My Magic Origin, Part 2: The Return

Last week, I left things off with my hiatus from competitive Magic.

Eventually, after moving away from home to Las Vegas, my wife and I got lonely and moved back to Boston. Upon returning, I learned that there was a Draft Open coming up in the area. I still drafted a fair amount online and was excited to play a live event for a change and maybe see some old faces. I was shooting hoops in the parking lot when Dave Shiels saw me and came over to say hello. Dave had just come off a Grand Prix win, and told me that I should start getting back into Magic. He had some local friends I met and liked, and so I felt like I had someone to hang out with at events. I always loved Magic—I just put it on the back burner for a while. One of the problems when I lived in Las Vegas was that I didn’t really know people in the community. It was daunting to go to tournaments and not know even a single person, and to try and make new friends. That kept me away from playing for a while. Now that I had a group to hang out with at tournaments, I got back into it again. I used my gigantic MTGO collection to turn some cards into playsets of the newest Standard sets and then redeemed them to have a playset of Standard delivered directly to my house.

I ended up winning the second Standard PTQ I played with U/W Delver, conveniently playing against Dave Shiels in the finals, who was already qualified. Being a friend of mine, he obviously wanted me to go to the Pro Tour, so he scooped to me. To this day he always tells me that he would have beaten me and I always extend the offer to find our deck lists and play it out. (The offer’s still on the table, Dave.)

I fell back into old habits at this Pro Tour, though. I watched the World Championships before Pro Tour Return to Ravnica and I saw Yuuya Watanabe win with a Jund deck in Modern that seemed easy enough to play. I locked into that deck, but I never actually played a match with it. I just showed up to the tournament, again, on no games, and decided that I’d play it. Adam Snook, another local friend, told me that he saw some people testing Deathrite Shaman in the deck and told me that he thought it was great. I said, “Nah I don’t really want to change any cards.” We ended up compromising on playing 2 in our main deck, and let me tell you, they were great. Maybe we should have played 4 after all.

I guess I’ll never know.

Despite my old habits, I was actually winning for a bit at this Pro Tour. I ended up losing the last round of the Pro Tour to requalify, but managed to get 51st place.

My obsession with the game grew from there. I wanted to get back on the Pro Tour. I felt like I left something on the table and could have done even better if I actually bothered to prepare for events.

I managed to win another PTQ, and my next Pro Tour was Dragon’s Maze. This time, I found some people to prepare with, instead of just showing up. Gerard Fabiano asked me to prepare with him and “the Italians.” I was part of a Facebook message board and we’d post some deck ideas there, but still, I didn’t formally playtest before the event. I spent one day at Gerard’s house “playtesting,” which really was just sorting his collection so that we could actually build some of our deck ideas, and we only played a dozen or so games before it got too late.

When the PT came around, I still hadn’t tested much, and could barely read any of the posts in our forum since it was mostly in Italian. I did, however, meet Andrea Mengucci there for the first time. He really liked an Esper Control deck he had built, which was the level one deck of the tournament. I decided to play his list despite again having no games under my belt. We only had two or three counterspells in the entire 75, which felt like far too few to me in a field I expected to be filled with Sphinx’s Revelations, but I ran with it anyways.

During the event I did poorly in the Limited portion, but I was playing mirror after mirror in Constructed without counterspells and somehow winning. I was basically in “fake it until I make it” mode, playing draw-go and hoping that they wouldn’t tap out for Aetherling until I could actually interact in some meaningful way. I ended up not finishing the tournament because I wanted to spend some time in San Diego after I lost the chance to requalify. I did learn that not only do I need to find a group of people to prepare with, but I also have to prepare in a way that is beneficial. The language barrier was just too much to overcome in this instance, even though I enjoyed what was ultimately my first experience on a testing team.

One thing Gerard did introduce me to in this time was playing Magic over Skype. I’m pretty bad at using anything unless someone kind of coerces me into it or shows me how. Gerard would ask me to come on Skype and draft once in a while, and I’d oblige. This led me to do this more and more with some of my local friends. Devon O’Donnell and Jake Mondello were the most prolific members of the chat, but other friends would come on and off whenever.

Whenever we played, it would be on Skype. We’d play mostly Limited, but we’d play some Constructed too. I think this was a huge part of my development and level up from being a good PTQ player to a winning GP player. After several months of this, the results started pouring in. Not just for me, but for those two as well. Devon Top 4’d an Invitational, Jake had multiple GP Top 8s, and I Top 8’d my first Grand Prix, soon after going 13-2 at another to qualify me again for another Pro Tour, and just a couple months after that finally winning my first trophy at GP Montreal 2014. “Siggy Skypes” ended up being wildly successful.

I was finally qualified for a few Pro Tours in a row, which was an awesome feeling. I was recruited by some local guys who wanted to test together for PT Journey to Nyx. I also got a message from a name from the past, Andrea Mengucci. Andrea asked me if he could test with me when he saw that I had qualified. I told him that I’d be testing with some local PTQ winners and he’s more than welcome to join us. Andrea wanted to learn some more English and to get to know American culture a bit, so he used this opportunity to do it. We basically spent a few days in a couple of hotel rooms with laptops plugged into our TVs with an HDMI chord and drafted nonstop. One person would draft, then after the deck was built another person would plug in their laptop and we’d all chime in and sweat the next Draft while people who already drafted played out their games.

Andrea showed up with a Naya deck he was confident in, and slowly tweaked it during our Constructed testing, and the rest of us just kind of threw something together last-minute. Andrea ended up going 6-0 in Limited, and his Constructed deck held up. This resulted in Andrea making his first Pro Tour Top 8. I was so excited for him, and it felt good to be part of a successful Pro Tour run.

Meanwhile, Dave Shiels was testing with Team Face-to-Face Games and had put in a good word for me. No one on the team had ever heard of me, but as I’ve been told by the members of the team, Dave never vouched for anyone so when he wanted to include me, they trusted him.

This next step was one of the most important in my career. Face-to-Face was an up-and-coming “super team” that had some incredible talent and a lot of experience testing for Pro Tours. My first Pro Tour testing with them was Pro Tour Magic 2015. I worked my tail off as I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity and prove to myself that I could really do well given the right opportunities. Some of the members were still skeptical of adding me before any major Pro Tour success, but after we played a dozen or so house Drafts, I didn’t have more than a single loss in any of them.

I went 2-1 or better in every Draft against some of the best players in the world, and this continued for a couple of Pro Tours. This is how I inevitably got labeled a “Limited specialist.” While I was able to give some of my knowledge about Limited to my team, they taught me so much more than that. Team Face-to-Face taught me how to properly prepare for not only a Pro Tour, but any Magic event. How to build a sideboard, how to predict a metagame, and most importantly, how to test new cards.

I managed an 11-5 record in my first Pro Tour with Face-to-Face, and the following Pro Tour, in Hawaii, I got my first PT Top 8 at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. We built an Abzan Aggro deck that was an eventual mainstay in Standard for a long time to come. This was one of my proudest accomplishments as a Magic player. I finally felt confident about doing things for myself and thinking outside of the box instead of just defaulting to whatever the consensus safest or best deck is at the time.

Following this Pro Tour, we had a decision to make. Team ChannelFireball had reached out, asking if we wanted to test together. As a small unit, we were becoming more and more successful, but the fact that one of, if not the best testing team was willing to test with us was beyond flattering. Some of the members of CFB may have been still a bit skeptical about the merger. From what I was told, one of the conversations went something like this:

Paulo: Who is Mike Sigrist?
Someone: New member of Face-to-Face. Top 8’d the last Pro Tour.
Paulo: He did?

Despite some hesitation, we eventually joined forces and this was when a bunch of people I looked up to became some of my closest friends. Paulo, a person who couldn’t pick me out of a lineup, is now a close enough friend that he invited me to his wedding.

Joining forces with Team CFB did wonders for all of Team Face-to-Face. Though our methodologies were similar, it was good to see how the best in the world were testing for a major event. Brian Kibler and Sam Pardee showed up with nearly identical decks for this testing session. Both wanted to play an Abzan creature deck with Wilt-Leaf Liege and Loxodon Smiter as ways to attack the traditional Abzan Midrange deck we knew would be popular. A lot of us ended up playing a hybrid Abzan deck featuring Noble Hierarchs and Gavony Township with Lingering Souls, while others played the other version of the deck. Both Jacob Wilson and Eric Froehlich made Top 8 at this event with each of these decks, and I again was really happy with the work we did despite the rest of us having a poor showing, myself included.

From this point, our merged team put together some of the best decks for a full year at the Pro Tour. The next Pro Tour we brought an incredibly well-tuned Esper Dragons deck thanks largely to Josh Utter-Leyton, Guillaume Matignon, and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, who worked remotely but contributed a ton of work to the final version of the deck.

Next up was PT Origins, my proudest moment as a Magic player. Our testing quickly led us to a U/R Ensoul Artifact deck that took full advantage of a new break-out card, Hangarback Walker. After days and days of testing the deck was doing so well that we actually got a little nervous that something might be wrong. At one point, Paulo even made us keep track of every game we drew Ensoul Artifact because those games were so lopsided that he wanted to see how the deck would function outside of those draws. Our stock decks slowly started getting more hateful against this archetype. Ultimate Price couldn’t kill anything in the deck, so we started swapping them for Dromoka’s Commands, a card that could cause problems for both Shrapnel Blast and, of course, Ensoul Artifact.

I had already locked Platinum prior to this event by winning a Grand Prix just a couple of weeks before. My goal was to have a solid record so that I could play in the World Championships. It was my favorite event to watch, and the prospect of playing in it was surreal to me. I started out hot on Day 1 with a 7-1 record, and by round 14 on Day 2, I had suffered my fourth loss and thought I was drawing dead for Top 8. I wasn’t too fazed by this, as my real goal was to get one more match win, which was the amount of Pro Points I thought I needed to lock up a Worlds invitation. My opponent was a good friend of mine, Shahar Shenhar.

We played an incredibly close match in which Shahar had me dead for several turns if his last card in hand was basically any spell. His last card was a spell, but it happened to be a Disdainful Stroke. I peeled a threat that managed to kill him in a couple of turns while he ripped two or three lands.

While I got lucky and walked away a winner in this match, I learned a valuable lesson. Having an unknown deck at a Pro Tour is one of the biggest advantages you can have at that level. Shahar didn’t know the contents of my deck and assumed that I’d have a full playset of Thopter Spy Network in my deck, along with copies of Whirler Rogue. This led him to leave in or bring in a copy of Disdainful Stroke, as it lined up well against those cards. The problem was that I decided not to bring in my sideboard Thopter Spy Networks and tried to go underneath and race him. Had that Disdainful Stroke been able to interact with any of my cards or had been another threat of his own, I definitely would have lost this match.

After the match, I had a panic attack. I knew at this point that I was locked for Worlds, and I couldn’t believe it. I walked off into the bathroom to cool off and calm down. I had never had this kind of feeling over a match of Magic. At the beginning of this season I was hoping that I’d have a chance at hitting Gold, and I had just qualified for Worlds.

I came back to the tournament area and started talking to Jake Mondello in the viewer area off to the side. I looked up and realized that most of the players had been scurrying to their seats. I panicked and thought that I may have missed my next match. I ran over and someone said, “you’re a feature match, win and in.” I was confused. It turned out that the Pro Tour was a bit smaller than normal and I had good tiebreakers. So with a win, I was in the Top 8. I sat down, and I honestly felt like I was playing with house money. I had accomplished my goal for the season, and if I lost it would have been no big deal to me at all.

I didn’t lose, though. I won and made Top 8. My second of the season. I found out during that match or just before that if I managed to win the Pro Tour or make the finals that I’d have a chance at winning Player of the Year depending on the result of Eric Froehlich’s last match. I was extremely confused by this and honestly didn’t believe it at first. I was probably in 20th place in the race going into that tournament, so I really needed a lot to fall into place.

I managed to make the finals of this Pro Tour, and lose an incredible five-game set against Joel Larson. In an anti-climactic final game 5, I aggressively (and in my opinion correctly) mulliganed, which led me to hands without lands until I hit a three-card hand.

Maybe in other situations I would have been a bit more disappointed losing the finals of the Pro Tour, but I had a nice consolation prize of becoming Player of the Year, and the number one ranked player in the World. But most importantly to me at the time, I qualified for the World Championships.

I never understood how hard it was to earn the title of Player of the Year until much later. In coming seasons, I realized how difficult it is to surpass everyone in the world in a Pro Point race, or even just enough to make it to Worlds again. I wish that in the moment I was a little more excited about my accomplishment, but it just didn’t hit me until much later.

Shortly after winning Player of the Year, the defining moment in my life occurred. My twin daughters were born. From here on out, Magic changed for me. What was once a hobby, I ended up turning into a profession. From here on out when I played Magic, I played with purpose.

Instead of playing whatever format I had the most fun with, I started to care most about preparing for the next upcoming event. The birth of my daughters changed my testing habits for the better and to this day I can’t so much as play a Cube Draft without feeling guilty I’m not using my time properly for “work.”

The following season, my testing team flat-out killed it. We went back and forth, testing with CFB, depending on logistics. We managed to add some more incredible talent to our testing team with players like Ondrej Strasky and Ivan Floch, and eventually Steve Rubin. We built Colorless Eldrazi, one of the best decks, if not the best deck of all time at the Pro Tour. Steve Rubin won the next PT with G/W Tokens, the best deck in Standard for the foreseeable future. At the end of it all, I ended up Platinum again and back to Worlds for a second year in a row.

All of this lead up to my eventual addition to ChannelFireball Ice. This was the beginning of the Pro Tour Team Series and I had an awesome squad of myself, Eric Froehlich, Joel Larsson, Ondrej Strasky, Ben Stark, and of course the captain, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. What I learned in this season was that trying too hard could be a bad thing. We were so used to having a wildly successful deck at every tournament that this season we were reluctant to just play the known best deck.

We always thought that we could do better, and after running in circles for days, we ended up playing a known quantity that wasn’t necessarily tuned well because we didn’t leave ourselves enough time to focus on that single deck. This season was a bit of a letdown after how successful we were in the previous seasons, but it all came together for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto. Paulo played against Sam Pardee in the finals, two of my closest Magic friends, both playing different decks that were known quantities: Ramunap Red and B/G Constrictor.

We spent tons of time tuning these decks and I actually had trouble deciding which deck I’d play. For the first time at a Pro Tour, I actually thought I had two good options. While Paulo ended up as the champion, we all took pride in the work we did for that weekend. I spent an amazing week in Japan with my friends after that, and it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable Magic trips I’ve had despite not doing so well myself.

That brings me to the current season, and I’m part of Team ChannelFireball testing with most of the same faces. All of these tournaments, all of these colleagues and friends I’ve met are stones in the foundation of not only my Magic career, but now my life. All of these experiences from my first “kid’s tournament” to the all of the Pro Tours have led me to build an extensive group of friends who share the same passion as me, and I’m incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities I’ve had.

I went from being a pretty good tournament Magic player to at one point being ranked number one in the World. I never thought it was possible to come as far as I have, so if you’re reading this and feeling the same way, I just want to let you know, it is possible. While I urge you not to let Magic interfere with important parts of your life, just know that if you put work into getting better, you will get better, and maybe someday you’ll be good friends with some of the players you look up to most.

Thank you to all the people who’ve helped me become the Magic player and person I am today, and thank you for taking the time to get to know me.


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