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Another year, another Christmas right around the corner. The older I get, the more I find myself bringing up the fact that time flies. It’s as if I lose time nowadays instead of experiencing moments. Like when I realized I’ve already lived in Roanoke for almost six years. Or the fact that I’m Hall of Fame eligible next year. It just all felt like it sneaked up on me. I’m so wrapped up in what’s next that sometimes I forget to take a step back and breathe in my surroundings. To live in the moment.
They say time goes faster for adults due to experiencing fewer and fewer memorable moments. That makes sense. It’s not a sad thing, just a truth of life. As a baby we experience many new things like hunger, sleep deprivation, rashes, and growing pains, scary at the time. As we grow older, we repeat experiences, which makes them easier to manage. A stubbed toe no longer is the end of the world, and someone falling isn’t the funniest thing we’ve ever seen.
We grow up.
Today I want to take a step back from the rat race that I’ve accepted as my life. I don’t want to worry about what decks will get me the finishes I need to accomplish the goals I think I need to achieve. No, today I want to look back at my most memorable moment from each year as a professional Magic player, to appreciate the moments I was too busy to at the time.
I qualified for my very first Pro Tour in the spring of 2009 after a few years struggling on the PTQ circuit. I didn’t want this opportunity to go to waste, so I worked harder in preparation for this tournament than anything I’ve ever done in my life. Weeks straight in front of the computer screen grinding out daily events in Shards of Alara Block Constructed, a format that I was extremely well-versed in already as it was how I paid rent.
I played so much of this format that I’d often double-queue events, sometimes splitting the finals with myself. Now, of course this was against the rules, but I’m pretty sure the statute of limitations has expired by now. I won so much in the format that once, after a night out on the town, I awoke to having my weapon of choice entirely foiled out on Magic Online. Keep in mind, back then, foils weren’t cheaper than their non-shiny counterparts.
I registered a deck that to this day I’m still proud of.
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 3 Madrush Cyclops
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Putrid Leech
- 4 Sedraxis Specter
- 4 Sprouting Thrinax
Cascade was the name of the game at this Pro Tour, and everything revolved around Blightning. My tech for the event was to play a slightly more aggressive version of Jund, but that’s very counterintuitive to how Magic’s normally played. Usually you want to go slightly bigger than your opponent in the mirrors, since most of your cards equalize over time.
The reason I justified this decision was how Jund mirrors played out. Oftentimes you had to navigate the games around the fact that your opponent would cast Blightning when you went down to two cards in hand, as that’s by far the best use of the mana. If you didn’t do that, your opponent could easily catch up on the battlefield with their in-hand Bituminous Blast or Broodmate Dragon. I used this predictable line against opponents as I would strive to get to two cards in hand so they would cast Blightning instead of catching up on the battlefield. Why? So I could discard Sedraxis Specter and crack them back getting my own Blightning!
“Good luck in your feature match.”
My what? Round 1, I found myself in the feature match against Luis Scott-Vargas. One of my heroes! I lost a tight three-game set, and to this day Luis believes I punted the match. I did make unusual plays, but only because I thought he built his deck better. That’s a story for another day, though. After that I lost another match and eventually found myself against Lukas Blohon in Round 3 at 0-2. I finally got on the board, but his tournament wasn’t over. We both in fact ended up in the Top 16 of the event! Team Genesis was powerful right from the beginning.
I was just starting to get my sea legs when it came to the Pro Tour until Brian David-Marshall approached me for an interview. Okay? The cameraman was already in place, and we were recording. Keep in mind I had yet to acquire a single lifetime Pro Point at the time. They really did go all-in on me one day becoming a big deal in Magic.
May I present to you…Baby-Face Nelson!
I sure was hyperbolic back then! Even then I was evaluating everything, a lesson I talked about last week! In the last round of Day 1, I had yet another feature match, this time against Shuhei Nakamura. At the end of the day I was 1-1 against world-class pros, and was on top of the world.
On Day 2, Brian David-Marshall once again approached me, this time to record a deck tech.
I'm ashamed of my basics.
I ended up finishing in ninth place, and I couldn’t have been happier. Everyone from my local game store was blowing up my phone, and for the first time in my life I felt I was exactly where I should be. I still didn’t know why I was getting interviewed so much, or why they were talking about me in the end-of-day wrap-ups, but I did know I wanted more of it.
I knew then that I wanted to become a Pro Magic player.
2010: If You Win, You Win.
With three rounds to go at Pro Tour San Juan, I found myself needing four Swiss points to make the Top 8. It would be my first one, so the pressure was building. I was nervously pacing outside when Guillaume Matignon came up to me. He told me that we were 50/50 to play next round, but I was already well aware of that. What did catch me off-guard was what he said to me after that.
“If you win, you win. If I win, we draw.”
Excuse me? Why would he do that? It’s not like we knew each other. In fact, I’d never really talked to him before this event. Sure enough, we played a tight three-game set that he snuck out. With lethal damage on the stack I asked for the draw, and he smiled and shook my hand. At the time everyone rooting for me solemnly walked away from the feature match area, while his support roared in excitement. Soon confusion swept through them as they didn’t know what had happened, and I was confused as well.
This draw allowed me to have back-to-back matches where I could win instead of needing a victory in Round 15. I ended up not needing the extra match, as I beat my next opponent and found myself in the Top 8. "Excited" doesn’t do justice in describing how I felt, but I still was confused.