Not the most astounding of positions but one I am reasonably chuffed with for my first Pro Tour. I want to write this article to give a taste of the Pro Tour to one who has not yet experienced it, so there will be less Tournament Report and more story if I get it right ;).
My trip started way back in January but began in earnest on Monday 24th. Matt Light had come up to stay the night before and we went over to Manchester to catch our plane to Puerto Rico. There was a long stop in Newark where we had to wait for several hours but it gave us a chance to walk about after the long flight and we met up with Manveer Samra and Stuart Wright at the gate. We chatted for a while about the format and had a bit of a laugh getting to know each other. After a while we got bored of the gate not being called and it not going up on the display so we went to check what was going on. Turns out they're a bit more `relaxed' about domestic flights and didn't bother to call it, so we had in fact missed our flight. After a bit of controlled panicking on my part we sorted out a hotel room for the night which was close-by and had a free taxi service. We were (unchargedly) put on the first flight the next morning and finally arrived at San Juan early on the Tuesday afternoon.
Matt and I went to our hotel, leaving the others to go back to theirs, and we shared a taxi with an American who had the intelligence to work out we were Magic players :). We met a different American in the hotel lobby who was there with his Mum and this guy ended up hanging out with us a lot as he didn't really know anyone else it seemed. Good for us as he was a nice guy and made our hotel room 4 people for playtesting. Our room-mate Mark Mc Govern was waiting for us at the hotel and we quickly made our acquaintances.
San Juan is beautiful in parts and slightly slummy in parts. The natural elements are truly wonderful and there are some very nice rustic-style buildings, but there is also a lot of more ghetto-style areas. I didn't feel unsafe anywhere except inside some of the taxis at night, but I did feel like I might have hurt myself on broken glass or something. Due to it being Tropical Storm Season we didn't venture too far into the countryside or anything as it accelerates from sunny to downpour in seconds a couple of times a day. Another thing - the sun was very warm but not stiflingly so. I don't enjoy the sun in England as I feel suffocated but in Puerto Rico it felt a lot more natural.
The rest of the Great Britain team were in a rented flat a short taxi ride away (and a long walk, we tried it). We had a bit of trouble getting to them on day 1 as there is little phone signal there and the person who had rented them the flat was not supposed to do so, leading the security guards to be hesitant to rush to our aid. Also staying in the same complex were Ben Rubin, Brian Kibler, Pat Chapin et. al., you will meet these people at the pro tour so don't be weird about it. The advantage to hanging out with so many people at once are twofold: 1) there is always something to do - football, draft, playtest, drink beer etc and 2) someone will have a deck you want to play. In our case it was Marco's UW Loldrazi control deck which peaked our interest. Mike Flores is currently advertising this as Dan Gardner's deck, lol.
We changed the sideboard a little bit after testing showed a few of their cards weren't quite up to scratch. They disagreed with our picks but at the end of the testing process it's just about personal preference anyway. Here's the list:
4 Eldrazi Temple
2 Eye of Ugin
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Sejiri Refuge
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Tectonic Edge
2 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
4 Sea Gate Oracle
2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
2 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
4 Wall of Omens
4 All is Dust
1 Day of Judgment
4 Everflowing Chalice
1 Into the Roil
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 See Beyond
3 Felidar Sovereign
2 Perimeter Captain
2 Tectonic Edge
3 Spell Pierce
The only real differences are that they have Spreading Seas over our Tectonic Edge and they have Gideon Jura. We like casting our All is Dusts so we didn't go in for these permanent-based spells because of the tension they cause. I would have played another Narcolepsy over one of the Perimeter Captains given another chance, but I was definitely happy with Spell Pierce over Cancel as it costs about 3000 less mana. This format really wants Negate :/.
We went to the venue the day before the Pro Tour for the Pro Players Party. This typically involves a buffet, some music, some drinks, a free t-shirt, a free draft set, and tables to play on. The food was nice and the view was beautiful. It was during this evening that I really reflected on how much of a good thing™ being On Tour is. If you manage to get there some day then I advise you enjoy the moment. Don't necessarily go out of your way to do things you don't want to do but have fun doing what you are doing and be happy that you are where you are.
On Day 1 we went to the venue to write up our decklists and join the player meeting. I had my deck all sleeved up and sorted the night before so it was just a case of writing it up, checking it and buying the last couple of cards from the dealers. I sat down for the player meeting (this is when all the players sit down before round 1 pairings are announced for the Head Judge to make a few announcements about what they expect from players etc) opposite Guillaume Wafo-Tapa but a quick look around confirmed that being next to somebody famous is pretty normal at this level of event.
Richard Hagon came by us on his usual Podcasting run and interviewed us both, asking if I would be up for the challenge of facing Wafo-Tapa round 1. I said no, since although I was pretty sure he was classic UW and our deck was good against that, Wafo-Tapa is good against everyone regardless. I go to find pairings for round 1 but somebody's head is covering my opponent's name. It's usually good form to check this to help make sure you're at the right table but I could see my name and table number so I just went with it. I sit down facing towards the timer and then Hall of Famer Rafael Levy comes and sits down opposite me.
Thankfully he was extremely friendly and chatty and I had a really good time playing him. We had very clear communication all through the game, confirming life totals a few times (we had a few discrepancies but I was always right :)) and I managed to get through a win via Felidar Sovereign beating down into his Monument Green guys. This was a great first match for me as I pulled out a win against a Hall of Famer and I really felt like I could actually compete at this level.
I won't bore you with a round-by-round report since this is not what I intended to write about, but to summarise: I lost to Robert Van Medevoort (Vampires), beat a random (UW), lost to Petr Brozek (Brozek Red obv), beat a random (UW) then in the draft beat Tomoharu Saitou (UBr control), lost to David Ochoa (Ur levellers) and finally lost to a random (RG tokens). The last match and the Vampires match were pretty unwinnable but I punted slightly against Ochoa (basically played for the second best line rather than the best line) and drew infi-lands against Brozek. I also kept a speculative anti-control hand against Vampires game 1 and mulled to 4 game 2, so I feel like I had a bunch of opportunities to make day 2 run away from me.
Day 2 I didn't want to play any real life events as my rating was qualifying me for Nats and I didn't want to ruin it. I joined the Magic Online Live Series Championship on a whim and got through the first round with a terrible WR control deck with only really Keening Stone and Mammoth Umbra on a flier to win the game, with Hedron-Field Purists, Lightmine Field and a bunch of removal spells to save me from dying. I had a Hellion Eruption if I clogged the board up but I was slightly creature-light and often sided it out (you can see me playing the matches in some of the feature coverage). In the Semi-Finals I drafted the nut-high UW levellers deck with Lucas Siow on my left drooling at the card quality. I then got flooded+screwed to go straight out of contention but it happens so I walked away calm. I also got a few Team Drafts in and watched people play in various side events.
On the Sunday (top 8 day) I did a survey and entered the Champion's Challenge twice to get myself a free draft set, got my picture taken with Ulamog, the Infinite Gayer and did a small judge questions thing to get myself a foil Broodmate Dragon before a few more Team Drafts. We cubed at the guys' flat that night and then prepared for coming home the next day.
So, I had a few unlucky moments but basically the Pro Tour is the most fun thing ever and I hope this gave people an insight into what goes on. Don't beat me in the next PTQ, because I want to go again :)