Welcome to Ask the Pro, a new feature on magicthegathering.com.
Five-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Olivier Ruel has opened his virtual mailbox and eagerly awaits your questions about high-level tournament play, what it's like to travel the world playing Magic, how to prepare for events, and anything else you'd like to know from a Level 6 mage in the Pro Players Club.
Send your question, along with your name and location, via email. Answers will be posted every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
For more of Olivier Ruel's writings, check out his column archive.
Q: When will you quit Magic and get a real job?
-- Gilles Ruel
A: Hi Dad,
I am not planning to quit Magic at the moment. I can at the moment make a living off my passion, and it's too much of a chance for me to stop. Moreover, I met lots of people since I started playing and now most of my friends are players themselves. Also have I visited over 20 countries in 7 years of professional playing.
One day I'll stop Magic, for the game will stop itself, or I just won't be good enough to keep on maintaining good enough results to stay pro. Or maybe will I just get a family and Magic won't fit in my life anymore. But Magic brings me so much that it means to much for me to stop any soon.
No worry, I will get a job someday and you will have grandsons from Antoine or/and I one day or another –- that is not necessary incompatible.
Q: How many mistakes, on average, do you make each game? Is this figure very format-dependent? What percentage of games you lose do you think are winnable with perfect play, and likewise what percentage of games you win do you think your opponent could have won? What I'm driving at is this: How much does skill matter when it comes to Pros playing Pros?
-- Josh Utter-Leyton
A: It surely is format dependent. In Constructed, if I know my deck and the format very well, I probably won't make many mistakes. It also depends on whether you call a mistake THE misplay that costs you the game or the small mistake on an attack, a block, or the order in which you play your cards in hand.
In the first case (considering the worst plays, the one that cost you game), I rarely do more than one a tournament. I did one in Charleston when I misread what Geoffrey Siron had in hand, which cost me a pretty bad misplay, which made me lose a game I had maybe a 50 percent chance to win. I also lost my last round for money in Grand Prix-Cardiff on a bad attack.
Concerning the bad decisions, I would say I make one a game in Limited. There is just so much to think about. In Constructed for instance, your opponent plays turn-one Darksteel Citadel and Arcbound Worker. You know you have to play around affinity spells, Disciple of the Vault, Arcbound Ravager and Shrapnel Blast, and that's nearly it. Then you know your deck, you know exactly what's in it, there is already much to think about, but you CAN figure it all out.
In Limited, there are about 600 cards your opponent can play. You can try to figure what he has depending on his plays, but you can't be 100 percent sure, there often are two or three cards he would play nearly the same if he had them in hand.
Same about your deck, you can figure most of what you can topdeck when you need a removal, or which land to play on turn one when you have golds in your deck, but you can't think of everything all the time.
I think perfect playing wins 60 to 70 percent of the games. With a very good preparation, it can go up to 75 percent. And about the games I should lose when I do win ... I'd say 5-10 percent in Constructed and 10-15 percent in Limited on a PT. At a local event such as a prerelease, it goes up to approximately 40 percent.
When two players of the same level play each other, decks and draws often make the difference, that's why preparing well is so important.
Q: I enjoyed the Player of the Year Race last year, and while Kenji is a great player, I really hoped you would win at the end. What was your feeling when learning that you lost by one measly point?
Thanks for your answer... good luck this year !!!
A: The last few months of the 2005 season were the most exciting of my Magic career. I was doing great at every Pro Tour, but Masashi and Kenji were Top 8ing everywhere themselves. I hoped they would lose, but then I was so glad for them every time they had done well at a tourney. I have a lot of respect for Masashi and for Kenji, both as players and as men. They're humble, funny and, in Kenji's case, very sociable with non-English speakers.
I think over last season I had the same level as Kenji and Masashi was one level above us. He fell only four points from catching up Kenji, which I think he would have got if only he could have made it to Pro Tour-Philadelphia. I was very glad for him when he won Team Worlds and I supported Japan a lot more than I cheered for France on the team event.
At Worlds, I had an awful day in Limited, and I knew I had to 6-0 in Extended to get a chance. Drawing my first round, I still thought I could make it winning the next five. After winning the next four I realized I couldn't get more than 3 points anyway so I ID'd and went to watch Kenji's match. If he lost, I could catch him. He did lose but my math was wrong, as many people took an ID last round to make sure they would be in Top 32.
Kenji ended up 21st while I needed him to be 25th.
I then spent a horrible night remembering all the games I could have won to grab that little pro point. But the hardest point was definitely when I had to take pictures of the trophies for my magazine. When they called Kenji, I applauded Kenji, I was glad for him, but I was wasted inside.
Now, when I watch back on that season I feel glad I did so well and I'm sincerely happy that Kenji won, but I think I would still be mad if the POY was not actually someone I really liked.
Q: I was wondering when was the last time you had the opportunity to play with an inexperienced player. I can see that as a Pro you would like to play against competent opponents, but do you ever play against people who are just picking up the game. Do you enjoy these games?
-- Simon Cameron
A: As I'm playing mostly Grand Prix and Pro Tours, I, indeed, don't play very often with inexperienced players. The last time I did was on Dissension Prerelease in Paris. It was a 473-player prerelease by the way – I had never seen anything such before. I love playing these events for many reasons:
1) The atmosphere is much cooler. People aren't here for competition, but for having fun and discovering a new pool of cards.
2) I get to sign lots of cards, which I never get tired of doing. At Pro Tours and Grand Prix people won't usually ask me, but on local events, I can sign cards, take pictures...
3) The playing level is way below what it is at a Grand Prix or a Pro Tour. Here, I can regularly win games mulliganing down to 4 cards or missing land drops on turn two and three. It applies more in Limited where the player matters more than the deck.
4) It's always an opportunity to see people I like but who never or rarely make it to international events.
Q: How did your family react when you decided to tell them that you were going to pursue a professional career in Magic: The Gathering?
-- Mike S.
A: I had never planned anything such as becoming a professional player. It just came gradually, as I invested more and more time in playing, and since I was becoming better and better meanwhile.
My mom was not very glad my brother and I neglected school for Magic, but, being a Bridge tournament player herself she always has been supportive and understanding. My father cares and worries about the way my brother and I are leading our lives, so do most of the people in our family.
We are lucky though, as they all understand the chance to make a living from our passion as well as to spend so much time abroad.
Being famous, even on a small scale, makes it much easier to accept. My parents check out the coverage of every event, they are our first supporters. When Alexandre Peset and I created our magazine “Level Up”, my mom, father, brother and even my grandmother immediately subscribed. My grandmother even gives me her opinion about my articles. She also has my Pro card and Antoine’s. Celebrity, as well as the money we make on tournaments, definitely gives us credit.
They will probably never stop worrying for us, but still, they are very supportive.
Q: Apart from yourself or Antoine, who do you think will win Worlds, and what about the layer of the Year race – do you see any surprises?
-- Dara Butler
A: Hmm, not easy. I'll try my chance on another race with a strong Japanese accent. My surprise will be Kenji Tsumura – on fire since Grand Prix-Kuala Lumpur – who will make it to the Top 4 in Charleston, then he will win in Kobe, and, finally, conquer first place by winning team Worlds. Wesimo Al-Bacha, despite being a little paranoid, is both a nice guy and the most consistent rookie after half the season. I think he'll maintain his lead until Worlds in Paris.
Other predictions: First PT Top 8s in 2006 for David Brucker, the best German player to me; Go Anan, who will also be invited at 2007 Invitational as Resident Genius; and Rogier Maaten, the rising player of the Dutch powerhouse.
2006 Team World Champion: Team Japan (Kenji Tsumura, Go Anan, Jun Nobushita)
2006 Team World Finalist: Team Sweden (Johan Sadeghpour, some guy, Raphaël Lévy)
2006 World Champion: Akira Asahara
2006 World Finalist: Rogier Maaten
2006 Player of the Year: Kenji Tsumura
2006 Rookie of the Year: Wesimo Al-Bacha
2006 Player of the Year Race:
1. Kenji Tsumura
2. Akira Asahara
3. Frank Karsten
4. Tiago Chan
5. Takuya Osawa
6. Shuhei Nakamura
7. Antonino De Rosa
8. Johan Sadeghpour
9. Mark Herberholz
10. Masashi Oiso
11. Bram Snepvangers
12. Raphaël Lévy
13. Jelger Wiegersma
14. Tomohiro Kaji
15. Craig Jones
16. Quentin Martin
17. Gabriel Nassif
18. David Brucker
19. Go Anan
20. Rogier Maaten
Q: Looking back on your achievements in Magic, Have you ever looked back and asked ourself: "Wow, how did I get here?
A: Oooooh yes! The question I wonder the most is "Where would I be, had I never played Magic?"
Well, I suppose I would have been a better high school student, and then I would have graduated in university and got a good job... Now Magic has taken a too important place in my life to allow me to have this kind of consideration anymore.
Would I have had a different life if I hadn't discovered Magic or only if I had not been good enough to become a pro? Probably.
Would I have had a more developed social life outside the game? Definitely.
Am I scared about what I'll do the day I quit Magic or I'm just not good enough to make a living out of it? Yes, I am.
But do I regret now all this time dedicated to my favorite game? Not at all.
I've travelled in the last 6-7 years more than most of people will in their whole life. I discovered so many countries, cultures, and people just by playing cards. I managed to make a living from my hobby, and I try and share my passion with you readers in English, a language I nearly couldn't speak at all before travelling to Grand Prix and Pro Tours.
Now the time when I really ask myself "wow, how did I get here?" is when I realize I am third place at lifetime winnings, and fourth (soon third) on lifetime Pro Points, which makes me in theory the closest man to Kai Budde and Jon Finkel. I don't feel like I'm anything such as a player, that's why it feels a little weird to appear there.
Q: Which processes do you and your team go through when playtesting a brand new format, such as Ravnica Block Constructed or Standard now that Dissension arrived? What about a tried and true format, like playtesting for Standard right after Pro Tour-Honolulu?
-- Rafael Quadros
A: The first step is to define a playtesting group. You need good players you get along with, and close geographically so that you can test together as much as possible. In the case of Pro Tour-Charleston, I am teaming with my brother Antoine and Frank Karsten. The people we want to test with are mostly the players we tested with in Amsterdam for Prague. Rogier Maaten, Julien Nuijten and Wessel Oomens fill all these requirements. Then we accepted any teams of friends who would show a real will to invest in testing.
As Tiago Chan decided to come and test in Bruxelles with everyone the week before Charleston, there was no more reason to say "no" to Kamiel Cornelissen and Bernardo Da Costa Cabral. Same applies to Geoffrey Siron, Jelger Wiegersma and Raphaël Lévy, as Raph made the trip from Sweden.
Four teams might be a little too much, but about 10 players getting along with every other man in the place – and with each individual able to bring something to the tests – is a good configuration.
Before you meet everyone, you need to build as many competitive decks as possible. Then when you gather you can compare each archetype with other players' versions, and work together on it. It is never a good thing to work on your own, as you can't think of everything by yourself. Now we're in the final line, only a few days before the PT. We've built all decks until now as individuals, we've managed to get good ones, but now we have to find three that fit together, as a maximum of four copies of each card is allowed in all decks of one team at a Team Constructed tournament.
About testing after a PT, most of pros play Constructed only when they have to, as draft is funnier, easier to play on Magic Online, and because the draft format is much deeper than any Standard format. Since Honolulu, I've only played about 30 Standard games – half on testing for a team event I played with friends two weeks after the PT, and the other half on the tournament itself.
I play Constructed before a PT or Nationals, otherwise I only play Limited.
Q: How confident are you when you enter a Pro Tour? Do you ever get worried about your chances of doing well?
A: I always am both confident and worried. Confident because if I prepared well for an event, I always feel like I'm going to win when I sit at the table. I understood how important confidence is in Magic, so now I try to prepare well enough to maximize this confidence when the tournament actually starts.
For instance, before Pro Tour-Prague, I had spent a week at Julien Nuijten's place testing with Pros only a brand new format (Ravnica-Guildpact-Dissension Booster Draft). After posting good results there, I was confident in my drafting and in my play. (If, just like me, you feel like the word confident comes back too regularly, send me a synonym at firstname.lastname@example.org and make my English vocabulary better!)
From then I didn't fear anyone, and even when players like Tomoharu Saito, Katsuhiro Mori or Shuhei Nakamura sat in front of me, I didn't consider losing before I was actually dead.
In Constructed I'm a bit scared in the first three rounds of a tournament. Is my deck good? Did I take the good archetype? Is the metagame what I had predicted?
At Pro Tour-Los Angeles, I got extremely lucky to catch top 16, as my Affinity deck was an aberration in the second day's field, so I was very stressed on Day Two.
I usually cut Pro Tours into three steps:
Step one: Round 3
Step two: end of Day One
Step three: Final line
All Day Two is a final line to me, I calculate way less, I try to win all my matches, with Top 8 as my only goal. If I can't make Top 8 anymore, Top 16 then, and so on. I prefer to feel confident when I arrive at a table, and the best way to do so is to always look up, not down. I would be very glad to be Top 16 on every Pro tour, but I won't consider it before I can't actually make the Top 8.
Q: Hello Olivier, I would like to know how do you feel when you lose in a Pro Tour against an opponent you feel is very bad at Magic. Especially when you just saw him making 2-3 huge mistakes during the game but as he kept topdecking, you could not do anything. Most of the time I see people get nervous and they sometimes insult their opponents, do you do the same? :)
-- Jean Charles Salvin
A: I'm just like everyone, I don't like losing too much. Usually, the first thing I ask to myself after losing is "Could I have won this game?" I'm just like everyone, I happen to throw games away or just to make mistakes. If I have made a big mistake, whether it cost me the game or not, I blame myself more than my opponent, for I don't consider I deserved the win.
Usually, if you manage to play a game nearly perfectly and if you don't have an horrible matchup and/or mana problems, you shouldn't lose to someone who tries to give you the game. But sometimes, it just happens, and then, I get mad. What I really hate is when there is a combination of two of the three following:
1) Arrogant opponent
2) Very bad opponent
3) Huge mana problems
For instance in Prague, I faced against a player who played really badly. I'd been very unlucky about my mana, but I managed to topdeck for the win. At the end he kept on complaining on how lucky I had been. Losing that game would have been really painful.
On the same tournament, I lost twice to an opponent who was pretty arrogant, and against whom I had a mulligan to 4, a mulligan to 5 and a huge mana screwed out of the five games we played. If I had been screwed against someone nice, that would have been fine, but losing to him made me a little mad.
Did I ever insult an opponent? Hmm, good question, not as far as I can remember. One of the good points about being a pro is that people show you respect when they play against you, so I usually never feel like being rude to my opponent. Wait, there was one!
Grand Prix-Paris, I'm playing Léo Barbou, a young Switz-French player. He keeps on complaining for all the game for he's mana flooded when he drew 40 percent lands. At some point, being mana flooded myself, and having already observed three or four visible mistakes from him, I just lose my nerve and say "Can't you just shut the f*** up ??!! If you just played OK you would have won that Game 5 turns ago. And by the way I drew four lands more than you so just stop complaining!!!!"
He did stop, untapped, drew Kodama of the North Tree and killed me with it. Then, I was really, really, really mad.
Q: Do you look up to your older brother as a colleague, rival, and sibling in the Magic world and in other parts of life and have you ever felt resentment toward his achievements, such as obtaining a PT win before you?
A: Antoine and I started Magic when he was 15 and I was 13. We've always shared hobbies, played the same sports, games, etc, and we've always been nearly the same level at everything. The same applies to Magic, as being both colleagues and rivals made us better players. I've always wanted to do better than him, and I have to admit that a few times I hoped he would lose games for me to do better than him.
Now things have changed – we're not rivals anymore, not to me at least. I'm his first supporter at every tournament and watching him win Pro Tour-Los Angeles and reach the Top 8 in Honolulu were maybe my best two memories from Magic. Reaching a Pro Tour Sunday with your brother when you've been playing in the same tournaments for about 10 years really has a special taste. About winning L.A. and the Invitational, I think he deserved it more than me, as I've had more success than him over the last one or two years without necessarily playing better Magic.