It’s the finals. Kai Budde from Germany is up against Tomi Wallamies from Finland.
I’m not enthralled by the games. I’m not wearing the headphones listening to the commentary. I’m not glued to the TV screens with the aerial view of the match. I have a hard time paying attention to a tournament once I’ve been eliminated from it. It helps if a good friend of mine, like Chris Pikula, is doing well. I can watch his featured matches with some amount of enthusiasm and genuinely care about the outcome. Aside from that, I have a hard time paying much attention. I spend most of my time in a semi-stupor, trying to figure out where it all went wrong. Call me self-absorbed or selfish, that’s fine – but that’s what I do once I’ve been eliminated from a major tournament, and I’ve had plenty of time to do it this past year.
That’s not to say I wasn’t hoping for one of the competitors to win more than the other. Even in sports that I care nothing about, I can still find the time to wish Tiger Woods bad luck or hope that Michael Jordan embarrasses himself on the court. I like the underdog. I despise the perfect athlete. I like Alan Iverson, for instance. He isn’t very tall, he came from a rough background, and beat the odds to end up as a very successful basketball player. When he gets injured, he keeps playing and risks even more serious injury in order to play the game and help the team. The advertisers don’t like him because of his gang affiliation.
He is my kind of athlete.
He’s not the tallest or the strongest or the best, but he has the drive and fierce determination that makes him that much better than the people around him.
The guy that I’m rooting for is often no Alan Iverson. It’s simply the guy who’s up against the immovable object or the irresistible force, and I have to like him that much more for being in that position, fighting the odds. I wasn’t really cheering for the Arizona Diamondbacks as much as I was rooting against the New York Yankees.
It’s not that Kai Budde is a bad guy. He has always been nice to me and he’s fine to be around, and I especially like his British teammates like Ben Ronaldson. Seriously, though, it throws my sense of the universe all out of whack when a person keeps winning at a game despite the large element of luck that is involved. Is he that much better than the rest of us? So when it came down to it, in between my self-absorbed moments where I tried to figure out what exactly went wrong, I would walk by a TV screen displaying the finals match and I would think,”Come on, Tomi Wallamies – you can do it.” If skill really is as important to Magic as Kai Budde and Jon Finkel enormous success makes it seem, then the only explanation is that I am not very good at the game. I’m not quite prepared to accept that.
As it turns out, Tomi Wallamies could not do it. Kai Budde defeated him in the finals and won yet another major tournament. Naturally, I congratulated Kai and I meant it. He must be proud of his accomplishments – and rightly so. Winning a little is impressive enough, and winning again and again is an amazing feat.
So the question remains: Where did it all go wrong?
I playtested a lot for this tournament, spending most of my time with old decks, trying to figure out which ones were the best and what changes I could make to them to make them even better. It seemed that there were so many old decks that we knew had the possibility to be great that I simply didn’t have the time to be too innovative. I could add Barbarian Rings and Firebolts to Frederico Bastos’ mono-red beatdown deck from Worlds and I could try different configurations of Frank Canu’s Elf deck, but I was unlikely to come up with something entirely original that could defeat our playtest gauntlet. Perhaps I was selling myself short, but this strategy had worked for Team Deadguy in the past when dealing with Extended, so I gave it another go.
I playtested at Neutral Ground for weeks, with people who I won’t name in order to spare them the embarrassment, and the Elf deck quickly became my favorite. It was the most powerful deck by far and it had a winning record in the first game against every deck in our playtest gauntlet, aside from our modified mono-red beatdown deck. That seemed promising. We tested against Hibernation from the Donate deck, and with either Choke or Thran Lens in the sideboard, the matchup was still enormously in the Elf deck’s favor. We tested out one of our only decks with access to Perish, the White Weenie deck from Worlds, and it was confirmed that a bad deck with Perish is still a bad deck. Fecundity proved quite useful against both Mono-red Beatdown and Perish, and the Elf deck maintained a winning record against most of our field, aside from Pikula’s last minute U/W/R deck that wiped the floor with us. With what information that I had and the amount of practice that I had playing the Elf deck, I decided to run it. After all, we didn’t have any really good decks with access to Perish, and the Elf deck was a powerful and consistent deck that had an advantage against almost everything in the first game. I liked that. We had tried Overrun, tweaking the numbers of Lyrists, Orangutans and Champions – but in the end, I decided that I liked the version that Frank Canu played the best.
Elves, Take Two
4 Gaea’s Cradle
4 Llanowar Elf
4 Fyndhorn Elf
4 Quirion Ranger
3 Elvish Lyrist
4 Priest of Titania
2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
4 Llanowar Sentinel
3 Uktabi Orangutan
2 Elvish Champion
4 Deranged Hermit
4 Coat of Arms
I needed to make top 128 in this tournament in order to qualify for Pro Tour – San Diego (I had seventeen PT points going in to the tournament, so a top 128 finish would get me the three that I needed to qualify). I thought that I could easily do better than that.
As it turns out, it was an uphill battle. I played against control decks with Pernicious Deed and Perish after sideboarding, as well as aggro decks like CounterSliver and Junk that had Perish as well. Four out of my seven opponents on the first day had Perish, and I beat three of those (including two Pernicious Deed control decks in the first two rounds, run by Frank Gilson and Ben Ronaldson). I lost to a mono-blue control deck with Quicksand, Powder Keg, Nevinyrral’s Disk, and Masticore, along with Hibernation after boarding, and to a three-deuce deck. In the seventh and final round of the tournament (for me), I was 3-3 and I was paired up against a mono-red beatdown deck. He beat me the first game and I made him play first in the second game, as our playtesting told us that drawing first was an advantage in the matchup. I fairly easily won the second game. He made me play first in the third game and it was an enormous struggle, but the Wall of Roots helped me get mana and stay alive, and the Fecundity did him in once it hit the board. He didn’t have enough burn to kill me, and it was pointless killing my creatures when they were quickly replaced, while cards like Deranged Hermit and Llanowar Sentinel became even more ridiculous.
As the dust settled at the end of the first day, I was 4-3 after fighting tooth and nail for the entire day. I beat decks despite them being ridiculously set up to beat me (Pernicious Deed and Perish) and I lost to good matchups like MonoBlue and Junk due to seemingly bad luck. I couldn’t make heads or tails or it, except that I knew that I’d played the wrong deck. It was certainly a powerful and resilient deck – that was for sure, as I beat plenty of bad matchups. But most matchups seemed like bad matchups, and that certainly isn’t a good situation to be in.
What can I say? I took a swing and I missed. But at 4-3, I ended up in 115th place, high enough to guarantee me a spot in San Diego.
I’ll get ‘em next time,