My Long Journey to the Pro Tour

Hey everyone! My name is Robert Vaughan, and I’m an aspiring MTG grinder from New Jersey. I have been playing Magic the Gathering since the Coldsnap prerelease but didn’t start playing at a more competitive level until when Caw Blade was in Standard. It was at this time that I really started seeing a correlation between the time I put into the game and the results I got out of it. It was a pretty satisfying feeling. The minor tournament successes I had during this time made me want more out of the game. It had always been a dream of mine to one day qualify for the Pro Tour, but it wasn’t until a six-month stretch in 2011 that I actually felt it was possible. It stopped being a dream at this point and became my goal to qualify for the Pro Tour.

Fast forward to July of 2013. After only having two PTQ top-eights and one close call at GP Orlando in 2012, I had a pretty dry stretch of possible qualifications. But now we were back in the Standard PTQ season, where I felt I had the best chance to qualify. I audibled to a WBg Aristocrats shell the night before a PTQ. It was an odd looking list from a daily, some random guy on MTGO named Batutinhua… All day at the PTQ I got strange looks from people as I cast [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] followed by [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card]s and Varolz. People were intrigued by the deck, and the talk around the room grew more and more as the day continued, mostly because I was making a run for top eight. I defeated Bant Hexproof in my win-and-in, and like you always should, I felt like it was my day to make it. Sadly, I lost to eventual winner, Andy Boswell with Jund, in the top eight of the event. So, for the third time, the dream died.

This PTQ was very important to my growth as a player, though. I have always felt more comfortable piloting UWx control decks than anything else, and I am usually against any last minute audible away from those decks. This tournament showed me that I could move out of my comfort zone and still pilot competently throughout the day.

(This tournament I also met a guy named Erik Smith, whom I luckily defeated in the Swiss rounds of the event. This is going to be important later.)

One month later, I decided on a whim to travel to an M14 Sealed PTQ about three hours away with some friends of mine. I have never considered myself an especially strong limited player, always priding myself in being prepared for constructed formats much more than limited environments, but I was having very good success with the M14 draft format on MTGO at the time.

I opened an above-average sealed pool featuring [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], along with some of the good blue tempo cards. Out of the eight rounds of the PTQ, six of them were easy wins and one was a blowout loss. This record lead me to a win-and-in against an Upstate N.Y. player, Jared Boettcher, whom I ended up becoming good friends with down the line.

We had a good match, friendly conversation, and I ultimately ended up winning it on the back of the Pyromaster herself. So that’s it, right? I made top eight of yet another PTQ and was now in the draft portion, where I felt much more comfortable than the sealed itself.

I wish that were the case, but that would make for a rather short article. I sat down for the draft and was incredibly over confident-which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for someone to be-but it ended up being my downfall in the tournament. I bombed the draft and lost to the [card]Master of Etherium[/card] himself, Alex Majilton in the top eight.

This tournament also had a large impact on my future Magic career: I learned humility in the top eight. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are, it probably isn’t enough.

I couldn’t buy a win in the Theros Sealed PTQ season. Let’s move on.

Here we are, back in the Standard PTQ season once again. This time we begin in the great white north of America, Syracuse, N.Y. This PTQ was a five-hour drive for a friend and me, but we justified it as a long weekend with friend and fellow magician Jon Corpora, who lives only minutes from the site.

I was on UWr control for this tournament and was confidant in my deck choice, claiming a favorable matchup against Mono-Blue Devotion, UWx control decks, and most of the random creature decks. The Mono-Black Devotion matchup wasn’t bad per se, as I had access to [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] in the sideboard; however it was a match that could always go either way. I X-1’d the Swiss, defeating Mono-Black Devotion three times on my way to the elimination rounds.

As we learned our top-eight bracket, I was excited to hear that my match would be against yet another Mono-Black Devotion. Once again though, I could not break through the top eight and fell to eventual winner, Hank Mead.

While I was excited to top-eight the first PTQ of the season, it did leave another sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to give up trying to make it on the Pro Tour, but it was starting to feel like my efforts were never going to be enough. I was spending most of my free time preparing for or travelling to tournaments, not to mention the monetary investment. It was hard to justify not only to others, but also to myself, the total effort I was putting into the game for what I was getting out of it. This thinking was not going to stop me, though; I had two more PTQs the following weekend, one in Connecticut and another in Philadelphia.

I’m sure at this point everyone has heard about the happenings of the Connecticut PTQ, but I got to experience it first hand. When the tournament organizer announced that we would require a three-hour break to fix the tournament, I was 4-1, and the friend I was staying with was 5-0. We both knew we were going to stay for the tournament (it’s just the kind of people we are); the question in both of our minds was about the tournament the following day in Philadelphia.

We were both confidant in our abilities to top-eight that day, but obviously we can’t both win the tournament. I was planning on going to Philadelphia the following day regardless of my tournament finish to hang out with friends and eat delicious food-not to mention I live 30 minutes from the Convention Center. So now what? Doing some quick math showed that this tournament would not conclude until 2 or 3 a.m. Adding a 4 1/2-hour drive from Connecticut to my apartment had us looking at a long night, followed by a long PTQ.

I gave my friend, and magic/life advisor, a call to talk to him about the situation. He asked me if I secretly knew if I was going to play in Philly the next day, barring a win in Connecticut. The answer was so obviously a yes that at this point I realized I was not going to let up on trying to qualify. He told me to try to get some sleep during the break, which I took advantage of, and get ready to restart the PTQ.

I painstakingly lost to Mono-Blue in round eight, putting myself out of contention for elimination rounds. I had been battling with Naya Devotion, a list very similar to Jim Davis’s from the Invitational. While it sucked to lose a win-and-in, I felt very confident in the deck and got to watch my friend easily 7-0-2 into top eight. Sadly, though, his dream died to an interesting Br midrange deck, and just like that we were off to Philadelphia.

After stopping to get gas and coffee, it was 1:30 a.m. by the time we were actually on the road. At this point the GPS said we would get to my apartment around 5 a.m. Easy game, I guess.

We made it to the PTQ the next day. Though I was sleep deprived, there was no questioning now how hungry I was for the qualification. Today I was on Rw Devotion. I dropped the green, citing mana problems throughout the previous day and the lack of impact that the green cards had in bad matchups. I started off 4-1 again, this time losing to Mono-Blue Devotion in the early rounds of the tournament.

As I went to my table for round six, I learned of another matchup that I was not prepared for: the mirror. I was paired against Star City Games Invitational winner Erik Smith with his version of Rw Devotion, and it was the furthest thing from a competitive match of Magic I’ve played in the recent past. He had a much firmer grasp on the matchup and what role to take on the play and draw than I did. I ended up losing the match.

At 4-2, I dropped from the tournament to get some sleep and try to recover from the weekend, since I did have a full week of work waiting for me Monday morning. Of course, I also had two more PTQs the following weekend.

That week I was fortunate enough to be lent Rw Devotion on MTGO to further prepare for my tournaments. I took advantage of this. Not only was I testing with friends and locals when able, but any other time I was free during the week was spent on MTGO getting as many repetitions as I could with the deck, learning matchups, and overall getting more comfortable playing it.

That Saturday I travelled to a PTQ in Lancaster, Penn., battling with a very similar 75 to that from Philadelphia the week before. It was an eight-round tournament, and I sat down for round seven at 5-1. I was paired against Harry Corvese piloting UW Control, a matchup that I felt pretty comfortable in. I lost a quick game one on a sketchy keep that was a non-Nykthos land away from being incredibly explosive.

Game two hurt. A lot. There was a complex board state involving double [card]Archangel of Thune[/card] paired with double [card]Soldier of the Pantheon[/card] facing down double monstrous [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s and a [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. Harry was at eight life after I resolved a [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card], which was more than a single dragon could deal. I declared attackers and went to turn my dragons sideways, when I immediately thought of [card]Celestial Flare[/card] and how much of a beating that would be. I impulsively turned my [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] sideways with the rest of my attackers.

As soon as I did this, I realized that I had just punted the game away by allowing his Archangels to block my Emissary, negating the damage dealt by the Dragons and making me incredibly dead on the swing back.

This was solely tunnel vision. I knew what the correct play was but did not think at all about the current board state and attacked into an on-board kill. After the match, I expressed my thoughts with Harry and he had very kind words to say about how long it took him to qualify. He told me that he made every mistake in the book before he made it, but he kept learning as he progressed. Those words meant a lot to me. I thanked him and wished him luck in the top eight while I was left to think about how I could play so poorly when there was so much on the line. I swallowed my pride, what little of it was left, and went to tell my friends of my recent try-out for the punter position on the New York Jets.

Later that night I had to clear my head. There was, after all, yet another PTQ the following day. I got back to my apartment only to see that none other than my friend Max Williams had won the Lancaster PTQ. I was awe-struck. To say that I was excited for him would be an understatement; I know how hard he has worked at this, not to mention losing in the finals of the Philadelphia PTQ just six days prior. He deserved it more than anyone else in the room and he thankfully took it down.

I went to sleep, but woke up around 1 a.m. to the news that another friend of mine, Jared Boettcher, won the Catskills, N.Y. PTQ! Man, this is so sweet! Everything I said about Max can be said about Jared, at the least. Not only did he also lose in the finals of a PTQ the week prior, but he was also playing our updated version of UWr control from way back at the Syracuse PTQ, which was a very cool feeling for sure.

So there I was, reading comment after comment on Facebook and Twitter wishing them luck and congratulations on their finish. They made it look so easy, making finals of two PTQs in a row is no easy task! Hell, up to this point, I haven’t even made it that far. My very first reaction was negative-I’ll be honest. I felt that this was a sign that my friends were moving onto the next level, while I stayed behind. I quickly discarded those thoughts and fell asleep watching Donnie Darko as I got mentally prepared for the next day.

We got to the tournament site, a small mom and pop bookstore in Havre de Grace, Maryland. We knew the tournament was going to be capped because of space issues, but we did not realize the play space was going to be so tight. I believe the number of players was in the 130s, but I might be mistaken.

As we got started, I battled through a good representation of the metagame, beating Mono-Blue, a handful of Mono-Black, the mirror, and a random assortment of creature decks on my way to a win and in against Zach Hill piloting Bu Midrange. I had a good idea of the card choices in his list, but it still presented a large challenge, having both Pact Rat and [card]Master of Waves[/card] in the same deck, especially when I had so little hard removal.

Game one was over quickly, which made him think I was much more aggressive then I actually was. This misconception gave me an advantage in game two, where he had a lot of cards that were not very good in the post board games. Where I brought in [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]s and additional hard removal to allow the game to be stretched out, he sideboarded for much quicker games. As the game went on, I played [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] and Purphoros himself. When the match concluded, it was a great feeling knowing that I won the game solely by being more familiar with the matchup.

At this point, I knew I was a lock for another PTQ top-eight, but this time was different. Leading up to the tournament I claimed that if I could sit down in the top eight and not play against Mono-Blue, I would win the tournament. This top eight had a single Mono-Blue Devotion deck, which I would obviously end up playing against. But fortune was with me that day; my opponent got a game loss for a misregistered decklist. I got the match and was onto top four.

I got to play against the mirror, a match I am more comfortable with than most other pilots. I have to thank Erik Smith for that. After our match in Philadelphia, I messaged him on Facebook asking him about his thoughts for the mirror. He claimed you want to always be the aggressor and that trying to take a control route is not going to work. I tested his theory during the week and overwhelmingly agreed. It was a good feeling being prepared for a mirror that I was sure would be popular, especially when I felt like most others wouldn’t be as comfortable. My opponent and I split the first two games, but my sideboarding plan of being as aggressive as possible paid off in the deciding game.

I was now onto the finals. I was pretty nervous, I’ll be honest, but my friends kept me in line. I felt a lot better about the match when I learned that Mono-Black Devotion defeated Esper Control. I actually had it all. I got to play against my best matchup, one that I claimed if I could play 11 times on the day I would 11-0. I got to put my money where my mouth was now.

He won a quick game one on the back of mulligans into [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Pack Rat[/card]. Game two was one of the most complicated matches I have played in recent memory. I thought I was out of it for a couple turns, but after some fortunate draws and possible misplays from my opponent, we were on to game three.

My hand here was very strong, one that I would take every game if able. Knowing he was playing [card]Thoughtseize[/card] made the hand a little less exciting, but I still had a lot going on. We both kept, he played a Swamp, and passed the turn. I sighed, assuming he was just going to Seize my Thoughts the following turn, but he only played a scry land, put the card on the bottom, and passed. After a few turns of applying pressure in the form of [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card] and [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], he extended the hand in concession.

I won the PTQ and just qualified for my first Pro Tour!

I still don’t think I have realized it, even at the time of writing this article.

It’s such a surreal feeling knowing that all of my hard work and constant efforts have finally paid off. I’ll never forget that tournament, or the feeling I had after winning, which is going to be the fuel that keeps me going now. I’m beyond excited to be apart of the Pro Tour and the testing process that comes along with it. I know it’s going to be a very trying and humbling process, but I will hopefully take it in stride and learn from it, as I have from every other tournament I’ve played in.

I have so many people to thank for pushing me along to make it this far; I don’t know if I could have down it without them. While the current Standard format is going to be changing drastically in the coming weeks, I will include my UWr list that Boettcher won his PTQ with, along with my Rw Devotion list for reference.

[deck title=UWr Control by Rob Vaughan]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Azorius Guildgate
2 Mutavault
5 Island
3 Plains
[Other Spells]
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Quicken
4 Detention Sphere
4 Counterflux
4 Azorius Charm
3 Last Breath
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Elixir of Immortality
3 Divination
[/Other Spells]
1 Blind Obedience
2 Assemble
1 Last Breath
1 Celestial Flare
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Negate
2 Pithing Needle
3 Gainsay
2 Wear // Tear
1 Turn // Burn

[deck title=Rw Devotion by Rob Vaughan]
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Boros Guildgate
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
11 Mountain
4 Ash Zealot
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
[Other Spells]
3 Chained to the Rocks
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
[/Other Spells]
3 Assemble the Legion
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Wear // Tear
2 Boros Charm
1 Glare of Heresy
2 Last Breath
2 Firemane Avenger

Thank you for reading what is my first of hopefully many articles,

Rob Vaughan