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 of 49 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: In your October 28 question, you mentioned that a player asked around on an IRC channel for advice on what to play. What sort of areas do you look around to get a good feel of the professional metagame, especially on the Internet? My local area has a weird metagame that doesn't fit in much at all and we always seem to have problems when we head to PTQs or Champs as a result. How can we improve our view of the metagame?
A: Hello Antonio,
When you playtest for a tournament, it's better to have a good feeling about what the decks you're going to play against. The metagame in a given area will depend a lot on the level of the players in that area. The more experienced the players are, the more chances you'll have to face a metagame you expect. In an area where players play more casually, they won't have access to or be looking for the latest tech on the Internet. They will bring their own decks to the tournaments, and generally those tournaments aren't very representative nor will they tell you if the deck you chose to play is good enough for you to bring it to a more important tournament. If you win, that means your deck is probably good enough to beat some random or rogue decks, and not necessarily mean that it's ready for the next level.
For the players who want to seriously prepare for a tournament, they browse for the latest updates of Constructed decks on strategy sites and other forums where players around the world discuss the metagame. For this year's World Championships, for example, it was hard and mostly useless to start playtesting before the results of Champs. The reason is simple: as long as you don't know what your opponents are going to play, it's a waste of time trying out your deck. Testing your deck for weeks and figuring out that it loses to the most popular decks that weren't in your playtesting field is a very frustrating feeling. Champs gives a good basis for a Standard metagame for Worlds and we can start working from there.
The Internet changed the game entirely. Ten years ago, there was no "world metagame" like today. Every group of players had its own tech, and when the tournaments came, they would test against the rest of the field. Now everyone can have access to a good, tuned Constructed deck.
Sources of Information:
This answer originally appeared on November 14.
Q: Do you find that there are some players that just seem to have your number – that is, whenever you play them, they seem to win regardless of your relative rankings or abilities?
A: Hello Todd,
After you've been playing in tournaments for a while, you have played many times against the same players. And sometimes, the outcome of the match is similar to the previous ones. There can be some players that you just can't beat or against whom you always have a hard time winning – regardless the matchup, regardless the format, regardless of his previous accomplishments. What makes an opponent fearsome is his ability to play around your style.
It's a psychological factor. Some players have the ability to read their opponents better than others. They guess what you are holding by the way you play your cards, and they represent what they are holding and what you should play around knowing that you're going to fall for it. When you're paired against someone from your black list, whatever your matchup is, you have extra pressure on your shoulders. It's a vicious circle: the more you play against someone you often lose to, the less confident you are in your match, the less tight your play will be, and the more you are going to lose.
There are a few players I hate to play against. The first name that comes to mind is Kai Budde. I think I played against him more than against anyone one else on the Pro Tour (may be tied with Antoine and Olivier). It took me six years and a total of 10 matches to actually have my first win over him, and that was in Kobe in 2004. He is definitely a better player, but winning nine out of 10 matches, in different formats? That's unreal. Another player is Frank Canu. We used to play together in team tournaments and he knows all about the way I play. He always has a good read on me, and knows how to take advantage of it.
When you're facing someone from your black list, just have in mind that he's just a player, and that you're probably better than him (that's what you have to tell yourself before each match, anyway!). Don't even play the side game of psychology – you'll probably lose if you enter it. Stay focused on the cards themselves, and put away all the instances of your opponent's name from your mind.
When you feel like you have the advantage over your opponent, that you are on his black list, don't hesitate to take advantage of it as long as you don't fall for your own trap (that you don't make mistakes because you lose focus). For a long time, I couldn't lose to Antoine Ruel. I had him beat 3-4 times in a row, and it felt like he was never going to win against me. The fact that you haven't beaten someone for some time is frustrating. And I was playing with this frustration of his for some time, but since he broke his losing streak, he no longer enters our matches with the feeling that he's going to lose.
That is often the reason why newcomers on the Pro Tour give away so many matches to named Pros. They think they won't have the edge, and enter a psychological game with themselves trying to figure in which way they are going to lose because they're playing a better player. Then they lose focus and give away games.
This answer originally appeared on November 2.
Q: How much do you value other people's opinions when choosing a deck? Has there been a time when you and only you thought a certain deck was the one to play and you played it anyway? Is there someone whose opinion you value a lot considering deck choice?
-Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
A: When heading to a Constructed tournament, if you've worked well enough for it, you gathered the opinions of enough people about the field and about the decks that you will have a rough sketch of everything.
When playtesting, it's worth it to listen to all opinions. Of course, the one from the most experienced will carry more weight. But don't blindly assume someone else is right. Your own opinion will always be more valuable as there will be factors that you only will know like which deck you like to play, which play you play best, and so on.
Often when you enter a playtesting session, you have a favorite deck. You try to tune it even though no one believes in your deck. As it is your deck, the other players will let you tune it without paying too much attention to it. It doesn't matter how much you convince others that your deck is the best, the most important thing is that YOU think your deck is the best. At Worlds in Sydney in '02, I was the only one playing blue-green Threshold. I was convinced my deck was a good choice, despite what everyone said. And back then, it worked out for me.
When you actually ask around: "what should I play for that tournament?", you will be told to play every single successful deck in the format, each one supported by a different player. In the end, it's up to you to pick the right deck, and trust the right person. From there, only your experience and what you know about the one advising you about what you should play will make the difference. If he's convincing enough and you like the idea of playing the suggested deck, then you should go for it.
For this year's National Championships for example, Amiel Tenenbaum asked the opinion of many on irc channels and mtg forums. He decided to trust Stuart Wright, Top 8 at English Nats who had been claiming for a long time that his version of Magnivore was the deck to play. It worked out for him as he made it to the finals of German Nats.
This answer originally appeared on October 28.
Q: How do I turn pro?
-Lots of people
A: Hello everyone,
I'm receiving this question a lot: How do I become a Pro? At the most basic literal level, you "turn pro" when you play in a Pro Tour. But that's probably not what everyone is asking – they want to know how you become good enough to be considered a pro.
I'll try to answer it here once and for all. In order to answer that, I'll have to clarify a few points:
Who is a pro?
There are two ways to look at this. One is by Wizards' definition, which is if you've earned Pro Points at a Pro Tour, you no longer qualify for amateur status (and pro is the opposite of amateur!). But I'm going to narrow that down to a stricter definition of pro that focuses on who plays regularly at Pro Tours. To play regularly, you need to be qualified for every Pro Tour and the easiest way to do that is be at least a Level 3 member of the Pro Players Club. I'll extend this definition with something extra: he's a player who is qualified AND plays the Pro Tours he's qualified for. He is looking for results and doesn't just show up for fun.
How many pros are there?
This season, there are 112 players members of Pro Player Club Level 3 and higher. Sixty-seven of them have more than 10 Pro Tour points this season and are active. A dozen of them have been unsuccesful this season, and the rest are just players who did well last year, but decided not to attend the Pro Tour. We can round it to 80 active pro players.
Those players are probably the best (active) players in the world.
How many Magic players are there in the world?
This is a question I can't answer definitively, but my editor at Wizards tells me it's in the millions.
So, what's with those figures, you ask? Out of millions, only 80 players are regular pros. I'm not saying that it's an impossible task, but it is hard. So, there's only one answer to that question you all ask on "how to become a pro." There is no secret: You will have to be the best.
There are hundreds of ways to improve your game (more on this in a couple days), and you'll have to find the one that suits you best. But even then, after years of training you may not achieve the level of a regular pro. If I decide one day to become a pro tennis player, Andre Agassi may be of some help, and he could train me and everything, but that won't make me a pro as I don't think I'll ever reach that level (and it's a fact, I won't become a pro tennis player!).
Improve your game, win tournaments and if you're one of the best, you'll make it.
This answer originally appeared on October 19.
Q: I was just wondering if there was ever a time that you thought about giving up Magic? If so, what caused it?
Congrats on the Hall of Fame.
A: Hi Daniel (and thank you!),
I never seriously considered quitting the game. I did consider taking breaks many times, though. The first reason I never seriously considered it was because I didn't want to regret such a decision. Quitting for some time meant skipping some Pro Tours, and maybe falling off the gravy train. That would have been something I would have taken into consideration. But in fact, it never really crossed my mind.
In 2000, even though I had a very good season, I felt really bad about my game. I had literally thrown away the finals of European Championships to Noah Boeken, and didn't know how long it would take for me to recover. Throwing away an important match, especially with the title at stake, hurts your self-confidence a lot. Add to the mix the fact that I had dropped from university on the same year (it seemed that I had chosen the wrong path), I was totally lost and wanted to take a step back from everything, including the game. I left France and went to live in a kibbutz in Israel for about six months, without a single Magic card with me. But even then, I did attend the next two Pro Tours, flying from Tel Aviv to Chicago and later to Los Angeles, doing pretty well in both tournaments with absolutely no preparation at all.
That break allowed me to take a new start in my studies, and think my game over (not to mention the amazing experience I had there) and in my life in general.
So no, I never thought about giving up, nor am I actually thinking about it now.
This answer originally appeared on October 7.
Q: Now that you are a member of the Hall of Fame and gain the benefits of that status, have you considered what you are going to do with your free teammate invitation capability? For example, Jon Finkel and Darwin Kastle this past year brought their best Magic friends with them to the Pro Tour. These friends were also well-known former Pros as well. However, I'm not aware of any "other famous friends" on the Pro Tour over the years that you constantly had with you.
Are there any specific friends that you credit the most with your growth into the Pro you are today? Would any of those specific friends of yours be given first shot at that "free team invite" status? Or would you prefer to choose an existing, good Pro that you could work with? Or would you consider the coolness factor in randomly selecting an unknown worldwide person with minimal or non-existent Pro Tour experience, giving others a taste of the experience that you enjoyed?
- Christopher E. Otwell
A: Haydi Christopher!
I've actually never thought about it! It was cool to see Finkel bringing Antarctica back together for Charleston. Both Dan and Steve O'Mahoney Schwartz were great players when they were playing on the Tour, and I'm sure Jon wouldn't have wanted to share the privilege of inviting anyone he wanted with anyone else (especially as they were a very successful team).
I didn't have the same success with my teams, although I had quite good results with Masters Chicago champion Franck Canu along with Pro Tours Top 9 finisher Wilfried Ranque, and later with Osaka Top 8 finisher Christophe Haim. All of them have quit the game, or at least the Pro Tour, and followed different paths. If they had to qualify, they would be able to do so without my help as all of them are skilled players.
Two years ago, I decided to bring a friend along, Jean-Baptiste Mathieu. We had played a PTQ together with this year's German Nationals runner-up Amiel Tenenbaum but had unfortunately lost in the semifinals. We didn't have enough Pro Points to go all together, but I was determined to play Pro Tour-Atlanta with him. We picked up Kobe Top 4 finisher Alexandre Peset, and the two of us had enough points to invite anyone as our third. We had a very good time in Atlanta but our finish wasn't all that exciting.
There are many players I'd like to invite to play with me, but I don't want to disappoint anyone either. On the list of the people I want to invite are my old friend and teammate Marc Hernandez and former Pro Tour champion and fellow Göteborgare Mattias Jorstedt, who's been there for me since I moved to Sweden. I'd also like to share the Pro Tour experience with Yohan, my best bud from Toulouse.
It's always a hard decision to know who you're going to team up with. I've always played with friends who knew how to play the game. I've never regretted the choices I made when it came to choosing teammates. For Pro Tour-San Diego next year, I would have wanted to bring Mattias back to the Pro Tour, but since it's only two-player teams, I'm playing with Pro Tour-London champion, friend, and travel buddy Geoffrey Siron. We teamed up along with Jelger Wiegersma in Charleston, flew to Grand Prix-Phoenix and went through many things together, so it feels just right to play the next team PT with him.
I still give a lot of credits to my Pro Tour career, and I know my friends don't expect me to give away my "free invite"... just because they are my friends. For now, or at least next year, I decided to play with a steady Pro, but maybe the year after I'll pick someone else. I'll have many more opportunities in the future to invite whoever I want.
This answer originally appeared on September 28.
Q: I would like to know what Pros think of Two-Headed Giant events, because I always heard it's a casual format. How can Pros prepare for such a format? Is it the same preparation as a Limited tournament?
A: When the Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour was announced, the feelings were very mixed about it. Not many pros had tried it, and the most common topic was about how they didn't like the format. The other issue was that regular teams would have to drop one of their members for the next event. Overall, I don't think the announcement was very welcomed.
But Pros always like to complain, so it was a normal reaction. Now it's a bit different. They know they have to deal with it and most of them have tried the format since. I have always been advocating that Two-Headed Giant was an interesting, fun and skill-intensive format and I was one of the only ones cheering everyone up after the announcement.
Most big events hold a Two-Headed Giant side tournament, often offering iPods to the winners. They have been quite popular since they started and introduced the new format to all the players, pro and casual. The "Coupe de France par equipe" (French Team Cup), a popular team event, adopted that format too.
While one team member can handle everything (board situations and cards in hand) in Two-Headed Giant, it is in fact important that both players are in the game and know what to do. The skills needed to perform well in Two-Headed Giant are the same as in Limited, to which you have to add certain dimensions: more cards to take care of, and team coordination.
Knowing what to do during the games, running drafts, and constructing decks requires training and intuition, just like every individual format does. The other factor that plays a major role is knowing your teammate, what skills he lacks and what he is good at. That way, it will be easier to see when you can trust him, and when you shouldn't.
Q: I want to make black and green Thallids work in Standard. Do you think this is possible? I am looking at Cloudstone Curio, Savra, Queen of the Golgari, and Grave Pact with the whole saproling generation thing. Seems like it could be solid with some Fallen Ideals and such? Do I have a chance or should I abandon the idea and go net decking?
A: I doubt Thallids will ever be a solid concept in Standard, for a few reasons :
1. They are too slow.
You never have time to wait for one of your Thallids to generate a token. Three turns in Standard is way too long. Dragonstorm can kill you in three turns, starting from turn one. You can create a 1/1 three turns after you played a Thallid. It doesn't sound so exciting.
2. They are just not powerful enough.
Except maybe for the Sporesower Thallid, which may have help from its fellow mushrooms to be viable, the others are just ... bad! Thallid is a 1/1 for , which is far from being exciting; Deathspore Thallid is a 1/1 for which would do nothing without a saproling token already in play, which suggest you might need to play Sprout too, which is a pretty bad card as well.
You can just compare the deck to blue-green aggro with the graft mechanic. Replace the Sporesower Thallids with Cytoplast Root-Kins, and your Thallid s with Vinelasher Kudzus and Plaxcaster Froglings. The latter deck sounds a lot more competitive and has even seen some play at Worlds this year.
3. It is not good enough in the format.
In a format where you can play Wrath of God (which would ruin all your plans if it's played at anytime in the game) or Dragonstorm (against which you don't put on enough pressure), I'm afraid you'd better leave the Thallids in the shoe box.
When you have an idea of a deck, think also in which format it would be good. Analyse each of the formats, or just the one you're interested in playing in, and see if the idea can be competitive. Put your deck together, and try it out. When you want to build a deck around Savra or Grave Pact for example, you have to make sure the format is creature-oriented, and that those cards, pretty slow by themselves, will have a big impact on the game. It's not only true for your deck, it's a quite general concept.
Netdecking is, let's say, the easy solution that bad (or just unsuccessful) deckbuilders turn to when confronted with problems. Keep in mind that ending up with a deck with a new concept in any constructed format is very, very hard. Most (not to say all) of my decks eventually end up in the trash can! (As you may know, I'm not that a big fan of deckbuilding, nor am I very good at it!) Competitive Magic is tough, and deckbuilding is a part of it.
Q: I am currently building the Ritual Desire you used at Worlds, Who originally built this deck? And why did you decide to use it?
A: Hola Miguel,
Last time I talked about the Standard deck I played at Worlds. This time, I'll take some time to talk about the Extended deck I played.
First of all, here is the list:
When we were playtesting extended for Worlds, I contributed by adding a Ritual Desire deck to the gauntlet. While not being the best version, it helped to have a rough idea of how good the deck could be. The day before the Extended portion of Worlds, I had in mind to play the version the playtest group had improved. Geoffrey Siron told me to check the Extended PTQ going on in the side-event area as he noticed one deck that seemed incredibly good. It was played by a relatively unknown French player named Remi Julien, who had been tuning his Ritual Desire version for weeks. He agreed to lend me the deck for the third day of competition, and I went 5-1 with it.
It is one of the best decks, if not THE best deck, I have ever played in Constructed. I wouldn't see myself playing anything else in Extended if I had to play a PTQ. If you're confident in your skills, then it should be the deck you would also want to play.
The deck has a lot of solutions or ways to deal with "hate cards," but you'll need to practise a bit so you know which cards you should play around (cards like Orim's Chant, Counterspell, Trickbind), to also know which card you should be getting with Burning Wish, or which color of mana to take off the Chromatic Stars. Even though its very low number of lands may make you think the deck is a bit shaky, it's actually what makes the deck so consistent. Fewer lands means more spells, and less chances to fizzle when you're "going off."
I wish you all good luck for the upcoming PTQ season!
Q: Can you say how the deck you played was developed and tested, etc. so we rogue builders can have an idea of how it really works?
And that egg deck was fantastic as well.
A: Hello Francisco,
I suppose you're talking about the Standard deck I played at Worlds. So everyone knows what I'm talking about, here's the list:
The idea behind the deck comes from Vincent Lemoine, who was recently a finalist at GP Athens. He wanted to try a deck with the three-card combo of Saffi Eriksdotter, Crypt Champion and Soul Warden, Teysa, Orzhov Scion or Sek'kuar, Deathkeeper. When Crypt Champion comes into play, both of his abilities go on the stack. Before the ability of him dying because you haven't paid the red mana resolves, sacrifice Saffi to have him come back after his death. Resolve the ability to bring a creature back into play, and bring back Saffi. The Crypt Champion dies, and comes back immediately. Repeat. You create a "useless" loop, unless you have one of the life/token generators in play to either reach a million life, or create a million tokens.
Geoffrey Siron was in charge of building the deck. He had the idea of creating a "Rock-like" deck, in which all the combo pieces would do something on their own. The problem with this kind of combos is that the pieces themselves usually don't do anything. He built a deck with Loxodon Hierarchs and Dark Confidants, in which Saffi would protect your creatures from Wrath of God, Soul Warden would buy you some time against aggro decks, and Crypt Champion would bring back one of your dead creatures (for example, Saffi after a Wrath of God, to keep protecting your team). So he basically ended up with a Rock deck able to go "infinite." With Chord of Calling, he had access to a little toolbox in the form of Nekrataal, Saffi, Hierarch, and Spike Feeder in the sideboard, which also worked as an instant tutor for the combo pieces.
The combo itself is sometimes hard to pull out, but Geoffrey managed to turn what looked like a wacky deck into a competitive deck, by analysing what each piece could do out of its 'combo context'.
For time issues, the deck can't be played on Magic Online -- it takes too long to create the loop and about 5 to 10 clicks just to gain one life! So Geoffrey playtested the deck against the expected decks of the field and was satified with its results.
The Egg deck is the creation of Sylvain Lauriol and his playtest team. I'll let him know that their deck is appreciated.
If you want to know more about my World Championships experience and the decks I played, I've got a series of articles on Starcitygames, but the articles are accessible by premium members only.
Q: What do you think of the location of the GPs for 2007?
A: The "Gazetteer" has finally revealed the location of the European Grand Prix for next season:
|Netherlands||Amsterdam||March 10/11||2HG limited|
|Sweden||Stockholm||May 5/6||Individual limited|
|France||Strasbourg||May 19/20||Block constructed|
|Italy||Firenze||September 8/9||Block constructed|
|Germany||Stuttgart||December 15/16||Individual limited|
There will be only 6 GPs in Europe. Overall, I think it's a good city selection. Players always enjoy events in Amsterdam; Sweden in spring is just lovely; Strasbourg and Stuttgart will draw players from Germany, Belgium, France and are locations easily reachable. Florence is a beautiful city, and it's always nice to pass by Italy once a year.
In November, the GP circuit finally goes back to Poland. The first GP held there was in Warsaw, at the same time as a Pro Tour in New York. Most pros couldn't attend, and it's also a nice opportunity for players from eastern europe to have a GP "close by".
There are no GPs in Spain or England. However, England will have a big Magic Convention, and Spain will host a PT in Valencia, so everyone can be happy.
Wizards of the Coast has also changed the Payout and Pro Points structure in GPs. They are still open to everyone willing to compete, and if you've never played there, it's a good chance for you to travel around, play a bigger tournament, meet some pros, and hopefully improve your game!
For more info about new GPs, read the official announcement.
Q: Who’s going to win Worlds?
A: We now have the names of the eight finalists and their decklists. Unfortunately, I'm not one of them, but I'll be glad to be your host on Sunday for the French webcast coverage!
Paulo Carvalho (Gruul)
Ryo Ogura (Blue-white Tron)
Katsuhiro Mori (Blue-white Tron)
Nicholas Lovett (Boros)
Tiago Chan (Blue-white-red Angel)
Gabriel Nassif (Blue-white-red Tron/ life)
Paulo Vitor da Rosa (Boros)
Mihara Makihito (Dragonstorm)
Match 5: (Winner of match 1 vs. winner of match 2)
Match 6: (Winner of match 3 vs. winner of match 4)
Paulo Carvalho beats Ryo Ogura:
It's always the battle between aggro versus Wrath of God. But in that matchup, even though Paulo is packing very few burn spells which are usually key there, the Solifuge will probably sneak the last damage to finish off a weakened Ogura after a Wrath of God. The only way I can see Ryo winning is by drawing the Tron early enough to be able to play Wrath of God, with counter spells for the Solifuge.
On paper, and before sideboard, just like Paulo Carvalho is favorite against Ryo Ogura, Nicholas has a certain advantage. Mori feels confident about the matchup after sideboard. And confident he can be, with 3 Faith's Fetters, Circle of Protection: Red, four Wrath of God and Spell Snare. Mori also has the edge in experience. That may count for more.
Gabriel will win quite easily. Tiago's deck doesn't put enough pressure in the early game, and won't be able to win in the late game with Demonfires against Gabriel's Martyrs of Sand.
In theory, Dragonstorm kills on turn 4, Boros on turn 5. Honorable Passage may steal a game, but in the end the Dragons will take the match.
Paulo Carvalho vs. Katsuhiro Mori.
Despite Mori's experience, and for the same reasons as in Match 1, Boros will beat Blue-white Tron.
Gabriel Nassif vs. Mihara Makihito
Gabriel's plan for this match is to get out of reach of what would be a lethal Dragon strike from Makihito thanks to Martyrs, then wrath away the mighty red beasts, and proceed to win somehow.
Gabriel Nassif vs. Paulo Carvalho.
Gabriel's deck is designed to beat aggro. To the best of my knowledge, Gruul falls into the aggressive archetypes.
Gabriel sweeps the final 3-0, is crowned a second time in his career and becomes Magic World Champion 2006 in his very hometown!