Anything Pro – My Entourage

Monday, December 6th – A lot of people say one of the main reasons they play Magic is for the “friends” they make, but I like to use a different word. That word is “entourage.”

Being around the right people can really bring the best out of you.

Over this past weekend, I headed off to the local PTQ in New Jersey. I couldn’t play since I managed to finish 3rd place the weekend before at GP Nashville (Sick Brag). That tournament was great, as Donnie Noland ran one of the smoothest Grand Prix I can remember and even showed a little innovation by having the Top 8 take some pictures on the Christmas train they had running a few halls down.

Even though I couldn’t play in the PTQ, I wanted to get there early and see a bunch of my friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and some that I had seen but just wanted to go back for more (Phillip Napoli).

Hanging out with your friends and the people you meet playing Magic is really cool and a great experience. A lot of people say one of the main reasons they play Magic is for the “friends” they make, but I like to use a different word.

That word is “entourage.”

I remember a time when an entourage was pretty much one of the coolest things in the world to me. Back over ten years ago, I would watch WWF wrestling, and the best part of the show was when some dude would be getting the sh*t kicked out of him by about four guys, and just when you thought this guy was mince meat, his entourage would come in, clear the ring, and save him; the crowd would go nuts. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever. Then the actual show

came out, and it blew my mind. I mean how cool is it that one miser hits it big and gets some movie deals and decides to bring a few of his best friends along for the ride; hot women, fast cars, and big tyming 24/7 is something I think I could get used to.

Now Magic is far from both of these examples, but heading to the T.G.I. Fridays with a bunch of your friends on a Saturday night after a PTQ does have a good feel to it. Because let’s face it, friends are what really push Magic over the top, and this can be proven in the following example, which happened after the PTQ last Saturday when a bunch of us headed over to the Cheesecake Factory.

Steve Sadin, Osyp Lebedowicz, Christian Calcano, myself, and a few others decided to go there after Osyp’s opponent played a Grasp of Darkness on his 5/5 Rusted Relic, proceeded to say “oops,” untapped, and dropped a Steel Hellkite to take the match in style. Osyp didn’t tilt this time though (he must’ve read my last article); instead he just went home, got changed (he originally was wearing his Pro Tour Venice shirt), and planned for us to meet there.

When we finally got there, we were informed that it would be somewhat of a wait, so we decided to head to the bar area to kill some time. I’m the last one there, and Osyp tells me that, as he walked by, these two beautiful girls at the bar were talking. He overheard one say to the other that she was tired of dating jerks and just wanted to date a nice Italian boy. Now I was pretty sure this was one of Osyp’s standard lies, but somehow he convinced me he was telling the truth. To be honest, I did want to go over and talk to them, so I kind of wanted to believe him; I mean, what did I really have to lose?

Still I was hesitant to go over. What if they didn’t want to talk to me? What if they didn’t laugh at my jokes? What if I got blown out? But those were all “what ifs,” and after taking a look at my crew, I realized all these guys were my friends, and they were there to support me here just like they were in Magic. (Sure, sometimes Osyp will take your phone and text the intern “I love you” then send a second text that reads “I love chicken wings” a few minutes later to play the insanity card, but deep down inside, I know these guys just want to see me succeed, and I’m the same with them.)

So I decided to go over.

I walked over, and as I reached over to grab a napkin, I looked straight into the one girl’s eyes and said, “Excuse me for reaching over; I’m just trying to grab a napkin. I don’t mean to be a ‘jerk.’”

Now honestly I thought she fell in love with me right then and there. Just the way she looked at me, I thought maybe Osyp was telling me the truth, and she was really tired of dating jerks. Thoughts of my being the hero she’d been waiting for ran through my head.

She then smiled, extended her hand, and said, “Hi I’m Jasmine.”

I accepted her handshake and responded with “my favorite type of rice” (she laughed and hit me playfully on my arm).

A stack of my Pro Player cards conveniently fell out of my pocket onto the bar counter; she picked one up and said, “Looks like you dropped this; oh wow a picture of you, what is this?”

I told her about the Pro Tour. I told her about the Pro Player cards they made years ago and told her the Conley Woods story (she laughed but didn’t quite understand how tough it is to lose when your opponent mulligans down to

cards). I said something like “you had to have been there” and switched gears on her. I told her that I was excited the vending machine at work now had Animal Crackers and how last Tuesday I got a 2-for-1 on Reese’s Pieces. She was interested in everything I was saying; things were going great.

She asked me a few questions and told me about her family and where she was from. It felt like she was talking for a while, and I started to drift off and envision something like the following conversation.

Jasmine: Maybe we could go out for coffee sometime?

Gerard: Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

Jasmine: What?

Gerard: When you think about it, it’s just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.

Jasmine: [

] Okay, sounds good.

I snapped out of it when I heard her say “Okay my table is just being called now, great talking to you.”

I told her we should exchange numbers, so we could stay in touch.

Then reality hit as she said, “I’m so sorry, but I have a boyfriend.”

What can I say, Osyp got me good.

But it didn’t matter because if Osyp hadn’t been there to give me the push I needed, I would’ve never known and would’ve regretted not taking a shot. Win or lose, I had the support of my friends, and that’s what counts.

For GP Nashville, I had a ton of support from a bunch of my friends, and no matter how many times I did badly at a tournament or lost a MODO draft, my friends were there for support. They were there to discuss card evaluation and plays made throughout the match.

The trip to Nashville started off with me pulling an audible and taking off work Thursday to head down early to Jon Sonne’s house. Jon is a long time friend of mine and is another player who brings out the best in me. Instead of having me talk about how I lost, blaming it on mana screw, Jon will almost always be more interested in discussing what I could’ve done differently. He’s always in search of improvements on whatever he’s focusing on, and that’s what helps make someone successful. I’m sure it’s been said a million times, but no matter how good you think you are, if you’re not open to learning more, you’ll regress instead of progress.

Take LSV for example: in my opinion he’s the best Magic player in the game, but he’ll still look to me and ask “would you keep this hand?” Sure, he probably asks me this because deep down inside, he wants to keep and knows I’ll say yes, but he’s willing to get opinions from other players so he can have a fuller view of how other players think. Sure, Patrick Chapin is a great deckbuilder, but I bet he spends lots of his free time reading deck articles from players less experienced than he is, so he can see what other people are thinking.

I was excited to be spending the weekend with Sonne, and we made our way down to Maryland to pick up a few others to fill our car.

After a thirteen-hour trip, we arrived at the site and checked into our hotel. While the others decided to hang out in the room, Josh Wludyka, whom I met at the site, and I headed off to get some food and explore Nashville.

We didn’t get too much exploring in as we saw a Shoney’s not far down the road. I’d never been to one before but was ecstatic to learn that the all-you-can-eat buffet was only $6.49.

Just as we were about to sit down, I saw something from the corner of my eye. It was big, red, and shiny; it was something that I’d been in love with as far back as I could remember; it was the crane game, and it’s something I just can’t resist.

Josh and I walked over and saw that it seemed like child’s play. Two of the stuffed animals (a Halloween Doug Funnie and a black Santa Claus) were the easiest targets, hanging off the edge. Josh and I decided to partner up and win these two items. Things went drastically wrong, however. The crane claw was rigged (kind of like the MODO shuffler), and we instantly found ourselves out of two dollars (a big hit to my nine-dollar bankroll). Disheartened and upset, we decided to head to our table. We shared a few stories, paid the bill, and headed to the exit when I heard someone calling my name. I heard “Gerrrarrrrrrrrddddddd, you’re a failure, washed up, a has-been.” I turned and saw it was that damn crane machine. 

This was it, time to put my money where my mouth was. I reached in my pocket, dug deep, and pulled out two pieces of lint and an old receipt from T.J. Max. I was broke, the crane won, and I was in disbelief. Anger and rage filled my body, and there was nothing I could do.

Then it happened. Josh, being the good man he is, said, “Don’t worry, man. I got you.” He pulled out a Sacagawea coin that he’d been saving from Worlds 2007 in New York and gave it to me. I told him to stand on the side, so we had both angles covered. A push of the joystick and a drop of the claw later, we were the winners of not one, but two stuffed animals. It was like we’d already won the GP; we were merry and relieved. We were given a challenge and overcame it.

Josh talked about adding them to his collection of Beanie Babies, but I suggested that we give them to the little Asian girl and boy who were eating with their parents. They were about four years old, and they were talking about Santa Claus, smiling as they ate their grits, so it just seemed fitting to give them our winnings. They were thrilled, and their parents were thankful. Everything seemed right in the world, and we were now ready to crush the GP.

The morning came more quickly than expected, and deck registration was ready to start. After a few passes to the left, I received my card pool. It was pretty strong, as it had double Shatter, double Arrest, and Turn to Slag for removal. The rares were pretty good as well, as they featured Strata Scythe, Spikeshot Elder, and Precursor Golem. I was happy with this deck, and it seemed better than my Toronto deck. I made Day 2 there and then 0-3ed, so I thought that I could do much better here, not to mention I’d been practicing this format a good amount. I felt like I was slightly ahead of the curve; even many of the pro players told me that they hadn’t played much and were unaware of the power level of certain cards. For example, almost everyone dismissed Painful Quandary or had it be bad once and figured it was garbage. I personally feel it’s one of the best cards you can have in your Sealed pool; sure, I’d prefer a Wurmcoil Engine, but it’s just really good, and I bet almost everyone who opened it left it in their board.

After deckbuilding was done, I showed my deck to a few friends, and they all pretty much said they would’ve built it almost identically. After a couple of byes, I was ready to play. Round after round, I’d just win; I felt like I was playing really well and either wasn’t really making any mistakes or just wasn’t noticing them. Regardless, I ended the day with a 9-1 record and was in draft pod two in 10th place overall. I figured I’d need a 4-1-1 to make Top 8.

My plan was to stay open and try not to draft poison. I think poison doesn’t really play to my style of game. I prefer decks that win with card advantage or a deck that will allow me to interact heavily with my opponent. Poison, in my opinion, limits a lot of options you may have. The simplest example of this is when you look in your pack, see one poison card, and take it. Also if you first-pick a poison card, most of the time you’re just going to end up G/B. I wanted to be open for a few reasons.

1.) I felt I knew the format more than almost anyone and could take advantage of this by getting cards late that I think are really good (example: Painful Quandary).

2.) What if I were to open a really good bomb that I couldn’t take because I was poison?

To coincide with this draft plan, I also wanted to stay as open as I could for as long as I could.

In pack 1, I had the option between Arrest and Darksteel Axe. I took the Darksteel Axe because I didn’t want to have to commit to a color. The rest of pack 1 continued this way, as I’d take artifact cards over any colored card. Ben Lundquist told me before the GP that he’d take Perilous Myr over Galvanic Blast, and I agree with his theory. An artifact card not only allows you to not have to commit to a color, but also it will make your metalcraft picks more valuable later on in the draft.

Say you were taking a bunch of colored cards. If a Rusted Relic came around, you’d be unable to get full value out of it because your deck only has twelve or so artifacts. Early on, when the set first came out, I said that Rusted Relic was almost unplayable, and I was right based on the deck I was drafting. Now that I have much more experience playing the format, I realize the value of cards will change a lot depending on your deck. A card like Blunt the Assault seems unplayable, but it’s actually a much more powerful card than you think, and in the right deck/matchup, it can be a game winner.

I ended up with a pretty good U/G metalcraft deck splashing red for Oxidda Scrapmelter. The deck had eighteen artifacts, which is exactly how many I wanted so I could maximize metalcraft. In addition, when you’re playing so many artifacts, color screw becomes almost nonexistent since you’ll be able to cast all your artifacts with any mana. In all my rounds, I chose to draw, as I wanted to be able to keep my one-landers and put my opponent in a situation where he’d mulligan. I also wanted to maximize my chances of having things like a turn 2 Myr.

The only thing really interesting that happened in these three rounds was in round 12 when I was paired up against Dustin Faeder (The Greatdustini on MODO). He recently Top 8ed GP Toronto and plays more MODO than almost anyone I know. Before the round, the judge came over and called me away from the table with my deck registration sheet in hand (not what you want to see – a hundred-dollar bill or a pumpkin pie would be more to my liking). It turned out that the first-pick Darksteel Axe I picked was marked as a Darksteel Myr on my sheet, so I’d be getting a game loss for this deck registration error. (Thanks for nothing, high school.) I mean, what is this the SATs or a GP? Regardless, I was ready to appeal to the Head Judge. I mean, I had a good case for my defense, right? I thought about looking for Eric Berger, who’s a hotshot lawyer, in the thirty seconds before the Head Judge came over, but there wasn’t any time for that. I would have to defend myself. When the Head Judge got there, I was ready. I thought there would be a jury of some sort, but he came alone.

I told him I pled not guilty (I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, but I heard it once on a Judge Judy rerun). He looked confused. He said, “Gerard, all you did was mis-register a card, not a big deal. However, according to DCI policy, it’s a game loss, and you’ll decide if you want to play or draw for game 2.”

I thought about asking for a plea bargain (
Law and Order

Season 2) and telling him I’d cut him a deal. I could’ve told him about how I overheard someone trying to start a money draft. I was ready to name names, anything to avoid a game loss this deep in the tournament. But I sucked it up like a man; I couldn’t get down on myself. Like I said, I was never good at Scantron tests anyway.

Now I think if I hadn’t wrote the last article about the
Art of Tilting

I would’ve tilted off and lost the match. However, I instead walked back to the table ready to start game 2, which I won with ease, and game three played out in the same fashion. My deck just was more powerful, and my draws were great. The next round, I beat Ari Lax in a feature match (Sick Brag #2) and headed to the second draft pod with a 12-1 record.

This pod had a bunch of good players, as the standings looked like this:

1 Woods, Conley L [USA] 36

2 Fabiano, Gerard [USA] 36

3 Utter-Leyton, Josh W [USA] 36

4 Stoll, Kyle [USA] 36

5 Landriz, Erik [USA] 33

6 White, Aaron R [USA] 33 

7 Cunningham, Jeff W [CAN] 33

8 Black, Samuel H [USA] 33

The pod would end up being a little weird pairing-wise, since there were four X-1s and four X-2s. This draft went pretty much the same as the first as I wanted to not commit to a color. Going into pack 3, I was mono-blue; then I opened up a Carnifex Demon, which ended up being my only black card. My deck ended up as the following.

10  Island

Carnifex Demon
Chrome Steed
Clone Shell
Darkslick Drake
Leaden Myr
Palladium Myr
Quicksilver Gargantuan
Rust Tick
Snapsail Glider
Trinket Mage
Vedalken Certarch
Vulshok Replica
Wall of Tanglecord

Contagion Clasp
Culling Dais
Flight Spellbomb
Golden Urn
Stoic Rebuttal
Strata Scythe
Tumble Magnet

The deck ended up slightly weaker than I wanted it to, but I figured I could get the one win and a draw I needed to make Top 8.

At 12-1, I was sitting pretty, and things got even better when I got paired against Conley Woods. Conley has done wonders for my Magic career thus far. After taking a series of tests given by one Rashad Miller, I was given the green light to go on GGsLive because of a ninth-inning, bases-loaded story that went land, crack, fetch, take two.

We talked about drawing since we figured it would be a clean 13-2-1 cut, and we’d eventually need a draw. I was unsure of what the best thing to do here was, but after a “Hey man, my deck is really good, really” from Conley, we decided to draw and go get some food.

After a long walk in the Gaylord Opera Center, we got to the pizza place, which I realized I had a coupon for. I told Conley about it, and he figured we should ask to see if we could both use the coupon. After asking a couple of employees who didn’t know, the manager came over.

She was middle-aged, overweight, and gave off the “I love my job a little too much” vibe. I figured Conley should do the talking, but he couldn’t get much out, as her favorite word seemed to be “no.” Conley didn’t like how he was being treated and said, “If this is how you’re going to treat your customers, I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.” At this very moment, Conley told me I could stay there and eat if I wanted to; he gave me this look like we were in sixth grade, and he was just one kid away from being last picked for kickball. I just couldn’t do it to him and marched right out of that pizza place feeling like a million bucks. We were walking side by side, Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, Batman and Robin, Starsky and Hutch. We were a two-man entourage. I could envision exploding cars in the background, us walking in slow motion to the theme song from the
Karate Kid

; it was a flashback from early in the weekend when Josh and I made those little kids’ day with the stuffed animals. We did the right thing, and we were proud of it.

We ended up across the walkway at a burger place instead; we saw a judge, and he said “hi” to us. He called Conley “Gabe.” I found it funny. After we ordered, the guy behind the counter gave Conley the wrong change and had to call the manager over, and low and behold, through the kitchen came the same manager from the pizza place. Turns out she was the manager for both places and handed Conley the five-dollar bill he was shortchanged. Conley had a look on his face that screamed “why did I even bother to count my change?!”

We headed back to the site, and two rounds later, both Conley and I were in the Top 8.

This was a Top 8 I was very happy to be in. A ton of solid players made it, so it was anyone’s game. After beating up-and-comer Kyle Stoll in three close games, I fell short to Ari Lax in the semifinals.

Overall the weekend was a blast, and I have to give props to everyone who made Top 8. The tournament was huge, and the format is filled with bombs, but at the end, this was, in my opinion, one of the strongest Grand Prix Top 8s of the season.

There’s not much more to say other than the weekend was just a ton of fun all around.

Good luck to everyone attending Worlds and the remaining PTQs and thanks for reading.