Up and Down the Train – Part 1

I always like to remember the beginnings, because that makes me notice how much effort I put to improve my game. In this series I will use my two years of Pro Tour experience to try to give advice, tips, or whatever you might need to qualify, and most important to qualify again. The Pro Tour experience is the best thing in the game to me, and anyone who plays in a Pro Tour immediately wants to qualify for the following one. I managed to do that eight times in a row, and I’ll try my best to help you do better than me.

I was eleven when I bought my first Magic pack in 1995. Basically, I was collecting cool cards with nice fantasy pictures on them, as I couldn’t even understand what these weird cards actually did. I even traded away all my dual lands for two basic lands. Nice.

When I grew up, I found my Magic box in the basement, and suddenly decided to sell all those goodies. They should have increased their value for sure! As you might expect, most of my cards were rubbish, as I’d been pillaged so many times. I ended up buying some packs and some singles to start playing the game.

I immediately built a sort of highlander mono-White deck, in which I wasn’t playing either Wrath of God or Armageddon, because they were obviously so bad. They affected ALL creatures and ALL lands!

My first 60 card deck was Sneak Attack in Urza Block. I really enjoyed throwing fatties at my opponent’s face.

After that, Mercadian Masques came out. When the Block tournaments started, I felt in love with Snuff’O’Derm. Did you notice that Rock-style decks are so intriguing for newbies ?

I can remember my first draft; it was Nemesis-Nemesis-Nemesis (I don’t know why really). I opened my pack and noticed the rare wasn’t a creature, but a pointless green enchantment whose text was too long to read in that little amount of time we had to pick, so I just skipped it to focus on big green fatties. Obviously the rare was Saproling Burst.

I used to live in a small town in the Northwest of Italy. The Magic Community was small (about 10-20 people), and we were all really bad. I played in some reachable PTQs with the decks I liked most. In that Extended format there was , RDW, Malka Rock, etc. Once I managed to 6-2 into 9th place for tiebreakers with my UG Madness deck. I remember my deck list was really bad, as I was playing Snap maindeck, for example. My best achievement in that tournament was beating Raffaele Lo Moro in the mirror match. You might not know him, as he gave up playing, but he’s still the Italian player with more Pro Points lifetime (129) besides Antonino De Rosa. I was really happy about my tournament and about that match in particular. As he was my Magic idol I asked him for his contacts, and later on I started asking him for deck lists to play in my local tournaments.

This is a really important point, and we’ll talk more about it : connections are fundamental. If you have the chance to learn anything from a better player, don’t hesitate, as it’s the best thing you can do. First step is being humble and admit there are some players who are just better. It’s not that important to be in touch with the best ones. Anyone who can make you improve is ok. Don’t forget that we can take something good even from worse players. Back in the day, at Pro Tour Kobe in 2004, three Italians made Top 8. One of them was the well-known Raffaele Lo Moro. The other two unknown guys, Stefano Fiori and Luigi Sbrozzi, played the same Mono Red deck list, which was built by a guy at their local store.

That guy was really terrible at playing Magic, but he built a deck which made two random Italians Top 8 that event. So in my experience, you always have to look at top players, watch them when you have the chance, ask yourself about their deck choices, and read their articles, but never ignore an idea just because it comes out of a worse player.

When I first moved to Torino to attend the University, the first thing I did was to write on the Italian Magic Players mailing list to know where I could play there. The city was bigger, the community was better. I Top 8ed my first PTQ in Mirrodin limited after 7 easy rounds with an obviously insane good deck. Then it was Rochester draft. To be fair, my deck was not that bad, but I lost in the semifinals to the guy who ended up winning the whole thing. I started drafting a lot after that, in two different stores. I was winning a lot in one of them, then I quickly moved in the one where the best players were playing. And of course I stopped winning. There were some guys who played on the Pro Tour once, and I was pretty impressed by the way they were crushing me. I just wanted to improve, so I started watching their drafts from behind instead of playing sometimes. This is one of the best things you can do. As they were all nice guys, they were telling me all the explanations I asked for at the end of the draft.

My game improved a bit, and I managed to make several Top 8s in the PTQs, and I was really happy about that. I Top 8ed a 250 player PTQ (now it’s pretty normal to have 9 swiss rounds in Italian events) and I was really proud of myself.

Now that’s important. The thing that makes you switch to the following level is the ambition. Every single step ahead you make in your game, remind that there are lots more to do. Once you reach your goals, make them your new starting point for the following ones. It is really difficult to do that in the moment you reach them, because you are so happy that you just don’t mind. This is so wrong. I was playing worse in the single elimination rounds, just because in my mind the goal was to Top 8 the event, not to qualify. I mean, I really wanted to qualify, but I knew the first step was to reach the Top 8. Once I got sick of the Top8s, I realized that my approach was the wrong one. You should stop considering a PTQ Top 8 to be kind of an accomplishment. It’s a failure, because the goal is to qualify for the Pro Tour, not to almost get there.

In the meanwhile, I played Vintage for fun. I was probably taking Magic too seriously, and I needed a break. Vintage was perfect for that. I enjoyed the format a lot and posted some good results, winning 2 [card Black Lotus]Lotuses and a couple of Moxes, Ancestrals, Walks, and stuff. The average skill level was lower, and I played way more relaxed. The combination of both made me really successful and I fast became a mainstay in Vintage tournaments, even skipping PTQs to play in those events. But that wasn’t my goal. I couldn’t feel satisfied with just that, because the main reason that pushed me into playing a lot of Magic was to win trips for all over the world, and play at the highest level of the competition. Vintage wasn’t bringing me anywhere in the end.

One thing some may like is to be a big fish in a small pond. You feel pretty safe and you could just eat the other guys, consistently win, and that’s it. Once you get out the pond and go swimming in the lake, you are crushed by some eel or whatever predator fish who’s haunting lakes. I’m not a huge fan of National Geographic, but you get the idea. Then you’ll never reach the ocean. You know, the big tournaments with the real sharks. So the first thing you should understand is whether you prefer to win the local events, dominating the drafts at your shop and competing for some Power Nine pieces, or have a chance to play at the best level of the game. There’s nothing bad in choosing the easier way; I just wasn’t satisfied with it. I had to come back to that step because getting crushed was frustrating me, and my self-esteem needed some wins.

So in the end I just went back to my original goals.

During Time Spiral Limited season I had already moved to Milan and I was playing a lot on Magic Online with my new teammates. I was really focused on qualifying, and I was doing my best to improve as much as possible. I lost a 2-slot PTQ in the semifinals, then in a single week I lost 2 finals in a row. One of them was really bitter, when me and my teammates went to Switzerland to play in a smaller PTQ. I managed to win against Cristoph Huber in the quarterfinals (2007 Team World Champion), but lost to Matthias Kunzler (The Faeries Master) in the finals. His deck was better than mine and he was just better. I think my drafting skills in that format were really good as I was posting decent results on Magic Online and I was doing so well in PTQs, but actually I realized I couldn’t 3-0 a PTQ Top 8 table, so that wasn’t enough.

In the end I was considered to be the best Italian with amateur status, so it wasn’t that bad. Being a PTQ mainstay was ok, but in those years I saw so many players qualifying who I considered to be worse than me. I deserved to win that trip. I was putting so much effort in it I had to reach my goal, and things were starting to be frustrating.

Luckily enough, Two-Headed-Giant season started. I could team up with Gianluca Filippini, who was runner-up in 2006 Italian Nationals. He was an up-and-coming player, a nice guy and that was enough. At the first PTQ we opened a rare-less pool and couldn’t do much, but then we managed to win a 102 team Ptq with a 8-0-2 record. I can recall some highlights as an “Armageddon on you guys” Volcanic Awakening, a turn-2 Dandan followed by Griffin Guide, plus an Avatar of Woe / Scryb Ranger interaction. Actually our sealed pools were really insane, and our draft decks were nothing special but better than our opponents’, so I just didn’t feel like we had completed such a difficult feat. In fact we were pretty lucky the whole tournament, and our card quality made the rest. Playing two-headed-giant avoided large mistakes as four eyes are better than two; we made some wrong decisions probably, but that didn’t affect the final result. Looking back to that event, I don’t have any suggestions, and I didn’t learn anything from it. It was such a weird format and no-one was really prepared; we certainly didn’t have any edge, we just found the Golden Ticket.

Preparing for that Pro Tour was nearly impossible. Me and Gianluca used to live in different cities, and all the other qualified guys were from Rome or other mid-southern places, so nobody could really play a single 2HG game. We were excited for being qualified, happy about the free trip to San Diego, California, and that was it. I felt weird not testing for the event I always wanted to play in, but I just didn’t mind.

One funny story is about Manuel Bucher. I played Manuel at some Extended PTQ in Switzerland, and won 2-1 despite the bad matchup of my Affinity against CAL. I wasn’t even packing any Flaring Pain or any other way to deal with Solitary Confinement once it hit the table, he just mulled to death two games out of three. Those days he was already really good but couldn’t win a PTQ despite always Top 8ing. He’d already won GP Zurich when he was a little child but couldn’t get to the Tour again. One day, on MODO, he told me that he had lost a 2HG PTQ final. As I didn’t have anything better to do, I was reading all the names of the qualified players. I was really excited, you know, first Pro Tour and all that. I found out that he was actually in the list, and told him. He just didn’t know it was a 2-slot PTQ, and no-one knew that, including the tournament organizers! So him and Ives Sele could play in Pro Tour San Diego after. Again, every connection is important. This one was so crucial because later on I could win some money with his decks, which I normally wouldn’t have had access to. I even wasn’t too angry losing a GP Top 8 spot to his Heap Doll (for real) (pretty sure this was a Limited GP, not that it is much better there – LSV), and be really comfortable sleeping with him in different tournaments because of his size relating to the bed (this one I think can stay as-is -LSV).

Next on Up and Down the Train:

– Testing at Antonino De Rosa’s house!

– Debating whether Wall of Roots is better or worse than the 0/5 thallid wall guy in 2HG (?)!

– Learn how to suspend Ancestral Visions on turn 1!

– And many more

David Besso

7 thoughts on “Up and Down the Train – Part 1”

  1. Thomaz Alexandre

    Nice start! Begs the question: have you ever passed on a pro companion on the road because of him being on the other end of the size scale in relation to Manu B? 😛

  2. Thanks guys!
    I appreciate a lot every feedback.
    I hope you will enjoy the following episodes too 🙂

  3. – Shane Anciso of the Shane Network here saying hello.

    Great article David, especially long for just part one.
    Looking forwards to your next two articles, could not agree with you more on the aspect of building key relationships with Magic players of all levels of expertise.

    I too picked up cards in 1995 as a young lad, not knowing truely what the cards were worth nor having a care in the world till I was properly introduced to the game in 2000 so I can definitely relate.

  4. Do you play on magic-league dave? If so, i enjoyed the conversation we had and i hope to meet you at the next pro tour I attend

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