The Flavor I’ve Savored
"I’d rather stop than suck." —Doug Beyer
Words to live by, sir. I’ll miss your weekly words.
This is the first Wednesday in years without a flavor column waiting on the main Magic: the Gathering site. Doug Beyer published his farewell last week, explaining his reasons for stepping away from his Savor the Flavor column and apologizing for the awkwardness of not having a replacement lined up. Vorthoses (flavor geeks) knew this was coming, thanks to a heads-up from new(ish) DailyMTG.com Content Specialist Trick Jarrett. The overall reaction?
How am I taking the hiatus? Not well. It’s a strange feeling that’s not quite grief. True grief is a state trooper finding your family at what used to be your favorite restaurant to tell you that Grandpa Beety died in a car wreck. My favorite non-StarCityGames.com Magic column going on hiatus can’t stack up to that.
On the other hand, I do feel a sense of loss, even though I expect it to be temporary. When Matt Cavotta handed his Taste the Magic column off to Doug Beyer, there was continuity. Sure, there was craziness before that, like the time Mr. Cavotta wrote sixteen articles in one month and also in the last few months of his column when he was in Ohio, not Washington.
Through all that, the flavor column endured.
This time, though, there is no immediate successor within the walls of Wizards, no new Doug Beyer on the horizon. As much as I would like to see Savor the Flavor continueâ€”I would write it myself if given the chanceâ€”I know that the best person to write the column is someone within Wizards Creative. I’ve written articles that would fit the tone of a more general Savor the Flavor column week; "The Most Horrible Fates of Magic," for example, isn’t so far away in spirit from a Doug Beyer column such as "Frakkin’ Zounds" (my favorite of his). To write an article like "Theme-Driven Worldbuilding," on the other hand, requires insider knowledge that I just can’t offer. Until the next author from within Creative steps up, then, there will be long stretches between Planeswalker’s Guides and other flavorful moments on the mothership.
It isn’t the hiatus that bothers me as much as the sense that the flavor-loving Magic community is losing a columnist. There aren’t many of us to begin with, and even when we have rivalries there’s a great deal of kinship. It’s like the Druids in World of Warcraftâ€”they may slaughter each other in player-versus-player combat, but at the end of the day they all can teleport to Moonglade and hang out in their common-cause zone. Rationally, I know that Doug Beyer is still at Wizards, still doing his thing in Creative and telling awesome stories, but on an emotional level, Doug Beyer as a columnist is gone. We weren’t rivals or even communicators in a meaningful sense, but losing him as a columnist hurts Vorthos interests as a whole. I hope the next Savor the Flavor columnist is chosen soon, and that the new columnist quickly makes Savor the Flavor his or her own.
Grand Prix Salt Lake City
The weekend of Grand Prix Salt Lake City was the first I had free in four weeks, and I decided to make a three-day trip of it. My redeye flight on Friday morning had a connection in Phoenix, and the flight path from there to Salt Lake City took the plane over the Grand Canyon (which I’d seen up-close when I was younger) and the Great Salt Lake (which was new to me). The mountains just after sunrise, the salt flats, Antelope Island within the lakeâ€”for a few moments, I forgot about the cramped cabin of the airplane and just enjoyed my window seat.
Once downtown, I was fortunate to get an early check-in at the hotel. While I wanted to play at least one last-chance grinder (limit two) in a quest for tournament byes, I decided against the earliest grinders and spend the morning in Temple Square, the spiritual heart of the LDS (Mormon) Church. At noon, when the first grinders were firing, I was taking in an organ recital at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, also known as the Mormon Tabernacle. The Tabernacle’s acoustics are world-famous, and its historic organ is more than 10,000 pipes strong. Half an hour of music seemed to go by in far less time and by the end of the recital, I was blinking tears out of my eyes.
After the recital I met with the organist of the day, and we fell into a wide-ranging conversation that lasted just as long as the recital, talking sacred music and the history of Mormons in the California Gold Rush among other topics. Her keen intelligence and spiritual warmth made the conversation as enjoyable as her performance, and by the time I left Temple Square and headed for the Salt Palace Convention Center, I was in the best state of mind I’d had in months.
Even going 2-3 in grinders with my W/b Tokens deckâ€”I entered one more grinder than I’d told myself I would and soon found I was too tired to remember that Phyrexian Obliterator has trampleâ€”wasn’t enough to bring me down. I commissioned a series of token drawings from rk post (Humans, Soldiers, Spirits, etc.) on the backs of artist’s proofs, which I put to use during the grinders.
If I paid half as much attention to my technical play as my aesthetics, I might be good at this game someday…
So, um, I made Day 2 of the Grand Prix. This was unexpected. That’s the end, though. I should start at the beginning.
I registered the same deck for the Grand Prix as I’d used in the grinders on Friday:
It’s a tweak on the Tom Valkeneers’s list from Grand Prix Lille, going a little greedierâ€”not quite as greedy as Ryan Miller’s version of the deck, but too much so in retrospect. I wouldn’t make Sorin, Lord of Innistrad into the 24th land, but a Midnight Haunting (maybe splitting 3/2 with Blade Splicer), Nihil Spellbomb, or Origin Spellbomb would be more appropriate. A singleton Gitaxian Probe also has its merits. The land mix is off as well; having just sixteen non-Shimmering Grotto sources of white mana isn’t enough. I really like Craig Wescoe list that he made the finals with at the SCG Standard Open in Salt Lake City; I want to work a third Vault of the Archangel into the list somehow, but I’ll defer to the vastly better Magic player.
I started the day with zero byes, so my 7-2 record to make Day 2 came the hard way. As any player going 7-2 must be, I was fortunate in several matches by simply out-drawing opponents. In round 1, I took my first-ever game loss penalty when I accidentally mixed a Blade Splicer in with my tokens after a victorious first game, which I didn’t discover until I cast Gather the Townsfolk in the second game. There was nothing to do but call a judge on myself and nod along as he explained (very nicely) that I was getting my first-ever tournament game loss. I won the third game of the match, though, so the lesson could’ve been much more costly. I tightened up for the rest of the day and made it through without further judge incidents.
I took losses in the third and six rounds, but I broke the pattern in the final round to lock up my Grand Prix Sunday. It was my first decent (much less Day 2) performance at a Grand Prix, and I was giddyâ€”probably to excess. I went out to dinner at Crown Burgers with a player I’d met through my column, and he introduced me to the Utah tradition of "fry sauce"â€”a blend of mayonnaise and ketchup that is far tastier than it sounds. Think Armadillo Cloak: "Don’t laugh. It works."
After tending to my spiritual needs and eating breakfast, I left my suitcase with the hotel after checkout and set out for the convention center. The W-2 forms and Pro Players Club publicity releases were new to me, as was the notion of playing at Professional Rules Enforcement Level. I was unaware that the old system of different penalty severities had been eliminated until I asked a judge about it.
Pairings for round 10 went up, and I found my opponent: Brian Kibler. My first thought involved a word not suitable for this site. My second thought: welcome to Professional REL.
Before the match I was nervous as all get-out. When I’m that way at a Magic tournament, usually it comes out as self-deprecation. This time was no exception: "A matchup of two StarCityGames.com columnists. One is a two-time Pro Tour Champion and Hall of Famer. The other is an art geek."
I won in two games. I didn’t outplay him; I merely outdrew him. After the match he helped me out with a few pointers, such as a missed opportunity for a Lingering Souls flashback. He was professional but friendly, and I couldn’t ask for more in an opponent.
The rest of the day didn’t go so well and only partly due to Magic. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was falling ill, and by my final match I was in a total fog. I got two missed trigger warnings in two games; the judge who gave me my second missed trigger warning was understandably skeptical that I hadn’t picked up any before that, but I checked out. I lost my win-and-Top 64 match for a 3-3 record on the day and 93rd placeâ€”far better than I’d dreamed, but not good enough. My mind was playing a Garth Brooks song, "Rodeo," about a cowboy’s all-consuming and ultimately futile pursuit of rodeo glory as I trudged out of the convention center.
The bad beats didn’t stop there.
At the airport, I was directed to a millimeter-wave scanner. I opted out, as I always do. After a decent wait, the personnel freed up for my pat down. I got a two-person team: a senior officer was supervising a newer gent and giving advice. For a pat down, it was pretty lightheartedâ€”the senior officer knew how often I’d had pat-downs from the way I reminded the new officer to check my tie knotâ€”at least until the explosives swab check came back positive.
The senior officer was sympathetic. "Do you use any lotions? That can cause a positive."
"I’ve been at a convention and shook a lot of hands."
He nodded. Sympathy or no, I ended up the subject of a further training session in the "private room," complete with groin swipes and luggage swabbing; not much fun. The search didn’t go as far as opening my card boxes, but I thought it might, and in that moment I was glad as all get-out that I wasn’t running Ratchet Bomb in my sideboard.
Eventually the false positive proved false, and I made it through security. A Contac kept me presentable enough through my two flights (where I probably gave a dozen people the same sickness I have now), and I made it back to my apartment. I set my bags down, took my tie off, and put a thermometer in my mouth. Four flights, three days with hundreds of people, and the Utah altitude had caught up with me. Fever. Crud. I fell into bed.
The Monday After
I woke after a couple of hours and e-mailed work to tell them I was out sick. In the few moments my head wasn’t swimming, I stitched together my daily dispatches into this article and worked on another article for my day job. Unless my memory clears, these dispatches will be all I remember of the best tournament performance of my life.
Dr. Linda S. Margetts – For the organ recital. I’ve never heard Bach and Handel played so beautifully.
The judge who gave me my game loss on Saturday – For handling an awkward penalty with great "tableside manner." I wish I could remember your name.
Dr. Steven J. Stewart – For the dinner on Saturday and the reminder that though I may write well, I’m still a ways off from true mastery.
Brian Kibler – For taking losing to me far better than I would’ve taken losing to myself.
Jayce Morrison – For winning your first Pro Point and $200. I wish it hadn’t come at my expense, but if I’m going to lose a match for that much at least it was to someone as cool as you.
TSO Nedd Andersen and STSO Paul Fowler – For professionalism and courtesy in airport security. If the TSA could clone you two, the flying public would have a much better experience.
Last but not least, StarCityGames.com and Wizards of the Coast – For putting on a great event. When this fever goes away, I’m sure I’ll look back on Grand Prix Salt Lake City fondly.
As always, thanks for reading.
@jdbeety on Twitter