Existing means feeling a broad spectrum of emotions. Most of the time you're in a consistent place, with some fluctuations of good and some bad. Occasionally, you're hit with a broad range of those emotions in a short amount of time that will put you in a manic state.
That was my weekend. Words like "whirlwind" and "rollercoaster" are applicable descriptors, yet fall short. I will never forget it.
The Testing Process
For this Pro Tour, we ran back "Team Fun," which is the nice way to describe our little group of outcasts. By some combination of being left without a large group to work with and because we wanted to focus on the friendship part of preparing for a tournament, Steve Rubin, Josh Cho, Ondrej Strasky, and I rented an Airbnb in Bilbao for a week.
The goal was to discuss Limited, each find a Modern deck we liked, listen to bad music, watch bad TV, and play non-Magic games, not necessarily in that order.
The week earlier, Steve Rubin lost in the finals of Grand Prix London and our entire squad made Day 2. Our Limited testing looked good individually, even though we never did anything resembling a team meeting. There was a team meeting that I briefly documented on Twitter, though.
Whereas last Pro Tour, our song of the week was "No Diggity," our songs of the week were "Gucci Gang" and "Man's Not Hot," as selected by everyone who was not me. Apparently, the worse music we listen to, the better someone from our squad does. One of these days, I'll actually pick a song. I tried to get Hoodie Allen's "No Interruption" to catch on, and while Ondrej liked it, it wasn't bad enough for everyone else.
The Deck Selection Process
When leaving for Bilbao, my list of potential decks was thus:
- Grixis Kiln Fiend
- Mardu Pyromancer
- Mardu Death's Shadow
- B/G Midrange
- U/R Madcap Moon
With Steve having the second most Modern trophies on Magic Online with Grixis Death's Shadow, he was locked in. I trusted his judgment and advised Cho to play the same 75.
I didn't bring every playable Modern card I owned, as I'd happily rebuy a large portion of a deck for $400 if it meant I didn't have to lug everything around. When I took the advice of EFro and started testing W/U Eldrazi and Taxes, I started regretting it.
While beating up on big mana seemed great, B/G decks were tough, as were Burn and Humans. Overall, the W/U deck seemed worse than Humans. Thankfully I didn't have to buy copies of cards I already had.
Going with Slippery Bogles seemed like it could be a good metagame choice, although there are probably decks that are better against Humans that also scoop to Tron. The deck was an inconsistent mess, which made me wonder how I ever lost to it in the first place.
Humans was a fine backup option (but that's where I figured everyone else was). Time was running out.
All of that information led to my predictions article two weeks ago. So far, those articles have made me look pretty smart. It makes sense that those articles being on point is the reason for my recent Pro Tour successes.
Thursday morning before the tournament, I joined a League with Mardu Pyromancer and dropped at 2-2. Winning without drawing Bedlam Reveler was nearly impossible in some matchups. Faithless Looting was also integral to translating dead resources into fresh ones.
Somewhat off the deck, I joined another league with Grixis Death's Shadow and started 2-0 before dying a horrible death to Burn. The deck felt fine but I could feel my incoming 6-4 record.
Time to panic?
Soon after, Nadine showed up to our Airbnb with Mattia Rizzi in tow. I f#*%^in love Mattia. I started to think of the reasons why and it literally now just dawned on me who he reminds me of. Damn.
Anyway, I coerced Mattia into sharing his decklist. He had played something like fifteen Leagues with Mardu Pyromancer and had sound reasoning for all his choices. When he went home, I changed ten cards and registered this:
It didn't take long for the #marduguy jokes to start. It also didn't take long for them to stop, at which point I picked up the #marduguy mantle unironically, much to everyone's chagrin. Turns out, when you play a deck you tell people is bad and they shouldn't play it and end up crushing it, they don't like it very much. Understandable, but in my defense, I didn't know!
My deck went 9-0-1 in the Swiss (and 2-1 in Top 8), whereas Mattia went 2-7-1 somehow. His lack of Wear certainly had something to do with it, but clearly the rest had to do with skill.
Metagame Gurus Sun might be the "A" Squad afterall!
There were many opportunities to fight jet lag on this trip, but I wasn't disciplined enough. At 3am the morning of the Pro Tour, I briefly woke up and checked my messages and found horrible news.
My longtime friend Korey McDuffie was in a coma and wasn't expected to wake up.
I'm not exaggerating when I say he was like my little brother. We were very tight for numerous years, and while we weren't as close the last year or so, I didn't care about him or his well-being any less than I had. The news was devastating for more than one reason.
I'm hard on myself. In this situation, there is no question that I could have done more to help my friend. Not keeping in contact was also on me, and at the very least, I could have utilized our time better. Those are things I carried with me all weekend.
People were saying "you look mad" or "why are you in a bad mood?" and I didn't know what to say. It didn't feel like my place to break the news to them, although I did tell a few people who were also close to him. You know those situations where you ask someone how their day is as a formality and they launch into their life story? I will never be that person, for better or worse.
I was in a bad place, but was going to keep playing until it was clear whether or not I should still be in the tournament. If I had to go home early, I would.
I drafted a U/G double splash ascend deck, as I tend to do. After starting 2-0, I completely threw away a Game 3 I had all but locked up and needed to check myself. I complimented my opponent on his Chinese foil City's Blessing token, told him he played well, and excused myself.
In between rounds, I'd find a corner by myself, read all the incredible messages people were posting as a means to honor Korey, and tear up.
Then I'd go inside and smash some helpless opponent.
There were a lot of three-game matches and many of them were close, but I finished the day 5-0 in Modern and 7-1 overall.
Exhausted, I tried to pass out early but just ended up crying in bed.
Day 2 could have started better. I made a somewhat risky draft pick early, got into the archetype I wanted — it was open — and then my deck ended up missing some key pieces. My U/B splashing white ascend deck could have used a big bomb, some flying defense, and some Desperate Castaways in Pack 3.
I won my first round against an aggressive U/R deck, but ran afoul of Pascal Vieren's W/B Vampire deck. He was mana-screwed the first game, I flooded the second, and our third game was maybe the craziest of the tournament for me. At one point, we had both drawn fourteen spells and six land and continued to topdeck each other.
My luck ran out and I died to a 2/3 flier from thirteen life.
Round 3, I got beat up by Carlos Romao's U/R aggro deck, mostly due to his fliers and my flooding out.
Still, being live for Top 8 once the draft rounds are over is never something I'll complain about, so I soldiered on, assuming my tournament was about to crash like in Dublin.
Oddly, it didn't. After doing some quick maths, I drew into Top 8 with Ken Yukihiro and maintained my undefeated streak in Modern. Pro Tour Top 8 #3!
The Top 8
One of the things I've wanted to start doing is test for my Top 8s. There's literal tons of equity on the line and you don't get those chances very often. However, it's Modern. You don't test matchups. You do, however, accept prize splits when offered.
I've known Javier Dominguez since Gadiel's first Top 8 at Pro Tour Columbus in 2004 where he unleashed Cephalid Breakfast on the world. Recently, he's re-dedicated himself to Magic and has been crushing it, which makes me really happy. Playing a friend in Top 8 can be bittersweet, but especially for Javi after a pair of ninth-place finishes, I was happy to see him there.
Maybe I was supposed to win Game 1? Whatever, it was early and I was waking up. Shake it off.
The Izzet Staticaster block in Game 3 was the most interesting part of the match. It was going to start mowing down my tokens and my engine stuttered so I was just living off the top of the deck. My draw step for the turn was a Collective Brutality, so it meant I needed the Izzet Staticaster to block one of the Elementals.
I attacked with five Elemental tokens, which prompted the Izzet Staticaster block. In that moment, Javi Doms became Javi Dobs.
Wrapter didn't like my attack. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
If I want to win, that Izzet Staticaster has to block. I have to make an attack that is threatening enough that he wants to block but not threatening enough to where he's prompted to use the Staticaster in combat. Attacking with all the tokens and/or a Bedlam Reveler likely induces an activation, which is what I wanted to avoid.
Maybe I did hook 'em. Maybe I'm great.
The Top 4
Reverse sweeps are gas. I skipped testing my Top 8 match, not just because I assumed I was going to win, but also because I knew what I was doing there. Pascal Vieren presumably played his deck because it had a good Humans matchup, so I expected a victory over Andrea. If Andrea won, then I'd have another Humans matchup I didn't need to test for.
Anyway, my matchup against U/R Pyromancer felt favorable, but it was all a matter of drawing Ancestral Vision, or whether or not Pascal knew he was supposed to fight me like a Fish deck. When those draws came up, he played them correctly, but I was fortunate in that I wasn't often under pressure.
Our games were awesome and I highly recommend watching them. Completing the reverse sweep is one of the best feelings imaginable.
The other side of the bracket was wild. I thought if Reid could get through Ken, we'd probably meet in the finals. Still, anything could happen, so I didn't prepare very much.
In the end, it was me against my worst matchup in Top 8, Lantern. Luis quickly locked me out in three games, and that was that. Overall, kind of anti-climactic, but I tried to put on a show.
Losing in the finals is supposed to be this huge letdown, but I didn't expect to make it that far in the first place. Everyone was saying "congratulations and condolences," but there were no condolences necessary, at least as far as the tournament was concerned. The result was a good one and nothing to complain about.
I honestly thought I was going to win. The matchup and the deck didn't really cooperate with me, though.
Ever since Gadiel Szleifer passed away, I've carried a Taking Back Sunday wristband with me to every tournament. I couldn't find the shirt Gadiel wore at Pro Tour Philadelphia, but the wristband seemed better to me anyway. I have sponsors to rep and the wristband isn't in your face. While I didn't win, I did put on a show, and that makes me happy. It was my friends who helped carry me.
Always the optimist, I booked my original flight to return Sunday morning. I had to rebook, and then I overslept and had to rebook again, which wasn't easy or cheap.
I ended up sitting in the airport, hanging out with some other Magic players, some of which also had flight issues. We played some Pai Gow Magic and showed each other pictures of cats to pass the time. Some discussion of the tournament happened and my finish was mentioned. A lady sitting at the next table over looked up the coverage, confirmed that I got second, and asked to take a picture with me. Her son also played the Pro Tour and thought he would enjoy it.
Later, her son showed up and it was my Round 3 opponent! He congratulated me and gave me his Chinese foil City's Blessing token! People are awesome.
Rebooking on a good flight wasn't possible for less than $3,000, so I didn't end up leaving Spain until Wednesday morning. It wasn't the worst thing, though. I caught up on some sleep, spent some time alone with my thoughts, and figured out my plan for the coming weeks.
Two Top 8s in Less Than a Year?
What is this, I don't even.
Life takes weird turns sometimes. Nine months ago I was a PT scrub; now I just narrowly missed getting my second Pro Tour title in four attempts.
Coming back from my Wizards internship certainly ignited a change in me, but I never thought I'd reap the rewards so quickly. Still, I did my damndest to fix my mistakes, and while several are still there, I'm doing better at mitigating the damage they do.
All this just goes to show that your most feared opponent should be #modoguy. Similarly to #marduguy (I'll be using #mardulife from now on, by the way), #modoguy is the entire Magic Online community personified into a single essence. They're always right and you should trust them. Someone wielding the Magic Online darling, like Mono-Black Zombies, Mono-Red Aggro, or even Mardu Pyromancer should be feared.
"Oh, that's just a Magic Online deck," isn't a thing.
Look, I don't know what to do with my hair, okay?
Outside of my high school days, I've basically always kept my hair short and spiky. Eventually that turned into short because I was too lazy to spike it every day (and generally stopped caring about my appearance past looking presentable). I also like to wear hats, so spiking it is kinda pointless anyway. Since then, I've kept it short sometimes, grown it out a few times, and right before Pro Tour Amonkhet, I got a haircut that I certainly didn't ask for.
But I kept it.
Then I dyed my hair, because why not. I like how it looks, I appreciate a change, and people seem to love talking about it. At the end of the day, why would you really try to please anyone with your looks but yourself?
My hair curls when it gets long and I have a million cowlicks, and I'm basically resigned to having mostly crappy hair for the rest of my life. If that's the case, I'm going to do fun stuff with it, appearance be damned.
It's a damn shame that when someone tries something new, they immediately get "you look hideous, go back to what you were doing before" instead of "I think you should try this, but it's cool that you're trying new things." Like, why do people care? It's the same as bringing up a mistake someone made to make them feel bad or stupid. It's just a shitty thing to do. Judging someone on their appearance says more about the critic than the subject.
"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
I'm a face of Magic and I'd like to stay presentable, so maybe that will have to change at some point. You may see clean cut, well-dressed Gerry at some point, but likely not within the near future.
Look out for my mohawk at Grand Prix Phoenix in a couple of months.
Side note: Something I'll never forget is when I was growing my hair out, just to kinda see what it would look like. It was sort of this big mess ball, but I had my girlfriend at the time straighten it. I looked like I was in an emo band. The first thing I thought to do was send that picture to Korey, and it absolutely delighted him.
To this day it's my welcome photo on my computer.
I don't know.
With how my season was going so far, I needed to pick up an extra ten points for Gold. Now I need a paltry four to hit Platinum again. I didn't get the easy invite to the World Championship by winning the Pro Tour, so maybe that's a thing to fight for.
This finish also puts me a step closer to the Hall of Fame, but my overall stats are still very poor compared to everyone else's. Some people said they're going to vote for me, but I still think I'm a huge dog. At least I'm one step closer.
Despite all the good stuff that happened this weekend, Korey's passing makes it difficult to be happy. By comparison, losing a loved one is far more important than some silly tournament and it makes it nearly impossible to feel like I accomplished something of meaning.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about my lack of motivation, and I had that in spades this weekend. After Round 3, I fought harder than in recent memory, just the way Korey would have and the way he would have wanted me to.
I played the finals of a Pro Tour with an emo haircut, constantly brushing the hair out of my eyes, drawing cards and killing creatures, the exact way Korey would have.
As the otter would say, "Sup?"
- Feelings: The best part about life
- Team Fun
- Mattia Rizzi: I owe ya big time
- Huey, Reid, Cho, Wrapter, Web, Nadine, Pelcak, Liz, Larabee, Ben, and everyone else who demonstrated exceptional qualities this weekend. I really needed that. Thanks, y'all.
- Magic: The Gathering
- Bedlam Reveler
- Legion Supplies, Inked Gaming, and MTGO Traders, and the rest of the Metagame Gurus squads
- Cassius Weathersby, Chris, Scott, Hunter, Eric Deluca, and everyone else who was taken from us too soon. Y'all helped make life worth living.
- Feelings: The worst part about life
- 8th Edition
- Me, for losing in the finals
- Ondrej: Dude, please put on some pants
- Air Portugal: You know what you did