He's known as the Citrus Assassin; as a control player through and through, as a Team Pro Tour Champion—but what might surprise those familiar with Orange's quiet demeanor is that, from FNM to the Pro Tour, it's always been about the people.
Like many players, Orange's Magic journey began back in the hazily remembered days of middle school. When a friend suggested going to FNM, Orange went with it, which was a pattern that ended up defining the beginning of his competitive journey.
"I just sort of stuck with it. I kept going to FNM every week, and then eventually people were like, hey, do you want to go to this [Grand Prix] or play in the [Pro Tour Qualifier], and I'm like, well, might as well, you know? I never really expected to find any success."
It was always this outside drive, a set of friends with whom he could tag along rather than a Pro Tour dream or a set of competitive goals, that led Orange to take the next step from FNM to PTQ or Grand Prix. It's a unique origin story for a competitor of Orange's caliber, whose peers are often defined by their drive to reach the next big landmark of success or solidify their accomplishments.
Orange always had an achievable goal in mind, focusing on "wanting to make Day 2" or just "Top 8 the PTQ" instead of winning it all. But in 2012, Orange's focus on the achievable brought his first success winning a Modern PTQ for Pro Tour Avacyn Restored.
"Modern was still fairly new at that point. I watched a random [Luis Scott-Vargas] video and was like, oh, this blue-white deck looks fun." Orange was excited to play a deck even though he felt more PTQ practice was needed—he'd played in only a dozen or so events and had just started to make it to Top 8.
But he won, and it was off to the Pro Tour.
"I was just pleased to do well, and I didn't really expect to win," he said. "I feel like I both got lucky and was playing the right deck at the right time. A lot of people weren't playing known decks, and Modern seemed more like a wild west type situation at that point."
Orange didn't expect to find himself at the Pro Tour; he was still getting a feel for the Magic landscape outside his local scene through content like videos, articles, and broadcasts. Meeting and playing against the wider community was one of the most memorable parts of the Pro Tour for him.
"I was super happy just to play in the Pro Tour and actually see the sort of people that I had heard about," he said. Getting to see and meet the ChannelFireball players he learned from etched itself in Orange's mind. "I remember Marshall Sutcliffe was sitting in front of me on the airplane out to Barcelona. A lot of it was just cool."
Orange's first success came as a surprise, and though he never seemed to stop being startled by his wins, a string of strong finishes began to convince him of his staying power. After Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, Orange's next big break was at a local event, the 2014 Grand Prix in Minneapolis. Even now he couched his success with uncertainty.
"I happened to unexpectedly Top 8," Orange said. "I don't think I'd even made Day 2 of a GP at that point, so I was just excited to make Day 2 and then I ended up Top 8-ing."
It was the start of a cascade of strong events for Orange, and persistence influenced his assessment of his own chances in the competitive Magic scene. His outlook, however, still didn't quite reach optimistic. Instead, it hovered in what has become his hallmark style, around cautiously hopeful.
"It wasn't a goal, but I also just happened to go 10-5 in the PT that the GP fed, and that felt like a fluke too," he explained. "It was kind of a wild experience, especially since I actually lost two win-and-ins for the Top 8 of the PT ... and then I went 11-4 at the next one after that. It was definitely unexpected again, but also it did make it seem more realistic to keep playing in those sorts of events."
Those two strong Pro Tour finishes led Orange to set one of the first concrete goals of his career.
"The one PT was at the end of one season and the next one was at the beginning of the next season, so even though I did well in back-to-back events, I didn't have a pro level," he said. His goal was simple: make it to Silver and start down the path of getting "on the train" of Pro Tour qualifications without winning PTQs. "It was the first time where I was actually trying, and I had to travel to GPs and stuff to try to do that." Despite missing one of the Pro Tours that season, Orange achieved his goal at a Grand Prix before ascending further. "I got Gold, too, for the first time. I never really thought that I was like the best in the world or anything, but certain things did seem to be a bit more doable. I also felt like I was always just skirting by somehow."
When competing feels good, the path to a competitive goal is its own reward—which added to Orange's experience playing on the Pro Tour. "The fact that you would see people that you had heard about on the internet and didn't necessarily expect to interact with or actually play against in real life. And then you meet random people from different parts of the world that also are also feeling the same way as you. After a while you start to get to know some of these people, and then it's like, hey, I get to go to this thing and see all my friends again."
Along the way, Orange became known as a control aficionado, sticking with control in environments unfriendly the archetype, and often experiencing success with it despite the metagame. That first PTQ win was with a blue-white deck, and that first Grand Prix Top 8 was with Jeskai Control. He took a control deck to Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, finishing just shy of Top 8 in 9th place.
"I am willing to branch out. I'm not exclusively a control player, but it's nice to have a default, because then whenever a situation arises where it's close, you just don't have to worry about it too much," he explained. "You're just like, oh, I'll play the deck that I always play and I always like. I like that control leads me to some more weird and interesting circumstances, particularly in control mirrors, that can't really happen with other decks in the same way."
Orange's anomalous casualness about competitive Magic makes more sense in the context of his mindset when he's in a match.
"One small piece of advice that a friend gave to me once was to play regular and it'll be alright. So I try not to overthink it too much," he said. "It's really just about, you know, showing up and hoping for the best and not trying to reinvent the wheel here."
It's a mix of pragmatism and admirable in-the-moment-ness that translates to his interviews and deck techs—such as the one that immortalizes his 9th place deck from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir.
Orange's rise came with familiarity and experience at those high-level events, and it began to pay off. In August 2018, Orange and his Pro Tour teammates Allen Hu and Ben Hull won Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in Minneapolis.
From the exceedingly rare Team Trios format – one player each for Standard, Modern, and Limited – to the celebration of Magic's 25th anniversary, it was a memorable event in the Pro Tour's history. It was an especially fitting win for Orange, because it once again came down to the people with whom he was able to share the event and the win.
"I would say one experience that was obviously super cool is the fact that the team PT that my team and I won was in Minneapolis, and afterwards all my friends swarmed the stage and everyone cheered," he said. "I feel like it can't happen very often where the PT is won by someone that lives there."
Orange has felt the absence of that camaraderie in the last two years, and it echoed in his thoughts on the Championships of the season. "I sort of expected that both of them would be the last one that I may have ever played in." With the return to an in-person Pro Tour on the horizon, Orange is looking forward to his competitive Magic future with his trademark caution and modest optimism.
"If I keep somehow qualifying for things, I'm going to keep playing in them," her said, "but I'll just have to wait and see how it is and where I'm at. I would like to play like another big in-person event at some point."
When it happens because, no matter his own caution, past performance suggests that with the Pro Tour returning Greg Orange will be there—probably approach it with the same mix of surprise and easygoing interest with which he views his likely seat at the World Championship this fall.
"I mean, it would be fun to play hopefully, but obviously I wasn't expecting that," he said. "I would feel almost silly I suppose, but yeah, it would be nice. I wouldn't dislike that at all."
Watch Orange and more make their mark on Magic history at the New Capenna Championship, broadcasting May 20–22, live at twitch.tv/magic!