This weekend, several hundred players from around the world will be competing in Milwaukee at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. These players will come from all over the world with a great range of experience. There will be players like Pro Tour Hall of Famers Jon Finkel and Darwin Kastle, who have been playing since the very first Pro Tours. There will be players who have been grinding on the Pro Tour for a few seasons now, looking for their big breakout performance, like Brian Braun-Duin, Michael Majors, and Christian Calcano (to name just a few of many).
There will be nobody with less Pro Tour experience in the room than fifteen-year-old Oliver Tomajko, who will be kicking off his Pro Tour career after winning a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier. Not that Tomajko is lacking in tournament experience, mind you. He comes to Magic with a Junior World Championship, as well as a Top 4 finish in the all-ages bracket a year later, under his belt. He has been playing Magic since the release of Gatecrash and has finished in the money at a handful of Grand Prix. Oh, and he was the StarCityGames.com Providence Standard Open Champion.
"I knew some friends who played Magic and the game looked pretty interesting, so I thought it would be fun to try out," said Tomajko, who was looking for new challenges. "After playing for about a month, I was hooked! I love competing in difficult events, so I was eager to play in any tournament that I could. I also had a bunch of friends who were enormously helpful, teaching me and lending me cards. In addition, both my parents were (and still are) super supportive. They tried to help me go to as many events as they could, so getting to compete in larger events was not too much of a challenge."
Although he enjoyed the competition of tournaments, the Pro Tour was not in his sights at first. He played in a handful of PTQs—and even got to the finals of one of them—but was daunted by the all-or-nothing nature of the huge one-slot PTQs in the eastern United States.
You may remember Tomajko as the young player who was battling with none other than Pro Tour Hall of Famer William Jensen for a Top 8 berth at Grand Prix Philadelphia just the season before last. It was a rapid ascent for him, from picking up the game in 2012 to playing for the Top 8 of a GP, but to the young player it felt like an eternity.
"Last summer, I lost playing for the Top 8 of GP Philadelphia. Around that time was when I decided that I was going to try to qualify for the Pro Tour. Unfortunately, I did a lot of losing in Modern PTQ's for the next couple of months. That combined with school meant my attempts to qualify were halted until the beginning of this year."
He continued to try and qualify for Brussels and Vancouver via the old PTQ system and Grand Prix, but found the precious invite remained just beyond his grasp. Much like his PTQ finals and his win-and-in match with Jensen, he kept coming up just a win shy of where he wanted to be: the Pro Tour.
"When they announced the new Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier system, I was pretty excited, since winning a 200-person PTQ felt nearly impossible. I managed to win a PPTQ to qualify me to the first-ever RPTQ," said Tomajko of his continued efforts to qualify. "The week before the RPTQ, I ended up winning SCG Providence. Looking back on it, winning that tournament might have given me some sort of boost, because it showed me that the work that I was putting into practicing and metagaming was not going to waste. Sadly though, this boost did not really help me in the RPTQ, where I ended up losing in my Top 8 win-and-in."
More disappointments followed for him, as he tried everything he could muster to qualify for the last Pro Tour of last season. He played online PTQs and continued to go to Grand Prix, but Modern was a frustrating format for him to metagame and he found himself refocusing his efforts on qualifying to compete in the Battle for Zendikar.
"Near the end of the month, I had the next RPTQ as one of my last chances to qualify, but I was not really looking forward to it because it was Sealed Deck and I didn't enjoy that format at the time. But through some miracle, I managed to get Top 4 and qualify for this upcoming Pro Tour. I could not even begin to describe how ecstatic I am," said the impending Pro Tour rookie.
Like any modern Pro Tour competitor, Tomajko is not coming into the Pro Tour without a team to prepare with him. As I wrote last week, he a member of Team TOGIT, formerly known as Team Day 1, and has been working with players like Christian Calcano and Alex Majlaton.
"A lot of players on this team are very strong Limited players—which I am not. I love building and tuning Standard decks, as well as metagaming for Standard events, so that's what I have mainly been contributing to the team so far," said the SCG Providence Champion, who was excited to get his Pro Tour career off to a big start.
"To be completely honest, I plan on winning this PT! It might not be very likely, but this will always be my goal for every PT I ever go to. Although, if I manage to go 11-5 and qualify for the next Pro Tour, I would not be disappointed in the slightest," he said.
There have certainly been players who reached the Pro Tour at as young an age as Tomajko. Eric Froehlich, who was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, cashed his first event when he was only fifteen. But current-day Eric Froehlich has been playing on Pro Tours since before Tomajko was born, and there are players up and down the top tables who will able to make the same claim. That's fine with the first time Pro Tour competitor, who always does his best to leverage the experience of those more seasoned pros.
"For anyone looking to start playing Magic more competitively, I highly suggest watching past Pro Tour feature matches on YouTube and trying to figure out why these higher-level players made the plays they did. Similarly, reading articles on websites like ChannelFireball and StarCityGames was beneficial for me as a player. In addition, if you want to get into competitive Magic, find of group of friends you can practice and work on decks with."
You can watch all the coverage live at twitch.tv/magic from the opening drafts on Friday through to the trophy ceremony on Sunday. We will be sure to check with Oliver Tomajko throughout the weekend to see how he is faring and report to you the results from the news desk.