Dark Depths. Gifts-Depths. Rubin Zoo. Dredge. As I walked back to the hotel room, each of them seemed to harbor their own allure. Like any Magic player, I wanted results: I needed to playtest.
Despite the late hour, I convinced my cohorts to playtest with me. We built up the decks I was considering and played them against each other, as well as the stock decks we had lying around. We quickly came to the conclusion that the Gifts-Depths deck had a lot of trouble beating Zoo, even after sideboarding. Ari played Dredge at the Pro Tour and advised against it, simply on the basis that he felt keen players would have watched the coverage be ready for the deck, so it would be difficult to win a PTQ with it.
Sadin’s deck, though, was putting up numbers. We tested it against both normal zoo and Rubin zoo, and found it to be favored. The key was that Sadin had a Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek package. I learned later that they were supposed to be in the sideboard, but when Steve had tossed the deck to me the side combo had been boarded in, and so I played them as though they were maindeck. While Dark Depths might have been a plan A, it was often more of a distraction for my opponents. I would often go for the Sword-Thopter combo while they were setting up to beat my 20/20 and attack them from a completely different angle: one of my traditionally favorite plans. Even when the Rubin Zoo deck would be sitting on a Ghost Quarter, I could just get Sword-Foundry active and take them out of the game.
I went to bed content with playing Dark Depths the next day, planning to find Paulo in the morning and get his list since it had shown a lot more success than the American’s list. (Steve still contests that his list was technologically further ahead than Paulo’s list)
I sought out Paulo in the morning as planned and he had a few changes from Steve’s list: no Echoing Truth, no maindeck Threads of Disloyalty, no maindeck Duress, Repeal maindeck, two more Explosives maindeck, one less Beseech the Queen, and a radically different sideboard. I also added an Island, because I kept wanting one when my Confidant was getting Pathed. I really felt like I wanted to play the Thopter Foundry–Sword of the Meek combo though since it was winning so many games, so I tried to figure out a way to add it in. Eventually I just ended up cutting two Thoughtseizes because I expected a fair amount of zoo, although that may have been very wrong. The problem was simply limited time: I wasn’t sure if I could shave any of the combo pieces or tutors, and I figured a card like Repeal would be important to have. With a backup combo, making sure they didn’t have Path was occasionally less relevant. With the extra combo maindeck, you also have to maindeck one Academy Ruins to protect it. The list I ended up registering was this:
However, how the deck came together was a different matter. I looked in my bag about a half an hour before the PTQ, and the deck was nowhere to be found. I grabbed a deckbox that was the same as the one Steve had given me, but it just had random commons in it. No big deal, I figured I would just call Ari and Redbeard and have them bring it for me. I call them and they can’t find it anywhere. I give them very specific instructions as to where in might be to no avail. Uh oh.
I run back to our hotel — a good fifteen minutes away — to search for my deck. I walk in and they are all ready to go. I look down at the floor and my deck is sitting right on the floor slightly under the tip of the bed, where anybody could see it. Sigh.
I run back to the convention center and find the PTQ ready to start in about five minutes, and I still haven’t made the changes to my deck that I needed to. Fortunately, Anthony Avitollo has the last minute save and ships me the missing cards. I hastily write out my deck registration sheet and finish just in time to battle round one.
Round 1 — Dark Depths
He wins the roll, and game one I have a hand which gives me potential for a turn three Marit Lage token. On his turn three he looks distressed, tanks, then Thoughtseizes me. I felt he was just trying to fish for information based on how he acted, but I had a bad read and he flashed a Repeal. The game continues on and he manages to get a 20/20 token, but I assemble Thopter Foundry–Sword of the Meek and swarm him with tokens while blocking his Marit Lage.
Game two he has a turn one Seize, turn two, Confidant, which I rip Threads for. I promptly play a Mox, Threads Confidant, and gain an absurd advantage.
After the match I’m informed I have a decklist error because I wrote down Pithing Needle twice under my sideboard. I sigh and accept it, only frustrated because, unlike most deck registration errors when it’s entirely my fault and I can accept it, I felt like my roommates not being able to find my deck so they could bring it, therefore causing me to write down my decklist at the last second, were to blame here. (But then again, it was me who grabbed the wrong deckbox, so who’s fault was it really?) Regardless, I just had to shake it off and get ready to battle the next round.
Round 2 — Standard Kithkin
My opponent introduces himself and informs me that I will never guess what he’s playing. I guess Kithkin and he is taken aback that I was able to guess properly. I ask if he’s the same guy who made top eight of an Extended PTQ last season with Kithkin, and he replies that, indeed, he was.
As for the game, I don’t want to talk about it. Okay… fine. I maintain a huge advantage in the early game as he is stalled on lands and I repeal his first two plays. I keep drawing blanks, but begin to assemble my Dark Depths combo when I should have just went for Thopter Foundry. He gets a little lucky and rips Cloudgoat Ranger followed by Spectral Procession to block my 20/20, but it’s my fault for going for the wrong combo in the first place. It’s worth noting that if I would have kept Steve’s maindeck Echoing Truth I would have been able to win this game because I could have transmuted for it and cleared tokens out of the way.
It was pretty frustrating to lose game one of highly favorable matchup and then not being able to correct it in the next two games, but considering I made a mistake and went for the wrong combo (not to mention picked up a game loss) I can’t really complain too much.
Round 3 — Zoo
He’s playing Kibler Zoo. Game one I get a slow draw and don’t find any way to search for my Foundry-Sword combo, and I die to a horde of creatures.
Game two, he lands turn three Blood Moon, but I can still operate on some level thanks to my Island. Furthermore, all he has is a 1/1 Kird Ape, and he is locked out from doing much of anything because he has a basic plains, not a forest. If I can just find a Chrome Mox I can begin to cast my Vendilion Cliques and transmute Muddles, but I never do and he eventually finds a Path to trade up his Kird Ape for a forest and cast a bevy of green fatties.
Well, that was anticlimactic.
I drop and go eat lunch, then return for a sealed GPT. Playing in it was a gigantic misplay though because I had forgotten Question Mark was that night and I wanted to play in that for sure. “Fortunately,” I lost my third round so I didn’t have to feel like scum by winning my third round then dropping.
Question Mark was definitely one of my highlights from the weekend. It tests the kind of random information I’m good at remembering. For those who have never played, it’s a trivia show hosted by Mark Rosewater where you get into three man teams and compete against other teams swiss-style, then cut to top eight. Awesome prizes were up for grabs, including boxes and RYZ Magic shoes. I teamed up with Adam Prosak and Anthony Avitollo, and we were off. We got to name our team after any Magic card we wanted, so we chose the Ice Age staple Justice. (In a comical display, we would shout out our victory cry of, “JUSTICE!” every time we won a round.)
The questions were all Zendikar based, and ranged from very easy rounds (name up to one Zendikar card for each letter of the alphabet, team that gets the most letters wins, or name as many mythic rares as possible) to more moderate rounds (name the card this flavor text appears on) to absurdly hard rounds (answer a variety of flavor related questions such as, “What is Nissa’s homeland,” “what are the two races of elves on Zendikar,” and so on.) We made it to the semifinals where we lost against Andre Mueller’s team (followed by Adam’s scream of “no justice!) Still, while it would have been cool to win that round and win boxes or shoes, we ended up with some free sleeves, shirts, and Planechase kits for the semifinals, which wasn’t bad. Overall it was a really fun experience, and I will definitely play Question Mark the next time I’m at a Pro Tour.
Afterward I went with Brian Kowal, Sam Black, Gaudenis, and other Madisonians, as well as Evan Erwin, and ate French toast at a diner that Brian drove us to, then had some delicious cake for dessert. We returned to the site, where I met up with Max, who had been busy birding drafts to bogart their full art lands (turns out the dealers were buying them at .15 cents each — Max ended up with hundreds of them, which he then sold. You do the math) and the rest of my roommates and we headed back to our room. I had poetry to write for one of my classes which was randomly due that Sunday, but even huddled up in my corner typing away on my laptop, I saw one of the most absurd Magic-based bets formulate.
Ari was bored. Real bored. I let them crack the Planechase product I had won, but that lost its allure pretty fast. Ari and Max quickly came up with a unique idea: play archaic control mirror matches for money. They quickly settled on the Onslaught-Mirrodin (no Darksteel) Astral Slide mirror match after Ari claimed he had a build that could not lose the mirror. They both agreed on some basic terms — you still had to include cards like Wrath and Renewed Faith so you couldn’t just exclusively metagame for the mirror — and then they quickly proxied up two lists. It was thoroughly entertaining for me to see a matchup from 2003 being played at a 2009 Pro Tour. Eventually I finished my poetry and we went to bed, Max ended up in games overall, his Decree of Annihilations trumping Ari’s Blaze and Akroma.
Sunday of the Pro Tour heralds the draft challenge, the $3,000 draft event that is capped at 128 players. I was to late to join in Hawaii, and this time I arrived to the event site a hour and a half before the event started and still only barely made it in.
My first draft went horribly awry, as I picked three awesome black cards in a row — Hideous End, Disfigure, Gatekeeper of Malakir — then got completely cut out of black, and then didn’t see any black cards pack two. I ended up with a slow G/W deck sporting not one, but two maindeck Zendikar Farguides and 19 lands. My lone saving grace was Terra Stomper, which I accelerated out with my Greenweaver Druid to beat Cedric Phillips in one game, then he received a game loss in the next game. I quickly lost my second match, and, after scouting the other decks in my pod, figured I would conserve my rating and just drop at 1-1 rather than play out two more matches with my deck and almost assuredly lose. Plus, this way I could join the GPT!
There was an Extended GPT going on, and I still had Steve’s Dark Depths deck built from the day prior. I switched a Bitterblossom for a Doom Blade in the sideboard, but otherwise everything remained the same. Only twenty-odd players, so five rounds with one X-2 very likely to make it.
Round 1 — Zoo
I’m playing against Brian Lynch with Zoo in the first round. I ask him if he’s going to Tampa and he says no, and then asks me in return. I let him know I am, and he lets me know he’s going to scoop to me. He was only in the event since it was free for him because he was the state champion, and he was going to drop so he could go watch the New England Patriots game anyway. We play two games for fun and he rolls me, but I didn’t feel like my mind was really in either game.
Round 2 — Dredge
I sit across from someone I knew from the LCQ and offer him the draw. In addition to being someone I knew and was friendly with, he top eighted the PTQ with dredge the day before, so he’s obviously a competent player, and I would much rather have to play out my fourth or fifth round than play against dredge this round. He thinks about it, then accepts.
Round 3 — Bant
I’m playing against a French player with Bant. I Thoughtseize him and take one of his two spells, leaving him with a War Monk, but he cracks a fetchland then rips three spells in a row, including his one-of Pithing Needle for Vampire Hexmage. I just go to plan B and crush him with Foundry-Sword.
Game two he Pithing Needles Hexmage, then Meddling Mages Thopter Foundry. He plays out a Tarmogoyf and I Explosives them all away, then assemble Foundry-Sword and win.
After the match he chides me for leaving Sword-Foundry in against his deck, and all I can do is point at the Meddling Mages and Pithing Needle to show that I need a plan B.
Round 4 — Next Level Blue
These games are pretty noninteractive. Game one, I have a turn two Dark Depths and he doesn’t have Repeal.
Game two I gain a ridiculous advantage with two Dark Confidants, which I never took a single point of damage from and as a result draw all lands, Chalices, and Moxes. Eventually I get to Dark Depths, but he makes a Vendilion Clique, blocks, then untaps and casts Threads the token.
Game three I have turn two Dark Depths again, and he once again doesn’t have the Repeal.
Round 5 — Intentional Draw
Quarterfinals — Bant
I am playing against a different Bant player than before this time, although their builds seem pretty close. Game two he gets a fast draw with Noble Hierarchs, Tarmogoyfs, and War Monks, and I drew very little to counteract his draw.
Game two is fairly standard procedure, as he comfortably Trinket Mages for Pithing Needle on Hexmage and I Thopter-Sword up and swarm him.
Game three, he plays Noble Hierarch. I play Mox, land, Dark Confidant. He untaps, tanks, Threads my Confidant and passes. I have to draw a land so I can repeal my Confidant back… But I don’t, he gets my Confidant active, and I quickly lose thereafter.
After all of the losing I had been through on the weekend, I figure there’s only one thing to do: devour cake. And thus begins the final story I have for you, one which is on the scale of epics told in ancient Greece. Let me tell you about the Quest for the Cakelord.
I got knocked out of the GPT at about 3pm and immediately began to recruit minions to go eat cake with. By around 5pm we had a good-sized party of nine people or so, and we began to scour sixth street for cake. However, some of the people were actually hungry, so we took a detour to a Thai place. I had a delicious Thai dish, but they had no cake on the menu. Oh well. We walked back to the convention center and the group disbanded, but my hunger for cake had not yet been quenched.
I once again began to find people to go caking with, and around 9pm a mostly new group of people headed out in search of cake. We stopped at several restaurants throughout the city. The first restaurant we came to, which we knew had cake, had closed a half an hour early. Okay, sure. We began to wander down sixth street, and every place was either closed, didn’t have cake, or was (I kid you not) out of cake. Eventually, after over an hour of wandering, our group decided to stop in at a restaurant, which I agreed to because they claimed to have cake. I opened the menu, and to my despair, they had not cake, but brownies. To some, brownies would basically be cake. But to this man, there was a fine line. The others had drink and meal, and even brownies (which were pronounced, “decidedly mediocre” by Max) but I held out for cake.
I looked at the time and it was 11:30pm, and Champions, the restaurant inside the Hilton next to the convention center, was open until 12:00. I was told they had cake, and so Max and I bravely sojourned to Champions. But our race against the clock proved futile, as they were literally locking up the front doors as we arrived. Was this where my quest was to end?
Dismayed, I walked inside the Hilton, where I encountered Brian Kowal, among others, finishing up a money draft in the lobby. It was midnight, and my flight left in six hours, so I sat down on the couch and mulled over my options. As Kowal finished his match he walked over, and I saw my last chance: Brian had a car, and he ate cake the night before. I asked if he wanted cake, to which I heard him respond with a resounding yes, a yes so strong that I could tell that his resolve to search for cake was just as strong as mine. We began to scout around for people to bring with us, but Sam wasn’t interested. Max decided to tag along, and we walked over to the other Hilton (yes, there were two Hiltons right next to each other) to try and see if there were any people from the Pro Tour that would be interested in going.
We walk in to the hotel, and encounter several people playing cards in the lobby. The strange part is that none of us recognize any of them. As we approach, they look up at us and I could tell they were looking at us with the same stare we were looking at them with. “How’s it going?” one of them asked quizzically.
“Not bad,” I replied. “Are you guys finishing up a team draft, or what?” I was met with blank stares. I looked down, and my mouth twisted and fell aghast. They were all playing Yu-Gi-Oh.
“Wait, what’s going on? Why are you guys all playing Yu-Gi-Oh?”
They look at us strangely. “We’re just playing some games after the big tournament today…”
“There was a tournament today?”
“Yeah. Were you here for it?
“No, we were here for the Magic Pro Tour.”
“There was a Magic Pro Tour?”
It was literally like walking into the other Hilton across the street had transported us into some freaky parallel universe. The three of us quickly made our way to the exit and headed towards Brian’s car, which Gaudenis had misplaced (“I parked somewhere near the convention center,” he said when we called him) and then were on our way towards cakedom.
We arrived at the same diner Brian and I went to dinner at the night prior, conveniently open 24 hours, around 3am: 12 hours after the quest originally began. Brian decides we should have something non-cake before we eat cake, so he orders a vegetarian breakfast dish and I order a cinnamon bun. I wait for Brian to finish his meal, and finally, we’re ready to order cake. The waitress comes over and Brian and I each order cake. (Max is still full from his mediocre brownie we ate early. Ha! Misplay.) Minutes that seem like a frozen eternity pass by, and eventually the waitress returns. With one piece of cake.
I let her know that we wanted two pieces total, and she apologizes and says she will bring out another piece shortly. Brian quickly bogarts the first slice of cake, which I am fine with, considering I will be eating cake soon enough. Brian finishes, and we wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually, the waitress comes out and drops something onto our table. Only, it isn’t cake. It’s a receipt.
“Wait, I ordered cake.”
“…You did?” said the waitress, as she just ignored me and walks away, leaving the receipt in my hand.
I began to pull out my wallet to pay.
“What are you doing?!” they both asked in unison.
In a moment that was very Tom LaPille of me, I shrugged and replied, “Clearly the universe doesn’t want me to have win anything this weekend. I have been denied at every possible turn.”
They both stared at be, be wildered, and the silence hung in the air like a balloon slowly floating upward. I moved toward my wallet again, and Max broke the silence.
“Look, you did not drag me around with you for twelve hours so that we could get here and then pass up on cake!” Max spun around. “Hey waitress, can we get this man some cake?!” she blushed a little, and then ran back into the kitchen.
I’m so glad I have friends like these.
Minutes later, she emerged and finally sat a piece of gorgeous chocolate cake, drizzled in syrup, ice cream, and whipped cream, on the table. “It’s on the house,” she whispered with a wink.
I dug in and took a bite, savoring every taste. I looked up, and smiled at my two companions that had survived the journey. Finally, victory was mine.
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else.