Meet the Pros: Simon Nielsen

Simon Nielsen is a Danish professional player. Best known for winning the 2014 World Magic Cup as a member of the Danish national team, at which he famously turned around a seemingly unwinnable game by topdecking the one-of Duneblast (dubbed the “Daneblast”) in a crucial situation.[1] Nielsen also has four Grand Prix top eight finishes, and his best Pro Tour result is a 10th-place finish at PT Eldritch Moon in 2016.mtg.gamepedia.com

Nickname RedButtonTie
Born June 30, 1994
Residence Copenhagen, Denmark
Nationality Denmark.png Danish
Pro Tour debut PT Fate Reforged 2015
Pro Tour top 8s 0
Grand Prix top 8s 4 (0 wins)
Median Pro Tour Finish 110
Pro Tours Played 11
Lifetime Pro Points 117 (as of 2017-11-28)
source mtg.gamepedia.com

Many people might know you as a curly-haired dude wearing silly clothes at Grand Prix and Pro Tours, but I want to hear some background story. Do you remember the turning point where you evolved from a casual player to an aspiring high level player?

As with most evolution over time, I can’t pinpoint an exact spot where I “leveled up”, though back in the beginning of 2011 when I had just started playing (and told myself that I wouldn’t want to invest anything into Magic. Yeah, right…) I randomly tripped over the Top 8 coverage of Pro Tour Paris online and watched it all in one go. I was hooked. I thought it was really cool what I saw Ben Stark and Paul Rietzl do – play this game at a high competitive level – and I wanted to do that too.

Since then, I remember some crucial moments in my ascension towards the Pro Circuit. Going to my first FNM where I met Martin Müller, experiencing a Grand Prix for the first time, winning a WMCQ with my own deck and subsequently winning that World Magic Cup, being accepted into team EUreka when it was still in its infancy, and making a deep run in Pro Tour Kyoto to miraculously hit Gold.

Simon Nielsen vs. Antonio Castellani

You have jokingly talked about your self as the luckiest player in the world numerous times. Can you share your view on variance, skill and dedication and talk about how they each contribute to becoming a professional Magic player?

To me, these three elements are highly intertwined. I obviously can’t be the world’s luckiest player, because there is no such thing, but since the beginning I’ve been quite good at focusing on when I get lucky instead of the times I am unfortunate and devote most of my attention to what I actually can control. It’s no secret that you need to get lucky to win a tournament, but I do think there is a way to somewhat control that luck.

Let’s imagine that you play a game where all you need to do is roll two sixes with two dice. You wouldn’t just roll the dice once, hope to get lucky and complain if you don’t. You wouldn’t even settle for 10 rolls, you’d just keep rolling until you eventually get there. And it’s basically the same thing you need to do with Magic. Attend as many PPTQs or Grand Prix as you can, eventually you’re bound to win or top 8 one.

But some players might actually never get there, because the other thing you need to do is work on your game and improve your skill. Sort out your ingame mistakes, ask better players for advice and learn from their strategy, do plenty of smart testing, preferably daily. Only by combining the constant improvement and the infinite persistance will you reach your goals.

Some might say that I got pretty lucky to get on the train so easily, and while I do think I’ve hit some great strides along the way, I’ve also put a ridiculous amount of work and time into this game. I do believe that once you reach a certain level where you’ve played some RPTQs and gotten deep into some Grand Prix day 2’s, if you dedicate yourself to get there and you work hard and smart, you’re favored to hit Gold within 3-4 years. That might just be survivorship bias, though.

Finals: Denmark vs. Greece

Testing for important tournaments, most players do it in teams. Please tell us about the role(s) you have had on the various teams you have been a part of.

I’ve been joking that my role on Team EUreka was that if anyone 0-3’d a team draft and felt bad about themselves, they could always just like at me, throw a comment or two, and all of a sudden feel much better.

Out of my 11 Pro Tour appearances I’ve been rogue teams twice and otherwise on superteams like EUreka and MTG Mintcard. And honestly, I often doubt how I could end up on these teams, especially EUreka since back then I was clearly one of the worst players on the team. But I just got on the team when it wasn’t that serious and kept requalifying for the Pro Tour to stay on. But I worked hard and I’m friendly enough that everybody likes me.

So that has mostly been my role, just the hard worker who could easily play Magic for 12-14 hours a day. When I got on Mintcard I had grown a lot as a player and I feel like I contribute more and also help with organisation. Even though I still am one of the weaker links on Mintcard it feels like it’s much more justified that I am on their team. And I’ve grown really close with some of the players, especially the ones from Australia and New Zealand, so being on the team is just as much about friendship as it is professional Magic.

Going for Gold Again: Team Denmark

Wizards of the Coast seems to favor team tournaments moving forward. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of individual and team tournaments respectively?

Team Sealed is one of my favorite formats, even though it has dawned on me recently that I’m not actually very good at it. I’ve also quite enjoyed Team Modern as it takes out the pairings-based variance that is one of the bigger problems with Modern, as you get 3 pairings per round to water it out, not just one.

And playing with friends is always awesome, you win together, you lose together. But there can be such a thing as too much, as it’s a bit of a hustle sometimes to find teammates, and losing to your own mistakes feels especially bad when you also let your teammates down. I’m looking forward to the next half a year with curiosity, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I’m tired of team tournaments next August.

Speaking about their team focus, what does the Team Series on the Pro Tour mean for you playing?

To be honest I’m not too hyped about the Team series. Last season I decided to stay out of it to not bother with binding myself to a testing team, getting shirts etc. for the miniscule upside that I might be in the top 2 teams. Also, where was I going to find 5 other people who’d want to wear the tie?

But after hanging out with some of the guys from Team Lingering Souls I got to see their excitement as they qualified for an extra Pro Tour through the Team Series. So this year I wanna partake in that excitement to see your teammates do well and also try to qualify my friends Zen Takahashi and Anthony Lee for the Pro Tour. We had a very bad first Pro Tour in Alburquerque, where all our Gold players missed Day 2 and only Anthony got extra Pro points with Onwards/Victory on Carnage Tyrant.

Fast forward two years from now. Where do you see Magic as a whole and your career at that point?

It’s always to tell what’s going to happen in the future, but I would hope and expect that I’ve settled into a temporary lifestyle as a professional Magic Player. It’s really exciting for me to watch players like Pascal Maynard and Sam Pardee reach PT final after PT final, because 3-4 years ago they were in kinda the same spot I’m in now: hard workers who aren’t necessarily naturally talented but who just started to top 8 Grand Prix more or less regularly.

Now they’re both forces to be reckoned with on the Pro Tour scene and hopefully that will be the future I have ahead of me if I keep working hard.

Quarter Finals: Denmark vs. Serbia

Which are the three next important tournaments on your schedule and what are your expectations like?

Now I have a bit of a Christmas/New Years lull before the season starts up again with Pro Tour Bilbao and Grand Prix London before that. I like Modern a lot and expect to play the format a ton during the next month to be ready for it. I think I’m in a good spot to get that 11-5 I need to lock up Gold for another season. As far as Limited goes, Mintcard has been doing a great job of providing me with the Limited intel I need to do well in these events, so hopefully that continues.

I haven’t looked at the Grand Prix schedule after the Pro Tour, so that’s a worry for another day. But before I leave for London, Zen Takahashi comes and visits me in Denmark, which I am very excited about!

Thanks a lot, and best of luck at the upcoming events! Feel free to mention sponsors, thank your mom or leave your twitter handle.

If you’d want to read more from me, I write articles for mtgmintcard.com. My most recommended pieces are “How to become the Worlds Luckiest Magic Player” and “All your invalid excuses

A fan boy goes to the Pro Tour Part 2

Editorial Note: This is part two of Anders Pro Tour Experience. Read more about his first part.

Welcome back. I left you in part 1 knowing that Elias Watsfeldt went 11-5 to re-qualify and that Piotr made top 8. As for me, the tournament went okay but I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed afterwards. My dream was of course to go 11-5 to re-qualify but if you told me a month earlier that I would go 8-8 I would probably have been okay with it. However I was both 4-1 and 8-4 before some losing streaks happened and I know of at least two matches that I could have won if not for egregious mistakes.

Furthermore, the last round I made a similar mistake to the one in the PTQ the week before: I won a very long game one in the mirror after which my opponent reasonably suggests that we try to speed up to be able to finish 3 games. I ended up playing way too fast for my own comfort and while this isn’t one of the matches I know I could have won, I know I made some mistakes because of my pace of play. I should have just called for a judge to watch for slow play and then tried to play at a reasonable pace while still thinking through my plays. It’s a tricky scenario because on the one hand, it would be fair if my opponent had time to possibly win two games. On the other, I only needed to win one game and since none of us played slowly in game 1, I should be able to just play at a generally reasonable pace even if that meant my opponent’s chances of winning decrease because of it.

I’d actually like to hear what you think of this, so please sound of in the comments. By the way, for the fanboy in me, I got to beat Jason Chung and Lee Shi Tian in Standard while I lost to Shahar Shenhar and Ivan Floch. It was a further point of comfort that I talked the games through with both Shahar and Ivan and we agreed that the potential mistakes I had noted were the same plays they would have made.

Beating one of the great standard minds at Pro Tour Ixalan


Quick aside, the basketball game that Dan had mentioned happened Thursday morning and while we only ended up being five people (Dan didn’t even show up), it was fun to see that Marshall Sutcliffe is every bit as good as rumored (he shoots 3’s like Stephen Curry and he’s so tall that he can shoot over anybody so your only option is to hope he misses), and that Neil Rigby is every bit as terrible as you would imagine.

Sunday came and I was unable to watch and root for Piotr in his quarterfinal because as you may or may not know you get unlimited free drafts at the site on Pro Tour Sunday!!!! There might not be as many money drafts going on as I have heard stories about in the early days of Magic, but there were still a lot of known players going at each other’s wallets. First, Martin Dang, Thomas Hendricks and I took Ben Friedman, Kevin Jones and another guy’s lunch money (that’s right, Dang won a team draft). Then, Oscar and I teamed up with Niklas to beat Chris, Dang and THE Michael Majors twice.

At one point, Niklas was playing against Majors and he has two vampire tokens and a 2/2 while Majors has some random x/2. Niklas goes to attacks, taps the 2/2 and asks in a normal tone of voice so they could hear it as well: “should I fake attack with the tokens like I have Skulduggery?”. Oscar replies “but you don’t have it”, to which Niklas says “but they don’t know that.” The look on the other team’s faces as they were listening to this was amazing.

Sadly, I learned that Piotr had lost as Pascal Maynard pretty much nut drew him 3 out of 4 games. It was still a great result and I am quite proud of having helped tune the deck and played the same 75. It also gives me hope that if I can just stop making so many mistakes, I can compete at that level. Also thanks to Piotr for being graceful enough to buy winner dinner and putting me and Oscar down for vip access Sunday. Apparently each top 8 competitor gets to choose two friends to join him/her backstage for free breakfast and a separate viewing area. Free breakfast was great but the best part was that I got to see Brad Nelson’s face when the lady in charge of the vip section told him that Seth Manfield had chosen two other people so Brad had to leave. Would have loved to see their conversation afterwards.

With the Pro Tour over, it became time for one of the things I had looked forward to the most: going out with all the pros. We started out at an arcade game bar and after betting Niklas on a pinball game which he lost something like 19,000 – 50,000,000 I got to play NBA Jam with Majors against (I think) Corey and Joel.

Unfortunately they knew that John Stockton is broken in that game and picked him so even though I maintain that me and Majors displayed more play skill, we got destroyed. Seth ManfieldLater we went to a pool bar and I got a couple of nice pictures, first of the two guys who hours earlier competed for $50,000, then a picture with the champ himself! It looks like I am slightly more excited than him but I’m sure it was a special moment for him too…

Piotr left for home on Monday but we were joined by Chris and Martin Dang as they needed a place to stay until Tuesday when Martin went home and Chris joined us for the trip to Atlanta. At this point Chris and I pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip by playing MTGO and watching movies on Netflix for most of the day, while Oscar was sleeping (not just because we were up late, this kid slept over 12 hours a day for much of the trip). I would recommend the best movies we watched but they were all pretty bad, I guess Moana has some good songs but it’s not up there with the Disney greats. Sicario is awesome but I had already seen it. If you haven’t, put it high on your watchlist.

The three of us arrived in Atlanta Tuesday evening and I think our very first Uber driver told us that we were staying in a very bad part of the city, something that several others later echoed. I am not really sure what the problem was because we basically never saw anyone around and I never felt unsafe, but it was pretty strange to have all these people telling us that it was a bad neighbourhood without any specifics. There was even a place we tried to order food from who said they wouldn’t deliver to our place after dark…

Nothing happened though, and after playing MTGO for a few days, we had close to settled on Jaberwocki’s 4 color energy deck. Corey joined us Friday and said that he was going to play straight Temur, but in the end we stuck to 4 color. Specifically, the power of Vraska and her contempt for other planeswalkers was just too appealing.

After scrubbing out of the GP we went to dinner with a bunch of other people including Niels Molle, his girlfriend Miwa, Alex Haynes, Ben Stark, Sarah Zylah, birthday girl Rachel Otto and 9-0 Petr Sochurek. Good times were had and it set the stage for all of us, minus Niels, Miwa, Ben and Oscar to go out Sunday night and celebrate Petr top 8’ing. We found a karaoke bar, and while it was mostly Rachel who did the actual singing, Haynes and Sarah delivered the moment of the night performing Don’t Speak by No Doubt. If Rachel and Chris hadn’t talked through the whole thing, my video might have been worth sharing so thanks you two.

The last leg of our trip was Portland, and boy was it different from the other places. It was like coming to a new country, and one where you could find more influences from other countries. There were no diners but instead an organic supermarket and a lot of food trucks. I also noticed more Asian restaurants than in the south. The GP was pretty much the same though; I scrubbed out while Corey and Chris started 9-0, all of us playing pretty much the same decks as last week.

It was strange on Sunday to see Corey not top 8 and I felt for him but Chris got there and while he didn’t buy winner dinner at the best (and probably most expensive) restaurant in town like we may or may not have agreed upon beforehand, I was still immensely happy for him, as it meant he will probably play all the Pro Tours this year (This was cemented when he won the team GP in Lyon the week after). This is hopefully the start of his ascendancy towards the top of the game where he belongs.

What a great way to cap off an amazing 4 weeks abroad! I still couldn’t help feeling a little dejected as my personal results had been below lackluster, but I was still left with a feeling that I am the only limitation for my success; I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed the Pro Tour, then I picked the same deck as a guy who top 8’ed a GP. When we were playing during the week I felt like my play was very close to the others’. If I can improve my focus and decision making in tournaments, I don’t see why it can’t be me some day. Until then, I’ll try to enjoy all the moments like the ones described here, and try to focus more on the games themselves than the outcome. I hope you enjoyed my tale and if not, I’ll be back soon with some actual content.