It has been a long time since I wrote an actual article. And while I intend to include some strategic content, this will undoubtedly find its way into the”Issues” section. I sit here in my cubicle in my cushy state job. I sit here making more money in a week than I made playing Magic in all of 2003. I sit here with as good a benefits package as you will find in a job right out of college. I am sitting here unfulfilled.
On Saturday, I played in a North American Challenge (NAC) qualifier at my JD’z Games in Schenectady, NY. For those of you not familiar with the NAC let me explain. The NAC is an invitation-only tournament. You play in qualifiers throughout the country (though I think it only goes as far west as Chicago and as far south as Virginia this year) and these qualifiers feed into the actual NAC, which takes place at a store outside Boston. The payouts are comparable to a GP. The attendance will be smaller and the talent pool should, in theory, be more diluted.
There were twenty-four players at this particular qualifier. I chose to run this version of affinity:
4 Myr Moonvessel
3 Arcbound Worker
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Arcbound Ravager
2 Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Aether Vial
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Tree of Tales
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Great Furnace
3 Genesis Chamber
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
1 Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer
I recommend not playing this deck. This deck is what happens when you do more theorizing than playtesting. When you spend your time theorizing you get all these”best case” scenarios in your head and everything seems peachy. This deck is inconsistent and clunky – not what you want for an Affinity deck.
There is another negative side effect to not playtesting. You go to the tournament and have no clue how to play the actual deck. I am sure I have told this story before, but I will tell it again as it gives me the chance to once again mention I made top 8 at Worlds, lest anyone forget.
It was day 4 and Team USA was in the middle of their monster comeback which would lead to their day 5 appearance against Ze Germans. I was playtesting my match-up against Diego Ostrovich. As I am playing, I have this revelation about the matchup. Mike Turian walks by and I ask him,”Am I supposed to be playing an aggressive game against Tog?”
Mike speedily replies with,”of course!” The whole time I had been trying to lock them down with Squirrel’s Nest and Opposition. I was still demolished by Diego in the top 8, but at least I didn’t feel like I was going in unprepared. In fact, I even took the first game from him.
In a similar dilemma I looked at Affinity as a combo deck. The fact of the matter is Affinity is a beatdown deck with a combo back up. I know most of you are reading this and thinking”what the hell kind of advice is that, we all knew that. Well, as I stated earlier, the primary purpose of this article is not strategy.
I went 1-2 in this qualifier losing to Mono-Red Goblins and Midrange Mono-Green. I beat B/u Clerics. I played terribly in every match.
My knee-jerk reaction to this tournament was the same as every tournament in which I play badly. Quit Magic. As I calmed down, I realized I didn’t want to quit, but between my performance and my deck’s performance, I was doubting my desire to play it in Regionals. My next reaction was to play the deck that won that tournament. One of my best friends won it, Alex Melnikow. I believe Alex to be one of the top 3 players in New York. The others are Jon Finkel, and a local player Adam Chambers. I know you guys don’t know Alex and Adam yet, but trust me, if they keep playing, you will.
This deck was Mono-Red Goblins. I liked this deck because the build Alex was using, designed by Isaac Haxton, was very simple, direct, and consistent. I was chatting with Iain Telfer about it and he said to me,”why not just make Affinity more consistent?”
These are the words that stick with me today. I don’t want to rattle off a decklist for you here, as I don’t have one I have practiced with. But I will tell you the motto for my new build:”Lose the Green Get With the Machine.” I intend to put Blue back in cutting the Green. Thoughtcast is a big step towards consistency.
So that’s all you get for strategy in this article. It isn’t much, but it’s the best I can do. Now I am sure that you think the lead in to my article was referring to this tournament. It isn’t. Not completely anyway.
I am unfulfilled, because I miss the life I used to have. Sure it put me into gross amounts of debt, but damnit I loved that life. When I started here at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), I sat in an empty cubicle. I looked at the walls and thought what a great place to put all my pictures I took at GPs and PTs. I look at them daily. See all my friends. It reminds me of a different time. I always looked back fondly and was comfortable with the fact that that part of my life is over.
Today I walked in, and for some reason, Matt Ranks crossed my mind. I missed him a lot. I looked up at the picture of him and me. It was taken in Japan, in an arcade. There were two other pictures from this series including the Baby Faced Assassin, Zack Parker and GP: Columbus semi-finalist Aaron Lipczinski.
My gut reaction was, I miss Japan. Then I scanned down and saw the group picture of CMU-TOGIT after Osyp’s victory in Venice. I thought to myself, I miss Venice. And then I was like,”Wtf?! I hated Venice.” I realized that it didn’t matter what part of the world I was in, I missed the people.
I look around my cube and I see Brian Hegstad, Peter Szigeti, and Baby Huey chilling in a hotel room over some room service. Josh Waggener, Neil Reeves, and Ben Stark sitting over a money draft. There is a picture of Ed Fear, Jordan Berkowitz, and myself on the world’s largest Ferris wheel in Yokohama, Japan.
There are many more famous names on my wall, but I am going to cut the name-dropping fest short here. The problem with the Pro Tour is also the greatest part of it. You meet these fantastic people, and they become a part of your life. But when you are a tier 2 pro like myself, at some point your run on the Pro Tour will end.
I thought I was at peace with the end of my career. That is true for the most part. I am fine being labeled as a fluke or a flash in the pan. What I am not fine with is losing touch with the people I had socialized with for years. I sit here lamenting my departure from professional Magic while staring at a picture of Gerard Fabiano asleep on a hotel bed covered in basic land with a basic Island in his mouth. I realize now that I can probably never go back to that life. The time and money it would take to get back on the train are not within my means right now.
All I can do is sit here and look at the shadows of the past. Sure I will attend a Grand Prix if it is close. I’ll attend almost any Pro Tour I qualify for. But to call my career anything besides over is not realistic.
This sounds hokey, and I know I will get a lot of crap from my friends for writing this. Magic is more than a game. It is a common link that brings people from all walks of life together. It has aspects that appeal to several types of people and never will you find a more varied cast of character than in any given Magic tournament.
One thing I will say, the faces of Magic seem to constantly change. But if you examine the game, it is clear that players can’t stay away. It is sad the Mike Turian is retiring, but he will be back, I’m sure. Magic is full of stories like that. Matt Place came back to battle at Worlds this year. Chris Pikula recently qualified with his team for Pro Tour Seattle. At the last Team Pro Tour in Boston, Michael Loconto, the winner of PT 1, was seen with a team grinding it out in the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). And at Pro Tour: Seattle this year you will see me back in action at the LCQ along side Aaron Lipczinski and former Worlds top 8 competitor Jamie Parke.
There is nothing addictive about Magic. The reason it is so hard to quit is that there is no reason to quit. Magic has many faces. It is a skill game, it is a luck game, it is a social game, it is a competitive game, it is a source of income, it is money well spent, it is happy memories, and it is future adventures.
Take a break if you need it, people, but don’t ever quit. You will never find anything quite like it.