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Every Journey Different. Every Step Worth It.

February 21, 2024
Corbin Hosler

The path to the Pro Tour is difficult.

I know that's obviously not a bold a statement—here at The Week That Was we highlight these inspiring journeys every, well, week—but it is a statement I need to make to put this in context.

Some paths to the Pro Tour are much more difficult than others.

Like Josh Bradbury's. The Melbourne native is fulfilling a childhood dream this week as he heads to Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor at MagicCon: Chicago following a second-place finish at the Australian Regional Championship.

Like all first-time Pro Tour competitors, it's a dream come true—and a dream that Bradbury once thought he had retired for good when he couldn't play any longer.

But not for the usual reasons. Not because life got busy, or school or work or family were demanding more commitment, or because he was burned out after playing too many matches. No, Bradbury literally couldn't play Magic.

"One of my very first big events, I got a severe case of food poisoning that hit me in the middle of a round. That moment was so important in my head, my brain couldn't let go of it," Bradbury explained with more than a twinge of disappointment. "After that, every time I tried to play competitive Magic, the adrenaline rush would literally make me sick again; my brain had hijacked that sense from me. I was physically stopped from playing Magic."

Josh Bradbury

It's not what you expect to hear when you approach a Pioneer master who has become synonymous in his region with the Greasefang, Okiba Boss deck and has cruised through Pioneer with it for the last few years. But leave it to Magic to always surprise you—Bradbury's long road to the Pro Tour certainly accomplished that.

"I took a break from Magic of more than seven years. I thought I would never play again. But then some friends of mine brought Commander to work," Bradbury explained. "I gave it a shot, and I felt okay. Then we had a brand-new store pop up in central Melbourne, which was a really good spot to get that local game store feeling, so we started going there. And I realized I was past the point of my life where the adrenaline spike would make me sick.

"Then I turned 30 and realized I wanted to try for the Pro Tour again. I've always loved Magic, and it was clear that my understanding of the game was at a different level from some of the Commander group, so I kept listening in on the competitive play announcements. It made me remember being proud of being good at Magic, and the dream came back really fast. So, I started playing RCQs with Greasefang in Pioneer, became an expert on the deck, and swept a lot of tournaments with it."

The combo of putting a powerful vehicle (ideally Parhelion II, but also Esika's Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship) into the graveyard and then using Greasefang, Okiba Boss to bring it back has been a staple of Pioneer ever since the deck's namesake premiered in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Bradbury seized on it as his best shot of chasing down the dream that had eluded him for so long.

Parhelion II 503783 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship 503783

A Pioneer staple still, Greasefang has lost popularity to other decks that picked up key new cards from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan and Murders at Karlov Manor. Bradbury arrived to Chicago early and is deep in the testing process for the Pro Tour with his friends on Team Brainprawn, a collection of Pro Tour qualified Australians, including Alex Lim, that Bradbury has played with, as well as a few other international additions to round out a draft pod.

Whatever deck Bradbury ultimately chooses for the Pro Tour, his advice regarding the format struck a familiar chord.

"The most important thing in Pioneer is knowing the edges of your deck and where it can gain edges against other decks, as well as what your weaknesses are," Bradbury explained. "That only comes with a lot of reps with your deck; that's what's given me results."

Whether you say those results came quickly given his recent return, or they're a long time coming from the Magic veteran, Bradbury's childhood goal is accomplished: he's heading to the Pro Tour, where he'll play a format he's worked hard to attain mastery in.

"I even bought the Wi-Fi on the plane to play Magic Online on the way over here," he explained with a laugh. "My goal is to make Day 2 of the Pro Tour, but I'm so happy to be here. It's been on my bucket list, and the fact that I did it when I set my mind to it is so gratifying."

While Pioneer perfection punched Bradbury's ticket to Chicago, remember that the Pro Tour is only partially Constructed—Day 1 and 2 of the PT begin with three Draft rounds that not only test an entirely different skill from players but also determine key early tiebreakers. With the Constructed portion of the Pro Tour rotating from event to event, it can be easy to overlook how critical bread-and-butter drafting skills are for making a deep run at the Pro Tour as the field narrows and the competition only increases.

That's where Sean Collins feels most comfortable. The Oregon native first qualified for the Pro Tour in 2013 but walked away from Pro Tour Theros with a disappointing finish. He's continued to play high-level Magic off and on since and has been trying to find his way back.

After a few previous Regional Championship experiences did not go well, Collins found himself back at MagicCon: Las Vegas late last year, the same place where he had originally qualified for the Pro Tour back in 2013 playing Modern Masters Limited. With the World Championship happening just a few hundred feet away, Collins decided to sign up for the kind of Magic he liked best.

Sean Collins

"I don't know if I'd consider myself a Limited specialist, but I happen to like playing Limited more than Constructed," he explained. "Before Vegas, I joined a Limited testing group of Oregon players and Jesse Hampton preparing for the event. We talked about drafts, pick orders, coordinated group drafts, and had hours-long discussions on where cards fit in the format."

The team signed up for the $100,000 Limited Open hosted at the tournament, and five of the members went on to make Day 2 with three finishing in the money. And while the Open itself didn't translate into a deep run, Collins wasn't out of options. He felt good about Wilds of Eldraine Limited and wanted another crack.

So, he entered the Pro Tour Qualifier happening the next day. And almost 10 years to the day after his first Pro Tour experience, it happened again: Collins went to work in Limited, and carved his way through the field.

And what a field it was. After qualifying for the Top 8 of the massive PTQ in a room full of fellow Limited enthusiasts—no small accomplishment in itself—Collins faced down perhaps the most difficult Top 8 path possible that day. He had to go through not just three competitors with Pro Tour experience, but those responsible for crafting so many memorable Pro Tour experiences. Jake Browne in the quarterfinals, Sam Black in the semis, and Ondřej Stráský in the finals. Bouncing between reminiscing with his opponents about the Junior Super Series and taking in his own wonder at beating Black—whose project "Drafting Archetypes" has been a favorite of Limited fans like Collins—he went on to win the whole thing.

Sam Black (left) and Sean Collins (right), $100,000 Vegas Open

Now Collins is back on the Pro Tour, where he'll once again lean on his skills in Limited that have brought him so far. He's deep at work, solving the mysteries of Murders at Karlov Manor, and he knows if he's going to meet his goal of going 10-6 or better to qualify for the next Pro Tour, it will again be on the back of his demonstrated excellence at 40-card formats.

"As we've gotten closer to the tournament, I've been able to make connections with more Limited players, speak about MKM Limited, and get some drafts in. Most of us are coming in early and are going to get in more group drafts in person before the tournament," Collins explained. "I would like to qualify for the Pro Tour in Seattle, but I'd be happy with making Day 2.

"The floor would be doing better than my first Pro Tour, where I went 0-5!" he added with a laugh.

Both Bradbury and Collins have their own unique strengths that brought them to the Pro Tour in Chicago, even if in Bradbury's case it was in a particularly winding way. When Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor kicks off on Friday, they'll join more than 250 of their peers who are all working on their own plans to break through. And you can follow it all live at February 23-25!

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