“I’d say it’s a coin flip right now. Before the round, I had you like 60-40, but now you’re in for a sweat. A good sweat.”
As I stood up from my round 16 win against Isaac Egan, I thought I was locked. Fort Knox locked. I already had dreams of smashing Ben Stark senseless and the beautiful bow tie that was going to grace the front page of Daily MTG as I held up the trophy. You can imagine my surprise when Patrick Chapin came up to me and explained the situation further. At this point, I wasn’t worried about it and knew there was nothing I could do but take in the experience of a good sweat. A good sweat indeed.
We all know now how the sweat ended—I finished in 9th place on tiebreakers and gained the distinction of being one of the few players to know the heartache of losing a coin flip to play on Magic’s biggest stage. I’ve been asked what it feels like to be so close and not get there. It’s funny because for a young man who has played this game since age 13, you’d imagine that I’d be astronomically upset to not have the opportunity to take home the trophy in the playoff rounds.
As Scott Larabee announced that I had in fact not made it, I did for a small second want to cry. I am man enough to admit that my heart sunk, my hands went cold, and my eyes watered when I found out I finished in 9th. It felt odd to go from thinking about what suit I was going to wear on the Sunday broadcast to imagining what my wife and friends must feel like right now.
Most of you are probably thinking, “I would be so happy to get 9th place at a Pro Tour!” As someone who has now done it, I am very happy about it. You can only be so unhappy when the consolation prize is $5,000 and a plane ticket to Pro Tour San Diego. The thing is that when you are this close to pay dirt, your ego and skill press you to play better and expect more.
In round 14, against StarCityGames.com own Gerry Thompson, I sat down and saw a man confident that he was a small bow-tied stepping-stone from Top 8. I saw the confidence of a champion, and for the first time in my Magic career, I was rattled. I knew all about his experience with the deck and all the Pro Tours he had played in without a Top 8 appearance. I could smell his fearlessness.
He quickly beat me in game 1 without so much as a blink. Imagine the despair of GerryT having his foot on your jugular. The next two games were very close, but in the end, I squeaked out a close match win. At this point, I saw his demeanor change. For about thirty seconds, Gerry was upset with himself and his deck. You could taste his disappointment like a jalapeno in a bowl of breakfast cereal. Thirty seconds is about all it lasted because he realized he still had business to take care of. Gerry showed me how a true champion acts in the face of adversity; you acknowledge and move on. He obviously went on to Top 8, and I expected nothing less. I’ve acknowledged that I finished in 9th, but my goal has not changed; I want to win it all.
I can’t say that I ever thought that I would be in the situation I was in since I didn’t win a Pro Tour Qualifier for Gatecrash. As many of you know, I was one a few selected people to receive a special invite. I have always had mixed feelings about special invites because I know how hard it is win a PTQ. I grinded my butt off to win five PTQs before this, and none of them were easy. In fact, the story of my special invite is a lesson for anyone who has faced adversity.
I received a special invite from Wizards of the Coast because I was given an unfair disqualification in a Mississippi PTQ. You’re probably wondering why someone who lives in New Mexico was way out in Mississippi, but fellow PTQ grinders will tell you that we go to the ends of the Earth for a ticket to the Pro Tour. (I am also the State Champion of Nebraska randomly.)
The issues with this PTQ didn’t start in the finals. During my quarterfinal match, I kept a one-land Farseek hand and proceeded to draw another land, play Farseek, and put myself in a good position. The judge who saw my hand said, “I should DQ you for drawing so well” as a joke. I was a little upset that the judge said something about my hand at all, but I was too focused on the match to give it much attention.
Before the finals started, I asked my opponent if he wanted to go to the Pro Tour. He said he did. I replied, “You probably have no interest in taking the 81 packs and giving me the spot then?” He answered, “No, I really want to go.” I then asked him, “Since you don’t care about the packs, how about first place gets the invite and second gets all 81 packs?” At first he was hesitant, but he thought about it and said it was ok. The judge came over and sat next to my opponent, and I told the judge, “We discussed two options. Option 1 was he takes the packs and gives me the spot, but he wants to play. Option 2 was first gets the invite and second gets all 81 packs. We chose option 2.” The judge said ok.
I looked at my first seven-card hand, and it was almost the same as my quarterfinal hand. I said, “I won’t be greedy this time, even though it’s exactly the same hand I had the quarterfinals.” The judge said, “Yeah, you had a ridiculous draw in that game.” I replied, “But this time I can’t keep because I’m not up a game.” He nodded. I proceeded to mulligan to four. I ended up getting my opponent down to three life and having an advantage of creatures on board. Before I drew for my turn, I said, “One time Chandra’s Fury or Flames of the Firebrand so I can get this game over with.” After I said this but before I drew, the judge went to take the top card off my library and look at it. I stared at him intently and said, “Hey, hey, don’t do that. It’s bad juju.” He answered, “Don’t worry, I have a good poker face.” I pushed back and said, “No, no,” and drew my card before he could look at it.
I end up winning that game, and while we were shuffling, my opponent said, “That was a pretty good mull to four.” I bantered back, “Yeah, do you wanna take the 81 now?” He laughed and said, “No,” but the judge’s face turned sour. He asked me, “What did you say?” I repeated what I said. He said I couldn’t say that. I looked at him quizzically and asked why. He said it’s bribery. I told him I was joking, but in the finals of a PTQ you can negotiate a split where one person gets the invite and the other person gets the prizes. He said that’s ok but you have to play it out. I explained again to him that’s not the case. One player can drop and the finals aren’t played. He said that’s conceding for a prize, which is bribery. I then said, “I have been in five PTQ finals, and all of them had a prize split where it wasn’t played out. I am 100% sure you are wrong.”
At this point, he looked at me and said, “Do not play your game and do not leave. I’m going to go look up the ruling.” He left to return to the main store. After being gone for about ten minutes, I went to the main store to find him and ask if I could use the bathroom since I didn’t want him to come back and see I left against his instruction. He said no problem and called me to him to show a ruling about conceding for a prize on a website. He said, “See, here it says you cannot concede for a prize.” I then told him to look at the line above that said a prize split can be worked out where one player drops and the other player receives the invite.
He ignored me and pointed to the line of text he showed me the first time. We spoke to each other for probably another 20 minutes where I pleaded my case that I was joking and talking a little crap to my opponent. I said that it was at worst unsportsmanlike, but we were all laughing and joking so it seemed appropriate to rib my opponent for losing to me on my mull to four. I left him and returned to the table after I felt I couldn’t do any more good.
He pulled my opponent to the side and spoke to him along with someone in the audience I didn’t know. After all of this, he came to the table with the storeowner and said that after thinking about it what he was going to DQ me. I was devastated and started getting teary eyed. He said that I had been very helpful to him and to the game store, but that the only reason I was being helpful was to enhance my chance to win. I was floored at the comment. I enjoyed all the time I had spent at the tournament trying to help out where I could and offering advice to the storeowner, who was running his first PTQ. It was a slap in the face for him to call me disingenuous. He said the only reason I helped was to give myself a better matchup in Top 8.
I then asked him what advantage I gained competitively from helping the storeowner. He said it didn’t matter. He said he’d made up his mind. I pleaded once more by saying, “You are seriously going to DQ me for bribery when I didn’t even ask my opponent to concede? Those words never came out of my mouth. Not once.” He said it was implied. I asked him, “What if you’re wrong? What if what I’m telling you is true? What if I was joking and you DQ me for messing around with my opponent?”
He then said, “Do you know what Sheldon Menery said about what percentage he’d have to be sure someone is cheating to DQ them?” I replied, “I have judged events and would say that I’d have to be about 80% sure, but that’s me.” He answered, “Sheldon said he’d only have to be 1% sure there was cheating going on to DQ someone.” The quote was made clearly out of context, but I avoided arguing. He went on, “Even though this is a DQ, it’s not necessarily a DQ without prize. I’m leaving it up to the storeowner whether he wants to give you the prize.”
The judge left, and the storeowner said, “I feel really bad, and I don’t think it’s right to not give you the prize.” I was crying now, and through my sobbing I said thanks. I also shook my opponent’s hand and told him congrats and good luck at the PT. I walked to an area separate from everyone and started bawling. Embarrassed, I wiped my face and went back to the main store to get the 81 packs. I was still sniffling as I walked in, and the storeowner said I could have any of the available packs. I get a box of Avacyn Restored and a combination of Dark Ascension, Innistrad, and M13.
While I was getting the packs, the judge came up to me and said, “I don’t want to rub it in or anything, but if you want to appeal the ruling, I’ll give you my name and contact information to do that. I’m really sorry it happened this way.” I started crying again and told him it’s ok, I know he has a job to do, and collected my packs. He then shook my hand and said, “It was really nice meeting you.” I say goodbye to everyone and left.
My disqualification was overturned by Wizards sometime after Pro Tour Return to Ravnica when I had a chance to speak with Helene Bergeot. I did not receive a special invite immediately though. I had to sweat out the months between the PTQ and a month before Pro Tour Gatecrash to find out I was invited. Special invites are exactly how they sound: special. They should not be considered owed to you. That being said, Eric “EFro” Froehlich, Melissa DeTora, and I showed what can be done when someone is given a chance. The first woman to Top 8 a Pro Tour was there because of a special invite. Think about that. Hundreds and hundreds of people made Top 8 before Pro Tour Gatecrash, and not one of them was female. The accomplishment blows my mind, and I take my hat off to Melissa for crashing the all-boys club.
Before I go, I want to talk about something I was very proud of during the Pro Tour: finishing 6-0 in Draft. Gatecrash Draft is a very fickle format, with many intricate decisions to make in deckbuilding as you make your way through a draft. In my first pod, I was joined by Josh Utter-Leyton, Anthony Eason, Willy Edel, Dado Antunovic, Tob Rosman-Simionescu, Dave Yetka, and Patrick Tomelitsch. Going into the weekend, I had already decided I would force Simic because in my testing I had seen it was criminally under-drafted. I also saw that people were undervaluing Hands of Binding, which I felt was one of the best commons you could have. My first Draft deck looked like this:
- 2 Cloudfin Raptor
- 1 Drakewing Krasis
- 1 Experiment One
- 1 Nightveil Specter
- 1 Gyre Sage
- 1 Slaughterhorn
- 1 Frilled Oculus
- 2 Metropolis Sprite
- 1 Sapphire Drake
- 1 Adaptive Snapjaw
- 1 Disciple of the Old Ways
- 2 Ivy Lane Denizen
- 1 Scab-Clan Charger
- 1 Greenside Watcher
In Gatecrash Draft, I always want to be the aggressor and never want to play control under any circumstances. With this strategy, it means you are usually never Orzhov or Dimir. (You shouldn’t be playing Dimir anyway.) At the Pro Tour, I wanted to adhere to this even more because while playing against the best players in the world, I wanted to punish their slow draws without having to fight over the Boros cards going around the table.
I was unhappy that I didn’t pick up any Shamblesharks in this draft, as that card has singlehandedly won me many matches. One card I was very happy to have multiples of was Cloudfin Raptor. This little guy is the heart and soul of successful Simic decks since he can evolve quickly, he can fly, and if he ever gets past three toughness, he becomes very hard to kill. The flip side is that when you have too many early in the game that haven’t evolved, you can lose to the quick Boros rush. I was lucky to have seven ways of evolving him on turn 2, though I did have a game where I had two Raptors on the board that were still 0/1s on turn 4. (I ended up winning that game though.)
For players who are looking to improve their win percentages in Gatecrash Limited, I suggest playing more two-drops and less six- and seven-drops. I cannot count how many games were essentially over before either my opponent or I saw seven lands.
As I think back on the weekend that was (or wasn’t, depending on how you look at it), I am eternally grateful to Helene Bergeot and Scott Larabee for inviting me to Pro Tour Gatecrash. It was an experience I will never forget and hopefully will not be my last opportunity to be in the running for the big stage. Tom Martell deserves a lot of credit for winning the Pro Tour, but he also deserves a lot of credit for shaping my Magic career, even if he didn’t know it. He beat me for Top 8 in a PTQ a decade or so ago in Sacramento, which led me to qualifying for the Pro Tour in my very next tournament. I can only hope my loss to him in round 15 of Pro Tour Gatecrash will deliver a Top 8 for me and #teambowtie in San Diego. Next time, I’ll dive into my Standard choice and my solution for the special invite controversy.
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