At the beginning of every Pro Tour, there's a long-held tradition that may come as a surprise to first-time competitors: They're asked to stand up so the rest of the field can welcome them. For those long-time veterans of the Pro Tour, it's a regular chance to relive those harrowing moments of their own first experience at Magic's highest level. For the few dozen first-timers at the event, it's a rite of passage.
That's how Lewk Faley's day began at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. While it wasn't easy, it didn't make him half as nervous as sitting down for his first draft pod of the tournament.
To his left: Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas. Two seats to his right: two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and 12th-ranked Jacob Wilson. A few seats to his left sat Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura. And staring his way directly across the table: the most decorated player in Magic history—Johnny Magic himself—Jon Finkel. In all, there were 27 Pro Tour Top 8s in Faley's first draft pod at his first Pro Tour.
Welcome to the big leagues.
"My hands were shaking as I counted out the cards in the first pack," the 29-year-old Iowa native admitted. "I'm sitting in a pool full of Hall of Famers and I can't even lay out my pack. That's a pretty difficult start."
It's safe to say that Pro Tour newcomer Lewk Faley's first draft pod was just a little stacked.
Things didn't get any easier from there, as Faley found himself paired against the kind of line-up row rarely seen even at a Pro Tour.
Round 1: Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Gaudenis Vidugiris.
Round 2: Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Jacob Wilson.
Round 3: Hall of Famer Luis Scott-Vargas.
Round 4: Four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Brian Braun-Duin.
Round 5: Two-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor and 2010 Player of the Year Brad Nelson.
It's hard to imagine a tougher start to your first Pro Tour, but Faley rolled with the punches. Not only did he emerge from that killer line-up at a more-than-respectable 2-3 record, but he won his next round to put himself just one victory short of advancing to Day Two.
Considering the competition and the nerves anyone would feel against those match-ups, Faley's accomplishment is especially impressive. It helped that it wasn't the first thing he had to overcome this weekend.
"I have never flown before this week, and until I had gotten through that, I was actually more nervous about it than the Pro Tour," he said with a laugh. "It's obviously hard to play against that level of player every round, but I won't shy away from any of it. You want to play the best, and I still have high expectations for this tournament. I want to finish 11-5 and qualify for the next one, and there's no better way to get better than playing against the best."
Faley was one of 127 players to compete at Magic's biggest stage for the first time at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, a tournament that marks 20 years since the first Pro Tour was hosted in New York in 1996.
Ryan Kurz—another Pro Tour first-timer—wasn't even alive back then. The 19-year-old picked up Magic with the release of Magic 2015 and hadn't ever drafted until last week. What he did do was learn the Modern format well and qualify via the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier system in order to make his professional debut this weekend in Atlanta.
Ryan Kurz may not have been at Magic for long, but he's learned fast enough to make his Pro Tour debut this weekend in Atlanta.
"This experience has made me realize I want more," said Kurz, who won't advance to Day Two but said he learned more in a day at the Pro Tour than he imagined possible. "They really don't call it the Pro Tour for nothing—I played against Brian Kibler and [24th-ranked and Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir champion] Martin Dang."
"What I've learned from this event is how important every play is, no matter how small it seems," he said. "Any mistake and the game can just slip out from under you. People who want to play at this level have to realize you have to put in the work to be here. I see how much room there is to improve, and it makes me want to become a better all-around player and get back here again."