Ask the Pro: July

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This feature has been put on indefinite hiatus. Wizards of the Coast has begun searching for a new writer.



 July 29, 2006  

Q: How does it feel to be up there in the top with Finkel and Budde? Do you think you will ever get more points/winnings the Finkel? How about Budde?
-- Eugene

A: Well, it is simply unbelievable. I don't even know what I am doing there, but I can tell you one thing, I always look up. Kai and Jon were better players than I'll ever be, it's fine, I'll compensate for my lower skills with my insistence, and I'll catch them someday. It might take years but I'll do it.

I'm not interested in the people behind me, only the head of the race matters for me. That's the best way I found to stay fully motivated. I'm trying not to be one of these players pleased with themselves, despite the fact that they can still improve a lot. Whenever I reach a goal, I find a new one to pursue. At the moment my goals are as follows:

  • become Pro Player of the Year (I'm currently second, three points away from Yasooka)
  • staying Level 6 (need 12 more Pro Points at two Pro Tours and four Grand Prix)
  • catching Alex Shvartsman on lifetime Grand Prix Top 8 list (18-21 at the moment)
  • playing better Magic
  • The last one is a constant goal, I know I can always play better. Whenever I do bad at a tournament I feel like I'm bad, and I wonder what I did wrong to try not to repeat the same mistakes. Catching Kai and Jon won't be a goal for at least one or two more years, even if my true aim in two years will be to enter Hall of Fame.


     July 27, 2006  

    Q: Hi Olivier, I was just wondering as a Pro player, is your life all about Magic? If not, how you strike a balance between Magic and other parts of your life? As I know playtesting does take up a lot of time.
    -- Matthew Pak

    A: I started Magic when I was 14. It was the first hobby I got really involved in, except for sports. Quickly, I met lots of people and really enjoyed the game, for the first time I was in my element. Most of my friends quickly became Magic players.

    I'll turn 25 next week, and I spent nearly half my life playing the game. Now all my friends are Magic players, or Magic players friends. My last girlfriend is a casual Magic player too. When I go to work or on holidays, which actually occur at the same time in my life, it's to go abroad and play a Magic event. When I want to have fun or to practice, I just draft on Magic Online.

    My work is also my hobby, and it permits me traveling abroad 15 times a year and meet lots of people. However I do have hobbies outside Magic, if that was the question. Listening to music is No. 1, and if I could keep only one of my passions, I'd keep it over Magic. To answer your question, I'd say my life is not all about Magic, but most of the things I do and of the people I know are connected to the game.


     July 25, 2006  

    Q: I'm 12 years old, and I'm Portuguese. I've beaten two very good players in my town that are 16 years old have and powerful cards. I think I can go ahead to the tournaments (junior series) but I'm afraid that I won't understand the cards text right and I'm afraid that the people will make fun of me. What's your advice?
    -- Pina

    A: There is only one way to figure it out, and it's to give it a try. If you never played in a tournament, you'll probably be disappointed by your first result, but you'll meet lots of people there and it will be a great experience which will help you becoming stronger. On my first tournament, I was playing an Erhnam Djinn/Armageddon aggro/control deck which I thought was great as I had found it in a magazine. It actually was pretty bad and I went 2-4, but I came back, and gradually I became better.

    Try, it can only help you. You'll probably make friends there and spend some great times. Do your best, but be prepared to accept the losses and the critics, and to use them to help you moving on.


     July 22, 2006  

    Q: How did you feel when you were invited as the Road Warrior to the Magic Invitational? Do you think that title describes you as a player?
    -- Chris

    A: I felt really glad, for I love this tournament and I think I filled the requirements for the job, as I had spent three months abroad, and as I had played, not only 15 Grand Prix and 7 Pro Tours in the season, but also a Prerelease in Tokyo and one in Moscow.

    I thought I'd win this ballot, for I had won it once already ('05) without having the results I have had last season. What surprised me though, is the proportion of the people voting for me, which was just unreal.

    As a Magic player I was known as one of the Ruel brothers in the beginning, then the clown, now I'm the Road Warrior. I guess I'm a little less of a clown (hard to believe for the people who don't know me for long I know, but I was actually worse before), but both of these suit me pretty well actually.


     July 20, 2006  

    Q: I'm I noticed that there is a Grand Prix and French Nationals on the same day. Which do you plan to attend, and why?
    -- Trent Turnbull

    A: That was a very tough decision, but I'll go to Sweden for Grand Prix-Malmö. I was pretty upset when I learned that a European GP and my National Championship were on the same weekend. My heart would tell me to go to my National, as it's a tournament I always do well at (8 nationals: 3 top 3, 1 top 8, 4 lose for Top 8 spot), and on which I can meet people I rarely get to see more than once a year. Moreover my birthday is on July 24, so I could have spent it wih friends.

    But on the other hand, if I'm aiming at staying a professional, I have to do my best to stay at Level 6 on next season. Nationals gives 1-6 Pro points to Top 3, while a GP gives 1-6 to Top 32. Oh, and by being a Level 6, I receive $500 for showing up, which would be one more reason to go to the GP.

    I really regret not going to my National. Not being able to try to represent my country in Paris, I will probably feel bad when I see the team competition at Worlds. Now I can only do my best to do well in Malmö for I don't regret my decision. And if, luckily, I manage to finish in the Top 8, I will only be two more Grand Prix Top 8s from Alex Shvartsman's record. That would be a good compensation.


     July 18, 2006  

    Q: You have some Japanese friends like Kenji, and I heard some of them don't speak English at all. How can you communicate with them? You talk with them about more complex things, like deck analyzing, without English?
    -- Joshua

    A: I know how it feels not to speak English, I've been there too. So when I get to speak with most of the Japanese, we use body language a lot. How can we be friends without talking too much? I don't know how to explain, it's something beyond talking, I just have a better feeling with Kenji than with most of the born English or French speakers. He's nice, modest, funny, and he does his best to speak in English. Same applies to Tsuyoshi Fujita and most of the Japanese players.

    We don't analyse much the deckbuilding between pros, except when you're in the same test group. But because of the distance between Europe and Asia we usually just don't playtest together. In draft it doesn't take much vocabulary to discuss the picks, so communication is not a system at all.


     July 15, 2006  

    Q: Dear Ask the Pro, What is for you the best and the worst play you have ever made? Do you think it could have changed your career?
    -- Johann Michel

    A: The best play, I don't know for sure, but the best games I played were certainly Game 5 against Craig Jones in PT Honolulu semi-final and Game 2 against Joseph Crosby.

    On the first one, I tried and fought to win when I had almost no way to win for most of the game, until I took the advantage. Unfortunately, I was at seven and Craig drew Char and Lightning Helix in the last two draws while I had one draw to find removal, Ghost Council of Orzhova or Umezawa's Jitte and another one turn to find a non-Dark Confidant creature. He had about 0.4 percent chance to win that game two turns to the end (I had done the math right after the game), but he kept me away from a final that would have been a pretty good matchup. So I'd say that good play was useless in the end.

    Against Joseph Crosby is another key game in the next PT, in Prague. I need to go 2-2-1 to make Top 8 at this point. This is a way I can theoretically not win. I'm down a game, I've mulliganed down to five cards and missed my land drop on turns three and four. I'm trying to come back in the game but I can't win in any conventional way. So I just decide to try and make a plan around my Reroute in hand and his Scorched Rusalka on the table, to push him to sacrifice all of his creatures.

    The thing is I have to adapt my plan on every turn to find out exactly what I need to do for him to sac his last guys. For this I have to not keep any white open to let him believe that I don't have any possible trick or prevention spell. When I draw Withstand, things get even more complex. Eventually, I manage to Withstand an attack phase tapping out all my white, and then to Reroute his Rusalka. Life totals are then 1-19. I manage to come back, and on additional turn number two, realising I'll win on turn four, he concedes.

    About my worst play, it was on my first PT, in Rome in 1998. I was playing Sligh in the Academy and High Tide field without knowing about these decks at all. I had playtested against only one matchup: Necro Sliver (don't laugh, it worked!). I was 1-0 in the tournament when I faced this Brazilian guy playing counter sliver. For all the game I'm thinking "please no Worship! Please no Worship! Please no Worship! Please no Worship!" Until he actually drops it on the table. He's at 14, I have only an Ironclaw Orcs in play, and I'm not playing any solution, so I just scoop. At the end of the match he asked me:

    "Why did you concede Game 1?"

    "Well, I had no solution."

    "Maybe, but I had no creature yet."

    "........"

    I would have probably lost it anyway, but I just feel like committing suicide whenever this story comes up to my mind.


     July 13, 2006  

    Q: I always think about the real extent of Pro Players' fame, and wonder how it works in their outside Magic lives. For many Magic players (like me), the Ruel brothers, Kenji Tsumura and Raphaël Lévy, among many others, are in a higher "celebrity level" than Madonna or Brad Pitt are for people in general, for example. So I would like to know: with your name known all around the world, even by a small percentage of people, have you already felt like a celebrity in or outside the PT halls? Have you already been recognized as a famous people walking in the street? Have you ever given an autograph in a shopping center, took a picture in a walk in the park, or received any kind of distinguished treatment elsewhere for being a Level 6 player?
    -- Pablo Iacovazzo

    A: There is the inside and the outside Magic. On the inside, I will sign cards and take pictures at every tournament I attend. Grand Prix-Mexico City is one of my best Magic memories, for I signed about 200 cards (including 20 pieces of Jitte), took about 25 pictures, and I even got to sign two shirts and one SHOE! I think Julien Nuijten signed the other one, or maybe was it Rogier Maaten.

    Outside Magic, fame disappears nearly completely. Even if my banker asked me if my brother was playing Magic too for he knew there were two bros doing well in that game, and if my next-door neighbour recognized me, these are exceptions. But my favorite exception occurred last December. While I was waiting for a friend in front of the Fountain St-Michel, in Paris, I was offering some couples to take pictures for them. And then, at some point, I see this guy who is staring at me. I act like I don't care, wait for 20 seconds and look again... still the same stare.

    Him: Are you playing Magic?
    Me: I am.
    Him: Man, you're Olivier Ruel, right? You just seem to be everywhere!
    (Then he calls for his girlfriend)
    Him: This is Olivier Ruel!
    Her: (Nearly fascinated) Hey! (she actually meant something like 'good for you' I believe)
    Him: (to her) Can you take a picture of us?

    This role reversal was pretty nice.


     July 11, 2006  

    Q: Hi, have you ever tried to get your opponent a game loss when you were playing in a sanctioned event? I can imagine that a lot of people do this, but I was just wondering if this happens a lot when Pros play
    -- Anonymous

    A: I used to when I started playing. The environment in which I grew up was rotten with unsportsmanlike players and extremely severe judges who would issue game losses for nearly no reason (player B sacrifices Urza's Bauble on his turn, player A doesn't tell his player B to draw at the beginning of his own turn, then asks for a game loss). I was behaving the same until I first qualified for a Pro Tour.

    It made me realize the Magic I knew was different from the one I wanted to play. The better my results got, the more I relied on my skills to try and win games. If an opponent is unhappy about his last play I'll let him take it back most of the time now, and I won't call for a judge for my opponent to get a sanction, except for slow playing.

    Globally, on the Tour, players are a lot more sportsmanlike, and there are also fewer cheaters than at local events, because in the end skills and testing make the difference.

    If you start focusing on the ways you can win without playing, maybe will it work sometimes, but you will lose at least as many games for focusing a little less on the game itself, and moreover, you will hardly get satisfaction from winning like this.


     July 8, 2006  

    Q: I know there are a lot of events that are between different countries, but is nationality really a big role in figuring out how a person is going to play (i.e. Japanese players playing more aggressive than, say, Spanish players)?
    --Myles

    A: It's not about nationality, but more about the global player skills. For instance, on a Pro Tour, you can expect a higher proportion than amateurs to be playing control. There are two reasons for that:

    1) Let's say a match up between an aggro deck called X and a control deck called Y is 50-50. If non-Pros play it, the one who will play X will have way less possibilities than the Y player, so he will make less mistakes. Maybe then the matchup will turn into X 60-Y 40. The analysis for the best deck to play is difficult then.

    2) In a metagame, the first decks to appear are the aggro decks. For instance, Affinity, Goblins or Zoo where pretty obvious builds from the beginning. Pros have more time to invest on playtesting, so they will have time to anticipate those decks and to find the appropriate answer.

    Of course, non-Pros can play control and they can play it well, but generally, you can expect an experimented player to be playing control and a newcomer to run aggro.

    On local events I plan on beating aggro.

    At my Nationals, I try to beat aggro and do well against the more popular control deck.

    My plan preparing for a Pro Tour usually is 1) Beat aggro on Day One, 2) Defeat control on Day Two.


     July 6, 2006  

    Q: How much does bluffing affect the game at the Pro Tour or Grand Prix level? Do you intentionally bluff your opponent a lot, or do you tend to play it like it is and leave your mana as available as you can signaling some possibility? What's the best bluff you've ever seen/performed/had performed on you?
    --John

    A: There are two main types of bluffing, the attack phase bluffing and the cards in hand. I usually don't think bluffing is such a great idea while attacking, except for two cases.

    1) You're losing the game no matter what. It is locked and you have no options left or your opponent put a clock on you. When playing perfectly is not even enough to win, you have to figure out plays that help lowering your opponent's life total.

    2) You have the conviction that there would be no point for your opponent to block. For instance, attacking with a Veteran Armorer into the Viashino Fangtail your opponent just played. If he waits for one turn, he can trade Fangtail for Armorer + Wildsize or Gather Courage so he will probably just take two damage.

    Attacking into a 4/4 would be way less good for he could block and make a two for one in the worst case. He can still think of Orzhov Euthanist and Gaze of the Gorgon, but he will probably take the risk if he hasn't seen any of these cards in either of the two games.

    Bluffing is risky, but it can become an advantage in this situation. If the opponent doesn't block, he'll play all the game around the card you are supposed to have in hand. Keep it in mind.

    The other part of bluffing consists of trying to make your opponent believe you have something in hand. For instance you have Scatter the seeds in hand and you want your opponent to attack into it. If it's your only card in hand, you can advance it to your land pile and finally decide to keep it in hand. When your opponent considers attacking, grab your pen just like you would write damage ...

    The complaint bluff can work pretty well too, pretending you are so unlucky you drew a land again hoping your opponent runs into Devouring Light or Dismiss. I usually don't do it for I consider it a lack of respect to the opponent.

    I forget about most of my games pretty fast, so it's hard to pick one in particular – maybe during my first Euros in Berlin seven years ago. I am playing black Suicide and my opponent is playing blue-green Control. He's tapped out, and his only untapped creature is Spike Feeder. I've a Sarcomancy token and a Cursed Scroll I can activate at the end of turn.

    Having three different cards in hand (Dark Ritual, Hatred, Wasteland), I have not many chances to kill his Feeder, but if I can have him, even if he sacrifices I'll win on next turn playing Ritual and Hatred on my guy. If the game gets one turn longer, it will become a lot more difficult for me. So when he passes I activate my Scroll as fast as possible on his 2/2 naming Swamp. Assuming I probably have two or three in hand, my opponent sacrifices it and I win the game on next turn casting lethal Hatred.

    Looking back to this game, it doesn't seem like an amazing play, but I remember feeling very happy about it then.


     July 1, 2006  

    Q: It must be a pretty grueling experience surviving a multi-day event like a Pro Tour. What do you feel are the main ways to stay fresh, alert, and not burn out during such a test of endurance?
    -- Josh Liller

    A: On the last days before a tournament I try to sleep and eat well so that I'm in a good shape when the tournament starts. If you want to be a professional, you have to act like one and to put all the chances on your side. Being used to pro events helps to contain stress, which is a big fatigue generator.

    The hardest tournaments I've played in, as far as endurance is concerned, are Team Pro Tour Washington 1999 and Worlds in Toronto.

    Phénomène J back in the day.
    The first one was my second PT, and the first on which I reached Day Two, along with Florent Jeudon and my brother Antoine from team Phénomène J.

    After two team drafts on Day Two, we were wasted inside. This format was so skill intensive and we were so inexperienced that we were sick for most of the day.

    In Toronto I made it to Day Four of Worlds for the first time as a member of the French National team. After three days of intensive efforts, I was just asleep for a whole day.

    When my Team (Malherbaud-Pagorek) played in the last round against the USA
    (Blackwell-Harvey-Hegstad) for a place in the final, I had to random pick for my mind was away when I was asked to select a card.

    Now with experience on my side, I feel like jetlag is my last enemy. On the night before a tournament in Asia, I can wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. Adrenaline can compensate for one day, but it's harder for a longer event.

    In Grand Prix-Toulouse, for instance (yes I know there is not much jetlag from going north-south), I was sick on Saturday night and I woke up at 4 a.m. on Sunday after a less than three hours' sleep. I can tell you the end of my day was pretty hard too.

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