SCG Daily – Lessons from Losses: Three Little Words

Today I’m going to talk about the hardest lesson that I’ve ever learned from Magic. The tournament I’m about to describe was a failure before I even sat down for my first match, and the events that happened therein had a large effect on the American magic landscape…

Sufjan Stevens — A Winner Needs a Wand

This song is from his first album, and it’s completely different from what you’d expect if you’ve only heard Illinois. It’s a surreal Philip Glass-esque track.

Today I’m going to talk about the hardest lesson that I’ve ever learned from Magic. The tournament I’m about to describe was a failure before I even sat down for my first match, and the events that happened therein had a large effect on the American magic landscape. You’ll know what I’m talking about as soon as I say three specific words.


I’ve never publicly told this story, and I think this is an appropriate time and place to do so. The names of guilty parties (besides myself) will be omitted.

We begin on August 9th, 2003, where I would play the first Onslaught Block Constructed Pro Tour Qualifier of the season. 194 players would enter, with yours truly emerging victorious with Slide. After the victory, I approached the Guevins the next time they were at M’s (the store we played at in Massachusetts) and asked if there was a spot for me on the YMG roster for the upcoming PT in New Orleans. Apparently there was, and I joined the superteam present for that event. There was YMG proper (Dougherty, Kastle, Humpherys, and Gary) joined by Shvartsman, Mowshowitz, EFro, Kibler, Cunningham, the Guevins, GWalls, Finkel… and me. Yeah, I was a little out of place.

There was a lot of testing involved. We had Tinker with Incubators and Chalices, we had Hermit with Grinning Demons and Spiritmongers… and then we found a little card named Food Chain. With Goblin Recruiter and an untap, the deck could combo out as early as turn 2 and very consistently on turn 4 – and it also happened to be a red aggro deck that could beat down if the combo was denied. It was very good and it was a relief to find something explosive that wasn’t Tinker. Here’s our very initial list…

9 Mountain
1 Forest
3 Ancient Tomb
1 City of Brass
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Karplusan Forest
1 Mox Diamond
4 Chrome Mox
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Food Chain
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Skirk Prospector
3 Goblin Matron
4 Goblin Ringleader
1 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Goblin Recruiter

It wasn’t thoroughly refined at that point, but damn was it powerful. It was really exciting to play with, as your board would randomly explode with goblins and they would die out of nowhere. But as most of you know, this story does not have a happy ending.

At the time of this event, I was 17, still young and not very knowledgeable of the workings of professional Magic. Now, as you can imagine, I was very excited about finding this deck that completely broke the format. I wanted to talk about it with everyone I could, so I figured I would just talk to people I could trust. First there were my immediate testing partners at school. Then there were some people at the store I went to who were not close to the pro community, so of course I could tell them, right? And then some people who were pros but who weren’t going, so they wouldn’t tell anyone, right?


I got overzealous and foolish and said something to the wrong person. This person happened to talk about the deck in a public location surrounded by other pros (some affiliated with us, some otherwise). This information spread like wildfire, hitting all the pro teams and eventually the public, where it became one of the decks that went from metagame secret to metagame staple.

We had to develop a foil to Food Chain that also beat Hermit, which we thought was going to be a big deck due to its good Tinker matchup. Of course, with Justin Gary on our team, that deck ended up involving Oath of Druids, and we put a hyped artifact from Mirrodin into the deck as well — Isochron Scepter, that is. It seemed very good with cards such as Fire/Ice, Counterspell, Moment’s Peace, and various wish targets, and it complemented the Oath game plan very well. The deck beat Hermit and Goblins convincingly if played properly, so we all decided to play it. I personally put it together a week or two before the event and tested it a bit, though mostly I tested against it. I thought I knew how to play the deck well enough by the event (which I most certainly didn’t).

And no, I’m not going to post the list for that deck here. Just seeing it makes me nauseous.

The deck was a pretty spectacular failure, with some of the members of the team making it into the money day 2 by being good players, whereas I found myself going 1-4 drop. My matchups were:

Round 1 — Oyvind Odegaard with George W Bosh (loss)
Round 2 — Tuomas O. Kuusniemi with Trinity Green (win)

Round 3 — Dirk Baberowski with Tinker (loss)
Round 4 — Ken Benitez with Rock (loss)
Round 5 — Frederik Boberg with Charbelcher Goblins (loss)

I always feel like I should mention that Dirk cast Upheaval against me floating 48. Yeah, that counts as a blowout.

After this event, YMG pretty much crumbled, whether it was due to the rise of VS., the problems inherent in the supergroup configuration, or the resulting fallout from the security breaches at this very tournament. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I learned a very valuable lesson.

Don’t be an idiot.

Er, let me rephrase.

Don’t let excitement overpower common sense.

It’s one thing to break the format, but it’s another to break the format and then tell people what you broke it with. Secrets must be kept if you intend to surprise the PT, and I certainly learned my lesson here. You can be sure that Ghost Dad was kept under wraps until it was sprung on the unsuspecting public.

That was a fun trip down memory lane. There’ll be more waiting tomorrow, but for now, I’m outta here. Later.

Ben Goodman
RidiculousHat just about everywhere