For 25-year-old Ari Lax, showing up to a Pro Tour on a Sunday to play in the feature match area was a long time coming. The Detroit native, who now lives in Boston and works as an engineer by day, has been moonlighting as a content provider for StarCityGames.com and as a weekend warrior professional Magic player for years. Despite having competed at the top levels for years, a Pro Tour Top 8 had always eluded him.
At least it had, until Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, where he made his Sunday appearance at the Pro Tour a memorable one with a win.
2015 World Championship Competitor Ari Lax
The Pro Tour victory had been a long time coming for Lax, who began playing the game at a very young age.
"I played with my cousin David while he babysat me, and I don't remember winning a single game," recalled Lax, thinking back to his Magic roots. "Eventually I decided to buy some cards of my own around Urza's Saga, and soon after I started reading Scrye magazine. I got hooked on the tournament coverage part, specifically how awesome all the winning decks were."
"I went straight from kitchen table play with 300-card piles to showing up to Arena League with 10-Land Stomp and local Extended events with Draw-Go Mono-Blue. A friend of mine told me about the Junior Super Series [a scholarship tournament series that took place in the early 2000s for younger players] a couple of years later around Onslaught. We spent a ton of time playtesting gauntlet matches in his basement before showing up to the event with Astral Slide and Blue-Green Madness, and I've been playing competitive Magic ever since."
Lax's origins on the Pro Tour didn't come until much later.
"I spent a large number of years playing competitive Magic but not pursuing the Pro Tour due to the Junior Super Series requiring all competitors to have competed in no Pro Tours," Lax explained. "When the JSS finally ended, I decided to qualify for the Pro Tour."
His initial Pro Tour Qualifier experiences were lackluster, but by the time his third PTQ season came around, he finally earned his invitation. The event, his inaugural Pro Tour, was Kyoto in 2009. "I 'knew'—the Internet is wonderful, by the way—a bunch of people who qualified through Gavin Verhey's Team Unknown Stars, so I wasn't going alone," he noted.
"Kyoto was Standard from Lorwyn block through Shards of Alara and Conflux. I had been playing Spectral Procession decks at basically everything from Block Constructed forward and was pretty set on playing one at the Pro Tour. A week before the Pro Tour I showed up at RIW Hobbies [a game store near his hometown in Michigan] to test and was smashed by Patrick Chapin and Kyle Boggemes playing Cryptic Command decks."
"Having my initial choice completely upset, I spent a couple of days testing with Jed Dolbeer and we settled on a Faeries list with a ton of Vendillion Cliques for Standard and on forcing a crazy Red-Black Aggro strategy he worked out in Draft. I do mean crazy on that draft plan; Onyx Goblet and Goblin Mountaineer were archetype staples."
It was at the Pro Tour that he discovered a true appreciation for Faeries, and it also marked the start of his Pro Tour career.
"I distinctly remember the first game I played at the event," he recollected. "Having never played Faeries before, I won the die roll and played Thoughtseize on turn one. I took my opponent's second Kithkin for their Goldmeadow Stalwart, played Bitterblossom on two when they had no turn one play, killed their next two plays with one Agony Warp, then tapped down their lands with Mistbind Clique two turns in a row. At that moment I had this realization: That's what I could have been doing? Why wasn't I playing this deck the entire past year?”
I" ended up starting off 10-2 in the event but losing the last two rounds to Luis Scott-Vargas and Brian Robinson to miss top eight and finish in 15th place. I was pretty psyched to have done so well and used that finish and a follow up Grand Prix top 8 to hit Level Four (Gold) for the season. Since then I've been qualified for every Pro Tour, though I missed a couple in the middle due to school."
Ari Lax has come a long way, starting off his competitive Magic play for scholarships, and following up with a solid finish at his first Pro Tour. Despite a Top 8 eluding him for so long, it was not entirely shocking to see that he made the most of his Sunday stage debut. Now, Lax will have the chance to prove himself on Magic's greatest stage at the 2015 World Championship.
The 2015 Magic: The Gathering World Championship takes place in Seattle, Washington, during PAX Prime on August 27, 28, and 30. To learn more about this year's competitors, head over to the 2015 World Championship Competitors page, and check back every weekday leading up to the World Championship for new profiles on each of this year's competitors.