Perspective: A Letter and Pro Tour Story

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Last week, I wrote a very personal opinion piece titled “Getting Disillusioned – What Magic Is Missing”. In the article, I put forward my perspective on Modern Magic, how I feel playing the game, and what sort of experience I find myself craving that Magic hasn’t been able to provide for me recently. I received a ton of feedback, and I appreciate all the responses, positive and negative. This week, in response to a comment left on my last article, I am going to tell a story, from the heart, about my Pro Tour experience two summers ago. With the Pro Tour returning to Modern in a few months, a room full of new players will be experiencing the show under the lights for the first time (maybe even you, or someone you know). This is the unfiltered thoughts from someone who’s been there.

Part 1: A Letter to You

Before I jump in, I wanted to set aside a little space for some real talk. These past few weeks have been interesting for me, and I am thankful for the opportunity to present whatever interests me and have readers consider it worthy enough to read. On one hand, I’ve been going through a bit of writer’s block (and player’s block), in the sense that I haven’t felt the fire to write or play Magic like I used to. This happens to all of us (even content creators) and different people deal with it in different ways. Some writers phone it in, or move away from the game entirely, but Magic is too much an integral part of who I am that I find that notion reprehensible.

Instead, I’ve begun to branch out into different styles of writing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. My bread and butter will always be trend-spotting and sideboard tuning, as my roots are heavily ingrained in the Gerry Thompson school of thought. I’ve seen the comments from some readers remarking on the lack of statistical data analysis, and I understand that desire, but that has never been my area of expertise. Two years ago I was brought on to Nexus by Sheridan as an author that could provide a fresh perspective. I was streaming Magic almost daily back then, and I believe my contributions were valuable because they had personality. In my attempts to provide valuable strategic content and insights, I lost a little of that personality along the way.

Through this last month I’ve rekindled that fire that diminished with time regarding my writing. Everything changes, and I’m not buried in the trends and day-to-day shifts of the Modern metagame as I used to be. I still play, but I play less, and it seems unhelpful to continue to write about event results and metagame analysis week to week if my backend work in that area has diminished. I still plan on providing insights like I used to, but they will be more infrequent, when I have something really valuable to offer.

As readers of our content, every one of you brings your own wishes and desires for the content you want to consume from us here at Nexus, and the same goes for us as writers. Personally, and I’ve never admitted this before, I write (and used to stream) purely for the interaction that comes with it. I crave it. In my mind, my most successful article simultaneously pissed a ton of people off, and singlehandedly forced us to move away from anonymous comments to our current system. There’s nothing more demoralizing for me than writing (or streaming) to an empty room. I can’t help but notice that in these past few weeks, I’ve received more comments in my last three opinion pieces than I have in all my articles combined going back to March. I’m excited about writing again, and based on the number of comments, most of you are excited to read it. I’m curious to hear what you think, but for now, a story.

Part 2: A Blessing and a Curse

I remember my RPTQ win like it was yesterday. Here’s the first article I ever wrote about Magic, over 100 articles later and it’s still my best. Corbin Hosler taught me the value of finding a narrative in your writing—here’s the spotlight he did on me at Pro Tour Magic Origins. My Pro Tour experience will easily go down as Top 5 life experiences when the credits roll, and just talking about it again puts that itch back in my head, to call off work on the weekend and drive through the night to the next big event.

Competitive Magic for me is all about the moments. My first big Magic road trip came in 2012, when I drove through the night to play in Grand Prix Orlando with a family friend. I had just played in my first Grand Prix a couple months before, in Pittsburgh. I equipped a Sword to a Phantasmal Image. Things did not go well.

Thursday I get a text from Stephen, who I grew up watching play cards with my dad at our kitchen table, asking if I’m interested in going to Orlando for the Grand Prix. He lives in Atlanta. I live in North Carolina. #doingit. I have to work, so I get out at 10pm from my serving job, and drive four hours to meet him outside Atlanta, rolling in around 2am Friday morning. Keep in mind he’s been working all day. We drive through the night, pulling into Orlando sometime around lunch Friday, on barely any sleep. Stephen goes right from the drive to a business meeting with a client, and we finally get to the hotel room early afternoon. Stephen collapses on the bed (having been up since Thursday morning), and after about five minutes pops up and says, “ready to play?!” We proceed to grind side events all day in preparation for the main event.

I do surprisingly well in the main event. Delver is my deck (like everyone else), but I’m on maindeck Mental Misstep to punish the mirror and Tempered Steel. I’ve got Craig Wescoe on the ropes in our win-and-in match to make Day Two when he topdecks back to back Hero of Bladehold to steal the win. I’m not crushed. I’m hooked. Three and a half years later and I’m standing in the hall at Pro Tour Magic Origins. Across a throng of competitors I make eye contact with Craig Wescoe, and wonder briefly how many Hero of Bladehold’s he’ll draw today.

At the end of the weekend I finish 8-8. I beat Paul Cheon, I beat Martin Juza. I lost to Stanislav Cifka. I’m not crushed. I’m hooked.

For a competitor, the Pro Tour is the ultimate prize. To play in a tournament you had to qualify for, alongside the best competitors in the world—there’s no way to describe it. The fact that beneath the mystique of coverage, right outside the frame, its just another tournament in another conference hall just makes it even more surreal. Within two rounds, the years-long goal of “get on the Pro Tour” evaporates, to be replaced by “get on the stage.”

Once the novelty wears off, reality starts to set in. After I’m done geeking out over all the pros I recognize, I stop looking at their faces and start looking at what they are doing. In groups of four and five, everyone is huddled around computers, busy updating their scouting lists with information on competitors' decklists. I catch snippets of conversation, tips for matchups and draft strategies that are three levels deeper than what I even thought was possible. I shuffle through my Abzan list, realizing that five drafts with helpful locals and a couple weeks of testing with proxies against a couple friends still leaves me hopelessly outmatched.

I’m not the most skilled player in Magic. I’m not even close. I’m good, and probably only playing at half my potential, but nevertheless, my biggest takeaway from my Pro Tour experience was that I had peaked. I grinded day after day for hours to perfect my RPTQ list and lines, and that work paid off. It got me on the Pro Tour. I kept at it, played tight, and finished 8-8. I went 50% against the best players in the world, working alone for the most part. I showed myself, and others, that I was capable of holding my own against the best of the best. I also showed myself that I couldn’t do any better without serious life changes.

No team, limited time to play and depleted funds for travel. Summer was over, there was no way I could maintain the level of grind it took to make it past the RPTQ level and reach the Pro Tour again. Even if I got there, I had college, a job, and student loan debt to contend with. Two local Grand Prix a year wasn’t going to cut it. I had found my ceiling, and was surprised at my reaction to it. It wasn’t discouragement—more like realization. I did it once, but to do it again, I had to go all-in. If you told me before the Pro Tour that I would go 8-8, be ecstatic with the result, but nevertheless cut back on playing and streaming, I would have told you to get lost. I worked all summer to get partnered, I was streaming to 150+ viewers daily, and I let it go.

It doesn’t add up, I know. It wasn’t laziness, it wasn’t despair. I set a goal, worked hard for it, and accomplished it, but in doing so I realized how unsustainable it really was. I knew that you have to have a team to compete on the Pro Tour level, that you have to dedicate everything you have to get results, but it wasn’t until I was standing in the center of the event hall, watching the teams around me work like gears on a machine, that it finally hit me. I had achieved my dream, but in the process I lost the mystique. The truth was cold, and while I gained an experience I will never forget, I can’t help but notice that I lost a little something too.

Thanks for reading,

Trevor Holmes

Posted in Modern, OpinionTagged , ,

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2 thoughts on “Perspective: A Letter and Pro Tour Story

  1. In my opinion, there are different levels of engagement in this hobby. To be heavily invested in the game will always mean different things to different people. For me, time is an issue and playing once a week is heavy. For others money spent is what makes the investment heavy.

    I won’t play at the Pro tour, ever. But I still enjoy this hobby and consider myself heavily invested, from my perspective. And I am fine with that. In truth, Magic helps me cultivate my cognitive function of thinking in a playful way. We all have different reasons to why we play. I have quit a lot of times in the past. Enough to realise that I am always coming back.

  2. I enjoyed this read, thanks for the article (and I’m glad my comment could serve as a nucleation point for your creativity).

    On the subject of investment into a hobby, the depth of your engagement, I think magic is an interesting beast isn’t it.. I mean it’s perfectly plausible to have competitive and enriching experiences without plunging yourself into the grind that leads to professional play.

    That said, I’ve had similar (not identical but similar) experiences myself. Just recently I was sitting next to Ivan floch and three of his teammates talking strategy, and the benefits (and I suppose the necessity) of a dedicated team become abundantly clear to you as an observer and wannabe competitive player. There’s a reason why these sponsored teams exist and tend to do so well on the highest stage of play.

    Maybe it’s something I’ll get into eventually. A new store just opened up in my town (we have been without a store for a while) and there’s the possibility of creating a store-team, so maybe that’s the place where I step onto the train in terms of upping my level of engagement with this hobby. It would certainly be fun to have a sense of camaraderie and worth within the community, more than just being the guy who made & pushed a fringe deck in modern to something that kinda nearly broke into tier 1 once upon a time (that’s another story).

    I guess my issue is that I don’t play standard. Haven’t since original innistrad was still legal. My modern game is strong, my sealed game is strong, I used to draft every week but frankly I’m way out of practice and I just don’t do standard anymore. Doesn’t bode well for trying to compete at a higher level haha. We’ll see how it goes :).

    Anyway thanks again. This article is a nice lens through which you can judge and analyse your own experiences. It’s well written and enjoyable too. Thanks!

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