January 5, 2018

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Going for the Gold: My Origin Story, Part Two

Welcome back to Going for the Gold!

Before we continue, make sure you read part 1.

This week, I want to continue telling the story I started last time, so make sure you have your reading glasses on because it's going to be a bunch of hard hitting text 😉

So, where were we?

Oh that's right. I had just gone to my first Grand Prix.

Getting into Competitive Magic

Right after GP Toronto, Bander, one of my closest high school buddies who I started playing Magic with, came back to town. He was the only one in my high school playgroup who always had the best cards and the best decks. While the rest of us just used whatever we opened in packs, he went out and bought playsets of all the best cards. He was ridiculed by most of the group for this, but if I had the money I would have done the same thing!

Bander always dreamt of making the Pro Tour. He used to talk to me about it all the time. He went to Ottawa to do his undergraduate studies but quickly met up with a lot of other aspiring Magic players and chose to pursue that lifestyle. He dropped out of school and chose to play in these large (average size: 40 players) Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs). There would be only one winner for each of these qualifiers, but they got airfare and an invitation to the biggest tournament in Magic.

The format was Ravnica Extended and I didn't really play Magic outside of Standard and Draft. While he was home, Bander introduced me to two of his friends who were staying at his house with him for a few weeks. The first was Jeffrey Szelzki (you may know him as Cartman from Magic Online) and the other was a kid named Dan Lanthier.

Jeff was a very strong player at the time and he convinced me to join his Magic Online clan which helped us stay connected during my early Magic years.


I tagged along with them to these Extended PTQs and saw a lot of Psychatog mirrors. Suffice to say, none of them qualified for the Pro Tour through these means.

What would actually get me into competitive Magic was something completely different. I used to be an active member of our Magic Ontario forum group. A few players used to call me out for voicing my opinion yet never showing up to play in a PTQ.

I used to love the Draft format (it still is one of my favourite formats) and I got familiar with all of the cards in quick order. Faeries was amazing, you had the following cards which were miles ahead of anything else in the format.



People would show up to tournaments thinking that they'd beat Faeries, but really no one beat Faeries. Looking back at those cards, it still blows my mind how little respect this deck got.

In an ironic twist of fate, I would end up playing in the finals of this PTQ and while I hadn't planned on going to the Pro Tour, I was happy to take the win.

That was the first thing that I did in Magic that put me on the Ontario map. Until then, I was someone who was considered a medium player, but not anyone that you would want to test with. I teamed up with David Felske and others for this Pro Tour. Even though I didn't end up going, I did send them over with my Bant list (Felske did very well with it). Dan Lanthier had just won Canadian Nationals so he was qualified for this Pro Tour as well.

I would end up qualifying for Pro Tour Paris in 2011 by Top 16ing GP Toronto 2010. I did okay during my first visit to the Professional stage but I wasn't completely wowed by it. Despite being in the lead for the Rookie of the Year race and being qualified for the next Pro Tour, I chose to quit Magic and focus on getting my Masters in Business Administration. It was definitely a tough decision, but at the time I was making around $15 an hour and I wanted to make something more with my life. The stress of Magic (especially when you get very unlucky a lot) was causing an unhealthy attachment and I needed to focus on low variant sources of income.

My real breakthrough: Grand Prix in Miami

My biggest breakthrough came at GP Miami in the summer of 2013. I was on my last Co-Op term during my MBA's completion and hadn't played much Magic since. My buddies James Vance and Michael Vegh were going to be down at the Grand Prix to party and I wanted to join them. There was this really cool playmat that I wanted to pick up and I figured having some brews and going to pool parties would those boys would be fun. I didn't have a Standard deck in mind to play, although I was considering the Bogles variant that Jon Stern had won GP Atlanta with a few months prior.

I saw this really cool Jeskai control list that Jake Van Lunen posted on the mothership, and with James Vance at the helm making tweaks I was able to cruise to a 13-2 record and achieve my first Grand Prix Top 8. This was the most excited that I had ever been while playing Magic. I had come in with no expectations and had done almost no preparation either.


How is that possible? Every other event that I prepared for, never went this way...

I was on the play for the quarterfinals against Reid Duke. He was playing Jund, which was a favourable matchup for me. Unfortunately, I would end up getting mana screwed in both games and I was quickly on the sidelines. After finally breaking through with a Grand Prix Top 8, all I wanted was to get the trophy. Especially after this Top 8, I thought that I would be able to Top 8 my next Grand Prix easily.

Boy, was I wrong...

Pro Tour Dublin 2013

This was probably my favourite Pro Tour that I attended. It was Theros Standard and the deck that I sleeved up was Naya Aggro. My testing team convinced me to cut our four copies of Mistcutter Hydra the night before the event, "because ChannelFireball was on Mono Red Aggro". Instead, we replaced them with a 2/2 first striking lifelinker. Imagine our surprise when ChannelFireball was playing Mono Red devotion, where that card was just terrible.

It was a lesson that I repeatedly learned many times during my Magic career, don't listen to the noise that you hear last minute.

Even funnier was that Mono Blue devotion was the breakout deck of the tournament, with most of the Pros playing versions of it. I remember that Lucas Siow summed it up perfectly when he said "Half of this room is playing a Star City Games metagame, and the rest broke it". When I talked to my team members about this deck, they said that they had it but thought it wasn't good enough.


Remember, I was too busy with school to focus on testing that much for this Pro Tour. 😉

Despite all of that, I ended up finishing 11-4-1 and securing another Pro Tour invite.

Missing Gold in 2014

One of the most heartbreaking things that has happened to me in my Magic career was missing Gold status in the 2013-2014 season. After GP Miami, I ended up attending all four Pro Tours and round five Grand Prix. I wound up one point short of Gold that year, and was so devastated at Pro Tour Portland when I didn't make Day Two. That basically sealed the deal and ensured that I was Silver for the next season.

If you're wondering how that felt, I started hallucinating. Every mulligan and mistake that I made over the course of the year just played in quick succession in front of my eyes and I couldn't even look away.

I know that it was basically my fault since I didn't go to many Grand Prix, but at the time I remember being so disgusted with Magic that I basically packed up shop. I had no intention of playing Magic ever again at the Pro Tour and just wanted my Silver invite to fade away so I could play in PPTQs. As I mentioned before, my number one goal was to win a Grand Prix so I needed to practice.

Some of you reading might be wondering why I didn't play on Magic Online, and to those people I have to ask..."have you ever tried playing on Magic Online? :P"

All of our local store cash tournaments had become PPTQs. So if you had a Silver invite, you couldn't play in these since you were automatically qualified for the Regional PTQ. Now I just had to wait it out so that I could get all the preparation I needed.


Join me next week to hear the last part of the story...

Until then,

Sammy T


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