he Pro Tour is a wild horse that does not want its riders to sit comfortably on its back. It can be a heartbreaking moment when players have spent their entire Magic playing careers just trying to earn that chance to ride the horse. For most players, it will end in a dusty fall onto the hard-packed dirt as it bucks and thrashes and bares its teeth, trying with every fiber of its being to buck them from the saddle. We talk to players all the time who have dug in their spurs and broken the beast (or the format) and are able to string together appearance after appearance with solid finishes and all the rewards that come with it. But even for that elite class of players, it's rare for them to have lasted very long out of the gate in their first attempt to ride at that level.
I get to look back at the careers of the very best players year after year, by virtue of my involvement with the Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Hall of Fame, with their Pro Tour appearances and finishes laid out in column after column of an Excel spreadsheet. Time and time again there will be multiple-PT gaps between appearances at the onset of their careers as players have to dust themselves off and get right back on that horse via another PTQ or Grand Prix finish.
One player who found himself a little dusty after Pro Tour Born of the Gods was soon-to-be twenty-four-year-old Brennan DeCandio. DeCandio was playing in just his second Pro Tour—his first came in 2011 when he qualified for Pro Tour Philadelphia—and while he made Day Two this time out, he was back where he started with just 3 Pro Points to show for weeks of practice and years of playing the game—years that when they are added up sum up to half his lifespan.
Brennan DeCandio at Grand Prix Nashville 2012
"I always played games when I was younger, I was about twelve years old when I was introduced to Magic. The card art at the time—Onslaught block—is what really drew me in. I was into the fantasy genre feel I got just by looking at the cards," recalled DeCandio of his first exposure to the game. " It wasn't until years later, after a ton of casual play and a year or so being a judge, did I actually start taking it more seriously and grew a competitive drive for the game, which hasn't let up since."
While competitive play was something that attracted him, DeCandio felt he was not prepared to play the game at that level. Still he wanted to learn more firsthand and get involved in tournament play. From 2007 through 2009, the Tampa Bay, Florida, resident immersed himself in the Judge program to better understand not only how the game worked but how it was played.
"I feel, that to be truly good at something, you have to know exactly how things work within a game and judging gave me that knowledge," he explained. "It didn't hurt that Sheldon Menery lives rather close to me and he, along with local Level 3 Judge Benjamin McDole, were great friends and mentors of mine when I was fresh out of high school and starting college. It was a great experience being a judge and is something I recommend every player getting at least a glimpse of."
DeCandio devoured everything he could about competitive Magic and became a coverage junkie, watching and reading about not only the current events but poring over old coverage and visualizing what it would take to be sitting down for the first draft of a Pro Tour with a camera over his shoulder or, better yet, sitting down in the Feature Match area against players he looked up to, like Jon Finkel or Kai Budde. The first event he ever tuned in to watch live was Pro Tour Los Angeles that was won by Antoine Ruel.
"I was very impressed at almost every aspect of his play and it was then that I realized there was a lot more to this game than I originally saw," said DeCandio, who would get to face the PT Champion's equally successful sibling when he reached the Pro Tour in Philadelphia during 2011. "It was the first Modern Pro Tour and man was it a crazy one. Looking back I know I wasn't ready as a player to have been competing at that level. I hadn't quite figured it out. I had an amazing experience and learned that the majority of the "Pro" players are just great people. My first-ever round was against Olivier Ruel. He was a great player, but more importantly, he was an amazing person. I couldn't have had a nicer Round 1 opponent and for that I am eternally grateful."
DeCandio did not get past the cut to Day Two and went back to the PTQ circuit, where he racked up double-digit Top 8 totals. He also began to develop a confidence in playing at that level that he hopes to carry over to the Pro level at some point in his career.
"I have found that confidence is a Magic player's best weapon. Not overconfidence, as in you believe you're better than your opponents—because at the Pro Tour that's rarely the case—but confidence in a sense that you trust yourself and your own abilities," he explained. "I've learned to trust my instincts while still listening to logic and reason and that has given me my biggest strides in making it to the Pro Tour."
That confidence led to a blue envelope for Pro Tour Born of the Gods and DeCandio had to figure out how to get ready for the second Pro Tour of his career. It ended up being a tale of two teams, as he lives in proximity to a couple of members of Team TCGPlayer.com, in Steven Mann and Chris Fennell. He was able to test the pillars of the Modern format against them, as well as getting in the much-needed high-quality eight-person draft practice. Despite all that practice, DeCandio was still wary of the vastness of Modern heading to the airport to fly to Spain.
"There were just too many things to account for to make me feel confident in my understanding of the format," said DeCandio of how he came to join Team Doge for the Pro Tour. "Knowing this, I journeyed to Valencia with a few decks in my pocket. It was there I ran into Christian Calcano and joined up with him and his team, where I spent an additional week testing with a great group of guys I feel lucky to have met. Meeting up with them was what made my trip amazing and I'm glad things broke in such a way where all of that was possible."
One of the decks that DeCandio had sleeved and had at the ready was the latest iteration of his trusty Dredgevine list—complete with recently added Varolz, the Scar-Striped and Death's Shadow tech—that had earned him more than half a dozen PTQ Top 8s, but, perversely, the banning of Deathrite Shaman made him feel worse about the graveyard-dependent deck.
"Unfortunately, I felt that with Deathrite Shaman removed from the format, people would start packing more severe sideboard hate for graveyard decks, such as Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage, in fear of such decks gaining in popularity. I was correct in that line of thinking, as well as one card whose presence I expected, but not in the droves it turned out to be—Anger of the Gods. Anger was more devastating of a card against Vengevine than almost any graveyard hate, which ultimately took me off the deck a few days before the event," said DeCandio, to my profound disappointment.
Instead, he ended up playing a green-white "Hate Bears" deck in Modern. Brimaz, King of Oreskos was a big draw to him playing the deck, since it was larger than most of the red-based removal in the format.
Brennan DeCandio's Hate Bears
"I expected a bevy of Zoo, Splinter Twin, and Birthing Pod variants and felt like I had good matchups against those decks and could sideboard accordingly. However, I did not anticipate an abundance of Boggles and Anger of the Gods decks, which weren't the greatest of matchups, but showed up more than expected. All in all, I don't regret my decision; in fact, I've recommended a slightly updated list to a few friends to play at this weekend's Grand Prix in Richmond."
While the results were not what he was hoping for coming into the tournament, the Floridian had a great time and got to test himself against some of the game's biggest stars.
"Aside from the people I met and stayed with, the biggest highlights were playing against a bunch of name players, including Reid Duke, Marc Lalague fresh off his GP Mexico City win, Martin Juza, Pierre Dagen, Melissa DeTora, and Luis Scott-Vargas. I had quite the tournament, to say the least, and I wouldn't have had it any other way." DeCandio nonetheless found himself flying home without an invite to Pro Tour Journey into Nyx and a rapidly closing—slamming even—window to do so.
Brennan DeCandio with his team at Pro Tour Born of the Gods
He slept for an entire twenty-four-hour period upon getting home from Spain and woke up, if not fully refreshed, with a clear goal in mind—getting right back on that horse. There was a PTQ just a few hours from his house that weekend. He dusted himself off, donned his Pro Tour Born of the Gods T-shirt, and—armed with his Standard weapon of choice—went right back into the fray. He had made the finals of the SCG Standard Open Series in Orlando a few months earlier playing an Orzhov Midrange deck. He added in Brimaz and took it for a test run in a Saturday $1K at Armada Games—who was also hosting the Sunday PTQ. He ended up winning the Armada tournament and felt good heading into the qualifier.
That good feeling turned out to be justified and, with a solid deck choice and what DeCandio called a bit of luck, he cruised through the PTQ with only one loss. Just a week after tasting the Pro Tour in Valencia, DeCandio had qualified for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx.
"I didn't really make any changes between the two events, invoking the age old philosophy, 'Why fix what isn't broken?' I originally got a list from a friend of mine Carlos Alexandre, or as some know him, _batutinha_ on Magic Online. He told me it was a great choice and with that advice I took the deck and ran with it at the aforementioned SCG open in Orlando. Brimaz, King of Oreskos has been my addition to the deck since then, and I have been a fan of his performance so far. I'm not sure he's quite necessary but he certainly is powerful and won me many of my games single-handedly during the PTQ."
Brennan DeCandio's Orzhov Midrange
Brimaz, King of Oreskos will certainly be one of the cards that DeCandio looks to work with as the impending Theros Block Constructed Pro Tour looms on the horizon, but until the full block is released he knows that it is all just speculation at this point. Right now, he is looking to find the right team of qualified players to prepare with—perhaps even working with some of the people he got to prepare for this last Pro Tour with—as he hopes to start stringing some results together without having to go back to the PTQ ranks. But just in case...
"I do intend to do one PTQ for Portland, which is the week prior to Pro Tour Journey into Nyx, but I would feel bad if I do well, knocking out some friends in the process, and end up qualifying for Portland if I do well enough in Atlanta, so we'll see. If I end up not doing well enough at the Pro Tour, you better be darn sure I'll jump right back into the grind and do all that I can to get back to Magic's greatest stage."
February Player of the Month (#MTGPoM)
Before you tell me via social media that this award is a slam dunk for Pro Tour Born of the Gods Champion Shaun McLaren, I want to remind you that there is a salty Jérémy Dezani out there who got beaten by write-in candidate Sam Black in a month where he won a Pro Tour. Anything is possible, but I agree that it is going to be hard to unseat the Pro Tour Champion. Remember, you have the next week to chime in on Twitter using the hashtag #MTGPoM to discuss who should get this award.
Let's call it Shaun McLaren against the field. Perhaps more well-known as MOCS competitor ArsenalMunch, McLaren announced his presence with authority—and a key Threads of Disloyalty—in Valencia, Spain. The Canadian player used his sideboard card to steal key creatures in each of his matches in the Top 8 against Tim Rivera, Patrick Dickmann, and Jacob Wilson.
American player Marc Lalague went into Pro Tour Born of the Gods riding high on his win at Grand Prix Mexico City, where he drafted a blue-red deck in the Top 8 and was able to scry his way to victory with three Temples in his winning deck.
Meanwhile, in Paris, Javier Dominguez was BUGging his opponents to death in the Legacy Grand Prix. The Spanish player took down the more-than-1,500-person field without playing True-Name Nemesis—instead gunning to beat the Legacy standout creature.
It is not a Player of the Month discussion without a member of Peach Garden Oath. Seems like every month, either Reid Duke, William Jensen, or Owen Turtenwald are up for the award. This month, it is Owen, who not only won the Super Series—an invitation-only tournament held at Wizards of the Coast that players qualify for on Day Two of Grand Prix—but posted a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour Born of the Gods.
Let me know who you think deserves to be the Player of the Month for February—remember this past weekend's GPs will be factored into the March title and should not count for February, otherwise we would surely be talking about Christian Seibold—using the hashtag #MTGPoM. You can address it directly to me @Top8Games or send comments to @MagicProTour. The winner will be announced next week.
Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.