I recently participated in Pro Tour Prague. If you are a fan of the game, and by reading this website you demonstrate you are, you have already read the coverage of the event. If you are wondering how I did, and if that determines whether you should read this article or not, I’ll save you the time: I finished 399th. So if all you want is the tech in drafting RGD so that you’ll be a MTGO stud and embarrass your friends, go look somewhere else. What I’ll be writing about is the experience of going to a PT. I have stated earlier that I’m a fan, that I know not how to play Magic well and that I wish there was a way for me to learn. That aside, I did win a trip to Europe by tapping little pieces of cardboard, so there!
My goals for the trip:
1 Have a good time
2. Get some cards signed.
3. Enjoy a peek at the pro lifestyle.
4. Make Day 2.
I didn’t make Day 2, but I’m going full speed for the other goals.
***END OF SPOILER ALERT***
Right now I’m in Cesky Krumlov, a beautiful town in the south of the Czech Republic that looks like you just walked into the 1600’s, traveling on Wizard’s dime. They have a castle, old buildings, a river that cuts through the heart of the city in a winding S shape, and the apparently obligatory throng of tourists. How am I spending my time? Glad you asked. I’m doing what one does in the Czech Republic: drink beer and watch people go by. If you find the quality of my article deteriorating as it progresses, you can just blame it on the quality of the Pilsner.
A bit of an aside, as if anything I’ve written is on track: I own the Globetrotters Hostel, in Costa Rica, so I recognize well run accommodations when I see them. I have to say I have been greatly pleased with the trip. Both Old Prague Hostel in Prague and Merlin Hostel in Cesky Krumlov have been clean, moderately priced, and overall nice. Two thumbs up.
I left Costa Rica, on Tuesday at 1pm, to get to Prague on Wednesday at 4:30 pm. In reality I didn’t have to travel over 27 hours. Costa Rica is eight hours behind the Czech Republic, so it was only 19. How is this relevant, you ask? You’ll have to read ahead or you can just Ctrl-F the words “jet lag” if you are that impatient.
Once in Prague I met some Brazilians on the bus from the airport to the city. I quickly realized they were going to the PT and moseyed on down. Spotting them was easy. Two young, geeky looking travelers that where speaking about “blah blah blah (insert random Portuguese) blah blah blha boosters blah blah blah”. Obviously Magic players. One of them, Paolo Vitor Da Rosa got a featured match versus Ruel and ended up 30th overall, so he is qualified for Japan. He went to Prague by ending up top 32 in Hawaii and paying for the trip out of his own pocket. After the event, I asked him if he was going to PT Kobe and he said he doubted it, traveling there was going to be prohibitively expensive. This was a comment repeated by a few of the Pros I talked to. Once you are qualified you cannot go to a PTQ, so the pros can’t compete for tickets… they have to change that. Once they started offering airfare to the winner of a PTQ, the old format stopped making sense. Sure, PTQs should have a winner going to the PT that wasn’t previously qualified, but if winner is qualified it should be the next highest ranked finisher. I know PT Kobe will have fewer pros just because travel costs will be outside the range of many.
Wizards had set up a nice night of events for the Pros coming in. Dinner was held at a pub, and musical entertainment was provided. I’m telling you, you have not lived if you have not enjoyed a polka band playing covers from popular pop/rock songs. It was awesome. No other way of expressing it. Get down polka lady!
Get down! Jungle Boogie.
In addition to the meal and the music, the organizers provided us each with a draft set. Who would have thought that Magic players would enjoy a casual draft? Sitting at a table full of strangers and holding an impromptu draft was the best part of the evening. I managed to keep in contact some of the guys from that dinner all throughout the weekend. Asking how they did during the PT and joining them for chats. At the end of the PT we agreed to keep in contact if we could. Did we exchange emails? No. Phone numbers? No. Physical addresses? No. We gave each other our MTGO nicks. Magic is it’s own little world.
I really want to point out what a brilliant idea the whole booster thing was. Some of the guys that play Magic are not exactly socialites, and are not as good making friends as other people. The draft made it go easier. Ice breaker extraordinaire for the awkward club.
After dinner I did manage to barn up to the Pros. I even have a picture to prove it. Here I am with some Dutch players. I’m the one wearing the Costa Rica Cap, the former World champion is the one with the distinct expression of boredom in his face. I imagine he just wanted me to stop harassing him. If he only knew that was the first of many encounters to come…
Guess which one of these doesn’t play magic well? Hint: I’m the one with the cap. Viva Costa Rica!
I get to the venue early and manage to walk around for a while taking in the sights. I talk to some of the guys, and proceed to call Martin Dingler Ben Goodman. Way to make an impression. We then proceed to draft, and I notice Geoffrey Siron in my pod. This is not going to end well, I think to myself. This guy is good. I draft and build my deck, still hoping for Day 2. It is not the most solid deck in the world, but it has some creatures, removal, and a couple of tricks. I figure I have a shot to go 2-1 or 1-2, and thus keep my dream of making Day 2 alive. I go on to meet Mike Thompson as my first match:
“First Pro Tour?” he asks me casually.
“Maybe my fifteenth.”
Awesome, I was about to get beat down severely. Needless to say I go down 2-0. My next match pits me against Ran Yang, a pleasant man from China. Lose that one too. I then eat it to Stanislav Cifka for my 0-3 start.
Way to shatter a dream, guys.
In my second pod, made up completely of 0-3 guys, I draft a ridiculous WBR bomb deck that holds, among others: Orzhov Guildmage, Gruul Guildmage, Brainspoil, Faith’s Fetters, 2 Rakdos Ickspitters, Odds / Ends, Rakdos Guildmage, Veteran Armorer, and an Angel of Despair thrown in there just for luck. I figured I could 3-0 this draft and keep some of my pride. Not gonna happen. Why? Jet Lag.
I get a bye for round 4, and just walk around aimlessly around for a while. By the time I get to sit down for round 5, my adrenaline from being at the PT has worn down. Many, many, many play mistakes later, I lose 2-1 to a former Swiss champion and check the Drop box in my report slip. I then proceed to the stands around the arena, where I instantly fall asleep for half an hour while sitting up.
The good news for my opponents is that I was easy pickings at the PT. In addition, as I promised, they get a free week’s stay in my hostel in Costa Rica. Hey, if Randy Buehler can throw out a challenge I’m allowed to as well.
The thing is, I think he actually won his.
As consolation, I got time to walk around talking to people at the event and got some of the cards I brought over signed. Terese Nielsen must have a pact with RnD. She has drawn so many tournament staples it is unfair. Guys were coming up to her with stacks an inch high to sign. Foils. “Can you please sign my playsets of Force of Will, Foil Life from the Loam, Foil Eternal Witness?” The other artists didn’t have quite as many tournament cards, so the lines for their signatures were significantly smaller. Ben Thompson said he has signed enough Thirst for Knowledges to last him a lifetime. Right ahead of me, in the line for signatures from Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai, there was a little kid just clutching a pile of cards from Ninth Edition. It looks like he just picked the dregs of a preconstructed deck and decided to head to the line. He gives them the cards and they tell him that they didn’t draw any of them. The kid looks crushed but our hero comes in to the rescue. I give him an Electrolyze, which he promptly gets signed. I swear I’m going to Heaven.
Side Draft Reporter
With nothing to do, I start walking around. I visit the Pro Lounge several times, just to see what is going on. As the day progresses I’m joined by more and more players who have lost the possibility of Day 2. I then notice something awesome. You know what professional Magic players do when they are no longer “working” at a Pro Tour?
They play Magic.
I’m not talking tournament style Magic, but rather the kind 13 year-olds play at lunch. Laughing, chatting, informal games full of ribbing and jokes. I have found my calling. I’m going to watch these guys play all weekend long.
How do the Pros draft for fun? For many of you this will be obvious, but bear with me. This came as complete news to me, being from the Magical backwater that is Costa Rica. They team up, usually 3-on-3 to do a draft. They seat themselves alternately X-Y-X-Y-X-Y in a regular drafting circle. Each player drafts his own deck. Consultation is allowed at all times, especially with onlookers. The Japanese in particular seemed to always draft as a team. You’d see them get very excited in an understated sort of way when looking at the picks… then they giggle, and draft. Rule bending is allowed at all times. Not only is table talk permitted, it is par for the course.
“I’m putting your pick right up front, don’t even look at it, just take it.”
“So this is the fifth signet I have drafted. I wonder what you are all going to be using for manafixing.”
“Blazing Archon making the rounds!”
“I really want to know WHAT you picked if you are sending this baby down the line.”
“We did it!” being chanted in a singsong voice.
Top 8 Table? Nah, side draft at a PT. Drafters: an American Pro, a Japanese Pro, Heezy, Hoaen, Nassif, Japanese Pro. Onlookers: The back of Jeroen Remie head, Kenji Tsumura, two Japanese Pros. At the end of the table is J Evan Dean looking goofy.
Once everybody has picked their decks, each team goes off by themselves to build. Again, informal all the way. I guess that after playing in the ritualized setting of a PT, just leaving your cards with a teammate and saying “I’m going for food. I have no idea what I drafted or how to make a deck out of it. By the time I’m back you will have built the deck, okay?” is rather refreshing.
No English? No problem. Richard Hoaen gets respect from players all over the world. Just for a feel of the international flavor of a PT: 3 Japanese, 1 Dutch, 1 American, all building together.
After all six decks have been pushed together one way or another, the teams play each other round robin fashion. Each player has three matches (best two out of three) against all opponents from the other team, and the group that racks up five wins or more takes the prize.
During these games the informal atmosphere prevails, and that makes it an incredibly entertaining event.
“So I attack with my guy”
“I give mine the ability to block flying”
“Okay, no attack then”
This was between Julien Nuijten and Quentin Martin on Sunday afternoon:
“Hey Top 8 boy, you gonna block?”
“Let me see… can I look at the top card of my library before I decide?”
Julien just looks stunned. Quentin takes this for a yes, sees the top of his pile, and says:
“Oh yeah, I’m definitely blocking.”
What are those guys playing? None of us is in Black, does that mean they are all playing Black?
How enthusiastic are the Pros about drafts? On Saturday night they kicked us out of the arena (as they did every night) to one inconvenience… a draft was currently 4-4 and the result depended on game 3 being played right there. Solution? Pick up the cards in order and move the game outside. This was the setup for a circle of Pros surrounding two guys playing a game at 11:55 pm on the subway station floor when the last train was at midnight. Was this a quiet game? No way.
Yup, never a dull day or night.
Rather than go through the play by play of the countless drafts I witnessed, I’m just going to give some of the general impressions of the games and what happened there:
I loved to see that the level of respect displayed depended on the skill of Magic player. Age, nationality, standings, it didn’t matter. Sure, Julien looks like he is 13, but 30-year-old players consult him on what he thinks is a good pick. He showed up halfway through the first booster of a draft that Billy Moreno was in, and set him up with a killer deck. Four Blind Hunters, one Cloudstone Curio, plus some other assorted goodies for a strong WBR deck practically guaranteed that his team started out ahead 3-0.
The Japanese get respect. Even if no other communication occurs with one of these guys, getting whipped by one of them in side drafts is still interesting. “Oh, so lucky. So lucky” seemed to follow every embarrassing moment of triumph. Don’t worry, Billy,” said StarWarsKid, “the skill is all on your side (chortle).” Billy Moreno lost 3-0. He went 2-0, and then lost another one just for fun. “So sorry, only 2-1,” apologized one of the Japanese pros to his American teammates after losing match number three. Slacker.
There is a real sense of community within the Pros. They see each other on a regular basis several times a year, and manage to bond through the cardboard monsters we all love. Day Three (Sunday) showed many guys arriving with bags, just waiting to go to the airport at the end of the PT. “See you in Charleston,” called out the Dutch players when saying goodbye to the Japanese. Come in, play, leave. Three days of intensive gaming with friends.
So who are some of the guys just hanging out over the area? Pretty much every pro not playing in the PT. By Sunday, that meant everybody minus eight. By Sunday afternoon, everybody minus four. After a while, everybody minus two. I’ll let you guess who the missing players were. (Note: After the PT, the winning trophy, and the player that came with it, were just sitting at the side drafts area… drafting). Here are some impressions on the players:
Craig Jones is an incredibly pleasant guy.
J Evan Dean is a genuinely funny guy, but what exactly does the J stand for? Must be something bad to want to hide your first name. I’m voting for Joanne. You know what his parents were thinking: why not just force and identity crisis on a kid, give him the Zephyr Spirit equivalent of a first name.
Billy Moreno is cool. Cool in an “I want to go out for a beer with this guy” kind of way.
Osyp is friendly… but only with other Pros. He is pretty standoffish to the rank and file. I imagine it comes with the territory.
StarWarsKid never shuts up. Never. Somebody should install an off button on this guy. He is a very good player, but he just doesn’t stop. On a draft SWK goes 2-1 with a three-color deck that splashes White as a fourth color for Blazing Archon. His sources for the color? Two plains, one Orzhov Basilica, one Silhana Starfletcher. Still manages to drop the bad-assed flyer on turn 7 twice, while his opponent just stares in disgust. “I have a pretty good deck,” comes the complaint, after losing to the lion with wings for a second time. “Yeah, but it just dies to Blazing Archon… on the splash”
I met Jeff Cunningham in a hotel after Sunday, when I was drafting with a couple of other guys. He says he will write report on either the PT, the Invitational, or both. I hope so, he is one of my favorite writers. [Mine too — Craig.]
Rich Hoaen is a genius. First pick Grave-Shell Scarab, second pick Signet, third pick Signet, fourth pick Signet, fifth pick Signet, sixth pick Signet… seventh pick something, eighth pick something, ninth pick foil Forest. I figured he is just playing to the gallery, since we are all looking in and laughing. When I walked around later, he had just won his first match. “We did it!”
Ben Goodman isn’t elfish… he is an elf. If the guy shaves, he would positively pass for a 13 year old in a play. He could be Peter Pan with no makeup.
The trip has been an outstanding success. I got to thank Randy Buehler for working on Magic… then asked him to sign my Skullclamp. Same thing for Devin Lowe. That bad boy goes straight on my wall.
I’d like to thank the people at Wizards. Prague in the spring was an excellent location. Sunny, full of things to do, and packed with wonderful people. If it hadn’t been for the ticket I won at the PTQ, I wouldn’t have come to Europe for the next decade at least.
There is a famous line in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta is explaining to Samuel L. Jackson that the differences that hit you while traveling are the small ones. Big things you expect, but little details that are slightly askew throw you off completely. He illustrates his point by talking about McDonald’s food, and what the French call it… for example, le Big Mac. Jackson then asks him about a Whopper, and Travolta admits he didn’t go into Burger King, and it hits you… with all the wonderful cuisine available in France, this bumpkin traveled all the way to Europe only to go to McDonalds. What an ignorant fool.
The problem is, the question remains: What do they call a Whopper?
I’m going to BK to find out.
expendibleone on MTGO
zoropoteame all over the world