The $16,000 Lightning Helix – A PT Honolulu Report, Part 2 *2nd*

Magic the Gathering Pro Tour Honolulu!

Craig returns with the final part of his entertaining Honolulu report. His Day 2 performances, the role of luck in Magic, and the story of that incredible Lighning Helix… all available with one click of the mouse. The sights, the sounds, the plays, and the glory… only available at StarCityGames.com!

[Click here to read The $16,000 Lightning Helix – A PT Honolulu Report, Part 1 *2nd*]

Okay, so when we last left off our hero (or random lucksack, depending on your point of view) had managed to pick up a very good Zoo deck and navigate a control-oriented field to leave himself in a strong 7-1 position. This was very unusual for our intrepid hero, as normally he either X-0’s or bombs out, but it did leave him in the nice position of being able to hide behind Osyp as the big man went over the wall first into enemy machine gun fire.

In an unusual twist, the last article was criticized for too much strategy and not enough beer and hookers, so in attempt to address that critical oversight I’ll start off with what I got up to in Honolulu.

(Craig, get ready with the black tape).

Actually, it was all rather dull.

Noel Bresland tried very hard to convince me to go diving, but I’m of the personal opinion that I’d rather eat fish rather than be eaten by them. One of the evenings was fairly sound, though. Myself, Noel, Stuart Wright, Andrew Donaldson, and Sean Fitzgerald headed off into Waikiki in search of beer after a fairly large meal (somehow we managed to lose Shinkins; I think he crashed out back at the hotel). Unfortunately, we’d forgotten to bring our passports, and the odds of getting into any US bar without ID or white hair and a Zimmer frame are next to nil. After asking around we were pointed in the direction of a fairly sound bar that was on the second floor, with lots of balconies overlooking the street. Ten minutes later, after ordering drinks, Noel comes back from the toilet with:

“Hey guys, do you realize what this place is?”

Well, it has rainbow flags, and the woman playing pool is a little on the … erm… manly side, so I’m guessing we’re in a gay bar. This didn’t really bother me too much, as the Japanese tourists who’d wandered in hadn’t realized either and the girls they’d brought with them were fairly hot. I also had beer, and generally everything is good with the world when I have beer.

The sight of a six-foot barman and probable part time biker stroking Sean’s shoulder while asking if he wanted anything did crack me up, though.

So after the beers we were looking for the next place to go. There were a couple of hotties walking down the other side of the street.

“Why not follow them and see where they’re going.”

Hotties then stopped to talk to random guy as he walked past and we realized that these were the kind of hotties that would follow you … for a price. Yay, one of those streets.

But enough frivolity, there is a tournament report to give.

Round 9: Franck Canu — Roxodon Hierarchy (Black-White-Green control)

Now if I’d been the true pro I should have grabbed a copy of the standings and run around to find out what everybody in my points bracket (and just below) was playing. Scouting is one of those dubious gray areas of the game, a little like ID’s. It’s not exactly ethical, but virtually impossible to enforce. Knowing what your opponent is playing gives you an enormous advantage. While my scouting skills had proved inept (you really need a minion who’s already dropped at this point, but none were available at this time) I was fortunate to be paired against Franck Canu. I’d caught the tail-end of his feature match against Lebedowicz and knew he was playing the Beach House Black-White-Green control deck. This meant he’d have Loxodon Hierarch in addition to Wrath and Fetters, but I still felt reasonably confidant, especially when I won the die roll.

While I always seem to dwell more on my mistakes than my good plays (which probably makes people think I’m a lot worse player than I actually am), I was actually pleased with how I played this match. Considering it was the first round of the morning, that almost qualifies as a miracle. The first game gave me an awkward decision of whether to summon a Burning-Tree Shaman the turn before Canu hit Wrath mana. At the time it was the only creature in my hand. Canu had used Mortify on my Kird Ape the turn earlier (a strong indication he didn’t have the Wrath) and I only had Isamaru in play so I suppose in retrospect it’s an obvious play, but one I’ve screwed up before by being too tentative. A few hits with the Shaman and we had another crispy European.

In came Flames and the Solifuge for Shock. I think I also brought in two Hooligans.

Game 2 saw him ramp up to a fast Angel of Despair off two Signets. I put myself in a position to topdeck burn for the win, but it didn’t show up this time. If the Hooligans weren’t in for game 2, then they were most definitely in for game 3!

In game 3 I got in early beats with a Watchwolf and managed to get Canu down to five life before he stabilized with Vitu-Ghazi. I had a Flames of the Blood Hand in hand, and it was quite happy to stop there for the moment.

As an aside, I do get very annoyed when people (usually the evil Island-playing fraternity) put down Sligh decks as “brainless”. I’m then forced to put in a call to Dan Paskins so he can send his Goblin Goon squad around to “re-educate” them. It is possible, in fact quite easy, to play the Red deck very badly.

So back to the game, and the Flames that stayed in my hand for about three turns. Throwing it mindlessly at Canu’s face at end of turn would have been foolish. It was better to wait in case he found a Fetters or Hierarch before I found my second piece of burn to kill him. It was looking like it might be a long wait, as my deck seemed to be throwing up an endless stream of Savannah Lions. Not the most exciting against Vitu-Ghazi.

Ironically of course Canu never played a life-gain spell and I then drew a Giant Solifuge without the mana to play both in the same turn. There then followed an anxious turn where I prayed Canu wouldn’t draw either Castigate or Angel of Despair. He attacked with a Saproling but just as I was about to write down damage.

“After blockers, before damage.”

Uh oh. Okay, so that’s the usual response when your opponent utters those words, usually followed by a crushing feeling of dread. Normally, anyway. Instead I gave a little cheer inside. I never thought I’d actually be happy to see my opponent Ninjitsu Ink Eyes into play.

Flames you at end of turn, untap, in skitters Giant Solifuge for the win.

8-1 (2-1)

Round 10: Michael Diezel — BW Bunrei

This was a horror story.

Diezel mulliganed to five in game 1, but managed a good draw that enabled him to pop Promise of Bunrei and put four 1/1 spirits into play alongside a Plagued Rusalka and Bob Confidant. I had Burning-Tree Shaman and Watchwolf in play, and a Bathe in hand. You can guess what happened next as it ended up on the list of “Fun things we learnt at the PT today, kiddies”.

I swung in with my monsters, Diezel triple-blocked the Watchwolf and I cast Bathe on my Shaman, giving all Green creatures protection from White. I also took a point of damage to do so. At this point, sometime way after the horse has bolted from the stable and is happily sunning itself on Waikiki beach, I pick up Promise of Bunrei from Diezel’s graveyard and read it.

“four colorless 1/1 spirit tokens”.


Spirit of the non-White

“Randy, why the hell are Promise of Bunrei tokens not White?”

He gave me some feeble excuse about it tying in with a theme from the block that all spirit tokens are colorless. I set one of my Lions on him, and tried to ignore the scream and sounds of cracking bones as I tried to think about how I could pull myself out of this mess.

It wasn’t too bad. Okay, so I’d just thrown away a card, wasted a turn, and even taken a point of pain off my land but it actually wasn’t too bad. Diezel had mulliganed to five, and my draw was still okay.

Then I made one of those weird plays where you’re not quite sure if it’s a mistake, but the way the game panned out made it seem like it was. I Shocked the Rusalka instead of Bob Confidant. The next two turns were “reveal a land off Bob Confidant, draw Mortify for your guy, reveal a land off Bob Confidant, draw Mortify for your guy.” Frown.

Diezel ended up winning the game with just two life left in the bank.

Game 2 was less eventful. He drew land and I drew Jitte.

Game 3, and the mistake cascade continued. After game 2 I’d switched Shaman for Hunted Wumpus to take less damage from my own Jittes. This had given me a nervous moment when I wasn’t sure I’d reach the fourth land. Then I didn’t lay the fifth land in my hand before equipping the Wumpus and swinging. I expected Diezel to block it with Savannah Lions. I was slightly surprised when he also blocked it with his only other creature, another 2/2 (Isamaru or Kami of Ancient Law — can’t remember exactly).

I remember Billy Moreno telling me about how his charge yesterday had been halted by a rogue deck. Now what was it again: “Promise of Bunrei, Nantuko Husk, Plagued Rusalka … Oh Sh**…”

Yep, Shining Shoal to reflect damage back at my Wumpus. The Karplusan Forest and Char sitting in my hand, and the two untapped lands I had in play were very quick to point out I may have played this game state less than optimally.

Promise of Bunrei and Shining Shoal, hmm. Someone had been paying far too much attention to Aaron Forsythe articles.

Fortunately (for me!) Diezel then went on to draw a lot of nothing and I, of course, still happened to have a Jitte.

Umezawa’s Jitte, saving bad players everywhere.

I did feel bad about winning this one, as it had been a shocker. Sometimes Magic’s like that. It’ll be balanced out by me losing a game I shouldn’t possibly lose (but hopefully in a nice FNM sometime when it doesn’t matter). I’d heartily recommend checking out Diezel’s listing, as it seemed like a lot of fun. I think he just missed out on top 8 in the end.

9-1 (2-1)

Round 11: Chris Woltereck — Orzhov control

Back on table one, and this match was absolutely crucial. I suppose you could argue that every match is crucial, but it always feels to me like there are turning points that decide the course of your progress in a tournament. In Tokyo it was Andre Delere ripping two Skizziks in a row against me, when a win would put me in top 8 (I went on to fail to draw a third land for about four games in a row and crashed down to 20th). In Los Angeles it was the really tight match against Billy Moreno where I couldn’t quite get the dredge engine started in game 3 (A win here would have put me amongst the Boros players and would have probably guaranteed top 8).

First, a win here would give me the third win of the day and guaranteed cash regardless of what happened in the remaining rounds. Also, as Osyp had wobbled at the start of Day 2, there were no players remaining with perfect X-0 records and only four of us with just one loss. One of those players was Antoine Ruel and he was running Owling Mine, a very strong matchup for me. If I could beat Woltereck there was a good chance I’d have a virtual bye for the next round.

Fate must have realized I was doing fairly well and decided to put in an appearance. I had a rare mulligan, and then saw an early Last Gasp on my Watchwolf, an absolutely crucial card for Orzhov to see against Zoo. He then got two Fetters to resolve and bashed me in with something large and flying.

Game 2 and I had to mulligan again. Fortunately, Woltereck’s draw was fairly mediocre. He managed to Fetters one critter, but another early 2/2 went unopposed and I finished him with Char and Flames.

Game 3, and I think it was his own Castigate that did Woltereck in. He saw I had a second Isamaru in hand and wanted to play optimally by keeping the second legend stranded. This meant he took a few more points from the Hound in play, and that turned out to be fatal as my deck hit a rich seam of burn.

On table two Antoine won, and I did a little dance.

10-1 (2-1)

I’d been told that the Owl matchup was virtually a bye, that Antoine didn’t even have a sideboard against Zoo, but I didn’t want to take anything for granted. Fate was lurking around somewhere. If there was a way to lose this matchup, I’m sure she’d find it.

Round 12: Antoine RuelOwling Mine

My notes for this read “Burn! Burn!” There may also have been some cackling.

It really is that one-sided.

11-1 (2-0)

Okay, so that was win number four. I was now guaranteed Prague. But top 8? Well, I wasn’t going to think about that. Been here before, crashed and burnt.

It sounds so deceptively simple. One win from three. I mean it’s practically a cert, right?

You think it sounds simple. And then it’s one win from two. And then one win from… ulp… one. And then all of a sudden you’re playing (and losing, badly) for a ninth or tenth place that feels like a wooden spoon.

I was now top of the standings. Bad things happen to Englishmen when they go to the top of the standings. Bad things involving lots of L’s and then followed by dramatic plunges down the leaderboard. It’s a bit like surfing… you hit the crest of the wave and then get smashed down onto the rocks. Surely Fate must have noticed by now. Any minute now she’d come sweeping in to rip it all away from me.

Oh, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m slightly paranoid. And so would you be if you’d gone X-0 on Day 1 of a PT – not once, but twice – and then failed to make the top 8 – not once, but twice.

So did I make it? Well you’ll just have to come back next week for part…

[We all know you made it! Now get on with it and finish the story! — Craig]

Okay, okay.

Round 13: Ben LundquistIzzeTron

No disrespect to Ben Lundquist, but I’m much happier playing someone on their first Pro Tour for top 8 than having to fight against a battle-hardened Pro. He seemed like a nice kid from the New York area. People like to knock US Magic, but it seems very good at producing kids who put in high finishes on their first Pro Tour (whereas it took me about several billion attempts just to make my first Day 2).

I was quite happy to see Steam Vents and Tron pieces in game 1. I was less happy to see Wildfire, but he’d had to crack the emergency glass a little earlier than he intended, and my critters came swinging out of the rubble faster.

Game 2 I smashed him down to single digits and then drew some burn … oh wait, where has the burn gone. No matter it will be along soon. Yep, anytime now. Yikes, where did that massive blue dragon come from? Oh no, you appear to be casting Wildfire

Game 3 I went first and drew three one-drop two-power monsters. He didn’t draw Pyroclasm.

12-1 (2-1)

I did give a little whoop at this point, as this now put me at a virtual lock. Finally I’d done it, at least I think so. I just needed a draw to be absolutely certain.

Half an Eye for an Eye

I was also keeping half an eye out for meteor strikes, flash floods, or other potential catastrophes on a biblical scale. I mean, I’m on the verge of top 8… surely Fate would have noticed by now.

Round 14: Osyp LebedowiczIzzeTron

I first ran into Joe Black at the infamous Moscow Invitational last year. He’s a great guy. Osyp wanted me to scoop to him. I wanted to scoop to him, as not only is Osyp a great guy, but his deck was a good matchup for me (or rather IzzeTron is a good matchup… it was only when I saw the top 8 listings that I realized how teched-out this version was against beatdown). Unfortunately, I still needed that single point to be certain. In all probability I could lose the next three rounds and still make it in, but I didn’t want to risk it.

I was guaranteed to be paired down again for the next round, meaning I wouldn’t be able to ID that round either. Lose, lose, get paired down, lose again and then miss out on tiebreakers would not be good times. Okay, so it was highly unlikely but, as you may have noticed, I’m a little paranoid about these things. So we had to play.

I won the die roll, again, and cracked straight out of the gates with Kird Ape and the equally Pyroclasm-proof Watchwolf. This game didn’t last very long.

Lebedowicz then took a double-mulligan and failed to find an Island to go with his Urza’s Tower. While kicking a man while he’s down, bashing his head in with a shovel and running him over with a steamroller is kind of fun, my doctors have told me that this kind of behavior is not conducive to my eventual rehabilitation into society. I still only needed a point, and this felt like a very good opportunity to demand it. Faced with the alternative of being ripped to shreds by my pack of rabid highly trained death-critters, Osyp decided to give it to me.

12-1-1 (ID)

Round 15: Mark HerberholzGruul Beats

Heezy seems like a nice guy. Although I haven’t really ever spoken to him he’s a friend of Sam Gomersall. So yeah I’ll scoo….

No, he is a beatdown deck. There vill be no beatdown decks in the top 8 other than mine. He is American. I vill crush him and finish top of the standings, so that I vill vin more dollars in case the impossible happens and I lose the qvarter-final.

I von the dice roll and led off vith Isamaru and Watchwolf. I am better in this matchup as my White creatures have a more efficient power-to-cost ratio than his. His monsters are either slow and clumsy, or weak and inefficient 1/1’s. The game proceeded to plan as I reduced his life total to vithin burn range. He vas then lucky, as I failed to draw either burn spell or Bathe to finish him. Instead he sacrificed his monsters to a Scorched Rusalka and Charred for the draw.

I vill now board in Jitte and …

… Yikes, I think I was just possessed by the spirit of Kai Budde. Fortunately, it realized I was playing a deck with small creatures and burn, and left in disgust.

To scoop or not to scoop is actually a fairly interesting decision.

I know there are those of you out there who find the concept of scoops, and even intentional draws, morally abhorrent. Why should some guy get a free win into top 8 because of a lucky pairing? Magic should be about playing the game. I can respect that attitude, and as long as you’re consistent that’s fine. However, tournaments are more than just playing the game, and this kind of horse-trading is another of those gray areas that aren’t ideal, but impossible to enforce.

Basically, you have the choice to be the nice guy or the bastard. The chief advantage to being the nice guy is that you aren’t seen as the bastard. I like the whole community thing, so not being seen as the bastard is pretty important to me. In the long term you’re much more likely to get the scoop with other players if the roles are reversed in future.

However, being the bastard does give a number of short-term benefits. There’s $1,500 difference between 5th and 8th place, a strong incentive to try and finish top of the standings. There’s also the opportunity to try and kick an unfavorable matchup out of the top 8. There’s even ranking points to consider (if you really care about those things).

Of course, you still have to win the match to gain those benefits, and if you lose you’re still the bastard… only you haven’t got any of the benefits for it. There’s also a lot to be said for just having an hour off to chill rather than getting embroiled in a potentially bitter match (Actually, in this case it wasn’t that bitter, although Heezy did look like someone who’s just had their favorite kitten stomped on) where a win only brings fringe benefits to you at best.

Most people would have realized this before the game started, but I’m fairly slow and it didn’t get through until sideboarding. Actually, it was probably just my evil tendencies filtering through. You’ve got to make ‘em sweat and slow-roll the scoop, right?

I now of course also have first dibs on Heezy junior. He is scheduled to be sacrificed to my Infernal Dark Master on October 14th 2011.

With how the tournament played out I’ve been asked whether I would have still scooped given the same option again. I think I probably would. Okay, so I lost to Herberholz in the final, but the way the top 8 panned out for me overall was pretty good. Maybe if I’d have beaten Herberholz out I’d have been facing Jacob Arias Garcia’s Black-White deck in the quarters instead of Owl, and then gone home with a lot less money and fame.

12-2-1 (scoop)

Round 16: Olivier Ruel — Hand in Hand

12-2-2 (ID)

No surprises there.

Before round 16, Lebedowicz had actually jumped over me on tie-breakers, but my opponents must have had a good last round as the final standings saw me jump back over him back into first place. This was good for Osyp, as it meant he didn’t have to play Owl in the quarters, and good for me as it meant I would. Round 16 was actually very good overall, as the remaining two places in the top 8 were both claimed by Owl decks. It was especially bad for Antoine Ruel, as he’d scrapped and scrapped to get that 8th spot only to find me waiting for him with my Lions and Apes in the quarter-finals. Yummy.

Some interesting statistics:

Number of die rolls won: 13 (or maybe 14) out of 16.

Number of mulligans in 16 rounds: five-ish (my notebook has three marked, but I’m sure there were a couple more.

Number of Japanese played: zero.

Okay, so I had a bit (well, a lot!) of luck. But then you didn’t see the horrific things that happened to me on Day 2 of Tokyo 2001 and LA 2005. Luck evens out over the long term. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

What does it feel like to make your first PT top 8? Pretty damn fine is the answer to that. We were dragged off by the photographer Craig Gibson. My death metal poses were vetoed, so I only looked semi-evil, and everyone threw their flip-flops at Tiago Chan because we weren’t sure if he’d fallen asleep on his feet.

This was actually a very solid top 8. It looked experienced, even if this was the first top 8 for half of us. Ruud, Tiago, and myself have been around forever, and while Max Bracht might be the least familiar he’d been racking up good finishes on the GP circuit all last year.

It felt good when I was having my picture taken. Like I’d finally made it, or something. Also, it felt a little strange, as my coverage duties mean it’s normally me on the other side of the camera (for GPs, anyway).

Usually top 8 players, or their teammates, spend a couple of hours testing the quarter-final matchup. That was less of an issue, as I effectively had a bye. Antoine had even left his deck with the Dutchies so they could test Ruud’s matchup against Tiago. My testing was restricted to a few games against Olivier Ruel deck in the Hard Rock Café. This was fairly flawed mainly because a) I was so tired I couldn’t play properly and b) Shinkins spent most of the time pointing out how much better his version of Black-White aggro was to Olivier’s.

I retired soon after and then rushed to the venue bright and early. The only change I needed to make was to switch foils from my deck for the normal equivalents from Noel’s deck. Sleeves were okay under the cameras, which is a good thing given the number of older versions of cards floating around, but foils were too reflective (this is actually the reason decks used to be sleeveless in the top 8 — so you could see the cards under the cameras).

There were actually rumors as I entered the venue that Antoine might not bother showing up and take a few extra hours in bed. Unfounded of course, but there were a lot of people asking me how I liked my bye in the top 8.

So, onto the top 8.

Quarter-Final: Antoine RuelOwling Mine

Not much to say about the first game. Made some guys and then fried him. Exhaustion slowed me down a little, but not enough.

Game 2 was actually quite interesting and did show me how Owl can actually win against Zoo. Antoine got an early Howling Mine and managed to irritate my creatures enough with Gigadrowses, Exhaustions, and Evacuations that I ended up with a lot of creatures stuck in my hand. Both of the Ruels play very quickly, and I noticed I’d also been sucked into the tempo of the game and played an instinctive Bathe in Light that left me wide open to Boomerang. All I needed to do was let the Gigadrowse resolve and start unloading burn. I’d got Antoine down to five, but I’d taken one Sudden Impact. A second Impact copied with Twincast would give Antoine the game. Fortunately he was at five, and only had Shivan Reefs for Red mana. I now had to keep Char mana open at all times, so I could Char him in response. Finally he went for the Sudden Impact, motioned me to wait and then cast … Ancestral Recall.

I think I must have stared at the card for a full minute before busting a gut with laughter. Absolutely classic. Then I Charred his face just to prove that not even one of the most powerful cards ever printed could save Owl against Zoo.

It was a fantastic stunt to liven up a matchup where there was very little doubt on the outcome. I have no idea where the card came from.

I think the commentator’s were equally nonplussed, and the camera moved away at that point. In the third game I mulliganed to four, and that only made it worse for Antoine.

I have every respect for Antoine. Even though the matchup was heavily in my favor I was nervous as hell, but he didn’t try to take advantage.

Antoine: “Enjoy it. You deserve this for all you’ve done for Magic over the years.”


The match between Olivier Ruel and Max Bracht turned into an epic. I discussed with Billy Moreno and others possible side-boarding strategies for either deck. Bracht’s deck seemed like both the easier of the two matchups, but it was a lot harder to sideboard against as I wouldn’t know whether I was facing men or the combo. At one point it seemed like I would definitely be playing against Bracht but Olivier managed to pull it out, mainly because Bracht had cast Meloku. This meant I’d have a very tricky matchup against Black-White, against one of the best players in the world.

After the quarter-finals, the players and judging staff were given some food from a buffet. I was feeling pretty good. I’d netted myself $15,000, and the sixteen pro points (combined with the sixteen from last year) meant I’d just leveled up for Prague.

The break between quarters and semi’s was actually a lot longer than I anticipated. I should really have grabbed some friends and played some games against Olivier’s deck, but I kept thinking there probably wasn’t time, when I actually had plenty. At one point I walked over to where Olivier was testing the matchup and jokingly asked if I was losing.

Semi-Final: Olivier Ruel — Hand in Hand

In testing, Olivier had found that whoever went first had won, so of course I won the die roll (again!).

“You killed my brother.”

Somewhere, Western music was playing and a tumbleweed was blowing through the center of town. We reached for our guns… and Olivier’s blew up in his hand.

This felt like a fair comment on game 1, as Bob Confidant revealed first Ghost Council and then Okiba-Gang Shinobi. And I thought my deck was self-damaging.

Game 2 was fairly funny, as I mulliganed to four and then seemed to hit a perfect procession of cards off the top of my library.

Hand of Cruelty, hmm. Mise well draw Shock. Oh look, there it is.”

When he Mortified my Watchwolf, Olivier already had his deck in hand ready to throw at me if I’d drawn Bathe in Light. It wasn’t quite that perfect though.

Game 3, and I didn’t think I had a hope in hell of winning, as I was completely flooded. However, Olivier’s draws were far worse.

Game 4, and my draw was distinctly sub-par. I got flattened by Ghost Council.

At this point I said, “You’ve taken out the Rats and Grotesque haven’t you?” I hadn’t seen a single discard effect since boarding. I reached for my sideboard put the Flames back in and then took them straight out again. Olivier boarded also. It seemed like an obvious bluff, but I’m not exactly known for being a subtle player, so who knows, might have worked.

The deciding game seemed to go to plan. I got a fast start and battered him. I was short of Red mana, but it showed up in time to leave me in a very dominant position. Olivier was back on the ropes and reeling on just three life. I just needed to draw a burn spell. Nope, nope, nope, c’mon deck damnit!

Then Olivier came back into the game. He found a Jitte. I’d been holding a Tin Street Hooligan for that eventuality. Olivier knew this, as he’d Castigated me earlier. However, three life is not a place you want to stay against a burn deck. He got one swing in before the Hooligan trashed everyone’s least favorite pointy stick, but that was enough to put him back up to seven life. I now needed two burn spells and the board state had deteriorated to the point where he could safely hit me back for three a turn.

Since the early offensive, my draws had basically been garbage. While some watching the games on the forums thought I’d played badly (I know who you are, and my lions are hunting you right now) the truth is the Zoo deck is relies on getting in quick with creatures and then finishing them with burn just as the other deck gains control of the board position. Once the early rush is over, you don’t really care about the board. It’s just a case of hanging on until the burn arrives. We were very much past the early rush. There was no way I was going to win through my creatures unless I drew about five in a row. All I could do was let them look menacing and dissuade Olivier from hitting me back too hard.

When I first saw the coverage I thought maybe I could have played it better, but when I saw it again I realized that my defensive approach only looked bad because Olivier kept drawing creatures.

There were two plays that were sub-optimal.

Sending in the lone Isamaru wasn’t the best. I did have a second one in hand, but I’m fairly sure Olivier was going to throw Bob Confidant at the Hooligan at end of turn in any case. There was no need to force the issue and throw away my Hound.

I don’t think the Ape was a mistake. Yes, he could gun it down at will with Seize the Soul… but he could do that anyway, to any Red creature I cast. Forcing him to use it just gave him a free -1/-1 plague effect was not terrible. I wasn’t about to kill the spirit to remove the haunt, and how silly would I have felt if I’d given him a free target to Castigate and then drawn another target for the Seize the Soul.

The really big mistake was not attacking to clear the Rusalkas. It would have been a very bad attack for me as I’d have lost everything for no damage, but I would have at least cleared the Rusalkas off the board. I still wouldn’t have been in a good shape, as he would still have a 1/1 spirit and the Hand, but a Tactics or Shock might have pulled me back into the game. I realized the error when he played a Ravenous Rat the next turn and my board position became completely hopeless.

The real truth is against the Black-White decks at this point you’re never going to win a fight for the board position, as their card advantage is so much better. So in effect it didn’t really matter what I did, I wasn’t going to win the game unless I drew burn and threw it at his head.

Then a Char showed up. It felt way too late. I was on six life, and there was no way I could attack through. Olivier decimated most of my board at end of turn, and then fortunately attacked with only the Spirit and Hand. At this point Flores got it totally wrong. Sorry, but there is no way I ever even consider Charring the Hand. I can’t ever win the fight for board position at this stage in the game. My only outs are to go to the head and pray.

So I Charred him end of turn.

It was kind of weird. I did hear the crowd on the other side of the room, but it didn’t register. When you’re under the cameras it feels like you’re completely isolated. I didn’t even think about the people who were watching on the other side of the hall. I just assumed it was for something else, like another sporting event or something. I didn’t even think that I might be involved in one of the tensest top 8 matches that there’s ever been. I’m not even sure I was that tense, which feels like it must be a lie but I’m not sure it was. I tend to be quite a pessimistic person and so it was probably more like, oh well, Olivier’s going to beat me. Whatever, he’s one of the best players in the world and I’m still going home with $15,000, lah de dah de dah.

Or maybe I was too caught up in the match to notice. I’ve been in other matches that have felt far tenser. Yeah, I know, you’re all crying bullsh**. But in those matches I was always on the verge of winning, and praying to god they didn’t draw one of those outs. This match was gone, as far as I was concerned.

So, as I’ve said, I Charred him end of turn.

“I need to be very lucky.”

I said it, but I didn’t believe it. I mean I never, ever, ever, draw the card I need in this situation. Just doesn’t happen. I’m dead; move along, nothing to see here.

I was going to draw the card as normal but Olivier, because he is just the perfect showman, said “Slam it!”

So I did.

It was a Lightning Helix.

For a moment, it didn’t register. I mean, I hadn’t seen one of the goddamn things the whole match. I’d almost forgotten they were in my deck.

That’s a Lightning Helix.

It’s a Lightning Helix. Ohmigod I’m in the final.

I’ve won. I’m in the final.

Then time caught up, and everything went berserk. I sort of rose up, in a peculiarly, rather British restrained form of a cheer, coverage writer Ted Knutson gave that peculiar Lemur-dropped-on-a-high-voltage-cable open mouthed gasp that was caught perfectly on camera an Olivier … well Olivier looked like someone had stomped on his favorite kitten, barbequed his puppy, and then played tennis with his goldfish for kicks. All things considered, he took it very well… although I’m guessing he probably cursed the air blue outside of the venue. I did apologize, which probably only makes it worse. What can I say? I am evil.

Olivier is a really good player. While it wasn’t to be this time, I’m certain he’ll get that Pro Tour title soon.

I was completely overwhelmed. Some guys wanted to interview me for Japanese TV, and I gave possibly the stupidest interview ever. I didn’t even know if I was supposed to look at the interviewer or the translator, and my answers made me sound like I was the luckiest McScrub, without a clue that Magic actually had a skill element at all. Whatever, I was in the final. Wow.


So how much was that Lightning Helix worth? Well, I’ve already given it away in the title, but some of you will have probably done the math and gone “eh?”

We split. Herberholz came up before the final and said he wasn’t comfortable having that much money riding on one match. I agreed. I felt we should probably play for something, but in reality the Pro Points and bragging rights for the title is enough. So we agreed to split the cash, down the middle, 50/50. Hence, my true winnings – hoping Heezy doesn’t skip cackling to a South American hideout somewhere – were actually $31,000.

That single card drawn from the top was worth $16,000. Now that’s a good topdeck!

Okay, so you could argue I was probably due it. Actually, any kind of reasonable draw – a Char or Helix, or even another Tactics or Shock for his second Hand – would have brought the game to a much less dramatic conclusion far earlier. While valid, those arguments take away from the magic of the moment. I don’t think there has ever been a more dramatic finish to a top 8 match in the history of the Pro Tour. It’s a little strange, and very humbling; after so many years of recording the history of the game, I find myself become part of that history.

The Final: Mark Herberholz — Gruul beats

Unfortunately, life isn’t always a fairytale… and this is where the magic ran out.

Craig Jones: 2, Craig Jones bad mana base: 3.

That’s pretty much a fair description.

Games 1 and 3 I got monstrous draws and smashed him. I had virtually the stone-cold nuts for game 3, and gave a real show of umming and ahhing over whether to keep it. I did say I had evil tendencies…

Game 2 I mulliganed to three, and game 4 I forgot to draw a Green source of mana.

I thought I might have had the nuts draw again in game 5. Kird Ape, followed by Watchwolf, followed by Burning-Tree Shaman with a Char in hand… I think that would have been unbeatable. Unfortunately, the third land didn’t arrive until turn 5, when I was facing down a veritable King Kong of an 8/9 Kird Ape. People might have winced and incorrectly thought Hunted Wumpus was bad when it gave him a Rumbling Slum, but the truth was that it didn’t matter. I was playing to my only out, and that was to draw Bathe in Light. The Lightning Helix had been fairly miraculous… to pull off the Bathe as well would have had the entire Magic community bowing down at the Second Coming (or more likely burning me at the stake for being a witch).

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Instead of slamming the card down, I rather meekly drew a basic Forest and extended the hand.


What a rollercoaster. When I first won my Grand Prix title back in 1998 I deluded myself into thinking I’d smash into the scene. Instead I got kicked around… a lot. For a long time, one of my dreams had been to win a Pro Tour. A few years back, reality set in. I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t good enough. It would never happen. I stuck to coverage because I was good at that. To come so close, and in effect take home the same amount of money, is almost fulfillment of that dream.

I say almost

Okay, so I went home with the same amount of cash. I could be satisfied. It was kind of like winning, right…?

But then, there’s always that thought…

If only I’d drawn that third land…

So until next time, may you come close enough to fulfilling your dreams that you believe you still can, but still leave enough to keep you dreaming.

Thanks for reading.

Craig Jones.