With the holidays coming up I really haven't been playing much Magic. I'm still keeping up with Standard and doing the occasional draft on Magic Online, but I haven't been to a real life tournament in over a month. I'm not going to be able to play in sanctioned events as long as I'm working at Wizards of the Coast, and it's finally hitting me that I will no longer have to wake up at the crack of dawn to travel to a PTQ and I'll no longer have to plan travel for a GP. During this downtime I've been reflecting on the past 17 years and all the good things MTG has given me and today I'm going to share some of my favorite MTG firsts.


My First Tournament

The year was 1998. I had been playing Magic for a little over a year and one of my friends from high school, Chris, was running a Magic tournament at a local comic book shop. He asked all of the Magic players from our school to go and I was pretty excited about it. I hadn't even heard of Magic tournaments before; I just thought Magic was a casual game that you played at a kitchen table or school cafeteria. I didn't have any tournament worthy decks. All of my decks pretty much consisted of the cards I owned separated by colors, and they were each about a hundred cards. I knew that the minimum deck size was sixty, but I never wanted to take any cards out of my decks!

Chris helped me build a deck for the tournament out of my limited collection. I decided on an Elf deck because I really liked Priest of Titania. The deck we made had Priests, Llanowar Elves, Elvish Lyrists, Multani's Acolyte, any other Elf I owned, pump spells such as Giant Growth, Elvish Fury, and Elven Rite (it was an elf deck after all), and my one of Gaea's Cradle that I was lucky enough to pull from an Urza's Saga pack. I didn't have a sideboard due to not knowing what one was. After I built the deck I played some games against my high school friends and I was crushing them. I was really looking forward to trying out my first "real" deck at a tournament.

The tournament was Type 2 (identical to Standard, but that term hadn't existed yet), unsanctioned single elimination. Entry was free and prizes were a Stronghold Mox Diamond for first and a Tempest Cursed Scroll for second, a $20 and $10 value respectively. I hadn't even heard of those cards before and didn't even know why they were good, but $20 for one card seemed awesome when booster packs were $2.79. The tournament had about twenty-five players, and roughly half of them were friends from high school.

I somehow won my first two rounds. Green Elf Stompy actually had game. Round three was when I faced my first "real" opponent of the tournament. He was playing a Corpse Dance / Crater Hellion / Goblin Bombardment deck. The way the deck worked was he got the Crater Hellion into his graveyard somehow, and then reanimated it with Corpse Dance with buyback. The Crater Hellion would kill all of the creatures, attack for six, and then get sacrificed to the Goblin Bombardment so that it wouldn't get removed from the game with Corpse Dance. Since I was playing an Elf deck, all of my creatures died to this combo every turn. I kept reading Corpse Dance every time he cast it, not understanding how the Hellion ended up in the graveyard when the card clearly said to Remove it from the game. I finally asked my opponent why he wasn't removing it, and he explained the interaction between Goblin Bombardment and Corpse Dance to me.

Although I lost that round and was eliminated from the tournament, I learned a lot about deckbuilding that day. I learned how to limit myself to playing only sixty cards instead of every card I owned and I learned that it was better to play a deck that had synergy rather than play a pile of cards that I liked. I also learned what competitive tournament decks looked like and what a sideboard was. It wasn't long before I went to my first sanctioned tournament with my newly tuned Elf Stompy deck, and it wasn't much longer before I was winning with my Elf Stompy deck.


My First PTQ Win

My first PTQ win was in December of 2002. Previous to that I had made plenty of PTQ Top 8s but couldn't make it past the quarterfinals. Most of my Top 8s were from Sealed events (perhaps I opened some insane pools?) but I had a few Block Constructed and Extended Top 8s as well (Standard was not a PTQ format back then). Regardless, I just couldn't make it past the first elimination round.

The format for this PTQ was the now-retired Extended and I registered this deck:

DECKID=1178347

What a deck! Force Spike, Counterspell, Forbid, Accumulated Knowledge, Brainstorm and Fact or Fiction are some of the best blue cards of all time! It's no wonder that I won the tournament. I think it's funny that the win condition was Cognivore. Were people not playing removal back then? I remember there were a lot of Pernicious Deeds which was not an effective way to kill Cognivore. I also remember that most of my wins came from Treetop Village and Faerie Conclave.

There were plenty of Oath of Druid variants running around in Extended and you might say that it was the best control deck at the time, but most of the Oath decks were Sultai (BUG at the time) to make use of the sweeper Pernicious Deed. My deck was slightly different. I cut the black completely and played Powder Keg over Deed. Playing only two colors allowed me to play more manlands than other Oath decks, which gave me a huge edge in the mirror and against The Rock.

I played against a lot of Sligh, a deck that can never beat a turn three Cognivore. The Rock was pretty popular as well at that event. I faced Paul Jordan in the Top 8 who was playing Rebels. Rebels was a fantastic matchup for me and I remember winning easily. I was ecstatic to finally make it to the Semifinals! The Top 4 was against The Rock, and it was one of the toughest matches of my life. I wish I remembered more about it; all I know is that the match lasted for a really long time.

In the finals I was up against another Rock player, Tony Tsai, who had no desire to go to the PT in Venice and instantly conceded to me. Back then, the winner of the PTQ did not receive a plane ticket but rather a travel award which was not even close to enough to cover a plane ticket to Italy, and conceding in the finals was pretty common practice.

So I qualified for my first Pro Tour! While I did terribly at the Pro Tour, it was a great experience for me. I went to Italy for the first time and got to work with one of the most accomplished Magic teams, Your Move Games. Many of the players of YMG went on to become members of the Magic Hall of Fame and working with them definitely helped me to become a better player.


My First Grand Prix Top 8

Fast forward about ten years. I had been on and off the Pro Tour for a while and while I had minor GP and PT success including infinite minimum cash finishes, I never achieved that big finish. In November of 2011 I went on a GP run with the goal of picking up a Pro Tour qualification. Well, actually the purpose of the GP run had nothing to with qualifying for the PT. The real purpose was to get away from life for a few months. I was working a horrible dead-end job and was looking for a lifestyle change and decided that becoming more serious about Magic was what I wanted to do. Anyway, one of the stops on my GP run was Santiago, Chile, and while I was technically still "getting back in to Magic" and my play was still pretty rusty I always considered myself a limited specialist and I spent a good deal of time learning the format.

I received a sealed pool that was capable of going 9-0 but instead I could only pull off an 8-1, losing the last round of Swiss to another player who eventually made the Top 8. One thing to note about this tournament was that it was very poorly run. The Magic judge program wanted to try something new for this South American GP. Instead of hiring experienced staff who knew the ins and outs of DCI Reporter, they hired local judges who were not very experienced in order to grow the judge program in South America. I don't blame them for doing that in the slightest, but it meant that Day 1 was an incredibly long day. Each round went about an hour over the time limit and we didn't finish up until about 1am. After Day 1 ended I still had to find dinner and walk back to my hotel, get some sleep and be back for Day 2 at 8 am (yes, 8 am). Dinner was a failure due to everything in walking distance being closed, so I just settled on eating some trail mix and trying to get some sleep. I probably managed to get about five hours before I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to be back for Day 2.

All of the Day 2 competitors arrived at the site at 8 am expecting to immediately sit down to draft, but due to some software problems we didn't actually start drafting until about 9:30. Man, I could have used that extra sleep. Long story short, I drafted two great decks. The first one was a UR Self-Mill deck with lots of flashback and ways to abuse the graveyard, and the second was RW Werewolf Aggro. It wasn't long before I could ID in the final round (with the same opponent I lost to on Day 1) and make Top 8 of my first Grand Prix!

I lost in the Semi-finals of the GP, which was pretty unfortunate because I felt that my draft deck was good enough to win the event. I had some unfortunate variance in the Top 4 and had to mulligan twice in game three, but that's Magic. It was still an exciting weekend and I was super proud of myself for making it as far as I did.


My First (and Only) Pro Tour Top 8

In February of 2012 I unexpectedly received a special invite to Pro Tour Gatecrash in Montreal. While I was pretty happy about it, there were a lot of people who thought that I didn't deserve to play on the Pro Tour and were against me receiving the invite. This news was frustrating, but the bottom line is that Wizards can invite who they want, when they want, and they felt that my being there was good for the game. I really wanted to make the most out of the opportunity.

I received the invite about three weeks before the Pro Tour, which didn't give me much time for travel planning. At least the Pro Tour was only a six hour drive from where I was living. I asked my friend Raphael Levy if I could test with his team and he didn't mind. We arrived in Montreal about a week before the Pro Tour and stayed at a cheap hotel within walking distance of the venue. Our team consisted of Jeremy Dezani (2014 Player of the Year), Timothee Simonot (Gold Pro), Pierre Dagen (Gold Pro), Louis Deltour, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, a few other French PTQ winners, Raph, and myself. The Ruel brothers were there too but I barely talked to them. They mostly worked on their own and drafted on MTGO.

We tested Standard and Draft in the hotel's restaurant for five days before settling on Wolf Run Bant, a Bant Control deck that splashed red for Kessig Wolf Run. The decision to play the deck was made literally on Thursday night and I was incredibly nervous. I had not even played a game with the deck at all. How could I possibly do well playing against the best players in the world.

I did have one thing going for me: I was very good at Gatecrash Draft. We had a huge blizzard the weekend before I left for Montreal. Roads were closed and there was no point in leaving the house. I spent that weekend drafting Gatecrash on MTGO and learning the format. It paid off because I went 5-1 in draft at Pro Tour Gatecrash.

As for constructed, while I had to learn how to play the deck during round four of the PT, I learned quickly and overall had a record good enough to make Top 8. I didn't expect to make it that far at the Pro Tour. My goal was simply to Top 25 so I would be invited to the next one, and I had not only exceeded that goal, but I also made history as the first female player to Top 8 a Pro Tour.

I learned a lot at that event. I took a deck that I had zero experience with and was able to learn how to play it and pilot it well. I learned that I had what it takes to play among the best in the world. I also learned that I had a wider range in constructed than I thought. After this tournament I felt comfortable playing any type of deck at Pro Tours. Most importantly, I made great friends and testing partners who I would work with at Pro Tours for the next year and a half.

Thanks for reading about some of my most memorable MTG stories. These stories are the reason why Magic is such a great game. This game has given me memories that will last a lifetime and I'm sure there are many more to come.

Melissa DeTora
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