Vinny Falcone. Vinny "The Pimp" Falcone. Vinny "I got your number Mr. Ben Bleiweiss" Falcone. My nemesis. My scourge. My some other name of a Magic set. Vinny, Vidi, Vici. He came, he saw, he conquered. There’s one person in all of Magic who has my number all of the time, and that person is – say it all at once, and say it loud – Vincent Falcone.
owned, ownÂ·ing, owns
1a) To have or possess as property: owns a chain of restaurants.
1b) To have control over: For a time, enemy planes owned the skies.
2) To admit as being in accordance with fact, truth, or a claim; acknowledge.
I’ll take a healthy dose of 1b please! For a time, Vinny Falcone owned Ben Bleiweiss. Simple truth, unavoidable fact. It started when Vinny was barely a teenager, and we were playing in Have-a-Hobby and Crescent City Comics tournaments in New Orleans. I’ve detailed some of Vinny’s exploits in the past but today’s the day where I just lay it all on the line.
Back in the day in New Orleans, 1994-1995, I could not beat Vinny. I think that literally every time we dueled, he would win. Back then it was all Type 1 (now called Vintage, then called "Magic Tournament." How novel – a game of Magic with one official format), and Vinny would whup up on me something fierce. I don’t remember many of the details of those early beatings, except that the stage was set for a long-lasting team rivalry. In one corner you had team Tulane, with myself, the twins Dinatale (Anthony and Chris), Bob Brubaker, Neil, Dave, and Rick. In the other corner you had team Metarie (the foremost suburb of New Orleans – though I don’t think they called themselves team Metarie) featuring Vinny Falcone, Chris Huang, and Josh.
Well, it wasn’t quite the rivalry I made it out to be – it was more of me losing to Vinny, and then Anthony and Chris being really loud and confrontational with Vinny, who was a pretty shy, introverted young teenager at the time. To the twins, it was personal – to me it was business and I just wanted to win. Plus, the team lines were often blurred – Bob wouldn’t remember he was on our team and would play with those guys a lot.
Anthony: "Bob! Why are you trading Vinny cards he needs for the tournament?"
Bob: "Huh? What?"
Vinny: "Dude, mind your own business."
Anthony: "Bob! You’re trading him Icys! I can’t beat Icys!"
Bob: "I can do whatever I damn please! In fact, I’m going to just give him the Icys just to piss you off!"
Me, three rounds later, under Winter Orb lock: "I hate you Bob!"
I lost track of Vinny completely once I moved up to New York at the end of 1995 – but upon my return to New Orleans in 1997, Vinny was there and waiting. The new tournament scene in town was a shop called Comics Cosmos in Kenner, and they held weekly Type 2 events (now known as Standard, then known as "can I get my $20 store credit now please" tournaments.) that were judged by none other than Big Jeff from my early multi-player days. It turns out that Big Jeff ended up moving in with the twins in their four bedroom shotgun apartment, and so many a weeknight turned into multiplayer Magic games at Chris and Anthony’s house with them, me, Jeff, Angela, Phil, Eddie, Bodreux, Khaled, and Eric (I’m probably missing a couple of people, and my apologies if you aren’t on this list). Every Sunday, we’d hop into the Jeffmobile, be subjected to fifteen minutes of the worst of Dr. Demento, and end up at the Comics Cosmos for the tournament.
Wouldn’t you know it, but Vinny was alive, well, in High School, and ready to kick my sorry ass. Fate stopped time, did a quick check on its index-carded notes, and reached the conclusion that I was, indeed, supposed to always lose to one Vinny "The Pimp" Falcone. And lose I did – swiss, quarter-finals, semi-finals, finals. Week after week I’d lose to him, whether I was playing Sligh, Prosp-Bloom, White Weenie, Black Weenie, U/W control – it didn’t matter. Loss after loss piled up, and it was driving me insane.
Me (in the Jeffmobile): "I can’t believe I finished second again!"
Anthony: "Vinny is such a little punk!"
Jeff: "Guys, Vinny beat Ben fair and square?"
Chris: "Thacker, who asked you?"
Jeff: "I’m just saying…"
Me: "He had that Armageddon at just the right time…."
Tape Deck: "And here’s a spoof I like to call "Where are all the Pokemon" by Paula Cole."
Chris: "You’ll get him next time bro."
Me: "No, Vinny will beat me forever. I can’t beat him."
Anthony: "That’s because he’s a little punk!"
Jeff: "Now Anthony, he’s just a kid."
Chris: "Candyass is as Candyass does!"
Tape Deck: "Where is my Charizard? Where is my Poliwog? Where is my happy Squirtle? Where are all the Pokemon? Pika-chu, where are you? Pika-Chu, where are you?"
Me: "Will someone turn this #*&% off?"
Jeff: "This is Dr. Demento! He’s the *eyes flaring up* greatest ever!"
Me: "*Sticking head out window* Someone please end the agony."
In retrospect, I’m kind of ashamed of the way we treated Vinny. He would never draw in the final rounds of Swiss to put one of us into the Top 4/8 if he had the chance to knock one of us out of contention – and that would piss off the twins to no end. Anthony and Chris would double team Vinny, yelling at him about how he should draw, and how he was being a little punk, and the such.
Anthony: "Vinny, why won’t you just draw?"
Vinny: "I don’t want to."
Chris: "Man, you are such a little punk Vinny!"
See? It was pretty awful. At the time, we wanted to win – but I really didn’t have the perspective back then that I do now. And in hindsight, there we were – a bunch of twenty-something college students standing around yelling at a painfully shy fifteen-year-old over a card game, which we were playing for $25 in store credit. Store credit! The best thing we could buy from Comics Cosmos for $25 was a heavily-played Birds of Paradise for $20 – unless we waited for their monthly half-off sales, which was the only time people purchased cards from the store en masse. But I digress – I have to admit it was pretty shameful how we ganged up on Vinny, because even I got in on the Vinny bashing. I was frustrated from losing, and it was easy to just go along with the crowd and verbally harangue the poor kid.
Vinny, if you’re reading this, I’d like to apologize for the deplorable way I acted towards you back in the day. I’ve seen you a few times since then in New Orleans, and you’ve grown up to be a fine young man. Plus, that woman with you at the Italian restaurant was really, really hot. Either way, I had no right to harass you for doing stuff like not drawing when you didn’t want to, and if I caused you any pain through this, let me know how I can make amends.
It wasn’t as bad between me and Vinny as it was between Vinny and the twins. There were times when Vinny and I would team up and join forces (such as for the first Pro Tour: Chicago, where we collaborated on our Prison deck). I hung out with Vinny, Josh and Chris Huang a few times, the most notably being when we went to Outback and I ate a pretty raw steak. And by raw I mean that it was still mooing, and by ate I mean that Vinny, Chris and Josh were so disgusted by me eating this steak that they completely lost their appetites.
After months and months of losing to Vinny, my chance to win finally came. I remember it clearly – we were in the semi-finals of a Comics Cosmos tournament, and we were tied one game a piece. I was running Prosp-Bloom and Vinny was running Flagpole (the old Tradewind Rider/Armageddon/Firestorm/4-color primarily Blue/Green deck). In the third game, I spent the first few turns setting up my board, and then decided to go for the win. I cast Abeyance, which Vinny countered. I then cast a second Abeyance – and it resolved.
Me: "Wait, the Abeyance resolves?"
Me: "Wow, ok. I’ll draw a card."
Me: *Tap lands, play Squandered Resources, play Natural Balance, play Cadverous Bloom, play a large Prosperity.*
Vinny: *Slumps in his chair a little, betraying his first sign of emotion. Vinny had a great poker face*
Me: *Giddy with the prospect of winning, setting two cards face down in front of me* "I’ll pitch these eighteen card, adding 36 Black mana to my pool."
Me: *Looking at face down cards. They are two Dark Rituals. Huh?*
Vinny: *Still slumped*
Me: *Putting down the two cards I hadn’t pitched, looking at the pile I removed from the game for mana. Oh man, did I really just pitch both of my Drain Lives to the Bloom?*
Vinny: *Starting to look a little annoyed, like he thinks I’m dragging out the win*
Me: "Um, can I take back one of the cards I pitched?"
Vinny: *Starting to understand* "No."
Me: "Come on Vinny, you know that I obviously didn’t mean to pitch my Drain Lives!"
Vinny: "Well, you did."
And here is where I reached one of the most critical junctures of my entire life. I don’t mean my Magic life, I mean one of those moments that sticks with you for the rest of your days, because you’re making a decision that essentially defines your character. Here I was, playing against Vinny, and I’m finally about to get the monkey off my back. In the excitement of being on the cusp of victory, I’ve accidentally thrown away my win conditions and kept the wrong two cards. However, the judge in the tournament is Big Jeff, who is my good friend and who I see every day of my life. If I were to call Jeff over, I could lie to him about the game state (basically saying that I had pitched the cards and cast the Drain Life at the same time, which I had not) and gotten the win. The thought flashed through my mind for a moment – I had lost to Vinny over and over again, and here he was, about to lose against me – and I had just made the worst blunder of my life in Magic! I had him dead, dead to rights, with the kill in hand, and I was so overexcited that I threw it away. For a moment I considered calling Jeff over…..
But instead I simply scooped. "Vinny, you are the luckiest bastard on Earth." And that was the end of that. It would have been so easy to cheat – nobody would have ever known outside of Vinny and his group of friends, and I had every right to win that game from the game’s standpoint. It just wouldn’t have been right though. I would have known that I had lied to win. I would have had to live with that on my conscience and had that tainted victory against Vinny. To this day I am very proud of my decision that day – it really showed me that I wasn’t going to accept shortcuts in my life, and that I wasn’t going to take the easy way out of situations that weren’t to my liking. This served me really well as it took me nearly eight years to finish college – but I would always think back to this particular loss to Vinny and remember "I’m going to win some day, and I’m going to deserve that win – just like I’m going to finish college and deserve my degree when I finish, even if it kills me."
On the ride home that day, I was completely and utterly pissed at myself for having thrown that game away in such a stupid, ridiculous manner. Chris and Anthony were there with their usual chorus of "Vinny is such a dick he wouldn’t let you take that back" and "Vinny is a little punk!" which didn’t really make me feel better. Vinny hadn’t beaten me that day. I had beaten me. But in the end, I hadn’t beaten myself – I had given me a show of my own character that served me well in the years to come, if only in my own innermost thoughts.
Ben can be reached at [email protected]