My Magic Life Story

I just returned from GP: Seattle, where my Sealed deck failed to perform, and I did not make Day 2. This is my third Grand Prix in a row in which I failed to make money. On the plane ride home, I began to reflect on my Magic career over the years.

This week, I’m taking a break from Magic strategy to tell you how I got into competitive Magic. My story begins fourteen years ago.

I was in high school, and my group of friends was mostly gamers. I have always been a gamer, playing primarily Super Nintendo RPGs such as Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger. I tried Dungeons and Dragons, but I didn’t care for the game much. I remember watching my friends play Magic, but I had no desire to learn how to play. I thought the game was a little too nerdy, although my friends said I’d probably like it. Then, one rainy day, we were bored, and I finally agreed to let them teach me how to play Magic.

By the end of the night, I was hooked. The next day, I went out to the local comic shop and bought a starter pack of the newest set, Tempest, and a few boosters of various sets. I played Magic with those kids every day, but as I continued through high school, most of my friends quit playing. I didn’t want to quit, so I tried to find more people to play with.

Priest of Titania
There was one player in our group who actually went to tournaments. Being a highly competitive person, I was extremely interested in tournament Magic, but my decks were very casual and not even close to tournament-worthy. My friend helped me build a Standard deck from my collection that I could play at my first tournament. It was a mono-green Elf stompy deck with Llanowar Elves, Priest of Titania, Giant Growths, and Overruns. I was then off to Rah-Coco’s, a comic and game shop that held weekly single-elimination tournaments. There were roughly thirty players there, and I was really excited to play with players outside my usual playgroup of about six. I signed up for my DCI card, sat across from my opponent, and quickly lost in the first round. That didn’t stop me from going back week after week. I usually lost in the first or second round, but after a few months, I was consistently making Top 4.

One week, I overheard some guys at the store talking about Regionals, and I thought it sounded interesting. They said it would be over two hundred fifty people, and if you made Top 8, you got to go to the National Championship. I didn’t really know much or care about Nationals; I just wanted to try playing in a bigger tournament, so I decided to try it out. I made the ten-minute drive to Your Move Games in Providence, RI and was amazed at what I saw. I had never seen so many people playing Magic, and I was really excited to play in the event.

Ancestral Mask
I registered my favorite Standard deck: Enchantress. It won by drawing a lot of cards by casting enchantments with Argothian Enchantress and Veduran Enchantress in play and then placing Ancestral Mask and Rancor on a Birds of Paradise to allow you to swing for over 20 trample damage. The deck’s best matchup was Replenish, which also happened to be the best deck in the format, and it was everywhere. Seven rounds later, I had played against Replenish five times and was 6–1, ready to draw into the Top 8. Now remember, this was my first big tournament, and I didn’t know what “drawing into Top 8” even meant. So, my friends from the local store said to me, “When you sit down to play your last round, say, ‘Will you draw?’” I responded with, “Draw? What do you mean?” There was no time for them to explain to me what drawing was, so they instead ensured me that I should trust them and just ask my opponent to draw.

Okay, fine, I guess.

I sat across from my opponent in Round 8. He was a very large guy named Keith, and I heard he was one of the better players in New England. I did what my friends told me to do, and I asked him to draw. He looked at me, laughed, and said, “No, we’re playing. There is no way I’m losing to you.” So, we played it out, though it didn't really matter to me (remember that I still didn't know what "draw" meant . . . ). He went first and played Plains, Ramosian Sergeant. Did I mention my other auto-win matchup was Rebels? I promptly destroyed him 2–0, which set Keith off, sending him away shouting and at one point, throwing his deck across the room! It was pretty obvious that he was upset after losing to someone who was not only a girl, but also a new player. If Keith had just accepted the draw, he would have made the Top 8.

After the round, they announced the Top 8, and I was first seed (again, at the time, I didn’t know what “first seed” was either). Rob Dougherty, former owner of Your Move Games and now a Hall of Famer, congratulated me and asked, "Are you going to Nationals?" I had no idea, as I didn’t even know what Nationals was. I was just really excited having done so well at the biggest tournament I had ever been to.

Replenish
I realized that I had to step up my game if I was going to go to the National Championship. I made some friends with better players in New England and made travel plans to go to Nationals at Disney World. I also learned how to draft and started doing that every week. I went to Nationals that year, and I was the only woman playing (well, not really woman—I was barely eighteen), and I received a lot of publicity for being the only female. I did interviews for various outlets, including Inquest magazine, MTGNews.com, and Adrian Sullivan at The Dojo (none of those things exists anymore). I was really excited to be playing at a high-level tournament, I had a ton of fun, and I learned a lot. I also made quite a few rookie mistakes, including receiving multiple game losses for things like being late, failure to de-sideboard, and misregistering my deck. I also beat one particular player twice as we happened to be in the same pod for both Drafts. His name was Dan Clegg, and he was a high-level pro at the time. One of the matches was actually a feature match, but I’m pretty sure I only got it because I was a girl (we were in the 3–4 bracket, so it’s not like we were doing well). At the time, it made no difference to me, but looking back, I don’t think my match should have been covered. We were both doing awfully, and the spectators probably weren't going to get anything out of watching our match. Dan Clegg was probably embarrassed more than anything.

When I returned from Nationals, I was completely hooked on competitive Magic and wanted to go to as many events as possible. I learned about PTQs and the Pro Tour and attended every PTQ I could drive to. I usually went 3–2 or 4–2, but after a while, I started to make the Top 8 here and there. I qualified for my first Pro Tour in 2003 by winning an Extended PTQ with an Oath of Druids deck.

My first Pro Tour was PT: Venice, and the format was Onslaught Block Constructed. Because I lived near the Boston area, I had the honor of working with Team Your Move Games, which included Darwin Kastle, Rob Dougherty, Justin Gary, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Tom Guevin. Our team did very well, placing two members into the Top 8, and many finished in the money, but I failed to make Day 2. Although I did pretty poorly at my first PT, I had a lot of fun in Venice. I qualified for the Pro Tour a few more times over the next few years, but I didn’t do well at any of them.

Oblation
Flash forward to 2007. I had just qualified for PT: Valencia by making Top 16 at Grand Prix: Montreal. I was sick of scrubbing out of Pro Tours, so I decided that I needed to do something to become better at Magic. I started playing a ton of Magic Online. I joined a good clan, which have me access to any card I needed. I played in a lot of online tournaments and gained a good amount experience. I did some extensive testing for the Pro Tour and decided to play Gifts Rock in Valencia.

I was really nervous the day before the Pro Tour. I really felt as though I was a better player than I’d ever been, and I also really liked my deck choice. I went to the event site on Thursday night during the LCQ to watch my friends who were trying to grind in and to talk to people about the metagame and card choices. After a few hours of hanging out at the site, Wizards made an announcement that the PT had been canceled! Nothing of the sort had ever happened at the Pro Tour before, and everyone was in shock. They even made us leave the event hall due to torrential rain. I had no idea if there was going to be a Pro Tour or if all my efforts to improve would be wasted. I was thankful that they ended up rescheduling the event for Saturday, making Day 1 ten rounds and requiring you to pick up 21 match points to make Day 2. Day 2 was actually on Sunday, which is when they usually play the Top 8 of the Pro Tour, and they moved those rounds to Sunday night.

Thanks to the canceled first day of the Pro Tour, I had a whole day to explore Valencia. The break definitely calmed my nerves, and by the time it was Saturday, I was ready to battle. I started off 5–0, and then proceeded to get two unintentional draws in a row. I lost to a bad matchup and then picked up another draw with a good matchup. I wasn’t playing super-slowly; the deck I was playing simply took forever to win. It was really frustrating and embarrassing making three unintentional draws at the PT, but I made up for it by winning Round 10. 6–1–3 was 21 points, which meant that I made Day 2!

Because of the weird structure of that PT, a lot fewer people made Day 2 than usual, which meant that I only needed one win to make money and two wins to make Top 50 to qualify for the next Pro Tour in Kuala Lumpur. I ended up going 1–2 on Day 2, so I cashed but did not qualify. My Pro Tour days were over. I flew back to the U.S. feeling happy about the experience overall but sad that I wouldn’t be going to the next Pro Tour. The following weekend, however, I won a PTQ for Kuala Lumpur. That began my run of playing in every PT—and even Worlds—in 2008. I notched a few low-money finishes, and I even managed to 7–0 the Draft portion at Nationals. I also received at least one feature match at each event, though I’m pretty positive it was because I was a female and not because of my play skill. At the end of the 2008 season, I had 14 Pro Points, which wasn’t even good enough for level 3, and that meant I was off the Tour.

For the next few years, I began to focus on other areas of my life. I still played Magic, but not nearly as competitively. I went to PTQs occasionally, but most of my Magic play was drafting with friends. I was satisfied with my accomplishments in Magic, and I thought my days of playing on the Pro Tour were over.

My life went through a lot of changes over the past year, and that’s when I was given the opportunity to travel the entire world and play in a bunch of GPs with my new boyfriend James. Planeswalker Points were just announced, and after James did some math, he realized that we could both qualify for Pro Tour: Honolulu by attending five Grands Prix in two months. I was a little skeptical at first, but I always wanted to go to places like Australia and Japan. I was also working a bad, dead-end job that I hated, so I figured this trip was the perfect chance for me to do something new with my life. We booked some flights, packed our bags, and were off on a two-month adventure.

There was a lot of Magic playing and sightseeing, but also a lot of getting lost in foreign countries, super-long flights, and missing flights due to not understanding time zones. I’ve made a ton of mistakes along the way, but I’ve also gained a lot of valuable experience.

My story will continue soon, and I’ll go into detail about my experiences traveling around the world and back, playing in five Grands Prix in two months, and acquiring my first Grand Prix Top 8. I also received a great deal of criticism from players who thought I was gaming the system. You see, qualifying for Pro Tour: Honolulu with Planeswalker Points was very frowned upon. Most players thought that Planeswalker Points didn’t reflect play skill, so if you qualified with them, it meant that you weren’t very good at Magic. I had to deal with angry players who did not like my Magic lifestyle.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my story.