There and Back Again – On the Bubble at GP Philly

I was at table 1, sitting across from Harry Corvese. After going 8-2 on day one with no byes, I knew I would have to win six matches with no losses to make the top eight. I had won five of them. Harry had run the same gauntlet. We were shuffling our cards, and Frank Lepore just took a picture of us to post on the wizards website. If I were to win this match, I’d make top eight, but that’s really the end of the story. Let’s go back to the beginning, back to my only tournament before 2012.

November 10, 2001, North Carolina States’, a huge Magic: the Gathering tournament with 111 players. “Untap, take one from my Phryexian Arena, and draw for the turn,” I said. Notice anything wrong with that statement? I didn’t. I liked it so much I repeated it all through the first round of that event. I wondered why people were giving me strange looks, and why my deck wasn’t working as well as it had in practice. It was only after I lost the round that one of my buddies, who had been standing behind me, said, “You dumbass! You paid the life for the Arena and never drew the cards!” I’d thought I was pretty good at Magic and was ready to try an event bigger than the 8- to 10-player drafts we had at my local store. I was embarrassed, I was defeated, and I’d made myself look stupid. I played a few more rounds, but my heart just wasn’t into it. I finished 105 out of 111.

That night, on the drive back to Wilmington from High Point, I found the answer to one of life’s most often asked questions. That, of course, being, “Who would win a fight between a white-tailed deer and a Ford Focus?” Turns out that at 80 miles per hour they trade in combat. My car was totaled. After a long night (in the days before every one had a cell phone, I certainly didn’t), I managed to find a tow truck and a ride home for me and my friends. All in all it was not the best day of my life. I didn’t decide to stop playing Magic that day, but I never went to another big tournament. The idea of trying to compete against 111 people was a bit daunting. I still did drafts now and then at the shop, and even played a few casual games with my buddies, but it was a game, not a passion. As life went on, I had to make more time for work, more time for family and more time for… well, I’m not really sure what the hell I did, but playing Magic wasn’t a part of it. Years passed and I didn’t think of the game.

Now we’ll take a step forward in time. It was mid-2010. I’d moved to a new city for work without any friends or family, and suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I’d already watched every season of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. I’d already tried playing World of Warcraft. I’d realized I couldn’t click buttons fast enough to play Starcraft. What was I to do? That’s when I remembered Magic. I remembered I had an account for Magic Online when they had free beta testing. I wondered if that was still a “thing.” Did people still play it? Did it catch on? After 15 minutes of trying to remember my account name and password, I gave up and made a new one, named after my character in Everquest, “Semulin.”

Well it turned out people did still play Magic! And you could still do drafts! It had only been nine years, I should have the hang of this! I jumped in, quite excited, and remembered my days of winning all the local drafts back in Wilmington. This should be great! I jumped in an 8-4 and tried this new set called “Rise of the Flying Spaghetti Monsters,” or some such. I lost in the first round. Well, that could happen, I didn’t win all my drafts back in the day. I tried another one: lost in the first round. This happened two more times before I decided that Magic Online wasn’t a good place for me to spend my money. I closed the program and decided to find something better to do.

Several months later, I had a random thought in while in my office: “I bet there are people who record themselves doing Magic drafts and then post them on YouTube. Maybe I could find one from a pro or something and learn how to do this.” I pulled up Google, keyed in “Magic Draft Video,” and a few moments later found myself watching a draft by some guy named Josh Frankel. He was drafting a set called “Scars of Something,” and seemed to be a little bored with it. He was waiting for “Something Besieged” to come out online. I disagreed with most of his picks, and why in the world would he play 17 lands? Fifteen is plenty. I figured he was an idiot, but I watched the games anyway. He won. That might have been a fluke.

I quickly realized that Josh Frankel wasn’t the idiot-I was. Josh doesn’t know this, but he taught me how to draft. Within a few weeks I’d watched everything I could find from him, even in older formats that no one drafted anymore. I also found a podcast called “Limited Resources,” and they mentioned this other guy, Kenji Egashira. I found videos of him drafting too. I went from a guy who drafted horrid decks to a guy who was regularly winning 8-4s online in a matter of a few months. I absorbed everything I could find from them and was having a great time doing it.

Just a little bit more of a fast forward, now we were in 2011. It was near the end of the year, and I was still playing online and having fun, but I started to wonder if they still did that Pro Tour thing I used to hear about. I remembered watching it once on ESPN. A few quick searches told me they did and one was happening right now and I could watch it on my computer! Awesome! I followed Worlds 2011 and saw all the drama of [card]Tempered Steel[/card] and Ramp. I got the bug. I decided that I was going to try the big tournament scene again. I wanted to do that! I would go to a paper tournament … as soon as I was ready. I mean, I wasn’t a pro. I wasn’t even that good. I was just winning more drafts than I lost. I would win a big tournament when I was ready.

The new year came along, and it was now 2012. I got asked, “What do you want to do next year?”

“I want to win a big Magic Tournament, like that one I watched a while back!” I said. I already knew what I would do once I won: I’d start making draft videos, like Josh had, so that I could help and entertain other people. I’d also make sure I knew the different formats, apparently Type 2 was now called Standard? Strange stuff.

It was a few days after that that it hit me: one second, I didn’t know something; the next second, I did. It just washed over me.

The pros don’t do the things they do because they’re pros. They are pros because they do the things they do. In other words, they aren’t attending big tournaments and making draft videos because they’re pros. They are pros because they do those things! So … if I want to be a pro, all I have to do is start doing what they do!

A quick search showed me how to acquire screen capture recordings, and I already had a headset for my job. Recording my first draft video, about 7 months ago, was quite daunting. First off, it’s actually quite odd: I’m playing a game. By myself. And I’m talking to myself. Honestly, think about it. If you’ve never recorded a video of game play, just try talking to yourself while you play a game next time. It’s strange.

Then there’s the doubt. What if no one watches? Why would anyone watch it, I’m just a n00b? What if I’m not as good as I think I am, and I just embarrass myself? This could be Phryxian Arena all over again!

But I wanted to get better, and I wanted to one day be a pro, so I recorded and posted the video. To my great surprise, not only did people watch it, they seemed to like it! That motivated me to do a few more, and shortly thereafter, I found out there was going to be an SCG Open in Sacramento, California, just a few miles from where I lived!

Pro Tour Dark Ascension had just taken place, and I figured that would be a good place to find a Standard Deck. Rob Dougherty had played a BW tokens deck that appealed to me. I copied it, though I adjusted the side board. After a few Friday Night Magic events at Adventures in Comics and Games in Sacramento, I thought I had a good deck and was ready to go!

The SCG Open had 323 players. That’s small for a SCG open, but it was still the biggest tournament I’d ever been to. I was quite happy to find all of the friendly local players I’d played with were there. I chatted a bit and started the first round. By the end of the day, I’d gone X-2, just missed the cut to top eight and had a feature match, which I won. Fifteenth out of 323? I was thrilled! I even got to go home with $100. This gave me the confidence I needed to get back into competitive Magic.

I knew I was moving back to the east coast over the summer and saw there was going to be a Limited Grand Prix in Boston. I’d never been to Boston, or to a GP, but it was on the east coast, and I was moving to the east coast. I made plans to go.

It turned out Boston, or more accurately Worcester, was about 14 hours from Wilmington, NC. That might not sound so bad, but trust me, driving it was quite something else. A friend and I made the trek. I was still pretty tired from the drive when I entered to the hall. There were nearly 2,000 people there! Holy crap!

I had won a GP Trial, so I had three byes. After registering my pool, I went out for a smoke; there was Josh Frankel having a smoke of his own. I was thrilled to get a chance to meet the guy who taught me how to draft. He was easily one of the nicest guys I’d ever met, and we chatted between rounds about how the event was going.

As for the results? I lost my first two rounds after the byes and ended up not making day two. I think some of it was because I was so tired, but also, making day two of a GP is hard! You can only lose two rounds! That’s hard even with three byes, and I’d guess quite daunting with none. My friend lost his win-and-in as well.

I hung out and did some side events, chatted with Josh when I saw him, and traded a few cards. I left having had a blast! My dream of winning my first GP didn’t work out, but I got to play Magic for a whole weekend, and at least now I knew what this GP thing is about.

The next nearby Limited GP was in Philadelphia PA. That’s a much more reasonable eight-hour drive. And it was Limited again, which is always something that excites me. I’d been very fortunate to have become associated with between Boston and Philly. That KYT mailed me a ManaDeprived t-shirt to wear got me especially excited! But this takes us back to round 16….

I was at table 1, sitting across from Harry Corvese. After going 8-2 on day one with no byes, I knew I would have to win six matches with no losses to make the top eight. I had won five of them. Harry had run the same gauntlet. We were shuffling our cards, and Frank Lepore just took a picture of us to post on the wizards website. If I were to this match, I’d make top eight. We shuffled up and started to play.

I’d drafted a sweet Rakdos deck featuring four Chainwalkers and plenty of removal. I kept [card]Mountain[/card], [card]Swamp[/card] and three-drops on the play, figuring I’ll draw a land or a Chainwalker in the next two turns and be off to the races.

I didn’t.

It was a reasonable keep, but I got steamrolled by flyers and goblin tokens. Game two, I kept a similar hand. I drew what I needed as Harry stumbled on mana. When I stuck a turn-five [card]Desecration Demon[/card], after removing his only creature, I started thinking about game three. I figured there was no chance he would get out of this, and as a result, I started playing sloppily. That’s a mistake I knew not to make, but sometimes even the ones you know come up and get you. Because I missed an attack there was no reason not to make, and wasted a removal spell on an insignificant creature, I gave him the time he needed to draw a solution, and get back into the game. For reference, [card]Goblin Rally[/card] and [card]Desecration Demon[/card] are not friends.

Would I have won that game if I’d played at 100%? I don’t know for sure, and there was still another one after that if I had, but I learned the lesson that the only time you can relax is after the match slip is signed. Did I hang my head in shame as I started the drive back to North Carolina? Hell no! I made day two! I almost made the top eight! I have my first two pro points and a finish to be proud of.

I also didn’t hit a deer on the way home, which was quite nice for both me, and the white-tailed deer population of Virginia and North Carolina.

I haven’t “arrived” yet. I’ve still got a lot of learning to do, and I’m still looking for my win, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share my story thus far, and thank those of you who’ve supported me along the way. I couldn’t have done it without you. Hopefully we can continue to learn and enjoy this game together. The next GP for me is in Charleston, South Carolina, and I’m looking to improve on my finish there!

Until then,