In the morning, on the prehistoric hotel computer – I think it was made by Mayans – I leave a message on PTR’s MySpace letting him know that I’m in town and that he should come by.
I continue on to the lobby restaurant, where I find Barbero and Karsten. We talk for a few minutes and then, all of a sudden, PTR is just standing there, as if from the future.
We decide to go to Six Flags.
PTR has a hummer, so Osyp, Nassif, Soh, Barbero, and Siron can all fit. As usual I gun nook, and cuddle up to the woofer in the very very back. The Invitationalists are treated to the PTR tour of LA. “I once had to sh** so bad, I went right on the ground in that park over there.”
Magic Mountain’s deserted, just the way I like it. We rode almost all of the roller coasters in there, and it was really cool to see the normally-quiet Terry Soh shouting but still trying to remain polite, even though the coaster took him to the brink of death.
After enough rides, adrenaline gives way to a gentle and steady nausea. We break, and the conversation turns to our card submissions. Siron says he’s going to submit Sparkmage Apprentice, and Nassif explains his latest Yellowhat creation. I notice that Jose Barbero, looking pensive and anxious, has a small notepad in his hand. “What’s your card, Jose?”
I will not attempt to summarize the conversation that ensued – I do not write a good Argentinian dialect – I will only say that, in the effort to capture and immortalize his personality on cardboard, in his quest to leave an imprint on the game of Magic forever, this is what Jose had come up with:
Flip a coin. If you win the flip you win the game. Otherwise, you lose the game.
I leaned closer. Two prototypes had been crossed off but were still legible:
Barbero’s Spring Break ‘06
Draw three cards. Gain eight life.
Flip a coin. If you win the flip you win the game. Otherwise, you lose the game.
Barbero Boner Jams
It’s just the same thing as Spring Break.
We ride back in silence.
After a pit stop at a futuristic food court, we return to the hotel on time for the Auction, which comes as a pleasant surprise to PTR-conscious tournament organizer Scott Larabee.
We file into a small conference room and are handed two Invitational shirts each. I announce my plans to have everyone sign it with a silver pen to help me eBay it for DI. (For the record, they refused and, as it turns out, DI is $20.)
Buehler, Turian, Zvi, Sottosanti, and Rosewater are there. The other Invitationalists arrive, and after some preliminaries we finally begin.
The coverage on the Sideboard pretty much sums it up from a general perspective. Antoine gets Pikula’s deck first. Five cards seems low, until you remember that he gets to start the game with a free Coercion – huge when you’re playing against other five-card hands. The deck was easily worth at least ten more life, and probably another card. I was interested, but a bit jittery about committing so early in the auction.
What I liked most about Antoine’s approach was his dramatic bidding style. Instead of nickel and diming one life at a time, he made drastic swings. This definitely scared off curiosity-seekers when, had they stayed around longer, they might’ve realized how good the deck was.
Paskins’s deck comes up, and, since I think it’s good, I end up bidding pretty aggressively. It gets down to myself versus Barbero (a dangerous man when cornered). I finally give in at six cards, eleven life. I decided I wanted to at least give myself a shot at the really good decks. This turned out to be a good decision, as Jose went 0-3, and I did get one of the good decks.
The next deck I got into a bidding war over was Rizzo’s Fallen Angel deck, with Williams. All of a sudden it’s down to the two of us. Somewhere during the process, I realize that, while the price is okay, I do not want to play this deck. I do not trust it, I do not like it, it is not me. Williams bids from six cards down to five, and I vanish into thin air.
Williams looks to his hands, and where there was formerly a heap of gold coins, there is now a potato-sized dog turd.
The tension level increases as Sheriff Nassif decides to start a precedent of “bolting” and “fireblasting” people, aggressively value bidding. In one case, Kenji retroactively returns to the previous bid (after Nassif petitions the organizers to let him do so), just so he can Hidetsugu’s Second Rite Karsten for value. It was simply masterful.
Fujita’s deck comes up, and surprisingly no one really goes after it. I follow in Ruel’s footsteps and bid Siron from twenty-two life to fifteen. He passes, and gives me a fantastic deal for one of the best decks there.
The coverage describes this as “Cunningham wasted no time jumping down seven life to make sure he got Fujita’s deck. Who knows if he could have gotten a few more life points by going down slower, but Williams did recommend the deck when asked.” I love how the only way the Sideboard can legitimize a decision I make is by attaching Dave Williams’ approval. It’s like those movie posters with “ ‘Three stars!’— Wake up Wisconsin.”
Getting Fujita’s deck was a huge relief. Afterwards the auction got really hairy. There were only a few good decks left, and a lot of mediocre ones. The good ones were overbid, and even the mediocre ones were squabbled over. It became pretty pathetic when Osyp and Antonino fought over Wakefield’s Joshie Green deck like a pair of starved jackals. I think Osyp may still have been feeling the Chili flavored air he and PTR got at the oxygen bar earlier in the day.
In the end, I thought that I, Nassif, Barbero, and Antoine got the best deals.
My grand entrance to the centerpiece of the Invitational festivities, the big dinner on Wizards of the Coast – this time at The House of Blues – is nearly thwarted when the two tables fill up and I find myself positively seatless. The waitress directs me to a small wicker table off to the side. (Cunningham, party of one?) Eventually the situation is remedied when Nuijten invites me over to his corner, with a warm smile and “we can squish.”
I ask Fujita if his auction deck is any good, and he says that he doesn’t know, as he built it in five minutes. Pierre Canali shows Kenji some dance moves outside the hotel, to which Kenji, as famously quoted in Olivier’s column, says, for the entire restaurant, “Pielu Canali dansu is sexual harrassument!” Aye, my friend.
Later that evening, Pierre would take a number of the Invitationalists out salsa dancing. He would say, proudly, that he had called ahead – in English! – to confirm the location. After a forty-minute cab ride, they arrive, dressed to the nines, at a Mexican restaurant where a bewildered Maitre D’ explains “I said we have salsa, as in the dip…”
A dinner draft breaks out at the next table. I discuss with Flores what I think is the next great innovation in modern Magic — 60-plus card decks — and whether even Finkel or Kai is the best player of all time (or whether it’s one of the Japanese). The food, drink, and desert come and go. I agree to fill in for Osyp in the dinner draft back at the conference room, and end up 3-0ing thanks to, in R&D member Randy Buehler words, “the only time Brownscale’s lifegain ability has ever been relevant.” In this case, Brownscale was much like Ethan Hawke in Gattaca, engineered by his creators to be the nutlow but still managing to overcome all the odds.
I head back to the room, where Nassif and Williams are playtesting their Auction decks online against Mike Long (the omnipresent Vader), and fall asleep.
We’re up at seven Wednesday morning, in order to commute in vans to E3 on time to start at nine.
Most of the time is spent in dense traffic on the freeway. I love LA. The city seems to have an energy rooted in the most modern vernacular.
When we arrive, I’m blown away. E3 is insane. It’s difficult for me to even describe to people who haven’t been there; certainly I had no idea before I arrived. Gigantic flashy Playstation, X-Box, and Nintendo compounds are the core of a huge multi-room stadium. Surrounding them is a maze of smaller compounds (including the Wizards of the Coast booth). One of the main purposes of exhibition at E3 is to attract media, and so the booths go all out to do just that. This means extravagant architecture, hot women (okay, if you insist, “booth babes”), celebrities (Paris Hilton, Robin Williams), free merchandise, and performances (various Internet phenomena). The place is packed tight with hardcore gamers – no public access. On multiple occasions I nearly got lost wandering between rounds. On multiple occasions I nearly lose my belt between rounds (booth babes).
I hear that the new Nintendo Wii was debuting here, and am desperate to see it. We’re let in before the other pass-holders, so there’s not even a line yet, but we don’t have time. I consider asking Scott if we can have a group fieldtrip to Nintendo, but as the low man on the totem pole (at this point my invitation is still categorized as “elaborate joke”) I decide I’d better keep quiet.
We settle at the Wizards booth, which is almost like a mini Pro Tour set up – a feature match pit combined with a retail booth. There are seven computers against seven computers, with two more at a larger metal feature table.
We are handed MTGO accounts and passwords. Inside are our Duplicate Sealeds.
- 1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Seizan, Perverter of Truth
- 1 Krosan Tusker
- 1 Sire of the Storm
- 1 Undead Gladiator
- 1 Arcanis the Omnipotent
- 1 Graveborn Muse
- 1 Dragon Mage
- 1 Bringer of the Blue Dawn
- 1 Gerrard Capashen
- 1 Etched Oracle
- 1 Thieving Magpie
- 1 Maro
- 1 Aven Fisher
- 1 Riptide Survivor
- 1 Macetail Hystrodon
- 1 Gempalm Avenger
- 1 Wirewood Savage
- 1 Wall of Mulch
- 1 Hystrodon
- 1 Sunscape Battlemage
- 1 Phyrexian Rager
- 1 Phyrexian Gargantua
- 1 Fungal Shambler
- 1 Riptide Crab
- 1 Kavu Climber
- 1 Benalish Heralds
- 1 Obstinate Familiar
- 1 Mindslicer
- 1 Cephalid Scout
- 1 Nantuko Cultivator
- 1 Adamaro, First to Desire
- 1 Haru-Onna
- 1 Kitsune Loreweaver
- 1 Kiyomaro, First to Stand
- 1 Sokenzan Spellblade
- 1 Carven Caryatid
- 1 Dimir Cutpurse
- 1 Dimir Guildmage
- 1 Grave-Shell Scarab
- 1 Primordial Sage
- 1 Glint-Eye Nephilim
- 1 Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
- 1 Howling Mine
- 1 Underworld Dreams
- 1 Bone Harvest
- 1 Browbeat
- 1 Starstorm
- 1 Akroma's Vengeance
- 1 Decree of Justice
- 1 Staff of Domination
- 1 Night's Whisper
- 1 Promise of Power
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Chromatic Sphere
- 1 Teferi's Puzzle Box
- 1 Sudden Impact
- 1 Gilded Light
- 1 Claws of Wirewood
- 1 Words of Wilding
- 1 Renewed Faith
- 1 Oblation
- 1 Death Pulse
- 1 Soul Rend
- 1 Misers' Cage
- 1 Stun
- 1 Solfatara
- 1 Phyrexian Tyranny
- 1 Implode
- 1 Hobble
- 1 Confound
- 1 Aura Blast
- 1 Allied Strategies
- 1 Smash
- 1 Zap
- 1 Repulse
- 1 Annihilate
- 1 Aggressive Urge
- 1 Words of Wisdom
- 1 Shelter
- 1 Second Thoughts
- 1 Unquestioned Authority
- 1 Ember Shot
- 1 Plagiarize
- 1 Spellbook
- 1 Dosan's Oldest Chant
- 1 Ebony Owl Netsuke
- 1 Gaze of Adamaro
- 1 One with Nothing
- 1 Rending Vines
- 1 Spiraling Embers
- 1 Compulsive Research
- 1 Remand
- 1 Ribbons of Night
- 1 Terrarion
- 1 Cerebral Vortex
- 1 Repeal
- 1 Wildsize
Wow. I really had no idea what to expect, but as soon as I’m glancing over the cards, and the premise of the build dawns on me, I’m fascinated. It’s like being at a virgin prerelease, a pleasure long denied my hardened spoiler junkie.
One of the best things about the Invitational is being able to enjoy great unconventional formats like this while staying in a highly competitive arena. Trust me; from a man who likes his Rainbow Stairwell – it’s a rare treat.
Since almost every card is a cantrip here, card advantage is less relevant – it’s unlikely that anyone’s ever going to run out of things to do with their mana in this card pool. So then, it becomes a matter of efficiency – tempo. Getting your cards out of your hand, and using your mana to do more than your opponent. This is especially important when the format has only a handful of drops under four mana.
Blue cards seemed like a good fit. The format was so warped that bounce was almost removal, just cheaper.
Green had Maro, which is insane, but all of the guys just seemed to be too expensive. I couldn’t get any sort of curve going.
I tried Green with the Red. Red had Spiraling Embers, Gaze of Adamaro and Sudden Impact, and the obvious best card in the format, Adamaro. I knew that Red was a must-play color.
I couldn’t see any real reason to play White, except for the two-drop. Gerrard and another Maro are okay, I guess, but five-drops are hardly enticing. I really can’t believe people played White, although Turian said he went R/W in the practice build. Then again, Turian goes R/W in the dark.
Black had a few big guys, but nothing that really stood out, except for Ribbons of Night, and Underworld Dreams. Most of all, it just seemed like a poor metagame call against all the burn (with strong cards being the Graveborn Muse, Night’s Whisper, Phyrexian Rager and Gargantuan).
I also noticed Phyrexian Tyranny, which, somehow, I misread to affect only your opponent. The way I read it, trust me, this thing was the nuts in this format. The way it actually is… not worth playing, and definitely definitely not worth splashing.
I try various iterations of UBR, but end up taking the standout colors (Blue for the format, Red for its cards), and putting in every cheap tempo card I can find, which, I think, makes my build stand out positively from the rest. I make sure to play as high a land count as reasonably possible, since missing a land drop in this format is damn near game over, and I had two cycling lands to help avoid flood.
My big screw-up is splashing Black for a useless card. I board the Tyranny out every time, for Ribbons. The bad splash hurt me even more than it would in normal Limited, because in Duplicate Sealed you’re not allowed to sideboard in basic lands.
Here’s my list:
- 1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Thieving Magpie
- 1 Aven Fisher
- 1 Obstinate Familiar
- 1 Cephalid Scout
- 1 Adamaro, First to Desire
- 1 Sokenzan Spellblade
- 1 Dimir Guildmage
- 1 Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
If I could build it again, I’d take out the Black, and replace the Tyranny with the Riptide Survivor.
Around this point is when everyone starts to notice that the network is moving incredibly slowly. If you’ve played Magic Online a lot, you’ll know how frustrating it is to play Magic when you’re lagged. Just ask Nassif about the time he found me with 0 seconds on my clock and a Searing Flesh on the stack. He had to talk me off a ledge. Combine this ordinary frustration with playing for something important – when your mana’s not tapping right, you’re constantly concerned about misclicks, missed attacks – and it’s just the worst. Unfortunately, this situation was never fixed over the weekend and made every match uncomfortable to some degree.
After I was done, I didn’t really get a chance to see what anyone else did with their deck except for Jose, who had a similar R/U, and who chided me for copying his build. Awkward.
Round 1, I play Olivier Ruel.
Game 1 was a good example of why my deck worked.
I’m on the draw but Solfatara him before he has a play, which in this format is basically Disrupting the Fact or Fiction.
I then proceed to get ahead with a Jens into Ninja of Deep Hours into Jens 360.
On my turn a few turns later, my board is: eight lands, Spellblade, Cephalid Scout, and five cards in hand – Stun, Repulse, Magpie, Land, Land.
Olivier has eight lands, Hystrodon, a Gerrard Capashen (yikes) and a five-card grip full of meat since he Researched last turn.
I Stun the Hyssy, drawing into another land, and attack with the Spellblade and the Scout, threatening eighteen damage if unblocked (he’s at twenty-one).
He doesn’t block. I pump twice, getting him to eight, play a land and Repulse Gerrard.
He untaps, replays Gerrard, and passes with three mana up. On my turn I have five cards again, now with an Aven Fisher. I attack with the Scout and the Spellblade, and he gangblocks. I pump my Spellblade once to 8/5 and deal all eight to Gerrard (to play around the Wildsize he’s representing). I drop the two flyers after, and, despite a hand full of fatties and tricks, he has no way to deal with them.
Had he simply blocked the Spellblade with the Hystrodon and Wildsized it, I probably lose. Who knows if that’s the right play there, though.
Game 2, he gets a two-drop and a three-drop on the play, which in this format means a lot of damage. I play Niv-Mizzet turn 6, but he already has a Primordial Sage and I’m forced to block a bear with the dragon, and lose it to Wirewood Claws.
Game 3, despite having played quickly, because of the lag, I’m down to 10:00. And the lag is suddenly worse than ever.
By this point I’m complaining to anyone that’ll listen – R&D members walking by, patrons, booth babes – about the time concern. Other competitors open new matches to play a single untimed Game 3, but our game will stand. It’s like one of those Magic nightmares, where you 7-0 Day 1 of the Pro Tour but sleep through Day 2 or something, or you book your hotel in the jungle and you can’t get back to the tournament site.
I have Obstinate Familiar, and Ninja of the Deep Hours, but no Mountain. I play Terrarion turn 1, the Obstinate turn 2, the Ninja turn 3, and the Magpie turn 4, all while he still hasn’t put anything on the board!
He finally plays a Hystrodon, and I Embers it, and drop a Chromatic Sphere to keep seven cards in hand. It’s a bloodbath, but it turns around.
He plays Vengeance. I play Niv-Mizzet. He plays Ribbons. I play Spellblade. He plays Decree of Justice. We both keep playing creatures. The board stalls.
I play Dimir Guildmage. He plays Haru-Onna, Benalish Heralds, Solemn Simulacrum.
We keep trading guys. The lag is worse than ever. I’m at 4:00.
I play Adamaro, a big blocker.
He plays Cultivator and Gerrard, and keeps attacking. I’m on the back foot. Down to 1:00 now. He has seven cards left in his library.
I keep drawing cards. Down to 0:45. Twelve lands in play. I make him draw three cards. Down to 0:20. I’m just hitting “okay” now. Just hitting “okay,” and thinking not like this, not like this.
On his draw step, he decks.
I have 0:07 on my clock.
It would have been easy for Olivier to time me out (for example, by simply activating his Loreweaver a couple times during his last upkeep), and I appreciate that he didn’t. It had been an absurd situation, and, one round into the Invitational, I already had the jitters.
From now on there’s still lag, but at least the matches go untimed.
Round 2 I play Tsuyoshi Fujita, who’s with BRu aggro.
Game 1 I get a good aggressive start and everything’s going well until all of a sudden he hits me with Adamaro, then Embers my face. I leave up a chump blocker, and I’m going to win next turn as long as he doesn’t have Remand for my Repulse, and a Sudden Impact (Gaze won’t do it)… but he has ‘em.
Game 2 I get out an early Adamaro, and I Repeal it when he tries to kill it. I replay it, and he can’t beat it.
Game 3 I can’t remember, and the replays are gone.
Anyway, I gently pull his eyelids closed, and leave two coins on top for the reaper.
Besides the lag, another trademark of the 2006 Invitational was a booming voice from a neighboring first-person-shooter booth announcing “UNLEASH THE FUURRRRY” every thirty seconds.
Round 3 I am playing Nassif, who has control-style U/R
We split the first two games.
Game 3 I play Adamaro turn 3, but he has one too. I get out a Magpie, and keep bouncing Nassif’s Magpie to get ahead. I play out another guy and he Starstorms. I Niv-Mizzet, and then he Niv-Mizzets. He starts drawing cards, I attack him, and then he neutralizes my guys. I am low on life from his Ebony-Owl Netsuke and Misers’ Cage, and he’s low from my creatures.
At one point, he has five cards in hand to my land in hand, with me having only Spellblade in play. I’ve emptied my hand to avoid dying to some combination of Embers and Gaze/Impact. He plays a blocker then passes, Plagiarizes me, and plays Words of Wisdom, digging for enough gas to kill me before dying himself. He chumps and, on his turn, taps out to play a creature. I draw Gaze of Adamaro, and attack him with Spellblade. He doesn’t block, and I pump it to get Nassif down to four (he has three cards in hand), and then play Gaze on him during his draw step.
He’s down to only two cards in his library, but he’s forced to Remand it and pass.
On my turn I ponder what he could have, and ask Osyp if I’m allowed to open my deck editor. He says no, but that Nassif probably has Bone Harvest.
Nassif – a true bluffmaster – gets angry at Osyp, leading me to believe he does have said card. In fact, his out was me playing a card drawer so that he could Vortex me out. I pass the turn, and he loses.
I’m not sure if there’s anyone on Earth who hates losing more than Nassif. It could be $5 four-on-four after he wins a PT… if you suck out on him, he will chuck the deck – it’s practically in his contract. This reminds me of something Siron said, “I am actually a bad loser. I think being a bad loser might be a good quality in Magic, because it gives you the drive to be better — it makes you want to win.” I think there might be some truth to this.
I once asked Nassif if he would ever consider writing a book on Magic strategy.
He just laughed, as if the idea were absurd, “what would I write? Chapter 1 –the Upkeep.”
I am happy to have 3-0’d Duplicate when I was feeling a little unsure during the deckbuild. I was already confident for the Auction, so now I’m feeling really good.
Round 4 I am playing Terry Soh.
Terry had Cuneo’s Serra Angel B/R deck. A good matchup for me – all his removal is pretty inefficient against my avatar, and it’s hard for him to Mutilate for fear of a Natural Affinity.
We hit a speedbump when he Cranials me Game 1, and we realize that ol’ butterfingers (me) accidentally submitted a list with +1 Wirewood Herald -1 Natural Affinity, and so have to restart.
In Auction, because of the low hand counts, everyone chooses to draw. For my deck this was good, because it meant a very small window to kill Husk, which is functionally a three-mana Phage in this deck. If you want to know how I felt playing this deck, it just felt like, yeah, I was summoning Phage turn 2 every other game. It was nice.
In the real Game 1, he trades with my guys a little, leaving me tokens. I rip Sadistic Hypnotist and empty his hand. He’s Divining Topping into Divining Tops to get a little ahead in life, but I draw Husk, and then a creature, and that’s enough to do twenty-four real quick.
Game 2, I have him drawing dead by turn 3 with (I think his out was 4 Rituals and 2 Mutilates or something) when I make Llanowar Elf, Nantuko Husk, with more guys and a Natural Affinity in hand.
Round 5 I am playing Mike Flores.
I had tried making conversation with the one and only Mike Flores at various points earlier in the tournament, to no avail. I was a little hurt by this. Mike is finally forced to talk to me and asks me for the draw; I politely decline and state we’re playing it out.
I admit it, I came out swinging in this match encounter with lots of verbal barbs… and they were all aimed at Mike. It’s not that I don’t like Flores; I have nothing personal against the man. I think he’s a fantastic writer, and his deck building skills are obviously second to none. My issue with him is that whenever he rolls into PTQs around my area, he acts like he owns the place. I definitely wanted Mike to get a taste of his own medicine.
We got the deck lists, and I loved my matchup. He was basically Rock to my Paper. The combo his deck is based around doesn’t work against my avatar. His only out is six mana – Living Wish for Fog Kami, and Genesis Chamber – tough when I have aggression, disruption, and he starts every game with a double mulligan.
Game 1, I Cabal Therapy his hand away. He gums up the board with tokens from Genesis Chamber, but he’s always chump blocking and I’m always getting more guys. He tutors for Pithing Needle on Husk, but I can just sack my team to make lethal Spirit tokens.
In between rounds, Scott Larabee, who was driving the van, approaches my computer.
“Beat Flores or find a ride home.”
The crowd roared with laughter.
I guess they thought he was joking.
I calmly nodded, untapped, and won Game 2.
Mike Flores, I would later find out, was playing for two this tournament. BDM had wagered $100 against Joe “Mouth” Kambourakis that Flores would finish outside of the Bottom 4, giving Flores’ Invitational all the dressings of a Shakespearian tragedy.
Round 6 I play against Siron, who is using Ishida’s coin flip Friggorid deck.
Game 1, he’s on the play. I have Elf, Husk, Natural Affinity — a turn 3 kill. I begin to get frustrated when he wins something like nine coin flips with only one break (for my turn 2).
I am less frustrated when he leans from his computer to laugh and confirm my suspicions – that his deck can’t beat mine. When Ichorid dies, I get a 1/1 flyer. So much for recursion.
He does have a couple Psychatogs, but they don’t show up, and I eventually get a turn 3 and kill him.
Game 2, Again, he goes crazy with the coin flips, winning a ton, and then getting Krark’s Thumb into play. But, still he can’t kill me without a Psychatog. He loses a couple of flips, and I kill him.
We head back to the hotel and I call PTR. He and Ben Rubin pick me and Terry up to go for dinner with the Shears brothers at a colonial-style restaurant, a real classy joint. Terry Soh, who, like Rolling Spoil, I have come to respect a great deal, orders lobster. Seeing the Shears brothers again in the flesh is a fine reward for a 6-0. Their rise and fall from the Pro Tour exactly represents my most enjoyable years on it. Brett remembers this restaurant. It is where he drank an entire shaker of pepper in milk to win a $20 bet. He was sick for weeks. Yes, nostalgia is in the air.
The food and the company are excellent. Almost the entire meal is spent with Steve, Brett, and PTR, emphatically telling a raucous story from our salad days. I can only imagine was Terry was thinking.
As the check arrives, Steve announces that he has been saving eight sets of OTJ for just this sort of occasion.
We go back to my room at the hotel, where Williams and Nassif are hanging out, and watch some episodes of Let’s Make a Deal, or whatever it’s called. If you ever have the opportunity to watch TV with Brett, I encourage you to do so, as he knows the full background of every show on television. He was powerful before, but YouTube has practically made him a television demigod.
While off-shift (he requires himself to watch at least eight hours of television a day) he mostly tends to his MySpace flock. He cultivates a vast library of classic Magic photographs, keeps frequent contact with a massive network of retired players, and takes pains to make sure that an oral history of in-jokes is maintained. Brett is one of the few people alive who remembers just how good Derelor was for a few months back in 1998. Brett Shears, in my estimation, fancies himself a sort of Magic Holden Caulfield who’ll catch the game before it plummets irretrievably over the edge that lies beyond the field of rye.
It gets late, and I don’t want to rush something as precious as eight sets of OTJ. Steve wants to draft right now, but respects my decision. We agree to wait until it feels right, tentatively setting a date for tomorrow evening, at my hotel room.
They leave, and I fall asleep quickly.
Thursday morning Williams receives an email from Mike Long. The email contains a Block Party .dec file and a simple “Trust me.”
Sabotage! This deck will go 0-3.
We arrive and get settled. I get a PM from Ant.
INV_AntoninoDeRosa: ravitz says to get big or die trying.
We try to start the Mirage Visions draft a few times, but a gentleman by the name of chiliboy continues to join the queue before all the Invitationalists do. We have to restart about five times (I first pick in one case a Savage Twister, and in another, a Torch) before they finally get him out of there and I’m able to first pick… a Rampant Growth.
I stick to my strategy, and the deck turns out great (I kill 2 Golgari Brownscales, but then get passed Volcanic and Viashivan Dragon). In one case, I am deciding between a Rockslide and a Panther Warriors, and I get lagged out before I can pick, which was frustrating. Still, my deck seems like an easy 2-1, and a realistic 3-0.
- 1 Volcanic Dragon
- 1 Quirion Ranger
- 1 River Boa
- 1 Village Elder
- 1 Viashino Warrior
- 1 Talruum Minotaur
- 1 Quirion Elves
- 1 Searing Spear Askari
- 1 Mtenda Lion
- 1 Jungle Wurm
- 1 Basalt Golem
- 1 Viashivan Dragon
- 1 Suq'Ata Lancer
- 1 Lichenthrope
- 1 King Cheetah
- 1 Dwarven Vigilantes
Round 7 I play against Dave Williams.
Game 1 is a blowout. I play Dwarven Vigilantes, Flare a creature, and have a Lightning Reflexes in my hand and then top it off with a Lichenthrope.
Game 2, I (double?) mulligan into a bunch of land and a Minotaur and he Coercions it.
Game 3, I keep a land heavy hand and then draw more and more. Coercion kills my only card. I get him down to seven or something, but my offense quickly peters out and he swarms me.
He thanks me for being a gentleman and conceding, instead of faking the Torch. Inwardly I think, damn, forgot to fake the Torch.
Round 8 I’m against Karsten.
He plays a turn 3 Cloud Elemental. I have a turn 3 Searing Spear, and then turn 4 I have King Cheetah and Viashino Warrior in hand. I decide to wait on Cheetah rather than playing the Warrior, in case it causes him to play a card draw spell instead of a creature, or affects his play negatively in some other way.
Already, in hindsight, this seems like an atrocious play, but it somehow works out – he plays a Dream Cache! I then untap and… Jesus.
You have to understand what it was like during some of the rounds here… The lag was so bad that it was difficult to concentrate on the game. You’d make a play, and while waiting for it to resolve, you could talk, browse the Internet, steal Terry Soh shoe, etc. It had become routine for me to cycle through routine phases as quickly as possible.
Wow, I can’t believe I just did that.
It occurs to me now that it is generally right after you get the sense that you are playing badly (or, in this case, are brutally aware of the fact) that you are the most prone to mistakes. If you hear yourself saying “I am playing really badly,” take that moment to really check yourself and calm down.
I think the best approach to trying to play Magic well is to take it turn by turn; to try and play turns perfectly, before even thinking about entire games. Otherwise, it is easy to derail – to turn that mental Wakefield dice to 6 – with a couple of mistakes, before the game is over.
I didn’t. I can’t believe my mistake, but don’t slow down while I’m in shock. I play the Viashino Warrior. He plays a Talruum Champion. I attack with all, and when he blocks my Warrior I play Lightning Reflexes on my Warrior right away.
This play works, but you have to wait for the Champ’s ability to resolve. Mostly, in my temporary state of mental flagellation, I had shorthanded the Champ’s ability to “basically, double-strike” for some reason, when it’s not really anything like that.
I take a couple of hits from said Champ, and it’s enough for Karsten to Torch me out when he’s kinda close to dead. A total meltdown in what should’ve been an easy win.
Fortunately, my deck comes out in force the next two games – River Boa, Reign of Chaos, Dragons – and I mentally regroup.
Next round, Karsten plays Williams. Because of the brutal lag, when Williams played a game-winning Torch on Karsten, Karsten was totally unaware of the fact – it hadn’t shown up on his screen. Everyone else in the room knew! Bystanders were congratulating Williams, we went for lunch, Scott Larabee updated the standings board.
Karsten ended up having to read that he had been Torched out on MagictheGathering.com!
Round 9 I play Canali. His deck (0-2 already) is pure train-wreck. I win in two unspectacular games, and I’m 8-1.
For Block Party, I know what each of my six potential opponents are playing: MBC, MBC, IBC, Domain, Goblins, U/G. I’m not exactly enthralled with my deck choice in this metagame, but I think that changing one’s deck at the last minute is always a bad idea, and that, for my archetype, my list is perfect. I decide to stick with it, and figure that if I go 2-1 I’ll be ecstatic.
Round 10, I play Antoine Ruel and Domain, my best matchup.
Game 1, he puts up no defense against the ESPN classic U/G Mongrel, Arrogant draw. I love reruns.
Game 2, I board in the Quiet Speculation/Ray of Revelation engine – insane against his otherwise dangerous Collective Restraints.
I play turn 2 Aquamoeba. Evasive Action.
Turn 3 Mongrel? Evasive Action.
Turn 4 Aquamoeba? Evasive Action.
Turn 5 Mongrel? Evasive Action.
Turn 6 Mongrel? Evasive. Action.
It’s hard for me to get any aggression together after that, but I play some Wurms and start attacking until he gets out a couple of Restraints.
There is a period of about ten turns where any Spec or Ray wins the game. Then he gets out a Goblin Trenches, so I need a Wonder. By the time I get both Rays and a Wonder, he has just finished killing all my Islands with Legacy Weapon so I can’t finish the job.
Game 3, I mulligan and stall on land until, when I eventually cast Wild Mongrel, he plays Legacy Weapon, and it gets ugly, and it gets sad, and it gets all those other strange and wonderful things that make this crazy world turn.
All of a sudden I’m 8-2, and in 2nd place with a bullet.
That was a bad match to lose, not only because it was so good, but also because it destroys my tiebreaks. If it comes down to Antoine and I for the second spot, he’ll get it. Also, because I consider myself the third Ruel brother and I hate losing to family.
Round 11, I play a very complacent Antonino De Rosa, who’s running IBC. I confrontationally ask him what he’s doing abandoning his dogs. Too good for them? Win Nats with a Blue deck and all sudden you some kina genius?
For this transgression, I tell him, he deserves to lose. I win game 1 in typical fashion.
Earlier in the tournament, Flores quoted Tomi Walamies as saying that no one has ever won after attacking for three with Rootwalla on turn 2. In this case, I win game 2 attacking only with Rootwallas after pumping on turn 2. I keep a hand with Forests, Islands, Rootwallas, and spells but no Madness outlet, and never really draw anything else, and Antonino stalls on 2 land forever.
Meanwhile Tsuyoshi Fujita mulligans to zero in his (good) matchup, and loses control, cursing in Japanese. He proceeds to take an inflatable sword and make an elaborate show of committing mock hari-kari.
Round 12, Julien Nuijten, with Goblins.
Game 1 I have a draw that can beat Goblins. On the draw, I go Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, and lay a turn 4 Elephant Guide on my Wurm. Unfortunately, he has double Sharpshooter and Warchief, so when the dust settles I have a Mongrel and an Elephant token against a Warchief and a couple of Sharpshooters. The good news is that he’s at six with no cards in hand.
He promises me he won’t draw Siege Gang Commander off the top.
I promise him I won’t draw Wonder off the top.
Game 2: Having been sucked out on, I become surly for the next two games. I play Aquamoeba, then Elephant Guide it up, and then play another Aquamoeba. He has Sparksmith in play, but I have Wonder and he doesn’t have any time to finesse.
Game 3: In a classic case of life imitating art, I’m still stuck on four islands by turn 6. He is at a full twenty life and has just sacked a Prospector put a Siege Gang into play with his Sparksmith and Sledder.
The turn before I had just drawn a forest and played a Mongrel, so my board is now Mongrel, Aquamoeba, Aquamoeba, with five cards in hand.
I play Elephant Guide targeting my Mongrel.
He thinks, and Sparksmiths it for six. I discard my hand, including a Wonder, and attack him for nine with the Mongrel, putting him at five life.
The next turn he survives with a Gempalm Incinerator, but doesn’t get there this time.
I’m 10-2. Ruel’s 10-2. Kenji’s the only one left in striking distance at 8-6.
PTR wants us to go to play our OTJ at the Bullpen, a local store, but it’s too out of the way and we just go back to our hotel room.
We watch some of the replays on MTGO. Kenji is the only other player in contention for Top 2 at this point, and we notice that he played Tsuyoshi Fujita in the last round. We load up the match just to check if there’s any funny business, expecting Tsuyoshi to just start Magma Jetting himself on turn 2 or something, but it checks out.
Ben Rubin, Peter Szigeti, a svelte Gary Talim, Brett Shears, and Steve Shears join myself, Dave Williams, and Gabriel Nassif for a 4-on-4 OTJ draft. This is not far from being my favorite group of people to hang out with on the planet. Sure, we’re missing a healthy helping of Ken Ho, and maybe just a pinch of Hegstad and Freneau for flavor, but it’s damn close.
PTR drafts the worst B/R I have ever seen. He claims that he forgot that Swirling Sandstorm isn’t good and so ends up with five of them and only two creatures or something. In classic PTR fashion, he auto-checks the Concede box and decides to watch TV instead.
I make short work of Brett who plays Magic much like he lives, trying to nickel and dime me in the air with a bunch of flyers and healers.
In the second round I play Ben Rubin. He is lying on his front, and summoning Liberated Dwarf after Liberated Dwarf. PTR wanders by and expresses the general sentiment felt by those present: “Ben, you are pathetic. Pathetic.” Ben starts to laugh and then collapses into a gurgling heap.
In fact, this whole display was a clever ruse devised to disarm me and I am soon swarmed by a horde of Centaur Veterans. Old Ben still has a few tricks left up his sleeve.
In the end, the one draft we wanted so much not to be sloppy had devolved into a complete mess. I guess it was doomed. If you want to play a tight little draft, a good rule of thumb would be to not to set Table 1 at an unmade bed with a platter of ice cream and cookies on it.
People leave early, no one pays, and then we go to sleep. This is the last I would see of my friends.
[Read the conclusion of this excellent report on Monday! — Craig.]