My Introduction: 16 Years of Magic the Gathering Part 2

Thank you for returning for part 2 of my first article. If you missed the first part, it can be found here. I appreciate all the positive responses.


For those who don’t know, I’ve been on prescription painkillers for about five years due to chronic back pain. I have Scoliosis and had surgery in January 2007. The surgery involved straightening my spine with titanium rods and metal bolts. After six days in the hospital and a few weeks at home recovering, I was not in any pain and was completely off my painkillers.

It’s amazing how many people I have run into that have Scoliosis. I knew zero people who had Scoliosis previous to getting the surgery. I now know multiple people with Scoliosis. A few of them play Magic the Gathering and one of them is Hall of Famer, Jon Finkel. I exchanged e-mails with Finkel years ago before I knew he had Scoliosis. I briefly met Jon Finkel when I was on the Queen Mary for Pro Tour Los Angeles 2001 (I was there for JSS). Here I can be seen playing the JSS on the Queen Mary.

JSS Queen Mary

I was barely 13 years old and watching the Pro Tour Top 8 from the front row. I was called up after Finkel lost in top 4. To my surprise, he handed me his Top 8 draft deck. This experience is why I contacted him so many years later and when I shared my story about having Scoliosis, he explained that he also had Scoliosis but did not have the surgery. The surgery is only necessary for severe curvatures like I had.

Six months passed and I had fully recovered from my surgery. Friends and I decided to pack up and head to a PTQ in California. We got rear-ended in stop and go traffic after only being on the freeway for two miles. It was not a major accident and I wasn’t in any initial pain. The pain didn’t come till more than 7-8 months after the accident and it slowly became worse over the years despite numerous attempts at procedures aimed at helping with the pain.

Two Headed-Giant Season

2007 through 2009 were greats years for me Magic-wise. I wasn’t on any heavy painkillers during these years. It wasn’t until mid-2008 that I was prescribed painkillers. Throughout 2007 and most of 2008 I was playing well and traveled to numerous large events. This was also the time when Two Headed-Giant (also known as 2HG) was a real format and they ran a Two-Headed Giant GP and several PTQs within a six hour drive. Justin Carter was my teammate for most of these 2HG events. He has been a great friend and has played Magic just as long as I have. We came very close in a couple of 2HG PTQs but never managed to Top 4 (since 2HG is two players per team it was cut to Top 4).

Our closest was at a PTQ in Vegas. We started off 4-0, and then lost to Peter and Robert Swarowski in round 5 and Riad Mourssali and Harry Shipley in round 7 to end up 5th place at 5-2. From what I recall, our round 5 opponents conceded to their friends in round 7 because they were 6-0 and their friends were 5-1 and so we were forced to play our friends from Arizona in round 7. It was brutal to lose and then not see our Arizona friends take it down.

GP Massachusetts – 2007

Later in 2007, Justin and I decided to travel to the first 2HG GP in Massachusetts. We started off amazing and won our first five rounds of sealed. Unfortunately we ended up 5-1-1 Day 1 after losing our first loss in Round 6 was to a team from Japan, Shouta Yasooka and Takuya Osawa. Conveniently, both of them had won a Pro Tour in 2006 just 45 days apart from each other (one of them also placed 2nd in a 2007 PT). What a nice team that was.

We also drew in the last round versus a husband/wife team. Justin and I were very frustrated that we drew because the wife got up and went to the bathroom more once during the game. Since we only had to win one game, we didn’t call a judge and try to get an extra three minutes on our clock. Maybe we should have called a judge, but it hadn’t crossed our minds because we were focused on winning the game.

Nevertheless, we were still excited about making Day 2 and this meant we got to draft!!! We had two really sick decks in our first draft. We took all the slivers and end up with a total of five Strength in Numbers (this card is insane in 2HG). We easily won our first round on turn five by curving with Slivers: Basal + Shadow turn three, and then Bonesplitter (+2,+0) and Reflex (haste) on turn 4 for 15 damage which was also unblockable due to them having shadow. Unfortunately the next rounds did not go as well. We had a mess of a second draft pool and end up with only two wins all of Day 2. We also played and lost to the Ruel brothers in one of the last rounds of Day 2.

Overall it was a really enjoyable experience and I was very excited for my first Day 2 of a Grand Prix. When the experiences are fun and you are with awesome people, it is worth it. Everyone wants to win, but out of hundreds of people (or thousands if it’s a giant GP, only one will be super happy with a few other semi-happy people and a whole lot of disappointed people.

PTQ Hollywood

The first PTQ I attended for PT Hollywood 2008 was in my hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. It was extended format, which was the format that Modern replaced. Because the two other people that I shared cards with were already playing the most expensive deck, 5-color zoo, and using up most of our card pools, I decided to stick to what I knew best and played Affinity. I have loved affinity ever since it was a Block Constructed deck and I am more familiar with Affinity than any other deck. The list I ended up playing cannot be found anywhere because there was no tournament report with deck lists. Here are the opponents I played thanks to the Planeswalker Points website.

PTQ win

Before the PTQ, I decided on a list that ran Atog and a combination of Fatal Frenzy and Soul’s Fire. I favored this split because they both had their advantages. Fatal Frenzy was great if your opponent had little to no creatures because you could trample over, whereas with Soul’s Fire you could do lethal damage without attacking. I got deck-checked during an early round and received a game loss. Apparently I wrote down a name incorrectly for one of my cards. Even though it was obvious that I was playing 4x Arcbound Worker and not 4x Arcbound “something not named Worker”, I did my best to not get frustrated about this game loss and manage to pull out that round. After winning the next few rounds, I was sitting at 5-0 and a lock for Top 8.

I was very excited to be in another PTQ Top 8. I was 19 years old with 7 or 8 previous PTQ Top 8s, along with 2 9th place and a 10th place finish and I really wanted to win a PTQ. Top 8 was full of Doran decks and Dredge decks. I had no problem beating the first Doran deck by forcing him to play Doran to negate my Cranial Plating and then getting in for four damage with my new 2/2 Ornithopters.

My Top 4 match was versus one of the best players in the world at that time, Sam Stein. He had something close to a 2300 rating at the time we played in Top 4. He was playing Dredge and I managed to kill him turn 3 one of our games. It was my 2nd turn 3 kill of the tournament versus Dredge; one of which was on a mulligan to five cards. I manage to beat him in two games and I was in the finals.

The final was match was versus another Doran deck which I also crushed. I end up 2-0 in all of my Top 8 matches and was extremely excited to win my first and only PTQ to date. My brother and a bunch of friends all went to dinner that night and celebrated the win. It was a great experience and felt like a dream.

Pro Tour Hollywood – 2008

My brother and I were both qualified for this Pro Tour after Mitchell traveled to Albuquerque and won a PTQ there. I was very excited to play in my first PT. I wasn’t excited about the current format which involved countless Faerie decks and a 5 Color-Control deck that ran Cloudthresher + Cryptic Command (thanks to Reflecting Pool, Vivid lands, and filter lands). I landed on Faeries and ended up playing six mirror matches and ended up 3-4, going 3-3 in the mirror matches. The mirror match was extremely boring and it just came down to who got Bitterblossom out or 2 Scion of Oona out.

Bitterblossom scion of oona

The highlight that I have from this tournament is beating Remi Fortier in round 4. Remi Fortier was a young player who had just won a Pro Tour six months prior. Although I didn’t finish well, PT Hollywood was a great experience. Going 3-3 in the mirror match versus Pro Tour level players was still an awesome feeling.

Playing Versus Pros

Some people get nervous playing pros, but I enjoy the challenge. I recognize that they are great and know that I need to play my best to have a shot. They are not going easy on me, so why give them more of an advantage than they already have. When a pro player such as Brian Kibler sits down in front of someone who looks up to him, they are likely to be nervous and intimidated which can lead to simple mistakes that they wouldn’t otherwise make.

As an added note, Brian Kibler is one of the nicest and most sincere Magic the Gathering pros I have interacted with. He can always be seen conversing with us humans and you can tell that he enjoys it. This is a quality I very much admire. There are multiple stories that I have about Kibler going out of his way to talk to people that he barely knows or doesn’t know at all. It may just be a normal occurrence for him, but to that person it most likely has made their trip memorable and a moment they will never forget. I have seen the game evolve over the years and have been happy to see the positive changes over the 16 years I have been involved with the game.

SCG Los Angeles – Jan 2010

I took some time off after the Pro Tour because I didn’t enjoy the format and was not having fun. I came back in late 2009 briefly and played in SCG Los Angeles January 2nd-3rd 2010. At this time, because of my back pain becoming worse, I was prescribed higher dosages of pain medicine than I was in 2008-2009 but I was still able to play Magic somewhat successfully. I could play a 10 hour day of Magic and take half a pain killer near the start and another half somewhere in the middle without any problems. Most of the pain was not during those tournaments. Apparently the fun I was having and the effort my brain was putting into the game temporarily pushed the pain onto the back burner.

SCG Standard

I played Jund in the Standard portion of SCG LA and managed to make top 8. It was a mirror match versus Sherwin Pu. The report on our match can be found here. The only part missing in the tournament report was the most important turn in Game 2. Before the turn that reads “Garruk made a 3/3 Beast as Alex Tamblyn sent his Putrid Leach, Sable Stag, and three Saprolings into the red zone,” I had attacked with Sprouting Thrinax to get three tokens and then played Garruk Wildspeaker and Stag to threaten lethal next turn. He drew a Blightning off the top to avoid dying to Garruk’s ultimate.

Blightning Bloodbraid Elf

What made the loss hurt less was having my friend Eric Hopkins in top 4 and I was also lucky enough to watch Brian Kibler do commentary. Some time went by and I end up replacing him when he goes to bed. I had a blast doing commentary even though it was only for a short amount of time. It’s unfortunate that I haven’t had more opportunities like that. Gavin Verhey and I have been friends since the JSS days and I have always been jealous that he has done so much commentary over the years.

SCG Legacy

Previous to that night, I did not know about the Legacy portion. I woke up early and asked around for a deck. I managed to snatch up Eva Green from Matt Sperling. I did well all day for never having played the format. I had a lucky game versus Charbelcher where I cast turn 1 Thoughtseize and he had 6 ways to make mana plus Goblin Charbelcher, aka a turn 1 kill if I don’t Thoughtseize him. I also had a feature match on camera versus another Charbelcher deck and kept a hand of Swamp, 2x Thoughtseize, 2x Hymn to Tourach plus 2 other cards and drew a 3rd Thoughtseize but never drew a 2nd Swamp or a Dark Ritual and eventually lost on something like turn 9 or 10.

tarmogoyf Hypnotic specter

I finished 13th and was satisfied at placing Top 8 and then 13th the same weekend but also sad that I didn’t Top 8 both days. I had to get a flight home because my friends Danny Smith and Eric Hopkins had to go home earlier that Sunday. Since we got a flat tire on the way to California, they went to get it fixed while I was playing Legacy and I told them to leave without me because I was in contention to Top 8 or Top 16.


I did not play very much Magic in 2011 or 2012. I played in 30 tournaments in 2011 and seven total tournaments in 2012. This time frame was after I had already been prescribed Morphine patches to help me sleep. The pain had gotten so bad that being on just painkillers was not enough and it was impossible to sleep more than 3 hours at a time. During 2011-2012 I had numerous opportunities to close out a PTQ or Day 2 a GP. I was making little mistakes that I never had to think about previously.

A perfect example is playing Sword of Feast and Famine into a Mana Leak and realizing that I saw the Mana Leak off my turn 1 Thoughtseize. I credited the short lapses of memory I was experiencing to the high dosage of painkillers I was on. Essentially they were mistakes that included small details that I normally wouldn’t have to think about. My brain was skipping reality and telling me something that was untrue. For just a split second there is no Mana Leak in his hand. I remember thinking to myself, Did he really draw that Mana Leak? and then stared down at my hand-written notes realizing I might have just thrown away my win and in into the Top 8 of that PTQ. There were other important details about the game but that was something that I could control. I always try to focus on details I can control rather than what I am unable to control.

mana leak thoughtseize

Having no success over the last five years in finding the source and solution for my pain, I end up taking another break from Magic and I get back on track with school. During a three month break from school, I weaned down on my painkillers dramatically. I did it in small amounts, 2-3 weeks at a time. After those 3 months I reduced the dosage from 75 to 25. I felt better and was excited to be on such a lower dosage. I started feeling more aware over the next few months and my memory seems to gradually be getting better. This was only just within the last year and I am still working on the rest, but I am going in the right direction.

Current and Future

I have been planning on getting back into Magic over the last five or six months but I was not attending weekly tournaments. I traveled to SCG tournaments that were within a state of Arizona and to nearby PTQ’s. I managed to win an IQ in Flagstaff for the SCG Vegas Invitational but failed miserably the entire weekend. I had fun and enjoyed the company though and that is a huge part of why us Magic players play.

Just recently, my brother and I both attended a PTQ in Arizona at Manawerx. I traded a dozen fetchlands that I had from before I quit and received two complete decks (Mono Black Devotion “MBD” and Mono Blue Devotion “MUD”). My brother and I both managed to Top 8 and would have played each other in the finals, had we both not lost miserably in the first round of Top 8. I unfortunately played the only person I lost to all day, Robin Chang. He was playing Esper and I was playing MUD and the games all blur together with lots of Jace, Architect of Thought + Sphinx’s Revelation + Elspeth, Sun’s Champion…scoop!

With GP Phoenix coming up and me recently finishing my last college class, I want to get out to some weekly tournaments and do some play-testing to help minimize my mistakes during upcoming tournaments such as GP Phoenix. Mistakes will always happen because no one plays perfect magic every game. It is an exhausting game both physically and mentally. Spending a day traveling and playing 12 hours with minimal to eat can really take a toll on you by the time the last few rounds roll by when playing well is most important. Us Magic players endure these conditions because we love this game and chances are if you are reading this, you love Magic the Gathering just like I do. I have been through several obstacles since my one and only Pro Tour and am ready to make another run at trying to qualify again. I love this game too much to let some pain and some drugs keep me away forever.

So now that you know all about me, what subjects interest you? Here are some topics that I plan to write about in the future. It would be great to hear which topics people are most interested in so I can write those first. Feel free to leave a comment or message me on Facebook.

1.   Reading/analyzing opponents emotions

2.   Universal tips as an aggro deck playing versus a control deck

3.   Improving beyond learning the basic rules

4.   Best stories about JSS

5.   Best stories interacting with Pro players (people I idol)

6.   Tournament Report – GP Phoenix?

7.   (^^^^Something not up there^^^^)

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. There will be more to come in the future! Follow me/add me for updates on upcoming articles.

Alex Tamblyn

Twitter – @Ctalbus

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