Everyone Starts at 20: A Pro Tour Dream Realized

Feature Article from Matthew Keene
Matthew Keene
2/28/2013 11:01:00 AM
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On February 15th I finally achieved my dream: I played on the Pro Tour for the first time in my life. After investing nearly 15 years into this game of magic, I finally achieved my end goal of getting to the Pro Tour. After playing as well as I can remember in constructed only to doom myself in limited I played in the largest magic tournament in the history of magic tournaments and played the best limited format magic of my life. They were some of the most rewarding experiences I've had in Magic and some of the most heart breaking.

I can't begin to even come close to write you a report on any of the match ups I've played in these past two weekends. From the 16 round Pro Tour to the 17 rounds of Grand Prix Charlotte, my mind has refused to recall any details or interesting tidbits magic related within the games I've played in these past 23 rounds of Magic. So instead I'm going to recall my journey, how I thought and felt during the journey, some humorous anecdotes in between, my end results, and hopefully an insight or perspective into someone who proverbially “made it” only to quickly fall back to square one. I promise it's not a tragedy.

The journey begins last year, around October during States. A week before Joe Bernal top 8ed an SCG Open with BR Zombies, I took the build, added four Knight of Infamy and tuned some cards and Top 8ed my states only to be knocked out by the other person playing the same 75. Roughly one month later, as BR Zombies continued to slip off the map of the metagame, Some Charleston Locals, including myself, were still dishing out damage with the undead in testing for the upcoming Grand Prix, wondering when did this deck become bad? Was it because of Thragtusk? We all thought so but the more we played the deck the more we found out our opponents either died on turn four or they died tapped out on turn five because they wanted to gain 5 life. Some of the locals, namely John Runyon, Kyle Farington, and Charles Kaufmann, went back to the start, steered away from a Thundermaw version into a Bump in the Night version to help insure we won by turn four or five. We felt like we had a secret weapon for Grand Prix Charleston.

This was by far the best tournament I've ever played in. It was a major Magic tournament held in my back yard and it was one that I did well in. I played the role of Hometown Hero and put a deck back into the spotlight alongside the Champion of GP Charleston, Jon Bolding. It also qualified me for Pro Tour Gatecrash, my first Pro Tour, my end goal, thanks to my 3rd place finish.

Not much was able to happen between this tournament and when Gatecrash Spoilers began to seep in. I enjoyed the holiday season and literally thought about playing in the Pro Tour at least once every day between Grand Prix Charleston and Pro Tour Gatecrash, it was borderline haunting. I even had a dream, I kid you not, where Brian Kibler tricked me into getting onto the wrong flight in Atlanta, therefore missing my only shot at becoming a Pro, this is how much I thought about Pro Tour Gatecrash, this is an example of how much it meant to me. To say I was happy that I was in this situation to even have idiotic dreams or thoughts like this would be an understatement.

 Stomping Ground
Store QTY Price  
Braynezor 1 $16.50
Mirran Games 1 $16.51
Trading Post Games 2 $16.98
Tier Zero Gaming 1 $16.99
Average Games 1 $17.00
Genju 1 $17.01
Galactic Toys Store 8 $17.36
Cape Fear Games 1 $18.00
Navaroli 4 $18.00
Raven's Nest Games 1 $18.02
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Stomping Ground Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

The first card in Gatecrash to excite me would be Burning-Tree Emissary. Since I knew Gatecrash would have Stomping Ground and M13 Already had Flinthoof Boar. I immediately started brewing, thinking of how good Lightning Mauler would be if you bonded to the Emissary on turn 2 after casting a guy on turn 1. I'm not trying to claim some innovation or anything by saying that I was onto his playability early but it's nice to know that you're on the same wave length deck building wise as some of the best players in the game. With more and more of the set getting spoiled, especially the now-obvious Boros Reckoner, I just kept on adding in cards and testing various builds of Gruul. On our team forums I went through 18 Versions of Gruul aggro before finally arriving at my list for the Pro Tour. I immediately pitched the idea out to Jon Bolding, sending him at least three different versions on Facebook as we were bouncing ideas off of each other and the very next day the Tweet happened.

Saito posted a picture of the same Gruul Aggro build, basically replacing the Lightning Maulers and Rampagers I had in my build with Ash Zealots and Rancor's. He also had the perfect mana base in my eyes. It might sound dumb but I was coming from a world of Zombie Aggro so I was trying out Guildgates (so bad) and Caverns to fix the mana base, I was still trying to play 22 to get the right mixture of R/G. Saito's list going down to 20 basically said to me that the amount of lands is so small that you're bound to draw one of the Green sources if you draw any at all. I'm probably wrong in thinking this, but in a weird way, if you only read the sentence once and don't think about it or try to analyze it, it makes sense. Saito's tweet really meant something to me as it felt like I was doing something right, I nearly came to the same conclusion deck wise as one of the best aggro players ever and the way the Magic community reacted only bolstered that sentiment.

Now comes the story of the Pro Tour, like I said at first I really don't recall too much with games but I can bullet point a few interesting things from the perspective of someone at their first Pro Tour.

  • At registration we got some cool long sleeve shirts, when asked what size would I like I asked “how many X's do you have?” They began to say 3; I abruptly interrupted “I need all of them!”
  • My first constructed opponent was kind of a jerk! After I beat him he told me how bad my deck was, instead of getting defensive or confrontational I just continued to egg him on, telling him how it was my first Pro Tour and making myself into the biggest gump while he complained about nut draws (by the way, all this deck can have is nut draws, it loses otherwise). I wanted to put him to a point of tilt that he would think about me and our match all day whenever anything bad happened to him during the Pro Tour. I explained to him how weird I thought it was that I drew these cards that I put into my deck and it was like I put them there in case you know, I drew them. Lo and behold, anytime I was near his vicinity I got to hear how much of a luck sack I was. Mission accomplished.
  • Ari Lax nearly burned my Rakdos Cackler through a table with what would have to be the most dangerous Searing Spear I've ever seen cast. It goes without saying that the devil did not get the strength of the Volcanoes at that time. He was a lot of fun to play against.
  • Raphael Levy doesn't have an accent and taught me why Bant control was still a deck, especially when he's sitting behind 3 Rhox Faithmenders. He was extremely nice and I'm glad I got the opportunity to play against him.
  • Montreal is the scariest city I've been in. It's full of frightening hobo's who speak nine languages to cover their bases when begging for money. It is also home for what I assume is the End Boss Hobo. A 400 pound bald man with a pacifier who barks at you and beats himself in the face, full strength, with a phone book.
  • It was cold enough to break beard hairs off my face. I found this out after missing 4 buses back to the Air Port. Also French people pronounce my name “Mashew,” which I find hilarious.
  • Lastly and most importantly, why isn't poutine in America? Like everywhere. I had the T-Rex at La Banquise and it was insanely good, fries + gravy + cheese + animals! Definitely worth the hour wait outside in -25 degree weather.

For those interested here is the list I played at the Pro Tour to an 8-2 Record during the constructed portion. If I were playing it tomorrow I wouldn't change a thing in the main but I would take out Grafdigger's Cage and Tormod's Crypts from the sideboard and add 1 Mizzium Mortars and 3 Traitorous Blood.

Gruul Aggro by Matthew Keene
Main Deck
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Flinthoof Boar
3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
4 Lightning Mauler
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
Creatures [31]
2 Brimstone Volley
3 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
Spells [9]
12 Mountain (265)
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
Lands [20]
Deck Total [60]

3 Grafdigger's Cage
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Pillar of Flame
4 Skullcrack
1 Tormod's Crypt
4 Volcanic Strength
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

While I am proud of my constructed performance, I only managed to 2-4 the limited portion. That left me in 60th place. While it's not the worst record for your first Pro Tour, it really gave me a gut wrenching feeling that I could have made Top 25 if I had just practiced drafting a few more times. Hell, let's be honest, I needed to draft at least 15 more times, I did maybe three drafts and they were usually at a friend's house while I was more preoccupied with wrapping pizza slices around sausage dogs (which is incredibly tasty) instead of focusing on how the format played out. I didn't take it seriously enough and it showed, no one to blame but myself, especially considering how much I felt this meant to me, I was disappointed. I paid for it. I tried to get those thoughts out of my head but come the Friday morning before Grand Prix Charlotte, in her tournament report, Melissa DeTora wrote a section about how important drafting was. It had a table in it where it showed the top constructed records and how these people could have made Top 8 with a simple 2-1 record. I was 5th on that list. It was like being told by a teacher “I expected more from you.” It was devastating that someone I didn't even know brought up a point that was stirring in the back of my mind. I could have done it; I could have continued the Pro Tour Dream. I was 3 points away from being in the top 25 Bracket. While highly unlikely, it was possible. If I would have simply practiced a little more this would be a different report.

Now we move on to Grand Prix Charlotte. I had something to prove to myself. I wanted to Top 8 but I knew that would be hard as this was touted to be the largest tournament ever. I had three byes which I haven't had the luxury of before so I was hopeful, all I had to do was 4-2, then X-1 and I'd be in contention right?

Not so much, near 2700 people showed up and after 9 rounds of Magic I made the cut off for Day 2, Part 1, aka Round 10 of Sealed With a 7-2 record. The next day I made sure to get all the bad luck out of the way by nearly dropping my phone in the toilet at my hotel, only to instead drop my only change of clothes in instead trying to save it. After stealing some cologne from a friend to cover up my Day 1 stench, I got to play in the second win and in for the tournament at 8am the next day. I remember it being such an intense match but I got it after my opponent kept a shaky hand in game 3. We then played a bonus round of sealed in round 11, leaving me with a record of 9-2 for that portion of the tournament. We then drafted and I went 2-1, 3-0, for a total record of 5-1 in the draft portion, a combined 42 Points. Top 8 stopped at 43 points. I finished 19th, one point away from it mattering. It's foolish to think this way as the record is enough for money and for me to feel validated that I might be a good magic player, most anyone should be proud. But I had a taste of the Pro Tour, I want more of it, I got so close twice to keep the dream going only to come up one short in some way or another. Literally any other Grand Prix and it would have been good enough I feel; I could be wrong with tie breakers but it felt that way to me.

I'm writing this not as someone defeated, explaining to you regret but as someone who has come close enough to realize that getting there isn't that far off. I'm writing this to tell you that if you've ever been in any position like this in Magic or any aspect of life how important it is to get up, to dust yourself off and to keep going. Defeat only happens to people that are defeated. This losing bout, this getting so close each time only to realize it wasn't good enough at what would appear to be my two best opportunities, this fuels me. It makes me think about going to Grand Prix Pittsburgh or even across the world like some of the other grinders do to get back to the big show, the Pro Tour. I have been possessed by my near success. I would be lying to you if I said I was not looking up plane tickets and hotel room costs right now, seeing if it would be financially feasible.

If I can leave you with anything, especially people who can relate to my story, is that everyone starts at 20, We all have a chance at making it in this game if we put in the time and effort. Keep in mind though, if we happen to play against each other at an upcoming event, I plan on being a pleasant opponent, making jokes and trying to enjoy the game with you. I hope to come across as a Humble winner and a gracious loser but in the back of my head, I've already convinced myself that my job is to take you to 0. I plan on killing you in the most decisive way allowed in the game of magic. I will do everything I can to give you zero outs to play towards so I can turn in that slip at the end of it. I plan on climbing over your carcass to plant my flag of victory into your spine. I sincerely hope you are thinking the same about me and every other opponent you play against. Neither you nor I drove this far, spent this much money, or invested this much time to lose.

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