I miss Andrew Finch.
Andrew Finch was the former DCI Tournament Manager. Nowadays he’s a member of Dungeons and Dragons team at Wizards. Part of his responsibilities as DCI Tournament Manager is to ensure the smooth running of each Pro Tour. During the first few Pro Tours, this included running the player meeting the Thursday night before the Pro Tour.
These player meetings were sometimes the highlights of the entire Pro Tour. They just don’t make them like they used to – and I mean this literally! These days, they just have a “seat all players” meeting Friday morning, just before the first round/first draft of the Pro Tour itself. The judging staff goes over any new rules about sleeves or what have not, explains the new procedures, and then fields the near-zero questions from the players. These meetings are usually over very quickly.
This was not always the case.
I hadn’t qualified for Pro Tour: Atlanta in 1996, but Brian David-Marshall hired me to come to Atlanta and put together a Mirage spoiler for him. The format of Pro Tour: Atlanta was Mirage/Mirage/Mirage sealed deck with a twist – the set hadn’t been released yet, and so this was both a Pro Tour and a prerelease. I had helped with the Alliances spoiler a few months earlier, and so Brian knew I’d be good for the job. This allowed me to get a press pass, and attend the Thursday player meeting.
There are many memorable moments from that Pro Tour. The most famous occurrence came during the quarterfinals match between Darwin Kastle and Terry Borer. Terry had Grave Servitude in his hand and swung at Darwin with a flyer. Darwin declared no blocks, and Terry asked Darwin if he had any fast effects. Darwin said no, and Terry attempted to cast the Servitude on his flyer, which would have pumped the flyer into lethal damage range. However, Tom Wylie stepped in and explained that when Terry asked if Darwin (the non-active player) had any fast effects, he was passing priority and had passed the window to cast spells before damage. Terry fell just short of killing Darwin, and Darwin counterattacked for the game and the match.
What a finish! More importantly, players instantly became aware of the timing for fast effects, and the legacy of this match has lasted even to present day Magic. The match between Darwin and Terry might not have been the most exciting ever, but it’s arguably one of the most important matches in Magic history.
That match still paled in comparison to the Pro Tour: Atlanta player meeting.
To those Pro Players who showed up to Pro Tour: Atlanta, the entire Mirage set was a mystery. There was no spoiler, and no block rules were given out ahead of time in the player packet. The only hints players had about the new abilities were from nine preview cards on a flyer that dotted the Atlanta tournament hall, which showed Sandbar Crocodile and a couple of flankers. At least Femeref Knight had reminder text to explain flanking – nobody knew what phasing meant!
Well, almost nobody. At least one of the teams of professionals at that tournament had access to the spoiler ahead of time. They were easy to spot, because every other player in the room had to read the cards as they were played by their opponents. These other players would just shrug as their opponents cast the supposedly unspoiled cards, and acted as if they had full knowledge of the set. This was one of the only dark clouds that loomed over the event.
To further complicate Mirage, Wizards changed mana-producing effects into a card type and speed called “Mana Source”. Take a look at the Mirage Dark Ritual to see one of these spells. Mana Sources supposedly moved faster than anything in Magic, you could not respond to them with spells or effects. They moved faster the interrupts, meaning you were not able to Counterspell a Dark Ritual, when Dark Ritual was a card type Mana Source.
Let’s recap: The player meeting, on Thursday night, would be to go over a set with several new mechanics and a new card type. None of the mechanics or cards in the set had been spoiled to the players who were going to play in a Pro Tournament with the cards on the next day. The player meeting itself, therefore, would have to go smoothly, because you had players who hadn’t seen the cards asking questions about mechanics which were not explained in a format with card types that hadn’t existed previously.
Andrew Finch was in charge of this particular meeting, and he did his best. He really did. However, the Wizards people weren’t allowed to discuss specific cards at all. They explained how flanking and phasing worked, but players had a million questions. For instance, players understood that you couldn’t respond to Mana Sources. However, how did Dark Ritual interact with a static countering effect, such as Nether Void?
I don’t think Andrew expected the players to come with those sort of questions. It was evident that the Wizards team hadn’t thought of this particular interaction, because they stood there in front of the room debating the question amongst themselves. Finally, they concluded that Nether Void would trigger, but that Dark Ritual would resolve before the trigger resolved. This opened up more questions about whether players could add other effects before the trigger resolved, what would happen in the case of multiple Mana Sources triggering against Nether Void at once. This went on for a good fifteen minutes, until Andrew finally broke down and said, “Look, there’s no card like Nether Void in the set, so let’s just not worry about this now.” The room broke into applause.
The best question of the player meeting, which lasted over an hour, came from one of the Australian players.
Australian Player: *Raises hand*
Andrew Finch: “Ok, you in the back. What’s your question?”
AP: “Ok mate. Let’s say I got me a Preacha, and you got you a phasing creecha.”
AP: “I use me Preecha to take your phasing creecha, and then you play another phasing creecha.”
AP: “Then I use me Preecha to take your other phasing creecha, and then it phases out and your first creecha phases back in, what happens?”
AP: “Mate, I take your creecha with my Preecha and you play another creecha and your first creecha phases out and I take your new creecha with my Preecha and it phases out and your first creecha phases in, what happens?”
AF: “When a creature phases out, it triggers leaving play effects. When a creature phases in, it doesn’t trigger comes into play effects.”
AP: “I understand that. But I want to know what happens when I use my Preecha to take two phasing creechas and they are phasing around my Preecha!”
AF: “You can only control one creature at a time with Preacher.”
AP: “What if I take the phasing creecha and you phase out my Preecha and my Preecha and your phasing creecha phase in at the same time?”
AF: *Confers with Tom Wylie* “There is no Preacher in this set.”
You get the idea – this was simultaneously the most amusing and the most torturous playing meeting in Pro Tour history. The questions kept on flowing about Mana Sources, flanking, phasing, and the potential for other new rules that would emerge in the set, such as newly-announced enchantments that could be played as instants. At least three people who hadn’t been paying attention asked the same question: “Can I Disenchant an instant enchantment when it’s played as an instant?” (The answer is yes).
As the player meeting mercifully came to a close, everyone left somewhat confused. Thankfully, the next day of competition went smoothly – it’s a lot easier to play with a new set than to answer theoretical questions about cards which may or may not exist. Daring Apprentice was quickly given errata, early in the tournament, to use its ability as an interrupt. This was because back then, you could only counter other spells with interrupts. Instants would not work for this purpose. This led to Daring Apprentice becoming the first card issued errata before the release of its set!
Andrew Finch did a great job at these early player meetings, given that the Pro Tour was still in its growing phases. So to Andrew Finch, I tip my hat today, and hope that someday you’ll take that walk back over from Dungeons and Dragons to attend an event at the same time as myself, so that I can shake your hand in person instead of giving thanks in an article.
Ben can be reached at [email protected].