Over the course of playing three thousand sanctioned matches, a few games have stuck with me. For whatever reason, these games have meant something to me and I’d like to share them with you loyal StarCityGames.com readers. There’s not much strategy here, but hopefully you’ll will be interested hearing about some of my more memorable experiences.
#9: Pro Tour Chicago 2003
I’ve made countless errors in my Magic career. Once in a while it’s big enough and with large enough stakes that I can’t really forget it, no matter how much I drink. #9 and #1 are two such examples.
This year at Pro Tour: Chicago (triple-Onslaught Rochester) I managed to make day 2. The first draft of the second day did not go well. My choice of colors ended up going sour, forcing me into U/G with a splash of red. In round 9, I was up against Travis Padilla, who had a tight little U/B deck. He crushed me game 1 and had mana problems game 2, so we were all set up for a big third.
The situation was very simple. I put a Mistform Mask on his Severed Legion and turned it into a wall. Then, on my turn, I attacked right into it. Apparently, I thought if it didn’t attack, it couldn’t block, or he’d be scared to block… Or I’m an idiot. Who knows? (Okay, I do – and it’s the third one.) I ended up losing that game because I was short one chump blocker the turn before I’d have killed him with Ascending Avens. Big Frown.
#8 Pro Tour New York 1996
This was the very first Pro Tour (a.k.a. The Black Lotus Professional Tournaments). I was a young lad of fifteen back then, and so I played in the Juniors divisions.
Oh, and I had no idea what I was doing back then. At all.
My deck for this tournament (which was a bizarre form of Standard where you had to use five cards from every legal set – a horrid format) was this R/W/U machine. It had Serra Angels, Control Magics, and Orggs. To get it all moving? Mana Vaults. Some burn, some Swords to Plowshares, some countermagic… Basically, it was a mess. I’d say it was probably the second-worst deck at the tournament.
But I sure didn’t know it during round 1, because I played the worst deck there. I believe the kid I was playing got in because his dad was with the press, so he just threw every card he had with him into a deck and shuffled up. Not only was it two-hundred plus cards, but it had some illegal ones too. I didn’t call him or the judge on it because it didn’t matter. My deck was performing beautifully. Slick mana, all the answers at the right time… I think my grandest play was casting Control Magic on Merieke Ri Berit and then attacking with her. Whoops! But I certainly swept the match and was feeling pretty confident.
The next round I played Brian Kibler. Yes, that Brian Kibler. He was a nice young guy back then, he’s a nice guy now. His deck was fairly well constructed, featuring Hypnotic Specters and other”good” cards. He rocked me pretty hard, and he wasn’t the last one to do so that day – not by a long shot.
I’ve talked to Brian a bit since then and we both laugh about how neither of us knew what we were doing back in the day. I think we’ve both learned some things since then (him perhaps more so).
#7: Minnesota State Championships 1999
Evan Stern doesn’t play any more, but back in the day he was one of Minnesota’s most colorful figures. A small man with a very big mouth, he had the skills to actually back up his claims. He and I had butted heads on occasion, but most of the time I genuinely liked the fellow (though in an uncomfortable way, he reminded me of myself).
Anyway, in 1999 we were matched up in the finals of the Minnesota State Championships. We were playing nearly the exact same deck: A Nether Spirit/Contamination special that killed with the lock or Spawning Pools or Phyrexian Processor. The first game was the fun one. We each had lots of dead cards and lots of viciously good ones. Each turn was an exercise in one-upmanship and suppression. A total of five Processors were played in that game, each with different life payments, multiple Yawgmoth’s Wills, and so on. That first game took a whopping fifty minutes, which is pretty decent for non-blue decks. Some spectators were falling asleep; others were enthralled. Eventually my third Processor took the game, and I took the match.
Moral: Good players make good times.
#6 Pro Tour Chicago 1998
At this particular PT I managed to go 7-0 on day 1. Easy top 8, right? Of course, that assumes that I don’t kick start day 2 with a 0-4 at the first draft table.
Well, I did. And I was mad. Going on massive tilt mad. And the result of that tilt was the worst deck I’ve ever drafted (at least until last year’s Nationals).
This three-color superstar featured Souldrinker and Mind over Matter. Yes, it’s legal in draft! The only card of minor merit was Reins of Power, and that was only because I had nothing worth giving.
The first round of the draft had me faced up against everyone’s favorite consultant, Mark Justice. After being quickly murdered in game 1, I’m primed to lose game 2. I whack him down to nineteen via Skyshroud Falcon, but then run out of gas. He drops mad beats, which included Skyshroud Troll and double Rootbreaker Wurms. I’m holding them off with a Master Decoy and Mind Games, but the game is slipping fast. Then Mr. Justice taps seven mana and plays Rootbreaker #3.
Well it’s time to make my move! Step 1 was topdecking a card I completely forgot was in my deck. (Did I mention I was on a tilt?) Of course, the Reins of Power. Well, it’s go time! This was under Fifth Edition rules, mind you – so first, I Decoy one of my guys. In response to that, I Mind Games one of my guys – and in response to that, I use my second Mind Games on my last relevant creature. Then, in response to all that (Mark is looking very confused at this point), I cast the Reins. The LIFO angels sang. End result: I’ve got lots of dumb guys that cost between four and seven, and he has an untapped Skyshroud Falcon (with haste).
I won a game! But not the match; Lord no.
#5: Nationals Grinders, 1998-Origins
This one is quick and painful. Playing real Sligh (with Fireblasts!), I’m in the top 8 of the third game against Big Blue, a weirdly aggressive mono-blue deck that won with large creatures.
In game 3 he goes turn 2 Chill, turn 3 Chill, and turn 4 Chill! This is bad, of course, but my Sligh deck is packing Nevinyrral’s Disks from the board. And I just happen to have one in my hand. And he keeps playing cards! Suq’ata Firewalkers, Giant Tortoises, he doesn’t care. And I’ve been stuck with this Disk in my hand since the beginning, with only three lands in play. Then on his turn, he taps out to drop Air Elemental and another Giant Tortoise. If I draw the fourth land, I cast Disk, I go down to five, and get something absurd like nine-for-one.
I draw… Viashino Sandstalker. ARGHH.
#4 PTQ Kansas City
One time, three other gentlemen from Minnesota and myself decided to drive to Kansas City to play in a Pro Tour qualifier. The format was all Urza’s Saga Sealed deck, with a booster draft in the top 8.
The trip was somewhat eventful. Brilliantly, we decided to go despite the fact that there was a fairly massive blizzard sweeping across the Midwest. I was driving most of the way there, and I can assure you, it’s quite exciting to 180 and then not know which direction is forward after you stabilize. We made it there in one piece, but things continued to be interesting.
The head judge that was supposed to come could not make it, so another judge was conscripted to be in charge. He was a very, very poor head judge. He started things off with a straight-up misruling of trample, and I heard many stories throughout the day of other gaffes. I know one match next to mine flipped a coin on a ruling, which they thought made more sense than calling the judge.
The tournament organizer was also quite intriguing: He insisted on using military time for some reason. But truly fascinating were his views on technology. Basically, he didn’t trust electronics, or what he referred to as”geegaws.” He didn’t use computers, and did everything by hand. Pairings and tiebreaks were done on 3×5 cards. I know for a fact that Sam Lewis, who ended up 9th place, was screwed out of a top 8 berth by this Luddite.
But I made the top 8. The draft went well. Very well. Very, very well. I picked Pestilence first, then got one fifth pick because the mono-black drafter took Metrognomes instead. I also nabbed three Arc Lightnings, two Order of Yawgmoths, and the mighty Vebulid.
First round of the top 8 I cruised through the Metrognome drafter, and the second round I won as well. Very quickly with minimum fuss. The finals were another matter.
I was up against Scott Lipp, also known as Spanky. Spanky is a treat – a very good and a very funny guy. I kind of enjoy the performance aspects of the game, and I know Spanky did as well. We had a large crowd for our final match, so the banter was flying.
I can’t really recreate the conversation here, since this is a respectable family site, but it was going back and forth fast and furious. Every card we played had some comment attached to it. Sometimes about our opponent’s family, sometimes about our own families, sometimes about the families of the art on the card… All very crude but lots of fun. And the crowd was eating it up.
I won, of course; my deck was just too good. It was fun playing for high stakes – but I think at that point, the cards were secondary. I haven’t played many matches like that in my life, but I’ve certainly enjoyed them when they come along.
#3 Random Sealed Deck 2000
There were a few solid stores to play Magic at while I was living in Minnesota, but by far the best was a place called Dreamers. Not just because the level of skill and competition there were way higher than any other store I had been to, but also because the owner, Jason Webter, would run fun, bizarre events once in a while. Forty-person multiplayer, Backdrafts… And the event that this game is from, 6th edition + Italian Legends Sealed deck.
I’ll say right now that I don’t remember much of my deck. I think I had a The Abyss in the board. Some guys, some removal, probably some legends and weird enchantments. I knew most of the Legends cards from memory, but I sure don’t speak Italian. Well actually I did pick up a little Italian from Italian Legends, but that’s not really relevant here (The bird is volare!)
Round 1, I play a very young fellow. Apparently, his mom just dropped him off at the store for a few hours and gave him the entry fee for the Sealed deck. He might have known the rudiments of regular Magic, but I’m not sure he was wholly literate. Needless to say, the Italian stuff was a little out of his depth. So began one of the most enjoyable matches of Magic that I’ve ever played.
Of course, I was prepared to play a normal match, but I got the vibe that things might be a little skewed when he dropped every land in his hand on the first turn and motioned for me to do the same. Then he attacked me with his lands. I took three. I played some guys and passed the turn. He played a Remove Enchantments and said”go.” I attacked with some creature and he played Gaseous Form to block. I complimented him on thinking outside the box. So it went on.
I won the first game by attacking for lethal damage and saying,”you’re dead now.” He nodded and we shuffled up for game 2. Again, it was back and forth. I was keeping to some semblance of what the actual cards did, while he was running the alternative”play the cards like the picture says to play them” style. Sorceries were blocking. Enchantments were killing my creatures. In an epic maneuver, he cast and attacked with Rust. I took six.
But fun as it was, it had to end. I had enough creatures in play to do the final points, and once again sealed it by informing him he was in fact dead. He took it with exceptional maturity and aplomb. We shook hands. I bought him a soda.
#2 Pro Tour: New York 2000
When I was living in Minnesota, I was on a team with Dale Taylor and Cory Ferguson named Monster Rod. We were always qualifying for the team Pro Tour, but something random would always prevent us from going. For example, one year Dale foolishly impregnated his wife nine months before the Pro Tour. Another year, Cory had a modeling shoot the same weekend as the PT.
But finally in 2000 we were all available and ready to storm the Pro Tour. (Masques Block Draft) Day 1 was mediocre. They cut to top 32 and we squeaked in at 31st. But the next day, the draft went quite well. Day 2 consisted of five teams and five teams’ drafts. We leapt to a quick 3-0. Then the heartbreaker: A loss! We had one round left. A win would give us 7th, 8th, or 9th; a loss, a much worse placing.
Well our last draft went relatively well – but theirs did, too. Quickly Cory lost his match and, just as quickly, I won mine. Dale split the first two (of course) so it came down to a crucial game 3. I was watching with rapt attention, perched on my chair Mike Long-style. Cory was pacing up and down the aisle like an expectant father, occasionally glancing over at me for visual clues.
Dale was playing masterfully. Sneaking in damage when prudent, protecting himself when necessary. Then, I saw it. The ultimate combination in Masques block draft:
I didn’t breathe. Would Dale see the combo? All the pieces were there. Dale tapped all his mana and cast the Avatar. I looked at DT’s opponent. He showed no fear. I was impressed – but then again, he didn’t know about part 2. Dale’s opponent untapped, cast something, then cast something else, tapping out!
I caught Cory’s eye and made a motion things would be over soon. Mr. Taylor was truly in his element with a bunch of dumb green monsters in play. He turned them all sideways, then stared straight ahead. I too could only gaze forward. Dale’s opponent blocked well – perfectly, in fact. But it didn’t matter. Dale tapped two and cast the Might on the Might, making a 13/13 trampler and ending it all.
I gave a whoop and jumped backwards, falling on a judge. He was a little hurt, but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered. Monster Rod finished 8th at that Pro Tour, a better team I’ve never known.
#1 Pro Tour Chicago 1998
There’s a line in Rounders that goes something like,”A lot of players have difficulty recalling their big wins, but people remember their bad beats with remarkable clarity.” I’m not sure about the other games, but I have a feeling I’ll be telling this one to my grandchildren.
PT Chicago 1998 (Tempest block booster) Day 1 goes perfectly, much better then I could have hoped for. I drafted well, was in the zone and caught a lot of breaks, enough to finish day 1 at 7-0. At the end of Day 1 there are only two 7-0s: Jon Finkel and myself.
We knew we were going to play the first round of the next day. But first was the draft.
Now back in Tempest days, it went three uncommons, the rare, and then eleven commons. In my pack for the draft, the uncommons were weak. I think the rare was something totally negligible like Thumbscrews. I’m sure there was something adequate in the first ten commons, but the very last card in the pack was that beautiful Rolling Thunder.
Of course it was an absurd card to put in the common slot, but back then everyone knew if there was going to be such a stunning card in the common slot, they wanted it. It was a good start, and things went well overall. Rolling Thunder, double Soul Warden, Paladin En-Vec, some shadow, some burn – you know, a good Tempest block deck. I’m always pessimistic about potential deck performances, but I think I rated it as a solid 2-2. Maybe in secret, a 3-1. But first, I had to vanquish Jonny Magic.
Game 1 we go back and forth, but my Furnace Spirit takes it. Game 2 I draw Soul Wardens and not much else. I lose. So it came down to game 3.
I start off quick with a Soul Warden and Mogg Flunkies, getting some quick beats in. He stabilizes the ground but I’ve got a Soltari Visionary plucking away. And then, The Choice.
It’s kind of complicated – but in essence, I had an opportunity to trade my Soul Warden for his Transmogrifying Licid. I thought about it for a good long time. And after much deliberation, I decided to attack with the Warden and make the trade.
Quickly, way faster than the speed of light, I knew it was a mistake. It wasn’t technically wrong; it was a judgement call. But I knew the instant I took my hand off of it, after I was committed, the attack was flawed. But the Warden and lots of other stuff came in, lots of combat took place. As planned, my Warden and his Licid ended up in the graveyard. I could only hope that it wouldn’t ended up hurting me later on. (Hint: It did.)
A little further along, Finkel was at three life and I was at seven. I untapped and was just hoping that that damn Thunder was on top, or my shock, or something! But no, it was some silly red guy. Lowland Giant I think. So I attack Jon down to one. He has a Cloudchaser Eagle and Flowstone Charger in play. I have two red guys on D. He’s got one card in his hand. He draws, looks at the board, and looks at life totals. He asks if I’m at 7. With a sense of dread, I confirm my life to be seven. He plays Giant Strength on the Cloudchaser Eagle (what irony!), and Flickering Ward on the Charger and comes in for exactly seven.
So. If I had one more life, or a white creature in play, I would have lived… But I was fairly and truly outplayed. I was mad at the time, sure, but these days not so much. These days I’m just happy when skill wins games, even if it’s not my own.
It’s funny to me that a card game can generate such big emotions. Every game mentioned here, and the ones I chose not to include, were and are still fairly big deals to me, for various reasons. I hope you enjoyed reading these. I admit to a certain pleasure in writing them. Any questions or comments? Please send them in.
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