The Definitive Tourney Report, Parts V & VI: Draft 1. Stoke And Zadjner. The Bounty Of Gaming Jim.

My first deck at my first Pro Tour was slow out of the gates and low on tricks to help me outplay my opponents… But with Savages on the board and manageable pressure from the other side, it was like a combo deck. Nerves? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have butterfly tokens in my stomach.

V. Draft 1. Stoke And Zadjner. G/B beats G/R.

I was out of bed on Friday way early, and I’m sure you can imagine why that was – I couldn’t sleep.

After a seemingly endless delay, the Friday festivities actually started up, with a very brief players meeting, registration seating being posted, and, finally, the announcement of the Draft Pods.

Here’s my pod:

Seat 1: Oyvind Odegaard

Seat 2: Bastien Perez

Seat 3: Maurice Lowles

Seat 4: Geordie Tait

Seat 5: Alexandre Alepin

Seat 6: Dario Minieri

Seat 7: Sam Gomersall

Seat 8: Stephen Evans

The only name I recognized was Oyvind Odegaard – and as it happened, I would play him in Round 4. The draft itself is a rapidly fading memory, evaporating as we speak like frost off of a defogging windshield, but there are a few points that warrant a closer look. First, I fell into green when I saw a two seat cushion in between Oyvind and myself, and both Ravenous Baloth and Stag Beetle were opened in that area and passed down to me. Second, Maurice defensive drafted a Thunder Of Hooves that I thought might come back around, which was unfortunate for me – it would have served me well. Third, I had a chance at taking a second Wirewood Elf over a better card (Krosan Tusker, I believe) late in the draft, and didn’t. Considering the cards I already had, including the Dragon Roost and so forth, it may have been a good idea to get the second Wirewood Elf.

And, of course, I took that Thoughtbound Primoc over Pinpoint Avalanche, which was a mistake.

It was an interesting table, all told. Maurice, on my right, was W/R with a Starstorm, but we managed to share Red. The other things I shared were the Wirewood Savages at the table, all six (!!) of them. Three went to me, and three went to Oyvind, across the way. He complimented them with an insane three Snarling Undoraks and three Barkhide Maulers. There was still an Undorak left over for me, and I got the strong uncommon and rare Beasts, while he cleaned up on the Black cards and got a Symbiotic Elf and Symbiotic Beast to compliment his Nantuko Husk.

Bastien Perez, W/R on his left, hauled in an Insurrection midway through the draft.

Here’s the deck I drafted:

PT Chicago 2003 Draft 1, Geordie Tait:

3 Skirk Commando

3 Wirewood Savage

1 Charging Slateback

1 Goblin Taskmaster

1 Thoughtbound Primoc

1 Avarax

1 Ravenous Baloth

1 Stag Beetle

1 Snarling Undorak

1 Venomprout Brackus

1 Krosan Tusker

1 Wirewood Herald

1 Wirewood Elf

1 Searing Flesh

1 Primal Boost

1 Erratic Explosion

1 Solar Blast

1 Dragon Roost

1 Searing Flesh

1 Forgotten Cave

8 Mountain

9 Forest

Notable Sideboard Cards:

Custody Battle

Nosy Goblin

Heedless One

Birchlore Rangers

The rest of my cards were last pick junk, plus two counterdrafted Riptide Biologists. The deck had some interesting quirks. The three Savages were, of course, quite amazing, and when they got going I was almost assured a win, especially when Ravenous Baloth would make a cameo appearance. The numerous Skirk Commandos were quite good as well, almost assuring an early trade with morph creatures, or an outright assassination of one should a hapless opponent forget himself and not block.

Sadly, the deck was light on removal, and as the day wore on, the decision to take Thoughtbound Primoc over Pinpoint Avalanche seemed that much more foolhardy. In addition, my worst fears about Dragon Roost were confirmed – it is indeed slower than molasses. When I did get it out against Oyvind Odegaard, he was still able to push through for the win by putting continuous pressure on me. That being said, the card is still a powerhouse… It just isn’t worth taking over Glory Seeker if you’re R/W with fifteen land, as I was at the PTQ in Garden City. I know it now for sure to be the right pick, funny looks be damned.

In between packs, I glanced over to the table behind me and was greeted by a familiar face. It was Mark Zadjner (apparently victorious in the last chance qualifier), and he was seated right next to none other than Team Academy webmaster Andy Stokinger. That’s quite a pairing, and it wasn’t long before a verbal exchange started up. Mark was in fine form, of course, and Andy – though a good deal more stoic than I might have expected from a TA headman, was at no loss for words to return.

Zadjner: “Andy, can I be bitch of the month again? Or do I have to beat you? I mean, that’s how I became bitch of the month last time – because I beat Ed Fear. Right?”

AndyStok: “No, you were bitch of the month for acting exactly the way you are right now.”

Cole Swannack was at that table, and I think the lad may have been scarred for life. At least the table judge wasn’t Duncan McGregor. At least, not that I remember. Duncan was there, but they probably assigned him a table far, far away.

I put the deck together in time to do a few test draws, and the results were pretty much as I expected. The deck was slow out of the gates, low on tricks to help me outplay my opponents, but with Savages on the board and manageable pressure from the other side, it was like a combo deck. I’d play a beast, draw a bunch of cards, and eventually the Baloth would appear to make racing, even in the air, impossible. That’s how I expected it to go, anyhow. With no Spitting Gournas, Limited removal, and only the one Venomprout Brackus for air defense, I was in danger of losing to a quick rush on the air, backed by Pacifism, Choking Tethers, and the like.

So here we go. My first Pro Tour. Nerves? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have butterfly tokens in my stomach.

Round 1 vs. Bastien Perez w/ R/W

Bastien, a young Frenchman with close-set eyes adorned by black-rimmed glasses not unlike my own, was playing an aggressive R/W with Gustcloak Harriers, Whipcorder x2, Improvised Armor, and red bombs like Insurrection. It was the Whipcorders that put me in the most danger, and more than once was I yearning for that Pinpoint Avalanche that I passed up. I don’t know much French, but Bastien knew enough English to make communication a snap, and we got down to playing as soon as we were allowed.

Game 1:

Bastien came out quick this game with Whipcorder and a morph, and never let up. Red removal took care of an early Savage, then Pinpoint Avalanche wiped the floor with the next blocker. I think I morphed a Charging Slateback at that point, holding Primal Boost and Searing Flesh with two mana open, but he of course just tapped it and swung in with his growing army, adding a Gustcloak Harrier to the fray. I Ravenous Balothed and Snarling Undoraked on successive turns, but his Whipcorder was a major nuisance and on top of that, I traded the Undorak in combat for I believe Avarax, and forgot to sacrifice it for four life, in a bonehead play error that would have put me on tilt if I hadn’t been getting wrecked anyhow. Still, I pretty much packed up right there, having never done a single point of damage.

Game 2:

This one almost ended early as well. I went first and managed a third-turn Undorak thanks to Wirewood Elf, but the Frenchman decided to get aggressive with Gustcloak Harrier, which he enchanted with Improvised Armor! I found my Ravenous Baloth, but he started to stalemate the ground with Daru Lancer, Battlefield Medic, and both of his Whipcorders, so I had to suck up the damage. I needed beasts, and quickly!

I drew Skirk Commandos and such while my life started to fall by four a turn, and then Erratic Explosion offed a Whipcorder to make things a little more dangerous for Bastien, who was at a comfortable sixteen life. Still, he kept coming in for four a turn, and I started to draw my Beasts. Ravenous Baloth pretty much saved me this game, since each Beast draw was four more life on the table, and another creature for his small R/W deck to deal with.

It was getting into the late game, and I was fearing his Insurrection while praying for my Dragon Roost to show up and win me the contest. Instead, I drew a massive Stag Beetle, which would require the attention of the Whipcorder every turn, and followed up it up with a Krosan Tusker, a monster much too big for his Limited to defenses to handle, especially given the presence of Snarling Undorak, which was Pacified but still able to pump friendly troops. Unfortunately, he’d reduced me to two, and Beasts were going to have to start getting sacrificed if I couldn’t draw my Brackus or find a way to win, and quick!

My first post-Tusker attack, consisting of numerous beasts and expendable Skirk Commandos, took him from sixteen to eleven and resulted in the loss of about three expendable creatures on each side, seriously uncluttering the board. Better still, I’d drawn Searing Flesh, bringing him closer to death than I could have imagined. Still, I was at a precarious two life, and he was about to swing back with the 4/7 Harrier which would require me to sacrifice the Pacified Undorak. He did indeed swing, and I sacrificed the Undorak to stay alive.

He had a Whipcorder back, and I attacked with my Ravenous Baloth and Krosan Tusker, with the Whipcorder tapping the Stag Beetle. A Battlefield Medic jumped in front of the Tusker, and he took four damage to go down to seven life. With that, I was able to cast Searing Flesh for the game, pulling my proverbial butt out of the fire.

Now that was a close one, and Bastien was none too pleased to have lost it by such a close margin.

Game 3:

Game 3 was another close game, but it came down to one critical play at the end. I’m was at four life, and he had Grassland Crusader and Gustcloak Harrier in play, against my Krosan Tusker and morph. He was at seven. I had seven mana untapped. Now in that situation, he can do one of two things:

Bastien can try to play some defense against my massive guys, perhaps trading one for the Tusker in combat while eating the damage from the morph, which could be one of my three Skirk Commandos. Snarling Undorak is already in the grave. He’ll most likely lose both of his creatures to the six Tusker damage and the Commando (or, if he’s lucky, my morph might be Charging Slateback and he keeps his Harrier and eats four damage and gets another draw phase.)

Or, he can go for the win…but for that to work, my morph guy can’t be Venomprout Brackus. If it’s Venomprout Brackus, he is toast.

Luckily for me, it was indeed the Brackus, so he was in trouble regardless of what he did (hard to double block the Tusker when your Harrier gets annihilated before it can deal damage). He decided to go for it with one card in hand, and swung for the game after pumping outside of combat, so I tapped seven to unmorph and ruin his day. I remember him shaking his head, then tapping W, which was enough to give me a heart attack because I thought he had Piety Charm… But he had only a Plains, and that was the match.

It was close. Too close.

Round 2 vs. Maurice Lowles with U/B Tempo

Maurice had a speedy U/B deck with many Ascending Avens, double Wretched Anurid, fear creatures, and even a Dispersing Orb to keep the expensive beasts off of the table while the flyers and Severed Legions went to town. He was two seats to my right during the draft and didn’t get anything spectacular, but I’m glad I took those two Riptide Biologists out of his hands, as both appeared in Pack 2.

Game 1:

A vicious drubbing. He did something like turn 2 Wretched Anurid, turn 3 morph, turn 4 hardcast Ascending Aven, turn 5 unmorph Ascending Aven, and then he backed it up with Dispersing Orb to keep my offense stalled. When I had to cast the same Ravenous Baloth twice while getting beat down for six a turn, I knew it was over. The only damage he took was from his Anurid.

Man, down a game again? Time to serve the beats or pack up and go home!

Game 2:

He got the double Ascending Aven draw, but luckily I got the triple Skirk Commando draw… And since Ascending Aven can’t block, he was in hot water from the get-go. The backbreaker came when he hardcast Aven #3, plus a Shepherd of Rot to trade with my Commando, and I ripped Solar Blast off the top to cycle on the Shepherd, allowing me to attack with my Skirk and wipe out his Aven (leaving him with only one Aven) and totally shift the game from an even race to a lopsided trouncing. The third Skirk got revealed the next turn when he tried to block the second one with a morph, and it took out his last Aven. Nasty. Dispersing Orb made an appearance – but without his tempo air force, it was a paper tiger, and I had plenty of time to find my big beaters for the win.

Game 3:

This game was once again all about the Commandos. He put an Ascending Aven into play facedown on turn 3, and I matched with a Commando. He swung in and I declined to trade, and then he played another face-down creature, as I could almost physically see him make the decision not to play his second Aven face-up. I laid land, draw, and swung in, taking the opposing morph down in combat with a cycled Primal Boost.

Maurice drew, attacked for two, and played Wretched Anurid. I came back with Snarling Undorak. He morphed his Ascending Aven and attacked with Anurid and Aven, and I traded the Undorak for the Anurid. He used his last three mana to lay a morph, and passed the turn.

I hit six mana, and the game pretty much ended when I Erratic Explosioned the morph, unmorphed my own Skirk Commando, and attacked for two, killing his Aven in the process. My hand at that point consisted of Wirewood Savage, Krosan Tusker, and Charging Slateback, so I had some gas left to spare, as well, and he never really recovered. He did try to play some fliers to race me, including a couple of Mistform Dreamers. I drew land #7 and played Krosan Tusker, then topdecked Ravenous Baloth and played the Savage first to draw a card, which turned out to be Solar Blast. He had nothing that could deal with such shenanigans, and the match was over a short time later.

Ravenous Baloth was also a key here, as he would have killed me the turn before his own death if I hadn’t been able to gain twelve life on a whim.

Ravenous Baloth is akin to playing with a Zuran Orb that beats for four.

So my record was 2-0.

You might guess that a 2-0 start would be a good feeling for a longtime amateur such as myself, and I’ll give you some absolution – it is. You have to experience it yourself to know how good it feels to be undefeated after two rounds at your first Pro Tour. Just like you have to experience it yourself to understand what it’s like to get to third base for the first time, or to fly in an airplane and gaze down at the world from miles above, or to see your first child born. Words can’t really describe it (but we try!). The doors of human perception swing wide, and they admit a great many things that are better felt than spoken.

Round 3 vs. Alex Alepin w/ BW Clerics

Alex had a strong deck with the same Cabal Archon/Rotlung Reanimator ridiculousness that were in Budde’s Top 8 deck… Only much better, because he had more Clerics. He also had a number of Pacifisms. This match was, I’m sorry to say, an asshammering, and t’were mine own hindquarters t’would receive said ‘hammering.

I know, I know… Vulgarities like that probably have no place in something that is supposed to be the definitive tournament report. Such an undertaking should be done with class and dignity. Well, permit me this brief lapse in etiquette. It won’t happen again.

Game 1:

I got wrecked my Pacifism, Rotlung Reanimator, tons of Clerics, and Cabal Archon. There honestly isn’t much more to tell about this game. His first turn Entrails Feaster was nuts, he got some Frightshroud action going on a Festering Goblin and sent it in for a few turns, then drained me for the rest. This was a burning couch game, all the way. In the end, I couldn’t even cycle my Tusker to try to dig for answers – because that would have brought the Feaster online for another swing.

Game 2:

Here’s a sordid tale of woe for you – I double mulliganed, and he again drew two Pacifisms, his Rotlung Reanimator, and his Cabal Archon. It wasn’t pretty – my first play was Ravenous Baloth on turn 5 after missing a land drop, and Pacifism removed it while he kept swinging.


That’s the sound of my undefeated dream hitting the carpet, sporting a smoking bullet-hole right between the eyes. I’m still cautiously optimistic, but that wasn’t just a gentle letdown, that was a CIA rubout. I was done like dinner with thirty-three minutes left to play, and of course, the two fun games we played to fill the time, I managed to win.

Isn’t that always the way? Fun games aren’t really fun games. They’re “I’m not really that bad – honest” games. They’re “I know I can beat your deck, so wipe that smile off of your face” games. They’re “Okay, that was cute, but we still have forty-five minutes left in the round, and I don’t want to wander around the venue like a knob” games.

Games of 5-Color; those are fun games.

These post-whipping, desperate grasps at redemption? They’re played mostly by disbelieving guys who have plenty of two things:

1) Knee-shaped neck bruises

2) Something to prove

Now, in between rounds, I’ve been chatting every so often with Oyvind Odegaard, and it’s all but a certainty that we’ll play this round, as we have identical records and haven’t played each other yet. Obviously I want to go 3-1 and not 2-2, so it’s going to be an old-school throwdown between the guy whose name cannot be represented correctly by any unmodified North American character set, and a washed-up columnist that now sells phone equipment. I’ll leave it to you to guess which is which.

Round 4 vs. Oyvind Odegaard w/GB

Another round, another fellow player with taste enough to appreciate the wonders of dressing in basic black.

As previously mentioned, Oyvind had a solid deck with Cruel Revival, Husk and two Symbiotics (Beast and Elf), Vitality Charms, and a massive beast engine to the tune of 3x Savage, 3x Undorak, 3x Mauler. I’ve seen his name around the Sideboard coverage, so I expect him to be pretty good. Before we sit down, he marvels at the fact that I have, in fact, spelled his name with both O’s accented in the correct fashion. This is a personal victory, as the chances of him marveling at anything else, be it good looks or play ability, are slim.

From the opening bell, I’m not disappointed. The man’s game is as solid as toaster leavin’s after a triple-pastry breakfast. If he were a deodorant, he’d be”Rite-Odegaard: 24-Hour Protection From A Winning Record.”

Game 1:

I got tuned like a 2nd chair cello this game. Just when I started to stabilize from his early beats (a deck that always, always has an Undorak and a Mauler on the table by turn 5 isn’t fun to deal with), he sent everything, showed me Tribal Unity, and I had no answers. I managed to live a couple of turns, but since the spell turned a reasonable set of blocks into a what amounted to ritual suicide amongst my ranks, I spent those turns under what might best be described as a ghastly pall of distemper and melancholy.

Game 2:

Sorry to disappoint people who might have been banking on a solid Pro-Tour performance by a misanthropic, balding cellular huckster, but I didn’t do a single point of damage to him this game, either.

We trade early creatures, and then he drops Symbiotic Beast and – get this – actually apologizes to me for playing Nantuko Husk the following turn. What a gentleman. Under more felicitous circumstances I would have grinned and bought him a smoke and a pancake, but as it was, I thought the best way to repay his good cheer and well-mannered temperament would be to bite down on something and take it like a man.

Husk. For a word associated mostly with corn, it can be fairly painful.

2-2 at table one. Not what I was hoping for…but at least I didn’t have a losing record. The very pairings sheets themselves seem to mock you with each passing second.

“Oh look!” they say, their white, HP-ink festooned cheeks stretched wide to reveal laughing, gaping maws filled with obscene Helvetica-font teeth. “You’re at table 233! I think that’s in the parking garage! Just push the bum aside and hunker down for a game.”

What can you do besides go and sit down

(playing at the pool)

and play? It’ll be alright. Honest.

VI. The Bounty Of Gaming Jim. Stokinger. Shvartsman.

I had a lot of time to browse the dealer tables over the course of the weekend. Though my gaze may have, at times, carried the weary regret of a man who wishes he had considerably less free time, such malaise didn’t prevent me from indulging my deepest card ownership fantasies. It was Gaming Jim, a stout, bluff, and bespectacled card merchant, who had the most impressive array of baubles on display, and it was with some frequency that I subjected these black-bordered beauties to my most intimate perusal.

Behind the glass of each display case could be found a veritable cornucopia (and though the phrase”veritable cornucopia” is used too often in wildlife documentaries, most of them voiced by Aussies, I will use it again here) of Magic cards, stretching to the ends of my imagination and beyond. I’m still a collector of sorts, and though I doubt I’ll ever buy a Mox again, with prices going up and playability going down, I am trying to build a “Cube” with Beta and FOIL versions of the best 400 or so Magic cards of all time.

Gaming Jim, by the looks of it, could have filled my every order in mere seconds… And oh, constant reader, you had best believe that with sufficient funds I would have had him do so. (Of course, Geordie is truly forgetting that perhaps buying cards from the delightful StarCity gets better prices and better service – The Ferrett, shill-for-hire) Beta dual lands. Beta Balance. Moxen with borders like obsidian, their surfaces unmarred by crease or smudge. Mint, unplayed, just out of pack Ancestral Recalls glaring like the eyes of Sinatra. The man knew his stuff, too – though this shouldn’t hardly surprise you. Every word out of his mouth radiated a deep knowledge of (and affinity for) the business of trading collectibles. It wasn’t just Magic singles, those trinkets were mundane to such a man. T-Shirts. Alpha rulebooks. Playtest cards. Magic curios of every possible rarity and description.

Gaming Jim was another original for the weekend, another story to go with my long list of new faces and places. He was something, all right. If Mark Rosewater decided to sell one of his kidneys on the black market, I’m sure it would be Gaming Jim brokering the deal.

Of course, Jim’s was not the only dealer table at PT Chicago – there was also the table manned by Alex Shvartsman and Andy Stokinger of Team Academy fame. The first thing that struck me about Alex was the fact that he actually had a Russian accent. This surprised me since he is, to my knowledge, a U.S. citizen, and with all of the Igor Frayman jokes being lobbed at OMC, I suppose I’d just assumed he was as American as mom’s apple pie despite Josh referring to him as a”Russian.” In fact, Alex lived the first fourteen years of his life in the Ukraine, where he spoke nothing but Russian before making his way overseas. Those beginnings still manifest themselves in Alex and in the charming Russian accent that of which he is possessed.

Alex was a treat to listen to at the table, and also extremely funny. More than anything else, I quickly got the impression that Alex is a crack shot at trading and evaluating the values of Magic cards. Though we didn’t have as much chance as I would have liked to talk about the business, it was still an education to watch him conduct business, ripping the correct prices off of the top of his head, adjusting his buylist as appropriate throughout the evening, and generally wheeling and dealing.

The funniest moment of my weekend came when Alex was asked (I presume) to handle business of another dealer, using that dealer’s own buylist. The hilarity started when Shvartsman gave the list a cursory glance.

“This buylist is so bad,” he muttered, brow furrowed, “That even as a favor I couldn’t buy a single card and expect to make money.” This started me giggling, and the humor only grew like wildfire when I asked Alex to elaborate on exactly what was so terrible about the list.

He glanced up at me, still holding the list in one hand.

“Look,” said Alex, bringing my attention to a point on the page. “He wants to buy Ravenous Baloth for three, Goblin Piledriver for two.”

He scanned through the list for another couple of seconds, even turning a page. Then his attention was galvanized by one entry.

“Or here-… Mirari…eighty-three cents,” he continued, a doubtful tone creeping into his voice. “I mean…what the f-ck?”

At that point, I started laughing, and though it subsided to a trickle a couple of times, I didn’t completely stop for a good thirty minutes. To get the full effect, you have to imagine Alex Shvartsman, he of the Russian accent, gentle blue eyes and clean-cut countenance, speaking the aforementioned words aloud, but even then, mere imaginings won’t do it justice. I would later go to dinner with Alex, but as poor luck would have it, he ended up seated far away from me, so for all intents and purposes, my memories of him end with the tale of Alex Shvartsman and The Bad Buylist. That’s fine by me. It’s a fond memory, and I look forward to talking to Alex again.

Speaking of find memories, it’s with a smirk (and a pancake?) that I think back to my meeting with Andy Stokinger. Andy, I’m now convinced, must be constantly subjected to reading or hearing accounts about how he is”not how I expected from the webpage” – and unfortunately, he is about to read another. The intelligence was present, of course, but the belligerence he left at home, or at least lying dormant under the surface.

Geordie: “How do you pronounce your last name? Is it ‘Stoke-inger?’ Or ‘Stock-inger’?”

AndyStok: “Stoke-inger.”

Geordie: “Cool, I’ve always wondered, because I’ve heard like ten people pronounce your name in different ways.”

AndyStok: “Yeah, nine out of ten of them I’d like to smack.”

We didn’t chat long, but I told him I enjoyed his webpage (this is true) and congratulated him on keeping it going. Then I brought up the subject of Mark Zadjner.

Geordie: “So, I see you got seated in the same pod as Zadjner.”

AndyStok: “Do you know that guy?”

Geordie (thinking fast): “I know OF him…”

Andy seemed friendly, all told. When I saw him dealing cards, I thought not “There’s that punk from TA who always shoots people the bird,” but “There’s a man at work.” He seemed like a professional doing his job, and nothing like the brash and objectionable soul you might expect from the proprietor of such a website as TA. I was also seated next to Andy when he took the Round 5 loss that eliminated him from Day 2. I tried to offer some hearty words of regret to Stoke, but my opponent had just announced Kaboom, targeting one of my creatures, so I had get my head back in the game.

And yes, you read that right. It’s only the highest level of play at the Pro Tour.

Of course, I picked Thoughtbound Primoc over Pinpoint Avalanche, forgot to sacrifice a dying Undorak to my Ravenous Baloth in Round 1, and later on against Michael Zaun, I would put Sandskin on the wrong guy by accident (skills!) hastening my death by a turn or more. As such, maybe I should just shut up. When it comes to Magic or any other thing, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.