This is part of an ongoing series of interviews. Catch the other ones here.
Qualified via PTQ
Pro Points: 203
Pro Tour Debut: Boston 2003
Pro Tours played: 30
Win percentage: 58.1%
Top 8: 4 Pro Tours, 3 Grand Prix, and 1 World Magic Cup
Planeswalker Level: 49 (Archmage)
Other accomplishments: $92,275 career earnings, most successful Belgian Magic player
* = The 80% quantile is based on past results that are first normalized to a PT size of 400 players. It represents the result a player surpasses in every fifth Pro Tour on average.
Q: You have not played a Pro Tour since 2012, and yet you can be considered an active professional Magic player. In the last few years you played a bunch of PTQs, and even came heartbreakingly close to requalifying at the 2013 World Magic Cup where your team was eliminated in the quarterfinals. Some people win PTQs apparently at will, but your path was a bit tougher. Taking into account that you have a profile that is at least close to Hall of Fame worthy, this is surprising as it was probably not for a lack of your skill. Why was it so hard for you to requalify? Did the process of grinding those PTQs ever get frustrating for you, and what kept you going? Did the Hall of Fame play a role?
Marijn: The last two years have certainly been a struggle. I was playing quite a lot of PTQs, always came close, but never got to win. It’s not like I was doing poorly at these PTQs. I was averaging a 70% win record at some point, but kept losing in the Top 8. Mid-2014 it got a bit frustrating. The Hall of Fame voting season, PTQs for Hawaii, and WMCQs were running around the same time. I yet again lost two WMCQ and PTQ Top 8s and every second HoF ballot I would read had me somewhere in spot 6-8 stating that I needed one more big finish. I was getting pretty frustrated and I think if it weren’t for the HoF, I might have given up at that point. But instead of giving up, I decided to focus less on the results and have more fun again while playing. It paid off, as I was able to qualify for Brussels at a PTQ soon after. I didn’t expect anything from the PTQ as I hadn’t played a single game with the deck before the tournament, but I guess it was just meant to be. I think it’s great that my first PT in two years is actually in my home country. I’m the only Belgian qualified and I think it’s great for the Belgian community that they at least have one person to root for.
Q: When Magic arrived in Europe at the end of 1993, Belgium along with France was one of the first countries to pick up on the game. Dominic Symens even made it to the semifinals of the first World Championships in 1994. Belgians did well at the first GPs in 1997 and Ben Possemiers was one of the first Europeans to Top 8 a Pro Tour, also in 1997. Belgium then vanished almost completely from the map until about 2004 when Dilson Ramos Da Fonseca, Vincent Lemoine, and Geoffrey Siron were runners-up in the Team World Championships.
In the period from 2004 until 2012 Belgians made it to the Top 8 of ten Pro Tours, including Geoffrey Siron’s win, and four Top 8s by you alone. However, since 2012 Belgians have disappeared so completely, that a mere 10 Pro Points were good enough to become the captain of your country in the last two seasons, and it doesn’t look much better this year. This downfall happened despite Belgium having a good infrastructure for Magic with stores dedicated to the game, and a community with skilled players that even work together as is evidenced by your streaming collective. So what happened to Belge Magic?
Marijn: At the time I was doing well at PTs, Belgium would have several players on the train (Jan Doise, Mark Dictus, Christophe Gregoir, Fried Meulders). Most of the time, a couple of PTQ players would qualify and make sure that we had a strong squad for the PT. Jan, Mark, and I would make sure that the Belgians always tested together and put up a strong performance. In 2009-2011 a lot of things changed, though. Fried Meulders started playing poker professionally. Jan Doise lost the interest in the game and fell off the train. Christophe and I got full-time jobs. In 2011, Vincent Lemoine gave us some hope by Top 8’ing PT Paris, but in 2012 we basically all fell off the train.
I think right now we actually still have enough decent players who could make it to the PT on a regular basis, but for the last few PTs there has always been a single Belgian qualified and this makes it very hard to actually put up a result. Having a strong team to prepare with is crucial, and right now the PTQ system just doesn’t allow that. Our PTQs (of which we only had one or two) often had 200 people with a lot of German, French and Dutch players. So we weren’t even winning our own PTQs. I don’t think the new PTQ system will make things easier. And qualifying at a GP isn’t all that easy either.
Q: In 2013 you wrote a series of articles about the World Magic Cup. The article is written from the perspective of a Magic player with Asperger’s syndrome, inspired by The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The articles were fascinating, and some of the most extraordinary Magic prose around. Many people read interesting books, but few write articles based on that. What made you write a tournament report in that style? Do you consider doing a similar experiment again at some point, maybe even after the upcoming Pro Tour?
Marijn: I hardly read books. From the very few I have read, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is by far my favorite one. The book is very funny, and teaches you a lot about how people with the Asperger’s syndrome think and live. I felt like the writing style really fit the WMC spirit, as for the WMC you actually need to function well as a team (something people with Asperger’s syndrome struggle with). If I ever find the time to write a couple more articles, I might give this approach another try. But for now, I wouldn’t count too much on it.
Q: Most of your successes were in Limited. Your Top 8s in Amsterdam 2010 and at Worlds 2009 include very strong Draft performances. Do you consider yourself a Limited specialist? Are there any Constructed formats you like, and what kind of decks do you prefer when playing Constructed?
Marijn: This question is funny. If you would ask Christophe or Jan if I am a Limited specialist, they would yell “Hell no!” They are right. It actually takes me a lot of time to get used to a new draft format. At this very moment, I am testing with the Czech crew for PT Brussels and in the first 6 drafts I have averaged one win per draft. However, I am the kind of person that will put in a lot of effort if I really want something. My PT Top 8s surely weren’t achieved on talent alone. I always put in a lot of effort and I would understand the format and the deck I was playing very well. I guess this is also the reason why I didn’t do so well anymore once I got a full-time job. I just didn’t have the time to get to know the format.
As for Constructed, I love Legacy. We have a pretty strong Legacy community in my LGS and I used to play with them from time to time. It’s been a while since I’ve played the format now, but I am certainly looking forward to playing in GP Lille later in the year.