Punishment: An Interview With Gabriel Nassif

I have interviewed my man Gabriel Nassif for your viewing pleasure. This man is not only on a hot streak, but he also invented the saying “That’s for sure, that’s for sure,” making him a bona-fide celebrity.

T: When did you start making Top 8s in the qualifiers?
G: Actually, the situation when I started getting better was pretty strange. My mom would not let me play, so I had to play the PTQs in secret. I played three in a row where I went undefeated and then conceded, since mom would not let me travel.

They misunderestimated me.” Bosh, Iron Golem


Blah. I’m spoiled.

All those nice finishes (no, don’t worry, I won’t pull a resume on you in true Kai style) have made me disrespect the occasional Top 32. This is actually my first Top 32, as normally I either do terribly or deliver while others shiver. However, the Top 32 is the lifeblood of a normal Pro Tour player. It counts nicely towards the gravy train, the Player of the Year payout, and pays for this trip and possibly the next one. But to me it just makes little sense. If you are not going to get the big success, what are you doing playing after round five? Yeah, I know, I need to be more humble.

Or do I? The fact that I play every round of the tournament thinking about Top 8 might actually be an advantage. From what I have seen, the people who have something like Top 32 as their goal rarely do better than that. They might start the tournament 5-1 but then the losing begins, and finally they pull a miraculous recovery in the end to finish in their goal area. The same thing is true in the qualifier level, as the person just happy to be in the Top 8 is not going to win.

Think big, stay out of the streets, and don’t use drugs.

I was originally going to write a tournament report, but then I realized a number of things. First of all, one of my opponents played so badly that I just cannot bring myself to recollect the events. I am mean at times, but I do not wish to tear people down. On the other hand, if I am to write the report, I don’t want to leave stuff out, either. Another reason was the ridiculousness of this format. I am a big fan of slower formats where people have time to draw more cards. This means that the more prepared person wins. For example, I have rarely seen the less experienced person win an Astral Slide mirror without boarding like ten cards. This is because both guys have access to so many cards and can make a lot of plays. The better poker player is more likely to come out on top when twenty hands are played instead of two. Last but not least, nothing too exciting happened during the weekend. I didn’t really party, I didn’t make any ridiculously bad plays, and no decks were thrown.

I was preparing to make a big thing about how I managed to go 11-5 even though I lost thirteen of my sixteen coin flips in a format like this, but then again I compensated for it with some superior luck of the draw. What I would like to point out though, is the communication method of my last round opponent, Bill Stead. I chat a fair deal on IRC and am used to expressions such as”gg” (good game),”hl” (how lucky),”gl” (good luck), and so on. I rarely hear them in real life though.

Bill, on the other hand, was using these abbreviations in almost every sentence. Hearing something like”Omg hl u sack” is quite weird when playing the last round for a significant amount of money, and I had a hard time keeping a straight face. Don’t get me wrong, Bill was a nice guy and a good sport, but wtf is up with the speech?

So no report this time. But no worries! I have interviewed my man Gabriel Nassif for your viewing pleasure. This man is not only on a hot streak, but he also invented the saying”That’s for sure, that’s for sure,” making him a bona-fide celebrity. Ladies and gentlemen, Gabe.

Tomi: So what’s up?

Gabe: Not much. I should be working for school… I had a party yesterday, as my birthday was last week. About twenty-five to thirty people were here.

T: Let’s start with the classic question. How did you get started with Magic in the first place?

G: I started playing since friends at school were playing. This was back during Ice Age, 1995. The friends would only play casual, so I went to the place where people traded cards.

T: When did you get into the qualifier circuit?

G: My first qualifier was for Rome, Tempest Block Constructed. I believe I went 4-4. After that I played in some Urza Block sealed qualifiers.

T: When did you start making Top 8s in the qualifiers?

G: Actually, the situation when I started getting better was pretty strange. My mom would not let me play, so I had to play the PTQs in secret. I played three in a row where I went undefeated and then conceded, since mom would not let me travel. One of them featured a Top 8 draft, so I just gave all the good cards to my friend on my left (Two-Headed Dragon, mon ami!).

T: Why did you play the qualifiers if you couldn’t go to the Pro Tour?

G: I don’t know… I suppose I just liked it so much. The challenge was fun. This was during the 1999-2000 qualifier season.

There is a story behind the first time I qualified. I had played French Nationals in secret, and had lost in the quarters. No concession this time, but an actual loss. The Top 8 meant that I qualified for the European Championships, and they were in Paris. I did miserably in the first day, going 1-5 in Limited. Then I played a PTQ there and it went well. When I was in the semifinals, I called home in order to convince mom. My brother, who does not play, answered and told me he would help to convince mom. She agreed, and I proceeded to win semis and win a slot.

T: This was for Pro Tour Chicago?

G: Yeah. I made Day 2 there, and finished in the Top 64.

T: No going back after that, I suppose.

G: Heh; I suppose not. I am not sure how many PTQs I played after that Pro Tour, though.

T: Your success began with second place at Grand Prix: London 2001 and second at Team Pro Tour: New York a week later. Is there a story behind these tournaments?

G: London was nice. I ran a PTQ the night before and went 0-2. Then I played a trial (I had already won one) with Amiel’s White/Red/Blue deck and started 2-0. Then a judge (a true moron) told me that the number four in front of Prophetic Bolts in my registration sheet looked like one, so I had to replace them with basic lands. Obviously I got flooded and lost the rest. The deck seemed quite good though so I ran it. My favorite moment was the quarterfinals versus Warren Marsh. I boarded one Disrupt and won game three by Disrupting a Fire / Ice.

T: How did it feel to suddenly finish second?

G: Can’t really remember… Well, it felt good I guess. I remember it made me happy because it qualified me for New Orleans.

T: One more question about your past: How did you get together with Amiel Tenenbaum and Nicolas Olivieri for the team Pro Tour?

G: Well, Amiel and I were pretty good friends, and kind of like good players that were without a third. All the good Parisians already had a team. We did not really know Olivieri since he lived in the south of France, but he was regarded as one of France’s best players. We asked him, he agreed, and we went to a PTQ and won.

T: What do you see as your strengths as a player?

G: I guess I just play a lot. I really enjoy building decks and drafting. In general, I just like to game. Back in the day, when we made it to the finals of the Pro Tour, I thought that we had a tremendous advantage as we could draft daily at the local game center with top players. That has changed now for Limited with Magic Online, but I think that the French still have an advantage for Constructed due to more playtesting. Testing with people like Emmanuel Vernay and Franck Canu every day is very helpful.

T: And your weaknesses, areas to improve on?

G: I don’t know… I still make mistakes.

T: Are they more in deckbuilding, drafting, or playing out the games?

G: I suppose drafting. I did not make money in Limited Pro Tours last season. Actually, even in New Orleans I had the feeling that I was making more play mistakes than in an average Pro Tour.

T: How do you usually test for a Constructed event? And for a Limited one?

G: For the last two Constructed events, I tested mostly with Canu and Vernay. For New Orleans, I would just go to Canu’s flat every day after school. From early on in the extended testing, I knew that I wanted to play Goblin Charbelcher. It was just left to figure out the best build. Venice was different. I swore at least a dozen times that I wouldn’t play Goblins, but eventually it just turned out to be the best deck.

T: So, for Limited, how often do you draft?

G: Not that much in real life anymore. I mostly draft on Magic Online, but I have no clue what the average number of drafts for a Pro Tour is.

T: You are known for having success with original decks. Do you usually come up with the ideas yourself?

G: That depends. The Wizards deck in Houston was Farid’s. The White-Black Control at Euros was my idea. The White-Green beatdown at Grand Prix: Atlanta was PTR’s idea, and mostly a joke.

T: It’s better than Counter-burn, I suppose. (PTR, lol @ u!)

G: I’m actually unsure about that.

T: Aside from Farid’s win, the French seem to have more success in Constructed. Both Osaka 2002 and New Orleans 2003 featured three Frenchmen in the Top 8. Are you guys Constructed players?

G: Maybe… It seems that the real-life testing factor is important. Maybe we are simply good deckbuilders. Also, it seems that the average pro likes to draft and hates Constructed. We might simply hate Constructed less.

T: Why do you guys not hate Constructed as much as others?

G: I don’t know. These are tough questions.

T: Well, the easy ones make for boring answers. How about the PTQ scene in France, is it tough? It might be hard to compare if you have only played qualifiers in France.

G: It used to be tough when I started. People like the Ruels, Nicolas Labarre, etc. weren’t on the train. Actually, back then France didn’t really have gravy trainers. Later pretty much all the good players got on the train, but now the situation is changing again. Amiel, Franck, and Olivier are playing the qualifiers now. (But not Antoine, due to the fact that he is currently studying abroad in Lahti, Finland. – Tomi)

T: Name some up-and-coming French players; some promising kids that no one has heard of yet.

G: Heh, let’s see… This is tough. Maxime Hermes just went to his first Pro Tour and finished 41st in New Orleans. Maybe he is the one?

T: So there is no new Farid Meraghni (Gabriel’s roommate) coming along, meaning someone who plays a thousand tournaments each year?

G: There might be – but probably not, even though a new game center just opened recently.

T: Let’s talk more about other players. Who are the five best players in the world, in no particular order?

G: Can I be partial?

T: Well, okay, just this once.

G: Let’s see…Kai, Farid!, Mattias Jorstedt I suppose, Jeff Cunningham, and Huey (William Jensen). I might be slightly biased, as I am good friends with most of those people. A few players like Maher are obviously very good.

T: Who is your enemy at the Pro Tour?

G: Kai used to be, but I finally beat him at Worlds. I mean, he’s a friendly enemy. There’s no one I really don’t like, and I don’t think anyone really hates me.

T: You never know.

G: Yeah, maybe the Japanese won’t like me after this Pro Tour.

T: Assassin, Lone Wolf and Cub! Father and son in meifumado!

G: ?

T: …Nothing.

T: How has the Pro Tour changed in the time you have played in it?

G: I think that it is becoming harder. Every time I do well, I wonder whether this is the last time, as everyone else seems to be playing better than they were in the previous event. I think that the level of sportsmanship has gone up, while number of cheatings has gone down. Actually, I was quite sure in the beginning that all the professionals cheat.

T: Why?

G: Because Magic is a card game, and I figured that it cannot be that hard to cheat. The first time I played a foreign pro was against Brock Parker in the day two of Grand Prix: London 2001. I asked Olivier Ruel before the round about whether Brock cheats. Olivier said that probably yes, as he is prepared to travel all the way from the USA to play in a Grand Prix. (Look how far Olivier travels for GPs. – Tomi) I was sure that I could not beat Brock, but then when he mulliganed a few times and had some bad draws, I wasn’t so sure about the cheating anymore. Actually, nowadays I don’t think that there ever was a lot of cheating.

T: Well that’s because you didn’t play back in the Stone Age. I am old, you know.

G: Yes, you are.

T: How much skill is involved in Magic? Obviously it depends on the format, but is there a big difference between Limited and Constructed in general?

G: I am going to say something that everyone has probably already heard. First, there is the drafting and deckbuilding. You can make the difference right there. For example, if you didn’t have a good deck in New Orleans, good playskill alone would get you absolutely nowhere. I think that Punisher and Labarre-Hamon had the best deck.

T: Oh my, I am blushing here.

G: How did you finish?

T: 19th…with 3-13 coin flips, my official excuse.

G: I don’t think I won more than 50% of the flips myself.

T: You are ruining my excuse.

G: Anyway, Rickard played well, but not outstanding (he played really well against me, though). I think it was mostly the skill in deck selection that brought him to the finals.

T: So what you are saying is that Constructed is less about skill, since one can just get a good deck from friends, but drafting has to be done alone?

G: It’s a hard question, you can’t answer in general. Like, there are those games that you just cannot lose or you cannot win. Then there are the ones where skill comes into play. Some of them you win by making mostly good plays, and sometimes you need to play perfect to win. That is how Kai has won so many Pro Tours: Perfect or almost perfect play, coupled with good luck.

T: Now, for perhaps the single most important question of this interview: There are a lot of people who often make Top 8 at a PTQ, and qualify every once in a while. They even might make Day 2, but that is as far as it goes. What are they doing wrong, what is the biggest flaw in their thinking? How could they become better?

G: This question is the most useful, and the toughest one to answer.

T: There is no absolute answer, but you might have some points that others overlook.

G: They simply need to play more and learn from their mistakes, not blaming it on bad luck. You often hear stuff like”I lost to this guy, he ripped in game three” and it makes me think what happened in the other game he lost. I do it myself, too; I blame bad luck when I know I lost one of the games to a misplay.

T: So the pursuit of short-term relief in whining is hurting the long-term goal of becoming better?

G: Maybe. Also, sometimes when you are winning and you misplay, you get really angry at your opponent when they topdeck for the win. Just focus on the essential and tighten up your play. Farid does that a lot, screwing up when he’s about to win. Then he blames it on the fact that he drew five lands in a row, and keeps pointing that out, even after I tell him how he misplayed.

T: And now the obligatory question: What is the difference between North American and European players?

G: We are better! Seriously though, I have no clue. You can’t really generalize like that. I hate generalizing.

T: Favorite deck, Favorite Constructed format, Favorite Limited format?

G: Enchantress is my favorite deck. I made Top 8 at my first Nationals and Finals in Pro Tour: Yokohama’s Masters, even though the deck might have been a terrible deck choice both times. Old Type 2 formats are my favorite for Constructed because there was no internet then. As for Limited, any newer draft format, though Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse may be my favorite. And yours?

T: White Weenie with Firestorm, Tempest Block Constructed, Mercadian Block for drafting.

G: I liked Constructed a lot back when net decks were not so popular. Back when Survival of the Fittest was in Standard, and a lot of people brought their own deck to the table. I regret not playing high-level Magic back when the Internet did not play a big role yet, and everyone played homebrew decks.

T: ???

G: Nothing….

T: What do you see in your future, both Magical and non-Magical?

G: I’ll try to play Magic as long as I enjoy it, have fun at Pro Tours and win some. I don’t really know about non-Magical. If I pass my third year at the university, I’d like to take a year off. Maybe in the more distant future, I will build a business with my Magic earnings.

T: What do you see in the future of Magic?

G: I always thought they would have a hard time coming up with new cards and mechanics, and Magic would stop evolving. The fact that there is still a lot of money and Pro Tours involved proves me wrong though. I hope it goes on as long as possible. It might also get harder and harder to do well. Every time I do well but don’t win the whole thing, I’m thinking whether I just wasted my shot and won’t get another one in a long time since there is a luck factor involved.

T: I believe pretty much everyone in the Top 16 thinks about that. Now for the final question: Who will get banned this year?

G: Dunno; I could say Rickard Osterberg, but then I’d start sounding like Jorstedt, who wanted Kai banned in order to win Player of the Year.

T: Well that’s it. Thank you for taking the time to answer these.

G: It was fun. Was there something I said that you really feel different about?

T: Well, I would have pointed out as advice to the aspiring pros that they often aim too low. Being content with making money is not a very good start for someone in Day 2 of a Pro Tour.

G: Now that you mentioned that, I remember how sad I felt after losing in the Team Pro Tour finals. I was so depressed about not winning. I suppose I just proved you right there.

T: Thanks B.

And that concludes my interview with the little Frenchie that could. I hope you enjoyed it.

See you guys next time, when I review the book”From Unsuccessful Water Well Management to Unsuccessful Hockey Team Management to Being a President; A True Story about a True Finnish Hero.” I think there are plenty of you who will identify with this tale.

Until then, may I not be the only person whose spellchecker suggests”man screw” instead of”manascrew.”

Tomi Walamies

[email protected]