With the recent events, I found myself looking back and think about what the Pro Tour meant to me. As you can imagine, playing 95 Pro Tours over 20 years involves a lot of stories and experiences, many of which made me come to some important emotional realizations. It's been a long journey, but here are some of the highlights.
Playing at the Pro Tour was a dream for a lot of people. There were not a lot of Grand Prix yet, and it was unusual to travel far to play in a tournament. Qualifying meant you had to plan your trip, buy your ticket, book a hotel…
Nowadays, it's just a formality. Back in the day, it was a mission. Internet was nowhere close to what it is today. You couldn't book a flight or book a room from your desktop. To book a flight, I remember going with my mom to a travel agency to ask for times, prices and all. The flights to the United States were between 1300 and 2000 francs (190€-300€), and I think that doubled after 2001 or 2002 when the Euro kicked in. And that was the easy part – booking a room was another story. We needed to look it up in the phone book, or ask someone at the travel agency to direct us to someone we could call in the U.S.
My English was not what it is today, and I wasn't able to hold a conversation on the phone to make a reservation. Most of the time, I would take the plane and go with the flow, either tagging along with a group of older Magic players who booked a place – I would sleep on the floor – or walk the streets and stop at every hotel to see if they had rooms available.
Getting news back to home was also not easy. While away, my mom had asked me to give her news once in a while (at least once), to reassure her. She would let me fly half way across the world, sometimes on my own, so the least I could do was to give her news… What a bad son I was, I was so sure nothing would ever happen to me that sometimes I would just skip that step, not thinking for a second that she had all the reason to worry. The thing is, without a cell phone and with the little information I had about international calls, it was a miracle when I managed to reach home. The different codes you had to dial from the hotel room, plus all the extra region codes, and the fact that they would charge you an insane amount (even if you messed up), made me reconsider – and sometimes give up – calling home.
I now realize how lucky I was to have my mom trusting me to go on such dangerous journeys on my own or with my not-so-responsible friends at the time. If only she had known how many times I got lost with no maps, poor English and no directions. If only she had seen the terrible places I ended up sleeping in (never on the streets, fortunately)… she would have never let me go again. But it made me the resourceful person I am now, able to find a way out in any situation. I never really had the chance to thank her for that…
As a teenager, I was living the dream to play regularly on the Pro Tour. I never really had to grind for it (or at least, not for very long), and I didn't want it to stop. I was never a big fan of school but did the bare minimum to pass every year and never really had a problem graduating.
Going to the U.S. during school time was a problem. The French system doesn't allow you to miss too many classes, and my teachers were not exactly happy about me missing a week of class (considering I wasn't the one with the highest grades). But it's tough to argue with a teenager who only has one goal in mind and if it meant that I had to work extra hard to make up for the classes I missed, then so be it. It wasn't easy, but I always managed to go. And never failed my exams, and that was the deal I had with my mom: I could go as long as I didn't fail school.
While skipping an exam or two during high school could be acceptable towards the academic system, doing the same at university can guarantee you an extra year of study. Over the four years I spent getting a Master's Degree in Languages and Economics, it took me a bit of research to find the loophole that would allow me not to miss a PT (if only I made as much effort to study, I would have aced all of these exams instead of just having the required mark).
In France, there are three reasons you can postpone an exam:
- You are hospitalized (can't fake that too many times)
- Someone died in your family (also pretty hard to fake)
- You're a high-level sportsman taking part in a competition.
Hmm, the last one had the potential to work, so I gathered all the papers about Magic, the Pro Tour and my career and presented it to the people in charge. Since there wasn't a clear definition for what a “high-level sportsman” was, I knew my only chance was to make it sound like I was a “high-level intellectual sportsman.”
It worked. I only used that excuse two or three times, but it made my life much easier knowing that it wouldn't be a problem.
Many of my friends and aspiring Pro Tour players dropped everything (including school) to try to live the dream. Playing affected my degrees, and studying affected my preparation and results, but I feel that I made the right choice. Even though I'm not actively using my degree for anything in particular, I feel like I didn't waste the years I spent studying. If not for the qualifications I acquired, I'm happy I can say I have a Master's Degree in something, just in case it becomes relevant at some point.
At 25, and when you've been traveling the world for almost 10 years, there are not a lot of “normal jobs” you want to take that would make you happy.
I moved to Sweden, taught a bit of French there, learned Swedish, grinded GPs, and when my mom got sick in 2007, I moved back to France to help her and assist my stepdad. That whole experience away from “home” didn't help me find my path in life, though. Magic and the Pro Tour were literally the only things keeping my life together.
It took two more years for me to understand what it was all about. I had been asking myself for so many years: “what am I going to do with my life?” That question had haunted me for so long. I knew that at some point, I was going to have to make a choice. Find a “normal job” and probably quit Magic, (as no “normal job” would allow me to leave five weeks a year to play tournaments), and settle down.
So I met with a counselor, and she asked me what I liked to do in life. I told her about my interest for logistics and languages and she pointed me to other people I had to talk to, and things I had to do in order to find a potential job in my field of interest. The more she told me about the things I had to do, the more I cringed. I hated everything she was saying, and I didn't want to do any of the tasks she gave me. That couldn't be my life.
But that was the wake-up call. The only reason I was “lost” was because I didn't find “my purpose,” but I wasn't unhappy. In fact, I loved my life, and the freedom that came with it. I decided to embrace it, play Magic and work as a freelancer. I had started to give English lessons and found work as a freelance translator while waiting for a better opportunity. That happened a couple of years later when I launched my own Jiu Jitsu magazine.
From that moment, things came together. Full of my new-found confidence, I met the person I'm now sharing my life with. She understood my passion and was happy to tag along for the ride.
As you know, until Pro Tour Ixalan, I had a very long streak of Pro Tour played. 91 in a row. Just to give you an idea, if Shuhei Nakamura, now with the longest active streak, had to catch up with me, he'd need to play all the Pro Tours until 2026. That streak meant a lot to me and I always managed to keep it alive for almost 20 years, through high school, university and other important events in my life. Even my wedding was planned around my Pro Tour schedule.
In October 2016, I received a call from my stepdad when I was on my way to Hawaii. After nine years of battle, my mom finally found a well-deserved rest. It was a miracle that she managed to make it that long, but she had been a shadow of herself in the last few years. I missed the funeral and played Pro Tour Kaladesh, with my mind elsewhere. It was something I had been ready for a long time. Maybe she had waited for me to be away. Honestly, I didn't really want to be there when it happened.
A couple of weeks ago, as you also know if you've been following my news, my son was born a couple of hours before I took off for Albuquerque. That time, I didn't want to miss it. I had planned that trip knowing there was a chance he would be born while I was away, but according to the doctor, that was not very likely (he came out three weeks before the due date).
I was asked: “don't you feel bad you broke your streak?”
I'm not going to lie, Magic has been in my life for 25 years, and it broke my heart to give up on something that's been holding my life together for so long.
But I got over it. This little guy will be in my life for the next 25 years and is worth breaking all the streaks in the world for.
The story isn't over. I've been grinding every year to remain on the gravy train, even after I was inducted in the Hall of Fame, it was a question of pride to never need a special invite to compete. I'm not going to make as much effort this year. Missing a Pro Tour makes it that much more difficult, but it's not about that. And don't even think I'll consider quitting before I reach my 100th PT!
Since 1998, the Pro Tour has been watching over me. It made me grow as a person, as a recognized Magic player, taught me things I would have never known otherwise. It made sure I always had something to look forward to, another tournament, another trip.
My mom understood that, and did everything she could to help me follow that dream. Now she's gone, and it's my turn to make sure I give little Lavan the chance to find his way in life. Sure, it's a little early for that, but his arrival at that precise moment made it all so much clearer to me.