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The Fast Track to the Pro Tour

April 26, 2023
Emma Partlow

Magic: The Gathering is such an innocent yet evocative game. For one so simple, it brings out the best in many of us.

For a game piece that seems small on the outside, the unspoken bond between you and a rectangular piece of cardboard is enormous. You immediately respect the words dictated on the card, the casting cost, and the times at which you can play it. And through this respect, you weave your way through complex board states and interact with the person opposite you—the opponent. It's just you and the cards working in tandem, moving towards one goal—victory. And while Magic doesn't ask much from you, it does demand one simple thing in return—to participate.

Participation is what cultivates "the gathering" notion. It's the driving force that creates stories, memories, and a hunger to be part of something much, much more.

Magic is about experiencing and creating your own story.

Benton Madsen Made His Journey and Joy in the Finals of Pro Tour Phyrexia

For competitive Magic, it also means the most iconic moments in the game's history have echoed through numerous Pro Tour halls over the years. Craig Jones ripping that Lightning Helix off the top. Luis Scott-Vargas casually clutching a Vampire token. You can't predict these victorious moments—but they always happen. When they do, you're glad to witness a piece of Magic history.

Next week, May 5–7, hundreds of Magic's best and brightest will hope to forge their own unforgettable story with Pro Tour March of the Machine at MagicCon: Minneapolis. Each with their sights on becoming the next Pro Tour Champion—their story to make as the Pro Tour March of the Machine Champion.

The enduring characteristic of the Pro Tour is how it encompasses the far and wide, featuring players from various backgrounds, experiences, and skills—each with their unique approach to competitive Magic. For some, it began as that formidable FNM end-boss, where the narrative soon evolved into dominating a Regional Championship Qualifier, then onto the Regional Championships to secure a Pro Tour invite. However, in some cases, many of Magic's veteran players have regained their hunger for competitive success.

Two of the game's greats resumed their story at MagicCon: Philadelphia, where fast-tracking to Pro Tour March of the Machine was possible by winning just one tournament: the PTQ (Pro Tour Qualifier).

Josh McClain

For long-time veteran and Grand Prix Detroit 2013 Champion Josh McClain, winning a Pro Tour remains the drive after all these years of competing, especially after coming close at Pro Tour Born of the Gods nine years ago. "It's always been a dream of mine to win a Pro Tour! I'm still as hungry for that as I ever have been," says McClain. Even with that desire in mind "the gathering" continues to be the defining factor to attend these events. "However, my only real goal for Magic right now is to see as many old friends as possible and maybe win a match or two."

Winning a match or two may seem a modest mindset when competing in high-level play, especially as McClain entered the Saturday Phyrexia: All Will Be One Limited Pro Tour Qualifier along with 378 other players, each wanting one of the four invites available to compete at Pro Tour March of the Machine. "My Sealed deck was interesting. I think I misbuilt and ended up sideboarding into a different color in two-thirds of my matches. I was a little tricked by [Kaya, Intangible Slayer], and played a slower Orzhov build rather than a solid curved Boros one. Both decks were decent. And in some matchups I felt the slower Orzhov build was slightly better."

And as with any high-attending Magic tournament, there's the chance of the event going late with play continuing behind closed doors—a comforting environment for competitive veterans, who can detach from the bustle of the MagicCon and focus on their next opponent. "The Pro Tour Qualifier started late and went so long that the convention center hall closed before we started our Top 8 Draft. We had to go to the food court upstairs and Draft and play there," explains McClain. "I ended up drafting a super low-curve Orzhov Toxic build that was really good if I could turn on corrupted." For those who drafted Phyrexia: All Will Be One, building an aggressive yet toxic strategy is a strong foundation for success in the format, and for McCain, this was definitely the case.

A significant aspect of these stories is finding opportunities, each paving the way to an improved chance of success. For McClain, winning the Pro Tour Qualifier was a combination of luck, persuasion, and the encouragement to participate—despite the initial hesitation. "Amusingly, I almost didn't make it to Philadelphia! I thought I had booked a flight and registered for the Pro Tour Qualifier about a month beforehand. I had even sent a message in a group chat that I was going, but about a week before, when I was looking for my flight details, I must have never actually checked out!" chuckles McClain. "I looked, and all the reasonable flights had gone from $200 to $550, so I had decided to skip until Sam (Pardee) convinced me to take a red eye that was still reasonably priced."

And through the influence of those around him, Josh McClain won the Saturday Pro Tour Qualifier and will compete at Pro Tour March of the Machine. "Just being at the Pro Tour again," McClain beamed. "Sitting down for that first March of the Machine Draft and seeing the packs with their little paper wrappings. Sweating friends after matches—I can't wait!"

Allen Wu

Each story is its own, and it's a different story for Allen Wu. It wasn't necessarily the desire to qualify for Pro Tour March of the Machine that brought the Pro Tour 25th Anniversary Champion to MagicCon: Philadelphia, but just the ability to travel drew him to attend instead. "I wasn't taking things too seriously, mostly looking to see friends who were playing the Pro Tour," explained Wu. "The main thing was that I'd never visited Philadelphia as an adult and wanted to sightsee, and the convention was a convenient excuse to finally go."

Taking a similar path to McClain, Wu played in the Friday Pro Tour Qualifier, also Phyrexia: All Will Be One Sealed, where 406 players participated with the top four finishers qualifying for the upcoming Pro Tour. "I opened both [The Wandering Emperor] and [White Sun's Twilight] but promptly made a catastrophic error in my first game, so I was feeling pessimistic. But I played reasonably well," Wu explained.

Opening two of the best Limited rares from Phyrexia: All Will Be One and building a Naya Midrange build was one good turn, but it didn't stop there. "I went to go get food before Top 8 and almost got lost getting back," Wu said, "but one of the judges running the event was a friend from college and let me in through an otherwise locked door. (Thanks again, Seth.)"

With a combination of karma and assistance, Wu managed to participate in the Top 8 and took down the Pro Tour Qualifier with a Jeskai Equipment strategy. Without these things falling his way throughout the day, it would have ended much differently.

But the biggest motivation to lock up the Friday Pro Tour Qualifier? Do more sightseeing.

"I went to see the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Magic Gardens on Thursday, and winning (the Pro Tour Qualifier) on Friday let me visit the Barnes Foundation and Rodin Gardens on Saturday," which honestly, is the best (and most underrated) part of traveling for Magic events.

Considering Allen Wu already won a Pro Tour (in Minneapolis, no less) alongside teammates Gregory Orange and Ben Hull five years ago, competing in Pro Tour March of the Machine offers a different perspective. "I've never really looked for validation, but the experience of winning (Pro Tour 25th Anniversary) is definitely why we all compete", explained Wu. "It's like a release of tension. You spend the whole weekend focusing in this quiet, dark, totally closed-off space, using all the energy you have (and some you don't), trying to play your best. And in the end, it's over, and you've won. The higher the stakes, the more focused you are; the more explosive the release is."

Regardless of how one approaches Pro Tours there's always the thrill of competing against Magic's most decorated players, such as Pro Tour Phyrexia Champion Reid Duke or current World Champion Nathan Steuer—especially at Pro Tour March of the Machine. "Competing against the best is the hardest, and most interesting puzzle for me, and you don't get that anywhere except Pro Tours," said Wu. "Also, drafting against eight great, prepared players is a unique challenge that you can't get anywhere else."

There's a common thread between McClain's and Wu's stories that dictates why these long-time Magic veterans saw success during MagicCon: Philadelphia—they made the most of their opportunity.

To begin your story, all you need to do is participate.

Pro Tour March of the Machine features March of the Machine Draft and Standard. Tune in from 12 p.m. ET on May 5 and 6, and at 11 a.m. ET for the Top 8 playoff on May 7 over at to see who becomes the next entrant in Magic's illustrious competitive history!

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