Pro Tour: New York ‘99 took place on the weekend of April 31st. The format was Urza Block Constructed, with Urza’s Saga and Urza’s Legacy being the only two sets released in the block thus far. Team Tulane had been hard at work practicing the format with the inclusion of Legacy, and we felt very confident in our abilities to win. Eric Lewandowski and I were far ahead of the curve in knowing the set, and many others were showing a lot of promise and improvement in their game. Anthony DiNatale (one the Anthony/Chris twin duo) ended up being the third best player of our group, and we got in a few three on three drafts during a local PTQ. We completely ruled the local competition, and so we made a bold decision: we would fly up to New York with the sole intent of money drafting pros on the side.
We stayed at my mom’s house on Long Island, and she was overjoyed to have three people staying in her house for a few days. The first couple of days were spent hanging out in New York City, but Friday was show time — we made our way to New Jersey in order to compete with the ‘big boys’. Please note that this is not a typo: Wizards had located Pro Tour New York outside the city for that year, which made it quite a commute from Long Island. We needed to travel through two tunnels to reach the tournament location.
There wasn’t much action Friday, but we won all four drafts we played. This really raised our spirits, as it proved that we had what it took to at least compete on the side. On the way home that night, we drove through New York City and down 42nd Street. I pulled up to a red light on 5th Avenue, and within seconds Eric says”wow.””Wow what?””That guy over there, see him?” We saw the guy — it was a man in a business suit.”He just was walking down past the car. Then he leaned up against the pole over there, threw up, and just kept walking. I think that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I don’t think Eric was kidding about that.
On Saturday, the draft action picked up. We ended up drafting against team CMU three times that day, each time with their team spearheaded by the Mad Genius himself, Eric Lauer. I like Eric, and I felt bad for him as we beat their team draft after draft. With each successive loss, Eric found more and more ringers from CMU to come challenge us. He kept wanting that rematch, because he knew that his team should be beating ours. He saw our point of weakness: Anthony’s one-time mistake.
Anthony has a really weird quirk when it comes to playing Magic. If there’s a mistake he can make, he will make it. However, once he makes that mistake and you point it out to him, he will never make that mistake again. He thrived on practice through repetition, and this is how Eric and I practiced with Anthony back in New Orleans. We ran through hundreds of drafts in the Urza format, and we made notes to help Anthony improve his play. His ability to assimilate and process this information was amazing. His ability to screw things up without prior experiences was uncanny.
Case in point: In the second draft against CMU, Eric and I both got relatively good decks. We sat down to help each other build, and Anthony starts shaking his head.
Anthony:”Guys, I have no clue what to do with this deck.”
Me:”Is it good?”
Anthony:”It’s too good. I have no clue how to play it.”
Eric:”Play the good cards?”
Anthony:”They’re all good!
Me:”They can’t all be good.”
Anthony:”I’m serious. Take a look at this. I have no clue how to build this deck!”
Anthony proceeded to spread out his cards. Without a doubt, he had the most power intensive, bomb-laden deck I’d ever seen. He had drafted Blue/White and his card pool included Morphling, Phyrexian Processor, Glorious Anthem, Intrepid Hero, Opal Titan, Urza’s Blueprints, Ring of Gix, Great Whale, Elite Archers, and Herald of Serra. Virtually half of his deck consisted of first pick bomb rares. The rest of his forty-five cards contained a ton of solidness, including multiple Blue and White flyers and stall creatures such as Radiant’s Dragoons and Sanctum Custodian.
Me:”This is the best deck I’ve ever seen.”
Me:”Anth, you better go 3-0 with this deck.”
Anthony:”I don’t know what to do with this! Do I play Opal Titan or Processor on turn four?”
Me:”Usually Processor, unless you’re getting beat down by Red/Green.”
Anthony:”Then what do I do?”
Me:”Stall the game?”
Anthony:”I’ve never played with this many good cards together before.”
True to form, Anthony went 1-2 with this deck. He knew how all of the commons and the uncommons in the block interacted like the back of his hand, but for the life of him he didn’t know what to do when all of his cards were good rares. Luckily, Eric went 3-0 this draft, and I took one match in order to seal the draft in our favor.
Between the second and third CMU drafts, the three of us went next door to celebrate our victories with a steak dinner. We were each up several hundred dollars a piece on the weekend, so we figured it was a good time to splurge. We ordered our food, and it took about an hour for the waitress to finally bring out the meat. I started cutting my steak, and then decided that I wanted to wash my hands before eating. I got up, and when I came back my steak was gone.
Me:”Ok, very funny guys. Where’s my steak?”
Anthony:”I can’t believe this.”
Anthony:”OH MY GOD! The waitress just came, picked up your steak, and threw it out.”
Me:”Ha ha. Very funny. Where’s the steak?”
Eric:”No, he’s serious.”
Anthony:”She came out of nowhere and just grabbed it off the table!”
Me:”You guys didn’t stop her?”
Eric:”We couldn’t believe it was happening.”
Me:”I hadn’t even taken a bite out of the steak yet! How could she think I was done with it?”
Anthony:”I don’t know!”
Sigh. We were really eager to get back to drafting, since time was money. The first steak had taken an hour to arrive, so I turned down the restaurant manager’s offer for a free steak in return for a full refund on my meal. It was clearly one of the most ridiculous dining experiences of my life. I take that back. You need to eat to have a dining experience.
Our third draft against CMU went relatively well, but by this point Eric Lauer was determined not to lose to the team of Bleiweiss, DiNatale, and Lewandowski. Both teams fought hard, and we ended up tied at four matches to four matches with one match left to play: Anthony vs. the main man from CMU himself, Eric Lauer. The first game went our way, and the second game went in their favor. In game three, Eric got an the early momentum going with his mono-White deck. Anthony fought back with his Blue/White/Green deck, eventually stabilizing the board at a precarious four life. Anthony started taking the offensive with his Blue flyers, but Eric stopped that plan cold with a well-timed Songstitcher. This deadlocked the game for a few turns, until Anthony drew the card that would win him the game: Zephid’s Embrace. Eric and I looked at each other, as we stood behind Anthony. We smiled to one another — all Anthony had to do was drop Zephid’s Embrace on one of his creatures and swing three times, and the match would be ours.
Apparently this situation never had come up before in one of our practice drafts, as Anthony completely missed that his creature would be untargetable, and that his Embrace would nullify the Songstitcher. Instead of playing the enchant creature for the win, Anthony stared at the board, went to tap his mana, stared at the board some more, and said”go.”
Turns passed. Eric couldn’t really break through Anthony’s defenses as Anthony had multiple flyers and large green creatures on the ground, but Anthony couldn’t attack on the ground due to his low life total — Eric could easily afford to trade a couple of his smaller men for a Blanchwood Treefolk in the late game. After many turns of draw-go, Anthony drew Path of Peace.
Me:”Eric (to Eric Lewandowski), I can’t watch this.”
Me:”I just can’t watch this?”
I turned back to the game. Anthony stared at the board, and suddenly his eyes lit up. He tapped four mana, jumped out of his chair, and slammed Path of Peace onto the table with an audible slap.”Get that piece of **** out of here!”, he yelled, much to the disbelief of the spectators — and there were quite a few at this point.”Then I’ll Embrace my Treefolk and swing for six! Man, I’ve been holding that forever. You’re going down now Lauer!”
Eric Lauer looked up at his teammates. He looked up at that very moment, and I could read his every thought.”Guys, words cannot express how sorry I am that I’m about to lose to this scrub,” his eyes cried,”this is truly the low point of my Magic career.” I had never seen such a look of disgust mixed with pure hopelessness in any opponent before, and I hope to never see that look again.”Lauer, do you take six?” Eric silently adjusted his life total on the page. Anthony didn’t understand what had happened.”What? Why the silent treatment?” One of the CMU guys spoke up.”Dude, you do realize that if you had the embrace on your guy, he can’t target it with Songstitcher?” Anthony paused for a second.”Well, I just wanted to play it safe.” The spectators went to argue, but Eric Lauer defused that.”Look, let’s just finish this game and get out of here, ok?” Anthony won after two more swings, and that was the last draft we did against CMU that weekend.
On Sunday, we won most of our drafts. On the weekend, our record had been 14-2 going into our final drafts. This time we went straight for the biggest competition — it was us versus Steve and Dan O’Mahoney-Schwartz with Dave Williams as their third. I figured we could take them, even though they were very used to play together. We lost that draft very quickly.
Steve:”Do you guys want a rematch?”
Anthony:”I think we should go.”
Me:”We can take them. They just got lucky!”
Eric:”Um, they beat us 5-1.”
Me:”So we lost one. We can beat them this time.”
Anthony:”I really think we shouldn’t do this.”
Me:”Bah! Let’s draft!”
Somehow I convinced Eric and Anthony to do one more draft. This draft took twenty-six minutes. And when I say that the draft took twenty-six minutes, I do not mean the drafting portion of the draft. I mean that literally it took their team twenty-six minutes to wipe us out 5-0, from start to finish. In less than half an hour, we did an entire booster draft, built our decks, and played five matches. I know people don’t keep time of these sorts of things, but it had to be a record. The lowlight of the draft came when Dave Williams sacrificed his Defense of the Heart on turn five to get Morphling and Deranged Hermit. I did not win that game. We did not win that draft. I should have listened to Eric and Anthony, but my hubris cost us quite a bit of extra money we didn’t need to lose.
All in all we were really happy with the weekend, and we flew home proud of our performances. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in my life playing Magic, because it was the culmination of many things: good friendship, hard practice, and having fun.
Ben can be reached at [email protected].