Grand Prix: NJ was held not long ago, in bright, sunny Tom’s River, New Jersey. New Jersey is a special place… after all, three rights do in fact make a left, but a left does not make a left, it’ll just get you a traffic ticket. The Pro Tour is all about amazing locations nowadays, which the Grand Prix in New Jersey… is not. The site for the event was to be the Rocacco Center in Tom’s River, the largest high school gym facility possibly in all the world… but a high school gym nonetheless. Smokers were warned not to smoke on school property, you needed a hall pass to get to the bathroom during a round, and judges weren’t handing out warnings and game-losses and match-losses, just varying times of detention.
I attend Grand Prix tournaments at best infrequently; I don’t trot the globe trying to storm Level 3 of the Pro Player’s Club, and don’t even necessarily make it to most of my area PTQs. I certainly take the game seriously enough… but there are a lot of things that ask for my time each weekend, and Magic cannot always win. This weekend, however, Magic was the dominating force… and had been given months of leeway for practice time, plus a fair number of attempts to win three byes at a Grand Prix Trial. In my preparation for the event I had made plans for my ex-girlfriend, Niki, with whom I had broken up this past July, to come and visit with me for the weekend… we have been talking about potentially mending the break in our relationship, and have needed a chance to interact more openly face-to-face, plus at the very worst her mother lives in Tom’s River and she could spend much of her time with her mother instead of stuck in the high school gym sniffing mage-fumes. By the previous Wednesday, the one bye was locked in, and the girl was locked out, unable to get off of work Saturday and thus unable to make the trek out from Pittsburgh where she currently resides to spend a weekend alone with me (and 970 other mages, and her mother) in a hotel room.
The change of plans meant I needed to find some emergency room-mates, and coming to it so late in the game meant I was going to be short on choices… but also unlikely to get swarmed, as all too many Magic players do for such events, with a half a dozen people sleeping on the floor. I’d taken the Friday before off from work, set up as much as I could as far as room-mates via e-mail beforehand (with some help from Brian David-Marshall, who noted I had a need of room-mates, and a friend of John Becker’s needed a room to sleep in), and headed to the city to participate in the grand trip down… the Top 8 Magic TrainCast. Good fun was had by all, and good humor, as my mode of behavior when incidentally involved in the Top8Magic.com podcasts is as a counterpoint to Flores’s ego, trying to bring a humorous touch of reason to Mike’s occasionally outrageous statements while also perhaps grounding them some in reality. Mike says Randy Buehler is a shoe-in for the Magic Hall of Fame next year, because his “incidentals” include such things as the Extended National Championships he won, which had one of the hardest Top 8s of that particular era… I say, “I was in that Top 8, Mike…”
The podcasts are themselves a hoot, and can be found here… if you think Evan Erwin “Magic Show” videos off YouTube are a blast, and haven’t tried the Flores versus BDM podcasts, well… you hate America and are helping the terrorists win. (Obv.)
After a trip down in which we learned the actual sordid truth behind Kyle “Dirty” Sanchez and the battle with the Yakuza for the heart of Diana, pronounced “Deanna” as in Deanna Troi of the Starship Enterprise, it occurred to me that perhaps Niki not making it down to the event was a good thing after all… the last thing I needed this weekend was competition outside of the Grand Prix event, with Goofy Kyle falling for and subsequently trying to woo my not-girlfriend, dragging her back to Texas to “make an honest woman out of her.”
[Editor’s Note – For decency’s sake, I’ve had to remove the full sordid tale of Kyle’s Far Eastern Adventure… believe me, it’s one that will go down in history. I’m English, I’m unprepared for such debauchery… – Craig]
The group arrived at last at Point Pleasant, New Jersey, whose name is clearly full of lies. Matt Wang arranged a van service somehow, through his innumerable connections with who knows what kinds of people all across the world, and for just $8 a head with ten people crammed in the van… it occurred to me that if Matt Wang could arrange for van service in the middle of nowhere in New Jersey on a seemingly random Friday afternoon, perhaps Kyle should be speaking to him about his Yakuza problem. Half an hour and no small amount of goofing off on the ride later, a ride which included Flores telling us everything we are doing wrong when it comes to understanding the nuances of the Highlander universe and making the bad play of having admitted to seeing Highlander 2: Electric Boogaloo, we hit the hotel and arranged for our rooms.
Oh, if only it were so simple.
I for one was counting on Paypal transfers to go through, after selling piles of Magic cards over the Internet, and my funding situation was reasonably well figured out… but the money wasn’t there yet. I had half the money as cash in hand, because I owed one of the Gray Matter judges $80 from selling cards for him after the last NYC PTQ, and my debit card was able to take the other half… but not before I had to hit up Miles Rodriguez for the loan of $40, until I figured the money situation out, which ended up turning quickly into the sale of draft sets at a very reasonable price in return for the monies needed to bail me out of trouble with the hotel. I said I prepared for the event… not necessarily so much for the transit, besides figuring out when a dozen other people were going and tagging along with the herd so as not to have to pay a $40 cab fare by myself.
Friday night had officially started, despite it being only 4:30, because night comes early nowadays… which makes you wonder just whose daylight is being saved with these “daylight savings” hours we are using. Considering it gets dark at 9pm in the summer and 4pm in the winter, it occurs to me that we may be saving daylight during the exact wrong time of the year, especially since you can’t exactly store it in a battery until it’s depressingly dark come mid-afternoon. The plan was most certainly not to attend the Grand Prix Trial the night before, in search of byes; my one bye was going to have to suffice, as the most likely outcome of trying to get more was exhausting myself and not getting more Byes, and that decision was even made before I saw Kenji Tsumura playing the 3:00 Grand Prix Trial “for practice”… but smashing heads for real. The plan was, however, to do a draft… and a few people were opted in or out depending on whether or not they had arrived yet, and seating randomly arranged with players to choose teams later.
Reasonably encouraged about drafting the beatdown, I opened Serra Avenger in a moderately strong pack (with few other White cards of high note) and took her happily, then for the second pick chose Soltari Priest over Amrou Scouts, the kind of pick that might just get a man shot if he were to make the mistake of discussing it on the Intarweb. (Oops.) When drafting the White beatdown I like evasion, and protection, so I put an unnaturally high value on Soltari Priest… and it seems an unnaturally low value on Ramosian Lieutenant 2.0. By the end of pack 1 I was mono-White with a solid beatdown curve, having picked up two-drop flank knights and three-drop flanking En-Vec’s, with no second color anywhere in sight. Pack 2 was a beating for any sane individual, as I took a painfully bad White card out of a reasonable pack, possibly Cavalry Master. For the second pick I saw no White cards but did receive Strangling Soot, and took it as the potential for a slight dip into a second color was reasonable. For the third pick I could have my choice of Draining Whelk or Benalish Cavalry, and chose the Cavalry; for the fourth pick I could have my choice of Teferi or Benalish Cavalry. I again chose the Cavalry. These are the kinds of decisions one has to live with if they are to draft the White beats and have a good curve, because nothing is better than attacking for two.
For pack 3 I receive a few gifts to fill things out, like the Serrated Arrows (FOIL!) I plucked for my first pick, and a late Pentarch Paladin (late for him means, like, third…) and somewhere I got myself Defiant Vanguard as my removal-spell blocker plus Rebel-searcher, and made sure I picked up Gaze of Justice to go with my Arrows and singleton Temporal Isolation. Having at least some removal is key, after all. Somehow I battle to 4-0 with this deck and carry the team of myself, Matt Urban, Julian Levin, and Ryan Hamilton (now “my room-mate”, number three of three for the weekend) against BDM, Flores, Brett Blackman, and Paul Jordan. For winning half the team’s matches to drag us to 8-8, we split the cards eight ways and resolved to go to IHOP for dinner, and I got myself a one in eight chance at a Psionic Blast as the player with the best record… and managed it. Tight play prevails, as I scored the Teferi as well… the “tight play” being luckily picking the money pile, not whatever might count as something in the neighborhood of “tight play” in my efforts to go attacking for two, I really did just draft a curve and attack, while remembering to get incredibly lucky against the deck that had a good shot at beating me (BDM’s Red-Blue full of Subterranean Shambler tricks, perhaps my favorite archetype) and budgeting removal for bomb rares against Flores (to kill Witch Hunter and Pentarch Paladin, not to mention two Jedit’s Dragoons, the saddest and sorriest excuse for a “power card” in the White aggro mirror match, sad because it’s true…).
Tight play prevailed again, as we found the IHOP, and feasted accordingly. I was forced to feast only as much as my tight budget of “I have eight dollars left in my pocket” would allow, not wanting to risk melting the plastic and being an effective blank if anyone dared to say the words “credit card game.” And the tight play continued when the group re-convened at the hotel to draft late into the night; I went to bed, though not before chatting a bit with a girl or two, and got to meet the room-mates for whom I had arranged to leave a key-card at the front desk.
Come the following morning I woke at 7, aimed to be well before everyone else so I could wake up slowly with a hot bath, my morning custom before going to work… and not long after I was done the rest of the room bustled awake and began preparing as well, while I relaxed, ready to go, lying in bed and briefly perusing the Internet thanks to a reasonably nice hotel WiFi connection. Good play again, I say. Dunkin Donuts were had, and Becker’s friend Garrett had driven up from Virginia, meaning he had a car and could take us all to the site without us needing to somehow arrange for a Tom’s River cab again. Clearly he was an asset to the team, and would by definition pay less than the others; I needed $145 from the three of them, to cover half the cost of the room, and only the guy who barely slept at all (and then slept on the floor) paid a lesser share than our friend the driver. And eventually the tournament began, seating us an hour after the proposed start time, but not before we had again heard Steve Sadin horror story of the quest to find a strip club with Goofy Kyle Sanchez… and Flores lecturing us all about how little we know about watching TV, such as why Studio 60 At The Sunset Strip is smarter than 90% of its audience can comprehend. BP Shuler arrived, completing the Mike Flores — Brian Kowal — John Shuler reunion of “Righteous Babe”… and completely rattling Steve’s storytelling skills, green as he is, by demolishing the ebb and flow of the story with subtle interrupts the entire time, a move that may very well have demolished Steve for the entire weekend.
I was seated between Kenji Tsumura and Tomoharu Saito for deck registration and construction, again a good play… just look to your right or your left, copy what they’re doing, and you’re probably more right than your original choices were. I received the following, after passing away a ridiculously powerful Red-Black deck with highlights like Jaya Ballard, Task Mage to kill all your opponent’s creatures, thus making Avatar of Woe cost “just” BB.
- 1 Vhati il-Dal
- 1 Soltari Priest
- 1 Jasmine Boreal
- 1 Squire
- 1 Hunting Moa
- 1 Aetherflame Wall
- 1 Amrou Scout
- 1 Ashcoat Bear
- 1 Basalt Gargoyle
- 2 Children of Korlis
- 1 Crookclaw Transmuter
- 1 Dream Stalker
- 1 Firewake Sliver
- 1 Flamecore Elemental
- 1 Flowstone Channeler
- 1 Fungus Sliver
- 2 Fury Sliver
- 1 Goblin Skycutter
- 1 Herd Gnarr
- 1 Jhoira's Timebug
- 1 Knight of the Holy Nimbus
- 1 Mana Skimmer
- 1 Mindlash Sliver
- 1 Mogg War Marshal
- 1 Nantuko Shaman
- 1 Norin the Wary
- 1 Outrider en-Kor
- 1 Pit Keeper
- 1 Sage of Epityr
- 1 Savage Thallid
- 1 Scarwood Treefolk
- 1 Serra Avenger
- 1 Slipstream Serpent
- 1 Spiketail Drakeling
- 1 Spinneret Sliver
- 1 Thallid Shell-Dweller
- 1 Trespasser il-Vec
- 1 Triskelavus
- 2 Urborg Syphon-Mage
- 2 Viscid Lemures
- 1 Wormwood Dryad
- 1 Zealot il-Vec
- 1 Detainment Spell
- 1 Divine Congregation
- 1 Fallen Ideal
- 1 Fortify
- 1 Gaze of Justice
- 1 Grapeshot
- 1 Ground Rift
- 1 Hivestone
- 2 Krosan Grip
- 1 Lightning Axe
- 1 Locket of Yesterdays
- 2 Molder
- 1 Ophidian Eye
- 1 Phthisis
- 1 Phyrexian Totem
- 1 Psychotic Episode
- 1 Pull from Eternity
- 1 Sprout
- 1 Strength in Numbers
- 1 Sudden Death
- 1 Temporal Isolation
- 1 Tendrils of Corruption
- 1 Think Twice
- 1 Tromp the Domains
The deck I built:
- 1 Vhati il-Dal
- 1 Hunting Moa
- 1 Basalt Gargoyle
- 1 Herd Gnarr
- 1 Mana Skimmer
- 1 Nantuko Shaman
- 1 Pit Keeper
- 1 Scarwood Treefolk
- 1 Spinneret Sliver
- 1 Thallid Shell-Dweller
- 1 Trespasser il-Vec
- 1 Triskelavus
- 2 Urborg Syphon-Mage
- 1 Viscid Lemures
- 7 Forest
- 6 Swamp
- 2 Mountain
- 1 Molten Slagheap
- 1 Vesuva
… it’s not that I don’t know how to spell Phthisisisisis, it’s that I don’t quite know when to stop. Vesuva was played under the theory I could live with a land coming into play tapped, and it might actually be a dual land a reasonable bit of the time, getting me either my double-Green or double-Black requirements, whichever I am missing, and having a decent shot at being either Swamp or Mountain against most opponents even if I haven’t drawn one of those. Add to that the potential to get a fourth land type for Tromping the Domains with and I figured I would run with it, and only boarded it out specifically against fast non-Black decks, such as Red/White Sealed Deck pools that looked like they wanted to go first.
There wasn’t that much logic behind this… I started with the Red and Black cards and realized they just didn’t work, then tried the Red and Green cards and was kicking myself for the fact that while I was splashing Black I was leaving a perfectly usable removal spell on the bench, because Tendrils of Corruption is a terrible splash spell. One way or another some of the Goblins left the deck and some more Black cards came in, using Green as a necessary support color and the Black as the key removal color, splash the solid Red removal.
Fortunately I got a bye round 1, because I didn’t screw my rating up that badly in my last failed PTQ shot, but it was a close one because a Grand Prix Trial where I didn’t lose a match till the elimination rounds ended up not making it into the results pile in time for the tournament. It already being noon or so, I took advantage of some of the sunshine and took a walk outside, which reinforced the firm belief that there really is nothing anywhere near this high school gymnasium out in the middle of nowhere.
The second round started off easily enough… I face off against a Black-Red deck with a heavy Sliver theme, including Sedge Sliver. He got to play but I got to draw removal, and as solid as his Sliver theme was, I won against Two-Headed Sliver and friends at three life, eight of which was borrowed off him thanks to my Syphon-Mage. The second game we both mulligan – I play creatures, he does not do so much of that… or at least can’t plant anything relevant to stop the beats, and my life total never changes while his drops 17-14-10-5-dead.
Round 3 is harder, because instead of a name I wouldn’t recognize if I hadn’t written it down (Allen Jackson), I get to face Peg-Leg Mike McGee, a local player who is rather a bit more successful than me, as can be seen every time he knocks me out of contention at a Pro Tour Qualifier. I’d like to pretend I was in this one, but I draw my B-string creatures and can’t get anything to work right, I can’t find any Red for my Grapeshot and by the time I can it doesn’t do anything to Grapeshot for one. For the first, I am racing with Viscid Lemures and not much else, while he is taking unhealthy swings back into my life and picks off a key man with Tribal Flames, offing Vhati il-Dal. The second is similarly poor, and I’m backpedaling from the get-go, which isn’t helped by the fact that I’d kept two lands and never drawn a third. Awkward.
I’d seen John Shuler and Richie Frangiosa coming into the hall during the first round after my little walkabout, and apparently Shuler’s intention was to sit there not playing Magic (after all, who goes to a Grand Prix for the Magic when you can instead have the times? Idiot), but instead host a little indoors picnic for, well, everyone he likes. Having lost this one I stop by, since it’s already three in the afternoon and I’m still running on breakfast, and have a fun time with Shuler and Richie and whoever else stops by, most of them being at least somewhat confused… but then, that’s the purpose behind Shuler’s game, as near as I can tell. That, and having sparkling cider champagne, good cheese and fruit, plus pate on crackers… all to match the fine conversation. As a semi-insider, but definitely not one of the circle of friends, I get to live or die within the group based solely on my wit and humor, which is easy to fake… just take pot-shots at Flores and you’re dining on fine cheese without having to bat a brain cell.
For my fine dining, however, I decide to use my insider lore and try and be both touching and hilarious at the same time. Having nibbled on this and that, I decided I wanted a kiwi… only to learn that all the knives were taken for spreads and pate and what-not. With a small audience of Rich, John, and one or two others, talking poker lifestyle and why Johnny Magic might be considering moving his sports-betting operation offshore because the coming wave may just make an example out of someone… and nobody’d be better to serve as an example than some kid from New Jersey who broke the system of the world and lives as a millionaire with no effort to his reaping of mucho dinero. Already on the subject of absent friends (well, their friends, not mine… I’m on the outside looking in after all), I commemorated loudly and to much amusement that I was going to eat my kiwi with a spoon if a knife could not be had… to honor Pat Chapin, who could not be there, I prison-shanked the kiwi in half and munched contentedly upon it.
Ah, the times. Resting on one’s laurels and just bashing Flores doesn’t get one any further inside the circle, after all… everyone’s done that. No smoking on school property, insular groups bashing on the same popular scapegoats, jokes involving bladed weapons… it really is like being back in high school again. Fast Times at Tom’s River High, here we come.
Round 4 is a nail-biter… I win the first barely grueling past a stalled-out board in which fat stares at each other and more fat piles up, but in which he got to have Scryb Ranger active in his Red/Green/White deck. I lock the first up with some early beats followed by Urborg Syphon-Mage, and go down in the second when his start is followed up by Celestial Crusader on creatures I already had a hard time blocking to begin with. With that said, I get to play first in the third game, and we both mulligan, so it’s already a touch tense to see who pulls out of it. I get early damage in with Phyrexian Totem when I have no four-drop to play, and follow up with Urborg Syphon-Mage, which is promptly nullified by Errant Doomsayers. I’m flooded with stuff I can’t cast (Grapeshot again!) or don’t want (Vesuva is not the land I asked for!), and all of a sudden he plants Verdant Embrace on Amrou Seeker that he pulled out as he grew his Rebel chain up from but a single Amrou Scout in the meantime. I have somehow managed to get him down to nine with my life-draining and all that jazz, but with this 5/5 Seeker the game has just changed entirely, as I am now staring it down with the threat of blocking with Phyrexian Totem and sacrificing five other permanents just to stay in the game. The turn after he Hugs up the Seeker, I take the first five, going down to ten, and on my turn draw Triskelavus with two mana up, enough to do some really complicated things if he tries to attack… but I’ve got just the Trisk, and if he attacks all-out I am in for a serious hurt… i.e., dead unless I settle for chumping with Trisk and facing off against the Hugged-up Seeker later. He swings with just Seeker… and I sigh a sigh of relief, because now I can actually win this game somehow, if he has absolutely no removal or any of the three Flashing fliers he’s shown me in the previous two games. Syphon-Mage doesn’t get Rift Bolted, so when it is tapped by the Doomsayers in my upkeep I Drain the opponent, going back up to seven and dropping him to seven as well. I attack with the 4/4, and he doesn’t block, nothing drops out of his hand to suddenly negate any chance I had of winning this one.
Three Trisk pings later and he’s dead, realizing that he didn’t count right when he chose his too-safe mode of attack. And I’m wondering how I squeaked my way out of that one, since up until he attacked with “just” Seeker I thought I was squarely dead, but instead he somehow mysteriously died somehow.
I wish I could say good things about the next two, but for the second I again keep two lands on the draw, and never draw a third. Clever. The third is more of a game, as I am able to at least mount a cursory defense, and even try to be tricksy as I budget life lost against development earned and removal spent, but I can’t get a spell in edgewise and start to have too few spells besides; he gets an aggressive start and methodically pushes me off the table, not helped by the fact that my creatures have a devil of a time trading with a flanker.
So… no more losses. The sixth round is a gift from Heaven, at that rate, which is pretty impressive for an atheist to believe. A new word was invented: Squirebreathing. This is what you get when you enchant Squire (whom my opponent cast on turn two) with Ghitu Firebreathing. Clearly I can’t trade a creature better than Squire for a Squire… and besides, if I try he’ll just put the Firebreathing on the Duskrider Peregrine he’s got and that would be an actual and literal nightmare for me, unless I draw my Lightning Axe or successfully block with Spinneret Sliver and get off Strength in Numbers, I flat-out can’t kill it. Instead we race, and Squire pulls a huge chunk out of my life total, then threatens to do it again, while I mindlessly develop my board, attack muchly, and Tromp the Domains for the gratuitous overkill.
Round 7 is not quite so much of the gift. I’m paired with Sam Black, and we spend the shuffling time watching Rob Dougherty rolling over a kid next to us who is playing such terrible cards, and in terrible sequence, that he very nearly trumps my Squirebreathing story and his OMG he’s so bad LOL story besides the point. We shuffle up and get going, him playing first and me mulliganing, and his removal battles with my creatures in the fight of Red/Green/Black versus Red/Blue/Black. He pops off Lightning Axe, Rift Bolt, and FOIL! Sudden Death, but gets behind on the race early as I mount fat creature beatings that get past his weaker creature base. He’s very much got a controlling mindset to the game, except it doesn’t pan out that way, the force just keeps on rolling through and even if he’s picking off my good cards, like Vhati, there’s still men coming his way and some of them Swampwalk while others fly. A variety of creatures tick him down from ten two life at a time, passing the baton to the next in line as they die, until he has nothing left to defend the last four life.
Game 2 is a sad one for him; we get a fairly interactive board but again I’m mounting early pressure, knocking him down to fourteen as I drop fat man after fat man on the board. When I get to six, I play two guys; when he gets to six, he casts Whispers with Buyback. I then Tromp the Domains and he blocks oh-so-carefully to maximize it all, ending up at exactly one with a few creatures left to work with. He needs to draw Rift Bolt to kill the Swampwalker, end up at one, and somehow answer the other two threats with the one creature left in play plus his top card after that, and that’s just if I have nothing else. He doesn’t draw removal, I had more men in hand… it ends poorly for him.
Tromp so far hasn’t done much, except for single-handedly win about five games that I could have won otherwise but definitely did so right now because of it. I’m pretty sure at this point trying to Tromp for four off of Vesuva was just stupidly greedy on my part, and Vesuva should just be a Swamp, especially given how it’s a liability against any fast deck.
Round 8 I play Michael Lauter, who by his accented speech has traveled a heck of a lot further to be here than I have. Game 1 we both mulligan, and we learn that he is a Red/White deck, but neither of us have fast starts. I’m again performing Scarwood Treefolk beats, because I like big butts and I cannot lie… and five butt means it can’t be blocked, apparently. I see his face-down guy is Brine Elemental when we trade, and considering that BDM was talking the whole way down about his “Pickles!” deck I am suddenly terrified to see this guy out of a Red/White deck, presuming somehow he can actually pay to unmorph it. The game drags on and he finally gets to five mana, dropping a hasty Eron the Relentless I can’t block… but can Lightning Axe to death, and do. His token resistance is swiftly put aside, and I’m still nervous as we sideboard and I shuffle, taking out some slow inconsistent men like Basalt Gargoyle, who I was regretting playing at all over just another bear, and Viscid Lemures, who I convince myself somehow might actually be better as Savage Thallid because at least maybe it’ll interact positively in combat thanks to my other Thallids making Saprolings.
Somewhere in there I miss him sideboarding into a completely different deck, because for game 2 he is Red/Black/Blue and has tricks like Subterranean Shambler. The face-down man who I trade with is Liege of the Pit with just three Swamps available, and that’s about as much resistance his deck puts up as I nervously, gently, put him down… and presumably end his tournament by handing him the third loss.
Remember foreshadowing? It’s now ten o’clock, I’ve been slinging spells for far too long and am still rattled by having to use sleeves, which happened hours ago when my round 5 opponent asked the judge if my card backs showed any patterns of wear. (Whatever the contents of my Sealed Deck, it just feels better bareback – I shuffle more naturally without the plastic in the way. And some of my opponents apparently shuffled hard.) Since breakfast I’ve only eaten whatever I could feel okay about taking from Shuler’s picnic, which was a prison-shanked kiwi and a mini cupcake, plus pizza and hot dogs from the concession stand / high school cafeteria, because I literally had no other options. (It was, in fact, a concession on my part.) Add some antsy judges and the firm desire on the part of the staff to be out of there by 11, because we were going to be whether the round was finished or not, and the standings weren’t put up with time for everyone to look and figure out. I even get to the pairings just as time is about to start for the round, stuck at the end of the feeding frenzy, to see that I am playing person-whose-name-I-don’t-recognize (but whose face I did… turns out it was Ryan Durney, who I’d seen on and off at similar events for some time) and I at least am 135th. Somehow when the draw is offered by him I convince myself, and him, that over the course of a round in which nearly everyone is playing to beat each other to death, that accepting an ID will not improve my position by the seven slots needed to sneak into Day 2. I have to make a snap decision, having only barely made it to the table without getting a game loss, literally grabbing my chair five seconds after they call game on and the opponent raises his hand to say “Judge!” I’m already technically able to receive a game loss there, so I’m just glad not to have gotten one and that rattles my thinking… I wish I could draw in, but I assumed my tiebreakers were terrible because of some of the people I played, like Mr. Squirebreathing. Instead, as I checked the next day, my breakers were 60%, which if I’d known I’d have drawn heartily.
He’s got a Red/White deck, and beats the snot out of me methodically. I have to work so hard just to stay at one life during his alpha-strike, and maybe have something left over to stay alive with another turn (or draw Tromp the Domains and strike back for the win, technically impossible since I had to commit at least enough to blocking to only be able to attack back for 12, not his 13), and no help comes when I am already clearly in a helpless situation with his board far overwhelming my own.
With him up a game I ask if the draw is still on the table, and he says it’s not. Game 2 is the same. And that, as they say, is that.
Bed calls after another late-night dinner at the International House of Pancakes, and the group beds up for the night after somehow mysteriously reassembling… I for one got a ride from the Brothers OMS and BDM, whom I was imitating in the carefree vagabond lifestyle of wandering from place to place and assuming somehow it would all work out. I check the standing and see from a mile away that I can safely draw for drafting the next day, and hope that my weeks and weeks of practicing is enough to get some money and a slot at the Pro Tour, maybe even Top 8 if I somehow miraculously 6-0 the draft pods at the hardest Grand Prix we’ve seen in North America in some time.
I’m clearly thrown and trashed about Magic, and how clearly comes up the next day, when I 0-2 with a much better Sealed Deck because I am rattled and off my game, just depressed about not making Day 2 and making obvious mis-plays (like, um, not killing my opponent) and eating hot Disintegrate to the face off the top because of it. I refuse to even draft, just watching people instead, living vicariously somehow through BDM’s second-draft trashy Black-Green deck and getting a thrill of excitement watching Paul Jordan draft only to be so disappointed when he got a poor read on what his second color should be and mish-mashed his absurdly strong Blue deck into a mediocre Blue-White stall deck, which came back to bite him in the end when he ran out of time in the second match of that pod.
And until I was nearly finished writing this up, reliving the times and the tales, I didn’t touch another card. The girl I was supposed to spend the weekend with, talking about how we get along, how much we care about each other, and whether we should be broken up (because I dumped her, like a weenie, in July) or perhaps try again and make something stronger… well, I ended up in Pittsburgh the next weekend, going out to see her instead of her coming to see me, losing the symbolism of “that would have been the weekend of our two-week anniversary if bad things hadn’t happened to pull us apart from each other” but gaining the emotional weight of going out of my way and facing down the remnants of some incredible pain… and it seems we’ll be getting back together, because everything went smashingly in the time we shared. Just without the show of support for my efforts at the Grand Prix, to win a trip to Geneva and perhaps make plans involving her, me, and a ski lodge in the Swiss Alps during a blizzard, with nothing but a roaring fire and each other to keep us warm at night.
I was worried I was scared off the cards, by that miss… but I’ve been back to drafting on MTGO since then, and am currently 7-1 in the queues and taking advantage of the Nix Tix holiday.
Bad beats come, and bad beats go, but the story… that’s forever.
smckeown @ livejournal.com
Are you an angel? Am I already that gone?
I only hope that I don’t disappoint you,
When I’m down here on my knees…
And sweet, sweet surrender… is all I have to give.
Sarah McLachlan, “Sweet Surrender”