Breaking Through with Ally Warfield

Hallie SantoCommunity

Ally Warfield is one of the Magic community’s rising stars. She’s a member of Team Nova, a content creator, and one of the Magic Twittersphere’s most prolific personalities. And now, with a Top 4 finish at MagicFest Indianapolis under her belt, she’ll soon be a Mythic Championship competitor.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ally about her whirlwind two weeks competing in Modern tournaments with G/W Eldrazi. Along the way, we discussed her testing routine, Magic-life balance, and the importance of female representation in the game.

From the Kitchen Table to the Convention Center

Ally first discovered Magic in high school, when a friend bought her a deck and taught her to play. It took some time to get into the game, she said, but when Commander 2013 came out, she was hooked. She built a Nekusar, the Mind Razer deck shortly thereafter and continued playing Commander with friends throughout high school and college.

While she was away at college, she also discovered Magic’s competitive scene. “One of my high school friends started going to tournaments and convinced me to go to one with her,” she said. “I completely fell in love with competitive tournaments, so that forced me to learn to play more formats, like Standard and Modern.”

That first tournament opened a huge door for Ally, and she started attending SCG Tour events more regularly. Within a few short years, she’s racked up impressive Classic and Open finishes with a variety of decks in Standard, Modern, and Legacy.

However, she says the biggest turning point in her career came within the past year, when she joined Team Nova, one of a handful of sponsored teams on the SCG Tour.

“Before I was on a team, I didn’t have a lot of testing support, and I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t doing as well as I wanted to,” she said. “[Joining Team Nova] opened up a lot of opportunities to test with players who were a lot better than me.”

She also got access to more resources on Magic Online, and regularly dedicates 4-10 hours per week to playtesting. Her testing schedule, coupled with her wide network of teammates and friends, has helped her feel more prepared for tournaments. This year, she hasn’t missed a stop on the SCG Tour, and each event has provided new opportunities for her to learn and improve.

Heartbreak and Breaking Through

As Ally’s play improved, her results began to improve, too. In Fall 2018, she was earning back-to-back Classic Top 16’s; in February, she Top 16’d an Open. Throughout 2019, she’s continued to push toward that elusive Open Top 8 – and in August, she nearly succeeded.

SCG Dallas was the first major Modern event after a major format shake-up: Hogaak and Faithless Looting were out, and players were trying to find homes for the newly-unbanned Stoneforge Mystic. That weekend, Ally came prepared with one of the most innovative Stoneforge Mystic decks around: G/W Eldrazi. The deck could attack on multiple angles: beat down with big Eldrazi, gain incremental value with swords, or lock down the game with Karn, the Great Creator. She also had Ancient Stirrings to dig for the pieces she needed, and one of the best removal spells in the format: Path to Exile.

Ally Warfield’s G/W Eldrazi

4 Eldrazi Displacer
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Reality Smasher
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 Thought-Knot Seer
4 Karn, the Great Creator
4 Ancient Stirrings
1 Batterskull
4 Path to Exile
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
3 Talisman of Unity

2 Forest
2 Plains
1 Wastes
4 Brushland
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Eldrazi Temple
1 Horizon Canopy
4 Prismatic Vista

1 Batterskull
3 Damping Sphere
2 Dismember
1 Ensnaring Bridge
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Liquimetal Coating
1 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Walking Ballista
1 Witchbane Orb

G/W Eldrazi was a powerful deck that rewarded Ally’s extensive format knowledge, and she went on a tear with it that weekend. But with the Top 8 within reach, she lost a close on-camera match in the final round that she described as “heartbreaking.”

She may have lost a crucial win-and-in match, but in the process, she had endeared herself to many members of the Magic community. Coverage had been following her story throughout the weekend, and more and more viewers started to cheer for her.

“When I finally picked myself up after the win-and-in loss, I looked at my messages and there were so many,” she said. “It was so humbling to think that I could even make this much of an impact on people; I was just playing my games like I do every weekend. I got a message from someone who said that his girlfriend only played Commander, but seeing me on camera made her feel like she could go to events.” (The parallel between this story and her own certainly wasn’t lost on Ally.) “We all know that representation really matters, but it just made me more aware of the impact that representation has.”

Despite all the supportive messages she received, Ally still had misgivings about playing in the Team Modern GP in Indianapolis the next weekend. She ultimately decided to honor her commitment to her teammates, and she told herself that she would focus on having fun with her friends at the event.

Perhaps Ally’s mindset – of playing for fun rather than to win – played a role in her Top 4 finish. She puts a lot of pressure on herself to do well, she said, but she’s watched herself steadily improve as she’s shifted her focus away from her results. As she and her teammates vied for a Top 4 berth, they were unsure if tiebreaker math was on their side – and, ironically, that uncertainty gave them a mental advantage. With the path forward unclear and the results of other matches out of their hands, the team focused on playing their best in their “win and hope” match.

Their hope – and their mental fortitude – paid off.

MC Richmond and Beyond

Ally Warfield at SCG Syracuse. Photo by Alanna Nicole.

Ally attributes her mental toughness in part to her training in psychology. When she isn’t playing Magic, she’s pursuing a Masters degree in School Counseling, and she finds that the mindfulness techniques she’s learned in school help her ground herself before major tournaments.

Of course, that also means she has a lot to balance. Her weeks have been busy since she returned to school this fall, she says, but she’s managed to balance all her commitments without giving up too much.

In fact, Ally hopes to devote more time to her newfound love of content creation. She co-hosts The Playset podcast along with Emma Handy, Jess Estephan, and Emily Carrick, and she’s streamed her tournament preparation throughout 2019. She treasures her friendships with her cast-mates, who relate to her and understand the challenges she faces, and the community she’s created on Twitch has been deeply fulfilling for her.

While she still plans to stay active on the SCG Tour and shoot for a top spot on the leaderboard (she’s currently 55th), Ally’s MC Richmond qualification has prompted her to rethink her approach to competitive Magic. She’ll need to hone her Limited skills for the event, and she’s considering investing more time into the Grand Prix circuit.

If you’d like to continue following Ally’s journey, you can catch her on Twitch, Twitter, or her new YouTube channel. We wish her the best of luck as she continues to level up as a Magic player.

Header photo by Sam Ihlenfeldt.