversation moves to trying to figure out what deck the Japanese players are playing, and then the group parts ways and Adam invites you back to his hotel room. You tag along and go with him, only to see something you have never seen in your life: eight people crammed into one hotel room. It’s a mess. “Housekeeping refused to clean it,” said Adam with a laugh. Cards cover every inch of the floor, and the comforters have been stripped off of the two mattresses to make makeshift beds in the area between the mattress and the wall. Empty soda cans line the TV cabinet and pizza boxes lie underneath the table, which is placed between the two beds as a way to playtest. It was more surreal than a murder scene.
You swallow your initial impression and talk with everybody there for a little while, before going back to your room at the hotel, glad to be in a room by yourself. You sleeve up your deck in fresh sleeves for the morning, and go to bed.
You rise two hours prior to the first round to shower and eat a full breakfast, then head down to the site. You look for Adam, and find he’s too busy scurrying around trying to find the cards you didn’t have to lend him. Ah well. Before you know it, the player meeting happens, they take your decklist, and round 1 pairings are up!
You look across from your name and see something that causes your eyes to widen. You versus Yuuya Watanabe at table one.
You sit down and greet him with a universal dipping of your head, and begin to shuffle up for the first game. Nervous enough, no sooner have you lost the dice roll and began to shuffle each others deck than you hear the call of “judge!” from Yuuya. Apparently some of your sleeves are a slightly different size and you hadn’t noticed. The judge takes your deck away from the table and you’re left worrying if your first round at the Pro Tour will begin with a game loss. With the language barrier, there’s no room for small talk. You wait. And wait. And wait. You listen to the noises of games around you. Tap. Tap. Tap. Shuffle. Shuffle. Shuffle. People talking with accents that are hard to understand. You try and block it all out as shivers course through your body like venom. Eventually the judge comes back and says there is no pattern, but to change your sleeves after the first round. You nod yes, reshuffle, and the game begins.
You keep your seven, as does Yuuya. He’s playing a U/B control deck, and you take game 1 despite having so many dead cards in your hand. You sideboard out all of your removal spells for control strategies, and he mulligans to five for the second game. Success! You’re going to win this one!
Four turns into the game, and you haven’t seen a land. Yuuya has a counterspell on the fundamental turn of the game, and you move to game 3. This time you mulligan once, he has a better draw, and you are never really in it.
That’s it then. Your first round of the Pro Tour. Lost. But there’s no time to dwell on that. As a control deck, pairings for the next round are almost up.
Round 2 you’re up against an Australian with a three-card combo deck. Fortunately, he has minimal disruption and you roll him in two fairly fast games. You breath a sigh of relief. Now there was no chance of going 0-8 your first Pro Tour.
You manage to catch up with Adam between rounds. He’s 2-0. You guys talk abut your matches so far, and then the third round starts.
You play against Mark Herberholz this round. He’s playing the beatdown deck of the format, which fortunately you tuned your deck to beat. You have a very positive matchup. Somehow, though you lose in two games. You can’t figure out why. Everything went according to plan, he just had more reach than your stock lists had, and some different creatures that what you were playing against which were harder to beat with your removal spells. You go find Adam, who is now 3-0, for consolation. He shrugs and says, “It happens. Playtesting is overrated, nobody ever plays the same decks you playtest against.” Before you know it, round 4 is up.
You have to face another name player. This round, you’re facing down Ben Stark. He’s playing a midrange deck, and though you have some nerves, you take him down 2-1.
Afterwards you meet up with Adam, and you mention how you’ve faced three name players this tournaments. He laughs. “What did you expect? This is the Pro Tour.”
The next round, you play against a player you don’t recognize. You cast a discard spell and look at his hand early on in the game to find he’s playing a deck similar to yours, only that in place of all his removal spells for Zoo he has cards which are better in control matchups. Game 1 is a nightmare, and while you manage to barely wrest game two due to a well-timed counterspell and some sloppy play on his part, he also manages to take game 3. You know he would have no chance versus any kind of beatdown deck. Oh well. Onto the draft portion!
You have to 3-0 the draft to make day 2, and you draft accordingly. People seem to value cards much differently in your draft pod than back home, and you end up with what you think is a sick G/R deck with six removal spells, a pump spell, and a smooth curve from two through six.
The first round of the draft you face an American from Nashville who is clearly a Constructed player. Of course, he’s also 2-3, so maybe he isn’t after all. Either way, his four color deck is poorly constructed and has chaff in it, and you easily take the match.
The second round you face a formidable opponent: Antoine Ruel. Game 1 he beats you with an aggressive U/W deck, and you can feel your tournament life swinging on ropes. Game two, you get a bit of a gift as he mulligans and is manascrewed. Game 3 comes down to a turn where you win if the top card of your library is your single pump spell, and lose if it isn’t… And it is! Antoine shakes your hand good game, and you move on with your momentum to the final round.
Round 3 of the draft you face none other than Conley Woods. Game 1 he only casts a single creature, and you just beat him down. Conley reaches for his sideboard, and game two he casts an unorthodox mix of spells. He has an army of walls and spells working synergistically you have never seen before, all the while he racing you with overpriced cards that grant evasion. You can’t get past his 10th and 11th pick walls, and you lose game 2. In the final game, it all comes down to having three turns to draw a removal spell. Turn 1… land. Turn 2… land. Turn 3…. A two-drop. You shake Conley’s hand as he takes the game and wish him good luck the next day. Your heart thuds into a dark pool at the bottom of your chest as you realize your run on the Pro Tour is over.
It’s 11pm and you’re exhausted. Adam, who is 8-1, invites you out to dinner, but you decline so you can have enough sleep to play well in the Sealed PTQ the next day.
You wake up groggy, beat up and exhausted, but drag yourself up to go PTQ. You receive a mediocre sealed deck and quickly end up 1-2. You’re tempted to go back to bed, but you hear last call for a Constructed GPT and, without thinking about it, sign up with the deck you played with at the Pro Tour. You lose the first round to another control deck which doesn’t have a good plan for beatdown, and drop at 0-1. Your heart just wasn’t in it, and you don’t want to slog through four more rounds. You should have never signed up.
Some of Adam’s friends invite you to a game of Catch Phrase, and you begin to halfheartedly play. Before you know it, you’re thoroughly embroiled in a heated game and all of the losses from the day have rolled off of your back like a quarter down your shirt. You spend the rest of the night playing Catch Phrase with pros you’ve never met, and getting to know them. Eventually you guys set aside the addicting blue disk and do a 3 on 3 draft, playing for the cards. You finally win some matches as your team smashes the other team 5-0, and you go to bed with a smile on your face and a couple chase rares in your pocket.
You wake up Sunday better rested than Saturday, and join the $3,000 draft challenge. Your first pod is pretty soft and you easily 3-1 it with R/G, your favorite archetype, losing only to a match where you were manascrewed twice. Your second pod looks to be much more difficult, but you open a red bomb and draft R/G again, 3-0ing against the American crew of Calosso Fuentes, Conrad Kolos, and Todd Anderson. The Top 8 is announced, and despite losing in your first pod, you make it into the Top 8 as the eighth seed, going all the way to your second tiebreaker!
The Top 8 draft feels like a Pro Tour top eight. It’s Bram Snepvangers, Marijn Lybaert, Carlos RomÃ£o, Shuuhei Nakamura, Josh Utter-Leyton, Sam Black, Olivier Ruel, and you. You have to face Shuuhei in the first round. You open a Black bomb and take it, hoping to overpower your opponents. You continue taking Black cards but the good ones dry up fast, and before you know it you’re in three different colors and your deck has no plan.
You get to deckbuilding and register your awkward deck. Shuuhei has a much better deck and dispatches you in two quick games, and you feel embarrassed to have played it against him. Gracious as ever, you shake hands and head out to pack. But not before Adam, fresh off of a Pro Tour semifinal finish, invites you to go out to dinner one more time.
You have another gigantic dinner with all kinds of topics. It starts with the Top 8 decks, then move to travel plans, Catch Phrase strategies, what are the top three board games of all time, what board game would be best to have on a deserted island, and, while waiting for he check, a contest to see who could make the best Magic haiku. The check came and the credit card game was played, which, fittingly enough, Adam won. You all laugh and Adam shrugs.
You say your goodbyes and grab the Magic Online names of the people you have met so you can talk to them in the future and head back to the hotel to pack up. You get a few hours of sleep, then go to the airport. You run into other Magic players at the airport, but this time none are on your flight. You board the plane and bid your first Pro Tour experience farewell. You think over the weekend and everything that happened. You may have not made Day 2, but you had a great time. You’re ready to go back. You begin to plan how you’re going to hit up the maximum number of PTQ’s. You’re going to prepare for the event. You’re going to network with other people, and then stay in their room so you can test before the event. And next time you make it to the Pro Tour, you’re going to win.
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else