The Definitive Tourney Report, Parts VII & VIII: Draft 2. Ziegner D’s Up The Doubtless One. The Long Walk Back.

There are things the Sideboard coverage will not tell you. They have to do with dreams, and hope. And loss. The Pro Tour knows about joy and victory, glitz and glamour and fraternization. But it knows about pain.

VII. Draft 2. Ziegner D’s Up The Doubtless One. The Long Walk Back.

Here’s my pod for Draft 2:

Seat 1: Geordie Tait

Seat 2: Craig Edwards

Seat 3: Joe Spica

Seat 4: Mark Ziegner

Seat 5: Michael Zaun

Seat 6: Jurgen Hahn

Seat 7: Andrea Santin

Seat 8: Javier Perez-Fresnado

The names I recognized here were Canadian Nation Champion Jurgen Hahn, and Mark Ziegner, who was a Worlds finalist and a member of the German National Championship team along with Kai. Now, for whatever reason the above seating list (which I obtained from the Sideboard) is not correct – I happen to know that Ziegner was on my immediate left for the duration of the draft – but it will give you an idea of what the table was like as far as the names involved.

The draft was interesting. I wheeled two white cards to start (I was in Seat 8, not 1 as it says above…just ignore those numbers) and didn’t take a black card for a while, until I could determine what the guy on my right was up to. Ziegner was U/R on my left, so when the seat to my right seemed to dip into R/G, I set myself up in B/W by taking a Fallen Cleric. From there the packs were opened and we took what we could, with Ziegner having a shot at two Lightning Rifts (taking a Lavamancer’s Skill over one of them), and Shared Triumph making its way into my hands rather late, putting me into Ironclad Cleric mode. In pack three, Rotlung Reanimator was opened and sent to me as a 5th pick, an event that prompted my brain to release a torrent of joy-inducing endorphins and neuro-transmitters.

One pack had a Doubtless One that would have made it to me 15th – but Mark Ziegner, with a wink in my direction and a knowing smile, plucked it out from under my nose, leaving me with a Sea’s Claim. Dastardly! There were in fact two U/R decks at the table, and Michael Zaun had quietly amassed three copies of Lavamancer’s Skill for his, along with a nice white splash including Whipcorder. In pack 2, I opened and took an Oversold Cemetery, leaving Screeching Buzzard for the other black players to fight over (I would end up with three Buzzards regardless) and though one Starlit Sanctum was the victim of a defensive draft, I managed to get my hands on another.

Here’s the deck I ended up with:

Geordie Tait, Draft 2, PT Chicago 2003

3 Screeching Buzzard

3 Daunting Defender

2 Daru Healer

1 Battlefield Medic

2 Fallen Cleric

1 Nantuko Husk

1 Aphetto Vulture

1 Festering Goblin

1 Rotlung Reanimator

2 Sandskin

2 Swat

1 Dirge Of Dread

1 Crown Of Awe

1 Shared Triumph

1 Oversold Cemetery

9 Swamp

6 Plains

1 Secluded Steppe

1 Starlit Sanctum

Notable Sideboard Cards:

2 Shepherd Of Rot

2 Disciple Of Grace

1 Renewed Faith

1 Piety Charm

1 Misery Charm

1 Anurid Murkdiver

1 Aphetto Dredging

1 Haunted Cadaver

It’s a strong Cleric theme deck, but I honestly believe I misbuilt it, mostly due to inexperience. The maindeck Crown Of Awe was a nod towards the triple Lavamancer’s Skill in Zaun’s deck, as well as insurance against the other black and red players at the table, and I expected to win most games either with stall followed by Dirge Of Dread, or by massive card advantage via Cemetery, Rotlung, etc.

Looking back, I have to ask myself a few questions:

1. With Oversold Cemetery, would it be worth playing the two Disciples Of Grace, which cycle, possibly setting up an extra draw/turn later in the game, while simultaneously being able to play defense in conjunction with one of the three Daunting Defenders? They could also produce Zombies with an early Rotlung Reanimator. And Shared Triumph makes any Cleric a beater.

2. How good is Shepherd Of Rot? Turn 2 Shepherd, turn 3 Rotlung Reanimator is a strong opening, to be sure. I had no idea if the card would be good or not, mostly because I envisioned myself winning a lategame battle, a plan that didn’t include me lowering my own life total. I know how to play Shepherd Of Rot in a beatdown deck, where I sometimes include them, but not in a Cleric deck, so rather than take the chance I just left them by the wayside.

3. With Rotlung Reanimator and Daunting Defender being so powerful in the deck, is Misery Charm worth playing? At worst it’s a Raise Dead.

4. Is Sandskin really worthy of inclusion? Granted, I was planning to use it to stop flying beats, but adding two creatures to the deck, and sideboarding Sandskin in, might also have worked. The deck is very focused on pulling out a lategame win with the interaction between Starlit Sanctum, Oversold Cemetery, Rotlung Reanimator, and so on.

I’d be interested to know how others might have built this deck. I can’t shake the feeling that I was two or three cards off, and that doesn’t even include possible mispicks during the Rochester. It was missing a couple of cards I would have loved to have – namely the Cabal Archon (a card so busty that it makes Busty Johnson look positively unendowed by comparison), and Pacifism. Daru Lancer wouldn’t have hurt either, as the deck was quite low on good early morph options.

So I deliberated, I built, I got ready to win out. No room for error. I was still feeling the pressure, but I did get hungry.

Unlike StarCity columnist and Limited specialist Nick Eisel, I avoided the hotdogs. Good thing, too. Though FDA regulations dictate that the percentage of animal intestinal linings in each wiener be lower than in previous years, the stuff still probably tasted better on the way back up. Eisel was reportedly tossing his cookies with such spasmic intensity that two Starstorms and a Rorix fell out of his pocket.

Round 5 vs. Javi Perez-Fresnado w/ R/G

Javi was probably the least experienced player at the table, and it was clear throughout the draft as he made a number of unconventional picks, including a hilarious daylight robbery of Catapult Squad that send the R/W Soldier-drafter on his left into a series of Tourette’s Syndrome-like convulsions and facial tics.

Game 1:

During this game, Javi tapped five mana with a flourish and tried to target one of my creatures with Kaboom.

The vicious blast of random red damage ended up hitting me, after some deliberation and a quick reading comprehension exercise.

The card flipped over was Wirewood Pride. Somewhere, off in another pocket of space and time and substance of a nature utterly inconceivable by the human psyche, God laughed.

That was Javi’s fifth turn.

I won.

Game 2:

He played a Barkhide Mauler that hit me once, but my draw was something like Battlefield Medic, Daru Healer, Screeching Buzzard, Daunting Defender, Daunting Defender #2, Starlit Sanctum, and more. The only thing I had to fear was his Wave of Indifference, but eventually I drew Rotlung Reanimator and Nantuko Husk, which would allow me to make plenty of emergency blockers at instant speed, should the need arise. Then I drew Crown Of Awe, and when he did rip the Wave, it was of no real use. The board was locked up tight, and when Shared Triumph showed up I started sending in the 4/4 Daunting Defenders.

I’m 3-2 and it’s all going to come down to one match. I’m up against Michael Zaun and his triple Lavamancer’s Skill U/R deck, with many other solid cards as well.

Round 6 vs. Michael Zaun w/ U/R/w

Michael Zaun looks enough like Scott Johns for a shmoe like me to mistake him for Scott Johns. No one who actually knows Scott Johns would probably ever make the same mistake. He’s an excellent player, that much I know. Better than me, I think. At least on that day. Maybe not on the day after or the day before, but… He was good enough on that fateful Friday, and at PT Chicago, that was enough.

The Sideboard coverage, which lists the results of each round, will tell you that I didn’t win this match. In fact, I was defeated in two games, with Michael using a combination of perfectly-timed Lavamancer’s Skill gambits to get around my waiting Swats, with the help of his Mage’s Guile and Discombobulate. In game 2 and slightly on tilt due a series of bonecrushing plays by Michael (Discombobulate on a crucial Daunting Defender, Mage’s Guile on a crucial Swat that was headed after his Skilled Sage Aven), I played a Sandskin essentially with my eyes closed, and realized only on his turn that I’d slapped it down on my own groundpounder instead of Michael’s Ascending Aven. I was losing no matter what – but that one play was like a focal point, the physical manifestation of all of my tiny errors over the course of the day, and my heart cried out in anguish as I buried my head in my hands and knew it was over.

There are things the Sideboard coverage will not tell you. They have to do with dreams, and hope. And loss. The Pro Tour knows about joy and victory, glitz and glamour and fraternization.

But it knows about pain.

You may read that that event is taking place at the Marriott in Chicago, but the text won’t relate how the venue loses all color when you fall by the wayside, or how alone you feel when it is late in the afternoon, and you’re letting a labyrinthine escalator system drag you up to the street level while you try to hold yourself together. There won’t be any mention of the tears that well in your eyes when you realize that it’s actually over. You might see the picture of the blue-haired rapscallion in the photo archive, dressed in a red shirt and black coat, but you won’t be told how the sleeve of that coat would need to rise to clear the beginnings of those tears from eyes that were blank as Round 7 score pads.

You know from the standings that the drop box was checked after Round 6, but you won’t read about how a young man would nearly cry, only to stop himself at the last second. It is not documented, you see, on the Sideboard or on MTG.com, that this player would nearly weep like someone who had lost a pet, or failed in a business venture that had been all-consuming. You won’t read about how he had only the escalator for company for the first agonizing minutes after the crucial loss. Or about what poor company it was.

You know a man will jump for joy and hug his teammates and hold up a giant check on Sunday, but the story omits the tale of those who are victim to the double-edged sword of those goals and dreams. It doesn’t speak about how the human heart can mourn for the loss of these intangible things.

You might see the Chicago skyline in the promotional materials, but you won’t read about how cold it is when you have to walk two blocks to your hotel, trailing a mist of visible breath. You won’t know that when the finality of the situation creeps up on you, the walk back feels more like twenty blocks than two. You won’t read about how it feels to have ears like slabs of ice as you make your way, shrouded in equal parts disappointment and imitation leather, how it feels to know for sure that your dreams were nothing but so much thin air, that they would dissipate like the mist of an exhalation on a cold Chicago night. You don’t hear about the void that gets left behind.

You might read about the success stories of the Pro Tour, but you won’t read about those who imagined such stories for themselves only to fall far short, nor about the pangs of confusion and despair that would pervade them once all had been said and done, and there were no outs left. You won’t read about the last, paralyzing minute at the table, looking desperately for an out that isn’t forthcoming, nor about the seeming eternity spent, head in hands, after the match has concluded. Elbows on a rough tablecloth. Cheeks burning with heat. Eyes closed. You won’t read about how all the spirit leaves you like passengers disembarking a rusted, ancient locomotive that has finally reached its final stop.

You might read about the boisterous all-night drafting sessions that occur, but you won’t read about how, for some of the defeated, the night is spent in a dead, dreamless sleep, the sort of slumber that results when a person is spent, when every ounce of effort has been given. There are no paragraphs devoted to these men and women, those who gave everything they had and still came up short. Aaron Forsythe does not cover pain. Josh Bennett does not transcribe two hours of sullen, brooding disappointment.

Falling short, not being good enough, failing despite giving everything you had. There are no winners here for Toby Wachter to spotlight. The emotions are too complex a concoction to be catalogued by decklist demon Ben Bleiweiss, the players too low-profile to attract the attention of Randy Buehler. You will not see the cannibalistic, despairing inner questions of a 3-3 drop on”Ask The Pros.”

This tour knows about pain.

Underneath everything, on the flip side of what you see, it is always there. How did I feel when I played the Sandskin on the wrong creature and Michael Zaun sent in that Ascending Aven to undo me in Round 6? Well, I’ll tell you. Stephen King wrote it first, but I will repeat it here:

I felt like I’d fallen over the rim of the universe and into the fires of hell itself.

VIII. Ben Bleiweiss. The Dinner. Munchies With Zvi, Kastle Comer And Gary.

I still got up to draft the next day, at the suggestion of John Labute. I thought I was done with Magic on Friday evening, but that was residual disappointment talking, and I’m glad he dragged me out there to have some fun. The day was uneventful at the beginning, though my friend John did with a side draft using an Elf deck with Voice Of The Woods (which he played, active, almost every game on turn 5). Taunting Elves were swinging and Wirewood Pride was in the +7/+7 range for many of those contests, and his hapless adversaries were none too pleased.

It was good to see John win, even if he did have to apologize to every opponent after beating them with 7/7 trampling Elemental tokens. I lost in the first round of the same draft (First pick Death Match, second-pick Undorak, didn’t get passed one Symbiotic creature or Vitality Charm of any kind, and was too stubborn to switch colors when I had a chance at a third-pick Sparksmith), but he managed to take his deck all the way, even though it had only a Solar Blast and a Lavamancer’s Skill for removal and one of the Pros at the table had Visara.

I was watching John play one of these games when Ben Bleiweiss walked over and invited me to dinner at a”Brazilian Meathouse.” This was probably one of the most pleasant surprises of my entire weekend, and it was great to be able to go. There was a time, not long ago, when I didn’t know what to make of Ben Bleiweiss. First I saw him writing for MtG.com, so I developed the same green-eyed-monster jealousy for him that I have for all of the MtG.com writers. I won’t lie and say that this jealousy wasn’t acting in tandem with a little bit of ego on my part – you see I thought I could do Ben’s job, and yet he was getting paid a bunch of money for it while I was working for store credit. Now, there is nothing wrong with this (Pete Hoefling is not a stupid man; he will not overpay the likes of me), but nonetheless I was a bit testy with Ben and numerous others, without having even met them!

Then, he wrote that article about White in Extended, which included the line (and I’ll paraphrase), “If I’m wrong about many of these cards, I’ll have to write an article for free, when I normally get paid to do so”. This struck me as a little objectionable because it seemed to imply that writing for free is a punishment. I suppose, for Ben, that it was…But since I was writing essentially for free (a spade is a spade, and StarCity credit, while nice, is not the same thing as cash) I felt slighted by the remark and immediately wrote a rant that got posted on MiseTings.

So like I said, I’d gotten some bad impressions of Ben. This was due to my own jealousy of his position (and trust me, this little vice of mine is not aimed only at Ben, but at numerous other Wizards employees with writing jobs that I lust after), and the fact that I didn’t like his”White Extended Playables” article and what he seemed to infer about writing for free. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when I met the man for the first time and found him to be friendly and down to earth. I read somewhere that the surest way to piss off one artist is to be another artist of the same kind (and in the case of myself and Jamie Wakefield, this was true – we now loathe each other), but Ben and I didn’t clash once, about anything, throughout the course of the entire weekend. In truth, he was even nice enough to offer me some words of encouragement.

I also learned some things about Ben that made me reconsider my opinion of him. First of all, he can type 110 words/minute, and I don’t even come close to that. I type about 40 words/minute and have to look at my hands to do so. As it turned out, he had the unenviable job of typing up the many decklists that were needed for the Sideboard coverage – a revelation that partially shattered my image of the jet-setting, carefree Sideboard writer, the type who did his match coverage, played in some drafts with the Pros, and then took his $250 and went home. The fact that he wasn’t wearing the Rastafarian hat (Ben, to my knowledge, has no connection to Jamaican music or culture) has also a plus.

Ben would make me smile several times throughout the course of our time together, usually by eschewing the flowery language of a longtime scribe and getting directly to the heart of a matter, something you might not expect from a writer. One such instance was when a loud alarm went off during the”Question Mark” trivia show.

Mark Rosewater: “Team 11, you are correct…and what is that noise?”

Ben Bleiweiss: “Someone just went out the fire exit like a retard.”

Ben, while riding in a cab with me, would later make an equally humorous remark of similar scale and content, and I did laugh heartily at his brevity.

Ben Bleiweiss: “So yeah, it’s not so…”

(a convertible passes by WITH THE TOP DOWN, in the middle of Chicago winter)

Ben Bleiweiss: “What is the matter with those people? Are they retarded?”

So I came in with the beginnings of a chip on my shoulder, and Ben Bleiweiss gave me encouragement, invited me to dinner, where we chatted for a good twenty minutes, and generally was a class act. Truth be told, I feel a little silly for being even a bit apprehensive about Ben. I think I know what he’d say to sum up my premonitions regarding his character.


That being said, let me tell you about the dinner at “Fogo de Chao.” It was the most expensive meal I’ve ever had in my life (the whole thing was $70 US for me, including cab fare), but also probably the most enjoyable. Part of it was the company (the tally of trenchermen seated at the supper table that night included Zvi Mowshowitz, Darwin Kastle, Justin Gary, Gaming Jim, Alex Shvartsman, Ben Bleiweiss, Alan Comer and numerous others), part of it was the food, which was sublime in quality and seemingly endless in quantity.

Alan Comer, who had had extensive experience with such meathouses, directed traffic for the newcomers.

“There’s a disk in front of you,” he began, revealing yet another accent that I didn’t expect, a la Shvartsman. “If it’s green, it means, ‘Bring me meat!’. If it’s red, it means ‘No more meat!’ Understand?”

Pretty straightforward. In fact, it was important to make the switch from green to red in a timely fashion – otherwise you’d be buried neck-deep in chefs, eager to have you sample everything from bacon-wrapped filets to succulent steaks to parmesan pork. It was an avalanche of appetizers, a cavalcade of kebabs catering to the caloric consumption capabilities of each carnivorous character. There were mouth-watering cheese-filled pastries, a loaded salad bar, fried bananas, and meat entrees of every conceivable description.

Darwin Kastle, possessed of a sizable frame and a soft-spoken, calm voice, seemed overwhelmed by the experience… Though he wasn’t the only one.

“I really enjoyed this meal, but this is not the type of place I would come to by myself,” lamented Darwin, still flushed, as we all were, from the mountainous meal. “I’m trying to lose weight and save money, and here I can’t do either one!”

Gaming Jim took the title for “Most Food Eaten,” even going so far as to gather all of the disks at the table, surround his plate with them, and turn them all to”green.” Needless to say, he was practically bathing in equal parts meat and attention within seconds.

I was also meeting Justin Gary for the first time, and though Psychatog is more widely known, I believe that with a smile like his, Justin is the real”Dr. Teeth.” Affable and friendly the entire meal, he did get a little nettled when we noticed that there were seven Coca-Colas on the bill, which we were splitting equally, totaling a ridiculous $21. While people were doing Psychatog math over the cheque, I tried to hide under the table, since I’d been the one who ordered six of those Cokes, thinking refills were free. Plus the waitress who brought the carbonated beverages was a cute little number.

“Well, whoever ordered seven Cokes has to put in some extra money,” chuckled Justin, good-natured but deathly serious. I remained silent, with full knowledge that the only bill I had in my wallet was a Canadian fiver. Eventually, Ben Bleiweiss came to my rescue by chipping in the needed cash, and I was able to escape Justin’s dragnet with the secret soda-fetish intact.

It was a good fifty minutes before we were finished sending our bellies into the red zone, all told, and it was a great experience. I even got a chance to tell Ben the story of myself and Jamie Wakefield, though all things considered I probably shouldn’t have bothered. The whole saga requires about three good hours to explain, and I only had about twenty minutes. As a result, I couldn’t stop to explain any of the online gaming jargon, and Zvi, who was listening in, had no idea what the hell I was talking about. I’m pretty sure even Ben, who also played Asheron’s Call with Wakefield (six degrees of Jamie Wakefield?) found the tale incomprehensible… But that’s what you get when you weave a tangled web.

The meal eaten, the tale told, the bill paid, we went home. Sated, I returned to the all-night draft area and talked the evening away with Josh Bennett and others, and the contents of that conversation have already been chronicled here, so I won’t repeat them.

Suffice it to say that it was a night I will never forget. Josh Bennett expressed the opinion that the dinners, the talks, the late-night drafts… These things were the real “Pro Tour Experience.” And as I sat there, with a belly full of amazing food, surrounded by the sounds of passing packs and drunken minors and PTR yelling “Kaboom!”…I realized he wasn’t too far wrong.