Amsterdam and Back Again: A Tournament Report about the Pro Lifestyle, Part 2

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image from manadeprived.typepad.com

by Vincent Thibeault

Part 1 of Vincent Thibeault's tournament report was so epic, some people actually offered us money for Part 2.  Jokes aside, Part 2 is where our hero begins Day 1 of his Pro Tour.  It would end shortly, but with VT, the night is always young!

And so the Pro Tour Amsterdam started at last. I could tell you a lengthy bad beat story about what happened in the tournament. Saying that it was not pretty would be an understatement. Stories of being a turn too slow, getting mana screwed, mulliganing into oblivion, having bad match-ups, doing questionable plays and just not winning the die roll, these stories I could tell, but I will not, because I find them excruciating. All I will say is that it did not work out.

Of course, I did analyse the games and my general preparation to find faults and things I could have done differently. These observations however I will keep them to myself. I finished 2-3 in the constructed part, and then drafted a red-green deck with two Cyclops Gladiators that I opened in my first and second pack. I lost my first match of the draft to a green-white fatty deck full of accelerant curving out perfectly. Then I drew and dropped the next round, having no chance whatsoever to make day 2. At the end of the day, my ego bruised, I was left with nothing but shattered dreams and unfulfilled hopes. Failing is never easy, and making a tragedy out of it is quite common amongst magic players. I will not add to this genre with another episode of cringe worthy reporting.

The day was however rich in excitement. During a cigarette break where I accompanied Jay Elarar, nourishing him as usual with my wise advice, Brad Nelson came over asking if he could buy a tube of nicotine. Of all the pros that are doing well this year, it is hard to deny that Nelson is really on top of his game. Earlier that day I witnessed one of his feature matches, during the third round against Yann Massicard, where he crushed Yann’s ascension with his Punishing Fire proof, combo deck destroyer Doran deck. I commented on that fact about his deck and he shared some of his thoughts about it. Down to earth and jolly, Nelson made quite a good impression on me that day.

The day after I tried out for the PTQ with Andrew and we both ended up dropping out quite early. Later on there was the player’s party, this time on Saturday night, when most players were done with their tournament so ready to let their hair down a bit and relax. There was an open buffet but it was quite a free-for-all to get to it, people were not really queuing, pushing each other to get near the pizza stand. I am used to more decorum but got caught in the action anyway, waiting to get my pizza slices.

Most people were trying to elbow their way forward and I decided to play the game, when suddenly a massive shadow blocked out all the light behind me, covering up most of the light show in which the DJs were trying to build up some electronic atmosphere. The person in question was Carlos Romano and I realized to my horror that I was standing in the way of his meal. I was promptly shoved to the side with some other Japanese players who were no match for a hungry giant. Carlos got his two pizzas slices, turned around laughing diabolically, looking down on the crowd as he passed by, and left. At least I learned something today. If you get between an ex-world champion and his goal, you had better get ready, because you may well get bowled over without much formality or consideration.

At the party you could get beer and colored shooters which represented the colours of Magic, green, white, red, blue and black. I looked for purple ones but I guess I will still have to wait a few years before you can get them. I spent a bit of time sitting with Jay Elarar, Gabriel Nassif, his girlfriend Liz, and Paul Rietzl. They were playtesting the quarterfinal match-up for Sunday, trying to figure out how Thomas Ma would side against them, and what would be their best sideboarding strategies. They had all the top 8 lists printed. If I had had more experience with the deck I could have contributed in a meaningful way. I decided however to remain politely on the side, listening attentively to the pros, acting in accordance with my x-4 drop status. Patrick Chapin came over, commenting that there was not enough oestrogens on the dance floor, inviting Gabriel’s girlfriend to come over and help out filling the gender gap. She refused, obviously. Later on that night I went on a pub crawl with Elarar, Noworaj and Neeman, celebrating Jay’s birthday with copious amounts of alcohol and delightful philosophical nonsense.

On Sunday, Jay and I met up with some American pros, including Matt Marr, Travis Woo, Alex West, Ari Lax and some other players. We went to a cafe and had a nice chat about extended and other highly specialised magic topics. I remembered Travis Woo for his innovative Living End deck that he used to top 8 at the Grand Prix Oakland 2010. He was getting quite well known for his outspoken attitude and his fighting spirit. In one of his articles he was advocating the stare down technique, where you try to get an edge on your opponent through staring at them, looking straight into their eyes while shuffling. Saito would have sustained his look. I agree with the importance of getting any edge you can get but at the same time would not forsake all my good manners and polite, respectful behaviour for the sake of what could be perceived as a minor advantage.

I kind of knew Alex West, having read plenty of his articles on SCG. I liked his style and found him really friendly. As a matter of fact, I managed to qualify for Amsterdam playing UG Polymorph at the beginning of the season and my list was greatly inspired by Alex West’s articles on the topic. When I told him about the fact that his article helped me to qualify in Amsterdam in the first place he seemed quite overjoyed by my remark. Writers, and now that I am one I realized it, rarely receives feedbacks on their work, and they are often left to wonder if some, if any of their articles, had an impact on their target audience. Alex West learnt that, at least, one of his readers got something out of his dedicated writing work.

Enough Magic talk and on to some cycling action! Elarar and I had rented some bicycles for the day and we decided to visit the countryside for few hours before hitting the bars in the evening to enjoy Amsterdam night life one last time. The ride was quite uneventful but relaxing. The architecture here has a lot of history and is more impressive than what you usually find in North America and it is always a pleasure to see what is out there without having to follow a tour group like a sheep and taking pictures of the usual tourist stuff. To wander off without a plan and to be just open to experience is what I consider proper travelling and we did just that.

So it was my last evening in Amsterdam and it seems again a good reason to celebrate. Earlier that day we went to the convention center and witnessed Rietzl crushing his top 8 opponents senseless, going 3-0, 3-0 and 3-0. Gabriel Nassif was chosen as future inductee to the hall of fame. We congratulated them at the time and left to meet up with West and his friends. I doubted I would see them again before my departure, but destiny is such that you cannot really predict what will happen.

As we were going to a bar in Rembrandt Square we locked our bikes in a park next to a restaurant. Two guys were chatting outside and I recognized Kibler and his eternal smile. Alright! They were going to the bar we were going, the Prime, and later on intended to go to a place named the Sugar Factory following Nuijtens advice. Nelson was with them, Tom Ross, Rietzl, Chapin and countless other well known pros.

In the bar I had quite a few drinks, chatting with them, enjoying the fact that I could hang out with them and not the bitter group of X-4 drop out club. I did a toast to Nelsons performance and his “new zoo” as his deck was called by some commentators. I congratulated Rietzl on his sideboard strategies for the top 8. I witnessed Chapin`s dancing skills to upbeat electronic music and decided not to compete out of humility.

Some of us then moved to the Sugar Factory, taking taxis after getting lost on the way there. We sat down in a park while Kibler went scouting, coming back with the tragic news that they would not let groups of guys in. We needed to find some girls, or some costumes, to get in. Jay stood up and left, and came back three minutes later with three young, stunning Irish girls spending a night in Amsterdam waiting for their transfer to go to Cuba the day after. Once again, Elarar was up for the challenge and he did what he could for the team. Undoubtedly, he will be a good ally to have for my assault on Chiba later on this year.

With them, we managed to get in. We drank, we talked, some of us danced, enjoying the atmosphere, happy to have got out of the convention center where femininity was as rare as humility. Kibler started chatting up a girl, charming as only a pro can be. There, half-drunk, dancing and enjoying the performance of some upbeat raggaeish singers, I came to the conclusion, all of a sudden, that these people were not the idealised demigods of my imagination anymore, but only a group of young men, passionate about cards, doing their best to fit in. Some were a bit cooler than the others, some could dance, but fundamentally they were not that much different than normal people. Or in fact, maybe they were. They were amongst the elite of the game, and I, after being a simple commoner of the PTQ grinders crowd, was becoming one of them. On this inebriated epiphany, I realized that it was getting late and that I had a flight to catch in the morning. I emptied my glass, went to see Elarar, said I was ready to go, so we left the place, leaving the crazy party atmosphere that you find pretty much everywhere in Amsterdam and went back to the hotel.

On my last day, on the way to get my train to the airport, I went past two Japanese players. I instantly recognized Kenji Tsumura’s diminutive frame and got past him without really saying anything. Amsterdam was really over.

Jay finished 9-1 with the WW, doing 1-2 in each of his draft despite getting quite solid decks. He has managed to become the highest rated constructed player in the world.

Jeremy Neeman managed to make day two, but did not end up in the money. Andrew Noworaj scrubbed out like me, and got back all the cards I borrowed.

Robert Anderson, with his newfound love for tulips, retired to the countryside and became a gardener.

Vincent Thibeault, once rested after countless partying, realized that the World Championship was in only a few months. We can only hope that his renewed humility will help him to learn from his mistakes and prepare for the challenges to come. Only future successes will prove the soundness of his resolution.

Many thanks to Joey Smith and Alexander Hayne, two highly talented young players with a bright Magic future in front of them… I would not be surprised to see them on the pro tour one day. All they need is a bit of maturity.

Last but not least, thanks to the army of unmentioned friends that helped me to become a better player. If you had tried a little harder maybe I would have thought of you when the time came for the expression of my gratitude.

Vincent Thibeault

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