That basically sums up how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks.
For those unfamiliar with my situation, after dedicating most of a year to the project I was working on, working late hours, putting my social life and Magic playing on hold, I was rather unceremoniously laid off after the project got finished.
Mind you, any time you get laid off, it’s unsettling. The first time this happened to me, about five years ago, I was a wreck. Now that I’ve been down that road before, the second time around isn’t quite so bad. Plus, I’ve got more money in the bank and I’m not going to be hurting for employment opportunites Â— a game designer who’s just finished work on a revolutionary product is going to be in demand.
That’s kind of where my decision lies. I have always preferred to a) live in Oregon and b) be a game designer, in that order. However, while options for my profession are much higher in places like Seattle, the Bay area or Texas, here in Oregon, my options are pretty darn limited.
Plus, this makes the second time this industry has spat me up and chewed me out. The computer game design biz is an eat-your-kids kind of game, and perhaps it’s time to get off the merry-go-round.
I’ve got a few months before I decide where fate shall take me. I’ve always been a bit of a Taoist, so I’ll probably end up where the four winds blow me.
Uncertainty also describes my Magic playing as of late.
I used to think I was a pretty good Magic player. Maybe not Pro Tour quality, but good enough to win a few tourneys here and there and maybe finally make a Pro Tour event here or there. But lately, I’ve really been…well, sucking. Let’s call a spade a spade. Lots of 0-1-and-drops lately in my tournaments. The decks I’ve built have been accurately referred to as”piles.” And I’ve just been making all sorts of scrubby errors.
And to be honest, I think my writing has suffered as well.
So that’s why I’ve absent from the Star City pages for a while. Taking a sabbatical of sorts to recharge the batteries.
Plus, I was taking a week-long vacation, visiting friends and family in central Oregon Â— and, dammit, I scheduled this vacation before my more”permanent” one, and I wasn’t going to cancel.
It also gave me a chance to catch up with what the”High Plains Drifters” had been cooking up Â— the HPD being the Gambit Games regulars I used to hang with. That’s our quasi-official team name, which is much more imaginative than just”Team Gambit,” in my opinion. Me, I’m more of the card guru/advice guy/comic relief. They have some good players there.
When I came over, I brought two decks: A mildly teched-out Blue Skies (which wasn’t very good) and a Eladamri’s Call-based Fires deck, which I couldn’t get to win with any consistency.
Then I got introduced to NetherHaups.
Oh, man, I loved this deck. I just love janky things like this. I put together a copy and it just killed everything I was playing. Well, except Blue Skies Â— that’s its worst match up. But it was no worse than 50-50 vs. Fires, eats control and rogue decks for lunch (although other varieties of B/R, including Dark Ponza* and Kane, tend to be troublesome).
Plus, at nearly 50% land, mana screw is virtually nonexistent.
Brad Irwin, fellow Gambiteer, called the deck”Hop on Pop,” a rather Seussian name, hence the title of the article, and more catchy than just plain”NetherHaups.” (Shouldn’t that be”Haup on Paup”? — The Ferrett)
Unfortunately, it’s a little late for the new name now.
Leaving Bend for a final week of testing in Eugene, I was very happy with the deck. The last two days, however, I started having worries, as other decks were beginning to evolve defenses Â— maindeck Scorching Lavas, for example, in many local Fires decks. I started to think about making a last-minute switch to Fires.
But no. You dance with who brought you, and I decided to take my chances with blowing up the world on a regular basis.
Six of us from Eugene chipped in $40 to rent a minivan for the weekend and drive up in style. Let me tell you, the Dodge Grand Caravan Â— this is an awesome vehicle. I’d buy one and sleep in it if I could. Definitely worth the money.
I was able to do some testing with Cy Cook, probably the second-best known local player after Chris Benafel, going 50/50 with his version of Fires. Unfortunately, I also had to ride with Nick”Goblin Lackey” Young. He’s a good player. He’s also prone to emitting foul smells, and whenever he’s around allegations and accusations of buggery abound.
But you have to take the good with the bad.
Doug Â— fellow trigenarian of the group Â— is our driver, and we will be staying at the condo of a family friend. Nice. The six of us in a cozy little condo with a hot tub.
The hot tub is broken. And Cy and Kirk go looking to meet up with some Portland players at a local Magic hangout…And return with what seems the entire Oregon contingent of Magic players attending Regionals.
So, it’s midnight, I’m just sitting there reading a book, and in come the Mongol hordes.
Wisely, I retreat to Doug’s room, slap in some earplugs (best $1.50 investment I ever made) and got me a nice, solid seven hours sleep while the hordes proceeded to playtest until the sun came up.
The older I get, the crankier I seem to be becoming. I’m gonna make a real crotchety old man in about twenty or thirty years.
Come the morning, I am refreshed (reasonably, despite sleeping on a hard floor and having to wear a sweater and two pairs of socks to keep warm) and rarin’ to go.
There is a large turnout for Regionals. Almost 300 people, a new record for the event, necessitating nine (!) rounds of Swiss. Fortunately, we have the crack DCI crew on hand, including Jeff Donais, so we know there should be little judging problems. For a large tournament, things go very, very smoothly. But nine rounds! Oy vey! Gonna be a long night.
By the way, I learned from Mr. Donais that the thing about being unable to use Misdirection to target a player if it targets a creature Â— not true. You can Misdirect Urza’s Rage from a creature to a player. You can move a Pillage from an artifact to a land. You can retarget a Disenchant from an enchantment to an artifact.
I got this straight from the proverbial horse’s mouth, and if Jeff Donais said it, I’ll take it as gospel. This also means I’ve been doing it wrong and convincing everyone else it was wrong, too.
The night before, I wrote down my decklist (having a few extra copies of decklist forms), which reduces the chances of error when writing things down at the tournament. There is no”off” position on the genius switch.
Here’s my version:
“Hop on Pop” (NetherHaups)
4x Seal of Fire
3x Urza’s Rage
1x Blood Oath
3x Tsabo’s Web
4x Jokulhaups (a.k.a.,”The Big Red Reset Button”)
3x Obliterate (a.k.a.”The Really Big Red Reset Button”)
4x Sulfur Vent
4x Crystal Vein
2x Tectonic Instability (anti-control)
3x Terminate (anti-critter, MVP of the Sideboard)
1x Smoldering Tar (never saw it all day)
1x Keldon Necropolis (control hates this card)
1x Blood Oath
While my card list was set for some time, I agonized over some choices. Ghitu Fire or Blood Oath? I thought I might need extra burn, but decided to go with more control hate in Blood Oath. It was a smart decision, as you’ll soon read.
The Terminates were a late anti-Fires addition to the sideboard, and I was also very glad to have them.
Brad and Aaron from Gambit came in with a weirdly teched-out version running green for Calming Verse and Tranquility.”JankyHaups,” I called it. The Regionals champion ran a similar version, but it ran green for Saproling Burst Â— a brilliant call, in my opinion. Wish I’d thought of that.
Coming in to Regionals, I had four goals:
- Have fun
- Prove I can still play this damn game
- Go 5-2 (after learning that we would go nine rounds instead of seven, I changed this to 6-2-1)
- Make Top Eight and qualify for Nationals.
If I made three out of four, I’d be a happy man.
Of course, I bring anything I consider remotely lucky with me: my high school class ring, my favorite purple shirt, lucky black beret (which leads to Jeff Donais speaking French at me, and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why the hell he was doing that until I remembered what I was wearing) and, of course, Mini-Me. (Ferrett: Please insert minime.jpg here, and be sure to delete what’s in bold before printing this article) (Okay! — The Ferrett)
On to the carnage!
Round 1: Dan Diamant (mono-black)
Dan is apparently playing this rogue mono-black design
apparently it’s called”Strongbox” or something like that. It tries to play out big fatties like Delraich while an opponent down with Tangle Wires.
Rogue design. Nether-Haups likes rogues. For lunch.
Game 1: He wins the draw and bring out a Plague Spitter that hits me for a turn or two before I Seal of Fire it away. I Addle for red on turn five, thinking he may be mana shy and he’s playing some Machine Head variant, but I hit only black cards. Eventually, I draw into an Obliterate with a Nether Spirit in play, and my opponent never draws an answer in seven turns.
Game 2: Dan gets a better start, Ritualing out a Sengir Autocrat on turn two, then promptly saccing the tokens for a Delraich. Normally, this would be big, big trouble for me, especially since he follows it up with a Tangle Wire. However, after chumping the Autocrat with the Nether Spirit I dumped in the graveyard on turn one, I put fading on the stack, sacrifice my Sulfur Vent and cast one of the three Terminates (sideboard MVP Â— I am SO glad I decided to add those!) I brought in, eliminating Mr. Pesky Delraich. One point of mana burn is much better than six points of trample damage.
I drop a Tsabo’s Web, locking his Dust Bowl down, and Terminate a second Delraich Â— this one hard cast, but he keeps sneaking damage in on me with not one but two Tangle Wires. Eventually, however, after clearing the board with Obliterate, I hit him with a Rage and Seal of Fire for the win.
- Good start.
Round 2: Dan Cahir (Blue Skies)
Dammit. There wasn’t supposed to be any Skies here today. This is not good.
Game 1: Notes are spotty, but I do recall I was beaten like a red-headed stepchild by his deck. I do suck a Thwart out of his hand with Addle, then I, thinking it was a good time to hit the Really Big Red Reset Button with a Spirit in play, try to cast Obliterate. No luck. He Withdraws his Chimeric Idol and my Spirit (and with only two cards in hand, he won’t be returning to the game soon), then Thwarts (lousy topdeckers… Grumble…). It’s all downhill from there.
Game 2: More of the same. I do get the discard-Spirit-turn-one trick, but he’s got a hand filled with counters and bounce and I just can’t win the race.
One and one. Maybe I should have stayed in Eugene.
Round 3: Dan Crum (U/W Angel-Control)
Mmm, control. A tasty appetizer for NetherHaups.
Game 1: Dan seems to be running a deck very much akin to what Zvi Mowshowitz used at PT: Tokyo. I lose the roll of the high die and elect to dump a Nether Spirit in the graveyard. Dan drops a turn two Meddling Mage, apparently not familiar with NetherHaups, as he names Hammer of Bogardan as the verboten spell. He gets a hit in with the Mage before deciding to leave him back as defense against my Spirit. He drops a Blinding Angel; I decide to drop the Big Red Reset Button. The Spirit finishes the beatdown after I blow up the world a second time, from which he cannot recover.
Game 2: In comes Tectonic Instability and Necropolis, out go the Webs. Dan goes first, I again play the discard the Nether Spirit game. He has a turn two Crimson Acolyte, which potentially could be irritating, but he’s forced to use it to chump block when I drop a Chimeric Idol and start beating down. Dan plays one, two, three Accumulated Knowledges, but can’t find an answer. Eventually I play my Keldon Necropolis and finish Dan off with it, making his freshly-cast Teferi’s Moat null and void.
2-1, no Fires decks yet. Supposedly the field is somewhere around 45-60% Fires. You can’t swing a dead goblin by the tail without hitting a Fires of Yavimaya around here.
Round 4: Alex Ricketts (U/B”Wumpus-Go”)
Another odd rogue deck. Ricketts, by the way, is my mother’s maiden name. Fairly common, compared to”Meddish.” Unless someone tells me different, my immediate family is the only Meddishes out there in the U.S. (and let’s all be very, very thankful for that).
Game 1: I’m having a wonderful old time discarding Nether Spirits on turn one, I get a couple of beats in until Alex drops a Chilling Apparition, and we have ourselves one grand old Mexican standoff. I do manage to squeeze off a Blood Oath, naming land, for a whopping twelve damage. My opponent and I, however, get a caution, as he mistakenly discarded all his land and I wasn’t watching closely enough to catch it! We back up, judge clears things up, and I proceed to win after blowing up the world.
Game 2: Starts out interestingly, and further proof of the axiom”Better lucky than good.” Alex goes first, drops an Underground River, Ritual, Chilling Apparition. Not good for me. I have a Seal of Fire in hand, no Nether Spirit, and no way to prevent the Specter from sticking around.
I draw, and peel off one of the four Sulfurous Springs in the deck. Tap, take one, Seal of Fire Â— no Chilling Apparition for you!
Alex’s next turn, Ritual, Apparition. Once again, I’m in trouble.
So, of course, I peel off a Crystal Vein, sacrifice it, and Rage the Specter.
Better lucky than good. I should have that tattooed somewhere.
Alex makes the mistake of Recoiling one of my lands; I gladly discard a Nether Spirit, having learned a new way to get a Spirit in the graveyard. Alex does Dominate my Spirit, but after I Obliterate, he comes back to Daddy and finishes the job.
Alex asks me for a few hints, and I’m more than happy to help out (part of being a big time Star City columnist, ya know). Alex, if you’re reading this, never, never, ever keep a one-land hand. I don’t care if you have a deck that runs 50 lands and ten spells, you never keep the one-land hand.
I should have that tattooed somewhere as well. (Me too — The Ferrett, who kept a one-land hand and a Brainstorm on Saturday, thinking that surely he would draw into something else)
I’m 3-1. Moving up to the big tables. Maybe I got a shot here after all.
In the interim, I’m walking over to a local QFC and loading up on bananas and Sobe to keep my blood sugar level at a decent level. I find it beneficial to keep the grease to a minimum, especially in a nine-round tourney.
Round 5: Marcus Annable (Blue Skies)
Oh dear. Maybe I should get ready for some side events.
Game 1: Once again, we play the discard the Spirit game turn one. Marcus gets a very slow draw, me with early Nether Spirit beatdown, but he opens it up with a turn five Troublesome Spirit and turn six Hatchling. We race for a bit, then I draw the Big Red Reset Button of Uncounterability.
“Got the Thwart?”
He does not. I recover quicker and he concedes at six life after I cast a Seal of Fire.
Now, will my luck hold?
Game 2: I side in Terminates, take out Webs, as I’ve got a hunch he’s playing a no-Port version. Sometimes it pays to play hunches.
I’m stalling, as I have no Spirit in hand, and I’m forced to spend an Urza’s Rage on his Airship, then double Terminate on his two Troublesome Spirits! And no counters? Is he running Thwart at all, some sort of creature-heavy Skies variant? I’ve only seen a Daze and Hatchlings so far.
Another Troublesome Spirit is more trouble for me, and I’m forced to Obliterate at one life to stay alive. Again, no Thwart. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have any. We trade Chimeric Idols, then I drop one, then two Nether Spirits. Unfortunately, after a Wash Out black, he finished me off with another flier.
Game 3: I start quickly, with two Addles on turn two and three, netting an Airship and Hatchling. Marcus, unfortunately, drops two Chills in short order. But Chill isn’t quite that bad against my deck, with produces mana the same way Nick Young produces foul and noisome odors. I again Terminate two of his Troublesome Spirits; they just cost me six mana. I bring two Nether Spirits into play, and beat him down in four turns. With four lands in play, he shows me his hand Â— another five islands. Wow.
I really must get that tattoo soon.
Round 6: Victor Nunez, U/W Nether-Control
Mmmm, control, my favorite matchup.
I have a great hand; he mulligans, but seems happy. He casts three Accumulated Knowledge, and I say enough of these shenanigans, and I cast the Big Red Reset Button. For a while, we rebuild, and eventually we have dueling Nether Spirits. Unfortunately, he has the Last Breath for mine.
Play of the game: With four lands in play, he casts Fact or Fiction. In response, I cast Blood Oath, naming instants. Holy schnikes, he’s got six instants in his hand (and no Foil!). With my Seal of Fire, I seal the deal after hitting the Blood Oath for eighteen!
Game 2: In comes the second Blood Oath and Tectonic Instabilities, out go the Webs. My opponent drops a turn-two Millstone (uh oh…), but I have a turn three Instability, which slows him down a bit and prevents excessive milling. I do get an Idol into play, but surprise, surprise, it gets Dismantled.
He gets a few shots with the Millstone, but I draw into an Obliterate and hit the button. Unfortunately, he gets a Nether Spirit into play and starts the slow and methodical beatdown.
When I’m at twelve he only has one land in play, but I have recovered nicely with four lands and a Seal of Fire. I gamble, and cast Addle for black, hoping to hit another Spirit in his hand. No such luck, but he’s got a hand full of instants. Literally. Two Absorb, two counters, a Dominate, two others. I pass the turn.
He draws, plays a plains. Done.
I untap, cast Blood Oath, naming instants.
For twenty-one points.
Great googly moogly!!
That’s worth saying again.
Great googly moogly!!
I have dealt THIRTY-NINE points of damage with two Blood Oaths.
I am the man.
Round 7: Thomas Elliot (W/G Rebel)
Thomas is not feeling well. The day is wearing him down, and he’s complaining of a headache. I am very thankful for my good seven hours sleep the night before.
Round 1: He drops the early Sergeant, I again get the discarded Spirit into play. He eventually recruits a Falcon and Thermal Glider to start beating me down while I save up for the ‘Haups sitting in my hand. Unfortunately, Thomas plays a Parallax Wave, waving out my Nether Spirit (and negating much of what my ‘Haups can do). I have to go for broke, and I blow up the world. Sure enough, he waves out his three Rebels, leaving one counter on the Wave.
I rebuild rapidly, dropping a Needle, Vein and Ebon Strongold in my three turns after blowing up the world. Seeing I can once again cast my Jokulhaups, Thomas applies as much beatdown as possible, getting me down to eight before I indeed cast my second Jokulhaups.
I get him down to eight life when he starts rebuilding his Rebel chain. Seven cards in hand, two land, Ramosian Sergeant on the table. Time to go for broke? Yes. I cast Blood Oath, naming creatures. He has three in hand. Game is mine.
Game 2: The game starts out with me trying to catch him hoarding land, but for the first time, I misfire on the Oath, naming lands but only finding one. I then blow up the world (this does seem to be a recurring theme) and begin the Nether Spirit beatdown. Unfortunately, he starts hitting me with flying things, so the race is on. I’m at six, he’s at two, with blockers, and I topdeck the Urza’s Rage for the win.
Wow. I’m 7-1. If I can somehow win my last game, I can draw my way into that elusive, long-sought after Pro Tour berth. With apologies to John Rizzo, if I can make it in by drawing the final round, I’ll take it.
But now it gets interesting…Well, more interesting anyway.
Round 8: Nancy Hu (U/B/W Control)
I’m at Table 2 Â— rarified air for me. We’re both 7-1. I need to go no worse than 1-0-1 to make Top Eight. Nancy is playing a very, very unique control deck, similar to”Go-Mar” but running maindeck Tsabo’s Decrees and somewhere between twelve and sixteen counterspells, including Dromar’s Charm. Nether Spirit is the kill card. Lot of those beasties at the upper tables. Control is showing very well, but Fires not as well…
Game 1: My notes are a little spotty. Having to have all of my concentration on this match Â— not to mention the audience Â— forces me to neglect my note taking. Nancy, I gather, is a Chinese student, and is playing the”I can’t believe I’m doing so well, my deck is so bad” game. Sorry, Nance, I’m not buying it. You don’t get a control deck all the way to Table 2 without knowing how to play. And she plays it like a pro.
Once again, I begin the game by discarding a Nether Spirit. I’ve done that almost ten times today, I swear, and start whittling her down. When I go for the Addle, however, she responds with Tsabo’s Decree, nailing not only my Spirit on the table but the one in hand, too. Nice metagame call. She’s down to six life, however, but she soon starts her own Nether Spirit beatdown.
Dammit, control is not supposed to beat NetherHaups. I have two Seals of Fire in play, she’s at six, and I’m going to die. So Dave decides to gamble.
An Addle two turns previously revealed she had a Dromar’s Charm in hand, I chose to pull the Absorb. She has one black source, two white sources and plenty of blue on the board, I am not hurting for mana. I am holding a Seal of Fire, ‘Haups and land. And I’m pretty sure she’s probably drawn another counter since that last Addle.
I cast Jokulhaups, leaving two mana open from a Crystal Vein and Geothermal Crevice. She thinks for a while before Undermining the ‘Haups, taking me down to three life.
I then try and sneak the third Seal into play.
She’s tapped her only black source, and drawn no Counterspells or Absorbs. She cannot counter the Seal. I sacrifice all three for the win.
Man alive, I don’t need this kind of pressure.
Game 2: We’ve attracted quite the crowd, as I assume that Nancy is a local favorite. I guess that makes me the villain of this piece. Yes, foolish woman, I, the mighty Dave shall crush you and there is nothing you can do! Ha ha! Ha ha ha! Ha ha!
Somehow, I don’t think I was made out to be a megalomaniacal despot.
I again discard the Spirit, she answers with a turn two Chill…annoying, but not a killer. I get twelve points of damage after she Fact or FictionsÂ—I let her have three counters, then respond by Blood Oathing for twelve. Unfortunately, my Nether Spirit again meets the Tsabo’s Decree (and after I even sideboarded one out!).
As the game ticks on and the pace slows down Â— not because I’m stalling, but I need to think, darn it! This game is hard! Slowly, her Nether Spirit slows me down and I’m hoping for the Obliterate, even after her second Chill. Hey, I can generate twelve mana really easily with this deck, heh.
But she’s beating me down consistently, countering my Cremate, gaining life with Dromar’s Charm, and in the end, with virtually no time left in the round, she wins, and we take the draw, and the crowd erupts (doesn’t anyone like me anymore? Where’s my fan club?).
I’m pleased with the draw. Others are not. Our happy crew Â— those who have made the Pro Tour Â— inform me that whenever playing control, and you win game one, you always, always stall.
Illegal? No. Unethical? Maybe.
In all honesty, though, I would rather lose with honor than win under less than above-table means. To thine own self be true. If this means I’m not a Pro Tour-caliber player…So be it.
So hopefully Rizzo will still talk to me now.
Despite the outcome, I feel these were some of the best duels I have ever played.
To quote George Costanza,”Baby, I’m back!”
One more round to go. Win, and I’m in. Lose, and…well, I’m not.
Round 9: Tony Tsay (Fires)
He’s playing Fires. The deck I’d managed to avoid all day.
And I can’t help it, but one thought is running through my head.
I’m dead meat.
Game 1: He drops an early Elf, I Seal it away.
And it’s all downhill from there.
Whenever I get a Spirit into play, he Flametongues it, Battlemages it, or otherwise clears it out of the way before I can mount an effective defense. Even after Addling away a Blastoderm, the beatdown is fast and merciless.
Game 2: In come the Terminates and Perishes.
He locks me down with not one but two Ports… And if I could have drawn a sac land, I would gladly of used it to cast my Tsabo’s Web in hand, locking him down…but I don’t, he draws Sap Burst…
And thus endeth my Pro Tour aspirations for this day.
Fires with the God draws can’t be beat. Especially with suboptimal ‘Haups Draws.
But it was a good day. I achieved three of my four goals, had a great time, met some great people and proved that I can still play this game.
A good day all around.
* – I’ve seen and heard of people playing the R/B”Dark Ponza” deck at Regionals. Now, one of my goals has always been to have named a popular deck archetype, e.g.”Secret Force.” Well, I’ve been doing my research… And as far as I know, way back in the day when Invasion just came out I put together the first R/B landkill deck and called it”Dark Ponza.”
So until someone tells me different, I shall consider myself the father of Dark Ponza and expect all appropriate royalties to be mailed to me posthence.
If only the deck weren’t so maddeningly inconsistent and was actually halfway decent, I might actually be proud. **
** – Sweet Jeebus, I’m actually using asterisks. I’m turning into the Ferrett.
Shoot me now.