Back In The Game | A Journey Through The Magic The Gathering Pro Tour and Grand Prix

Thank you GNN for showing interest in my Magic: The Gathering stories. I am excited to share my 2 weeks of competitive Magic with everyone. I finished competing in the Pro Tour in Vancouver, and then I traveled to San Diego for the Grand Prix weekend. Although I did not do well in the actual Grand Prix, I dominated a huge side event and won one of the most amazing prizes, which I will talk about near the end of the article.

My name is Alex Tamblyn, I am 27 years old, and I have been playing competitive Magic since 2000. I won $4,000 in scholarships playing in the Junior Super Series before I was 16 and also played in Pro Tour Hollywood in 2008. Afterwards, I spent nearly 2 years away from competitive Magic. I have tried multiple times to get back into the competitive scene, but because of the heavy pain medication I was prescribed after my Scoliosis surgery, it was extremely difficult to win tournaments. Magic is a difficult game, and all it takes is one dumb mistake in a game 3 to throw away an entire match. This happened constantly over the 6 years I was on those pain meds.

One detail that will differ greatly from other players talking about their experiences is that I have been dealing with chronic back pain for over 6 years now. I’ll talk more about my experiences with this in a bit. I hope that my experience and advice for enduring long tournaments will help others out there. Fortunately for me, I happen to play a very non-physical game. I’d be screwed if my passion were playing tackle football.


Testing & Pro Tour

Last Pro Tour, I decided against going early and play testing. I did not enjoy the current standard format (5-color control and faeries). In addition, I was busy spreading my attention to other games, such as Everquest. Not testing, combined with playing 6 Faeries mirror-matches out of 7 rounds, and dropping at 3-4 (5-3 was needed for Day 2), is what drove me to take a break from Magic after 2008. This Pro Tour would be different. I managed to find a testing group thanks to my buddy, Tony Pagliocco, tagging me in a Facebook comment, which eventually led to having a team to test with and a place to stay Monday-Sunday night.

I meet up with Teammate #1, Pierre Mondon, at the airport. He is the one that started our group and made the reservations. We take a short train ride to a bus stop and decide to walk 30 to 40 minutes to our rental house. We were the first people from our team to arrive, so we decided to make the walk instead of a bus. This also gave us extra time to get to know each other. Pierre was definitely more decorated than I knew prior to meeting him. He had won a Grand Prix, made Top 8 of others, including a Pro Tour Top 8. This towered in comparison to my 1, soon to be 2, Pro Tours, but made me excited to think about the possible future. I have always felt robbed of my chance to compete at the highest level because of my pain and the heavy amounts of drugs I was prescribed. It is extremely hard to realistically compete versus the best in the world, when your brain is fogged up by morphine and your memory is garbage.

vancouver house view
Vancouver house

Through the next few days leading up to the Pro Tour, more and more teammates show up and we start our play testing. We play tested quite a bit once we had the majority of the team there. Our goal was to pump out as many games as we could, with a combination of our own decks and a gauntlet of decks we were expecting at the tournament. I would say the only inefficient testing we did, was having 8 people try to argue over what picks to take on MTGO drafts and which plays to make.

The new mulligan rule named “Vancouver Mulligan” did affect my decision on which deck to play. I already knew one deck I did not want to play was Abzan. I really did not want to play a room full of Abzan mirror matches versus pros. I tried out different variants of Mono Red aggro, but did not like any of the versions I tried, and I did not like splashing green for Atarka’s Command. A good friend of mine, Scott Alter, had done well with a Blue Red artifact deck that he built and played in the Sunday Super Series the previous week. I proxied up Scott’s deck and ran a “quick” 30+ games versus heroic, red/green devotion, Abzan, and blue/black thopter control. By the end of the night, I had only lost 9 of these games, mostly to heroic. I was okay conceding this matchup and hoped to either avoid the matchup, or hoped they drew terribly.

It felt like the week flew by and I was changing my list up until late night before Day 1. I landed on this list. Don’t mind the scribble. I made a change and then unchanged it last minute.

Standard Decklist

Here I am. The night before my 2nd Pro Tour. The first since 2008. I have been through a great deal throughout those years. Over 6 years of being on Fentanyl patches and finally quitting them, has all come to this. I couldn’t sleep. One of the other 10 people I was testing with (Whose name I left out due to forgetting to ask permission), who was a very young MTG player, in both age and time playing, was sleeping on the other couch in the Living Room with me. He started under a year ago and made the transition from Yugioh. It was great to see his passion, and it really showed that he believed in his skills. He took a 4 hour flight to the Vancouver RPTQ and made top 4 to earn his Pro Tour spot.

I expressed my nervousness to him Thursday night. Apparently, this was a shared feeling and he was receiving similar messages of support as me, and it was making us both very nervous, emotional and unable to fall sleep. We stayed up hours longer than we should have, but both managed to calm our nerves and get some sleep.

Day 1

I wake up just like every other morning, in excruciating pain and way too early. Pain is just something that I have learned to live with. Mornings and nights are the real struggles, but I know that I still have it easy compared to so many other people out there. At least I get to play this amazing game.

I get up early, take a little bit of pain medication, shower, and begin to prepare for the day. Once everyone wakes their lazy butts up, I make use of the unlimited supply of eggs we seemed to have purchased. 16 eggs later, with magic cards packed up, we take our 2 packed cars to the Convention Center.


The nerves have settled since the previous night, fortunately. I had so many people cheering for me back home, and I did not want to disappoint them. I walked around and stretched my back out before the tournament started. The draft starts, finishes and I was not excited about how my deck turned out. After opening a Nissa, and everyone watching me take it, I end up with a slow red green deck with a bunch of great cards but a super slow curve.

day 1 draft (1)

After starting out 0-2 versus the best 2 players at our draft pod, I managed to win the last round to not feel like a complete loser. My round 4 win ends up being against the person I beat in the finals of the 2007 PTQ in Arizona. He was supposed to test with us but backed out a week before because he got a different team. So, beating him definitely felt great. Ironically, I beat him with Ornithopters in 2007, and I once again beat the poor guy with Ornithopters 8 years later. My next 2 rounds are losses and I need to go 4-4 to make day 2, which feels a long ways away.

I manage to pull out a win round 7 and go to sit down versus my last day 1 opponent. Both of us really wanted this win. I talked to my opponent and made friendly conversation before our match began. It turns out, he started 3-0 in the draft portion and had gone 0-4 in standard. I was pretty sure this was a good sign for me. He was playing Mono Red and I was extremely surprised that a deck with Eidolon and Searing Blood main could not pull out one lucky match.

Fortunately for me, his struggles continued, and I had a great hand game 3. He played 2 Eidolons quickly, but I played turn 1, land, 2x Ornithopter, 1 Springleaf Drum, and next turn played Thopter Engineer, while holding onto Ensoul Artifact. Then, when he tapped out for Eidolon, I dropped Ensoul on an Ornithopter and he was dead 2 turns later.

Although I was 4-4, I had to reassure myself that it was okay. Especially since my last Pro Tour was 5-3 to make it and I dropped at 3-4. I quickly turned to the list of Pros that had missed day 2. This instantly made me feel better about my record.


My idol Jon Finkel missing day 2. This man gave me one of the best experiences of playing Magic. When I was a tiny teen, many years ago, and was on the Queen Mary for an event my older brother was playing in, I watched Jon Finkel play in a Pro Tour top 8. Unfortunately for him, he lost in the top 8. But, he called the smallest kid watching up to the stage, which was obviously me, and handed me his top 8 draft deck. I wish I could say I still had that deck. Who knows what happened to it.

Day 2

Again, I shot myself in the foot with a bad draft deck and having started off with a loss for the day. David Williams was in my draft pod, and I run into him after round 1. I hear some other pros giving him some sideboarding advice such as,”Take out Eyeblight Massacre and Languish.” I was hoping that I did not have to face this deck. My deck barely had 22 playables in it, and his deck sounded incredibly fast.

day 2 draft

We end up facing each other in round 3, and it was a very close match. We get into an argument in Game 1 over Touch of the Moonglove, because I feel he was announcing a scoop by saying,” ,”I don’t think there’s anything I can do” and going to scoop his creatures off the board but then saw he could sacrifice his blocker to Nantuko Husk to survive and unscooped up his creatures. I had only lands in hand so I scooped them up along with my lands in play. But, because he did not mix any zones, i.e. graveyard with board, or hand with graveyard, the judges ruled in his favor and he killed me the next turn. At first, I believe he thought I was trying to trick him and lie about thinking he was scooping. But, I had also missed the Nantuko Husk that was out and legitimately thought he was scooping. Otherwise, I just make a different attack, and it is impossible for him to win the game. We cooled down and talked it out and had no hard-feelings afterwards.

Game 2, he gets stuck on 1 color, and I easily win with my deck of slow stuff. In game 3, I end up flipping Jace on turn 4, play a few 2/6 Slugs and 0/6 walls, and I was quickly 2-1 for the day.

The rest of the day was up and down. The loss that kicks me out of cashing at the Pro Tour was a mulligan to 4 in game 3, versus R/G Monsters. I mulliganed into a turn 2 5/5 Ornithopter, and he ended up drawing Dragonlord Atarka on the last possible turn to avoid losing to my Ensoul Artifact + Shrapnel Blast.

At the end of the day, I finished 8-8 and felt proud to have made day 2 at my 2nd Pro Tour. Looking back, I see how close I was to requalifying. If my deck had been tuned a bit better, and if I had made some different decisions, I could have easily won some of the matches I lost.

Match history:

pro tour opponents

5 favorites memories from Vancouver

1. I WAS AT THE PRO TOUR! DUHHHH! I will never forget going to the Pro Tour. Hopefully there are many many many more to come in the near feature.

2. Trying and failing at one of those “escape rooms” (even when I somehow guessed a 3 digit combination in under 30 seconds, we were still only 50% of the way through). It was more difficult than we thought. You definitely need all 4 people on top of their game. Someone apparently was terrible at using keys, and I opened a door that someone said specific keys did not open. So that was a wasted 20 minutes of our 45 minutes.

3. Marijuana being decriminalized. On Sunday, a friend and I were given over $40 worth of weed and a pipe. The friend of a friend had to catch his flight and couldn’t bring it with him. We made sure to pay it forward by giving most of it away to a couple different people, especially since there was no way we were smoking all of that in 1 day. We also found a Cafe that encouraged smoking weed, but did not allow cigarettes. It was pretty amazing, to say the least. And, there were cats in the pipe shop!

4. Making day 2! Fortunately for me, 4-4 makes day 2 now, and I was able to battle back from 2-4 day 1 to make my first PT day 2. I would have been crushed if I had lost either of my last 2 rounds of day 1.

5. Reconnecting with old friends and making many new friendships. Because I have been out of the competitive scene for such a long time, I am only familiar with old school pros. Pros such as Brian Kibler, Jon Finkel, David Williams. These are the faces that I grew up around. I am unfamiliar with most of the newer pros. There are so many more people to keep track of nowadays!

Post-Pro Tour

After we went our separate ways on Sunday, I received a very nice and sincere Facebook message. To my surprise, it was from our youngest teammate, whom I had talked to the night before day 1.

“I tried looking all over you before I left but couldn’t find you! I really enjoyed my stuff with you, sharing the two couches with you was sweet, you helped me get through the nerve-wracking night which was really helpful, I’ll make sure to keep in contact with you and the rest of the gang! Thanks for helping taking care of me!”

It felt pretty great to get this message from him. I was so nervous the night before and could not sleep and was glad that we were both able to help each other. I am so happy that he also made day 2 and I hope to see him do well in the future!

I did not finish this article before GP San Diego, so I have a small detail about my San Diego trip. I have too much excitement to leave it out. Sunday morning, 9 am, I registered my sealed deck for the Sunday Super Series, along with nearly 400 other players. 14 hours later, my opponent is taking home the 6 boxes for his 2nd place finish, and I now get to compete in the 45 player SSS Championship at the end of January (a few days before my birthday). I am beyond excited about this trip. I get to see great friends who live near the Wizards of the Coast headquarters, play in an amazing event, and experience something I will most likely never experience again.

Taken from the Wizards website — “Each Grand Prix hosts a Super Sunday Series event on Sunday, the final day of the GP weekend. The winner at the end of this big tournament receives a trip to Seattle, Washington where they will battle other Super Sunday Series winners for the title of champion and their share of a $20,000 prize pool! On top of that, competitors at the 2016 Super Sunday Series Championship will be treated to some enjoyable nights out, featuring activities such as dinner and drafting with Magic R&D!”

One funny and odd detail about this event is that I started off 7-0 and it was 9 rounds + top 8. I decided to draw round 8 and 9 instead of playing out round 9. Logically, it makes no sense for me to draw again because of how the points were broken down. If I draw, I get 6th or 7th place. If I win, I get 2nd or 3rd, and if I lose, I get 8th. Regardless of how logical it was, and how logical of a person I am, I drew with my opponent, because I didn’t want to play another round. I didn’t mind the disadvantage going into top 8 and felt that the extra rest was worth it. Ironically, the other 7-0-1 drew in the last round in the exact same scenario and got 6th place and we played in the finals. I guess us both making terribly illogical decisions paid off.

Standings going into top 8 and top 8 draft deck:

Pain & Endurance

To the point, I was on Duragesic Patches, which are meant for old and bedridden people, for 6 straight years because of a back surgery plus accident post surgery and spent nearly 2 years weaning off of the patches. I have been off them since the start of 2015 and that was the spark of my drive to get back to the Pro Tour. Although I am still in chronic pain, I am much happier being able to control my intake of pain medication. It has brought my brain back from the dead, and I have been extremely happy being able to think clearly again.

The whole week leading up to the Pro Tour was extremely weird because I use medical marijuana to help with my pain and muscle spasms back home. I knew that I could get it in Vancouver if I tried, but because no one at the testing house had any available, I did not worry about it. I have learned to be able to live without extra pain killers or marijuana. Although, I enjoy it a great deal, because it helps with my muscle spasms tremendously, I can manage my pain without it and was not going to make it a big deal. I am well past the days of smoking weed and playing competitive Magic while high, so I never recommend any mind-altering drugs while trying to play competitive tournaments. It felt great to have a clear head throughout the week of testing and through both days of the Pro Tour.

If you know me at all, you know how passionate I am about Magic: The Gathering. I have spent over half of my life playing this game and have met so many amazing people because of it. The support that I have received from Arizona locals has been amazing. I was just one of many Pro Tour competitors in 2008. This time, I felt like I was representing Arizona. It felt great to know that I had so many people cheering for me. And, I hope that I did them proud. I plan on making more Pro Tours in the near feature.

I want to thank every single person that helped me with the funds to travel to these Magic tournaments. I feel very lucky to have had a local store (Desert Sky Games and Comics) throw $200 my way, in addition to a handful of $25 or so donations, and 1 amazing person donating $300. On top of the financial support, the emotional support has been incredible from everyone I know. The Arizona scene is beyond amazing and I don’t think I would have made it through all 16 rounds without their support.

I am looking forward to sharing my future stories and experiences. This is only the beginning of what is to come. 6 years of Fentanyl patches could only delay me for so long, and I feel nearly unstoppable without them. There is no doubt that my pain is an obstacle, but I will not let it stop me from playing this game I love so much.

Twitter — @Ctalbus

If you’d like to read more details about my past successes in Magic, along with my struggles through being on pain medication and trying to compete, please follow the link. There are a few articles with a great amount of detail in them that I could not fit into here.

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