(Metagame Archive) A Pro Circuit Atlanta Tournament Report, Part 2

By Graham Van Leeuwen

The next day, I arrived at the convention center and looked around to see if anyone I knew was there yet. I saw Adam and Ryan Ward and sat with them and discussed what little I knew of JLA Sealed Pack. A little while later, I saw the rest of Team Online and wished them luck in the $10K.

Suddenly, Rian Fike came up and introduced himself to me. He said he liked what I wrote on the forums and congratulated me on making Day 2. A lot of people, pros and non-pros alike, give Rian a lot of flack for always playing Army decks and writing articles that are more casual in tone, but he really is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet on the Vs. scene. He made me feel welcome and accepted. It was great talking to him about the PC and different Vs. anecdotes. He spoke with me throughout the day, always asking how I was doing, and I was glad that I was finally being recognized for some of my achievements.

I started Day 2 at table 8, seat 8. I didn’t really know if that was good or not, but I figured I was drafting today and that was all that mattered. I didn’t recognize anyone in my pod, but one of the FTN guys was in there, so I assumed he was going to be the player to beat. The draft began, and I decided I was either going to force JLA or Secret Society because they were my favorite teams from this set. I can’t remember what I got first pack, but there were definitely enough cards to send me into JLA, and in packs two and three, my decision paid off. I got passed a good variety of character cards, and my plot twists weren’t anything to be ashamed of. I would’ve appreciated a few more ATK pumps, but in JLA they’re pretty scarce, so it was just bad luck that I only saw one or two throughout the whole draft. My deck wasn’t what I would call perfect, but it certainly had a solid curve and plot twists that I could live with. I figured it would be a 2-1 deck, possibly 3-0 if I got a lucky.

In round 11, I played against the same opponent I had played in round 10. I think he drafted the same thing I did, but apparently his deck wasn’t as solid as mine. We both hit our curves, and I believe I had the odd initiatives, but I was controlling both the endurance race and the board from the start. His curve was mainly JLA, but a few of his drops were splashes that seemed like filler cards. I won my first match of the day and headed over to the feature match area to watch the remaining games.

Next round, I played against a Japanese player. I’ve always been amazed at how good the Japanese are at card games and how quickly they pick up new ones. Despite the language barrier, he played a very good game, but he missed a drop or two and I pushed through with more characters than he could handle on turn 7 for the win. Sitting at 2-0, I felt pretty confident that I could win my next game, which would probably be against Milton Figueroa, the guy I recognized from FTN.

Of course, I ended up being paired against Figueroa. I heard people talking about how insane his deck was and how he had just about every ally-based pump in the set, but my confidence wasn’t shaken. We sat down and greeted each other, and then began playing. He got the odd initiatives, but the game was close the whole way through and we both hit our curves. Shake it Off was a much better card than I ever gave it credit for, because in a well-constructed JLA deck, it basically acts as another Magnificent Seven. The game came down to who had the initiative on turn 7, and he was able to push through for more damage than I could deal in retaliation. I also missed my 7-drop, having to play another 6-drop instead, but even if I had played a bigger character, he probably would’ve been able to take it out. The loss didn’t upset me that much, and I gladly shook Figueroa’s hand, figuring that FTN drafts a lot anyway and I put up a pretty good game against him. Going 2-1 isn’t bad for your first draft pod ever.

The seatings for pod 2 were up, and I had advanced to table 6. In my pod were Dave Spears, Gabe Walls, and Karl Horn—all respectable and well-known pros. I thought I was going to be crushed, both in the actual draft and in the games afterward. The draft began, and once again I was going to force either JLA or SS. My first pick was Nth Metal, my second pick was another Nth Metal, and my third pick was John Henry Irons ◊ Steel, Steel-Drivin’ Man. I also managed to snag an Atlantean Trident to make use of Steel’s ability, and I saw at least four World’s Greatest Heroes. I was particularly excited about the Steel combo, because an 11 ATK / 11 DEF 5-drop is just so ridiculous in a slow format like JLA.

I kept getting passed insane JLA and JLI stuff, and I even had an Aquaman, Arthur Curry do a lap around the table. I knew no one else could possibly be drafting JLA, so I continued to snatch up all of the goodies that came my way. At the end of the draft, I was more than pleased with my deck, thinking that I would definitely 2-1. If I hit Steel all three games, it could even 3-0.

Ben Kalman, also known as Kergillian on VsRealms, came up to me while I was sleeving my deck and asked if he could do a mini-feature on me for the Pro Circuit blog. I immediately agreed, eager to let everyone know who I was and that I wasn’t just some random kid getting lucky. Ben asked me general questions like where I was from and how I thought my deck was. I thought I sounded pretty cool and collected, despite how excited I was about the whole thing. The only thing he got wrong was where I live; I’m not from Florida, I’m from North Carolina. Anyway, it was great to see my face on Metagame, and Ben was really nice to me throughout the interview. I went into round 14 feeling confident and proud of myself.

The first two games of the pod I won with ease. I had control of the board and the endurance totals throughout both games, and while my draws weren’t perfect, I hit Steel in both games. In round 15, my opponent even scooped on turn 5 because I played Steel and he didn’t play anything. I didn’t have to play any of the three pros at my table, so I assumed I would end up facing one of them in the final round. When I saw the pairings for round 16, I wasn’t paired up against any of them. I figured they must’ve knocked each other down to 1-1 records and been out of contention for the 3-0 spot.

Then, I heard the feature matches for the round being called. I heard the usual slew of regulars, but then I heard my name called. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! My opponent, Steve, seemed like a really nice guy. Our match wasn’t going to be covered on Metagame, but nonetheless, I was sitting in the venerable feature match area with my teammates leaning over the railing cheering me on. I didn’t think it could ever happen, but somehow it had.

I lost the die roll and got evens. The game was going pretty well for both of us; I hit my Steel and Trident on turn 5 and he hit all of his drops. Then on turn 6, I played a Hero’s Welcome, thinking I could discard Ocean Master and another random card to search out Hal Jordan, Hard-Traveling Hero as a much stronger 6-drop. As I looked through my deck, I almost slapped myself, because I didn’t even have a JLA 6-drop in my deck. I was thinking of my first pod where I had drafted two Hal Jordans, so I was forced to get a Fire and under-drop. I felt this mistake would cost me the game, especially when Steve played The General, who would recover himself and be ready to attack back on turn 7. Steel was a 12 ATK / 12 DEF at this point, so he was almost like the 6-drop that I missed. I made my attacks, and at the end of the turn, I believe we both had had our 4-, 5-, and 6-drops on the table.

We advanced to turn 7, and I can’t remember who Steve played, but I’m pretty sure it was a 7-drop. I played Aquaman, King of the Seven Seas and formed up so that I would take as little breakthrough as possible. At the start of combat, The General tried to take away Aquaman’s powers, but then the chain resolved backwards and I returned Arthur Curry and another random card to my hand. Steve made his attacks and recovered his The General in the process. When he was finished, we were both still in positive endurance and Steve had The General and his 7-drop unstunned. However, I also had Aquaman ready to attack, and The General was unprotected. Steve quickly asked, “Next turn?” but I swung Aquaman into the General with a power-up to seal the game. My friends cheered, and I couldn’t believe I had actually 3-0’d a pod. I was on top of the world, even maybe looking to Top 8 if I 2-1’d the next pod.

Adam wasn’t doing too well; I think at this point that he was out of money contention. Of course, I had to brag to all of my teammates who weren’t there how I had 3-0’d a pod with three pros in it (ignoring the fact I didn’t actually have to play any of them) and how sitting at 12-4 I had a shot at Top 8. Rian was ecstatic that all of this was happening, and he was telling everyone he knew how I was doing. I thought it would be amazing if I could Top 8, and I doubted it would happen, but deep down I really thought I had a good shot at it.

The pod 3 seatings went up, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Table 2, seat 2. That must’ve meant I was in around tenth place, which was unbelievable for me. I was confident that I could at least 2-1 this pod, and whether I Day 3’d or not, I had a lot of money coming my way. I had gone from random scrub to what could possibly be the youngest Vs. player ever to Top 8 a PC. I was unstoppable; no one was going to stand in my way.

Then, everything came crashing down in flames.

The draft began, and I decided that since I had seen so much success with JLA, I would force it again. As the packs wheeled around the table, I found that I wasn’t the only one doing this, because I wasn’t getting the goods that I had received in the first two pods. Either someone was cutting me off, or these packs were ridiculously low on JLA cards. I got a few decent picks, but no Nth Metals or Steels this time around. I got greedy with plot twists, and by pack 3, I was scrambling to fill out my character curve. In the end, I ended up with only a single 2-drop, and I knew that missing my 2-drop all three games was going to be painful. My plot twists were pretty nice, but without characters, you can’t win in Sealed Pack. Sadly, I registered my deck, thinking that I shouldn’t have tried to force the same deck again. I saw some good Society cards like With Prejudice and Gorilla City, but hindsight is always 20/20, I guess.

In round 17, I was paired against Nick Little. He was a great opponent, not only because of how good he is at Sealed Pack, but also because he’s a really fun person to play against. He had drafted the Society deck-depletion build and had Gorilla City online by turn 4 or 5. I think I missed both my 2- and 4-drop, so there was no way I could pull out the game. He probably beat me on turn 5 or 6, because I remember losing pretty quickly that round. Even though I was destroyed, I had a lot of fun that game, and Nick asked me whether I was better at Constructed or Sealed Pack. I responded that I didn’t know which I was better at, but that I liked Sealed Pack more, which at this PC at least was true. I wished him luck in the next rounds, because he’s the kind of guy I’d really like to see make Top 8 (it really sucked to find out he came in ninth). My deck was pretty horrible, but I was determined to win at least one game so I wouldn’t embarrass myself by 0-3’ing at table 2.

Next round, I got a pleasant surprise—another feature match. This time my opponent was Alex Tennet from FTN, and I had seen Nate Price doing Draft coverage of him at my table. I assumed that meant he was good, so I was probably in for another beating. I headed over to the feature match area, and this time our match was to be covered by Metagame.

You can read about the match here. Alex asked me how my tiebreakers were, and I thought he was just being friendly and making small talk so I responded with, “They’re horrible, there’s no way I can make Top 8.” Then, Alex called over the judges and asked them very officially about the legal procedure for asking me to concede to him. I was caught off-guard by this, but as Alex talked to Paul Ross, I really thought about the situation. My draft deck was bad, I probably wasn’t going to win any games in this pod, and Alex did have a much better shot at making Top 8 than I did. My teammates were watching, though, and I knew they would be disappointed if I just gave up, so I decided that I would play the game out, if only to see how well I could do among the best of the best without any outside factors.

Paul Ross told him that he could arrange a prize split with me or ask me to concede to him, but that he couldn’t talk about both. Alex asked me once to concede, and I said I’d rather play the game out. Eventually, our match got underway, and Alex cut my deck and said, “Alright, give my opponent the nut draw.”

Seeing as everyone says something like that before they play, I didn’t take it very seriously. When I drew my first hand, though, it contained Gypsy; Bluejay (my only 2-drop); and Aquaman, Arthur Curry. Throughout the course of the game, I drew into World’s Greatest Heroes; Katar Hol ◊ Hawkman, Thangarian Enforcer; Fire; and Captain Atom. I also get three Membership Drives, Glass Jaw, and UN Recognition. Not to mention I also had the odd initiatives. No way I can lose, right? Wrong.

I was ahead in both board advantage and endurance totals on turn 5, and Alex’s visible board consisted of Darkseid with an Nth Metal and Captain Boomerang, “Digger”. I still had my 1- through 5-drops on the board. I thought it was going to end this turn, so I teamed Aquaman and Bluejay into his Darkseid and passed, and because Alex had no cards in the KO’d pile, I had 10 total ATK to his 10 total DEF. Alex played Secret Origins, searched and found no one, and discarded a random card. I had forgotten that Aquaman’s ATK goes down when there are cards in the KO’d pile, so for a moment, I couldn’t see why he had played Secret Origins. I did the only thing I could think of and played Glass Jaw. He responded with Balance of Power, but I still had Gypsy on the board for the power-up on Aquaman, which for some reason I didn’t decide to use. It was obvious that I let the pressure get to me, and I’m sure Alex saw it on my face, so I passed and he said, “Stun Aquaman.” I finally realized how I had screwed up and kicked myself for being so stupid and letting Alex intimidate me, which was entirely my own fault because I know Alex didn’t intend to any such thing.

The rest of the match coverage is pretty accurate. I wasted UN Recognition because I tried vainly to finish the game and make my mistake not matter in the end, but of course being upset about that stupid attack impaired my better judgment. When turn 6 came around, I dropped a 6-drop and Alex dropped a 5-drop and a 1-drop, which gave me a little bit more hope that I could avenge my earlier play. Alex thought about his plays for a long time and eventually swung Batman, Hidden Crusader into Hawkman. I had a Running Interference ready and thought for a long time about using it, but in the end, I decided that Alex would be losing more endurance than he could deal this turn, so it wouldn’t matter. Of course I was wrong again, and Alex pulled the game off by a single endurance point when Illusionary Warriors attacked for the win.

At the highest level of competition, people are going to exploit your mistakes and use your weaknesses to their advantage. My weakness was that I was nervous and intimidated by this obviously talented pro player sitting in front of me. I had heard from people on the message boards about how pros do these kinds of things to you, but I thought they were just venting and exaggerated everything. While most of the pros are nice people, when it comes to the game, some of them can be very fierce competitors. I had to experience this intense level of competition firsthand if I wanted to become a pro myself, and it’s good that it happened now instead of much later in my career. The only way to overcome this is not to let your weaknesses show (or eliminate them entirely) and get to the point where you don’t make as many mistakes in your games. This loss only boosted my drive to improve my game, and I look forward to playing Alex again in the future.

However, as I walked out of the feature match area, I felt pretty horrible because I threw away what would’ve been an amazing victory over one of the game’s best players. I concluded that if I couldn’t beat my opponents with the best draw my deck would ever get, then I was simply going to 0-3 this pod and the only person I had to blame was me. It was at this point I realized that I wasn’t that good at Draft. The only reason I was 5-1 prior to the third pod was that I got lucky in picking the right archetype to force. I didn’t really want to play my last round, but I rationalized that maybe the guy I was playing had a worse deck than me and I could outplay him. It wasn’t probable, but it could happen.

For the final round, I was paired with Jason Green, and to make a short story even shorter, he hit the IG nuts draw. I think Scarecrow burned for a total of 20-something. Not a fun match.

So, I ended my first PC at a semi-respectable 12-7. Being in 13th at one point and then dropping to a 50th place finish doesn’t feel so great, but nonetheless, I earned $850. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen that much money at one time (sad, I know), so when the reality of how much $850 really was sank in, I was overjoyed. I could waste it all on things that I don’t need, but I plan to put $800 away for college and keep the rest for myself. This will be a strong point to use with my parents when asking if I can go to future tournaments, because they really appreciate the fact that I’m working hard at Vs. so that I can pay for school. Try this tactic, young Vs. players, if you need to convince your parents to let you compete.

All of Team Online and Adam Ward were pretty impressed with my finish, which made me feel a lot better than I was feeling when I started out 1-3. Although there were forty-nine people who made more money than me that weekend, I think I came away with much more than a cash prize; I came away with the knowledge that I was in fact a much better player than I had originally thought, and that I was here to stay in the wonderful game known as Vs. System.

Pro Circuit Atlanta reminded me of what an amazing game Vs. System really is. It’s like a gigantic game of chess where 220 new pieces are introduced every three months. The mechanics of the game are nearly perfect, all of the recent sets have brought a handful of competitive strategies to the table, and UDE has only had to ban one card. The future looks bright, and I know this game is only going to improve.

In addition to the actual game, the social aspect of TCGs is one of the main reasons I began gaming in the first place. Of the eighteen different opponents I played throughout the PC, only one of them was a jerk. The rest were polite, friendly, and thoroughly enjoyable people who I look forward to being paired with again. During a PC, there are 300-some people gathered in the same area who all share a common interest, so strangers who have never met before can quickly become great friends. You meet some pretty cool people at the PC, and even if you don’t win as many games as you had hoped, you come away with the knowledge of how to improve your game and a determination to do even better next time. Through the ups and downs, the whole experience was one of the best times I’ve had in my life, and I would advise anyone and everyone to travel to one of the three remaining PCs this year. You’ll be glad you did.

There’s no way I could leave a game with a community made up of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Compared to FTN or the other pro teams, the amount of work I put into this event was pretty lackluster, but if I can pull out 50th place with the effort I gave, I believe that I could finish at least 25th if I really work hard for Pro Circuit Indy. I’ve shown myself that I can succeed if I try hard enough, so now I’m chasing the dream of becoming a pro. The best part is that the dream may very well become a reality.

This isn’t only about me, though. Everyone, and I mean everyone, can be good at this game. I was just a scrub, but I made money at the PC. I’m not promising instant success, but with a little hard work and determination, the common player can go to a Pro Circuit or $10K and show the world that he or she can play with the pros. There were times when I believed it was a hopeless endeavor, but in the end, every single thing I had to go through was worth it.

The most important thing I can say is never give up. If you don’t have a local scene, play online regularly. Read the message boards, follow the Metagame coverage, read articles written by pro players . . . everything helps. As Rian Fike said, the dream is reachable, and not just for the pros but for the common players, too.

My journey has just begun, and I hope I have convinced many of you to start your own. Farewell and good luck.

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