One of the most exciting stories from 2010 was the addition of Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifiers to the existing ways to qualify for the Pro Tour. The Magic Online Championship had previously offered invites to Worlds in 2009 but with the addition of PTQs for Pro Tour–San Diego it meant that Magic Online sharks would get a chance to swim at every event on the 2010 schedule. To kick off the New Year I caught up with a handful of players who gained entry to the Pro Tour in 2010 with a digital blue envelope.
Matt Nass got the 2010 season off to a rousing start when he won Grand Prix–Oakland with Elves just one week before cashing in his Magic Online PTQ invite to San Diego. He ended up in the Top 10 of the Rookie of the Year race and becoming a featured writer on ChannelFireball.com.
Dan Jordan qualified for Pro Tour–Amsterdam via Magic Online and made the most of his opportunity posting a Top 16 finish. He also became a star on the StarCityGames.com Open Series when he won two events this past year and has recently started writing for SCG as well.
Reid Duke is a feared Magic Online grinder who qualified for Amsterdam based on his Total rating but also found himself playing twenty-nine rounds of Magic in Chiba when he qualified for the Magic Online Championship Series and the World Championships. He recently became a columnist over at StarCityGames.com.
Christian Calcano was fighting for a shot at the Rookie of the Year title in the closing rounds of the World Championships in Chiba despite not starting his season until he won a Magic Online PTQ for San Juan—the second PT of the season. With a strong series of Limited finishes he has locked up invites for all of next season.
Bing Luke made his Pro Tour debut in Chiba as a MOCS competitor, which was only the second time he has ever played in a sanctioned Magic tournament. He recently wrote an excellent column for StarCityGames.com about the challenges of learning the operational side of playing "paper" Magic.
What was your overall take on your first year on the Pro Tour? Was it what you expected?
Matt: Pro Tours were a lot harder than I thought. I didn't Day Two any of them. The main reason is not that the top were surprisingly good—I already had experience playing against Luis Scott-Vargas, Josh Utter-Leyton, and David Ochoa—but that everyone is competent. You don't feel like you are guaranteed to beat everyone. The other thing I didn't expect is that PTs are much less cutthroat than PTQs. There are still some people who take it very seriously, but there is less rules lawyering and games are often more relaxed.
Dan: It was an amazing time getting to go to Amsterdam to play in only my second Pro Tour ever. Getting the chance to go play with a bunch of pros for my share of almost a quarter million dollars in a foreign country is just as amazing as anyone could ever expect it to be.
Reid: It was humbling. The better I get and the more I play, the further I feel I still have to go.
Christian: My take is that no matter who you play, you're both playing Magic. Going into my first PT, PT–San Juan, I was very nervous. It was my first time playing on the big stage and I knew I would be playing against the best players in the world. I got paired against some big names, Martin Juza and Adam Yurchick. I was intimidated to sit across from them since they're players that have done really well on the PT. But after playing against them I realized that it doesn't really matter who you play, you're both playing the same game.
Bing: The Pro Tour itself didn't really surprise me, but one thing that I misjudged was how much work is required to do well. I thought that at least with Worlds being split across three formats that it would be easier to be prepared, but in retrospect I can see very specifically where extra hours or preparation would have directly resulted into more wins.
What is the highlight of the 2010 season for you? The lowlight?
Matt: GP–Oakland. Probably the best day of my life.
Missing out on the 20th point was super frustrating. Specifically, missing at Toronto where I missed on breakers was a crushing blow.
Dan: The highlight of my 2010 season was taking 13th at Pro Tour–Amsterdam. Although I did win two Starcitygames.com Opens, my top finish at the Pro Tour really set me up for a better future at the Pro Circuit.
There were multiple "lowlights" to my 2010 season. Between losing 2 PTQ Top 4's for San Diego to mana screw, going 8-1 on Day 1 at GP–Houston then barely making it to the Top 64, and losing the finals of a PTQ for Pro Tour–Amsterdam, I would have to say it was starting out so well in Houston and not Top 8ing. I really felt like I was playing a great deck, and a Top 8 there would have set me up for a much better year with the extra pro points and extra Pro Tour.
Reid: The highlight was playing the last Swiss round of the MOCS. If I had won it, I would have made the finals. Being in that position made it seem like years of hard work were worthwhile. I can't wait to be in there again.
The low point was getting killed in Extended in both PTs. I put a ton of time and effort into finding the best deck and the best deck list on my own, and after the tournament I felt like I would have done better by playing something obvious. I don't regret putting the time in, and I don't regret going with my gut because it's the only way to learn. That said, it was certainly a reality check.
Christian: The highlight of 2010 for me was making Level 4. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that I'm good enough to compete at the highest level and that I'll be entering a new season not having to worry about qualifying.
The lowlight for me was not making Day 2 in San Juan. I lost the last two rounds to miss Day 2 at 4-4. All I could think about was how my run on the PT was over and that I had to go back to the PTQ grind.
Coming into the season did you identify yourself more as a Magic Online player, a paper player, or simply a hybrid of both?
Matt: I would say hybrid.
Dan: I've always been a hybrid of both paper Magic and Magic Online, but once they announced the beginning of Magic Online PTQs it was only a matter of time before I started grinding a lot more of Magic Online.
Reid: Going into the season I considered myself a paper player. Now I'm not so sure. I owe a lot to Magic Online. Real life Magic and I haven't been getting along as well.
Christian: Definitely a paper player. I didn't really play much Magic Online until they started running qualifiers (MOCS amp; PTQs). I always played in as many PTQs as I could to try and make it to the PT and I was certainly happy when they announced online PTQs.
Bing: The highlight was definitely making the Pro Tour. We got a huge opportunity when Wizards introduced a path to the Pro Tour on Magic Online and it was pretty amazing to make it through the huge numbers of people clamoring for the few available slots. Beating Olivier Ruel in my first Pro Tour match was pretty special too.
Scrubbing out of both Worlds was definitely disappointing and it is a little disheartening that having done so puts me pretty much at square one, although I did just get my notification of being a newly minted Level 1 Pro Player.
How did the Magic Online experience prepare you for the Pro Tour experience?
Matt: Magic Online is actually similar to the PT in that most people are competent. It's unlikely that someone is going to play Magic without the social element if they aren't taking it relatively seriously.
Dan: Magic Online granted me tons of experience at the Pro Tour. You just simply can't get to the big stage, and succeed well at it without playing Magic Online. Magic Online lets you play all the time, and against much better players, and fellow grinders like myself.
Reid: It didn't. On Magic Online if one event doesn't go your way, you can fire another. At the PT, you don't get many second chances and people are there to kill. Next time I will be too.
Christian: Ever since my local store went out of business, Magic Online has been the place where I have time to draft. I don't get to play Magic at all on the weekdays if it isn't on online. So it helped me a lot in Limited, especially during Magic 2011.
Bing: As I mentioned in our previous conversation, Magic Online is an invaluable resource to learn the technical aspect of the game. Being able to grind a ton of games against a ton of opponents can also accelerate you into the higher end of the pattern recognition curve. On the other hand, however, I wrote in a recent article that Magic Online can be a trap that sabotages the skills you need to succeed on the Pro Tour, most prominently deck-building and metagame reading.
With the PTQ season rumbling into gear what is your early take on Extended? What are the top decks to beat? What are the established decks that you would not even deign to pick up and play?
Matt: Faeries, and Valakut decks are very good. Four-Color Control is overrated.
Dan: My take on the Extended format is that Faeries is undeniably the best deck in the format. It has all of the best cards along with the best synergy, and after a larger sample size of Extended tournaments is probably going to post the highest win percentage among decks. The top decks to beat right now are Faeries (obviously), Prismatic Omen.dec, and the up and coming Blue-Red-Green deck that Top 4ed the most recent Magic Online PTQ by Bryang. Faeries simply has the best cards with better synergy than any other deck. The Omen deck has its own Bitterblossom in the form of Prismatic Omen since once you resolve it you find yourself having to counter most of their spells because they all become threats. I also like the Blue-Red-Green deck because Pestermite is really good against a lot of the decks in the format, and then you just auto-win with Splinter Twin. Pretty much every other deck in the format such as Four-Color Control, Necrotic Ooze Combo, White-Blue Control, Jund, and Robots are all decent decks, but you're just not ever going to win a tournament with them because the other decks are just better. They all have cards that are much better than yours and some of them are even just auto-win cards along with much better synergy.
Reid: Faeries is my favorite. I haven't been impressed by Ooze Combo or Tempered Steel, but I still need to give them their fair chance.
Christian: I think Extended is a wide-open and fun format. There are so many different decks you could play but the top decks would have be, Four-Color Control, Faeries, Scapeshift with Wargate, and Jund. Out of those I'd say Jund is the deck that I wouldn't play. I didn't enjoy the deck much when it was in Standard and it hasn't changed much at all.
Bing: I have been having some success playing Faeries and think it's the best. There is a measure of personal bias there, though the results appear to be bearing it out, adaptable enough to react to a number of opposing decks. I would say Prismatic Omen-Wargate is the other deck to beat but while it's a very strong deck and has shown resilience thus far, it's still relatively new and successful angles of attack might just not yet be widely adopted yet.
All in all, the format is pretty wide open. The established decks have a ton of room to tinker and there's a lot of good debate happening about where to push decks. Jund with Demigods is very good and I've been hearing very good things about the White-Blue Sun Titan and a Boss-Naya-esque build with Vengevines.
There are decks that I wouldn't play personally, but nothing that I would completely dissuade a friend from playing if he was comfortable playing it and had a decent sideboard. These decks seem to have enough open slots that allow for enough tinkering to adjust to most metagames, instead of having to jump ship.
How have you enjoyed becoming a Magic writer? Has that affected the way you play or think about the game at all?
Matt: Writing has been awesome. Thinking about how I play and being forced to test a lot in order to do a good job has been good for my game. The one thing I have noticed is that occasionally I choose decks or even make plays with the goal of using it for my article, which is obviously not good.
Dan: Becoming a Magic writer was a huge transition for me. In high school I didn't really enjoy writing book reports or research papers just like any other kid my age, but writing about Magic I can just find myself lost in the words, and next thing you know you've written thousands of words and hours are gone. In some ways it has affected the way I play and think about the game. After I started writing for Starcitygames.com I wanted to start becoming a better writer, and one of the ways to do that was to start reading other writer's articles. After reading fellow writer's articles I feel like I learned so much more that my win percentages have easily gone up 10-15%—which in Magic is a huge gain.
Reid: Writing has been fun, but a big challenge. I'm the kind of guy who has to learn things the hard way, but I stress out a lot when it's not just me who might suffer from mistakes I put in an article.
Bing: It's been nice getting some support from the community regarding my writing and my travels. A lot of the motivation is just to organize my thoughts for myself and be able to review them at a bit of distance. I won't be able to do it week-in and week-out, but I think it has been helpful to me and I hope it has been somewhat worthwhile to others out there.
@Christian: You have not taken up the writing trade yet but since you are considered to be such a Limited guru why don't you give us a little insight into the Scars of Mirrodin draft format. What are three undervalued cards in the format right now?
Christian: Viridian Revel: Almost every deck will have no less than twelve artifacts so Revel will draw you at least three cards most of the time.
Trigon of Thought: I see Trigon table in most drafts, which I don't get. You can play it in any deck and it's one of the few draw spells in the set.
Painful Quandary: I didn't feel this card was good at all until Gerard Fabiano beat me in a draft with it. It's obviously not a good late game card but getting this card out on turn five, or turn four with a Myr, will put you way ahead. It's another way of getting card advantage on your opponent.
Do you have any Magic-related resolutions for the New Year?
Matt: I want to get to Level 4. Of course, I would love to do better, but I think that's a realistic goal.
Dan: My Magic-related resolutions for the New Year consist of a few things. One is to win a Pro Tour, two is to win a Grand Prix, three is to Level 8. I know to a lot of people these seem like really unbelievable goals, but I honestly don't feel like any other Pro usually makes a play that I didn't think of myself. Given that I feel like I could be at the same level that Brad Nelson, Martin Juza, or LSV is at with the right opportunities.
Reid: My first year on the PT taught me that you can't expect big things overnight. I'm looking for slow but steady improvement.
Christian: Try and make it to as many tournaments as I can.
Bing: Actively work on my game. Play less on autopilot.
What are your goals for the New Year?
Reid: My biggest goal is to learn how to balance my Magic life with my non-Magic life. It would be a shame if I had to give one of them up because I'd miss a lot of things about the real world.
Christian: My ultimate goal is to reach level 8. It won't be easy, but I'm willing to travel to foreign Grand Prix to try and get as many points as I can.
Bing: My two goals for 2011 are to again qualify for the MOCS and to qualify for PT–Philadelphia. For now, this means collecting as many byes as possible for MOCS and setting up a schedule to attend PTQs and GPs feeding Philly.
Dan: Now if you thought those previous goals were going to be tough you're going to be shocked at my goals for 2011. My main goal is to Make $100,000 this year. The other ones are to do as much traveling as possible, keep getting at Magic and poker, and meet a hot girl that doesn't care that I play Magic (I know that this one might be near impossible to find.). We'll just have to see what happens.
If you have one piece of advice for players heading to Paris (or Nagoya, etc.) for their first Pro Tour what would it be?
Matt: Test Limited and Constructed. Don't assume you can wing it in a new Draft format against pros who are testing nonstop.
Dan: One thing is to not get nervous at all. You have to have a focused mind at all times. Remember that your opponent is not better than you. More times than not players sit down across from a Professional Magic Player, and have already lost because they feel mentally defeated. You will never do well if you don't think you have the capabilities to beat a pro. So saying that, confidence is one of the biggest keys to succeeding at your first Pro Tour. Besides that, just remember to have as much fun as possible. Wherever you're going, whether it be Paris or Nagoya, just remember that you're in a foreign country playing a game that you love playing. Your friends would die for a chance like this—so don't let it go to waste. Make sure you go out and enjoy yourself because we only live once so let's make the best of it.
Reid: Go in determined. Go in ready to do your best. But consider it a learning experience. It takes PT experience before you can be a world-class player.
Christian: If you have time, see as much of the city as you can.
Bing: Practice, practice, practice leading up to the tournament but make sure to have fun during the actual tournament.