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When you're living day-to-day, it's easy to get caught up in where you are now and forget where you were. Three years ago, I had zero Pro Tour invites. Today, I'm a Platinum Pro Tour Champion.
Life is crazy.
In 2014, I took an internship with Wizards of the Coast. After making Top 8 of a Pro Tour for the first time, I decided to try to hit Platinum with my newfound wealth of Pro Points. In hindsight, I'd say it was a mistake because I missed and was out hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars, but realistically I would make the same decision again.
That near miss was painful, a fact I wasn't really willing to admit to anyone. Wizards of the Coast knew my narrative and knew they could probably swoop in and offer me a job. They were right and I happily took the internship.
At one of my last tournaments, Dave Shiels yelled at me after hearing that I took the job.
"You're an idiot!"
"Why? This is a great opportunity and is probably…"
He cut me off. "You're not done yet!"
"How could you possibly think that?"
"I just know. Trust me. You're not done."
I laughed at him.
Dave's a smart dude, though. After six months, I left my internship to return to playing Magic full-time.
My return was anything but glorious. I was fired up and ready to get back to slaying my fellow mages, but it was more difficult than I ever could have anticipated. The scant six months I spent away from tournaments made me incredibly rusty. While in-game, my mind was clouded by fog. Processing information on complex battlefield states didn't come easily anymore. I punted more games on camera during that rust period than any other time in my career. It wasn't pretty.
"Is this really how it's going to be? Did I make a mistake by leaving my cushy job?"
More than anything, I wanted to get back to Gold level. When I really wanted to qualify for a Pro Tour, I only failed a handful of times. Hitting Gold was something I never missed if I both cared and attended tournaments. Obviously that would be much easier if I wasn't starting from zero Pro Points, zero invites, and a ton of rust to shake off, but it was the situation I was in.
All I really wanted to do was play in the Pro Tours. My motivation for that was threefold.
1) Pro Tours are the most fun, most challenging tournaments to play in.
2) Grand Prix were less fun for me. Constant traveling wasn't something I looked forward to, nor were venues cramped with 2000 people. My anxiety had slowly gotten worse over the last few years and it had a hugely negative effect on my experiences. If I could play in Pro Tours, nothing else, and spend that time making additional content, I would happily do it.
3) Pro Tours were the thing I hadn't conquered yet. I don't need to display actual mastery to make myself happy, but a certain level of competence was necessary. While I had my moments, I hadn't demonstrated anything close to the consistency I felt like I able to achieve.
So, where to start? No matter what, it was going to be tough because I was effectively starting from scratch. A while ago, I thought doing a video series where I take a new Magic Online account from 1600 to 1900 Constructed, but from zero to Gold? This was something else.
I looked at the PPTQ and Magic Online PTQ schedule, as well as flights to various SCG Tour® and Grand Prix stops that looked like they'd be fun. Being privileged by having so many good tournaments to go to meant I was going to take advantage of it.
After not playing for six months, sitting at home watching coverage most weekends, I was fired up.
I missed doing content too, probably way more than I thought I was going to. Putting out great, creative content was a huge driving factor for me. Since my return, I've taken way more risks than I ever did before and it's paid off massively. Whatever fears I had about writing wonky theory pieces or putting personal stuff out there was quickly dispelled, and I'm very pleased whenever I get a chance to write more of that stuff.
If my legacy is writing solid, relevant strategy pieces every week, that's great. However, if I end up with some timeless pieces that people link to repeatedly, that's perfect.
I played in as many PPTQs as I possibly could. It took me four or five before I even made Top 8 of one of them, but I happened to win it. Go Jund! By the time the RPTQ rolled around, I didn't even need the invite anymore due to being Silver, but I played anyway to get that sweet Liliana of the Veil promo.
At one point, I got the good news that Wizards of the Coast would award me a special invite because I lost three invites from my Gold status when I started working with them. It was a nice gesture, but I ended up not really needing it.
Pro Tour Magic Origins qualified me for Pro Tour Battle of Zendikar, and my Top 50 finish there gave me some pro points to work with, eventually nabbing me Silver. A Top 8 at Grand Prix Detroit got me another invite, and despite bombing out of Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad and Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, a 12-3 finish at Grand Prix Charlotte locked me for Gold in 2016.
I kind of limped over the finish line and my Pro Tour results sort of went to hell toward the end of the season, but I still hit Gold, which was the goal for the season. Throughout the course of my career, I've typically been able to hit the Gold-equivalent level regardless of the Pro Point requirements. It's difficult for me to tell if it's easier these days, maybe with more Pro Points in the system, more tournaments.
Shortly after Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, I went through a breakup and moved back to Roanoke, VA. I'm still proud of myself for how quickly I was able to remove myself from the situation and immerse myself in tournament Magic. I shifted seamlessly back into my old life. The negative feelings associated with the whole thing fed me for the next six months.
When I lost in Top 4 of the Magic Online Championship Series in 2016, I was satisfied with the overall result. Even though I played my damn heart out against Ulanov, had no expectations going in, and bagged a nice $9,000 weekend, it came with a haunting melancholy feeling.
My tournament started in the dumps and I slowly crawled my way out. I should never count myself out of a tournament until I'm literally out. It can and does happen, even if you're 1-3. It wasn't that I felt like I didn't "deserve" to be in those Top 8s, but it felt like I shouldn't be allowed to make a final cut if my record was ever as bad as 1-3 or 0-2. Whenever I slipped into Top 8 at an Invitational at 12-4, I felt like I stole something.
Anyway, the winner of the MOCS was elevated to Platinum for a year and a half. Similarly to winning a Pro Tour (which also gives you Platinum, heh) or making the Hall of Fame, it wasn't something I ever felt like I could achieve. It wasn't about losing or getting unlucky — It was the thought that the MOCS was probably the closest to Platinum I was going to get.
It's not even about the money, although that is definitely nice. It's a status symbol, as is having that (1) next to your name.
"Are they good?"
"Well, they are Platinum..."
It's easy for your opinion of someone to be based on their latest results. For example, it wouldn't surprise me if people think Seth Manfield is the best player in the world at the moment. Seth won Pro Tour Ixalan and made Top 8 of back-to-back Grand Prix in different formats. He's also currently got the (1) next to his name on coverage and it's not close.
Did something change in the last six months that suddenly made Seth better than Yuuya or Owen? Did Huey's Worlds run suddenly mean he was better at Magic than he was a week earlier?
That narrative is incredibly reductive, but it's the world we live in and I'm susceptible to it too. Being able to label people can be useful.
Anyway, at Pro Tour Gatecrash, I was three matches away from Platinum and at the MOCS I was two. I was inching closer, but those shots don't come up very often. Sure, I could potentially have a great season to hit Platinum without a single big finish, but it seemed unlikely, given how few invites to Pro Tours I had.
Not winning that MOCS may have been the greatest thing to ever happen for me.