About a week ago I interviewed a young woman for a potential marketing position.
She was dressed conservatively, but when she expressed herself by excitedly moving her hands. I could see a blur of blue ink behind the silver bracelet
encircling her right wrist. I am exceedingly curious about, well, everything, so eventually I broke down and had to ask her:
“What is your tat?”
“Oh, it’s from The Simpsons.”
She held up her wrist, saying “Sometimes I have to remind myself.”
This article is inspired by her tattoo.
My most referenced article is Who’s the Beatdown, but the ones people tell me
they print out the most to re-read before tournaments areMagic: The Intangibles and How to Win a PTQ. I hope some of you will bookmark, print out, and re-read this
one, perhaps after a big tournament, if and when you need to.
Player A has a commanding lead of the match, and is up 2-0 (best of 5) in what can only be considered “unwinnable” by his opponent.
Player A is playing a Mono-Black Control deck (shout out to all my Mono-Black Control fans!), and his opponent is playing a Mono-Green StOmPy deck with
all free creatures and pump spells. Player B has some tricks, though, and forced a rare misplay by Player A using Thran Foundry in Game Two (the Thran
Foundry both “Counterspelled” a Vampiric Tutor by shuffling his opponent’s deck and removed his graveyard, preventing further Yawgmoth’s Will
So it is Game Three and while Player B has his back against the wall, he has some tools. One of them being a Meekstone, which is at this point on the
Why was Meekstone relevant, when Player B was the attack deck? Player A didn’t have very many creatures, but some of them were 4/3 or 5/5, and
understandably, Player B didn’t want to be stomped by any of those. Hence, as awkward—even chafing—as it might have been for Player B, he
had to do something.
Player B has done his darndest to beat up Player A, and has just passed his turn after braining him with some Wild Dogs.
Wild Dog #1: A Wild Dog
Wild Dog #2: A Wild Dog wearing Rancor
You make the Play!
Which Wild Dog do you kill?
If you are like most players, including (unfortunately) the legendary Player A, you killed Wild Dog #2, the Wild Dog wearing Rancor.
This play is literally on the battlefield: I JUST TOLD YOU THERE WAS MEEKSTONE IN PLAY.
It is difficult to express in cards just how bad Player A’s decision was in the abstract.
Not only did the Meekstone already contain the larger Wild Dog by itself (making the Vicious Hunger a throwaway), but it turned Rancor back
on! Left on the tapped Wild Dog, Rancor would have become just one more victim to the awkward Meekstone side-in. Instead, Rancor went back into Player
B’s hand, ready to become a future quick burst of damage. Not to mention, of course, that the 2/1 Wild Dog was going to score two points it shouldn’t
have, completely blanking the text in the Hunger.
I would try to tally up just how many card advantages were lost in that goofball scuffle, but I can’t actually count that high.
No one knew it yet, but Player B would end up one of the really good ones. Eventually a two-time champ, superb designer, connoisseur of fine red wines.
But in this scenario, Player B is a speed bump, at least presumably.
Everyone assumes Player A is going to win.
Player A always wins.
Player A never loses concentration, never makes a mistake.
Which makes it all the awesomer for onlooking fans that Player B is giving him the one-two pretty damn good. His Lightning Angels are in the Red Zone,
Player A’s hit points are in the first level Rogue category, and “the beatdown” looks about one turn from lethal.
One thing “they” never tell you about Player A: among other things, he is Tommy Topdecker. His list of topdeck tales is approximately as
long as his list of high-profile victims. Player B is simply the latest in a long line.
Player A has something like eight lands in play.
So now the game slows to an icy crawl.
Player B is tanking with each move; trying to eke out each little point.
Player A keeps refusing to die. Eventually he hooks up with Phyrexian end boss Yawgmoth, and lays his Agenda down.
If nothing else, Player A will continue to make land drops, and live.
A few years earlier, at about 2 am on Easter Eve 1999, I found myself playing for a Pro Tour slot at two in the morning against a PT Top 8 competitor /
multiple GP winner / etc. in the snow-covered wilds of suburban Detroit.
I had him and his Mono-Blue Control deck on the ropes with some 2/2 Zombies, bam Bam BAM.
He missed his fifth land drop, looked at how much damage he could expect the coming turns, and tapped out for Nevinyrral’s Disk, smiling.
I looked down at the table and wordlessly finger-tapped the Sphere of Resistance I had in play since the first or second turn.
“I knew there was a reason I didn’t do that last turn.”
So back to our second scenario.
Player B is keeping on the pressure, despite the other cat’s free lands, free cards, unending life total, etc. He does something / whatever.
Player A casually Counterspells it from the graveyard.
You make the play!
Do nothing / ask if he is done / sit on your hands, or
Do anything else / attempt to cast additional Magical Spells and / or Fantastic Creatures?
Player A added three mana to pool and attempted Harrow. He may in fact have attempted it from the graveyard, having Agenda on the field. To realize why
this was a problem, you have to remember two things: 1) There used to be such a thing as mana burn, and 2) Player A was already in the low single
digits against a haste-filled Red Deck.
Magic media may have made bigger deal of this at the time than it really was; but this moment prompted more than one string of comments, and even a
front-page lampoon on Magic’s then-equivalent of The Onion.
This scenario is simultaneously inspired by Inkmoth Nexus, recent bannings, all things Mirrodin, and the previous Player B.
Player A is the good guys (not surprising, as he is considered, you know “one of the good guys”); he is not Affinity. Everybody else (including Player
Player A survives the early onslaught and manages to resolve a Mindslaver. Player B throws an inefficient Shrapnel Blast; he doesn’t “want to”
necessarily, but it’s a heck of a lot better than letting Player A pick what gets sacrificed, and where that Blast gets pointed; to wit, Player B
intends to win with his 3/2 flier (which might not otherwise survive).
Player A activates the Mindslaver, leaving up two lands including his Blinkmoth Nexus, and sees a Skullclamp as the only relevant spell. Not the most
dramatic of Mindslavers, but he has perfect information and is, in fact, worried about that Somber Hoverguard.
There are a lot of different moves Player A can make.
Equipping Skullclamp to the 3/2 and then running it into the Nexus is one, but he shudders to hand over two cards.
You make the play!
What would you do?
Player A elected to not equip the Skullclamp, but send in the Somber. He activated his Blinkmoth Nexus, blocked, and then attempted to pump it +1/+1,
not realizing that unlike Mishra’s Factory, he needed additional mana to rock that particular hizzat.
Sum total return: Made him Shrapnel Blast or two off-curve.
There are a lot of things Player A could have done; given the spot he was in he might have at least post-combat killed the Hoverguard with the
Skullclamp. Who knows? Maybe he could have lucksacked into some kind of Arcbound Ravager and blown up all. Instead he eventually lost the game to the
tiny flier, proclaiming it his worst ever mistake.
Not hard to believe, as he had perfect information and had just resolved a Mindslaver.
Fun Part and Aftermath
First… Who is Player A?
Do you know any of these stories?
Player A was The Man, The Machine, the greatest player of all time (probably), Jon Finkel.
This misstep took place in the Top 4 of the US National Championship. Despite his error, Jon regained his composure and went on to sweep Chris Benafel
in the finals, in a match that many (obviously faithless and / or misinformed) pundits had going the other way.
US Nationals was Jon’s comeback after a year of “not winning every event”; he would go on to win the World Championships and Top 8 the next Constructed
Pro Tour, all with the same set of Japanese Rishadan Ports (he would Top 8 a Limited PT as well before the Ports would carry him to a consecutive
Nationals Top 8). Guess who (at this point, nominally) actually owned those Ports? Barn.
So… The error didn’t end his career, or even the tournament.
Kai avoided at least two points of mana burn by dumping the intended Harrow fuel into a Goblin Trenches (though this set him back on Estate land, of
course). Kai held his narrow margin and went on to win the Grand Prix.
About being Tommy Topdecker? What made Kai maybe the best player of all time was that he always played to take advantage of his fortune. Where another
player might have given up what seemed like an inevitable loss, Budde would play so that if the best happened, he’d be in position to catch lightning
(or a Donate off the top) in the veritable bottle.
Scenario Three’s Player A was Kai’s London final opponent, Gabriel Nassif. Gab is the odd man out, having lost his game in question (though he did come
back to take the match). He would eventually finish second at Pro Tour Kobe on the way to becoming enshrined as one of the top players (often
considered the third of the Big Three), of all time.
Is there a point to all these goofgrabs?
The truth is, nobody’s perfect, and the best players of all time have made high-profile mistakes, in position to make Top 8 or in a Top 8;
errors on the board that any SCGLive commentator or fan at home could have seen. What defines them (Nassif in particular) is the ability to recover and
win even when they have dropped the ball.
Part of it is—yeah—Kai Budde plays so well so much of the time and makes it look so easy sometimes he looks like Ally McPeel; OF COURSE he
is going to play out of it. The other side is this: don’t bother to beat yourself up (too much), or monkey-tilt. Don’t deny it—I know you
do (or have, at least sometimes, when you think you’ve goofed your way out of some opportunity). Even the best of the best have screwed up
on-table. Y’all just ain’t that special in that regard.
Rather than admiring the awesome beauty of the problem, focus your attentions on the possible solutions, and what you can do better next time, next
tournament, or even next turn.
Happy long weekend everyone!
P.S. Scenario Zero girl? We hired her.