There and Back Again—A Québécois' Journey

Posted in PRO TOUR FATE REFORGED on February 6, 2015

By Marc Calderaro

Pascal Maynard has burst into 2015 in supreme fashion. He's the definition of white hot. Last year the Quebec native moved away from the game after some bad beats, and took a break to only play in local events. But his "retirement" was short lived, to say the least. Here he is, back on the Pro Tour.

To start his "retirement" off, in his first local-only Grand Prix, in Ottawa, he finished in the Top 8. This prompted him to fly "at least to Omaha"—where again he finished in the Top 8. After that, he said, "Well, might as well go to Mexico City." That town had spurned him in the past—back in 2012 it was the second Grand Prix Top 8 in a row where a quarterfinals loss failed to qualify Maynard for the Pro Tour (the qualification system was a bit different back then). But he was able to reverse the curse by going better than a Top 8 three-peat and outright winning Grand Prix Mexico City 2015.

Maynard has only played in three premier events and he's already locked up Silver Pro status. Something he'd yet to achieve even at his previous height. Yeah, he's running pretty well.

Longtime player Pascal Maynard has earned multiple Pro Tour invitations both through his newly granted Silver-status in the Pro Players Club as well as his incredibly sick three Grand Prix Top 8s in a row, with his last Top 8 resulting in a win.

Playing for ten years (since Fifth Dawn), this 21-year-old has aimed to make his mark in the game ever since watching Antoine Ruel win Pro Tour Los Angeles in 2005. He was going to every PTQ in Montreal for about five years. He started young. He's barely 21 and Fifth Dawn came out in 2004—that young.

Though he saw some good local results at a young age, he looks back on that time as one only for his own growth. "The problem was I wanted to play what I liked, rather that what was good." Though he quickly became known as the best player in the city, that wasn't good enough for him. "The only person that traveled to play the game was me, so that didn't really mean too much." His sights were always higher—Ruel holding that big check and trophy the guiding light.

At sixteen he played Nationals 2010 and qualified for his first Pro Tour. He made the Canadian National Team, and in his first Pro Tour appearance, he made a very impressive debut, despite his age and relative inexperience. He tempered that with a realistic outlook, "But I had been trying a lot." Yeah he had, and it showed.

For the next couple years, Maynard would continue to put up solid Pro Tour results, but nothing that qualified him immediately for the next Pro Tour. Top 50 finishes, and always making the cut to the second day. "I was never actually on the train, but I qualified for ten Pro Tours in a row." This included spiking four consecutive PTQs.

During that time, between 2011 and 2013, Maynard put up three Grand Prix Top 8s. Still a teen, he was poised to become one of the game's next young stars.

And then 2014 hit like a ton of bricks. "At Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, in San Diego, I went 0-5 drop," he said. "That was the first time I didn't Day Two a Pro Tour. But, I thought, 'You know, it happens. Even great pros 0-5 sometimes—most of them, anyway." So he didn't worry about it too much...until the next Pro Tour. "Then at the next Pro Tour, I went 1-5." That's when he started to wonder.

Many good players play their best Magic with their backs against the wall. Consummate just-Top-25 player Christian Calcano famously sold much of his collection for a last-minute flight to Grand Prix Minneapolis, which he won (players still remember his deck as the "Three Sulfur Falls deck"). But Pascal is not a back-against-the-wall kind of guy. For him, tilts beget more tilts. He starting looking for reasons for this sudden change in performance, and he didn't find easy answers. Many can see this as the beginning of a bad spiral.

"My two Pro Tour Top 50s came when I was testing alone, so maybe it was the team? Were we not doing things well? Was it their fault?" Maynard looked outward for the reason. "I was trying to find someone to blame." It didn't work.

He was off the Pro Tour, and in a rut, but he wasn't yet down and out. "I still wanted to qualify, but I hadn't Top 8ed a PTQ in a while." So he did what most of us would do, and what Maynard had grown up doing; he went to every PTQ—about thirty in total. And he Top 8ed a grand total of one. 1 out of 30. This is for a guy who was routinely beating people twice as experienced as he was. This is when it hit him hard.

"Magic is about 90% of my life; it's my work, my friends, everything." So this eight-month stretch was brutal; his whole life was rattled. To make matters worse, a solid job he saw as a nice exit strategy fell through at the last minute, and he was stuck. What happened? And the better question: what could he do now? After some introspection, the answer was clear: go to the Philippines.

"Other than Magic, what I like to do is managing businesses. I have a good friend who has been successful doing that, and moved out to the Philippines [pursuing business there to great success]." To take his mind off the hits of the year, and to get a good life-coaching session, he would travel to Southeast Asia and figure out what to do next. Kind of like an Eat, Pray, Love thing, but without the food...and Julia Roberts...and the love. You know, never mind, it's nothing like that.

That's where the beginning of our story picks back up. Because a short time before his flight was Grand Prix Ottawa. Right after he made the conscious choice to take a break from the game of his youth, he Top 8'd three Grand Prix in a row and achieved Silver status, something that eluded him in his best of times. The game of his youth was transitioning him into an adult.

So what's different now? How has this changed him? Maynard said, "I learned I do well when I'm busy. Not just with Magic, but with anything." In the last couple months, he went back to testing alone to get his mojo back. Kind of like How Stella Got Her Groove Back, except know what, never mind again. He brought his innovative Blue-Red Delver deck to Omaha, something that he would've never done in the past, and succeeded with it. "I don't need approval now. If I like something, I play it, and I go with it." He continued, "I know that time is precious. When I test for ten hours—I test for ten hours. I don't, you know, do work e-mails, or have the TV on. I'm testing."

This lone-wolf renaissance isn't necessarily his goal, but he's experimenting with it. "I'm trying out testing alone for the Pro Tour." Only time will tell if this rejuvenated-Maynard strategy will work out, but now he has a better outlook on things, and has some back-up plans if things get away from him again. He has business projects lined up, and is bubbling with ideas. Like he said, he works well when he's busy.

He's got a different outlook for his play-style too. "I have the confidence now to try things I would not have done before," he said. The success with Blue-Red Delver made him realize he has a better handle on this game overall than he thought. He can make some metagame calls and hard testing can show him that. "I don't want to say 'try out things,' because that makes it sound like I'm not testing a lot, but I am; I'm testing hard." Pascal is not saying he has a natural handle on this game; he knows very well it takes lots and lots of work.

We'll see if this new, now twenty-something, Pascal Maynard will yield matured results, but he's gone through a rut than many of us don't see as young as he did. He knows some of his pitfalls, and he's a hard worker. Even without a fairytale payoff, the game that grew him up is already rewarding him for his growth. Regardless of his performance this weekend, we'll see him at least a few more Pro Tours thanks to his new-found status.