A Grand Prix Toronto Report – Introduction and Trial *T32*

Yes folks, it’s true… Geordie is back! Lured into our addictive game by a nearby Grand Prix, Sarnia’s finest returns to the pages of StarCityGames.com with an epic tale of Magical mayhem. With Jeff Cunningham recently raising the bar in the Tournament Report arena, Geordie straightens his back and squares up to the challenge. This is an excellent reintroduction to the works of Mr. Tait, and promises to be a wonderful series.

I guess this is “hello” again. I know I haven’t written in a while, but life sometimes gets in the way. You know how it goes, though – with Magic or any other former addiction. You never really quit. Every former Magic player is like an ex-smoker waking up groping for the pack on the nightstand. I was reading Jeff Cunningham excellent tournament report recently – I really enjoyed it – and it got me thinking back to when I had tournaments to attend, and write about. Magic. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in with promises of fame, fortune, fast times, and fast women.

Somewhere along the way you forget about the forum beatings and 0-2 drops, and that’s all she wrote. Welcome back. In my case, the tournament was Grand Prix Toronto- an event about three hours from my home. How could I resist?

In order to attend this event (or, it should be said, write the report upon my return) I needed to clear out some time away from work, which wasn’t super-easy because there was a Vs. System PC that same weekend. I tried begging, but that didn’t work because (former StarCityGames.com editor) Omeed Dariani actually grows in power if you show any discomfort around him, like that villain from Sin City who can only get it up if you scream. In the end I had to distract Toby Wachter. My methodology was something like this:

BigTobesECW: Okay, so I need a million banners, a gillion custom article graphics, and two gillion new templates every hour on the hour, and I need them five minutes ago.

ChibiGTOtakuFan: Look, is there any way you can give me a break on this?

BigTobesECW: Absolutely not. Now, first and foremost you’ll need to be available all weekend to do whatever we ask…

SENDING CuteDog.jpg to BigTobesECW. File accepted.


ChibiGTOtakuFan: See you Monday.

Having taken care of the graphic design side, I had to get some time off from my work with the UDE IP team. That wasn’t a problem – I just did the same thing with Josh Bennett, except the picture wasn’t of a dog.

Now, I know I haven’t written a tournament report in a long time. Part of that is the fact that the age of the random tournament report is as dead as my sainted Aunt Millie, whose wheelchair fell off the loading dock down at Port Newark. The other reason for my absence is the fact that I’ve been flexing my pen with some Magic-related screenwriting projects, such as an exciting swashbuckling pirate tale starring Phil Samms (which I’ve titled “Foons & Dubloons”).

Like so many people, though, I found that MTGO kept the game alive for me. The weeks before the GP were spent running drafts for endless hours while looping the Rammstein songs “Rosenrot,” “Ohne Dich,” and “Reise, Reise” on my dusty old playlist… though to tell you the truth I’ve never quite had the same enthusiasm for “Reise, Reise” since I read the translated lyrics and found out it’s not a stirring song about revolution and rising up against adversity but actually about, well… fishing.

Fishing? That’s like finding out RATM’s “Bulls On Parade” is actually just the theme for the 1992 NBA Playoff DVD. It was the biggest “What? It’s about whaling?” disappointment for me since that time I bought Moby Dick.

With MTGO running on all cylinders, it wasn’t long before my computer area started to look like the burial ground where old Diet Coke cans drag their aluminum carcasses to die… just like the old days, where I’d build little 355ml forts in between queues and fire bottlecaps at any barbarians who happened too close to the moat. I started talking to Phil Samms again (turns out all he does is hang around on MTGO, mess with people’s heads, and watch more Premiers than the French Secret Service) and it was like I never stopped playing at all. We went right back to our old pattern of me saying hello, him calling me a master with as much sarcasm as humanly possible, and then us going for a quick virtual cuddle. Hell, I even went back into #mtgwacky… it was like 2002 all over again – nothing could dampen my renewed vigor for the game. Not even the bad Dissension packs I opened online, where I was on the receiving end of more Proper Burials than Rookwood Cemetery.

I was pleased to find that I could still hold my own in the draft queues, and quickly (luckily?) worked my way up to a steady 1870 rating before logging off that final, fateful night before the GP. Of course, I was playing 4-3-2-2s, where 50% of the players have their own telethon, so read into that what you will. Outside of a shameful draft where I gleefully dropped Woebringer Demon onto an empty board for the big loss (he’s not really the new Abyss, is he? Since when does the Abyss off itself?), I played respectably and got myself into game shape, the sort of play level where you’re not giving away games any more often than once every 4-5 rounds.

You know that pause where you do something retarded and you can tell your opponent is trying to figure out if he’s missing something, or if you are, in fact, a giant buffoon? It’s like a 5-10 second silent wait, and you wonder if he’s typing something (perhaps emoting you up a nice trophy) or just sitting there in bewilderment.

Well, Japanese players are great at that on MTGO. I dropped that Woebringer Demon when he had no creatures, and I just knew he was sitting there in Tokyo or wherever, trying to figure out what tricks his crafty gaijin opponent had up his sleeve. It was a beautiful five-second pause, and probably the best silent rebuke I’ve ever received, a sign that my play was terrible enough to tread the culture gap and leave a man who had never set foot in the west completely stupefied.

Of course, I guess there wasn’t really too much of a language barrier, when it comes right down to it. The MODO locals speak a strange dialect that you might not recognize if you’re not from somewhere that is straight up digital- and translations are tricky… for example:

“Nice card.” = “That card is terrible. If you win this game after playing it, I’m going to be upset. Your deck is cuts. Kill yourself.”

“Nice deck.” = “You got lucky in what you were passed. A trained monkey could win with that deck. I hope you choke” or “Your deck is terrible and you are terrible also. If you win these games, it’ll be because you outdrew me, because my deck is better than yours.”

“Nice draw.” = “You didn’t outplay me. I didn’t make any mistakes. You couldn’t have lost that game if you tried. If the game had been close, I would have outplayed you.”

“Nice play.” = “That was the worst play possible. You don’t deserve to win this game. If Magic has any God watching over it, any mighty being of any kind, with the omnipresence and wisdom to set things right, you will lose, because you are bad, and I am better than you.”

“GG.” (spoken by the winner) = “I outplayed you, I was better than you, you deserve to lose, go and sit down, you get NOTHING. I thought I played really well, you had no chance because my deck did what it was supposed to do. Even if the game had been closer, I would have won, because I’m better than you.”

“GG.” (spoken by the loser) = “Good game.”

“Obv.” = “Of course you have it. Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you? You drew every other card you needed, after all. You have no skill, you are a lucksack, I could outplay you in a second if I had some cards. I hope you die, f***er!”

“Whatever, stain – just kill yourself.” = “I can’t handle losing. I am very frustrated. My ability to win at Magic is closely tied to my self-worth at this moment. Losing to you made me feel bad, so I want you to feel worse. I will do anything to make you feel terrible, and there is nothing you can do because I’m sitting at a computer 200 miles away, picking soggy underdrawers out from under my ample backside in between swigs of lukewarm, 30% backwash Snapple. Brb my mom is making hot dog sandwiches. BIIIIIIIIIIIIIG Dogs!”

“GL, have fun! Hey, have we played before? How’s your deck? That draft was a lot of fun!” = “I’m going to lose.”

“gl” = “I hope you get manascrewed.”

“Not much you can do with draws like those.” = “Good. Enjoy the 0-1 bracket/your 0 packs.” (I use this one all the time.)

“I have 9 Green sources in here, this is BS!” = “I have six Green sources in here, but I should have nine. I’m a liar.”

“Got screwed keeping a 2-lander, but what can you expect from the MTGO shuffler?” = “I’m an idiot.”

“3 more for RGD 4-3-2-2.” = “I am bad at Magic. I play MODO like it was Final Fantasy Online. This is my version of trying to find a party to go and defeat Bahamut. Anyone want to buy some gil?”

“GL next round.” = “Thank god I won. Thank god.”

My confidence wasn’t high enough, though, to give me any sort of illusion about needing less than three byes to get anywhere. How did the old PTR ditty go?

Why even come to a GP if you have no byes?
You sticks are gonna scrub out, and that’s no lie

He was right. I was as good as dead without byes, and with my Meager (Chapter 1) Limited rating garnering me a mere singleton bye, I knew I’d have to finagle the transportation in such a way as to play in the Trial.

Now, if you’ve never played in a GP Trial, basically this is how it goes. You stay up until an ungodly hour in an attempt to get free wins for yourself the next day. It’s a million rounds. The people you play against are lost and desperate souls, just like yourself, with a hollow look in their eyes. You are at the mercy of your Sealed deck. Sometimes it poops out on you like an old Edsel, sometimes it goes to bat for you and takes everyone else deep, deep to left.

I arrived at the venue, which was a big concrete box with all the warmth and flavor of a sarcophagus. There weren’t any vending machines within reasonable distance, so I spent most of my time during the GP pining for caffeine. I’m not sure if that made me play better or worse. The first guy I saw when I walked in was Phil Samms. That isn’t a fat joke, it’s actually true.

Phil Samms wasn’t going to play in the trial — apparently, trying to get byes is beneath a master like him – and was running on very little sleep, so he was even more incoherent in his beats than usual. The first thing I did was give him a nice friendly manhug, and he reacted like I’d been inoculated with cholera. We were off to a great start. I also said hello to Ken Krouner (who I hadn’t seen in a dog’s age… if you count euthanized strays) and by old pal Josh Rider, with whom Josh Bennett and I form a sort of triumvirate.

Mark Zadjner’s hello to me went something like this:

Geordie Tait! It’s been…”

Then he sort of trailed off, and grabbed my wrist to take a close look at my watch. I wasn’t sure if he just needed to know the time, or if he was trying to figure out what brand of Cracker Jack I’d been eating recently. (Answer: “The Original”, though, like Josh Bennett, I’m a big fan of Nut Clusters – and keep your smart remarks to yourself.)

Then we finished the greeting, I observed silently that his watch was probably worth about $1,000… and then I asked what all the fuss had been about.

“For a second I thought it was, you know, something nice.”

My rejoinder:

“I got it at Sears.”

What should I have said?

“It’s not nearly as nice as your Previa!”
“This was my grandfather’s watch. You know what he had to go through to give me this watch? I don’t have time to go into it right now, but he went through a lot.”
“Yeah, this is just how I roll. I got it in New Jack City.”

But I said the Sears thing. Ol’ lightning wit strikes again.

Here was the card pool I received at the trial.

The first thing you have to realize is that Blue is far more important that it appears from just reading the “Blue” section. It gives me the most important ability on the Dimir Guildmage, is part of my most powerful gold spell (Invoke the Firemind), enables Ogre Savant, tacks the card draw onto Ribbons Of Night (arguably a better spell than Invoke The Firemind) and, almost as importantly, has great mana smoothing that makes including it a snap.

White is no option, so the only call is whether or not to include Green, which has Putrefy with Black and a number of powerful beaters, including Ghor-Clan Savage and Siege Wurm. It’s not much of a call, since Red has Invoke the Firemind, Flash Conscription, Cackling Flames, and two bouncelands. Also, there’s no way I’m not playing Ribbons of Night (with Moldervine Cloak, it is among the top 2 uncommons in Ravnica) so that’s pretty much all she wrote.

Here is how I built the deck:

Notable sideboard cards:

Thoughtpicker Witch
Muddle The Mixture
Torpid Moloch

There is a lot of synergy in this deck, and the mana is great. Invoke the Firemind couldn’t ask for a better deck in which to play finisher – this one has three bouncelands and a Tidewater Minion to power out sick X’s in the late-game. The Minion can likewise power out 8-point Earthquakes with the Hammerfist Giant. The deck has two cards that can dig even the slowest start out of any hole: Flash Conscription and Ribbons of Night. On a stable board, Dimir Guildmage and Invoke the Firemind will draw enough cards to end the game quickly, and Lurking Informant will sabotage opposing draws to the point where the game is a foregone conclusion (there is no worse card to stare down on a stabilized board than Lurking Informant).

There’s not a lot to say about the quality of the spells. They’re obviously amazing. You can make a case that the weakest one is Brainspoil (or Repeal), and having removal or bounce as your weakest spell is what we call a “high class problem.” This sort of depth is the difference between a deck with four playable rares (as this one was) and a deck with one or two playable rares, and I was very thankful to have it.

Josh Rider, an intellectual but never one to refrain from using the earthiest of language, (like Mark Twain) simply said in passing “Nice deck, *sshole.”

The choice to include Goblin Spelunkers instead of, say, Thoughtpicker Witch as the 14th man was done because I booted up my laptop during deck construction and read that Nick Eisel article where he wrote that Witch just isn’t that good (don’t worry, nobody was watching… though being DQ’d for reading an Eisel article during deck construction would have been a nice twist). The choice, all in all, was between Spelunkers, Thoughtpicker Witch, Golgari Thug, Sell-Sword Brute, and Sadistic Augermage. I rightfully hate Sadistic Augermage, so I went with the other card that trades with a fast two-drop on the play without losing me two life. As an added bonus, against any Mountain-slinging opponents, I figured BIIIIIG LUNKS would be getting in there like Scott Stapp.

You can actually look at the role of Invoke the Firemind in this deck and see a perfect example of why the bouncelands are so good. It’s subtle, but every bounce land you draw is like two land-drops, and with Invoke you want to hit as many drops as you can. Meanwhile, you still want spells. A hand like Swamp, Izzet Boilerworks, Repeal, Stinkweed Imp, Cackling Flames, Hammerfist Giant, Dimir Guildmage is like an eight card hand- three land drops and five spells. Replace the Boilerworks with Island and you have a hand that’s barely keepable on the play, with plenty of potential for land and color screw. I’d still keep it (two turns to draw any land for the Imp, 2nd turn Bear) but it’s not nearly as good.

That’s why you should draft Boilerworks over things like Torch Drake and Train of Thought, or the second Chronarch when you only have two mediocre instants/sorceries. For the same reason, you should really look into playing your bounceland-enabled colors in any Sealed deck you get, just do you have a good chance at looking at opening hands like Forest, Boros Garrison, Skyknight Legionnaire, Faith’s Fetters, Centaur Safeguard, Siege Wurm, Carom. Those are the type of hands that simply win games, and they’re a lot less safe on the play if the Garrison is a Mountain or Plains.

Anyway, about the trial. The first thing that happened was not that I sat down to smash face. Instead, I was pulled aside by head judge Mike Clark and issued a match loss for failing to register two cards – Wrecking Ball and Hellhole Rats.

The penalty was scaled up because the cards were good. So if I happened to misregister, say, Vision Skeins and Haazda Exonerator, I’d probably be given a win, instead of having one taken away. I had the good sense to argue this, and got the penalty reduced to a game loss with the following argument:

Me: “Who brought this to your attention?”

Judge Clark: “The guy who received the deck.”

Me: “If he was trying to cheat, why would he bring it to your attention?”

Judge Clark: *noncommittal noise*

So we both got a game loss, and I’m left apologizing profusely to the guy who received my deck. Of course, I don’t think he was very good, so there was some solace to be found in the fact that he probably would have gotten elbow dropped in the first round anyway.

It’s weird being issued a potentially backbreaking penalty by a judge that plays at your local card store. Mike Clark is a Sarnia legend, and the reason that we can have this conversation with people:

Guy: “I know a lot about hockey jerseys.”

Us: “I bet we know a guy who knows more about hockey jerseys than you.”

Guy: “Oh yeah? What’s his name?”

Us: “Jersey.”

When he’s not out purchasing hockey jerseys to add to his (150 and counting) collection, he can be found creating “homemade” expansions. This is a man who could give Evan Erwin a run for his money in more than one department – he has currently created 30 (yes, that’s not a typo, I didn’t add a zero or anything) homemade Magic sets. The kicker: no one has ever played with any of his cards. I know Pat Chapin used to make his own sets and print them out for Limited play with his friends. Mike Clark… not so much. They’re all just sitting around in a binder, on loose-leaf paper. Probably stored in a cabinet decked out with a sweet-looking human skin lampshade, like that Ilse Koch chick used to have.

Why? Don’t know. It’s Jersey. He’s like a crazy painter who sits around drawing twisted landscapes, but never has an exhibition, and then later they find him dead, canvasses stacked up like cordwood in one of those rathole condos where the bottom of every mailbox is sticky. One day, after Mike Clark is dead and gone (and he’s taken a bunch of people with him) some beat cop will find his last binder, the 31st set, filled with cards like:

Heeeeeeere's Geordie!

All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

See, it’s like Seeds of Strength.

Now… round 1. My match is against Cory Conrad, who is wearing large eyeglasses and an unwashed black DCI T-shirt- the sort they give out for free at Regionals. Except I think this one was from Regionals 2001. That said, people who don’t ponder for very long before tossing on an un-ironed, cat-hair-sprinkled shirt usually have a lot of free time to practice Magic.

Round 1 versus Cory Hexrad w/… oh, excuse me. My mistake.

Round 1 versus Knell Debtson, playing…


Well, you get the idea.

Round 1 versus Cory Conrad a.k.a. Big Rads a.k.a. Molten Cor’.

Game 1 I took my game loss. No margin for error left.

Game 2, I ran out a bunch of men and started putting pressure on. He could never quite keep up. Eventually I got out five guys to his one, but I didn’t have any gas left in the tank and he was on nine. Luckily, one of my guys is a Petrahydrox, and that would fizzle the Hex he was holding if he tried to cast it and completely destroy me.

What’s that you say? Petrahydrox bouncing wouldn’t fizzle Hex? Well, don’t tell that to Big Rads. He’s got his own process, and trust me when I say most of his plays are the proverbial Heat For All Seasons once they emerge, Hera-like, from his pulsating forehead. In this case, though, I used the five extra turns he handed me to draw and cast Invoke The Firemind at his dome.

Game 3, I had started to think I’d be able to pull it off when he snuck a Debtor’s Knell onto the table at 14 life, punctuating the casting with an “I will ruin you” sort of stare. Big Rads had been less friendly ever since I made him manaburn after paying five for a Droning Bureaucrats, and on two occasions he’d admonished me with a full-throated “cards above the table!” after I’d let my grip drop a little too low for his liking. In my defense, I wasn’t trying to cheat. I had other business down there.

My only saving grace was that there were no creatures in his graveyard. I beat him down to six with Flash Conscription and some evasion dudes (pretty sure Roofstalker Wight was getting in there) but both Josh Rider and I winced in unison when Cory unloaded a Faith’s Fetters (which, like the drunken single chick at your wedding, always ends up on your best man) the next turn and seemed to stabilize. If he drew any sort of additional removal, I was in deep trouble. Luckily, I had one secret weapon- the Invoke The Firemind in my hand. I had to burn him out with it before he mopped me up with Knell.

The crucial turn happened when I attacked with everything. He could block an Ogre Savant with Droning Bureaucrats and take only 4…or block my Roofstalker Wight, which I conspicuously did not give flying, despite having nine mana on the table, and kill a guy, taking 5 and going to 6. Never wondering why I would fail to give the Wight flying, he merrily blocked it…and I Invoked him for the win. But wait! He cast Moonlight Bargain in the response! Pay 2, take 1 card, Withstand? Insert blowout here? Will I start out 0-1 after all, despite all my efforts?

No… all five cards were blanks- and I escaped with my Round 1 victory. Cory Conrad, or Molten Cor’ to his friends (because he’s SSSSSSSSSSSMOKIN’ hot!) rides off into the sunset.

Record: 1-0

Round 2 versus Mike Harrietha, a.k.a. Yomiji, Who Knew I Had It

Game 1 I mulled to five and got blown out before the other played had even settled their cottage-cheese behinds into their seats. It was that quick. I’m pretty sure I actually traveled backward through time and lost before the round started.

Game 2 I stabilized the board and our creatures were staring at each other, except I had Dimir Guildmage, Lurking Informant, and more mana. No way I can lose, right? Well, just as I’m wrapping up the game, my friend J came over to mention something to me – not sure what it was, but it was almost irrelevant – and I was distracted enough to forget about using Lurking Informant on him for the turn. I mean, I was at nine and had eight guys out and was going to attack for the win, so what could he possibly draw?

How about Netherborn Phalanx?

So I go to 1… but he couldn’t do the final point. How stupid would I have felt if he killed me with that?

Game 3 is great. Josh Rider walked away sadly after my slow draw looked hopeless and Mike got Freewind Equanaut with Strands of Undeath on it (and he while I was tapped down from casting something random, leaving himself with mana to regenerate). I should have known it was coming, since he asked me how many cards I had in hand on turn 1, turn 2, turn 3, turn 4, turn 5, after the game, during Round 1 and while sideboarding. It ruled the table and really put a beating on my hand.

Windows XP would send burn to your face

Here’s a question. Your hand is Mountain, Mountain, Mausoleum Turnkey, Cackling Flames, Roofstalker Wight. You have Island, Mountain Swamp, Dimir Signet on the table. What do you throw out?

If you said “The two mountains- you can cast everything in your hand,” you’d be wrong, but you’d also be doing what I did. If you said “Roofstalker Wight and Mountain– you’ll want to cast Turnkey next turn anyway and you might draw a five-mana spell, like Ribbons of Night” give yourself a gold star.

I threw out the two Mountains. Then I immediately drew Followed Footsteps with four mana on the table. (I could almost hear Phil Samms golf-clapping my play, but he was off somewhere, getting loaded). Meanwhile, over on the other side of the table, Mike was still asking me how many cards I had in hand every two seconds. What, did he have another Strands of Undeath against my super-slow hand? I popped out Roofstalker Wight (too stubborn now to raw-dog the Turnkey) and passed it back, stuck on land.

A couple of turns later, with the predictable ballet of “you kill the Roofstalker, I’ll cast Turnkey finally” having played itself out, he fired down Flickerform on his Freewind Equanaut (that also had Strands, remember) leaving 1WWB open, and passed it back to me.

I had tapped out to cast the Turnkey, but I was still holding Cackling Flames. I drew an irrelevant card, sighed, read Flickerform, read Strands of Undeath, furrowed my brow, and sighed some more. Of course, I knew perfectly well what both cards did, and the implications of Strands on my slow hand. I just needed him to want to get started destroying my bloated grip, and I wanted him to do it right then, before he could keep regeneration mana open. So I put on a show.

I rolled my eyes. I looked dejected. I said “go” like I was just ordered to give up all my lands and deeds and become a Christian. I did everything but send out a telegram that I was screwed, and yeah, maybe I hammed it up a little too much… but honestly, it seemed to me that seeming confident wasn’t the right play. To seem too confident, and have him untap with Flickerform and Strands ready to roll, would be a disaster.

He went for it. I cast Cackling Flames, blowing out his guy, completely turning the game around.

Then he said: “I knew you had it.”

Record: 2-0

Okay, so it’s easy to joke about that whole sequence, but if you’re Mike, what is the correct play? Well, considering his dominant board position at the time (I couldn’t attack into his Freewind Equanaut because of the ability it gains when enchanted, to say nothing of the regeneration from Strands) and the fact that I wasn’t developing my board, holding back removal while he had an active discard engine on the table, it’s pretty obvious that he should just untap and wait until he can regenerate his Equanaut to try and phase it out with Flickerform. If he has BB available after the flicker, I have to have three (!!!) removal spells in order to stop him.

Round 3 versus Ken Krouner a.k.a. Kartin’ Ken a.k.a. Kenzo The Hardhearted

A tightly played match, but not exactly a classic since my draws featured Ribbons of Night into every-good-card-in-my-deck versus Ken’s landflood in two games. KK showed me his deck after this epic clash had finished, it was thirteen or fourteen colors with nine playable rares. High power, high risk.

Though losing to a guy who hadn’t played in a sanctioned event in two years probably wasn’t how Ken had wanted to spend his third round, KK would later suffer even greater indignity. We’ll leave that tale for a little later.

Record: 3-0

Did I mention Gary Wise had shown up at the event by this time? What a pleasant surprise. Gary doesn’t really play collectible card games anymore – he concentrates his writing efforts on Poker – but it was good to see him getting out to say hello to the old crowd. Still… I think he was surprised at the absence of several old-school Canadian players. The sad fact is, we’ve lost quite a few good men to World of Warcraft.

I’m sure he still had a good time. And, as always – he was easy to find. Just listen for the booming voice.

Round 4 versus Rick Selinger a.k.a. Iceblaze a.k.a. Rick S. Maadi, Dungeon Palace

This one went to three games, and my life went from 18-22 in at least two of them. For those of you wondering if my deck can win if I hit five-plus mana while on 22 life, the answer is “yes”.

Big RoNs?

That’s right.

HUGE RoNs, a.k.a. RoN Burgundy. “Hey Streetbreaker Wurm! Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?”

Record: 4-0… starting to get that feeling that I might be able to go all the way. More importantly though, this round was when KK exited the tournament.

What, you want to hear the story? Well, you’re in luck, friend! No one knows it better!

KK was playing against a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed gentleman – this guy was a casual-playing friend of a noted Canadian magician, and there to have a good time. What he lacked in Magic expertise, he made up in enthusiasm and good manners, and he could usually be found with a smile a mile wide, win or lose. His name, sadly, has been lost to history. But it has little bearing on our story.

KK, after getting bested by yours truly, was now in the unenviable position of having no losses to give – he’d have to win out the rest of the way, five straight rounds. When I arrived to watch him squaring off against his happy-go-lucky and chipper opponent, KK was in a world of hurt. It was Game 3, and he was staring down a massive Vinelasher Kudzu (at least 6/6). Each turn, KK’s opponent would lay a land, almost forget to put a counter on, and then smile and admonish himself, reaching off to the side to take another coin out of a large black coin pouch that he’d placed on the table for just such an occasion. Each iteration of this involved him pausing, opening the pouch, taking out one coin, snapping the pouch shut, and then placing the coin on the Kudzu.

Watching this, I was reminded of people who have massive short-term memory loss. It was reminiscent of that movie “Fifty First Dates”, which I am ashamed to admit I have seen. Each Kudzu counter was a new adventure. The natural thing to do would be to take out a handful of coins and put them nearby, adding them to the Kudzu as necessary. Well, our friend wasn’t going for any of those shenanigans. After placing each counter, he forgot he’d ever have to do so again. In any case, each turn had about a 15-20 second period where he’d place a Kudzu counter.

KK, at three and in chump block mode, was searching desperately for any sort of reprieve his deck could give him. He had outs – his deck had many powerful cards – but he wasn’t finding anything besides a stream of speed bumps for the Kudzu. Across the table, each turn was like clockwork. Lay a land. Wait a moment. Remember to put a counter on Vinelasher Kudzu, after a lighthearted admonishment of oneself. Attack. KK’s guy dies. Say go.

There was some excitement when, on a turn when KK had mustered two men, our Kudzu-master topdecked and aimed a Cackling Flames at one of them. This was especially interesting because KK was at 3 life at the time. Ever the professional, KK simply raised an eyebrow at me and gave no outward sign that things were out of sorts. He chump blocked again and went back into topdeck mode with a new lease on life.

You might find it amusing, on the heels of that Cackling Flames play, to guess which Canadian Magic personality this gentleman was friends with.

Anyhow, KK eventually saw an opening and pounced. The board was KK’s Sporeback Troll and Rakdos Ickspitter against the enemy Kudzu, now a monstrous 8/8, and Smogsteed Rider.

Our casual-playing hero untapped and started his turn.

“Did I lay a land this turn?” he asked, after some deliberation. “I think I forgot to put a counter on my Kudzu – I’m one behind.” KK simply shrugged, more interested in the coming combat phase. Still, Mr. Kudzu was good-natured and friendly almost to a fault, and wanted to make sure that everything was on the up and up. “I’m not trying to rules-lawyer you,” he assured, genuinely concerned that KK might think less of him for his Kudzu-counter concerns.

So he fished a coin out of his pouch for the ninth time, put it on the Kudzu, and closed up the pouch. Then he said “Oh wait, I didn’t lay a land…that’s why my Kudzu didn’t have that extra counter.” Again, he apologized. Again, KK was friendly but impassive. The counters didn’t matter. Any Kudzu bigger than 2/2 was instantly lethal.

With the counter taken care of, our starry-eyed antagonist pushed both of his men into the Red Zone. KK blocked Smogsteed with Sporeback and Vinelasher with Rakdos Ickspitter.

How much would you bet, right now, that the attacker in this equation was ignorant of the fact that Smogsteed Rider doesn’t give itself fear? A hefty sum? How about the question of whether or not a Red and Black creature counts as a Black creature? You think he was able to ace that one?

Suffice it to say, that block caused some card reading. Quickly, the lovable Kudzu king began to lightly berate himself for his poor play. “I’m sorry, I don’t play that often and I’m out of practice. I really should read the cards. Man! How foolish of me – I can’t believe I expected that attack to work. I’ll tell you what – I need to play more, that’s the problem.” The smile never left his face. The look he had when he read the Smogsteed Rider was one of wonderment, like a man looking over a rocky precipice to observe a lush valley where dinosaurs still walk, just as they did in the prehistoric ages.

The process of attacking, reading the cards, and scolding oneself took at least a minute and a half. KK was waiting with a freshly-drawn Dream Leash in hand to take the Kudzu on his next turn, turn the game around, and stay undefeated.

And then…

And then.



“I guess I’ll just Demonfire you.”

Dear Ken Krouner,

Hugs & Kisses.

Signed, Mom

PS: Demonfire you.

Thanks, mom.

Needless to say, I immediately burst out laughing. KK just looked at me wearily. I imagine a construction worker who had just driven a spike through his foot would observe his obliterated toes with the same sort of dull surprise.

All weekend, I would walk up to Ken with the pretext of talking about something else, and say things like this.

“Man, that last round was rough. He really had me on the ropes – hey KK, do you know where I can get some food around here? Is the Pavilion open, because I could really go for a burger right now PS:Demonfireyou.”

Around Sarnia, weeks after the event, we’re still saying it. It doesn’t even matter what the topic under discussion is.

“I have to go take a leak. Also, Demonfire you.”

“My welfare check came in. Who wants to get loaded? Also, Demonfire you.”

“Guys, I’m worried. I got angry and hit that stripper in the Champagne Room when she laughed at my Eminem money clip and now her neck is crooked at an odd angle and she’s not moving. Also, Demonfire you.”

Round 5 versus M. Gauthier a.k.a. “The Hyphen” a.k.a. The French Connection

This round I get run over by gassy draws featuring giant Wurms backed by tricks like Peel. Sadly, I’m unable to pull off the full “pRoN, win” and have to settle for killing a Streetbreaker Wurm (when did Phil Samms win the Invitational?) and losing anyway in three. M. Gauthier would go on to get some byes.

He did make one nice play where he took out my Hammerfist Giant by playing a bounceland and then using Cackling Flames with the bounce trigger on the stack. This isn’t that complicated a play, but it’s something that many people miss. He made another powerful play in the later rounds when he cast Petrahydrox, used it as target for Peel From Reality, and then sacrificed it to Fiery Conclusion to remove two blockers FTW.

My notes say that I played two guys named Drew and Mike over the next two rounds. That’s like… a morning show somewhere.

Me: “Also, Demonfire you.”

Mike: “I knew you had it.”

Record: 4-1

Round 6 versus Drew a.k.a. Big Twists a.k.a. No Cack For You

The Drew match was interesting because he had one of those Sealed Decks with Savage Twister and Chronarch as two of the cards. Of course, having the ability to get back Savage Twister a couple of times (he also had Repeal) made Drew a little trigger happy – in another match, I saw him Savage Twister against KK to kill two of his own guys, and on KK’s side, well… he had a Stinkweed Imp and some guy with Faith’s Fetters on it.

There’s only one story worth telling in our match, and it’s from Game 2. I got obliterated Game 1 (it wasn’t close) and I figured I was on my way out. In fact, when Drew asked me “Where are you from?” in that good-natured chatty phase every player gets into when he’s winning handily, I replied “Wherever I’m from, it looks like I’ll be headed back there pretty soon.”

I was facing down a Guardian of the Guildpact that I couldn’t kill no matter what, a board full of land, and he was doing Chronarch/Repeal/Twister tricks. I had already given up, basically. I was at something like 7 life, and I had some guys in play that couldn’t attack into his Guardian – but one of them was Tidewater Minion – so at least he’d have to kill his own Guardian to Twist it away. At the end of his turn, obviously holding Savage Twister and intending to wipe my board yet again, he tried the ol’ “Repeal my Guardian” trick, which obviously doesn’t work.

The thing is, he drew the card from it. So we called a judge over. Then he showed me the card, and it was Cackling Flames. Of course, it made little difference. He was going to draw it next turn anyway. If he were to Twist for 0, Repeal something, and Cackling Flames with Repeal on the stack, then attack with Guardian, I would be dead and out of the tournament. The ruling?

Cackling Flames gets shuffled back in.

Drew draws land instead. If he attacks, he takes like 9 back or something, so he decides to attack and then Twister. There isn’t much land left in my deck, so I draw some bombs. He draws, well… poop. And I win a game where my opponent cast Faith’s Fetters, Savage Twister twice, and had Cackling Flames on top of his deck and an unblockable 2/3 in play and I had nothing in hand, and was at 7.

Obviously I win Game 3 with RoN “Psycho” Burgundy. Hey Savage Twister! Why don’t you go back to you home on Whore Island?

PS: Demonfire you.

Record: 5-1

Round 7 versus Mike a.k.a. The Blank

I won in two quick games. My life was never below 19. I don’t remember much about this match – only that I was lucky to even be in the tournament. Well, that’s not true. I do also remember that the event was running slower than Christ on a crutch, and that it was about 3am at this point. So I wouldn’t say lucky to be in… I was just one compartment in a long-suffering train of humanity, I was about as lucky as the last guy on an aircraft with some sort of massive hull breach. Sure, everyone else got sucked out into the atmosphere already, but… what do you really get for being the last guy screaming in his seat?

Of additional note – KK would retire at the end of this round to do whatever he did that night that caused him to miss the GP. Use your shameful imaginations here.

Record: 6-1

Round 8 versus J Vanderwielen a.k.a. The Muscle

This round was miserable. J is probably my closest friend at the event, we’d come in the same car, and he needed the byes more than I did. If we drew, we’d be 3rd and 4th as long as the 9th place guy won. If he didn’t, we’d be 4th (him) and 5th (me). As an added wrinkle, if the 9th-place guy won and we drew, the 9th place guy would finish 5th. So Mr. 9th had no reason to try and win if we drew, and we could only both make Top 4 if we drew and he won and finished 5th.

And, that guy was playing right beside us.

So what’s the plan? Sketchily wait to see if the 9th place guy wins, and then draw? Well, that’s wasn’t going to happen, first of all because it’s sketchy as hell, and secondly because he and his hapless foe were playing right beside us at a pace that ranged from “glacial” to “non-existent”, while tossing off more suspicious sidelong glances than a prom chaperone.

The story is only crazy if you tell it fast, so I will. So we had to play, I cast Ribbons of Night and Invoke The Firemind every game, and I knocked one of my best friends, who really needed the byes, out of the Top 4.

J finishes 5th and gets a box. The 9th place guy, after playing for nine hours and putting himself in a position to get his byes with a win, manaburns while casting Fists Of Ironwood, strands a Galvanic Arc in his hand for an extra turn, loses because of it and knocks himself out of the tournament. (Somebody call the suicide hotline. Oh, wait. It’s the suicide prevention hotline? Never mind. He won’t want that.)

Man, remember when a box was a big deal? I feel pretty jaded now. Not only does a box represent a tiny financial commitment as opposed to a huge one, as it used to, but I now work for a company that prints more cards than Hallmark on coke and acid. Cards aren’t a big thing anymore. It’s like trying to enjoy a big box of chocolate when you work as night watchman at the Hershey’s Chocolate factory (as Phil Samms once did). Ten years ago, $150 was more money than I’d see in a month. So what happens to you, I wonder, when you make $150/day, or $150/hour?

Then, well… you want the byes. And my friend J is a union carpenter, building and tearing down scaffolds so Southern Ontario oil companies can make their millions. If he’s on time and a half, he probably makes $150 dropping a Coiled Oracle during lunch break. A box is, as they say, small consolation. I still haven’t opened mine – it’s right beside me as I type this, along with a tattered stack of disintegrating scorepads. I’m going to try to trade it for draft sets.

There isn’t much more to tell. The place was an echoing tomb at the end of the event, a burial ground for desperate and barely conscious souls who fell just short, dregs trying to salvage the Challenger-style 10-hour mission by making Top 16 for half a box, knowing in the back of their minds that they’ll be hopelessly tired tomorrow morning, that they’d roll out of bed feeling the sort of bone-weary fatigue that a continental breakfast doesn’t even begin to chisel at, and they’d be starting with no byes to boot, and probably a terrible deck.

The lights were on timers and starting to go on and off. The doors at the front were likewise locking themselves, leaving some competitors (like yours truly) out on the street and fogging up the glass while waiting for security to rescue them from the cold. By the time prizes were handed out, it was 4am. Registration for the GP the next morning was scheduled to end at 9.

I went back to my hotel room and slept like the dead. I hadn’t been that tired in a long time. Then again, I hadn’t played Magic like that in a long time.

[Join us tomorrow for the next part of this excellent report! — Craig.]

[Join us tomorrow for the next part of this excellent report! —