It came, it went, and Kai Budde conquered. And I watched the whole thing from very close in.
The DCI is developing what’s called the Judge/Reporter program. There’s too little space on stage for a Judge and a reporter, so the idea is to combine the roles. There are few people qualified and fewer consistently available. At PT Chicago, it was me. Instead of being assigned as a Senior Judge or to a team, I spent the entire weekend in the Feature Match area, on the stage, or in the Press Room. The idea is to get the elite players comfortable with a small number of elite Judges and vice versa. It makes the high profile events and matches go much more smoothly. You can check out the full coverage of the event at The Sideboard (www.wizards.com/sideboard), to include my own coverage of the Semis and Finals. There is also some excellent stuff there from StarCity’s own Anthony Alongi and Josh Bennett*.
I met loads of new folks over the weekend, to include Star City’s own Pete Hoefling (well, at least face-to-face for the first time). While we didn’t get to talk as much as I would have liked (in addition to the Main Event, I also Head Judged the last three days of the Masters Series), I at least now know what he looks like. I would have gone over and bought some cards from him (luckily, my wife Lisa doesn’t read the column, so I can tell you I’m buying a load of Alphas for her for Christmas), but I was so damned busy I didn’t have the chance. Before you get weirded out by the fact that my own Magic-playing wife doesn’t read my column, rest assured that she knows the content of each one. I talk to her about it beforehand. She usually just shrugs and says "yes, dear," but it makes me feel like we’re a real team.
And hey, do me a favor. On or about the 19th of December, drop her an email at [email protected] wishing her Happy Birthday. Since her B-day is so close to Christmas, she always got shorted as a kid. I like to make it up to her as an adult by making sure cool stuff happens around them (I’m also getting her a digital camera, so shhhhh!).
I also met fellow Featured Writer Michelle Bush (although not for the first time). She told me that she had gotten some hate mail over her last column. I came home and reread it. I asked myself what kind of idiot would send her hate mail about that column. Of course there are plenty of idiots in the Magic community, and the type that would send hate mail to a smart, literate, engaging young lady like Michelle are pimply little dweebs who couldn’t get even get a date to the prom if they asked their skanky cousins. Actually, I’m a little jealous of Michelle (and Ferrett, too). I’ve gotten a few "I think you’re wrong" and "are you sure?" mails, but I haven’t gotten any hate yet. If I hear Alongi gets hate mail, I’m gonna be hacked!
So what did I see in Chicago? You’re probably wondering. I spent most of the weekend watching the game’s best and brightest. I spent two whole days in a ten-by-ten square with Mark Rosewater; make of that what you will. Jon Finkel and I got to get real close (funny how he ends up in scads of Feature Matches). I saw Pros making one brilliant play after another. I also saw them screwing up. There’s something oddly satisfying about watching someone way better than you make a mistake. I live to see Tiger Woods hit the ball into the water or, um, some bowling pro toss a 7-10 split. It makes me realize they’re human, just like you and me.
In the Feature Match area, we don’t get many "Can he do that?" questions. Instead, it’s when a player is concentrating on the game state or thinking about a complicated situation that his concentration on the details lapses. For example, a well-known Pro played Opt, put the card in his hand (instead of just looking at it) and then did that little nervous hand-shuffle thing that many players do before he decided whether to put the card on top or bottom of his library. Fortunately, I was watching the whole thing and had my eyes on the card the whole time. I saw what he was about to do, but knew if I said anything he’d fold his hand up and I’d lose sight of the card, so I let him do it. When he decided to put it at the bottom of his library, I verified that it was the same card he looked at. His opponent was flabbergasted, but I assured him I had my eye on it the whole way. I warned the player about doing that kind of thing in the future. If I hadn’t been right there, he would have likely gotten a game loss because there would have been no way to verify that he actually put back the card he looked at.
The same player played Tsabo’s Decree a few turns later, attempting to kill his opponent’s Blastoderm. He looked at the Blastoderm on the table, then clearly announced "Tsabo’s Decree for Blastoderms." Unfortunately, the creature type of Blastoderm is "Beast." I had no other choice to make him stick to what he chose. He was less than amused.
There was also an event away from the Feature Match area where a player said "Tsabo’s Decree for Archers" with his opponent having two Longbow Archers in play. Unfortunately, their creature type is "Soldier." It brought up the point, and one that I want to emphasize, that a player can ask at any time for the current Oracle wording on any card. The DCI even handed out nice, compact Judge’s Handbooks at the event, complete with the entire current Oracle version of all the cards in Extended, just for that purpose.
I did get one question about Barrin’s Spite. The answer is that the player of the spell chooses the two targets and the other player chooses how the targets will be affected. All this happens during announcement. If something happens to one of the targets, the other is still affected as chosen. I wanted to tell the player that he would know this if he had read my column (and let that be a lesson to the rest of you!).
I also got to see some of the most fun play ever to grace The Pit, as we’ve begun calling the Feature Match area. Watching Brian Kibler beat down Finkel with a Armadillo Cloaked Rith was a laugh a minute. Watching Kibler’s Rith face off in combat in the Top 8 with Zvi Mowshowitz Two-Headed Dragon was even better. From that match came one of the best comments of the weekend. Kibler was sideboarding against Zvi. There was mention of the Rith. Kibler motioned to some young (twelve to fourteen-year old) spectators and said with that infectious smile of his, "Yep, I’m going to make all their dreams come true."
That comment was exceeded on the coolness scale by Kai Budde. When playing the spell that sealed the match and the championship, he spoke dramatically its German name: Gotterdammerung**. It was only loud enough for me and Kamiel Cornelissen to hear, but still.
Every Pro Tour I attend has an experience that borders on the surreal, and this one was no exception. WotC’s Chris Galvin invited me out for beers with a few other staff folks. We went to a pub called the Red Lion, which is situated across the street from the Biograph Theatre – the very place where John Dillinger was gunned down by the FBI. The building still has its 1930’s faade and marquee (and I think I saw some bloodstains). We found a seat upstairs in the pub and noticed a large crowd in the back room. "There’s a wake going on," the bartender informed us. So we sat there and swapped stories (at a respectful volume) while there was alternating singing and drinking coming from a swarm of Chicagoans. The surreal meter pegged when they started singing a song to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," but with lyrics about the deceased.
Attending the Pro Tour is a wearying but fulfilling experience. From dinners and rules discussions with Jeff Donais and James Lee to watching Randy Buehler, Mark Rosewater, Scott Johns and Justin Gary playing a that-afternoon Richard Garfield creation called "Schizo Sealed,"*** from meeting Omeed Dariani to avoiding that one guy who reminds you of the yappy dog on the old "Tom and Jerry" cartoons and asks endless inane rules questions, it was a great weekend. I can’t wait to do it again. Repeatedly.
And that’s my Final Judgement.
Sheldon K. Menery
* – Josh has what you would call "Big Hair." Trust me on this one.
**- Armageddon. Haven’t you read my Match Report yet? What’s wrong with you?
***- Like normal Sealed, only you take 15 of your cards and give them to your opponent. He MUST play them. Decks must be 50 cards exactly. I think we’re going to run a tournament based on it soon.