Nine Short Stories About Milton

I’m going to tell you about how I was soundly defeated in Round 1 of the single-elimination cube draft by Josh Rider. This in itself is not newsworthy, but his method of victory was a strange one – he took me down without a single shot being fired. In fact, he took me down solely via his extremely clever method of being drunk off his ass, using a technique I like to call”Strategic Inebriation.”

A few weeks ago, I attended the”Ontario City Challenge,” a Team Rochester tournament held in Milton, Ontario. Most of the big names from Ontario Magic were present to fight it out for the coveted”Viner Cup,” and the entire weekend, including the $300 Sealed Deck event the following day, was a lot of fun.

Magic and fun and life are quite intertwined. These are my stories from that event.

1. The Drunken Shark

The pool table started the night as a pool table, but before long it became a draft table and eventually a poker table – this evolution should come as no surprise. When there are Magic players involved in a day of good times, you can bet your bottom dollar that a table of some sort will insinuate itself into the proceedings, standing tall to facilitate activities from dinner to ace-kickered winner to face-up Skinthinner. This night was no different. With kibitzers clustered on comfy couches and Jackass: The Movie unfolding in the background like a soundtrack sent on divine wings, a gathering of men decided to try their respective hands at poker.

The game was Texas Hold’em, a contest that attracts good players, bad players, and the biggest fish of ’em all – players like me. Bad players who only think they are good. I was in over my head, but like all good guppies I was none the wiser. The rest of the table was comprised of Gary Wise as dealer and banker, Rich Hoaen, Graham Pocock, my good friend John Labute, and finally a more-than-three-sails-to-the-wind Josh Rider. Punctuating each raise and call by exhaling a healthy lungful of tequila-laden breath, he would play the simultaneous roles of drunkard and shark with deadly proficiency. Read on and enter the world of the drunken master.

On the all-too-frequent occasions that Josh wanted to make a strong move after a lengthy, fumbling look at his hole cards, the lithe Oshawa grifter would turn his bloodshot blue eyes in the direction of the relatively stoic Gary Wise. With a suitable delay for suspense, his lips would begin to form words.

“How do I raise?” he would ask, not for the first time or the last. His inquiry, a sequel to a question of very similar bent last betting round, was met with a groan from the other players.

Gary Wise, unfazed, was quick to reply. “One black chip.”

The information firmly in hand, it was Josh’s time to leap into action, fingers scrabbling toward his chips to make the wager. The betting unfolded before him in a spectacle that I can only imagine he beheld with bleary eyes, and a new community card was laid. This process was a quick one, you understand – a flurry of folds and checks from the bettors followed by a burn and a turn from dealer Gary Wise, his eyes alert but a neckful of stubble betraying the length of the day’s festivities. A quick process, yes – until the bet revolved around to Josh Rider.

With Josh sporting a semi-catatonic stare fueled by neuron-inhibiting levels of alcohol, each plodding stage of his betting turn seemed to drag out an eternity. Eventually, usually following another arthritically slow, fumbling look at his hole cards, he would set his eyes forward and proceed…. After a fashion.

“How do I raise?” he’d ask, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the very same question had been throw out at least a dozen times, by him, in the last ten minutes. Gary was always quick to reply.

“One black chip.”

And invariably he would raise. We were playing seven hands per hour with JoshR at the table. This pace didn’t seem to affect Rich Hoaen or Graham or Gary or John very much, but this writer was put off his already weak game. Perhaps to”punish” Josh for his repeated delays, or to make him reconsider his reckless betting, I remained in the hand despite hole cards that were merely average. Still, there probably should have been alarm bells going off in my head when the bet once again returned to Josh and the question likewise returned, like a horror-movie killer from beyond the grave.

“How do I raise?” he asked again, eyes stitched with the red veins of booze-laden stupor. One more time, the words prompted a bevy of rolled eyes and mild oaths. One more time, Gary Wise informed him of the proper procedure.

“One black chip.”

And so he did raise. Convinced that he was drunk and playing terrible cards, I called the bet. And of course he took my money. Repeatedly.

Later on, I would replay the scene in my mind. Tequila shots or no, there wasn’t much drunken lethargy apparent when he was raking in his chips. Is my jaded hindsight just manufacturing the knowing twinkle that was in his eye as his stack grew, and my chips dwindled like a 4 a.m. OTJ draft queue?

Maybe. We didn’t play man hands that night, but they were memorable hands. I arrived at the table with $20 and left with nothing but a story – but if the story is a good one, as I believe it is, then it’s worth every penny.

2. Gab’s Oysters

Great eaters often look for the best way to take advantage of an”All You Can Eat” buffet. The Mandarin, an eastern-themed eatery, offered such a buffet to a large group of ravenous mages on the evening following the Ontario City Challenge, and opinions were varied on how best to put a hurting on the well-intentioned establishment.

One such approach was brought to my attention by Gary Wise. My eyes were on my plate, with was covered with an array of shrimp and egg rolls, when I heard from my immediate left:

“That is a f—load of oysters.”

It was true. Limited specialist Gab Tsang had returned from the steam trays carrying a veritable Mount Everest of oysters on one precariously balanced plate. Another diner could only remark, “There’s a man who knows how to take advantage of this situation” as he went to work demolishing the seafood monolith. The Mandarin was assaulted by an avalanche of bottomless appetites that night, to be sure – but more than any other stomach-toting spellslinger, Gab Tsang broke the format.

3. Table Talk

In the first round of the Team Rochester tournament, one of the matchups was a heated battle between Hamilton’s team of Jon Boutin, Ryan Hall, and Greg Mildenburger and the fine Oshawa squad of Pete Danforth, Steve Cassell and”The Kung Fu Jew” Josh Rider.

Ryan Hall, facing off with Josh Rider in Seat A, was disappointed in the strength of the cards being opened by the opposing squad, and voiced that opinion as the draft was winding to a close with Pete Danforth wheeling a Skinthinner for his B/W deck.

“You guys are out-opening us,” he said, matter of-factly.

It pleases me, as a fan of conversational wit, to note that Josh Rider didn’t skip a beat in replying, “I’m also planning on outplaying you.”

If Hall was undone in any way by being forced to play the straight man, it didn’t show – he won his match against JoshR before Hamilton fell 2-1 to the Oshawa team.

4. Newbies!

Have you ever gone to an event and felt like you were in over your head? It hasn’t happened to me very often, but sometimes a frying pan presents itself and I just have to jump in, asbestos shoes or no. If you’ve ever done the same, in Magic or any other thing, this one is for you.

Before Team Sarnia took second place at the Ontario City Championships, we had never actually played a Team Rochester. Surprised? Maybe you are, but if you had seen us during Round 1, I think you might have figured it out even if I hadn’t told you. Yes, we’d discussed which seats we were going to be putting certain colors in, and I’ve read articles and pieces of match coverage on Team Rochester, but come Round 1 we were CBA/ABC virgins.

Probably due to the aforementioned inexperience, we were nervous as could be. It didn’t help that we were matched up in the first round with Thornhill, the Toronto-suburb”ringer” team featuring noted Magic scribe and Pro Gary Wise (who won a Pro Tour in Team Limited), Grand Prix finalist Mark Zadjner, and Steve Wolfman, a member of one of the best teams of recent vintage,”2020,” along with Elijah Pollock and David Rood.

We kicked things off on a stellar note by sitting in the wrong seats (whoops!) and pulled a quick switcheroo while the opposing force was mentally licking their chops at the prospect of playing against a team that couldn’t even sit down correctly, let alone draft. Then the draft itself started and the Thornhill squad was galvanized into action! Wise was handsignalling so fast that I couldn’t figure out what the blazes he was trying to tell his team, and Zadjner and Wolfman joined in before long – to our untrained eyes, they started to resemble a trio of frenetic deejays spinning imaginary turntables. My eyes widened with horror as I realized what we were up against.

Our turns consisted of me slowly and shakily pointing a trembling hand towards a pick while staring down two smirks and Steve Wolfman, the only member of the Thornhill team that didn’t completely intimidate me, perhaps due to his charming smile. Our picks took a lot longer than those of the Thornhill team, and when it came time for Zadjner to wheel (I’m not going to lie – I didn’t even know you were supposed to wheel in Team Rochester, I thought the packs just kept going in a big circle), they figured out his two picks in less time than it took me to type this sentence.

Then Team Sarnia chugged along through picks eight, nine, and ten with a pained slowness usually reserved for Frances Farmer-style lobotomy recipients and concussion sufferers. Pack two was more of the same, and then during pack three, Sarnia team member Kevin Phelan started a tradition that both he and his team”captain” (yours truly) would uphold throughout the day by forgetting that it was his wheel. Actually, I shouldn’t say that he”forgot” because much like myself, Kevin didn’t know in the first place, and you can’t very well forget what you never knew.

For my part, I tried to remain calm and pick the best card for our decks, but I was outclassed by the opposing team and my single-minded approach meant that I did almost no defensive drafting while Thornhill expertly arranged it so that neither copy of Lavamancer’s Skill opened would make it around to me and my U/R deck. Every pack, Wise and company would wave their hands about, shaman-like, in a flurry of signals. Meanwhile, my own sophomoric, tentative pointing and signaling efforts were openly mocked by an arm waving Mark Zadjner, who flapped his arms out over the table in a vicious and unfortunately canny imitation of what I was doing.

He even took the time to talk shop.

“So, was your team strategy to get the best deck possible for yourself and screw your teammates?” he asked, either honestly curious or playing head games. With Mark, neither one would have surprised me.

As the draft progressed one thing was clear – though my large amount of drafting experience (170 drafts in the last two months) meant that I could keep up with Thornhill as far as card evaluation and so on, they were way ahead of us with regards to defensive drafting. They also seemed to have a better knowledge of drafting for specific matchups – I did a pretty poor job of remembering what they were playing. It was enough of a struggle to remember what my own teammates were playing, a task made even more difficult by my MODO clan captain Mark Zadjner, ever the sportsman, grabbing his throat and pantomiming”CHOKE!” with accompanying sound effects when I made a pick he saw as sketchy.

I started to feel a little more comfortable as the draft wore on into the Legions pack, and we completed the draft without any major disasters. In fact, through the grace of whatever gods there are, tight play and Aphetto Grifter, we took the match from Thornhill in three hotly contested matches. Even so, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the way I felt when that first pack got opened and Thornhill flew into action like someone reached up and hit a sort of cosmic”ON” button – unprepared, like a man attending a 50-Cent post-concert party while low on jimmy hats. The draft was a trial by fire, and for that reason it was both a scary experience and a rewarding one.

Team Sarnia learned more about Team Rochester that day from one draft than we ever could have from reading Sideboard coverage. And I came away from the table with another story. In the end, that’s all that matters.

5. Winning With Strategic Inebriation

Gary Wise mentioned in Wise Words: Milton that we cubed on Saturday evening, but he didn’t give many more details, so I should fill in a few blanks for those of you interested in such things. To be more specific, I’m going to tell you about how I was soundly defeated in Round 1 of the single-elimination cube draft by Josh Rider. This in itself is not newsworthy, but his method of victory was a strange one – he took me down without a single shot being fired.

As Gary relates, Boyd Hardie’s cube was a sight to behold. The cards were indeed terrible when compared to Mark Zadjner’s cube, but I did manage to assemble a passable R/G beatdown deck, even drafting Song Of Blood on the off-chance that Goblin Recruiter might show up (Boyd: “It’s in there!”). I expected an easy first-round match, as Josh was plastered and could barely read the cards, let alone draft them. This was evidenced by the fact that the packs tended to pile up behind him like rush-hour traffic, idling, waiting for their turns while Josh spent a good minute or more squinting his way through each selection.

We made idle conversation and watched television to pass the time. Eventually he would shake off the haze long enough to make a pick and another pack would circle the table…only to pile up behind Josh again. Gary Wise was feeding me such beaters as River Boa while assembling himself a strong B/R beatdown deck featuring Ogre Shaman. We managed to share red. At one point, Josh Rider, nose more red than W.C. Fields, had to bargain with Rich Hoaen in order to guarantee himself a shot at the Cromat he wanted for his terrible, terrible deck.

When the draft finally concluded, I built my deck and so did everyone else. Well, everyone else except for Josh Rider, who had to essentially hand his deck over to Mike Croft, our host, to build – he was too sloshed to really assemble anything passable. I sat down to watch television while Mike tried to make a deck out of Josh’s terrible, terrible conglomeration of cards. Meanwhile, the other matches were starting. It was a good fifteen minutes before Mr. Rider’s deck was ready for play, and a further five minutes before he himself was ready.

I led things off with a Rocky Tar Pit (which was in the deck because it could fetch my Taiga) and passed the turn. It was then that Josh put his fiendish plan into action by engaging in a minute or two of slightly-slurred conversation with surrounding players and furniture, and with himself, before drawing his card. Eighth card in hand, it was now time to set about the business of deciding which land to play, a task from which he took numerous breaks to jaw about nothing in particular or let fly with what would become a familiar refrain for him that evening: “I’m going to feel pretty stupid tomorrow.”

It was another two minutes before he played an island. That done, he went back over his hand to consider all the options. Considering that this was Boyd’s cube and his hand was probably inundated with copies of stuff like Hidden Path and Merseine, I don’t know if there was much to consider, but I’ll give this to the man – he wanted to make sure he had all his bases covered.

About this time, I felt fatigue start to tug at me. I’d been awake for a good sixteen hours, concentrating very hard for at least six to eight of those hours, and suddenly my brain wanted to hit the sack. This usually never happens to me when I play Magic (the adrenaline tends to keep me awake) but JoshR was unleashing unorthodox play this game the likes of which I’d never had to deal with – it was pretty much the Magic equivalent of a filibuster.

In the back of my mind I came to the dim realization that he was trying to grind me down. After three minutes of near-inactivity, Josh passed the turn, and I was able to search out a land, play another, and lay a Blurred Mongoose. I sent the turn back to him, and it was another two minutes before he drew his card. Once again I felt the spring leaving my proverbial step as time ticked by and JoshR talked to Pete Danforth and Graham Pocock and did everything possible besides actually advancing the gamestate. Around this time, the horrible fact that the rounds were untimed seemed to scream out at me from the depths of oblivion. I tried to cajole and gently turn his attention back to the game, with limited success.

On my turn, probably six or seven minutes later, I was able to attack for two and lay a land, but I had no play. My hand contained Assault / Battery, Firestorm, and Arrogant Wurm though, so turn 4 was sure to see some action one way or another.

If I could reach it. The method to JoshR’s madness was, by this point, clear – he was trying to win the game via “strategic inebriation.” The man would not make a play. It was inconceivable to him to make a play. Magic, at that moment, was not so much a game to him but a form of unchanging existence – I have no doubt that if allowed, he would have gleefully stood there at Mike’s pool table all evening with two Islands in play and a fistful of cards. Had there been Sideboard coverage of the match, it could have been done with time-lapse photography. I could actually track the time between turns by the darkening of Gary Wise five o-clock shadow.

After about ten minutes, he did make a play – and unfortunately, it was a tutor of some kind and there was to be some decision-making involved. About two minutes after casting the spell, Josh started to slowly paw through his library. While this was going on, I actually collapsed on the floor to take a short nap – two could play at this game. Unfortunately, I needed more than a nap and with the comfortable low-pile carpet cushioning my prone body I was dangerously close to going out like a light then and there. After about three minutes there was no choice but to get up before the burble of conversation lulled me into total unconsciousness. I crawled back up to a kneeling position to find that JoshR had completed his tutoring effect (it may have actually been something as simple as Brainstorm, actually) and was ready to continue with the game.

I laid a fourth land, cast Battery, attacked for two. Said go. He was at sixteen after about half an hour of agonizing non-action. I passed the turn, and then things started to get really slow. As JoshR proceeded (to use the term loosely) with his stasis-like 4th turn, I realized in a split-second of clarity that to take any longer, the man would actually have to travel backwards through time and start picking up his lands and putting cards back on top of his library. He did eventually lay a creature and say”go,” though the amount of time that elapsed between those two occurrences was depressingly long.

On my turn, I Firestormed his creature away, playing madness on my Arrogant Wurm, and attacked for five. He was at eleven… But he was nonetheless winning. I couldn’t last much longer.

Perhaps sensing that victory was near, the savvy souse across the table started his 5th turn and pretty much, well,”stopped”… Like a watch that hadn’t been wound in a good while. He chatted idly and drunkenly with his neighbors. Fiddled with his cards. He did many things, but one thing he didn’t do was make a play – though he did appear to be thinking about it. After seven minutes I couldn’t take it any more and scooped while still at twenty life – the first (and to my knowledge, only) victim of”strategic inebriation,” a method of play that assaults the enemy with previously uncharted levels of boredom while your own elevated blood-alcohol level insulates you against it.

Sadly, I have my doubts that JoshR remembers his victory that night – but now it’s on the record.

6. Name One

During the draft against Oshawa in the 2nd round, Sarnia’s Seat C, Chris Borek, opened Visara fairly early and immediately made the switch from R/G to B/G. Steve Cassell would be his opponent and had set himself up with a fine R/U deck featuring the requisite Lavamancer’s Skill, plus other goodies, but in the end Visara was too much to handle despite his best efforts, and Cassell found himself staring down the barrel of a 5/5 Gorgon twice en route to a 2-1 loss.

The first such defeat was particularly memorable. After Oshawa Seat B Pete Danforth’s deck obliterated this writer’s double-mulligan, he turned to update Steve by saying, “I’m headed to Game 2.” It was then that we noticed Steve’s unfortunate predicament – my teammate Chris Borek had both Visara and Seedborn Muse in play.

Steve’s deadpan understatement was classic: “I think I’m headed there myself.”

A kibitzer then chimed in with the helpful line: “Come on, Steve, I’ve seen you pull out of worse situations than this,” a sentiment to which Steve replied with a burst of good-natured profanity.

7. Put Your Hands Up And Drop The Salad!

Gab Tsang’s oysters weren’t the only noteworthy thing about the Mandarin. With eating machines like Doug Buchanan, Gary Wise, and Boyd Hardie in attendance and going back and forth in a scintillating contest of gastrointestinal oneupmanship, something newsworthy was bound to result. Maybe not newsworthy on the scale of missile secrets, celebrity affairs and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but something to go on the mental shelf, an old chestnut to drag out down the road, probably beginning with “Do you remember the time that…” and going from there.

From the very beginning, the larger members of the entourage were at the forefront of the eating festivities with appetites equal in proportion only to their boisterous personalities. Woe betide the nitpicking mage that saw fit to return to the table with a plate that looked even remotely healthy – such dietary decisions were quickly heckled by those who’d loaded their dishes with massive piles of the artery-clogging, blood-pressure raising cuisine that only a Chinese buffet can boast.

Notably skinny Oshawa mage Pete Danforth said in the MtgOntario.com forums, “I came back to my seat with rice on my plate and thought I was going to be killed,” and he wasn’t far wrong – the big eaters were ruling the table that evening, and no amateurs need apply.

Watching the light eaters get barked at by the meatier members of the party, I was reminded of something that the very prolific science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote in his excellent Treasury Of Humor, and though I didn’t mention it at the time (too busy eating shrimp, lest gourmands Wise, Buchanan etc. turn their attentions my way) I will reproduce it here.

“Why are the physically imperfect discriminated against?” wrote Asimov. “We’re the majority!”

Looking at it that way, it was good times to see metabolic lucksacks like Josh Rider get soundly laughed at for dropping a sizable pile of salad (sacrilege!) on the floor even as Boyd and Gary were polishing off plates full of spareribs and garlic bread. With the venue being what it was, coming back to your seat with salad was like bringing a knife to a gunfight anyhow – but the fact that he tilted his plate a little too far to the left while defending the leafy concoction from the derisive comments of the big eaters was the icing on the cake. I burst out laughing and followed his lettuce down to the floor.

Who eats salad at a Chinese buffet? Really.

8. Wise Words

One of the stories of Milton, at least for me, was that I finally got to have a conversation with Gary Wise. Before I write about it, I should probably talk a little bit about why I write about it.

If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know that usually when I meet one of Magic’s better-known Pros or writers, I write about the experience. For me, it’s the same way a minor league pitcher might write about meeting Randy Johnson or Curt Schilling. I know these men (and, in rare cases, women) through their writings on Magic, and actually meeting them in person, even for a second, is something that always leaves me with a few words to say, for better or for worse. I’ve written about meeting Ben Bleiweiss, Adrian Sullivan, Josh Bennett, Mark Rosewater, and about getting cards signed by Zvi, Kai, Finkel, and Price.

Some people don’t really care for this. For example, Will Brinkman wrote me an interesting mail following my PT Chicago Report essentially stating that the concept of Magic celebrity was a joke, and telling me that I shouldn’t make such a big deal about meeting or interacting with people who are, in most ways, normal people who happen to play a card game. I can understand where he is coming from, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at things that way. I go out and try to paint a picture with words about playing Magic – my favorite game, right? Well, these people are all in the picture, living, breathing characters in the story of my life as a gamer, and if I’m not going to explore those characters, why bother telling the story at all? Brinkman’s view may be fine for him, but it’s too cynical for me.

Speaking of characters, let me tell you about Gary Wise. You probably know Gary from his widely-read writings on Sideboard.com, where he does both Limited card evaluation articles (the most popular of their kind) and a semi-regular column”Wise Words” where he talks about news and goings-on in his Magic life and on the Pro Tour. Of the current Sideboard contributors, he is the most prolific – and when he’s not playing himself, you’ll also find him doing coverage at major events.

His work fills a crucial niche. One of the major problems that a novice to intermediate player will encounter while trying to make a mark in limited is suspect card evaluation, and this is where Gary’s Limited reviews are invaluable – you can learn a lot about what makes a good limited card by reading them, and of course a poor Limited player can shoot up to”respectable” almost immediately just by reading his card-by-card analysis and following the pick orders. That’s pretty much what I did before Grand Prix: Detroit, where I met Gary for the first time. I finished 35th and won an amateur prize, a prize I think I owe at least partially to Gary’s strategy writing.

After GP: Detroit, I had a more powerful interest in professional Magic and started to learn more about Gary by reading his”Wise Words” column. Still, I didn’t really gain a true appreciation for the man until I read his report”The Long Road Up,” which you can still find on the Sideboard website. I take pride in writing entertaining tournament reports, but as long as”The Long Road Up” is archived somewhere, no matter how good a report I write, I’ll always have to be content with second-best.

For my money,”The Long Road Up” is the finest tournament report ever written, for many reasons. First of all, it is very well put together with regards to the actual mechanics of the writing. Second, it provides a fascinating view inside the politics and maneuvering of the Pro Tour, especially with regards to the formation and maintenance of teams. Third, Gary really pours his heart and soul into it – he leaves no stone unturned and lets the reader know how he felt every step of the way, from joy to despair and back again. He doesn’t skimp on the details – it is a lengthy but rewarding read. These three factors by themselves put it ahead of 99% of tournament reports. The reason I consider it to be hands-down the greatest of all time is that Gary actually won the Pro Tour he was writing about.

Anyhow, enough with the introductions. You’ve probably seen pictures of Gary in numerous places (there are some pretty funny ones, and he even has his own little”forum smiley” on MiseTings) and for the most part they are faithful to what the man actually looks like (in sharp contrast to this writer, who gets constantly told that the pictures of him on StarCity look nothing like him) Same constantly burgeoning stubble, same dark brown eyes. In any case, hearing Gary is more important than seeing him, because like most Magic pundits he’s not known for his looks but for what comes out of his mouth.

Now, having met”Canada’s favorite son” Mark Zadjner, I’m pretty sure that I’m prepared for almost any bombastic personality you can throw at me, and it pleases me to note that Gary’s storied persona didn’t test my limits in any negative way. He was intelligent, well-read, and articulate, which I of course expected, and fairly outgoing while within out group of gamers – but while witty, he wasn’t cruel in his wit, nor did his behavior even come close to bordering on objectionable.

Honestly, I don’t know why Gary has any sort of reputation for being crass and loud – the people leaning on Wise for such supposed failings have obviously never met Mark, who redefines”crass and loud” in new and interesting ways on an almost hourly basis.

That being said, we weren’t really playing”for keeps,” either. I’ve played a lot of excellent Magic players in my day, but Milton was the first time I’ve played against a pro like Gary, who is high on the list of all-time money winners, and it quickly became clear to me that playing against Gary with his”game face” on wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as playing him in a relaxed setting like Milton. If you read his recent column”Wise Words – Milton,” you’ll see that the man considered Milton somewhat of a vacation from the rigors of cutthroat Magic, and though I’m glad I didn’t have to go up against Gary Wise: The Pro Tour Version, I was left a little bit curious about what it would be like to play at that high a level against that accomplished a player.

Gary was nice enough to give me a ride to the Mandarin (and recommend a couple of books to read, while in transit) and while we traversed the roads of Milton, conversation naturally gravitated towards Magic and writing. Most of the details of the conversation are covered in”Wise Words – Milton,” but I feel that I should note for my part that I found Gary to be very friendly and accessible throughout the course of the ride and, in fact, for the entire weekend. If he has any sort of”pro ego” separating him from the Magic proletariat, it was not in evidence.

I was also pleased to learn that Gary will probably be staying in Canada for the foreseeable future, an eventuality that will present me with more opportunities to play against him. Truth be told, I always took some measure of comfort in the fact that Gary was from Canada (silly, I know) and as a result I started to feel a little disconnected from his work when he was writing from Hampton Court Palace. Now though, when he talks about his surroundings when writing in”Wise Words” I’ll know exactly what he’s talking about since he lives in Southern Ontario, just like me.

What else is there to tell about Gary Wise? Well, he’s a fine poker player and contrary to the reports of some, has a keen sense of tact – it was nice of him to evaluate my Texas Hold’em play with”you need to read a couple of books” instead of the more accurate”you’re awful.” Beyond that, there’s nothing saucy to tell – no midnight burials, skeletons in the closet or shady dealings, nor can I report that he was a jerk or a primadonna, a liar or a scoundrel.

He was a good guy, and I was glad to finally meet him. In many ways, Gary is, right now, at the place where I want to be – very widely read and very successful at Magic, and that made my time with him an interesting and rewarding experience. Readers, if you’re into Magic and not a fan of Gary, or unfamiliar with his work, I can only suggest the same thing I suggest to everyone that doesn’t read him (and in my circles there are precious few) – and that is to read”The Long Road Up,” the story of how Potato Nation won a team PT. It is well worth your time.

9. ScrubbyZ Tidbits

Mark Zadjner was present for the Team Rochester tournament (the”Ontario City Challenge”) on Saturday and as is the case any time Mark is around, there were amusing stories to tell once all was said and done. Mark himself was part of”Team Thornhill,” representing a Toronto suberb with Gary Wise and Steve Wolfman, and the Sarnia contingent was none-too-happy to be matched up with this squad of ringers in the first round. Mark, well aware of this and fresh of his strong GP semifinal showing, turned up the intimidation factor. Following the announcement of the pairings, he sidled over to where we were sitting, made fun of my MODO nick, and then said:

“You know you guys have no shot, right?”

I chuckled, and he paused to let his words sink in, adding one more time before turning away, almost as an afterthought:

“No shot.”

Of course, we defeated Team Thornhill while Mark kept it tight by losing to Sarnia’s Kevin Phelan. I 2-1’d Gary Wise in a nailbiter the same round (Chris Borek got pounded by The Wolf), a nice feather in the cap for a small-timer such as myself. Of course, that wasn’t the last we would hear of Mark.

Later that afternoon, as the tournament wore on, Mark returned from one of his frequent trips outside to watch some of the proceedings, and as he looked over the shoulder of a participant, his presence drew the following remark:

“It smells like Otto’s jacket.”

We had a good laugh at that one. Even funnier was the question that was asked when we were all about to drive off to eat at the Mandarin. Mark was first out of the parking lot, and as he made his way out into traffic, an onlooker saw fit to venture:

“How does Zadjner afford an Acura?”

That was another good laugh. Mark’s presence was the crowning touch on an excellent weekend – in Southern Ontario, it seems no set of good times is complete without ScrubbyZ.

Thank you for reading “Nine Short Stories About Milton.” These have been my stories – do you have some stories of your own to share? After all, for a gamer, born and bred, Magic and fun and life are quite intertwined. A good story will always be as close as the next page. Take my hand – let’s go there together.

I’ll see you guys next week.

Geordie Tait

[email protected]