With an air of confidence, my opponent said the words I’d hoped wouldn’t come for one more turn:
"Cloud of Faeries floating one?"
I said it was fine. A flurry of Snap and recasting of Cloud of Faeries followed, and soon enough there was a Mind’s Desire for ten storm on the stack. My opponent looked at me arrogantly, silently asking me if I had seen enough, and paused for a response.
I summoned all of the bile my stomach could muster and imagined myself as someone who plays Magic with their heart on their sleeve, someone who hates nothing more than to lose to a filthy combo deck that isn’t interested in actually playing Magic at all, someone who is completely and utterly defeated.
"Do it," I said.
My opponent sighed deeply, like someone who has been asked to work an hour of overtime after a long nine-hour day. His Mind’s Desire flipped everything he could have wanted:
I glared at him, again with the eyes of a man utterly and unfairly defeated.
He began to cast his spells in a haphazard manner, Cunning Wishing for worthless things, Brainstorming quickly, and eventually Mind’s Desireing his whole deck. Eventually he decided he was done and that I was to be done as well. It was round 7 of an Extended PTQ in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and taking down this match would allow him to safely draw in to Top 8 at 6-1-1. He had bigger and more important things that required his attention.
"Brain Freeze you for a million" he said casually, finishing the formality of effectively ending my tournament.
Just as casually I obliged, flipping my entire library into my graveyard.
Annoyed that I was still interested in going through the motions and clearly intending to waste his time, he told me I could go.
Just as casually, I untapped.
"Upkeep add a counter to Aether Vial."
His demeanor changed slightly, and he sat up ever so slightly in his chair.
"Vial for two?" I asked.
Finally, his bored indifference began to turn into mild concern as he started to sense that perhaps things were not as they seemed.
"Okay, and?" His attempts to hide his concern were failing.
I put an Atog in play. I began to sacrifice artifacts to it, each time making him lose one life to Disciple of the Vault. It was very obvious that it would not be enough. I tapped my Great Furnace and Darksteel Citadel before sacrificing them and soon enough had a 9/10 Atog, and he was at eight life.
He looked up at me with the same eyes a child makes when they have been caught stealing an extra cookie after dinner.
"Sac Atog, take nine?"
I remained casual and stoic.
He slumped in his chair.
He could have cast Cunning Wish for Words of Wisdom and killed me on his turn. He could have cast Cunning Wish for a counterspell. He could have flashbacked a Deep Analysis in his graveyard targeting me.
He could have won.
Instead, he had nothing more to do but sign the slip.
* * * * * * * *
Looking back, Golden Memories Comics and Cards was kind of a dump. There was actually only four folding tables in the entire store; the majority of the "table space" where we played Friday Night Magic and Prereleases was simply large planks of plywood laid across bulk comic boxes covered in a nice cloth and bordered with stools. Compared to the newer stores on Long Island like Brothers Grim and Empire Games, it was frankly somewhat embarrassing.
However, that was our store, and we were loyal customers because the owner was a nice (if eccentric) guy and it had a solid crew. I cut my teeth playing live Magic there and met many friends I am still close with to this day.
One of our (or at least my) favorite activities at the store was Wacky Draft.
This was before Cube Draft was a thing but had much of the same allure. It required you to think on your feet and be able to evaluate cards in strange situations.
In this particular Wacky Draft, I had first picked Dark Confidant and drafted a mediocre B/W aggressive deck with a low curve and not much reach. I was 1-1, and our team was in the last round and needed to pull out a few wins to take down the draft.
I was paired against good friend Jim Chianese, who had drafted a G/W creature deck that completely outclassed mine. I managed to steal the first game, and after I got pummeled in the second game, we found ourselves in a brutal board stall in game 3. His huge creatures completely outclassed mine, but neither one of us could really find any good attacks.
I drew my card for the turn:
For anyone who has never had the pleasure of playing with it, Leonin Bola is an unassuming but extremely powerful card in Draft capable of completely taking over the board. However, it was clear that I would not be able to create a successful attacking scenario without exposing myself to a devastating counterattack. I thought for a moment and then cast the Bola.
I quickly surveyed the board and equipped one of my creatures. I used it to tap his largest creature and then repeated this process a few times. After tapping a few more creatures, I casually looked at the board, looked at Jim, and then looked at the board again.
"Hmm . . . actually I don’t think I can get through."
As this was a fun draft, the atmosphere was a bit more casual, and Jim and I joked a bit about the convoluted board we had gotten ourselves into.
After passing the turn, I waited for Jim to draw his card and survey the board for about a second. I let reality set in and spoke quietly:
"Crap. Am I just dead?"
With Jim’s full army at his disposal and half of mine tapped from my misguided use of Leonin Bola, I was in fact dead on board to an all-out attack. Jim looked down, did some quick math, and looked up at me as I subtly but meekly slumped in my chair.
"Actually you are!"
Jim picked up all of his creatures and aggressively tapped them as fast as he could, as if somehow if he waited for me to recognize what was happening, I would be able to find a way to stop it.
I looked at him, looked at the board, and then looked back at him and smiled.
Jim was stunned and took a second to process what had just happened.
After a moment, he spoke.
"You tricked me."
My counterattack was lethal.
* * * * * * * *
While the language barrier may have prevented us from speaking, body language is universal. My opponent was very pleased with how this game was going.
It was round 8 of Pro Tour Yokohama 2007, the format was two-set Time Spiral Block Constructed, and at 4-3 both my opponent and I were on the brink. This was back when X-3 or better made day 2, and the loser of this match would be left playing Future Sight Prerelease events with Japanese cards (not that it would have been much of an issue for him).
Like most of my Pro Tours, I had prepared alone and brought an odd R/G aggressive deck to the table inspired by one of the most loveable duos Magic has ever seen: Phillip Napoli and Osyp Lebedowicz. The deck was built around Radha, Heir to Keld and Stonewood Invocation and did not have much of a late game.
It was game 3, and we were deep in the late game.
My Japanese opponent was playing U/B Mystical Teachings, the premier control deck in the format, and had things firmly under control.
He had a full grip of seven cards; upward of ten lands; a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir; and the smug look of someone who has already punched his ticket to day 2. He was at a very stable ten life, and I was left with zero cards in hand, a handful of lands, and a Greater Gargadon that was not only on five counters but also would never be able to come off of suspend thanks to Teferi.
This was my fifth Pro Tour, and after having made day 2 of all but one of them and falling a few Pro Points short of Gold in my first season, I was very hungry for more. However, it seemed that this day was not meant to be mine.
My opponent sat content behind his wall of cards, attacking for three a turn with his Teferi and watching me helplessly draw blank after blank.
But in a split second, everything changed.
I drew my card for the turn and despite all odds quickly realized that it would be me attending the day 2 player meeting at 9 AM tomorrow morning, not my opponent.
I phrased it as a question, but the reality was there was nothing my opponent could do.
Split second ensured that my opponent could have no response, and once it resolved Teferi would put him under the restriction of playing all of his spells at sorcery speed. Unfortunately for him, a sorcery speed Cancel is not very effective.
He could only watch helplessly as I sacrificed two lands to remove the remaining two counters off of my Greater Gargadon and slid them both into the red zone.
Again, a question I knew my opponent could only answer one way.
My stunned opponent looked forlornly at his hand, which I could only assume contained a multitude of counterspells and removal spells, and sighed as he extended his hand.
Day 2 awaited.