“Would anyone like to exchange their aisle seat for an exit row seat to help this lady?”
I was in line, and I noticed the elderly lady was clearly in no shape to perform an emergency evacuation if the situation arose. I peeked at my ticket and noticed my D seat, but the hesitant airport aura that surrounds me like a bubble caused a momentary flinch.
“I will,” someone shouted from across the gate.
Exit row seats have extended leg room, and I clearly missed my shot here at DFW en route to Chicago. It’s that damn airport aura. I crawl up into the silent depths of my mind when I’m all alone. There’s nothing but random thoughts and anti-social tendencies. Plus I just started reading Watchmen, and my thoughts were racing with possibilities for future plot twists. I’d never read the book before, and now, being finished, it has reinvigorated my aspirations to write some sort of brilliant novel or short story. I felt a strong tie to Moore when his vulgar graphic imagination brought bloody red pages to life.
I didn’t miss my next opportunity, when her equally elderly friend also sought a seat change.
“I have an aisle seat!” I replied to the gate attendant. So it seems my flight fate had been twisted for this venture, and I eagerly continued reading Watchmen with my legs stretched out.
However, I wasn’t so engulfed in Watchmen to miss a cute Italian girl making her way down the plane. Her black curly hair and tan complexion reminded me of my best friend from middle school. She had a clumsy appearance but a natural confidence that reeked of hard liquor. No matter; my head drifted back down to the spine of my graphic novel… until she stood at my seat with an inspiring smile with five fingers sprawled out in the air.
My five connected with her five, and in that instant I knew our flight fates for this forage would never be forgotten. My airport aura shattered, and I was ready to have deep conversations with a total stranger.
Maggie was her name, and med-student was her game, hailing from the University of Phoenix. My original read on her inebriated state was confirmed when she confided in me that she’d had several screwdrivers already, but I told her I’d look after her as if she was my own. Screwdrivers took my thoughts back to Pro Tour: Kobe, where I’d vowed never to drink a screwdriver again after a night with Diana. She asked my game, and I responded by removing some Magic cards from my bag and showing her my Zur deck. She wasn’t taken aback at all – in fact, she was intrigued, so I told her the usual Magical story. It actually works every time. Girls love it. It’s all in the approach.
“It’s an awkward combination of Chess and Poker, in the respect that you have cards on the board you can position much like Chess pieces while having cards your opponent can’t see like in Poker. I travel to tournaments across the U.S. playing for marginal amounts of money because I’m hopelessly addicted to the game and the connection I have with its players.”
She asked me to spare her from vulgarity, but at first she’d thought I was “one of those nerdy comic book D&D guys.” I told her at first I’d thought she was a med-student who randomly flies places as an excuse to get hammered and meet people on the plane, and that I hate f***ing b*tches that cuss. She chuckled, and collapsed into my shoulder. An immediate connection. I asked for a blanket to warm things up. She gave me a squinty stare, but smiled happily and stretched the blanket out to cover both of us while our arms still interlocked.
We talked until drinks were served and fully sipped, and I told her to take a nap, so she did. I continued Watchmen until she awoke an hour and a half later, and we talked some more. There’s nothing like deep, open conversation with a total stranger. It felt like I’d known her a lifetime, her life played out in front of me like a musical show. Clearly in the know, and clearly willing to meet up in Chi-town, we exchanged numbers and ate lunch at the airport while she waited for a male friend to arrive so they could cab together to their hotel.
Her flight out of Chi was also on Monday.
After taking the Blue Line to what I thought was the correct Hyatt, I ventured through the massive hotel until I folded and asked the convention office about the Magic tournament. She had no clue what I was talking about, and informed me there are several Hyatts downtown, and I was looking for the McCormick Hyatt. A ten dollar cab saw me on the doorsteps of Nationals, and that tingling feeling rose from my feet upon entering the event hall.
There’s something so special about arriving at a Magic tournament after a long journey. It’s like crashing into a soft pillow after a day of hard manual labor, or taking that first step into your grandmother’s house with the smell of a hearty home-cooked meal in the air. Passing the enormous entrance hall there were water jets on my left and right, shooting streams of water in sequence, while a giant banner over head greeted every passing Magician.
I didn’t have a room yet, so that was priority #1. I’ve only booked my own room once or twice in all my adventures, and I’ve found this process works much better. There’s no worry that you’ll get stuck with a bill while StrWrsKid or Billy shrimp out with puppy dog eyes. It often means you’ll end up with a pillow on the floor, but there are worse things in life. Like sleeping in a freezing cold holding cell squeezed between Magneto and King. Or taking a twenty-eight hour journey to Montreal. Or sleeping through your departing flight in a quiet corner of O’ Hare.
I’d planned on crashing with Gadiel at his crib for the weekend, but after several hours of phone tag I decided I’d stay at the site tonight and chill with him the rest of the week.
Despite vigorous attempts, it appeared as though everyone was packing six-plus people in their rooms, which made it quite awkward for a freeloader like myself. While walking around the venue, I witnessed an epic SCG grudge match in the grinders featuring Evan Erwin and Reuben Bresler. Reubs took EvEr down with his Aussie Assault deck, and Evan offered me a room. I’d only met EvEr once before, but whatever, he’s on YouTube so it must be safe. I was a bit worried that I’d wake up with camera in my face, but EvEr knows how to put the camera down and game. Which is a quality I didn’t originally take him for. I’d imagined a camera freak following every nose pick and bowel movement. But, to my surprise, he was only interested in the bowel movements.
I played a team draft before I headed up to the Texas room to chill, then made my way to Erwin’s room. Walking in on a cube draft had never been so awkward. It was like deer in the headlights. I introduced myself, but no one replied with names of their own, so I sat next to EvEr and watched him destroy his opponent with an aggro White deck packing Bitterblossom.
After the draft, people were ready to retire to get some sleep for Nationals. I didn’t know how many people were in the room, but I assumed I was on the floor so I made a little bed at the bottom of the closet that had a privacy curtain. When six of the ten people in the room left I asked if anyone was coming back, and Evan said I could have a bed! Mise! Joe K hailing from Tennessee was my bedmate, and boy did he love to cross that imaginary line. He was no Jesse Hawkins, but he kept scooting his butt into me, with his broad back forcing me to sleep with only a quarter of the bed. He was gentle though, not pushy or anything, so I kept pushing him back with my forearms. He was stone asleep the whole time, so it’s not like he was trying to edge me out. Which is actually a pretty good tactic whenever you’re looking to stretch out.
I was debating on playing Billy’s deck back in San Antonio, but only brought my Zur deck with me. Regardless, Billy’s deck attacked the format in a pretty unique way.
3 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
2 Wooded Bastion
2 Reflecting Pool
4 Windbrisk Heights
4 Horizon Canopy
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Kher Keep
2 Uktabi Drake
4 Figure of Destiny
2 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
4 Kavu Predator
4 Haze of Rage
3 Fiery Justice
4 Spectral Procession
4 Summoner’s Pact
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
It basically plays like a Kavu Predator deck, but it has a Haze of Rage package slapped on to it. With Summoner’s Pact for Uktabi Drake you can fairly regularly pull off a pair of 5/1 Uktabis, which is ten damage out of nowhere like a burn deck. However, Haze also combos with the premier token producer in the format: Spectral Procession, while also having synergy with the Trampling Kavu.
The funny thing is that this deck was largely available during Time Spiral Block, if only we had a time machine to go back and break the format. The deck’s threats aren’t to be underrated either. Figure of Destiny, Tarmogoyf, Kavu Predator, and Spectral Procession each have the ability to end games, while Fiery Justice, Tarfire, and Garruk provide some support.
Still, it was a little too “Billy” for me. We tried slapping it onto a number of different aggressive decks, like Elf Ball and Kithkin, but the Predator is what gave it the edge it needed to get past the Fae consistently. It absolutely destroys Faeries, but its Rock match-up is sketchy at best. My version was a little different, cutting the main deck Forge-Tenders for an Oversoul of Dusk and a case Tarfire.
I figured out my sideboard and filled out my deck registration.
I don’t really want to go over the deck too much since the format is almost entirely dead, but let’s just say the increase in Red decks doesn’t provide a bright future. I persuaded Gadiel and Gerard Fabiano to play the deck, although Gerard opted away from Bitterblossoms to increase the Wizard cycling package with Magus of the Tabernacle; Venser, Shaper Savant; and Arcanis the Omnipotent. Personally I felt the addition of Bitterblossom added a ton of utility to the deck and helped save a bunch of damage from the Red decks Ashenmoor Gougers and Figures of Destiny. I did some play testing with Zac Hall and Kyle Goodman before the tournament, with Hall playing Fae and Goodman playing Red, and swept them both easily, so my confidence was pretty high going into round 1.
Round 1 – Nicholas Calcaterra with Rock Elves
He landed a couple of Tarmogoyfs early, along with a Wren’s Run Vanquisher, but they all fell to a Firespout. He got me down to 13 before Zur hit the table and made all of his attackers irrelevant with double Steel of the Godhead, and Cryptic Command stopped his Profane Command.
Damnation and Oblivion Ring came in for Knollspine Invocation, two Firespout, and Inversion.
Game 2 was really close, with him going on the offensive early disrupting my Zur draw with Thoughtseize. I still had a Vedalken Aethermage, but my math showed me I didn’t have enough time to go for Zur if he had a Profane Command, so I played the control deck, using Damnation to clear the board before Wizardcycling for Arbiter of Knollridge. Out of nowhere I jumped from three to eighteen. Arbiter got the Axe from a Terror, but another Wizardcycle for Oona meant he had no answer for the incoming Fae, so he scooped ’em up.
After Round 1 I made my way to breakfast, a giant turkey sandwich combo from the Hotel shop which only ran me $9. Pretty cheap considering their drinks run three bucks apiece. I checked in with GFabs n’ Gadiel, and both of them won their first round. Go Zur!
Round 2 – Wilbert Yeung playing Mono-Red
Wilbert commented that he liked my articles upon introduction, so I knew I was in trouble. The nice ones are always the best to play against, but I always lose to them. Whatever happened to all those cocky jerks with popped collars? Apparently Alex Kim is their lone rep, and he also chose Zur for the weekend. Although his version was pretty janky. Instead of running Steel he committed to the Pentarch Ward / Daybreak Coronet package, with every Zur target available in his main deck. What an idiot. Hehe!
I managed a turn 2 Bitterblossom off a mulligan on the draw, but his draw was simply superior. He landed a couple of Figures of Destiny, which helped me get value out of my Firespout, but he retorted with a Magus of the Moon that locked me down for a couple of turns until I could Wizardcycle for Nameless Inversion and cast it through Prismatic Lens. I had a couple of Zur in my hand so I ran one out there, but it met a Flame Javelin. Meanwhile he was busy bashing with Gouger, which was being blocked by Blossom buddies during each combat.
I ran my second Zur out there, and two Incinerates leapt toward him. I drew a third one that turn so I wasn’t too concerned, until he ripped another Magus off the top. From there I had a slow and painful death of three damage a turn with Keldon Megaliths shooting me here and there.
Pacts and Inversion came in for a Blossom, Thoughtseize, and an Oblivion Ring.
Game 2 I had a heavy Rune Snag draw, but his turn 1 Figure of Destiny got in for ten damage before I could Pact it. That gave him an opening to land a Magus and another Figure. I had the Firespout, but he had another Magus and followed it up with a Gouger. I was stuck on three lands the entire time and couldn’t cast the Zurs in my hand.
Round 3 – David Blumenthal playing Rock Elves
Dave was playing in his first Nationals and first premier event, qualifying through Regionals. He had that eager edge in his eye that I remember looking at in the mirror a couple years back. I envy him, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing the Blumenthal name again someday. He’s a bright kid who clearly has the means and the desire, and that’s all it really takes when it comes down to it. Determination. It really is amazing the cycles that Magic players go through. I remember being that nervous kid playing for a PTQ Top 8, the nervous kid playing in his first GP, the nervous amateur in his first GP Top 8, the nervous kid playing Anton for Day 2 of the PT. But now it’s all grey, the rainbows and allure is gone, but the good times and social connections remain. A residue of wonderful times around the World. I’m not saying I’m the most experienced mage or anything, but my view on the game sure has advanced a lot in the passing years.
So with all this on my mind I knew I was going to lose this game. And a mulligan to five game 1 reassured my initial analysis of the newcomer / veteran match-up. A Thoughtseize made my opener much less appealing, and it only took a few turns for his Tarmogoyfs to eat my bones bare.
Damnation and Oblivion Ring came in for Knollspine Invocation, two Firespout, and Inversion.
Another mulligan for game 2, but I had a much more promising hand with Zur and Cryptic Command…. until of course he double Thoughtseized me on turn 2. His Tarmogoyfs were soon swept away with a Damnation and he didn’t have much else for action. Go figure. My turn 2 Bitterblossom was still active though, and around turn 4 or 5 I landed another one, which eventually overwhelmed him. Death by Faeries.
Another double mulligan for game 3, and this time I was stuck on two lands. A Thoughtseize stripped my Zur and I was stuck facing a turn 4 Chameleon Colossus. He attacked in and went into the tank. After a couple of minutes I asked him, “what’s up?” … He responded with, “just figuring out the best way to beat you.”
His figures were surely off since he went for a Colossus pump rather than adding pressure to the board. This gave me the opportunity to flash in Vedalken Aethermage to bounce his pumped Colossus while blocking his Boreal Druid. I drew a land on the next turn, used the Thoughtseize I was holding to get rid of his Colossus, and bashed in with my Wizard. Unfortunately he had another Colossus, and with only three lands for the rest of the game I couldn’t cast either of the Damnations in my hand. I was eventually overwhelmed by a herd of Llurgoyfs.
Meanwhile, Gerard and Gadiel were both sitting with sterling records, raving at how badly they bashed their opponents with my own creation. Bad breaks, but I got my head back into the game for the draft portion. I ended up with an almost entirely Mono-Green deck, featuring Howl of the Night Pack, Overbeing of Myth, several Hungry Hungry Spriggins, and a nice curve of solid beaters. A basic freaking Green deck; you know the type. I was splashing for a pair of Puncture Bolt and a pair of Power of Fire to compliment my two Pili-Pala.
Round 4 – Nick Bonham
This was a nightmare. Neither game saw me pull more than three lands, which makes the third straight round in a row that I lost due to random draws. My Nationals bubble was pretty much destroyed at this point, but kind words from concerned supporters picked me back up. It was time for an X-0, however unlikely it might be.
Round 5 – William Joyce
A judge came over before the start of our round and escorted Will to the side, where they remained for about ten minutes. The match next to us also got held up, with both players already drawing their starting hands. The judge stopped them and talked to one of them on the side, and when he returned he didn’t instruct the guy with an opening hand to reshuffle. This seemed pretty bad, since he could have constructed the optimal opening hand in the five minutes the judge was gone, so I talked to the judge on the side and he made him reshuffle. Just trying to keep it fair, ya know. When my opponent got back he had a game loss, and the judge gave us nine minutes for the nine minutes he’d been gone. I asked for an additional three minutes for shuffling, and he complied. Just trying to keep it fair, ya know.
The game was pretty close, but I eventually got him down to three and had the Puncture Bolt to finish him off the turn before he was going to make his move. Our life totals on my paper shows him decreasing by increments of three from twenty to zero, and me decreasing in increments of four from twenty to my final four. I don’t remember what the creatures were that were inflicting damage, only that I had him beat by a turn.
Round 6 – Mark Conkle
This round was another blowout with mulligans and mana screw galore. He was playing the aggro Red deck so I brought in Dawnglow Infusion and a Plains to go with my pair of Safewright Quest. It gained me twelve game 2, but I was severely mana flooded and had little spells to make any moves.
Round 7 — BYE
Despite having four losses I was still pretty confident in a Day 2 X-0. My Standard deck severely under-performed in rounds 1 to 3, and my draft draws never really came together. It was a nightmare day of Magic, which happens from time to time, but I couldn’t let it get me down. My bag was stuck in Erwin’s room with no card to access, so instead of retiring to Gadiel’s with Cak, Kenji, GWalls, and Taka, I went to eat with Kyle Goodman, my wingman for the weekend. Lundquist, Yurchick, and Reubs also made the journey. Jesse Hawkins tried to tag along, so I told him he had to carry my bag if he wanted to join.
We debated over a cab for awhile but eventually decided it would be more fun to walk and try to find some place to avoid taking two cabs. About twenty minutes into our walk, Jesse mentions that he has an SUV that could easily fit all of us. Sometimes… I feel anger taking me over.
We finally stumbled upon a quaint little restaurant on a corner in the middle of an apartment district. Upon seeing us, the owner immediately ran over to please us, offering some special meat wrapped in bread with tomato and some other crud; it didn’t sound good so I went for the turkey burger. It was delish, but it took forever to get to my stomach. Another lengthy walk back, and Goodman and I ran from room to room, hanging out until we could both retrieve our bags from separate rooms. We took a cab to Gadiel’s around midnight and walked into a room of dead people. Cak and Taka were both crashed out on couches, and Kenji and Gabe had left already. Gadiel and Phil Cape were playing beer pong, so Goodman and I joined in for a few rounds before I crashed out.
The morning came far too quickly. I awoke sprawled out on a chair with my legs kicked up on an ottoman. Restroom came first, then I checked the time.
My eyes widened, and realized we had to be at the site at 9 for the draft. No one set an alarm!?
I knocked on Gadiel’s room and opened the door to a bed with a hand hanging out of the side from under the covers. I shook his hand to wake him up and told him the time. He didn’t seem concerned, so I walked out to wake up the others. I turned to go back to Gadiel’s room, but he was already in the restroom waking up. I got my bags together and we headed out the door at 8:45, which was the scheduled start of the player’s meeting. Gadiel randomly had Scott Larabee’s number on his phone, so we gave him a call and told him our situation. He told us to hurry to the site, not guaranteeing anything.
We strolled in after parking at 9:10 to a room full of Magic players waiting for us… or so we thought. Evidently the draft assignment program crashed or something, and there were several other technical difficulties. Mise! They had to do tables manually, which had us waiting ’til 9:30 to draft. What nerve! We came here to play Magic and they can’t even start the tournament on time! Be sure to expect an angry complaint letter, Wizards!
The draft went extremely well. I got a very tight curved Mono-White deck topping out at Oversoul of Dusk and Divinity of Pride, with all the good White creatures and removal in between. I was also at the 3-4 table, which was probably the cause for my insane deck.
Round 8 – Timothy Thompsen
I don’t remember what happened this game at all, but from the life sheets it couldn’t have been good. Game 1 I didn’t deal him a single point of damage, while my life total is seen spiralling down from twenty in increments of 1’s and 2’s.
Game 2 I was able to deal him two damage twice, while my life decreased in 4’s until I hit eight, at which point it stops.
3-5… Scarwood Treefolk.
Next week – Neutered at Nationals: Force of Savagery
If I go to heaven I’ll be bored as hell
Like a crying baby at the bottom of a well,
Top 5 Picks
1) Milk Thistle – Conor Oberst
2) Cape Canavaral – Conor Oberst
3) Her Father And Her – Adam Green
4) Misunderstood – Lil Wayne
5) A Mili – Lil Wayne