Once in a while, I’ll run into an old Magic acquaintance I haven’t seen in a while. They’ll ask me if I’m still writing, and I’ll say no, not really.
They’ll ask why, and I’ll tell them that I really just haven’t had anything to write about.
For the past year or so, most of my card-slinging has been done at a small store recently opened by an old friend of mine; mostly a side venture he
operates as a hobby. It’s where, at least once during a draft or a small Standard tournament, you will hear me utter the phrase, “I used to be
good at this game.”
More and more, I find I’m making horrible play mistakes I wouldn’t have made scant years ago. I remember recently playing a Leonin Arbiter followed by
Stoneforge Mystic in a tournament and just hanging my head before scooping up my cards in shame.
I wonder if it’s that I’m just getting older, or maybe not playing as much, or at a high level. Let’s not kid ourselves—this is an expensive game
to play, not just monetarily, but also in the currency of time. There are only so many hours in the day, the week, the month, and as other
responsibilities grow, what you can dedicate to this game shrinks.
Nowadays, I’m more of a casual Commander player. Whereas I’d once happily drive to Seattle or San Francisco for a big tournament, now the monthly
Standard tournament at the local shop is the biggest thing I’ll play in.
But States, or whatever name you want to call it, is the one tournament I always look forward to in a given year. I’m not sure why this tournament
holds such an allure for me. The free-wheeling, unestablished metagame? The mad dash for cards? The chance to see people I see, if I’m lucky, once a
Or maybe it’s just the plaque.
Such a modest thing, but I have modest goals these days.
I have always done fairly well at States, but the record shows a litany of near-misses, horrible tiebreakers, and a wheelbarrow full of
woulda-coulda-shouldas. In 2005, living in the wastes of Idaho, I made it to the Top 8 with an honestly untuned and raw homebrew, only to fall in the
Two years ago,
I was in the finals of the Oregon 2009’s, against a favorable matchup, and I punted the second game in such glorious fashion that “
bolting the Cobra
” is now a local euphemism for “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
But each year, the road trips get less entertaining, the scramble for cards less fulfilling, and the time to test dwindling. Perhaps it’s time to put
the cards away for a while.
Even so, I think I have at least one more trip to States left in me. Maybe I’ll at least get a decent tournament report out of it.
Now, I’ll just need a deck to play.
Before the results of the Indianapolis Open, Bant Pod was very popular with my playtesting group, but the more we played, the more erratic it seemed.
The loss of the seemingly minor Sea Gate Oracle actually crippled the deck’s consistency. U/B, U/W, and Esper Control were also popular, but we
grappled with the same issues other players grappled with: Liliana or no, reanimation or no, Sun Titan or no?
Then Mono Red burst onto the scene. I learned long ago that I am not a control player at heart. Aggro-control has always been my preference because,
much like in life, I like to have options, different avenues, and the ability to be controlling or aggressive based on the game state. That said, I
have no compunction about playing a deck that’s all about sending twenty to the dome in fast order.
But when Chris Fox, local Mountain advocate, called the deck a one-shot wonder, I began to have doubts. Sure enough, once you knew it was coming, and
once the control environment began to congeal, I rapidly fell out of like with the deck. Lord knows that, even though I had the cards for it, I did not want to play Solar Flare.
I anxiously awaited the results from the Nashville Open to hope for something new to catch my eye.
And catch my eye, it did.
- 3 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Viridian Emissary
This was indeed relevant to my interests.
I proxied this deck up and fell in love with it. My only concern was that it might be, like Mono Red, a one-hit wonder against a metagame unprepared
for it once control found an answer—like, say, Tribute to Hunger or Ghost Quarter—and that it would falter and the Esper monster would rise
My initial testing showed that if my opponent was willing to bring in multiple Tributes, it was an issue—otherwise, no. Mind you, that was only
four days of testing, but I make do with what I have.
This is what I ended up going with.
- 3 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 3 Primeval Titan
- 3 Wurmcoil Engine
- 4 Viridian Emissary
Given more than a few short days to test, I might have found more tweaks I would have liked to make, save for my one adjustment—swapping out one
land for a Red Sun’s Zenith. Blasphemy, you say! But while I never found myself mana-flooded much with the deck, I wasn’t hurting for extra lands. It
was a late addition, but one I thought would be good in the mirror (Emissaries and Wurmcoils) and effective at doming an opponent for the last few
points of damage if needed.
Besides, twenty-five lands should be enough, right?
I spent two days begging, borrowing, buying, and wheedling for cards, and the night before driving up I had a complete deck—well, almost
complete. I couldn’t find a Tree of Redemption anywhere. Ah, well, it’s not like anyone’s playing Mono Red anymore, right? No Ratchet Bombs, either,
because Tempered Steel is just terrible right now, and besides, I have Ancient Grudge to deal with that.
Cue the foreshadowing music.
I have discovered one advantage to getting older: you actually do need less sleep. Gone are the days when I’d sleep, nay, hibernate until noon. Even if
I turn the alarm clock off on weekends, I’m still getting up by 8:00 a.m. So getting up at 5:30 isn’t that horrible.
Now, driving with two individuals who increase the weight of your car by approximately 35%?
That’s an adventure in and of itself.
We arrive with time enough to hastily fill out decklists and survey the room. I believe the final count was around 216 players. What are people
sleeving up? Solar Flare, Solar Flare, Solar Flare…yep, I think I made the right choice.
So let’s get to the action, shall we?
Round 1: Andy Carlson (U/W Humans)
As Andy—an affable engineering student from the nearby WSU-Vancouver campus—is shuffling up, I take note of the cards he’s haphazardly
revealing each time he picks up his deck: Hero of Bladehold, Elite Vanguard, Oblivion Ring. Oh, joy. The Humans deck, one that gave me fits what few
times I faced it and one I did not look forward to playing today.
I do win the die roll, but it’s Andy with the faster start on Elite Vanguard and Honor of the Pure. I am holding a Slagstorm and Beast Within, and I
decide to play for the two-or-more-for-one should the opportunity present itself. It shortly does when my Viridian Emissary is O-Ringed, and I beastify
the enchantment before sweeping the board.
Andy stalls out on mana for a few turns while Wolf Run Ramp does what Wolf Run Ramp does, ramping up to the heavy beaters. First Garruk, the new mean
green, then Wurmcoil Engine. Two hits from Wurmcoil and a Red Sun coup de grace seals the deal.
Game 2, it’s the opposite problem for my opponent as he starts flooding out. Removal he does have, however, as my turn 5 Batterskull is O-Ringed before
my Wurmcoil meets a Revoke Existence. Feh. Hero of Bladehold makes an appearance, and the Red Sun’s Zenith tech shines for the first of many times this
day, sending the Hero on a one-way all-expenses-paid trip to what used to be the removed from game zone, so no Moorland Haunt tokens for you.
Round 2: Daniel Griffin (Solar Flare)
Nothing like traveling for three hours to end up playing someone from your playgroup. Daniel professes to be playing a homebrew, but it appears to be a
slightly teched-out Solar Flare deck—if you consider Merfolk Looter to be tech.
When Daniel leads with a Drowned Catacomb and then the Looter, I really have no idea what he’s on at this point. My start isn’t particularly fast; I
have a turn 3 Fatbot off of ramping, which leads to a turn 5 Wurmcoil. Looters and other small ground-holders chump block until Daniel finds an answer,
but I’m at 38 life before that happens. In the end, Wolf Run Ramp wins on the back of the ever popular Wolf Run and Nexus combo.
We are both content to simply start dropping lands until my first play of a turn 4 Thrun, who quickly picks up a very nice piece of equipment to bring
into battle. Thrun gets a couple of hits before eating his nemesis, Tribute to Hunger, as I lacked another body to feed to it. But the Sword will
continue to be a problem as long as I have bodies. Garruk 2.0 promises to provide plenty of bodies to pick up the hardware.
A hardcast Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite presents another problem. Suddenly my army, what’s left of it, looks a lot less impressive.
That said, Beast Within off the top is a pretty good problem solver.
I swing with my team, taking Daniel down to eight, and have just enough mana to deliver an eight-point Red Sun’s Zenith to the dome.
Round 3: James Lockhard (U/W Humans)
Ugh, another Humans deck. The one deck I did not want to face, and here it is twice in three rounds.
Game 1, James keeps a dubious one-lander and his lone Doomed Traveler is not scaring anyone, especially against my slower hand of Rampant Growths and
double Slagstorm. I hold onto them as long as possible to maximize their value. When James drops an Elite Vanguard and then an Honor the Pure after
finding a second land, I find it optimal to eliminate his team at this time.
Unfortunately, his deck excels at locking down any attempt to develop my offense, between multiple Oblivion Rings and Bonds of Faith. Suddenly, I’m
forced to use my second Slagstorm far more defensively. This seems like a wonderfully opportune time for Mirran Crusader to make an appearance.
Beast Within is not an answer, and I’m dead in two turns.
Well, crap. Losing to a deck stuck on one land for several turns does not bode well for the rest of the match. In comes the antihero Dismember tech
(thanks to Jeff Nelson for that), out goes the larger, slower stuff that does not gain me life.
I open, again, on a slightly slower hand with no early threats, but ramp spells and a Slagstorm. Good enough for me, especially since James starts with
two Champions of the Parish to my lone Viridian Emissary. When James attempts to use Oblivion Ring to remove my ramping chumper—or chumping
ramper, whichever you prefer—I respond with Beast Within to get a 3/3 Beast and a second red source, which clears the board next turn.
Still, a Mirran Crusader is just bad, bad news for me. I do have an Inkmoth and Wolf Run in play. Facing potential lethal damage in a few turns, I take
advantage of a tapped out board to max out and swing in for five poison.
I’m trying to think what he might have left in his grip of two cards. Does white even have any instant speed removal anymore? Dispatch? Revoke
Existence? Nah, that’s a sorcery. Dismember, probably. Well, I’m dead next turn regardless, so I swing, pump, and say, “If you got it, you got
He didn’t got it.
Game 3 it is.
Again, James is a tad mana-light, but when your deck is practically nothing but one-drops that’s not horrible. I’m facing a board of two Lawkeepers
right quick, but my two Viridian Emissaries do a good job of, if not completely keeping the pressure off me, at least keeping James from playing larger
threats as he keeps tapping them down to sneak in for morsels of my life total.
When he drops a Champion of the Parish, I decide this is a good time for a Slagstorm, netting me a lot of land and a blessedly clear board. This is a
good thing, as I’ve got a Wurmcoil Engine just waiting for that sixth land.
Red Sun’s Zenith buys me a turn, exiling the Hero. But the Crusader gouges a huge chunk out of what’s left of my life total, knocking me to five. James
drops another small dork and passes the turn, potentially presenting lethal on the board.
The next turn is the blessed sixth land for the Wurmcoil. Too little too late, I’m afraid. James has at least twelve ways to deal with the Wurmcoil in
his deck; O-Rings, Bonds of Faith, and I’m sure he has Revoke Existence as well. Almost half of what’s left in his deck, I believe, can deal with the
James draws, surveys the board, plays Hero of Bladehold…and passes the turn.
Gloryoski, I got me a chance here.
My notes—and memory—are a bit fuzzy on what happened next, but I was shortly facing down a Geist of Saint Traft (including flying Angel
buddy with kung fu grip), Hero of Bladehold and accompanying token horde, and Mirran Crusader, attacking into my board of Wurmcoil Engine, Birds of
Paradise, Viridian Emissary and Simulacrum.
I do have to consult with a judge to confirm exactly how lifelink works—is it simultaneous (I’ll live) or after damage (I’m dead meat). I get the
favorable ruling I was hoping for, Dismember the Hero, chump the Angel with the oh-so-valuable Bird, eat the Crusader with Wurmcoil, block all but one
token and end with my life total exactly where it was at the beginning of the turn.
we return fire. One swing immediately gets me out of lethal range.
James is reduced to chumping now, and a second Wurmcoil comes down.
Two turns later, with an empty board and my life total at a healthy 30, James concedes. As a rare but pleasant surprise, I snatch victory from the jaws
of defeat, instead of the other way around.
Round 4: James Nelson (Wolf Run Ramp)
Ironically, James remembers me from States—sorry, the 2009’s—where I wrecked him in the Jund mirror Round 1. Yes, Ruinblasters were some
good. That’s a pretty impressive memory. I’m lucky if I can remember what I had for breakfast on any given day.
I curve out very nicely in game 1, Zenith’ing out a turn 2 Birds of Paradise (the lone white bordered card in the deck, making it easy to find) into a
turn 3 Sad Robot, turn 4 Wurmcoil Engine—some good in my book, or really anyone else’s book. James has a fine answer however, in Beast Within for
the Wurmcoil and Slagstorm to clear the board.
That kind of blows. But I have a Primeval Titan to fish up the law firm of Nexus & Wolf Run.
James then plays a maindeck Batterskull. Annoying, but I think I can race for a bit with a Titan, especially since he’s thinning my deck out.
James also has a second maindeck Batterskull. That is a bit more than annoying. On to Plan B, then. Let’s just poison you out with a big ol’
Nexus alpha strike, shall we? No Beast Within? Onto game 2.
In come the Swords for the mirror, and man oh man do I wish I ran more of those. Autumn’s Veil, as mentioned, was never good for me, but the Swords
were worth their weight in gold. Come to think of it…let’s see, gold’s around $1600 an ounce…a Magic card is approximately .06 ounces…do the
math, carry the two…well, a lot of Vintage stuff is definitely worth its weight in gold, but a Sword of Feast and Famine is closer to being worth its
weight in palladium.
This concludes the metallurgical aside.
I mulligan into a decent but somewhat mana-light hand, with Birds of Paradise in-hand—a pleasant rarity—along with a Sword. I decide to
keep. Sure enough, while a third land is not immediately forthcoming, a turn 2 Sword followed by equipping the Bird proves to be surprisingly
effective, especially when James, quite inexplicably, starts discarding Beast Withins to the Sword’s effect. Hey, I will not complain.
Despite hitting all his land drops, James is never in this game, thanks to me essentially getting two main phases a turn. Sure, a Batterskull is nice,
but when I can drop a Primeval Titan, swing, untap, drop a Garruk and draw six—if you lose from that board position, then it’s time to go back to
4-0. Fairly rarified air for yours truly. Now somebody get me a burger or something, I haven’t eaten since that Egg McMuffin six hours ago and, even
though I definitely could stand lose about (inaudible number) pounds, the beast must be fed.
Round 5: Vincent Davis (Tempered Tokens)
Vincent is running an odd yet interesting hybrid deck, an effective merging of Tempered Steel and Township Tokens which I had previously not
encountered. I believe he was running a semi-transformative sideboard, swapping out many artifacts for token producers, thus (ideally) rendering
anti-artifact strategies, like my Ancient Grudges, extremely moot.
Game 1 is a slaughter. Two Vault Skirges and Signal Pest plus Tempered Steel (and no Slagstorm) ended the game in five turns. In come the Ancient
Grudges, I think, inwardly laughing my evil laugh, little knowing that they were most likely dead cards.
The second game was a surprisingly long, slow slog. Vincent comes out slow due to mana screw, and I keep a hand of mostly ramp spells and a precious
Slagstorm plus Ancient Grudge. Slagstorm does its job and clears the board once, but I’m not putting any pressure on him until a topdecked Primeval
Titan brings both the noise and the funk.
Meanwhile, I’m watching cards like Gavony Township hit play and realizing that my sideboarding strategy has been effectively mooted.
Still, an unanswered Titan is usually quite the game-ender. Vincent’s one hurrah in the game—enchanting a Hero of Bladehold with Angelic
Destiny—is answered, definitively, with a big Red Sun’s Zenith. No Destiny recursion for you, sayeth the Zenith Nazi.
Game 3, I’m watching Vincent shuffle cards in and out from his sideboard, trying to think what the hell I want to keep. Grudges? Dismember? Hell, I
don’t know, nor remember at this point, other than I think I kept a mix of the two in the deck.
I can’t fault an opener with a Slagstorm and a Beast Within against my opponent, so I keep. Vincent drops some Plains and a Township, but a source of
green mana is not forthcoming. Two Slagstorms do their jobs to keep the board clear, Beast Within clears out an Angelic Destiny, and with two Wurmcoils
on the board, I’ve got this game in the bag, right?
Vincent is still a little mana-light, but he runs out a Tempered Steel and Shrine of Loyal Legions. I’m happily bashing with Wurmcoils and the
occasional Nexus, watching my life total climb into the forties as Vincent is forced to roll out chump blockers to stay alive.
With the Shrine at six counters, sitting on five non-green-producing lands and facing either lethal from Wurmcoils or Nexii next turn, Vincent goes
into the tank for a very, very long time. He finally plays a sixth land, drops a second Tempered Steel and passes the turn, three mana up.
Suddenly, even forty-odd life doesn’t look as good as it once did. Still, I’ve got two Inkmoths to swing with. He’s got three mana up and one card in
hand. What could he have?
Only one way to find out. I swing in with both Nexuses for lethal. Maybe? James taps out, puts a scary army of tokens into play, flashes the Dispatch
An interesting deck, this, and I suspect we may be seeing more of it in the future.
Round 6: Michael Phelps (U/B Control)
Aw, hell. Nothing worse than having to play someone you drove up with…who also happens to have a deck tuned to beat yours and is a Pro Tour caliber
player. Seriously, I think I can count on one hand the times I’ve beaten him in tournaments and have fingers left over. To him, I am the Human Bye.
And the deck he’s running is his absolute favorite, one with few threats; all it wants to do is draw a card, play a land, and say go. It’s nothing,
absolutely nothing, but counters, card-drawing, and removal spells, including extra copies of the Thrun-hating Tribute to Hunger.
In comes the vaunted Thrun tech. So do the Tributes to Hunger. Aha, but Autumn’s Veil, that will protect me, right? Unfortunately, Autumn’s Veil says
nothing about you being targeted by blue or black spells. Game over, man, game over.
Had this been Round 7, Michael would have actually taken the draw, kindhearted soul that he is. But he needed to play it for the win for this round,
and I can’t fault him for that.
So, I need to win my next two matches, clearly. 1-0-1 might be good enough, but I can’t count on it.
Round 7: Brian Palkki (Liliana Jund?)
Brian’s running an interesting concoction, and I’m not sure what to call it. He’s running Liliana of the Veil with Reassembling Skeleton as a
convenient discard outlet, Chandra’s Phoenix, burn spells and…well, I guess we’ll find out. The green splash appears to be for flashing back maindeck
I open with a Green Sun’s Zenith for Birds, which have a surprisingly short lifespan against a burn deck, imagine that. I drop an Emissary, he plays
Phoenix, and we race each other for a while. Liliana comes down and starts the discard engine—well, so much for that Wurmcoil—and I’m
forced to spend two combat steps to get rid of her while the Phoenix pecks away at me. I drop a Fatbot and pass the turn, one card left in hand; a
Slagstorm I will most likely use next turn.
Brian saves me the trouble and Slagstorms himself. Well, thank you for the card and extra land. The play seems pretty odd, and then I notice he’s only
got one card in hand, and is apparently completely out of gas.
I draw a Titan off the top and that, as they say, is all she wrote.
Game 2 is a repeat of the first: Zenith for Birds, Birds gets Incinerated, Phoenix starts beating on me, Liliana starts the discard engine. Lather,
rinse, repeat. I drop a Fatbot and Emissary and go right after Brian’s life total, deciding (incorrectly) that, since I’ve got a Beast Within in my
hand, I can take care of Liliana at my leisure.
Then Olivia Voldaren makes an appearance. That’s…really bad against my team of 6/6s. Liliana ticks up to her ultimate, and I realize that I have
screwed up, really, really badly. I exchange Olivia for a 3/3 Beast at end of turn, play out my Wurmcoil and hope for the best.
In retrospect, I probably should have let him ping my Wurmcoil and steal—then I could have played Beast Within and stolen it back if he ultimated
Liliana. But I didn’t, which is yet another reason the Pro Tour is not in my future.
Brian ultimates Liliana on his turn, and I put the pile with the Wurmcoil into the graveyard, getting what I hope is a decent 3/3 army. Slagstorm ends
that and I am dead in very short order.
Lesson learned there. See Liliana, kill Liliana.
So, onto game 3.
Now, during these games, Brian had made a few play errors that helped me out quite a bit. Here, he makes a real doozy. I keep a slightly mana-light
hand containing only two lands, an Emissary, Fatbot, Garruk and a Titan. I think it’ll get there, and keep. I draw a third land and down comes the
Emissary on turn 2. Fear the beatdown!
Brian then drops Liliana…and edicts away my Emissary.
Well, thank you very much, then. Turn 3 Fatbot is awesome. You know what’s even more awesome? Turn 4 Garruk. Turn 5 Titan is just the awesomest of
awesome sauces. Down to ten life and seven poison two turns later, Brian scoops.
Well, dare I to dream the impossible dream, yet again?
Round 8: Andrew Dirks (Goblins)
At the end of the previous round, I find myself in 4th place with very good tiebreakers, sitting at the #2 table. My opponent, sitting in third, offers
the draw. I consider it, but decline – with so many people at 18 points underneath me, I just can’t afford to take the chance.
Michael is undefeated at 7-0 and is in like Flynn. In an attempt to be good to my tiebreakers (and because “I came to win, dammit, I want those
planeswalker points”), Michael elects to play, putting his opponent—Mono-Black Infect—in a tough position.
Of course, if Michael loses, he’s going to be worse for my tiebreakers. I shuffle up and start the first game.
A white-bordered Mountain and a Goblin Arsonist makes me think that maybe he’s on Mono Red. A Goblin Warchief more accurately identifies him as
Goblins. I have a decent start—acceleration, plus a potential turn 4 Garruk and 4 Wurmcoil—but Goblin Grenade puts me perilously low on
life. I drop Garruk on turn 4, normally an awesome play, and he makes a chump blocker with me sitting on single-digit life. Andrew drops two Goblin
Fireslingers which threaten a quick end.
I make a horrible play mistake, not knowing his deck even though I should have. I dropped Wurmcoil then attacked into him with a Beast. That gives him
the ability to chump, ping for one, burn me for five with a morbid Brimstone Volley, untap, and ping me for the last point. Had I waited a turn and
just swung with the Wurmcoil, I might have pulled it out. Right now, that decision to omit Tree of Redemption is looking pretty darn bad.
I’ve never played against Goblins, so I have no idea if I’m favored or not, especially without the Tree.
So, still want to take the draw?
Okay, then. It’s now in the hands of the tiebreaker gods. When Michael goes down 2-0 to Infect, losing game 2 to a topdecked Skithyryx, I’m all but
positive I’ve doomed myself to a 9th place finish.
I think I might have a prayer when the fifth and sixth-place players end up going to a 1-1 draw. They took so long talking about the draw, the ended up
eating too much of their match time, but still, there were a ton of people with 18 below me. Only a few needed to win to knock my 6-1-1 butt out of
In the event I do make it, my deck is taken by the T.O. crew to be checked. I have nothing to do but wait…and scarf down (or should that be wolf down) a greasy hamburger. I remembered to bring everything with me but healthy snacks. Then again, I look at my waistline and ask,
“Why start now?”
All I can do is wait, second-guess, and probably regret my decision.
Believe me, I’ve got plenty of those. I’m the guy who once said, “I’d go $100 for that Lotus, but not $120.”
About fifteen minutes after the final round, the Top 8 is announced. Michael Phelps ends up in second. No surprise there.
The next few players are the 21 pointers who came up from the 18s.
In sixth place…Andrew Dirks.
Dare I to dream?
In seventh place…Dave Meddish
Well, what do you know? The tiebreaker gods looked upon my cowardly ass with favor this day.
But wait, seventh…that means I have to play Phelps.
The gods, they are quite fickle.
At least I get a playmat and a box of Innistrad for my troubles. It’s going to take nothing short of a miracle for me to beat him.
But perhaps this is a day for miracles, no?
No, probably not.
Quarterfinals: Michael Phelps (U/B Control)
Our first game goes much as our original affair, for a brief time, I think a Viridian Emissary (beastified into a 3/3) might actually get there as he
whittles away Michael’s life total, but, really, it was never a threat. Any further threats I generate are dispatched easily and a Grave Titan earns
In, once again, comes Thrun, the Swords and the not-good-but-it’s-something Autumn’s Veil.
I have an opening draw with Thrun in it for my second game, and I don’t care what my other six cards are at that point. Knowing Michael has brought in
two if not three Tribute to Hunger, my goal is to make sure I always have another creature handy to feed to the Tribute, as Thrun is, like Obi-Wan
Kenobi, my only hope.
But that wasn’t always possible. I rolled the dice and dropped Thrun, Jedi Master on turn 4 and asked, “Got the Tribute?”
Michael did not.
From that point on, I made as sure as possible that I could keep Thrun safe from edicting, dropping tiny critters and leaving mana up to activate a
Nexus or sacrifice a land to Beast Within.
But Michael never saw the Tribute. Five turns later, he scoops to lethal on the board.
Holy cats. Did I just actually win game 2?
Do I actually have a chance in game 3? He can’t draw zero Tributes and zero Lilianas two games in a row, can he?
We shuffle in relative silence for the all-important rubber match.
Michael plays his game: draw, land, go.
Viridian Emissary, it resolves, go.
Thrun on turn 4 again, swing for two.
I drop an all-important Nexus on my next turn and swing for six. Michael Doom Blades the Emissary and takes four.
I keep swinging for four, Michael keeps playing lands. Two Snapcaster Mages jump into play to chump Thrun, but he keeps on coming like Jason Voorhees.
When Michael is forced to tap out for a Consecrated Sphinx, sitting at six, I think I have him—he’s down to a precious two cards in hand. I
untap, Beast Within the Sphinx before I draw, and force the chump block.
Michael untaps, draws…and reveals a hand of worthless counterspells and spot removal.
Did I just win the unwinnable matchup?
It sure looks that way.
Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, the plummeting blood sugar levels, or the gawd-awful energy drink I just consumed, but feeling positively overwhelms my
being. I have this. I. Have. This. I just beat an unbeatable matchup. I cannot and will not lose at this point.
But, if I’ve learned anything in a decade and a half of slinging cards, it’s that if there’s a way for me to lose, I’ll probably find it.
Semifinals: Andrew Dirks (Goblins)
My notes are kind of spotty for this game. As I recall, Andrew opened with a couple of one-drop Goblins, and I was content to ramp up to my big
hitters. Like a turn 5 Wurmcoil Engine.
Yeah, red decks don’t like life gain.
Game 2, I just have one word written down for my notes: “Idiot!” underlined twice for emphasis.
The game was still up for grabs when I cast Green Sun’s Zenith for six, ostensibly to get a Titan. I did shuffle past the singleton Thrun I brought in
for the matchup, doing a very poor Tree of Redemption impression, and thinking, why don’t I get this guy?
As soon as I plop down the Titan and fish out some Nexuses, I think, “That was stupid. He’s Mono Red. You tested Mono Red. He’s gotta have
Which he did indeed have, knocking me down to two, then dead, in short order. It looked like I’d find a way to bolt the Cobra again.
I’m tired. I’m loopy. But I try to put all my concentration into this all important game 3.
My first seven has only a Wolf Run and no ramp spells. Back it goes, Andrew does the same.
My new six has Wolf Run, Mountain, Emissary, Fatbot…but no green mana.
The deck has coughed up the land when I needed it all day. I put my faith in the mana gods and kept. Going to five against Mono Red was, in my opinion,
the greater gamble.
Andrew shakes his head and mulls to five. He shuffles, looks at his cards, grimaces, and keeps.
I drop Mountain, go. Andrew does the same.
Off the top, a Copperline Gorge. F. T. W. Turn 2 Emissary and we are off to the races.
Andrew draws and passes the turn.
Much of the damage Andrew takes this game is from two Dismembers, as what team he generates is mostly forced to chump. Playing around Traitorous Blood,
I Zenith for Thrun—not the Tree that would have merited the scoop—and it’s enough to go the distance.
For the second semi-consecutive year, I am in the finals.
I am calm. I am relaxed. I am confident. I am also really, really tired and getting loopier by the minute.
My opponent is playing Daybreak RUG, not a deck I tested much against. And by not much, I mean “not at all.” But I think this matchup is in
We shall see.
Finals: Marshall Lake, Daybreak RUG
Marshall wins the toss and opens with a Copperline Gorge for Caravan Vigil, getting him three colors on turn two. My turn 2 play is a Viridian
Emissary, which Marhsall ponders Mana Leaking but allows to slide. For the next few turns, we are both content to play draw, land, go. I’m more than
content, as my grip is nothing but gas, gas, gas: two Garruks, two Green Sun’s Zenith, and a Wurmcoil.
I’m okay with that. Two less counters to worry about, and the Ranger does not worry me too much at this point. And while my math skills are spotty,
last time I checked, 6 > 4.
Marshall passes the turn and transforms the Ranger. Pondering my options, I play my seventh land, drop Wurmcoil, and neither of the two cards in
Marshall’s hand are Mana Leak or Snapcaster Mage. I then Zenith for zero, which draws a few eyebrows from what few spectators remain, until I explain
that, being my second spell of the turn, that will transform the Werewolf back to his more innocuous form.
This will also keep Marshall from playing a spell on his turn if he wants to transform the Ranger. See, the old man can come up with a smart play once
in a while. Sure enough, Marshall skips his turn to create a 4/4 fighter, and he ends up trading, along with the Emissary, for my Wurmcoil. A perfectly
fair trade in my estimation.
I Zenith a Titan into play, and that seals the deal.
One game, Dave, one game. Keep it together for one more game. I bring in a Thrun, Slagstorm, and two Swords for, I think, a Garruk and a couple of
other cards that escape me right now.
I keep an opening draw with a Fatbot, Red Sun’s Zenith, and Green Sun’s Zenith. Turn 2, I get to pull off the poor man’s Dryad Arbor trick and gear up
for a Fatbot. Marshall drops a Ranger on his turn. Not wanting to deal with any Werewolf shenanigans, I send him packing permanently.
I draw into a Sword of Feast and Famine, which is all but game over…if I can stick it. Solemn Simulacrum lands and hits, ramping me up. Jason plays
an Emissary. Playing a fifth land, I drop the Sword with three up for a potential Mana Leak. Dissipate? The answer is no. I equip ol’ Strong Sad and
swing, effectively ignoring his chump blocker, forcing the discard of Mana Leak. Untapping, I play a second Simulacrum and pass the turn.
Jason drops a second ineffectual Emissary, and I am more than happy to keep bashing for four and stripping his hand. On my turn, I attempt a Green
Sun’s Zenith for more gas. “Mana Leak?” I ask. The answer is Snapcaster Mage, which equals a Mana Leak. No matter, the Red Sun’s Zenith I
re-drew eliminates the Snapcaster and I just keep on swinging. Meanwhile, I’m sitting on two Slagstorms in my hand that can either go to the dome or
clear the board if I need to.
Facing lethal, Marshall draws…looks at his cards…and offers the hand.
After so, so many years, I can finally, proudly, officially say:
The. Champ. Is. Here.
Go out with a bang, indeed.
If this is to be my swan song here at Star City Games, there are a few people I want to specifically single out.
StarCityGames.com first editor, he was the guy who first “hired” me. I mean “hired” as in “agreed to pay me when I
mailed him stuff,” which was quite frequently back in the day. In retrospect, those were the wild days when almost anyone could get published and
the pros pretty much pooh-poohed Internet writing. Lo, how things have changed. I’m pretty sure I got snapped up because I was a rarity: a guy who
could write coherently about Magic and didn’t need spellchecking.
When Omeed moved to TheSideboard.com, I actually got to write a few articles for the mothership, which can be found somewhere buried in the depths of
WotC’s archives, should you be so inclined.
Back in 1996, I’d just been laid off and was pondering my options when Brad, who had just lost his job as the manager of the local bookstore/gaming
hangout, decided the time was ripe to open his own store and asked me to come aboard. This led to a ten-year run as co-owner and webmaster of Gambit
Games in Bend, Oregon. We had a good run before several different factors forced its closure, but I will always have fond memories of walking into the
store on any given day and being greeted by a chorus of “Dave!” a la Norm Peterson from the assorted gamers, between eight and forty-eight
in the store.
Back when Scrye magazine was still in business, I used to have friends ask me why I didn’t write for them. Good question. I knew Bennie’s name was on
the masthead, so I emailed him and asked him if he could put me in touch with Scrye’s editors.
Bennie graciously agreed, and that led to a nice gig writing for Scrye, submitting the occasional interesting, unusual, and often quite silly deck for
publication. It was a lot of fun while it lasted and I’m very appreciative for the opportunity.
I got to know one of the great mad geniuses of Magic when I was working on the Tribes games in Eugene and Jay, oddly enough, worked in an office
downstairs from us. My first encounter with him was playing at a local store, me running a mono-black concoction against his white control deck. I
remember bringing in Glooms against him, figuring I would wreck him, only to be foiled by his sideboarded Mana Vaults.
That’s when I realized I was in the presence of one of the masters.
Always happy to share a deck, let me write about one of his creations, or let me crash at his pad for Regionals, Jay’s been a good friend and is one of
the truly good people in the game.
If we have anyone to truly thank/blame for my writing over the years, it’s the King of the Fatties. I remember rolling into work each Thursday morning
and the first thing I would do is go to The Dojo and read Jamie’s latest opus. To me, “All About the Dinosaurs” remains the finest
tournament report written, hands down. A personal and professional highlight for me was editing that article and his other tournament reports for the
e-release of his long out-of-print
Quest for the Pro Tour.
After reading Jamie’s work for a few months, I started to think that, hey, I can string a sentence or two together, and I can write about Magic, which
led to me writing to Omeed at Star City…
…and the rest, as they say, is history.
We’re very similar, the two of us, a couple of over-forty Magic geezers, writers, inveterate gamers. We share a lot in common.
A little too much in common.
If you’ve read my writings over the past few years, I’ve spoken frequently of my wife, Cheryl. In a way, our lives were intertwined with Magic: The
Gathering. Our second date ended up being postponed due to my unexpected Top 8 appearance in a PTQ. When I moved up to the anal fistula of Washington
to be with her while she went to school, she often encouraged me to drive to Spokane for tournaments to play in. When I miraculously backed
into a Nationals berth scheduled the same week as our honeymoon, she offered to move it ahead a week so I could attend.
Women like that are few and far between in this world.
In 2007, we were making big plans to do some traveling with my Jeopardy! winnings. That never happened. Cheryl was diagnosed with metastatic
melanoma that summer. After a year-long struggle with the disease, she succumbed in 2008.
It’s been three years, and I’m still working on getting back to what passes for normal these days.
Jamie’s counsel and advice was greatly valued during the first few months after I lost my wife, and I remain eternally grateful for that.
I guess that’s about it. It’s been a blast playing this game for fifteen years and writing about it for twelve, and if I’m going out I can’t imagine a
higher note to head out on.
Thanks for reading over these many years. If I can impart any wisdom, it’s this: there are many rewards to be found playing Magic. Cards, money, fame
and fortune, if you’re lucky. But the greatest reward will be the friendships you make. Treasure those, for they will outlast everything else.
And don’t bolt the third Cobra.
Once this game gets its hooks into you, you never leave it for good. Sure, you might sell your collection, give away your cards, swear off the game,
but how many people do you know who’ve left, and a few years later, they’re back?
Magic writers are kind of the same way.
I suppose you might see my byline at the top of another article again someday; after all, I now have a title to defend.
Until next time, whenever that may be…