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.
Fifth 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. He was recently named the 2007 Road Warrior by a vote of Magicthegathering.com readers, earning a spot at the 2007 Magic Invitational in October.
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Q: How did you get from Essen to Bangkok?
A: I left Essen for Innsbruck, Austria on Monday. The train trip to the Cologne Airport was a little more tense than I thought. Essen's central station did not give many indications, so I jumped into the first train saying "Köln" on it. Unfortunately, it was a regional train, stopping at every single station on the way. I had about two hours to get to the airport, but the train was way too slow! I stepped down in Dusseldorf, looked at the possible ways to get to Cologne. I had two outs: getting into a train that would take me there 35 minutes before the scheduled time (you usually have to check in at least 30 minutes before), or a train that would take me to Köln Hbf (Cologne central station), from where I could take a train to the airport and arrive 45 minutes in advance. I liked my chances better with the second option and went for it... but for some reason that train slowed down on the way, making my connection unreliable. I then took the initiative to get out in Leverkusen and grab a cab.
That one made it on time, dropping me at the airport 45 minutes in advance. I checked in and I was informed that my flight was delayed 30 minutes. I guess I should have had a bit more faith...
I landed in Tyrol, where I spent two days visiting Christina. She would show me Innsbruck around and tell me about local customs. Together we found "Der Kluene Prinz" in a bookstore. "Der Kluene Prinz" is the Tyrolean version of Antoine de St Exupery's book "The Little Prince." Everywhere I go, I try to find the book in the local language. The goal, over a lifetime, would be to collect them all. I own about 50 already, and would need to find the 200 others missing...
On Wednesday, I travelled back to Munich, Germany, where my flight to Amsterdam and then Bangkok waited for me. A mere 20 hours later, I was in Thailand. I was freezing my fingers off in Austria where it was snowing in the morning. I now have to take off everything that covers arms and legs to face Siam's weather...
Coming next: Tourism in Bangkok, a GP in Thailand...
Q: What did you play in Choose Your Own Standard and Vintage at the Magic Invitational?
A: On Friday night, I needed to gather cards to build both of my Constructed decks. I had decided to play Mirari's Wake in Choose Your Own Standard and GaT in Vintage. I had never played Wake in my entire life, even when it was the top deck in Standard. I figured it could be a good choice if the other Invitational players opted for aggro decks.
After I asked the French Magic Vintage community for some help, I was lent a full powered Dreadnought/Illusionary Mask deck for the last portion of the tournament. I had the time to play a couple of games with it and was not satisfied about it at all. I decided to go classic and play GaT, the most stable deck in the format. But for that, I needed to find Library of Alexandria, Mana Drains and some more unaffordable cards. Oh, and as a side note: we were not allowed to use proxies.
I had spoken with the boss of the trader booth standing on the opposite side of the tournament, and he agreed on lending me the cards I needed, as long as he had extras to sell while I was having them.
On Saturday morning, I managed to collect all the cards I needed but one: A Berserk. They only had one Beta Berserk to sell, and I would need to pass on that one... unless I found a way to play it somehow...
Berserk is a Cunning Wish target in the sideboard, able to make your Quirion Dryad or Psychatog trample any blocker to assure you victory. While thinking about it, I did not actually need the card for long. If I needed it, I would just need to stand up, go to the trader's booth, ask them for the Berserk for a minute, come back to the match table, show I could actually cast it, and give it back right after! In the best case, I would just have to tell my opponent that I wish for a Berserk for the kill and would not even have to fetch it. I talked to tournament organizer Scott Larabee and head judge Falco Goerres if I could list the Berserk and go get it if I needed it. Their answer was: As long as you do not delay the tournament, it is all good. It would not take me more that one minute to get it, so I was all set to play my optimal decklist!
Choose Your Own Standard did not really go as planned. The decks were a lot more controlish/combo than aggro, and the facts that I had never played Wake before and lost faith in making top two influenced my game... a lot. Gabriel's Tog, Tiago's Cluster Bomb and Shota's Dredge all took care of me.
Not knowing Vintage did not help so much to play well either. I played against Shuhei's Flash deck in Round 13. On turn one, he tapped out and fetched a Flash off his Merchant Scroll. On my turn, I could play an Underground Sea and Duress him. Not knowing whether or not I should play my Mox, I Duressed him first... running into Daze. I rolled eyes, played my Mox, embarrassed, passed the turn, and died. I eventually lost the match 2-1. I would proceed to win the two following rounds, playing mirror matches against Steve Menendian and Evan Erwin.
I did get to fetch the Berserk. In fact, I wanted to board it in for Game 2 against Evan, and the traders were kind enough to lend it to me for the duration of the last games.
That was a nice tournament to play in. A fun fact is that I lost to both finalists, all three Japanese and all three French, beating everyone else.
Special thanks to everyone who advised me and lent me cards for the tournament:
Lois, Philippe "Astre", Nico "Neobob" from Mtgfrance; www.funtainment.de (the shop that lent me the Vintage cards I was missing), and all of you who made it possible for me by voting! Next time, I promise to do better!
Coming next, globetrotting...
Q: Have you done much Winston drafting? What's your strategy, and how'd you do at the Invitational?
A: Winston Draft is a one-on-one draft format. You can find out how it works here. After a few practice drafts, I came up with what can be called a strategy: draft aggressively playable cards in the beginning, the sooner on the stacks the better. Passing on playables and adding cards to stacks gives your opponent more cards to choose from, and the possibility to find more bomb rares.
Try to collect as much information as possible about what your opponent is not playing, by seeing how fast he passes on packs, meaning he is not interested in the cards there (or just bluffing, but unless you are a Winston Draft expert, you probably did not think that making faces and taking time to think actually mattered A LOT!). On your turn, when you know more or less what your opponent is not interested in, you can take a bit more risks and get greedy, by passing quickly on cards you would like to take, misleading your opponent and piling up cards in the stack. Unless you add a card he is interested in, and that is the risk, you will end up with the same stack two cards bigger.
There are sometimes not enough playables in all packs to allow you to draft only two or even three colors. So, a card you thought you had counter-drafted in the middle of a draft might end up in your deck, as a card of your primary or secondary color!
When playing in a multiple format tournaments, you do not want to play your matches against the specialists of the given formats. I was paired in the first round of Winston against Rich Hoaen. I thought the draft went well for me. I got to pick a lot of removal spells, had a good mana, but I only had two average rares and only saw one of the "Hideaway" lands. So that left Rich with three unknown rares probably in his deck. Mirror Entity won him Game 1 on its own. In Game 2, I managed to deal with Brion Stoutarm on turn four, but was not quite prepare to face Chandra Nalaar on turn five.
The problem of this format is that you have no control on your opponent's opening, and being overpowered by rares is indeed a bit frustrating.
I then lost to roommate Guillaume Wafo-Tapa in a grueling two games, and proceeded to beat Willy Edel with the best Winston deck I ever drafted: red-green beat down, with a perfect curve. It almost was a frustrating match, as I could not get a hand on my green mana in both games 2 and 3 while Willy had access to black, blue, and white mana on his third turn. But in the end, the good guy won! (Not that Willy is a bad guy, but "I" am telling the story, so...)
So that's 5-4 after Day Two. I would need to win the next six in a row in order to play the finals! And they are six rounds of Constructed...so it is probably not going to happen. (By the time you read this, you probably already know it did not happen!)
Q: What did you get for the Auction of the People?
A: Chia Pet was the deck I had to play from Round 4 to 6, the Auction of the People format: a green-black build submitted by Jon Tschida which takes advantage of Doubling Season to power up your Kavu Titans and Forgotten Ancient. I had forgotten about how good the latter was (he would have been called "Remembered Ancient" otherwise...). With both pieces of the combo out, every time a player casts a spell, you add two counters on the elemental, and every time you move a counter to another creature, you add an extra counter for each +1/+1 you moved.
My first opponent was Kenji Tsumura with the Time Vault deck. His bid was huge, and with only five cards, putting together a two-card combo is quite a challenge. I won the die roll and let him play first. He did manage to find the lands in the early game, and in the last three turns before facing lethal damage, he flipped both parts of the infinite turn combo. I let him start again in Game 2, and I never got to see a fourth turn... "Lucky Master" you said?
The last round of the first day saw me paired against Frank Karsten and his quite awkward red-green non-basic land hate deck. Fortunately, I drew most of my 14 basic lands in Games 2, 3 and 4 (we drew Game 3 with a Price of Progress).
I beat PV and his Sanctuary deck on the first round of Friday, putting me on 5-2 before starting the Winston Draft portion.
What did I learn about the Auction?
Depending on how many unplayable decks, you have to adjust your bidding strategy. Good decks with few cards are not good anymore. Average decks with lots of life and cards can beat almost everything as long as it is not filled with too many unplayables...
Waiting for the good deal might be the winning strategy. The last two bidders made it to the finals of the event, so it probably means something!
Check back later this week for more reaction to the Invitational, plus my journey from Germany to Bangkok!
Q: How's the Invitational?
A: The Invitational. Many times I've been very close to playing it, but for some reasons, I never got invited. And I am glad I finally made it. If it was not this year, it would have never been. I packed my bag for a month (unfortunately forgot to pack my socks...) and I took off from Toulouse to Dusseldorf last Wednesday.
It felt both exciting and scary, but I had been preparing for months and I felt ready to wander on the roads. I shared a cab from the Dusseldorf airport to Essen with former head of Wizards Peter Adkison. He did not recognize my face at first, and when I said "Hi, are you Peter?", he thought I was one of Richard Garfield's cousins. My name however rang a bell, and we chatted on the way to Essen.
The Auction of the People took place on the same evening. I was advised to keep being aggressive, bid on decks so the others would have to pay more for them. And that's what I did. I ended up with what seemed to be a decent deck, but that I think I overbid a bit.(More about the auction portion in the second part).
The first rounds were to be played in Cube Draft. I did say that I rarely play casually, but I have played Cube Draft. A lot. Having played Magic since the dawn of time also helps to find the combos more easily. The most efficient strategy in Cube is to focus on a strong archetype and build your deck around it. Going for: "I take the best card of the pack" is not going to do it as all the cards have a high power level and the games are decided mostly on synergy.
I drafted a heavy blue-red control deck (No, I'm not playing Sutured Ghoul!), with counterspells, mass removals (especially Obliterate) and recursion. My plan was to stabilize the board, thanks to Slice and Dice, or Nevinyrral's Disk, and counter or destroy the coming threats without spending cards on them. Academy Ruins allowed me to get my Disk back in my hand, Crucible of Worlds would bring back the Ruins had it been destroyed, and provide some card advantage along with Wasteland and Terramorphic Expanse, Genesis (as my green splash) would get my creatures back...The deck was however very vulnerable to fast aggressive draws.
If I had a few words to sum up the format, I would say: "remember the good old combos," and "stay focused on your strategy." I felt confident in that portion of the tournament, but fell to Antoine's stompy deck in the first round, beating Craig Jones's Blue-white control deck and Jelger Wiegersma's Midrange white-green deck in rounds 2 and 3 to go 2-1 in the format.
Stay tuned for more Invitational stuff!
Q: How did you do in Valencia?
A: Pro Tour–Valencia didn't really go as planned. I chose the wrong deck and did not catch as many wins as I expected. Before going, and while playtesting, I felt I was committed to play Zoo, the deck that won me these two Grand Prix this season. I thought that if I did badly with another deck, I would regret not to have played Zoo. But Future Sight changed the format a lot, and unlike in Singapore, players were prepared to face fast and big creatures in the first turns (thank you, Tarmogoyf...). So I basically made the wrong deck choice and played until I could not hope for an extra Pro point (that means until round 8).
It was overall a weird Pro Tour, which felt like a Grand Prix. So many players, so many rounds... good times, but no real success.
I came back home Monday, and am now spending my last day at home before undertaking my world tour. I pretty much took care of all my plane tickets, and will depart to Essen on Wednesday morning.
Last night, Olivier called me to ask about a rule issue:
Olivier: Hey Raph, I just have a little question for you, but quickly as it is going to cost you much.
Raphaël: Why would it cost me much?
Oli: Aren't you in Germany?
Raph: Nah, got back to France this morning, will leave on Wednesday.
*(...boring rule question...)*
Raph: By the way, I talked to Masashiro (Kuroda) in Valencia, and we will be road tripping together from Osaka to Kitakyushu!
Raph: Anyway... see you in two weeks in Bangkok?
Oli: Sure thing!
Raph: Have a safe trip to Australia.
That is where we realize that our lives definitely took a strange turn at some point...
Q: What happened in Valencia?
A: The madness of my world trip has started and I am now sitting in a hotel room in Valencia on a Friday of a Pro Tour. It is 5 p.m. and I am not playing. Had I been doing that on any other Pro Tour Day One, that would have meant I am out of contention for anything. But it is not the case.
I had in mind to share my decklist and a couple of thoughts about Day One, but there just has not been a Day One yet.
Thursday was a normal rainy PT registration day in Spain. Average temperature. A peaceful registration, a few drafts going on. Around 8 p.m., things started to look different, the thin rain turned into a massive shower, and anyone sane enough would not have adventured outside for more than 5 minutes.
My companions Kenny Öberg and Per Nyström had booked a room in a hostel 30 minutes away from the site. Walking there would have been madness and we tried to hop into a taxi to get ourselves there. I did not really like our chances to get one in the storm, especially when there were so many people waiting for one everywhere we looked. We decided to go to the staff hotel, where we would call one that would bring us back.
Unfortunately for us, no cabs would ever come. No companies would send any. In the first place we were promised one, but when I asked the front desk about the potential savior, he basically said that it was hopeless.
We were not exactly prepared to face such weather, and were surprisingly missing rain coats and umbrellas. We asked around for help and managed to fill our item inventory with:
And we took off in direction of our haven. Julien Goron joined the party. We walked for around 10 minutes, crossing the site and therefore sheltered to arrive in a dead end. A very nice security warden stopped us to inform us that we would have to turn back and follow the road (uncovered).
Raph: "Please, let us through... as you have noticed, it is KINDA raining, and we are QUITE wet."
Guard: "Es la vida...."
We therefore headed back, walked 10 more minutes back to our starting point. We were soaking wet. I guess the protections we had were not powerful enough... I decided to go back to the staff hotel and try to find something there. The brave Swedes decided to keep walking. Kenny gave me his water tank—and by that I mean, his backpack—so he could move a bit faster through the rain. Julien and I swam our way back.
My backpack had protected most of my stuff inside it, however, my jeans and shoes were as if they had just got out of a lake...
Day One of the PT has been canceled due to the site being completely flooded during the night. So Friday I woke up around 12, drafted Lorwyn for the second time and have been walking around in someone else's jeans and shoes (and will probably need them until Saturday!) . So, special thanks to Mathew and Robert Beverley for lending me that!
Things should get back to normal Saturday with a fixed tournament structure that can handle a PT in two days. By the time you read these lines, I will either be getting ready to play, or somewhere between round 1 and 10...
Q: With all the events coming up, what is your schedule for the next month?
A: Hello Tim,
Next month will be quite hectic indeed. And here is how my travel scheudle is going to look:
|October 11||Toulouse||Valencia||Pro Tour Valencia; return on the 15th|
|October 17||Toulouse||Essen||Invitational, hope to have my card printed!|
|October 22||Essen||Innsbruck||Visit a friend, set Munich as my headquarters|
|October 24||Innsbruck||Bangkok||GP Bangkok, sightseeing in Thailand for the first time|
|November 1||Bangkok||Krakow||GP Krakow, passing by Munich, 3 hours to catch my flight|
|November 6||Krakow||Kitakyushu||GP Kitakyushu, road trip in Japan|
|November 13||Kitakyushu||Daytona Beach||GP Daytona Beach, will there be sun in Florida?|
|November 19||Daytona Beach||Toulouse||Home, stay in bed, rest for a while!|
I will not be able to answer your questions on my way as I do not think my laptop will survive such a long trip. Depending on internet access, I'll by trying to blog about my adventures, the tournaments, the sightseeing... and hopefully much more right here!
(Editor's note: While Raphael is globe-trotting, there may be some interruption to his normal Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday update schedule.)
Q: How much do you promote the game outside competition?
A: Hello Chris,
When people asked me what I was doing in life, when I was studying in France, or teaching in Sweden, I used to answer that I was studying or teaching first. I would only talk about Magic if I had to explain why I was leaving for a week, or if I was close enough to the people I talked to.
Now that I dedicate more time to the game, it is hard to avoid the subject. So instead I take the time to explain the game shortly. I rarely refuse to answer interviews for local newspapers as Wizards tells them to turn to me when they are writing about Magic.
I recently visited a high school where they are running a Magic club and wanted me as a special guest. I informed them of the way they could enter tournaments, gave them the good addresses for online information, and played a couple of games with them.
About three weeks ago, I met one of my distant cousins (who is a Magic fan) for the first time. He did not know I was his cousin and as soon as he discovered I was somewhere close in the family, he asked his mom to arrange something with me. For his 12th birthday he invited two of his friends over and wanted me to show them a couple of tricks.
Overall, I do not actively promote the game (except in here), but never miss the opportunity to talk about it or play a game or two with people who ask me to.
Q: Where do you find the money to pay for all the trips around the world?
A: Hello Dan,
As you may have guessed, prizes you get when you do well at tournaments are not enough to cover all the expenses, which include flights and hotel rooms.
For a couple of years, money was awarded at the end of the year, to the top 50 players of the season. The end of year payout has been replaced two years ago by the Pro Players Club.
Depending on your Pro Level, you have access to different benefits. You will find all the details in the link above, but in a nutshell, what it represents:
Up to Level 4, you will have to pay some of the expenses from either your own money or the prizes you expect to win (or course, if you win enough to cover the expenses, you have that money available for the next events), and from Level 5, you will not have to worry too much about putting in your own money to travel.
With 15 players having access to the Level 5 and 6 this year, you can figure that playing pro Magic is indeed not a very lucrative career plan.
Q: In Italy we have a huge amount of players, and we have been playing Magic for 12 years. Our PTQs are the biggest possible: 200 people in attendance is the average, and we had 300-person PTQs too, but still we miss real international results. Can you explain this? Do you know some Italian players? Do you have a theory about the Italian incapacity? Thanks.
A: Hello Raffaele,
I will give you my take on your issue:
Achieving good results consistently may result from two factors: natural talent and/or an environment likely to make you improve your game. I do know Italian players, such as you, Federico Dato, Lucas Chiera, and in a less personal way, Mario Pascoli and Dario Minerri. Antonino De Rosa, being both American and Italian, will not be counted here as strictly "Italian."
The environment likely to make you improve your game includes both players with natural talent and hard workers. Maybe, and it is a supposition, Italy is lacking the former ones, those formidable players, able to pull all the others up. We have seen in many places—a player emerges, making it to the heights of Pro Tour Top 8s and soon after, all his friends follow him under the Sunday spotlight.
So why don't you have those players, or too few of those players in Italy? I can not tell. For a long time, France was missing international results. Japan took even longer to put its players at the top tables... and see where both nations are at now! The time for Italy to rise will come, one day or another.
Q: How was your prerelease?
A: Hello Alex,
I really enjoy playing in prereleases and last weekend was no exception. I was lucky enough to attend two, one an hour-road trip away from Toulouse on Saturday, and another one in Toulouse on Sunday.
In the first one, I opened what I thought was a weak pool with bombs. A lot of average commons and a couple of good rares: Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, Dread, Sunrise Sovereign. I worked out a mana base that would allow me to play white (where my best commons were), and able to support all of the above rares. It happened thanks to two Wanderer's Twigs and 17 lands. The deck was quite slow overall, but powerful. I went 4-2, not exactly the result you expect when playing in a 29-player prerelease.
At home, Greg (one of the most active players from here) and I played a game of Winston Draft with my card pool. Winston Draft will be a format used in the Invitational (explained here) and I wanted to try it out without having to open six boosters for that. With that pool, the best deck you could get would be the deck you played during the tournament, right? Greg managed to draft a straight blue-white curve deck, which was a lot superior to the deck I played during the day. In fact, I had overlooked the blue commons which ended up being a lot better than I thought (basically all of the merfolk). But I fell into a common trap, overestimating the rares.
The pool I received on Sunday was quite similar to the one I got the day before. I had the cards to build a white-blue merfolk deck, and I went for it; ending the day with seven wins and no losses.
This Limited format is going to be fun. Not so much originality in terms of new mechanics, but many, many playables. I love to take a look at everyone's pools between rounds, and every time, it took me a while to figure out what the best options were, as most of the cards are indeed playable. I would not have categorized any of the pools I saw as unplayable, which happens about 15 percent of the time.
PTQs for Kuala Lumpur will be using this skilful format, so you'd better get ready now!