Play the Game…

The title probably did not make it quite clear but this article is in fact a tournament report of the 9th Edition prerelease held in Russia recently. For those of you who were unaware, Wizards of the Coast recently printed Magic cards in Russian for the first time. To commemorate the event, Wizards of the Coast Europe, led by level 5 judge Gis Hoogjendsiisklmnopk, invited 16 of the best players in the world to compete in a special event to be held in Moscow versus 16 of the best Eastern Europe has to offer. The actual Magic events have already been covered on official sites, but the parts with belly dancers, drunken Masashi Oisos, and the Bluffmaster deserve some time as well. The combination of people, scenery and experiences really made this one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

“If you want to find the future business leaders of the World, you need look no further than your local gaming stores.” – David Kushner, Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids

I’ll give you fair warning, there won’t be much strategic content in this article. Now I know some of you will be annoyed by this fact, and if that’s the case hopefully this warning will help you to stay clear and keep you off my case in the forums. However, for those loyal readers who are looking for something strategic in addition to the ridiculous misadventures of everyone’s favorite pro, I’ve highlighted those portions in italics for you convenience. So know let’s begin, shall we?

The title probably did not make it quite clear but this article is in fact a tournament report of the 9th Edition prerelease held in Russia recently. For those of you who were unaware, Wizards of the Coast recently printed Magic cards in Russian for the first time. To commemorate the event, Wizards of the Coast Europe, led by level 5 judge Gis Hoogjendsiisklmnopk, invited 16 of the best players in the world to compete in a special event to be held in Moscow versus 16 of the best Eastern Europe has to offer. We would be playing 16 rounds of 9th Edition Sealed against each player on the other team. The Top 8 would then rotisserie draft an entire foil set of 9th to see who won it all. When I first heard of this event I was quite excited because I am a Ukrainian-American after all and would love a chance to compete in Moscow. The main problem though was that my invitation to the event was not quite set in stone just yet.

The Invitation Process

Wizards had a bit of a dilemma on their hands. They wanted to invite sixteen of the best players in the World, but they also wanted the World team to be well represented, which meant they had to invite an American. The current roster consisted of Kai Budde, Julien Nuijten, Olivier Ruel, Sam Gommersall, Anton Johnson, Mattias Jorstedt, Jeroen Remie, Kamiel Cornillisen, Masashi Oiso, Gabriel Nassif, Geoffrey Siron, Bernardo DeCosta Cabral, Antoine Ruel, Carlos Romao, and Raphael Levy. This was a strong squad indeed, but now it was time to choose which American would go, and I’m not going to lie, I was not their first choice.

Gadiel Szliefer: Gadiel was obviously Wizards first choice since he is clearly the best American player out there today. Sadly, Gadiel had a previous engagement to attend to and could not make it that weekend.

Eugene Harvey: Eugenius, the man that would be king if it wasn’t for World of Warcraft. Eugene was a clear second choice, but he had a WoW campaign planned for that weekend and could not get away from it.

Antonino DeRosa: Antonio is on a real hot streak lately between Nationals and GP: Salt Lake City. His recent success has shot him into the spotlight and made him a solid candidate to be on the team according to Wizards. Unfortunately for Antonio, between moving to San Diego and training for Nathan’s Annual Hot Dog and Sour Cream eating competition, he just couldn’t get away.

Billy Pumplestinkle: Billy is mostly known for making Top 8 at U.S. Nationals last year and wearing his shirt inside out. He is probably the third most feared player on the tour and credentials cannot be disputed. However, ever since Antonio moved to San Diego, Billy simply doesn’t know what to do and has locked himself in his bathroom until Antonio returns.

With choices 1-4 unavailable, Wizards gave me the call and I was ready to go.

Preparation for the Event

My preparation for the event consisted of doing a total of two drafts of 9th on MODO and discussing the format with Josh Ravitz. He told me to draft U/W as they were clearly the two best colors and I was inclined to agree. All of the removal in the format was really bad, so the value of flyers has to be even higher now. Master Decoy, Aven Windreader and Sift are also absurd, so I was ready to give it a try. Both drafts I ended up U/W and both drafts ended with me losing in the first round. I don’t know why I lost, and I can’t say I learned much from my experiences.

From Russia with Love

After a total of ten hours of flying and watching Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 1/2 times, I finally arrive in Moscow an hour behind schedule. Since my flight was delayed, I missed the taxi Wizards had booked for me and was forced to try and get to the hotel myself. I didn’t know the address and barely anyone in Russia speaks English, so I was a little worried. Luckily for me I managed to find a cab driver who spoke Ukrainian and I was able to communicate well enough to get to the hotel, and what a hotel it was. The Hotel Rossiya isn’t exactly the best hotel in the World. The beds are somewhat small, the service is less than stellar and the food is horrible. Despite these failings, I must say this is still one of the best site hotels Wizards has ever booked. Why you may ask? Well whoever owns the place decided that in addition to having a fitness room and a swimming pool, what a big hotel also needs is its own Strip Club. Another thing that we quickly noticed was that there was a large number of good looking, scantily clad women walking around. While we were in one of the hotel’s many bars Carlos Romao couldn’t help notice how many of the women were staring at him and smiling. At first he assumed it was his new black track jacket he bought from the GAP that was turning the ladies on. It took a fair amount of convincing from the rest of us to make him understand that they were in fact prostitutes. I think it would be fair to say that there were more prostitutes in the hotel than actual hotel employees. I meet up with the crew and we spend the night drinking and talking about everything we’ve noticed about Russia, but the real question on everyone’s lips was: Where’s Kai?

Adventures in Babysitting

About eight months ago, Kai met a young woman named Marta online. She was in his clan on World of Warcraft as HunterMistress24, and he had gone into many “battles” together and had many great conversations. Their online relationship was blooming, but despite the fact that Marta lived in Essen, which was only two hours away from Hamburg, they still had not met in real life, or “irl” as they would say. Kai felt that it was finally time to meet and he invited Marta to stay with him one weekend in April and she agreed. They met and it was like they were back in the digital realm trading Geldinks and fighting fire monsters to capture the Dagon Sphere side by side. Their chemistry was undeniable and they became closer and closer with each passing day. They had taken turns visiting each other each weekend and were on the phone with one another constantly.

Then one weekend when it was Kai’s turn to visit her, Kai was called by his good friend Marco Blume. Apparently Marco’s 8-year-old nephew was over visiting and Marco had a fancy banquet to attend that night and couldn’t watch him. He asked Kai if he would baby sit for him, pointing out that Kai owed him for helping him win the two team Pro Tours. When Kai finally stopped laughing, he agreed to help out Marco because he knew it was important to him and he was a good friend. Marta had planned a very romantic dinner for the two of them at one of Germany’s most exclusive restaurants, the Olive Garden (things are different in Germany). She was very upset that the weekend was ruined and would not speak to Kai at all the following week.

Distraught, Kai was determined to make things up to Marta and planned a trip to Essen to surprise her. Kai drove for hours and when he finally reached her apartment he noticed something peculiar. Parked in front of Marta’s house was a Dodge Neon with a bumper sticker on it that was roughly translated into, “If you don’t like my driving dial 1-800-Channel Fireball.” Kai was a little confused but he ignored it and went up to the door and rang the bell. He waited for about ten minutes before Marta finally answered the door, out of breath and looking quite disheveled. She was very surprised to see him there and was reluctant to let him in at first but Kai was determined to apologize and brushed right by her. He was shocked however to see fellow Magic player and PT: Philly Top 8 competitor Andre Muller sitting in her living room. Andre was wearing a button down shirt but it was wrinkled and un-tucked. Kai asked what was going on and Marta explained that Andre was simply a friend who offered to teach her how to play Magic because she wanted to learn more about the game Kai loved so much. Andre excused himself and Kai was left standing confused and suspicious while Marta tried to change the subject. On his drive home, Kai couldn’t get the image of Andre sitting in Marta’s living room out of his head, and he was convinced there was more to the story than what she had told him. His trip to Moscow was scheduled for the following weekend, but Kai was in no mood to go – jealousy and anger began to take over and all rational judgment was out the window. Kai, without telling anyone beforehand, decided to forego the $1000 appearance fee and a chance to tour Russia and spent the weekend spying on his girlfriend instead. So there you have it, the real reason Kai didn’t attend the Russian 9th Edition prerelease.

Flip it and Reverse it

I suppose you could say that the tournament itself was not a success for me in the traditional sense. I went 1-7 with my first sealed deck and was in last place going into the second round of sealed play. Now I know it was only a fun event, much like the Invitational, but I finished in last place at the Invitational too, so I was getting somewhat irritated. My second card pool though was much better and I managed to go 7-1, which put me somewhere in the middle of the pack. I noticed that almost everyone was forced to play Green in their sealed decks in order to have enough creatures, and this seemed to be true the entire weekend. I think it’s hard to get a good Green draft deck most of the time, but in sealed it seems fine enough. So if you happen to open a Zodiac Money, you’re in the money for sure.

We played 16 rounds of sealed on Saturday and then they cut to Top 8 play for Sunday. Those of us who were not in the Top 8 were left to gun sling on the sidelines with all the local Russian players. This was probably my favorite part of the event because it was really fun to see how excited players were to play against us. When you play on the PT for a while, some of the joy is taken out of the game itself. If you ask your average PT player why they play Magic, their answer is sure to be they enjoy traveling and the friends they have made because of that. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but I do remember a time when if asked that question my answer would be because I love to play Magic. I still love playing Magic, but competition and travel and the rest of it can force that to take a backseat most of the time.

Watching the players at the prerelease reminded me of the pure joy the game can bring. I had a great time battling my 9th sealed deck against various Extended and Standard decks. The excitement and enthusiasm in the air reminded me of why I started playing the game in the first place, the joy of it. To be honest though, the experiences and friends you make on the tour can be pretty awesome in their own right, as was evident by the evening that followed.

The Best of the Best

A speech was made at the beginning of the event how the best players in the World were here and how Magic helps cultivate young men and women into the business leaders of tomorrow. As this was being said Jeroen Remie and I couldn’t help but look at each other and smile considering we knew how idiotic all of us actually are. To give you a couple of examples of how easily entertained and absurd we are, take the Tony Hawk demo that took place on Sunday. The McDonalds in Russia was giving out these little toys in each of their happy meals that were associated with Tony Hawk’s Underground video game. The toys were little plastic ramps that came with a miniature Tony Hawk you used to skate down the ramp. One of the toys was given to me as a gift during my gun-slinging session and somehow it got into the hands of Olivier Ruel. For whatever reason, Olivier became obsessed with the toy and set the ramp up at the top of this platform in the convention center. His goal was to try and get the little Tony Hawk to skate down the ramp and travel as far as he can down the incline. As he was doing this, Nassif noticed him and became interested as well. By the time I came over, I saw 27 of the competitors along with several judges and spectators competing in who could get this mini Tony Hawk down the incline the furthest. The competition got so heated that Nassif and Olivier took it upon themselves to be judges and organizers of the event. So in answer to the question posed earlier, “Where can you find the future business leaders of the World?” look inside a convention center in Moscow and you’ll find them sweeping the floor with 9th Edition commons so the surface is smooth enough to allow for a miniaturized Tony Hawk to glide down with greater ease. I believe Geoffery Siron won the event. Then there’s the whole idea of a bluff break. Wait a minute, this is probably going to take up an entire section on its own.

The Bluff Break

Gabriel Nassif is a master, to be precise, he’s a Bluffmaster. Long before Terry Soh bluffed Frank Karsten out of a Top 4 berth, Nassif was bluffing people out of their shorts. I’m a big Nassif fan and was particular in awe of not only his ability to bluff people, but his showmanship after he bluffed them. Nassif would often bluff a person into not attacking or not blocking and would then proceed to break dance a little to commemorate the event. Because of this, I came up with the Bluff Break. Basically, whenever anyone says the words “Bluff Break” you have to drop what you’re doing and begin to break dance. Popping and Locking, do a little Huckleberry, basically drop it on the floor and kick it old school. There are conditions to a “Bluff Break” however,

  • Nassif, Julien Nuijten and I must all be present and within a few feet of each other.

  • A person cannot call consecutive “Bluff Breaks”

  • There must be a thirty minute interval between “Bluff Breaks”

  • I made up the “Bluff Break” on Friday as just an inside joke, but it quickly began to spread. So if you’re at a PT and you see the three of us in a feature match, call a “Bluff Break” and see what happens.

The Last Supper

I missed the first dinner Wizards held for us because my flight was delayed. I was told that Masashi got quite drunk and everyone had a pretty good time. Everyone who was at the first dinner declared that the final dinner was about 1000 times better. I would like to think that the reason for this was the fact that I was absent from the first dinner, however I think the large amounts of alcohol consumed would have to be the real cause. Wizards had rented out an entire restaurant for us on Sunday night to celebrate the success of the event and it was a classy restaurant to boot. The people in attendance were the 32 competitors, Wizards staff and judges as well as the one and only Richard Garfield. Everything was being paid for, so the first thing we did was ask for Vodka, and lots of it. As we started drinking Richard Garfield actually came over to our table to say hello and introduce himself. Considering this was the man who invented the game that I’ve spent a large portion of my life playing, I felt compelled to introduce myself and tell him how much I appreciated what he had done.

Me: “Hello Mr. Garfield, I would just like to introduce myself. My name is Osyp Lebedowicz and I wanted to say thank you for making Magic.

Richard Garfield: “That’s great. . .Bluff Break”

And just like that, the entire table erupted and began to break it down. We were popping, we were locking, and we even interlocked hands and did the hand jive. We were just bluff breaked by Richard Garfield, Ph.D.

Everyone was having a good time eating appetizers and drinking wine and vodka, when all of sudden, the Belly Dancers came out. To say Wizards outdid themselves this time would be an understatement. I think the best part was when Masashi Oiso jumped up and started wiggling his hips with the lovely ladies. It was also Raphael Levy birthday, so he was treated to a complementary dance from all four ladies. We drank and then we drank some more and to be honest I don’t even remember what food they served. PT: London champ Geoffrey Siron was the first victim of the “sickness” and was forced to be quarantined in the hallway for the rest of the evening.

If any of this seems hard to believe I would suggest visiting www.photobycraig.com/Moscow and seeing for your self. I think my favorite picture is Masashi vs. a bottle of Vodka. You can also notice from the pictures that Nassif is in almost all of them. That’s because everyone’s favorite Bluffmaster was particularly drunk that evening and began running all around the room. As we were making our way out of the restaurant, Nassif asked us to wait up because we needed to bring along the “Bluffmistress”. After that, I blacked out so I was never able to discover the identity of Nassif’s “Bluffmistress”. I wanted to keep the night going but the combination of Wine and Vodka on an empty stomach proved to deadly even for me. Apparently though nothing much happened after that, people went to a strip club, most of them threw up all over the place and were asked to leave.

[My favorite “rumor” that I’ve heard from that evening involves Olivier Ruel locking himself in a bathroom stall and refusing to come out. Brother Antoine attempted to intercede and talk the inebriated Frenchie out of the Temple to the Porcelain Gods and was promptly told “go f*** your mother!” – Knut]

The combination of people, scenery and experiences really made this one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. I was able to see the Kremlin, I ate a delicious and classy meal with Kamiel Cornelissen, and I was able to see Masashi Oiso and Olivier Ruel get piss drunk and slow dance with one another. Despite the absurdity of some of the situations that took place, it was really an amazing experience and I can’t believe it was all made possible because a game called Magic. I started playing this game when I was a junior in High School because I heard it was a great way to meet girls, and I would’ve never imagined how much I would gain from it. So remember, no matter what the reason is behind why you play the game, it all comes down to two things . . .

Play the Game . . . See the World

Thanks for reading

Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz