So it’s Sunday evening and we’ve just finished making dinner and I ask Alice,”Anything on TV tonight?”
“Um, only <insert random bad movie here> and some movie called Rounders.”
“?” I say.”I’ve heard of that, that’s apparently very good.”
“Well,” she says,”I think I’m gonna read in bed.” Woot – Rounders for me then.
Maaaaaaan, did I enjoy that movie. Fast dialogue, card playing, and Edward Norton. What’s not to enjoy about that? It even got me thinking about how I play Magic.
(You didn’t think this was going to be some weird movie review, did you?)
In the movie, Matt Damon’s character keeps saying that poker has nothing to do with luck – it’s all skill. He goes on to prove this by knowing what his opponent has by their reactions and their attitudes. Now I know people do this while playing Magic; it’s just something I haven’t mastered yet. Does that mean I’m a bad player? I shouldn’t think so – I’m a good player aren’t I? Well, thinking back…
…The time is 2 p.m., and I’d just got off the plane. I find Digby waiting for me, and we soon locate my Dad, who was there to pick us up. In the van, Digby asks me:”What about a limited Rebel chain win condition?”
We were preparing for our Nationals. The format was post 7th pre-Apocalypse, and we knew one thing: Fires was King. In the beginning, I was going to play Fires. It was, after all, the best deck. Then I came up with a Red/Black deck that I liked quite a bit. Would you like to see it? Of course you would.
4 Nightscape Familiar
3 Pyre Zombie
4 Blazing Specter
4 Scoria Cat
4 Seal of Fire
3 Tsabo’s Web
2 Urza’s Rage
4 Urborg Volcano
4 Sulfurous Springs
4 Tsabo’s Decree
4 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
2 Yawgmoth’s Agenda
1 Distorting Lens
1 Urza’s Rage
There are many reasons behind the card choices, and I’d love to explain them.. If the format wasn’t outdated. But it is, so I won’t. Finally I decided I was going to play Blue/White control with nothing special, just good solid hate for Fires and a strong showing against everyone else who counted. Then there we were in my Dad’s van, and Digby asks:
“What about a limited Rebel chain win condition?”
It was an intriguing idea. That would give us the upper hand in the mirror, and a very solid finish vs the rest of the field. Nice. You’d like a list of this one too, wouldn’t you? I know, I know; just get on with it.
3 Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2 Defiant Vanguard
1 Rebel Informer
2 Ramosian Sky Marshall
3 Force Spike
2 Tsabo’s Web
4 Accumulated Knowledge
3 Dismantling Blow
4 Wrath of God
4 Coastal Tower
4 Adarkar Wastes
1 Tsabo’s Web
3 Last Breath
2 Seal of Cleansing
1 Thermal Glider
This is a seriously good deck – and given the right field, this will cut through the competition like milk never will. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Digby and I play some practice games, somehow neglecting to let me play the deck. Before we know it, it’s time to go scout out the grinders. First of all, we meet up with Allan, who looks bad. The man always gets sick when travelling to this particular city.
“But Allan!” I cry aloud,”Tomorrow is the Nationals – being sick is not the hottest technology on the block.”
(And with that, we all began to hang tough. Just like the New Kids back in ’84.)
Then we check out the field. Digby has heard wind of some hot young player who has been schooled in the ways of the stack by some local pros.
(I’m not talking Pro Tour veterans here; I’m talking Smallsville pros.)
This kid could take the grinder, smash us in the Draft, and breeze through the Constructed, leaving a swarm of wrecked Magic players in his wake. We’d best be on our toes.
There he is. He’s young, but that’s nothing – last year a ten-year-old made the top 8. Age means nothing. He’s playing Fires, his opponent is with the ways of Counter and Rebel.
We watch intently as our youthful hero attacks with his Shivan Wurm.
Oh no! His opponent is a scrub. He has thawed out a Thermal Glider with the intent of blocking. Sure enough, a judge is soon called and the scrub is not happy.
“I’ll assign two to your Glider and five to you.”
Okay, false alarm. No Nationals smashing for this kid; better luck next year. For us, it’s time for some 5. We stroll past the old school players showing off their Type 1 decks.
“Oh hoho – I take one from my Arabian City,”
(Pause; turn to the audience who were actually somewhere else, and grin, totally unaware of the fact that no-one was paying him any attention)
“Huh, Ancestral myself. Hyea!”
(This guy thinks he’s Elvis.)
“Hmm, okay whatever. My go?”
(Yeah – not even remotely impressed by an Ancestral, eh?)
“Right. Mox, Lotus, Library, Wheel (frown). Go.”
Of course, both players would then proceed to draw no lands (no room for lands, only room for Type 1 goodness) and play some very boring and very bad Magic. But you could feeeel the money, just there on the table. We just snickered and walked on by.
Digby and I sit down and bust out our 5s. People start to comment,
“What the hell are you doing? You’ve got like a hundred and fifty cards there…”
“Two fifty, actually.”
(It’s funny. They all know what sixty cards looks like, but when they see a pile that’s obviously at least four times the size of a constructed deck, they’re all kinds of guessing.)
“Why are you playing with so many cards then?”
“It’s a format, dude; look up 5 Color on the Internet.”
“You’re just shooting yourself in the foot shuffling that thing.”
(Why must this country be filled with hicks? This year’s Nats are going to be easy…)
(Of course, I forgot that most of the good players haven’t shown their faces at the grinders. They’re too good for that.)
However, since not all the good players had stayed home to rest on their good player laurels, our game of 5 soon attracted the attention of John Denz and Andrew Plinston (JohnDe and apl on irc). These guys aren’t known as the good players of the country, but they certainly are a lot more hard-working. In an effort to be nice and break down barriers, Andrew offers to tear up any non-Arabians Jewelled Birds he finds me playing with.
(At least the good players know what 5 is…)
Funnily enough, I decline and show him how my Chronicles Bird had met its marker, so to speak. Still, I’m a good half a foot taller than him, so I’m sure no harm would have come to my cards if I asserted myself in a stand-up-chest-forward kind of way. But his bluff had been called, and my Jewelled Bird wiped the sweat from its red-rimmed beak. I continued to bore the live leftovers out of Digby by drawing far too many cards and Mind Twisting him far too many times.
“You know, you could try to win sometime,” he offered.
After a good night’s sleep…
(This is obviously a fabrication; who sleeps well the night before the Nats? I’m trying to trick my body into thinking that I did, so that it will rest next year.)
We trek down to the venue…
(Via my Dad and his eternal willingness to drop everything and cart me around town for nothing in return. Sound suspicious? I’m sure it’ll come back to haunt me when he retires and he wants carting around, and looking after, and feeding, and pampering…)
(Mental note: Must stop asking my parents to drive me places…)
Okay, I’m lost.
(Pause for esteemed author to get his bearings…)
“Oh, heh heh – that’s funny. I’m good…”
Right; the venue. My first Nats in ’98, the venue was a large stylized cultural hall, which, all things considered, was not too shabby. May have been a bit breezy for a midwinter tournament, though. ’99 was in a war memorial hall – which is to say, it was just like a school hall. Our local TO runs his events in a venue that is, oh I dunno, ten times better. ’00 was in a historical building, stretching over two floors. We played in rooms with carpeted floors finally, but unfortunately we were a tad cramped.
“Who’s up for a game of sardines? I mean, Magic?”
No disrespect for the local TO; this was his usual venue and for that, it’s serious quality. Why am I being so scathing of the previous years’ venues?
(Mmmm, ’01’s venue…)
You know when you see Pro Tour coverage on the Internet? You know how sometimes it looks like it’s in a fancy ballroom, high ceilings, chandeliers, cherub fountains? It was like that, but with no cherub fountains.
(I don’t know why I mention them, actually…)
(Pause for partial lobotomy)
(Must… cleanse… cherubs…)
Ah, that’s better. Anyhoo, amazing venue. You get the idea.
We sit around waiting for the first draft to start. The good players are sitting around in groups. There’s the elitist pros, the capital’s pose, last year’s National team, the nice guys, the not-so-nice guys… I try to trade a little, but I’m tight like a pillow isn’t and I can’t even trade a guy a spare Root Maze.
(The tension is building…)
Before long, we are seated.
(Seated standing up, which doesn’t sound right written down really.)
Each table has seven players. Odd, but if that’s how it added up, then that’s math and I’m praying for a bye.
#The format is IIP Roch w/reality. 1 more.
The cry goes up:
Oh yeah; Eugene didn’t show up. Maybe we should have mentioned that to the judges earlier. Oh well, no harm done.
(Except to the dust mites in the carpet; they got a nasty beating/treading on as we wandered across the room, searching out our new tables.)
(For those of you curious, 49 people equals 7 pods of 7 – 48 people now equals 6 pods of 8.)
#The format is IIP Roch w/reality. Full.
My first pod looked something like this:
Random Guy 1
Random Guy 2
Oh great. Drafting with Digby and Mike.
(Mike being another guy from our turf.)
The first pack is opened and Mike stifles a smile as Dromar stares back at him. You see, this is pre-Apocalypse. This is before the bomb, before opposing colors, pre-Raphaelite, the Beatles with five members, this is bread not sliced, this is – no, wait. This is Dromar drafting time.
(Pause for twenty-second pack review.)
“Player one. Draft.”
Mike surprises no one.
Pack number 2 is opened.
Frowns all round as everyone eyes up fatty number 2. Player 1 is U/B/W and player 2 is about to play forests and plains to support his Fattytooth Largeoba. That’s two people in a row with white, that’s two people having all the tappers and leaving little for everyone else. About here, Kelly in seat 3 has already said,”Bring me the Red and bring me the Black” and is looking good to go. Red and Black. No shakes and no fries style.
“Player 3,” announces head judge Mark Brown.
(When does an Australian have an English accent?)
(It was a rhetorical question.)
(Okay, I’ll explain.)
(Mark Brown, the level 3 judge from Australia, surprised us all by turning up with an English accent. Happy?)
(These little side rants aren’t helping the story any.)
“You may open your first pack.”
(Which is kinda misleading. These packs had already been opened and stamped with flowers, ticks and stars.)
Kelly busts open his plastic case and deals them out like we were in a Rochester draft.
(Oh, I see. We were.)
The table begins to chuckle…
(Quietly though, this was rules enforcement level 4.)
…As Kelly stares at fatty number 3.
“HELLO, KELLY!” booms Rith, the Awakener.
(Seriously – would a Dragon Legend speak in anything other than full caps?)
Kelly, of course, is not fooled into jumping into Digby’s colors behind him and Rith passes to seat 4. Now I can’t remember what Mark has drafted up to this point, but I know what he drafted as a second pick in pack 3.
“Player 4, you may now open your first pack.”
Mark grapples with his plastic lunch box for people twelve inches or less tall, and deals out his cards. At this point, everyone in the pod begins to realize they are, in fact, dreaming. The venue is too good to be true, there’s no way anyone English would voluntarily move to Australia…
(Hmmm – maybe our head judge had a colorful past…)
…And no Rochester starts with Dromar, Nishoba, Rith, and then Crosis, the Purger.
It just doesn’t happen.
(Pause for players to wake up.)
(We were not dreaming.)
(The first 4 picks at the Nats were, in fact, monstrous monstrosities.)
Just as we think player 5 is about to be passed his very own purger on a stick…
(There’s no way two-time National Champ Mark Simpson would ruin his draft by committing to 5 colors without any mana fixers thus far.)
Two-time National champ Mark Simpson scoops up his second Dragon, the third in the draft. By now, we are all well aware of the full value a Terminate or two will bring to the draft.
(Or maybe an Agonizing Demise for Digby’s Nishoba.)
Unfortunately for me (in position 6, remember?), I was drafting G/W/r.
Fortunately, I managed to secure a third-pick Armadillo Cloak from that Crosis pack.
Everyone is waiting with baited breath to see what chunky piece of meat comes out of player 5’s pack.
(It’s actually quite difficult to notate a bunch of Magic players waiting with bated breath.)
(Suffice to say it was still early in the day, so there was undoubtedly a faint aroma of toothpaste in the air.)
(We waited with toothpasty breath.) (Magic players brush? – The Ferrett)
(Mmm, minty fresh.)
How’s this for anti-climactic? I can’t even remember what was in the pack. It obviously wasn’t Tsabo Tavoc or Empress Galina; I would have remembered such poetic justice. It certainly wasn’t another fat beastie, nor was it a cash rare like Absorb, Undermine or even Urza’s Rage. For the sake of argument, we’ll say it was…
(Checks trade binder for bad Invasion rares.)
(Feels generally uneasy at the odds of it being one of these many not worthy of even remembering pieces of not very good Magic card.)
(Not Lotus Guardian.)
(Not Andradite Leech, either.)
(Nope, not Psychic Battle.)
(Chuckle – not Coalition Victory.)
(No, not Thornscape Master.)
(Stand or Fall? Mmm, maybe.)
No, we’ll say it was Winnow.
(Why does this card imply that you’ll win now?)
It might have had a Demise, though, which I know I didn’t get or take. Anyway, the shock of fatties leaping out of the first four packs was beginning to fade.
(Whoever said this draft had the reality patch, was quite mistaken it seems.)
“Player 6, you may now open your first pack.”
(Ooo, that’s me. Please please please, I need a way of dealing with those fatties.)
(In this format, it’s not the last fatty that kills you; it’s the first one.)
(Which I guess means it’s the last one, too…)
(Well not if when playing Mark”Two-Time National Champion” Simpson, he beats you down with his Rith, then breeds like a rabbit and plays his Crosis, oh-so-good at invading your personal body space before dealing the death blow.)
(But that’s not much of a consolation now, is it?)
(Come on come on, Wallop! No, that doesn’t deal with Rith or the Nishoba. Ghitu Fire! No, that still doesn’t deal with the Nishoba. Maybe Shackles or a tapper or something. Yeah, Thornscape Apprentice. Come on, come on, come on.)
Seven players at the table think”Frown,” and I think,”Well, I guess that’ll do the trick.”
“Player 6… Draft.”
I reach forward carefully so as not to touch any of the cards on either side of my Rout.
(Maybe I am a good player.)
But the fun doesn’t end there, oh no. When Morgan in seat 8 opens his second pack, now going in the opposite direction, we’re all certain he’ll draft the Meteor Storm that lies before him…
(After all, along with Black those are the colors he’s been drafting)
…But we all gasp in astonishment as he picks…
(Wait for it, ladies and gentlemen.)
(This is real first pick quality.)
Creature – Elf
If you paid the kicker cost, Llanowar Elite comes into play with five +1/+1 counters on it.
(That’s what I thought.)
(Actually, here’s what I thought:)
Creature – Sucky Elf
If you paid the kicker cost, punch yourself in the face in futility. No wait, you just did…
Sure enough, player 7 can’t see how a G/R card will fit into his U/B deck and I get a third-pick Meteor Storm. I begin to wonder about Llanowar Elite. I guess I get close to if not more than nine mana in a game… Maybe a 6/6 trampler would be quite good with all the Serpentine Kavus at this table.
(Oh yeah, I forgot to mention those. There were, I think, seven of them. I ended up with two.)
Which is silly, because nine mana is close to or even just over half of an acceptable mana base. I’m not waiting fifteen turns to cast a 6/6 trampler, that’s not good tech at all.
Not much happens for a pack or two, but I think I pick up my second Armadillo Cloak. Which was nice.
(And after winning the lottery, I was awarded a Medal of Honor for when I saved twenty small children from a burning bus. Which was nice.)
(And then to celebrate, we went out for dinner with the Clintons. Hillary offered to pay the bill, too, which was nice.)
And then it’s player 5’s turn.
“Player 5, you may now open your second pack.”
And he does.
(Because he’d get some kind of minor disruption warning if he didn’t, I guess.)
Everybody at the table checks their pockets for invitations; apparently we’d all forgotten that we’d been invited to some kind of Dragon party. Sure enough, there was Dragon Legend number 4, Treva, the”not as good as the other Dragon Legends, no matter how much he wishes he was.”
Not only had four of the five Dragon Legends shown up, but if player 5 didn’t draft Dragon 4, it would end up in the hands of Mark”I already have two Dragons across five colors” Simpson. The rest of the table knew as one that he’d take it if given the chance, and seeing as player 5 had drafted Red and Black somewhat, the odds were high that Mark’s mana curve would top out at 6/6.
Player 5, however, decided to ignore any kind of”don’t hate draft the guy next to you” techniques and helped himself to Treva, the Rare-Drafted.
(And not even a good rare draft at that.)
(Unless he regularly trades with kids, I guess…)
So the draft was narrowly spared the Mark”I have more Dragons than National titles, and I have two of those” Simpson juggernaut.
So you’re thinking,”When does Darigaaz show up?” Silly people, Darigaaz, the Ignighted knew full well that we were drafting Planeshift that day, and Planeshift has Terminate.
(Ooo, yucky Terminate. Why couldn’t they kill off Treva or Dromar or something? Pish I say, Pish!)
Now Terminate’s gone and got me all mad.
“GNIVIL” DROW EHT FO ESU DAB, TIAW ON. GNIVIL A ROF SONACLOV NO GNIWEHC YRT, DIK DAM WONK T’NOD UOY? DAM ER’UOY.”
(Hint for the uninitiated, Dragon Legends speaking from beyond the grave speak backwards, Judas Priest/Black Sabbath record played in reverse style.)
The draft ended without further incident, and I set out to build a deck that resembled something like this:
3x Aurora Griffin
Voice of All
2x Serpentine Kavu
Steel Leaf Paladin
2x Armadillo Cloak
Right; I seem to have drafted well. Two Cloaks tells me I read the draft well, too; I chose the right color combination and was rewarded with two bombs.
(You get rewarded luck-style with Cloaks, as there is no skill in actually touching the card and placing it face up in front of you.)
(There is skill in cutting off Green and White, however – just don’t let me catch you claiming that you’re a good player because you drafted some Giant Strength/Spirit Link matching accessory.)
I must have cut off white quite effectively. That’s four, count them, four Planeshift flyers all lining up for the right to steal four points that rightfully belong to my opponent, and Robin Hood style, deliver it up to me.
Three pump spells, two mana acceleration spells, and a Meteor Storm handling my removal duties. I could 2-1 with this deck, which was my plan, or maybe even 3-0.
(Maybe I am a good player.)
(Let’s not get overconfident here; this pod still has two guys I know who are excellent players and a two-time National champ.)
Round 1. Morgan”Llanowar Elite” Hopkin.
I’ve seen Morgan at previous Nationals events, but never actually played him or spoken to him. Well, obviously I have now. It’s not like I hid under the table until I received a game loss for tardiness or anything.
Now if you expect in-depth play by play, you’re tough out of luck. You should have been there if you’d wanted that kind of knowing the personal details, including what underwear I was wearing kind of stuff.
(Black satin boxers, by the way.)
But I’ll tell you some of the things I remember: I’m holding off a large army with a bunch of guys, I have two Serpentine Kavu and a Rout in hand, and I have six land in play. Morgan has eight life to play with.
(I had some early beats you see.)
Two draw steps later, I have seven land and a smile.
“It’s my end step, you have priority.” I offer in my best”It’s round 1 of a rules enforcement level 4 event and I’m not overly keen to screw up” voice. Morgan untaps, draws and swings with his pets. I block with mine, trying not to give away that they’re all gonna die anyway.
“Go.” Says Morgan in his”rules enforcement shmools enforcement” voice.
“During your end step,” I say,”I’ll play Rout.” I place the Wrath on amphetamines on the table and tap seven mana.”Paying two to play it as an instant.”
Morgan shovels his critters into his graveyard and I do the same.
“Cool?” I ask.
“Yeah, go”, says Morgan, probably wishing I had when he first said it. I untap and play a Kavu, jab it with red mana, and it leaps across the field with a yelp. Morgan drops to four, untaps and drops a Tsabo Tavoc.
(Well there had to be at least one in the draft, didn’t there? With all those Dragons, our draft was obviously the hip place to be for Legendary critters.)
Morgan thinks this is bad for me, and I know it’s worse for him. I make Kavu number 2 and they both gaily frolic into the red zone with Morgan on their minds.
Round 2, and who can it be? Not Mike Whittey, old school good player from my neck of the woods. Not Mark”I lost to the aforementioned Mike 2-1, but I’m still a two-time National Champ and I still have two Dragons” Simpson – no, not even close. It’s Digby”we playtest together and I never beat him in sanctioned play” Carter.
Which isn’t good, really. If I’ve never beaten him, how can I beat him now?
(Actually, I think I’ll check to see if I ever have beaten him. Don’t want to be labelled a liar, now do I?)
(Oh I beat him at 5 Color every now and again.)
(Just not when it counts.)
(Okay. According to my DCI ratings history, Digby has beaten me five times, and we drew once, which may or may not have been intentional. And then there’s this match…)
(…This match that I can’t remember anything from.)
(What a disappointment to you all I must be.)
Well get this – I do remember one thing from this match.
One very, very, very important thing.
(Pause for dramatic effect.)
In the three games Digby and I played…
(Oh yes, I can beat him in games – just not matches.)
…My Cloaked flyers somehow out-smashed his Nishoba two games to one.
(Oh yeah. There was this one match.)
(Where I beat Digby Carter.)
(Two games to one.)
(I won when it counted.)
(That was the sound of contentment.)
From here on, I figured I could lose every match and still be satisfied.
Strange that I did almost that, and wasn’t very happy at all.
(Okay, I didn’t lose every match…)
Here’s a run down.
Round 3 I was paired with Mike”I have Dromar and four Probes to find him with” Whittey. He was frightened of my Cloaks, and I was frightened of his…
So when he offered me a draw, I had to fight very hard to not cry out in delight. He figured a draw would put us in the second draft pod, which would be far easier than the first with its 3-and0 players…
…All five of them.
Which meant we were in the top pod anyway. But that’s all right; I’d just gone two wins and a draw at the Nationals. I was about to draft at table 1 with the best.
Here is a list of the best.
(Maybe I am a good player.)
(Great, I have to draft with Mike again. And another guy Digby and I playtest with, Giles.)
(Well, I guess that means our playtesting was worth it then!)
(Thanks to me, Digby was now drafting at the two-and-one table.)
This draft went well for me too. Sure, I had a Questing Morphlingrif hate drafted away from me – but other than that, I came out with this:
Disciple of Kangee
2x Glimmering Angel
1 Dromar’s Cavern
1 Terminal Moraine
…Which is a nutty beating.
Round 4. James White. You may have seen James at the Worlds; yes, he came second at our Nationals. James beat me 2-1 in a match he described as one of the hardest he played all weekend. It was hard for me, too, and despite losing, I did enjoy it at least.
If fact, you lot seem like a nice bunch; here’s what James said in his tournament report at www.gameon.net.nz about our match.
(Cut-and-paste gloves on…)
This was the tightest match of the weekend for me. Ray won the first with Glimmering Angel/Armadillo Cloak combo going all the way. I won the second with two many big fat scrits, but the third was a nailbiter.
Ray managed to Cloak up the Angel again on the fourth turn, after Harrow, so he even had the blue to protect it. Not only that, but Ray kept laying creatures to block, slowing my offensive considerably. I was feeling bad about this game, but I played on, intensely focused, wanting
to win so badly. It came down to the final turn, I was on 4, Ray had gained sixteen life over the previous four turns with the angel. I had played it on a knife’s edge, throwing everything at him, sacrificing creatures all over the place to keep the pressure on. Ray had played Sabertooth Nishoba on his last turn, allowing for only one of my two Serpentine Kavus to get through. It all came down to whether I could topdeck a land. Ray was on nine and I had Explosive Growth in hand. I attacked with my two kavu, Ray blocked one with his Nishoba and as I had just laid my sixth land, he even asked before I played it,”Explosive Growth?”
It was both heartbreaking and inspiring. I bought my best game to the table and took on the best. I even came close to winning.
(Maybe I am a good player.)
Round 5, I played and beat a very nice gentleman named David Williams. But it wasn’t the same one that made the top 8 at the Worlds, no – it was another David Williams.
Round 6, I played and didn’t quite beat another nice gentleman named Roger Miller. You may have seen Roger at the Worlds with James. Roger won our Nationals and was on the National team last year.
Oh yeah – when I say I almost beat him, that’s not entirely true. Roger beat me within an inch of my life, and then we shuffled up for another beating that left me laughing in my seat. Roger’s deck was almost perfect and his game was better. I didn’t stand a chance.
(Maybe I’m not quite a good player.)
Three wins, one draw, and two losses isn’t a record to write home about.
(But for some reason, I’m still writing here about it…)
But my two losses were against the two players who made the finals, and one of them I almost won.
(Maybe I am a good player.)
Digby also finished day 1 with three wins, one draw, and two losses. What happened on day 2 was best summed up by Allan.
(Who is funny, even when he’s not feeling well.)
“You guys took the same deck from the same starting point and legged it in opposite directions.”
While Digby collected four straight wins and then drew his way into the top 8, I went loss, draw, loss, loss, win, win.
(Maybe I’m not quite a good player after all.)
Day 1 at the Nationals was a high point for me. I drafted well and I played well. But something went wrong on day 2.
Digby made the top 8. Only to lose a match we thought would be a bye for him.
(Don’t worry – it wasn’t actually his fault.)
The two hard-working players I mentioned at the start, John Denz and Andrew Plinston, also made the top 8. Andrew even fought his way into third place and was kickin’ it Worlds style with James and Roger.
These are all good players; I am not.
Not yet, anyway.
After weeks of the worst plays ever possible,
(I’m talking about absolute shocking, awful, not worth writing about plays here.)
I sit down at a vacant table to register my deck.
It’s a small tournament, but why should I try less? Our local TO is running a practice tournament for our upcoming IBC PTQ. Six rounds, no playoff. I almost played Brian Kowal’s BUG deck, and I almost played our teams secret domain deck too. But in the end…
I sit down at a vacant table to register my R/G beats deck.
It was a very standard build, much like this one.
4 Blurred Mongoose
4 Thornscape Familiar
4 Yavimaya Barbarian
1 Kavu Titan
4 Raging Kavu
4 Thornscape Battlemage
3 Flametongue Kavu
4 Scorching Lava
4 Urza’s Rage
4 Shivan Oasis
1 Keldon Necropolis
4 Hull Breach
4 Kavu Chameleon
3 Jade Leech
2 Mask of Intolerance
I had one thing in mind: Playing well.
(Okay, I had two things on my mind: Playing well, and not losing.)
This time, the play-by-plays are a little more focused.
(Well, it was only a couple of days ago…)
Round 1, I’m paired with James Wilson. James and I used to playtest together, but he stops playing every now and again, and I’m steady. I’m like a rock.
(A bad player rock.)
(Would you look at that? I’m even putting myself down now.)
(But maybe I deserve it…)
James is playing some kind of Green/Red control, with Thornscape and Thunderscape Familiars, a couple of Jade Leeches, Scorching Lava, Blurred Mongoose, Shivan Wurm and Fires of Yavimaya.
(Did I just call a deck with Fires of Yavimaya a control deck? Well, compared to a G/R beats deck it was.)
Game 1 he starts out slow, swinging once with a Mongoose. I figure, why trade when I can swing back? James burns away everything that he can until we come to a stall, his Mongoose staring at my Mongoose and Barbarian.
“Go on,” I say,”trade you my Barbarian for your Mongoose.”
James doesn’t bite at first, but finds he has to before things get lethal. But it doesn’t matter, soon enough James is on ten and then suddenly he has no guys, no mana, and no life.
(I don’t mean no life because he plays Magic; I mean no life points because I killed him.)
Ah, removal and Skizziks are a funny thing.
Game 2 I mulligan into a strong start; he double-Lavas my Skizzik and soon all we have is a Leech apiece, staring each other down, daring the other to flinch. I have a Keldon Necropolis out and the land to use it, which helped offset the fact that I had the mana to use another if I had been allowed. Just when I get to Rage with kicker mana, I draw one and my day brightens up quite nicely. Sure, James is still on fourteen… But that shouldn’t be a problem now, should it? Well, apparently it was. James pushed past my many land cards for the win before I could do anything.
“Super,” I proclaimed.
In the decider, James plays out back-to-back Shivan Wurms and I’m left wondering why I chose to run Jade Leech instead.
Hmmm, 0-1. Not the start I was looking for.
(That’s never a start anyone looks for, really – pardon me for stating the obvious.)
Let’s look on the bright side – because I have a match loss, I can now describe my match record with creatures from a card game called Magic, the Gathering. Right, I’m now a Birds of Paradise.
(That’s so cool – why has nobody thought of that before…?)
Round 2, I sit my sorry Birds of Paradise butt behind down opposite Joe Lin. Joe’s brother Gordon won Grand Prix Melborne last year with that Pandeburst deck; you may remember it. I figured Joe’s deck would be at least solid, pulling no punches and playing no Llanowar Elites. Sure enough, Joe opens with a Blurred Mongoose and I know to expect a full complement of bears, Rages, and Skizziks. I take two damage from the Mongoose before it decides to defend – and defend it does, taking down my Raging Kavu. Unfortunately he can’t deal with my two Mongooses (Mongeese?), nor can he deal with my two Rages that leave him deader than Dead McFred on dead pills.
Game 2, he hits me once with a Raging Kavu and then bears me a bit. However, I hit him with a Skizzik and bear him a bit too, leaving me two life ahead. What do you know? I draw another Skizzik. It’s not fair, really; I Rage him out again.
(Note: At any point a Ghitu Fire could easily have replaced any of the Urza’s Rages I used in either match.)
Now I’m 1-1. Hmmm, are there any 1/1 creatures?
(Haha, very funny.)
Okay, then – now I’m a Giant Tortoise, but I’d best remember to stay tapped or I may end up with an extra three losses tacked onto my match record.
(And I’m thinking that can’t be a good thing.)
Round 3, I waddle over to the table where Hans Freller is sitting, not daring to face forward in case my record suddenly turns sucky. Hans has assembled a nightmare of a deck for me to face; not only does he have Spectral Lynx and Spiritmonger, but he also has Blurred Mongoose, Fleetfoot Panther, and Ebony Treefolk. Game 1, I fail to damage him.
(And I am ashamed, very ashamed.)
Drawing only three lands can hurt a deck, but this one at least has a chance if this happens. I take two from a Mongoose, and then four from the Goose and a Lynx, and then they sit and I take six from a Monger. I take three from a Panther as the Monger and Lynx defend against nothing in particular, and then I die a horrible death under the feet of fat.
Game 2 went in a similar manner, but the only damage I took was from a Spiritmonger. You see, while he built up to his Monger, I went bear/Raging Kavu totally unopposed this time, and then landed another seven on his nose before the Spiritmonger and its many friends caused me to run out of gas. Hans had also taken one from a painland and was sitting less than pretty on seven life. What Hans didn’t know was my deck was now putting on a pathetic frowny face, and resigned itself to losing this game.
“Here, you need more land,” spat my deck. Sure enough, I had more land than not, but Hans has done the math and thinks I have a hand full of trouble.
(Only if you play out a Land’s Edge, Hans. Only if you say,”Show me a hand full of land and I’ll concede.”)
(Hans failed to do either of these things.)
I’m all set to pack it in, but I wait it out – and lo and behold, my deck delivers. I’ve all but lost and I just plain old”rabbit out of a hat” win.
(Tip: If a rabbit has dwelled within your hat, do not put the hat back on without first ascertaining that it is devoid of raisin-like rabbit gifts.)
The last game begins with me just plain glad I have a chance. Things start out well; I get a Mongoose and so does he.
(Which isn’t good, but that’s not the point – the good bit follows, obviously.)
I play a third-turn Raging Kavu and Hans slips up; he goes to tap his mana in response and stops very quickly, but not quick enough for me not to notice.
“Sit,” I command, and my animals obey. During my end step, Hans gates his Goose into a Panther. I’m feeling mighty good about myself at this point, but the situation quickly deteriorates as I watch a Scorching Lava with kicker miss a Spectral Lynx because Fleetfoot Panther is so darn fleetfooted.
(Yay! the Lynx is out of the wait. No wait, where’d that 3/4 cat come from?)
Sure enough, he gets a Monger and I get a whuppin’…
Oh great. 1-2.
(I am a bad player.)
Academy Rector is a 1/2. So is Port Inspector.
(Port Inspector is a bad card.)
(I am a bad player.)
(If my Urza’s Rages had been Ghitu Fires in this game, the outcome would have been quite different.)
Round 4, I’m paired with Ashley Glue. Ashley is playing what appears to be a sealed deck. It’s not his fault; he hasn’t been playing for long, and he plays for fun. He belongs down here at the bottom tables – and apparently so do I.
But that’s stupid. I don’t belong at the bottom tables; I’ve played this game long enough to be good enough to stay off the bottom tables. In fact, I’m better than that; I drafted with the best at the Nationals.
(I am a good player.)
(It’s time to prove it.)
Unfortunately, I have a sealed deck in the way.
I’m not going to bore you with the play-by-play on this one: You’ve all goldfish tested a deck at least once or twice. You know how it goes.
And yes, I did feel bad about bring a gun to a knife fight.
But that’s life.
(Fitting, considering the format.)
Round 5, I play Emma Morten. Emma is not Ashley, but her deck has earned her a spot at the bear tables all the same. She has Dega Sanctuary, Pyre Zombies, Desolation Giants, Wild Research, Scorching Lava and I’m sure I even saw a Shivan Zombie. Now, these cards are all fine choices in the right deck… But this wasn’t it. Game 1 she didn’t damage me, and in game 2 I took a damage from something, but I’m baffled as to what it could be. Maybe I marked her painland damage off on the wrong side of the column or something. Maybe she had Fire/Ice. The games were pretty much over when she had to Terminate (grrr) my early creatures, which left me open to play (and keep) a kicked Skizzik.
(Now I’ve seen what a Skizzik looks like, you couldn’t pay me enough to go anywhere near something like that, let alone kick it…)
Now I’m 3-2, but I’m still not happy. That’s the kind of result I used to get when I first started playing in tournaments. I must win this final round if I’m ever going to be able to look myself in the mirror.
Final round. Who is my victim? Ah, It’s Martin Brown-Santirso! Martin has a brother called Damien who has been called”The Mexican Connection.” It was Damien who hooked up Jay Elarar for both PT: Chicago and the Barcelona Masters. They are both brothers to Scott Richards who won the Latin American Champs and will be representing Latin America at the Magic Invitational.
Impressive resume – but I’ve beaten all three of these people in sanctioned play, and right now I’m madder than Mad McFlad on mad pills.
Martin wants to draw.
“No!” I splutter.”I’ve had a bad week and I want to win some points.”
“But if we draw, you will win some points.” Martin replies.
(His constructed rating is 1811 and mine is a measly 1722.)
(My limited is 1770 at least…)
“No.” I say.”I’m not finishing the day with a three-win, two-loss, one-draw record. It’s just not good enough for me personally.”
“I don’t want a bad finish, either!” he cries.
“Then you must beat me.”
(I’m not usually like this. I’m really a nice guy, honest.)
So we play, and I lose the first game.
Martin wins the roll and plays. I get the early beats with a Mongoose and swing once while Martin has no turn 2 play. On his third turn, he Temporal Springs my Shivan Oasis.
“Whatever.” I respond.”You know, it only counts as a Time Walk if you’re the one beating down.”
(I do my best to make it look like he’s really screwed up, whereas it’s actually not a bad play.)
(It’s funny, Digby tells me there’s no point in trash talking, he thinks it doesn’t do anything.)
(All the same, I’m pretty sure I had Martin a little rattled at this point.)
But that didn’t stop him drawing his only Kavu Titan and kicking it my way.
(I know it was his only one; he was trying to borrow some off me that morning for his U/G/r deck and I hadn’t brought them with me.)
My life total looked like this.
(Can you see where I chump blocked the Titan?)
But I can lose one game. I had to win two anyway to win the match, so it may as well be these next two.
And sure enough, game 2 I come out of the gates at full speed. Mongoose, Barbarian, Skizzik. We shuffle for game 3 and I can feel the fire in my eyes.
(I think it was there from when he finished me off with a Fire/Ice in game 1.)
It comes down to this.
Okay. I’m ready.
Martin has no early plays, and I get in for a few before he brings down the turn 6 Flametongue on my Skizzik.
9 (Barbarian and Skizzik.)
(Hmmm. We were playing for the right to be the Flametongue at 4/2.)
I play my Tight-an with kicker and wait.
(Two can play at this”Drawing my only Titan” thing.)
Martin untaps and tells me I can go.
I untap and go.
I sense he has bounce, so I don’t waste my Barbarian in a one-on-one with the Flametongue; I go with the Titan alone. He Rushing Rivers it and I don’t replay it into his Exclude. I just send the turn over with a whole lot of untapped mana.
Martin untaps and drops the bomb I didn’t know he had: He taps five of his seven mana and plays a Shivan Wurm.
Astute readers may remember what James Wilson did to me in round 1 with his Shivan Wurms. I know I do. Which is probably why I responded with…
As my eyes glaze over at the thought of being mashed like a brick isn’t likely to be, I notice Martin’s Flametongue Kavu has disappeared from the board. It takes me about half a second to realize what has happened…
…Martin thinks his Shivan Wurm has resolved.
“Hang on.” I say,”I want to respond to the Shivan Wurm.”
Martin is adamant that my”Uh” meant”okay”.
“Did I say ‘I pass’ or ‘okay’ or even ‘gating goes on the stack’ at any point?” I ask him.
“You went ‘Uh!’ That means okay!” Martin cries.
“No – I want to respond to the Shivan Wurm. You should have put gating on the stack; did you not notice that my mana is entirely untapped?”
Martin gives in, and I point a Scorching Lava at his Flametongue. He frowns and taps his remaining two mana to Jilt his Kavu back to his hand. I smile.
I Scorching Lava him.
I untap and attack with the Barbarian.
“Well, you won’t be Prohibiting this then,” I provide as a vocal accompaniment to my kicked Titan.
Martin untaps and Flametongues my Kavu Titan. The Lifesavers that adorn it save it from serious harm. He ends with Exclude mana showing.
I untap and play a Thornscape Battlemage with kicker. Martin can’t get the Exclude out of his hand quick enough.
“So you concede, then?” I ask.
Martin counts the damage on the board.
(Ray: Seven with Trample.)
(Martin: Can absorb two.)
Who’s the Flametongue Kavu?
(I’m the Flametongue Kavu, baby.)
Who’s the Flametongue Kavu?
And I’m not going to stop there.
I’m going to win like I have to.
(I am not a bad player.)
(I am a good player.)
I am a good player.
And I’m going to get better.
(I am a good player.)
Take care of each other,