Pro Tour M15 in Portland this past weekend marked the final tournament of the 2013-2014 pro season. I played Green/White Aggro in the Standard portion and finished in the Top 16 (7-3 record in Standard), qualifying me for another year of Pro Tours.

Today I would like to share a few things with you. First I'd like to talk about the deck I played at the Pro Tour, including how to sideboard with it. Then I'd like to give you my updated list of the Black/White Pack Rat deck I've been playing in Modern recently and which I used to cash Grand Prix Boston-Worcester two weekends ago. Lastly I would like to address a question I am commonly asked: "What is it like to play Magic professionally?" Given that this weekend marked the culmination of my fifth straight year as a pro Magic player, now seems like as good a time as any to address that question.


Green/White Aggro in Standard

Here is the list I played at the Pro Tour:

DECKID=1210064

The list was three cards off from Scott Lipp's SCG Kansas City winning deck. From his list, I replaced a Sunblade Elf, a Soldier of the Pantheon, and a Boon Satyr with a fourth Selesnya Charm, a fourth Loxodon Smiter, and a third Ajani, Caller of the Pride. I experimented with a number of other changes but eventually decided that I agreed with almost everything in his list. Teammate Ari Lax deviated a bit more and played Banisher Priest, Glaring Spotlight, Imposing Sovereign, and Celestial Flare – some of the cards that were highest on our radar that were not present in Lipp's list.

- I went 2-1 against Blue/White Control, defeating Andrejs Prost and Jacob Wilson but losing to Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa.
- I went 1-2 against Black/White Midrange, defeating Alex Majlaton but losing to Paul Rietzl and Jon Finkel.
- I went 1-0 against Boros Burn, defeating Ben Ge.
- I went 1-0 against Green Devotion, defeating Tzu-Ching Kuo.
- I went 1-0 against Black Aggro, defeating Jaron Heard.
- I went 1-0 against Red Aggro (splash white for Chained to the Rocks), defeating Bob Maher.

All three of my losses were very close. Against Paulo Vitor I needed him to not have the second Supreme Verdict (and he had it). Against Jon Finkel I needed to draw a fourth land by turn six (but didn't). And against Paul Rietzl I literally needed to draw any non-land card in my deck to attack past his Desecration Demon (but couldn't). The best players in the world win more than the rest because they make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to beat them, and each of these three players managed to barely squeak out a win that many other players would not have. To my credit, I at least put myself in position to win the tight games, despite coming up just short in these three matches.

If I had to play the tournament again, I would play the same deck except I would replace the third Gods Willing in the sideboard with a third Boon Satyr.

Here is the video deck tech I did, explaining the deck:

Here is a starting point for sideboarding with the deck:

Vs. Black Devotion and Black/White Midrange

IN: 2 Gods Willing, 1 Boon Satyr
OUT: 1 Plains, 2 Soldier of the Pantheon

Vs. Monoblue Devotion

IN: 4 Skylasher, 1 Banishing Light, 2 Setessan Tactics, 1 Deicide, 2 Ajani Steadfast
OUT: 2 Advent of the Wurm, 4 Voice of Resurgence, 2 Boon Satyr, 2 Sunblade Elf

Vs. Sphinx's Revelation

IN: 2 Gods Willing, 4 Skylasher, 1 Boon Satyr, 1 Deicide [unless Planar Cleansing version]
OUT: 4 Selesnya Charm, 1 Plains, 3 Banishing Light

Vs. Green Devotion

IN: 2 Hunt the Hunter, 1 Banishing Light, 1 Deicide
OUT: 2 Soldier of the Pantheon, 2 Voice of Resurgence

Vs. Boros Burn

IN: 2 Ajani Steadfast, 1 Deicide, 1 Banishing Light, 2 Gods Willing
OUT: 1 Mana Confluence, 3 Advent of the Wurm, 2 Boon Satyr

Vs. Red Aggro

IN: 2 Ajani Steadfast, 1 Banishing Light, 2 Gods Willing, 4 Skylasher
OUT: 2 Boon Satyr, 1 Mana Confluence, 3 Ajani, Caller of the Pride, 3 Advent of the Wurm

Vs. Black Aggro

IN: 1 Deicide, 1 Banishing Light, 2 Gods Willing, 1 Ajani Steadfast
OUT: 3 Ajani, Caller of the Pride, 2 Boon Satyr


Pack Rat in Modern

I played the Black/White "Dead Guy Ale" Pack Rat deck at GP Boston-Worcester the week before the Pro Tour. I finished in the money with an 11-4 record. If you still have a modern PTQ left, this is my updated list:

DECKID=1210093

For general sideboard and matchup advice, check out my original Pack Rat in Modern article from a month ago, which also includes an instructional video on how to pilot the archetype.


The Realities of the Pro Magic Life

While in Boston for the GP I got into a discussion with a few people about my life as a professional Magic player (and also about "tidbits," but we'll leave that for another time). It started out with "It must be nice living the dream as a pro player!" On the surface it looks great, and don't get me wrong, I love my job, but there are definitely costs to this line of work. I've talked about it once or twice before in my articles, but now seems like an appropriate enough time to mention again the "realities" of the pro Magic life.

Pro Tour Portland marked the end of the 2013-2014 season, which was my fifth straight year as a professional Magic player. Only fourteen other players in the world have earned enough points in each of the past five seasons to remain Gold (previously known as Level 4) or better. This fact alone proves just how difficult it is to stay on the tour. Some of the very best players in the world have had at least one off-year out of the past five, which proves that literally anyone in the world is at risk of "falling off the train" unless of course you get voted into the Hall of Fame first.

This real danger of knowing that each year could be your last, no matter who you are, puts a lot pressure on pro players to perform week in and week out. Two of these past five seasons came down to the very last Pro Tour for me where if I didn't put up a Top 25 finish I would be back to the PTQ circuit. Fortunately I performed under pressure both times, but statistically speaking, that trend is unlikely to continue forever.

The best way to avoid finding yourself in these high pressure situations at the end of the year is to grind the Grand Prix circuit harder from the beginning. This strategy, however, comes with a different yet equally strong risk – the risk of burning out. When 'Platinum' was first announced, I decided to give it my all, traveling to nearly every Grand Prix in 2012, including multiple overseas. There was a point toward the end of the season where I traveled 7 consecutive weekends, including several 6-8 hour flights. By the end of the year I was so burnt out from traveling that I had to take the first month of the next season off altogether. Here is an example of an article entitled "Chasing Down Platinum" that I wrote during that time which highlights the Fatigue I was feeling midway through the trip. Fortunately I managed to hit Platinum at the very last Grand Prix of the year by finishing Top 32 in Manchester, England, but it certainly took its toll on me physically and emotionally.

In addition to the pressure to perform and the risk of Burnout, you have to learn to put missed opportunities behind you quickly. For instance, at Pro Tour M15 this past weekend in Portland, I finished in the Top 16, earning $5,000 and securing Gold level status for next year. It was a great feeling to win my last round of the tournament to stay on the train when losing would have meant falling off. Looking back, however, I was one match win away from Platinum and making Top 8 of the tournament. So even if I lost in the quarterfinals, it would have meant an extra $25,000 in prizes and platinum bonuses. That made my very close loss to Jon Finkel in round 14 that much more difficult to swallow. I experienced a similar feeling at the World Championship to begin the year when I lost to Josh Utter-Leyton in the penultimate round when playing for Top 4 of the tournament. Sometimes you're going to win the big matches and other times you aren't. Not every tournament can be Pro Tour Dragon's Maze.

Magic is a difficult game, especially when playing against the very best in the world. And when you're doing well in a tournament, the stakes get higher. Often your entire tournament, or even your entire year, hinges on a single match. All that traveling and all those hours of tournament preparation often result in not only failing to get paid but netting an overall loss when factoring in travel costs. These losses are somewhat mitigated by sponsorship bonuses and such, but the fact remains that there were multiple tournaments throughout the year where I lost money on the trip. Sometimes your paychecks for the week are negative in this line of work, and that's something you have to be able to handle.

Another thing to consider is the need to hold a separate job in order to make playing Magic professionally a possibility. For many pro players, myself included, I write articles about Magic for a living. This makes it a little easier since I can focus most of my time exclusively on Magic, but it's not as easy as it might seem to produce an article every week for five straight years. Writer's block, time constraints, and balancing writing with tournament preparation (and travel) are all factors a pro player has to manage. Someone with a job other than Magic-writing would likewise have similar responsibilities to balance with tournament preparation and travel.

While all these factors are certainly present, they represent "the ugly" side of the pro Magic life. All the good things that immediately come to mind when you think of "going pro" make the pressures and difficulties worthwhile, at least in my opinion. I get to regularly travel the world, spend time with friends, play a game I enjoy, compete against the best in the world, and meet people who appreciate my work and who follow me via social media, rooting for me to do well. These things are all very satisfying and contribute to my enjoyment of living the pro Magic life. I often tell people going pro in Magic meant I had to give up my favorite hobby in exchange for a job I enjoy – a tradeoff I am still willing to make.

In order to persevere as a pro Magic player in spite of long losing streaks (I've sometimes failed to cash upwards of six GPs in a row), or in the face of losing a match that costs you tens of thousands of dollars, I have found it most useful to keep the bigger picture in mind whenever possible. In the long run, variance will Cancel itself out. This time maybe you got unlucky and lost, or maybe you misplayed to lose, but at some point down the road you will get lucky or your opponent will misplay to lose. There is no sense dwelling too long on missed opportunities or Misfortune. The future is filled with more opportunities and good fortune if you keep putting yourself in position to receive such.

All things considered, I've found that the most important factor in living the pro Magic life is attitude. Having the right attitude allows you to move forward after narrowly missing a big opportunity or failing to achieve a goal. It allows you to stay focused and ready to seize the next opportunity to turn things around when everything seems to be going wrong. And most importantly, the right attitude makes the whole experience worthwhile. You don't always win and there is no telling whether this year will be your last, but if you allow yourself to enjoy the life that you're living regardless of how things are going, you're at least going to be happy. And although I can't really explain why, I've noticed that I tend to get luckier when I'm happy, or at least I feel luckier.

With Magic, as with life, there are many factors beyond one's control. Among the things within one's control, attitude is probably the most important.

Craig Wescoe
@Nacatls4Life on twitter