The Ladder to PTQ glory: Life on the 2nd rung
Welcome back to our running series on the climb to Pro Tour Qualification.
In yesterday’s article, we met the players just setting out on their journey; today, I’ll introduce you to a couple of players who count themselves as PTQ regulars, settling into the grind but as yet unable to break through into the world of the Top 8.
The second rung: seasoned PTQ campaigners
Let’s meet the panel:
Both of the guys share a core set of attitudes which sum up their experience on the second rung:
Daryl is first to nail his competitive colours to the mast: “I enjoy it more now than I did when playing casually. I’m a naturally competitive person, and playing against people with a similar mindset is rewarding.”
He tells me that competing to reach the Pro Tour was simply the latest step in a progression which felt completely natural: “I kept reaching a point where I wanted to improve my game and play more challenging opponents. Coverage was also a factor – the PT looks sweet.”
Graeme is also crystal clear about his thirst for competition, which he credits for propelling him deep into the PTQ scene.
“I LOVE IT!” he writes. “As much as I enjoy playing magic casually, there is just something about the competitive nature that makes me want to keep going to PTQs.”
By comparison to our first rung panellists, the guys are much more open about their hunger to compete; however, they do have one stark common concern with our first group of interviewees.
“Unfortunately, being a final year student I don’t have much time or money to put into travelling to PTQs so I will only go to those I can get to cheaply,” explains Graeme. “Even then, only if there are no university commitments keeping me busy.”
It’s not all serious business, though.
“Regardless of my mediocre finishes, playing competitive Magic is definitely one of the most fun things I’ve ever done,” explains Daryl. “The experience of travelling to PTQs is always entertaining, thanks largely to the other players who travel down regularly. Shoutout to the Lobber Crew.”
Even when players are focussing on ‘the grind’ – in fact, especially so – it would seem they place a high value on the people they share their experiences with. Community is central to the experiences of our second rung players.
While our first group credited improved understanding of the game’s fundamentals for their improvement to date, Daryl and Graeme both pinpoint preparation as the critical factor in taking their play to the next level.
“Putting time into learning how to play against the big decks in the format is always useful,” says Graeme. “I did well at PTQs where I played against decks I had practised against and was confident in my ability to pull ahead.”
Daryl backs the observation up, albeit his lesson was a hard-learned one: “I’ve also learned the value of testing to success. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that by turning up at PTQs without enough experience with the deck I’m playing and performing poorly.”
The detail of Graeme’s successful preparation has a common-sense ring to it, especially when compared to the approach advocated by many pro-players.
“Last year, we had a group of players pull a gauntlet together of the big decks at the time and just jammed games against them, discussing the trickier plays and testing sideboards,” he explains. “Learning to properly sideboard and being able to understand the sideboarding (as opposed to simply knowing what goes in/comes out) helped me in playing at PTQs, as I was able to tweak commonly accepted sideboarding tactics to help battle the individual touches players had made to their decks. It also helps you sideboard correctly against a rogue brew.”
Of course, while the process might not seem revolutionary in prospect, what’s important is following through on the plan. Doing that takes a commitment in terms of time and effort – and creates a tension with the ‘real-world’ pressures on our players.
Our second rung players are so focussed on their next goal, they might as well use targetting lasers.
Daryl: “My main goal is to top 8 a PTQ in the next year.”
Graeme: “I’d like to top 8 a PTQ sometime soon.”
Having already experienced the success at local events which our first panel craved, these guys are less general in their desires. They have their sights firmly on the next hurdle.
I get the sense that most players find setting modular goals to be the most productive way of encouraging improvement. While there are certainly voices in the community who advocate driving for Pro Tour trophies from very start, that kind of ultimate goal pursuit does not seem to appeal to those I’ve interviewed.
Unlike the first group, both Daryl and Graeme express degrees of uncertainty about whether they can keep up their commitment to qualification.
“It all depends on where in the country I am come Summer 2014,” says Graeme. “If I am near a good magic community, I imagine I’d keep going at the rate I am/increase my commitment. On the other hand, if I am nowhere near a Magic community my commitment could only decrease.”
“My PhD finishes up in April,” Daryl tells me, “and after that I’m moving to Finland to work for 3 months, which means I’ll have access to fewer PTQs. After that, I’m not sure where I’ll be, but I’ll hopefully be in a full time job which might make my time for PTQing less flexible.”
Second rung report
Our second rung players are clearly ambitious and making progress, but subject to pressures that may cause them to drop out of the running over the next year. How will their experience compare with the players on the third rung?
Join us tomorrow, when we’ll meet a group of PTQ Top 8 players who are trying to take the next step to qualification.