Twenty Years of the Pro Tour

Written by Jeff Zandi on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Twenty Years of the Pro Tour

Jeff Zandi

Jeff Zandi is a level 2 judge and an eight-time veteran of the Pro Tour. He has written continuously about Magic for over eighteen years. His team, the Texas Guildmages, have the longest running regular game in history, meeting at his home every Tuesday night since 1996.

Twenty Years of the Pro Tour

What were you doing twenty years ago today? If you love competitive Magic, the place you wish you were twenty years ago today was inside the Puck building in New York City. Twenty years ago today, on February 18, 1996, eight players took a step into competitive gaming history by battling in the top eight of the first ever Pro Tour.

Baxter then and now

George Baxter was a twenty-three-year-old graduate of Texas A&M University when he played in the first-ever Pro Tour. Baxter was playing Magic from almost the very start. A lover of strategy games, George was quickly hooked by the new card game. By the time the Pro Tour started up in 1996 George had already published several books on Magic strategy, the first such works in print anywhere. Then he received a postcard in the mail from Wizards of the Coast. The widely distributed postcard announced “the first in a series of professional tournaments for Magic: the Gathering.” The postcards arrived in November of 1995 and provided a means to gain registration to the first Pro Tour event: hopeful contestants could call Wizards of the Coast on December 14, 15, 18, 19 and 20. Participants preregistering in this way would pay a $50 fee to participate in the inaugural event to be held on the third weekend in February at the Puck Building in New York City. George was very interested, but it was his girlfriend Sally who made the call that got George onto the list. Two months later, Baxter was on a plane headed to New York. It was his first trip to the Big Apple and a memorable one. Even before the cards started flying in the tournament, George had to contend with the biggest blizzard of the season. George stayed at the hotel recommended by Wizards of the Coast, he dined at a Chinese restaurant nearby with another legend of the early Pro Tour days, Mark Chalice. George remembers that restaurant as having the best Chinese food he had ever eaten. Then George remembers roaming the hallways at the Pro Tour site, watching players practice for the big event. He learned from Chalice that Chalice’s team, Pacific Coast Legends, one of the first well known teams of Magic players, were playing decks with Necropotence.

Black Lotus Postcard Back

At some point in the weekend, Magic’s inventor Richard Garfield made a speech. As George Baxter remembers it, the always-playful Garfield was dressed as a wizard when he made the speech. In the most memorable part of the creator’s speech, Garfield said that he took games very seriously and that he wanted to see Magic: the Gathering blossom as more than a game, an “intellectual sport.”

Black Lotus Postcard Front

Early in the competition George was matched with Bertrand Lestree, a French player who would also wind up in the top eight. Lestree was charming and fun to talk to, which was good because Bertrand talked all during their match and afterwards. Bertrand commented on George’s aggressive creature deck. It was not the kind of thing that the top European players favored. George defeated Bertrand in their match. As a matter of fact, George Baxter went undefeated all the way through the Swiss rounds. He was the only player to reach the top sixteen undefeated. In later Pro Tour events, as well as most other large Magic events, Swiss rounds ultimately result into a cut to the top eight players. At that first Pro Tour in snowy Manhattan, the Masters division (players eighteen years or older) cut to a single elimination bracket containing sixteen players. George’s quarterfinals matchup with Leon Lindback is immortalized in collection of eight decks created later in 1996 by Wizards of the Coast. This collection contains a commemorative edition of each player’s deck from the top eight of Pro Tour New York. It is also well known that Leon Lindback was playing the only Necropotence deck in the top eight, an archetype that would virtually take over competitive Magic in the summer of 1996. It is less well known that George Baxter played Lindback’s teammate and travel companion in the round of sixteen. That teammate of Lindback’s was also playing a Necropotence deck and, in fact, had built the deck that Lindback played in the tournament. George lost that semifinals match against Lindback and finished in fifth place taking home $1000 in prize money.

The plan for George, after getting his bachelor’s degree from A&M, was to head straight to law school. Those plans changed a little when George experienced success in the first year of the Pro Tour. After winning $1000 at the first Pro Tour event, George won $2000 at the tour’s next event a couple of months later in Los Angeles. He missed the money in the Pro Tour’s third event that year but scored a more humble $400 prize at the fourth event of the year, Pro Tour Atlanta. By now George was really rolling. He put together Team Dallas in order to practice more effectively for the Pro Tour. It worked. George was back in the top eight at Pro Tour Dallas late in 1996 winning $5500. Furthermore, he was also helping his teammates gain Pro Tour success. His teammate David Ferguson came in sixteenth at Dallas and won $3200. Another teammate, Jason Twitty, managed to qualify for Pro Tour Dallas but did not win money. Another teammate, Jeremy Baca, finished second in the juniors division of Pro Tour Dallas earning $10,000 in scholarship money. He would go on to adult success on the tour as well. The last event of the first year of the Pro Tour, the Dallas event helped prove that Magic: the Gathering was truly a game of skill. Seven of the top eight players from the first event, Pro Tour New York, finished in the money at Pro Tour Dallas.

Magic was very serious business for George Baxter during this time. When he wasn’t traveling to a major tournament he was practicing with his teammates for the next event. They practiced every week at a sandwich shop called Miami Subs. Inevitably, the practices spilled over to Baxter’s place where teammates would end up spending the night or playing cards until dawn. At one point, teammate Cary Darwin officially moved in with George. When he wasn’t playing in tournaments or practicing for tournaments George was writing and doing other work for his publisher. Still, George didn’t see Magic as distracting him from doing something more important. At the time, George was excited about letting the game take him as far as he could go. To this day, George credits Magic: the Gathering for his sense of focus, his ability to solve complex problems. After Magic, everything in Baxter’s life seemed like a game to him, another puzzle he could solve with the analytic tools he gained from his Pro Magic career.

A year later, things began to change a bit. “I like to get better,” George said recently about his approach to Magic back then. In 1997, George started to see that as far as he had moved across the learning curve of Magic it was getting harder and harder to improve. He began to get discouraged with his results, even though he was still doing well in professional tournaments. George said that in his best year in Magic, combining his Pro Tour winnings and his earnings from writing about the game, he totaled about $50,000. An impressive figure for a young man chasing the dream, but Baxter recognized it could never be a true career for him. After taking about a year off from his studies, George Baxter started law school in 1998. He began at a smaller law school but finished at the University of Texas. He practiced law for a time. He also married his longtime girlfriend Sally and together they have two girls, ages twelve and ten. After a very long absence from the game, George came back to Magic in order to play with his oldest daughter a few years ago. They played in some store prerelease events. His daughter liked the game but got a little frustrated that dad that wouldn’t play down to her level and let her win. George says he learned his lesson and took it a little easier on his second daughter when they play. But Magic’s not the game that captures Baxter’s heart these days. Investing is. The world of finance and investing has become George’s latest career, and he says he couldn’t have done it without Magic: the Gathering. “It was a good time,” said George, “It was my youth. I have no regrets.” George doesn’t keep up with very many of his old Magic mates, though he still sees Bryan “Red” Sammon regularly. They participate in an investor’s club together.

Poulter then and now

Preston Poulter followed up his fourth place finish at Pro Tour New York with a sixth place finish at the second Pro Tour in Los Angeles. Preston was pretty sure he was on his way in the brand new world of professional Magic. He scored a total of $6,000 from those first two Pro Tour stops, succeeding at both Constructed in New York as well as Booster Draft at Los Angeles. Then some time passed and Preston ran out of qualifications and the funds to chase after more qualifications. As good as the prize money was, Preston realized that the income was just not going to be able to keep up with the expenses. He realized that the game was still a hobby, not a viable profession. While he met a lot of great people that he’s still friendly with to this day, he also experienced a lot of competitive players with poor manners and, as Preston saw it, delusions of grandeur.

In the years since Poulter moved on from the Pro Tour, he has had more than a few careers. He’s been a professional poker player. He’s owned his own businesses. Also, he’s a writer. Preston Poulter recently wrote a screenplay about the real-life adventures of female combat pilots from Russia during World War II. There is interest for the script in Hollywood and there is a graphic novel in the works as well.

Pro Tour New York 1996 Reenactment

The birth of the Pro Tour was extremely exciting to competitive Magic players. Six months after the first event in New York City, Wizards of the Coast produced a very special product, a boxed set of the top eight decks from Pro Tour New York. Gold bordered with the simulated autograph of a top eight player on every card, this set made it possible to replay the top eight of the first Pro Tour at your own kitchen table. To get mine, I traded in my first Black Lotus in order to cover the price of the eight deck collection, $125. Twenty years later, these box sets are hard to find and sell for $300 and up. Me and my friends played with my set of Pro Tour New York decks for at least ten years before I got around to sleeving them. Sleeving the decks meant no longer being able to keep them in their cool bookshelf storage box. Today, the box the decks came in sits on the shelf, good-looking but empty. The decks are all sleeved and have their own padded Ultra Pro carrying case. Me and my friends have replayed the New York top eight many, many times. Sometimes we use the same bracket as on Sunday at New York in 1996, sometimes we re-randomize the top eight. Obviously I have played out the top eight with these decks on my own many times as well. In my most recent run, just last week, Poulter came out on top of Regnier 2-1 in the finals.

PTNY96 Decks

To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Pro Tour, I decided to host a reenactment of the New York 1996 top eight. After getting the permission of the owner of Texas’s largest game store, Madness Games and Comics in Plano, Texas, I put out the call on Facebook. I wanted eight good players to replay the same top eight bracket that decided the first Pro Tour way back in that snowy February in New York City. There would be no charge for the event, but the winner would win a free entry to this year’s Hunter Burton Memorial Magic Open (and SCG Super IQ) that takes place on March 26th, a $30 value.

I quickly had eight takers. They met at the enormous Madness store on Friday evening to make this thing happen. I told the players that they would be randomly assigned their decks. I also decided that although we were playing with 1996 decks, we had to play with 2016 rules. A lot has happened to the rules over the years and some of the changes make some of the 1996 cards less powerful. Mark Justice’s deck is the most affected. His deck’s strategy is based on the combo of Icy Manipulator and Winter Orb. Back then, continuous effects of artifacts were turned off when they were tapped. Winter Orb only allows each player to untap a single land during their untap step. However, in 1996, you could tap Winter Orb with your Icy Manipulator at the end of your opponent’s turn. You would get to untap all of your land (as well as the Winter Orb). When it was your opponent’s turn, Winter Orb would be untapped and would allow them to only untap a single land. This combo was almost as powerful as Armageddon in certain situations. There was some thought to using most of today’s rules with a few exceptions made for cards like Winter Orb and a few others. The bottom line is that you can’t pick and choose. You have to either play by all the current rules or by all the old rules. Good luck playing correctly with 1996 rules.

I faced this exact same situation before. At the 2008 World Championships in Memphis. I judged a special competition that was put on by Lan D. Ho and Eric Atwood. They were producing a Magic documentary called “I Came to Game” and they assembled eight top pro players to play the Pro Tour New York 1996 decks. At that event, the survivors of each round played with a different one of the top eight decks. In the finals, it was Jon Finkel over Patrick Chapin. This cool event also included Gabriel Nassif, Mike Long, Kenji Tsumura, Mike Turian, Paul Cheon and Mark Herberholz. In the quarterfinals, Chapin played Lindback’s Necro deck and defeated Nassif playing Loconto’s blue/white deck. Turian played Tam’s deck and defeated Herberholz playing Regnier’s blue/white control deck. Finkel played Justice’s deck and defeated Paul Cheon with George Baxter’s black/red beatdown deck. Long played Poulter’s deck and defeated Kenji playing Lestree’s deck in a mirror match. In the semis, with reshuffled deck assignments, Chapin played Baxter’s deck and defeated Turian with Poulter’s deck. Finkel played Lestree’s deck and defeated Long playing Regnier’d deck. In the finals, Finkel won 2-0 playing Poulter’s deck against Chapin with Regnier’s deck. Courtesy of Lan D. Ho, here is the play-by-play I recorded of that finals match in Memphis in December, 2008.

Two memorable moments during the match – – –

At the beginning of the match, Chapin asks, “What’s it like to play Land Tax after all these years?”
“Surprisingly not exciting,” replied Finkel.

In game two, Chapin badly needs a third land and has Millstone in play. At the end of Finkel’s fourth turn, Chapin mills himself out of two non-land cards. When he then top decks a third land, Chapin exclaims, “DOING IT!”

GAME ONE
T1 Finkel plays Ruins of Trokair.
T1 Chapin plays Island, plays Zuran Orb.
T2 Finkel plays Mishra’s Factory, plays Land Tax.
T2 Chapin plays Plains.
T3 Finkel plays Forest, activates Mishra’s Factory, Chapin responds playing Swords to Plowshares targeting the Factory Worker, Finkel responds by playing Disenchant targeting Chapin’s Zuran Orb, Chapin responds to Disenchant by sacrificing an Island (22-22).
T3 Chapin plays Strip Mine, activates and sacrifices Strip Mine targeting Ruins of Trokair.
T4-T8 Finkel and Chapin make no plays.
T9 Finkel plays Plains, plays Fyndhorn Elves.
T9 Chapin plays Svyelunite Temple.
T10 Finkel plays Mishra’s Factory, plays Icy Manipulator.
T10 Chapin plays Island, taps and sacrifices Svyelunite Temple, plays Icy Manipulator.
T11 Finkel plays Mishra’s Factory, activates and attacks with one Factory, Chapin plays Swords to Plowshares targeting the Factory Worker, Finkel responds to Swords by pumping his Factory Worker (25-22).
T11 Chapin plays Island.
T12 Finkel’s Mishra’s Factory is tapped by Chapin.
T12 Chapin plays Ruins of Trokair.
T13 Finkel plays Armageddon, both player’s lands are destroyed, Finkel does not play a land afterward.
T13 Chapin thinks for a while, and then plays a Mishra’s Factory.
T14 Finkel searches his library and gets two Plains and a Forest with his Land Tax, plays a Forest.
T14 Chapin plays Adarkar Wastes, activates and attacks with Factory Worker (23-22).
T15 Finkel plays Plains.
T15 Chapin plays Plains, activates and attacks with Factory Worker (21-22).
T16 Finkel plays Plains, plays Ernham Djinn, Chapin taps Ernham Djinn.
T16 Chapin plays Plains, activates and attacks with Factory Worker (19-22)
T17 Finkel plays Strip Mine, activates and sacrifices Strip Mine targeting Adarkar Wastes, Chapin taps Ernham Djinn, Finkel attacks with Elf (21-21).
T17 Chapin plays City of Brass, activates and attacks with Factory Worker (17-21).
T18 Finkel thinks for a little while, then shrugs and plays Armageddon.
T18 Chapin plays Mishra’s Factory.
T19 Finkel searches his library and gets two Plains and a Forest using Land Tax, plays Forest, plays Fyndhorn Elves, Chapin taps Ernham Djinn, Finkel attacks with Elves (17-20).
T19 Chapin plays nothing.
T20 Finkel plays Mishra’s Factory, Finkel declares attack, Chapin taps Ernham Djinn, Finkel attacks with Elves (17-19).
T20 Chapin plays nothing again, Finkel taps Chapin’s Icy Manipulator with his Icy.
T21 Finkel plays Plains, activates Mishra’s Factory, attacks with two Elves, Factory Worker and Ernham Djinn (17-11).
T21 Chapin again does not draw land, at end of turn Finkel taps Chapin’s Icy Manipulator.
T22 Finkel activates Mishra’s Factory, attacks with two Elves, Factory Worker and Ernham Djinn (17-3).
T22 Chapin draws his card, sighs loudly, and CONCEDES.
FINKEL WINS GAME ONE ON TURN 22, LEADS MATCH 1-0.

GAME TWO
T1 Chapin plays Svyelunite Temple.
T1 Finkel plays Brushland, plays Land Tax (19-20).
T2 Chapin plays Svyelunite Temple.
T2 Finkel plays Mishra’s Factory.
T3 Chapin plays Island, plays Millstone.
T3 Finkel plays Mishra’s Factory, activates a Mishra’s Factory and attacks with Factory Worker (19-18).
T4 Chapin plays nothing.
T4 Finkel plays Ruins of Trokair, activates Mishra’s Factory and attacks with Factory Worker, then taps second Factory to pump the Worker (19-15), at end of turn Chapin activates Millstone milling the top two cards of his own library, two non-land cards are milled.
T5 Chapin windmills Adarkar Wastes into play, exclaiming “DOING IT!”
T5 Finkel plays a third Mishra’s Factory, activates two Mishra’s Factories and attacks with two Factory Workers, Finkel taps the third Factory pumping one of the Workers (19-10), at end of turn Chapin mills himself again.
T6 Chapin plays nothing.
T6 Finkel activates and attacks with two Factory Workers, Chapin plays Disenchant targeting one of the Factory Workers (19-9), Finkel taps the third Factory pumping the remaining Factory Worker (19-6).
T7 Chapin plays Island.
T7 Finkel plays a Forest, activates and attacks with one Factory Worker (19-4), plays Icy Manipulator.
T8 Chapin plays his own Icy Manipulator.
T8 Finkel plays Disenchant Chapin’s Icy Manipulator. Chapin CONCEDES.
FINKEL WINS GAME TWO ON TURN EIGHT, WINS MATCH 2-0

Finkel with trophy

Friday Night’s Reenactment at Madness Games in Plano, Texas

Quarterfinals at Madness

Here are my competitors from Friday night’s reenactment at Madness Games and Comics, starting clockwise from left, it’s Andrew Sullano playing as Mark Justice, Dustin Betts is playing Bertrand Lestree’s deck, then it’s Andy Truong playing the deck he wanted most, Leon Lindback’s mono black Necropotence deck, next is Hal Brady playing as Michael Loconto. On the other side of the table at the far end is Angelo Cilione playing Eric Tam’s deck, then it’s Cesar Collazo playing George Baxter’s deck, next is Trey Hollis playing as Shawn ‘the Hammer’ Regnier and finally, Taylor Webb playing Preston Poulter’s deck. The decks were distributed at random and the players are seated in the same bracket as was used twenty years ago. After a briefing about the pros and cons of using up-to-date rules, the quarterfinals matches commence.

The first match finished is Collazo/Baxter with a fast 2-0 win over Truong/Lindback. The Necro deck stuttered on land in both games and Baxter’s “good stuff” deck is the most aggressive in the bracket. The next match that finishes is a Brady/Loconto 2-0 win over Cilione/Tam. The remaining matches take a little longer because each involves a blue/white control deck. Betts/Lestree wins 2-1 over Hollis/Regnier. Finally, Webb/Poulter wins 2-0 over Sullano/Justice.

In the semifinals, Cesar Collazo quickly wins his match 2-0 over Dustin Betts with Lestree’s Erhnam-Geddon deck. Cesar, who is not very familiar at all with these old decks, has plenty of time to study his next opponent. His semifinals match was over just about as game one finished between Hal Brady with Loconto’s deck and Taylor Webb with Poulter’s green/white Erhnam-Geddon build. Eventually, Loconto’s deck wins game one. Game two goes decidedly Taylor Webb’s way as he figures out that Loconto’s deck just doesn’t have that much counter magic in it. A key Armageddon resolves and Taylor wins game two very soon after.

In game three of Webb/Poulter versus Brady/Loconto, Taylor Webb gets an Armageddon to resolve, Webb is at 19 life, Hal’s at 25 life. Hal has kept cards in his hand since he earlier played Ivory Tower. Each plays a single land after the Armageddon but can’t play spells. Taylor has Elvish Archers on the board but Hal Brady is gaining life faster than the Archers can take it away from him. Neither draws more land for a few turns. Hal finally takes damage from his one land, Adarkar Wastes, to play Swords to Plowshares targeting the Elvish Archers, he’s at 30 life at this point. When Hal misses land drops long enough that he is forced to discard, Taylor (now with two lands in play) is able to Disenchant the Ivory Tower. Taylor then gets his third land and Hal gets his second land, this one is Mishra’s Factory. Taylor plays a Land Tax but is unlikely to get lands from it for a little while since he has three lands to Hal’s two. Hal discards again, this time it’s Deflection. Taylor plays a fourth land and an Erhnam Djinn. Also, Taylor’s fourth land is Strip Mine, just in case he needs to blow up Hal’s land in the near future. Hal gets a third land but it’s another Mishra’s Factory. Taylor plays another Armageddon and Hal extends the hand with no way to stop the spell and no reasonable likelihood of drawing land and removal soon enough to stop the Djinn. Taylor Webb as Preston Poulter wins the match 2-1 over Hal Brady as Michael Loconto. Hal believes the matchup is a bad one for him, chiefly due to Loconto having too few ways to counter spells. Loconto’s deck has only four Counterspells, as opposed to Shawn Regnier’s UW deck which has four Counterspells, four Power Sinks and four Spell Blast. In the actual event twenty years ago, Loconto outlasted Poulter 3-2 in a titanic (and lengthy) semifinals match.

The finals start later than Cesar Collazo hopes. His phone rings a few times, he has coworkers on the other side of town waiting for Cesar to show up. They get game one going as quickly as they can. Taylor Webb apparently needs no break after his lengthy semifinals match. They shuffle up and each man keeps a seven card hand. On the play, Webb throws down a good turn one play, Plains and Land Tax. Then Cesar does him one better with Swamp, Dark Ritual and Hypnotic Specter. Cesar swings on turn two and deals two damage and the Specter makes Taylor randomly discard Disenchant. Cesar plays a second Swamp and adds a Knight of Stromgald to the board. Taylor plays a third land and plays a Hurricane with X=2 dealing two damage to each player and as well as to each flying creature. The Hypnotic Specter is dead. Cesar attacks with his Knight on the next turn and taps both Swamps to pump it once, and then Cesar plays a Karplusan Forest and passes the turn. Taylor plays a fourth land and plays Erhnam Djinn. Cesar thinks a long time on his next turn before playing Sulfurous Springs and then his own Erhnam Djinn (taking one damage from Karplusan Forest). On his next turn, Taylor considers playing a Havenwood Battleground as his fifth land, but thinks better of it and simply passes the turn. Cesar attacks in with his Djinn and Taylor sends it to exile with Swords to Plowshares. Cesar adds a Mishra’s Factory to his board. This gives Cesar five land to Taylor’s four and allows Taylor to use Land Tax at the beginning of his upkeep to go get three basic lands out of his library before drawing for the turn. Cesar plays the fifth land so that he can play Sengir Vampire. At the beginning of Taylor’s turn, sure enough, he chooses to search his library for some basic land choosing three Plains. Now Taylor takes a long time to decide his next play. I figured he might be thinking about Armageddon (I can’t see his hand) but instead he attacks in with his Djinn. Cesar considers double blocking but decides instead to let the Djinn through. Taylor then plays a second Erhnam Djinn. Taylor also goes ahead and plays the Havenwood Battleground that he almost played on his previous turn. Cesar thinks awhile after he draws his card, then flies over the top with Sengir Vampire, the score is 17-9 in favor of Cesar. Cesar then passes with five land untapped. Taylor attacks with just one of his Djinn, Cesar activates Mishra’s Factory and double blocks the Djinn with Knight of Stromgald and the activated Factory, then Cesar pumps his Knight one time and all three creatures go to the graveyard. Taylor finishes his turn by playing Nevinyrral’s Disk which enters the battlefield tapped. Cesar attacks again with Sengir Vampire and Taylor falls to just 5 life. Cesar passes after combat. Taylor swings in with Erhnam Djinn and the score is 5-13 in favor of Cesar and Taylor passes the turn. Cesar attacks with the Vampire again and Taylor chooses to go ahead and blow up the world by activating and sacrificing Nevinyrral’s Disk clearing the board of creatures. Cesar plays Order of the Ebon Hand and passes with red/black and red/green pain lands his only untapped mana. Taylor activates and sacrifices Havenwood Battlegrounds, plays Balance. The Balance costs Taylor three lands from the battlefield while Cesar sacrifices the Order of the Ebon Hand and discards two copies of City of Brass. Taylor then activates a Mishra’s Factory and attacks, then pumps it with his other Mishra’s Factory that he played this turn, the score is now a little closer, 5-10 in Cesar’s favor. At end of turn Cesar unloads a Lightning Bolt to Taylor’s face that also costs Cesar one life in order to get red mana from Sulfurous Springs (2-9). Cesar evidently does not draw another Lightning Bolt because he passes the turn with two cards in his hand. Taylor plays a Fellwar Stone and activates both of his Mishra’s Factories and swings for four damage (2-5). It’s a race to the wire! Cesar draws and plays a Swamp and passes the turn. Taylor plays a land and then activates his two Mishra’s Factories and again sends four damage Cesar’s way (2-1). Cesar draws his next card and promptly scoops, even a Lightning Bolt would be too late with only pain lands to give him red mana. Taylor wins game one on turn twelve.

And then, it’s all over. Cesar gets another even more insistent call from his place of employment and Cesar decides that the call of duty is too strong for him to stick around any longer. He packs up his deck and congratulates Taylor Webb.

Jeff Zandi and Taylor Webb

Here I am chatting with Taylor Webb after his win in the twentieth anniversary reenactment of Pro Tour New York 1996. Taylor didn’t reach the Pro Tour in its first few years but it didn’t take him very long. Taylor top eighted Grand Prix Richmond in 2006. Taylor has a fair amount of Pro Tour experience, starting with Pro Tour New Orleans 2003, but has cooled off a bit recently as he graduated from college, got married, bought a house and worked with his bride to create new human life. He’s trying to get back into the game with a little less free time. I’m proud to say that Taylor has been a member of the Texas Guildmages since 2010.

Reenactment Bracket

Actually, I’m proud of all eight guys that came out to Madness Games on Friday night to help me with the reenactment. The event was very well received. The Friday night crowd at Madness is the biggest anywhere in Texas and lots of the FNM regulars wanted to know what was going on with this weird looking old decks. They wondered if we were playing Legacy or even Vintage. Nope, just Type II from twenty years ago.

Even though I didn’t play in that first New York event two decades ago, Magic’s professional tour sparked my imagination and gave me and my friends a reason to take the game more seriously. We would never have formed the Texas Guildmages (a little later in 1996) if it hadn’t been for the Pro Tour. We almost surely wouldn’t still be around without it, either. The Pro Tour was our team’s reason for being. We started in 1996 with seven players and within a year we had all managed to reach the Pro Tour at least once. There was a Texas Guildmage qualified for every one of the first fifty Pro Tour events. Over the years, players dropped out of the competitive ranks for all kinds of reasons and we added more players. To date, there are thirty-seven official members of the Texas Guildmages (we’ve never kicked anyone out but many have retired from competitive play). Almost every one of us has played in at least one Pro Tour. I’ve played in eight, the most recent being Pro Tour Valencia in 2014. I’m currently qualified for the Regional Pro Tour Qualifier coming up at the end of May.

Wizards of the Coast isn’t running a charity. I’m sure the Pro Tour pays off in all kinds of ways from a promotional standpoint. WOTC is making money for Hasbro Toys, I don’t think we need to stay up at night worrying about them. If anything, I am extremely thankful that Wizards has kept the Pro Tour running smoothly for twenty long years. That’s twenty years of being committed to the “intellectual sport” of professional card-playing. I love watching NFL football and Major League Baseball, but I’m never going to be able to play either of those sports at the world’s highest level. In Magic: the Gathering, every one of us has the chance to compete at the very highest level in the world. I haven’t won a bunch of trophies or cash prizes chasing the Pro Tour but I will always have the amazing experiences of playing with the best players in the world. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. If you haven’t qualified for the Pro Tour yet, my advice is to keep working hard on your game and definitely don’t give up. After twenty years of chasing the dream, I can tell you that the journey is worth it.

Thanks for reading.

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