Pro Tour Hour of Devastation Player to Watch: Aaron Muranaka

Aaron Muranaka

Age: 40
Residence: Bountiful, UT, USA
Team: Constructed Criticism
Qualified via RPTQ
Pro Points: 42 lifetime (2 in 2016–17)
Pro Tour debut: Pro Tour Los Angeles 1996 (Booster Draft)
Pro Tours played: 9
Best Pro Tour finish: 3rd (PT Atlanta 1996)
Median: 131
Top 8: 1 Pro Tour
Aaron’s PT results: http://www.mtgptresults.com/player/aaron-muranaka
Planeswalker level: 44 (Battlemage)

Q1: You made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour in 1996. That was Pro Tour Atlanta, the format was Mirage Sealed deck, and nobody knew any of the cards because that Pro Tour was the first event to use Mirage cards, and there was no such thing as spoiler season. What was it like playing Magic in such an event? What did the players think about playing Sealed deck at a Pro Tour, especially in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour?

I thought playing at Pro Tour Atlanta was very fun (though I admit this is probably colored by the fact that my card pool was very powerful and that I made Top 8). This was before there were widespread prereleases, so having the chance to see and play with cards before everyone else was very exciting. It was great to talk to your friends between rounds to try to learn what cards were out there and what you needed to play around. I also think the format was interesting because it tested our skill to immediately evaluate cards in a Limited environment without the benefit of spoilers.

I don’t recall players having a strong opinion one way or another about playing Sealed deck at a Pro Tour. While it seems obvious in hindsight that Draft is a better format than Sealed for a Pro Tour, this wasn’t necessarily the case in 1996. Atlanta was the 4th Pro Tour ever, and only the second Limited Pro Tour (Pro Tours used to be a single format), and I think Wizards was still deciding which formats to support for Limited Pro Tours. At the time, Draft wasn’t necessarily widespread and Sealed deck may have actually been a more popular format at the store level.

The Swiss rounds of the tournament were Sealed deck with a new Sealed deck in the Top 8. I remember being disappointed that I had to switch Sealed decks in the Top 8 and that at least one other competitor said that he was happy to get a new pool. But other than that I don’t remember any of the other Top 8 competitors commenting on the format or complaining that it wasn’t Draft. I think that because the Pro Tour was still relatively new, and that because this was the first Sealed Pro Tour, everyone just assumed that this was how Sealed Pro Tours would work.

Q2: You played a couple of Pro Tours from 1996 to 2004, but you never played two in a row, not even after your Top 8 in Atlanta, although you must have been qualified for the next one. Going Pro wasn’t really possible, but competition was fierce already and most players would not skip a Pro Tour they were qualified for. How seriously did you take Magic back then?

I loved playing Magic and played every chance I got, but I didn’t have aspirations of playing Magic competitively or making it a living. Accordingly, I ended up not attending a few Pro Tours I was qualified for due to school and other commitments. As an example of my mindset at the time, in the finals of the Pro Tour Qualifier for Atlanta, I was paired against my older brother with the winner getting the slot. I offered to concede to him because I felt he was the better player and that he could prepare more because I was starting college. He insisted that we play and I ended up winning, leading to my subsequent Top 8.

Q3: What happened since? Have you tried to qualify for a Pro Tour after 2004, or did you take a break from the game for some time? Did you try to qualify for this Pro Tour in particular or is it something that just happened? What are your expectations for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation?

In 2004, I started law school, and in 2007, I moved out of Utah, the state where I grew up and where most of my friends who played Magic lived, to California to work as an attorney. The time commitments for school and my job were demanding and I largely quit playing, though I still occasionally played prereleases and Limited Pro Tour Qualifiers. The last Pro Tour I qualified for, before Hour of Devastation, was Geneva in 2007.

In 2012, I moved back to Utah and got a job that allowed me to have more free time. I started playing Magic with my friends again and started playing PTQs and then PPTQs when the system changed. The Hour of Devastation RPTQ was the fifth RPTQ I’ve qualified for and the first where I qualified for the Pro Tour.

I am looking forward to playing on the Pro Tour again and am going to work hard to be prepared and to put up a good result. I have a full-time job and two small children, a two-year old and a six-year old, so my playtesting time is limited. But I also have an amazing and understanding wife who is encouraging me to playtest as much as possible and a group of awesome and talented friends who are all chipping in to help with playtesting. In addition, a local team that includes three Utah Silver-levels pros (Team Constructed Criticism—check out their podcast) have also invited me to playtest with them and I’m very excited to work with them to prepare for the Pro Tour.

Q4: The 2017 Hall of Fame voting is currently in process, and every year people debate voting for Chris Pikula. Pro Tours were supposedly quite different back then with cheating, rules lawyering, and all kinds of savagery that he helped to discourage. But most people who talk about this were not there—in fact, some of them were not even born at that time. How bad was it, and how did it change over the first couple of years?

When I first qualified for the Pro Tour, I was 19 and very naïve. It simply didn’t occur to me that anyone would cheat. I quickly learned otherwise and in my experience, cheating was fairly common in the early days of the Pro Tour. For example, in my first two Pro Tours, I remember instances of individuals deliberately misrepresenting their cards, stacking their decks, attempting to stack my deck, drawing extra cards, manipulating the top card of their library after activating Thawing Glaciers, and in one instance, skipping their draw step and then attempting to have me given a game loss for drawing extra cards. Worse still, enforcement was lax, penalties were mild, and for whatever reason, Wizards heavily promoted some of the worst offenders, such as Mike Long. To be sure, not everyone cheated, but there were strong incentives to do so and many people had the mindset of, “everyone else is doing it so I should too.”

Chris Pikula was integral in creating a Pro Tour culture where cheating wouldn’t be tolerated. Chris identified and called out cheaters, pressured Wizards to enforce the rules, acted as a role model and mentor for many younger players, and served as an example of a player who could win while playing cleanly. That Chris took such a principled stand against cheating at a time when it placed him at a competitive disadvantage is a testament to his integrity and love of the game, and I truly believe that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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