I am still decompressing from the whirlwind of Pro Tour Gatecrash. It was an amazing weekend, with the world's best Magic players putting the new Gatecrash cards through their paces in six rounds of Limited and thirteen rounds of Standard. We saw Boros Reckoner, Cartel Aristocrat, and Burning-Tree Emissary all leave a huge impact crater on the Standard metagame. More than anything, though, it was weekend of firsts. We saw Melissa DeTora become the first female player in the history of the Pro Tour to play on Sunday. The two players in the field with the most Pro Points without a Pro Tour Top 8 got that monkey off their backs, as Gerry Thompson and Owen Turtenwald both reached the quarterfinals for the first time. Longtime competitor Tom Martell got the first win of his career—wearing Jon Finkel's scarf and playing a Sam Black–designed deck—to cap an amazing weekend.
Working in the coverage booth and at the newsdesk, I tend to have a fairly narrow view of the event, as we only skim the top of the standings for Feature Matches, and the demands of the wall-to-wall video coverage means we barely get out on the floor to take in the full magnitude of the event. There was a text piece done by Blake Rasmussen that reminded me that the Pro Tour Top 8 is not always the story. For many of the players coming to the event, just getting to the event and measuring themselves against the greats of the game is enough—not that making Top 8 wouldn't be nice in the process. The piece in question is about four players from Greece and Cyprus all traveling to their first Pro Tour—with three of them getting into Day Two.
Othan Vatsis, Ioannis Dimitrakis, John Kalogerinis, and Andreas Photiou
Othan Vatsis, Ioannis Dimitrakis, John Kalogerinis, and Andreas Photiou cleaned up the PTQs in Greece and Cyprus, and stole one out from under the Bulgarian community, to earn their tickets to Montreal. The quartet were excited to be playing on the game's biggest stage and seeing how they measured up against the players they have followed throughout their playing careers. It really got me thinking about what goes through players' minds when they finally reach the Pro Tour, and I reached out to a handful of players who made their PT debut in Montreal for a roundtable about their experience and what they learned about the game and themselves at the event.
Don van Ravenzwaaij
Don van Ravenzwaaij is a twenty-nine-year-old native of the Netherlands who is living in Sydney, Australia, where he is doing his postdoctoral work. He won a PTQ to qualify for the event and recently came in 9th at Pro Tour Sydney. He finished the event in 42nd place.
Steve Rubin is a twenty-one-year-old from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who has been playing Magic since he was five years old. He also won a PTQ and got to work with the Ari Lax–led Team Luxurious Hair for the event and ended up one spot beneath van Ravenswaaij in 43rd place.
David Heineman is a thirty-year-old from the Madison enclave of Magic players that also spawned Sam Black. The two are longtime friends and, through that relationship, Heineman got to work with the illustrious SCG team for this event. He did not make Day Two.
BDM: When did you start playing competitively and what drove you want to play on the Pro Tour?
I started playing Magic
at Kamigawa block. I played Limited almost exclusively the first couple of years I played Magic
. I guess I started playing a bit by accident; I was calling a friend—Bart Rossmark—on a random Monday evening, asking him if he wanted to hang out that night. He said he was going to play Magic
that night in 2 Klaveren
, a games-pub near the center of Amsterdam I'm sure you're familiar with by now. Anyway, he said I was welcome to join and I figured, what the heck?
It wasn't long until I met "the big guys," most prominently featuring Julien Nuijten, Wessel Oomens, and Rogier Maaten. Having always been competitive, their exploits immediately kindled a fire in me to get on the big stage as well. The way to do that, I learned? Playing PTQs.
Rubin: My father, Rich Rubin, played war games and other board games in a serious playgroup with friends who tested games one of them made, in order to publish them. Naturally, my dad was very interested in learning more about Magic when he saw my brother and me bringing home these strange cards in our backpacks. He discovered that there were big tournaments and a growing scene, so he actually learned the rules and started going to PTQs and other events within driving distance—I was about six or seven. Eventually, he began taking my brother and me with him and my first major Prerelease was Mercadian Masques at eight or nine years old. I actually cried during deck registration because I had never done it before and it was terrifying! As to be expected, some nice Magic players near me helped me finish registration/alphabetization of my cards. So for a long while, I would play in only the PES events that came to Pittsburgh every few months.
Heineman: Sam (Black) has always been playing more competitively than I have, so my level of competition was set by the tournaments he told me to come to. I think it was Invasion block where I really got into Limited and actively wanted to qualify for the Pro Tour. Since then, I've been going to Limited PTQs and Grands Prix when I can.
BDM: How long had you been trying to get to the Pro Tour before you finally qualified?
Rubin: I saw the good players at CMU and it really made me want to get better. I wanted to be the one people wanted on their team for a team draft, or were scared to play against during a tournament. I also just loved playing Magic. I had been playing it for so long I never wanted to do anything else and now that I was drafting live three nights a week I really wanted to become a Pro Tour player. Several players were often traveling to PTQs and such, and it didn't take long for me to be tagging along. After three years of PTQing, I finally won a 224-person RTR Sealed PTQ to qualify me for Montreal.
van Ravenswaaij: After playing my thirty-seventh PTQ—of which I Top 8ed five—but remaining unsuccessful, I decided to cut down on playing Magic, mainly because the constant grinding took a lot of time and with a girlfriend and full-time job demanding attention, it was hard to juggle my time. A little unsatisfying, because I had set myself a goal and now I was sort of giving up on that.
About a year after that decision, I moved to Sydney for a postdoc position at the University of New South Wales, having just obtained my PhD. I became friends with a colleague, Chris Donkin, who also turned out to play Magic, and pretty soon afterwards I was back on playing Magic Online.
Being thoroughly unable to do something without the competitive element, it wasn't long until I started examining possibilities for a PTQ. I found two of them that were doable in terms of travel, one very close to Sydney and one in Melbourne. I went to the one in Sydney alone and, after narrowly missing Top 8, I realized how much I had missed the competitive level.
That's when I started trying to convince Chris to come to Melbourne with me. It would not be just the two of us; his wife would come too, and we would meet up with an old friend of his who also happens to play Magic
, so that all three of us would participate in the PTQ. Strangely enough, all three of us made Top 8 in the event, but both of my companions fell in the quarterfinals, leaving me to battle my way to victory with my Izzet aggro deck, beating a deck with Pack Rat
and Mizzium Mortars
in the finals!
BDM: What was your preparation like for this event? Who did you work with and what was the process like? How did you balance Constructed and Limited prep?
Sam had convinced the guys on Team StarCityGames to let me work with them for the tournament, so the next step was flying out to New York City to play with them for two weeks. I didn't really know any of the guys besides Sam and Gaudenis, so I was a bit nervous at first that they wouldn't respect my voice in discussing the set. Fortunately, after drafting with me a few times they realized I could hold my own with them. Constructed was a very different matter, however. I've picked up decks from friends and played events, but I've never really engaged with Constructed before. I played more Standard in those two weeks than I had in the rest of my life combined. I was still fairly certain that my tendency to make mistakes in my Constructed play would be my main challenge. When Sam got The Aristocrats working I immediately decided to play it. I thought that playing an unconventional deck would give my opponents plenty of chances to make playing errors of their own. It was also exciting to be working on a new deck because some of my ideas actually made it into the final build—Vault of the Archangel
and Knight of Infamy
van Ravenswaaij: The preparation for this event was not as thorough as I should have liked. Having lived in Australia for just ten months, there was no existing playtest group I was part of. As such, I contacted the other Dutchies who qualified: Bram Snepvangers, Robert van Medevoort, Tijs de Kler, Daniel Alink, Floris de Haan, and Lennart Lindeman. As it turns out, there were eight of us—how convenient!—and we agreed to come to Montreal one week early to start playtesting.
Rubin: I was able to land myself on a team—The Syndicate/Team Luxurious Hair (Ari Lax, Rich Shay, Harry Corvese, Craig Wescoe, Adam Yurchick, Matt McCullough, Alex West, Micheal Gourney, Manu Sutor, Gabe Carelton Barnes)—through my friend Harry Corvese to practice for PT Gatecrash. We discussed the format a lot online, and most of us came out on Monday and rented an apartment to practice. Unfortunately, we could not use our testing time effectively enough to find the best deck, which seemed like it happened to a lot of teams.
I ended up the only team member to play a deck another team member didn't, which was absolutely terrifying for my first PT. I had played the Human Reanimator online a lot so I knew it quite well and thought the format would be full of midrange and control and be light on aggro decks, so I figured it was a good choice (went 5–5 after starting 4–1).
I didn't spend much time drafting because I had done a lot of live drafts and the format was very simple. I went 5–1 in draft in both RTR GPs (Indy and Philly) so I felt great in competitive drafts and I ended up going 5–1 at the PT after 3–0ing a pod with Rietzel, Cuneo, Levy, Cox, and Shenhar, which might have been the best feeling I have had in my Magic career.
BDM: Describe the experience of finally getting to Montreal and registering for your first Pro Tour. What was going through your head? What about at the start of that first draft?
van Ravenswaaij: Finally stepping onto the site was an amazing sensation. This is where it was all going to happen! I resolved to do the best I could and to enjoy myself whatever would happen. This is why, when I saw that my first draft pod featured Olivier Ruel, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Ben Stark, Duke Reid, Pat Chapin, and Andreas Nordahl, I could not help but smile. This is what I came for right, to play against the world's very best? And after all, my Limited results had been good, I was on top of my game, why could I not win this draft?
The atmosphere at the Pro Tour was awesome. All the players respected each other, you were clearly a good player if you qualified, and it seemed like instead of a feeling like a gaming convention, it felt a lot more like a serious competition. I was pretty nervous but before I knew it I was drafting, I kept thinking to myself how happy I was to be at a seven-man pod so the worst I could do is 1–2. Especially after pack one, where I had about four payables because I opened Boros Reckoner
and got cut. Luckily, a sixth-pick Gruul Charm
, the most underrated card in the set from my testing, led to me getting a good enough Gruul deck to 2–1 the draft.
Heineman: We were still working on the final decklist for The Aristocrats once we got to Montreal and basically up to the last minute before the draft. I sat down to my first draft on the Pro Tour already nervous about Constructed!
BDM: I have heard players compare stepping up to the Pro Tour to the increased speed of playing the next level of a video game. Was it like this for you at all?
Rubin: The Pro Tour didn't seem that much different from Day Two of a GP, other than basically playing against a named player every round. I felt extremely comfortable, but I did end up 1–4 in my last five rounds, which were all close matches. I didn't know it at the time, but apparently Tom Martell and Joel Larsson were on fire; sometimes you are not beating a certain player on a certain day I guess.
Heineman: No, I'm used to playing in strong drafts and nothing I saw in the Limited was any different from back home. I've had so little Constructed experience that I didn't really have anything to compare it to.
van Ravenswaaij: After the seemingly impossible had happened, the rest of the matches up to battling Ben Stark on camera went past in a blur. Starting off 9–1 on your first Pro Tour? No way I would never have believed it. That match also taught me there is a long way to go, still: despite some mana issues in Games 2 and 3, I could have played Game 3 better and, as a consequence, might have won that match—or at least would have given myself more outs to do so.
After losing to Ben Stark, things decidedly went south in my next couple of matches. If it wasn't for the other Dutchies, I might have given in to my disappointment when my standings subsequently dropped. Fortunately, with their help, I won at least my last match for a 42nd-place finish. Of course, a lot better than I ever expected to do at my first Pro Tour!
BDM: What did you learn over the course of the weekend? What advice would you give to other players attending the Pro Tour for the first time?
Heineman: It's funny, the thing I learned over the weekend was how to enjoy Constructed. After I went 3–5 on Day One, I watched a lot of games on Saturday and Sunday. I think a lot clicked in about why so many other people enjoyed it so deeply. I guess the advice I'd like to give isn't really to other players new to the Pro Tour. I'd like to recommend to other Limited players that they pick a Constructed format, play it a ton for a couple weeks, and then watch some high-level coverage. I feel a lot more excited by a big part of the game now.
Rubin: Over my first PT weekend, I learned a lot about Magic players as opposed to the game. The game is always the same: play the deck you are most comfortable with if there isn't a certain best deck. That being said, Magic players are exceptional people and most of my friends I have met through Magic. It seemed like everybody on my team was just as happy about me winning as they were, which is clearly amazing groundwork for a strong group. If you are attending your first Pro Tour, my best advice would be to talk to other players. I met so many people and befriended several opponents talking about the game we love to play. You can get tons of information about the format, and Magic players love to talk about what cards/lines of play are good and bad, and I really enjoyed speaking to my opponents about various things.
BDM: What is your plan for getting back to the Pro Tour to try it again?
van Ravenswaaij: I am definitely going to play PTQs on a regular basis again and will likely also be visiting more Grands Prix in the next years to come. After I've had a taste for the Pro Tour, I definitely want some more!
I hope to qualify for San Diego
, and I will be going to every GP within distance of me and will probably play in some PTQs. Thanks to my dad, my team, and especially to Gabe Carleton Barnes and Robbie Bolick for showing me what the PT is all about.
Heineman: My life doesn't often let me travel very far to get to tournaments, so I'm just going to be back out there grinding PTQs. Maybe some Constructed ones now.
Of course, Modern PTQs for Pro Tour Dragon's Maze in San Diego are going on right now. If you win one, make sure to say hello to me at the Pro Tour. Who knows, you could end up being featured in this column!