Pro Tour Eldritch Moon in Sydney, Australia was surreal. I find it difficult to find the words to describe it—they all fall short. Incredible, amazing, fulfilling, lucky, dreamlike, remarkable, phenomenal, unbelievable, astounding, deece. I’ll start by talking about the Hall of Fame.
Getting inducted into the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame was never my goal—that felt like planning to land on the moon or win the lottery. It seemed like too high an honor to achieve, so instead I put my head down and played my matches, because that’s what I could control. When the dust settled, my peers decided that what I had achieved in doing so was enough to place me alongside the best to ever play the game. I’m filled with an immense sense of pride.
The voting went smoothly, which surprised me. Nobody was particularly vocal about my results not being very good or that I’ve displayed poor character. I don’t believe those things are true of the person I am today, but over a career of 10 years playing on the Pro Tour, I have made plenty of mistakes and I can understand and appreciate how I rubbed people the wrong way. Over the last few years I strived to be a better person and to set an example for newer players of how to be respectful of others and display good sportsmanship. I’m thankful the voters believed in me as a good ambassador for the game, and forgave me for the times I’ve shown poor judgement in the past. I love Magic more than anything, and working hard to prepare for a competition and doing well give me immense satisfaction and pleasure.
Magic has done so much for me—the friends I’ve made in the game are the smartest and the most good-natured people I have ever encountered. I grew up around card shops filled with liars, cheats, and thieves, and I made poor decisions for a long time. The more I played in tournaments, the more I saw that it would take discipline to succeed. The best players set an example for me about not only how to demonstrate high level strategy but how to be a good person. I wanted to win at Magic, so I watched them and I changed the way I played. I wanted to be a decent human being, so I watched the way they behaved and I tried to emulate that in my own life.
People jokingly refer to the “Hall of Fame curse”: after someone gets inducted, they do poorly at that PT. I think that’s in part because most people who retire from the game come back for their induction PT and they’re rusty. Also, when you accomplish a goal as momentous as the Hall of Fame, you lose some motivation—a lot like when someone makes Top 8 and is just happy to be there. You’ll see pros make Platinum and not try very hard at the last PT of the season because they stand to win less than at a normal event. I’ve always tried to stay motivated no matter what my direct financial incentives were—the competition matters most to me.
Testing for this Pro Tour went well, and the Pantheon did a much better job than we had been lately. At Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad we played Season’s Past Control. After Jon Finkel in the Top 8, our next best finisher was myself with a measly 9-7 record. Overall, we won less than 50% of our draft matches, too. To say that this result was poor for our team would be an understatement. We were embarrassed. Maybe we were just getting unlucky but we all knew something had to change. I loved seeing my teammates more motivated than ever. Arriving in Sydney two weeks in advance to prepare meant we had a lot of time to try different decks. With days running out, I was going to lock in my own build of BW Control.
Antonino De Rosa saw a deck on an Italian message board that I believe was created by Riccardo Picciafuochi, which closely resembled a deck Jon had tried earlier with Kozilek’s Return and Elder Deep-Fiend. I woke up the day before the Pro Tour, and Jon, who had been playing the deck all morning, said he felt the deck was broken and that I would be making a mistake by not playing it. I trust Jon, and with that level of confidence I would have been a fool to ignore him.
The final nail in the coffin for the BW deck was that everyone else on the team seemed pretty impressed with our various Emrakul decks. I felt like I had a bad matchup there, and others would surely be playing Emrakul decks as well.
I registered the following list with under 25 total games played with the deck.
I raced off to an 8-0 start, then 10-0, and finished the draft at 10-1. I had gone 5-0 with my Constructed deck, and all I needed was a 2-3 record to clinch Top 8. I had the best position in the tournament, and after I won my first round of Constructed, I was over 95% to make Top 8. We knew with the small field that multiple 12-4 records would make Top 8, and I had great tiebreakers since I had played almost everyone at the top of the standings.
Then the wheels started to fall off. The thing about doing well at the Pro Tour was that I kept getting feature matches, which meant delayed round start times and very little time for a break after you finish a round. People play more deliberately in the feature match area, myself included, since they don’t want to make a big blunder on camera. When you play more carefully and your opponent does as well, the rounds last much longer. I’ll be the first to admit that I was getting nervous. I needed to win one of the next four matches, and nobody was going to give me a free win—I had to earn it.
Suddenly, I was making errors—stupid mistakes that I normally would never make. The high level of competition, intensity of each match, overall high complexity in the games (especially on some Emrakul turns), dehydration and poor diet from being in a foreign country, and inexperience with my deck were all adding up and it affected my play. This is no doubt something I need to work on in the future—the Pro Tour really is a marathon and not a sprint. Just starting 10-0 or 11-1 doesn’t mean you’ve won it already.
When I won my 16th round against Daniel Cathro, I was overcome with relief. All I wanted to do was escape the day without having totally imploded in what would’ve been an epic meltdown. I made multiple big mistakes in the match, but I tightened up near the end and played well enough to win a close match.
After the match, someone asked me about that match’s implications on the Player of the Year race and I had completely forgotten. “Oh yeah, I won!” I didn’t forget because it wasn’t important to me, but because there were so many other things happening that it was definitely at the back of my mind. Seth Manfield had one of the best seasons in modern Magic history—nobody can deny that—but with a lot of luck at the end, I was able to overcome what felt like an insurmountable point lead. As Seth was having more and more high finishes, I would see people on social media talk about what an amazing season he was having and how great of a player he was, and they weren’t wrong. Seth isn’t an enemy of mine by any means, or someone I have any ill feelings toward. But, as a competitor, when you see people saying he might be the best in the game, that lit a fire under me.
After a roller-coaster Day 2 I could finally relax. My hands were hurting from so many high fives.
Congratulations to Reid Duke and Luis Scott-Vargas on making Top 8 as well. They are my long-time friends, and I look up to them both. They’re popular and successful because they’re both excellent card players, and well respected for how they treat others and what they do for the game. And congratulations to William Jensen on getting Platinum. Somehow he gets Platinum every year without going to that many major events, and even does commentary at some of them. Without him, there’s absolutely no chance I would be as successful at this game as I am today.
The Top 8 went by fast, and there’s plenty of coverage to revisit. In the quarters I beat Yuuta Takahashi, where in one game I cast Emrakul 4 times and I barely won. He was an excellent sport and I got some lucky top decks to beat him.
In the semifinals I beat LSV in 5 games, and then lost the finals to Lukas Blohon, in what I believed was a favorable matchup. He played extremely well, had a great deck, and some good draws. No shame in losing like that.
I was disappointed to have come close to achieving one of my life goals of winning the Pro Tour, but it was still easily one of the best weekends ever. I got 2nd place at the Pro Tour for $20,000, I got inducted into the Magic: the Gathering Hall of Fame, and I won Player of the Year. Even having just one of those events would make for a weekend you would never forget. I think I failed to appreciate how amazing all of this was because it was just too many incredible things happening at the same time, and I didn’t take time to stop and smell the roses. Either way, I’m thrilled with my results and I’m a very happy person. The World Championship is in 3 weeks, and after that I’ll compete in the World Magic Cup and the Magic Online Championships. There are still so many tournaments left to win, and rest assured that I will be doing everything in my power to win them all.