82: How to Run a Successful Draft Group with Gabe Carleton-Barnes

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has played in 13 Pro Tours, with 12 day twos. He has 9 PTQ wins and 1 RPTQ top 4. He just got his first Grand Prix Top 8 in Vancouver 2016. His claims to fame in our Magic: The Gathering Community include founding Draft-PDX, hosting Card Talk: The World’s Greatest MTG Podcast, and Storytelling. Gabe lives in Portland, Oregon.

Click to Tweet: I got a ton of value from Gabe Carleton-Barnes when he shared his story on #MTGProTutor today! Click here: http://bit.ly/mtgprotutor-ep82

First Set

Revised Revised

Favorite Set

Odyssey Odyssey

Favorite Card


What makes Magic: The Gathering fun for you?

Despite taking multiple breaks Gabe has stuck with Magic because he loves games and competition. He feels that playing Magic never gets old because it keeps changing and forces you to continue to learn.

Gabe started going to tournaments early in his career and found that he was making friends with adults who treated him as a peer, not as a kid. He now befriends players of all ages and understands that there is always something to be learned from every player he meets.

Pro Tour & Grand Prix Experience

Gabe made it his goal to qualify for the Pro Tour, so he familiarized himself with the PTQ format. He stayed focused, refined his decks, and was able to regularly get the top spot in PTQs so he could attend the Pro Tour.

However, when the Pro Tour came around he struggled to quickly innovate and craft a deck that would work well at the tournament. He didn’t have a lot of help at first, and the time crunch put a lot of pressure on him to familiarize himself with new cards for the format.

In terms of GPs, Gabe would attend them intermittently and usually make Day 2, but never quite make it into the Top 8. Changing up his sleeping habits and altering his routine helped him follow through on a good start in order to finally make it to the Top 8 at Grand Prix Vancouver.

Heaviest Magic Moment

Gabe’s heaviest Magic moment came after he had played about 10 GPs and made Day 2 at all of them. He hit a Limited match at Grand Prix Boston and had a clever plan for how he was going to beat his opponent. With the game pretty much wrapped up, Gabe tried for a play to finish the match, but his opponent had the perfect counter and won on the next turn.

After the match a friend of Gabe’s who was less experienced pointed out that Gabe had a card in his hand that would have won the game instantly. This led Gabe to realize that even though he thought he was a really good player, he still made mistakes in how he approached the game. He started to keep an open ear when listening to players of various skill levels so that he could learn from as many players as possible.

Proudest Magic Moment

While Top 8ing his first Grand Prix is wonderful, the win that stands out to Gabe is making Top 8 at a specific PTQ held by Card Kingdom in Seattle. He made it into the Top 8 without a rare in his deck, and played against Jiachen Tao, who he beat with a subtle side board card choice. He faced off against Brian Wong for the final, and after an epic first match Gabe went on to win the tournament (and a trophy).

Draft PDX

Gabe founded Draft PDX based on similar groups in New York which were organized by Jon Finkel and other great players. In Portland they’ve formed a group that wants to be competitive, make it to the Pro Tour, and have fun with the game while fostering a healthy community spirit. They travel to events together and look out for one another by buying snacks or coffee for a busy teammate, or even giving them rides home if they miss their flight.

Best Format


How To Turn Limited From A Weakness To A Strength

Diving headfirst into Limited and playing it as much as possible with good players is one of the keys to mastering Limited.

When Draft PDX meets they start by drafting the best decks that they can, and then they split into two random teams before they build their decks. They discuss with each other what cards they might use and how to play them before coming together to play the other team.

The team that wins the Draft is the team that wins the most matches—this way players get to really learn how their deck performed instead of getting benched after their first loss. With the team setting players are encouraged to play their hardest even after a loss, as their next match matters just as much for the team.

Biggest Mistake Players Make

One of the biggest mistakes Gabe sees players make is when they let their emotions determine the value of their play. He knows that not blaming losses on luck and variance is great advice, but what he finds more valuable is looking back at matches he won to find the mistakes he made. If you only set out to learn from losses then you are missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn, especially since most wins aren’t achieved in the most optimal fashion.

To internalize mistakes you’ve made, realize that you most likely will make the same mistake again. What you can do to prevent that is to care about making the mistake, actively seek to recognize it, and find what mode of thinking led you to that mistake.

What Is The Deepest Thing Magic Has Taught You?

While Gabe sees himself as a competitive, achievement focused individual, Magic has taught him that he is more of a community focused player. His personal goals are important to him, but they aren’t as important as being good to people and his interactions with a healthy, thriving community of players.

What’s in Your Tournament Bag

Dark Chocolate (for himself and distressed teammates)

Deck Box




Non-Magic Activities That Make You Better At Magic

Gabe plays basketball and finds that aerobic activity measurably affects his mental state and thought processes. Maintaining his physical health helps him from getting exhausted in long tournaments, and he finds that when he feels good he usually plays better. The brain is connected to the body and keeping both in shape is important to performing well in anything.

Final Wisdom

Gabe’s final advice is to make sure you’re always trying to learn. Magic has taught him that he doesn’t know everything, and it has helped him connect and learn from many different people and situations. Never think you have it all figured out. When you win a big tournament use it as an opportunity to say, “This is a big milestone for me and I have a lot more left to learn.”

Magic Resource

Card Talk: The World’s Greatest Magic: The Gathering Podcast

Gabe Carleton-Barnes at Back Fence PDX


Decision Fatigue (New York Times)

Decision Fatigue (James Clear)

Connect With Gabe Carleton-Barnes

Twitter: @uncle_gcb

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