I never imagined it would go down like this.
Originally, I was going to spend almost three weeks on the road testing. Pro Tour Aether Revolt was my first time working with CFB and Associates, and while it didn't go spectacularly, I wanted to give it a fair shot. Josh Cho and I were chasing Gold and they were a great group of incredibly talented players.
According to AJ Sacher, I've historically done poorly in Limited, but that's nothing a weekend in Madison couldn't cure, right? My plan was to spend nearly a week in Madison, nearly a week in DC at Cho's place, and a week in Nashville before the Pro Tour. I was committed. Being single and having a complete lack of obligations is pretty nice when you decide you want to be a vagabond for a month.
A few weeks before the Pro Tour, I started officially seeing someone, and suddenly I didn't feel the urgency to play Magic for three weeks straight. There was something else in my life that mattered, and the last thing I wanted to do was be apart from her for nearly a month. I chopped a week off my trip, and hoped I could do enough preparation on Magic Online. In the meantime, I focused on real life and being happy.
My relationship with Magic has always been an odd sort of love/hate thing. These days, it's all love, but it also comes with some odd feelings. Would it be the worst thing to do if I didn't hit Gold? Sometimes it's difficult to know if I'm getting enough out of it considering the effort I put in. I wanted to try my best, let fate decide, and figure out where to go from there.
Occasionally, that fear of failure creeps up. It's much easier to bow out on my own terms rather than accept defeat. That was certainly on the table here, and at times, I've considered it. What if I just streamed and made content and didn't compete anymore? Would that be better or no?
The SCG Tour® results were something I was kind of banking on, but the emergency ban lead to an Open with a bunch of Mardu and not a lot of innovation. Those results were effectively useless. Thankfully, I could play on Magic Online and draw my own conclusions. Without that extra week on Magic Online, I'm not where I would have ended up, but instead, I was incredibly prepared.
By the time I got to Cho's, I knew that energy was great, Mardu was medium, and I wanted a deck that was naturally good against U/R Control and Marvel. B/G Energy fit the bill and we got to work tuning it. Most of the time was spent with me playing Standard while Cho drafted, both railbirding each other and helping with difficult or interesting decisions.
Once in Nashville, I continued working on various Aetherworks Marvel decks. There were too many options, and each of them was equally sweet. For a long while, I assumed I would select one of them. Starting on Tuesday, more and more physical copies of Zombies started showing up in the house. It wasn't long before the infection spread and most of the house wanted to play it.
One of the things I distinctly wrote before heading to Nashville was that I didn't want to play an under-powered beatdown deck like Zombies. I changed my tune pretty quickly.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Diregraf Colossus
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 4 Relentless Dead
The Nonsense, Part 1
Aside from testing, there were a few things we needed to do. For starters, Martin Juza wanted some stuff off Amazon, which I was happy to order with my Prime account. After polling the room, I ended up placing an order for some lightning cables, European converters, 48 Redbulls, and a copy of Jonny Magic and the Cardshark Kids.
David Williams, having been around for most of the book, noted some of the inaccuracies found within. As for the Redbull, it was mostly for me and Cho, but basically everyone doubted our ability to finish it within the week. We sure showed them.
The Nonsense, Part 2
Once everyone was on Zombies, it was up to someone to find twenty copies of each card in the deck. Thankfully, David Williams took it upon himself to do that, which was important, because otherwise it probably wouldn't have been handled.
Most vendors we spoke to barely had any copies of Relentless Dead, and at least one person played a different deck because of card availability. The most important part about the whole thing was that Dave was ordering double-sided foil Zombie tokens, and I was so in.
Having those made me way more excited about my deck choice.
The Nonsense, Part 3
The second non-testing related thing we needed to do was get haircuts. Cho and I were pretty shaggy, but thankfully there was a local barber across the street from our AirBnB. Naturally, we procrastinated. On Thursday we finally went to get haircuts. I'd like to say I went into a barber shop and said, "I'll take the 'Andrew Brown' please," but no such thing occurred.
Cho went first and got a pretty reasonable trim. He went to pay with a card, but it was a cash only establishment. The barber sent Cho on a wild chase to find an ATM while I waited behind in an attempt to convince the guy we weren't trying to stiff him. A long while later, Cho returned, paid for both haircuts, and informed me that after that whole ordeal, he had to get out of there.
A few minutes into mine, I could tell he was going off script. There was way too much hacking and he was getting uncomfortably close to my scalp. I'm more of a "let's roll with it" kinda guy, so I wasn't about to stop him. A quick glance in the mirror had me considering shaving the rest of it off, but I eventually chose to keep it.
It's funny how things happen. The single time in my entire existence I'm going to be live streaming to 45,000 people and having my picture taken a bunch, it's when I get one of the worst haircuts in my life.
I wouldn't have it any other way.
My first draft started with Liliana, Death's Majesty. I can't remember the last time I opened a bomb card in a Pro Tour draft and got to play with it, so when I opened my pack, I was shocked to see a great Planeswalker staring back at me. I likely should have moved into blue early, but by the time I knew for 100% that it was open from the right, I assumed Brock Parker had moved in on my left.
Instead, I stuck to drafting W/B Zombies. My deck was fine but could have used a better curve and better spells. I figured I would go 2-1, and that I did, losing in the final round to Jason Chung, Drake Haven, and his own Liliana, Death's Majesty.
After a 2-1 start for both me and Cho, he offered a 5% split, which I happily accepted. I told him I'd be waiting for him in the 6-2 draft pod, but he overshot me, ending 7-1 on the day. Zombies were great for both of us.
The only two matches I lost were feature matches. Correlation? Unclear.
I told myself I'd do laundry after Day 1, but instead I procrastinated and solved my issue by stealing Cho's socks. He forgot to tell me they were his lucky socks.
At the end of pack one, I had four mediocre white cards, five blue cards, and a Glorybringer. The blue was open and didn't pair well with my white, so I decided that If I could abandon it all for a spell-heavy U/R deck, I happily would. My U/R decks typically ended up light on red cards anyway, so it wouldn't be a big deal if red was mostly cut off.
After selecting Electrify over Gust Walker with my first pick of pack two, I was officially gambling with my tournament life. Thankfully, my read was correct -- Blue was open, white wasn't, and I didn't need many red cards to actually have a functional deck.
In pack three, I opened an Enigma Drake that I desperately needed for my deck, but was able to happily ship it along knowing that it would come back.
A quick 3-0 in draft left me at 9-2 and very much in contention to make a run at Top 8. Despite a brief stutter against Marc Tobiasch, I was able to get to 12-3 going into the final round. Calcano made me sweat before offering the intentional draw, but I was grateful.
I wanted to be happy. I wanted to test my matchups. But all I really wanted was to go back to the house, grab some quick food, and get some sleep. Instead, I ordered pizza on the way home, threw up, ate a slice of pizza, then threw up again. Finally, it was time to sleep.
The Nonsense, Part 4
Andrew Brown was at the Pro Tour on official #wotcstaff duty. He insisted we get some photos of the OG GAM Podcast crew for old time's sake. Cho is always on hand to take my photo, much like I'm always on hand to take his photo when someone confuses him for Martin Dang.
His first picture turned out great. He handed my phone back to me so we could see how it turned out.
The second one was excellent as well.
Unfortunately, due to a #wotcgaffe, Andrew was MIA for the rest of the weekend.
Marc beat me in the swiss. The two matches I lost in Constructed were both to Team EUreka members and their one-of Chandra, Flamecaller. Thankfully he never drew it and Ulamog only showed up early once.
Before too long, I had advanced, which was better than I had done in my last Top 8.
The reason we got off of B/G Energy was because we thought Zombies was doing roughly the same thing but better. Additionally, it annihilated the "mirror" match. I was hoping Ken beat EFro for that reason.
After thinking about it, I could see a world where his fliers beat me. Thankfully, his sideboard didn't offer much, and I learned to save my removal for the things that actually matter in the matchup after spewing Game 1 against Pierre Dagen.
By the time the semifinals started, my headache was back, and I was trying to maintain focus. A small mistake lead to a larger mistake, which lead to me sheepishly picking up my cards in Game 1. It was a wake up call, and I decided that if I wanted to win, I had to step it up.
From there, it was mostly smooth sailing.
As I approached the stage, I saw Yuuya already there, waiting. He looked like this was just another day at the office. I offered a handshake and he said, "Nice job."
"Did you watch?" I asked.
He tilted his head down, as if embarrassed. "Yes."
"So stupid," I replied, pointing at myself. He nodded and patted me on the shoulder.
Soon, we were underway.
After a few minutes, I was quickly up 2-0. He stumbled a bit and I had some good draws. Game 3, it was my turn to be stuck on two mana and a quick Ulamog sent me packing. In Game 4, I stumbled again, played around Radiant Flames to a degree which helped me reload, but a Cryptbreaker that miraculously lived allowed me to keep the gas coming. A pair of 7/7 Diregraf Colossuses eventually lead me to victory.
He extended the hand with a "congratulations."
As I was scooping up my cards and taking off the headphones, Yuuya got my attention.
I chuckled and replied, "Sometimes."
It's one thing to win a big tournament against one of the best players in the world, but for him to recognize what a huge accomplishment it was for me and how it would possibly be tainted by my mistakes against Ken, he went out of his way to make sure I knew I had his approval.
I still haven't quite figured out how to take a compliment, and although I brushed off his comment, what Yuuya said meant a great deal to me. What an incredibly selfless thing to do on his part.
Throughout my Magic career, I've had some favorite players and looked up to various people, but from our interactions before and after the finals, I'm an even bigger Yuuya fan than I was before. What a class act.
I didn't play great. At some points, I didn't even play well. That probably won't be my legacy. For a while, it bugged me, but I got over it. Playing perfectly is a pipe dream, and at the end of the day, you only need to play well enough to win.
"So, how does it feel?"
I don't know how to answer that question. On one hand, it's the culmination of half my life spent agonizing over those last few card choices.
On the other, it was all kind of a blur. I'm normally pretty good at remembering my games in great detail. This time was time was different, and part of that likely has to do with the lack of focus I had, partly due to how miserable I felt. It's like trying to remember a day where you had been up for 48 hours straight. It doesn't feel real, like you could be remembering a dream. Then something happens that tells me it was, in fact, real, and I have to take a moment to take it all in again.
I've never felt anything like this.
Pro Tour Champion Gerry Thompson?
Yeah, that still sounds weird. I'm sure I'll get used to it though.
Izzy: I never thought I'd have someone who was so undoubtedly supportive. You are perfect. I can't wait to go to Kyoto with you.
Cho: It wasn't the same without you there on Sunday, man. Incredibly proud of you though. You're killing it.
Wrapter: For the notes. Literally no one else I'd rather have in my corner. You are the best.
Majors: You impress me more and more with each interaction.
DW: The rides, the times, and obviously the foil Zombie tokens.
CAP: For putting up with my constant BS.
Juza / Sam: For teaching us how to draft.
Yuuya: Incredible player. Somehow an even greater human. Pure class.
Basic Swamp: Unbeatable. I'm sorry I drafted U/R that one time.
Calcano: Well done, man! I'm honestly not sure which of us is happier. You deserve it.
Marc: Still the coolest dude I met on the weekend. Keep being you.
Costa: If you want to keep sharing flights back from PTs, I'm in.
Justin: The Excedrin.
Mom: I still think about you a lot. Achieving something like this on Mother's Day is fitting as I wouldn't be here today, nor be the person I am without you. I miss you.
My Renton family: Moving away was a mistake, and I rectified it as soon as I could. Being around y'all is all the positivity, normalcy, and fun I didn't have as a kid.
CFB and Associates: We might not kill it every time, but we are going to kill it repeatedly. Y'all are great. I owe you a dinner in Kyoto.
The strangers next to me on the plane: You pretended not to notice me getting all emotional while writing this article and I appreciated it.
Everyone else: The amount of support I received was truly overwhelming. I can't thank everyone enough. Reading everything people had to say post-PT meant more to me than winning itself and I truly mean that.
Migraines, Ulamog, fog machines, and barbers that don't follow instructions.