Please, cue up”Man of Constant Sorrow” from the”O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack on the ol’ mp3 player (Which version? — The Ferrett), sit back, and share my pain. Here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming life story…
Chapter 15: US Nationals 2001
(Wherein our hero gobbles down another sizeable slice of humble pie.)
There seems to be some sort of formula in place for composing the US National Team. It goes something like this: Player A – a top-level pro who already has one draft PT title under his belt – wins the whole thing. The guy he beats in the finals, Player B, is a young up-and-coming northwesterner from the rogue’s gallery known as Team AlphaBetaUnlimited.com. They are joined by Player C, a relative unknown from Team CMU, who made the Top 8 on the strength of his 5-0-1 performance in the Standard portion with a red/green deck.
(Sorry, Frank Hernandez, but you have been edited out to accommodate the switch to three-man teams.)
I was lucky to be last year’s Player C; making the US Team really vaulted me into the Magic spotlight and I’m proud to say that I didn’t disappoint anyone. I finished 22nd at Worlds, went 6-0 on the Team Day, and won my match in the finals against Canada. Making the team also gave me something to start writing about – I consider my Nationals report from last year on Mindripper.com and my World’s report on The Dojo to be two of my best efforts, and I’ve been struggling mightily lately to come up with articles that can even come close to those in terms of scope and passion.
Actually, it’s been a struggle to write anything at all. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember that the last”Forsythe” article to grace StarCity was by my wife, not me, and that bad boy is a tough act to follow. There’s a whole slew of reasons that I could give you as to why I haven’t been writing. One is that since Anne and I moved, we have no Internet access at home. Another is that every time I actually do sit down to write at home, I end up (a) working on the dice baseball game I’m revamping or (b) playing Icewind Dale. So I’m writing this at work.
I’d have to say that the real reason I haven’t been writing has a lot to do with Magic, and especially Magic Tournaments. You see, ever since that nifty little run I pulled off last year of Top 8 at Regionals, winning a Team PTQ, Top 4 at Nationals, 22nd at Worlds, and 2nd at Pro Tour New York, I’ve lost it. I feel like the Rick Ankiel of Magic – something bad has happened, and no one can explain it. Let’s take a look at my recent finishes from Elf’s Pro Tour Database (www.crocker.com/~elf/protour/): Chicago (Type 2) 198th, Los Angeles (Rochester draft) 87th, Tokyo (IBC) 232nd, and Barcelona (Booster draft) 138th. Those numbers are a lot different than 8-1-4-22-2.
Not knowing exactly what the problem was, I decided to step up my practicing. Mike Turian was more than willing to meet one or two more times a week to play Constructed, and we upped the number of practice drafts we were running on Tuesdays. In short, any time that I was previously spending at the keyboard writing articles was now spent building, shuffling, and banging my head off walls. Had to get the priorities straight.
So that’s why there have been no articles: Bad finishes are generally no fun to write about, and bad finishes mean I’m not spending my”Magic time” wisely. So more practice it was.
Did all this additional practicing help me at all? Yes and no.”Yes” because I feel that I understood the formats at Nationals better than I’ve understood anything since Deranged Hermit was legal in Type 2.”No” because I choked like Bill Buckner in ‘86.
Many interesting and cool things happened at US Nationals this year; my failures are worth maybe one sentence in The Big Story of The Tournament, and only that much because I was a”defending” National Team member. Down the road, when the gamers reminisce about their times in Orlando, the names that come up will be Jackson, McCarrel, Blackwell, Hegstad, Leiher, Price, Turian, Harvey, Malka, Benafel – those are the ones that will spark stories, arguments, and memories about Nationals 2001.”Forsythe Goes 0-4-Drop, Continues To Suck” will never be a headline to anyone except me, so this report won’t focus wholly on my own shortcomings. But it’s a good place to start.
To be frank, I was dominating the practice drafts at CMU right before Nationals; I won three of the last four, and finished second to Andrew Cuneo in the other. I had a clear-cut strategy – try to go either R/G/b or U/W. My strategy for the latter color combination was a little weird – I would never, ever splash a third color, not for Probe, not for Demise, not for Sabertooth Nishoba. The card quality of the decks was sometimes a little low, but I’d win because I could always cast every spell I drew, I always had enough mana for all my tappers and Acolytes, and the decks always had tons of cantrips. In short, Kolderson could not get the blue/white deck. My G/R/b strategy wasn’t as well planned, but it usually involved the Plague Spores/Thornscape Familiar combo. In any event, I felt quite confident going into the draft portion of Nats.
Drafting at high-level events is like being on a quiz show. The buzzer rings, and you have five seconds to answer the question. You know that”The Sound and the Fury” was written by William Faulkner. If asked one hundred times, you’d get it right one hundred times. All your family and friends watching from home know that you know the answer, and even the other competitors are sure that you’ll get this one right. But this time you don’t. You say”Melville.” Just as you say it, you know it’s wrong. Too late.
In the first draft, I’m seated between Jason Opalka and Adrian Sullivan. Some people might be afraid of the”Pro Tour Squeeze,” but I couldn’t be happier with my seat. Both of those guys know what they’re doing, there wouldn’t be any ridiculous switching of colors, and everything should have gone smoothly. There was no excuse for me to have a bad draft.
Here’s what happened – I can still see it all clearly. That first round of picks plays itself out in my mind constantly, like my own personal Zapruder Film. Welcome to”JFK,” starring Aaron Forsythe as the charismatic-yet-doomed President, and Aaron Forsythe as the invisible assassin. Special appearance by Adrian Sullivan as Lyndon B. Johnson.
Right. What happened. The first guy at the table picked Thornscape Apprentice. Good for him. The next guy took Sleeper’s Robe – not a great card, but at least it’s of the exact opposite colors of the previous card chosen. So far, so good, but then it gets a little weird. Player two had just drafted a blue/black card, which is why I was a little thrown off by Opalka taking Tower Drake third. Was he really willing to fight for blue right from the gun? Why did he do that? No time to worry about it – it’s my turn to pick. Think.
Opalka picked a blue card. Therefore, I need to pick a card that is across the wheel from blue, which means either green or red. The best remaining green card is actually green/white – Llanowar Knight. The best remaining red card is effectively red/black – Hooded Kavu. Opalka is blue, so he might go into either white or black at this point, so I guess it’s a toss-up. I’ll take, uh, Llanowar Knight.
If you have any idea how to draft, you understand that I answered”Melville.” I basically killed my draft right there.
Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left.
Llanowar Knight. Why I didn’t associate Tower Drake with blue/white right away is beyond me. Why I didn’t pick up on the fact that no one had taken a red card at all to this point is anyone’s guess. Regardless, I end up with the Knight, and Sullivan makes the intelligent pick of Hooded Kavu. The rest of the table doesn’t matter. I live in denial of my error for a few more picks, taking Pincer Spider and another Knight while Opalka picks Repulse and Exclude. Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll be mono-blue, leaving all the white for me. I must have known things were going to get bad for me quickly, however, because I took a Demise out of the pack I opened (not a hate draft, but a tasty splash). Eventually, Opalka did the inevitable and started taking white cards, forcing me to go into red for such bombs as Zap and Kavu Scout. Sullivan may have gotten a little irked by what was happening, but I had no other choice, and he should have been satisfied with what I passed him – Skizzik, Blazing Specter, several Soul Burns, and what felt like nine Terminates, three Spontaneous Combustions, Thrashing Wumpus, Dregs of Sorrow, Demonic Tutor, Wheel of Fortune, and Mind Twist.
Anyway, I’m trying to be mostly cooperative and scrounge together a deck, but during the second set of packs, guy #6 decides to mize my Thornscape Master for his blue/white/black deck, which was a clear sign from God that I had no chance for a decent recovery in this draft. Yes, I took Serpentine Kavu over Explosive Growth at one point, mostly because I could feel my mana situation going down the drain and I wanted to insure that I could hang on in the inevitable late-game. I just don’t think there was a good way out of the predicament I put myself in.
None. I threw the deck away.
Fate would have it that I was paired up with Mr. Sullivan in a round-one Feature Match. It was me vs. my mistake. My mistake smashed me. You can read Josh Bennett gracious coverage of it on the Sideboard.com.
After talking with Adrian after the match, it was obvious that if I had taken the Kavu, we both would have ended up with good decks, as opposed to me having a bad deck and him having an insane one. As it was, Adrian made the best out of his opportunity, playing his deck to 3-0.
In round 2, I get paired against Opalka. My Demise surprises him and takes out his Armored Guardian in the first game, but that trick only works once. The Guardian showed up in the other games, and it didn’t die again. I could have stalled out the match if I did that sort of thing… But I didn’t, allowing him and his Guardian to finish me off on extra turn #5. Opalka finished up the table at 2-0-1, so at least my bad draft didn’t adversely affect the people sitting next to me.
In round 3, I lost to Patrick Lynch. He just bashed me. My mana didn’t come up right, and it wasn’t even close.
I guess it’s pretty easy for people who don’t do as well as they’d like at tournaments to blame everything but themselves – mana screw, lucky opponents, bad packs, whatever. Sure, it’s true that sometimes you do everything right and still lose to Magic’s statistical oddities – I watched Mike Turian suffer two matches like that right at the end of Nationals. But sometimes – and I’m pretty sure it’s more than just sometimes – you lose because you SUCK and you SCREWED UP and the other people around you drafted and played BETTER THAN YOU.
4t5gh89yu <—- That’s what banging your head off the keyboard looks like.
Sigh. The worst part is when you know what the right thing to do is, but choke under pressure and do the wrong thing anyway. That was me, and I paid for it in spades.
I sat down at the second draft needing to go 3-0. The only person I recognized at the table was Theron Martin. Most of the other players recognized me, however, and were quick to point out how”surprising” it was that I was there with them at 0-3. Thanks.
Here it is in a nutshell: Seven-man table, I’m seat 2. Seat one cracks the”Dromar and Friends” pack. It has Dromar. It has Benalish Heralds. And Blue Tapper and White Tapper. And Exotic Curse and Shackles. The best card that doesn’t share a color with Dromar? Quirion Elves. Player 1 takes Dromar – I know, big surprise. I take the Elves.
Psychologists would call this”overcompensation.” Other Magic players might use the term”stupid.” In the previous draft, I burned myself by sharing a color with the guy on my right. So now I choose to stay away from the guy-on-my-right’s colors no matter what. Even if it means taking a card about one-fifth as good as every other card in the pack. Needless to say, my deck ended up really weak. There were no Nomadic Elves in the draft at all, but there were about twelve tappers. The players on either side of me each had four tappers, and Mr. Dromar also ended up with a Crypt Angel and an Angel of Mercy. I had a bunch of Hill Giants, three Aggressive Urges, and a Flametongue Kavu.
Turian told me I was supposed to take the Heralds there, and work them into a green/red deck. I don’t think I would have ever considered that in the state of mind I was in.
Round 4, I lose to multiple.steel.leaf.paladin.dec. With Treefolk Healer backup. I could feel the muscles in my neck tightening up.
Now I’m 0-4 at this point, and I’d like to get a win somehow. My options included (a) hoping for the bye, (b) playing and beating some other 0-4 guy by any means necessary, including rules lawyering and intimidation, or (c) saying screw it, dropping out, and if I finished in last place, then so be it.
I ended up next-to-last; thank you, Craig Walendziak. It was really, really, liberating to drop from that tournament. Zvi Mowshowitz tried to convince me that I should have stayed in, because an 8-0 finish would have landed me in the money. Zvi was wrong – even if I went 8-0 I would have finished no higher than 30th. Zvi knows a lot of things, but he doesn’t know when to call it quits. Besides, I don’t think 8-0 was a very realistic possibility for me at that point.
Aside: Somewhere during all of this losing, I was chatting with fellow Ohio-Valleyer and eventual Top 8 competitor Alex Borteh, when we were approached by a mysterious local known only as”Fudge.” Fudge challenged me to what he called a”ninja duel,” in which we each choose a weapon, and then battle to the death. Seeing as how my day was shaping up, I would have gotten great pleasure out of cleaving someone’s skull with a glaive, but I politely declined. Turns out Fudge was just looking to sneak his way into my report… So here you go! Apparently Fudge tried this shtick out earlier on Brian Kibler, who dismissed him – prompting Fudge to comment that Kibler is”really Jonathan Taylor-Thomas in disguise.” Good beats.
Back to the matter at hand. Now that I was done playing in Nationals, I could (a) pout and whine or (b) try to be productive. I had to salvage the weekend somehow. I figured the best way to enjoy myself would be to offer my services to Omeed Dariani and the Sideboard Online; that way I could still feel like part of the action and possibly earn a little something for my troubles.
Omeed was receptive, and I was led back to the”press room,” a little secret area behind the main stage. Laptops were scattered about, and Omeed was perched in front of one of them busy editing and uploading reports and photos from earlier in the day. Josh Bennett was also hanging out back there, sometimes working, and sometimes playing”Golden Axe” and listening to this wacko Slovenian band called”Laibach.” Fear not, Bennett fans – whereas his pen may have sold out to the corporation (raise your hand if you miss his Star City stuff), he still remains as eccentric as ever. So he’s not a complete tool yet. [Insert Rizzo-esque LOL here.] Also darting in an out of the press room were Randy Buehler, the Reverend Toby Wachter and his wrestling videos, WotC photographer Craig Cudnohufsky, and imported Canadian reporters Gary Wise and Terry Tsang. It was a different side of tournaments than I was used to, but very cool nonetheless. With my new perspective on the event (Think”Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead” vs.”Hamlet”), I headed back out to the Feature Match area in search of some of the success and peace of mind that had eluded me while I was participating in the event.
After a bunch of explaining to the other competitors (“Aren’t you supposed to be playing in this?”), I covered the Round 5 match between Scott Johns and David Williams and then the Round 6 match between David Price and Mike Pustilnik. Check ‘em out. Not bad, if I do say so myself, for a first effort.
When the dust settled after day 1, Turian was an awesome 6-0, Andrew Johnson was 5-1, and Eugene Harvey – the least-known member of Team CMU competing – was 4-2 after grinding his way in the night before. I’m glad all our draft practice paid off for the rest of the guys.
A shuttle bus took the players from the site back to the central hotel — and let me tell you, it should be mandatory that high-level events have bus rides as part of the festivities. What a crowd that was.
That evening, Turian, Johnson, Brad Swan and I went to a nice Italian place for a little grub and a little Type 2 panic session. If dropping out at 0-4 did nothing else, it prevented me from going through the neurosis of not knowing what deck to play in Type 2 on the second day.
The sad thing is that we practiced the format a ton, and came up with many of the same decks that everyone else did. Cuneo devised a red/black Ensnaring Bridge deck that was only a handful of cards different than the one Yann Hamon played in France. That deck was my number one choice for a long time, until Fires decks started maxing out on green Battlemages. The Bridge Deck’s numbers went down considerably from there. Rizzo had a big blue deck that was along the lines of Sullivan’s and Kibler’s, but after losing to Rebels repeatedly, no one could come up with the”black for Decree” tech that made that deck shine. Johnson was all up on the Nether-Go tip, but its lack of decent finishes in other Nationals made him wary (and rightfully so). I was all set to play a version of Machine Head, but a last-minute playtest session reinforced the deck’s obvious reliance on Dark Ritual – and I didn’t want to be mulliganing to Dark Ritual. So that was out. Eventually, Cuneo came up with a mono-white Rebel skeleton that Turian latched on to. I wasn’t too excited about the deck considering my pat failures with Rebels, and after brief test-runs of Orbosition and Stephan Valkyser’s deck, I was resigning myself to playing Fires.
I think that’s what happened to most people – they tested and tested and guess what? They couldn’t crack the code. Fires comes at you from too many directions, and if you try to defend against them all, you end up being vulnerable to just about every other deck out there.
Even the most anti-Fires out there still weren’t stone-cold locks to beat Fires. I mean, look at the Top 4. David Bachmann’s Wildfire deck contained Ensnaring Bridges, efficient mana disruption, huge Walls, you name it. What was he eliminated by? Fires. Brian Hegstad’s deck had four Wraths, four Dismantling Blows, Story Circles, Webs… The whole nine. We all know who and what he lost to in the finals. While I’m sure that Bachmann and Hegstad both had great records versus Fires on the weekend, their decks were not considered”auto-losses” for Fires. Close, but not quite. As with old-school Necro, Academy, Trix, and other unpopular juggernaut decks from the past, Fires fits the mantra that the Best Deck always outperforms the Deck Built to Beat the Best Deck.
Andrew Johnson has been preaching that mantra since he came to CMU. So its no surprise that at the Italian restaurant, he came to the conclusion that he’d be playing Fires. Swan felt that he’d have the best chance for success playing Fires as well, so the four of us hashed out a final version, based loosely on the one that ran away with Denmark’s Nationals. We swapped the Dust Bowls for Ports, since Ports were way better versus all the mono-blue decks, and they eventually decided on one Aura Mutation main. They swapped out the Idols for Yavimaya Barbarians (I think this may have been OVER metagaming), but other than that, it stayed pretty normal. The sideboard they ended up running was teched out versus just about everything, except the mirror. Whereas some people went all-out to win the mirror match (Baby Huey had three Slays, four Mutations, and the third and fourth Shivan Wurms in his board, for example), AndyJ and Brad had only about three or maybe four cards to bring in. I’m not sure this had anything to do with their poor performances, but needless to say, they maybe won three matches between them on Saturday.
Fires was still the best deck – it’s just that with over one-fourth of the field playing it, some people had to do poorly. Too bad it was them.
Friday night back at the hotel, I was feeling pretty good, all things considered. That is, until I called Anne. She said she was following the coverage on-line and was getting teary-eyed at my winless performance. She said she felt so bad for me, and was so upset, and so on. Basically what I didn’t want to hear. How depressing. So I went to sleep feeling lower than dirt.
Stay tuned for Part 2, which will cover Day 2 of the tournament.
Look! Here’s Part 2, right in the same report. Revolutionary.
Anyway, a good night’s sleep does wonders for the psyche, and I never hold grudges, even against myself. Saturday looked to be nothing but good times.
I basically just hung out and did coverage (and was given a nifty Sideboard shirt for my troubles – a shirt that has since shrunk to wife-sized proportions). My duties included Round 7 Turian/Sol Malka, Round 9 Price/Huey, and Round 11 Hernandez/Jason Zila. All the people I covered were very gracious and cooperative, showing me their hands at various important junctures and pointing out their sideboarding decisions. Players and reporters in the Feature Matches need to come to a kind of symbiosis in order for the coverage to be any good. I don’t think the reporter can be expected to be a mindreader, so a few quick questions after the game or a flip through a sideboard can do wonders for fleshing out a story. If the reporter sits there like a statue, he can’t possibly get the”inside scoop.” I was constantly craning my deck and trying to get as much information as possible. At the same time, it’s my responsibility not to be disruptive to the game, which often means sitting there staring into space as one of the players agonizes over an attack phase or some such nonsense. There’s a thin line, and I think I did a good job of walking it. Funny enough, Turian was the least cooperative player I covered; he’d never flash me his hand. I guess my presence was distracting and he was trying to ignore me. You can’t ignore me, punk! I’m sure Mike will want to argue with me about players’ responsibilities when in the Feature Match area, but if you aren’t going to cooperate with the reporter, no more Features for you!
One interesting quirk that came with doing coverage was access to all the decklists. Of course, this presented a funny obstacle whenever Turian would come up to me between rounds, spouting off his analysis of the field and what certain people had in their sideboards. All I could do was stare blankly at him.”Not… allowed… to… talk…” It was tough not to say anything about decks to any of my friends, but rest assured that I did not. In retrospect, it was actually kind of fun to have all that knowledge and watch everyone else scramble trying to acquire as much of it as they could. Takes me back to my Dungeon Masterin’ days.
As an observer, I had more time to take in the tournament as a whole, and there were quite a few interesting stories that came up. Some you’ve already heard about, but here’s my take on all of them anyway…
Adrian Sullivan / Billy Jensen
First round, day two. Decklists are due at the beginning of the round. Sullivan, America’s Rogue Hero, is playing a mono-blue deck. I know, it’s hard to believe. You never know what kind of mono-blue deck that guy’s going to come up with next. Anyway, Jensen sits down across from Sullivan, gets the funny feeling that, hey, maybe four maindeck Yavimaya Barbarians is a good idea after all, digs through his cards, whips out the pen, scribble, scribble, shuffle, shuffle, all ready to go. Game one, turn two – Yavimaya Barbarian. How about that. Jensen wins the match.
Sullivan, being the alert fellow that he is, figures out what just happened to him. Yes, Jensen swapped in the Barbarians once he knew his opponent. Legal? Yes indeed. Fair? I’ll say yes. Sullivan just as easily could have altered his own decklist. The problem comes when you look at the”sportsmanship” of the whole thing. I assume Sullivan feels taken advantage of, because the makeup of his deck is public knowledge due to (a) a few too many show-and-tell sessions or (b) a good assumption on Jensen’s part. Either way, all Jensen did was use available information to improve his chances of winning — which is all within the floor rules. If this upsets you, please don’t be mad at Jensen. Cunning is a trait that defines winners in this game, and that was quite the display of cunning. This behavior is not unprecedented, by the way; I’ve heard David Williams had two entirely different decks ready for round one at Worlds last year, and chose one based on his opponent. The Williams incident went down in history as a funny story, nothing more, most likely because Williams lost anyway. The Jensen incident is being taken a little more seriously, probably because he ended up making Top 8, and his win over Sullivan certainly contributed. That, and I’m sure Sullivan gave a few WotC people a stern talking-to. Look for the DCI to revise the rules soon, forcing players to hand in decklists prior to pairings being announced.
Just to wrap that little tale up, Jensen told Mike, Andy J, and I outside the hotel the night before that he was going to probably going to play Fires with maindeck Barbarians. And what do you know? He did.
Mike Turian / Sol Malka
Sure, I went 0-4, but don’t cry for me, Argentina. These two cowboys were riding high at 6-0 after day one, and then the wheels fell off. I mean, come on, 6-0 is a wrap for top 8, right? Both the People’s Champion and the Mighty Potato went 2-4 in Type 2, and both came away with damaged psyches, I’m sure. I know for a fact that Turian did, and I can only assume that someone who works as hard as Sol was scarred by the experience as well. Both played slightly unconventional decks, and both ended up with their heads on pikes as a warning to those few who dare try to be unconventional in the realm of the netdeck. Okay, maybe it’s not so dramatic… But I can’t find any real reason why this should have happened. Turian’s deck, and certainly his play, were not as bad as his record indicated. He lost to some really rotten luck, especially against Bachmann and Jensen – read the match reports if you want to confirm. Malka’s deck may have been a little more sketchy – it certainly couldn’t handle Turian’s Voices of All – but I’m sure he practiced and playtested it to death. You can read all about their tribulations in their reports – Mike’s on Mindripper and Sol’s here on the City. Why do bad things happen to good people?
Another little aside: In the press room, Lan D. Ho, Gary Wise, and I were discussing what a funny matchup Sol Malka vs. Jason Opalka would be from a reporter’s standpoint, just based on the rhyme. Lan went on to point out that those two are polar opposites from one another, and then theorized that Opalka was created from Malka is some sort of scientific mishap, and now they roam the earth as two incomplete beings, kind of like the split card Order/Chaos. Mr. Ho ended the conversation by stating that if the two of them ever came in contact with one another, say, in a Feature Match, the universe would cease to exist. I guess you had to be there.
I didn’t see it happen. What I did see was Casey sitting outside the site with his girlfriend, but we didn’t stop to chat. When I heard it, I was saddened. Many of you get really ticked off when you hear about cheaters, and I do too for the most part, but this hit me in a different way. It made me sad for Casey, and sad for the game in general. This kid had already been caught once and punished for similar antics, and the gentle side of me always hopes the offender can be rehabilitated. In Casey’s case, it didn’t happen. It sucks because on the outside, he seemed like such a happy little dude, always joking around, bringing his girl around to the tournaments to show her what he does, and then he gets caught trying something like this. He knew better. That’s the real tragedy. And the realization that Magic is probably permeated to its core with such behavior really hurts. I just want it to be a fair fight. I can handle losing a fair fight, because I know I’m not the best at this game. But now you have to be suspicious all the time, or you’ll just get stepped on. I don’t want it to be that way. I’ve had my bubble burst a few times in my Magic career, and it always stings the same.
Seth Burn wrote on Mindripper in a tirade about the Top 8 that”I’m now close to 100% certain it was six savage cheaters. IRC conversations. lots of people chiming in on the subject. A lot of static, but a lot of sound too. Sigh.”
Six out of eight? Sigh is right. We can take Eugene Harvey right out of that equation, and I’m pretty damn certain that Alex Borteh is both unknown enough and honest enough not to get lumped in as well. So now that the two Ohio Valley guys are lifted from suspicion, that leaves Jensen, Blackwell, McCarrel, Benafel, Hegstad, and Bachmann. Six pretty big names, and all of them get called cheaters behind their backs, if I’m reading Seth correctly. Casey aside, I’m not personally accusing any of those dudes of a thing, because I don’t know enough. But as someone with a modus operandi of fairness that is supposed to compete against these people for money, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
Five percent. That’s my cut of Eugene’s purse, and that ought to just cover my plane fare to Orlando with a few buck to spare. How’d I get so lucky? We’re teammates, and the decision to make it so was quite timely.
Ever since Buehler and Erik Lauer left Pittsburgh,”Team CMU” has been this kind of phantom construct with no real form outside of the obvious holdovers Turian, Nate Heiss, and Dan Silberman. I was never”officially” part of the team, but Elliot Fung and I became de facto members after our Top 8 in last year’s Nationals. Same type of thing happened to Cuneo and Andy J after our finals appearance at Pro Tour New York. But there were always more people around who were kind of fringe members, and nothing was ever said to clarify their status. For example, Ron Kotwica, an on-and-off PT’er that practices with us, always answered,”No, I’m an associate” when asked if he was actually on Team CMU.”Associate” is such a condescending word. Eugene’s answer to that question was”I don’t know,” and Scott Teamann would just flat-out say”No.” But in reality, there’s not that much difference between any of those people – we all meet on Tuesday’s, e-mail each other, and work together on everything. To prevent any more of a rift from forming in our playtest group, Turian and I”officially” proclaimed all those guys (and more) to be on Team CMU’s current roster, which now shapes up like this:
Yes, it’s a big team. But we’re a big group, and we need every idea and ounce of practice we can get.
A word on Rizzo. I’m sure many of you loyal Star Citiers are saddened/stunned/hurt by seeing Rizzo’s name there on the roster of a real Pro team — after all, he hates Pros, etc. And stuff. If it bothers you that much or radically changes your opinion of the man, pretend you never saw it. Treat Rizzo like the pensive nude icon you have grown to cherish, because let me tell you, being on Team CMU hasn’t changed him one iota.
So why include him? Because he works damn hard and helps everyone else out. He owns more cards that Hallmark, and he constantly has decks at the ready for most pertinent formats. He always ponies up for packs when we draft, and he’s the guy that brings the box of basic land. He drives people to Ohio. The man loves Magic. He deserves every chance in the world to succeed, and if he ever wants to shed the rogue/casual/martyr baggage for a couple weeks and actually concentrate on winning, we’ll be there for him. Until then, there’s always room at the table, and a slot on the roster. In his own way, he’s earned it. Yes, he is the only member of the eleven-man team to never qualify for a Pro Tour. If he’s content to keep it that way forever, so be it. So don’t kick him off the CPA, or the Rogue Deck Doctor Society, or any other group for the Magically Disenfranchised. Because somehow, he’s managing to have the best of both worlds, and the people here on the”Pro” half certainly don’t mind.
So tell Becky to have a carrot and get to swingin’, chief. I mean, come on, he’s the Best Writer on the ‘Net – who wouldn’t want that guy on their team?
Back to Eugene. So Eugene e-mails us from Jersey and says he’ll see us in Nationals, his homeboy is q’ed and he wants to make the trip to hang out and maybe grind in. Cool. Next time I see him is Friday morning, and he’s ground in. Amazing.
Andy J, Turian, and I were planning on doing a split as it was, and now that we had a 4th“official” teammate qualified, we had to cut him in. Okay, we didn’t HAVE to, but we were confident that he could succeed at this level – after all, he did make Top 8 at States this year.
Are we smart or what?
After I go 0-4 and Turian and Andy J flush a combined 11-1 record right down the drain, Eugene steps out of the shadows and saves the day. His Fires deck taught all of us a great lesson:”Sometimes the best tech is no tech at all.” Have you seen that thing? Check it out:
Fires,”The $42 Ticket”
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Flametongue Kavu
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Shivan Wurm
4 Chimeric Idol
4 Fires of Yavimaya
3 Ghitu Fire
4 Saproling Burst
2 Dust Bowl
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Rishadan Port
There’s no white splash for Battlemages, there’s no BLACK splash for Battlemages. No Aura Mutations to be found. No Slay or Tsabo’s Decree. No maindeck Barbarians, just good old-fashioned Chimeric Idols. Don’t forget Ghitu Fire. Simple. Great. Stays the path.
How bad would it have looked if we didn’t make the new team official prior to Nationals?”Eugene, congrats on your Top 8, now you can be on the team.” But that didn’t happen, and you can all retire the word”associate.”
And now, more on my favorite subject: Me.
Saturday night, we rounded up a four-on-four draft for decent stakes, and it was due to be pretty exciting since my only exposure to Apocalypse at that point was from doing preview articles for Omeed.
The draft table turned out to be a savage one – I was passing to Dave Williams, who was passing to Turian, who passed to, in order, Bob Maher, Mike Pustilnik, Jason Zila, Andrew Johnson, and Jon Finkel. (The teams were CMU plus Pustilnik versus the other four.) A crowd gathered, JSS mothers started videotaping, and we were frequently interrupted to sign cards.
Random Mother: Could you sign this for me please, Jon?
Random Mother: Thank you. My son is going to be just like you.
Finkel: I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
I can’t imagine pressure from my folks to be good at Magic.”Goddamn it, son, quit reading that science book and tune up that Rebel deck! You’re gonna be the next Finkel!”
Someone had me sign a Skizzik. I didn’t really see the connection between me and the 5/3 trampler, so I assumed the person remembered my amazing 2-4 performance in Tokyo with ol’ Skizz. Right.
I had to cut out relatively early on Sunday, so I missed the terrible rainstorm and I missed this little lightning-hitting-the-hotel thing that everyone else refers to in their reports. I don’t consider that a bad thing. When I got home, I logged on to find out that Eugene had made the team against all odds – when I left Orlando, he was down a game against Benafel and even if he won, he’d have to face Bachmann again.
Apparently none of that was a problem.
So that was Nationals from my perspective. It certainly is a different feeling going 0-4 than finishing 4th. I know this report isn’t one bit as inspirational as last year’s National’s report, but there are still lessons to be learned.
One of them is losing=bad. Your own your own as far as the rest of the lessons.
The Tuesday after Nats, we all convened at CMU again, ready to move on to the next challenge. It never stops. It’s a good thing Magic is fun, because otherwise it might drive a man to drink.
So we’re practicing for Worlds. Apocalypse Rochester Draft is a riot. Type 2 is on hold until we see what springs forth from Canada, so we’ve been trying to crack the new Extended format. Extended seems fun for the moment (have you ever killed a Masticore with Teferi’s Response? What a hoot!), but I’m sure some moronic broken combo deck will rear its head soon enough and ruin the format. It always happens.
Plus, we’re working on our team skills – Car Acrobatic will be representing at GP Columbus. More Magic. More Magic. More Magic. God, I’m a masochist.
Here’s to me winning a match at Worlds.
Oh, and here’s a prediction based on the”National Team Formula” I mentioned at the beginning of this report – the 2002 US National Team will be Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz, Gabe Wilson…
…and John Rizzo.