I was trudging through downtown New York in the middle of a blizzard to attend the cocktail party that was going to kick off something called the Black Lotus Tournament series at the Puck Building. Players could qualify to play in the tournament by calling a special phone number, or in certain cases they received an invite to play in the event based on their Duelists Convocation International rating.
You may know the event better as Pro Tour 1.
That's right. It has been 10 full years since the wild west of tournament Magic has been tamed and civilized into the global village of the Pro Tour. If you want to get an idea of how far things have come in that time, you need look no further than the disparity in the venues between the kick-off event 10years ago and the first event of the 2006 season.
From snowy streets to sunset beaches...
Don't get me wrong. I have lived in or around New York City my whole life and don't expect that to ever change. But if it does change, it will be a February snowstorm that is the clincher. Winter in New York is not the city's finest moment. Winter in Hawaii is much more to my liking and that's where the second decade of the Pro Tour is going to start in just two weeks.
Apparently a group of gamers could not wait to get a head start on Hawaii. Jeroen Remie, Rich Hoaen, Sam Gomersall, and several other players have rented a house on the North Shore of Oahu to soak up the local flavor and playtest for the Standard format. (How you playtest Standard by drafting I will never know, but…) There is a video camera on the premises to record the goings on, and if there is any usable footage you can expect to see it incorporated into the Pro Tour coverage. If there is nothing usable… well, you will know they had a good time.
Back then we had no idea what was going to happen – and no idea that Magic itself would still be around in 10 years, much less the still as-of-yet unnamed Pro Tour. I think that I might have played in the tournament rather than judging had I realized its historic significance and how rarely I would have the opportunity to play in the future.
At the time I had been part of organizing a thriving tournament Magic scene in the Tri-State area through New York Magic – later renamed Gray Matter Conventions – and my store Neutral Ground. I was excited to see if any of the players who came to my event could hold their own against the best of the rest of the world.
The New York Magic scene featured a number of players who would go on to be pretty central in Pro Tour Magic lore – and several who would not. Regular competitors at my events included Jon Finkel, Steve and Dan O'Mahoney-Schwartz, Chris Pikula, Dave Price, Dave Humpherys, Darwin Kastle, and more than I could possibly remember.
Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz was stunned to learn it had been 10 years since the event.
Antarctica has become active in Magic again. “I'll have to do a draft or something in honor,” laughed Steve as he recalled his amazement upon learning about the tournament. “I remember thinking, ‘Is this thing for real?' ”
What is really amazing to me is how many of these players are still shuffling up the cards after all these years. Steve and Dan recently trekked down to Grand Prix-Richmond and have taken part in the now-legendary drafts at Jon Finkel's Mana-hattan apartment. Darwin and Jon are qualified for Hawaii as Hall of Fame members, although only Darwin is going. You'll have to wait until Prague to see Jon play again on tour.
Chris Pikula, who finished in the Top 32 of the very first Pro Tour, is also qualified for Hawaii after earning an invite at Grand Prix-Philadelphia. It is unclear at this point if Chris will be attending the event.
“It is looking like I'm not going, but I still might,” explained Chris who would gladly trade the beaches of Hawaii for the snowy streets of New York. “Maddox Pikula sprung forth from my wife last Friday, so we have a lot of baby stuff going on. But if that goes smoothly and I find a cheap deal on a ticket or something I might go. I'm sad that it is such a long trip and has bad timing with the baby, because I wanted to go to try and drum up some Hall of Fame support. The baby also already made me miss a Prague PTQ that took place in NYC a few hours after he was born.”
Chris was attending Cornell at the time of that first Pro Tour, along with fellow future Deadguys David Price, Dave Bartholow, and Bob Kline.
“Our whole Cornell crew at the time was very excited," he said. "I don't really remember our prep that well. I know I was in love with Stormbind, and Dave P loved black beatdown. Bartholow liked Earthquake. That is all he cared about. Earthquaking. Bob enjoyed prison decks; I think he played some sort of Mark Justice Special with Howling Mines.”
Of course Chris had no idea the road he would be going down when he signed for that first event. Professional Magic players were something that only Wizards of the Coast and Mark Justice fantasized about back then.
“I don't think I thought about it at the time,” admitted Chris. “I just knew I loved tournaments. Being a professional Magic player certainly never crossed my mind.”
No more so than the idea that he and other gamers of his vintage would still be getting together and playing the as-of-yet uninvented draft format a decade later. Chris attributed the recent surge in old-timer drafts to a couple of different forces at work.
Jon Finkel, then and now.“There are certainly a few factors here in NYC. Myself, Igor Frayman, Jamie Parke, Chris Manning and Brian Manolakas all work at the same place so we get the fever a lot. Finkel's HOF induction created some draft fever at his apartment. I guess it has just spread out from there.”
That first Pro Tour was split up into two divisions – one was for seniors and the other was for juniors (16 and under). The players in that junior bracket included the OMS brothers, Finkel, and Bob Maher. No one from New York was surprised when Jon made the first Top 8 of his illustrious career that weekend. No one who knew the consummate control player was surprised by his deck of choice either.
“I thought I was good, they were giving away a bunch in scholarships, it seemed like a no brainer,” Jon explained when asked what he thought about as he signed up for that first tournament.
Another Neutral Ground regular who made the Top 8 that weekend was Ross Sclafani, who designed a red/white Sunstone deck that abused Land Tax, snow-covered lands, Sunstone, and Glacial Crevasses. Both Steve and Dan also played Ross' unique creation which was lost in the shuffle of Graham Tatomer's Necropotence design for the Junior division.
This has led many players to look back on this era and mock the deck builders of the day for missing the card for so long. One item that is continually held up for mockery is the issue of Inquest where the set review for Ice Age originally appeared and Necropotence was derided as one of the worst card in the set.
I recently had a fascinating conversation with our own Mike Flores about that era and he attributed the emergence of Necropotence not to the late blooming of the era's deck designers but to a shift in the environmental effects leading up to the tournament.
“I think that Necropotence as an archetype was made possible by the restriction of Black Vise prior to PT 1,” explained Flores. “People say 'it took a long time' for players to notice that Necropotence was good. That's not true. The card WASN'T GOOD. Paying life to go to seven cards in hand would have been terrible in a format where Black Vise was not only available but heavily played as a 4-of.
– Mike Flores
“Even after PT 1 Tony Parodi said that every deck – including discard decks and even blue-white Angel/Scepter decks – should play the one Black Vise because of the possibility of just annihilating the opponent. I don't know if I buy that, and I certainly didn't follow the advice but you have to understand the mentality of players in an environment where Black Vise was readily available.
“The adoption of Land Tax – another card that players used to go to 7+ cards in hand – was delayed by Black Vise. Notice that the whole Preston Poulter school of 'only Necropotence and Land Tax decks are viable' came only after the PT 1 era and necessarily the restriction of Black Vise.
“If you go back to the previous championship events prior to PT 1 there were tons of decks based on Howling Mine/Black Vise/Stormbind that did well. How can Necropotence succeed in this kind of a format?”
10 Years of History
With 10 years of the Pro Tour in the books, you can definitely see how trends form and the game has evolved. Mike Flores's ability to look at the game from such a unique perspective is what has made him such a singular voice in the game for the past decade. With the exception of Mark Rosewater (who has written for Wizards over the same period of time), no writer has contributed as much as Mike has for as long as he has.
So turn the clock back to last summer. As professional Magic approached the 10-year mark, I began to think about the game’s history – and how to bring it together in a lasting form. Early on in professional Magic there were numerous attempts to publish books about Magic, ranging from Beth Moursund’s invaluable deck deconstructions to Canticle’s single-card strategies to the books by George Baxter.
It's been a long time since those days, and the game has changed a lot. I decided that the time was right to try my hand at the publishing game with a historical eye. Armed with the entrepreneurial spirit of the mid-90s, Matt Wang and I have just put the finishing touches on a book containing a 10-year overview of Mike’s decks thoughts and theories on the game. It is called Michael J. Flores: Deckade.
The book is on sale now at www.Top8Magic.com. It contains all of Mike’s best work (including his theory of Investment, Who’s the Beatdown, Silver Bullets, and the Philosophy of Fire) and new material wrapping up each era of his career. There are also introductions by Randy Buehler, John Shuler, EDT, myself, Al Tran, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Ted Knutson.
As I look at the mock-up of the cover and the proofs of the interior, I am once again taken back to the snow-covered streets of Pro Tour New York 1996. As I trudged through that mess I had no idea that the 20 blocks would lead to my professional career for the next 10 years, or that it would take me to such far-flung places as Bangkok, Venice, Hawaii and – later this year – Paris and The Louvre.
I certainly had no idea that I would one day be recounting that weekend 10 years later or publishing a book featuring the collected works of one of my best friends.
I think I will take Steve’s advice and do a draft to celebrate.
Frank Karsten's fandom has spoken and he is your choice for The Fanatic at this year's Invitational. He edged out Akira Asahara and Josh Ravitz to win this new category which challenged voters to look at different ways that players inhabit the game. This week's ballot is much more straightforward – but is easily the most difficult one to predict.
The APAC region includes a country called Japan. Perhaps you have heard of it. Apparently there are some pretty good players from that country – to the tune of four Level 6 players and five Level 5s. Terry Soh, Katsuhiro Mori, and Kenji Tsumura are removed from the equation since they are already invited but that doesn't make things any easier.
Ten years ago, the Pro Tour opened its doors for its first event. Like I stated above, I had no idea it would take me where it has … and where it will in the future. Where has the Pro Tour taken you? What memories do you have, from its earliest days to its current world-spanning form? Let us know by heading to the message boards!