Down and Back Again: A Pro Tour LA Report

How’d Noah’s Los Angeles go? Well, he scrubbed out of the Pro Tour, nearly got DQ’d, did some Pro Tour Feature Match coverage, watched Zvi Mowshowitz pick up babes, ate at Fogo De Chao, was assaulted by zombies in downtown LA, and got to ride rollercoasters. If you are a fan of the lost art of tournament reports, you cannot miss this one.

The drive’s the thing. You can have all the metagame perfected decks and technical skill you want, but if there’s no burn to do well, it’s not going to end well. Your intensity, your fierce need to conquer gives you so much edge. It’s like a laser sight where you see every little chink in your opponent’s armor and throw an ICBM through it. It’s sheer force of personality being translated into wins, and when you’re maxed out, when you are In The Zone, it is a beautiful thing.

Please don’t believe that intensity and awareness guarantees you a victory. Far from it. You bring a pre-con to the Pro Tour, you’re going to get smoked, perfect play or no. But by the same token, even if you have the best deck in the world, if you don’t want it, it’s just not going to happen.

I qualified via performance at GP: Minneapolis, which was a happy affair. Having played at Pro Tour #1, it’s comforting to know I still have the talent to compete at Pro Tour #56. I was really and truly excited about a new PT, a new format, the struggle, the travel, all of it. And yet, as the weeks went by and the tournament got closer, my interest started waning. Life intruded somewhat, as it often does, but there was still something… missing. It could have been the lack of playtesting partners, or the lack of good decks, or the lack of Extended being available on Magic Online, or just something internal. Whatever the reasons, I stopped being so interested in breaking the format, and in the outcome of LA in general.

For the GP I Q’d off of, I tested like crazy. After dismissing a bunch of lists, I played the best version of the second best deck in block, and played it well. It was enough to add up to dolla bills and the ephemeral blue envelope.

For LA it was making lists when something else wasn’t going on, showing them to people, then throwing them away. Testing was incredibly minimal partly because few locals wanted to, and partly because MODO was lagging. I did find a list I liked six days before the event, which gave me five days to learn how to play the thing. I wonder how many months the Japanese and French spent testing every matchup ad nauseuem? On the other hand, if you’re going to pick up a deck at the 11th hour, it might as well be one that doesn’t wholly care what your opponent is doing.

Dark Affinity

4 Dark Confidant

4 Erayo, Soratami Ascendant

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Arcbound ravager

4 Ornithopter

4 Frogmite

4 Cranial Plating

4 Serum Visions

1 Sleight of Hand

3 Cabal Therapy

4 Chrome Mox

3 Pithing Needle

4 Watery Grave

4 Seat of the Synod

3 Vault of Whispers

2 Underground River

4 Blinkmoth Nexus


4 Engineered Plague

3 Annul

3 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Echoing Truth

3 Duress

If this deck and an opposing one were to pick the top 10 cards of their draw, I’m sure Dark Affinity would win every time. That’s a good thing. Potential turn 3 wins? Super cool. Turn 1 flipped Erayo with Dark Confidant recovery? Muy bueno. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t have “it”. Not quite consistent enough, not quite powerful enough, a little too expected. Scoop to Lava Dart. It’s a fine deck and far more resilient than normal Affinity, but the negatives just outweigh the positives. Erayo, as it severely turned out, should not be in the deck but Dark Confidant was and is amazing. It requires finessing, ala not running Thoughtcast or Myr Enforcer, but it’s totally worth it. You also get to have Darkblast in the board, a glaring oversight for this list, although the Jittes were dandy. This is not the best deck in the field (see: Dredge-A-Tog), but there are far worse choices as well (see: Goblins).

Having convinced Thomas Kiene to play the list, he also scrubbed out of the PT. Despite the failure Day 1, he takes it to the PTQ on Sunday and Top 8s the 200+ event. He agrees Erayo doesn’t belong in the deck, but does point out no one knows how to actually play against the card.


The tournament was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in downtown LA. With sincere apologies to the crackheads and ghetto dwellers of downtown LA, downtown LA is a hole. No one who competes at this kind of event is risk-adverse, yet I still question holding an international affair at a place where we were warned multiple times not to walk alone at night. Also, the food and drink options were pretty lacking and/or pricey.

Inside the convention hall was another matter. Wizards really deserves commendations for the show they put on. You got your player lounge, well stocked and staffed, including a pool table, pinball games, a free phone, and internet access. Every time they reloaded the troughs, all the competitors just rushed the poor employees. I don’t know what kind of events the staff is used to hosting but I expect most of the people they see have a degree more self-control. Of course since there wasn’t much else around the site, players would get a mite peckish. In case anyone is wondering, gamers hitting up free food totally crosses borders.

Also being hosted that weekend was the Duel Masters championships. The events didn’t conflict or anything, but for promotion the Duel Masters people put up this gigantic 15 foot, missile carrying robot. The head was this sphere with a lit red orb in the middle that rotated back and forth, to the sounds of metal and gears and electricity. It was an impressive production.

So we take care of the registration bit and go wander around to playtest, or get cards for decks, or perhaps find a deck to play the next day. I say my hellos to people seen once every couple months, and get a couple of hand shakes regarding Star City in general, and the BOO Draft article in particular. All very nice, yet there’s a nagging in the back of the head. Something isn’t quite right. What could it be? Oh yeah, the deck. The numbers are looking worse. An occasional fizzle here, a flood there, it’s draining my confidence a little. I correctly deduce that I’m mulliganing badly and resolve to spend the night working on that.

Dinner was spent at this awful Fox News Corp-themed sports bar with $8 dollar beers(!) and $8 Long Island(?). From the menu, verbatim: “When Terry Bradshaw isn’t kicking ass on the field, he likes to eat our delicious QB BBQ Chicken Sandwich, which Terry describes as ‘****ing great!'” Sunday Night Lights preceded by Thursday Night Corporate Propaganda. Good fries though.

After our meal, we went to the hotel and began testing. It’s discouraging, so we give up and watch South Park while drinking beer. ****ing great. As I drift off to sleep, I resolve to spend the next evening learning how to mulligan.

Has the stage been set yet? Has all this exposition been understandable in demonstrating why Day 1 was soon to be not my best showing? I think the mood is clear, so now I have to wonder why the drive wasn’t there. Even as I write this, I don’t have a succinct answer. Magic lost its touch? Extended is the worst format ever? Depressive tendencies, trying to get into law school, general malaise, I honestly don’t know. Most likely a little from all of the above. I think it’s a worthy question, and when I get an answer I promise to share it.

Luckily, a week and a half pre-PT, pre-having a deck, I epiphanalize that I won’t be winning the tournament. Self-fulfilling prophecy or no, I decide to hedge my bets and E-Mail the pretty cool Greg Collins, who runs Wizards PT coverage. I tell him it’s unlikely I’ll be Day Twoing, and if I’m not, I’d happily donate my time and services for coverage purposes. He writes back and says I’m welcome aboard. It’s a load off, to know I’ll be doing something productive on Saturday. Assuming Day 1 doesn’t go well of course.


Me and my roomie are actually running late to the site. Cab-less, we hoof it but since the staff is running late as well, there was no problem. We arrive about 5 minutes before the player meeting and 10 minutes before the pairings go up. In our haste and relief, I don’t check in with the team or do the standard Round Zero deck check. No biggie.

Round 1 – Benjamin Caumes(France)-G/U Madness

Benjamin is a well-spoken Frenchman who looked and acted like the contemplative sort. Game 1 is a fairly interactive affair. I get the second nuts with the deck, a turn 1 Dark C. It looks like it’s going to be a runaway but I screw up with a Serum Visions, going for the win a turn faster but leaving myself vulnerable if, yep, he’s got it. The Jitte runs wild over my board and I can’t find a Needle to literally save my life. Benjamin plays it far more cautiously than I would have in his shoes, which causes both the game to go longer and gives me a slightly larger window to get out of things if I do find the Needle. It was nowhere near the top of my deck, or even near the top of my deck + 2 if I had scryed the cards to the bottom like I should have.

In went 3 Jittes and 2 Truths and maybe some Annul. Out went the Erayos and a ‘Thopter.

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Game 2 I get the Jitte down while Benjamin gets completely flooded. Every turn was activate Nexus, Equip, Pump. Benjamin was drawing live but his deck completely abandoned him. I also played this game perfectly, except for that one turn I forgot to drop a free Frogmite. I forgot to play a Frogmite! Next turn I played it and Ben nodded. Than I dropped the one I had just drawn. Ben looked perplexed. Slowroll, *itch! Regardless of that misstep, the Jitte was easily enough to win it.

Now these first two games took a good 50 minutes. We had a judge watching the whole time, who prodded Benjamin on occasion but didn’t give him anything official. I felt while the matchup was pretty close, I definitely had the edge in the speedy win category. We both agreed that this was the wrong time for a draw and resolved to play fast, which suited me just fine.

Then the match got fun. Quickly I laid out some artifact people, but just as quick Ben had double Baskings out with Wonder in the trash. We were trading hits for a while, but I was forced to act little slower on certain Ravager plays because of a Stifle seen earlier from Therapy. It also prevented me from ever playing my Jitte, just because activating it for no purpose would take far too long. I make the executive decision to enlist Dark Confidant, despite the potential of him costing the game. My Ravager got big enough to be in Abyss mode, but he still had lots of fliers to contend with. A critical Ornithopter draw allowed me to push even more damage through, and forced Benjamin to hold a creature back for defense. However he still had his invincible Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla taking chunks out of my life.

We got to a situation that, while forseen, I had hoped to avoid. Dark C had given enough guys to overwhelm my opponent, and all Benjamin could do was attack me down to 1 life. Having done so, he had to pass the turn. If I flipped up a zero with Confidant, I win in a hail of glass beads and human wizards. If it’s Arcbound Worker or higher, death in a most pitiful manner.

So I stand and jump up and down a little. It’s exciting! Ben stands up and the table judge stands up, and the other judge watching out of the corner of his eye comes over to see the final Confidant flip. Everyone is gathered around, waiting for the last card to be revealed, to determine who gets to start the day 1-0.

Cracking my knuckles, I reach down and flip the top card face up.

Watery Grave.


Round 2 – Gadiel Szleifer(USA USA USA)-Goblins

Gadiel and I shoot the breeze a bit about SCG and writing in general. Having not spoken with him before, I was impressed with how congenial and professional his manner was. We wish each other luck and proceed to the most lopsided match I’ve played in years.

Game 1: I win the die roll and go Turn 1: Seat + Worker. Gadiel goes Mountain. I go Seat, Ravager, Frogmite. He goes Sparksmith. I run the turn 3 third Seat of the Synod, Pithing Needle for Sparky, and another Ravager. Yeah, well played.

Game 2 Gadiel double mulligans into a triple Chrome Mox draw, and I have Jitte. During this entire luckfest Gadiel had a nonchalance that was mature and enviable. Didn’t stop the bad beats, but tomorrow somehow seems sooner with a good attitude. Ah well.


Two And Zero! It doesn’t matter that the deck is poor and my playing is atrocious; undefeated all y’all! Suck those apples dry! Wooo Hooo! Top o’ the world Ma! Who’s the next stop on the Obliteration Express?

Round 3 – Hiroki Takeda(R/W Goblins)-Japan

Hikari is a 4/4 flier that phases out. Hiroki is a burly Japanese guy in Viking horns that smiles a lot and knows very, very little English. Through fairly racist pidgin English, we determine that Hiroki is from Tokyo and he thinks Los Angeles and America are “big”.

Game 1 we have some interaction via Gempalm Incincerator and normal Affinity works but I’m in control the whole game. Plating is too much damage in the air, and while he can and does tap out to get me down to 6ish, my return strike is a finisher.

7 fantastic sideboard cards come in for Erayos and Therapies. Jittes and Plagues? What a bye.

Game 2 I keep a sketchy draw that has turns one and two Dark Confidant but no aforementioned sideboard juice. Throwing caution/chances of winning to the wind, I keep and get wrecked by double Incinerator, double Sparksmith, and double Sharpshooter. While he did have Disenchants at the ready, the first E Plague or Jitte would decimates his army. I think I draw all 4 Confidants this game. Pinged away.

Obviously no sideboard changes because the deck hummed so well previous. Once again I find no sideboard cards in the opening grip, and once again I decide some Ravagers and artifact lands and Workers are enough to turn the game into some kind of walk. Pretty much the same people as the previous game come out, although I do some damage this time and get a Needle down on Sharpshooter.

The end game has myself at 6 off of suicidal goblins and Hiroki at 3 life, about half of it from his Sparksmith. I’ve got a Ravager and Frogmite in play, both way too big to kill with damage. Hiroki has a Goblin King, Sharpshooter, Sparksmith, and a Skirk Prospector. I’m of course looking for an Ornithopter or Plague or Nexus to get something actually accomplished.

Hiroki studies the board for a long time and finally attacks with everything. Hoping against hope that Hiroki forgot about Pithing Needle or something along those lines, I put my two guys in front of Goblin King and Goblin Sharpshooter. I point to his two guys being dead and pick up my pen to write 2 life. Hiroki holds me up here and says something I don’t understand. I ask him if he’s got Lightning Helix or whatever, but he’s like “no, no.” He keeps talking about damage and I show him my pad that says 2 life. Finally I get that he’s saying damage on the stack, and I give the thumbs up. With damage on the stack he Disenchants Pithing Needle and kills me. Ohhhh, now I get it.


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This was frustrating. Partially because Hiroki made a lot of sub-optimal plays and managed to win anyway, and partially because I never saw a sideboard card in any games, but mostly because I knew my chances go way up if I mulligan like a man. Instead I had “the hope”, which is like “the fear” except your irrational predictions are optimistic. Either way it doesn’t match up with reality, so suck it up and go to 6 already, even if you could runner runner picture perfect blah blah blah.

Round 4 – Christian Dietl(G/B/W Rock)-Germany

We sit down and I ask him his thoughts on the U.S. Having never been to Los Angeles before, all he can say is “big”. We’re chatting a bit before the round starts and the subject gets to names. I tell him that I like playing Germans because they pronounce my last name correctly, which Christian obligingly does. Christian then turns the tables and asks me to pronounce his name accurately, which I do (DEE-till). Than, sensing an opportunity for humor, I mangle his first name! (Cry-STEE-ann?) Christian looks at me like I’m the biggest idiot on Earth and gently corrects me. Must be a culture divide.

I enjoy Rock as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is in downtown LA), but even I knew it was a horrible choice for the PT. See, Rock isn’t really Rock. It’s anti whatever the best perceived deck of the format is. You got anti-critter Rock, anti-control Rock, anti-combo Rock, even anti-Rock Rock. That’s all well and good, but when the field is so wide open, you’re going to get the build wrong somewhere along the line. Rock as a solution deck doesn’t play too well when there’s no problem.

Christian’s deck fell into the classic trap of trying to do way too much at once. He had Ascetics, Vindicates, Therapy, Elves, Birds, Equips, Mesmerics; pretty much 4 of any card that could be useful against the gauntlet at some point.

I can’t say Christian’s deck was totally wrong; it did make Day 2 and end up 96th place. Still, even if you can guarantee making Day 2 with a mid range homebrew, making money or even winning the damn thing is a total pipe dream. If you have a deck that you think beats the best deck in the field, just play the best deck. Although giving credit where credit is due, Christian’s concoction sure was a wrecking against Affinity.

Game 1: My opener is incredibly complicated, with a couple routes to go and a couple ways to execute those routes. For example, if uninhibited I can go turn 3 flipped Erayo with Confidant back up. Alternatively, I can go the standard Ravager route, which would strand Erayo in my hand, but perhaps give me a quicker victory. The flipped Erayo plan was what I ultimately chose, because it involved a double Therapy and a turn quicker Confidant. The decision turned out to be dead wrong, but I think it’s normally a little better. Less eggs in one basket kind of thing. Interestingly, I totally win this game if I lose the die roll. Drawing first, I can cast turn 1 Therapy instead of what ended up happening.

On the play I lay a Serum Visions with the plan of casting Therapy and Needle next turn. Christian goes turn 1 Birds and passes. Uh oh. I whiff on Putrefy, see Vindicate and Therapy, and drop a Needle on Jitte. Christian’s smirk and bored expression led me to accurately guess he didn’t run the Jittes main. Bad start. On Christian’s turn he Vindicates a land and passes. Obviously my Erayo plan is shot to hell so I try to minimize the brunt of his coming Cabal Therapy. Indeed Christian plays Therapy, flashes it back, and plays another. My chances look like they are in ribbons, but a Confidant off the top puts me back in it. Unfortunately, Christian has yet another Vindicate as well as a morph? With no cards in hand and no gas on the board I have to pack it in. The morph was Exalted Angel. Mein Gott, what a mana base.

Jittes come in for game 2 but this game, if possible, goes worse than the first. Kataki isn’t so bad with all the non-artifact lands but it’s a fine start. Kataki + Call of the Herd + double Mesmerics + double Vindicate is an excellent finish. No chance.


This loss was barely a blip on the radar. While there could have been better or different choices game one, there really isn’t any way to play it that doesn’t end in a loss. Dietl had the cards and the colors to end things, pure and simple. Despite the thrashing, I still maintain it to be a bad choice for modern Extended.

We of the 50% bracket throw out happy beams of positivity around like retarded bats, hoping that inducing everyone good fortune will somehow bounce backwards. This rarely works. Years ago, a gentleman by the name of Francis Keys once bragged about his imminent win, due to giving a homeless guy he met 20 bucks. He was furious, furious, that he got double mana screwed and went 1-2 drop on the evening.

Round 5 – Roy Oever (No Stick[I’m told])-The Netherlands

Round 5 begins with a deck check. It’s always strange how much glee the judges take in standing off to the side, than swooping in and grabbing the decks. A mouse finally gets to be an owl.

This check goes long; 15 minutes at least. We use this time professionally, scouting decks and talking about the differences in our countries of origin. Sitting back down, a judge comes and asks me to go with him. For those wondering if this is a good sign, it ain’t.

I’m led to a table off to the side where the head judge and an underling are waiting for me. The HJ is sitting in front with a face of neutrality. The other’s face is alternating between professional decorum and a look of pure disgust for one such as myself. Brief thoughts entertain a fake lunge, but pushing aside the inconsequential I turn to the man wearing red and give him a “s’up”. Then the questions.

The interrogation was, I have to say this here, a pitiful affair. Taking a page from the TSA, Head Judge Gijsbert Hoogendijk asks me subtle/unsubtle questions like “Do you think there’s a problem with your deck?” and “Did you have alternative plans when you selected the cards for your deck?”, “Do you have a bomb in your suitcase?”, etc. I’m annoyed and bored, watching people around me play Magic as the red LED clicks down. In my mind, I’m fully aware I’ll be fighting for my life in a second, but this sad attempt at gleaning subterfuge information and the silent thug’s obvious disdain for my situation causes my normally patient attitude a degree of fraying.

At the judge’s dinner the following evening, Teddy K and I are talking about life. Ted, enjoying beer and ambiance, accuses me of being a person who speaks his mind. Guilty as charged, and that personality trait was about to be employed when Gis managed to find his way to the point.

The numbers of Dark Affinity were as follows: 60 cards maindeck, 15 cards side, 17 lands, 100% borrowed. And four foils.

Ah, trouble. Those foils, they were of the warped variety.

One would think through years of accumulated knowledge, a person could remember not to have four cards out of shape with the rest of the deck, but there you go. This was an unfortunate turn, but all was not lost for our hero. Gis was about to give me a bright, bright ray of sunshine.

Based on my excellent answers, the Man had determined that I was not a cheater. If he thought I had been cheating, if for example I had answered “I picked 4 foils because they make it easier to draw certain cards”, I’d be in up-creek-no-paddle land. But because my virtue was true, I was merely going to be given a Match Loss. My lord, you could cook an egg off of the sunshine piercing that grey sky.

I argued, rather well I think. Let no one accuse me of walking quietly into that dark night. Bang before whimper and so on.

The logic won’t be repeated here. Let’s assume it was irrefutable and fell on deaf ears. My favorite exchange was when I asked why the foils being distorted was a problem. I mean, I could see a problem with having cards that were like tents, but these looked very similar to the others in my deck. Gijsbert told me that a player could shuffle his deck and put one of them on top. I retorted that seemed implausible and could you, Mr. Level 5, please show me how it’s done. Gis said flat out he couldn’t do it, but the man sitting next to him could.

So I pushed the deck to him and he began to shuffle in a standard hand over hand method, with the sides of the cards to his POV. He put the deck down and I flipped up the top card, which of course was a non-foil Dark Confidant.

I raised an eyebrow to Gis at this point, hoping my expression to be enough to convey skeptical thoughts. The fingersmith judge grabbed the deck again and began doing some kind of weird pile/middle cut shuffle where he could see the backs of every card and finally, finally finally finally, let the deck down. Indeed, the top card had a bend to it and portentously (no shuffle), revealed a Foil Erayo, Soratami Ascendant.

On one hand, if a player at the Pro Tour shuffled in the least un-randomizing method I’ve ever seen and his Pro Tour opponent didn’t cut or shuffle the deck after this insane pseudo-shuffle, then yeah, sure. On the other hand, one can’t argue with quasi-facts: the cards were marked.

Seriously, I can see both sides of this. This is REL 5, and while it’s nice that everyone agrees a player wasn’t cheating, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t fault. I didn’t run the round zero sleeve check which would have caught the problem, or at least immunized me from serious penalty. I also didn’t go over the cards with a fine toothed comb like normal. It’s the first time I didn’t do these things and it’s also the first time I’ve ever received a penalty like this. Personally, I think it should be a game loss with the offending cards removed, but I didn’t write the book. I’m sure my round 5 opponent thought things were completely appropriate. While I personally think the penalty was excessive, and my friends and allies of course thought it was a travesty of justice, I did know the penalty guide going into the event. My main problem comes with the human element.

Gis wanted me to be very sure I understood I was not being accused of cheating, and I was only getting a match loss because of lack of infractional intent. Super. I explained very clearly that a match loss and a DQ were exactly the same because they both meant my Pro Tour was over. I got the impression that Gis actually wanted me thanking him for the lesser of the penalties; something that was never going to happen. He insisted a DQ was far worse: more paperwork, loss of prize potential, and an investigation. I felt and feel quite safe from any kind of DCI investigations into the matter; my record is very clean. I’m not going to thank a jury for finding me guilty, even if they are just doing their civic duty.

Of course there was no rudeness, no outburst. Too much pride man, way too much. Life might give you lemons, but that doesn’t mean you have to pucker up. So with my head held high I walked through the player area to my opponent, clapped him on the back, congratulated him on his win, and wished him luck (final placing: 236th).

Yes, technically I was not eliminated from contention. At 2-3 I needed to 3-0 to make Day 2, then a lot of wins to get some money. It was possible. But knowing myself, I felt that a: I wasn’t playing well and this didn’t seem like an impetus to do better, b: salvage something of my rating, c: I’d rather be writing on Saturday, d: scouting had shown a lot of Affinity hate at the bracket and even playing well it didn’t look positive, and e: **** it. My friends were supportive and I felt good about the decision to drop. There’s really no reason to induce extra misery for a tiny gain.

An hour later I’m bored out of my mind. Perhaps my pride induced passive resistance wasn’t quite so well thought out. I join a side draft just to eat up some time. It went well:

Birds of Paradise

2 Putrefy

2 Last Gasp

2 Brainspoil

2 Golgari Rotwurm

2 Golgari Guildmage

other stuff + land

40 cards

Waiting for the finals, I was lucky enough to see the funniest thing I had ever seen at a feature match. It’s Ravitz with RDW versus Walls with Battle of Wits. A huge crowd is watching this final game, seeming far more interested in the outcome of the match than either of the competitors. Gabe takes forever to shuffle the 240+ deck and finally presents. Due the deck’s insane size, the library had to be split in two, A and B. Walls presents his deck(s) and Ravitz waves off cutting or shuffling, which in itself is pretty amusing. Then Gabe decides he has to mulligan, so he just puts his initial 7 on library B and draws his 6 off of library A. The crowd is gasping at this point, with Ravitz completely uninterested, allowing it. Walls keep his next 6 and they’re off to the races. Sooo hilarious. I didn’t see who won, but I’m told Gabe made too many errors at the end. For myself, there was a final round.

8 packs later me and Gerry Thompson are doing some Zen Pack War, which was one of the more fun times all day. You might thing Undercity Shade is solid with infinite mana, but that’s only because you haven’t seen Selesnya Guildmage in action. Good times.

For the rest of day I putz around and cheer on friends. A couple of people make Day 2, but all in all, it’s a pretty poor showing. We get some dinner at Denny’s and I, switching hotels, walk through mega-ghetto to get there. A lot of barbed wire and overcoats, if you know what I’m saying. Emotional day, good sleep.


My roommate and I are forced to get up earlier then either of us really want, just so I can get down for round 1 for coverage and he can pay half on a cab. He entertains thoughts of PTQing, but decides to win a million money drafts instead. Not positive, but he may have made more on drafts than an actual plane ticket would cost to Honolulu.

My goal, rather than making evil money, is the spread of knowledge and wisdom to Wizards’ eager constituents. I’m a cog in the grand coverage machine, just looking to do something helpful. Having done Grand Prix feature matches previously, there seemed to be no problem translating that into Pro Tour ones. Instead, Mr. Collins had me doing archetype analysis for Day 2. Deck numbers and what they mean. Uhhh…

Looking back at the mini-article, it reads pretty stiff. I admit some intimidation working with these smart, dedicated people, who would often break Type 2 and Legacy wide open just for kicks (Extended eluded everyone). Staying quiet, staying focused, I was just trying to do the best job I could in front of people I respect. That doesn’t really translate into “flow”, per se.

What a blast though. It was so much fun. I got this purple Press badge that allowed me to walk around the play area, the feature match area and just observe whatever I felt was important to the next piece. Had something to write on No Stick? Watch some No Stick matches then talk to the players afterwards. After some idle number pieces, Greg threw me a couple feature matches, which I think read a lot better. It’s a format I’m comfortable with and that I enjoy doing. Am I in the wrong line of work? Flores indulges a request and shows pics of his daughter, who is so crazy cute it boggles the ovaries. [True facts, people. -Knut, in love with a toddler]

The day winds down and I’m just kicking it, getting decklists, talking to players, whatever. Zvi is in the coverage room and asks if I’m coming to the judge/staff dinner at Fogo Freakin’ De Chao. A day spent writing, working with fun people, topped off with all you can eat meat? I think we have a winner.

Ted Knutson knew about Fogo since I guess January. Every time I see him, he’s doing these twisting stomach stretches, as if to prepare his body for the assault it’s about to receive. It’s brilliant really, allowing him to contain much more than he normally could. Even the next day I see him walking around, still twisting his tummy out for the next Fogo visit.

This dinner was 30 people large, mostly judging staff and the occasional alternate. We convene in the lobby, waiting for cabs of judges to be dropped off as well as giving the restaurant people enough time to get 30 seats ready for serving. While we’re waiting and chatting, I see a female judge go up to Zvi and ask him if he in fact was actually Zvi Mowshowitz.

She holds out her hand with that nervous excited smile that’s so cute on chicks when Zvi looks down and says, “Not quite, I’m TheZvi” and just walks away. The woman’s face freezes for a second before her hand drops down untouched and she walks away. Badass.

Dinner is a crazy, delicious affair. Most of the judges are split over two large tables. Someone told our head waitress all she had to do to get everyone’s attention was yell “Judge!” and the mass would pay attention. She tried it and conversation just ceased as nearly everyone’s head snapped around to look at her. She giggled.

The food was simply incredible. They tried to distract the carnivores with mashed potatoes, cheesy rolls, polenta, a salad bar(!?), and these crazy delicious fried bananas. The bananas were a little distracting.

Mostly it was about the meat. Those discs that are green and red, that mean more or less, are much more advisory than I had anticipated. I don’t know if it was a group size thing or if they’re always sub-effective, but the wait staff was just offering every cut to everyone at the tables, regardless of wheel color. They did start to pass by when I was leaning forward on the table, stricken, with my head in my hands breathing very heavily.

The meat was warm and delicious. It was also, alas, more salty than I had expected. I have a love/hate relationship with salt, in that I hate it and love it not being there. My body is not used to high salt content and I think it’s what gave me the most trouble. I had to raise the white flag far earlier than I wanted to, but them’s the breaks. Really, really good for a while, but I think it was the bacon wrapped jerky that did me in. I’m totally glad I went though, if only because it’s nice to visit a restaurant so well regarded on these forums. I also enjoyed the best Crème Brule ever. Little specks of vanilla on the bottom, surrounded by raspberries and blueberries. Insane!

Although my heart literally stopped for a few minutes post-meal, pre-mortem it was one of the most enjoyable evenings of the weekend. Those judges can really pack the food away, and when the beer’s flowing, stories do too. Everyone was in great spirits, congratulating themselves and each other on a job well done. The camaraderie, the laughs, it was a nice scene. I hope I get the chance to do it again sometime. Final bill: $2,400 plus. It took a while to sort out.

Dead tired, although no longer actually dead, I cab back to a hotel most of the people are staying at to hop over to my hotel after our group gets dropped off. Sharing the cab with (the)Zvi, he gets a phone call that went something like:

*Ring ring*

Zvi: Hello?

Voice on other end: You wanna draft?

Zvi: Who is this?

Voice: Hey, we should draft, let’s draft.

Me, kinda drunk: Do you usually get random draft challenges on your phone? **** you’re badass.

It turned out to be an associate of Mr. Moshowitz’s and would I like to draft in his place? I do, and we win the 3v3, although Turian calls me omni-‘tarded for cutting Thoughtpicker Witch. Thanks Mike.

After that craziness is over around 3AM I find a cab who wishes me a “happy holiday”. Beyond exhausted, the only holiday I can think of happening is day light savings time. It turns out he thought today was Halloween, instead of the day it’s actually on (Monday). He saw all the parties and just assumed. I thought this was way more hilarious than it actually was and tipped him like 30%. He gave me his card.

Inside the hotel room I find a bed-like surface and fall, unconscious way before landing. Great day.


Waking up late, taking a long shower and shave, it was so good. Me and the roommate amble our way to the convention center. There wasn’t actually much Magic for me this day. I saw some of the quarters and the first two games of SWK vs. Moreno, where SWK was up 2-0. I left to get a meal with LA friends, confident that McDaniel was going to take the match. Of course by this point, everyone knows the shenanigans that took place to prevent Chris from having the full opportunity to advance.

An official at the Pro Tour said the ref blew the call, and that it’s unfortunate, but it does happen in sports. I agree with this, and I think it’s particularly unfortunate that the judge’s defense was that he was too busy keeping track of other stuff. I’m sure that’s true, it’s just too bad he didn’t recognize he needed help before things got tragic. Specifically:

“At the end of the day I remember what influence it has to sit on a match. Players will act and react different to everything in their environment just because you are sitting there. So be very sure of what you are doing when you sit down at a match and ask yourself if you will be able to handle the situation when something arises.”

– Gijsbert Hoogendijk, to general judging community (2000).

The finals come and Antoine Ruel wins, which he definitely deserved. No one thinks his deck was Extended’s best. Winning despite that handicap is quite a testament to his skill. The best deck getting second place is also a positive for the game. Congrats to everyone who worked hard and got rewarded for it.

My flight isn’t until Monday evening, so those of us sharing that departure time make for greener pastures. What’s someone to do with an extra day in California? We’re going to Magic Mountain! Yay!

Non-downtown LA parts of California, it turns out, are actually quite beautiful. We’re driving to Valencia, CA and I get suitably impressed with rolling hills and mountains in a pleasant drive north. The smog really shimmers during the sunset.

It’s like 6:00 o’clock at this point so we kill some time eating food and seeing the abysmal Doom movie. So very bad. Afterwards we drink vodka and Gatorade while watching Elimidate. Classy.


Final day on this crazy trip. Magic Mountain was fun enough, but pricey as hell. Ridiculous rollercoasters. My personal favorite was the one called “X” You start off in this small car with your feet dangling in mid air. The ride starts by going backwards, up a big hill. When you plunge over, the tracks do some crazy twisty action that causes a flip on both axes, which ends you with you facing in a forward direction. Then things go nuts, with upside down action, reverse upside down action, unexplainable stuff. I think whoever creates something so Xtreme is certifiable but God bless em. We were impressed.

We still had time to kill after 6 Flags, before our flights, so we drove down to Santa Monica to see the beach. This was one of the best plans all weekend.

The ocean was, in a word, stunning. Ridiculous blue as far as the eye could see with a sandy beach, perfect weather, and another gorgeous sunset. One of our guys took off his shoes and just jumped into the ocean. I found a comfy area and started working on this article. We hung our for an hour or two, listening to the sounds of the water and people, perfectly tranquil.

Over dinner with friends the evening previous, someone asked me if I had made profit over my years of Magic; essentially asking if the prizes won outweighed the costs of travel. It was an interesting question and I had to think about it for a minute. I told him it was pretty close to even, although odds were I was overall down. But then I told him that it didn’t really matter, that the other gains were so great. Traveling, playing, meeting awesome people, seeing beautiful locale. How much would you pay for such incredible experiences? The fact that you can actually make money is gravy, but hopefully that’s not the only important thing.

For PT LA 2005 I lost rating points, spent a bunch of money, and sacrificed 5 days to play cards. I also got to see friends, visit stunning scenery, and found lots of stories to tell. It was a great trip.

As always, questions or comments are welcome. Enjoy the game.

Noah Weil

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