Ondřej Stráský, currently ranked 20th in the world, has quickly risen from obscurity to be one of the most visible Magic players in the world. The nineteen-year-old Czech has already made two Pro Tour Top 8s this season—at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir in Honolulu and Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels—and locked up Platinum level in the process. This weekend, he has the opportunity to prove himself at Grand Prix Paris and possibly make his first Grand Prix Top 8.
Commentator Marijn Lybaert called him a "young fella with ambitions," and that's a good way to describe him. Another way to summarize Stráský is with his theme song: Fancy, by Iggy Azalea. "The Song's great, and it describes me the best," Stráský said as he sat down with me to discuss his Magic origins, his relationship with Magic, and his plans for the future.
Stráský's First Competitive Events
Stráský picked up the game in 2007, back when he was eleven years old. "I started playing at school with my friends and classmates, and I played my first Grand Prix in 2009."
That Grand Prix took place in Prague, the capital of his home country, and he went 4-4 before dropping out. "I wasn't playing well back then, but I managed to make Day 2 at my second Grand Prix—Grand Prix Prague 2011."
That Day 2 finish marked a steady improvement for Stráský, and it must have left him hungry for more as he attended Grand Prix Amsterdam a couple months later, and finished 10th. "That was pretty awesome," he said.
A Legacy and Vintage Connoisseur
When I asked Stráský about the format of that Grand Prix in Amsterdam, I was surprised to learn that it was Legacy. You don't often see people playing with cards that were printed before they were born, but Stráský did. "I started playing Legacy when I started playing Magic competitively because everyone around me was playing it as well. I was winning a lot with Merfolk, so I became known as a Merfolk guy in the Czech Legacy scene. Sixteen years old, the smallest kid there, but I held my ground against people who were older than me. "
Given his success with Merfolk in Legacy, it may not come as a shock to learn that Daze is his favorite Magic card. "It has the best art, and it was awesome in Merfolk. How to play around Daze is one of the important things to learn in Legacy, so I like Daze," he said. "Nowadays, I would love to see a Legacy Pro Tour, but I understand that card availability is an issue. Maybe they should put it at the World Championships."
Stráský's favorite format, Vintage, has even fewer restrictions on card legality. "In the Czech Republic we have this series where we play Legacy on Saturday and Vintage on Sunday. I played some Vintage tournaments with the Power 9 and it's pretty epic. You're doing the most powerful things: playing Black Lotus, land, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn one is just awesome. My dream is to play the Vintage Super League one day."
His First Pro Tour
"My Top 16 at Grand Prix Amsterdam gave me a qualification for Pro Tour Honolulu, but back then it didn't come with the airfare. Everyone from my family donated some money to help me buy a ticket to Hawaii, which was really great of them. My mom has been super supportive, and although my dad has been a bit more cautious, they were and still are okay with me playing Magic. Their support means a lot to me," Stráský said.
"I did reasonably well at the Pro Tour, and although I lost in the last round to finish just outside of the money, the trip was awesome. I was flying alone, sixteen years old, and I even had to stay the night in Amsterdam because my flight got delayed. But after meeting up with the other Czech guys in Hawaii, it turned into a great trip overall. I’m glad I went."
Stráský played in more Pro Tours after his first, but the breakthrough came at the start of this season, when he returned to Honolulu for another Pro Tour. This time, he made it all the way to the Top 8 and about half a year later he followed it up with another Top 8 at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. That's already an absurd amount of success for someone who only started playing on the Pro Tour quite recently, and I asked Stráský whether there was a particular life event or change about his approach to the game that gave him the ability to break through.
"I went to Hawaii with the idea that this would be my last Pro Tour before I would dedicate my time and focus on my studies, but I got lucky and made the Top 8. This success motivated me to do better. Before, I was playing a lot, but I had become disappointed that I had no real results or success after playing competitively for five years. The Top 8 in Honolulu changed all that," he explained.
"Since then, I quit school, and I started playing even more Magic. I was studying Film History, but I actually didn't enjoy the old movies at all. I often go to the movies to catch the modern-era films, but I didn't care about the ones from the 1950s, so I became a full-time Magic player. I play Magic Online for six hours a day, sometimes even more. I also enjoy other video games and I would be exercising if I weren't that lazy, but I'm mostly playing Magic right now. By the time the Pro Tour in Brussels came around, I had gotten better, but I was still lucky to make Top 8 there."
A Humble Attitude
Many people would think that they are the best player in the world after having two Pro Tour Top 8s in a year. But Stráský didn't let that success get to his head. "There are so many good players. At best, I'm in the Top 50 of the world right now. I'm just playing okay, not amazing, and I still have many areas where I can improve," he admitted.
"For example, even though I won two thirds of my draft matches at the Pro Tour, my records in our Pro Tour testing house weren't as good, so I can certainly improve my Limited game. I was minus thirteen (that is, thirteen more losses than wins) when testing for Pro Tour Fate Reforged and minus nine for Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir. The level of play in our group is very high though, better than the average on the Pro Tour. We are one of the best, still underrated teams on the PT right now, and many thanks go out to my teammates. Playing with better players has been the most important way of improving my game," Stráský said.
"Other weak parts of my game are deck building and sometimes rushing too much. I need to slow down and look at things again—that's the best way to avoid misplays." A positive side effect of realizing how many mistakes he's making is that Stráský doesn't get frustrated easily. "I don't tilt, ever. I'm making so many mistakes and losing so often that I get used to it and don't get fazed by another mistake or loss."
Magic Goals and Plans Going Forward
Stráský still has a youthful, carefree attitude. In Brussels, he even attended a party instead of testing his Top 8 matchup on Saturday night. And he doesn't mind if people attribute his success to "Little Kid Luck" because "people might underestimate me that way."
Be it luck, skill, or both, he'll be Platinum level next season, is close to a lock for the World Championship this year, and has his eye set on the future. "My goal is to hit Platinum next year as well and to keep doing my best after that. I know it's a long way off, but making it into the Hall of Fame would be a dream come true. I'll play all the Grand Prix events in Europe and maybe some outside of Europe. No school for me next year—I'll just focus on Magic. I might be streaming, too. That's a lot of fun, and I have a channel at twitch.tv/ondrejstrasky."
Stráský has only been playing competitive Magic for a few years and he's already racked up an incredible list of achievements. We'll surely see a lot more of this young master in the future!