Brad Nelson's Origin Story

Posted in Feature on August 21, 2015

By Mike Rosenberg

Mike Rosenberg is a writer and gamer and has been part of the Magic text coverage team since 2011. He joined Wizards as organized play’s content specialist in June 2014.

A titan of Magic Online's earlier days and now a titan of professional Magic in general, former Player of the Year Brad Nelson has built a tremendous career in the game.

Originally more recognized by his Magic Online username "FFFreak," Nelson is now primarily recognized by his first and last name at every tournament he goes to. When he isn't regularly providing content as one of's pro players, Brad Nelson can be seen traveling the world, crushing virtually every Standard event that he plays in.

2015 World Championship Competitor Brad Nelson

However, Nelson's beginnings with Magic go even before his ascension toward one of Magic Online's most feared players.

"I started playing Magic when my good friend Bill Lies asked me if I would like to join him and the rest of his crew in the school cafeteria," Nelson fondly remembered. "I was hooked after the first game, but didn’t have a collection. I rushed to a local video game store to buy cards. They and I knew nothing about Magic, but they did have World Championship Top 8 decks. I purchased Carlos Romao's Psychatog deck that he won Worlds with. Sure, the cards weren't tournament playable, nor did I know what a sideboard was, but it didn't matter. Magic was learning back then, and I spent hours enjoying my new found hobby."

It didn't take long for Nelson to dive deeper into the game, especially when he moved past the learning phase and into the world of Magic Online where he slowly developed his reputation. And it is likely where he would have remained, as he had waned off from the Pro Tour Qualifier scene after too many unsuccessful, remote attempts to get to the Pro Tour.

"I qualified for Pro Tour Honolulu back in 2009," Nelson recalled. "It was a qualification that would change my life, since I swore off trying to play at the professional level weeks before I won a Pro Tour Qualifier. I was actually forced into a vehicle by Bill Lies—yes, the guy who introduced me to the game—and smuggled across the Canadian border to play in a PTQ in Winnipeg. I won with ease."

Success at Winnipeg when it wasn't expected led to the start of something special.

"I was now at my very first Pro Tour, but didn't know that my close friend Jacob Van Lunen had tipped off Brian David Marshall that I was a stone cold Magic Online killer," Nelson recollected. "I found myself front and center for Round 1, where I was put across from Luis Scott-Vargas and the coverage team circled us waiting for something climactic to happen. I obviously punted and lost the match, but centered myself and rattled off a decent finish. Throughout all of this I was in interviews, deck techs, and pretty much everything I didn't think was going to happen. I'm pretty sure Wizards forced me to spark."

Forced is a strong word, but in Nelson's case, he was the first of a long line of popular pros to come from Magic Online. Nelson finished 9th at that Pro Tour, and went on to find his way into two Pro Tour Top 8s and eventually the 2010 Player of the Year title.

It's been a wild ride for Nelson, who fell off the train and had to climb his way back on in recent years. However, his performance in Standard Constructed is not to be trifled with. As this year's clear favorite in the World Championship's Standard rounds, Nelson is a player to keep your eyes on if it's near the top of the standings as we head into the Standard portion of the event.

One thing is for certain: Nelson has had a tremendous career, and it's not close to over yet.

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.

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