At my first Pro Tour, I sat down at the table, and across from me was Jon Finkel, but I should probably start at the beginning of this story.
The year was 1999 and I’d played in a lot of PTQs and never made Top 8, so here I was playing for Top 8 in the last round of this PTQ in MN. I was playing against Francis Keys, a good local player, and my deck had some good stuff with Memory Jar and Serra’s Embrace. I won game three with Serra’s Embrace on a big creature, maybe Yavimaya Wurm. Francis, as he was prone to, started losing it, “What does Erase Do! What does Monk realist Do!” as he took out his rares and slammed his deck into the trash can. Inside I was all giddy, as I just made my first Top 8.
Back then they always did a deck check on every player in the Top 8, probably because cheating was more of a problem back then. Unfortunately I had registered my own deck and had marked Veiled Apparition instead of Veiled Serpent, so I got a game loss before the draft even started. I didn’t care. I was just so happy to have made Top 8, plus the judges let me have some of their leftover pizza, which was great because I hadn’t eaten anything.
So I opened the first pack and took a Gaea’s Embrace, since I figured that Serra’s Embrace got me into the Top 8, but apparently ignoring the obvious first pick of Pestilence. I then proceeded to take a lot of black cards and no more green. Pack 2 I opened Rancor, so hey why not take another green Aura? The deck ended up being a decent G/B deck with the two ridiculous Auras.
Quarterfinals, I beat Alex Bakopoulos despite my game loss; after the match I was talking to Steve Port, the TO, and he mentioned it was a shame that Alex had lost since he was such a nice guy, not that I wasn’t a good guy at all. Of course Steve was right; Alex was a great guy, and we became friends, but then he moved back to Greece. Fortunately I saw him again at Pro Tour Houston in 2002 where he took seventeenth.
After winning the semifinal match, I faced Cory Ferguson in the finals; Cory was one of the regular PTQ winners back in the day. As I sat down, I meekly mentioned, “I guess there’s no chance of a deal.”
Cory replied, “Nah, Pfeiffer, there’s no deal.” Pfeiffer was what they used to call me since they said I looked like Paul Pfeiffer from The Wonder Years. I hated that nickname.
Cory ended up drafting a three-color deck since somebody passed him a Pestilence and then cut black. I won the first game but then lost the second after I planned to ambush his guy with Simian Grunts, but he just didn’t attack and cast another guy. I was so far behind on tempo that I lost the match. At the time it didn’t make sense to me, since I didn’t think about what I was representing. Of course I won game 3, just another scrub taking down a PTQ, winning the invite to London and 250 dollars.
After the PTQ I had to wait for my fiancÃ©e, now my wife, to pick me up after she got off work at Walmart. Francis Keys was also waiting for a cab ride, so he congratulated me, and we talked about my draft deck and how good baguette bread and Davanni’s pizza are.
Of course now I was tasked with trying to prepare for a Pro Tour. Luckily Jason Webter and Noah Weil were also qualified, and they were Pro Tour veterans, so I was in good hands. See, back then you didn’t have Magic Online or good strategy sites, just the Magic Dojo with its mix of casual Magic and PTQ reports.
So I drafted in every draft I could. I would drive the 40 minutes to Dreamers to draft on Tuesday night, then drop after round three so I could go to my night job at Federal Cartridge making shotgun shells. Afterwards, I analyzed my deck to see what worked. Why did I win the games I did? Where did my draft deck come together? Did I have ten Urza’s Destiny cards in my deck? Was it because I read the signals right? I even showed up at the local PTQ for Chicago and didn’t play. I just did a couple side drafts.
I also skipped the Mercadian Masques Prerelease and didn’t look at any of the cards for the set. I just wanted to focus all my energy on the Pro Tour. Which was kind of funny because at the Pro Tour they gave us a questionnaire, and one of the questions was: What card was the best card other than Squee, Goblin Nabob in the set? I had to answer that I didn’t know any other cards.
So before I left for London, Jason told me, “Pfeiffer, you should take a journal and then have all your opponents sign it, so that if this is your only Pro Tour, you have a memento.” So as the saying goes, “I brought the Tech.”
Noah responded with “Hey Jon.”
Afterwards Noah turned to me and said, “Yeah, Jon Finkel knows me.”
So during a pickup draft with Finkel in my pod, he said to everybody “Do you know what this hotel would be in the US?”
Everybody perked up, and one guy said, “I don’t know, two and a half stars?”
Jon replied, “Out of business!” and smiled.
The hotel was very much a deathtrap, with its awkward construction and lack of non-emergency exits. Plus the hotel was in the Red Light District of London, as we later found out on the subway, when we were coming back from the Tower of London. This little British kid asked Jason, ” So where are you from?”
Jason replied, “The US.”
The kid asked, “So where are you staying?”
Jason said, “King’s Cross.”
“Oh King’s Cross, eh,” said the kid; then as he got up to get off his stop, he said, “Well have a great time in King’s Cross; I know you will.”
So before the Pro Tour started, I got some sage advice from Jason and Noah. Noah asked me if I ever got that sick feeling in my gut before a big tournament. “Yes” I replied.
Noah said, “It’s kind of addicting isn’t it?” To this day, every time I get that feeling, I think of Noah and that conversation because he’s right. It is kind of addicting.
Jason’s advice was far more practical and relevant to this day. “Get your sh*ts in early! Because otherwise you’re going to have to go, and there will be three stalls. The first will be occupied, the second will be overflowing, and the third will have piss all over the seat. So you’re like great; I guess I get the pee seat!”
So with all the great advice and all the practice I could get, I sat down to draft wearing the same shirt I was wearing when I won the PTQ. Directly across from me was Jon Finkel. Now usually you played the person who was directly across from you in the draft for the first round. So I opened my pack and took Pouncing Jaguar. I don’t remember what else was in the pack; maybe I just loved green. So I ended up with this deck
- 2 Pouncing Jaguar
- 1 Elvish Lyrist
- 1 Weatherseed Treefolk
- 1 Plated Spider
- 2 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Taunting Elf
- 1 Treefolk Mystic
- 1 Simian Grunts
- 2 Ghitu Fire-Eater
- 1 Darkwatch Elves
- 1 Wild Dogs
- 1 Cradle Guard
- 1 Marker Beetles
As I look back at this deck, it looks terribleâ€”a group of cards that are situational, Hidden Predators, Momentum, and Fertile Ground. But I can also recognize what I found was important, as I analyzed my draft decks that were successful. I had finishers in Taunting Elf, Reckless Abandon, Weatherseed Treefolk, and Lava Axe. Combat tricks in Silk Net, which really can surprise people, since there wasn’t an abundance of instant-speed Giant Growth effects. The Fertile Ground is a little weird, but I was trying to support the Weatherseed Treefolk and still have a decent number of red sources.
Round 1, to my surprise, Michael Dresel with G/B
Looks like I won 2-0 in lopsided games, since I actually don’t remember what happened.
1-0 start; what a great feeling for my first Pro Tour.
Round 2 Ralf Kohler with W/R
So we sat down, and the clock only had 43 minutes on it. The head judge then explained that the clocks were set to use the electric current for timing. Since European current is different, the clocks were wrong round 1, and now they were correct. The official explanation on the wayback machine, since oddly enough WotC doesn’t have PT London in their archives.
I won 2-1 after a close game 3. I think I Axed him what his life total was! Sorry, I’ll try and refrain from puns as bad as that one.
Round 3 Thomas Dahl with B/R
3-0 feeling good
I was worried about playing Finkel, but instead I got Rob Dougherty with G/B. He confessed that he was also worried about playing against Finkel this round. This was just after his team had won Pro Tour Washington D.C. I remember that his deck also had Weatherseed Treefolk, and he was a really nice guy, and it was a pleasure playing and talking to him.
I won 2-1.
Wow! I just 4-0ed my first draft. Yes, back in the day, for two drafts you would play four rounds with the deck. I think this is a big reason they switched to the present alternating format, so that they could eliminate that.
Now to make Day 2, I needed only a draw, as 4-2-1 was the required record.
Honestly I don’t remember anything about this draft. Clearly I took Pestilence first pick, since no one would pass that 😉
- 1 Thorn Elemental
- 1 Elvish Lyrist
- 1 Phyrexian Ghoul
- 2 Plated Spider
- 1 Yavimaya Elder
- 1 Treefolk Mystic
- 1 Tethered Skirge
- 1 Phyrexian Debaser
- 1 Jhoira's Toolbox
- 1 Gang of Elk
- 1 Fog of Gnats
- 1 Bloated Toad
- 1 Cradle Guard
- 1 Heart Warden
Wow this deck looks even worse! Why was I playing Jhoira’s Toolbox over a good card like Brass Secretary? Plus Despondency should be in the deck, as it was a pretty solid card and would let me get to my bigger late game. I do remember siding in the Abyssal Horror against the U/W decks, which probably could have been maindeck also. Otherwise this seems like a mediocre U/G fatties deck. I didn’t really have a lot of removal, and if they could handle my big guys, I was in trouble.
Round 5 Gary Krakower with U/W
Gary was a kind of a big name player back in the day and hung around with MattVienneau.
I lost 1-2, unable to handle Cessation on my guys.
Round 6 Satoshi Nakamura with U/W
Most people don’t know this, but Satoshi Nakamura was the best Japanese player back in the day. He had the highest finish for a Japanese player at a Pro Tour and was noted for wearing colorful hats. I was talking with Shuhei Nakamura (no relation) about him at GP Dallas; I guess Satoshi is doing game design in Japan.
I lost 1-2 in a delightful match, playing against an entertaining opponent, plus he has a nice signature.
Bummer, from the 4-0 to the 4-2 and almost out. At this point, I think Jason and Noah were already out, so it was all me.
Round 7 Raphael Levy
Raphael was a noted player even back then. At first, I was bummed because I figured he would want to play it out, and I would have a tough fight. But to my surprise he offered the intentional draw. I happily accepted, and as we were waiting for the match slip, someone at a nearby table asked why Levy would take a draw with someone he didn’t even know and hurt his Top 8 chances. He stated that once before he was in the same spot, played it out, and lost, and that really sucked because he didn’t have anything to do on Day 2 but watch. So he would rather draw and guarantee Day 2 than risk it.
The cutoff used to be a straight cutoff, which left a bad taste in your mouth if you lost out on tiebreakers, which Noah Weil did at a previous Pro Tour. You’d end up with a lot of drawing situations, so it was great when it changed to 5-3 and eight rounds on Day 1.
- 1 Giant Cockroach
- 1 Bog Raiders
- 1 Phyrexian Broodlings
- 1 Goblin Medics
- 1 Eviscerator
- 1 Unworthy Dead
- 1 Goblin Spelunkers
- 1 Slinking Skirge
- 1 Phyrexian Monitor
- 1 Nightshade Seer
- 1 Keldon Vandals
- 1 Disease Carriers
Now this deck seemed goodâ€”lots of removal and good guys. The cards that probably seem weird are Sleeper’s Guile and Fiery Mantle. Sleeper’s Guile is an excellent way to try and break through a stalemate against nonblack decks, and it works well with Nightshade Seer.
Fiery Mantle is pseudo Equipment. It allows my bad guys to trade with their good guys and really makes a threat out of a regenerator. Overall I really like this deck; there are red cards in the sideboard that are better than maindeck black cards, but with Nightshade Seer you want to optimize the number of black cards you can have.
Round 8 Maurizio Vergendo with G/B
I won 2-0 if I remember correctly; my Goblin Medics were awesome against him, combining with my additional burn to finish off his creatures.
Round 9 Marc Hernandez G/R
He made Top 8 and also took second place at the 1995 World Championship. This was the infamous Steam Blast round. I know because on Day 2, I somehow was losing my voice. So I wrote down the story to explain it to Karl Schmidt, Noah’s friend who was also in Day 2.
So game 2 he had Gamekeeper and another small guy. I could just cast Steam Blast, and then I could Befoul any big guy that he would get. But for some reason I thought Steam Blast was an instant. I think the logic was Pyroclasm is cheaper and doesn’t deal damage to you, so with Steam Blast being more expensive and damaging players, it must be an instant. So logically I figured I would Steam Blast when he attacked so that whatever came out of the Gamekeeper couldn’t attack me.
So he attacked, and I cast the Steam Blast. He kind of yelled, “That’s a sorcery!” and called a judge. We both agreed on the course of events. I got a warning for misrepresentation of Steam Blast. Then because I tapped my land before playing the Steam Blast, I had three mana floating and burned for three, putting me from 12 to 5 after his attack. I later mistapped my mana so he could safely Rancor his other Gamekeeper and kill me.
Round 10 Manuel Bevand, another good player with Mono Black
I won 2-1 with game 3 not being close.
Round 11 Raphael Levy with B/W/u
I wish I could remember game 1 because he conceded at 16 life. But then he beat me in the next two games.
I remember I first picked Mishra’s Helix and then got Smokestack, which was a little surprising, as Smokestack can be a beating in Limited with great card advantage. I added No Mercy pick 1 pack 2, and I figured I was on my way to 3-0 this draft and make top 32, which was the cutoff for invites to the next Pro Tour in Chicago.
- 1 Vigilant Drake
- 2 Weatherseed Faeries
- 1 Thornwind Faeries
- 1 Phyrexian Denouncer
- 1 Jhoira's Toolbox
- 1 Wizard Mentor
- 1 Sandbar Serpent
- 1 Telepathic Spies
- 1 Plague Dogs
- 1 Kingfisher
- 1 Disease Carriers
- 7 Swamp
I like this deck, but it has some holes, such as a lack of removal or some better creatures. But I didn’t go black until pack 2 when I opened a No Mercy, so that explains the lack of removal. I did think black was somewhat open when I got a late-pick Sicken, which I took to either go black or splash if I needed to handle an opponent’s Seer. Otherwise it can really lock down an opponent with either No Mercy or Mishra’s Helix.
Round 12 Sam Waller, a good player from England
I won 2-0 in games that weren’t even close.
Round 13 John Larkin, The Champion of Ireland with B/W
He really was a character; he won the Irish Nationals two years straight and then only didn’t make it the third year because he went out drinking and overslept to miss the draft on Day 2. Now that’s an Irish Champion.
Well he had Disease Carriers, Radiant’s Dragoons, and Phyrexian Reclamation. So whenever I resolved a guy, he would just attack with Disease Carriers, and my guy would die no matter what. Then when I would Helix his lands, he just used them to return the Disease Carriers or Dragoons. Since he was flooded, he could then recast whichever one he had the mana for. So basically I could either let him recur Dragoons and gain three life a turn, or recast the Disease Carriers.
I lost 2-0.
Round 14 Alexander Blumke with W/R/G
If you read the previous link, you know Alexander was the 1995 World Champion, so it was a little intimidating to play him.
Game 1 I had him locked down, and he eventually conceded to save time.
Game 2 we ran out of time.
So I won 1-0 to finish 9-5, and as the Journal says:
44th won 660 dollars.
Also I got 5 Pro points and was dreaming of Rookie of the Year.
After flying home, we had to go through customs in Chicago, and the customs agent noticed my lucky shirt that I for some reason was still wearing. I got it from my work at Federal Cartridge. So he asked if I worked there.
I replied, “Yes I did.”
So he told me that Federal needed to make its 223’s a little more powerful. I replied that I worked in Shotshell. So he was like, “Well your 20 gauge 2 shot steel load needs to have some more oomph.”
I said, “Well I just make 12 gauge slug rounds.”
So he responded, “Oh okay your F127 RS needs to have a velocity of 1500 feet per second.”
I told him correctly that that was our target velocity.
So of course Noah had been walking the whole time I was talking to the agent. When I catch up he’s like “What did you have a mistake on your form?” I’m like no he just wanted to talk about ammunition.
Of course it would be two years until I went back to the Pro Tour. I got married and had my daughter the next year. So this tournament holds a special place for me in my heart, the first time in Magic that I felt like a champion. Obviously playing against such good opponents, such as two Hall of Famers and other noted Magic players, is a part of that memory.
By the way, I still have that lucky shirt.
Sadly it doesn’t come anywhere near fitting me, as it’s a medium.
Well it’s been a nice trip down memory lane.
Check out the best tournament locator at mtgfinder.com.