So, this was a fairly eventful weekend.

This past Friday, I headed south to PAX Unplugged this weekend to cover Magic’s panel and get some experience with drafting Mystery Boosters. The panel ended up not happening and I only got to draft Mystery Boosters once, but Magic nevertheless dominated the weekend.

My friend Joel and I jumped into a Mystery Booster Sealed qualifier for the Convention Series, just for fun (okay with the hopes of maybe making it through a 100+ event undefeated). We both went 4-0, earning us slots in the Sunday championship. After four rounds of Eldraine Sealed in the championship, I made it into the top 8 draft (Joel got 9th after losing his win-and-in, but at least the cut was clean).

I opened Lochmere Serpent, abandoned it for a pick four Mysterious Pathlighter (the person to my right was in UB), then jumped back into UB on a P2P2 foil Rankle, Lord of Pranks. I didn’t lose a game in the top 8, and suddenly I found myself realizing a dream I’ve had for nearly a decade: getting to play Magic at the PT (Players Tour, Pro Tour—it’s essentially the same as far as I’m concerned).

Finally making it

For a long time, getting to the Pro Tour was one of my big life goals. When I started playing Magic competitively, I didn’t know what my path in life would be. I knew that Magic was and would continue to be a big part of my life, and so I resolved to play on the PT, just once. Not win it, not become world champion, just get to play there once. As the years went on and I improved as a player, I saw many of my friends make it to Magic’s grandest large stage. I got better, but I never quite got there. I was a game win away at the Dragons of Tarkir RPTQ and a match win away at GP Montreal 2016, but that’s the closest I’d ever come. Frankly, I stopped expecting to get to this point and was at peace with that.

And now, barring some catastrophe, I’m going to the PT. It’s funny, but making it to the Players Tour right now is a feather in my cap, not the culmination of my life’s efforts. Make no mistake, I’m stoked to finally, finally make it—but my life was already full of joy beforehand. I have an incredible, engaging job where I get paid to design games. I have an amazing partner, a loving and family, and some of the best friends one could ask for. Hell, I get paid to write about Magic every week! Years ago, I shifted from wanting to play Magic professionally to wanting to make Magic professionally, and even there, I’ve found joy in what I do and the knowledge that people from Wizards have actually read some things I’ve written.

Tournament Report, Abridged

The PAX qualifier was good, casual fun. Normally when I’m in a 100+ event, it’s a Grand Prix or PTQ where everyone is serious. Sure, folks at those events tend to be nice, but there’s a shared expectation that everyone will be playing tightly and wants the big prize at the end (or at least to enjoy the challenge along the way). At PAX and especially at a Mystery Booster event, there were far fewer competitive players and far more casual players; making it a more representative sample of Magic players than a GP (while still hewing to gamers sufficiently enfranchised that they’ll pay to attend a gaming convention).

In the spirit of playing fun, clean Magic and not cutthroat competitive Magic, I kept my mood light. On several occasions, I reminded my opponents that Bitterbow Sharpshooters has Reach. Are you sure you want to attack that way?” (The answer was always no.)

My pool seemed fairly average. Sure, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is a powerful card; but his job was mostly making Vastwood Gorger‘s cousin show up to help, and many playtest cards and rares are bonkers good. As it turned out, having decent removal, decent fixing, an okay curve, and a couple big burn spells was more than enough to go 4-0.

I slept terribly that night, opened a good but not great pool in the Championship, and played reasonably well. My friend Joel crushed it initially, going 2-0. I lost my first match and was perplexed when Brad, my extremely nice opponent, insisted on holding priority when cast Sundering Stroke to kill me. I extended my hand and he then conceded to me and dropped from the event—he recognized that we wanted very different things and went off to probably play more Mystery Boosters instead of forging ahead with a stellar BR deck. I found him when I was waiting for the top 8 and thanked him with tired words and all the prize tickets I had (no, he didn’t ask for them, I just wanted to pay it back).

Immediately after “winning” round 1, I received an unintentional draw in round 2 when I could have won the game with two different lines. I didn’t get upset because you make mistakes when you’re tired and there’s no point fretting it. I won round 3 and shook hands into the top 8, despite having only actually won a single match in the championship. Getting to the top 8 was due to kindness of strangers and luck.

After getting a salad in me (competitive Magic always makes me hungry for healthy food), my headache subsided and I was ready and eager to draft. I changed course twice, drafted a good deck instead of a train wreck, and was totally calm throughout the top as I never lost a game. Joel was positively buzzing as we waited for the finals to begin, but I didn’t even start feeling excited until twenty minutes after winning the whole thing. The funny thing is getting the win wasn’t the most meaningful part of the weekend.

Joel is one of my best friends. He’s known me for exactly as long as I’ve been playing Magic competitively. He’s one of my few friends I know from two completely different social circles—Magic and improv (aka the two most important activities/hobbies in my life). He’s a musical theater writer, a teacher, a composer, a producer, a gamer, and so much more; but I’d never known him to play Magic competitively. We quickly diverged as I started playing in GPs and he would occasionally go to a side event. We had Magic in common, but there was only a brief window where we both cared about it the same way.

Turns out, Joel has been playing a ton of Arena all year and developed into quite the skilled player in the blink of an eye. I was brimming with joy as I was watched him perfectly execute turns with his UB Mystery Sealed deck every round of the qualifier. Words can’t express how happy I was to have him watching me draft and win the whole event, how cathartic it was to recap our whole journey as we (he) drove back to New York. We’ve grown into adults together and it was so meaningful to level up together as players. I see the fire kindling in him and I see the hard work I’ve taken to get to this point. Now, he needs a Pioneer deck, because I’ll need all the testing help I can get.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer and the commissioner of Team Draft League. He designs for Kingdom Death: Monster, has a Game Design MFA from the NYU Game Center, and does freelance game design. When the stars align, he streams Magic (but the stars align way less often than he’d like).

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