The Ladder to PTQ glory: Life on the 3rd rung
Welcome back to our running series on the climb to Pro Tour Qualification.
On Monday, we met the players just setting out on their journey; yesterday, we met the players embroiled in the grind; today, I’ll introduce you to a group of players who have made the breakthrough into the world of the Top 8, but are yet to secure qualification.
The third rung: Top 8 competitors
Let’s meet the panel:
The first, crucial thing our panelists share is a desire to play on a big stage.
“The official channels do a lot of good PR showcasing the Pro Tour,” Duncan tells me. He goes on to compare the appeal to, “wanting to win the World Cup as a boy.”
Greg doesn’t believe that his interest in the PTQ circuit is down to a single factor, but he does give weight to WotC’s promotional efforts:
“The Pro Tour coverage was definitely a powerful catalyst in wanting to play PTQs, Watching deck techs with pros made it very easy to identify decks that appealed to me, then look to try them out. I was impressed with the confidence and knowledge that the best players would display, and wanted to emulate that.“
Peter concurs with the other panelists, but has a little extra spice to add: “I started following coverage around Lorwyn Block. The whole dream of being on the train was certainly appealing but I think the urge to play Dredge in old Extended after seeing it on the Tour is what got me into playing PTQs.”
Limelight (and passion for broken graveyard decks) aside, our players are also united by a pretty striking level of commitment. Their willingness to travel considerably outstrips that of our previous two groups of panelists.
“I’m happy to travel to Sheffield and Manchester to play in PTQs and have taken flights to Ireland,” notes Greg, before stating that he hopes to attend GP Barcelona later in the year. Like the other panelists, he’s based in the Glasgow area, so these trips are not negligible.
Duncan has an even broader spread in mind: “For PTQs it might be more about the amount of time and effort needed to get to the location. It’s actually less time and sometimes cheaper to get to some Southern locations rather than driving to the Midlands. For GPs I’d go as far as Eastern Europe and was even thinking of further…”
It’s Duncan, however, who most eloquently illustrates the cost of maintaining this kind of dedicated campaigning. What sacrifices have you made? I ask him.
“Plenty… I actually don’t think people invest enough to do this. There is a significant financial one to begin with. Being in Glasgow makes almost any trip reasonably costly… we’re not even talking about owning cards!
“There is also a massive time-sink involved. You should test so many different match-ups just to find out what deck you like and then you should refine your ability to play that deck! There’s also the constant updates and metagame swings from the big events – the big decks to watch out for one week may very well not be the next week.
“When I was younger one of my friends asked me jokingly if we were ever to quit playing cards, would we all get great grades in Uni, super-fit girlfriends, raises at work and the world magically become better. I said ‘yes, of course’.”
As we explore their ideas about improving as a player, first Duncan, then the other panelists raise a curious, but important concept: Magical fitness.
” I know that when I’ve won events in the past I have this feeling of having played well… whilst right now I can feel similarly… it’s not quite all lined up yet,” Duncan explains, making reference to his previous career in the WOW TCG.
Shortly afterward, Peter brings up a related point: ” If you take an extended break you’ll likely have to re-learn good habits,” he says.
“More time put into testing… with the express goal of tightening up my technical play will pay huge dividends,” Greg states firmly, completing the hat-trick.
All of our players feel there is a peak state of mental fitness to which they can aspire; Duncan goes so far as to say that he can feel when he is operating at his best and is continuing to chase it. They’re also united in the belief that one can’t simply ‘bank’ that status and come back to it later – it can only be maintained, like physical fitness, by staying on the treadmill.
The rest of their collective feedback concentrates on the value of preparation. Peter’s mantra is perhaps the clearest in this respect.
“Do everything you can to reduce variance,” he says. “This means: testing for a format, picking a deck ahead of time, getting to the event early, having a good night’s rest, keeping a bottle of water with you etc etc. The more you can reduce the chance you make mistakes the better your odds are of making it deep into a tournament.”
The others make similar statements, with Greg attributing several of his previous disappointments to a bad habit of switching decks shortly before tournaments. He has another, less obvious observation to make, however:
“Playing in many PTQs per season has given me a real confidence in playing at competitive REL.”
How many players actively think, I wonder, about the advantage that comes from feeling as if PTQs are home turf? Duncan certainly does. He tells me that knowing “how to handle a tournament environment” is an essential ingredient in success.
The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Unfamiliar environments can be disorienting, or intimidating for most people; as someone who does a healthy amount of public speaking, for instance, I know that I feel very comfortable in that role – but it’s something colleagues with less experience actively avoid. It seems that attending lots of PTQs in a year can reap extra rewards, beyond simply multiplying the number of shots one takes at qualification.
If our last set of panelists were targeting their goals with a laser, this group are using an electron microscope. They want to win things.
Duncan: “I honestly plan on winning something at some point.”
Greg: “…make the Pro Tour. In addition, I’m going to qualify for team Scotland in the WMCQs if it’s the last thing I do.”
Peter: “I’d obviously like to win a PTQ or similar event like a WMCQ.”
This group definitely see their commitment staying steady and/or increasing. The hunger in their replies is palpable; when I ask Duncan whether anything has changed for him now that he has started to chase the blue envelope, he tells me:
“It feels a little more elusive now that I think I can genuinely challenge for one. Before I was more of an upstart who didn’t take Magic seriously. Now I’m someone who can’t put away a victory.”
Across the board, our panelists burn to chalk up a Pro-Tour appearance. It is difficult to believe that we won’t see one of them do so in the near future.
Third rung report
Our third rung players are committed and hungry. They train and they sacrifice, working to give themselves the best chance at joining our fourth rung panellists – those who have played on multiple Pro Tours and on multiple National Teams. How has success affected their outlook and ambition?
Join us tomorrow, when we’ll meet the players who’ve reached the top of the ladder.