This past weekend I went down to Roanoke, Virginia, to test with a group of powerful magicians for the StarCityGames.com Invitational. Although my 7-6 performance was lackluster, to say the least, I still had a great time being in Virginia for the six days that I was there.
Tuesday began my great adventure to the StarCityGames.com Invitational. I boarded my plane at 7:30 pm and landed in Roanoke ready for the greatest time of my life and wasn’t disappointed.
Once I landed, Matt â€˜Googs’ Gargiulo came to the airport and picked me up to meet up with the fellow wizards. I soon joined Calosso Fuentes, Gerry Thompson, and Ken Adams over at an apartment of one of Matt’s coworkers. After a couple of hours of watching ESPN with everyone just being lazy human beings, we decided to go out for food at a local IHOP.
I ordered a Philly cheesesteak (bad idea) and talked about the current metagame in Standard with the others as everyone indulged themselves. At the end of the meal, we decided to credit-card-game it for our $59.82 meal. So our seven-person game came down to me (fish) and Gerry Thompson (man who could be struck by lightning and live to tell the tale). I courteously asked Gerry, “Want to chop it?” He replied back with a snap ‘no.’ So obviously I ended up paying for everyone because not even God was going to stop Gerry Thompson from running any better than he already was.
It turned out that we got to sleep later than expected, and Calosso and I didn’t end up waking up until 12:30 pm. After a quick shower, we headed downstairs to find Matt and Ken battling away. Ken was battling with a lot decks that he was brewing up on the spot, while Matt was still deciding between R/U/G Control and Valakut Ramp.
After getting constantly crushed while playing R/U/G Control, Matt decided to switch to Valakut Ramp. Gerry eventually woke up while we sat down and battled more games of R/U/G against Valakut. They continued to go back and forth to show the matchup to be very close.
Close to 3:00 pm, Ken Adams and I went down to Star City’s store while Gerry, Calosso, and Matt all went to go pick up a mystery guest at the airport.Â
Enter Korey McDuffie.
Me: Hi, I’m Dan.
Him: Hey. Do I know you?
Calosso: He’s the guy who won two 5ks.
Him: Oh hey, what’s up, bro?
From there, we instantly became friends for life. Korey is a little ringer from Atlanta who performed well this year at US Nationals and will be attending Worlds (good luck, Korey!). After more Standard games, we were finally joined by the final guest of our playtesting group, Ali Aintrazi. Ali is one of the nicest people that you’ll ever meet in your life and was a joy to have around.
Off we went back to Wes Moss’s house for some good times and cube drafting. The cube draft ended up taking forever, and we were once again left with our only option being to eat at IHOP. This time, I wasn’t going to be fooled though. They wouldn’t get me to order that awful Philly cheesesteak again. This time I and Gerry sat next to each other while we pondered what we’d order as though it were the last thing we were ever going to eat for the rest of our lives. We eventually decided that the omelet was just too good not to order. After a quick ten minutes, my steak omelet was there and by far one of the best breakfast items I’d ever eaten. After we paid the bill (no credit-card game this time), we left for Matt’s house to slumber.
After two hours of Calosso and me listening to Lil’ Wayne and whatever other songs Calosso could find on his laptop, we woke Gerry and Korey up to battle more games. This continued the countless hours of Ken playing decks that he brewed up, Calosso drafting on Magic Online for God knows why, and Gerry and Matt battling the Valakut mirror countless times.
A few hours passed by, and our stomachs began to rumble, so Gerry, Korey, and I hopped in Calosso’s car and found a Dunkin’ Donuts, which was also a Baskin Robbins. Could we run any better? Korey ordered some type of coffee with a literal pound of sugar in it; I ordered an ice cream of some sort in a waffle cone from Baskin Robbins, and Gerry ordered a ham and cheese sandwich on flatbread where the current employee of the month and Dunkin’ Donuts hooked Gerry up with a milkshake of anything he wanted instead of the coffee that he had no desire for. This kid just does not stop. He couldn’t stop running good if his life depended on it.
We came back to Matt’s house, battled some more, and then went off to the local store. Things got boring while we tested, so once again the crew decided to head to Wes’s house to hang out a little. We sat around and watched more sports while people kept theorizing more decks in Standard. Everyone got hungry again and off we left to get something to eat at T.G.I. Fridays. On our way out the door though, Calosso offered to face-off Korey and me versus him and Gerry in a game of chicken. We graciously accepted and lost due to Korey’s awful balance and small stature.
We sat down, and I ordered the sizzling chicken and shrimp that our waitress suggested, and it was amazing. The bill came to $207.18 after the 18% gratuity that food establishments automatically include when your party is a certain size. I decided to just pay for my meal and watch the others as they gamed it. Out of the nine people that ate dinner, only three of them were gaming, but then Ken Adams chimed in. Now Ken had only ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, which had come to about seven dollars, but the next level for the credit card game was over $100. Ken, being the gambling man that he is, threw in his credit card and was very sad to see that his was the first one pulled. Then Matt got his credit card pulled out of Korey’s beanie, which we were using to randomly take the credit cards out of. It was down to Gerry Thompson and Glenn Jones. This time Gerry changed up the rules a little, as if he’d just gotten a premonition that things were about to go wrong. He told the waitress that the credit card that got pulled would be the one to pay for the whole meal, and the one left would win the next level for $110. Surely enough Glenn had to ship the money for the meal, and Gerry won the next level while slapping hands with every human being he could find in the restaurant.
After waiting for a few hours to see if Gerry’s passport, which he need to get to Japan, would get delivered to Matt’s house, Calosso, Korey, and I adventured down to Richmond, ready to battle in the StarCityGames.com Invitational. Our three-hour drive soon turned into a two-hour drive after watching Korey drive at speeds that most states would find illegal. Luckily the twenty cops that we passed didn’t pull us over, and we arrived at the Richmond Convention Center.
The sad news was that Korey still had to grind into the event, and any time we had was very precious. Korey had lost his first grinder in round 3 and found himself in the finals of the last grinder that he could play in against no other than Patrick Chapin. Korey was gaming with Valakut Ramp, and Patrick was battling with his own concoction of what looked to be a U/G Turbo Land deck.
Game 1, Patrick played a Genesis Wave on turn 4 putting into play multiple Titans along with a Garruk Wildspeaker and a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which got an early concession out of Korey. Game 2 on its way, Korey found himself forced to mulligan to six and kept two Mountains with four green spells on the play. Even though Korey didn’t find his first green mana source until his fifth land was in play, he still won the game on the back of a Primeval Titan.
We were onto game 3 for a slot to play in the Invitational, and the gloves were off. Korey finally had the good start that Valakut Ramp is capable of and played an Avenger of Zendikar on turn 5. Once putting Patrick into a position where any Mountain would deal him damage, he gave Patrick a two-turn window to topdeck a Genesis Wave to totally blow Korey out of the water. Fortunately for Korey, Patrick didn’t draw the Genesis Wave that he needed, and Korey would be playing the tournament that next day.
While waiting for Korey to finish his grinder, I had gone off and found Andrew Berke, a friend of mine, to allow me to stay at his place, which was only two miles from the tournament site. I then gave him my R/U/G deck to play in a grinder with, and he got to the finals of it and conceded to Gerard Fabiano in order for both of them to qualify, since Andrew already had six Open Points this season.
It was now 3 am, and we were just getting into Andrew’s house, and boy, was I in for a surprise. It turned out that there was only the couch, which Gerard was sleeping on, and one bed, which four people would be sleeping in. Sadly, my decision to save money on a hotel room was soon regretted, as I slept uncomfortably in the same bed as Sam Black, Alex Bertoncini, and Drew Levin. I eventually found a way to go to sleep, and it was morning once again.
Drew, Sam, and I showed up to the event site at 10 am on the dot because of a parade that was going on and blocking off the streets. Once inside, I met up with some friends and trolled around, watching feature match after feature match until I had to play.
After starting out 5-0, I found myself matched against Gerry Thompson, my newfound best friend forever. This is where it all began because I then found myself losing the rest of the matches for the day ending up at 5-3 in 26th place.
Hope was not gone, though, because Gerard did what he does best and cheered me up. He asked me if I’d like to go to Texas de Brazil, a local steakhouse, and I happily accepted. Gerard and I went along with Donnie Noland and his friends to dine at the Texas de Brazil. The food was great, but a few things did go wrong over the course of our dinner.
At the beginning, a waiter came over and offered Gerard some steak. Gerard obviously accepted, and while the waiter was cutting the meat off of this enormous sword, grease splattered all over Gerard’s shirt. Gerard shrugged it off and ate his steak.
Later, the same waiter came to my side of the table and offered me the same meat. Being the connoisseur of meats that I am, I accepted. In the middle of cutting, the meat fell onto my pants and left a stain that’s sure to never come out. Just like Gerard, though, I continued to eat the steak. In the middle of the meal, a little boy who couldn’t be older than seven years of age picked up the meat off the ground, which had splashed onto my pants, and tried to feed it to me. Our entire table erupted in laughter while the boy’s parents were completely embarrassed and apologized for their son.
We left Texas de Brazil, and Gerard and I decided to get a hotel room together instead of staying in Andrew’s apartment. Gerard and I went upstairs to our room and fell asleep.
I woke up and walked over the event site, ready as anyone could be. At the end of the day I found myself going 2-3 finishing with a 7-6 record overall to finish out of the money.
This tournament showed me that you just can’t win everything. I had played R/U/G because I was having success with it, but it definitely wasn’t the best deck in the room by a far margin. My tournament was over, and I was sad that I’d wasted such a big opportunity at one of the biggest tournaments I had played in all year. While walking around, Gerard noticed me from a distance and came to cheer me up.
Him: Dan, what’s wrong?
Me: Nothing, dude. Don’t worry about it.
Him: Seriously Dan, tell me. I’m your friend.
Me: I don’t know, Gerard. I just feel like I played so well to get here, and I played so well at this tournament that it almost doesn’t even feel right that I didn’t cash.
Him: Dan, I know what you mean. I’ve been going through the same thing that you felt today my whole life, but you have a great future ahead of you.
Me: You think so?
Him: Of course! I wish I was as good as you. I’d be in the Hall of Fame for sure.
Me: You’re right. I’m just going to keep my head up and get ready for my next shot.
Now, when I’d been feeling more tilted than ever, I had one of the best friends the game of Magic could’ve ever introduced to me walk up and turn that frown upside down. I sat down with Gerard and watched him battle Jim Davis in a team draft where he’d start every game that he played with a deal. For example, Gerard offered Jim that he’d start with six poison counters, but he’d get to start the game with one random permanent already in play. Jim happily accepted and lost the game when Gerard topdecked a Glint Hawk to return his Necrogen Censer to kill Jim for exactsies.
I sat around and waited for Matt to finish playing the Legacy Open and later found Gerry Thompson to congratulate him on winning the Invitational. After Matt had finished, we left to grab my suitcase from Andrew’s house and head back to Roanoke. I woke up early the next morning and was on a flight back home.
Overall the tournament was a blast, and my friends really made it an enjoyable time for me. Thinking back on it now, I wish I was back there, but life has to go on. The most valuable thing I learned this weekend was that Magic tournaments shouldn’t be based on how well you do in them, but rather the good times you have while you’re there, and to me those good times really depend upon the people you choose to surround yourself with. This weekend, I got to hang out with the likes of Gerry Thompson, Matt Gargiulo, Calosso Fuentes, Ken Adams, Ali Aintrazi, Gerard Fabiano, and so many more. My friends are the ones that really make my tournament experiences special, and I’d do anything for them.
Thank you very much to everyone who came up to me this weekend and said they liked my article because that really means a lot to me. Thanks so much to all my friends who let me stay at their houses while in town and to my friends that I only get to see a few times a year. I hope everyone had a good time at the tournament, and I hope to see my friends again soon.
See ya later…