Embracing opportunities in life sometimes comes down to timing. Maturity and chance dance side-by-side, determining the future. Sometimes human error wins, and the opportunity gets lost. Maybe forever. Some of us are lucky enough to get a second chance to rectify those stumbles. All it takes is a little more luck, and the courage to tango with fate just one more time.
Magic: the Gathering has been a huge part of my life since I was a teenager. I played this game we all love to some decent results, but nothing worth writing home about. I was a 17-year old kid when I got my first shot at Pro Tour Hollywood in 2008. It was an experience I got to share with my big brother (and at the time, PTQ grinder) Brad Nelson. Of course now we all know him as my older brother. Seeing Brad get out of my shadow was quite the rollercoaster; as he was soaring higher and higher, I realized my career could perhaps never take off. I was so excited to see my big bro doing what he wanted to do for so long, yet there was still a feeling that it could have been me if I took the game a little more seriously.
It's hard to know what you want at such a young age. Living in the moment, especially in such exuberant locations, was the main thing on my mind. I often forgot why I came to these cities to begin with. I usually was more concerned with where I was hanging out with my friends that night. Sideboard plans and metagame shifts took a backseat to nightlife and fancy parties. Living in the moment can be a blast, but it can also cast a shadow over the dream you didn't even know you were living. Until your run is over, of course.
For the next three years I was out of the game. I still watched Pro Tours, because let's be real—they are great. While watching them I got to see my brother live out the dream that I always wanted. Through Brad the fire got reignited! I just didn't have anywhere to let the flame breathe. It wasn't until 2015 that I got my second chance.
My big bro, now out of my shadow, got me the best Christmas present a fiending Magic player could get; a trip to Miami, Florida during spring break! Old Corey would be thrilled to hit the beach and catch some sunlight. After all, my middle name is "Ray," but I wasn't going down that road again. This time, I wanted more than just a good story. I wanted to be the story. I worked hard leading into the event, and it paid off. Even without any byes I made top 8! More importantly I got a second chance to be on the Pro Tour!
This time was going to be different. It was time to act with some maturity and give this one my all. I stayed in a house for two weeks with some of the most elite magic players of all time. It really was one of the best opportunities I could possibly have! It took a lot of catching up to even be close to the level these gentlemen were on. It is in fact true that if you want to get better at something, just get beat up left and right by people that are much better than you. That's what I did!
In the end, I ended up going 8-2 in constructed, but had a lovely 1-5 record in limited. Crushing my comeback story, and forcing me to once again start over. It was quite clear my 40-card game was not where it needed to be. This event stung, and there is no way around it. Pro Tour Milwaukee made me realize that I have a big problem in my game. There was absolutely nobody to blame it on but myself. This was the first time I honestly looked back at my game and realized what I had to change. Before this it was just "I had some awkward drafts," or "I got unlucky." This is a mentality that held me back for so long until I finally realized I was making mistakes, and a lot of them. My perspective before was all wrong. This is one of the biggest problems I see in young aspiring pros today. This mentality shift was the single most important thing for my return to the game.
When I decided to really put everything into coming back, my brother, as well as my good friend Brian Braun-Duin were testing hard for Worlds last year. It just so happened I had a standard RPTQ to play in the very same weekend. I grinded away hours and hours on Magic Online with the format-breaking Bant Humans deck. Some of you may remember how all around good guy BBD did with it at Worlds. The deck happened to do a little something for me as well. I took down the first RPTQ I played! Seeing that beautiful blue envelope after a year away from the Pro Tour was the most satisfying feeling. I had yet another chance! This time I choose to attack my preparation a lot more focused than before. This meant it is time for this boy to learn how to play 40 card Magic a lot better than I had in the past. From then on it was Limited bootcamp. I spent every free moment joining draft league after draft league. I didn't want to come back to the PT and feel that same disappointment after trying so hard to get back on. The very next weekend I started playing every limited PTQ online that they had to offer. I was a full-time student at the time so finding time to travel every weekend to tournaments was impossible. Magic Online was the only commitment I could make. The first week after the Honolulu RPTQ they had just switched over to qualifying for Dublin. Even that little bit of Limited practice paid off as I won that online PTQ too!
Being qualified for the first and second Pro Tour of the season was such a huge opportunity. It really gives a person that much better of a chance when you don't have to crush the first (and usually only) Pro Tour you are qualified for. Fast forward to the Pro Tour Honolulu: I probably drafted about 100 times before I sat down for round one. So much so that I think I was getting sick of drafting. Okay, let's get real, drafting is the most fun you can ever have playing this game, but you get my point. I managed a respectable 7-3 in Constructed, and something I am much happier with: a 4-2 record in Limited. That felt like the biggest accomplishment to me. I worked super hard on my Limited game and I finally felt like it was starting to pay off. Crazy that the game gets easier with practice. Who knew! I ended up losing my last round to come in 25th place locking me for the next Pro Tour. More importantly giving me the confidence to feel like I can make another run at this!
Fast-forwarding a little, I ended up achieving Gold rather quickly last season. My goals raised accordingly, but I didn't hit the bar of getting Platinum. Instead of looking back at failure through negligence, I could see that I simply tried and missed. That's not something I could say during my first go-around. Being able to see the hard work pay off is a truly beautiful thing even if I didn't get everything I set out to. I shook it off, and started again with a new season, and a better understanding of my new perspective. What happened next could never have been imagined. I've kicked off this new season with three Grand Prix top 8's, and sharing two of those top 8's with my brother. This has been one of the best moments I've ever had in my magic career. It's truly a blessing.
There it is, my second chance. My opportunity to finally put my brother back where he belongs: in my shadow for a change! Some people are not lucky enough to get second chances, I recognize that. Now it is time to put in the work to make sure I never have to hope for that third one. I'm going to be taking this wonderful opportunity to aim my sights higher. Not just in accomplishments, but in work ethic. No more trying to find entertainment, and excuses. I may not always be in control of my destiny, but now I know I should at least act like it.
Don't expect all my content to be like this; I just wanted to spend today introducing myself, and telling my story. My plan is to use my time here at TCGplayer bringing you content that gets you to experience all of the wonderful things I've learned from playing this game at the highest level. Whether it's videos of me playing the format's most popular decks, to me breaking down complex turns, my goal is to elevate your game play by play. After all, I don't want you missing your chance to dance when the time comes.