The Dragonmaster’s Lair – A Pro Tour: Austin Report, Part 2 *Winner*

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Thursday, November 5th – In the concluding part of his entertaining and uplifting report, Brian Kibler recounts each story of Days 2 and 3 play. From his 0-3 draft, to that game in the quarterfinals, it’s all here!

[Editor’s Note: Due to illness, there’s no Adrian Sullivan article this week. Get well soon, Adrian!]

When we last left our intrepid hero, he was riding high after finishing day one undefeated at 8-0. Being on top of the standings is always a good feeling, but being in first place overnight is even better. I went back to the house not long after round 8 ended, deciding to eschew eating out for some extra sleep. My best efforts were in vain, however — despite heading to bed by 10, I just couldn’t get body and brain to cooperate.

I spent much of the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep, thwarted by excitement or nervousness or both. It didn’t help that around 2am, the nightlife contingent returned from the bars and Matt Sperling was repeatedly doing his impression of a Boggart Ram-Rang, which involved putting his head down, stomping his feet in place, and then charging at whatever happened to be in front of him. In retrospect it was pretty hilarious, but I was less amused at the time when I was trying to get to sleep. I finally drifted off sometime around 3am, only to be woken by my alarm sometime around 8. The remaining denizens of the house still in the tournament — myself, Ben Rubin, Dave Williams, and Matt Sperling — loaded into Dave’s rental car and made our way to the tournament site, though not before stopping at a convenience store to load up on much-needed energy drinks for the day.

By the way, that’s something I recommend to anyone for any big tournament. Not energy drinks specifically, but coming prepared with snacks and drinks to keep you going throughout the day. My bag at the pro tour had my decks, pens, paper, and extra sleeves, but most of it was taken up by energy drinks, bananas, and a box of cereal. It’s easy to just forget to eat between rounds, and keeping snacks with you is an easy way to make sure you don’t lose focus because your stomach is rumbling. This has been a public service announcement.

I sat down at my first draft pod with my iPod blaring and took a deep breath. As the lone 8-0, I knew the eyes of the Magic world were on me — particularly since I’d just gone 8-0 on Day 1 of the previous pro tour. There were expectations. There was pressure. There was fear. Despite coming off a Top 8 finish at the previous pro tour, having been in precisely the same position there, I still felt that gnawing uncertainty that it could all come tumbling down. I wasn’t about to let my nerves get the best of me, though. It was time to draft.

You can watch my draft here and watch my video commentary about my draft strategy here. I felt I drafted reasonably well, given my plan going in. My success in the format had come primarily with aggressive decks with Red, Black, or both, so I passed on the powerful Shepherd of the Lost for a Nimana Sell-Sword in the first pack. I could also have taken Bladetusk Boar, but I both had a preference for Black over Red at the time and liked the option of starting on an ally heavy deck early in the draft. I was pretty clearly fighting for Red, but got some late Black gifts that made it seem like that color was quite open. The only pick of the draft that I regret was taking my third Crypt Ripper over a Giant Scorpion, because my deck ended up being very heavy at the four slot and could have really used another three-drop. It’s possible that I should have taken one of the Mind Sludges that I saw in pack three as well, and I certainly would have taken them earlier in the draft, but at that point I felt like I needed creatures to fill out my deck more than the discard spell.

At the end of the draft, I felt like I had a decent deck. Not great, but reasonably solid. I felt like in a typical situation it was capable of a 2-1 with decent draws or 1-2 if things went poorly. I certainly did not expect to go 0-3 — but, as I’m sure you all know by now, that is exactly what happened.

Round 9 — Yuuya Watanabe

Yuuya was obviously the hottest player in the world coming into the tournament, and despite never personally having played him before, I was expecting to have to fight for every inch. Our match was featured, as we were the only remaining undefeateds in the tournament at 8-0 and 7-0-1, and you can read the coverage here.

Neither game was terribly close, and while both games were ultimately sealed by the Eldrazi Monument, the most important card in each game was really Greenweaver Druid. Green is the weakest color in Zendikar draft because it is just so much slower than the others, but the Greenweaver Druid lets you power out huge monsters very quickly. I would go so far as to say it’s better than all of the Green commons in the right deck, with the potential exception of Grazing Gladehart. It’s certainly the sort of card that makes G/U fatty decks like Yuuya’s work, as you can see from the massive acceleration it gave him in both of our games.

Matches 8-1

Round 10 — Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa

This match was a fake feature match in which Paulo got revenge on me for my win the day before. This time his deck was G/B and much better set up for the matchup than mine, with efficient defensive creatures like River Boa and Giant Scorpion able to hold off my quick beatdown, and with a Vampire Nighthawk for which I had virtually no answers to win the game in the air. I managed to steal game 1 despite a turn 3 Nighthawk on his part when he flooded out, but games 2 and 3 he had solid draws and I was never really in either game. I made a few brain-dead mistakes in the match, including failing to put a counter on a Red shrine one turn that nearly cost me the first game, but ultimately I was just completely outmatched by Paulo’s deck and he won the match convincingly.

Matches 8-2

One thing that’s worth noting here is that Paulo was 1-0 with his deck when we played rather than the 0-1 that I was. That’s one of the peculiarities of swiss pairings in the second draft of the pro tour — if you’re at the top of the standings, even if you lose, you’re going to play against people who are winning. Going 0-3 from 8-0 is very different than going 0-3 from 6-2, because as the 8-0 you never play against another 0-2 deck — everyone you play after your first opponent has gotten at least one win.

With that in mind…

Round 11 — Raphael Levy

Raph was 1-1 with his deck, with his loss coming against Martin Juza in round 9, and his Mono-White defensive ally deck was pretty much the last thing I wanted to see when I was fighting to avoid a winless draft. Kazandu Blademaster, Ondu Cleric, Makindi Shieldmate and friends made my Vampire Lacerator deck entirely miserable, and while I once again managed to steal a game with aggression when Raph stumbled, I couldn’t pull out the match. Kazandu Blademaster just got too big too fast in the third game, and with no real way to remove it, my hopes slipped away quickly.

Matches 8-3

So I went from 8-0 to 8-3, but I really didn’t feel bad about it. Sure, I was frustrated — I felt like I had a reasonable deck and should have picked up at least one win, but I felt like I drafted and played well and things just didn’t come together for me. In Honolulu, I was really down on myself after my loss to Zac Hill in round 9 playing to be the last undefeated because I threw away a game I had won by getting overconfident and just attacking into what should have been an obvious Resounding Silence for no reason. Here that didn’t happen. I certainly didn’t play perfectly, but I didn’t feel like I had choked like I did in Honolulu. A lot of people asked me how I managed to pick myself up from the 0-3 draft and get back on my feet for Constructed, and really it was just a matter of looking at my results in perspective. Sometimes you just don’t win. Sometimes it happens three matches in a row. And when it does happen, you have to just sign the slip, shake hands, and move on. There are more matches to play, and all you can do is take them one at a time.

I felt confident in my Constructed deck. In fact, it had been a long time since I had felt quite so confident playing any deck. Sure, I’d gone from #1 to middle of the pack, but that didn’t stop me from feeling like this was my tournament to win. I put the draft behind me, popped on my iPod, shuffled up some Baneslayers, and got down to business.

Round 12 — Kazuya Hirabayashi — U/B Tron

When Kazuya played a first turn Urza land, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We’d tested a number of Urzatron decks but came to the conclusion that all of them seemed to lack a really good threat base. I was particularly confused when Kazuya’s turn 1 also involved a Chrome Mox and Dimir Signet, revealing him as U/B rather than U/W. His start was pretty explosive, with a second Urza’s land and Gifts Ungiven the following turn for Academy Ruins, Tolaria West, Crucible of Worlds, and the remaining Urza’s Land. I think about it for a while and give him Tolaria West and the final piece of the Urzatron. I have my Ghost Quarter in my hand and it seems that the biggest threat is really Academy Ruins — my experience testing Tron showed me that the threat density was the biggest issue, so I figured that I could possibly deal with them on a one-for-one basis as long as I could keep him off Ruins.

The game played out very strangely. I was attacking with Wild Nacatls, but Kazuya played out the remaining Urza’s Land and Grim Poppet, after which point we just kept playing draw-go. I knew Kazuya had Tolaria West in his hand, but he never used it despite having the mana to do so. Eventually I drew Punishing Fire, which put him on a clock, as I was able to take out his Grim Poppet and start attacking. He finally transmuted Tolaria West for Academy Ruins, but when he played his Ruins he got back Grim Poppet with his first activation rather than Crucible of Worlds, so I was able to Ghost Quarter the Ruins and kill the Poppet again. I played out a Knight of the Reliquary, which threatened lethal damage very soon, but Kazuya played a Mindslaver and used it. He was one mana short of being able to return Punishing Fire enough times to kill my Knight in concert with the Lightning Helix I drew, so he just killed my other creatures and tapped me out. What he didn’t do is use my Knight to sacrifice a land for nothing, and at the end of his turn I used my Knight to find Treetop Village which, combined with Punishing Fire, was enough to kill him. The second game wasn’t nearly as interesting. It involved some number of Shriekmaws, Damnations, and other random removal spells until the point that I believe I played a Blood Moon and things were basically over.

Matches 9-3

Round 13 — Blaine Hatab — Affinity

Blaine was a very excitable fellow who seemed fairly resigned to his fate. In both games we each had reasonable draws, but mine involved Path and Punishing Fire while his involved Arcbound Workers and Myr Enforcers. He drew running Ravagers in the first game that could have given him the game with the Fatal Frenzy in his hand if I didn’t play carefully, but I responded to every modular trigger with burn to force him to commit all of his resources to keeping his Ravagers around, and eventually he ran out of resources to commit. Game 2 was much of the same, although he did manage to land a Delay on my Punishing Fire to keep it from tearing apart his army of Frogmites and Arcbound Workers. Suspend doesn’t answer anything permanently, however, and once the time counters were gone the Punishing commenced and it was over quickly.

Matches 10-3

Round 14 — Albert Ruskey

At this point I’d collected a list of almost all of the decks being played at the top tables, but Albert’s deck was one that I didn’t have on my scouting report so I didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t take long for him to reveal himself as Bant, however. The first game went as I expect typical games of the matchup to go, with Wild Nacatl providing early pressure and Knight of the Reliquary outclassing any of the Bant creatures long enough for Punishing Fire and Grove to take control of the game. The second game was much closer, however. Albert got an aggressive draw with his best creatures in the matchup — a pair of Troll Ascetics. I was somewhat stalled on mana so I couldn’t get out to a fast start, and pretty soon I was just hiding behind a single Knight of the Reliquary to try to preserve my life total. Albert had Mana Leak when I tried to land Elspeth, and I was quickly stuck playing out Qasali Pridemages and Noble Hierarchs just to chump block and stay alive.

The turn before I was going to die, as if on cue, Baneslayer Angel appeared on top of my deck and turned the game around completely. Albert found a Path after I got in a couple of attacks, but the life point buffer the queen provided gave me a lot more breathing room. I still couldn’t find a second Knight to hold the ground, but what did I find? Another Baneslayer Angel! At this point I’d been able to assemble a few exalted creatures who hadn’t had to chump block, so every hit was a Drain Life bigger than the damage Albert’s entire team was doing on the attack back. It doesn’t take many such attacks to win a game, and in short order the game turned from chump blocking to winning.

I love you, Baneslayer Angel.

Matches 11-3

Round 15 – Evangelos Papatsarouchas

This was a feature match covered here. Van was another of the few remaining competitors whose decks I didn’t know, but I found out quickly when he played a Gemstone Mine off a double mulligan. I was fortunate enough to be able to steal game 1 when Van had a terrible draw and my rather anemic beatdown was able to get there before he drew into anything useful, but I decided not to make the most of my fortune by punting each of the next two games.

I double mulliganed in the second game, but had a reasonable draw with some early aggression and a Baneslayer Angel that could potentially beat a weak Hypergenesis. I wouldn’t really call Van’s turn 3 Hypergenesis weak, but it was one that I could have legitimately beaten with Baneslayer if I hadn’t just been a doofus. He put Progenitus and two Sundering Titans into play against my Hierarch, Pridemage, Wild Nacatl, two Grove of the Burnwillows, Baneslayer Angel, and Arid Mesa. I drew Blood Moon. I attacked him for 7 with Baneslayer, thought for a while, and said go. My thought here was that I didn’t want to give Van life with Grove because that would alter my clock with Baneslayer by a turn and I felt like I could ride the angel to the win. If I’d considered more carefully the possible outcomes, though, I would have realized that playing Blood Moon and blocking one Sundering Titan with Pridemage and killing the other meant that I was still way ahead in the race and would almost certainly win, albeit a turn later. The way that I played it left me open to a removal spell on my Baneslayer, which of course Van had, and a Putrefy later my hopes of beating Progenitus with Baneslayer had to be put on hold.

The next game went very similarly. I played a turn 1 Noble Hierarch, with Meddling Mage in hand to stop Hypergenesis, along with a Knight of the Reliquary for serious pressure. Van had a turn 1 Hypergenesis, with double Simian Spirit Guide into Demonic Dread giving him Akroma, Angel of Fury to my Meddling Mage and Knight of the Reliquary. He used Venser to bounce my Knight of the Reliquary and I was pretty far behind. I drew a Path and replayed my Knight while the Akroma hit me down to 8. On my turn I Pathed the Venser and attacked, but kept back my Knight of the Reliquary to search for a Ghost Quarter to kill one of Van’s land so he wouldn’t be able to kill me with Akroma’s firebreathing if he drew a land. Again, I didn’t stop long enough to consider the implications of my decision, as by playing to maybe-not-lose the following turn I put myself in a position where I really couldn’t win either — if I had attacked with my Knight instead of searching for a Ghost Quarter, while I would have lost to a topdecked Red mana source, I would have been able to win if he didn’t draw a Red mana source, and wouldn’t have had to topdeck myself to have a chance to win.

I think that’s something that a lot of people do in all sorts of games — not just Magic. I remember the week before when I’d been in Vegas playing blackjack and thinking just how terrible most people were at the game. It was truly remarkable. I’d see people staying on a 15 against a dealer’s 10 simply because they don’t want to bust, despite the fact that by staying they are drastically reducing their chance to win. My play in this case was very similar — I put myself in a position where I couldn’t just immediately lose, but I couldn’t win either. I felt a little foolish thinking about it and remembering how much I’d silently mocked those terrible blackjack players whenever I sat with them as I realized I’d just done exactly the same thing — let my fear of losing keep me from putting myself in a position to win.

Matches 11-4

Thankfully, all was not lost. This didn’t have to be a repeat of Worlds 2002 where I made a mistake to lose the penultimate round and knocked myself out of contention for Top 8. Thankfully, I still had the best tiebreakers in the tournament, and the standings looked like at least one person with four losses would make it. I took a deep breath, popped on my iPod, and pushed my mistakes out of my mind. This was still my tournament to win.

Round 16 — Marcel Zafra — Dark Zoo

When the pairings went up, I was thrilled to see that I was not only playing against someone who I had a scouting report for, but that I would finally have a chance to play against the deck that mine was built to beat. At first we weren’t called to the feature match area, but once David Ochoa decided to concede to Paulo, they moved us over to take their place. Unfortunately, we weren’t actually covered, and my happiness at winning the match clouded over any memory I have of it. I do remember taking out Tidehollow Scullers and Dark Confidants with Punishing Fire, and sideboarding in Ghost Quarters over Treetop Villages to potentially disrupt Tribal Flames on Baneslayer or Knight. That interaction didn’t come up, but my various monsters and removal were able to take down the game anyway.

Matches 12-4

At this point I was thrilled. Despite my 0-3 in my second pod, and despite throwing a match to my own mistakes, I’d managed to piece together the wins that I needed to make Top 8. I looked at the standings and it was pretty clear that barring some kind of mathematical catastrophe that I was a lock. Back-to-back 8-0 starts with back-to-back Top 8s — not a bad couple of pro tours after four years off, eh? I hung around and watched some drafts while the remaining matches finished up and finally the Top 8 announcement came.

“In seventh place… from the United States… Brian Kibler!”

I went to the player meeting and got the decklists. When I looked over the lists and the brackets was when it really dawned on me. I could really win the pro tour. In Honolulu, I was happy just to make Top 8 and had really not expectations once I got there. Way back in Chicago, I was just thrilled to make my first Top 8, and I was more cocky than confident about my chances. But looking at the lists and thinking about the ways the Top 8 in Austin could play out, I really thought that there was a very good chance I would win the tournament.

After some games with Ben Rubin to figure out my sideboarding plans against Hypergenesis and Dredge, I managed to get to sleep without any trouble. It was strange — after two days of nerves, excitement, or whatever it was that kept me up all night, I was able to just drift off to sleep the night before playing for thousands of dollars every match. I woke up the next morning refreshed in time for the much more civilized hour the Top 8 starts, and drove to the Starbucks near our rental house to kick start the morning. Perhaps I was a bit too energetic on my way to the tournament site, however, as once I pulled around a bend on my way to the highway, lights started flashing in my rear view mirror and a police car rolled up behind me.

The police officer explained to me that I’d been pulled over for going 56 in a 40 and asked me if there was some kind of emergency. I told him no, that I just didn’t realize I was going quite so fast, and told him that I was from out of town and on my way to the convention center for the last day of the event that I was in town for. He took my driver’s license, walked back to his cruiser, and returned moments later to tell me that since I was from of state and would be leaving the next day that he’d let me off with a warning, but to keep an eye on my speed. I thanked him, tucked the written warning in the glove compartment, and slowly drove off.

When you’re running hot, you’re running hot!

I got to the convention center well ahead of time and sleeved up my deck. I was confident and calm. People approached me from all around to congratulate me and wish me good luck. I thanked them and smiled. I sat down for my quarterfinal match, put in my headphones and let the music play.

“The day is calling you… roll out and start anew… wipe your weary eyes… and tumble out of the sky…”

It was time to win.

Quarterfinals – Evangelos Papatsarouchas — Hypergenesis

All of my Top 8 matches are available in the coverage both in text and video form, so I’m only going to comment briefly on the actual gameplay. In the first game of this match, Van got a bit overzealous with his Bogardan Hellkite and went to my face instead of killing my second Wild Nacatl, which let me kill his Angel of Despair with Lightning Helix and Punishing Fire and threaten to remove his Hellkite if it blocked my second Nacatl. It looked like I might be able to steal the game as a result, but Van was able to cascade again a few turns later and put another fat creature into play to seal the game.

My sideboarding for this matchup was a bit strange. In the games the night before against Rubin, it became clear that my gameplan had to be just keeping him off mana to play Hypergenesis, whether via Ghost Quarter or Blood Moon. Since my chances of winning hinged so much on Blood Moon in particular, we decided that the best way to win was to set up my deck in such a way that I had outs to his few ways to win with Blood Moon in play, which were largely a morphed Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Sundering Titan. As a result, I cut all four Tarmogoyfs (which are basically just 1/2s in the matchup since no non-lands ever go to the graveyard until he casts either Hypergenesis or Firespout) and brought in two Ancient Grudges and kept in a pair of Lightning Bolts. Bringing in all of the Ghost Quarters gave me 27 land plus three Noble Hierarchs, which let me mulligan very aggressively to Blood Moon or a Ghost Quarter-heavy beatdown hand while still having the mana to cast what I needed to.

Game 2 did not play out according to my plan, as I double mulliganed and still didn’t find much of anything. Games 3 and 4, however, went much better for me, letting me stick a Blood Moon in one and use Ghost Quarter as Wasteland in the other to keep Van off the necessary mana. But the game that everyone’s been talking about is game 5.

I thought for a while about keeping my hand, which was 2 Ghost Quarter, 2 Meddling Mage, Noble Hierarch, Ancient Grudge, and Baneslayer Angel. Eventually I decided to go with it, since despite having no colored mana source I had two Wastelands for his first two lands, and any fetchland I drew would turn on my Meddling Mages thanks to Noble Hierarch. I hit Van’s first two lands with Ghost Quarter, but he kept playing them, and eventually he was able to Hypergenesis to my board of two land and two Noble Hierarchs.

Now, the entire match (and in our match the day before), I’d been playfully bantering with Van — pretty much every turn I’d ask him “Am I dead?” So I did the same thing here, and Van said “I don’t know, I have two creatures.” I asked “Are they good?” and he replied “They’re Progenitus and Angel of Despair”. At that point I knew that I wasn’t going to put my Baneslayer into play from Hypergenesis. I didn’t want Van to kill it with the Angel, since it was pretty clear that racing with Baneslayer was going to be my only hope to win. When Van put his Progenitus into play, I put Meddling Mage into play and named Firespout. He put his Angel into play and I put my remaining Meddling Mages into play naming Putrefy and Hypergenesis. We both passed on the Hypergenesis, it finished resolving, and Van passed the turn. I untapped, drew a Temple Garden, played it and slammed down Baneslayer Angel — and the rest is history.

The controversy here is, of course, that Van never resolved his Angel of Despair trigger. I obviously knew that — after all, that’s the reason that I didn’t put my Baneslayer into play from Hypergenesis. What I didn’t know was that Angel of Despair was a mandatory effect. I assumed that it was a “may” effect, and was thrilled when Van passed the turn without destroying anything, which opened up a window for me to play Baneslayer and get back into the game. Quite a few people have questioned me about it in the aftermath. On our way to dinner that night, Nassif asked me “Did you know it was mandatory? Come on, you can tell us.” Others have simply assumed that because I play the game at a high level that I obviously must have known the exact text on Angel of Despair, and I obviously must have been cheating.

I certainly did not intentionally cheat. I did not know that the trigger on Angel of Despair was mandatory. In fact, I don’t think I’d seen a physical Angel of Despair in something like seven years prior to that game. Van never played one against in me in any previous game, including the prior match. I never played against another Hypergenesis deck in the tournament, and all of my playtesting was done with crudely handwritten proxies. I simply assumed it was a may effect since I was so used to playing with things like Blood Seeker or the quest enchantments in Limited, and was happy that my opponent missed the trigger and gave me a chance to win the game.

I do wish that things had gone differently. I wish there hadn’t been any controversy in any of my games, so there wouldn’t be anyone questioning my integrity and suggesting that there should be an asterisk next to my title. I’m obviously happy with the ultimate result — I’d be lying if I told you otherwise — but I’m not happy with the fact that there is anyone out there who suspects that I’m anything but a fair and honest player. But I know I didn’t cheat, as does everyone who knows me well enough to know my character, and frankly that’s good enough for me.

I don’t think it’s fair for people to crucify the judges for missing it, either. The job of the judges at the Top 8 tables is not to watch for that sort of thing, but rather to act as a spotter and communicate game state information to the commentators or resolve questions the players have. In a related example, in the semifinals of PT Chicago 2000 when I was playing against Kai Budde, there was a game in which Kai had a Mageta the Lion in play and I cast Tsabo’s Decree to get rid of it. I chose “Spellshaper Legend,” which is technically an illegal choice with Decree since creature types are only one word. The game proceeded despite that. Incidentally, Kai had a Lin Sivvi in his hand, which I would have hit with the decree if I had named “Legend.” Sheldon Menery came by after several turns had passed and explained the mistake and ruled that because we had already gone past the point where the game could be repaired that it would be ruled that I had named “Spellshaper” since that was the first word I said.

My point is that Magic is a complicated game with lots of rules and interactions that are easy for even the most seasoned players and judges to miss from time to time. It’s unfortunate when it happens in a high profile situation, but such mistakes are more often just that — mistakes — than the result of any nefarious intent on the part of the players involved.

Semifinals — Hunter Burton — Molten Zoo

After I’d finished my match, I watched the end of Burton versus Wanatabe and cheered for Hunter to win. Not that I have anything against Wanatabe — he’s a great player and seems like a good guy, in the limited communication I’ve been able to have with him — but because if Hunter won it looked like there was a good chance my road for the rest of the tournament would be Zoo and Zoo. As it turns out, that was exactly what happened.

Hunter was a blast to play against, since he was clearly thrilled to just have a chance to play on stage and was making the most of it. We bantered back and forth the entire match, and if you watch the semifinals video you can hear us talking even when the camera is on the Japanese players in the other match. At one point Rich Hagon told us to quiet down because the spectators could hear us over the commentators, and I loudly whispered “We’re not allowed to have any fun.”

The match was far closer than I expected it to be, more because I had extremely poor draws in two of the five games rather than because Molten Rain posed a particular threat to my deck. In fact, one of the games I won came out of a double mulligan playing first in which Hunter hit three of my lands with Molten Rain. That only served to make Knight of the Reliquary very, very big, and I managed to pull it out.

One of the very interesting things that happened in both this match and in the finals against Ikeda was that both of them seemed to be petrified of Blood Moon. Both Burton and Ikeda hamstrung themselves by searching for basic lands with their fetches for fear of being hit by Blood Moon and locked out of the game. On multiple occasions, this let me use Path without any drawback, and certainly stunted their ability to play their spells as efficiently as possible. Generally you don’t want your opponent to know your exact deck and sideboard so they don’t know what to play around, but in this case the mere threat of Blood Moon coming in forced my opponents to play suboptimally, especially given that I didn’t sideboard at all.

Finals — Tsuyoshi Ikeda

This was it. The finals of the Pro Tour. Considering I was playing a single match for $20,000, I was surprisingly calm. In fact, I don’t recall feeling nervous at all. I sat down at that table with a sense of almost absolute certainty that I was going to win. You can read the match report, or watch the video, but in none of the three games in the finals did I ever feel like I was in real danger of losing. It was my tournament. It was my time.

One thing that you can’t see in the coverage is that sometime early in the third game I had to keep myself from crying. Here I was, on the brink of the pro tour victory that I’d wanted for so long, and what kept running through my mind was that I wished that my mom could be there to see it. For those of you who don’t know, my mother was always a huge supporter of my Magic endeavors throughout my life, as well as my #1 fan. She traveled with me to tournaments when I was young and always followed the coverage, cheering me on via emails and phone calls when she couldn’t be there. She passed away from cancer in May of 2007. Even as I was sitting there, mere turns away from being crowned a pro tour champion, I found myself almost overcome with sadness that it was a moment she could never see. I miss you, Mom. Wish you were here.

But I did it. I won. When I drew the Punishing Fire that promised to remove Ikeda’s spirit tokens standing in the way of my Elspeth-powered Knight of the Reliquary, I knew it was over. You can see the look of confidence on my face in the video, followed by the sheer exaltation when Ikeda extends the hand in defeat.

It took a while for it to hit me. Even as I received congratulations from everyone I ran into for the rest of the night, even as I was carrying around the trophy and the big check, it didn’t really sink in that I’d really won the pro tour. As I said in various interviews after my victory, I remember sitting around many years ago watching the finals of the pro tour between Kamiel and Mikey P and thinking how every few months there was a pro tour, and someone had to win all of them, and why was it never me? But now it was. Finally it was.

I took a big group out to dinner that night to celebrate. My flight was at 5 AM and I still had a rental car to return, so I couldn’t party too hard, but it still felt good. A few hours later I drove up to the airport, exhausted and bleary eyed, and got all kinds of questions and funny looks as I carried my trophy onto the plane. I fell asleep on my flight and when I woke up again, home in San Diego, my trophy was still there.

Yeah, that really happened.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time…