Retrospective: PT Montreal

As some of you know, I randomly went to a Sealed RTR PTQ late last year. It was only my second PTQ in two years, but I managed to win it with a little luck, a great pool, and a disciplined draft. I thought PT Montreal would be the PT Geneva in 07′ that I declined to attend, despite having an invite, and that I would pick right back up where I left off, crushing future Hall of Famers and former World Champions (which, for one weekend, I actually did).

Sadly, for a multitude of reasons, some my own fault and some not, I failed to beat any actual opponents, and came back to the States completely ashamed of my performance, and especially sad that I had won the slot over some very deserving people like Michael Jacob, Ray Perez, Ben Perry, DJ Kastner, and still others who I’m sure would have done better than I did. During my stay in Montreal, I took some photos, and kept a journal that I updated on-site as events occurred because, well, I love sharing experiences. I also did it with the intent of publishing the finished product to give aspiring players some insight into the PT experience. However, I shelved the idea because I felt the work had no ethos, having done so poorly. By my thinking at the time, the piece would only serve as a blueprint for failure.

Months went by, and I forgot I had even kept the journal. This week, I found it lurking on my phone still. I reread it, and now that I’m far enough removed from the experience that I can objectively say there is some value in reading it, especially for those people who feel they are so close to qualifying for the Pro Tour, but are unsure about playing at the highest level, and are scared of how coming so far only to fail could affect them. This story has some lessons about how to deal with failure, and how to properly prepare yourself for the experience of playing at a PT.

I’m going to leave everything unedited, so tenses may not always make sense all the time. I’ll insert commentary as needed, and leave the actual copied text in italicized print. Most of the pictures are too large for this format, so they are linked in the text from imgur.com, and there aren’t that many because I couldn’t bring myself to truly embrace being a tourist. The entire album is available here.

Remember, this wasn’t written purely with education in mind, it was written to share an experience.

 

Every time I travel abroad it makes me feel like some kind of adventurer, traversing the world without the instant aid of Google maps…

 I passed a closed down strip club, an open strip club, a tattoo parlor, and numerous unnamed businesses to arrive at my hotel, which happens to have a weird sort of gift shop attached to it.

My room is just that, a 12×10 room with fading curtains that cover a view of the building next door and little else. Attached to the room is a coat closet; the bathroom is down the hall. For $250, I probably should have stated in a hostel. The conditions would be largely the same, except perhaps my room would be nicer. It looks like someone may have died in my room, room 404. Fitting, it’s like the file for my room can’t be found.

This hotel’s design is something from a horror movie. Hallways that lead you blind, winding their way to mysterious fire exits blockaded by random furniture. The numbers on the doors lay askew. I think I am the only tenant in the six floor, 26 room hotel.I went downstairs to ask the clerk about other bathrooms since the fourth floor ones door won’t shut(someone broke the lock on it). She replied I can use any bathroom in the hotel. I thanked her and turned to the elevator, where a man was hauling a toilet out of it through the ‘lobby.’ Water spilled from the bowels of the toilet onto the carpet. The man warned me about the water in the elevator. I took the elevator anyway.

 

The lesson here is don’t listen to your wife who illogically hates hostels. Also, if you DO try to save money by booking a random hotel through hotels.com, don’t take anything, especially bathrooms in room, for granted. Either stay in a hostel like a smart person, or a recognizable hotel chain.

 

Waking up from a deep nap is always jarring. Waking up from a deep nap in an unfamiliar place is worse. I sat at the edge of the bed, still half dreaming. It was only 3:30, and the only English channel on the TV featured Judge Joe Brown. I needed to get out, if only for a while. Registration on site didn’t start until six, but I headed that way anyway. I hit the site very quickly after a quick cut through Chinatown. The first floor of the plalais des congres was an upscale series of boutique shops and bistros. I wandered among them, hungry but unwilling to just eat anywhere. Every meal in a foreign place is special. The smells stick with you forever, and remind you of the times you had. I eventually found the event site at 4:20. The hall wasn’t open yet, so I resolved myself to choose a place to eat and spend time.

 I walked into a place called Verde Foods, or something like it. Of course I picked the one place where the dude knew very little English. My crude French didn’t really help, but at least I could read the menu. He put black olives on my panini for some reason. A grilled chicken panini and some off putting bean salad was $11. Still, I was so hungry it was all delicious. At five I walked back to the event hall. The scene looked pretty normal. There were a bunch of gamer looking people hanging about outside the doors. I felt slightly stupid for being there so early, but it was so cold outside I didn’t feel compelled to wander.

I walked in and took some touristy photos of the hall, and bought two cards to finish my deck. Sitting at a table I glanced around. There were five pockets of players, some playing, others just talking. most of the groups weren’t speaking English. I knew I shouldn’t have napped. I still felt tired, and now a little down about things. I thought about the graffiti tour I was going to go on, taking pictures as I discovered more and more. Probably not doing that now. It was already getting dark. I would have longed for tomorrow and the start of the event if not for that bathroom debacle at the hotel. Sigh. Enough writing. Time to read.

The line hasn’t shortened in the 90 minutes it took to finish Junky. Now I’m stuck at the back of the line listening to people talk. I wish I had brought my wife to the event, but the Hotel de Axe Murderer would have presented some very tough to deal with issues for her. I doubt I’m doing much else tonight besides standing in line and going back to my room. I’ve realized why I dislike the concept of fame. It’s off-putting to recognize someone’s face or voice and not have them know you in return. I really wish I had just kept sleeping.

 

It had been six years since I had been in a Pro Tour, and things are rather different now. Standing in that line felt very much like being at a $300,000 FNM with some of the best in the world. Players mostly knew each other, and were joking around and catching up on each others’ lives. I tried to just wait out the long line by reading, but it never seemed to shrink. My advice is just stand in the damn line and get through it, preferably with a friend since I’m fairly sure you can designate someone as your guest so they can enter the hall. If you didn’t bring anyone, pop in the headphones and ignore the feeling that everyone in the room knows each other (except for you, of course).

 

I felt a little better after a hike through downtown in search of a drugstore. I managed to find what I needed, and even made myself look foolish by trying to help a dude who didn’t speak English. It’s 8:30, and quiet in my room. The constant chatter of people familiar with each other lingers in my mind. It really did bother me, like being at a party where no one knows who you are. I don’t have high hopes for tomorrow after round three. I’ve never played the deck I’m playing before.

It’s 9pm. Time to find a nice well-lit bar, if there is such a thing in this town.

So I found this bar called the MVP, and there’s this dude named Felix here who just got back from Afganistan. He buys beer by the pitcher, and shots for himself, the bartender, some other dude, and I before he even knows my name. I get the feeling I’m going to like the bars here in Montreal. I’ve promised to come back tomorrow night for food. The free shots have completely dulled my taste for food. Well, the bartender, Milan(pronounced Meelan) was kind enough to offer me some free pasta, saying “you need to eat!” I’m one beer and one shot deep. Pretty sure I don’t look drunk, but you never know after the mystery shot plus a solid pint of Molson. I’ve already promised her to come back and order a real meal tomorrow night, and with the bar so close to the hotel, I plan to follow up on that. Some of the food here does sound delicious!

Felix, my unappointed drinking buddy, is very drunk, and tends to talk in circles. The shot I had was called a Stinger. I really want another, but honestly, I don’t know if Felix can handle another shot. It’s 10:30, and only 10.5 hours until the Pro Tour starts. Unsurprisingly, I feel my chances are looking up!

Felix appears to have stumbled out of the bar, off to his friends’ club. Good luck getting there; he was knocking over bar stools before he left. As for me, it’s time to sink into my book like I planned. Being the drink dude’s caretaker wasn’t exactly part of my plans when I walked in here, but that’s life. Cheers!

 

After such a bad experience overall for the day, it was nice to unwind a little. Of course, I don’t recommend getting hammered before a PT (though I do know some people who are absolute savants while inebriated), but a few drinks to calm the nerves can do a world of good. Mostly it was about experiencing the culture of Montreal. If they all hung out in underground McDonalds all night, or threw parties in honor of a giant kraken that lived in the St. Lawrence River, I would have joined in as well just to see what it’s all about. The Pro Tour is not just about winning and playing Magic. Don’t ever lose sight of that.

 

I awoke from a fitful sleep. I felt actively sick and shivering. Maybe the Stinger plus a few beers to tire myself out was too much. Damn Canadian beer. Of course someone was in the bathroom one floor up. Another floor later I was confronted with a sign that informed me not to ‘trow some smoke down the toilet bol.’ Despite my shaking, I laughed.

A longer than needed hot shower helped scrape away the crust of poor sleep. Afterward, I discovered I failed to buy deodorant last night and instead had a container that looked like it. Returning the to room, I noticed the thermostat for the first time. I cranked it to the right angrily, mad at myself for ruining my own nights sleep. I slowly puttered around, getting dressed. I forgot to take my vitamins and ibuprofin and left.

It had snowed last night. I looked down at my raggedy cons, brought only for day one when my jeans didn’t match my other shoes. Screw it. I started out through the muck, not finding a drugstore that was open but also somehow staying dry.

The site was still just beginning to stir. It looked alot like last night when I arrived. After some small talk about Gyre Sage being $5, I asked for and found a small store that sold me both Tylenol and deodorant. A quick trip to the restroom, and I was as good as I was going to get.

The only person in the room who knew my name said hi, if only to borrow cards. Sadly, I didn’t have anything to loan, but I wonder what he wanted. He responded cryptically when I asked what he needed “if you don’t have cards on you, you definitely don’t have what I need.” I’m mildly interested to see what he needed.

I realized the last time I played at a PT, I used a Discman to play some music I bought.

First draft went OK. All my creatures are fine, but my spells are atrocious. I could get there in my seven man pod. The only player I recognized was Travis’ boyfriend. I’m actively sick now, which really sucks. I’m pretty much confined to the event hall and my awful room at the HdAM.

 

 The only person who knew my name was Ari Lax, and I still have no idea what he was looking for that morning. I wrote the preceding the morning of the event, and it’s pretty obvious I had caught something nasty. You can speculate I was hungover, and I did have a slight headache, probably from the Canadian beer, but I really just felt shitty all over, run down, and half-awake. Travis’ boyfriend was of course the eventual winner of the event Tom Martell, who I played in the first round. I actually won the first game, surprising Tom with Mystic Genesis to lock up the game. But I drew some of my terrible spells in the next two games, including Hydroform. It was super embarrassing to play such terrible cards, but Tom and I briefly spoke afterward about the draft. He had opened a VERY stacked blue pack, and took a weak Boros card hoping to train wreck the players downstream. He was two seats away, and I know the guy in between us took a blue card, as did I, so his plans of sabotage clearly worked. I wished him good luck, but barely had time to go to the bathroom before I was pounded by Greg, my next opponent. I probably looked like I was dying by then. I was sweating profusely, and was confused about game states, simply failing to play a two drop on my turn once. After I lost, I told Greg that I was going back to the hotel room to sleep for my bye round (remember, it was a seven-man pod), then sleep through the lunch break, and try to make it back for Standard. He didn’t look as though he believed me. Since the story doesn’t mention it, I woke up in time to go back and play, but still felt terrible, and just went back to sleep. I eventually woke up at about 8:00 pm, but felt mildly better. Skipping out on the Pro Tour was a tough choice, but at least the decision to not go back conveys just how crappy I felt that day.

 

 It’s 1:30 am, and I’ve ridden the roller coaster in its entirety. At first, I thought to myself that I’m finished playing competitive magic, that I should quit entirely, and it’s an incredible waste of time. I’ve scrubbed out of a PT, and I’m stuck in this city for the entire weekend.

Then I went back to the MVP for the Club sandwich I promised myself. There were two dudes there talking with Milan, Patrick and…well I never actually caught his name, but he was a 6’3″ old guy roadie. We talked about some other clubs and bars nearby, including the place I am now, a nameless place where they play NOFX and Rancid. I don’t know anyone here now. Patrick and co left after a few hours, but I enjoy the ambience here, and it’s much better than being in the hotel room, which Patrick essentially called the escort hotel. I can’t say I disagree.

While they were here, I was introduced to some characters he knew at this raucous establishment, including one of the singers for his band, who knew a little about Magic. Of course, we talked about the Shivan Dragon for a time. I also talked with the girl he was with (whose name I can’t recall even though she said it beautifully). She had been to Detroit, and rode the People Mover. She described fairly accurately the two faces of Detroit, the city and the urban waste. It was pleasant to talk to everyone here, if only because I think they were pleased to speak to me.

I wonder if I’ll ever find myself in a foreign city ever again. The changes to professional magic over the years certainly make it difficult for someone like me to stay on the tour, especially at a profit. The Grand Prix system promotes travel, but it fails to compensate anyone who travels by plane. I’m still scheduled for Pittsburgh in several weeks. The pressing questions are: should I still go to Pittsburgh, and should I bother with PTQs for San Diego? I love doing this, but really it’s best with friends. That’s why I hated standing in the registration line so much, everyone talking.

No Doubt is playing. I really do like this place, even if it is a little expensive.

Anyway, being isolated in a place like this can be great for me, but if things go off the rails, they really go off. I have two more days here in the HdAM. Maybe I’ll go play some Magic tomorrow at the other event. Really, it’s always the last beer that does me in, Canadian beer always leaves me with a terrible headache, but I’ve nothing else to do. I’ve slept all day to avoid feeling homesick, and this place is a decent alternative to sleeping an entire day away.

A short aside: being in a place where you can’t read much of the printed word has given me a nasty habit. After only one day, I barely bother to read signs, especially in bars and restaurants, assuming that I will not understand the important bits.

 

I cannot stress the importance of bringing people with you on these trips. You never know what kind of shit can happen when you’re alone. For all I knew, Patrick brought me to that bar to be ritually sacrificed to Cthulhu in the basement. Of course in this case, Patrick and roadie were just cool guys that wanted to bring me to a cooler bar. Eventually, I got tired again and walked the 50 ft. to the escort hotel and went back to bed.

 

I took the subway to the magic extravaganza nearby. One other poor dude from the PT was there. So fun draft. Last pick pack one Hands of Binding. Split the finals. Four drafters in BW. I really love the interaction between extort and cipher. Too bad the format is so fast.

Entered a Standard win-a-box. Handily won game one, but lost game two to a miracled Bonfire after I seized control, and the next to a mulligan plus taking four from my own lands. Stupid Blood Artist took its toll that game, and my opponent never let me utilize my hand of double resto angel and Thragtusk. When I went to one planning to resto the tusk, he Bonfired me out. Somewhat of a bummer. His zombies deck wasn’t that great, and whiffing on land four to start Restoration Angeling right through his Desecration Demon really stung. i would have won the match easily.

 

That was the first match I had played with the deck I had hoped to play at the PT. It was pretty close to what Eric Froelich ended up Top 8ing with. The extravaganza was kinda cool I guess, despite feeling very casual somehow. There was a team event going on, side events, and had about 50 or so players milling about.

 

Eating lunch at a place called Reuben’s. it’s a weird upscale place, with a young crowd and a long bar with desserts. Hopefully it’s worth the extra cost.

 

I only ate there because of the wi-fi, but it was excellent.

 

So, the rest of this day was a whirlwind. After my scrub out in the win-a-box, I entered the GPT for Pittsburgh, which was Standard with five rounds and a cut to eight. Alot of work for three byes, but I figured most people didn’t actually want byes.

Round one was against David, playing Jund, who got crushed by my double Mortars. Pretty easy win, but really my only easy one as well.

Round two and three are a little blurry. I know one round was against a guy whose plan was to make a 5/5 flying Reckoner. It was almost successful actually. Round four was a pair down so no double draw against mono red splash Boros Charm, but I dispatched him quickly after stabilizing. I drew with a guy named Richard in round five, and we talked at length about how no one in the event really wanted to go to Pitt, and that since I already had a room booked, it was in the bag for me.

An aside: I saw two guys get deck checked before a round, but the decks were taken before they presented. What kind of horse hockey is this? If you never present a deck, it can’t be called illegal. Weird rules they have in Canada.

Anyway, I don’t really recall the quarter finals. I think he was playing the DeTora Bant deck, but my plan of endless threats was good enough. The semis was against DeTora Bant again, where a strange situation occurred. I played a Thragtusk, but failed to gain any life, two turns went by before I resto Angeled it, and noticed. I attempted to gain the life then, figuring under the new trigger rules I could since my life total had not changed since then, and had no visible effect on the game state. The judge ruled against me, and I asked for an appeal, which was denied because there was only one judge. I am unsure of who was right there, him or me, but it’s something to think about in regards to the new rules.

I handily lost that game to triple Thragtusk anyway, so it was largely irrelevant.

I won a tense game three through a few small mistakes and a relatively big one. I committed a guy to the board that wouldn’t increase my clock at all, and paid for it when my team was Supreme Verdicted away. I also at some point had a Domri Rade at two and another in hand, facing down a beast token to my 4/4 and reckoners. My opponent was at like 30 still, but was ripping off the top and only had one in hand. A Revelation would essentially end the game for me (it would have been for ten+), so I decided to fight the beast with my 4/4, and play my other Domri to get an advantage, but his lone card was Negate, which counters almost nothing in my deck. After that, I barely bled him out to win.

Richard, my opponent in the finals, was on WUR midrange and already had two byes, but wanted me to work for mine. I obliged, using Domri Rade to effectively stunt the usefullnes of Azorius Charm. I got completely daggered game two where I peeled a Boros charm the turn after he wrathed my team with him at five.

The last game was tense as well. I managed to get two active walkers, and forced him to deal with them. He cast two Revelations, but Boros Charm saved my team once, I committed when I didn’t think he had it, and he didn’t. I won through the second Revelation, Drawing Boros Charm to kill him outright. They were the toughest byes I’ve ever earned, but they make me feel much better about Pittsburgh, which I’m pretty sure is Limited. It’s pretty tough to not day two with three byes at 4-2(no jinxes).

 

Well, apparently typing no jinxes doesn’t help. I did in fact win zero matches in Pittsburgh, with the only point of interest being I lost in round four to David Williams and his weirdly soft hands.

 

The night didn’t end there however. Returning the the hotel room via the subway, I came across a group of people looking at someone who I’m pretty sure was dead on the stairs at the metro station. It looked like they had things covered, so I plodded on. I expected the subway to be mega scary at night, but it was full of young people. The hotel wi-fi still wasn’t working right, so I got some bad advice from the deck clerk and set off to find a bar that had wi-fi. I told myself I wasn’t going to drink again tonight, but there was little else to do.

I walked directly past the place Patrick and co took me to last night, and wandered for about a mile in the freezing fucking cold until I made a huge loop, ending up back at the hotel. The only interesting thing that happened is I was approached by a prostitute. Even though I’m staying at the escort hotel, I didn’t think it was a good idea. I wandered back into this nameless loud place with sweet music, and rediscovered they don’t take credit, but they DO have wi-fi!

My latest error involves ordering a Labatt, receiving a Budweiser, then vaguely thinking that I got what I asked for somehow. It’s the cheapest beer on the menu, so screw it! Tomorrow is the Top 8 at 11 am. I think I’ll head down and watch in person. There will probably be some free drafts as well, so hurray! It kinda sucks that I’m sitting alone in this bar tonight, but I suppose I’m really just here for the wi-fi anyway. Pretty sure I made a solid impression on the guys who threw the Magic Celebration tonight. I got to plug gg/podcast to some players, and I made both look good since I kicked all their asses in the GPT. I might even end up with some bonus twitter followers, so taste it Cato!

I may have missed out pretty hard at the PT, but I turned this weekend around. I’m genuinely enjoying myself in this city, even if it has its creepy moments (dead person in subway). I’m going to see the Top 8 tomorrow too, and that’s seeing history, because every Pro Tour is history for all of us. Even those of us who go 0-2 sleep-in-the-hotel-room-for-six-hours.

Well, watching the Top 8 at the event is pretty fun. I could be free drafting instead, which is somehow very tempting, but I don’t know anyone here, and am not inclined to be meeting people really. The matches have largely been exciting, especially the semis between Martell and EFro. So much happening and potentially happening that it was hard to follow.

 

I was too busy to write about it at the time, but it was interesting to see the reactions and commentary of the players watching the event. They were extremely excited for their friends to do well, and numerous high-fives were exchanged, even when a player came back defeated. There was some community there I could sense, and it transcended the various test groups and prize splits. When everyone rushed over from the viewing area to the stage to watch Martell win live, I trailed along behind, taking it all in. It was a very exciting moment, even though I had no vested interest in it other than I could say that I lost to the guy who won it all. Anyone who ever goes to a PT should be there for the end. It’s special.

 

The funs all over now. I’m sitting at the airport waiting to go home. The karaoke party for Martells win was just down the street from my hotel, but I’ve spent enough money at bars this weekend already. At Least the hotels wi-fi lasted until about 10 pm. Afterward, I fitfully slept. It felt like I was continually dreaming, the product of never really getting restful sleep. The morning was largely uneventful other than waiting at a random bus stop with Greg, my round two opponent from the PT. He seemed slightly surprised I actually followed through on my desire to leave after my second loss. We talked a little about magic on the long bus ride. He didn’t do well either, but he, like me, is a Limited player, and only travels to play Limited.

Quick inventory check. Did I enjoy myself? Kinda. I didn’t like being alone for that long, especially with no Internet. Did I win anything? Three byes in Pitt, so again kinda. Would I do this again? Minus a few key things, absolutely.

 

That’s about it. Thanks for reading, and when you go to your next Pro Tour, make sure you enjoy yourself however you can, even if life tries it’s best to stop you.

Nigel