iblings have always been a part of the competitive Magic landscape going back to the very first Pro Tour, when Steven and Daniel O'Mahoney-Schwartz embarked on their careers in the Junior division on the top floor of the Puck Building 14 years ago. Just a handful of seasons later those brothers were on ESPN2 doing battle with a new set of siblings—Olivier and Antoine Ruel in the team challenge. Along the way there have also been the Zink brothers, a trio of Cornelissens, Matt Place and Dan Burdick, and most recently Brad Nelson and Corey Baumeister. Next weekend in San Diego almost 14 years to the date from that very first Pro Tour, a new pair of siblings—twin brothers, no less—will be embarking on their Pro Tour careers.
Back in the early part of the 2000s, Corey and Jared Mann began playing at their local Friday Night Magic events on Long Island. The better part of a decade later the 23-year olds will be shuffling up for round one of their very first Pro Tour. Corey, who currently works as a deli clerk in Merrick, Long Island, has been a fixture on the East Coast PTQ circuit for the past couple of years and has amassed a whopping total of 13 PTQ Top 8s. He has also picked up something of a reputation for favoring the Kithkin tribe during the Pro Tour–Austin qualifier season. Jared, who just picked up his bachelor's degree in Mathematics Education, is trying to choose between a teaching career and diving back in to grad school. While Jared dragged Corey to those early FNMs back in 2001, he has not played in nearly as many PTQs as Corey due to being away at school.
The two players picked up Magic after seeing a commercial for it on television in 1999 and tracking it down at a local card shop. They played locally with some friends and whatever they did not know they made up as they went along.
"At the time we didn't really understand all the rules," Corey Mann recalled. "I remember playing Counterspell against Jared and thinking that it misdirected the spell. I concluded that a 'counter attack' would mean to attack back so a Counterspell would mean throw the spell back at your opponent. We also believed Mountain Goat was the best creature ever. A lot, of our decks were red and Mountain Goat on turn 1 was an unbelievable clock—at least it seemed that way at the time."
After several months of fumbling along with the game, the brothers gave up on it. When their family moved to Merrick, Long Island two years later Magic once again came into their lives.
"One day in September of my sophomore year I went to my chorus class and an odd thing happened," Jared recalled. "The teacher told the class that he was giving us a free period and we could leave and go to the cafeteria. I started to gather my belongings together when a random kid came up to me and asked: 'Do you play Magic?' I swear that was the first thing he said to me! I told him that I used to and we went to the cafeteria together. He then pulled out two decks and we played. That Friday I went with him to my first FNM event. After that I got Corey into it and we both started going to FNM."
Friday Night Magic became a regular part of the Mann brothers' routine. Corey quickly adapted to competitive play but Jared took something else from the events. When asked, Jared found it hard to come up with what made him want to become a more competitive player.
"I always play because it is fun," he said. "It is that simple. I enjoy losing the same as I enjoy winning. Playing in bigger, more competitive tournaments is just part of becoming a more skilled player. You become a skilled player by playing a lot and you are more likely to play a lot if you have fun. FNM was where it all began for me. It is where I learned the basics and then where I learned more advanced play. Whenever I've been too busy to play much Magic and fall out of the loop of what the current format is like, I simply go to an FNM. It is a fountain of knowledge. You get to see and play against all the current decks. You can discuss strategy with people and find out about the metagame for upcoming tournaments. FNM is one of the best teachers any Magic player can have."
Corey could see the benefits of playing regularly on those Friday nights, which in turn became his entry point to other competitive events.
"Through those countless Friday nights, I started to become a mediocre player, which is definitely a step up from casual," Corey said. "I stuck to FNM and through a friend got involved in Vintage—or Type 1 at the time. I guess the first real competitiveness was at 'The Mana Drain Opens' and other Vintage tournaments. I remember the first Vintage tournament I played in. I had made mono-green Stompy—Rogue Elephant, Giant Growth, Skyshroud Elite—and came in second place which won me a Mana Drain. The guy that beat me was playing 'Fish'—mono-blue Merfolk. I found out he was actually a very good Vintage player and at the next tournament I came packing the little blue men. Jared and I both won numerous pieces of power with some Top 8s and a couple of wins."
The brothers had still not been to a PTQ when they decided to try their hands at nearby Grand Prix–New Jersey in 2004. The format was Mirrodin Block Constructed and they scoured the Internet for succesful decklists arriving on Vial Affinity for Jared and Big Red with abundant artifact hate for Corey. Jared earned himself three byes at a Friday evening Trial and made the most of his free wins with a Day Two showing.
Although Jared didn't fare as well on Day Two, the brothers were pleased with his Day One performance.
"I remember looking up to him, considering him a better player after that day," Core said. "That was our first taste of competitive Magic."
With that taste of competitive play fresh on his tongue, Corey dove back into his local FNM events and sought out players who were better than him to emulate and spur him on to improve his game.
"At the time I didn't really know who the 'Pro' players were but I did look up to the good players in my circle. Steven Cohen, Nick Detwieler, Brian Reily, Chris Mascioli and Alec Nezin are all players I had regularly played against at FNM," recalled Corey. "You might recognize a few of those names. I'd watch them play and, even though occasionally I didn't understand perhaps why they made the play/pick/deck choice they did, I'd copy them. It was at FNM that I learned about competitive Magic. Not only about how to play well, but the fact that there is a whole other world of Magic out there. A world of big cash prizes, traveling, huge events, and incredible amounts of fun. FNM was important for me in all aspects of the game. It gave me an understanding of game mechanics such as the stack, which is a bit daunting when you are new or don't understand it. FNM gave me a place to practice and hone my skills. Most importantly is FNM gave me friends to travel and play the game with. This leads to how I actually became competitive."
Like his brother, Jared did not look to the big names of the game for inspiration but the players he could watch every Friday at his local card shop.
"When I was still new there was this guy, Steve Cohen, who I would see at FNMs and other tournaments who epitomized a good player," Jared said. "He played with such skill and whatever he would play everybody else around him would want to play. If he made a change to his deck everyone else followed. Dare I say it, he was one of the best Blue-green Madness players around during Odyssey Block."
In 2007, Corey got his first taste of traveling to play Magic by attending Grand Prix–Montreal, noting that he practiced the Time Spiral Block Constructed format for weeks in advance of the event. He finished 5-4 but took away a lot of lessons from the event—lessons learned from once again observing players who were better than him in action.
Turning from player into spectator at the Grand Prix gave Corey his first opportunity to watch Pro players live and in person, catching quality rail time learning from current or soon-to-be Pro Tour Hall of Famers Frank Karsten, Raphael Levy, and the Ruel brothers, among others.
"I was most excited about watching [Guillaume] Wafo-Tapa play since I was playing his Blue-black Teachings list from Yokohama," said Corey. "I watched his mirror-match semifinals against [Mark] Herberholz at least 20 times on YouTube. The guy is a master of the game. He was playing his ingenious sliver deck this time. It showed me that good players are usually a step ahead of the curve. Many of them had decks that I didn't know about—because they had just created them—or had made many changes to their block decks to beat what they knew the competition was bringing."
Corey played in the PTQ for Kuala Lumpur the following day and made the first of many Top 8s, losing in the semifinals.
"I caught the 'Magic bug,' " he freely admits. "I felt like I had the skill to win and that Top 8 proved it to me. I also gained the confidence I needed to play at that higher level. From there I began my PTQ journey. I traveled with friends week after week all over the East Coast. Then a year-and-a-half ago I reached a pinnacle. At the start of Lorwyn block I began to Top 8 almost every PTQ I went to. I had four PTQ Top 8s in that block season playing Kithkin, two in Extended playing Kithkin and then Zoo, three playing Kithkin in Standard, and then three in Limited including my recent win. I even had a StarCity $5k win with Kithkin. I was still attending FNMs throughout this time. FNM was always a staging platform for me. It was where I practiced the most. I was constantly playtesting but FNM is actually a tournament just like a PTQ, so this was when I could really try and focus and see what strategy works best. I learned a valuable lesson: If it doesn't work at FNM, it is not going to work at a PTQ."
With that type of PTQ success it should come as no surprise that Corey found himself with ratings invites to a couple of Pro Tours, but he could not afford to attend those tournaments without the boost from a free plane ticket that comes with a PTQ win. Although he was 10 points short of qualifying for Pro Tour–Austin he still decided that it was time to attend a PT and went to try and grind it. He fell short of that and dropped from the LCQ with a 3-2 record. He spent the next couple of days watching the best players in the world from along the rails of the feature match Arena and playing in as many public events as he could get into.
"I enjoyed watching all the Pros play. When thousands of dollars are on the line, you definitely get to see the highest quality of play possible," said Corey. "Watching people play also gave me a boost of confidence. I realized I can play as well as many of the players I saw. I watched games where people made mistakes. That just goes to show that even the best aren't above making mistakes. It's good to understand that everyone makes them, and will help you push on in games where you have made one."
With so many events to choose from at the Pro Tour, Corey found himself distracted by the schedule and his performance suffered.
"I kept telling myself, 'I'll just join another event if I do poorly.' It was a bad mindset to be in," laughed Corey. "Perhaps that is why I didn't win any event until the Legacy event. It was the last event that ran on Sunday. I had nothing to fall back on, and thus had to win. I felt like Austin taught me some humility. I was getting used to always doing very well or winning. It was the first time in the year where I went 1-2 drop from an event. Pro Tour–Austin taught me that sometimes 'bad beats' happen, I have more room for improvement, the need to concentrate on the task at hand, and that even Pros make mistakes."
While Corey was tearing up the PTQ scene, Jared was away from his local Magic community. He explained his return to the PTQ scene and how he snagged a blue envelope before his brother.
"Believe it or not, I used to be better than Corey but then I went away for college. There was no place for me to play up at school and I couldn't make it to any PTQs or the such. This made me fall far behind," said Jared of his brother's ascent at the PTQ level. "It was at this point where Corey got really serious about playing and started working hard at it. Unlike Corey I'm not sure I ever made it to that point. Like I said I have fun with Magic so I play a lot and that has made me a decent player. Yet, my brother puts the time into it. He does the research, does the playtesting, and talks to everybody about strategies. I ride his coattails and occasionally some of his skills rub off.
"I go with Corey whenever I get the chance. I would go whenever I was off from school. I love playing in them and I know that every PTQ I attend makes me a better player," Jared continued. "There has never been a tournament where I have not learned a valuable lesson. I was unsure if I wanted to go to the PTQ that I qualified for. I had such bad luck with Sealed Deck PTQs in the past that I developed a disliking toward them. Yet I wanted to get away, have some fun, and support Corey so I went. I thought my sealed pool was terrible. I was playing red/black but just really didn't have many good cards. I also decided to play 16 lands, which every told me was terrible since 'all the pros play 18 lands.' "
A burn package with two Burst Lightnings and Unstable Footing helped Jared stay at the top tables throughout the event. Also at those low-numbered tables was his brother, but Jared had planned to concede to his brother if they met up in the event at any point.
"When it became clear that Corey I were both doing well in the tournament, all I wanted to do was play him so I could give him the win. Corey is an excellent player who had 12 PTQ Top 8s in the past year-and-a-half. He just always missed out on winning. So my goal for this PTQ was to help Corey win. When the last round of Swiss was about to occur I was hoping so much that I'd play my brother. Alas, we weren't paired up against each other. However, we both wound up winning and making Top 8. In the Top 8 draft I went black/red again. I assume everyone else was afraid it was going to be overdrafted and stayed away from it. Needless to say my draft deck was amazing. I still hoped that I would play Corey so I could give him the win and help him along. I won my quarterfinals and semifinals matches easily. Corey was close of winning his semifinal match but missed it by a bit. It was almost both of us in the finals!"
Mike Lapine, who had just dispatched Corey in the semifinals, was Jared's finals opponent and Jared wanted to avenge his brother's loss as much as he wanted to win the PTQ. But more than anything else, Jared wanted to have a good time.
"All throughout these two games my attitude towards Magic was still the same—have fun. I made non-stop jokes and kept the crowd around us and the judges laughing as they watched who would be the PTQ winner. I think it's this attitude that helps me a lot when I play Magic. It keeps me focused and doesn't allow me to be distracted or discouraged when things aren't going my way. There is no reason that having fun and winning are mutually exclusive. I'm proof that you can have both!"
While the Top 8 had been Corey's twelfth, it was the first one of Jared's Magic career. Was there any sibling rivalry at that point?
"I remember I wanted Jared to win so badly," said Corey, confident he would get his matching envelope in due course. "I didn't want Lapine to earn the nickname, 'The Mann crusher' or 'slayer'. Jared didn't let me down. After that many people asked me how I felt about earning a 12th Top 8 but no win, while Jared's first Top 8 granted him the golden ticket. I felt great. I was thrilled that Jared won and I was determined to go with him—after all, he was going to need his teacher. A week later I made the Top 8 in a Connecticut PTQ. This event was interesting because my sealed pool was worse than my last two Top 8s. I didn't let that even phase me. I built the best I could and was ready to battle. I went 7-0 then drew the next two rounds. Going into Top 8 I tried to focus, since I had been there so many times before. I told myself this would be the time. Interestingly enough, I got my revenge on Mike Lapine in the quarterfinals, once again going to Game 3. There is nothing left to say, besides 'I finally got there'. Won my semifinals and then won my finals match."
It was a storybook ending to their PTQ season but what did the two brothers think the first chapter of their Pro Tour story would read like? It's no surprise that the attitudes that got them this far came through in their predictions.
"I'm fairly certain that Corey is going to do well and have some high finish. As for myself I guess we will just see, all I know is that I will have a good time!" Jared promised.
"I truly feel like I'm going to do well in San Diego," said Corey, who has been putting in plenty of hard work in preparing for the formats. "I can tell you I'm hoping to make Day Two, which probably sounds realistic, but I think I can do even better. There is no harm even if I don't do well. I just want the chance and the experience. I'm going to play all of Day one though even if I'm 0-4.
"We play plenty of Standard and Limited right now which is all we can do for practice. Magic Online helps a lot. A few more weeks will be crunch time though. The real practice is going to be when Worldwake is released, since it's going to be legal for the PT. We are going to examine the new set very carefully to see the impacts it will have in draft and Standard. You can bet we'll try to brew up something special, but if not I'll update current favorites. I imagine Jared and I will spend plenty of time hunched over the computer screen criticizing each other's picks."
After stopping in for a quick cup of coffee in Amsterdam last week, the WPN Spotlight swings across the Atlantic and the continent of North America to shine on Jon Saso, the owner and operator of Superstars in San Jose, California. His store is roughly 40 miles south of the site of Grand Prix¬–Oakland (taking place this weekend) and has been in business for just about as long as there has been Magic: The Gathering for them to organize tournaments for. The store has been around for more than 16 years and they have been a WPN location since the program was announced, although they began running tournaments in 1996.
BDM: How did you get involved with running Magic tournaments?
Jon: We started selling Magic back in 1994 (Antiquities release) and had a 500 square-foot store with no table space. Magic was booming and there was a lack of tournaments being run in our area and we decided to do something about that. We expanded our store to hold 16 players, then 48 players, then 110 players, and now we can accommodate over 200 players. Magic tournaments have become a major part of our business and are by far our most successful promotion.
BDM: What do you do to make your FNM and other Magic events special for your customers?
Jon: We always try to keep our events fun. Everyone is there to play a game, after all. We have a great head judge in Eric Levine, and have had a couple of great emcees in Mashi Scanlan and Tristan Shaun Gregson to make announcements, give out free stuff, and make sure to keep the mood light during the event with their cheesy jokes. One of our other focuses is offering our customers the most value for their money. If we take in $800 in tournament entry fees, we give out AT LEAST $800 in prize support. The customers really appreciate that and keep coming back to support our other events. We also like to listen to our players about what kind of events they want us to run. They keep asking for more $5k and $2k events, so we are running a ton of those events this year.
BDM: Besides running more $5ks, what is the wildest suggestion from a customer that you have implemented?
Jon: We have had several crazy requests over the years. Here are couple that we made a reality:
- A group of our regular customers wanted us to start running Sealed Deck events that would draw a similar sized crowd to the prerelease. We started running ChannelFireball.com Sealed Deck 2ks. The entry fee is only $10 and we give out over $2,000 in prizes! As expected, the turnout for these events has been tremendous—drawing between 200 to 300 players each.
- We had a customer request a Booster Draft format that included 24 different booster packs. We started running these as "Chaos Drafts" once a week and still run them once in awhile today. We have added a new spin to "Chaos Drafts": the winner of each 8-man pod wins an Unlimited Chaos Orb on top of the booster pack prizes!
- We have a group of customers who want to run a Beta booster draft at GP–Oakland. I have a source for the Beta booster box and the cameras ready to film it. I hope it becomes a reality this weekend!
BDM: How did your Worldwake events go?
Jon: Our Worldwake Prerelease events went incredibly well. We had our largest turnout since expanding to our new game center, attracting more that 550 players! I would say the highlight of the weekend was our Team Sealed event and the 29 teams that played in it. Team Sealed has always been one of my favorite formats, and to see 87 players who wanted to play it proved to me that it is still something we need to promote and it hasn't been pushed aside by Two-Headed Giant.
BDM: What can you tell us about your player base? We know you have some "notable" Pro Tour competitors. Any up-and-coming players we should be on the lookout for this weekend in Oakland?
Jon: We have a wide variety of players who play in our tournaments; from professionals to novices to casual players. We have professional players such as Luis Scott-Vargas, David Ochoa, Josh Utter-Leyton, Phillip Yam, Alex Alepin and several more who play at our store on a weekly basis. We also have a solid group of players who love to Booster Draft and help ensure that at lease one draft launches each day. The up-and-coming player from our store to keep a look out for is Matt Nass. He just recently qualified for the Pro Tour on Magic Online and he won our last $5k.
Here's the deck list played by Josh Utter-Leyton, who finished first at our Grand Prix Trial last weekend:
Grand Prix–Oakland Trial, Extended
And the deck played by Luis Scott-Vargas, which got him into the Top 8 before losing in the quarterfinals:
Grand Prix–Oakland Trial, Extended
BDM: Any interesting stories from your events that you want to share?
Jon: David Mintz winning our second $5k! David Mintz plays at Superstars on a regular basis, mostly in our Booster Drafts and weekend events. He is not what you would call a "serious tournament player," but holds his own in our events. Our second $5k tournament attracted a very strong tournament field, including Luis Scott-Vargas and most top players from California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. David Mintz taking down the first-place prize just showed that no matter how difficult the competition looks, everyone has a chance to win a major Magic tournament!
When Lands Attack: Flashback Edition
I know that I am rarely on topic for theme weeks but I could not let this one pass without making at least a nod in its direction. As Mike Flores pointed out yesterday, I LOVE to attack with my lands and am always trying to figure out ways to do so. Years ago—back when Corey and Jared were first poking their heads in at their local FNM location—I had a deck that I built with Jon Becker based on an idea by Scott Landis that revolved around making a Griffin Canyon into an actual Griffin. I wrote about it here.
At the end of that column I alluded to another deck that used a combination of Overgrowth, Animate Land and Chain Stasis to generate infinite mana. I wrote about that deck here.
Tune in this weekend for full Grand Prix–Oakland coverage from myself and Rich Hagon, where we're sure to see more than a few lands attack.