What I Love About Magic: The Challenge

Posted in Ways to Play on February 24, 2017

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

Magic means a lot of different things to different people, and it can even mean many different things to the same person. For me, one huge aspect of Magic has been the challenge of it. It's one of the most formative influences in my life and has impacted my personal life, social circles, career, and more. Many of these aspects were an outgrowth of the competitive side of things. I'm a very competitive person by nature, and I always gravitated toward games and activities where I got to battle other people. In fact, before I played Magic competitively, I was a competitive Street Fighter player (Capcom vs. SNK and its sequel, more specifically). The drive to go out and compete in tournaments was one I always felt, and it's no surprise that it drew me back into Magic after I'd stopped playing. Still, "challenge" is a big word, a big concept, and I'm going to explore what the different facets of it were to me. Some of these may resonate with you, some may not, but that's the beauty of it; Magic can be a million different things to a million different people.

Understanding the Game

The first leg on my journey was learning how to play Magic. It's a challenging game! Even understanding the rules was not trivial, and I still distinctly remember the first game of Magic I ever played. My friend Seth and I each bought a Revised Edition starter deck and tried to piece together the rules but didn't quite get there.

I kept attacking a 1/5 flying Dancing Scimitar into his Hypnotic Specter, and he kept blocking. We knew neither creature died, but didn't really realize that we weren't accomplishing anything. Add to that the fact that we didn't know how various cards worked, and you can understand that the first aspect of Magic that captivated me was learning the intricate systems of the game itself. In case you were wondering, I did eventually learn the rules of the game.

I'd also like to encourage anyone who is in a position to help others learn how to play to do so because this is a challenging game to play at any level.

Playing in Local Tournaments

This was a big leap for me. As you may have noticed, I started playing Magic in 1994 when Revised and The Dark were out. The first Pro Tour Qualifier I played in was in 2003. While there was a gap where I wasn't playing in between those two dates, going nine years from learning the game to playing a competitive tournament is a big stretch. It turns out that it took me quite some time to get to the point where I felt the drive to compete. Of course, once I did, I was hooked. I went from playing drafts at the local store to playing in PTQs to playing in the Pro Tour in about a year and never really looked back.

Bonus old decklist: this is one of my favorite Constructed decks of all time—White-Blue Mind's Desire. Paul Cheon, David Ochoa, and myself all won PTQs with it, and got to play in one of our first Pro Tours as a result.

White-Blue Mind's Desire

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It's a funny deck, and it wins by reducing the cost of blue spells, playing Cloud of Faeries, Snap, and Turnabout for mana, and storming off with Mind's Desire. It eventually uses Cunning Wish or Merchant Scroll to find Brain Freeze, and decks the opponent. I loved this deck, and remember playing solitaire with it for hours upon hours in preparation for the PTQ I won.

If you are on the fence about competing locally, here's another place I would offer encouragement. It opened up a new world of Magic for me, and my enjoyment of the game increased dramatically once I started meeting more people who played—and I felt myself getting better at the game while doing so.

The Pro Tour

The Pro Tour has been a huge part of my life. My first Pro Tour was Pro Tour San Diego 2004, and the first year I was a pro Magic player was 2007 when I hit the equivalent of Platinum (it was called "Level 7" back then, which is a shade less catchy of a name).

What drew me to the Pro Tour?

It wasn't just one thing; it was a combination of things, and many of them were definitely challenges.


In a shocking twist, one of the most challenging and rewarding things about the Pro Tour is trying to conquer it. I'll let you in on a little secret: I did not win much in my first few years on the Pro Tour. Note that my first Pro Tour was in 2004, and the first year I considered myself a professional was in 2007. I didn't play all the Pro Tours in between, though I played most, but I spent a lot of time during Day Two of those Pro Tours side drafting. The Pro Tour is hard, and that's part of what makes it worthwhile. If I rolled up and just started winning, I wouldn't have been hooked as much as I was. It took determination, practice, luck, and skill to achieve victory, and even after I was firmly ensconced as a pro, I hit some rough seasons. I had a five-year Top 8 drought in between the 2011 World Championships and Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in 2016, so the challenge of winning at the Pro Tour has always been there (and I believe it's getting harder as the average player gets better).

Of course, winning Pro Tour Berlin in 2008 was one of the milestones of my career, and I feel lucky to have that. The Elves deck we played was awesome, and six copies of Elves made Top 8, so it was definitely the deck of the tournament. Plus, drawing a million cards with Glimpse of Nature is always insanely fun.

Luis Scott-Vargas's Grapeshot Elves

Download Arena Decklist

The quest of getting to the Pro Tour was fun, the challenge of staying on the Pro Tour was exciting, and doing well at the Pro Tour was very rewarding. I am not the only player to make this journey, and many parts of it were worth it in their own right; when I first started playing in PTQs, it wasn't even with the intent of playing on the Pro Tour! I just wanted to play sweet local events and eventually was in a position to go even further.

Forming a Team

What better way to approach a challenge than with your friends? Forming a team was one of the best parts of Magic for me, and I count many of those teammates as lifelong friends, even as we now play on different teams, have stopped playing, or have drifted apart through any number of other life changes. Whenever somebody asks how to get better and how to succeed at tournaments, I always recommend forming a team. It doesn't need to be official, it doesn't need to be a huge deal, and all you need are a few like-minded friends who you enjoy being around. Team ChannelFireball started as just that—a collection of people who all liked to hang out with each other. By forming a team and supporting each other, we became much better at Magic and found more success. I'm not saying we didn't have some talented Magic players to begin with, but I truly believe the act of teaming up made all of us way better than we would have been individually. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wrote more about the formation of the team here, if you are interested.

I found that forming a team was not only a challenge in and of itself, but it helped us take on the challenges we were facing, and I can't separate my time on the Pro Tour from my time on Team ChannelFireball (nor would I want to).

Breaking the Format

Another awesome challenge that Magic brings is building decks. There's nothing that feels better in a tournament than coming out of a round to find out that all your teammates won and your deck might be busted. The last time I remember this happening was at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, where we all played the Eldrazi deck. Two rounds into the Constructed portion, we all realized the deck was just absurd. It's such a rewarding feeling, and I've been lucky enough to play a lot of decks that ended up being that good (Caw-Blade, Elves, and Eldrazi being chief among them).

Being the Best Magic Player I Can Be

At the end of the day, I always felt I was competing against myself. Doing well at the Pro Tour was awesome, forming a team was awesome, and playing busted decks was always great, but what I really wanted to do was play excellent Magic. When I didn't, it was less about my results and more that I wanted to live up to my own potential as a Magic player. I love finding out how good I can be, and challenging myself to be that player. It's a quest that never ends, and I still find myself evaluating where I land compared to where I've been and where I might be.

I hope that some of these examples speak to you, as the challenge of Magic is real, vast, and incredibly rewarding.


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