Wizards of the Coast welcomes Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy as the featured player here at "Ask the Pro." A fixture on the Pro Tour for the last eight years, Raphaël is uniquely positioned to answer your questions about the life of a professional Magic player, give a historical perspective on the game and high-level tournament scene, share stories about travelling the world, and talk about the role Magic plays in his life.
Seventh on the lifetime Pro Points list, Raphaël began his Pro Tour career back at Pro Tour-Paris in 1997. He became a regular on the tour starting at the 1998 World Championships. Since then he hasn't missed a Pro Tour, an astounding streak cresting 50 consecutive events. He was recently honored as a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame's 2006 class and was inducted at the 2006 World Championships in Paris. Send your question, along with your name and location, via this email form. Answers will be posted every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Q: Why did White Weenie perform so poorly at Pro Tour–Yokohama? Wasn't it supposed to be the best deck?
- Various readers
A: In the weeks before the PT, White Weenie was all over the place. It took most slots in Block Constructed premier-event Top 8s on Magic Online, and it sounded like the format was really unbalanced – possibly White Weenie would be as dominant as Affinity was in Mirrodin Block.
Many players decided to show up with White Weenie, none did really well. The field was aware that White Weenie would be widely played. Everyone had weapons to fight it, and in the end every deck had enough hate, in the maindeck and in the sideboard, to beat it. Cards that could have been played in the sideboards of some decks, made it to the maindeck to improve the matchup, such as Wildfire Emissary. White Weenie was supposed to beat control decks, or at least have a fine chance. In fact, blue-black decks just packed in more Tendrils of Corruption to fight it, and suddenly the match up wasn't that good anymore.
The red decks that showed up in mass all ran four of the ultimate weapon, Sulfur Elemental. That forced white players to rethink their builds, maybe switch their Soltari Priest for two-toughness creatures.
In the end, White Weenie couldn't evolve to beat a well-prepared metagame.
Q: How did you pick you deck for Pro Tour–Yokohama? Is it PTQ viable?
- Various readers
A: The deck I played – "Make it Rain" – was designed by Julien Nuijten, John Pelcak, and Gadiel Szleifer. It consists in fast beatdown creatures and burn spells. In a field of White Weenie and blue-black control, it was a perfect choice. The deck performs quite well in both matchups.
However, the metagame is going to change after the Pro Tour. Three red-green decks made the Top 8, so those might be the choice of many players. Red-green is the worst matchup for mono-red. If you expect a lot of them, you might want to try Tomoharu Saito's version instead, which has a couple of good answers to fatties and walls in the shape of Utopia Vows and Timbermares.
The viability of the deck will depend on how the format is going to evolve. If red-green becomes more popular, then maybe it's not a reliable choice. If control still dominates the format, you may want to run more than 20 Mountains in you deck.
Q: Did you really suspend a Rift Bolt against Teferi at Pro Tour-Yokohama?
A: (From Raphaël, through coverage reporter Noah Weil, who said that Raphaël chided him for erroneously reporting that Levy had suspended Rift Bolt through Teferi in Round 15):
Folks, Lévy has never and will never suspend Rift Bolt when Teferi's in play. Happy to resolve that, Lévy went to give blood before tithing his winnings to an orphanage. We hope that clears his good name.
Tune in later this week for more from Raph about making the Top 8 of Pro Tour-Yokohama.
Q: I am not a pro but I love the competition of trying to get to that level. Assuming that I will not qualify for Worlds, do you think that the side events at Worlds are worth the trip? (I live in Albany, N.Y., a three-hour drive north of the city.)
A: Hi again Scott,
If you have never attended or watched a high-level Magic competition before, you definitely need to go to New York City for Worlds. Not only will you be able to play in lots of different side event tournaments with cool prizes, but you get to meet the pros and see them play. Unless you have something really important to do, you should definitely go.
Of all the big tournaments, Worlds is by far the most entertaining. If you're a casual player and like to play all kinds of crazy tournaments, there will be something for you. For example, an Ice Age Block Constructed tournament (Ice Age-Alliances-Coldsnap) was held last year in Paris. If you're a more competitive player, at least a couple of PTQs usually take place during the weekend. If you're a Magic fan, you can follow your favorite pro players throughout the main event.
It's often said that in order to get better, you have to learn from the best. And the problem is that you don't really have contact or access to pro players. Three hours seems like a very short drive for such an event.
Q: As you obviously know, Worlds is in New York City this year. How do you feel about playing there? Do you have any fond or even horrible memories from playing there?
A: Hello Scott,
I personally don't have any horrifying memories about New York City. The last Pro Tour that took place there was the weekend before 9/11. Antoine, Olivier and I left on the 10th at night (technically on the 11th, as a storm was over the city on Monday evening and we had to wait a couple of hours to take off). I only heard about what had happened when I landed in Toulouse. My brother came to pick me up and told me the whole story. He had never been so relieved to see me. The other Frenchies had their flights planned for the day after ... which means that they were stuck in New York for some time. They checked at the French embassy if they could do something for them. A couple of days later, they were sent back to France in a private jet.
In France, we did our best to keep the families informed for the ones who were still in New York, and everything worked out for the players.
Q: On Sunday I was drafting a solid blue-green deck in a Tsp-Tsp-Plc draft. Half-way through the draft a Lightning Axe was passed to me from my right, but there was also a good card in my color. The next pack brings a Firemaw Kavu and the next another axe. In Planar Chaos I open a Pyrohemia and someone passes me another Pyrohemia. I regret not changing to red. It is wise to change colors in the middle of a draft because a great card came to you and it's not in your colors? In my case, after seeing the cards that came afterward I regretted not switching, but what if nothing good come later and I passed a good card in my colors? Please Help!!! (For the record, the guy who passed me the two axes, the Firemaw Kavu, and which also received 2 Pyrohemia and passed them was playing red!)
A: Hello Josue,
First of all, if you want to improve your drafting skills, you should try to draft with better players. Passing a Lightning Axe and a Firemaw Kavu when you're red seems... just bad. But maybe there were just better cards, but I doubt it as Firemaw Kavu is one of the best red cards in Time Spiral.
To perform well in draft, you have to know the basics:
-Knowing the format:
That means knowing which color combinations work best, which card is better for a given archetype.
-Understand the signals:
In a draft, you will be given "signals", hints that will help you to know what your neighbours are drafting. By sending signals, if they are clear enough, you can 'tell' your neighbour which colors are open, so he can draft cards from colors you're not playing. If you believe one color is open, and that it's not too late for you to switch colors, then you should go for it. Half way through pack two seems almost too late, but cards like Lightning Axe and Firemaw Kavu are easily splashable, so you probably should have taken them anyways, "just in case".
In a draft with players without a clue, signals won't be understood, and you will be sent wrong signals too. It's then up to you to understand what's going on and make the most of your draft anyway.
Q: I am a rather new player to Magic: The Gathering, and am having some difficulty settling on a deck I feel comfortable with. Not only am I having a hard time choosing a color to settle on, but I am also wondering if you would recommend running a popular, high-success rate cookie cutter deck, or building your own deck? Also, is it worth running a cookie-cutter just to win, or is it more fun to try to find ways around the current metagame?
- Alex Fuller
A: Hi Alex,
This is a rather advanced question for a new player. As you're already talking about competitive play, I guess it won't take you long to figure out what I'm about to tell you.
If you're playing tournaments, as I believe you do, or will do as you're talking about metagame, you'll see that you'll have to change decks once every couple of months as seasons of Pro Tour qualifier tournaments pass. So choosing which color you'll play is not going to be relevant.
Building a deck is one of the hardest parts in Magic. So pretending that you can beat already tested and proved-to-be-good decks is very optimistic. The way I know to find the deck you should play is by playtesting – and it's no real secret. Build decks if you want, or maybe start with already existing decks that you can find everywhere online and tune them your way. The whole purpose of playtesting IS to find ways around the metagame. Maybe you'll end up concluding that the best deck is the one everyone is talking about, or maybe you'll find something that has even better chances in the field.
Q: I love Project X, thanks for making such a cool deck. I am locked in the Top 8 of City Champs in North Carolina. I am playing Project X and winning a lot of games, the only problem is that I know there is a guy who is also locked into the Top 8 and is playing Project X too. I have no idea as to how I win the Project X mirror match. Can you talk to your pals and think of anything in Standard that is super good in the mirror? Sorry to ask for deck help but there are not many good deck builders that are not in the Top 8 in my area and I don't want to have my tech leak out at all
A: Hello Peter,
Unfortunately, I don't answer private emails. But I can give you clues on how to win a mirror match in general.
When you're sitting down at the table and you know you're going to play a mirror match, before the die roll, if you're playing the exact same deck as your opponent, your chances of winning are 50 percent.
Playing better than your opponent and knowing how the matchup works will give you a certain advantage – let's say between 5 and 35 percent improvement, depending on the difference between the play levels. Knowing how to sideboard is also very important. This is also where the most experienced player has an edge, taking out the right cards for better ones. When building your sideboard for any deck, thinking about how you will win the mirror match comes last. Given the fact that Game 1 will be almost like a coin flip, and that Games 2 and 3 are decided by how you sideboarded (and who plays/draws first, gets the best draws...), you don't really want to waste precious slots in your sideboard.
In the case you're running a deck without tutor-like effects and that you really want an edge in the mirror, you will need at least four cards in your sideboard to make the difference. And those cards need to have an important effect on the game, pretty much like silver bullets, otherwise the cards will be quite useless. Two slots in a sideboard to raise your chances in the mirror by 2 or 3 percent? It's not worth it. If all sideboards are running "silver bullets" for the mirror, then you'll need to match them (for example, I have in mind Armadillo Cloaks in the sideboard of Extended Boros).
In the case you're running a deck with tutors, try to find one or two cards that could be very good to fetch. In Project X, you're running Chord of Calling to fetch creatures, so maybe that's where you should look... a creature that can remove cards from the graveyard or prevent your opponent to go off. I don't actually have one answer for you, but that should be enough to help you!
Another thing: if you expect a lot of mirror matches, then you should tune your main deck instead of just your sideboard, to have better chances in all three games.
Q: I am forming a team of friends to play Magic with me. I currently have four people on the team including me, we all have played other TCGs. 1. Are clans/teams allowed? 2. Where do I register my team if they are allowed and require a registration?
A: Hello Mike,
Teams and playtest groups are an integral part of the competitive part of the game. Everyone is free to form a team with whomever they like, as there is no official registration needed.
The point of creating a team is to have more points of view, more ideas, more people to playtest matchups, and have more fun. It may not be different from a regular group of friends with whom you would regularly play every day. The very essence of a team is to gather the players you think are worth it, either because they are good friends or because you think they will bring something positive to the group... against other players.
Depending on how devoted and serious the team is about sharing information outside the group, some people will feel rejected because they won't have access to what you end up with. Keep that in mind and see if it's worth trading fun that you would usually have with other players for efficiency.
The other good part about a team is that you may have access to sponsors. For example, you can ask a local store to wear shirt with its logo in exchange for a couple of packs or little money.
By the way, if you hear about some "entity" willing to sponsor pros, let me know!
Once again I'll tackle the same questions as earlier in the week, but this time I asked Shuhei Nakamura, Japanese level 6 mage.
How do you/did you become good?
Shuhei Nakamura: About 5-6 years ago, I went to this card shop "Adept" in Osaka, and met all those great players, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Masashiro Kuroda, Masahiko Morita, Osamu Fujita and started playing with them. With so many talented players to help me, I managed to improve my game. A year later, I made Top 8 at my first GP. "Adept" is now closed, and it became harder for Japanese players to get together with the pros, so they will have to find another way to get better.
What's your experience with the pro lifestyle?
Shuhei Nakamura: Fortunately when you are level 6, you can cover the expenses for a trip to a foreign country. We have connections with both Americans and Europeans, but the language barrier sometimes hinders our relationships. All the Japanese pros are close friends and travel around together. Just like the 16th century explorers, we like to see new lands, new cultures. We always take some time to sight-see whenever we step in a new place.
How do you playtest and prepare for the PT?
Shuhei Nakamura: I usually start playtesting two months before the events. There has been no time to practise too much for Yokohama as there have been so many events, so we're going to have to catch up now. The Japanese pros don't live in the same city. Tomoharu Saito and Tomohiro Kaji live in Tokyo, I live in Osaka, Kenji (Tsumura) lives in Hiroshima. We're basically playtesting like the Europeans do. When I'm home, I play on Magic Online where my friends share decklists with me. We also gather in Tokyo from time to time, to play with real cardboard.
Favorite and least favorite format?
Favorite format: Coldsnap Limited
Least favorite: 2HG, because I don't like the best-of-one match system.
Today we'll go through the same question as on Tuesday, but from a European perspective. Level 6 mage Tiago Chan will be answering.
How do you/did you become good?
Tiago Chan: When I was considered a 'noob,' I played against players slightly better every time. This way I could improve my game better than if I played against someone too much better than I was. He would just bash me, and I wouldn't learn anything. I played against my cousin with the cards we owned at home, then I played in high school and caught up to their level. Then I played at my local store until I caught up to their level, and moved up to playing with PTQ players. I'm now playing with pro players, and I'm still learning from the better players. Not everyone has the chance to play daily against pro players, so improving one's game gradually may be the solution.
What's your experience with the pro lifestyle?
Tiago Chan: The chase of Pro Tour Points, in order to achieve a higher level at the end of the year, pushed the European players to travel all around the world to attend GPs. The last couple of months, we've been travelling together all around the world and created special bonds. So it's now an integral part of my life. Friends, travels, Magic.
How do you playtest and prepare for the PT?
Tiago Chan: Lately, I've been fortunate enough to playtest with the best players in Europe. We get together some time before the tournament and get good quality practice. Even though we're spread over the continent, it's still easy to meet at one place. It's more profitable as we can discuss altogether, share our experience and opinions, and obviously more fun. Good ideas sometimes come up randomly during a casual talk around dinner – something that would not happen if we were only playtesting on Magic Online.
Favorite and least favorite format?
Favorite: Team draft, Booster and Rochester Draft
Least favorite: 2HG sealed deck
Next, the Japanese perspective.
I've been hanging out with all kind of pros this weekend in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. This week, I wanted to find their thoughts on the most-asked questions I receive for Ask the Pro. For the American perspective, I talked to U.S. national champion Paul Cheon and famous NBA star (he wishes...) Ervin Tormos.
Q: How do you/did you become good?
Paul Cheon: American players got better thanks to Magic Online. It's easy to start a game anytime. The U.S. is really spread out, so it's hard to have all the good players together. The competition in local cardshops can't be compared to the play level that you get from playing online. To me there's no secret: practice a lot ... (I play about 3-4 drafts a day).
Ervin Tormos: I actually do a lot of activities outside the game that I believe contribute to my overall play, like logic puzzles, and playing other games such as chess or poker. Sometimes taking a break from the game is all you need to reach the next level.
Q: What's your experience with the pro lifestyle?
Paul Cheon: I'm new to the pro lifestyle and hang out with my roommate, Luis Scott-Vargas, in the tournaments, and I'm still getting to know other players who have been around from the beginning. Travelling to the PTs feels like both a vacation and something I have to do, going there expecting to do well, not something you usually do when you're on vacation.
Ervin Tormos: I have a lot of fun travelling around the world to play Magic as there's more to do than just play cards. There are also people I only see a couple of times a year, and the PT is great to bring everyone together...and have fun!
Q: How do you playtest and prepare for the PT?
Paul Cheon: There's nothing particular about preparing for a tournament in the U.S. ... as we're not only preparing with Americans. As we said before, everyone is so spread out in the country that we can't efficiently make up an organized session.
Ervin Tormos: There are several regional groups. Unlike other countries where pros do their best to test together, the U.S. is not known for similar camaraderie. Magic Online gives a good opportunity for preparation and I try to play as much as I can in the weeks before the Pro Tour.
Q: What's your favorite format, least favorite format?
Paul Cheon and Ervin Tormos:
Favorite format: Booster Draft
Least favorite format: 2HG
Next, the European perspective.