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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


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The Southwestern Paladin
Walking to the Pro Tour:
Preparing for Pro Tour Prague

by Jeff Zandi
March 31, 2006

If you have never qualified for a Pro Tour, I gotta tell you, it’s a really nice feeling. There is nothing like showing up at the next PTQ in your area and having people ask you, “hey, are you playing today?” You get to say, “Nah, I qualified last week.” It’s pretty sweet. If you HAVE qualified for the Pro Tour, done whatever you had to do to travel to the Pro Tour, but never made it to day two, I am sadly unable to complete that picture for you. That’s because I’ve played in five Pro Tour events over the years, and I haven’t made it to day two yet, either. I don’t know how it feels to play on a Pro Tour Saturday, racing towards a top 64 payday. However, I know there IS hope. The Pro Tour payoff, Magic’s ultimate prize, is out there, it is a dream but it is a POSSIBLE dream. Like any other worthy goal, it’s all a matter of steps, just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Lately, my Ravnica/Ravnica/Guildpact draft skills have been just terrible. But there is still time, one month between me and Prague, and you have to walk before you can run, so if I have to walk to the Czech Republic, if I have to get bashed in twenty booster drafts in a row in order to learn something that can help me at the Pro Tour, then so be it!


I judge three or four PTQs each season, so I don’t get the opportunity to play in nearly as many qualifiers as I used to. This season, I was fortunate enough to play in two, a 91 player PTQ in Houston in January, and a tidy 51 player PTQ in Lubbock in February. In Houston, I messed up a perfectly decent green/white/black deck trying to force blue into my deck to accommodate a pair of Mark of Evictions. This effort was ultimately unsuccessful. A month later in Lubbock, I played a black/white/blue deck with no color helpers but went undefeated with some good play and some GREAT card draws. I walked away from Lubbock with a PTQ win, with my seat at PT-Prague assured but my draft abilities completely in question. Step one, win a PTQ…CZECH!


Starting with the Pro Tour Honolulu season, Wizards no longer writes checks to the winners of Pro Tour Qualifiers. Nowadays, when you win a PTQ, you are awarded a travel voucher good for a round trip plane ticket to wherever your Pro Tour is being played. In reality, it’s not quite THAT easy. When you win a PTQ, the tournament organizer should put a letter in your hand detailing the hoops that you must jump through in order to receive your travel voucher. You find out that you need to download a consent form, which basically explains what WOTC might and might not ever owe you, all the way from the plane ticket you need right now all the way to winning first place at a Pro Tour. You sign your name on the dotted line and ship this document back to WOTC (along with some updated tax info about yourself so that you can pay your taxes later on). Then you wait for an email that will tell you that you are officially on THE LIST and that you are now cleared for arranging your travel through the Hasbro (they ate our favorite collectible card game company a few years ago, so go buy some of their stock already!) corporate travel office. I won my PTQ on February 18th, I fax all my forms to WOTC on Monday, February 27th. I never get the email discussed on THEIR instruction sheet. I wait a week. I wait two weeks. In the meantime, ticket prices for round trip tickets to Prague are steadily rising, which is what airline tickets do as the date of travel becomes closer.

I contact WOTC, specifically, the great and powerful Andy Heckt. Andy sends me back an email telling me that they don’t have my paperwork. I send them another copy of everything. A few more days go by, and this time, WOTC tells me that they have everything except a photocopy of my driver’s license to prove that I am at least eighteen years old. I’m the oldest guy on the Pro Tour (is Chicago’s Bob Wagner still alive?) and the DCI is CARDING ME! No biggie, I take a deep breath and promptly fax a photocopy of my driver’s license, along with another copy of all my pertinent documentation (things I have already faxed them two times before) last Friday, one week ago today.

On Monday, I still don’t have an email telling me that I can book travel, so I take the initiative and call Hasbro Travel Services. A friendly and helpful Colleen, a very colorful character on the phone with her pronounced New York City accent, tells me that I am officially on the list. She lines up my travel and uses my credit card number to buy an additional ticket for my wife, Willa, who is traveling to Prague with me. Colleen and I discuss at least three different potential travel itineraries, and she accommodates my desired departure and arrival dates and times. The whole process takes less than fifteen minutes. The next day, I have official emails verifying me and my wife’s travel plans. The lesson here is to BE VIGILANT. WOTC’s Andy Heckt and Tom Ko are very good guys, but they have hundreds of players to collect information from, and they have responsibilities other than just making sure I get my travel arranged. Just don’t give up. Now, if I could just figure out what hotel to stay in…


Over this past weekend, I lost six drafts in a row on Magic Online, all in the first round! Very depressing. Losing is not cool, and if you lose TOO often, you can good at losing, which you never want to do. Losing gets to be like a stink that you can’t wash off. Since I haven’t really put all this losing business behind me yet, I can’t say that I have a good remedy. I do think that if you feel like you are just beating your head against the wall, and have lost in the first round of three booster drafts in the short space of a single afternoon, you might need to get away from Magic for a few hours and DO SOMETHING ELSE. Go to the movies, kiss a pretty girl, have some punch and pie. Just do ANYTHING that isn’t Magic for just a little while. If you are completely frustrated, playing in another booster draft with your head in the wrong place is just a waste of your time and precious online booster packs.

Tuesday night is our regular weekly practice, where actual Magic players leave their computers or their local game stores to travel all the way to my house to play Magic IN PERSON for 5-8 hours. This last Tuesday, weekly Guildmage Practice number 448, we had eight players by seven o’clock on the nose, something that hardly ever happens. We were just about to begin when Trent Boneau (really good at limited, obviously one of the best Magic players with a PhD in the world) called and said he was just a few minutes away. Trent is one of those guys who you will hold a draft for, even if the draft already has eight players in it. Sure enough, Trent is in the door five minutes later and we go ahead and draft with the totally unstable number of nine players. Before we finish the first pack of Ravnica, another really good Texas player has shown up sad and grumpy, Mark Hendrickson. It’s a pretty serious draft, everyone here plays a lot, Arthur Morris is back from playing in PT-Honolulu a few weeks ago, Mason Peatross has Pro Tour experience, Hunter Burton is willing to travel anywhere to get into another Grand Prix or to hang out and draft at a Pro Tour. The guest of honor tonight is none other than Gabe “Sugar” Walls. Gabe came back to Dallas with Neil Reeves after the two of them each finished in the money in last Saturday’s professional Marvel Vs. event in Atlanta. Gabe plans on hanging out with Neil and game for a few days before returning home to Indy. Gabe and Neil are slummin’ it tonight with us wannabes. It’s a good draft, we play three rounds of Swiss just to get the maximum play out of our draft decks. In the end, the final four is Gabe over Neil in a nail-biter and Hunter over Arthur in a battle of quantity over quality of creatures. Gabe and Hunter split the prizes in the finals, more a less a rule on Tuesday nights in the Guildhall so that we can get on to another draft. Gabe and Hunter decide to flip all the rares and foils drafted face down and PLAY THE GAME. In case you don’t know, the game is played like this: each player picks a face down card and flips it over, the card with the higher casting cost is the winner, and the winner gets both face up cards for keeps. If two cards are flipped with the same casting cost, another pair of cards is flipped up to decide the winner of all four cards. And so on. About mid way through the rares, Gabe flips up the draft’s only real prize, a Watery Grave, which is also the NUT LOW in this particular game. Hunter wins the Watery Grave by flipping over some terrible rare that costs a lot. Gabe’s pile still ends up containing a Loxodon Hierarch and some other winners. All in a days work for one of the Pro Tour’s best players.

A second draft never materializes, but Neil and Gabe and I all end up this faux English pub in Dallas called The Fox and the Hound where we meet up with Adam Bernstein (won a Vs. professional event last year, also doesn’t suck at Magic, also looks like a young George Clooney, also has a New York Yankees tattoo on his forearm) and his roommate and former gamer buddy Scotty. We all yuk it up and have drinks and fried cheese and randomly palaver each other while we play darts and wait for the shuffle board table to free up, which it never does. Besides being very good at Magic, Gabe Walls, who I’d never seen much of before, is an incredibly nice guy. I wouldn’t say the fella was cocky, but I would say this 22 year old is very comfortable in his own skin. Gabe won’t like this, but I think he looks a lot like Randy, Jason Lee’s slow-witted brother on My Name is Earl. I didn’t say Gabe was slow-witted, Gabe is incredibly sharp and seems to be good at everything he puts his mind toward. Your basic golden boy, any way you want to cut it. He’s arguing with Neil about the nature of the man/woman dynamic, and it is not going particularly well for Walls when I interrupt, trying to pick upsome nuggets of insight about Rav/Rav/Gpact booster draft. In retrospect, I know I came off oh-so-needy. That might be because I am, in fact, INCREDIBLY NEEDY where it comes to current draft technology. There I am beating down Gabe with this draft theory and that draft theory, Gabe and Neil both put up with me for about as long as possible, before Gabe puts in all in a nutshell. These are almost his exact words: “You have no chance of making day two if you don’t draft five times a day in the 8-4 room (on Magic Online).” He said it wasn’t necessarily important to win these drafts, but that I better be learning something from every draft. That’s pretty much all he had to say about it.

Some guys would be insulted. Some guys would come back with how they can’t make that kind of commitment. You know, jobs, kids, family, I know all the excuses. I’ve made ‘em all myself. But see, Gabe didn’t ask me for my life story, he just laid it out the way that he genuinely sees it. You gotta respect that. Anyone remember this old rap lyric from the Eighties? “…the next time someone’s teachin’, why don’t you get taught?” If you like that pop reference, then you’ll LOVE this one, from a fairly popular 1999 film, “There’s a difference between knowing the path, and walking the path.” I realize there are better sources for gaining personal perspective than rap music and sci fi movies, but these are difficult times, and I guess we all have to try to gain some wisdom from just about anywhere we can find it. My fortune cookie last Friday proclaimed, “wise men learn more from fools than fools learn from the wise.” When it comes to drafting, Gabe Walls is no fool. So I’ll tell you where I’ve been four times today, I’ve been camping out in the 8-4 Rav/Rav/Gpact draft queue on Magic Online. I’m not afraid to lose, not as long as there is a way to learn something and to get better.

I’m taking ALL suggestions and good advice. It’s a long way to Prague, and right now, it looks like I’m gonna have to walk the whole way!

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online



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