The PTQ is in one of those hotel meeting rooms with no windows that feels like what it is: a spruced-up basement. I’ve got the usual PTQ nerves, and I arrived early enough that there is plenty of time for them to swell. Conrad Kolos enters the room in a rush, and grabs me to discuss the format while he registers. We had become friendly acquaintances on the northeast PTQ circuit.

“Are you playing the good deck? I’m playing the bad deck.”

“Yes” I say. “Faeries.”

“That’s the right deck. I have this five color control deck but I should just be playing Faeries.”

He looks around the room.

“You are going to win this tournament.” He says. Then he throws his bag on a table and fishes out his deck. “Let’s battle.”

It had been a while since I won a PTQ, so, while I appreciate Conrad’s support, I’m not as confident. Usually, I don’t play extra games between rounds because it tires me out, but that day I play against Conrad between every round, and it’s totally energizing. That’s the day we went from being friendly to being friends.

He is eliminated late in the Swiss, but sticks around to watch me through the top 8. I would qualify for the Pro Tour that day, ending a five year drought.

Without Conrad’s incites and energy that day, I would not have won. The results of most Magic tournaments are primarily framed around the winner: for some tournaments, first place is the only prize that matters. Even on the Pro Tour, the prize for first is almost double the prize for second, and it includes having your name plastered all over the results of the event.

How often does anyone truly win on their own, though? The Pro Tour is dominated by teams of experienced players who help each other develop decks for the tournament, scout the field so everyone knows what each opponent is playing before each round begins, and help each other improve their games. Friends and teammates provide moral support after a loss, a snack when a long round leaves you hungry, and coffee when you don’t have time to get it yourself.

In basketball or soccer, a teammate gets credited for an assist when they set you up to score a goal. Chock up an assist for Conrad, but don’t put the stat sheet away yet.

Craig Wescoe has locked up the first top 8 for team TCG-player in only the team’s second Pro Tour working together. We are all excited for him, and arrangements are being made for testing his top 8 match-ups. As the only available teammate who ran the same Selesnaya Aggro deck in the tournament, I am assigned his quarterfinal match-up, against a blue/white control deck. I need an opponent, and the clear choice is Zvi Mowshowitz. Nevermind that Zvi wasn’t on our team: he’s here now, there’s no one from his team with a match-up to test, and damned if he isn’t going to spend Saturday night at the PT solving a top 8 match-up!

Zvi doesn’t ask if he can help, he just starts talking with us about sideboard options, joins us for dinner, then walks back to the hotel with me, Jasper Johnson-Epstein, and Jon Metzger: also a non-team volunteer. While Jon and Jasper worked through potential Finals match-ups, Zvi and I tackled the quarters.

Let me tell you: there’s no question Zvi is a Magic genius. We sideboarded, and he beat me. I tweaked my sideboard to adjust to his sideboard plan, and he refined his strategy and beat me more. Then he told me how to sideboard, and it got better, but he was still beating me more than I was beating him.

By the time we went to bed, though, we had the best available plan for Craig. Craig executed the plan and won his quarterfinal match, and eventually the whole tournament. Zvi received no credit on the coverage, and he didn’t care: he just came along because he loves solving match-ups. He loves Magic.

Tally one Hall of Fame assist. I suspect Zvi has a lot of them.

Scrubbing out of GP Dallas/Fort Worth on day one was disappointing, but at least there was a PTQ the next day in the same format. Only it wasn’t: the website had listed the PTQ as Standard, like the GP, but it was actually going to be the newly rotated Extended — and I hadn’t brought my Extended cards.

After a few more beers with Conrad than were probably advisable, I worked up ample optimism about the card situation, we worked on a list for the tournament, and I filled out a deck registration sheet with a beautiful collection of Faeries cards that I would need to borrow.

In the morning, I stumbled bleary-eyed to the site to hit people up.

No one had anything. Not a single Bitterblossom or Mistbind Clique anywhere! Everyone had read the website and left their Extended cards at home, or was using them. I talked to everyone I recognized and plenty of people I didn’t, and with 15 minutes left to register for the PTQ I sat down at an empty table to finish my coffee in defeat.

Ari Lax wandered by. He had made day two, but was wandering around the PTQ area to see what people were going to run in the new Extended format.

“Are you PTQing?”

“Nope! Couldn’t get cards. No one brought Extended stuff.”

“I have my Faeries deck if you want to play that. Do you have a good list?”

I smile, reach into my bag, and retrieve my completed deck reg sheet. Ari grins his gigantic grin, swings his bag onto the table, whips out a deck box, and sits down to make sure he approves of my decklist as I sort out the cards I need.

I ask him why he brought his Faeries cards and he says something about how he “just loves this deck!”

I leave him with Conrad to explain our sideboard strategy and sprint to the registration table.

Ari somehow watches half of my matches while still playing the Grand Prix, critiquing my play and cheering me on. I qualified for Pro Tour Nagoya.

One assist for Ari.

A few years later, when I had no one to work with for Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal, Ari would welcome me to a new team he helped create: a team that would quickly challenge the long-standing super-teams. After helping everyone who joined that team get better, including multiple Pro Tour top 8s, Ari finally had the chance to hold the trophy in Hawaii. Certainly, plenty of his teammates deserve credit for helping him get there. The unique version of Abzhan he played, however, should be credited primarily to GP Chicago top 8 competitor Steve Rubin: an excellent assist man who played the same deck well enough to qualify for PT Fate Reforged.

Who’s racking up assists on your stat sheet?

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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