Before I launch into my report, let me give you a little history to bring you up to speed on the "history" of the Gambit Invitational. About five years ago, after I had been laid off from my job at the time, a friend of mine who had been managing the game part of a local Book & Game affiliate, Brad Irwin – who, coincidentally, had also just been laid off – decided to finally open his own game store. He was looking for partners to go into business with him, and I, having a little free money about and lots of free time, decided to help out. With a few other investors, we launched Gambit Games on October 31st, 1996, becoming the first (and only) "official" game store in Bend, Oregon.
Since then, Gambit has been doing quite well, moving into a swanky downtown location and actually making money. If you happen to be in the Bend area anytime, stop on in and ask for the "Friend of Dave" discount, in which case the clerk will look at you funny and still charge you the same rate.
Recently, Brad had this interesting idea: The 1st Annual Gambit Invitational. Get several of the Gambit Magic "regulars" together and have an in-store tournament using the twelve existing Magic World Championship decks from 1997 through 2000. The decks would be auctioned off in the "Tournament of Champions" format used in this year’s Duelist Invitational.
If nothing else, it’d be a great way to sell those unsold boxes of championship decks that have been collecting dust for some time – and since "invitational" tournaments seem to be all the rage, why not give it a try?
Since I was going to be in town that weekend and it certainly sounded like fun, I readily agreed to participate. I knew a few of the people there: Brad, of course, current Oregon state champion, and Grey Anderson, recently qualified for the JSS (and frequently mocked for his haircut); the rest were mostly newcomers to me – much of the "old school" crowd has since moved away or retired from the game.
The decks we had to chose from were:
1999 World Championship Decks
Sped Red – Mark LePine
German Dragon – Kai Budde
Stompy – Matt Linde
Control Black – Jakob Slemr
The matchups are quite fascinating-you’ve got several different blocks of cards facing each other; beatdown, control and combo are each well represented. How will the speedy Tempest/Mirage block decks match up with the slower Urza/Mercadian block decks? What is the metagame like? How do you judge which deck is best?
I’d played a few of these decks before and wanted to get Kuhn’s Angry Non-Hermit deck, with its mix of beatdown creatures, mana acceleration and land destruction elements; it fits the aggro-control strategy that I personally prefer. I thought it had the best overall matchups against the rest of the field. I also knew it would be highly sought after.
The auction rules were simple: Whichever player was drafting from the #1 seat would get first bid on a randomly selected deck. Bids would then be accepted on that deck by moving around the table in chronological order. Any player not bidding on a deck the first time could not enter the bidding later. And card totals always trumped life totals – that is, a bid of 7 cards, 15 life would be beaten by a bid of 6 cards, 20 life. I got stuck down in seat #10, meaning I wouldn’t be getting first bid on anything for a while.
Rec-Sur was the first deck to come up for bidding; it went for 7 cards, 18 life. Stompy was next, also at 7-18, and Replenish for the same totals. Sped Red, another deck I was interested in, went for a ludicrously low 7-20! Control Black, the next choice, ended up being the subject of the first bidding was, eventually going for 6-15.
Then Angry Non-Hermit came up. I decided to make my move, but ended up getting a little hate from Grey Anderson. Ultimately, I went down to 6-18 to get the deck, a little lower than I wanted.
Sligh went next, another powerful red deck going for an insanely easy 7-20. I have a feeling many of the drafters weren’t around when this deck was dominating the Standard environment, otherwise it wouldn’t have just been passed around the table.
Tinker was next at 6-20, then Grey Anderson gets in a bidding war over Buehler’s Draw-Go (the deck he wanted), eventually having to let it go at 6-14 – a wise choice on Grey’s part, but now all the decks he wanted had been removed from the auction.
The final choices were German Dragon at 6-20, Chimera at 7-20 and Grey Anderson ended up being stuck with Brian Hacker’s Weenie White at 7-20, bemoaning has fate at having to draft what he thought was the worst deck at the table.
What can I say, Grey? You give the hate, you get the hate.
The tournament was set up to be double elimination, so everyone was guaranteed at least two rounds of play.
Round 1: Angry Non-Hermit vs. Chimera
Chimera is the bizarre combo deck Nicolas Labarre ran in the 2000 Worlds, and my opponent confesses he has no idea how it works. I anticipate "flawless victory."
After he opens with a Bird, mana Elf, and Thran Quarry; I respond with a turn-three Arc Lightning, which leaves him with a single land in play. That is followed with a turn four Blastoderm and turn five and seven Avalanche Riders, making game one quick and brutal.
I’m a little mana shy (odd how a deck with 24 lands and eight mana critters seems to be getting consistently mana screwed), and my opponent seems to finally figure out how to play the deck. He gets Fecundity and Ashnod’s Altar into play, casts an Academy Rector with Pattern of Rebirth, gets a Saproling Cluster into play and starts the engine going, eventually casting a Snake Basket for 25, leading to me entering my scoop phase.
I don’t have any early plays to open this game, but all my opponent has is Fecundity and two Elves in the first three phases, so my turn four Avalanche Rider manages a few early beats. He’s followed by a turn seven Rider, then a turn eight Plow Under. A third Avalanche Rider ends up going the distance, as he’s unable to get the mana he needs to start the engine.
Round 2: Angry Non-Hermit vs. White Weenie
As much as Grey hates the deck, this may be a bad matchup for me, as land kill is less than effective against a deck that runs Tithe, and I have no way of getting rid of pro-red creatures – an Armored Soltari Priest is bad news for me.
Games 1 & 2: Not much to report-only drawing two lands total in both games means I lose quite horribly.
So I guess I fight out of the losers’ bracket.
Round 3: Angry Non-Hermit vs. Stompy
Another rush deck, and another less-than-optimal matchup for me.
Again, not much to report. The beating is fast and brutal, and my mana-light hand does not give me the answers. I side out the Plow Unders (something I’m doing all day, it seems) and add another Masticore and Orangutans for his Scrolls.
A much more interesting game. It looks like I may get steamrolled by his turn three Albino Troll, joining his Lyrist and Pouncing Jaguar. Thanks to Priest of Titania, though, I’m able to Dust Bowl away his Gaea’s Cradle, leaving him unable to pay the echo on the otherwise unkillable Troll. He’s still beating me down, however, by Rancoring up creatures I’m forced to trade my mana producers for. Eventually, I have to try and stabilize the board and drop Masticore with two lands, a Bird and an Elf in play and four cards in hand.
I never play another land and eventually get Core-locked at one card, having depleted my hand of Arc Lightnings and two Stone Rains to eliminate Treetop Villages. It’s enough, however, to enable to finish him off, with me at three life.
My opponent’s Stompy deck sputters a bit at the start, and without a fast start, Stompy becomes rather ordinary. His first turn Scroll meets my turn two Orangutan, then I drop a turn three Blastoderm. He does have Constant Mists, however, and is more than happy to pay the buyback costs since he’s a bit mana flooded.
"Got a monkey?" I ask. My opponent says no, and is steamrolled by 6/6 tokens shortly thereafter.
Round 4: Angry Non-Hermit vs. Sligh
What is it with all the rush decks? Why can’t I play against something like Tinker, for cryin’ out loud? I’m designed to beat that deck.
Again, out go the Plow Unders, in come the Orangutans and extra Masticore. I establish early control by Arc’ing two Pups, followed by a turn four Blastoderm (which my opponent tries to Incinerate-silly rabbit!). Two Avalanche Riders later, my land-depleted opponent rolls over.
The early game goes back and forth, with him burning my mana creatures, me destroying his Pups and Fanatics. Eventually, he gets an active Scroll and starts whittling away at me; I’m begging for a Monkey to save me. Even though he’s at eleven life and I’ve just cast a Blastoderm, it’s too late as he Scrolls me on his upkeep for the last two damage.
My next card? Orangutan.
Man, I hate when that happens.
I stick around to watch the finals. Grey has piloted the "bad" weenie white deck into the top of the winners bracket. My opponent, piloting the Sligh deck, smashes both Tinker and Rec-Sur to win the loser’s bracket.
So both finalists meet with 1998 Worlds decks. Says something about Standard in those days. If nothing else, these games should be fast and furious – and I’m not wrong.
Thomas, playing Sligh, goes first and drops a turn 1 Pup. Grey keeps a one-land hand (with no Tithe!) and topdecks another land (better to be lucky than good, eh, Grey?), enabling him to play a turn two Priest. Thomas drops a Fanatic and Scroll in his next two turns; Grey follows with a Warrior en-Kor. But it’s all Thomas after that, as he burns Grey out on turn five with a Ball Lightning and Fireblast in typical old-school Sligh style.
Grey opens with Soul Warden, Soltari Monk, and Warrior en-Kor; Thomas responds with Scroll, Flunkies, and Sandstalker, the Sandstalker trading for the Warrior en-Kor on turn three. Grey drops a Scroll of his own on turn four; Thomas casts a Bottle Gnomes, then two Pups on turns five and six. Both players have active Scrolls, but thanks to the life boost from the Soul Warden, Grey ends up winning the Scroll war.
Grey starts strong with a turn two Soltari Monk, but Thomas gets fast beats with a turn one Pup and turn three Ball Lightning. Grey casts a turn three Paladin en-Vec, but Thomas answers with another Ball Lightning on turn four! Grey, curiously, decides to block the Pup with the Paladin, not the Ball Lightning, and that does him in as Thomas hits him with a double Shock and Incinerate on his next turn.
Grey apparently forgot that in addition to being pro-red, the Paladin also has first strike, and that mistake ends up costing him the match. The longest match, it should be noted, was eight turns. Ah, that takes me back…
Since the winner of the loser’s bracket won the first match, a second must be played. There will probably be more time spent shuffling than actually playing with these decks.
Grey opens with a turn one Nomads en-Kor; they end up trading for Thomas’ Jackal Pup. Grey’s next three turns bring a Warrior en-Kor, Paladin en-Vec, and an Empyrial Armor – which spells doom for Thomas, as his Ironclaw Orcs and Mogg Fanatic can’t stop the pro-red 5/5. The game is over on turn six.
Thomas gets a horrible opening start, casting two Ironclaw Orcs on turns two and three, followed by Bottle Gnomes. Grey, however, gets a dream draw of turn one Soul Warden, turn two Soltari Monk, turn three Soltari Priest, who then not only gets an Empyrial Armor but two Spirit Links as well. Adding insult to injury, Grey finishes the match at 30+ life as the superpowered Priest finishes off Thomas in short order.
This was a very fun event and difficult to metagame. In the future, I should remember the old adage of, "If you don’t know the metagame, just go aggro."
If your local game store has several of the world championship decks floating about, this is a pretty fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and I’m sure your local store might be interested in sponsoring such an event.
P.S.: I don’t care how low on life you have to go, get the Sligh deck. Trust me.