I promised in my last entry that we’re beefing up the roster of writers for the blog and one of them is a former judge turned competitive player some of you may have already played against. He’s a good friend of mine and a team mate represeting Team Bear Wolves (TBW). Allow me to introduce Julio Espina.
What’s brewing guys?
My name is Julio Espina, I am a 28-year old Business Development & Franchising Manager for a certain restaurant chain here in the Philippines and have been actively playing Magic: the Gathering for a little over 8 years now. I got introduced to the game by a college professor and now buddy of mine who had a comparable affinity to games and fantasy alike.
After being briefly inducted to the mechanics and structure of the game, I was deeply intrigued as to how a certain game has such an expansive history with it, alongside a rules engine that continues to evolve set per set. Reading more about it left me overwhelmed and yet wanting, and a couple of days in, I was hooked for good.
I vividly remember handing over a crisp P 500 bill to my professor, asking — no, begging him to build me a deck I could start on, and shortly after, he came back with what I would categorize now as a casual Mono Black starter deck, centered on a “Wrath” and “Reanimate” theme. I would pester him to play with me during our break times, and this led for months on end until I told him I was ready to take the plunge to go competitive.
The first official set that I played in a tournament setting was with Theros, where I built a Mono Blue Devotion deck that led me to my first FNM victory, which quickly transitioned to a GPT win and so on. I have been known to be quite habitually obsessive with anything that I get my mind on — applies both to my detriment but mostly to my advantage, often leading to a faster rate of scaling up in-game.
About a year into playing, and owing to the same obsessive trait I had from the start, I decided to push the ceiling further and try out as an applicant for the Judge Exam, which was then administrated by our lone L3 Judge here in the country, Joel Bantilles. Luckily, and now looking back, perhaps out of pity (Haha), I passed and became the first known judge in my hometown of Bacolod.
However, after years of switching back and forth with judging and playing, I decided to hang up my roles as a judge and began to take a more active involvement within the competitive circuit here in the Metro.
For the duration of me competing throughout the years, I have managed to snag multiple GPTs, PPTQs, and Premium events in different formats. And have played to 3 RPTQ invites, and recently an 11th place finish in the Philippines – National Qualifiers. Yet even with these achievements in mind, there’s still this one big box left unchecked to this date, aiming to be invited and play in the illustrious Pro Tour (now Mythic Championships). A feat to which I aspire for day in day out, and the sole reason why my competitive drive has yet to wane — amplified by teammates (TeamBearWolves) who are known to be grinders with similar goals as mine.
Today, people identify me as primarily a Modern aficionado (got invested in this after seeing Stanislav Cifka pilot the then banned “Eggs” deck to win PT Return to Ravnica), despite an increasing habit to play Standard due to WOTCs shift to accommodate higher tier events in this format and with the recent launch of Arena. I also fancy Limited, specifically Draft, and would take an occasional stab at Vintage events which I have genuinely enjoyed as a break to my usual routines.
Outside of Standard, I have been branded as the “Combo Guy”, due to my preference to play mostly proactive decks and tactics in attacking the metagame week on week. I am still unable to find a good reason to play “fair” when a certain format allows you to play unfair options and game it on an unconventional axis.
For Modern, my beloved archetypes are Amulet Titan and Lantern Control (though recently 4C Whir Prison) among the decks I own. As for Vintage, I exclusively play Paradoxical Outcome Storm and different Oath of Druids builds.
Growing up, I remember being always fascinated with puzzles and breaking down complex things or concepts in general, probably spawning from, again, this nature of being obsessive. Drawing from this, my all-time favorite card is called Doomsday, easily one of the best card designs I have ever come across with. Being a data junkie (as a benefit to the type of profession I am in) also, I used to manage a Microsoft Excel file of the different “piles” I can make, in order to continuously familiarize myself with the different configurations. And I also cope with Limited, by tracking performance the same way.
All of these habits combined have translated well to the type of strategies I favor — mechanically intensive with a great deal of decision trees involved. To the extent that some friends would often joke that I should be carrying with me at all times either a coloring book or some reading material that I can hand over to my opponent while I “combo off”, as these strategies often result to unfavorable play experiences opposite my end of the table. (Rest in peace, sweet KCI.)
My approach to Magic is simple, given that I cannot exert the same level of “grind” as most people can and would, I shore up by being academic in terms of navigating my way across the Meta. I religiously consume coverage/content from different sites and sources on a daily basis, scouring decklist after decklist, analyzing results, consolidating insights from the pros, and ultimately forming an evaluation of where the format sits (I wish to write on this further as the weeks come), in hopes to get myself prepared for when I am finally able to play.
This is also my role and contribution to the team I belong in, and they are testament to this habit of mine. While most would opt for an actual playtest session or run a “gauntlet” with friends to validate opinions — in some sense, I function differently, this time as a spectator to these games being played out, multiplied by the volume of the content that I can get my hands on, in order to develop an analysis of my own.
As I write this, I’m slowly realizing how big of a nerd I am (lol — hope I’ve made you proud, Mom.) At the same time, I’ve also come into terms that there’s really no fixed way to improve at this game, and methods will vary from person to person. So if you feel like I resemble a part of how you also approach refining your skills in Magic and/or if you’re interested to join me this way, then I would be more than glad to share with you what I can.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this introduction, and hope you can leave a comment below as to the type of content and format you’d like me to cover in the next article I write.
Big ups to Alvanson, for giving me this spot, and I’m excited to be formally part of the TFA writing team!
Promises are meant to be delivered, not broken. That’s just how much I love you guys. I’m sure Julio will be bringing much added value through his experiences, insights, and deep knowledge of the game both as a player and a judge. I’m really excited what he regurgitates in the lab so stay tuned!