Removed From Game – Chicago, Chicago

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Tuesday, August 5th – Magic’s 15th birthday party took place over the weekend at the home of U.S. Nationals. From Standard to Vintage and back again, join Rich for a cornucopia of tales from the land of the free and the home of the brave.

So here I am, barely off the plane from Madrid before it’s back in the air for a transatlantic flight to Chicago, Illinois. The Hyatt Regency McCormick Place is the venue for this year’s U.S. National Championship, but there’s a lot more than that for me to get my teeth into, especially this time around. For the first time in a while, I’m not technically covering the event – no round by round podcasts, no player interviews, no Feature Match commentaries. As you know, my general Magic experience these days is pretty Pro-centric, and whilst I enjoy that, I can’t wait for what I get to do here. Which is? Basically, I’m hosting the event. That means making a bunch of practical announcements in a vain bid to ensure nobody dies. It means getting to interview Richard Garfield in front of a live audience. It means getting to give away a bunch of cool prizes in free draws through the weekend. It means getting to be the host for The Magic Game Show, our very own MTG take on Who Wants To Be A Million-Rare, you might say. Although to be fair, I’m only giving away a thousand Rares, because even Wizards doesn’t have a million of the things lying around. I wonder if StarCityGames.com does? Most of all, it means I get to run the Public Events Feature Match Area, and that means I’m going to see more forms of Magic in a couple of days than I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t wait, so join me on my State of the Union tour of Magic Weekend, exploring every facet of the game on its fifteenth birthday.

Thursday 8.30am

Breakfast with Chris Millar. I’ve had my suspicions about the likeable Canadian columnist for some time. You may not believe this, but I have actually met a rubbish joke I didn’t like, and since Millar is my only serious rival in the literary pun stakes, I wanted to know whether he had a similar level of aesthetic sensibility. Did he, in short, have the capacity to walk away from the pun so heinous, so criminal, so potentially mentally damaging to a readership that all good sense demanded it? No, he doesn’t. You have been warned.

Thursday Morning

I spent most of the morning working on the game show. Whilst it’s sometimes endearing, it’s also the case that one of the more irritating facets of gamers is that they are, with a capital letter, Gamers. This robs me of one of my most useful phrases – “You know what I mean” – because they will of course contend that no, they don’t. Consider this allegedly easy question, “What color are most Goblins in Magic? Is it (a) Red (b) Black (c) Blue (d) White. It should be apparent that of these answers the only one that fits is (a) Red. However, several people suggested to me that the correct answer was missing from the list, since most Goblins in Magic are of course green. Not Green, as in the mana color, but green as in skin tone. As a result of this sort of behavior, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work out just how obnoxious or awkward it’s possible to be in response to any given question. Turns out, that although I can’t use “you know what I mean” I’ve managed to find a slightly more ungainly but devastatingly effective alternative. “Which of these four answers is the only one that is going to persuade me to let you continue on to the next question?” Gamers, gotta love ‘em.


I sit down for the first time across four days to actually watch some Magic. Dear Lord I’m glad I’m not trying to grind in to the main event. First off, naturally, that would mean I was American, and nobody wants that, right? But more seriously, these Grinder things are aptly named. Every time 32 players sign up, we’re off and running with another single-elimination bunfight. 5-0 gets you an invite to Friday, anything else doesn’t. Unlucky, try again. And again, and again, until hell freezes over or side events close. From Madison, Wisconsin, I kicked things off watching John Treviranus. He was up against James Russell, bizarrely another American, and, shocker, this was a Faeries mirror match. The strange thing is, I really didn’t expect to see a single Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom all weekend (irony.) It took 20 minutes of the round to see my first faerie maker, and then another 15 seconds to see another two hit play. Although by no means the ultimate control mirror match – Frank Karsten will tell you that belongs to the Wake Mirror – Fae on Fae has ample opportunity to outrace, outthink, out-manipulate and out-Magic your opponents.


En route for a Judge seminar, I hear the first of what will doubtless be many tales of woe. Nicholas Ludescher, who is new to me, is busy buying sleeves for his forthcoming Grinder. Fine, except he really wasn’t anticipating getting hold of sleeves. See, his best friend handed him a deckbox first thing saying “You’ll qualify with this.” With two minutes to go to the start of Round 1, Ludescher discovered that he absolutely wouldn’t be qualifying with it, since it contained the inconvenient number of 73 unsleeved cards. Apparently the sideboard was so good it only needed 13 options. With friends like these…


It isn’t always the case that judges use 50 words when one will do, but I did enjoy the title of Peter Jahn judge seminar, “Everything We Wish We Had Been Told Before Our First Big Event.” With a Judge hat on, I am of course obligated to tell you what erudite and fascinating conversation ensued as a result of this entertaining title, but what I’m slightly more surprised to be able to report to you is that I learned a whole load of stuff that’s actually really useful for players. In particular, if you think playing 10 rounds of Magic in a day is a stretch, trying to cope with 10 rounds of Magic in a day when you have to stand up the entire time can be pretty crucifying, especially for those of us who are, ahem, less svelte than we might be. So the number one tip I picked up, which instinctively feels like a really good plan as I type this with already-aching feet, is to bring a second pair of shoes with you to an event, and change halfway through the day. Apparently there’s all sorts of scientific evidence to suggest that simply by subtly altering the stresses on our feet we gain extra “mileage” before tiredness sets in. And in case you think this is startlingly irrelevant to winning tournaments, I’ve seen people lose in finals who were in terrible physical shape, worn down to a mental weakling by the physical degradations of the day. In a world of increasingly small edges over opponents, a second pair of comfortable shoes seems like a really sensible investment.


A question, one somebody amongst you may be equipped to answer, although frankly I doubt it… Which person knows the most number of Magic players in the whole world? And when I say “knows,” I don’t necessarily mean as personal friends, but just Magic players who they come into contact with somewhere along the line. I pose this esoteric little number because I mentioned my friend Paul Graham to my dining companion, Wizards employee Courtney Maheras, known in the forums here as Pry’s Czech Girl, which should give you at least some clue as to her day job. When she instantly said, “I know Paul,” I thought she was pulling my leg. After all, Paul may be a decent UK player, but there was no obvious reason why a Seattleite would have come into contact with him. Apparently, she booked his flight once upon a time, and it turns out that she and her colleagues perform this service and ensure prompt payment of prize money (Pry’s Czech Girl, see?) for literally thousands of players every single year. Now I reckon I know a lot of Magic players, at least to share a few words of congratulation or commiseration, but this bouncing fireball from the Wizards trenches has me comfortably beat. So how many Magic players do you know? And who is the most connected Magic player in the world? I want to know.


When you hear that Brian David-Marshall is a pillar of the Magic Community, a great supporter of new local players, a man always willing to give of his time in service to the game etc etc, it’s easy to dismiss the laudatory as meaningless sentiment. As you know, this was my first U.S. Nationals, and it was intriguing to see the status that BDM has here. Consider this. Largely for fun, BDM decided to take part in one of the Sealed Deck Grinder tournaments. I watched someone literally running across the venue to tell a group of friends that he had been drawn against BDM in Round 2. And then watched that same group of friends crowd round the matchup in a fashion more resembling a rock concert than a duel. BDM is an unassuming man, but I learned this weekend that every bit as much as Kenji Tsumura – here to Gunsling – BDM is one of Magic’s true stars.


Regular readers may recall the tale of Zac Hall on day one of Pro Tour: Hollywood. For those of you who were born since May, or have forgotten, or have yet to taste the delights of my earlier columns, Zac lost a bet to Ben Lundquist, the forfeit for which was to wear an item of Ben’s choosing at the PT. Ben, young man with impeccable taste as he is, chose to fashion Hall in a delightful sleeveless lemon yellow ladies blouse, which I can confirm suited the ginger one rather more than he might like to think. When you see people so rarely through the year, and even then just grabbing a few moments to chat between rounds, it’s inevitable that my impression of people is exactly that – very impressionistic, made up of a few scattered interactions. Here’s the latest with Zac:

“Rich, have you got a piece of paper I can borrow?”
“Sure, what’s it for? Scorepad, shopping list?”
“I want to enter a Standard tournament, and I need to copy my deck down from the PT: Hollywood webpage, because I can’t remember it.”

I await my next Zac Hall interaction with interest.


Now this is strange. I don’t generally get nervous, but I have a few butterflies going on, since I’m about to interview Richard Garfield. If you don’t know who he is, and it’s actually more likely than not that somebody reading this doesn’t, especially as my Mum reads this every week, he invented Magic. Guess that makes him quite important. The two factors that are throwing me into a bit of a tizzy are the fact that we’re doing this interview live in the building with an assembled throng ready to ask any questions they feel like, and a desire on my part to attempt to find some new angles, to uncover some new truths about a fairly quiet man to whom we owe so much. To see whether or not I accomplished this in any way, I do urge you to have a listen to our conversation. I certainly learned a lot, and think you might discover a thing or two too.

Friday 10am

When Pro Tour: Yokohama took place last year, you needed a crowbar to get anywhere near the decklists during the early rounds of the event, since there was plenty of hype to suggest that several groups of players had new decks that were going to genuinely change the face of Block. Here at U.S. Nats, there seems to be no such expectation of killer tech, which meant I could peruse the deck choices for Standard of 50 of the best-known American players at my leisure. Amazingly enough, I thought I’d share them with you:

Tim Aten — Kithkin
Michael Bernat – Faeries
Sam Black – Elves
Pat Chapin – Toast
Paul Cheon – Faeries
Jim Davis – Faeries
Antonino de Rosa – BR Tokens
Melissa de Tora – Faeries
Thomas Drake – Elves
Gerard Fabiano – Wizards
John Fiorillo – Faeries
Charles Gindy – Elves
Michael Gurney – Faeries
Zack Hall – BR Tokens
Matt Hansen – Faeries
Mark Herberholz – Toast
Zac Hill – Elves
Jason Imperiale – Faeries
David Irvine – Faeries
Michael Jacob – Red Deck Wins
Alex Kim – Wizards
Chris Lachmann – Swans
Steve Locke – Faeries
Ben Lundquist – Toast
Alex Majlaton – Elves
Seth Manfield – Elves
Tyler Mantey – Doran
Chris McDaniel – MonoBlack
Clayton Mooney – Faeries
Billy Moreno – The Heights
Brandon Nelson – Elves
John Pelcak – Elves
Michael Pinnegar – Faeries
Ben Rasmussen – Elves
Steve Sadin – Swans
Kyle Sanchez – Wizards
Brandon Scheel – Reveillark
Luis Scott-Vargas – Faeries
John Sittner – Merfolk
Shaheen Soorani – Teferi Pact
Sam Stein – Faeries
Adrian Sullivan – Elves
Gadiel Szleifer – Wizards
Gerry ThompsonReveillark
Owen TurtenwaldReveillark
Jacob van Lunen – Swans
Gabe Walls – Faeries
Taylor Webb – Red Deck Wins
Dave Williams – Elves
Adam Yurchick – Elves

Yeah, 60% of this lot played either Faeries or Elves, while no more than 3 players could agree on another choice.


Having compiled the somewhat depressing list above, I got to look at the first round pairings, which featured a belter between Steve Sadin and Patrick Chapin. The Innovator triumphed 2-0, triggering the start of a less than spectacular weekend for Sadin, who has had tough times of late. Having a much better time were Theo Larsen of Illinois and Willie Godin of Massachusetts. You may well not have heard of them, especially as Larsen is probably about 12 years old. These two were chosen to have their very own Feature Match in round 1 of the Under-16 Tournament, the winner of which would receive a rather tasty laptop. When Feature Match areas are your place of work, crossing the line from public space to hotseat becomes commonplace, but seeing these two sit down for the first time in their lives across the iconic playspace reminded me how important this place is to so many players.


On a similar theme, I spent a fair amount of time near the Gunslinging zone, and this year they had quite the lineup. Heading things up was Richard Garfield, for whom queues formed early and stayed late. A rotating phalanx of R & D staff had a steady stream of visitors, with Ken Nagle, Erik Lauer and Matt Place all doing sterling work. From across the border in Toronto, Chris Millar had decided to ruin the lives of his victims with a Spawnwrithe deck, whilst the hot property in town was Japanese former Player of the Year Kenji Tsumura. Now if only honorary citizenship had been bestowed on the diminutive one, and just think what a team the U.S. might have assembled…


With the main event now well into the Draft section of Day One, I was able to turn my attention to Vintage. I confess that I find the format somewhat intimidating for several reasons. First, the number of theoretically available cards. Second, the prohibitive cost of the best cards in the Format. Third, the sheer daunting intellect displayed in the columns of my fellow writer Stephen Menendian. And fourth, I just don’t get the flow of the game. Even in Extended, which I love, there is a narrative flow that allows me to at least understand the story, even if the story is short and sweet. In Vintage, the story is such that I’ve barely written the title before it’s time for game 2. Nonetheless, something intriguing happened as I watched Menendian play Chris Boomer. I started to become genuinely interested, and that’s something that just hasn’t happened to me before when it comes to Vintage. There was something magisterial, something thoroughly alien and yet thoroughly beautiful about the dance, with a sheer unmitigated brutality that was strangely compelling. Boomer, with his Dredge deck featuring precisely zero ways to generate mana – and yes, you read that right – had no chance, as Menendian went first, cast Tinker for Darksteel Colossus, and that was that. In the second game, all kinds of Combo entertainment ensued, with assorted Rituals and Mana Vaults culminating in Yawgmoth’s Will, a bunch more Rituals, and a mighty Tendrils Of Agony. It was like Extended on steroids. I might have to start revising my view of this most extraordinary of Formats. I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m starting to think it might be stuff worth learning.

And on that somewhat surprising note I love you and leave you from Chicago. Next time, with the results in and a U.S. Nationals team ready to head to Memphis, I’ll make sense of the business end of the tournament, what it means for Player of the Year, and check in from Italian Nationals, French Nationals, Grand Prix: Denver, Grand Prix: Kobe, and maybe Botswana Nationals, if I get the chance.

As ever, thanks for reading.