DÃ©jÃ vu is a funny thing. Right when you think you’ve got your life in order or at least you’re on the correct path, it rears its head. That feeling creeps in, and you know that you’ve been here before. You’ve already lived this moment. You know how this story is going to end; you’ve already seen the ending. Do you bother trying to fight it? Will it even matter?
In 2008, I was moving around, trying to find a job dealing poker but writing articles and playing some Magic Online to pay the bills in the meantime. Back then, I probably had Wafo-Tapa Syndrome, where I played control in every tournament and would occasionally spike one when control ended up being well positioned. Seriously, I’d like to see what that dude could accomplish with an all-foil, Matt Sperling-designed burn deck. Surely, it would be a thing of pure beauty.
Grand Prix Denver came and went, and I rode shotgun back to Iowa, dozing with a dopey smile on my face, clutching a trophy. Due to some splits, d-baggery, and a**hattery (mostly on my part), I was left penniless once again and moved back to Indianapolis.
After a quick stop in Kansas City for a disappointing 40th place finish at another Grand Prix, I resolved to pick up the slack in Limited. I had been focusing entirely on Constructed, and where I was previously a Limited master in training, my skills had deteriorated to the point of lowly PTQ End Boss.
I put down the 60-card decks for 40s and hit Grand Prix Atlanta. Although chocked full of its own stories, Atlanta paved the way for something much bigger. After a finals finish, I was sitting on 23 Pro Points with a real shot of reaching Level 6. I jokingly asked the room, talking to no one in particular, if anyone wanted to buy me a ticket to New Zealand for another Grand Prix.
Sam Black, despite our differences, immediately stepped up. He knew I was good for it, as I had somehow managed to not split away the entirety of my Atlanta check (a feat which I’m pleasantly reminded of while writing this). Granted, he was doing it to make a cool $50 on interest, but I didn’t care. I was bound for Awk-land!
Worlds and New Zealand were a blast, but again, my weak Limited game plagued my performance. In my re-dedication to Limited, I had become a one-trick pony, effectively forcing the same strategy every time. Despite being in a great seat for Jund, I drafted Naya once again and went 1-2 where 3-0 and a run at the title were a real possibility.
2009 was plagued with poor decks, no confidence, variance, and complaisance. I couldn’t win and once again finished with a meager Level 2. Eleven Pro Points gained from four Pro Tours and plenty of Grand Prix left me severely depressed and looking for an out. I, perhaps a little too boldly, proclaimed that I was leaving the game as of Worlds 2009. Due to my real life crumbling before my eyes, I didn’t even miss a single Grand Prix before I was slinging cards again.
A new view on life and a fearless disposition lit a fire in me not seen since I was seventeen years old. I was no longer playing on borrowed confidence or off of my opponent’s illogical fear of me as an opponent. The bigger picture became irrelevant because I knew that in the end, it would all make sense. Tournaments were composed of many rounds, each to be entities dealt with one at a time. When treated like such, it all became so easy.
I was out of my mind insane, making choices and plays that never would have entered my mind a year earlier. Some of my life’s best work was happening, and it was all flowing so freely. Despite only playing one Pro Tour, I had thirteen Pro Points, a similar number to what I had after I won Denver.
However, the year was coming to a close, but then
During the tournament, I told Jason Ford, Korey McDuffie, and a few other friends that I would only attend Worlds 2010 if I made Top 8, despite needing only fifteen Pro Points, or a Top 32 finish, to qualify. Without the additional Pro Points and prize money, the trip to Japan wasn’t worth it.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, who’s to say honestly?), I won the tournament and headed into Worlds with Level 6 again on my mind. This time around, the story was the same, but some of the characters had changed. Tom Martell, previously arrogant jerkface, was now super-awesome happy Martell and was playing the role of Sam Black, the enabler. Naturally, this time, super-awesome Pink Shirt Tom was only looking to help his friend and have another friendly face in the most foreign of countries.
SCG Richmond Invitational,
previously the cornerstone that would finish off my year, suddenly felt like a playtesting session leading up to the real show. Perhaps it was because the results no longer mattered that the tournament seemed so easy. Maybe it was because I split away 45% of myself and therefore was playing for more than just me. Everyone was counting on me, or at least it felt that way.
Going into Worlds, I should’ve been the picture of confidence. Gabe Walls was sending me texts telling me to play up the Kai factor, but I couldn’t pull the trigger. When I started thinking about the bigger picture, how I’d be Level 5 regardless of what happened and how I already won and couldn’t possibly expect to win more, it didn’t feel right. I needed to ignore all that BS, but I couldn’t end up in a conversation without it coming up.
My passport showed up in the nick of time, which again, is a whole other tale by itself.
“Gerry, you run so good. Obv you’re winning Worlds.”
One match at a time, man. One match at a time…
Nick Spagnolo, Ben Hayes, Josh Jacobson, and I drove from Richmond to Roanoke. While that night in Richmond I was miserable, complete with headache and sleep deprivation, after a few hours in the car of just resting my head, I felt great again. Sadly, I didn’t have the foresight to pick up some food, and by the time we got to Nick’s in New York City, I was starving.
Oh well, shouldn’t be a problem right? This is the city that doesn’t sleep and all that. A quick Google search revealed some late-night eateries, but apparently late didn’t mean 4 am. I found one spot that was open 24/7, but they told me they didn’t deliver that far.
I wasn’t to be denied.
Me: What will it take for you to deliver to me?
Him: Um… We’re on bikes.
Me: … Fair enough.
Steve Sadin sent me
, which turned up exactly zero results. I was supposed to do laundry, but after an hour of searching, I was far more tired than hungry. Ben Hayes made some eggs magically appear, and with those, a fried-egg sandwich. With that little snack, I was content to pass out and figure out my laundry situation at some other time.
The rush to the airport was comical, as it included Nick’s mother doing typical mother things where she worried about him having a hotel, money, a jacket, or some semblance of an idea of where he was supposed to be going.
His only answer was, “We’re meeting Jason Ford at the gate. He knows where we’re going.”
I passed out the entire flight, although very uncomfortably, but recently, I’ve been brushing up on my previously lackluster sleeping-for-24-hours-in-a-row skills. It’s easier than you might think. I typically do my best thinking on flights or car rides, basically in situations where I’m trapped and have nothing to do except think.
However, this time I was busy doing other things, like killing fourteen hours. Once we cleared customs, we found a gaggle of Americans waiting in the baggage claim area. Jason Ford was ready with a sign that said, “Looking for SCG Champions to barn.” Calcano and I were happy to oblige.
The unprepared Americans exchanged money at a far better rate than we got back in the States, which I felt was kind of unreal. The one thing we actually prepared for ended up screwing us. Korey McDuffie tried to get money out of an ATM in order to exchange some more, but was no-sirred by Citibank.
Most of us had to change hotel rooms over the course of a week, as everything was close to booked full, but we all needed to get to the same place. Jason Ford, Nick Spagnolo, and I got a room in the same hotel as AJ Sacher, but we needed to be out by Thursday, while AJ’s stay was up on Friday.
Nick was sticking with his U/W deck, while nearly all of the random Americans were Valakuting. Some of that was my fault, some of that was because no one wanted to innovate, and most was because we were all lazy. I made a couple of Genesis Wave lists that looked very good and were probably better than the list I was playing, but it was a little too late to change.
Calcano was on sixteen Pro Points, but fighting for Rookie of the Year. Jason, meanwhile, had seventeen Pro Points and needed only the most mediocre of finishes to lock up the gravy train for next year. McDuffie had been skipping events all year but wanted to go to Japan with his friends and was just hoping for a Top 50 finish to qualify for Paris.
I had high hopes for a Top 24 finish in order to make Level 6, just like in ’08.
Seating for the player meeting went up, and I found my seat, but two Spanish gentlemen were both at my seat. As I walked over, they both picked up the Ajani Goldmane promos and put them away.
Me: Uhh… One of you guys is in my seat.
Me: Yes, I’m supposed to be sitting here.
Them: No. You sit where you want.
Me: No, it’s alphabetical…
Them: … Oh.
I quickly called a judge over to make sure our promos didn’t get bandit-ized, but they figured out what I was up to, unpacked the promos, and left.
My Valakut list was one card different in the maindeck with a slightly different sideboard. The list didn’t really matter. I rolled over the people who should’ve been rolled, while two separate U/W Control decks gave me the beatings of a lifetime.
I finished 4-2 and was reasonably pleased. In the last round, Korey was battling for the honor of being 4-2 as well, against someone who was, as Korey put it, “very Japanese.” It was a close game 3, and with the pressure his opponent had, a Mark of Mutiny at any time would kill Korey. He had to play out his Primeval Titan, but his opponent left him waiting.
“C’mon man, if you’ve got the Mark, just cast it,” Korey pleaded with his opponent.
“No!” he replied. He continued to tank.
Finally, the Japanese leapt out of his seat, slammed down a Sword of Body and Mind, and cried out, “Mill ten Mountaaaaaain!”
He did not, and Korey went on to win the next turn.
Friday was supposed to be the day I played catch-up. I had very few chances to play Scars of Mirrodin Draft at a high level, but every time that happened, it seemed to go well. I drafted U/R in the first, which was exactly where I wanted to be. My deck was okay but certainly not great.
I won round 1 easily and was quickly up a game against Precursor Golem/Hoard-Smelter Dragon in round 2. In game 3, I played turn 1 Vedalken Certarch, turn 2 Myr, turn 3 Neurok Replica, and turn 4 Neurok Replica, but chose not to play my land.
He played Sunspear Shikari, then missed a land drop, then played Barbed Battlegear. On his upkeep, I tapped his land, and he gave me a look of confusion. He asked whether I played a land, to which I answered, in mock frustration, “Of course not.”
He then equipped and passed the turn. I threw the Mountain in play that I had been holding, untapped, drew, and Turned his creature to Slag.
“You trick me.”
Awkwardly enough, I went on to lose this game due to a punt. After my initial blowout, I chose to press my advantage and played Steel Hellkite. I could’ve easily waited until I had another couple of lands to protect it with Neurok Replica. Instead, I ran it out there, having not seen much removal out of his deck and promptly got Oxidda Scrapmeltered.
From there, his Precursor and Hoard-Smelter took over. Naturally, game 3 wasn’t remotely close.
Winning round 3 to finish at 6-3 was hardly a consolation. Korey 3-0ed his pod, so he was sitting at 7-2. In addition to that, he told me that except for Michael Pozsgay, there was no one at his table he recognized. He lost round 1, and second round sat down across from Anton Jonsson, one of the “idiots” that he didn’t recognize. Korey promptly lost that round as well.
I mistakenly first-picked Myr Battlesphere over Skinrender. Battlesphere is a more powerful card, but six is a huge difference from seven. Relying on a seven-drop to win you the game is a little absurd, and while it can go into more decks, I think I should’ve taken the Skinrender. My deck ended up with two Battlespheres, which just further compounded the issue and then some two-drops.
If I could have traded all of my poison dudes for Moriok Reavers, I happily would have. 1-2 was unfortunate, but it was about what I was expecting.
Ending the day at 7-5 and likely out of Top 24 contention wasn’t where I wanted to be. Much like LSV, I just wanted to be live going into Extended, as that tends to be our best format. I was technically “live,” at least for Top 24, but it was a long shot.
Since it was such a long shot, I decided to play a “fun” deck. Gabe Walls isn’t usually known for his deckbuilding prowess, but in this case, he actually did it. Martin Juza would like to claim partial credit, but I’ve never known Gabe to lie, so I trust him when he says he designed the deck.
This is what I played:
Scapeshift usually requires an R/G shell or Prismatic Omen, but due to some clever mana base tricks (and use of Manamorphose), this mostly U/R deck ends up being very similar to last year’s Scapeshift deck.
Volcanic Fallout is worse than Firespout in a lot of matchups, but Faeries seemed difficult. In addition, a Scapeshift with seven lands is only eighteen damage, so Fallout’s two points can really matter. A Scapeshift with eight lands can be 36 damage, but if you’ve drawn three or four Mountains, you can still kill them by dealing much less.
Round 1, I played Akira Asahara and his breakout Polymorph deck. He Thoughtseized and Duressed me but left my Scapeshift. On turn 7, I cast it, floating some mana, and he just died. I assume he was expecting Prismatic Omen and didn’t think I would’ve had enough Mountains to kill him.
I was obliterated game 2, but won game 3, despite playing terribly.
Five-Color Control was my next opponent, and it was by far my easiest match. He tried to Cruel me, but I cast Spell Pierce. A few turns later, he used Cryptic Command to bounce my third blue source, a Flooded Grove, but I used Manamorphose to Cryptic his follow-up Cruel. Scapeshift sealed the deal a few turns later.
In game 2, I forced through Pyromancer Ascension with Spell Pierce but allowed him to destroy it with Esper Charm. My Vendilion Clique was similarly protected by Spell Pierce, and my remaining Mana Leaks dealt with his big threats.
Finally, in round 3, I was paired against the Japanese Wargate deck. I kept a terrible hand for game 1 and didn’t draw the running See Beyonds I needed to make my hand not suck. Despite sideboarding somewhat loose, I managed to race him game 2 when I peeled the Scapeshift I needed. For game 3, I was far more prepared and was in control the entire game.
In round 4, I was paired against M3l0q on the MODOs. He had played Korey earlier, and they got into a little dispute over whether or not the Serbian had peeked at the bottom of Korey’s deck. When he went to grab my deck, I warned him not to peek at my bottom card. He spent the entire match with his eyes far away from my deck.
Sadly, he was playing Faeries, and I happened to throw away game 1. Michael Jacob made a comment earlier about how if he had just Lightning Bolted his opponent end of turn, the way the game played out, he would’ve been able to win. My game 1 went nearly the same way.
I crushed him the second game, again trying to deflect my opponent’s focus from Scapeshift onto the Pyromancers in my sideboard. Going into the final game, he kept triple Spellstutter Sprite, Thoughtseize, Bitterblossom, and land, which is great if I don’t ever draw a Volcanic Fallout. Thankfully for him, I didn’t, and he beat me easily.
After the match, I told Korey I just lost to the same opponent, and he told me that the judge who ruled that M3l0q did nothing shady told him that now, if he received another warning, he was probably going to get DQed. It’s pretty weird that had I known that, I simply could’ve called my opponent on anything to get him disqualified.
With that, my dream of Level 6 was officially dead, but I had more National Team members to battle.
Or not… Instead, I got to face Shouta Yasooka and his version of Wargate that was more permission based with Duress and Memoricide in the sideboard. In game 1, I Scapeshifted him out on turn 7 through no disruption.
In the second game, Shouta resolved a Prismatic Omen, but I used Into the Roil (without kicker, so as to play around his potential Mana Leak) to bounce it. From there, I waited until I had Mana Leak and Negate backup and cast Scapeshift for lethal.
My opponent in the final round offered the draw, but I immediately turned him down. However, once I mulliganed once and was facing down a turn 2 Bitterblossom, I offered the draw again. This time, he turned me down, but I went on to win after drawing a massive amount of Scapeshifts.
At that point, I re-offered the draw, and he begrudgingly took it.
41st place, as Jason Ford pointed out, is probably my fifth best Pro Tour finish of my life. Jason didn’t manage to get his twentieth Pro Point, so you’ll either see him in the PTQ grind next year or quite possibly not playing at all. At least he won something at Worlds though.
You see, during the SCG Open in Boston, apparently I borrowed a Bayou from Jason that I don’t remember. I gave all my stuff back to Calosso, who in turn gave it back to the people he had borrowed it from, and there wasn’t an extra Bayou.
Still, I told Jason that even though I didn’t believe him, I would owe him a Bayou to be paid back at some point in the future. Instead, he drew up a contract that relinquished my rights to name my first-born child in exchange for said Bayou.
Jason is a fish.
My tentative plan for next year is to hit the SCG Open Series pretty hard, while staying away from overseas travel. Tournaments like Paris and Nagoya just don’t seem to be worth the hassle. Flying can really take its toll on an old man like myself, so hopefully none of my friends qualify for Paris, otherwise I might end up going.