The Ladder to PTQ glory: Life on the 4th rung by Dave Shedden
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; on Tuesday, we met the players embroiled in the grind; yesterday, we met the players who have cracked the Top 8 but still hunger to qualify; today, I’ll introduce you to a pair of players who have secured multiple blue envelopes and represented their country on more than one occasion.
Welcome to the top of the ladder.
The fourth rung: Pro Tour veterans
Let’s meet the panel:
Reading replies from Brad and Stephen was tremendously interesting. These are two players who have known each other for a considerable time, tested and played on National teams together… but in their responses, I could see two very distinct characters.
Let’s see what they agreed on most strongly:
Brad is forthright on the value of regular tournament attendance: “[In 2013] I played the 3 WMCQs, 1 GP and about 5/6 PTQs. I would like to attend more – and to qualify regularly you have to attend more. In previous years I have attended 10+ PTQs a year.”
This assertion lends weight to the plans of our third rung panellists, all of whom planned to ratchet up their commitment.
Stephen supports it too – and he also illustrates the importance of a willingness to travel, when he states: “Now that there will be 4 seasons of PTQs in a year, I would be willing to go to 12 of them at least… Within the UK I am kind of a maniac and have been all the way down to Bognor Regis, Cardiff, Southampton and so on – basically anywhere I can get to.”
Interestingly, however, when discussing the competitive circuit Brad notes: “I probably enjoy it more now than I did at the start, but that’s maybe because I play less.” He’s certain that his record of success has come at a price, measured both in the time and money he’s dedicated to pursuing it.
Stephen mirrors Brad’s thinking when he cites fears about burnout: “…in order to still get hyped up for multiple weekends in a row of travelling, I barely play that much during the week these days. I have also sacrificed many nights of sleep in order to go to PTQs!”
This might seem like a lot of overlap, given what I observed earlier, but trust me: these guys are quite different people, despite all they have in common.
Suffice to say, I can’t imagine Brad ever calling 2HG Draft ‘the format of kings’, or Stephen answering a question in three words which he could embellish with an anecdote. While successful players may share common approaches, by the time I had finished their submissions I was reassured that one doesn’t need to be a particular kind of personality in order to win at Magic. Success is open to all types of people, if they have ability and are prepared to work for it.
The great majority of players reading this series will likely be interested in what it takes to reach this rung, above all the others.
When I ask Brad what factors were central to his progression from a Top 8 contender to a multiple PTQ winner, he’s very clear: “You have to test lots and soak up information/knowledge from experienced players around you.”
It’s a noticeably modest response. It might be easy to adopt a know-it-all disposition after experiencing repeated successes on the circuit, but Brad’s first instinct is to credit the people who have surrounded him during his journey.
Stephen reveals a maverick side to his character when posed the same question: “Knowing when to break the ‘rules’ we all learn about competitive magic. You know the kind, ‘[that card] is unplayable NEVER play it’ or ‘always attack or block with something’. Maybe 99 times out of 100 those general rules will do well for everyone, but being able to identify the unique circumstances where you need to play like a maniac is good.”
This is something many of us need to hear. As we improve at Magic, we learn mental shortcuts which help us to avoid generally unprofitable patterns of play – though it’s important not to become slaves to these ideas. The shortcutting process is a powerful tool, but not if we end up abdicating responsibility for our gameplay decisions.
Another idea which surfaces in our discussions is the level of competition on the PTQ circuit.
“I don’t think there’s been much of an increase in skill level, it’s just that you have to win more rounds to win a PTQ now,” Brad writes.
“Attendance has skyrocketed lately,” Stephen agrees, “testing Tournament Organisers and making the days even longer, but I think the kinds of people in PTQs are pretty much the same as they used to be, if a little more likely to be net-decking than in the past.”
While they approach the subject from a slightly different angle, these observations lend weight to the points made by our last panel about preparedness and peak fitness.
As the circuit grows, our most successful players are less worried about the danger of increasingly skillful opponents (although there’s no suggestion that they don’t respect them) than they are about succumbing to mental tiredness, or variance. PTQs are increasingly an endurance race.
Both panelists want to experience more success, but seem to have different ideas about what that success will look like – and what they’ll have to do to get there.
Brad tells me that he’ll hopefully, “…qualify for another PT this year and also the World Cup.”
To do this, he indicates that he’ll need to put more time into testing and make a commitment to attend more events; taken in context with his other answers, it’s clear that Brad feels a scaled-back PTQ schedule in 2013 has cost him in his qualification effort.
Stephen, by contrast, is more focused on converting his current PT invite into the kind of running qualification which comes with Gold status in the Pro Players’ club – and big stage success.
“Well, ultimately I’d love to win a PT,” he muses. “Obviously I need to top 8 some stuff first in order to do that!”
To get there, he believes he’ll need to overcome, “…a reluctance to REALLY dedicate myself to obtain more Pro Points for qualifications. I know it’s easy to get burnt out on the GP circuit and I’m concerned about that, but just going on a mad travelling spree would be a good start.”
It’s a sobering thought that even the most successful players, frequently distinguished from their peers by the volume of time and effort they put in, are themselves pondering how much more of their lives they can dedicate to chasing further and higher accolades.
It’s not all high-pressure stuff, however. One of the most striking aspects of our top-rung players’ responses has been their frequent reference to enjoyment of the game.
“Magic has been really good to me,” Stephen writes. “I’ve met great people all over the place, and the people on the scene are a huge part of it. I wouldn’t still be playing if I couldn’t go hang out with all the excellent people in between rounds, and giving me people to cheer on when I’m busy scrubbing out.
“Without Magic tournaments, my life would be much less rich.”
Even if our sights are set on the highest prizes of all, we need never lose our love of the game. After all, without that… why are we shuffling up in the first place?
Fourth rung report
Our fourth rung players are very keen to get on, or stay on, the Pro Tour stage – and they accept that to do so will take serious, ongoing commitment. Their responses have shown us that even when a player ranks amongst the most skillful in their region, they can’t afford to scale back the effort they invest if they wish to sustain success.
We’ve seen the the height of this ladder over the last four days, as observers carried on the shoulders of the players fighting to get to each new rung.
Join us tomorrow, when we’ll recap what’s been learned and offer you a field report from this weekend’s Dundee PTQ.