Q&A: Alex Hon-GP Richmond (Standard) Champion

Today we have an awesome opportunity to learn about this year’s Grand Prix Richmond Standard Champion, Alex Hon! Alex was able to fight through two full days, against a nightmare line-up, to secure the GP Richmond Trophy with his R/B Aggro deck. Let’s get to know him, and find out how he was able to make this dream a reality.

Would you tell us a bit about yourself and your Magic achievements?

My name is Alex Hon. I am 30 years old and was introduced to Magic the Gathering about 14 years ago. I have been playing continuously for about 11 years. I currently live in Stone Mountain, GA and have lived in GA for most of my life.

For my notable MTG accomplishments, I have 5 StarCityGames Series Open top 8’s (4 single, 1 team) and 2 Pro Tour Appearances (1 via MTGO PTQ, 1 via RPTQ).

I just recently won GP Richmond as well and have a pending PT appearance from that.

I am also currently a Bronze level pro.

How did you get into Magic?

My introduction to Magic was when I started playing Yu-Gi-Oh in 2002. The Yu-Gi-Oh cartoon got me hooked so I went to my local comic book shop to look for packs. While looking at Yu-Gi-Oh product, I saw that they also had Magic product. Up to that point, I had never even heard of Magic and didn’t really give it much thought because Yu-Gi-Oh just seemed more interesting to me. I played Yu-Gi-Oh for two years until it became stale and most of my friends moved onto Magic. At this point, I was completely immersed in the game even though I just started playing. I would devour all types of coverage (tournament reports, PT/GP coverage, Scrye/Inquest magazine articles) just to learn more, however, progress would be slow. I would play in drafts every FNM and just lose all the time because I didn’t know how to evaluate cards. I didn’t care about losing though because I was having so much fun. Eventually, I was able to build my first constructed deck, which was Affinity. Affinity would go on to become one of the most loathed constructed decks of all time and a lot of people would quit because of how broken the deck was and how it led to poor gameplay. I didn’t care though, I just loved playing Magic so much, I never realized why it was bad to lose on turn 4 to Arcbound Ravager/Disciple of the Vault.

A little while later in 2006, my local gaming store’s preferences shifted. The owner started to push Vs System hard and most of my closest friends moved to that game as well. Soon, no one was even playing Magic there anymore. I started playing Vs with the same enthusiasm I had for Magic, but I was not very good. I wasn’t playing enough games to really develop in-depth understanding of card game strategy. Progress was still slow, but I was able to qualify for my first Vs System Pro Tour (called the Pro Circuit). Looking back, this was not very hard because Pro Circuit Qualifiers had very small attendance and was not a very popular game (I’d say on average of about 10-16 people/pcq). Nonetheless, I was ecstatic about qualifying and only intensified my desire to get better.

A week later organized play for Vs System died. The game was pumping so much money into the Pro Circuit and 10k’s (equivalent to a GP) and getting poor turnout. Upper Deck finally had to pull the plug on the game. The last Pro Circuit was in Sydney, Australia but I didn’t have the means to go to Australia.

Vs was my competitive outlet and I decided to just fill my new-found void by going back to Magic. I would mainly play the best and cheapest deck I could find. At this point, it was 2007. Back then, there was no SCG circuit and the thought of traveling out-of-state for GP’s never occurred to me and would’ve been difficult financially. PTQ’s were the tournaments that players grinded back then. They were large tournaments (about 7-8 rounds) where the best players would distance themselves from everyone else just by Top 8’ing.

I never did well at these. I would do well at my FNM’s but once I entered a PTQ, I’d be going home usually within 2 hours. By 2010, I didn’t really play in PTQ’s anymore. I never did well and thought it was just a waste of money. I still loved playing Magic, however, and had a lot of free time since I was still in school, so I downloaded MTGO. At night, I would just grind Shards of Alara block constructed Naya decks. The deck was cheap, and I was winning a decent amount of the time. This is when my game elevated to the next level. I’d play about 2-3 hours of MTGO most nights and started to really understand how games worked.

At the end of 2010, finals were over, and a friend asked if I wanted to go to SCG Charlotte. StarCityGames had just started their circuit series and they were very popular. At this point I still didn’t have much confidence in my game and still thought bigger tournaments were a waste of time and money but went on a whim and managed to Top 4 my very first Open.

I’ve been hooked on competitive Magic since.

What’s your favorite format?

My favorite formats are constructed with Legacy and Standard being at the top. I feel like my best format is Standard because there are just more Standard events to focus on. I’m able to get a lot of reps in and usually by the end of a Standard format, after getting a ton of reps in from tournaments, I can sideboard and sequence a lot easier.

I like Legacy because it’s just so different from current Magic. There’s a lot less emphasis on creatures and it’s like being able to go back into Magic’s past.

Have you always wanted to be a professional Magic player? 

I’ve dreamed of being a top pro. I’m sure most people who get into competitive Magic have. I have an addictive personality where if I enjoy something, I could do it all day so my journey into Magic was pre-destined to being serious. But my journey has given me a realistic outlook. Even after winning a GP, I know I still have a lot to work on to becoming more consistent with my game.

At the beginning of this year, I had 6 Pro Points. I had min cashed 2/4 GPs and earned Pro Points at 3/4. I was pretty excited about this. WOTC had just announced Bronze as a new player level. Bronze isn’t a very useful level for a player. The main benefit is that you are qualified for all RPTQ’s for the year, but you can already do that and save a ton of time and money if you just focused on PPTQ’s as a path to the PT instead. Nonetheless, I wanted to achieve it. It would be my first time achieving status in the Pro Player’s Club and I already had 6 of the required 10 points so I figured why not. Also, my RPTQ team was pretty good so I thought we had a good chance of getting back onto the PT via team RPTQ.

Flash forward to the week before GP Richmond and 8 GP’s later, I still had 6 Pro Points and no PT invites despite being qualified for all RPTQs for the year. Large tournaments were still fun for me, but I had made plans to step back. My overall plan was to just mainly be a PPTQ grinder giving myself 4 chances per year to get onto the PT and I would be happy with that.

I 0-3’d the Legacy GP with Miracles after two Byes. Then, I won the Standard GP.

This puts me at 14 Pro Points for the season. Based on the new cycle system, 4 of those points will rotate soon but I’ll get at least 3 back from the PT so I’m aiming for Silver this season if I can scrounge up 7 points.

My overall plan for this upcoming season is to just take it a cycle at a time and re-evaluate at the end of each cycle.

How has Magic influenced your life?

Magic has influenced my life in a positive way. Most of my social circle is people I’ve met playing Magic at one point or another.

How did it feel to win GP Richmond Standard?

Winning GP Richmond was surreal. Honestly, I was just happy to be in the Top 8. Personally, it’s not realistic for me to expect to Top 8 a GP considering that I’ve only been close to a Top 8 once before in 2012. After 0-3ing the Legacy GP, I just wanted to Day 2 Standard. My overall experience at the GP was great. I’m a little biased since I did so well, but my opponents were all class acts. I interacted with every single player in the Top 8 whether it was through the Swiss rounds or Top 8 and everyone was really cool.

Were there times when you felt the pressure? 

The first time my emotions spiked was when I won round 13 to put my record at 12-1. I knew that all I needed in the next two rounds was a draw and that I had a very high chance to get in. Fortunately, I was able to draw round 14 to lock up Top 8 regardless of how round 15 went.

There wasn’t much pressure on me in the Quarterfinals because I was just happy to be there. I wasn’t on camera and was able to just play loose. Joel Sadowsky was a pleasant person and our match was laid back.

I was still calm during the Semis even though it was a high profile match on camera. My mindset was that I just won some extra money by advancing to the Semis and all the pressure was on him since he’s in a tight Player of the Year race and I’m sure no one was expecting me to win. That was also my 5th match against Seth in like the last 2 years and he’s a chill guy so I knew the match would be a good one overall win or lose.

What was going through your mind during the Finals?

In the finals, I was still calm honestly. Siggy is a really nice person and he instantly eased whatever little tension there was by high-fiving me and congratulating me on making the finals.

Overall, I was just excited the whole time. It was a new experience and I just wanted to take in as much as I could.

Why did you choose R/B for GP Richmond?

I think it’s the best and most powerful deck. I’ve been playing red decks for the whole Standard season and have a lot of repetitions with it. Early red aggression maximizes the efficiency and power of the 4-drops (Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Rekindling Phoenix) in the deck in contrast to something like Grixis midrange where it plays the same cards but are just not as effective when not backed up with aggression.

R/B Aggro-Alex Hon GP Richmond Standard 1st Place

Main Deck Sideboard
Planeswalker (3)
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Creature (23)
4 Bomat Courier
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Glorybringer
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
3 Rekindling Phoenix
2 Hazoret the Fervent
2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
2 Pia Nalaar

Sorcery (2)
2 Cut // Ribbons
Instant (5)
3 Abrade
2 Unlicensed Disintegration

Artifact (2)
2 Heart of Kiran

Land (25)
14 Mountain
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Canyon Slough
2 Aether Hub
1 Swamp
1 Glorybringer
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Magma Spray
3 Doomfall
4 Duress
3 Chandra's Defeat

What have been your best Magic moments before GP Richmond?

  • My first PT qualification on MTGO
  • My first SCG Open
  • My second PT qualification
  • My team SCG Open Top 8

What have been your worst Magic moments?

  • Missing out on a GP Atlanta Top 8 despite being 11-1 after 12 rounds.
  • My 8 GP cold streak that almost made me stop going to GPs

How were the PTs you competed at in the past? 

My first PT was PT Fate Reforged. I went 2-1 in Draft and 1-4 in Modern to not make Day 2.

My second PT was PT Magic Origins. I went 2-4 in Draft and 3-2 in Standard before dropping.

How do you see your prior event experiences helping you in your upcoming PT?

The prior experience will be helpful in terms of knowing what to expect (how professional Drafts work, being more alert about triggers, etc) but PTs back then were usually 1-2 weeks after set release. Now, there is a whole month between set release and the PT. That’s more time for studying the Limited format. Also, there are SCG Opens and GPs happening before the PT in addition to MTGO constructed leagues so finding a good constructed deck won’t be as difficult. This structure definitely narrows the gap a little between the best players and I.

I’ve also played in some SCG invitationals but my only notable finish is losing a win-and-in to Top 8 the very first SCG Invitational in 2010.

How do you feel about the upcoming Pro Tour?

The PT I’m qualified for is for PT Cleveland in February. I am hoping to be able to move it up to PT Atlanta in November though.

I feel great about it. Standard is rotating so the format will be fresh. Pro Tours are just fun. I’m very excited to see how I can compete against the best players in the world.

You have played in a lot of GPs and SCG events, how do they compare in your opinion?

SCG tournaments are more like large regional tournaments whereas GP’s attract the best players in the world to whatever city it’s in. Other than that, there isn’t much difference. Both tournaments are run very well by the two best tournament organizers in the US. An SCG open will usually attract less people so sometimes you can make Day 2 with 3 Day 1 losses, which is something that is impossible with the current GP system.

I think I am as active on the SCG circuit as I am on the GP circuit. For me, it just depends on the location and cost of transportation for the tournament. SCG opens are more prevalent on the East coast and Atlanta is lucky to get 1-2 per year and an annual open in Charlotte which is only a 4-hour drive. Also, you can find cheap flights (sometimes <$100) to other popular SCG destinations such as Baltimore, Dallas, Boston, and Philadelphia.

How do you prepare for events? 

I mainly test on MTGO. I’ll play 3-4 leagues the week of a tournament to work on sequencing and decision making but it’s also important for me to study sideboarding strategies (for my deck and theirs) to know what to expect. For Richmond, I didn’t test Legacy because I don’t have Miracles on MTGO. I probably should’ve played Eldrazi Aggro which is a way more forgiving deck choice. I also read relevant articles from all of the big sites (SCG, CFB, Hareruya, TCGplayer, MTGmintcard). I didn’t really practice much for Standard because I’ve been playing it all year and didn’t really think any extra leagues would help me. I just focused on what I wanted my list to look like, sideboard strategies, and current trends in other decks.

What do you do to keep your energy and focus during long Magic Tournaments?

This is something I should work on. I don’t even eat breakfast usually. I usually eat after a round or two after Byes. I usually just sit and relax after a match. On average, I have about 20 mins to decompress and get ready for the next match. I have 2 Byes so I normally don’t have to get to the site until 11 AM, giving me about 6-8 hours of sleep. Day 1 is a round shorter now so 11 AM-7 PM schedule is a lot less taxing.

What advice do you have for players trying to reach the Pro Tour?

Getting onto the PT is a marathon. Work on your game, maximize your chances by playing in as many tournaments that’ll qualify you as you can. I’ve skipped SCG regionals, which is 25 mins from me just to drive 1.5 hours to play in a PPTQ. If you are good enough, you will get there.

Is there anything other than coming in First that made this event memorable?

I played against 5 Platinum level pros (Christian Hauck, Andrew Baeckstrom, Luis Salvatto, Seth Manfield, and Mike Sigrist) in the event and went 5-1 against them (played against Seth Manfield twice). These were all great players and was a huge confidence boost for me. I don’t think I’m better than them or anything but going 5-1 against that line up is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Can we expect to see you in more upcoming events?

I plan on playing 2-4 GP’s for this upcoming cycle (New Jersey, Atlanta, and possible Milwaukee and Portland).

Anything else?

I’d like to thank everyone in Atlanta for all the support. I think I got more congratulatory messages in that one night than I’ve gotten general messages all year.

Congratulations Alex from all of us here at MTGDeckTechs! We can’t wait to watch you go forth and dominate more tournaments. We wish you luck at the Pro Tour!

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