Getting Big in Japan

No one ever gets away.

No one ever gets away.

I was so sick and tired of Magic after San Francisco last year. Losing the Player of the Year race to Gab was just

the final straw. When not even the team PT is fun, something is very wrong. So I decided to take a long break.

In October, Lovre, Tuomo and I left cold, dark, winter Scandinavia for hot Spain. Playing poker and/while sunbathing

seemed slightly better than —10 degrees Celsius and never getting up in time to see the sun at all.

The poker part worked out rather well. My first year as a professional poker player was a successful one. However,

Spain and later Gran Canaria was what I would call a failed experiment. Our place in Spain was in a suburb outside a

small town, and the average citizen was 60 years old and spoke no English. To make matters worse, we could only be

online one at a time. To poker addicted slackers, this was pretty far from optimal. The surroundings and the weather

didn’t really tempt us sufficiently into doing anything else, so we basically spent three months tilting, stepping

on each others toes and waiting for our turn at the poker tables.

So we left for Gran Canaria in December. Lovre had spent half a year here before, and claimed it was good times.

Reality kicked in when I saw all the neon lights. Gran Canaria is a tourist trap aimed at drunks, elderly couples and

16-year-old British girls. And juvenile delinquents sent directly to drug heaven by their naïve parents believing

that a “change of scenery will do them good.” We eventually found the one decent bar on the entire island,

and spent the first three months there or indoors playing poker. The weather was the worst it had been in 60 years. And

obviously my laptop broke down, so it was back to waiting for turns at the computer again.

Also, I had a serious fallout with Lovre in the end. We’d been surprisingly incompatible when it came to

living together. So we weren’t on speaking terms the last two months there, and still aren’t.

However, at least it had been an experience. The most important thing I learned is that I don’t like poker all

that much anymore. I guess it could have been different if I’d been playing live, but I don’t think internet

poker is healthy for most people. It sort of brings out the worst in you. I, like most of the other slackers/Magic

players I know who now play poker, grow even more passive and get serious mood swings. During a bad run, I am not easy

to be around. Also, at the end of the day I feel kind of useless. Winning doesn’t give me much anymore, while

losing can be extremely stressful and annoying. It’s so profitable that it feels stupid not to play, but

I’ve wished many a time that I had some sort of work that felt meaningful. While it’s definitely nice to

have enough money to do whatever you want to, it’s no longer a dream to live off poker alone. Playing professional

Magic was, although it paid less, a much more satisfying life style.

Come summer, I’d really started to miss everyone. Not so much Magic itself, but that too had become less of a

bore. So I went to PT London. I dodged some bombs and played my usual flawless game, flipping over multiple Budoka

Pupils at the same time and whatnot. Didn’t do so well, but it felt all right to be playing again. I skipped

Nationals to go on vacation in Italy with my girlfriend, and was then still uncertain if I wanted to go to Worlds. I

didn’t exactly miss playtesting Constructed.

Then I heard that both Nitter and Tuomo had made their respective national teams. I no longer had any pro points,

but it looked like my rating could be high enough to qualify… I was now no longer in doubt that I wanted to go. So

I started talking to my friends about playtesting, and immediately met a fairly unsurprising obstacle: Since Lovre was

part of the Norwegian playtesting group, I wasn’t allowed to join. The Finns were also included. Flashback from

6th grade came to mind, and I was seriously considering giving up when the ever amazing Iranian sheik Johan Sadegphour

took me in like a stray dog and invited me to a week of playtesting in Sweden.


Gothenburg was a blast, of course. We didn’t accomplish all that much with Magical cards, but that was to be

expected. It looked like most of the decks were out in the open, and it also looked like it would become yet another

annoying rock-paper-scissors tournament. So instead we played poker, drank beer, and partied with Jorstedt, Kettil, and

other old stars. A little playtesting was thrown in every now and then, but the only conclusion we came up with was that

Boros seemed decent against everything. We obviously didn’t have the Japanese G/W deck, nor a good enough list of

any other deck for that matter. And I think we skipped Extended altogether. Raph Levy’s aggro G/B deck seemed fine

to me, so I just looked a little at the other decklists I could find to get at least a general clue about what to

expect, and my work was done.

It’s funny how it always goes like that. And every time I regret it so much when I sit down, draw my opening

hand, and see, for example, a Cabal Therapy. But playtesting Constructed is a bit like trying to convince your

grandmother that playing poker actually is a safe way to make a living: Time after time you’ll realize that

you’ve just been banging your head against the wall and have to start over, and the thought of conceding is always

ever so close. You’ll spend two days eagerly trying to fine tune your newest creation, only to find out it will

just never ever beat Boros without losing to control. You’ll also find out about a deck you’ve completely

missed out on the day before the tourney and realize that your deck of choice is a 90/10 dog to it. Or

you’ll sit down at the tourney, really happy with what you’ve come up with, and face the deck you deemed too

bad to even be part of the metagame, three rounds in a row. Stuff like that is what made me completely give up

Constructed some time after Worlds 2001. It’s so extremely frustrating spending days and weeks preparing, and all

the time just know that some jolly Japanese will bash your head in with cards you’ve barely heard of.

On the other hand, you’re obviously in much better shape if you’ve at least played a few games against a

decent number of the decks out there. Laziness is clearly an important part of why my success at Magic hasn’t come

with sixty-card decks. I can only hope that I’ll eventually build up enough motivation to playtest. Maybe next

time I’ll recall vividly enough just how annoying it was to not know whether the deck I was up against normally

has Force Spike, or Deed, any sort of counterspell, etc etc.

After a fun 20 hours or so in a plane seat with approximately 20cm leg room, I was in the Land of the Rising Sun,

fresh and ready to search for cards and build a deck. I had an overwhelming three hours to do so, and went at it with

maximum eagerness and enthusiasm. At 9 O’clock I lay my jet-lagged head on the pillow, a freshly assembled, tech

packed Boros deck on the night stand.

Day one actually went really well somehow. Boros wasn’t the most demanding deck I’ve played, and I

dodged all the Green/White hate. I easily outplayed some random Iranian first round and never looked back, wading

through a sea of U/B and similar lesser strategies. I lost to insane bad beats against one U/B deck, but swept aside all

the hopeful punks who thought anything not including little White men could prevail. In retrospect, I guess the Boros

version with more burn is the better one, but the randomness I’d put together clearly worked quite well too. The

fact that I had six pro black guys main definitely won me matches that extra burn couldn’t have.

Then it was on to Day Two. For those who didn’t know, I’m a “Limited Expert” (quote from

worlds coverage), so it should be a walk in the park. The fact that it was the first live Limited event I had played

since PT: London was obviously quite irrelevant, as the amazing tool Magic Online had given me the opportunity to do at

least 20 drafts, some of which while sober.

In the first draft the card pool was pretty mediocre, but I managed to piece together a decent Selesnya deck. Blast

from the past Scott Johns covered my valiant efforts for magicthegathering.com. My first round opponent Tiago Chan

basically had the same deck, but with one extra copy of all the good stuff. And a Wrath. But I won the two other


In the next draft, my vast knowledge of the format came into play, as I drafted an even colored W/G/R deck with a

slightly clunky mana base and a few slow power houses. I had the choice to make it W/G/r during the draft, but quickly

cast aside this cowardly strategy. The result wasn’t at all bad though, as long as I drew the right lands and

hopefully some acceleration. I won my first round against Gert Coeckelbrejkscht. His U/W/r multiple Dismissers + fliers

deck didn’t stand a chance against my smooth draws, where I skillfully tapped out every turn till turn 8 and drew

all my removal. I then faced —- who later made Top 8. The first game was fast and furious. Then I forgot I was a man,

and stupidly mulliganed to four in search of lands that didn’t require other lands to be played first. And finally

I lost the race to find any of six outs over the course of five turns in the last game, at which point I forgot which

game I was playing, tilted, and tried to checkraise him all-in on river. But he just couldn’t lay it down, and I

was suddenly struggling at 8-3 after a very unexpected good run.

Still on tilt, and feeling the rush leave and exhaustion kicking in, I sat down to play the last round of Day 2. The

first game was yet another depressing always-one-step-behind affair. So when I saw my game 2 opening hand of five lands,

Cleansing Beam and Lightning Helix, I immediately got the mental image of myself throwing the mouse at the window and

going off in an Anton Jonsson-like IRC rant about mana flow. When he played a turn 2 Transluminant, I was already

preparing my bad beat speech, and blasted the little bugger without a second thought. So when I realized that I was

actually drawing spells instead of lands, and then saw him tapping low for Drooling Groodion, flashbacks from earlier

greatness started coming to mind. However, I had drawn Fiery Conclusion, and combining it with Beam, I managed to make a

reasonable play killing off everything he had except a House Guard. Then he calmly played a turn 8 Sisters of the Stone

Death. And I was now obviously empty. Thus ended the good run.


I decided to go for little Green men again Day 3. They have been good to me in past times. I added some Black

removal and legendary equipment for value, and sat down for round 13 in reasonably good spirits. My mind, however, was

not quite up for the task yet, and I can now add the following power play to my glorious resume: My opponent plays turn

1 Nexus + Arcbound Worker. I Therapy him, think for a couple of hours and then name Arcbound Ravager. Which is

okay, I guess. His hand was 2 Thoughtcast, 2 Enforcer and Terrarion. He goes Terrarion-go, I go Bird-go, he

does nothing, and I play some dude and sac the Bird for Therapy. Aaaaand (drumroll please)….. name Enforcer. Which

is bad enough in itself, but when I saw his hand, which included one Enforcer, three Thoughtcast and a

Frogmite, I sort of got ready to scoop it up right there. So that game didn’t end in favor of the good guys. I

pulled off the next one, then refused to chump with a bird to not drop to five in the last game, when I would get an

active Jitte next turn and promptly ate a second Shrapnel Blast off the top of my opponent’s deck to the face. The

rest is history.

At the end of the day, my Day 3 at Worlds record the last five years had reached a new high of 2-3-1 with an

intentional draw in the last round. In case I didn’t mention it, I’ve never been much of a Constructed

player. Standard I occasionally understand, but everything else is downright impossible. (And really frustrating to play

without playtesting first, I might add yet again.) A nice little display of tiebreaker Magic eventually left me in 65th

place, the $500 heap of gold just out of reach.

Funny how it has ended like that so often. I’m so immensely mood dependant, and jet lag is not my friend. I

really wish I will one day learn the skill to stay focused, think about how much is at stake, and not just downright

throw away what could have become a good finish. And this time it was a lot more important than it usually was in the

past. I got the taste for the Good Life again.

It’s almost scary how much I’ve taken for granted. This game is simply a lot more fun and a lot more

giving than poker. More importantly, I’ve met some of my best friends through Magic, as well as a whole

bunch of friends I almost never meet outside of tourneys. It doesn’t hurt that I really felt missed here. I was

asked quite a few times if I was planning to make a comeback, both by friends and people I barely know.

So come Saturday, I will play my first PTQ since the summer of ’99. I’ll probably end up getting

humiliated by some punk and his ‘Togs, but I promise I’ll do my very best to once again play late night

money drafts in countries far away. Wish me luck, and hope to see you in Honolulu!

Nicolai Herzog