The Gravy Train With Biscuit Wheels, Part 2

Mark Herberholz continues his epic tale of his Pro Tour experiences, from his rise from obscurity to riding a gravy train with biscuit wheels. Read the endless stories of drunken debauchery, of the Pro Tour grind, and of timeless friendships.

Read Part 1 of
Mark Herberholz autobiographical series “The Rise From Obscurity”

I was fresh off my first Pro Tour Top 8, and the fever had taken ahold. Success became necessary. Pro Tours were considered failures they did not end
in a Top 8 finish. Soon enough, even that wasn’t enough. The idea of being content with a strong finish became a foreign concept; it was all or

Consequently, I became increasingly strict in my personal critique of game play and deck choice. I was my own harshest critic, and a poor finish drove
me even harder to try to improve.

Success followed, but so did an enlarged ego. During these next two years, I would become one of the best and was not shy about letting people know.
Looking back, it’s a wonder that people could test with me or enter discussions about plays when my ego took hold.

PT Seattle

Sam Gomersall and Mark Zadjner needed a third with some pro points. I didn’t have a team, so it was a match of necessity. Everyone agreed to meet
in Toronto before the Pro Tour at Mark Zadjner’s house for some 3v3 Team Rochester drafts around the time of Canadian nationals while some Pros
were in town.

The competition was Aeo Paquette, Ffej, Rich Hoaen, and “The Champ” Josh Wagener along with a few rotating PTQers. The best strategy we
came up with was forcing blue in Cube draft. In terms of card evaluation and drafting strategy, the returns weren’t really worth the investment,
but hanging out with each other and forming enjoyable friendships paid dividends. To this day, Sam is the best friend that I have made through Magic;
he is even my current roommate.

The PT itself was a good time. Sam and I quickly became chums, and our strong friendship blossomed. It was nice to have a partner in crime on the Tour
with whom to gripe about mana screws and to grab a bite to eat in between rounds.

Some highlights from the weekend include Gary Wise getting a warning for laughing during the Rochester Draft vs. our team.

Why was he laughing? Simply because Zadjner was frantically waving his arms in the air and pointing to an Oxidda Golem implying that he needed it for
his affinity deck that was playing about 4-5 Mountains and already had upwards of 25 playables, while our R/W beatdown deck had about 14 playables.
Zadjner essentially hate-drafted from his own team, and Sam’s and my expression after this went down was too much for Gary to contain himself. Even
Eugene Harvey, the consummate professional, had himself a chuckle under his breath. We ended up finishing 18th, which was enough for a bit of skrilla
but not good enough to get Zadjner an invite to Worlds. The silver lining in this cloud was that there would be no hate crimes come the Limited

Grand Prix Orlando and Grand Prix New Jersey followed with 33rd and 35th finishes respectively. The deck of choice was an Affinity list eschewing
Aether Vial for Paradise Mantle. The idea was that after sideboard you would have a way to reliably cast Furnace Dragon in the mirror by moving the
Equipment around to generate RRR. It was a fun deck but maybe not as good as the Aether Vial version.

In Orlando I managed to convince Kibler, Huey, and Brock Parker to play it with Brock and Huey playing for Top 8 in the last round. By New Jersey, it
seemed like everyone wised up, and I was the only one left. Paul Rietzl aptly named it “Hakuna Matata”—the phrase from The Lion King that means “no worries”—because if you got turn 1 OrnithopterParadise Mantle-land-equip, that’s how you
felt… no worries. Needless to say, several renditions of “Hakuna Matata” were belted out at the top of our lungs.

Worlds San Francisco

For the first time in my life, I was qualified for Worlds. The opportunity to be the World Champion—nothing can really match the allure of that.

After Top 8ing and money-ing the past two Pro Tours, I had high expectations. However, as would become apparent over the course of my career, three
formats is just too much to playtest for on top of keeping up the illusion of being a full-time student (in reality a full-time booze hound).

The Limited portion was a breeze, but Standard and Block Constructed were up in the air.

Interestingly enough, there was some talk about Affinity in Block with both Aether Vial and Paradise Mantle, which was there for the sideboard Furnace

For Standard, Bill Stead had an extra W/G Astral Slide deck and an Affinity deck. Rich Hoaen and I were staying in the same hotel with him and were
battling. The Astral Slide deck was growing appealing, but as I was expressing my interest in it, Richie shotgunned it. After some argument over his
somewhat unethical shotgun procedure due to my having somewhat staked a claim to the deck, Rich said he hated Affinity and didn’t know how to
play it or when to mulligan; he stated that since I had played it in two Block GPs, I would be better with it.

A day later and after a 1-5 Standard record to start the tournament, it became obvious that I needed to stop relying on people for their decks—a
lesson that still hasn’t been learned.

I brought my record up to 6-6 after going 5-1 in Limited, and for some unspeakable reason, Tooth and Nail beckoned its sweet siren call to me, and
Affinity was tossed aside for a breath of fresh air.

Without playtesting the deck, multiple mistakes were made, and some matches were probably lost as a result. It was a repeat of PT Osaka where “the
fear” took over, and I jumped ship at the last second for a deck I didn’t have experience with, resulting in a poor record.

While keeping an open mind is good if you can pick up a deck the night before and perform well, more often than not it is better to just stick
to the brew that you have the most experience with. Who knows? Maybe the one you have more experience with will be better against what the field

Following the PT, Sam came to stay with me for a while to party at Michigan State. He didn’t drink at the time, but I had talked it up so much
that when I asked him if he wanted to come visit, he couldn’t pass it up. He didn’t drink at the time despite all the praises we showered on
alcohol and all its glory.

Then it happened. We were all at a party at a local frat house called Beta Theta Pi. This was the best “party” frat at MSU at the time. It
was literally like a frat party from a movie. They had pledges at the gate and only let in people with bracelets. The male-to-female ratio was at least one to three, and the average attractiveness of the girls there was a 7 out of 10.

In fact if you weren’t attractive and wanted to come, you had be an immediate relative of a member of the house or have multiple hot friends with you.
To put it simply, these frat boys were pricks when it came to whom they let into their party. It was awesome, mainly because we were allowed to go.

So we were all sitting in a buddy’s room at the end of the hall leading out into the main area, and his door was open so we could scope out all
the hotties walking by to the dance floor. We had a chain going of about seven guys sitting in a row, with Sam being the farthest from the fridge with
all the beer. Anytime someone was empty, we would pass it down the chain. After about 30 minutes and after seeing so many hot girls walking by, Sam
ended up with an extra beer in his hand as someone got up to leave, and he ended up just saying f*** it and started pounding the thing. The rest, as
they say, was history.

Sam became an alcoholic and staked a claim on the couch of any place I lived over the next four years. At one point, he was politely asked to stay in
England for a while by US immigration because he was spending too much time in the States.

By the way, we all struck out at that frat party.

PT Atlanta

With Zadjner falling off the train, Sam and I decided to join forces with Rich Hoaen. At the time, we were all considered Limited specialists, so we
had high hopes going into PT Atlanta. We had a plan to all meet in New Jersey before the PT to test with the TOGIT guys.

Testing went well. At one point Gerard, Sam, and I were all driving over to Osyp’s house when I dropped the nastiest bomb in the car on the ride
over. In the middle of winter in subzero temperatures, we were forced to roll down the windows for a 15-minute ride.

Once we arrived, we all went to a local bar to grab some beers and listen to a karaoke contest. After some beers turned into a lot of beers, some
really bad singers went up on stage, and I started yelling, “BOO THIS, MAN!!! BOOOOOOOOO!!!” over and over again.

The PT itself was a bust. We failed to make Day 2, and Sam and I were both broke. We decided to combine bankrolls and grind out money drafts vs. Cedric
Phillips to build up (he would only draft for $10-15 each). Once we built up our roll, we graduated to David Williams, where the buying was $50. After
losing that, it was back down to the micro-stakes vs. Ced to build the roll back up. Meanwhile, Sam played pool in the players’ lounge against whomever
he could find for pocket change.

It was a meager existence, but with enough hustle, we made it work and survived.

PT Philly

This was the Pro Tour where I played one of the best matches in my career. It was a feature match against Kai Budde. He was at the end of his career,
but this officially sent him into retirement. I was playing a Gifts Ungiven control deck, and he was playing a B/W control deck. My tech was two Wear
Away, so the idea was to burn one early and start aggressively tapping out to increase my board and sculpt the perfect hand to make it unwinnable for
him. Then Kai, thinking that he had me, would drop a Night of Souls Betrayal and lock out my Hani Kami engine with my Wear Away in my graveyard. He
would then slow the game down to ensure no way out of his “lock” for me.

It worked to perfection, and the second Wear Away caught him completely by surprise. The best part was that it wasn’t like he even made any mistakes. I
just figured out what information he knew and what he would assume and played based on that to ensure the win. It was a beautiful game and a proud

PT London

The set was out on Magic Online (MODO) Beta before the PT but only out on MODO itself for a week prior. So basically anyone who had a Beta account had
open access to unlimited playtesting, and if you coordinated, you could test against PT-caliber opponents. It was no surprise that the champion Siron
was a beneficiary of this. I did not have access to one of these accounts and was at a disadvantage.

After pulling off a 3-0 in my first pod, I was on top of the world, only to have that world come crashing down around me when I went 0-3 afterwards.
Since I had signed up for the MC Hammer money management plan, all of my previous PT winnings were gone, and the only choice left was to go begging for
drinking money to drown my sorrows. Scroll to the bottom of
this page to see a picture capturing me in action.

It should be noted that Quentin Martin did not in fact donate that money; he was only posing for the camera. Stingy prick.

US Nationals

Sam had just gotten 3rd in his Nationals event with a mono-blue Tron deck and lost to a White Weenie deck featuring Damping Matrix. I couldn’t
pass up a beatdown deck and managed to finish in the top 16.

Memorable moments include Neil Reeves asking me, “Do you want to see a millionaire bend over?” then throwing a quarter on the floor in
front of Dave Williams, who promptly bent over to pick it up. This became the game of choice for the tournament, providing much entertainment at the
low, low cost of $.25. Neil also offered me a lifetime split where he would get 2% of my Magic winnings, and I would get 10% of his Versus and Magic
winnings, but the person would collect even if he didn’t attend the event himself. I gladly accepted, and Neil promptly made the National team. Since
he had made the deal expecting to retire, he begged for absolution. I let him off after his next Versus Pro Tour, where he got 9th. Hustling
hillbillies sure is easy when they do all the work for you.

PT Los Angeles

Where the fateful taping of The Price Is Right with yours truly took place. As many
of you have seen the video, instead of recapping what took place during the show, instead I’ll tell you how to get picked.

First the casting director will have the entire audience wait in line and pull you aside 10-12 at a time. Once you are in these small groups, he will
go down the line and ask each one of you a few questions to try and gauge if you will be a good contestant. Something along the lines of: What is your
name? What do you do for a living? What do you do for fun?

Now most people answer boring, generic answers like, “My name’s Jon; I am an engineer; I like to play basketball.” How is that going to separate you
from the others?

Here is how it went down with me:

Director- (Asks above questions)

Me- My name’s Mark; I go to MSU, and sh*t dude, I like to drink!

Director- (kind of perks up and is interested) I bet you never watch the show though because you are always passed out.

Me- Nah man. What are you talking about? The Price Is Right is the best hangover cure out there.

Director- I bet you’re probably drunk right now.

Me- I wish, man.

Director- Yeah I hear ya; I got some tequila in this water bottle just in case.

Me- Come on, man, don’t hold out on me! Ship some over.

That was it. If you aren’t very quick on your feet and can’t come up with some funny answers, you don’t need to because now you know
the The Price Is Right tech and can think of funny stuff to say to these questions beforehand. It’s just a shame that Bob isn’t
still hosting the show; Drew Carey looks like he hates life every time I see him on stage.

The PT itself was fun. The English shipped me a domain control deck that managed to put me in top 64.

Memorable moments include refusing to pay $3 for a Hero’s Reunion for my sideboard to Cunning Wish for against RDW. I thought it was a common,
not an uncommon, and decided to take a stand against price gouging at the PT. Besides, who would play RDW at this tournament anyway? Three RDW losses

While hanging out at Paul Rietzl girlfriend’s apartment, Gerard managed to clog the toilet. Since she didn’t have a plunger, Gerard tried
to shove a hammer down the toilet to unclog it. He was unsuccessful, and we heard them rustling at the door and didn’t know what to do with the
poop-covered hammer. In a panic, Gerard threw it out the window and played it cool. I still wonder if she ever realized what happened.

Worlds Yokohama

Alex Leiberman, Gerard Fabiano, and I all had 31 points going into the end-of-the-year payout. To reduce variance, we all agreed to do a three-way chop
of whatever we made after Worlds. Naturally, we all finished the year with a depressing 34 points.

Memorable moments from Worlds include Antonino De Rosa having a stomachache and the runs and going to the local store to buy medicine; however the
person there did not speak English. He rubbed his tummy and made a sad face to try and get his point across; apparently it didn’t work because
they gave him laxatives. He awoke in the middle of the night to the realization he had crapped the bed. He showered and threw the sheets out the

PT Honolulu

I showed up three days before the PT, and the beach house crew broke down the metagame for me. Unsatisfied with their control deck, I changed twelve
cards or so in their R/G list and ended up winning it all.

This tournament was a surreal experience. Upon winning, the elation of the victory didn’t sink in until weeks later. It seemed unreasonable that I
could be a Pro Tour winner.

After some time, my confidence grew. I realized my game could stack up to the best in the world and hold its own. The pride I felt at accomplishing
everything I’d dreamt and strove for was immense. Winning wasn’t enough however. Although the added recognition and status in the community were nice,
I became determined to be considered “the best in the game.”

I was on a Gravy Train with Biscuit Wheels.

Special thanks to the beach house guys. Without their accurate description of the metagame and the cards that defined it, I would never have been able
to make the necessary tweaks to the R/G list to win the thing.

PT Prague

Have you ever been in a tournament or gone through a bad run where it seemed as if your deck just wasn’t performing as it was supposed to? That was
this tournament.

All of my draft decks seemed really strong to me, but it always seemed like I was running into something better or was getting terrible draws.

I experienced perhaps the funniest moment at this Pro Tour though. One night, the group went to eat at an Italian restaurant, and we all ordered some
bruschetta as an appetizer. When the waiter brought it out, Neil Reeves took a bite and exclaimed in his thickest Southern accent, “Well dat ain’t
nuttin’ but ‘maters on toast!” A sheer master.

Neil basically hung it up at this tournament. He agreed to play in the Team Constructed PT with Sam and me, but his heart wasn’t really in it
anymore. All of his friends had moved onto poker or had started families, and he only knew a handful of people who still went. He just wasn’t
enjoying himself anymore. As a result, the PT became less enjoyable knowing he would no longer show up.

GP St. Louis

The format was Coldsnap Limited—in retrospect very boring, but since every new set has that exotic appeal to it, it was still enjoyable at the
time since it was the first tournament to feature the latest set. I went with Sam Gomersall, Erik Thoren, my barn James Beeton, and Paul Rietzl.
Everyone but Paul drove down, and Paul flew in from the west coast.

Some highlights were going to Hooters after Day 1 with Gabe Walls plus my crew and trying to get the waitress’s phone number. Erik did most of the
legwork and eventually got it, but she never ended up meeting up with us. Erik also refused to play the credit card game, so I had to ante up for him
so we could all do it. Obviously, I lost in a heads up to Gabe, prompting a TGRG (The Rich Get Richer) comment from the table.

We picked up a fifth of Vodka, Bacardi, and Captain Morgan, and all vowed to finish our bottle before going to bed. I didn’t finish the bottle of
Bacardi before passing out, and Paul was nice enough to help me out by pouring it into my mouth and all over my face as I slept. In my drunken stupor,
I backhanded Erik in the face a few times thinking that he was the culprit.

The next morning, I remembered nothing of this and woke up wondering why no amount of showering would take the stench of stale booze off of my body.

Sam and I were in the same pod and had discussed drafting strategies the previous night, and I told him I was going to try to force snow every draft
and that I hated R/G. Sam got it mixed up and thought I loved R/G; he was seated to my right in the draft and forced snow, passing me all the R/G. We
both ended up with mediocre snow decks as a result. I guess we got what we deserved.

One of my good non-gamer friends made the final table of a WSOP event during this GP, so we were constantly checking up on his progress at the hotel
public computer. It was pretty exciting, and he ended up winning the bracelet, which prompted me to go out to Vegas and party with him instead of
attending US Nationals.

GP Phoenix

I convinced Paul to come, since it was just a short flight from LA. Another non-gamer friend from high school, Chris, recently moved there and was nice
enough to let me crash on his couch and take me out boozing.

Paul and I both made Day 2, and we decided to celebrate by going out boozing with Chris that night. We hit up some bar called the Library that looked
pretty busy. The night started off with a round of Jagerbombs followed by some Coronas. We managed to snag an open table and enjoyed about 15 minutes
of hanging out before some 40-year-old women came and sat down with us.

They claimed we were sitting at their table, but seeing as how we had got there first and had been there for some time, that was hard to believe. They
then began talking to us about college football, which was on all of the TVs in the bar, but they knew nothing about it. After a while, it became
apparent that these women, who were old enough to be our mothers, were hitting on us. Chris casually got up to go to the bathroom; after about five
minutes, I realized he had abandoned us and followed suit, leaving Paul to the AARP members.

I went to take a piss, and in the bathroom was a large black man in what could only be described as a Halloween pimp costume. He turned on the faucet
for you to wash your hands and pumped some soap into your palm; then when you were finished, he would slap some paper towel into your grip with a loud,
emphatic BAM! If you tried to get past him without washing your hands, he would point you out to everyone in line as the “dirty motha’ f***a’ who
didn’t wash his hands.” This dude was awesome and somehow made breaking the seal enjoyable.

I spotted Chris on the dance floor scoping out some pinkies, and we discussed strategy. Paul finally managed to ditch the older women, and we started
trying to scheme. Chris did his best Michael Jackson impression, which attracted some prospects, and I quickly swooped in to wingman it.

Things were going well; the booze was flowing; and the girls were dancing with us, but closing time was looming. There were two girls; one of them was
hot, but in sober eyes, neither probably would have qualified. Chris tried for the hot one, but she migrated over to me, and he seemed content with the
other one. It turned out that the hot girl was married, but she was about to get a divorce and was looking for some action. The other girl’s parents
were out of town, and she was house-sitting, so she invited us back to their place.

We ended up heading out to their car when I noticed two hotter girls getting into a pickup truck with hay covering the truck bed. After some comment
about them living on a farm, probably in a derogatory manner, they started chatting us up, but the original girls were getting impatient.

The new girls offered to take me with them, but here was a dilemma. To go with Chris, Paul, and the girls we picked up? Or to go to god knows where
with these two girls, do god knows what, and most likely miss Day 2 of the GP? Just as any gamer would, I settled for choice number one and went with
Chris, Paul, and the original girls.

About five minutes into the ride it became apparent that the driver was pretty drunk, but I kept quiet and prayed that we all made it to her place in
one piece. It’s pretty rough when the hammered dude can recognize when the driving is not up to par, but that will happen when the driver is driving
double the speed limit and switching three lanes at a time. Getting into the car was probably a bad idea, but alcohol plus the potential of getting
laid makes you do some stupid sh*t.

Somehow we made it there in one piece, and the only booze they had was Malibu, and the only mixers they had were milk, water, and Dr Pepper. So Dr
Pepper and Malibu it was. Good god was that a disgusting concoction!

After filling up a huge cup with it, I decided to investigate the house and found a pool table and a piano. Everyone else went out back to hit up the
pool, and the hot girl was upstairs finding a bathing suit, so I racked up a game of 9-ball. I jerked the pool cue back to break and knocked over my
gigantic cup of DP + Malibu and spilled it all over the piano. Coming up empty after looking for a rag or shirt to wipe it up, the only option left was
to use my hands to wipe it off the piano onto the floor behind it, which was carpeted.

After this, I ran into the pool, cannonballed in, and told Paul and Chris to under no circumstances bring up the subject of playing pool. It turned out
that the hot girl was puking from too much booze and called her husband up to come get her.

The ugly girl was making out with Chris but told us we had to go home. Paul was just happy to sleep; Chris was pissed about not getting laid; and I was
just mad that the party was ending. To seek retribution, I looked in the fridge for some food to steal. All they had was a brick of cheese, which was
promptly shoved down my pants. Then my soaking wet boxers were strategically placed under the couch cushions so that hopefully this girl’s parents
would find them when they came home, realize she had a party while they were gone, and punish her for ruining my night.

I had another near brush with death on the way home, thanks to her driving. It became clear that that it would be a good idea to just start calling a
cab from now on. When we got home, Chris complained that the night was a bust; I guess he didn’t manage to grab his own block of cheese.

We overslept for Day 2 of the GP, waking up at 8:55 am when it started at 9 am, and we had a 30-minute drive ahead. I got the tournament organizer and
head judge on the phone and told them we got a flat tire and begged them to stall the tournament fifteen minutes for us. They gave half promises, so I
got Gabe Walls on the horn and told him if seating went up without us that he had to fake a heart attack and buy us some time.

He was flopping around on a table while grabbing his chest and screaming. To this day, I wonder if the judges knew that he was faking it and held the
tournament up in order to make sure he was okay, or if they were genuinely afraid this 350 lb. man would die on their feature match table.

Word on the street was that Gabe deserved an Oscar for his performance. It was so crazy. Who comes up with this sh*t and also has an overweight friend
who is crazy and willing enough to make it believable? We ended up running into the tournament site barefoot fifteen minutes late. Luckily they
hadn’t started the drafts, but that didn’t really matter, as I racked up a quick 0-3. After finishing about dead last on Day 2, the trip
still seemed like a success.

Worlds 2006 in Paris

To brew for this event, I went to stay with Nassif two weeks before the tournament. We had been brewing together and hanging out more at tournaments,
so it seemed like a fun idea. Sam was lost in Azeroth, so Gabe was my new partner in crime. The jetlag was so brutal that we started running shift
changes. Basically we would run the MODO account in Standard tournaments, nonstop testing out brews, and one of us would stay up for eight hours; then
the other would wake up, and we would play together for eight hours; then the first person would go to sleep for eight hours.

Our Tron deck was doing well but was having trouble with the mirror. We kept trying to get Martyr of Sands decks to work, but it seemed like it was too
hard to reliably get to six mana and not get flooded. Then I had the idea to combine the Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth combo with the Urza’s

This was the birth of the Martyr/Tron deck that Nassif piloted to a top 4 finish. In the last round, he was playing to try to 6-0 Extended and make Top
8 when I walked up after his feature match was over. He saw me walking up and had the saddest look on his face. He was standing in front of the
scoreboard, pointed to the “Gabriel Nassif“ with a “1” under it, and frowned. I expressed my condolences and moved in to give
him a hug when he stepped back and revealed the “0” behind his opponent’s name! What a sick slow roll!!! He won the match 1-0!

After losing in the top 4, he made a mistake in the final game where he tapped out to forecast a Proclamation of Rebirth to bring back a Martyr vs.
Dragonstorm. He had double Remand and Disenchant in his hand, so if he had sat back, he could have a) Remanded his opponent’s spells or b) Disenchanted
his Faith’s Fetters and Remanded it to draw into his seventh land. Then if he got his seventh land, he could start proclamating and gaining infi
by sacrificing his Martyr every turn.

When the match was finished, he walked up to me and asked me if he f***ed up. When I said yes, one of the members of his Frenchie entourage started
yelling at me and defending his play. Not wanting to dissect the play to this idiot, I just brushed it off. Who would have thought Frenchies could be
so aggressive? Usually they just always surrender. As I was walking out of the door three days later to catch my flight, Nassif finally admitted that
maybe my play was better and his was wrong.

Gabriel Nassif and I had developed a very close relationship at this point. He was the Yin to my Yang. Where he was stoic and all business, I was
absurd and all joking. A regular turn sequence in playtesting was as follows.

Nassif misses third land drop – Go, your turn

Me – Gabe, you forgot to lay a land.

Nassif – (stone face)

Me- Come on, Gabe; it’s bad playtesting if you just make these horrible mistakes. Just go back and lay a land; we can play with take backs just this
one game.

Nassif – (stone face)

Me- Gabe, I don’t mind, really! Just lay a land. It’s okay. Just go back.

Nassif – (finally cracks a smile)

Laughing ensues.

He made playtesting fun. On top of that, we just worked so well together and got along famously. Instantly we were inseparable at tournaments.

It is hard to explain the excitement you get when you are on the edge of coming up with a masterful brew with someone, and you both know it. The
feeling of working with someone on a deck with both of you putting in equal work and breaking it is such overwhelming joy and pride. I am glad that he
contributed in that and that I could help him. Gabe was incredibly good at alternating between reining in my ego and letting me go off on my tirades
when I felt I was right. I am sure that I was a nightmare to deal with at times because once I started to gain confidence, I also started to become
stubborn and refuse to compromise. I always felt like he just had unlimited patience with me, and as a result we were able to come up with some truly
broken decks. He is one of my closest friends and the person I miss most from Magic.

Pro Tour Geneva

At this tournament, after hearing Nassif tell one too many bad beat stories, some friends combined to put together a “bounty” on his head.
As he was playing for Day 2 in the last round, his opponent defeated him, and we promptly rewarded him with about 50 euros. He was bewildered but

Pro Tour Yokohama

I brewed more for this tournament than for any other tournament I’d played in. Something like 30-40 hours a week for the 3-4 weeks leading up to the
Pro Tour, I just played Block Constructed. The Teachings deck was something of a masterpiece and was probably an Academy Ruins and Triskelavus away
from being perfect. This was the first tournament where I thought I had the best deck in format going into it. Wafo-Tapa beat me in the top 4 due to
some misplays on my part. He played extremely well but also got very lucky, and his topdecks kind of put me on tilt and resulted in my misplays. You
can’t take away from his win though; he played superbly.

Pro Tour San Diego

With Chapin out of the clink and looking to get back on the train and me having enough pro points to qualify my mom, we teamed up. It was sort of a
repayment for all of those summer nights of him gaming with me to help me get better. I felt like I owed this to him. Not to say that he wasn’t a
strong player, but he just took precedence over any other friends who may have been a sufficient second head. We made Day 2 but didn’t make the
money; at least we convinced Kenji to split with us, and he shipped DI. After the tournament, Paul Rietzl and I went out drinking and ran into the
Sliver Kids (Chris Lachmann and Jacob Van Lunen) at the bar. After having a few drinks with them and shooting the sh*t, they didn’t even spring
for a round. Scumbags.

Also during this weekend, we were all out at the bar when we had a 40 oz. of beer left, and the bar was closing up shop. Don’t ask me why a 40
oz.; that was just what the bar served. Anyway everyone was trying to put down money to make someone chug it, and Rich Hoaen finally stepped up. He
drank about half of it before stopping and taking a breath. Then he went back for another pull, and as soon as the bottle hit his lips, he turned his
head to the side and projectile vomited all… over… Nassif. It got on his face, and I am pretty sure some of it made it into his mouth.
Rich, upon realizing what he had done, just turned around and ran back to his hotel room. The rest of us just stood there, half of us in shock over
what happened; the other half pointing and laughing at Nassif.

Pro Tour Valencia

For this tournament, we formed a super group with all of our friends. It was me and Nassif + the now ChannelFireball guys + GerryT + Upper Deck
employees. It was a train wreck. There was so much noise on the message board that it was hard to get any real information. One person won with this
deck in a matchup while the other lost; who was to be believed? This experience later on made me opt for smaller, tight-knit groups in the future.
While smaller groups may not have enough minds to break the format, they always would be efficient in what they did accomplish.

Aggro Rock had been performing well, and it was looking to be the deck of choice for Nassif and me. Day 1 of the Pro Tour got rained out, and Nassif
and I just stayed up all night brewing nonstop. It was one of the most enjoyable experiences on the Pro Tour. It was reminiscent of those weekend
sleepovers when you were thirteen, and all you and your friends did was play Magic all night long. We came up with a B/R/G Aggro Rockish deck. The tech
was Treetop Village to put pressure on all of the Counterbalance decks. I managed to finish in the top 24 with the deck, and had we known that Goblins
would be so prevalent and devoted some sideboard slots to it, I might have Top 8ed. It was just so much fun to do well with a last-second brew.

Before Worlds, I was playtesting Aggro Rock vs. Chase-Rare.dec (Balance/Top, Goyf, Cryptic Command, etc.) for a PTQ Chapin was playing in. At one
point, I attacked with Troll Ascetic while tapped out, not realizing that he was playing Venser, Shaper Savant. As soon as the Troll was tapped, I
figured it out and tried to take it back, but Chapin prison ruled me, saying, “I worked for this attack step.” Who the f*** does this guy think he is
playing into me like that? This little punk. I showed him the playbook made from my own beats. I took him to PT San Diego. Here he was rules-lawyering
me in playtesting… we ain’t talking about an actual match… we talking about playtesting. Playtesting!!!

But there he was, looking so smug at his trap that he had set for me. You know what? I had to know. I had maybe 8-9 games left in me before the bars
started calling my name, and I sat down against the mad innovator. Normally you need 20-30 games to pull one over on him, but I had nine. A couple
games passed, and I played tight. Then it happened.

My opener had a Treetop Village, Overgrown Tomb, Forest, Umezawa’s Jitte, Dark Confidant, Putrefy, and Troll Ascetic. I played Treetop and said go. He
played a turn one Island and confidently said go. In about the five seconds that it took me to draw my card, this went through my head: “No fetchland?
No shock land? Actual Island? Must have a Spell Snare. Gotta play the Overgrown Tomb tapped so he taps out on turn 2 thinking himself safe from a
two-drop. Then I protect my Dark Confidant from Shackles with Putrefy, and that’s game.”

Literally in the time it took me to untap and draw, that line came into my head. I calmly played an Overgrown Tomb tapped and passed. Chapin quickly
untapped and slammed down Counterbalance. I just flipped up the Dark Confidant from my hand before drawing and tapped my lands so he knew. He got
outplayed. He just looked at me in disbelief that I could go that deep and read him that well and laughed at it. Sometimes you don’t want to wake up
the sleeping dragon.

Worlds New York

Nassif, Chapin, and I decided to brew with just the three of us for this Pro Tour. We found a Dragonstorm decklist and changed about 10-15 cards in the
maindeck, and the rest was history. Not only was the deck the stone blade, but it resulted in one of the most epic matches ever played between Chapin
and Nassif in the top 4.

For this span, my game was so strong. I was playing some great Magic and was the best in the United States and maybe even in the discussion for best in
the world at times. Especially in Constructed. I can guarantee that during this span, there wasn’t a person on the Tour who was happy to see my
name across from his on the pairings board in a Constructed tournament. With the help of Chapin and Nassif, we were in the business of breaking
Constructed formats, and brother, business was a-booming.

However, it turned out that this boom couldn’t last forever. The bust end of this cycle was fast approaching and took me completely unaware. My
ego and status were due to be taken down a peg…