Jim and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Jim Ferraiolo as "The Winner" (handsome star of the major motion picture)
Teddy "KGB" Knutson as "The Tagalong" (charming compatriot and bead-earner nonpareil)
"The Ferrett" as "Rufus" (he who made it all possible)
Pete "P. Diddy" Hoefling as "Napoleon" (marshaled his troops flawlessly throughout the battle of New Orleans, capturing many of his enemies’ Dollar Bills)
James Sawyer Lucy as "Ghengis Khan" (the most imposing man in any room)
Chris "Pop Tart" Woltereck as "Socrates" (calmly, rationally talked me out of playing Red in my Tog deck a la Mikey P)
Derrick "Clean" Sheets as "Sigmund Freud" (still pondering whether PTR’s post match-loss reactions are really latent hostility toward his mother)
D.J. Keesee as "Abraham Lincoln" (it’ll be a few years before the facial hair comes, alas)
Laura "The General" Mills as Righteous Babe #1 (fuzzy monkey attachment a plus)
Megan "Nathaniel" Hawthorn as Righteous Babe #2 (lack of TV makes you a real-life angry hermit, beware)
SCENE 1: A Bedroom in Charlottesville, VA
[beep beep beep beep] [beep beep beep beep]
CLOSE SHOT of an alarm clock, beeping incessantly. A sleeping figure with the sheets drawn tightly around him flails around, looking for something to swat. It is JIM FERRAIOLO, StarCity’s "Win a Trip to New Orleans" contest winner. The alarm clock reads 6:25 a.m., quite an early time for any sane person to be waking up. TIGHT IN on JIM getting out of bed, staggering toward the BATHROOM.
I could really keep the whole movie script flava going for the rest of this report – but I’m afraid the space-breaking and formatting would make The Ferrett completely insane. Given his DSL and email woes lately, I’m not sure that I want to anger the man. Maybe just a few small doses of screenwriting flava – enough to raise his blood pressure, but not enough to set him off. Judicious use, friends, judicious use.
Teddy K knocked on my door seven minutes early, but I was naked as the day I was born, fresh out of the shower. Early! Why did he have to be early? Magic players are usually the late-arriving sort. I hurriedly threw on some boxers and answered the door practically in the buff. Much to my surprise, Ted did not recoil in horror at my state of undress (remember, though, it was very early). He calmly took a seat on my futon and waited for me to finish re-garmenting. One quick kiss from the wife (just me, not him), and we were out the door, thus beginning a most excellent adventure.
The ride to the airport was uneventful. We talked tech for a bit and listened to the new Snoop Dogg album. I think it’s not bad, but it’s no Doggystyle; Snoop can never top that gem, ever. It’s certainly better than the two he did prior to this one – but I digress. It was some kind of cold (for Virginia at least) when we got out of the car, and we huddled together in the makeshift wind-shelter/bus stop for warmth. Our tickets were secured without much incident, which was good since I was originally afraid that they might give me some static for not having the credit card that actually purchased the reservations. I knew in the back of my mind that I only needed to name drop P. Diddy Hoefling and instantly could get through with no questions asked, but I didn’t want to play that card if it wasn’t necessary. If you name drop P. Diddy too many times, well…
Ever see Beetlejuice? I thought so.
We got on the airplane and took off with no delays. Ted attempted to sleep on his jacket while I burned through 100+ pages of Live From New York, the oral history of Saturday Night Live. When he had enough of sleeping, we talked tech briefly before he grew tired of me and whipped out a book of his own. Our discussion basically consisted of:
Jim: I think that Cursed Totem could be the tech of the tournament with all the U/G flying around.
Ted: Mmmphhh… Maybe.
Jim: Perhaps one could defeat that tech by running a U/G/W Threshold deck Extended style. Watch, it’ll be sick.
Jim: I’m cooking it up right now.
Moments later I scrawled down a deck that was semi-similar to the one that Brendan Herzog piloted to Day 2 at GP: NO, except with a much smaller quantity of good cards. Armed with what I knew about Extended, which was very little, I thought it might be a hot idea to splash for not only Mystic Enforcer but Enlightened Tutor as well, to pluck out a Cursed Totem and just own U/G madness completely.
Armageddon never even entered my mind. I had forgotten all about one of the best cards ever printed, and not a bad option when trying to achieve threshold.
Ted: That deck looks like the worst.
Jim: Yeah, but I’ll runnnnn it! [rubbing hands greedily]
Ted: No, you won’t.
Jim: I know. [sighing]
As an aside, I later pieced the deck together when we got to our hotel room. To make a long story short, the deck got its face smashed in by Sligh in very limited testing. Let us never speak of this again.
We touched down in New Orleans at about 2 p.m. – on time and ready to party. Teddy K and I were making our way towards the airport cab stand when we noticed two suspicious figures with backpacks following close behind. I feigned sniffing the air, Legolas-style. "Magic players," Ted grunted, and I nodded assent. Soon enough, we were in line to get a cab when these two same gentlemen came up behind us and asked us if we were going to the Radisson. We shared a cab there and talked briefly about a few matchups, likely scaring the piss out of our cab driver in the process. In retrospect though, he’d probably seen a few real-life Taxicab Confessions in his day and wasn’t at all frightened by four geeks talking about "savage beatings.”
We rolled up to the Radisson at about 3 p.m. or so; a place of … modest accommodation. The hotel was kind of in a ghetto section of town, the landscape dotted with a few empty parking lots and shabby looking beige buildings. The Tulane University Hospital was very close to the hotel, which was comforting; always good to know that in case anything went down, medical relief was only a crawl away. Our room was not all that impressive, and was barely wide enough for a person to walk through without bumping into anything. I was half-expecting P. Diddy to put me up in the penthouse suite for winning his contest, so that I may use the whirlpool to soothe my jangled nerves before and after the tournament – but alas, it was not meant to be. Still, everything was on his dime, and I had no right to complain.
After Ted and I both had a quickie with the Pizza Slut, we were en route to the site of the tournament – the hotel’s absolutely cavernous Grand Hall or whatever the hell it was. All I know is that it was the largest room I’d ever seen attached to a hotel in my young life.
"Oh, a classic. What a room! This place is gonna swing tomorrow," I proclaimed in my best Murph from The Blues Brothers vox. "It’s a barn! We’ll never fill it," Ted said in dreary emulation of Mr. Fabulous. Ted and I both glanced around, waiting for Curtis (Cab Calloway) to appear, but no such luck. We did, however, get a bead on P. Diddy Hoefling – plying his trade over at the StarCity vendor table. We shambled towards the action.
"Look, I’ll give you a pretzel for your foreign Fervor. That’s my final offer."
"Come on man!! How about a handful of pretzels?"
"No. One pretzel. That’s it. I told you, that’s my final offer!"
"AWWwwww! Three pretzels, okay?"
"One pretzel." [crunch crunch]
Sensing that this was a transaction not to be interrupted, I decided to ask The Man for my spending money later on. Ted and I met up with some of the North Carolina crew that we knew from our regional PTQs and commandeered a table with them. During this time, I also laid out my printed decklists and brainstormed with the guys about my decks and pondered which I should play. I had never ever played in an Extended format Magic tournament in my life prior to GP: NO, and never thought I ever would. I didn’t know any of the cards that were pre-Masques – hell, I didn’t have any of the cards that were pre-Masques – and I was sure to get stomped if I played something that featured many cards or card interactions foreign to me. At best, I did a cursory examination of the top Reims and Houston decks prior to leaving for Christmas vacation, and ran maybe one test game of Apprentice each with them. Needless to say, I was not exactly "prepared" for this event in any fashion. I really wanted to play the Mike Long/John "Money" Mahon/North Carolina crew W/G Oath deck that had been developed recently, but I knew that it was too hard to run without a ton of practice. That basically left two decks that I could run and be comfortable with: U/G Madness and Psychatog.
Since I absolutely hated the idea of going to potentially the only Grand Prix I’ll ever attend and playing a deck I utterly despise (now), I decided to play Psychatog. I had two builds in front of me, one was Mike Pustilnik’s Tog deck which splashed red for Fire / Ice and Pyroclasm to help the deck’s matchup against little red men, and the other was a homebrew classic Tog that I had concocted the night before. It’s funny, because my original on-paper Tog ended up being only one card different in the maindeck from Eugene Harvey’s 2nd place finisher. However, our sideboards were very different, and I’m sure that Eugene is roughly five hundred times the player that I am.
I really wanted to run the deck with the Pustilnik red tech in it – but Chris Woltereck, a good player from the NC crew, talked me out of it. He said that it obviously weakened the mana base and wasn’t sure that it really did enough for the deck. He also cited that he liked the Intuition/Accumulated Knowledge engine over Gush. Chris also intuited that the field wouldn’t be Sligh heavy, so Fire/Ice may not be as golden a choice as I thought. Still, the card was an answer to the ever-popular Waterfront Bouncers, Merfolk Looters, Hermit Druids, Birds of Paradise, Yavimaya Elders, and the like flying all over tables in the format. I really liked the red – and for the record, so did Ted (who didn’t play in the Grand Prix, instead opting to do match coverage and earn a few bucks on the side). Still, Chris had some Jedi mind trick action going on, and I could only helplessly agree as he cited the reasons red was bad for the deck. I made a few tweaks to my homebrew Tog build, and I ended up running the following sixty-piece:
3 Force Spike
4 Accumulated Knowledge
2 Mana Leak
1 Powder Keg
3 Cunning Wish
2 Circular Logic
3 Fact or Fiction
After I finished borrowing the necessary cards from Sawyer, I sauntered over to the StarCity table with hopes of acquiring some funds for dinner. After our usual bits of greeting and banter, Pete exclaimed, "Pay that man 200 dollars cash!" to one of his nearby employees. I remarked, "That may be the only time you’ll ever hear those words in your life." After collecting my hard-earned quarry, I gathered up Ted and the NC posse and tried to determine a dinner spot for the evening. We hopped in the "Porse" (the only SUV large enough to fit Sawyer in the driver’s seat) and sped off in search of Decatur Street, where fine dining could be had for hopefully less than the kingly sum I was packing. This was The Big City, after all – and meals in The Big City are expensive. No real decision was made, but I had heard about a place from my parents called Café Dumond that was supposed to be good. At this time, I did not know that all they served were beignets and coffee. The lamentations were fierce once we arrived.
Our crew fought its way up the street through scores of pimps, hustlers, and buggy drivers to a place called the Crescent City Brewhouse. It looked reputable and non-crowded, so we gave it a whirl. The food was fantastic and a local jazz trio provided the beats to a scrumptious meal. I slipped up and thought I could handle dessert – bread pudding – realizing my folly about five minutes into the gooey goodness. The sweet, thick pudding had rendered my limbs completely immobile. Good times.
After some stomach settling, we left the restaurant and headed back to the valet parking area where the Porse had been secured. Bread pudding must rot the brain, because I attempted to get into an SUV that looked exactly like the one we rode in just hours prior (to me), but to everyone else it was plainly obvious that this was not the vehicle we arrived in. The valet stooge’s strange look probably should have tipped me off. I quickly pondered whether to gank all the loose change available in the console, but conscience got the better of me. At last, the real Porse materialized and we headed back to the hotel, got a quick four-on-four team draft on (my team won easily thanks to taking five of the seven available Sparksmith), watched some of the GP Trial, and then retired around 1 a.m.
SCENE 2: A hotel room in New Orleans, LA
JIM and TED are still SLEEPING but TED must rise early for MATCH COVERAGE because THE FERRETT is a SLAVE DRIVER. A loud RADIO blares its payload:
Here comes the sun…. Here comes the sun…. yeahhhhh it’s all right!
Theodore Phineas KGB Knutson and I rose around 8 a.m., even though the Grand Prix wasn’t slated to start for 2 more hours. It was something about him needing to get downstairs early to help set up and do match coverage, or similar nonsense. He also was writing a piece on the aforementioned W/G Oath deck, which managed to win the GP Trial last night, earning Derrick Sheets three hot byes. I lingered in bed, vainly trying to get some more sleep while Ted got ready. At about 8:45, he called back up to the room and told me that I’d better get downstairs because Wizards wanted participants to be registered for the event by 9 a.m. An event starting on time? Who in their right mind… I mean who had the audacity to… grrrr….
I finished getting ready and scooted downstairs with a quickness. As expected, my haste was completely unneeded as registrations were still being taken at 9:45. I milled around for a bit, talked to some of the hoi polloi, and got a few last cards for my deck before the whole event kicked off. I had no expectation of doing well at all; my only goal was to have a winning record on the day. If I was lucky enough to make Day 2, it was all gravy, baby. I have to stress that going in totally cold with zero preparation into a format like Extended is normally a recipe for a 0-4 debacle. But that would not be my fate, gentle readers.
Round 1: Greg Schwartz playing Oath
You can read all about the particulars of this feature match. The only thing I’d like to add is that no matter how much you want to play an Oath, you should never lay it down when you already have a creature of your own on the table (and it’s a Kavu Chameleon, beating the stuffing out of your opponent) vs. Psychatog. If you do this, you’re begging to be killed. I only flipped over five cards before Oathing up Mr. Smiley, but it could have easily been 35. I already had Wonder in my hand, so killing Greg in game 1 was totally academic.
Game 2 was a much better game, and one Greg protested because I had mistakenly tapped one of my swamps that was untapped while I was reorganizing my lands into island piles and swamp piles. Apparently, Greg muttered "mana burn" – but nobody, including myself, Ted, or the judge standing right next to him, heard the phrase. The nearby zebra saw the gaffe, and told me to just untap the swamp and to watch it next time. This ended up being a bone of contention with Greg, since I ended up winning the match with one lonely life point remaining. It would have been a shame for a simple clerical error to turn into a game loss, and I’m glad the judge realized this fact as well.
Round 2: Rory Draxler playing U/G/r Madness
Rory won the die roll and elected to play first. I mulliganed down to six after a no-land hand and kept a four-land, two Mana Leak winner. I countered 2 attempts at early pressure in the form of Wild Mongrel and his buddy, Wild Mongrel. On the third turn, I plucked a Circular Logic – and for lack of anything better, denied a fourth-turn Deep Analysis, knowing it was an attempt for Rory to find some pressure. "Pressure will cost you three life and a turn, my friend!" I cried. Unfortunately, I believe that was the last spell cast from my side of the table the entire game. I drew land after land, even sacrificing Polluted Deltas to give my deck a good shuffle each time. I think I saw a Circular Logic the turn before I died, but that was it.
In game two, I played first and had to paris again. My new hand was pretty decent, featuring a couple Brainstorms, an Accumulated Knowledge, and a Counterspell. I Brainstormed into some more countermagic at the end of Rory’s first turn. Things were looking up for the first few turns of the game as I countered pretty much all of Rory’s madness outlets – but still had no card drawing or Psychatog pressure myself. Eventually he got down a Wild Mongrel and a Roar of the Wurm token simply because I could not counter every threat he produced. I had to Intuition for three Smothers to kill one of his wurm tokens – which is pretty damn awful when you think about it. Rory got Careful Studious on me and dropped another Roar into the graveyard. He swung with some stuff, and then flashed back the big dog. I drew into a Fact or Fiction and cast it in my main phase, hoping to flip over another Smother or the Terror I’d sided in for the big 6/6. Rory was tapped out and couldn’t counter. I did not find removal, but I did find a Tog. I couldn’t cast it until the next turn since I was 1 mana shy. On his turn, Rory added an Aquamobea and a Rootwalla to the team and swung for big points, discarding Wonder in the process. I cast the Tog next turn, but the game was over thanks to Wonderboy.
Round 3: Adam Story, playing The Rock
I managed to win the die roll and elected to play first. I swapped Counterspells for Yavimaya Elders for a while, as he seemed land light. Attempts at Pernicious Deed were met with Mana Leaks. I hardcast Wonder when I had six lands in play, and let me tell you – Wonder gave Adam straight lumps for about five turns in a row. After managing to get a Pernicious Deed into play, Adam finally grew tired of the flying 2/2 beatstick and popped his Deed. That was my cue, and I dropped a Tog. Adam countered with Spiritmonger, but I had Wonder in the graveyard, Fact or Fiction in hand, and more than enough points to win with counter backup for anything tricky like oh, Diabolic Edict – a card which I saw present in none of the Rock decks I faced. Maybe it’s just fallen out of favor?
The second game, Adam elected to go first and cast a turn 1 Planar Void. Ummm… hmm. I quipped, "My deck is suddenly about half as powerful." Adam managed to score my lone Upheaval with a turn 2 Duress, and I knew the only chance I had was what worked in the first game – a good old-fashioned Wonder aerial assault. This game took a long, long time to play out. I couldn’t get through with anything but little Tog nibbles, and he had sided out a lot of his pressure cards for disruption. We did relatively nothing for a long while until Adam came into some Treetop Villages, but I had Smother and a Powder Keg standing by for them.
I did make one mistake in this game that might have gotten me a victory instead of a draw. There was a turn where Adam activated a Treetop Village and I had the option to use my Powder Keg for zero to kill it, or to use a Smother in hand. I chose the Smother, somehow thinking that I wanted to keep the Keg in play for something else. Well, Adam did have a Deed down, and Wonder was pounding on him, so I knew he had to blow it at some point. It didn’t occur to me that this would also take away my Keg. He laid another Village and then blew the Deed for four, getting rid of Wonder (and the Planar Void, thankfully) but also robbing me of the answer to the lone 3/3 manland which beat me into submission as time was called, forcing a draw.
It was truly an awful, awful play on my part. If I had killed the first Village with Keg and then Smothered the second, I could have probably won the match 1-0 on time because Adam dropped no pressure beyond the second Treetop. That’s what happens when you’ve first seen Powder Keg three hours before playing with it, I guess. Adam later added insult to injury by saying, "Dude I won’t lie: I only have two Planar Voids that I sided in and I was damn lucky to draw one." Ooooof.
By this point I was feeling lame about my error, but didn’t really let it get to me. I just had to play tight the rest of the day, get my winning record, and just have fun. I also knew that being in the draw bracket wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, as I’d end up against some other slow control decks that don’t control nearly as well as Tog does. Remember the saying, "Be careful what you wish for?"
Round 4: Kathy Nemati, playing U/G/w Oath
It’s always interesting to see female Magic players at tournaments, because I’m always thinking, "God, what could have possibly inspired her to cast her lot with this collection of humanity?" I’ve only ever faced one other woman in sanctioned play (Tammy Erhart, who coldly and callously stared me down as she gave it to me both games in twenty-point fashion with Visara The Dreadful in a sealed qualifier) and got crushed by her. I was hoping that this would not be a repeat performance. Now, most of the females at the Grand Prix were wearing tight-fitting tops, showing cleavage and everything else, all with the intent of distracting their largely male opponent base.
Kathy was different. She was older – a mother, dressed normally, and classy all around. We shuffled up and settled in for what would be one of the most enjoyable matches I know I’ve had in my brief Magic career. I can’t remember a lot of the conversation, but the match’s mood was light, banter-laden, and not so uber-competitive. She was running a more unconventional version of Oath which packed Repulse, Nantuko Monastery, and some sick Trade Routes tech in the sideboard. Our first game featured counter wars early on, mostly fighting over Fact or Fiction, Oath of Druids, and such. Oath never did manage to enter play, but Kathy did manage to find a couple of Treetop Villages which I knew I needed quick answers to. They came in the form of Smothers, forced through with Mana Leaks and Logics.
We were also playing the "who gets to draw more off of Accumulated Knowledge" game – an always entertaining subplot in any control mirror. She won that battle easily, doing it for four at one point, and then five. I managed to resolve it for six, though, and that’s when the game shifted in my favor. I summoned a Tog and began to go to work. Kathy Repulsed a few times and later countered the toothy guy. I had jack shit in my hand. She’d countered two of my Fact or Fictions in the early game, and the only card drawing I’d resolved was the aforementioned big AK. But now I was running out of gas from that and needed something before the game got out of hand. She cast a Fact in her main phase, and my split yielded her a Cunning Wish and a Brainstorm. With five lands untapped, she passed the turn. At the end of her turn, I attempted a Cunning Wish. She responded with her own Cunning Wish, getting Gainsay… But she then allowed mine to resolve, which I found strange. I fetched Corpse Dance. I had a Circular Logic left in my hand for anything strange and had enough damage between hand and graveyard to barely kill her. I went for the gold and struck it rich, knocking Kathy out George Foreman style with one big swing.
Our first game took a really long time, and I didn’t have anything that I wanted to bring in vs. Oath, so I began shuffling and presented my deck. I can’t remember much about the second game; I think I might have been land light in the early game. I countered an Oath, but Kathy forced through Trade Routes, a card which I had not seen in a very long time. I had to read it. It looked something like this: "1: Return target Treetop Village or Nantuko Monastery to your hand, thereby making them impervious to removal." Flavor text: "This card really puts a Tog player over the pickle barrel."
I think Kathy was a bit asleep at the wheel, though, as she had been Trading it up merrily the whole game – but when it came time for me to try a Smother on an active Monastery, she let it go. I was floored. One of her spectators just shook his head when he saw it happen. I can’t remember her mounting any serious pressure after that, and the game ended in extra turns. I had enough cards to kill Kathy with a Tog but not enough to counter the bounce spell that she did, in fact, have in hand. I won the match 1-0-1. She seemed kind of bummed out about the whole thing, but then we got to chatting a bit during de-sideboarding, and I casually mentioned that I was the StarCity contest winner.
"You wrote The Ralphie Treatment?!"
I sheepishly nodded, not knowing whether I was about to be praised or slapped. Kathy mentioned that she was a very big fan and that she and her playtest group loved playing the deck and had been successfully piloting it in local tournaments. After I got over the shock that someone else would actually play B/W Slide besides Teddy K and myself, I thanked her for the props, and we gabbed a bit more. All in all, the match was a much-needed oasis in the socially maladjusted desert of Magic players.
Round 5: Devin Manuel, playing Aluren
I had never played against an Aluren deck until this point. I suppose there’s no point in saying that, because I had never played against any of the decks I’m mentioning prior to this day, but anyway… I knew that it set up an infinite loop with Aluren, Wirewood Savage, Cloud of Faeries, and Cavern Harpy ending in a massive Stroke of Genius to run the opponent out of cards. I had not seen the Soul Warden/Maggot Carrier version that Devin was running, but I’m told it was fairly common.
In the first game, I went first and countered what seemed like every attempt Devin made to cast a spell. Fact or Fiction kept me fresh with counters and card drawing; I laid a Tog, made it lethal, and easily attacked for the win. I sideboarded in two Engineered Plagues to stop the combo engine should it happen.
Game 2 was slowly turning in my favor after countering a couple early attempts at Aluren and plucking into some card drawing. My critical error was when I allowed Devin’s Intuition to resolve. I thought, "What could he get that I can’t stop?" As soon as I saw the first Cabal Therapy pop out of his deck, I knew I had slipped up. Devin cast Cabal Therapy four times, crushed my entire hand, and then went off. I still felt good about the matchup, now knowing not to make the mistake of letting Intuition resolve.
The third game went more like the first one. I countered his key spells early in the game, developed my mana, and filled my hand with drawing in the mid-game, and sent a Tog in sideways in the late game for big puntos. Devin did manage to resolve an Aluren, but he was lacking the Cavern Harpy to make the engine hum. If he had one, it would have been difficult yet not impossible to win, as I still had a good deal of countermagic in my hand as well as Upheaval.
I had a better record than I ever expected and was feeling pretty good by this point. I was also very, very hungry. I went out and abused some of the pizza (one slice, one crust – not enough) that the NC crew had delivered and then chatted with Ted for a little bit. Apparently doing the feature match coverage and then doing the writeups was taking its toll, because he looked like he went a few rounds with Iron Mike. We knew coming in that the Ferrett would be a harsh master, but I don’t think Ted was prepared for this level of intensity.
Round 6: Jason Tate, playing The Rock
Jason had seen me playing Tog apparently during one of my matches and said, "This is not going to be good for me," during our introductory handshake. My memory of this match is very hazy, for some reason. I think it must have been the lack of food. Whenever I don’t eat (as is often the case at Magic tournaments), I get a splitting headache. Ted was allegedly supposed to bring me some at some point, but I think he probably got sweet talked into covering another match against his will. Ferrett has that kind of power over his feature writers, apparently.
I remember Jason not doing much of anything for about eleven turns except lay lands and pass the turn. He must have had a terrible hand the first game, or it could have been laden with stuff he was waiting to force through with some disruption that he never saw. I cast Upheaval, floated my three, and it was done. I think Game 2 ended the exact same way, but I did have to work a bit harder for it. I remember casting Fact or Fiction three times in a row, I think. For the kids at home: When that happens, the Tog usually wins.
Poor Jason wore a dejected look for most of the match, like there was no way he could possibly win. I don’t know why he’d have that attitude, as his record was the same as mine at that point – but I guess I have to take the wins when I can get ’em.
I was now 4-1-1 in a format that I knew absolutely nothing about. I can not stress this enough. How did this happen? Did I just get lucky? Was I playing against bad players? I certainly wasn’t playing flawlessly myself, but I was playing well enough with a deck that only needed one small window of opportunity to win. When that opportunity presented itself, I was seizing it to the tune of twenty upside the opponent’s head. Playing Psychatog in Standard now feels like I’m playing a Pop Warner version of the deck. Extended Tog can kill the opponent so much faster and has so much raw power that I don’t think I can go back to its weaker Type 2 variant.
If I managed to win two more rounds, I could make Day 2. Even one more win and then a draw had a slim chance of making it, I believed. It’d have really been something to play against the big dogs on Day 2, but my brain had other ideas…
Round 7: Gerry Thompson, playing The Rock
Like the Roots told ya, things fall apart sometimes. My Magic headache was full bore, and I played this match about as badly as any man can play Magic. I’m sure that Gerry walked off after the match thinking he played against the worst player ever, that’s how bad I was. The early game I thought went well, as I countered attempts #1 and #2 at Pernicious Deed in the early game. Then he went for Pernicious Deed #3 (a feat in and of itself) after Vampiric Tutoring for one. I sat there, looked at the Cunning Wish in my hand and four mana untapped and let it go.
Scroll up – yeah, back to the decklist. Look at the sideboard. See that card? Annul? Yeah. I’m bad. I could have Annuled that bitch right then and there and won the match, no question… Yet I just flat-out forgot the card was in my sideboard. I suppose if I had ever played with the card in my lifetime I’d have remembered, but it was still an atrocity to forget about it.
My library didn’t produce a Tog for a while, but Gerry didn’t really put any pressure on me either and we had a very long, drawn out game. The match’s key play was when I cast Intuition and would ordinarily have fetched three Togs, cast one and then swung to end my opponent’s life. In this case, I knew that doing just that would be horrible, due to the presence of the Pernicious Deed that I so stupidly let resolve. I was already down one Cunning Wish, and getting Intuitive for three Togs would basically mean that I was sacrificing any hope of winning the game. It took me about four solid minutes to figure out what to do and Gerry was getting annoyed. The decision was really tough, as I was trying to find a way to draw into a Tog while still needing an answer to a Treetop Village that he had just produced. I think I decided on something like Accumulate, Smother, and Cunning Wish finally. Gerry gave me the Smother. It ended up being a poor Intuition; selecting a Cunning Wish removed yet another method that I could have won the game with (Corpse Dance with buyback).
I’ll skip the rest of this heartrending tale, as it ended up with our hero playing the role of dinner at a Ravenous Baloth feast and never finding a single Psychatog until seven cards remained in his library. It was obvious that my headache was taking its toll as usual and play mistakes were creeping in. If I could kick this problem, I might be good, one day.
We were very short on time when game 2 began, and I died in extra turns to Baloth and friends after drawing a very mediocre opening hand and being torn apart by multiple Duresses and Cabal Therapies.
Having a match full of play mistakes is usually a good cue that you’re cashed for the rest of the tournament. Rather than playing in the final round and losing again, I decided to call it a day right there. I checked the drop box on the match slip and went to find something to snack on. After finding moderate sustenance, I milled around and watched the final round of the day for a while, then leapt up to the stage area where all the writers were tapping away on their laptops. Ted looked totally and utterly drained. I knew he was in trouble when he told me it took him two hours to translate one page of his notebook into intelligible match coverage. I casually mentioned the thought of dinner since it was about 8 p.m. at this point. Ted said that he was going to go out with The Ferrett, and then Ben Bleiweiss casually mentioned something about a brewhouse on Decatur St. I had heard about this great restaurant called The Commander’s Palace that I really wanted to go to and was going to suggest – but I figured we needed reservations, and a group of shaggy Magic players would likely be very underdressed for it as well. I said that I didn’t mind going back to Crescent City, since the food was good the previous night and counted myself amongst the masses.
I hopped down from the stage and let Ted finish his article, his fingernails creeping deeper into his scalp by the second. I put my stuff upstairs and then came back down to hobnob. When it was time to leave, a sizeable group of us flagged down three cabs and rode to the Crescent City Brewhouse at around 9 p.m.. Ted, Ben, and I left in the last cab, yet we were the first to arrive; a testament to the insanity of our cab driver to be sure.
Our dinner party read like a Internet Magic writing dossier – we had the Ferrett, Ben Bleiweiss, Teddy KGB, myself, Laura Mills representing the Brainburst crew, her husband John, Denver Magic vixen Megan Hawthorn, John Stephens, and one other person who I don’t remember. Also included in the crush of random Internet writers were pros Mike Pustilnik and Alex Shvartsman. I’m not sure what persuaded them to hang with such a motley crew, but hey, whatever.
We had a fine meal, albeit a bit rushed because most everyone was trying to get out and head to the Improv to catch a comedy show at 10:30. Ted and I didn’t feel like listening to some bad comics at a club, especially when we were leaving New Orleans tomorrow and had yet to hit up Bourbon Street. I said, "Who goes to New Orleans and doesn’t go to Bourbon? We’ll be the biggest losers ever if we don’t go."
That might have been the most sober thing I said for the rest of the evening.
We arrived on the scene at about eleven or so, and it was already jumping. Bourbon Street is like the most debaucherous college party ever conceived, times ten. People were everywhere on the street; they were drinking in public, dancing and grinding in various states of undress, doing bad karaoke, carousing, and oh yeah – showing their private parts. And this was just a normal Saturday night. I can’t imagine what Mardi Gras must be like. The place was just complete and utter chaos, and here we were, taking it all in. We walked all the way, soaking in the sights and sounds, until things started to look poorly lit and unsafe. Right around this spot, there’s a place that sells Handgrenades for $7.50 each. They were billed as "New Orleans’ strongest drink" so hey – I had to have one. Actually, I had two. I have no clue what was in them, but they taste strong and they taste nice. I don’t drink a ton, so two is all I really needed to get the good times rolling. And roll they did.
On our perimeter sweep back up Bourbon, we caught a glimpse of something I don’t think I’ll ever forget as long as I live. Apparently, Osyp Lebedowicz and Antonio De Rosa thought it might be a good idea to jam out with some street performers.
How best to set this scene… Hmm.
First, there’s a small white man playing a broom as a guitar and bouncing around like Angus Young from AC/DC. Then, there was a large black man cranking some beatbox stylings and shucking/jiving all around. In the middle of this fray are Antonio and Osyp, cranking up some fierce undulations – the likes of which I have never seen in my twenty-six years. Antonio danced as if someone had coated his testicles in Icy Hot, while Osyp simply spun around over and over again like a human dreidel. I don’t know how many Handgrenades they had had, but clearly more than I. A big crowd began cheering, "Osyp! Osyp!" in lock step with some other Magic players that had started the chant. After a few moments, Antonio stopped, but Osyp broke off from the pack like a Psilon from Battlestar Gallactica, spinning down the street and slamming into various people with no regard for life or limb. As our buddy the Sports Guy would say: There’s comedy, there’s high comedy, and then there’s the scene I witnessed that evening.
We hung around long enough after that to do some damage, and I’ll leave it at that. Teddy K earned his beads – but he can tell that tale if he’s game for the telling. The night ended prematurely, as we witnessed another would-be bead-earner in a three piece suit get cuffed and booked on the spot by the N.O. Po-po. On that down note, we snagged a cab and made it back to the hotel in one piece.
In a miraculous stroke of luck, we ran into our crew from dinner in the hotel lobby. Apparently, they wanted us to come up to one of their rooms and play a card game called "Lunch Money.” It’s not a collectible card game like Magic, but one more like Uno. I don’t remember much after that point, but I remember hearing "I slap you, I poke you in the eye, I spinning backfist you, etc." more than a few times. I remember asking the Ferrett if he was going to make me a Feature Writer. I also remember telling him that his Lunch Money hand really sucked and that he had no hope of winning.
Scene 3: A hotel room in New Orleans, LA (redux)
The hotel room is a SHAMBLES. JIM is snoring peacefully and TED is also in unconscious BLISS. The room is completely dark thanks to the careful arrangement of LIGHT BLOCKING CURTAINS. TED has once again played the fool and decided to get up early to do MATCH COVERAGE. In one minute, the ALARM will …
I heard the news today ohhh boy… About a lucky man who made the graaaade!
"How is it that we always wake up to the Beatles on this trip?" Ted murmured.
"Unnghh… I don’t know. Hey Ted, remember what I told you about me not getting hangovers?"
"Please remind me never to say such things again."
Not only did I have a hangover, it felt like someone was trying to extract my brain from my skull cavity. Ted washed up and got ready while I dozed some more and tried to sleep things off. As everyone knows, movement while hung over is very painful so I tried to achieve as little of it as possible. He left the room, and I rose about twenty-five minutes later and took about a twenty-five minute shower. I needed every last second of it, too. I headed downstairs and went back to the tournament site. Day 2 of the Grand Prix was already underway, and a Venice PTQ was also about to begin. I didn’t have the stamina to play in another event in the condition I was in, so I just chilled and watched matches for a while. I went over to the writer’s table where I was warmly greeted with, "What’s up, lightweight?" from our resident rodent. Bastard.
Standing up was a challenge and walking even more so. I asked Ted where the gift shop was so that I could procure some hangover relief. I barely made it to the shop. I asked the cashier if I could please spend five dollars on twelve aspirin. She was unfazed by my wit and pointed to a counter nearby. After securing the drugs, I headed back to the tournament and hunted around for people to assist me in the opening of the aspirin. It was one of those Bayer pinch-to-open slide tray pocket sized jobbies – completely childproof but also impossible for a hung-over person to open as well. Such deliberate cruelty on the part of the Bayer people; I vowed never to buy their products again. I think Laura Mills eventually got the damn thing open.
The round was ending soon, so I tried to talk to Mike Pustilnik and compare our Tog decks, sideboard choices, etc. We got about two minutes into the conversation when he was overcome by a coughing fit and just simply walked away from me, never to return. I didn’t think I had that power over people.
I managed to catch up with him later after his feature match with Trey Van Cleave and finish the conversation, so it was all good. The one other point of interest that morning was during the next round: I was taking in the feature match between Zvi Mowshowitz and someone else, when I decided to go see how Derrick was doing with his W/G Oath deck. I must have caught the very tail end of the match because Derrick’s opponent, Peter Szigeti, was already packing it in. I overheard Derrick say, "I did win the match, correct?" to which Peter replied, "Yeah. But I’m the winner in the game of life." PTR got up from the table and stormed off, clearly sore that he lost. In addition to blatant poor sportsmanship, the comment itself was a pretty lame comeback. Call me crazy, but you both sat across from each other a Magic tournament. Your privileges to play the real-life card in any dispute are revoked as soon as you walk through the door.
Some time later in the morning, I was asked to go to breakfast by John Mills (Laura’s husband) and Megan Hawthorne. They said they were going to go to Café Dumond, the place that we vainly attempted to eat dinner at the first night in town. Since I’d heard the beignets were out of this world, and my body really craved nourishment at that point, I agreed. A side benefit to this breakfast was listening to Megan’s soothing voice for a few hours. Her dulcet tones were sweet succor to a hung-over man, and I probably could have listened to her read me the damn phone book and been happy about it. We had beignets and coffee at Café Dumond for breakfast and five minutes later, we walked across the street to another place and had lunch. I think it was the quickest breakfast-to-lunch turnaround I’ve ever had. The weather was gorgeous, the company was good, and these few hours were definitely in the top ten of the entire trip. Feeling rejuvenated, the three of us got back into a cab and returned to the hotel. We had about two hours to get to the airport and catch our plane – no problem there. After a few casual goodbyes, Ted and I were on our way back to the airport. It was somewhat sad because I’d met a lot of cool people on the trip that I’ll probably never see again, since I don’t get out to the major Magic tournaments all that often. Perhaps I will have to remedy that by getting on the gravy train! Only 200 more rating points to go…
At this point, there’s not much story left to tell. After a rigorous security check, we got on the plane with no delays or incidents and got back into Richmond, VA on time. We froze our cojones off waiting ten minutes for the Economy Lot bus. Upon boarding, I asked Ted if he even remembered where the car was parked. He assured me that he did, but I was skeptical. True to his word, he found the car in no time. If there’s one thing to say about Teddy K, it’s that he knows his way around a parking lot. We listened to Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust on the way home, as well as Dan the Automator’s A Much Better Tomorrow. Ted and I reminisced about the trip and I pondered playing in some Extended qualifiers due to the intense fun of the format. He thought he might give Kibler’s Oath deck a spin, whereas I remained convinced that Psychatog was my jam.
"Uh the format is like, almost over."
Damnation. Just when things were getting interesting.
SCENE 4: A bedroom in Charlottesville, VA
JIM has arrived home at last. His loving wife KATHLEEN embraces him and gives him a kiss. Having gotten approximately ten hours of total SLEEP on the trip, JIM is very tired and very much wishes to go to BED. His WIFE however, having missed her husband for the last three days, has OTHER IDEAS.