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My journey to Mythic Championship VII started out how a lot of my Magic tournaments start out: running across an airport to make a connecting flight.
After making my connection, I had a long flight to Los Angeles to mentally prepare for what was going to happen in the following days. I had never been to an Arena event, I’d never even been to California. I had no idea what to expect this tournament to be like. Other than that there’d probably be a lot more strobe lights than the previous tournaments I’d played. All that I could really do was rely on my testing and play my matches one at a time.
I spent five days in LA, and in retrospect these were some of the best days of my life. I immediately fell in love with California; not wearing a coat in the middle of December probably had something to do with that. The food, the company and the tournament made this the best Magic experience I’ve ever had.
We started out the weekend with Media Day, where we had our headshots taken and I met a lot of the other competitors. There were a lot of people I was meeting for the first time and reconnecting with others. I also got to see two of my best friends again – Jess and Eli.
We took a tour around the event site and walking into the game play area was surreal. That was the moment when I realized this entire experience was real, and I wanted to win it all. I’m typically someone who tries to set “realistic” goals for herself, but being in this environment made me never want to leave it. I wanted to win, I wanted to re-qualify, I wanted to stay on the professional Magic train. And this feeling would only increased throughout the weekend.
For those unfamiliar with the list I took to MCVII, I decided on Golgari Adventures with Lucky Clover after working with Autumn Burchett and Mimi Arthur:
Golgari Adventures – Ally Warfield
Day One is when the nerves kicked in.
Before this, I knew that the tournament was going to happen regardless of how nervous I was, so I could put myself in the best position by just trying my best and playing my game. But sitting down at that computer was a different story. The computer screen was bigger than any screen I’d played Arena on. This was accompanied by a professional gaming mouse and headphones. This was my first true experience at a real esports event, everything was just a little bigger and more polished. My heart rate was elevated, my hands were sweaty, and I started to get the thoughts that I had something to prove. This made me even more nervous because I typically perform worse when I have something to prove.
I never cared about the people discrediting discretionary invites. However, I often feel the pressure to perform well to prove women can be successful in this game. Like my individual result is a testament to what women can do at a big event like this. Which can be amazing and inspiring when I win, but soul crushing when I lose.
My nerves started to calm down when I saw my round one opponent was Alex Hayne, someone who I had already played at MC Richmond a month prior. I took comfort in that familiarity, but ultimately ended up losing the first round. Round one is always difficult for me. I don’t think I utilize the resources around me well enough before tournaments, like getting in some warm-up games. I didn’t play well game one. I assumed I had lethal when I did not. I got caught up in how I was going to win the game, I forgot about what could cause me to lose the game, and it cost me.
After skillfully getting the bye round two, I was paired into Ben Stark for round three. At first I thought I was paired against Brian Braun-Duin because for the first time in a tournament ever, someone shared the same first name as me, which was really cool for the obvious inclusivity reasons. I walked into the play area and was immediately informed that I had a feature match. At the Mythic Championship. The nerves were back.
Twitch chat is known for being particularly unkind to women on camera and the thought of my plays being analyzed by upwards of 75,000 people made me extremely anxious. But I managed to ground myself and focus on my gameplay. I was confident in my plan against Azorius Control and ultimately got the W with a mix of Reaper of Night and Shifting Ceratops post-board. I could steady my breathing, I was done with my camera match, and I won.
I spent the next couple rounds losing to some challengers and beating some heaters like Eric Froelich and Dmitriy Butakov and found myself playing a win-and-in to Day 2. I then found out I would be playing against one of my Magic idols on camera in the last round of the day. Chris Pikula was on Jeskai Fires, a matchup I was fairly confident in. However, he was still Chris Pikula, so my expectations were not great. I already had a camera match earlier in the day, but I was physically shaking trying to sit down and get ready for this one.
I’ve played against my fair share of people I’ve looked up to in the past, even in the same tournament. But this was different. The stakes were so much higher, and the entire Magic community would be watching this one match. Also, if I wasn’t playing this Mythic Championship, I would be cheering for Pikula to win it all myself. Needless to say, I was experiencing a slew of emotions.
Surprisingly this was my first match of the day against Jeskai Fires. I felt good about the matchup in the post-board games, and it’s close in the pre-board games. I tried to keep those thoughts in my head to calm down and focus on the actual gameplay. Typically, Golgari Adventures build enormous card advantage against Jeskai Fires until they can’t keep up. They typically need Fires of Invention in play if they have any hope of winning that matchup. Because if they don’t have their namesake card, it’s just so easy for you to snowball an advantage.
I sneak out a win in game one versus Pikula. Game two, I get a perfectly timed Duress to take out his Deafening Clarion and close out the game. We tried to talk about the match a little after, but I was shaking so bad, and my mind was going 100 miles an hour. Making it to Day 2 was a stretch goal for myself — and I just earned it. I had exceeded my own expectations, I had beaten some of the best people I’d ever played against, and I earned my spot to compete again the following day.
My mom and sister texted me after the last round letting me know that they watched the whole time and that they were proud of me. My family doesn’t really understand Magic, so hearing that they watched me in my most important tournament to-date meant the world to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support from them, as well as my partner, Dylan Hand. The continuous love and support in my life from them and all my friends help me push to achieve all my goals, while being kind to myself when I fall short.
Results-oriented self-worth is largely toxic and not the determining factor of one’s skill — and this kind of thinking is pretty prominent in competitive Magic. That said, it was extremely validating to be continuously accumulating good results in some of the most elite events the game had to offer. Especially after the rhetoric surrounding “getting carried” at team events because I’m a woman. I’ve now Day Two’d both of the only MC’s I’ve played in, and I know I am a strong player. I am confident in my testing process and continuously striving to be a better player. I have a long way to go to become the player I want to be, but I am proud of my growth as a player for the short two years I’ve been playing competitively.
I celebrated by getting dinner with my friends and going to bed early so I could play my best on Day Two.
I got to the venue on Saturday morning and immediately felt out of place. Most of my friends I’d played with yesterday were not there with me. I’m pretty shy, and it’s hard for me to walk up to people far better than me and introduce myself. Luckily, Chris Kvarteck and Jordan Cairns immediately made me feel welcome, talked to me and cheered for me the whole day.
I slammed a Red Bull and headed to my first match of the day against Christian Hauck, another Jeskai Fires player. After how the previous day went, I felt a bit more comfortable. I was ready to eat the MPL that day. I fired off two wins against Hauck and prepared to play against Shota Yasooka on another Fires deck. However, his deck was much different, he was playing a five colour build. We were put on camera, and I was extremely nervous because I had not tested against a list like this and was unsure about if I should approach the matchup differently than traditional Fires and about my sideboarding plans.
We had some close games. Kenrith was even more powerful in his deck than the Jeskai version because he had access to all of his abilities. Ultimately, I was able to squeeze out a win in game three to put me to 2-0 in Day 2.
After my second win of the day, a lot of the pros I have looked up to since playing started to ask me about my matches and tell me they were cheering for me. My Twitter notifications were blowing up, lots of general cheering, but also a lot of wholesome tweets about various peoples’ daughters, girlfriends, wives, etc. sitting around and watching my matches. I’ve touched on this sentiment in the past, but being the reason people are saying “representation matters” is a surreal experience. I’ve looked up to successful women players since I’ve been playing, and I’m incredibly humbled whenever I find out someone is looking up to me, or when someone is starting to learn to play because they saw me holding my own against the best players in the world.
I was overwhelmed with emotions.
Round three I was paired against Jordan Cairns. I had watched some of his feature matches the previous day and was in awe of how good his technical play was. I was already mentally preparing to play an intense match of Magic, and then they told us we were the main camera match.
My match against Cairns was the most intense match I played all weekend. It came down to game three, and I ended the match at one life. I think this specific game was a “level up” moment that I’m going to take with me the rest of my Magic days. This felt like one of the first times I was planning the entire game in my head. I thought about the different plays Jordan could likely have, analyzed all of my decisions, and what I thought the rest of the game would look like based on those decisions. From playing around Find // Finality, watching out for Questing Beast and attacking a Massacre Girl into a 1/1 and a Lovestruck Beast. I want to be at that level of the game every time I play in a tournament from now on.
This is when things got crazy. I was 3-0 against three amazing players on Day 2 of an MC. I was asked to do a handful of interviews. My social media notifications still hadn’t stopped. So many pros I admire came up to congratulate me and say they wanted me to win the tournament. The immense amount of support I received (and am still receiving) is nothing I ever imagined. I was overwhelmed at how much of an impact I could make on so many peoples’ lives. For the first time, I considered the possibility of Top 8ing this thing.
That thought was quickly crushed when I played against Kanister. He beat me so quickly I wasn’t sure we had even played a match. I proceeded to lose the next two rounds to Huey and PVDDR, largely because they are better players than me, but also some real feel-bad draws, like game three against Paulo.
After starting 3-0 and dropping to 3-3, I was pretty unhappy with myself. I shouldn’t have been, because I lost to some of the best players in the whole world, but I had let myself think Top 8 was a possibility. And if you’ve ever played even the smallest competitive Magic tournament — you know that exact feeling.
My tournament was so difficult, I realized I was actually playing a Top 8 win-an-in at 3-3 in the last round. And getting paired against Marcio Calvalho on Jund Sacrifice (a matchup I’d been losing to all weekend) was not ideal. I tried to put everything I had into this last match, but after putting 110 per cent into every match that day, I was exhausted. My play was fine, but I wasn’t in the same headspace as when I started the day. I lost the last round in game three and started to get disappointed in myself all over again. I had put myself in a position to get something I’d only dreamed of, and I lost.
After about ten minutes, I realized what I had accomplished is something I will be proud of for the rest of my life. I never expected to Top 16 this event going into it. I far surpassed my own and many others’ expectations. I made the Top 4 of the Challengers for this event, and I am now the woman with the highest amount of Mythic Points. I have accomplished so much in such a short amount of time, and I am nothing less than proud of myself.
This event has pushed me towards wanting to keep playing Magic at the professional level. It’s so much different playing matches against the best in the world than what I was previously used to.
Playing against the best of the best forces you to try to play better than your best at all times. That sounds stressful, but ultimately is a way to continuously improve. I’m proud of my performance at the Mythic Championship, but one of my constant goals in Magic is to keep learning and improving whenever possible. Playing against players miles better than myself is a way to accomplish this.
They pushed me to be my best and improve. I’m ready to keep improving in 2020. I don’t know all my plans yet for Magic in 2020, but I’m excited to share the experience with all of you.