One Last Final Last Pro Tour

What do the secrets of Team Limited, swords of meat, the decline of American Magic, Wake Forest, and I Blame Bung have in common? They are all covered in Zvi’s lastest article documenting his thoughts on what is likely his last Pro Tour.

The story you are about to read is real. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. The innocent don’t make it this far.

Wednesday evening in the Dirty South


It was Wednesday, 7:54pm in the city of Atlanta as I loaded up the word processor in room 316 of the Sheridan hotel. My shuttle driver is going to Las Vegas soon, intending to come back without any money. Without a way to hold his tip for him until he got back, I wished him luck. The front desk had informed us that internet access was going to be ten dollars. Pancakes in the morning would have been eleven. Workers were setting up the latest stop in a circuit where five million dollars in infrastructure is set up to have players compete for a two million dollar prize pool.

My name is Mowshowitz. I’ve done a total of four booster drafts in Kawigawa block. (dun da dun dun. Dun da dun dun dun.)

Justin Gary would be arriving soon and our job was to try and learn the cards. Not the format – the cards – as I’d probably spent more time studying the Cardinals in the hot stove league if you only consider Limited. He’d spent more than I had but I still had some doubts about the Padres and the question of who wins in a fight between Galactus and Dark Phoenix. My money’s on Jean. He loves his job where one of the three remaining sets of American Magic pros gather to try and bring Wizards down. The second isn’t allowed to play and the third hasn’t been the same since Eugene Harvey started his concert tour. Tickets on sale through ticketmaster, get yours today.

Woo, tangent.

So far, my perceptions of the format, limited as my experience has been, have been mixed. On the plus side, they’re letting you play Magic. Cards come out, you attack, you block. These are all good things. On the negative side, I’ve been subject to quite a bit of mana issues and I suspect it stems from a distinct shortage of both mana fixing and continuous mana costs. With no way to take advantage of mana flood or fix mana screw or color screw unless you’re playing green and got a hold of one of a few cards that I suspect should be treated like solid gold, you’re stuck.


I listened to the tape on Sunday evening, back home in Boston right before the NCAA selection show not knowing the final results of the Tour. Your mission, it said, should you choose to accept it, is to write this report without using the names of any of the cards from Kawigawa block. It shall be called Old School. This tape will self-destruct like Dave’s The Boss on Day 2. I rejected the mission as a neat idea but kind of annoying to new players and decided to move on. The Pro Tour. I remember it like it was yesterday, or at least two days ago…


The fastest and best way to learn a foreign language, as everyone knows, is total immersion. Champions and Betrayers of Kawigawa were my foreign language, and Thursday’s goal was to get as much of them down as possible. Sure, I could have played Team Sealed Deck to concentrate on just one thing at a time. But I am not a wimp. I could have booster drafted. But I had a team format to break! I could have drafted against another team, but at first we couldn’t find one, so I sat across from Justin and Alex to do my fifth draft with Kawigawa block cards… drafting an entire side of a team Rochester. All those who think I just might be in a little over my head, raise your hands. [I was there. – Knut, hand raised]

I end with an R/U A-seat deck with major league splicing action and Keiga but not enough men, a W/B B-seat deck that had a ton more synergy than any of us thought and a C-seat deck that started out as another R/U thanks to odd packs and an Uyo I couldn’t pass and ended up as a 5CG deck that used two Elder and two Kodama’s Reach to cast everything up to and including Genju of the Realm. A case can be made that anyone who wants to become a master of multi-color Magic decks needs to study IPA, my favorite draft format of all time. It teaches you the difference between what you want and what you need, and that block gave me a quantum leap in knowing how to choose a Limited mana base. Accept no substitutes. We played out the games, and my decks all worked remarkably well.

Feeling ready now to test ourselves against the best, as we had done all the preparation for that anyone could ever need, we sought out a team to play against. While there were many teams, the LCQ was about to start and the ones who wanted to pair off had mostly already done so. Eventually we found opponents in some South Americans boasting a reactive strategy. They had R/G in the middle against my U/G, U/B against Alex’s W/B and I forget what they had standing in the way of Justin’s R/B. Whatever it was, it didn’t put up much of a fight. They crushed Alex’s deck in what they said was a great matchup against the best colors in the format, while Justin was allowed to go crazy with the R/B deck and get the tools he wanted on the cheap. My matchup was also quite odd, as I managed to assemble a solid mix of Blue flyers and ground pounders while his curve was off and he didn’t have much going on other than a few five-mana Red legends like Tiki and whatever that guy is that halves everyone’s life totals. [Heartless Hidetsugu]

For our second draft, I managed to find He’s Not Our Dad, asking Eric Taylor to round up his gang. My team wasn’t all that excited about the matchup but we needed to test fast and get to sleep. For the rest of the team, that included getting dinner first, so we had to hurry. I thought the opposition would be fine, not just because of the time crunch but because what we needed was people we could talk to and analyze rather than trying to crib a complete draft strategy and card valuation set in an hour or less. They went on to make Day 2, and we didn’t, so draw your own conclusions. We lost that draft, as I discovered just how dangerous it was to match up Green without breakthrough against a B/W deck with continuous combat tricks. So draw some more conclusions.


Our plan for day one was as basic as it gets, because it’s always simple. Time to play Team Sealed. There are those who think that Team Sealed is terrible, but we were never one of those teams. We love Team Sealed, and have a remarkable success rate. The technique is down to a science and hasn’t changed in years. Rather than rattle off amusing details about the six rounds, since nothing particularly interesting happened in the play, I’m going to describe the technique for those who aren’t familiar with it.

The first step is to have everyone choose a starting color before the deck construction period begins. The best way to do that is to choose the base color each player is going to be drafting and give them that color. You could tell a lot about how we’re planning to draft over the years by looking at who grabs what to start building our sealed decks. This lets each player look at the deck that he knows the most about drafting in a team context, which is a big advantage, and it provides a good natural division into three decks. In this case, Alex takes White, I take Green and Justin takes Red. Don’t worry, this doesn’t lock us into anything. We then lay out the playables by mana curve for each color. The goal now is for each of us to ask: What does my color do well, and what help does it need to become a good deck?

Each player then looks at the other colors with the focus on the colors most likely to have what you need. If I want flyers I would look to Blue, if I decided that I wanted to launch a ground attack and needed removal for those in the way I would look at Black and Red. If I have excellent mana I might even look to see if a three or more color deck was worthwhile. In this block, the biggest keys seem to be balancing mana curves and getting the most out of your Spirits and Arcane cards. You don’t want to have a deck with a bad curve, and the cards whose power level moves most drastically are the splice cards and those that reward you for spirits or spirit/arcane cards. Potential decks are laid out based on the colors that look like they will work well together and colors are split. If the decks don’t seem like they’re working or there might be a better option, different things are tried.

That’s all standard procedure, and any team that doesn’t do all of that is beyond dead. There are three keys to the process. The first is knowing how to communicate with your teammates and be unselfish with the cards. The second is knowing what you’re after by having a feel for what can succeed at the power level of Team Sealed. There are some decks that look good but end up extremely vulnerable to pingers or other common threats, or that don’t quite have what it takes to beat a deck at a high power level. When you can’t build three top decks, it’s key to find a way to give all three decks a chance by building a third deck that can at least take advantage of a good matchup or bad opposing draw.

The most important tactic is to move around. This technique was originally developed by a team that was composed of at least two savage cheaters and one person who didn’t mind, but there’s no rule saying that the black hats can’t develop good tech. Once all three decks are laid out, the three players should get up from the table and rotate so that now each player is looking at a different deck. At some point there should be at least one more rotation, so each player gets to examine each deck and see how they would build it, how good it is and what it needs. No one gets locked into one perspective, and because no one knows who is playing what deck it makes it easier to be objective. Only after all three decks are fixed within a card or two do we choose who plays which deck. Each player generally will take the deck that they like more than the other players and/or the one that fits their style.

Justin’s specialty is getting every point of damage out of cards and winning games on a tightrope. You send him into a royal mess with a Red/Black deck with no power or a White/Green deck with no way to get through and he finds a way to get the damage in. I do best with “good stuff” type decks and other situations in which I have an abundance of power but problems exploiting it properly or getting the deck to work. I like to set up long term problems my opponents cannot solve. In a way, I like to win the game before it begins as long as I solve the puzzle correctly. Alex does his best work with solid decks and combat tricks. Color wise, Alex tends to be the White mage, I lean Green and Justin tends to go Red or Black not just this year, but in almost every format. It is almost certainly an underestimated aspect of team selection to make sure that all three players gravitate toward different strategies. You don’t want to have two Green drafters or two White ones, even if it is only in spirit.

What were our decks like? I felt that overall they were below average card pools to the extent that I would know average in this format. The first one was strong, but the second and third did not have material for three decks. To get three worthy decks, you need to have three “cores” of decks and that tends to mean a Green deck, a White deck and then the strongest of the remaining three. Most of your biggest problems other than lack of bombs come when one of those three falls short. The second decks didn’t have a worthy White deck, but we didn’t have any way to not build one anyway so that deck suffered.

In the end, we went 11-6-1 in individual matches. I went 3-3, thanks to being burned out in one match and in another being given a match loss by my cards for a poor choice of how many shuffles to give my deck. One more or one less would clearly have been better. The last loss I just flat out got beat, although I don’t think it was that I messed up. In the three matches I won, one was due to a combination of an opponents’ bad draw and then the Jitte that was my entire third deck. That deck was so bad that Alex said he simply could not run it, and I volunteered to take it because I felt I could get the most out of it. Alas, when that 11-6-1 was spaced out over six rounds it came out to 3-3. What a lousy deal. It wasn’t that we had gimp decks or anything, as each of our three sets of decks went 1-1 with a 2-0-1 or 3-0 victory and a 1-2 defeat. I don’t believe in the gimp unless I have no choice, as I’m sure Alex will confirm for you.


The question I’m sure everyone wants to know is, why did I come? You thought I’d quit. You were right, and I still have. However, two things got me back for the team event. One was that I came to have fun and hang out. Fun was indeed had and hanging was indeed out. Good times were had by all, and I learned a lot about non-Magic things that hopefully will prove valuable to me in addition to getting up to speed on Magic. That’s all well and good, but I also went because I could tell that Justin really wanted to go and he wouldn’t be qualified without the team. I laid down the conditions to him, which were that I wouldn’t prepare for the event, and I told him that I’d have no objection to his finding another team, but I wasn’t about to leave a friend out in the cold like that. I chose my teammates for a reason. Don’t expect to see me in Philadelphia.


Team names have been on the decline for years now. Remember when all it took was a listing of the teams to illicit endless chuckles? You can say I’m just one of those Grumpy Old Men but I think those days are long over and I Blame Bung. Going over the names trying to find the best was not easy as most were Scrubicus. I liked Slightly Better Than Average, but then I realized it was only slightly better than average. Three Card Monty didn’t include a Monty, although we at least didn’t get any full monties and end up looking at Eight-And-A-Half Dales. Top Set beat Bottom Set and Pocket Rockets, but Rounders showed a higher Boat and took the pot. Dave’s The Boss and he’s Short Lean and Mean, but He’s Not Our Dad. Kleenex Foundation might describe the needs of many players this week as they joined the GG Unit and received new Red Labels, but it won’t rise from the dead for at least another year.

We had No Links and No Fat Chicks unless you count the Bold Calimero Sisters but that didn’t make them the Team to Beat. Mark Zajdner denied all knowledge of his All-Stars during our matchup… and the less we think about GWalls Soaking Wet the better off we’ll all be. Therefore, as a public serve, I would like to strike upon everyone the importance of thinking about your next team name NOW! Don’t choose a tired old name at the Last Minute. While you Brain Surgeons are wasting time playing Rock Paper Scissors and remain Unsponsored, you could be spending your year finding a way to make Paul Jordan LOL. Make the most of it or I’ll bring in the Hired Muscle Outta Left Field to Smaaash you Stardust Boys and take you to Metagame’s Tout Court before you can Desperate Ritual Seething Song and ask Lab Who? Uh-Oh Oreo, that would even give Nurnberg Nightmares and you’d end up in the Wizard Asylum. In the end I’m going with FBI, because we Illuminati try to stay on good terms with them. That’s The Real Deal.


Wake Forest is the fourth number one seed, not Washington. Look at the bracket. Just saying. Duke sucks.

Is this the best we can do?


A strategy favored by the most prepared Americans was to try and figure out where their Green deck would be so they could match their Green deck up against it. Now I remember why I fear reactive drafting. I also remember why we aren’t doing so well lately.


Osyp declared that the only thing TOGIT was good at was organizing large dinners, then they decided not to go with us to the Brazilian Meat Palace so obviously they don’t even know how to do that. This is the worst play ever, as there is only one good reason not to go to said palace. You don’t go if you aren’t ready, and by ready I mean ready to eat a lot of amazing meat. I’ve been to two of them now, both on tour, and both have been completely insane. Here’s how they work: You get a button. One side is green, one side is red. As long as it is green, they come around with giant swords of meat and slice it off for you. They keep doing this until you have so much meat that you have to turn it over to red, at least until you can catch up. I’m a carbohydrate addict, but even I had no interest in bread here. Except for those little fresh dough things they put on the table that are just amazing, but not too many of them. What can I say, I couldn’t resist. But the moment I knew I wasn’t in Day 2, I told Ted I was in and ate almost nothing for about 36 hours. If I had to do it over again, I’d plan ahead, eat there on Wednesday night and get to go twice.


One final note from the Pro Tour were the reactions to the recent bans. I was talking to Randy, and he pointed out something I too had noticed. There are people who complain about the bans as being a bad idea, but the reason they give is that it will anger certain players. No one can actually point to one of those players. Rudy Edwards, who runs a store in Atlanta, said the bans would piss off players, as did Andy Wolf who was next to us in the player’s lounge, but none of us disliked the decision. We just thought others would. Also note that no one thinks that nothing should have been done. So it turns out that everyone likes the decision but they worry that the world would end if eight cards were banned and no one complained about it. That’s the sign of a good decision.

Next week: A search begins, or a secret is revealed. I haven’t decided which yet.