I still like it when the good guys win.
You think it would get tiring. I had the same feeling when I heard about Tiger Woods winning yet another major golf tournament, and learned of the show’s incredibly high TV ratings at the same time. It was a blowout. No one else had a chance. And people still tuned in to see Tiger do it. Don’t they get tired of it? I guess not.
So Jon Finkel beats Bob Maher Jr. in the finals, partly due to a costly mistake on Bob’s part in the first game, and becomes the 2000 World Champion. The best Magic player in the world wins the most prestigious event of the year. The world starts making a little more sense. Bob Maher is no slouch, either, fighting his way to a second-place finish and winning the Player of the Year race. It couldn’t happen to two better guys or two better Magic players.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was there, too. And I have a few stories to tell.
I show up in the afternoon in Brussels, Belgium with a Tinker deck and a backpack full of socks, boxer shorts, and white t-shirts. My teammates aren’t anywhere to be found, so after checking into my hotel room, I head over to the tournament site.
The building is quite impressive, with large Magic and World Championships banners hanging on the front. Nearby is a enormous structure called Atomium; the way it looks reminds me of the Wigdome (from the Simpsons episode where Bart gets a fake ID and attempts to drive to the World Fair under the cover of going to a grammar rodeo in Canada), and the way it sounds is like a monster from Godzilla. Quite an interesting backdrop for the 2000 Worlds Championships.
While I don’t find my teammates at the registration, I do find Bob Maher trading for Crystal Veins, Voltaic Keys, and Thran Dynamos. When I see him, he flashes some cards at me and says, "You’re playing with these, aren’t you?" I guess our playtest group isn’t the tight little ship that we were hoping it would be. Since he already knew what we were playing, I invited Bob to join our ever-growing playtest group for the tournament, figuring that he was a good guy and he would be less likely to tell anyone else what we were playing if we shared our tech with him.
Eventually the rest of the crew showed up, Bob was welcomed into the fold, and we eventually went back to the hotel to put the finishing touches on the deck. At this point, I was pretty optimistic, as I was sure that we had the best deck in the format. Sure, everyone knew what we were playing. Sure, Alex Schvartsman was telling everyone to put Kill Switches and Pulverizes in their sideboard. Sure, there was a lot of Replenish out there, which was probably our worst matchup.
Not a problem.
We had a killer sideboard for Replenish and as long as we managed to win our first match, we would be out of the bracket containing Alex Schvartsman and anyone who actually listens to him.
Tinker, a.k.a. "Who wins in a fight?"
4x Voltaic Key
4x Grim Monolith
4x Tangle Wire
4x Thran Dynamo
1x Crumbling Sanctuary
1x Mishra’s Helix
4x Phyrexian Processor
1x Phyrexian Colossus
As it turns out, the Miscalculations were crap. You didn’t want them in the mirror match. You didn’t really want them against Angry Hermit or Trinity Green. You only really wanted them against mono red land destruction, but four Chills were probably good enough there. We would have been better off with four Defense Grids in the sideboard, to help out against the blue decks.
A brief story:
David Williams, who is in our playtest group because of his status as the long lost OMS brother, brings two decks with him to the first round of the tournament: Tinker and Magpie Blue. You have to turn in your decklist at your first round, so if you have two decks that are equally good against the field, it makes sense to pick one that will provide you with a benefit in your first-round matchup. Is this ethical? Hell if I know. Is this a good idea? Only if the two decks are equally good, and you aren’t doing it to gain an advantage over a teammate. David Williams gets matched up against Brian Kibler, also in our playtest group and playing Tinker, so David decides to play his Magpie Blue deck since it has an advantage in the matchup. If I were Brian Kibler, I would’ve been pissed. At least, up to the point where I beat him in the face with gigantic minion tokens. Brian Kibler smashes David Williams and Williams ends up doing poorly in the Standard. Karma?
Another brief story:
Steven OMS gets matched up against Trevor Blackwell in the first round, who many of us didn’t realize was getting our decks from Daniel Clegg. Steven gets smashed in the mirror match by someone who provided no input in the playtesting process. That was almost as irritating as Casey McCarrell (who was in our playtest group) walking into the room where Dan OMS and Billy "Baby Huey" Jensen are playtesting, with Mike Long in tow.
Like I said, the UberJumble runs a tight little ship.
I should’ve done better with the matchups that I had on Day 1, but I did fine nonetheless. I played against three Trinity Green decks, two Amateur Hermit decks, and one Accelerated Blue deck. I had moments that showed the strength of the deck, as well as the ability of a few of my opponents to draw exactly what they needed.
In one of the early rounds I played against Jun-Wei, a member of the Malaysian national team and an all-around good fellow, who was playing Trinity Green. After smashing him the first game, we go on to game 2 and my opening hand is Island, Voltaic Key, Voltaic Key, Grim Monolith, Tinker, and two other spells (not Brainstorm). I’m drawing first and I decide to keep, figuring that as long as I can draw a second land, I’m going to explode and win. After several turns, my board is Island, Voltaic Key, Voltaic Key. My opponent, on his turn, taps two Priests of Titania and a Forest to cast a Deranged Hermit, and then taps a Gaea’s Cradle to cast another Deranged Hermit. Hrm. I’m at 18 life. Who wins in a fight?
You got it: Masticore does. I peel a Crystal Vein off the top of my deck, sacrifice it to cast Grim Monolith, tap, untap, tap, untap, tap, cast a Thran Dynamo, tap it, Tinker for a Masticore, kill his two Deranged Hermits. I take a quick nine to the dome on my next turn, but soon enough the rest of his army is dead and I win with the ‘Core. Not THAT’S a beatdown.
After going 3-0, I get matched up against Masaya Mori, Japanese heart-throb and APAC champion. He’s a good Magic player and I hear that he is playing Accelerated Blue, so it’s going to be harder than my three previous matches. He wins the die roll in game one and plays an Island. I play a Crystal Vein, sacrifice it to cast a Grim Monolith, tap that to cast a Voltaic Key and untap my Monolith, and cast a Phyrexian Processor, paying 7 life. A good first turn, I think. I can’t start making 7/7 minion tokens until the third turn, but I think I’m in good shape. He plays an Island and a Monolith on the second turn. I play a land. He plays an Island. I untap my Monolith and play another land on my turn. Now he’s in trouble, I can make a 7/7 creature a turn for the rest of the game. His countermagic is useless. Who wins in a fight?
Not me, that’s for sure. After this, I witness the longest series of Treacheries and Powder Kegs known to man. By the time I get killed by that Morphling, he has played four Treacheries, two Powder Kegs, and three Masticores to keep from dying to my minion tokens. I ended up getting him down to 6, but he didn’t even need to take one of those two hits as he could have blocked with his Masticore and regenerated. Even if I’d made 10/10 tokens, I would’ve lost the game. I’m dumbfounded.
So I shuffle up for my second game. I play a second turn Metalworker, which resolves. On my third turn, I tap the Metalworker for mana, cast a Tangle Wire and Tinker away the Metalworker for a Phyrexian Colossus. He has out two Islands and a Grim Monolith. I have a Miscalculation and a second Tangle Wire in my hand. If I topdeck another land, I can cast the second Tangle Wire and finish him off. Otherwise, I sit back on my Miscalculation. By the time he can cast Treachery, he’ll only have three untapped Islands and a Grim Monolith, which will allow me to counter it. I don’t draw a land and I knock him down to 12. I don’t draw a land again and I knock him down to 4, paying 8 life of my own to untap the Colossus. I have up Saprazzan Skerry and a Rishadan Port with a Miscalc in my hand. The next turn is the money turn. If he has a Treachery and a Thwart, I’m in trouble. Otherwise, my Miscalculation works and I win the game. I chose not to tap out to cast Tangle Wire, as that also allows me to lose to Daze and Annul. On his turn, he taps two Islands for the Tangle Wire and draws. He plays another Island, giving him a third untapped Island. He taps his Grim Monolith and casts… another Grim Monolith. Then he casts Treachery, leaving a colorless in his mana pool and an Island untapped, making my Miscalculation useless. He takes my tapped Phyrexian Colossus, and goes on to counter my few other threats then beat with a Morphling.
My other loss wasn’t nearly as bad, against Dominik Hothow. He was playing Amateur Hermit or Angry Derm or whatever you want to call it, and managed a number of amazing topdecks to beat me, peeling a Rack and Ruin off the top to kill a Thran Dynamo and a Phyrexian Processor – and then topdecking three Blastoderms to race my solitary 7/7 token. The third game involved a mulligan on my part and a subsequent substandard draw and I ended up just one of the casualties on his road to the top 8.
Standard record: 4-2
2x Diving Griffin
Agent of Shauku
I wasn’t too worried about the draft pod, as it had few PT veterans and a number of players that I had never heard of, including Teddy NG from Hong Kong, Vedat Ozfresko from Turkey, and Sasa Zorc from Croatia. Who wins in a fight: Me or those three guys? I’ll tell you in a bit.
I begin the draft with a Maggot Therapy and I get passed a pack with Squallmonger – and not much else. This is clearly a sign that the person on my right isn’t playing green, as Squallmonger is top of the line, so I take it, more than happy to play Black/Green. In the next pack, there are no good black OR green cards, but there is both a Charmed Griffin and a Nightwind Glider. I take the Charmed Griffin, a fine card, slightly less happy to be playing Black/Green/White. As it turns out, no green is coming and I ended up drafting a Black/White deck with a few platinum hits (Troubled Healer, Rathi Intimidator, Agent of Shauku, Flowstone Armor…) and a bunch of crap (Skulking Fugitive, Aura Fracture, Mine Bearer, Parallax Dementia). None of the cards are 100% awful, but they are all on the poor side.
I ended up going 1-1-1 with the deck, drawing with Teddy NG, losing to Vedat, and beating Sasa. In the match against Teddy, I was two turns away from winning the final game, but we didn’t quite have the time to finish it up. To be fair, it wasn’t Teddy’s fault at all; he played at a reasonable pace. The problem was the first game, where my Agent of Shauku + Troublesome Healer was up against his Belbe’s Armor, which made for a long game one. Vedat got fortunate draws and beat me with a three-color deck in the second round (and went on to win the table), while Sasa Zorc didn’t put up too much of a fight. 1-1-1 isn’t the best draft that I’ve ever had, but I was still hanging in there.
2x Rishadan Airship
Seal of Removal
2x Chilling Apparition
Now this draft was more like it.
Our table was tough, but this deck was a beatstick. It was super fast with a ton of evasion creatures, and a decent amount of ground stall with the two Chilling Apparitions and some grey ogre-type creatures. I had heard that Ben Rubin was the only one drafting white at the table and he got a 7th pick Troubled Healer (I defensively drafted one as a 3rd pick when there was nothing else in the pack), so I was a bit worried about him, but I still felt pretty good about things.
As it turned out, I wouldn’t need to worry about Ben Rubin, as a Scotsman beat me down in the second round of the draft with a blue/red deck. I did, however, manage to win my other two matches, the final one against Brian Kibler of the Uberjumble (despite making a play error that cost me the first game). So the black/blue beats went 2-1 for me, leaving me in shooting distance of the top 8.
Draft record: 3-2-1
Overall record: 7-4-1
The night before, everyone is scrambling to find a deck to play. I had a new deck that was doing quite well in playtesting, but no one else liked it besides Jon Finkel. That usually doesn’t stop me, so I kept right on playing it and tuning it, getting ready for the final day. I had a mono-black beatdown deck called "Complex Beatings" and a very good Black/Green deck as well – but both of those decks had been popular in the states in recent weeks and were sure to be metagamed against heavily. I needed to go 6-0 or 5-0-1 to have a shot at the top 8, so I thought the surprise factor of my new deck would give me the best chance to accomplish this.
On the other hand, Finkel just needed to not screw up too badly in order to make top 8. When he asked me if he should play my blue deck or the black/green, I told him to play the black/green. There was no way that deck would go worse than 3-3, while the blue deck could conceivably run into six straight decks with Spitting Spiders, Spidersilk Armor, and Flowstone Armor.
In case you haven’t heard, I’m a fan of mono-color beatdown decks. This deck might look surprising, as it differs somewhat from my normal deck construction habits. In general, I wouldn’t be caught dead with one of one kind of card and two of another kind of card in my decks. Aggressive decks rely on consistency, and it’s important to build a deck with that in mind.
Still, this deck is more consistent than one might think. It has a fairly good mana curve, with one of the best one casting cost creatures in the environment (Cloud Sprite) and reasonably efficient other creatures (2/2s for 2, 3/1s for 3), all of which have evasion. The ones and twos aren’t the primary components of the deck, however. They are cards that are most often useful, but also cards that you rarely wanted to draw two of. Thwart. Foil. Coastal Piracy. Ensnare. You sometimes wanted one alternative casting-cost counterspell to stop that Massacre, Thrashing Wumpus or Spitting Spider while you’ve been tapping out to cast beasties. You sometimes wanted that Coastal Piracy to turn those Cloud Sprites and Cloudskates into enormous card advantage. You sometimes wanted that Ensnare to deal the finishing blow. But you never want to have three Thwarts or three Coastal Piracies or three Ensnares in hand.
The main deck was perfect, but the sideboard needed a bit of work. I wasn’t at all happy with the Counterspells. I would’ve been far happier with two additional Thwarts and an extra Foil. The Waterfront Bouncers, too, weren’t very exciting. If I had it to do again, I would probably up the Misdirections in the board against decks with non-black creatures and terrors, and find a few more useful cards like Flowstone Armor for the mirror match.
As it was, though, I was happy with my choice for the Masques Block portion of the tournament. I expected the field to be heavily Black/Green and metagamed against Black/Green. What I didn’t realize was that the European PTQs had been packed full of aggro blue, so there’d be a bit more sideboard hate than I expected.
My favorite match of the day was against Warren Marsh, recent top 8’er from PT-NY, playing a Black/Green deck with four Spitting Spiders main deck. Who wins in a fight: Cloud Sprite or Spitting Spider? In game one, I get a fast start with a Cloud Sprite, a Drake Hatchling and a Troublesome Spirit. He taps five lands to cast Spitting Spider. Hrm, I think. I Seal of Removal it and continue beating down. On the next turn he casts the Spitting Spider again. On my turn I cast Withdraw, bouncing the Spider and paying 1 to keep my Drake Hatchling on the board. By this point he is getting pretty low. He casts the Spider again and is forced to sacrifice all but one of his land to kill my flying beats. I have seven turns to draw another big flier or some bounce; I eventually get a Seal of Removal to return the Spider to his hand and kill him with some blue weenies. The next game is very much the same, with Warren Marsh casting fifth, sixth, and seventh turn Spitting Spider. All the same spider, only this game it’s getting put on top of his library with Submerge. Eventually, he ends up with nothing but a Spider in play and I’m able to cast a few Drake Hatchlings and finish him off.
I end up beating Warren Marsh’s black/green deck, Gab Tsang’s white/black rebel deck, and a Mageta Rebel deck. I run out of time against a control white deck and I lose to Igor Frayman’s Aggro Blue deck with Terrors (where were you, Misdirection!) and an aggro blue deck with both Flowstone Armor and Rootwater Commando in the sideboard. Both losing matches were down to the wire, with me outracing Igor’s Notorious Assassin in one of the two games post-sideboard and me almost outracing a third turn Flowstone Armor in the second and third game against the other aggro blue deck. Against the mono-blue deck, I am playing for top 32 in the last round and I manage to get him down to one in the final game. His Flowstone Armored Rootwater Commando then finishes me off in the next game.
So I end the third day with a 10-6-2 record, in 55th place. Not bad, but not as well as I’d hoped to do.
Block record: 3-2-1
Overall record: 10-6-2
The rest, of course, is history.
So what’s next for me? Expect to see me at every Grand Prix for the foreseeable future. Porto, Portugal. Helsinki, Finland. Manchester, England. Buenos Aires, Argentina. While I’m qualified for the Pro Tour for the next few stops, the work of the King of the Qualifiers never ends. Now there’s a new challenge: the Masters series. I’ll be playing in the Master’s Qualifier at Neutral Ground before PT-NY and I’ll be racing around the world to try and pick up enough PT points to qualify for future Masters events.
Wish me luck and if you happen to remember me when you are filling out the ballot for the Magic: the Gathering Invitational (which will be held this year in Sydney, Australia), thank you. I had a lot of fun last year designing decks with your help and submitting a reader’s Magic card to WotC R&D, and I’d love to do it again this year.