Life, Magic, And The Dreams We Pursue


Life, Magic, And The Dreams We Pursue

Hi, John here from reddeckwinning. It’s been over a year since myself or Davis wrote an article for the site and a lot has happened in that time. Some of you readers have probably been wondering why we’ve been absent and why the Podcast has faded.


Life is really the simple answer to that. For me, it was an easy split, not so much in the sense of wanting to abandon what we’ve created here and all the love and support our followers have given us, but because I needed a different path for a while. I don’t like to beat around the bush when I write, talk to people, or otherwise, so I try to give you the face value of where I’m at whenever I deliver content. There’s a lot of Magic articles out there with run of the mill decklists, and I’m still happy to incorporate that, but let’s be honest if you’re going to take the time to read an article, you want a connection with that author.

The change that came about was multi-fold. I had begun to go through a divorce, my new job at the time was fairly overwhelming and didn’t leave as much catch up time for Magic as I had previously, I was extremely overweight, unhealthy, and tired, and Magic tournaments were grinding me down to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it at all. This was on top of the fact that I had lost some of my closest family members a few years prior. Needless to say, that’s enough I think for most people, and it was enough for me. It was a clear sign that one thing had to happen.

I had to stop. Pump the brakes.

Those kind of things aren’t run of the mill, and while I’m generally a pretty resilient person, I finally hit my limit. I’m also a person that has suffered from clinically diagnosed depression in my life, and while I don’t ever talk about it much or use it as a crutch to make excuses, it certainly is a kind of pain that is real and simply renders the motivation to do things to a grinding halt. For me it was a problem I never thought I’d see recovery from, and was just something I had to deal with or manage.

Thankfully, something DID change, and it improved everything I just mentioned above. Since I was young I have always had a good knack for knowing who I want to be, and being willing to see that change in myself. This time when I had all those issues reach critical mass, I knew what had to be done AND was ready to execute it. I resolved to lose 70 pounds, change my eating, start exercising, and quit being that unhealthy Magic grinder that we’ve all seen plenty of. Part of being able to be good at anything in life revolves around being healthy, and I think a lot of us forget that when we get busy. Plus, having my doctor tell me that all my “levels” were getting bad was a nice kick in the pants too. Additionally, I was going to get off the grid.

I dug around online. Started looking into the canals of Reddit, travel blogger sites, etc to see what reached out at me that would get me away from everything. I found a few bloggers who had some inspiring journeys and a few of them had begun in Asia, which was appealing to me for a variety of reasons. First, I had been to Europe before, and while there’s so many different experiences there I wanted to immerse in a whole-heartedly different feel. Central and South America were options I was strongly considering, but the places I really wanted to go there were a bit more expensive and there was just something about the culture of Japan that really grabbed me. A friend of mine who had lived there for years clued me into how inexpensive it was to fly to Korea from there and how that was also worth doing, so I added that in too even though I knew it would be a monstrous task for one trip.

I put together various Google sheets, planned write-ups, preparations, shot immunizations, the whole nine yards. I went to the bank and got a small loan to combine with the small savings I had. Finally, I booked the plane tickets. Now it was official. I was going to see the other side of the world.

This might not be the answer for everyone, and in fact I think each person’s answer if they need one is different, but it was exactly what I needed. The perfect storm of events, timing, and planned thought. My work was flexible enough that I was able to make ends meet there despite the strain it would cause, but they kinda knew too that I was struggling and some of the things I was going through, plus we all look out for each other.

Burn deck in hand, bag packed to the gills, smile from ear to ear and a whole pile of nerves, I made the plunge last August. Getting off the plane was like walking onto a different planet. There was almost no English even at the airport (thankfully I had studied a little Japanese and had Google Translate), and it felt like being an Alien in a foreign land. It was unbelievable.


I won’t detail the whole trip, but I will talk about the biggest takeaway. One of my resolutions was that being a generally outgoing person and someone who enjoys socializing, I wanted to make sure I pushed myself to do that on this trip. I wasn’t going to “hide” in this new place, especially going by myself. Every single day and night on the trip, I got up early (8am – 10 am usually) and went to bed late. I checked local event apps whether it be Reddit, Facebook, Meetup, things I had come across in person, and I took gambles to try things. And it paid off, because every single day of my trip (17 days), I met new people, had some amazing experiences and stories, and I lived healthy not just in the diet / exercise sense of the word, but also in being who I was with no reservations. It unlocked a confidence and happiness that I had never felt before, and a realization that the key to overcoming pain and being happy (at least for me) was to both be comfortable with who I was around others and not letting life’s problems control life.

Sure there’s a ton of this kind of thing on the internet and that people claim but often most of us find we can’t apply to ourselves. I don’t blame anyone who reads this sort of thing and can’t buy into it. Had you showed me this at the start of 2017, I would have laughed and called it a pile of B.S. or something I could never see happening in my own life.

But it is my life, and it did happen, and now here we are. April 2018. I’ve lost 75 pounds. I exercise regularly and actually love doing it, don’t loathe it or think it’s something that’s too tough or time consuming for my day to day. I eat better, and know how to balance myself in that area (not fad dieting, just being smart about it). I feel happy and full of enjoyment every day, without fail. Not to say there can’t be negatives at time, this isn’t a fairytale after all, but fundamentally it all changed. And it’s almost a new surprise every day, but also just a renewed appreciation for how all the hard work was worth it. The early mornings and late nights working physically and mentally to stay determined and take risks, the mantra of “YOU DO YOU”. Had I known what I know now, I would have done it 10 years ago. But I don’t regret anything from the past because it’s part of the journey and what makes you who you are in life.

Lastly on the life note, the trip was just a jumping off point. It led to many more urges to travel and explore (was already an Anthony Bourdain fan and Magic grinder after all) and to give a better crack at something which has always meant a lot to me. . .

Magic And The Dreams We Pursue

As someone who’s played this game since I was 8 years old and essentially the beginning, and has been grinding qualifiers since I was 15, I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder of unfinished business. I haven’t made the Pro Tour. The Dream. What was I doing wrong. It was actually an easy answer, and still something even today I’m struggling with, but starting to do a little better at.

  • I don’t always play the best deck (I’m a diehard Red mage so. . . )
  • I don’t practice efficiently, enough, or with the right company as much as I should
  • I don’t play enough Grand Prixes

The best deck conundrum can be solved with the help of teammates or deck rentals, and while I could have switched to other decks for my recent run of GPs, I think the Red decks weren’t actually too bad of a choice. Mono Red in Standard has been a driving force this season, and while the numbers have dipped or risen at various times it did actually win the last GP I was at where I also played it. At the Modern GPs, Burn did well and most of the pilots were playing similar lists to me. I’m also a proponent that as long as your deck is Tier 1 or close to it in Modern, experience is so much stronger there than it is in a format like Standard.

Pros might hate the format, because of the coin flips at times or issues with how aggressive some of the decks that win tend to be, but let’s be honest it’s a wildly diverse format at every tournament you see, and there’s lots of dedicated pilots who consistently do well with their craft. I know Burn well, and that is one deck that I will rarely miss the stumbles I make with it, so it’s just up to me to play well.

The practice point is absolutely where I need to make more of a commitment. My recent GP run had a goal of making Top 8, not only to seal the ultimate goal of the Pro Tour, but also because it would mean a minimum of $1,500 which essentially pays for at least 3-4 of those trips. You have to “bet on yourself” sometimes if you’re going to go for the thing you care about the most. Did I get that goal, no, and does that sting financially along with mentally, absolutely, but it was also an experience of a lifetime just like my trip to Asia that I’ll never forget.

The one piece that I did add to my practice measures that helped a lot was to finally play MTGO more. It’s so important in today’s Magic world because not only is MTGO always ahead of the curve but it’s just a place of pure volume when it comes to Magic games. You can play so much more, mostly reasonable competition, and get a good familiarity with what you will see at a bigger event. I also got a ManaTraders account, which was clutch for being able to try a variety of options in a quick amount of time. For those not familiar, their site offers a subscription service for a monthly fee ($30 ish for entry level, and tiers going up beyond that). At the base level, you can afford to rent most Standard decks and some lower level Modern decks (aka Burn), and you get a set amount of “mana hours” to use them on MTGO.

So as long as you jam your league or two and then return the cards, you can check out a new deck after and fulfill your practice needs. Sure, even $30 isn’t cheap, but for short term gains of prepping for upcoming tournaments it beats the heck out of buying some of the decks outright on MTGO which to me is completely unreasonable especially on top of potential paper collections.

Despite playing more of it though, it still wasn’t enough. For me I do best at tournaments when I reach a certain climax of practice, when I finally feel “solved” with a deck or format. Some people are incredibly talented and smart (and often take this for granted) and can figure out these things in a week’s time or less. For me, like a lot of things in life, it takes more time. In reality, I should be making time every single night for one league. I should have a proxy set of decks for both formats and jam the tougher matchups once a night. I should be studying Dominaria for potential GP Dallas Limited coming up. And I should be reaching out to some of the insane available pros who I know in my city (top 25 ranked players like Matt Severa, Sam Black, and simply other fellow teammates who are PT staples).

But alas, life has balance. Workouts, girlfriends, family, friends, work, you know how it is. Still, at the end of the day, these are excuses to overcome, so we’ll see what the next six months has in store. We’ll see if that “knack for knowing who I want to be” kicks into overdrive.

Lastly on the practice note, as I mentioned going to Grand Prixes is hugely important. Knowing that my two byes were expiring in May was the last push I needed to take enjoying life for what it is but also refocus on my dream. A friend told me what I needed to hear back in late January, and it made me begin the run. She was accomplished in her life goal and in the midst of a big successful run herself, and she rightfully called out that I wasn’t trying hard enough. I needed to put myself into a position to win.

Between vacations and Grand Prixes, since that big trip I’ve gone to Chicago, Miami, St. Louis, Houston, Memphis, Toronto, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Seattle, and little destinations in and around those places. In every spot, I’ve been determined, I’ve exercised, and I’ve taken in the city as well as the Magic tournament when there’s been both. I’ve treated them as a combination of life enrichment, learning lessons, and taking the mission seriously.

And while the dream isn’t finished yet nor has the cash reward been there, it’s not without it’s merit. To start 7-0 in Toronto and beat the #1 player in the world was incredible, to lock day 2 against a Gold Pro in Phoenix similarly so, especially because of deck design choices I made with that matchup in mind, and to lock two byes again until May of 2019 has been a sealant to knowing that it is important to keep chasing those passions.

The next step of course though. . .

Podcast, Reddeckwinning, Decks, and Conclusions

The Podcast does need to be revived. I know, we’ve promised you guys so much in this vein! But alas, once a week or our original bi-weekly shouldn’t be the crazy commitment we’ve made it out to be. People have expressed their support and fandom and we enjoy it just as much ourselves. Myself and Davis will talk and we’ll work it out, along with getting a basic Patreon template finalized. I’m setting a goal with this like I do with many things these days: May 1st. By May 1st, we will begin regular podding again. Give the people what they want. . . (P.S. – Davis doesn’t know this yet, but I know he’s always down to clown). And while this article has been centered around my previous year, he has plenty to share himself with his work at Pastimes, his move to Chicago proper, and his continued success on the PPTQ circuit. Plus you know that man goes hard when it comes to brewing, I can’t wait to see what crazy Red brew comes out of his madness.

The website? One article a month. It takes time and “Chi” to focus on this kind of writing for me, even if it’s just a decklist article. I can commit to one, also starting May. And if it ain’t me, it can be Davis, a guest mage, or a reader request. But we’ll get that piece rolling too.

Continuing along, where I’m at with Burn right now. I think it’s great, you should play it, it’s as well positioned as ever and the naysayers have no idea what they’re talking about. Sit me down across from anyone with this beast of a deck and I have a great shot to take it to the dome holmes. My current list were I to play a GP tomorrow:

Burn by John Galli

4 Goblin Guide
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
4 Skullcrack
4 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Helix

2 Arid Mesa
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Mountains
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground

4 Destructive Revelry
2 Path to Exile
2 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Deflecting Palm
2 Searing Blood
2 Rest in Peace
1 Grafdigger’s Cage

Quick Points – I like maindeck consistency, which this maindeck basically offers against an open field. In the sideboard I like having positioning against Bogles (Rev, Palm, Bridge), Hollow One (Path, Bridge, Palm, Blood, RIP, Cage), Eldrazi (Path, Bridge, Palm), and then just being honest against the other decks. Depending on meta changes, or if I feel like giving more allowance to the mirror, I’d add back in Kor Firewalker / reduce graveyard hate / Palms. I’m not doing that now because I think the rest of the players are not as big as the ones mentioned above. Humans is insanely tough, so feel free to add more Path/Blood/Forked Bolt to the mix as necessary (or something spicy).

I hope this article resonates with some. I hope it inspires others. I hope it turns off less. But in the end, I hope that each person who has a dream and a thought about how their life should be keeps pushing for that to be. Find your happiness wherever that may lie, and always pursue it.

As Always,

Keep Tapping Those Mountains,

Red Deck Winning