Breaking Through – Credit Where Credit is Due

Breaking Through: Credit Where Credit is Due

Magic is a journey. Each of us has a story to tell and a host of giants upon which we now stand to have reached where we are. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and forget about those who have paved the way, but it is important that we actually pay our respects from time to time. I have been very fortunate to get to where I am but I have only gotten here thanks to an amazing cast and crew from some of the game’s greats, to those who simply took the time to intimately talk with me. Today, I would like to discuss a list of 10 of those people in moments that have touched my life and Magic career. These people all deserve recognition in my book at least, regardless of how unimportant it may seem to others, I cannot express enough gratitude for the help each has given me.

Being a Magic player in your early 20s means you not only have to grow as a player, but as a person as well. This means that much of what I learn at the table translates to everyday life, so the impacts people have had on me have been profound. Hopefully, this expands beyond a simple “Thank You” note to those who I look up to, but even if it doesn’t, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Paul Cheon

Paul may not have been around very long in Colorado, but his impact while he was here was pretty profound on me. I had done plenty of Pro Tour gazing from afar via the Internet and submersing myself in each and every article or video I could, but I still had no pro aspiration in the confines of my region. Paul sort of showed up unannounced and I certainly did not spend as much time with him as I should have to become technically better, but his impact was felt in other ways.

Paul taught me how to approach the game by example. Would head down to an event like States and maybe play a cube game or two with Paul, but his mannerisms and respect for the game was more than enough to change the way I was approaching the game. He handled himself with class and dignity and made for an excellent role model. Sadly he left Colorado before I got my big break so to speak, but I will always treasure the example he set for me.

Gerry Thompson

Gerry and I have always had a fun relationship, but I take more away from him than he is probably aware. Gerry is famous for telling you exactly how it is, and while this can be a bit overwhelming at times, once I learned to take his bluntness on the chin, the lessons hidden in the aftershock were actually quite profound.

Gerry was able to set me straight with some bad habits I was involved with for a long period of my Magic career. Some of these were simple deckbuilding mistakes, while others were actually a critique of my views on the game. It is no secret that my approach to the game is a bit unorthodox, but Gerry couldn’t care less about all of that. He was able to tell me things that others were afraid or incapable of doing. Gerry may not even realize that I have changed some ways I approach the game as a result of talking to him, but I most certainly have and they have definitely been for the better.

Brian David-Marshall

While it is nice to have people who are better than you at whatever it is you wish to do, both to aspire to be and learn from, having a grounded individual outside of that group is probably just as, if not more important. BDM was never someone I looked up to as a player of course, but rather a mentor who was able to both appreciate me as player while giving me someone to appreciate as a person.

Brian has always been a source of happiness for me. I cannot exactly explain what it is about him that brings me so much joy, but he just seems to connect with me in a way that does just that. He does not take himself too serious yet is able to become that person when you need a rock. I enjoy the idea of being able to be a fan of his while he can look at me and think the same, despite our area of expertise overlapping at least partially.

Brian was in a way, the first person to discover me. He sifted through the PTQ results of 2008 and somehow chose my little brew as a deck to feature. I am not sure if he expected anything big at the time, but he did offer me a stepping stone as both a writer and player that would directly lead to where I am today. For some reason, I have an urge to make Brian proud tournament after tournament which only speaks to the level that I respect his opinion of me.

Patrick Chapin

Six months before I ever won that PTQ that BDM featured in his article, I was in a bar in Kansas City found in the convention center that was hosting GP K.C. 2008. Here, during an interview for the Magic School Bus (a podcast I was formerly on), Patrick Chapin asked a one of the podcasters who he thought the 5 best deck builders in the World were. The host replied with a list of 4 greats and myself (which while flattering was certainly not true at the time), Chapin naturally asked who I was and proceeded to have a drink with me while asking about various decks I had built.

This exchange was far from profound, but it instilled a bit of hope in me. I was no longer just a lone wolf who had to judge myself. Now, one of the best deck builders in the world was at least taking some interest in the work I had done. Granted, nothing I had accomplished was much of anything at this point, but it was as if he saw some potential in me that gave me a fire inside. I no longer had something to prove, so much as something to fulfill, which made the journey that much more memorable. Now Pat and I have a much closer relationship and it is cool to look back on that day as almost a destiny of 2 paths meeting. What a long way we have come and what a long way we have to go.

Rich Hagon

Just to make BDM feel better I had to add another commentator to the list… In all seriousness though, Rich has been very influential in the past few months and including him was quite easy. I began actually talking with Rich around Grand Prix D.C. and am certainly glad that the ice was broken on that relationship.

Our first intimate conversation came during the moments before Grand Prix Gothenburg. I sat there with my friend Sara and Rich and talked about everything from Magic, to sports, to life and it was one of those moments that was perfect, but for no particular reason. This seemingly out of place moment would lead to building a level of trust with Rich, learning that I could confide in him and him in me.

This trust would be confirmed just a week later after what seemed like the world crumbling around me just 3 rounds into day 2 of Pro Tour Amsterdam. Rich gave me one of the most inspirational talks I have ever received and actually turned my sinking ship around, at least mentally. My spirits lifted, I managed to salvage an otherwise bad day 2 and took the lessons I learned from Rich all the way through to present day. The exchange seemed simple enough, but I anticipate it leading to many other similar situations with Rich in the future and look to him as a source of inspiration.

Ben Stark

Ben has quickly grown to become one of my preferred “go to” sources for all things Limited. Admittedly, I was not familiar with his previous success when I first became acquainted with him late in 2009, but even then, his authority on the subject just demanded respect. Since then, I have come to appreciate Ben even more as a player and limited specialist.

There has never been a specific moment in time in which Ben said something so profound that it was worth mentioning here, but he consistently delivers spot on information and in a way that I cannot do myself. Ben has a sort of calm delivery that is able to keep even me in check. I have a bad tendency to be defensive when going over plays or opinions, but when Ben speaks, I listen. He is just so logical and deliberate and it has really given me something to work towards as far as communication skills are concerned.

Mike Flores

It would be difficult to be a modern day deck builder and not be influenced by Michael J. Flores. Plus, not mentioning him in your article will cost you at least 53 mentions on Twitter and is there fore a huge misplay.

Flores is definitely an influential individual when you are focused on building off-the-wall decks for the better part of your Magic career. I can only hope that I inspire up and coming deck builders in the way that Michael J. did for me. It is difficult trying to rationalize oddball choices to people in the current Magic system when putting decks through the grind and coming out with a well oiled machine is labor intensive and therefore not done very often. Instead, people take tuned decks and look to further tune them. This method is great for some, but for the aspiring deck builder, there are few people to look up to.

Flores is not only a renowned deck builder, but he has always walked a line between conventionality which made him especially potent to me. Every time Mike would come out with a new brew like Haterade, I would just want to do the same, going deck for deck with him without his knowledge of course. All of Mike’s success seemed to be validation for me as an excuse to continue doing what I was doing and what I loved. If there were no Mike Flores, I would have given up the deckbuilding game long before I ever broke through.

Gabe Walls

Gabe is has obviously been around the block and back, but oddly enough, my encounters with him have all come in the past 12 to 14 months or so. That said, they were some of the more memorable experiences I have had on the tour. Much like Gerry T, Gabe is not shy with his tongue, but he also has a lot of lessons to share.

Gabe has told me that I remind him of a younger version of himself, which is perhaps why his advice has resonated so well with me. Gabe has been a sage source of advice a lessons despite the comic package and harsh beats at times. I feel like even when I am playing him in a side draft I am constantly learning things about him as well as myself. Gabe is obviously a difficult character to explain though, so perhaps the lessons I have learned from him are just as difficult to convey here.

Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis has had an impact on a ton of different areas of my game of course, both directly, and indirectly, but strangely enough, he did not make this list because of some technical play he taught me. After I top 8ed my first Grand Prix in Tampa last year, I was a little beaten up having lost in the finals to a top decked Soaring Seacliff. At the time, I was pretty down, but Luis was there to comfort me. He explained the accomplishment I had just made and to not feel down just because I had not gotten all the way there.

This was a small effort on his part, but it was genuine and came from a credible source who I obviously admire as a player. The exchange taught me a lot about staying humble and staying hungry for the eventual win. I needed to both be happy with my accomplishment but not be content with the finish which is a delicate balance and Luis was one of the few who could teach me such a lesson.

David Williams/Eric Froehlich

Being a new guy in the Magic world is a blast, but it can also be kind of tough to incorporate yourself with the veterans of the game that you have looked up to for so long. Luckily, this Dave and Efro have helped this along quite a bit. I had to lump the two together as they love to take shots at me, but I understand it is all in good fun and I need to earn my stripes.

The bottom line is that these two are both awesome guys who just sort of make me feel at home when I am on the road. They both tend to put me in my place which is nice, as I can be stubborn at times, but they are also willing to accept when I am right and let me have my victories. Overall, they make for a fun atmosphere that I always seem to look forward to on the road.

And many more…

Of course there are a ton of people who have impacted my life and Magic career who aren’t listed above, but I figured 10 is a good stopping point for now and will continue with more at a later point. The journey is only possible with the help of others and my story is certainly no different. Thank you to everyone for their support and lessons, as it have not fallen on deaf ears.

Conley Woods

53 thoughts on “Breaking Through – Credit Where Credit is Due”

  1. I mean … 1 out of 250 would be the best batting average for deck ideas in the history of the earth.

    It’s lovely that tards like XSV exist, so everyone with a modicum of context for how hard it is to actually make a top-tier deck can shake their heads and do that sad laugh thing. eaglewalkingonwater.jpg and all that.

  2. The fact that so many people have negative comments on this article pains me. If you’re going to disagree, at least be civil. For the record, I thought this was a refreshing break from the day to day metagame analysis and draft videos (not that I’m not thankful for those). I would like to see other pros be honest like Conley and write about who has inspired them.

  3. I thought people thanked others after they won something and not when they ran out of articles to write. Breaking Through–My Writer’s Block by Conley Woods, a top 10 list I wrote in five minutes.

  4. Seriously… All of you who comment on this heart-felt article are flawed human beings in the grand scheme of modern culture. When someone shows their heart, a hundred people have to squash it to a battered pulp. Every single bad comment should further cement what it is that Conley does on a day to day basis, because he is fighting for the living, breathing, loving people out there. Keep up the good work, man, I’ll be backing you all the way.

  5. conley woods obviously doesnt read these post because he doesnt give a f%$# ,he got what he wanted, someone to pay him to write,and then he got lazy. i still read this crap because i havent given up hope that the old conley will return, you know the one that inspires us!if not then i hope brad nelson gets so hurngry while playesting he eats you!

    fat bastard ate a baby once.

  6. wes i couldnt understand what you were saying , could you spit conley”s junk out your mouth and repeat please?

  7. Maybe all the haters should keep a diary. Write all ur nasty thoughts down in that – and spare the rest of us ur bs.

  8. I was at that bartop for the Cagle comment. While I didn’t know who you were at the time, that resounded and I was very very happy to have the limited conversations that I’ve had with you. If the haters want to hate that’s fine, but if nothing else, you are a good example of a fun magic personality who I hope has continued success and maybe a finals loss at worlds to Fffreak. Good luck in Chiba.

  9. arnt you hating on the ‘haters”? write it down in you diary and stick it in you mangina.
    this is a horrid read. thousands of people are going to play magic tomorrow and i doubt they will giv this artical a second thougt or ever feel inspired by it in any way. he should have just sent an email or bought a halmark card for the peopl he listed.
    this is suposed to be information relavant to magic players . news ,tech,theories, helpfull shiz.
    if you want to know conleys life storie start a freakin fanpage. this was a uninspiring dull artical and the people who didnt like it are expressing there freedoom to talk about it.
    and wasting people like mobz time reading my rant like conley wasted mine is a bonus!

  10. Waitaminute…. WTF?

    I loved this article!
    I don’t play magic much (I have to work) and articles like this are incredibly important to me (and I assume, others like me). I don’t understand the technical details, I don’t understand all the crazy plays. But I like the scene, and the most important part of the scene is the community! That means players, respect, mutual admiration, character, personality, etc.

    Articles like this make me CARE when one “pro” outplays another on a “top table”.
    Without articles like this, everything is just one dry logic puzzle…

    Keep up the good work Conley!

  11. The fact that Conley built a deck in only a couple of hours that crushed at PT Amsterdam is a testament to how good he is.

    Keep up the good work, Conley. Do not let those who do not understand drag you down.

  12. To make this clear: While this article doesn’t seem to have any expicit strategy content it is, however, a good example of how a player evaluates the reasons for his success. These are very important factors outside the game and recognizing them while also saying thank you in a readable undertone is just another hint to Conley’s meta-level of understanding the game.

    I think you really did a good job there, Conley.

  13. Very good article, Conley. I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere down the line, someone mentions this article as having inspired them to keep trying.

  14. I disliked this article. While I do appreciate the kind of stories you find in tournament reports, such as amusing experiences at the hotel or the airport that you’d find in a Paulo or an Ochoa article, I don’t at all care about a magic player’s personal life. All the sections just felt like walls of text with nothing relevant to me and it didn’t keep my attention at all. I can appreciate Conley’s attitude and class, and I am a big fan of Conley as a person. I also think he makes the best and most entertaining draft videos of anyone on the site. Nonetheless, this article gets two thumbs down from me. Perhaps the next will be better.

  15. Sadly some of the people on this messageboard need to learn that it is not just card advice that improves your magic, but very much how you connect with people. This article is a valuable lesson that has sadly gone over the heads of some people. Reminds me quite a bit of some of Pat Chapin’s more philosophical articles and I cannot think of any higher praise than that.

  16. Yea this seems more like a blog post and less than a ‘strategy article’. If you had posted 2000 words on strategy / limited / standard / vintage etc, then added this at the end, I think, you’d see alot less hate in the comments.

    To those QQ’ing about the ppl QQ’ing: Omg L2Internetzz. Ppl will spew their opinion, good or bad. Just like you spew your “omg go hate in your diary don’t post here” opinion, they have their right to theirs?

    To all of you: If you don’t like to read it? Then don’t read it. Everyone’s got the same chance to key in their little thoughts on the comment section and hit submit.

    QQ’ing about it is about as useful as QQ’ing about the sea tide, the moon and stars, savage cheaters like Saito, ppl who defend him, etc etc 😎 O WAIT.

  17. Is it me or is the comments section in CFB getting worse and worse?

    I liked this article, it should hit close to home for alot of readers being that we admire many pros and players and they probably influence us more than we think.

  18. I understand why you make this article, but it doesn’t seem very interesting to a large portion of readers. Of course I can skip it (which I did), but I think that you can do better than this man.

    Just my opinion, of course.

    (and bring back the doctor!! that was great)

  19. I think it would have been more appropriate to do this perhaps after worlds, at the moment, people globally are looking for “the deck to play!” with some new tech, perhaps tell us about how your testing is going?(within reason I understand you have competition out there)

    I love the honesty and integrity, just still felt bland

  20. Shit. I loved it (like few other articles these days) because it DIDN’T go out of it’s way to tell us that the top Standard decks are (Valakut/RUG/UB/WWQuest/Vamps/XSurpriseX) and that they have a version of each which may not be perfect. (Read those for card speculation… Frost / Kalastria / Inferno / etc)

    Seeing / speaking to some of these dudes at GPNash gave me some insights, and frankly, I enjoy seeing what goes on in the mind of a PT Grinder. It’s not the life for me, but I’m completely enamored of it all the same!

    Good shout-out / blog / etc update, Conley.

  21. Kudos on the article. Its nice to see that some people remember there roots,and the people that have helped them out along the way.

    My only quibble …. More deck doctor 🙂

  22. It’s funny to listen to all this random hate..

    NEWSFLASH.You can SKIP articles you find uninteresting.
    I KNOW RIGHT, such a brilliant idea I bet you wish you figured it out yourself..
    Come on, people..

    Personally I enjoy getting a little bit of inside info on players, it’s fun and adds to the personality and character.
    Haters gon’ hate

  23. dowjonzechemical

    I am afraid of sharks, but only when I am swimming in the ocean. If I saw a shark on land I would be like, “What, punk?”. This is exactly the inverse opinion I have about lions….

    This comment is dedicated to anonymous slanderers, without whom the intarwebz would be boring and slightly easier to bear.

  24. Conley: I thought the basic idea of this article was cool, but it would have been much better if you had been more detailed. What helpful lessons were taught? What was the content of the inspirational talks? The article seemed to be “Mr Somebody never had anything that profound to say, but it was helpful at the time.” This type of writing makes it a little difficult for the reader to extract useful lessons of any sort. I suspect most readers will regard the article as personal meanderings (of a not-that-entertaining variety, IMO), and will therefore not be too happy with it if there isn’t much they can take-home info wise.

  25. I assume when you were writing out those big famous people you were thinking of the two guys who helped you start playing magic in the first place, for whom without you’d still be playing yu gi oh. You know guys there when you first started the pro tour trips. You know the little people.

  26. Grand Inquisitor

    What’s with all the negativity directed at Conley?

    I’ve never understood the pathology of internet-bottom-dwellers who clamor for new, continuous content for free, that, once they actually get the content they once dreamed of, somehow then turn into simpering, pissy little complainers.

    It’s besides the point that Conley is not only a legit, top-tier Pro Tour but he’s also perhaps the best original deck-builder in the community today. I can only speak for myself here, but I really cherish Conley’s content here because not only is it interesting and informative in the basic sense, but it also provides me with insight from someone who understands the cards in a larger, more holistic way than just about anyone else.

    Everything aside, I think everyone who wants to post bitchy comments or make petty insults should try to actually *do* something themselves – if Conley’s so damned dumb, post your own brews, articles and drafts for everyone to see and criticize.

    PS – Any news on when the new Deck Doctor will be? The first installment was brilliant, and I think we’re all waiting for the next one of the not-quite weekly series.

  27. Normally I don’t comment on these articles, but the surprising amount of hate made me do so.
    I have to say, I really enjoyed this article. It’s really refreshing to have such an honest and heartfelt thank you note at times.
    I’m not hating on the haters, but I am asking them to keep things civil, and to offer constructive criticism instead of what they did here.

  28. Good article Conley, it’s great to see another player show respect to their mentors. I will telll you one thing though Magic was way more fun in the earlier years before netdecking killed it. Now a days you just need to go to the internet and copy the deck that just won lets say a Boston PTQ for example. We used to put our blood, sweat and tears into creating a unique deck oursleves. We got to the Tourney’s and saw all the other unique decks made my the other pros. I get to talk alot with the former pros from time to time and they all agree with what I say, unfortunately most of them won’t touch the cards any more. I can see that alot of the players are alot younger these days, netdecking is the only thing they know now, it’s too bad they never got to see the Real Magic some years ago.
    Your articles are a breath of fresh air, you have some of the most unique decks, that takes a master innovator. Great job and keep up the good work!

  29. I also comment rarely on any forum but I can say that I read all of your things Conley and this article was heart warming, and as usual, classy.

    So there are 5 or 6 people out their who are self entitled asses, sometimes it is important to listen to people who criticize like Gerry T (apparently) and sometimes its just better to ignore them. I think this is the “ignore them” situation.

    They’re idiots, your article was good, as always I enjoy your stuff all to heck.


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  31. Boy. Must be rough for all of the people willing to take time out of their day to post about how much they dislike having read an article they didn’t have to pay for.

    I mean, I can understand if you feel you got ripped off… but it was your decision to invest time in reading it. You should have realized what it was when you started it.

    I read it and I enjoyed it. Thanks for the perspective and credit to those who have helped. Writers block–whether or not this is what it was–sucks, and writing introspection can be helpful.

    For all of those out there complaining… I dare you to write articles with as much consistency as Conley does.

    Anyway. Thanks for the read. Keep up the good work.

  32. Great article! Even if it disappoints the whiney detractors you have accumulated over the years. What is important is you gave props to 10 people who deserve to be noticed for the positive effect their advice/lessons have given you. It’s kind of a “love letter” to the players you respect the most with out actually sending them a creepy letter signed love Conely. And BTW… you’re in my top 5 homey! Keep the love flowing!

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