Oliver Tiu needed help.
He was finding success at Grand Prix Providence, heading into Day 2 in a strong position and with a shot at the Top 8 of the tournament. With a few more wins, he would at least cash the tournament and pick up his first career Pro Points. As is customary, it is at this point that tournament officials pass out tax forms the players fill out to receive prize. It's boring paperwork, but vital to tournament logistics.
For Tiu, there was only one hitch.
He needed a parental guardian to sign. That's what happens when you're a 17-year-old Magic prodigy, after all.
"I had to have my dad sign the paperwork at that first Grand Prix," he laughed on Friday at Pro Tour Kaladesh, thinking back to the tournament that started it all for the Cambridge, Massachusetts native. "I'm 18 now, so at least I can sign the forms myself now."
For Tiu, there have been many such forms since. The Top 8 finish in Providence ignited a historic run that saw him Top 8 three Grand Prix, finish in the Top 16 of two Pro Tours, win the race for the Rookie of the Year title, make a deep run at the World Championship and earn platinum status in the Pro Players Club.
Not bad for a freshman at Boston College undecided about what to major in.
"A year ago, I thought I was a good player, but I didn't think I would do well at Pro Tours or anything," Tiu recalled. "I played a lot of Magic but I hadn't accomplished much. I hadn't qualified for a Pro Tour or really ever even been close. I had never made it to the finals of a PTQ or been a match away. Stringing together four Pro Tours in a row was a pipe dream."
Then came Providence, and everything changed. The rest, as they say, is Magic history.
Tiu got off to a hot 4-1 start at Pro Tour Kaladesh.
That was then. Now, the fairytale rookie year is over, and Tiu is no longer the whiz kid 17-year-old taking the Magic world by storm. He's an adult balancing classes with Magic and travel across the world. He won't take anyone by surprise and will always get his opponent's best game. It's the difference between being the prodigy and being the pro.
"These days, I have a lot less time for Magic. College and classes are hard," he explained. "I devote the free time I have to Magic and I do the best I can, but I don't have time to go to Friday Night Magic or anything like that. Some of professors don't even excuse the absence when I have to travel for tournaments."
It's a challenging life and one that's nearly impossible to balance fully, and Tiu is trying to temper his expectations as a result.
"The next thing for me to do is try and Top 8 a Pro Tour, that would be a nice start," he said. "And getting back to Worlds would be great, but I'd rather just be consistent and reach platinum again, that's the main goal over anything splashy."
Tiu—busy as he is juggling Magic and school—may not realize it, but in many ways he is the walking, talking, winning example of the dream that every new Magic player nurtures. His meteoric rise to the top of a game older than he is while competing against players who were making the Top 8 of Pro Tours when he was still in elementary school, has been an inspiration to the next generation of Magic players across the globe.
And it's completely changed his life.
"Even my friends who don't know anything about Magic now know me as 'the Magic kid,'" he said. "A lot of people are amazed by how much money I've made playing a card game, and they're even more amazed by how I get to travel to so many places to play the game. There are so many kids jealous of me being able to go to Honolulu while they're stuck in Massachusetts, where it's cold. Most people are really interested to hear about Magic, and it's a great way to talk to people.
"It's always been my dream to get to this point. It's absurd that I can go up to Jon Finkel or Owen Turtenwald and just start talking to them and they know who I am. A year ago I would never think I'd have access to these kind of superstar players. I can't describe with words how amazing this has been."
If Tiu's incredible year and fast start in Honolulu is any indication, this is one ride that won't ending anytime soon. And he doesn't need anyone to sign off on it.