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- I started playing Magic in first grade, around the release of 7th Edition and Odyssey block. A friend of mine brought some of her brother's cards to school, and she didn't know the rules but the art and card frames drew me in. I bought a 7th Edition starter kit from Borders and played through the computer tutorial. I still didn't totally understand the rules myself, but I taught my friends about mana and combat at that was enough to hook everyone. I found out some of the older kids at Chinese school played as well, but they had dual lands and Terminates and Fire//Ices and I didn't stand I chance. I watched them play from a distance, but it didn't even look like they were playing the same game at the time. I stuck to my 20 lands and the Avatar of Woe I traded half my collection for and played casually with my friends for the next few years.
- I got into Magic strategy when my best friend broke the rules: he bought a preconstructed deck, Bait and Bludgeon from Mirrodin. I looked online for tips on how to beat his deck and found the Wizards website, Zvi's what's the play articles, and Building on a Budget. I tuned my deck and played better and leveled the playing field.
- I moved from New York to New Mexico shortly after and lost my Magic circle, but I found out about prereleases and started playing those. This was back when prereleases were huge regional tournaments, and doing well felt like such a big deal – I won so many packs! I started middle school and made another Magic friend. He was two years younger then me but he and his brother were already serious players because his dad competed. He introduced me to MTGSalvation and Magic Workstation and I started playing more competitively myself.
- My crowning achievement from this phase of my Magic career was making the top 8 of States during Time Spiral/Lorwyn standard. It was a pretty funny story. Inspired by Miracle Grow, I brewed up a burn deck with Quirion Dryad and Tarmogoyf. My friend promised me he had all the cards for my deck, but he just brought a huge box of unsorted cards to the store and let me have at it. I'd expected him to build the deck for me and had only gotten to the store a half hour before the tournament, so I scrambled to put together a function deck from the box he'd given me. Being 12, I miscounted the cards in my deck and was forced to register additional lands after receiving my game loss. Ironically, I think that mistake was why I did so well in the tournament. I had planned on playing 18 lands and not nearly enough green sources for my 2-drops, the additional basics meant I could actually cast my spells. Not only that, my opponents were all skimping on lands as well, and with 24 lands I just curved out more smoothly and stumbled less often than they did. I had the benefit of the next decade of Magic theory by accident. I won a full art Doran, the Siege Tower and promptly lost it at school.
- I started high school shortly after and quit as AP classes occupied more and more of my attention. I took five or six AP classes both junior and senior year, and at the end I was pretty burned out. I remembered how much fun I had playing Magic and started again the summer before college, around the release of New Phyrexia. I was in Denver for a doctor's appointment and drafted at a local game store on a whim, and got hooked again. I found out about Magic Online and moved to Chicago for college and graduated to Grand Prix when the circuit came to town. Although I played competitively, I was still a relatively casual. I played when I could, was good but not great, but never traveled more than an hour to play.
- I broke through to the Pro Tour the year after I graduated from college. I didn't take applying for jobs as seriously as I could have my senior year, and I wound up just helping a friend of a friend program high-frequency trading software. I hated it and quit after a couple months, moving home. There wasn't a lot going on in rural New Mexico and I was still pretty exhausted from senior year and the job, so I played a ton of Magic Online, around 8 hours on most days. I got much better in the process, and I spiked an online PTQ for PT Oath in Atlanta. Then spiked another for PT Shadows in Madrid. Then spiked a third for PT Eldritch Moon in Sydney. Then won a Grand Prix, hit silver, and triple qualified for PT Sydney, an achievement I doubt I'll top anytime soon.
- I don't play that much these days. I started a master's in statistics and organizational behavior at Stanford a year ago, and that's kept me pretty busy. I play Magic Online occasionally, go to convenient Grand Prix, and prepare for the PTs I'm qualified for. I'll draft with other students sometimes. But since I'm not allowed to play PPTQs anymore and don't have much time to travel, I don't have a lot of opportunities.
- The Magic achievement I'm most proud of is my second online PTQ win. It was Eldrazi modern, and I noticed that Matt Sperling had done well in the MOCS qualifier the previous weekend with an interesting UW control deck. I tried it and the deck was highly favored against Eldrazi. The Eldrazi decks were absurdly broken, but they had two key weaknesses. The first was that most lists played relatively little removal and disruption, relying instead on Eldrazi Displacer, Thought-Knot Seer, and Drowner of Hope to interact. The second was at the end of the day, the decks were just a pile of creatures. UW control exploited both those vulnerabilities. It had cheap removal and counterspells to ride out Eldrazi's early mana advantage, a powerful 2-drop creature in Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Supreme Verdicts and Elspeths to close out the late game. Jace played so many roles: he fixed my draws, gave me the critical mass of removal to answer all of Eldrazi's threats, and even protected my hand against Thought-Knot Seer. I could guarantee I had access to Supreme Verdict by discarding one to Jace early on and then flipping him on a key turn. The deck was only weak against the slower GR builds of Eldrazi with World Breakers, but those were relatively weak in the mirror. In the PTQ, I played against only Eldrazi and the mirror and didn't lose a single match. I hadn't felt so favored in a tournament before and haven't since. If you'd like, you can read a tournament report I wrote on my blog here: http://wiresandstarlings.tumblr.com/post/141772878504/
- That ties into my greatest Magic strength, which is identifying what's important in constructed or even limited formats. Once a constructed format is established, I'm good at seeing what role each deck in the metagame plays and figuring out the strategy that's best against the whole field. Even in my college years, I identified and started practicing with the best decks in each format fairly early on. Most notably, I identified that the Rally the Ancestors deck that Matt Nass played at PT Battle for Zendikar was broken even after he did poorly with the deck and lost faith himself. I played that deck for the whole next year, and that was a big part of my third online PTQ win. In limited, I'm good at understanding the role each color and color combination plays and staying open, drafting what comes to me.
- My biggest weakness is building formats from the ground up. Historically, I haven't played very good decks at PTs, and that's largely been because I just didn't figure out what was going on. The one time I played a great deck at a PT – BG Emrakul at PT Sydney – it was entirely a happy accident. I built a BG control deck to beat Bant Company and humans, threw in an Emrakul as a sweet Traverse target, and the deck happened to be good against almost everything because Emrakul was broken. (Notably not the faster Emrakul decks, but I think only Pantheon had that deck.) I've been getting better though. I've been playing more and more weird formats like 1v1 Commander and Battlebox and really trying to understand how those formats function at their core, then building my own decks or tuning existing decks based on my understanding.
- I haven't built that many notable decks, but I'm proud I built the BG Emrakul deck for Sydney, mono-red aggro in RTR-GTC block constructed, and the first prototypes of Tron in Pauper.
- You can read an article I wrote about the Tron deck here: https://www.mtgoacademy.com/4-color-tron-in-pauper-constructed/
- You can read a blog post I wrote about another sweet Pauper deck I brewed here: http://wiresandstarlings.tumblr.com/post/136195294459
- I wrote a short post on the dangers of gamification here: http://wiresandstarlings.tumblr.com/post/151374021324
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