The PTQ Experience: Part Two

Frank Skarren continues his debate with Anthony Lowry about Pro Tour Qualifiers by telling you why every aspiring player should want to attend them.

If you missed part one of this series by Anthony Lowry, be sure to check it out.

In his article, Anthony explained why he personally does not like to attend Pro Tour Qualifiers and what he thinks could be done to make them better. Today I’m going to tell you what makes PTQs great and why every aspiring player should want to attend them. For context, I have been playing Magic for eleven years and have been grinding PTQs for about the last three. I love Magic in all its forms, from the kitchen table to the Sunday stage.

The Pro Tour

Let’s kick things off with the obvious: I play in PTQs to qualify for the Pro Tour. As soon as I started playing Magic competitively, playing on the Pro Tour became a dream for me. What could be more awesome than playing the game I love on the biggest stage? You get to travel to amazing places, play with the best the game has to offer, and play for a large sum of money.

As a casual player, you might think, "Yeah, that would be pretty cool. But this is my hobby; I’m not going to go crazy just to play Magic in Valencia."  For competitive players, it is so much more than that. People like me look at Magic as a lot more than a game. I’ve invested a large amount of money, time, and brainpower trying to master this so-called children’s card game. Getting to play on the Pro Tour is something of a validation of these efforts.

My parents used to get on my case all the time. They didn’t understand why I was traveling around the East Coast every weekend with little to show for it when I could have been doing any number of things they saw as more productive. When they asked me how I did, "I won a whole booster box!" didn’t quite cut it. I just kept at it and progressively became a better player until one day I got to come home and say, "Well . . . I just won a ticket to Honolulu to play for $40,000 dollars." That helped them understand and begin to support what I was doing.

In the last few years, I’ve been to Honolulu, Barcelona, Montreal, San Diego, and Dublin to play in Pro Tours. I even get paid to write articles for the best Magic website in the world. It may have seemed like a crazy dream at the beginning, but with hard work and determination I’ve been making that dream a reality. And it all began with going to PTQs.


Winning a PTQ is no small feat, and it takes a lot more than luck to pull it off. As I said, it took me a long time of traveling around and improving my game before I actually managed to get it done. Therein lies another boon of playing in PTQs. You can only get so good at the game by playing at your local card store. Even if you get to a point where you win Friday Night Magic every week, it is nothing compared to the level of competition you will find at a PTQ. Players travel very far and put a lot of preparation into these tournaments. I’ve seen Constructed metagames be broken and have had some of the toughest Top 8 drafts of my life at various PTQs. If you are looking to take your game to the next level, PTQs are a great place to go.

One of the negatives people find in this is that along with fierce competition comes cutthroat, aggressive, and downright mean players. There’s a lot on the line, and some are looking to validate themselves by winning a PTQ. Because of this, you will play people who are willing to do anything (and I unfortunately mean anything) to try to get the win. They let the fact that only one person can win turn them into cold, self-serving individuals. Thankfully, these players aren’t nearly as prevalent as they used to be, and the PTQ scene is much nicer and accepting to inexperienced players. It gets even better as your move up the tournament hierarchy.

Just a few weeks ago in Dublin, I played against an opponent in the Constructed portion who was piloting a B/R/W Midrange deck against my scrappy R/B Aggro deck. During games 1 and 3, I needed to topdeck a burn spell to finish him off before he won the game the following turn, and both times I had a Lightning Strike on top. Did he flip the table? Did he call me a lucky scrub and insult my mother? Did he refuse to look at me and angrily sign the match slip before running away in a huff?

No. He said, "Well, you seem like a pretty nice guy, so I don’t mind losing to you. Good luck in the next round." We proceeded to have a nice conversation about where we came from before he shook my hand and walked away. In our chat, I found out that he qualified by winning a PTQ. There are a ton of players just like him at the PTQ level that play with a great amount of dignity and respect. As long as you treat people nicely and with the respect, they will normally do the same for you. Being humble in victory is just as important as being gracious in defeat.

I guarantee you that at any given PTQ you will meet a wide variety of people who come from every aspect of Magic. There will be a knowledgeable judge staff able to answer any rules question you might have. There will be a fair amount of veteran players who will be willing to help you with deckbuilding advice or tips on the current Limited format. Additionally, most tournament organizers these days are very professional and run their events smoothly.

As a final note on self-improvement, keep in mind it’s ok to go to a PTQ even if you don’t think you have the best chance of winning. You need to start somewhere, and the experience and growth you will gain as a player by attending will help put you in a position to do so down the line. Allowing yourself to learn and have fun even when you lose will make coming back to try again seem much more reasonable.

Friends, Friends, Friends

The journey is the destination. When it comes to PTQs no statement holds more truth. Whenever I find myself not qualified for the Pro Tour, it’s definitely a downer. However, there is an aspect to this that I actually look forward to. Traveling around playing Magic with my closest friends has been one of the best experiences of my life. Everything, from the car ride there to the dinner after, creates some of the best memories a guy could ask for. PTQs provide an incredible source of camaraderie between players that can’t be found elsewhere. Since missing the Top 25 in Dublin, I’ve been to two PTQs and both have been an absurd amount of fun. I wouldn’t be scheduled to go to six more in the next month if that weren’t the case.

It’s not only about the friends you bring along either. I’ve met some really incredible people in my time traveling around and have friends in states all along the East Coast thanks to PTQs. Magic truly has its own community, and it is a great community to be a part of. Nothing can bond people together more than giving everything they’ve got to accomplish a huge goal. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there while at an event like these. Magic players a lot more welcoming than they might first appear.

I’ve spent a good amount of time here talking about friendship and camaraderie, but I know what you’re thinking—there is only one winner at a PTQ. It’s the supposed reason normally hospitable people turn into demons bent on winning above all else. How can it turn out well when you have to battle against the very friends you’ve made when only one of you can come out on top?

Well, that’s the beauty of it all. I’ve watched some of my friends win PTQs and been happier for them than I would have been if I’d won myself. As long as you don’t turn into Machiavelli himself, it’s not that hard to get vicarious gratitude through watching friends win. The more you travel, the more friends you make. The more friends you make, the more friends you get to watch win PTQs. The more friends you make, the more people you have to support you when you lose and cheer you on when you win. I’ve gone to easily a dozen PTQs while qualified just to watch my friends play and cheer them on, and I had a blast every time.

The Grind

Before I make it out to be all roses and daisies, there are definitely negative aspects to PTQs. Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy. Be prepared to spend a lot of time in the car, lose a lot more than you win, and have some very sleepy Monday mornings at work. The real trick is learning how to balance it all. Letting the need to win consume you will make you bitter very fast and actually hurt your performance.

My first win came after I took a small break from the competitive side of the game. I was pretty down and out on my abilities until a good friend gave me a morale boost. A week later another friend of mine took me to a PTQ for my birthday, and I decided to give it another try. Sure, I wanted to win, but I was there more to have a good time and make some memories along the way. Oddly enough that’s when the win decided to come to me. It’s sort of funny like that.

Lowry makes a lot of great points in his article as well. The tables are very cramped, the prize structure is top heavy and unforgiving, and you will run into some less than reputable people along the way. I go to PTQs mostly for the things that surround them and not the actual event itself. The big prize, friendships, and stories are great, but it wouldn’t hurt if more work was put in to make the tournaments themselves more fun.

Wrap Up

If any semi-serious Magic player came to me and asked me if they should go to a PTQ, my short answer would be yes every time. It’s a great experience and creates a drive in people that is hard to find elsewhere. Any grinder worth their salt can tell you of something called "the fire."  The fire is basically a love of the game and competition so strong that neither hell nor high water will stop a player from going to PTQ after PTQ and trying to get that elusive win. There’s only one way to find out if you have the fire inside of you, and that’s to get out there and play.

If you don’t try, you’ll never know.