You Lika The Juice? A Lost Interview With Thomas Ma!

Friday, September 17th – Who was Thomas Ma, and how would it feel to be forever linked to such a strong list of Pro players at Amsterdam? I had to know!

When I first saw preview commercials for the TV show

, I just knew it was going to be a show I wanted to see. Unfortunately I was working a lot of evenings at the time, and the best I could do was program our ancient VCR, cross my fingers, and hope… Hope not only that the poor antiquated machine would actually work and not eat the blank tape instead, but also hope that the kids wouldn’t ask their mom to watch a Dr. Seuss tape and then have her forget to turn the programming back on.

For one reason or another, the series pilot didn’t get recorded.

The buzz on the pilot was incredible, and I knew I’d really want to see that very first episode before jumping into the series. So I had to make a pretty hard choice — I decided not to watch the series, and instead catch up on Season 1 once it was released on DVD. Hopefully by the time Season 2 rolled around, I’d have a new VCR to more reliably record it.

I put

out of my mind… and totally forgot about it. Between working three jobs, taking care of kids and, oh yeah, trying to squeeze Magic into my life, I really didn’t have time to worry about episodic television that I may or may not get to record each episode.

Then I discovered the joys of DVR — right on the cable box! Record your favorite shows, and then watch them at your convenience — a perfect invention for a workaholic like myself! By the time I thought about trying to catch up on

via DVD (on Netflix) and then watching more or less real-time on DVR, there were grumblings that Lost had lost its mojo. (Mainly because it

The Ferrett, disgruntled at that damn ending)

Hmm… the last thing I wanted to do is to get excited about a new show, and then have to endure its sad decline and/or cancellation (alas, poor

). I decided instead that I would wait until

was done, hopefully finishing strong, before diving in. Little did I realize the show would run for six frickin’ years!

I started watching the show early this summer on Netflix and plowed through six seasons, finally watching “The End” and “The Man In Charge” (the epilogue episode) this past Monday night. It was a wild ride, with an ending that certainly made you think — a fitting way to finish the series. If you haven’t yet pulled the trigger on watching

, I’d highly recommend it.

One of the many appealing things about

is the conceit that you take a handful of ordinary people, thrust them into dangerous, extraordinary (and downright weird) circumstances, and some of them rise to the occasion, becoming heroes, saving the world, et cetera. If you’re like me, you can’t help but watch and wonder:
if that was me, would I rise to the challenge?

In a way, it reminds me of something in Magic that is similarly alluring.

The Pro Tour brings many things of value to the Magic community, but one of the most potent is the notion that
yes, even

could qualify for the Pro Tour, kick ass, and have my name in lights!

I’ve been playing Magic for decades— and while I’ve had some competitive success on the local and state-wide level, I’ve never even made Top 8 at a PTQ despite playing in countless numbers of them. Yet I keep
coming back, because each time I sit down for Round 1, in the back of my mind there’s this whispered voice saying
you could win this thing — this could be the beginning of an amazing run!

Of course, on the flip side is proof that success on the Pro Tour is no random coincidence, no hand of fate. Like Jack — the Man of Science — you see the strong evidence that shows hard work + connections = results. You so often see the same names at the top of the standings, and the Top 8 profiles are filled with tons of Magic accomplishments and shout-outs to Pro players and networks that helped the Pro get to the top for this tournament.

Amsterdam was particularly eye-popping, with a Top 8 positively stuffed with giants of the game. Of course, for those of us who don’t have the time to put in all the necessary hard work, and don’t have the connections to network with the best in the game, that evidence and science can be discouraging.

Yet there’s another side of Magic! And it’s one that John Locke — Man of Faith — would understand. Sometimes you’ve got to believe in destiny, in luck, in timing. Sometimes things just fall the right way, right? The brilliance of Magic is that element of luck that sometimes lets you beat the odds and rip that sick topdeck and beat the odds.

The Jack Shepherd in you appreciates the skill and elegance of Magic play and deck design; the John Locke in you hooks your emotions, your primal hopes and superstitions about the luck in Magic.

While the Pro Tour commentators gushed and swooned over one of the strongest Pro Tour Top 8s in the history of the game, I couldn’t help but wonder about the Other Guy, for whom Amsterdam was his very first Pro Tour.

Who was Thomas Ma, and how would it feel to be forever linked to such a strong list of Pro players? Was he a Jack Shepherd, a Man of Science, a Pro player just starting the curve of his Pro Tour career trajectory? Or was he a John Locke, a Man of Faith, someone enjoying the hand of destiny firm on his shoulder?

Since nobody had interviewed him, I stepped up to find out a little bit more about the Other Guy.

Q. Hi Tom! In your Top 8 profile, your occupation is listed as student. Where do you go to school, and what are you studying? What sort of career are you hoping to get into?

A. I haven’t declared a major as of yet. I’m just going to the Community College here as of right now, trying to figure out what I want to do — and of course, playing Magic along the way!

Q. How long have you been playing Magic? How did you first start playing?

A. I’ve been playing Magic for about five years. I discovered the game around Mirrodin, but started playing during Kamigawa Block. I started playing competitively around Time Spiral Block. A friend introduced me into the game, and I loved it almost immediately.

Q. What other Magic accomplishments have you had other than Qing for the Pro Tour and making Top 8?

A. I top 8ed States in 2008 and top 8ed a PTQ in 2009 — both Standard tournaments.

Q. Amsterdam was your first Pro Tour, and you won your slot from a PTQ. How many PTQs did you play in that season before you won? What seemed to make the difference when you finally won?

A. I actually played in one of the PTQs when Rise of the Eldrazi came out. What finally made the difference for me was the fact that I was playing a deck that I felt was good for an unknown metagame.

Q. What deck did you play when you won the PTQ?

A. I played Grixis because I felt like Sedraxis Specters coupled with Blightnings and Jace, the Mind Sculptors would be hard to beat.

Here’s the deck:

Q. Did you have a draft strategy coming into the PT, and are you happy with how your draft went?

A. I had no real draft strategy coming into the tournament. It was basically, “Open well and hope that no one was in my colors.”
(Aha! Man of Faith… —Bennie)

Q. Do you happen to have the deck you drafted that you can share?

A. Here it is:

1 Angelic Arbiter
1 Assault Griffin
1 Blinding Mage
1 Holy Strength
1 Infantry Veteran
2 Inspired Charge
1 Safe Passage
1 Squadron Hawk
1 Tireless Missionaries

1 Augury Owl
3 Cloud Elemental
1 Diminish
1 Mana Leak
1 Merfolk Spy
1 Ice Cage

1 Gargoyle Sentinel
2 Juggernaut
1 Triskelion
1 Warlord’s Axe

9 Plains
8 Island

As you can tell, it was pretty lackluster. The only cards in my sideboard that were in my color were one Jace’s Erasure, one Tome Scour, and one Solemn Offering (the Offering was boarded almost every round). Luckily, all my opponents were playing blue in the draft — and Merfolk Spy certainly held its weight, being the unblockable info-gatherer he is!

Q. Why did you decide to play Extended Jund for Amsterdam?

A. I played Jund because the Punishing Fire engine is incredibly powerful in a format where you don’t have to play against turn 1 20/20s and infinite Thopter tokens. Also, Tarmogoyf is already good — but coupled with Blightnings, he becomes a hard threat to beat. Blightnings were incredible in testing, and I knew that maindecked discard would be something people wouldn’t play around — and, of course, they didn’t.

Q. So many of the typical Top 8 profiles answer the question “how did you prepare for the Pro?” by throwing around names and networks of professional Magic players. Instead, you mentioned you playtested with local players and gathered information from Magic online and Magic sites. You obviously had success with that much more accessible formula — what sort of advice would you give to other first-time Pros or aspiring Pros?

A. Find a deck/strategy that you are comfortable with and go from there! I had a lot of confidence in my deck coming into this PT.

Q. You said you playtested for Top 8 with rogue deck builder extraordinaire Conley Woods. Did you know Conley before Amsterdam? What’s it like testing with Conley?

A. I knew Conley before this Pro Tour from my friends in Colorado. He’s a really awesome guy to test with, as he always has a deck far from the norm and always has an idea of what the format will look like.

Q. Do you share Conley’s fondness for baby powder?*

A. I do not, unfortunately. I’m pretty sure no one can be on the same level with Conley when it comes to baby powder.
(As a large man myself, I can personally vouch for the usefulness of baby powder—Bennie)

(I thought Jared Sylva was supposed to be writing the “Too Much Information” columns — T.F.)

Q. What Pro players did you get to meet in Amsterdam? How were they different than they may seem to those of us who haven’t been to the Pro Tour?

A. I met and played a ton of named Pros in Amsterdam. They were really nice, normal guys who were just playing the same game as me.

Q. How different do you think the new Extended will be post-rotation from what you experienced in Amsterdam?

A. Time Spiral had a huge impact for this new Extended, and I’ll be sad that it will be gone…. But I’m kinda excited to see what Scars of Mirrodin has to offer. From what it looks like so far, it will be an awesome set!

Q. Do you play more online or paper Magic?

A. I play paper Magic more, but I bird matches online on Magic Online just to see if there is new tech floating around, and to see how certain matches play out without me having to proxy up the decks and play them myself. Also, I like the third-person view of the games, as it gives me another angle to see what the best play would be.

Q. Do you like playing Magic casually? If so, what’s your favorite format?

A. I love Cube Drafting. It’s really sweet playing with cards before my time and building sweet decks around them.

Q. You mention you like Cube drafting– have you seen
the new column by
Thea Steele that focuses on Cube

A. I have read it, and it’s pretty interesting so far. I love it when people show off different strategies/ideas for their cubes — and I love it when it all works together!

Q. Ever play Elder Dragon Highlander? (I had to ask.)

A. I play EDH once in a while. I don’t have a deck, but I do borrow from the guy that always has at least five!

Q. What cards from Scars of Mirrodin are you most looking forward to playing with?

A. Memnite seems really sweet, along with Mox Opal, as I think it will have a huge impact in a lot of formats. I haven’t really seen much else from it — but I saw Trinket Mage coming back in new art, and I’m all excited for that!

Q. Are you going to the Scars of Mirrodin Prerelease? If so, where?

A. I’ll most likely be playing in the big one in Denver, because it gives me a chance to see my Colorado friends and there will be drafts going on!

Q. Let’s say 2011 is your year. You tear up the Magic standings, and then make into a newly brought-back Magic Invitational. Tell us your Invitational card.

A. They already made Jace, the Mind Sculptor. What more would I need? 🙂

Q. What’s your favorite Magic color?

A. Blue!

Q. What’s your favorite Magic card?

A. I like four mana blue cards — Jace, Cryptic Command, Fact or Fiction, and Gifts Ungiven.
(Uh oh — I’m sensing a Man of Science here… —Bennie)

Q. Favorite Quentin Tarantino movie?

A. Pulp Fiction!

Q. Favorite Coen Brothers movie?

A. The Big Lebowski.

Q. What did you most enjoy about Amsterdam?

A. Amsterdam was a great place for the tournament because there was something always to do. Top 8ing was obviously great, and I can’t wait to go there again!

I enjoyed how alive the city was at every single point of the day, and also because it is a biking city — which was pretty neat, seeing bikes at literally every turn. I didn’t get to do a lot of sightseeing because we got in Thursday morning, and had jet lag from the flight before — so we spent most of Thursday sleeping and luckily woke up in time to register for the tournament.

Q. Tell us a few interesting things most people don’t know about Wyoming?

A. Wyoming isn’t that interesting. Not a lot of Magic goes on around here, and I have to travel for the PTQs. That’s kinda disheartening if you are trying to play competitively. But other than that, the people here are nice and it’s a fine place to live.

Q. Wyoming isn’t interesting? (
Puts on researcher cap

) Do you know there’s a city there named after Buffalo Bill (
Cody, WY

)? Do you know the state fossil — You’ve got a state dinosaur (


A. Well, for touring Wyoming is pretty sweet — but after that there is literally not much to do here.

Q. Have you been to Devil’s Tower?**

A. I have when I was really young. It was pretty neat seeing how flat it was on top. And also the tall tale of its background story was pretty cool, too!

Q. Speaking of Big Lebowski, are you aware the word “dude” was coined in Wyoming, which had the first dude ranch?

A. I didn’t, actually. You obviously know a lot more about Wyoming than I do. (
To be honest, I only found this stuff out prepping for this interview—Bennie


Q. Are you planning on going to the next Pro Tour? If so, how are you preparing for it?

A. Well, I’m gonna try to go to Worlds — but I’m obviously going to Paris! For testing, we usually create a metagame and try to find the best deck out of them, and there will be a lot of drafting along the way! If anything, I want to be mentally prepared, as playing is a draining process. So being able to focus is key.

Q. Any shout-outs, props, or slops you want to give out in the aftermath of your great run in Amsterdam?

A. I want to say thanks to everyone who gave me support throughout the tournament. I loved how well the tournament was run — and also I loved the organizers on day two who waited for Conley and I!

Slops to horribly long plane flights and the trams in Amsterdam — but other than that, everything was great!

Thanks for taking the time for to answer my questions, Tom—and best of luck to you in your future endeavors, both Magical and otherwise!

After this interview, I think it’s pretty clear where Thomas falls on the Jack Shepherd-John Locke spectrum. Sure, Amsterdam was his first Pro Tour,
but he’s obviously put a lot of work into his game, and his love of the blue cards shows me that his enjoyment of the game isn’t necessarily tied into

playing the most popular or powerful cards. He enjoys playing the best cards available… and for a newly-minted Pro, that’s a pretty good headspace to be in.

Me? The allure of Magic is still tied into the mystery, the unexpected, the hunches and gut feelings about the unexplored island mystery that is a part of the game. When I sit down for Round 1, John Locke is in my head, whispering to me about fate, destiny, and luck. I have faith that one day he may be right, and that’s what keeps me coming back despite evidence to the contrary.

I hope you’ll join me next week as I begin hacking through the jungle, exploring the mysteries to be found in Scars of Mirrodin Standard, and begin my quest for States glory October 9th!

Take care,
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to friend/follow me at:



New to EDH? Be sure to check out my EDH Primer,
part 1

part 2

, and
part 3


My current EDH decks:

Bone-Gnawer (RATS!)
Phelddagrif (carrots and sticks)
Tsabo Tavoc (R/B nastiness)
Reki, the History of Kamigawa (more legends than you can shake a stick at)
Korlash, Heir to Blackblade (brain-eating zombies, Commander)

* – This is referencing the epic “baby powder discussion” on the
Monday Night Magic podcast #210


** – The
Devil’s Tower National Monument

is a cool monolithic igneous intrusion in Wyoming that was prominently featured in the movie
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

, both in person and as a mashed potato carving.