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What the Pro Tour Truly Evokes

August 04, 2023
Corbin Hosler

Everyone has that moment in the tournament's opening minutes. At some point, they take a few seconds to themselves, look around the room or at their draft pod, and it hits them like a turn-three Ulamog: they've finally made it to the Pro Tour.

That moment is different for everyone, but a universal experience. More importantly, it's a community's experience. It ties the Pro Tour community together. I don't think awe is the right word for it, though – no one who can play at a Pro Tour level is incapable of competing with even the best to ever sleeve 'em up – but it is a profound moment of reflection. Players spend years and years chasing that one chance to see the world and shoot their shot.

And then there's something external that takes all of those years of practice, of sideboarding strategy, of tournament theory and pick orders and PTQ grinding, and crystalizes it.

For longtime player and commentator Tannon Grace, it came when he found the pairings sheet for Round 1 – and he was paired up against a Pro Tour champion. For some, it's the draft first thing Friday morning, or the player party on Thursday when they're brushing elbows with the legends of the game they've followed for years online.

For most, it ends in a fulfilling experience: they play for big stakes against the best in the world, and they play high-level Magic with the knowledge that anyone can win. Of course, in practice it's almost never the first-time PT competitor who wins it all – the Pro Tour is just too difficult and the pressure of the Sunday stage too immense for those unfamiliar. But I would say that when I talk to first-time Pro Tour attendees, regardless of their finish, they leave with a profound desire to run it back as soon as possible.

That's more or less what Jake Beardsley expected at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings. He was ecstatic to compete in sunny Barcelona while enjoying a vacation with his partner alongside the PT. Fresh off grad school finals, the Pro Tour offered him the trip of a lifetime and the opportunity for the tournament of a lifetime. After years of working to qualify, his you're-here moment came fast.

"Márcio Carvalho walked up and sat down next to me, and I thought "am I really going to start off my first Pro Tour with maybe the best Limited player ever passing to me?" Beardsley marveled. "That was my welcome to the Pro Tour moment."

It was a moment almost 20 years in the making, ever since Beardsley picked up his first card back in Betrayers of Kamigawa. With his spirits high, the 23-year-old drafted with no pressure on his back, but a lifetime full of Magic memories flooding in as he took in the scene.

The tournament was the much-ballyhooed return of Modern to the Pro Tour. The Constructed rounds would feature some of the newest and most powerful cards ever printed. Mastery of the latest developments would determine success over the next three days, but Beardsley couldn't help but feeling like he was winning before he ever busted that first pack.

You see, the Friday that Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings kicked off was Beardsley's birthday. And it was almost 18 years to the day since his father had handed him his first Magic card, a time-tested parental ploy to help him learn to read. Now his dad was cheering him on from home, his partner Claire was with him in person, and the Pro Tour awaited.

Not bad for a kid who began his playing career debating deep Magic theory at a young age. Sure, it was about whether the mana symbol on white cards was actually yellow like the sun, and okay he was only four, but we all start somewhere, right?

"I was a seven-year-old who was telling my dad I was going to be a pro Magic player. I started off memorizing what the cards did by the art, like the spear on Nezumi Shadow-Watcher. I was completely hooked," he recalled. "When I got older I started going to a store. My first Friday Night Magic was around Lorwyn, and I've been playing ever since."

One way to tell someone has grown up with Magic in their life? The tendency to measure time by sets rather than years (ask me how I know).

"It was about 10 years ago when I started actually playing in tournaments, and I played as much as I could while focusing on school," Beardsley explained. "When the Regional Championships came back last year, I had just settled into grad school in Roanoke, Virgnia, and I started playing in as many qualifiers as I could."

That journey took him all the way to Spain, and Beardsley knew the Pro Tour would be an experience he would never forget. But he didn't know just how right he was – and a funny thing kept happening the more rounds he played.

"I was just happy to be there, but then I just kept winning."

And winning. And winning. Until we wouldn't let him win any more – Beardsley dispatched the resurgent breakout deck of the weekend (if you can stomach calling Tron a "Breakout"deck) – and won it all at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

"I never imagined this," Beardsley said. "I have to thank my girlfriend Claire for all the support, I would not have been able to win the tournament without her. She's seen how insane I am about this game. I play. She plays. My dad plays. My brother plays. My other brother plays. So it was really awesome to share this experience with her. It was fantastic."

Tens of thousands watched as Beardsley did something that no one else had done in 17 years, since Jan Merkel last accomplished the unthinkable: winning the whole damn thing in their first Pro Tour.

Beardsley put on a memorable performance on camera. Animated when playing, stoic when not, enthusiastic when celebrating. The American's run through Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings will live quite a while in Magic history.

"I knew that our team's Limited prep was good and that we had a list that was capable of beating anything, but I had no idea that he was going to destroy the event the way he did,"said Liam Kane, one of the members of the team Sanctum for All that worked with Beardsley to prep for the Pro Tour. "That is, until I watched him play in the Top 8. Seeing him execute with such precision and composure under the incredible pressure of a Top 8 match, it made sense to me. By the time of the finals, our team was gathered to the right of the stage, huddled around a phone that was five seconds ahead of the stream on the computer, while a mob of three times as many people were all cheering for [runner-up] Christian Calcano. It was the most nervous I've ever felt for someone else's match."

The team aspect, especially in person, is a huge part of what makes the Pro Tour experience so unique. Beardsley's team swarmed him immediately upon winning the title, the excitement pouring out of Beardsley after such an intense weekend. And while he was quick to credit his teammates, Kane stressed that Beardsley was an integral part of the diverse team.

"We realized fairly early that Rakdos Evoke was the deck to beat of the format. Jake and I were the first two on the deck and I noticed that we were separately coming to a lot of the same conclusions. In the end, the rest of the team moved on to other decks due to style preferences, despite recognizing that Rakdos was very good, leaving just Jake and I ironing out the details in the days leading up to the event."

"Jake is a very genuine, humble guy. He's credited me with a lot of the deckbuilding decisions, when for many of them he already knew the reasoning for before I even suggested them."

A lifetime of Magic has brought Beardsley to this moment. He admits the reality of being a Pro Tour winner is slow to sink in. In fact, he's dealing with a Magic career trajectory we haven't seen since before the release of Blu-rays.

"My phone was completely unusable for two days from so many people messaging and calling me to congratulate me,""he said with a laugh. "S" yeah, I guess it's still only sort of hit me. I always try to focus on the next game or the next tournament, I joke that I'm like a sleeper agent who turns on when I get that MTGMelee notification."

"I'm excited to play in the World Championship. That's always been a dream. I'm going to work with Autumn Burchett and Cain Rianhard again, and after this Pro Tour I really want to focus on doing my best in the events moving forward! This is an amazing opportunity."

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