I recently had the chance to sit down with recent GP: Montreal winner Richard Hoaen to ask him some questions about his past, present, and future. Hoaen needs no introduction for anyone who followed PT coverage in the early 2000s. His breakout tournament was PT: Yokohama 2003, where he finished in the Top 8. After that, he built a reputation as being among the best Limited players in the world, with a long string of money finishes at Limited Pro Tours. In 2007, Hoaen withdrew from competitive Magic to pursue a job opportunity, but now that he’s back, only time will tell if he can reclaim his former place among elite Magic players.
NK: We might as well start at the beginning; how did you get started playing Magic?
RH: I played with some friends from school when I was eleven (during Weatherlight), and I started playing competitively when I discovered that Gab Tsang lived across the street from my house.
What keeps you interested in the game?
Competition—being very good at something. All of my closest friendships have come from Magic.
What would you say is your proudest accomplishment in Magic?
Top 16 at four straight Limited PTs, I suppose. But it’s bittersweet because of all the matches I lost playing for Top 8.
I can understand that. Was it a case of not running well enough? Or do you think something else kept you out of the Top 8?
I made some mistakes. I won the first time I played for Top 8, and then I lost the next four times. I don’t know; sometimes overconfidence, sometimes a lack of confidence, and sometimes just simple mistakes.
Do you ever become nervous in those situations?
Not anymore. I did when Magic was a much more important part of my life—when paying my rent depended on how I did in a tournament.
Do you think you’ll still have the same competitive fire now that your livelihood doesn’t depend on how well you do in tournaments?
Well, yes; whenever I play, I want to win. Nationals, for example, was very disappointing, because I put a lot of work into it, and then was paired against some bad matchups in Standard. I’ll probably go to the PTs now, and some Limited GPs, but I just don’t have the time to really get back into it the way I did five years ago.
What happened between Nationals and Montreal to get you back on the winning side of things?
I actually didn’t play at all between Nationals and Montreal, outside of a few RGD drafts on Magic Online. I was pretty disgusted with Magic. The difference between Nationals and the GP was just the number of Constructed rounds.
Now that PTs are split format, how well do you think you’ll do?
I hope to do well, but I’m obviously not really a fan of the change. If it were the old format, I probably just wouldn’t go to the Constructed PTs at this point. I don’t really mind playing Constructed all that much; it’s just that testing is so time-consuming and miserable. I’ll probably put in a decent amount of effort for Worlds and Hawaii, and then I’ll decide how I feel about bothering to test after that.
Many have called you one of the best Limited players ever. What’s the secret to your success?
I’m not sure if there’s a secret, really. I became good by playing with the best players locally—Gab [Tsang], Gary [Wise], Matt [Vienneau], and Elijah [Pollock]—and I think I learned something from each of them. In terms of game play, I’m probably better at squeezing out a couple points of damage here and there and at finding a general game plan than most people are—small things that can win you an extra game occasionally.
What advice would you give to someone looking to become better?
Play a lot, try to play against and watch better players, and ask those players questions.
Asking questions is definitely key. You can watch pros play all day, but if you don’t understand why they make certain plays, you won’t learn from it.
Absolutely. I found that I probably learned the most from playing Magic Online with Gab and discussing the thinking behind draft picks and plays.
Lately, draft videos have been rising in popularity, so watching those can definitely help.
Yes; it seems like a very effective expansion of the format that I started so long ago.
You started the “draft report” article?
The “Drafting with Rich” column on StarCityGames [was the first of its kind]. The editor at SCG didn’t like it when I initially proposed the idea. I convinced him to try it for a week, and it turned out to be extremely popular. It’s fairly obvious in retrospect.
Do you think you’ll start doing draft videos in the future?
No, not really. I just don’t have much time outside of work to dedicate to Magic.
Let’s switch gears for a bit. Do you have any thoughts on Innistrad Limited so far?
None at all. All I know about Innistrad is what I’ve read in Luis’s reviews. I didn’t play the prerelease because of work and the closest store being too crowded.
Fair enough. How do you think you’ll approach it when you do get a chance to play?
Well, the first things to figure out for any Limited format are how fast it is and what the sources of card advantage are. Once it’s on Magic Online, I’ll probably play a lot, but until then, I don’t see myself having many opportunities.
All right, time for the lightning round:
If you had to get a tattoo of a Magic card, which card would it be?
You would literally need a gun to my head—tattoos are disgusting. With that said, I guess it would be Battlefield Medic.
That’s an interesting choice. Is there a story behind that choice?
It was the most important card from the Clerics deck I forced to Top 8 PT: Yokohama.
Do you think forcing an archetype is a good strategy in general, or does it only work out in certain formats?
I think it’s very rarely correct. But in that format, people basically ignored the deck. I usually am looking to draft one of a few decks or color combinations, depending on the format, but I almost never just lock into a single deck.
You’re team drafting for a million dollars, and you can pick any two teammates in the world. Who’s your squad?
Neil Reeves and Jon Finkel.
Best Limited format ever?
Worst Limited format ever?
Hmm, a base set—maybe M11. Among real formats, I really disliked Shadowmoor.
Be on the lookout for Rich this year at Worlds in San Francisco. He’ll definitely be on my “Ctrl-F list” that weekend. I hope that you guys enjoyed the interview and that you learned a thing or two. I certainly did. As always, feel free to leave a comment.
Until next time,