In this issue:
Last week I told a little bit of my Magic origin story by way of explaining why I was missing the biggest weekend in Magic history. But as anyone who reads comics knows, the radioactive spider bite, the canister of hazardous waste, or the ill-timed walk down an alley by millionaire parents too cheap to hire a limousine are only a sliver of the origin. There are tales of a steel cage match, a blind man with a stick, or a monastic life in the Himalayas still waiting to unfold.
In the years after getting into Magic with my friends, I had turned my hobby into a much more than full-time job. I was organizing tournaments, running Neutral Ground (a 6,000 square foot tournament center that was the first of its kind), and editing the store's website with abundant decklists and metagame breakdowns from our huge Standard tournament series.
I was still playing Magic and I had my best-ever finish at the Pro Tour with a deep run on Day Two of Pro Tour New York 2001 that resulted in an actual cash finish. There was a nagging sensation at the back of my brain about leaving comics, game design, and all things creative simmering into vapor on the back burner, but I was busy and I was—when you balanced the ledger—happy.
Everything changed just a day later when the 9/11 attacks happened. I was very fortunate that I was not immediately touched by that tragedy. My parents and friends who worked in that immediate area were all safe and accounted for, but it was impossible to live in New York and not feel the impact of that terrible day. Neutral Ground was a business that relied on people coming from all over the world to visit us, and players from outlying areas coming to compete in our events. I barely felt comfortable traveling into Manhattan every day to open the store, so it was not a surprise to me that our out-of-town traffic tapered off. Even our local player base took a hit as long-time NYC residents moved away for a fresh start away from the memories of that day.
It was also a powerful reminder that life is fleeting and we only have so much time to pursue the things we love. I loved Magic and gaming, but I realized I did not love what I was doing with it. I wanted to write comics, create games, and travel. We decided that Neutral Ground needed to either close or find a new owner. We were fortunate to find someone who was having a complimentary epiphany and I was able to announce in early 2002 that I was going to be moving on from the store to pursue more creative efforts.
I had the opportunity to fulfill the lifelong dream of writing a Captain America story called "Relics" for Marvel Comics, and also sold an original comic miniseries called "The Craptacular B-Sides" to the same editor. I even borrowed a little Magic jargon and named one of the erstwhile superheroes in the series "Mize." I wasn't sure what the next chapter in my life was going to hold, but I expected that Magic would return to being just a hobby for me. As it turned out, one Aaron Forsythe had recently been hired by Wizards of the Coast to run a new Magic website. I had already done a little writing work on The Sideboard (the predecessor to DailyMTG.com, which focused on the tournament side of the game) and he asked me if I would be interested in writing a monthly column for the new site.
Suddenly I was writing two different columns on the two Magic sites and, after bombing out of my next team Pro Tour in Boston, I was conscripted to cover some matches. I remember writing pretty detailed accounts of the games—including notations on every change in life totals. It was a rough but promising first effort, but it got me invited to cover more events that I was not going to be playing in—which, as it turns out, has been virtually all of them since then.
In 2005 I had the chance to sit in the booth for the first time and have not—with two flu-ridden exceptions—missed a chance for a front-row seat to a major event ever since then. It has been an amazing ride that has allowed me to work with some amazing people. I still make comics and games—sometimes even combining the two disciplines together—but Magic is an everyday part of my life and I could not be happier. Or more grateful to Aaron for reaching out to me that day back in 2002, when the game could have receded from my professional life.
Aaron Lewis, GP Champion
It was a classic Las Vegas picture. A young man, emotionally drained after several long days at the tables, holding a giant cup, with a bright red smudge of lips on his cheek, ends up holding all the chips. Classic picture, perhaps, but not the classic set up. This is not some tourist after a heater at the craps tables. This was Aaron Lewis after he won his half of Grand Prix Las Vegas, dropping just one match all weekend long. He explained the big red mwah-mark on his face throughout the Top 8.
Aaron Lewis, Grand Prix Las Vegas Champion
"My girlfriend came along with me to this tournament; it was the first Grand Prix she's played in," explained the GP Champion. "We were both pretty excited about my Day One performance, since I've never even started off a GP at 7-0, let alone 9-0. Sunday morning, I promised that if I made Top 8, she could put the mark on there and I'd play out the entire Top 8 with it."
There was some small scare that, after rattling off more than a dozen wins, Lewis could have missed Top 8 when he got paired down in the last round of the Swiss, but he simply did what he had been doing since early Saturday: winning. It was the third time Lewis had made the Top 8 of a major event, but his first chance to drink from the trophy in a career that goes back almost as long as he has been playing the game.
"I started playing the game after watching some friends play at high school. This was back when Revised was the most recent core set, so I bought up a starter and joined in from there. Moving to competitive play was pretty natural, since I'd been playing in chess tournaments since elementary school. This was just another avenue to compete in a mentally challenging game, so I was going to PTQs in the New England area within a year or two after getting started," said Lewis, who had previously made the Top 8 of GP Charlotte and Sacramento.
Lewis has been on and off the Pro Tour since 2006, when he first qualified for PT Kobe. But this year has been able to string all the events together, even carrying over into next season's first Pro Tour of the year.
"I'm still planning on competing in as many GPs as I can and all the Pro Tours I can qualify for. I just hit Silver with the result this weekend, which is great because it qualifies me for a Pro Tour within driving distance later this year," said the Madison, Wisconsin native. "Gold actually looks possible now, if difficult. I'd love to get to play in the World Magic Cup or World Championship at some point, but will just take things one step at a time for now."
The draft in the Top 8 took a pretty unexpected turn, with Lewis drafting a white-blue deck that eschewed the artifact theme, but looked to be in cruise control throughout the Top 8.
"That was a weird place to end up," agreed Lewis about his last draft. "I started with Mulldrifter over Lodestone Golem, then Mirran Crusader over not much else, and went from there. I was attempting to be the standard artifact deck, but I kept getting things like Arrest and Spectral Procession and Air Servant, and none of the actual artifacts. There's some support cards for the archetype that ended up in my sideboard because the artifact count was too low—the Tezzeret I first picked in pack two, and things like Faerie Mechanist and Rusted Relic. I don't think that's a situation that's going to present itself too often, but it worked out in this case."
Scott Markeson, GP Champion, Too
Aaron Lewis was not the only winner at Grand Prix Las Vegas, as the tournament field was so large it was broken up into two smaller, yet still enormous, tournaments. In the other field it was Minnesota resident Scott Markeson who would be the last person standing—also only losing one match all weekend (although he did get to draw in the last round instead of fighting his way in like the paired-down Lewis).
Markeson has been playing the game for nearly a decade and a half, since he discovered the game as a kid with this brother and some other kids in the neighborhood. He jumped right into playing with some well-worn Nemesis and Prophecy pre-constructed decks that they would play endlessly against each other.
Scott Markeson, Grand Prix Las Vegas Champion
"The decks were way out of date, because not too long after that I went to my first real tournament—that was the Judgment Prerelease. I got pretty hooked on Limited from that one time and started to go to FNM drafts at a store in St. Cloud called Utopia Games," recalled the GP Vegas Champion. "I could see myself getting better and better from playing there. From there I started playing in and doing well in JSS's. I would say that those were what really got me into competitive play."
Markeson, who has a full-time job operating a forklift, does not play in many Grand Prix each year—he has probably played in as many in his career as his fellow winner will play in one season—but he has had some success on the Pro Tour with a couple of Top 25 finishes. He is seriously considering a trip to Grand Prix Dallas, because if he can find three more Pro Points between now and the conclusion of Pro Tour Magic Origins he will also qualify for the first Pro Tour of next season by virtue of hitting Silver status in the Pro Players Club. He did seem to have the taste for the hunt after finally breaking through into the first Top 8 of his career.
"It feels really good, though. I was so close to Top 8ing the last GP Las Vegas, it's great to actually convert. I obviously ran very well, didn't see too many games of mana flood or screw, and managed to avoid drafting some monstrosity," he said, in a way that tells me he is far from a long-shot to show up more GPs than he was originally planning.
Player of the Month for May (#MTGPoM)
May was jam-packed with events, with three double-GP weekends and one notable quadruple-GP weekend—and as such there are ten candidates for the title of Player of the Month. You can vote by telling me who you want to win the title using the #MTGPoM hashtag on Twitter. You can address the tweets at me @Top8Games, to @MagicProTour, or just discuss among yourselves using the hashtag.
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa—Player of the Month?
- Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa continued his hot streak from the end of April to start May off with a bang. He won his hometown Grand Prix to propel himself into the World Championship mix and lock up Platinum status for the season. It was his third straight event experiencing success with Esper Dragons and put the Magic community on notice that he was back after a dearth of finishes by the Pro Tour Hall of Fame Inductee.
- Another hometown hero was winning Grand Prix Toronto on the same weekend. Lucas Siow took down his GP with an Abzan Midrange deck that showed off the power of Den Protector. It was the first major tournament win for Siow and was the latest in a line of dominating Grand Prix finishes for the burgeoning Canadian competitive Magic scene.
- Amand Dosimont took a much more aggressive approach to Abzan a week later at Grand Prix Paris. It was the first Top 8 finish—and major victory—of his career. By winning the event he propelled himself into the lead for the National Championship of Belgium and the opportunity to captain their team at the World Magic Cup.
- In a star-studded Grand Prix Top 8 that featured five previous tournament winners sitting down for the final draft of Grand Prix Atlantic City, it was Christian Calcano who won the second Grand Prix of his career. His white-black draft deck featured Mastery of the Unseen and helped get him past none other than Alexander Hayne in the finals.
- Our third Abzan winner of the month was Yuuki Ichikawa who went with a graveyard theme for this winning decklist from Grand Prix Shanghai. His Satyr Wayfinders fueled his Den Protectors, Deathmist Raptors, and Tasigurs past a Top 8 bracket that included semifinalist Nam Sung Wook.
- Sweden's Magnus Lantto emerged as the latest Magic Online Champion when he bested the 16-person field in Seattle with decks in Vintage, Modern, and Standard. He did not even need to reach for his Standard deck in the "best-of-three matches" format finals when his Vintage and Modern decks won 2-0 apiece to secure the title. In addition to the prize money and the title, Lantto is Gold in the Pro Player's Club and is invited to the World Championship.
- I already wrote about Aaron Lewis and Scott Markeson above, and both are nominated for their wins as are the other victors to emerge around the world on Modern Masters Weekend.
- Yuki Matsumoto won Grand Prix Chiba by defeating 2011 World Champion Junya Iyanaga in the finals of the 3,550-person field. It was the second Grand Prix Top 8 in a relatively short career for Matsumoto, who drafted a more traditional white-blue deck than the one Lewis won with in Vegas.
- There were 3,613 players at Grand Prix Utrecht. And the last one standing was Italian Davide Vergoni, who won with a deck sporting the ability to make five colors for Skyreach Manta and playing 41 cards. Vergoni rode Ulamog's Crusher, backed by triple Arrest, to victory over the Top 8 field. That journey included defeating GP Champion Christian Siebold in the semifinals.
That is a lot of Magic finishes to take in, and that doesn't even account for the Team Grand Prix in Florence. Who do you think should be the Player of the Month? Is it one of these players, or is there someone I have overlooked? Share your thoughts on Twitter and check back next week for the winner.