Raymond Perez, Jr. – Stories of the Grinder

I am a huge fan of articles that talk about things outside of decklists and tournament reports. While these types of articles are a good way to find a deck to sling at FNM or a PTQ or what have you, I also like to read about real-life events and how they affect people. People put pro Magic players, and even people like myself who are just coming up, on a pedestal. At the end of the day, though, everyone is still a person and goes through trials and tribulations like everyone else. I would like to spend some time today going over some of the life lessons I learned in the last six weeks of tournaments and grinding.

SCG Cleveland and PT Theros – Finding A Balance

Around this time I was testing for my first pro tour, in Dublin, for which I was leaving the following Tuesday. I was stressing about a lot of things: if my deck was the right choice, if all my testing was actually real, if I missed a deck or decks that would be there to crush me, how I’d alienated friends due to my focus on MTG the last few years, and the list goes on. I was quite upset with life and just how things were going.

It’s not everyday when your best friend decides to send you the following text: “If you bail on me again, our friendship is over.”

That really hurt. It hurt badly. Didn’t the world see that I just won a PTQ and that all I had time to do was work and do Magical things? Didn’t they understand how much this meant to me? What I failed to realize was that I was also giving up what meant so much to other people. This friend wasn’t the only one who felt this way, either . My sister, who moved to Florida earlier this year, was upset I didn’t call her on her birthday. I sent her a text saying “Happy birthday, hope all is well.” I told her I would call her later. What happened? I got caught up in playtesting for the PT. She would understand right? Well, she did, but it’s mainly because she’s my sister and we are super close. The point is, though, that I was consistently letting people down over and over for a tournament that I wasn’t that comfortable about in the first place.

It all came into perspective the last day I spent in the states, when I went out to eat with my mom. My mom has always supported anything I do in life, including and especially my card habits. Everything from Pokemon to DBZ to Magic, she was there. She was willing to drive me to tournaments and buy me cards for my birthday and Christmas. This day, she was still there for me, just like she always has been. She told me that it’s all about balance. Finding that balance and how to make everything work time-wise, money-wise, and life-wise. After the encouraging words and nice dinner without much Magic talk, I felt a lot better about the tournament and what I was going to do with the rest of my time in the game. But I have to admit, it was getting to the point where I was going to quit the game for a while if all the hard work for the PT didn’t pay off.

Fast forward to the PT the following weekend. I looked at the final standings and saw that I had managed to finish in 11th place at my first pro tour! While it was an amazing feeling to know all the hard work had indeed finally paid off, it was also not satisfying enough for me. One more match and I could have been in the top eight of my first pro tour. One more match is all that has stood in my way from top eighting multiple SCG opens as well as PTQs. One final match is what got me to the pro tour in the first place and one match is what kept me from winning an additional $5000 as well as more pro points. Eleventh place wasn’t good enough for me.

What I ended up learning from PT Dublin was that the hard work and long hours paid off. I also learned that going forward, sometimes that extra day of playtesting, which would often turn into just hanging out at the LGS, could be better spent seeing the ones you care for or picking up the phone more often. It’s hard to break the habits that I am in right now but I am making an effort to spend time or phone calls with people I have neglected the last few months.

GP Louisville – Call it a Night

Sometimes on Magic trips, I forget that I am actually there to play a tournament and think I am just there with friends having a good time. GP Louisville is one of those times.

I know that a lot of people just get food and a beer or two before calling it a night, whether at tournaments or just in general. I, on the other hand, love to party. I always have. I am a very social person and being in so many new places because of this game just makes me want to go out and see the town even more.

At the beginning of day one of Louisville, I met a cute girl at a Bob Evans who invited me to come out and party with her for her friend’s birthday. She gave me her number and I carried on with my day. I figured if I scrubbed out of the tournament, then I would go out and have a good time. If I made day two, I would be responsible and go to sleep and be well rested for the next day. I should have known better about how I am. Fast forward to the end of day one and I am 7-2. My two friends and I went out to eat some food and figure out the plan for the night. I told myself that if it were after midnight when she got back to me, I would go to sleep. At 12:04 a.m. I received a text asking if I was still coming out. I know I shouldn’t have, but the party juices were flowing.

I tried everything to convince myself not to go. I flipped coins saying if they were heads, I would go. Of course, I flipped tails. I rolled dice saying the same thing but for evens and odds. We opened packs of cards saying if the value were over four dollars, we would go. All signs were screaming, “Stay here and sleep!” but I didn’t want to accept the truth. I called one of my close friends and asked him what I should do. He was a Magic grinder himself and would have my best interests at heart.

“Go out and have fun, man. We go to these things not just to play but also to have a blast.”

It was settled. ROLO*. We were going out and having a ball! After all the drinks and good times, it was now 4:30 a.m. and I had to get up for day two at 7:30 a.m. What was a man supposed to do? I did the only logical thing (drunk logic is usually not correct) and stayed up all night for fear of sleeping in.

Well, day two was a horror scene. I was fatigued. I was exhausted. I was hungover and it was only 10 a.m. I ended up going x-5 before the last round and dropping so we could start the journey back to Michigan.

I learned that I am still a party monster, but that isn’t the best thing to be when there is a serious event on the line. Being in the Rookie of the Year race means that I need to take all GPs and PTs more serious than usual if I want to be crowned with such a title. I threw away a perfect opportunity to get more Pro Points and some more cash, all for a night out on the town. Would I do it again? Most definitely – if there’s not a day two on the line. Do I regret it? Not one bit. I don’t have the power to change things that have already happened, so there’s no need to regret one of the best nights I have had in years. I do, however, need to make sure that I take tournaments more seriously and know that there will always be party nights – but there won’t always be a GP of which I made day two. It’s important to make day two count!

SCG Invitational and TCGPlayer 50K Championship – Prep or Bust!

I was going to be in attendance for both of these events and planned to play Esper for both. I battled with Esper at SCG Cleveland, GP Louisville, and the pro tour. I knew Esper better than any other deck in Standard. I even played Esper the majority of last Standard due to my affinity for the Esper Walker deck after an SCG top four with it. This is where I made a mistake: I chose not to take the testing for these tournaments seriously.

I thought that I knew Standard well enough that I didn’t need to tune my deck much. I knew how I was losing my matches in the last few tournaments and I knew what decks were good. What I failed to realize was that I wasn’t as well-versed as I should have been in the matchups that mattered. I ended up losing to Mono Blue Devotion at the TCGPlayer 50K as well as the 5K Diamond event on the following day. That is one of the matchups that was supposed to be in my favor, and yet I kept losing to it. I didn’t respect the deck enough to know that I needed more games under my belt as well as dedicating more sideboard cards to the matchup. I didn’t even make it through the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational because I picked up two losses in the Legacy portion. I caught a poor match up against blitz RDW and some poor choices against RG Devotion left me signing up for the Standard open the next day. I didn’t test nearly enough Legacy for the SCG Invitational nor enough Modern for the TCGPlayer 50K.

This taught me that even though I was able to have a good showing with the best of the best at a pro tour, it doesn’t mean that I have the ability to sit around and think I am good enough at this game. I need to practice. I need to study. I need to keep grinding just to keep succeeding. This was proof that if you want to take this game seriously, there are no holidays. There are no breaks. There is only hard work and dedication. Magic is a lifestyle for me, not a hobby. Some people want to be the best body builder, the best athlete, even the best hot dog eater. I want to be one of the best Magic players and I promise you all, I won’t stop learning and progressing until I am. These are all just lessons that will get me from where I am to where I need to go.

Wrapping Up

I hope that these tales of woe will help you improve somewhere, be it in life or in the game. These are just a few of the mistakes I have made on my journey and I am sure they won’t be the last, either. But if I am able to turn my mistakes into something people can learn from, it will all have been for something.

Some of this may seem like common knowledge. Some of it may not apply to you. Regardless of whether you heed my words or not, I hope you have enjoyed reading these stories! If you guys are interested in seeing more of these types of articles, let me know in the comments or on Twitter. If you guys just want to hear about Esper (what people usually ask me about in person or online) I do not have an issue with that, either. I just tried spicing things up a little bit this time around :)

Until next time!

@RayFuturePro on Twitter
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*ROLO stands for Raymond Once Lives Once or Raymond Only Loses Once :D

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