onday, October 15, 2012. The date has been circled in your diary for months. Today has been filling your head ever since the day you finally conquered the PTQ peaks and took down the resident grinder who always seems to have dashed your hopes in the Top 8. This time, it's you holding the proverbial blue envelope, and this time it's you who gets to mix it with the best in the world at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica.
With Modern the Constructed format this week, you've spent your long flight from home putting together what you think, hope, and pray is your final attempt at a seventy-five-card list that is going to take down the Pro Tour at your first attempt. You raise an inward smile as your rucksack of doom comes tumbling down the luggage chute in Seattle, and then it's off to your hotel. One of your compatriots has booked you half—or is it quarter?—of a single room not too far from the event site. It might not be the most comfortable, but at least you'll have company, and probably lots of it!
For reasons that have never been explained, no matter when you arrive you will always be exactly the person required to get a draft going. If there are two people waiting to draft, you are the "Magic third," which means only five (or maybe three) more will do it. If there are five, you'll be greeted like a cross between the Beatles and Harry Potter. Seven people in the room? You will almost certainly be elected their Personal Savior.
After a night of somewhat interrupted sleep, you spend Tuesday seeing the sights of Seattle. There are lots of them, and they're awesome, but you're acutely aware that the clock is ticking toward your date with destiny. That, plus you still have thirty-three Return to Ravnica boosters to open, ideally three at a time...
More drafts, more fun, a fifty-third amendment to your sideboard plan, some questionable photos involving hippos, and suddenly it's Thursday. By now, everyone is in town and getting ready to get their game faces on. You head for the event site. Rarely has such a mundane event as showing your ID and collecting a deck registration sheet caused such excitement.
Ahead of you is a group from the Slovak Republic. You recognize former team World Champions Robert Jurkovic and Ivan Floch chatting animatedly with the Czech master, Martin Juza. Just behind you, there's a cacophony of languages you don't understand, with the occasional "Guttersnipe" or "Rest in Peace" overheard through the wall of sound. You realize it's not just you—everyone here is a little giddy. Everyone is dreaming of $40,000 and a trophy, and the perfect combination of skill and luck that every Pro Tour champion needs.
You collect a free draft set and soon find yourself mixing with a group of American pros. They're all a bit better than you and you're nervous when they offer you the sixth chair in a team draft, but this might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and you haven't come to spectate. You draft a solid Rakdos deck that curves out perfectly, and you're pleased with your 2–1 result. One of your new friends from the hotel—it's amazing how friendships develop when eight people are "sharing" one single bed—drops by with three copies of the final sideboard card for your Modern deck. This time, you won't change your mind. You're locked in and ready to go.
Friday morning, 8:15 a.m. You're standing at the dealer table, buying three copies of the final sideboard card for your Modern deck. This time you won't change your mind. You're locked in and ready to go. 8:22 a.m., same thing. And 8:26 a.m. At 8:30 a.m. you're staring at the twenty-nine cards for your fifteen-card sideboard when Shuhei Nakamura pauses beside your table. He smiles, and in a mode of communication that is part Japanese, part English, part gesture, and all Magic, he spares a few moments to help you out. Heroes' Reunion? Seriously?
Before you know it, Tournament Manager Scott Larabee is calling the players to their tables. For the first time ever, that means you. You scan the lists for your seat with the big boys, and as you settle into your chair you find yourself surrounded by Grand Prix winners, Pro Tour Top 8ers, and a couple of Magic Hall of Famers. At this stage, you don't even know whether you want to face these giants of the game—you just know you want it to be Round 1 and to finally get to do what it is that you love most about Magic: playing.
Mercifully, the head judge runs an efficient and swift player meeting, and now you get your wish. Your opponent isn't someone you recognize. He seems nervous, and as you tentatively chat it seems this is the beginning of a Pro Tour experience for both of you. As the clock ticks down from 50:00, you attempt to set aside the hoopla and the spectacle and focus on what you're doing right now. It worked for Zac Hill in Honolulu; maybe it can work for you too!
Three hours later and things have gone well. Your deck choice is fine, the matches have been fine, and you've yet to make the kind of mistake that makes Magic players the world over consider self-immolation as a practical and wise course of action. In Round 4, though, you're paired against a genuine heavyweight and Pro Tour champion, Paul Rietzl. He might have to wait until Gatecrash to play Boros again, but you know that whatever he plays he plays hard. It's a salutary experience. He doesn't just beat you, he crushes you, and it isn't just because of the cards. As you shake his hand and thank him politely for the kicking he's just administered, you realize that when push comes to shove he's just better than you are.
Never mind. There's more Magic to play, and in the last round of Modern for the day—and for many the last Modern round of their whole event—you pull out a tight one against a member of the smartly dressed Uruguayan team from the World Magic Cup. Even though it's all business, there's still time once the match is over to chat about his experiences in Indianapolis and how badly he wants to represent his country next year in Amsterdam. Come to think of it, you've always fancied a trip to Amsterdam...
You're 3–2, and the pods go up for the first draft. If you can go 2–1, you'll get to come back to do it all again tomorrow. At 1–2, or the dreaded 0–3, and your Pro Tour will be curtailed at eight rounds. You glance briefly at the top table. As you've seen so often from watching the Pro Tours back at home, the top table only has a couple of players you recognize. In the 4–1 bracket, though, there are some ferocious tables. You see Ben Stark, Owen Turtenwald, and Gaudenis Vidugiris quietly chatting at Table 2. Sam Black has delivered the Constructed goods yet again, and sits to the left of the young Czech player Lukas Jaklovsky. Richard Bland of England has done his testing homework with the Norwegians, and is again in good shape at Table 3. But you can't affect those tables, only your own, and the next three hours will determine your plans for tomorrow. Magic? Or the Duck Tour? (Note: The Duck Tour is real. I haven't made it up. Promise.) Magic? Or Duck Tour?...
It's Magic! When you open Mercurial Chemister in your first pack you don't look back, and Izzet gets it done. In the final of the draft you face former team World Champion Nico Bohny, and although his Selesnya deck is decent, you bury him in an avalanche of card advantage when he can't get your Chemister off the board. Your Limited win rate? 100%!!! This Pro Tour life is easy!
It takes several hours for you to calm down. You're 6–2 and right in the thick of things. Inevitably, things haven't gone so well for your roommates, and only two of you will be coming back to continue the fight tomorrow. You know you've had some luck along the way, and there are many players better than you who won't see Round 9. It only makes you more determined to make the most of this extraordinary opportunity. From comic store to Pro Tour in less than two years—amazing.
Saturday morning, and the atmosphere is very different from 24 hours earlier. The heady mixture of anticipation, excitement, and nervousness have been replaced by a strange sense of detachment. Everyone still standing knows they're lucky to be there—even the best in the world only make Day Two a couple of times a year. It's all much, much quieter. There's calm, there's determination, there's desultory chat.
Then it's draft time, and as you look at your table you know you can't avoid the powerhouses forever. From Japan, there's the always-excellent Akira Asahara. Europe is represented by Raphael Levy, on the comeback trail after a slow start. Although you've never met them, you recognize all three Americans at your table from the weekends you've spent watching tournaments online. The player on your right quietly tells you that the player opposite you is Brazil's number one Magic Online grinder. Well, winning a Pro Tour was never meant to be easy...
You don't get much chance to learn the ins and outs of your deck before being thrown to the lions, as Raphael Levy is your first opponent. He's friendly but ruthless in his dismantling of your very average Golgari deck. You pull it back to 7–3, but Asahara stands in the way of getting back to Modern in contention. Until you came here, for this tournament, and this round, you never believed in One Time. Now you're a passionate devotee, as you pray to the Magic gods for the one-outer that will keep your dreams alive. There are no cameras to record your topdeck moment, and you won't be uttered in the same breath as Craig Jones or Gabriel Nassif, but you feel a kinship with them as you somehow scrape by Asahara. Finishing 4–2 isn't a great Limited record, but it isn't shabby for your first Pro Tour. As you pick up your cards, you notice Pro Tour Historian Brian David-Marshall, who has been keeping an eye on Asahara. He offers a hand, shares a few words of encouragement, and you tell him your Magic story. If you somehow make it to Sunday, he'll know a little something about you, just as he seemingly does about everyone!
You're 8–3, and the number of rounds left aren't relevant. As Brad Nelson revealed on his way to winning Grand Prix Washington DC 2010, "I just kept playing Magic until they told me I couldn't play Magic any more." For you, there are no more lives to give, no more bad matchups to shrug off, and certainly no misplays that can be tolerated. Your "A Game" might very well not be enough against the fifty or so others who are still trying to win this thing. Anything less certainly won't be.
After you win your next round, you self-consciously describe yourself as "X–3" to your Round-1 opponent. Sure, it's cheesy. Sure, you know it's 9–3, but X–3 just sounds so cool, and who knows how often you'll get to say it. Although out of the tournament long ago, he seems genuinely pleased that he's a small part of your rollercoaster ride. He wishes you well and means it. Whether you play in this one Pro Tour or another fifty, you'll always be his first-ever Pro Tour opponent. These are special memories for everyone, win or lose.
Thankfully, winning does tend to generate more special memories than losing, and two more wins takes you to 11–3. Maybe a win in the penultimate match might allow you the chance to I.D. in the final round of Swiss. When you see who you're up against, you can't help it—the butterflies are back in full force. Five words, but summed up in just two letters—PV. In thirty-one Pro Tours, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa has churned out no fewer than nine Top 8 appearances. When he beats you, he'll be knocking on the door of a tenth.
You tell yourself that it doesn't matter that you haven't been here before, or that he's done it over and over and over. You tell yourself that it doesn't matter that he's better than you. You tell yourself all the right things, make all the right plays, and acquit yourself against the very best with honor.
You lose 2–1, and with that defeat your dreams of a Sunday showdown are over. Your tournament, however, still has one round to go, and if anything it's even more important than the match with Paulo. If you can somehow get this final win, your 36 points will see you into the Top 25. While few people can name who finished 23rd at any given Pro Tour, for you it has tremendous significance. Finish in the Top 25 and you can do this all again at Pro Tour Gatecrash. Lose, and it's back home for another nerve-wracking round of PTQs.
As you sit down at Table 9 for the final round, off to your right are the players still battling for the Top 8: You can't help but feel slightly wistful at what might have been. Tables 4, 5, 6, and 7 are surrounded by fans, eager to see who will be joining the first six securely into the Sunday drama. Nobody is watching your match, but to you this is the finals. Two games later, as you shake your opponent's hand after a horror show of mulligans and misplays on your part, there's no trophy, no interviews, no group of friends to carry you high on their shoulders. For almost twenty minutes, there's just profound disappointment and a feeling in the pit of your stomach that you just can't shake.
Then you see the final standings. On 11–5, you're 23rd. You've made it to Montreal!
On Sunday, you watch as the standout deck of this Modern format, showcased by one of Japan's finest, falters at the last, and one of the game's true greats adds another chapter to his storied Hall of Fame legacy. It has been an incredible weekend, but an insistent buzzing in your ear tells you that it's time to... time to ...time...
8:34am, Friday October 19, 2012.
You fumble for the alarm clock and tumble out of bed with a sense of anticipation. In twenty-five minutes, it begins. For the next three days, you'll sit glued to your fifty-inch plasma TV, watching nineteen live rounds of Magic from Pro Tour Return to Ravnica in the company of Rich Hagon, Brian David-Marshall, Zac Hill, Marshall Sutcliffe, Sheldon Menery, and Rashad Miller. There'll be all the latest tech for Modern, the format that had you on the edge of your seat at the Magic Players Championship. There'll be six rounds of Return to Ravnica Draft, and you can't wait to explore the format in the company of the best players from around the world.
This weekend, it's your time to watch, enjoy, and learn. It isn't your time to play and win, at least not at the Pro Tour. But as half-remembered glimpses of your adventure remind you, somebody in Seattle is less than three days away from a very large check and a slice of Magic immortality.
Enjoy the game, work hard, keep learning—always keep learning—and in Montreal in February, 2013, Pro Tour Gatecrash could be Your Time.
The live video webcast for Pro Tour Return to Ravnica begins Friday morning. The live video stream can be found at www.wizards.com/webcast and twitch.tv/magicprotour. Check out the schedule below to find the start time in your area (start times approximate).
|Rio de Janeiro
||1 a.m. Saturday
||1 a.m. Sunday
||2:45 a.m. Monday
||2 a.m. Saturday
||2 a.m. Sunday
||3:45 a.m. Monday