An Undeserved Gift – A Pro Tour Champion’s Report

Feature Article from Craig Wescoe
Craig Wescoe
5/24/2013 10:01:00 AM
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This past weekend I became a Pro Tour Champion.

For those who have not followed my writing or would like to know more about me and my seventeen-year involvement in Magic, I recently wrote an article entitled ‘Living the Magic Life' chronicling my time in the game, from beginning to present.

Today I would like to share with you my personal experience of winning the Pro Tour. For sake of brevity, I will focus less on strategy and more on my experience. I will return my focus to strategy content in next week's article.


Pre-Tournament Preparation

As I did for Pro Tour Gatecrash, I tested with Alex West, Ari Lax, and Gabriel Carlton-Barnes. A number of players from our PT Gatecrash team were not qualified for PT Dragon's Maze and so we added Ben Isgur, Brian DeMars, Jackie Lee, Jasper Johnson-Epstein, Joe Demestrio, Louis Deltour, and Mitchell Hollander. There were also a handful of other players helping out who were not qualified for the event (Brian Kowal, Conrad Kolos, Emanuel Sutor, and Harry Corvese, to name a few). Lauren Lee wrote a short bio of our team members that can be found here.

At Pro Tour Gatecrash we managed to place one player (Emanuel Sutor) into the Top 16 and a few others in the money, and this time we were looking to improve on that showing. I was personally looking to improve on my 0-5 performance.

About half the team made the trip out to Grand Prix Portland the week prior, where my teammate Gabriel generously housed me for the weekend. As a team, we put up a fairly strong showing there. Joe Demestrio lost in the finals, I finished in the Top 16, and Gabriel and Conrad cashed. Straight from Portland we made our way to San Diego where Danny Batterman, a friend of Jackie Lee and Brian DeMars, generously agreed to host the team at his house for our pre-tournament preparation.

Upon arriving in San Diego, Danny drove out to pick up Jackie, Joe, and me from the airport. Throughout the week, Danny made numerous trips to the airport, went on various food runs, and was an overall extremely hospitable host. His roommate Brian was of the same attitude and willingly offered assistance to the team whenever needed, cheerfully and without Hesitation (thanks again guys!).



Many members of the team were working with each other for the first time and so no one really knew what to expect going in. With Danny and Brian shouldering the majority of the team's logistical worries, we were able to get to work almost immediately upon arriving at the house. Furthermore, each member of the team was very respectful and made an effort to help out whenever such an opportunity arose, whether cooking a meal and sharing it with others, cleaning up, being a test dummy, etcetera.

We did not have eight people at the house yet, so our draft preparation involved huddling around a computer screen and discussing picks using Magic Online. It also involved striking the Brushstrider pose and making this face whenever possible:



By the time Alex West showed up, we had enough people to do a live draft and a mock tournament. I went 1-2 in the live draft with my aggressive Boros deck, losing to Jackie and Alex. I then went 2-1 in the mock tournament, losing in the finals with my UWR Control deck to Alex's Selesnya Aggro deck. After the mock tournament Alex said he felt that despite going 3-0 he thought the deck over-performed.

By this point Louis and Brian (DeMars) each liked Esper Control, but they were working on different versions. Brian's had more board sweepers and Blood Baron of Vizkopa while Louis's version had more card draw. A pivotal moment in our testing came when we huddled around a table and laid out each of the Esper decks and discussed the differences in card choices. We then made a few changes and battled the two against each other. Jackie watched Brian play from his side and Mitchell watched me play from Louis' side.

We learned that Brian's version was not as bad as we thought in the control mirror and would therefore be the better choice for the tournament. This was enough to convince nearly half the team to play Esper since it was the hardest deck to beat in our testing thus far. Mono Red was our only deck that could beat it consistently, which was the main reason Jackie and Mitchell audibled to Mono Red. What I gained from these games, however, was a clear signal that I should not personally play Esper. Mitchell had to constantly correct the mistakes I was making with the deck, and I felt that even if Esper is the best deck, I had to find a deck that was more in my range if I were to succeed in the tournament.



This is where Alex West came to my Rescue. As I was unloading the dishwasher I asked Alex if he was going to play Esper in the tournament. He told me it was between that and the Selesnya Aggro deck he won the mock tournament with. I told him we needed to test it against the new Esper list to see if the matchup was winnable. To my surprise, he beat the Esper deck 4-1 in the five test games. This was enough for me. I was sold.

By this point it came time for the house to divide into car groups and go to the event site to register for the tournament. Since Gabriel and I were staying at the player hotel and Alex was at a nearby hotel, Danny drove the four of us in the same car group. During the car ride, Gabriel, Alex, and I agreed to all play the Selesnya deck. That evening we figured out sideboard plans in the hotel, arranged to borrow the cards we needed, and filled out our deck lists.

I was happy. I was going to be attacking with white creatures this weekend after all!


Friday (Day 1)

The morning of the event Alex, Gabriel, and I agreed on 74 of our 75. The card of contention was between the third copy of Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage or the fifth copy of Unflinching Courage (a.k.a. the first copy of Gift of Orzhova). Alex wanted the Guildmage and Gabriel wanted the Gift. They were content to disagree on this minor point, but I wanted the three of us to play the same 75. I tried convincing Gabriel to play the Guildmage and he declined, so I then tried to convince Alex to play the Gift. Fortunately he changed his mind and opted into the Gift plan. So it was settled. The three of us were playing the same 75. We all agreed on the Gift.

We each registered the following deck for the event:

Selesnya Aggro by Craig Wescoe
Finished 1st Place at 2013 Pro Tour Dragons Maze - 5/18
Main Deck
Sideboard
4 Dryad Militant
4 Experiment One
4 Judge's Familiar
4 Loxodon Smiter
4 Voice of Resurgence
Creatures [20]
4 Advent of the Wurm
4 Call of the Conclave
1 Civic Saber
4 Rootborn Defenses
4 Selesnya Charm
Spells [17]
9 Forest (270)
9 Plains (250)
1 Selesnya Guildgate
4 Temple Garden
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


2 Druid's Deliverance
1 Gift of Orzhova
2 Glaring Spotlight
4 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
4 Unflinching Courage
2 Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


The tournament began with three rounds of booster draft. I had forced white in each of my draft decks in the previous two Pro Tours, and my results were horrendous (1-8 overall). So going into this event I decided I would just take whatever is open, even if it was not white. So for the first draft I ended up with the following Grixis deck:

Rakdos Shred-Freak
Rix Maadi Guildmage
2 Goblin Electromancer
Wight of Precinct Six
Woodlot Crawler
Duskmantle Guildmage
Spike Jester
Splatter Thug
Rakdos Drake
Dead Reveler
Fluxcharger
Scorchwalker
Slum Reaper
Haunter of Nightveil
Teleportal
Augur Spree
Killing Glare
Thoughtflare
Grisly Spectacle
Runner's Bane
Pit Fight
Prophetic Prism
2 Rakdos Guildgate
1 Dimir Guildgate
4 Swamp
5 Island
5 Mountain

The deck had good removal, a good curve, and decent fixing. I ended up going 3-0, with (if I remember correctly) five of my six game wins coming on the back of an overloaded Teleportal. It was by far the most important card in the deck for me.

Then in the first round of constructed I played against Felipe Tapia Becerra of Chile. There came a point in game 1 where I equipped Civic Saber to Loxodon Smiter and attacked into his Domri Rade with four counters on it. He blocked with both his creatures – a pair of Voice of Resurgence. I then played Selesnya Charm to give the Elephant +2/+2 and trampled over for four damage to kill both Voices along with the Planeswalker. After he placed the three cards in the graveyard, I passed the turn. He then untapped and started to draw his card before pausing. He then put the card back on top of his library, put a pair of nearby Elemental tokens onto the battlefield, and then finished drawing his card for the turn. I told him to hold on and I called a judge to get a ruling.

The floor judge came over, I explained the situation exactly as it happened, and my opponent agreed. The floor judge ruled that untapping and beginning to draw a card constitutes a game action and therefore the trigger has been missed. My opponent seemed a bit upset but we played on, without exchanging any non-essential words for the rest of the match. Because of the missed trigger, I easily won a game that would have otherwise been close. After he failed to draw his third color in game two, the match ended in anticlimactic fashion.

As he scooped up his cards at the end of game 2, I extended my hand as I always do at the conclusion of a match. I do it as a gesture of sportsmanship regardless of what happens during the match. He did not immediately shake my hand but instead just looked at me with a slightly upset glance, likely over the missed trigger situation. So I continued to leave my hand extended, hoping he would decide to Reciprocate my gesture of sportsmanship. After a few seconds he sighed, put out his hand, and shook my extended hand. I then wished him good luck in the event and left the table, not thinking much about it thereafter.

From there I managed to go 4-1 in Constructed, finishing out the first day at 7-1. I knew it was still early in the tournament and anything could happen, so I stayed focused and made sure not to fall into the trap of overconfidence.

After telling Facebook about my sweet play of equipping Judge's Familiar with Civic Saber to advance to 7-1, I closed my laptop, turned out the lights, and laid down to go to sleep. Unfortunately the couple hundred people partying on the roof of the bar across the street had other plans. So I audibled and took advantage of the ‘nature sounds' button on the hotel alarm clock. It didn't quite generate the white noise effect I was hoping for though. Instead it just mixed with the party music from across the street and made it sound like whales were mating during a dance party.

At some point I fell asleep.


Saturday (Day 2)

The next morning I woke up, got ready, and arrived at the site to find a pretty stacked draft pod, including: Bob Maher, Gabriel Nassif, Robert Jurkovic, and Andrew Shrout, among others. We were the pod featured in the coverage.

Gabriel Nassif was passing to me and I ended up with the following Rakdos deck:

Shadow Alley Denizen
Grim Roustabout
Rix Maadi Guildmage
Thrill-Kill Assassin
Spike Jester
Rakdos Shred-Freak
Hired Torturer
Dead Reveler
Rakdos Drake
Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Carnage Gladiator
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Ripscale Predator
Tenement Crasher
Maze Rusher
Mugging
Deviant Glee
Massive Raid
Rakdos Cluestone
Shadow Slice
Pursuit of Flight
2 Madcap Skills
Rakdos Guildgate
8 Swamp
8 Mountain

I managed to 3-0 this pod as well, advancing to 10-1 overall. Despite the great start, I knew that I still needed a 2-2-1 record in the remaining five rounds to make Top 8. I made sure to stay focused and take nothing for granted.

I then proceeded to rattle off two more wins to advance to 12-1, needing only a draw in one of my last three rounds to secure a spot in the Top 8. At this point I figured I was a virtual lock and that at least one of my next three opponents would be able to draw with me. So I offered my next round opponent the draw, to which he declined, and I beat him to advance to 13-1.

With two rounds remaining, I knew I was locked for Top 8 and so my focus shifted to trying to secure the top seed so that I could choose to play first in game one of each of the Top 8 rounds. After doing some math, I realized I would be a lock for at least the second seed even with a loss and a draw. I also noticed that among the nine players with three losses, almost all of them were friends of mine. So at that point I made the decision to concede to whoever I was paired against in round 15. The pairings would then basically act as a random generator to decide who gets a free win into the Top 8. Andrejs Prost ended up winning said lottery and I followed through with my decision and scooped him into a position where he could draw into Top 8 in the final round.

Then in the final round I accepted Makahito Mihara's offer of a draw, leapfrogged Rob Castellon in tiebreakers, and locked up the top seed. This meant I would be on the play in game 1 all three rounds of the Top 8, an important boost for an aggressive deck like mine.

I then posed for the following Top 8 photo:



Afterwards I met up with my teammates where Ari Lax (our unofficial team captain) coordinated who would test which of my Top 8 matches. Zvi Mowshowitz generously agreed to help test with us, and he ended up playing a valuable role in figuring out a sideboard plan for my quarterfinal matchup against Andrejs Prost (thanks again, Zvi!).

That night I decided to make yet another audible. After reading Conley Woods' tweet about the party on the roof across the street again being in full force, I asked Alex West if I could stay in his room. He had already left early to return to Seattle, and so he readily gave up his room to me so I could get a good night's rest.

After arriving in Alex's hotel room and getting ready for bed, I decided to check out the view from the window. So I pulled open the glass door leading out to the balcony and stepped outside. As I looked over the quiet and nearly motionless bay, I felt a gentle breeze. I then looked up into the starry sky and back down at the starry reflection on the surface of the bay. I said a short prayer of thanks and turned back inside to go to bed, deciding to leave the glass door open so the moonlight could shine through.


Sunday (Day 3)

The next morning when I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was the view of the bay and the sunlight shining through the open doorway, welcoming me toward the balcony. I pulled back the covers, placed my feet on the floor, and walked over to the balcony. Then just as I was saying another short prayer of thanks, I remembered a lucid dream Conley told me he had the morning just before our Top 8 match at the 2011 World Championship in San Francisco. He said someone kept telling him to look out his window at the view of the bay, and he never understood why, but he did it anyway and he saw nothing significant, so he went back to sleep.

As I stood on the balcony looking out at the view of the bay, I saw something significant. I saw a seagull soaring alone above the water, like a Pro Tour champion soaring above the competition. I saw myself as that familiar white bird. I therefore quickly got dressed and left for my other hotel room to meet up with teammates and to get ready for the Top 8. After arriving at a sideboard plan we all agreed on, I was ready for my quarterfinal match against Andrejs Prost.



The match was covered here.

There was a pivotal point where I was down two games to one and starting the fourth game on a mulligan to five. My back was against the wall and I was on the brink of elimination. Still, I did not lose faith. I believed whatever needed to happen to keep my tournament going would happen. My opponent and I both stumbled on mana and I recovered first, just in time to force a fifth game, where I defeated him and advanced to the semifinals.



After winning my quarterfinal match, I trusted that my teammates were testing my upcoming semifinal match against newly crowned Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton, and I awaited their sideboard advice. As I briskly walked toward the door leading out of the tournament hall, I did not know what to expect, and I certainly did not feel entitled to anything, but I was hopeful that they were out there working to help me.

What I saw when I went out into the common area was all my teammates crowded around a table, vigorously testing my matchup, with a sideboard plan already laid out, ready to brief me on everything I needed to know about the matchup. They were doing exactly what I asked of them, and they far exceeded my expectations. I was hoping only for a sideboard plan but in addition I received enthusiastic words of encouragement from a team who wanted me to win as much as I did. Despite facing off against one of the best players in the world in one of the biggest matches of my career, my team wholeheartedly believed in me that I was going to arise victoriously – and they were doing everything in their power to help me win!

As I left the table with my sideboard notes in hand and headed back toward the tournament hall, tears began forming in my eyes and I had to take a detour into a secluded corner of the room to collect myself. Everything was coming together. I strongly felt this was my time, and it was way more beautiful than I ever imagined it. I only had minutes to compose myself and resume tournament mode. Nothing was taken for granted. I knew I still had my work cut out for me, but I now had a new strength, knowing I was not like that morning seagull – I was not alone.

As Josh and I approached the table, he expressed how unfavorable the matchup is for him. I knew I was in a good position, but I still did not take anything for granted. I was playing against a great player with a potentially explosive deck, and anything can happen in a match of magic. I went in with the attitude that I had to play at the top of my game.



The match against Josh was covered here.

I was fortunate to defeat Josh in four games and to advance to the finals.

As I was collecting my belongings, Dusty Ochoa was doing an interview after having defeated Makihito Mihara in the other semifinal match. I overheard the interview and how he felt confident in the matchup. I had not put any thought into it yet but was again hopeful that my teammates were out in the common area testing it for me.

As I was about to leave the hall, Tournament Director Scott Larabee said the finals will begin in eight minutes. I briskly made my way into the common area, escorted by a judge, who said I have thirty seconds to talk with my team before having to return to the tournament area.

When I got to my team's table, they had already come to a consensus that I sideboard zero cards and that I was for sure going to win. Ari quickly rattled off in succession everything they learned in the test games, including what spells I don't need to play around, when to play and not to play key cards, relevant interactions, and how the opponent will likely sideboard against me. As Ari was nearing the end of his thirty second discourse, the judge told me I had to return to the hall. So I thanked my team, turned around, and began making my way back to the hall to play the final match.

That is when something unexpected happened again. Instead of remaining at the table, my teammates (led by Gabriel), followed me to the door, patting me on the shoulders and offering words of encouragement all the way to the threshold. I again began to tear up and, upon entering the tournament hall, I had to detour to an open space and pretend I was reviewing my opponent's deck list. Really I was just staring at it and breathing to compose myself. I knew this was about to be the biggest match of my life and I had to win it not only for myself but for everyone upholding me.

In the final match, covered here, I came out to a quick two-games-to-zero lead. At this point I knew how close I was to the goal, but I did not let it faze me. I had to stay focused and continue playing at the top of my game.



In the third game when my opponent played Supreme Verdict, I knew things were going well. I played Rootborn Defenses in response, populating a Centaur token, evolving my Experiment One, and putting myself in a commanding position. On the next turn when he played the second Supreme Verdict, I couldn't help but think about my team and everyone who was rooting for me to win. I knew I was going through the final series of motions to ensure victory, but I remained calm and executed by the book. When I untapped and played Advent of the Wurm for the win, my opponent began scooping up his cards in defeat and we shook hands. Despite having just won the Pro Tour and realized one of my lifelong dreams, my job was not yet over. I had to stay composed and exhibit good sportsmanship, respecting that my opponent just lost a match with a lot on the line.

As I stood up from the table I heard “Go get Craig's team and bring them in for the trophy ceremony”. That's when I almost lost it again. In that moment I was overcome with gratitude – thankful for everything falling into place, thankful for finally realizing a seventeen-year-long dream, but most of all thankful for having friends and teammates there to share in and experience it with me.

As I was standing just off camera, awaiting my cue to enter the stage to receive my trophy, I congratulated Josh Utter-Leyton again on winning Player of the Year. I then noticed my fourth round opponent, Felipe Tapia Becerra, standing beside us awaiting his Rookie of the Year trophy. I turned and said to him, “Congratulations. I hope there are no hard feelings about our match.” He then replied, “No, no, it was stupid. I made a mistake” and we patted each other on the back.



After the awards ceremony, I did a few interviews and some trophy shots before taking my friends and teammates out for dinner. We also took a few extra photographs with friends.


Championship monocles with Joe Bernal




Louis Deltour begrudged




Striking the Brushstrider pose with Jackie Lee




With fellow TCGplayer writers Raphael Levy and Melissa DeTora



After dinner I returned to my hotel room where I took a shower and then called my parents to share the good news with them.

Growing up, my mom would always drive me to magic tournaments and would buy me magic cards as a gift because that was the hobby I spent most of my time pursuing. As I continued to play throughout high school, rarely making much money in the game, my dad would ask me “When are you going to grow out of magic?” It wasn't until I made top 8 of Pro Tour San Diego 2010, earning $13,000, that my dad had a change of attitude about my involvement in the game. Thereafter my parents have been following the Magic Grand Prix and Pro Tour coverage to see how I do. Knowing this, I figured they were expecting a phone call from me.

To my surprise, when my mom answered the phone, she did not yet know. So we spent the first fifteen minutes or so talking about the yard work she and my dad did over the weekend and about how they are looking forward to my brother's visit with his daughters the following weekend. At some point the subject came up as to why I was in San Diego. I told her it was the Pro Tour weekend and she asked me how I did. I told her I did ok and that she should have dad look up the coverage online for them. Knowing me, she asked, “You won, didn't you?” I smiled and told her to keep it a surprise for dad. I wanted him to see his son on the front page holding the trophy.

They were both very happy for me. I then called my brother Clark, who I first learned how to play Magic with, and told him the news. He was likewise happy for me.

I then opened up my Facebook to see over a hundred congratulatory messages on my wall. After spending an hour or so reading through them, I got dressed and made my way downstairs where players were congregating, on their way to a karaoke bar. I don't usually attend after parties, but this time I made an exception.



As I walked into the dimly lit bar, which was mostly overtaken by fifty or so magic players, I was again blown away by something unexpected. Christian Calcano, Dan Jordan, Ben Friedman, and several other friends jubilantly exclaimed, “The champ has arrived!” This was immediately followed by half the people in the bar chanting my name over and over again, “Wescoe! Wescoe! Wescoe!” It was awesome to see how happy my friends were for me, and I don't think I've ever received such a warm welcome upon entering a room. Many hugs, handshakes, and congratulations followed.



At the end of the night, by popular request, they had me sing “We are the Champions” by Queen, which was again followed by a round of “Wescoe! Wescoe! Wescoe!” It was a great end to a great weekend, and the first time I joyfully celebrated the victory.


Conclusion

Ever since I first heard about the Pro Tour as a young teenager, I wanted to become a Pro Tour champion. Like most competitive players, I've envisioned it on multiple occasions. I even got close a few times to realizing the dream, but came up short both times. This time the dream came true, and it far exceeded my expectations. I always thought it would be about the prestige, the satisfaction, and the glory. I was wrong. It was about the people.

Lastly, despite everyone telling me “well-deserved,” I respectfully disagree. This weekend was an undeserved gift, and I am deeply thankful for it.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter

*Pro Tour coverage photos courtesy of magicthegathering.com



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