The Rise From Obscurity, Part 1

With my eligibility for the Hall of Fame looming, I’ve become a bit nostalgic about my Magic career. There are a lot of great memories, and I thought that there might be people out there interested to take a stroll down memory lane with me…

With my eligibility for the Hall of Fame looming, I have become a bit nostalgic about my Magic career. There are a lot of great memories and fun times,
and I thought that maybe, just maybe, there might be some people out there interested to take a stroll down memory lane with me, so I decided to write
this article. So here is my life in Magic. Some tournaments are omitted because sometimes funny sh*t just doesn’t happen—either that, or
alcohol killed my memory.

I learned how to play the game at age 11-12. Some friends in Boy Scouts taught me how to play on a weekend campout, and it was an instant addiction. As
soon as I got home, I went to the local hobby shop and bought a starter deck and some booster packs. Countless hours were spent reading and rereading
every card in my collection, trying to figure out the perfect brew.

Back then, it was approximately one-third lands and as many Serra Angels, Sengir Vampires, and Mahamoti Djinns that you could fit into a deck. Size was
not an issue, and decks under 100 cards made you appear to be too poor to find enough cards to make a proper brew. If cuts were to be made, lands
traditionally were the first to go; they just didn’t really do anything. Who wants to draw a land when you can see the fear instilled by a Sengir
Vampire? No one was scared staring down a few Swamps.

Naturally, since everyone adopted this deckbuilding strategy, we had very “liberal” mulligan rules. We encouraged some cards to be played,
like Howling Mine. Others were scorned and the subject of ridicule, like Armageddon and Wrath of God. People realized that those spells killed your
creatures and lands too, right?

Then there was always the joker who showed up with the burn deck and would Lightning Bolt and Fireball his way to a few “cheap” wins. That
didn’t sit well with the group so someone played the role of sheriff and came equipped with four Circle of Protection: Red to show him just how
much “fun” a burn deck can be. They learned their lesson real fast.

Dual lands, while getting mucho style points, were readily traded for the biggest creature around. The value of Moxes baffled me. I’ll save my 50
bones and just add another Island to my deck; you can keep that Mox Sapphire thank you very much! The stack didn’t exist, and the rules revolved
around whoever could argue the best.

Then it happened. My friend Steve Hamilton cast a Mesa Pegasus, Pearled Unicorn, Crusade, and Winter Orb on turns 2-4. Never before had I seen a 1/1
hit play that wasn’t a Nettling Imp or Royal Assassin. They had always been mocked by everyone, but Steve was immune to our insults and won game
after game, beating down with his little white men. He was the first in our group to discover the beatdown, and he was more than glad to pass the
information along, one lesson after another.

Even then, it was still considered embarrassing to lose to a three-mana 2/2 with no abilities, and we were all forced to rebuild our decks to prevent
any further loss of face. Enter the cheap removal spells and more lands.

This is how I got my Magical education. Taking my licks, making some changes, and coming back for more.

Around this time, I had also discovered girls; when not pursuing them, I often would take periodical breaks from Magic to hang out with friends playing
video games, D&D, or various sports. Magic always pulled me back in though. Getting my collection stolen on two separate occasions was also not
enough to keep me away. The game had a way of becoming a part of you: no matter how long you spent away from it, all it took was a friend pulling out a
deck at a sleepover or seeing a new set at the hobby shop to bring you back.

My first tournament was an Extended PTQ. The weapon of choice was an R/G beatdown deck featuring multiple X burn spells, Bolts, Giant Growths, cheap
creatures (including actual Grizzly Bears), and four of my favorite card—Blood Lust. Blood Lust! In my eyes, it was four damage in one card.
Giant Growth and Lightning Bolt were inferior, as they only did three. Sure, you needed a creature in play to use it, but obviously that wasn’t a
problem. Blood Lust was about as good as it got in a beatdown deck. I managed a record of 4-3. It was encouraging to post a better than .500 record at
my first tournament. However the most enjoyable moment came when I walked out into the lobby of the tournament site and overheard my last-round
opponent, who was in his mid-twenties, complain to his friend about losing to some kid who Blood Lusted his Birds of Paradise three turns in a row for
the win. Even back then, it was always about the moral victories and putting some dudes on life tilt.

Next up was a Sealed Deck PTQ. Sealed was the perfect format; everyone was on an equal footing. If you couldn’t afford to buy all the best cards for a
Constructed deck, it didn’t matter. Everyone got the same amount of starting product and built their deck from that. There was even a Cursed
Scroll in my pool! After a quick 2-4, the realization struck me that 14 lands might not have been enough.

Then in-between rounds, there was some dude frantically trying to convince everyone that Striped Bears was one of the best creatures in Type 1. He was
locking some dude out with Striped Bears, Tradewind Rider, and Wall of Roots. His turns were a flurry of bouncing, card drawing, and Scroll Racking; it
was quite something to watch. It always seemed like he wasn’t really doing much, but he was so confident and was running his mouth so much that
everyone watching knew who was going to win this game. Looking back, that kid was probably my first Magic idol.

After a break for a couple years, it was time for the next tournament. It was Monday night Type 2 at the local card shop. I convinced my buddy Joe
Durante to run it with me, since he was the only gamer I knew with a driver’s license. He went off to a 3-0 start, and I was 1-2, but we were going to
have to drop so that we could make it home by curfew. Round 4, I played against the Striped Bears kid from that tournament a couple years ago. It was
surprising to still recognize him, but he was still that same brash kid, a few years older and brimming with confidence.

I was bragging to him about how my buddy was undefeated, as I dropped turn 1 Dark RitualErg RaidersUnholy Strength on him. He just smiled and said,
“Erg Raiders?!? I like your style!”

He dropped an Island and a Mana Vault. In came four points to his face, and then I played a Black Knight. He played a Tolarian Academy and
approximately 15 spells, and the game was over. What a stupid deck he had. Why would Wizards even let a deck like that exist?

Even after suffering a disheartening loss at the hands of this joker, I still liked him. You could tell he was good, and it seemed like some of the
other gamers deferred to him. That was the first match I ever played against Patrick Chapin.

Monday night Type 2 became a mainstay. Every week, it was a constant battle to see whether I could stay to the finish and sneak in without my mom
knowing I broke curfew. Patrick, my new idol, was always there and was always helping everyone out with their decks. He never tried to tell you what
deck to play; he just made suggestions on what might improve your current brew. He kind of dropped out of the scene for a little while.

My mom still shuddered at the thought of me driving to another state for a PTQ, so I was left to hone my skills at the local tourneys. After a while, a
couple weekly Monday night Type 2 tournament wins came my way. It was nice to experience even that minor success.

The Pro Tour was such a pipedream back then. I would feverishly follow the coverage, developing favorite players who I would regularly follow. Jamie
Parke, Matt Linde, Ben Rubin, and Jon Finkel were all larger than life. Here were these young kids winning tens of thousands of dollars and traveling
the world. I think I idolized them because they were all the most similar to me. Young American kids in high school or college. It was a dream that
seemed unattainable yet possible. If them, then why not me? In some sort of way, those guys kept hope alive.

My mom finally relented and let me drive to PTQs, so I soon made those long Saturday morning treks with the likes of Aaron Breider, Brad Tinney, and
Doug Cole. So many PTQs ended in side drafts and heartbreak. Chapin came back to the scene and provided some help and guidance, but it was an uphill
battle. It took probably 15 PTQs before everything came together, and one ended with that ever-elusive blue envelope with my name on it.

Around this time, Thursday night gaming at EDT’s started up. It was an invite-only gaming session with the best in Michigan, and EDT would cook
dinner for everyone. I don’t know whether it was the food or gaming I looked forward to more. (Come on, guys; it was the gaming, but EDT is still
a damn good cook.) These weekly gaming sessions helped me make leaps and bounds in my game. There was a bunch of guys with Pro Tour experience: Andrew
Gravlin, Thom Willoughby, Aaron Breider, EDT, Chapin, and Bill Fleming. All of these guys were more than happy to teach me a few lessons the hard way.
Again, it was an uphill battle. These were the best in Michigan, and it took probably a year of going to these gaming nights week in and week out
before I was able to win an 8-man draft.

The first PTQ that I won was for PT Osaka. The weapon of choice was Kai’s Illusions Donate deck from PT New Orleans. Luckily this was before
everyone figured out Miracle Gro. My game was sharpening up, and the pipedreams of winning the Pro Tour were becoming more and more common. How much
better can the pros be than I am? At the end of the day, it was just lands and spells, and there were only so many plays possible. How hard could it be
to figure out the right one? It seemed impossible, but someone had to win it; so why not me? There was definitely a sliver of hope that was building

Then I played in the Pro Tour and got my face smashed in. It was Odyssey Block Constructed, and we had a solid Mono-Black deck, maybe 2-4 cards off of
the list that Top 8ed, but we audibled at the last second to some piece of sh*t U/G deck. God, that thing was horrible. It played Diligent Farmhand,
for the love of Christ. To this day, that deck still gives me nightmares.

The tournament was pretty fun though. Chris Benafel and Brett Shears got locked out of their hotel room and had to crash in ours one night. Since we
were already pretty full, Brett Shears decided to sleep in the closet. It just so happened that the closet had a motion-activated light in it, so every
time he rolled over in his sleep, it turned on. His eyes were all red and bloodshot the next morning, and he kept b****ing about someone turning the
light on over and over again in the middle of the night.

This was also the first time that I met Gabe Walls.

It was late night in the hotel lobby, and Andrew Gravlin and I were trying to find a third for a money draft vs. Chris Benafel, The Uncle Pete Leiher,
and Brett Shears. Andrew knew Gabe from the PTQ circuit and vouched for him, so we picked him up. It all came down to the last game of the last match
pitting one Gabe Walls vs. one Christian Benafel.

Gabe had a Cabal Torturer and a Whispering Shade in play with seven cards in his graveyard, including an Embolden. Chris was blue-green with no way in
his deck to kill the Torturer and only a Compulsion in play. He was drawing stone dead and was forced to toss creatures out just to be killed by the
Torturer so that he would take less damage from the Whispering Shade by tying up Gabe’s black mana.

His teammates were tired and begged him to concede, so they could just go to bed, but Chris refused.

Chris had just passed the turn, and Brett had pulled his wallet out and taken a $20 bill out of it and was handing it to Andrew when it happened. Chris
found his out. Gabe drew a Rancid Earth.

Have you ever been in a car accident? You know how time seems to slow down to a crawl, and you realize that something bad is about to happen, and there
is no way to avoid it, so you are just trapped for what seems like an eternity watching it unfold? Yeah this was exactly like that.

Gabe had a smirk on his face and happily tapped three mana and pointed the Rancid Earth at Chris’s Forest. Chris burst out laughing and scooped
Gabe’s Cabal Torturer and Whispering Shade and threw them in the bin; as this was happening, Brett Shears slowly pulled his $20 bill back, placed
it in his wallet, and put his wallet back in his pocket.

Andrew and I looked at each other in horror wondering if what we saw was really happening. Gabe started immediately backpedaling. He tried to flashback
his Embolden, thus removing threshold. Chris laughed in his face. He tried to pump his Whispering Shade. Chris laughed in his face. He even tried to take back the Rancid Earth. Chris laughed in his face. It may have been the most shameful begging I have ever seen in a Magic game. That was
how bad of a blowout it was. On top of all of that, Chris was able to untap and play two Werebears with threshold thanks to the Rancid Earth on his

Chris, knowing Andrew and I were broke, actually apologized as his team accepted our money. Even they were dumbfounded at what had just transpired.
Still to this day, I can’t really believe that it happened.

It’s like when you watch Rounders, and you hear “Holy sh*t! That’s one hell of an Elk!” You know Worm is about to f***
it all up, but you still hope somehow the movie will end differently. There’s absolutely no reason for him to stack the deck; why does he do it? He
just does.

That’s how I felt about Gabe playing that Rancid Earth. It was inexplicable; it just happened. Needless to say, he soon became known around the
Michigan gaming scene as “Rancid Earth” and “Indiana Stick.”

After scrubbing out and losing all of our money, EDT, Andy, and I all went sightseeing in Kyoto. I don’t really like Japan because the flight is
so brutal, but I must admit the sightseeing is amazing. Walking through all those gardens, temples, and shrines really took the edge off all those
harsh losses. Anyone else looking to get off of life tilt should try it as well.

My poor showing at my first Pro Tour just drove me to get better. I had to win and get back; there was no other choice. Around this time, I spent a
whole summer playing with Chapin. I drove 45 min 4-5 nights a week to play Magic with him. He was accommodating, but at a price. Often, he would force
me to do heads-up Chapin drafts vs. Aaron Breider before he would test relevant formats with me. Sometimes I would show up to his place, and some
friends wanted to party, and I found him in a less than lucid state.

(Side note: Chapin drafts are drafts with sets full of cards he’s created or sets made from random cards, much like a cube. However, often his “themes”
included things like having nothing over four casting cost, no creatures with power/toughness greater than two, or no removal spells, etc.)

All in all though, he was very helpful. To this day, I attribute this summer as the main reason that I made the jump from a strong PTQer to an emerging
star. The time he gave up to spend with me and hone my game, playing formats that he himself would never play, was nothing short of amazing. I
don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him for the help that he gave me in improving my game. When people ask pros how do they get better and the
pros answer, “play with people better than you,” take that to heart. I am living proof.

I qualified for my second Pro Tour during this summer. It was a team Pro Tour, and the format was Odyssey Block Limited. I teamed up with Andrew
Gravlin and Thom Willoughby. We had a real great chemistry; we all got along well, and there were rarely any arguments.

On our way to the PTQ, we stopped at a McDonalds so everyone could take a piss. I had been sleeping in the back seat and was still groggy when I woke
up. I walked into the bathroom and noticed that there were two urinals and a stall. Andrew walked into the stall, and Thom took the short kiddie
urinal. Mise; the normal-sized urinal was open to me. Maybe Thom was afraid Andy would drop a d and wanted to stay out of range of his noxious vapors.
Anyway, I took little heezy out and was about to pretend there was a five-alarm fire in this urinal and hose that b*tch down when I noticed that Andy’s
pissing was loud as hell. I could clearly hear the splatter.

Still groggy, I just brushed it off and thought nothing of it. Then my ankle felt a little tickle.

I looked down and saw that Andrew, that horrible rapscallion, was pissing under the stall wall and onto my foot. In a panic, I leapt backwards, d*** in
hand. Thom looked over his shoulder to see what the commotion was and then saw me standing behind him with d*** in hand. He started yelling, “Don’t
piss on me! Don’t piss on me!” Once he realized I was making a defensive maneuver rather than an offensive one, he just started laughing.

You see, Thom and Andy were old friends, and it became clear to me at this point that Thom hadn’t chosen the kiddie urinal out of the kindness of
his heart. He chose that one because it put him out of range of any Andy shenanigans. So I put my d*** away, ran over to the sink to wash my ankle off,
and then started hurling handfuls of water over the stall. After hurling enough to soothe my rage, I backed off, and we made our way to the PTQ.

We ended up winning the whole damn thing, and on the ride home, I was tormented by Thom and Andy proclaiming that pissing on me was good luck and that
Andy was going to have to do it again before the Pro Tour.

We were wildly successful in our testing for this format and literally did not lose a single team Rochester draft until the night before the Pro Tour.
I thought we were something like 23-0 at that point. We performed well in the Pro Tour itself, finishing in the top 20 to cash. We fell victim to
losses due to deck registration errors, getting savagely out-opened in a draft, and a misplay that I’m sure Andy will argue to this day was correct.

In fact, randomly about two years after the Pro Tour, Thom and Andy were at a party, and Thom just looked at Andy with this accusing look, and out of
nowhere, Andy said, “Engulfing Flames was the right play!”

To which Thom replied “No, obviously you Temporary Insanity there!”

I don’t think any of us will ever concede that one. I later found out that Andy did in fact go through with his promise and pissed on my RIW
Hobbies shirt that I wore all weekend. That f***er; however revenge is a dish best served cold.

Next up was Pro Tour Houston; the format was Extended. I qualified playing a U/G Standstill deck that was a ton of fun to play. To this day, I think it
might be top three on the list of decks I loved to play. Which is a real accomplishment because I’m pretty narcissistic and love to play my own brews,
and this deck was built by Max McGuffin. The brew was:

Again at PT Houston, Day Two was not in the cards. I played an Aluren deck made by Chapin, but none of us did well with it. My best memory of this
tournament was money drafting with EDT vs. Dave Williams and Neil Reeves. At one point in the deciding match, Dave Threatened EDT’s Nantuko Husk,
which resulted in EDT going into the tank for a good couple minutes, shrugging, saying “OK,” and pushing the Husk over to Dave. Neil was
shaking his head muttering, “I can’t believe I am losing to these guys.”

And a couple turns later, Dave was dead, and EDT and I were $20 richer. Everyone always talked about how Neil was one of the best drafters in the
world, but it’s hard to be impressed with a person who is handing you a twenty. That being said, Neil may be one of my favorite people that I’ve met
playing Magic, and I just wish that he had stayed around longer.

At the tournament, there was a little man wearing yellow baby Gap shorts who was incredibly loud. He would often point at a bad draw or awkward card
and start waving his hand under his nose and saying “peeee-yeeewwww” or “stiiiiinkkkkyyyy.” Immediately, he became a friend. He
became very happy when I adopted this form of card evaluation later in the weekend. That man was Lan D. Ho.

I went to GP New Orleans hoping to strike it big. I stayed in a hotel room with approximately ten gamers, and it was completely and utterly trashed.
There were pieces of food and empty Magic boosters everywhere.

The cleaning lady came in and lost her sh*t. She started yelling, and we had to pay her $20 to calm down and not get us kicked out. This did not result
in our room getting cleaned.

I started off this GP 2-0 after my three byes but went down 0-3 to miss Day Two. I learned not to draft with Dan Clegg at this tournament when during a
3v3, we had all four of our matches completed with the other four people before Clegg and his opponent were done with game one. We ended up just
agreeing to call it off.

I had my first interaction with Ben Rubin at this tournament, and my first thought was, “Damn, he has a big f***ing head” (literally not
figuratively). We were walking back to the tournament site from dinner. We were the only two not interested in boozing, so we ended up walking together
despite not really knowing each other. At one point, Ben looked at me and asked, “Do you wanna run back to the hotel?”

I told him no, and he responded with, “I have a feeling if I start running, you will follow me.” Then he took off running.

Now New Orleans isn’t the safest city in the world, so after seeing that he had no intent of stopping, and I had the option of risking getting
shanked or chasing after him, I chased after him.

For the team PTQ season, Andy and Thom weren’t really playing a lot anymore, and we were qualified on rating, so there was no point in our
playing anyway. As a result, I teamed up with Gabe Walls and his friend Seagal. Seagal was pretty stainy, and Gabe had redeemed himself from his Rancid
Earth fiasco.

Andy and Thom weren’t too happy that I kind of committed to going to the PT with Gabe and Seagal if we qualified, and in retrospect, I should
have just stuck with them. But 19-year-old kids don’t have a lot of tact in those matters.

At my house one night before a PTQ, Gabe was staying over, and it occurred to me that Gabe Walls sounded a lot like “Gay Balls.” Excited at
my newfound discovery, I asked him if he knew of the similarity. A profound look of sadness came over his face, and he said he found that one out at
the beginning of high school. You kind of felt bad for the guy after bringing up something like that, but that didn’t stop you from giggling
about it every time his name was mentioned. Turns out 19-year-old kids don’t have a lot of tact in those matters either.

We didn’t end up qualifying, so Andy and Thom and I teamed up again for the team PT in Boston. We didn’t end up making Day Two, but I did
exact my revenge on Andy on the ride there. We drove from Michigan to Boston, and at some rest stop in Canada, in the middle of the night I got my
shot. Andy had been sleeping before we stopped, so he was half-asleep and went into a bathroom stall to take a piss. I lagged behind a bit and quietly
slipped into the one next to him. I almost gave my intentions away because I couldn’t contain my giggling while undoing my pants. I managed to
carry out the deed and pissed on his foot under the stall door with a direct hit, to which he responded with a groggy, “What the hell?!?!”
I answered by screaming, “REVENGE IS A DISH BEST SERVED COLD!”

Around this time, Chapin was sent away, and we kept up our correspondence through handwritten letters. He was always eager to talk decks with me and
help me brew for upcoming tournaments even though he was at an informational disadvantage. He was occasionally able to make a phone call, and I would
always end up dropping everything I was doing to just talk to him about life, Magic, and girls. He was almost kind of like a therapist. I was probably
more open with him in my letters and our conversations than I ever have been with anyone else in my life. I guess I felt if I was going to the trouble
of writing letters, I might as well be completely genuine and honest in them. He always gave me very sound advice and was eager to hear about my latest
drunken shenanigans. When I sent him the stories on my livejournal, he said he almost fell out of his bed from laughing so hard. I felt bad that I was
only able to visit him once, and I didn’t write him more, but I think he understood that the allure of drinking with coeds or gaming was too much
for a man aged 19-23 to say no. To this day, I still have every letter that he wrote me saved in a folder.

I wasn’t able to qualify for another Pro Tour until PT New Orleans 2003. I Qed by Top 8ing Grand Prix Detroit. The format was Onslaught Block
Constructed, and this was my first real individual success. I remember testing my Rift/Slide deck a ton and really tuning the list. I also realized
that Stabilizer wasn’t even that good against me. After sideboarding, most decks couldn’t beat Silver Knight beatdowns. Still true to my
roots though, I cheated on the lands a bit and should have been playing 27; obviously it came back to bite me in the Top 8 vs. Eugene Harvey, and I got
mana-screwed in game three.

I had been making a lot of friends among the PT regulars, so I tried to mise my way into a playtest group now that Chapin was no longer available to
play with me. I had hoped that I could get in with the CMU-TOGIT guys, since I was friendly with them, but I got no-sirred. I was pretty distraught by
that, and I felt like I had worked really hard and was finally getting good, and now I was being held back by politics. To put it simply, it sucked.
Ken Krouner felt for me and tried to get me onto the list but to no avail. In the end he ended up shipping me his deck the night before the PT, but I
did poorly because I wasn’t able to practice with it.

At this Pro Tour, I also was able to meet one Gabriel Lillian Nassif. He was at the receiving end of a beatdown, compliments of yours truly, in a money
draft the night before the Pro Tour. I also mentioned that I had only drafted with Mirrodin a couple times for max rub-ins. We were paired in round one
or two of the PT, and I offered a 5% split with him. He said that he didn’t want to split this early, and I would probably beat him as I did in
the money draft. Of course he crushed me after misplaying in game 3—standard Nassif. I vowed to get revenge on that declined split by befriending
him and obtaining max value by bankrupting myself at every chance I could get, so he was forced to support me. All I gotta say is, should’ve taken the
split, Gabe. Â

Dan Cato, a fellow Michigander, finished 9th at this PT. For some time, I had considered myself the best player in Michigan, so his finish sparked some
jealousy in me. Why do I always lose, and he got to win? My pettiness at that age knew no bounds.

One of my best friends in college, Phil Atkin, managed to qualify for PT Amsterdam. I wasn’t qualified, but for some reason Kenny Hsuing bought
me a plane ticket to go even though he didn’t attend. I think he was drunk when he did it, but mise, free ticket. I helped Phil test for the PT,
and he finished 50th. I didn’t feel pettiness at this result and just felt happy that someone I cared about finished well and that I helped
contribute to his success. His family came along for a family vacation, and they were nice enough to let me sleep on their hotel room floor. The Atkins
are a good clan of people.

I qualified for PT Kobe, Mirrodin Block Constructed. I won a PTQ playing U/B Psychatog before the bannings of Tinker and such. Don’t ask me what
I was thinking. I don’t know. My deck was severely underpowered, but I figured playing blue spells would let me outplay people. I guess it

In the semifinals, I was playing vs. U/R Tinker, Osterberg’s deck from PT New Orleans, and I kept in one Force Spike just in case he nut-drew me, so I
could stop the turn 1 Mana Vault. Well obviously, I drew it on like turn 6, and it was useless. However my opponent tapped out to cast a Mindslaver
after trying to resolve another threat, which I countered. The play was horrible, since he had seen both Force Spike and Mana Leak from me in previous
games and should have just waited, but I just Spiked that Slaver right to the bin and laughed in his face, literally. I then told him I had only kept
in one Force Spike just in case and showed him the other three in my board while still laughing. I guess my mocking was too much for him, and he just
scooped his cards right there. My hand was just some lands.

I was what one might call a d*** back then. I managed to get on the CMU-TOGIT mailing list for this PT, but it didn’t help. We played a horrible
Affinity list with Scale and Tooth of Chiss-Goria. I convinced everyone to run a mix to keep people guessing. I guess if you have to run them,
it’s best to have a mix.

Memorable moments from this PT include playing against a Hall of Famer, who I shall not name, and his attacking me with his Arcbound Ravager. I blocked
with a Frogmite and pumped him up with double Tooth of Chiss-Goria. He sacrificed all but one tapped land and his Ravager to pump it up and then tried
to play a Scale of Chiss-Goria to save it. I informed him that the Scale now cost one mana to play, since he didn’t have enough artifacts for
affinity, and he was forced to sacrifice his last land to keep his Ravager alive.

He beat me about six turns later when I drew a bunch of lands, and he draw Vault of Whispers into running Disciple of the Vaults. Enh, you know what?
I’ll name the person; it was Gary Wise, that lucky bastard.

Another memorable moment was playing against Neil Reeves in a money draft in the hotel lobby; of course I was crushing him, when Paul Rietzl walked up,
hammered out of his mind. He started apologizing to Neil for beating him in the last round, to which Neil just shrugged and said something along the
lines of “don’t be sorry, someone had to win, etc.”

Then Paul said he sided out all but one of his Blinkmoth Nexuses against Neil, and Neil kind of lost it, saying, “Why did you have to tell me
that? That is your best card against me, and you sided it out. Why do you people beat me?”

The next morning on my way to the airport, I was waiting for a cab when Jelger Wiegersma walked out front of the hotel; he was about one hour late for
playing in the Top 8. Apparently he got into a drinking contest with Paul last night and overslept, so I shipped him my cab and took the next. I could
respect a man who likes to have a few drinks.

PT San Diego. The format was Mirrodin/Mirrodin/Darksteel Booster Draft. After I’d experienced so many heartbreaking losses at the PT, testing just
didn’t seem appealing anymore. All that buildup for the inevitable letdown was too much. Instead, the preparation for this event was just a few
MODO drafts, and I went into it with no expectations. If I didn’t make a solid finish, I thought it might be time to take time away from the game and
devote myself to school, as my grades had taken a serious dip as a result of my gaming.

But it wasn’t my time yet. I started off 1-2 and rattled off eleven straight wins to clinch my first Top 8 finish. Not only did I make Day 2, not
only did I cash, but I Top 8ed! I lost in the first round of Top 8 to Mike Turian. I still think my deck was better, but he nut-drew me 3-0 (still
bitter). After the match, Aaron Forsythe, the feature match reporter, said, “I’ve never seen an Arc-Slogger get cast so much and do so

The loss was disheartening, but the euphoria of making Top 8 greatly outweighed it. Before this PT, I offered Dave Williams 5% of my PT winnings for 1%
of his WSOP winnings, since he was going to play in the main event next weekend. He declined and was b*tching about not taking it after I Top 8ed.
Yeah, that turned out to be a real bad decision for him.

With the finish came validation and confidence. Top 8ing a Pro Tour is like an unseen hurdle. Before it happens, it seems almost impossible, especially
after all the disappointing finishes. After it happens, all the drafts, PTQs, playtest sessions—all of it becomes worth it. Not only that, but
the recognition that you gain from your peers and the newfound respect you command as a result are reaffirming. With the finish comes the realization
that you might just be that good at the game.

With this unseen barrier being broken, it didn’t prompt me to rest on my laurels and enjoy it; instead it drove me to try harder because it gave
me the newfound realization that maybe I could be one of the best in the game.