Street Fighter with Nate Heiss. Sneaking into a draft. The Rock Bottom. Another team draft. Chats with JoshR. Wise the politician?
Day 5: Thursday, September 4th
The start of my Thursday was an ominous one, laced with bitter little cyanide threads of defeat. To be more specific, Nate Heiss came over today and brought SNK vs. Capcom 2 – a game that I am not good at. Nate, however? He’s an old hand when it comes to the dragon punch. He fed me my own heart with a side of fries in seventeen consecutive contests, without me being able to win so much as a single round. I’ll have to bring Tekken Tag Tournament next time so I can 17-0 him right back – my gamer ego can only take so many defeats at the hands of Ryu and Ken.
Here’s a candid shot of the victor:
The Heiss, unmorphed.
I first met Nate a while back at Grand Prix: Detroit. Ironically enough, it was only because I’d decided to introduce myself to John Rizzo, and he happened to be standing beside Nate. After the introductions were done, JFR did a half-turn, angled his baseball-capped dome about fifteen decrees, and pointed to Nate, saying”And this is Nate Heiss.” Upon returning home, I went out to find some articles written by Nate, and quickly discovered numerous works dealing with Mafia King, on of the most infamous decks ever (these particular efforts were on the now-defunct Mindripper website, and are sadly lost). After that read, I was certain I was dealing with an unconventional guy. And I was right!
I spent less time with Nate over the course of two weeks than I did with my road trip companions, but the time I did spend was memorable. A goof ball of epic proportions, Nate is always good for a chuckle, whether he’s screaming”YAAAAUUUSSS!” while attacking with a Juggernaut, or stubbornly sticking to his guns on a point of Magic contention, and annoying Gary Wise as a result. (Comedy gold!)
Though rumor has it that you can tire of Nate’s antics with long periods of exposure, but I personally didn’t mind him at all – he was friendly and nice – even when he was looking over my shoulder making Tim Allen-esque”confused grunting noises” at my plays in a deciding Rochester draft game against Eugene Harvey. I figure you have to take the good with the bad – and with Nate, I’m more than willing to do that.
The house people were too disorganized to get a team draft going this A.M, but I did manage to get into a draft queue on MODO to pass the time. In fact, it was the same one that Gary had entered – though he, ignorant of my MODO handle, didn’t know it. Oblivious to the fact that we had been paired in the first round, he started to discuss his picks with the rest of the room while I sat in silence with my computer screen turned away from he and JoshR. It was amusing, but I knew that he would eventually get wise to the gaff.
“Hmm,” said Gary as the first pack wound to a close. “My first-round opponent is a member of the JJJ’s.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at that point, and the jig was up. Gary chided me for entering a queue that he was in, and then resolved to pummel me for making such a mistake, but I was confident that I could give him a run for his money with my deck, which was an excellent U/R concoction featuring Sparksmith, many Goblins, Chromeshell Crab, Skirk Volcanist, Pemmin’s Aura and other goodies. I ended up losing in three, mostly because Gary also had a fine deck (with Riptide Shapeshifter/Akroma, Angel of Wrath!) and partly because I misclicked through my entire sixth turn in Game 3 and took seven damage I could have avoided, losing massive tempo as well.
Oh well. What are you going to do? MODO has good times, but it also brings bad beats.
“Two is a higher number than one.”
-Gary Krakower, two time Canadian National Champion, to Josh Rider on MODO
“Yeah, and 2003 is a higher number than 1812.”
-Jurgen Hahn, 2002 Canadian National Champion, after hearing about the above quote
Later in the evening, a party of nine of us (including the visiting Andrew Cuneo) had a tasty dinner at a brewery-turned-restaurant called”Rock Bottom.” Though the menu was non-traditional in that pretty much everything was sautÃ©ed in beer, boiled in beer, basted with beer, stuffed with beer, coated in beer, glazed with beer, or made of beer, I still managed to find a dish that I liked, a pepperoni pizza. ‘Twas a fine meal, and when I made my way past the massive chrome brewery vats behind showroom glass on my way to reach the washroom, I did it with a satisfying heaviness in my stomach, the weight of a sumptuous main course settling in for the evenings digestion.
Upon returning, we team drafted. I lost to Mike Turian in five extremely close games, and I took away from the match a healthy respect for Mike’s ability to evaluate which cards are good in a particular matchup (a trait that his teammate, Eugene Harvey, also shares). It was my U/B deck against his U/G, and his Imagecrafters were insane.
A lesser player wouldn’t have known it, but Mike was able to surgically take me apart by using the little guys with Riptide Laboratory, Raven Guild Initiate, Timberwatch Elf, Riptide Biologist – and of course my own Slivers, which I couldn’t board out because of a lack of playables (Aven Envoy, anyone?) Despite the Imagecrafter insanity, the games were close and a lot of fun – it’s a treat to play against high-level competition, because you can learn something almost every game.
It’s 4:00 a.m. and I’m writing. I’m pretty sure I so frequently choose this time to work on this piece because it’s quiet here at Hobart during the early morning/late night hours. As it stands now, everyone is in bed. I’ve just finished talking with Josh Rider about a great many things. One of the major topics is what he hopes to accomplish at Pro Tour: Boston.
“I’ve got to put up a finish there,” he told me, sprawled sideways on a chair across the table. “If I do, it will be a lot easier to justify going to Amsterdam.”
During our talk (and though JoshR is a fellow Canadian who I see relatively often at events, this was our first lengthy conversation that didn’t involve actual strategy or stories about Jurgen Hahn eating strange things) we came to the conclusion that in writing this, I am chronicling three people on three different paths. I immediately latched on to the idea. I like it – three different stories, all intertwined. Three guys from Ontario, Canada. Three Magic players at different stages of their careers, and with different priorities.
On the first path, we have Gary Wise, a man with tremendous ties to the Magic community. Lately, though, Gary has been playing a lot of poker, a game that is more profitable than Magic for him. I won’t presume to get inside his head, but Magic is filled with politics, naysayers, obnoxious kids, and plenty of unfortunate baggage that doesn’t exist in poker – a game you can play profitably from the privacy of your own home. No one at the PokerStars 10-20 Hold’Em table will give Gary any grief, and after six years and forty (!!) Pro Tours, maybe that’s something that seems appealing to him.
Forty. Wrap your mind around that number. I’ve played in one.
Gary Wise plays some online poker.
Gary Wise is not quitting the game of Magic yet, of course, and he’s qualified for both Boston and New Orleans regardless, but something about his demeanor makes me wonder if he’ll be around a year from now, or two years from now. Maybe this Pro Tour will decide a few things for him. Will the love for Magic be rekindled by success? Doused by a mediocre finish? Will he (God forbid) fall off of the gravy train? I’m not sure what it is about him that makes me wonder. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe everything. When you don’t want something as bad as you used to, when there are alternatives waiting in the wings, it makes it easy to fall off and out of the picture.
I’m cheering for Gary to win – but more than that, I’m cheering for Gary to be satisfied with whatever occurs in Boston and beyond, both personally and professionally. I have these wishes for him not just out of simple goodwill or respect (though those things are present) but for my own selfish reasons. After asking myself what those reasons might be, I think I know – I’m worried about where a mediocre finish might take Gary, and I want him to be around and in the game for a good long while.
Finishes aren’t the only thing on my mind, though – I’m worried that Gary might be taking on too much responsibility. With a burgeoning team to help develop (I’m not talking about Wise/Turian/Harvey but CMU-TOGIT), endless testing to do, writing of his own to complete, not to mention the travel arrangements and driving, Gary continues to take more and more upon himself.
Gary’s Magic experience is so different from mine at times that I sometimes wonder if we’re playing the same game. You might not believe me, but you haven’t heard him on the phone discussing team mailing list adjustments, arranging lodgings and prospective teammates, streamlining playtest groups, or smoothing over tricky group politics. I don’t claim to be a Pro Tour veteran, but I know how these things can get to you. They stack up on you like cordwood until you can barely stand it. Add to that the fact that online poker is piping a siren song into Gary’s house, and you’ve got uncertainty.
Leave or stay. That’s Gary’s path.
On the second path we have Josh Rider, who we jokingly refer to as”the hottest young Magic player on the planet.” After winning Canadian National Championships and Top 8ing a Grand Prix, a 22nd place finish at World Championships, and a Top 8 at Grand Prix: London, though, the truth is that it’s only a half-joke. Josh isn’t getting a big head due to his success, but he is expecting good things from himself now that he has finally had his breakout series of tournaments. Currently he’s trying to get on the gravy train, and he and Paul Sottosanti are scouring the ranks for available teammates while simultaneously arranging”blocking” support from the rest of CMU-TOGIT and even some Dutch and Canadian allies.
I’m not ashamed to say that Josh is where I want to be as a player. He’s obviously got a ton of natural talent (it’s rare that I can take issue with a play that Josh makes) and this year has been the year that every prospective pro tour player dreams about – a string of strong finishes leading up to what will hopefully be a long stay on the gravy train. To his credit, Josh is a young man with perspective – he knows how important the upcoming tournaments are and he’s taking them very seriously. I’m glad to see him taking a long-term view of it, making sure that he’s ready to give his best effort.
If this Ontario boy is a little uncertain about what is to become of him with regards to card playing, it’s understandable – the story has yet to be written – but honestly, there isn’t much doubt in my mind. I know Josh Rider is going to make it. If not today, then tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. Josh has always been a razor-sharp wit, but a longer and more serious discussion like the one we had this evening has opened the door for his remarks to really shine with a poignancy not reflected in our usual verbal tomfoolery. One comment in particular sticks in my mind, and I remember that he lay his arm on the table and his head on his arm as he said it, fighting off the clinging hands of early A.M. fatigue.
“Playing cards for a living,” he said,”is the only thing I can see myself doing.”
I know how he feels. There’s only one thing that I can see myself doing for a living, and that foreknowledge is double-edged to be sure. On one hand there is certainty. On the other, the curse of expectation. Right now I’m doing what I love to do, that thing that I want to do for a living. I’m writing. It’s a good feeling.
Likewise, Josh Rider will soon be doing what he loves. In about a week, to be exact. The stop is in a little town called Boston – and God willing, he’ll be staying Thursday all the way to Sunday. He has to grind in or sit on the sidelines. Sink or swim. That’s Josh’s path.
I guess that leaves the third path. Me. The writer. Just where am I headed? What are my dreams and aspirations? And how do they tie in to this trip, to our beginning and our destination? Good questions. My answer is that this trip, and the chance to tell this story, is one version of my dream. There is no place I have ever been that is more alive, no people I have ever met with more richness, depth, and strength. To better help you understand what I mean, I guess I should explain a little bit about my philosophy regarding the telling of tales.
It’s simple, really. There are stories here, there, and everywhere, and if given the chance to tell such stories, one should take that chance. The same chance will, after all, never come again. Without the proper care, events will be shelved and ferried into synaptic filing drawers, where they will disintegrate into scattered images and sounds, a jumble of patchwork cortical scraps, just an echo of a reminder of an anecdote of a happening that may or may not have occurred as you remember it. There is a lot of beauty to be found in the seemingly mundane, but those flourishes are too easily lost if the mind is left to its own selfish devices – the brain is like a chainsaw-crazy lumberjack, obliterating ever forward through more and more input, crashing through thick trunks of experience and spitting nuances aside like to so many splinters.
It’s because of this phenomenon that every blade of grass is not a beautiful and unique living thing, but just a blade of grass. This reduction and simplification of input is often necessary, sure (admiring every sunrise would make you late for work) but it is nonetheless a great shame. While you may remember the general characteristics of that girl you saw crossing the street at noon, there are a hundred things, from the flutter of her eyelashes to the suggestive sway of her hips to the way the sun was alive in her hair, that will be rendered nothing but hazy recollections come dinner time.
Regular beauty and strength and inspiration are okay, because it’s not every day that you get to chronicle something of significance. The great battles that were the basis for North American society as we know it have, for the most part, come and gone, with each nuance catalogued by better men than I – and so the reporters and storytellers of today are left to cobble together compelling accounts out of relatively mundane events. Even though the major stories of human existence have been told and told and retold, there is always more to tell. Do you understand? I only have so many years on this earth. This trip has been my first real chance to grab an experience, a story, with both hands. My first chance to save it from disintegrating into a few anecdotes and spotty memories scattered from mind to mind – to hold it, keep it safe, press the whole deal squarely between two book bindings and say, “This is our piece of history. This is our story.”
I think you do understand.
There is drama here, and darkness, and joy. The figures that move through these pages, they are vibrant, each one with his or her own story, each person has a current location and final destination, with pages to be told in the space between Point A and Point B. A month ago I was down and confused, and now my body is surging with renewed purpose. The joyous expectation of the story to come, the things to unfold in the weeks ahead, that anticipation pervades me, it thrums my writer’s libido like a tuning fork.
My path doesn’t diverge in any yellow wood. It’s nothing but a straight line, jet-black asphalt, gilded in hope. All the way to Boston.
Day 6: Friday, September 5th
Wellwisher madness in the last draft. Kings and Caps with Jeremy and Beek. The last night at the Hobart house.
A couple more team drafts today, a couple more things learned. Probably the funniest situation to happen in any of the contests was when Rachel, facing off against boyfriend Mike in the G/x on G/x matchup, managed to get three Wellwishers and an Unspeakable Symbol into play at once.
Yeah, she won that one.
While Gary, Eugene and Mike were filing away all the pertinent information in an attempt to form a coherent draft strategy, the amount of information gleaned from each draft was pretty anemic. Not necessarily unimportant (you can always learn something) but”figuring out” a draft format for Team Rochester would take hundreds, if not thousands, of drafts. I guess that’s why people form teams. Gary, Eugene and Mike were gathering their own information, true, but I got the feeling that the real revelations would be made when they hit New Jersey to compare notes with the TOGIT players. Fifteen heads are better than three, after all.
This day isn’t really about drafting, though. Before the Hobart habitants had decided anything else about what was to transpire on our last stanza in Pittsburgh, it was agreed that whatever the events of the morning, the evening would be dominated by alcohol-fuelled mayhem. The very minutes of each hour seemed to be mere formality before the main event.
Paul prepares for the evening ahead.
The festivities hadn’t gotten started before two more gamers arrived to make their presence felt – Jeremy Darling and Aaron Vanderbeek. I would later learn that”Beek” (as he is called, sometimes affectionately) had already thrown back six shots with his frat brothers prior to his appearance at Hobart. This partially explains his behavior – he may or may not have spent two minutes batting the dining room chandelier back and forth during a game of”kings” – but I think it’s safe to attribute the rest of the ‘Beek experience to pure personality alone. In fact, once properly plastered, the lanky frat veteran transformed into an alcohol ambassador of sorts, relentlessly extolling the virtues of sousedom to any non-interested parties, such as myself.
Beek:”Come on, man, you’ve got to practice drinking. That way you’ll get used to it.”
GT:”I appreciate the offer sir, but I have to decline. I have to get some writing done tonight. Plus, I don’t really like the taste of the mixed drinks.
Beek:”Come on…I know I’d be honored to drink with the Geordie Tait.”
GT:”Ha! Now I know you’re drunk.”
Jeremy Darling was a horse of a different color. Somewhat quiet when sober, it seemed to me that he was able to, like a great many people, use the alcoholic kick to bust out and paint the town red. Not only did his steadily increasing inebriation cause swearing in his sentences to go up by close to 3,000%, but he was always at the forefront of the laughter that frequently exploded in the dining room. I could tell early on that he was determined to get blasted – and sure enough, Jeremy was the first one of the”kings” players to get abysmally ‘faced.
When a group of three or four intrepid buzz-bearers decided to walk down to Napoli’s to get some Smirnoff Ice and pizza, Darling tried to come along and ended up falling down the stairs. When we reached the parlor, Eugene made him stay outside, where he spent ten minutes grinning through the glass door like a lobotomized howler monkey. Then we returned home and Jeremy made his way out to the back porch and collapsed there for close to four hours. Godspeed, kid.
Drinking Night begins with a game of”Kings.”
I’m sitting here at 3:52 AM on Saturday, but really this isn’t Saturday, it’s the tail end of a crazy Friday night. I’ve just spent the last forty-five minutes cleaning kosher vomit out of the living room, peeling alcohol-saturated playing cards off of the table, and filling three hefty bags with the refuse on the main floor. It’s the least I can do for Mike Turian, who left at about 10 p.m. with his house in reasonably good repair. Following his departure, things got a little bit wild.
I’ll tell you what I remember, now that it’s quiet and I can think. The hum of the fan is heavy in my ears, but there’s nothing stirring besides the air. The other occupants of the house are at rest, and the manner in which they arrived at that state of calm varies from person to person. Nate Heiss is comatose out on the front porch, trying to shake off a brutal drinking game session that concluded with a double-upchuck as the grand finale. Josh Rider is laid out on the floor in Mike’s room with his eyes rolled back into his head. It would take nitroglycerin suppositories to move him from that spot. Jeremy Darling is now flat on his face on the small couch, a stark contrast to his robust activities for the last two hours – namely, sitting on the back porch trying not to succumb to alcohol poisoning. Poor guy. Two hours of good times, two hours of trying to coax your body to leave you a functioning liver.
Liquor is a harsh mistress.
Where’s Beek, you ask? Wrecked. Big couch. Chance of moving in the next five hours? None. Paul Sottosanti just stumbled into bed after saying good night to me… About five times. I appreciate the thought, but he is also well over the legal limit. Eugene? He was drilled, but had the good sense to retire after assessing the living room vomit damage. Turian thankfully (for him) left early and to took Rachel with him, so he’s been spared the burden of this difficult post-drinking binge period, those sweating, heaving hours that always creep up to hit you after you’ve had your fun. Like a tax collector for some twisted deity of hops and barley, 3 a.m. comes to exact from the travelers of Happy Drunk Road a toll, paid in physical misery.
Of course, not all Hobart habitants are touched by the wino curse this evening. Gary Wise doesn’t drink, and has to drive for seven hours tomorrow in any case. I likewise cut myself off early in the night when it became clear that rum-and-cokes tasted just as bad as I remember. I never was much of a partier, and watching these poor guys try to deal with the side effects inherent in stuffing your system to the brim with fermented intoxicants has only deepened my resolve in that regard. Drinking is like casting Shrieking Mogg in Limited. You get one joyous burst of freedom…and then you take twenty. GEE GEE.
Paul loses at”Caps” and has to drink up.
That said, drunken gamers are very good times for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the staggering number of photo opportunities that arise when Pro Tour regulars, internet writers, and National Champions are stumbling around blasted out of their respective gourds. Their booze-propelled verbal incoherencies are likewise hilarious. Take for example the following drunken exchange:
(Backstory: Paul Sottosanti and Nate Heiss are playing”caps,” and have each missed five times in a row due to a combination of inattentiveness and the fact that they can’t see two feet in front of their faces before the room blurs. Observing the action are myself and a very tipsy Eugene Harvey. Paul misses a sixth time, and so does Nate…)
Paul:”God, we’re s**t.”
Eugene:”You guys are both definitely fecal matter. You came out of the ostrich. And not the good part.”
Nate:”There’s a good part of the ostrich?”
(Meanwhile, Gary Wise is trying to get Josh Rider, who has barricaded himself in the bathroom and locked the door, to come out. Josh is so drunk that his urine could jumpstart a lawnmower. Normal persuasion methods don’t seem to be working, so Gary resorts to outright lies and outrageous threats.)
Gary:”Josh, I’m getting really upset. You’re not going to Boston if you don’t come out right now.”
Josh: (unintelligible word with no vowels in it)
Gary:”Josh, I’m going downstairs. If you don’t come out in two minutes, I’m going to break the door down and beat your ass.”
Josh (slurring falsetto voice):”Bring it on.”
(Gary looks at me and shrugs, then heads back downstairs. I creep up to the door and start doing impressions of characters from”The Simpsons.”)
GT:”Yar! Come see Bottomless Pete, nature’s cruelest mistake!”
Josh (slurring falsetto voice):”Bring it on.”
GT:”Cap Anson! Honus Wagner! Mordecai ‘Three Finger’ Brown!”
Josh (slurring falsetto voice):”Bring it on!”
I tried a few other things, but his response is always the same. Make sure you find Josh Rider at Pro Tour: New Orleans, where he will be fighting not only Gary Wise, but also Bottomless Pete and three long-dead baseball players.
There’s more, too. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a drunken Eugene Harvey defeat a sober Gary Wise in Mario Kart – a victory complete with jumping kung-fu celebration dance. Luckily for those of you at home, I was there to snap this photo:
Eugene, more than a little tipsy, celebrates after smashing Wise in Mario Kart.
All good things must come to an end, of course, and Josh, Eugene, Nate, Paul, Beek and Jeremy all ended the night somewhere between hopelessly asleep or completely passed out. I have pictures of all six in this condition, of course (what good journalist would miss the chance to get those shots?) but I think I’ll save them for my personal photo album. As JoshR said on the way home from Boston:
“I have no problem with looking like an ass in the presence of my friends. But I doubt much good could come of pictures of me, passed out, circulating on the internet.”
Fair enough. The account of Day 6 shall close, then, with the sterling reputation of Josh Rider (and others) left unsullied.
Day 7: Saturday, September 6th
A one-day delay. Lunch with Gary – is he quitting? Movie night.
I’m up early to write and pack, and it turns out we’re not going to New Jersey today – Eugene isn’t feeling up to making the trip right now. This shouldn’t come as any surprise – much like everyone else here, he’s hung over and probably trying to scrape the bad taste out of his mouth. It’s no matter – the Hobart house is a fine place, and I’m in no hurry to leave it. I’ve even come to like my little spot in the living room, even if it is perilously close to the scene of Nate Heiss‘ recent adventure in explosive late-night regurgitation. In all fairness, Nate is a good man, and if I have to clean up anyone’s vomit, it might as well be his.
Most of my morning was spent sleeping – I’ve been up late writing for the last few nights, and while I’m making excellent progress with regard to this project, my sleep cycle is suffering in a big way. Luckily for me, the other Hobart habitants are very easy to live with when it comes to sleeping in – they even have lunch waiting for me each day when I roll off the couch. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys.
Today there wasn’t any lunch, but Gary had bought something when he was out – an N64.
A game without equal to be sure (though playing with Eugene made first place a foregone conclusion), but that still left the matter of filling out stomachs.
Since we weren’t headed to New Jersey just yet, Gary and I decided to walk down to Napoli’s, a pizza place not far from Hobart Street, and have lunch. Both Gary and I are far from quiet when the time comes to banter across a tabletop (whether the words have to travel over a game of Magic or a plate of food only depends on the time of day) and so it wasn’t long before we were knee-deep in muddy mealtime conversation. The main theme of our talk was the difficulties that come with being involved in the Magic community. Everything else seemed to branch off from that one idea.
We started wondering aloud why people who are so enthusiastic about Magic, who try to promote it so much, can take so much flak for it at times. The feeling at the table was that sometimes the Magic community can be very harsh, and that Magic writing sometimes feels like a thankless job. I can only speak for myself when I say that I have found Magic writing to be very rewarding (and on that point I’m sure Gary would agree with me for the most part) but there have been times when I’ve had second thoughts about whether or not it’s worth it. Sometimes it seems so hard to communicate – there are so many different minds out there, each with a different viewpoint.
I think I know part of the problem, and it isn’t really something that can be fixed. The trouble comes from being deathly serious about a game that is a sport and an occupation to you while simultaneously remaining a tabletop lark to the rest of world. There are all sorts of Magic players out there – short ones, tall ones, big ones, small ones, good ones, bad ones, casual ones and hardcore pros. Charles Mousseau’s definition of a disgrace is my definition of a professional. You can’t please everyone.
For that reason, the fact that at times Gary and I both approach Magic at times as serious business (to be fair, it remains a seriously fun business, with apologies to Anthony Alongi) we are sometimes disconnected from the rest of the community, those hundreds of thousands of players who play multiplayer over beers at the house. Those players can’t really appreciate what competitive Magic has become at the highest levels, and so they find us hard to relate to, despite our best efforts with pen and keyboard. This is a greater problem for Gary than for me. I can still claim to be a casual player, but Gary is too far gone to ever go back to the kitchen table again with Thallids in hand.
Magic just for fun? A rare pleasure for Gary.
I think that sometimes the disparity between a Pro Tour player and the average player can make a Pro Tour player hard to relate to, and that can cause tension between a writer and his readership. There are a lot of people out there who will never be good enough to win even a plug nickel playing this game. They don’t have the time to devote to it (once you get the wife and the kids and the mortgage payments, those daily trips down to TOGIT or Neutral Ground or Your Move Games start to become difficult to swing) or they don’t have the talent, or their interests lie in more casual circles. They hear stories about concessions and arguments and shouting matches and incidents at events and then they get on the internet and start mouthing off.
Gary would never say so, but I think he’s weary of having to deal with the some of the stigma and backlash that comes with playing at the highest levels. You remember what I said before about him, right? That he seemed indestructible? Well, you can only have to many people thinking you’re a jerk before it starts to affect you. In fact, he pretty much told me as much.
“It’s always ‘Gary Wise is a loud, obnoxious, unsportsmanlike a**hole,'” lamented Gary. I could hear the frustration in his voice. Knowing how hard Gary tries to promote the game through his writings, I can understand how backlash like that can hurt, especially when it’s coming from member of a community to which you try to contribute. The two biggest examples of this are the discussions revolving around Gary’s encounter with Brian”The Lion” Bonnell at Canadian Nationals this year, and also the response to what happened during his match with Chris Benafel at the Masters – he took a PR beating in both cases, and in both cases the full story didn’t really come to light.
Getting flak isn’t the only reason that Gary might consider hanging up the wand and the pen, though. There’s also poker, which he described to me as”a natural progression.”
“It’s a more mature game with a more mature player base,”he explained. “As Magic players go, I’m a senior citizen.” Add to the change in atmosphere the chance to make more money and you’ve got a tempting game for a Magic player who is tired of waking up to find grinning forum idiots making cracks at his expense.
(“Where’s Wise?” and”Pro Tour Personals” caption jokes, by the way, are the absolute nut-low of Magic humor. Come on, guys, time to raise the bar.)
I guess we’ll see how things turn out. I hope that Gary stays around Magic for quite a while. It’s up to him, though.
After coming home from lunch, I settled in for a long winter’s nap, while Eugene, Gary and JoshR decided to run a”Movie Night,” complete with the required moviegoing essentials – DVDs and junk food.
To appreciate film, you must be properly prepared.
Gary, a film major, obviously has a good grasp of what is required for the proper filmgoing experience.
With Mr. Wise drafting in the background (still heating up for Boston, and on quite a winning streak!), we put”Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” into the DVD player and settled in for an evening of fine cinema. The food started to dwindle almost immediately underneath the bombardment of our ravenous filmgoing appetites (I myself ate at least ten of those little”100 Grand” candy bars), but it was issued a reprieve when the DVD started to skip about halfway through the movie. Curses!
At that point, we all wanted to send Blockbuster a little something, and it sure wasn’t flowers by wire. Still, it didn’t take us long to get our second wind. A short jaunt later, we had our refund and another DVD, this time something lighter – it was”Baseketball,” the charming comedy by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of”South Park.”
Magic would be an interesting game if you could score points for a”psych-out.”
“Hey, Kai…I hear your mom’s going out with SQUEEK!”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, rent Baseketball.
Right now, I’m going to fold up this laptop and curl up on my little couch. It’s been a fun day, but a long day, and tomorrow we say our goodbyes to Hobart house and head to New Jersey.
Day 8: Sunday, September 7th
Leaving Hobart house. The drive to Jersey. Screeching rubber. Help with my game. Meeting Antonino. Osyp’s house.
I’m typing at the dining room table again, and it’s 12:21 A.M. Looks like we’re actually heading out this morning. Eugene just brought a big suitcase/backpack downstairs, and with the rest of us pretty much already packed, our time in the Hobart house is quickly drawing to a close. I’ll take with me some fond memories of this place, even as messy and noisy and crowded as it was at times. Despite those shortcomings I can’t help but appreciate what it represents and what it contains – the indomitable gamer spirit.
I hope I get to come back someday – if not to test for some Pro Tour of my own, then to visit. To say”hi” to Mike again, and whoever else is living here (Paul, alas, is moving to Seattle in a matter of weeks). I think I’d like that a lot.
What else is there to say? My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. Time to hit the road.
It’s been quite a day. The drive to Jersey was interesting, especially after I took over the wheel and proceeded to miss the first exit I was supposed to take. Gary and I (who were supposed to be following Eugene, so much for that idea) ended up getting pointed in the right direction again, but my adventure in missed turnoffs wasn’t the last mishap of the day. Gary was in the passenger seat for one more interesting little number that I like to call”Screeching To A Halt.”
Gary:”I have a good name for my Invitational card if I get to go.”
Geordie (glancing over at Gary and taking eyes of the road):”Really? What is it?”
Geordie:”Pfff. That’s not a good name!”
Geordie:”Gary, I’m sure you’ve put a lot of effort into the name, but that just isn’t….”
(long, sonorous screeching rubber noise)
I skidded to a halt in the middle of an intersection, tires smoking, and let us idle there, inhaling a nostril-scorching mix of every advance in the vulcanization process for the last quarter century. Not my finest hour while driving a friend’s car. But hey – it’s a road trip.
Eventually we did make it to the Garden State in one piece, arriving at the same time as Josh and Eugene despite the fact that we missed two different exits and had to stop for directions twice. I’m not going to say that Eugene is a cautious driver or anything, but he turned the acceleration lane getting onto highway 78 in PA into a”come to a complete stop and wait for a gap in the 80 m.p.h. traffic” lane. Unconventional, to say the least.
Along the way, Gary and I got on the subject of my own Magic game, and how it could be improved. It was a conversation I was glad to have, since I’m always trying to improve, but his advice was frustrating advice. Not because I didn’t agree, you understand, but because I think it’s going to be tough advice for me to follow.
Essentially, what he told me was that I have to remove myself emotionally from the game. He related to me a conversation between himself and Josh Ravitz where Josh told him that he’d played me on Magic: Online and that”after one bad attack, his game just collapsed.”
I remember that match. I got wrecked by Haunted Cadaver, lost, and then went into the clan chatroom and complained about it for like fifteen minutes. To be honest, I felt pretty dumb that word of my whining spree had gotten back around to Josh, who I didn’t know at the time. I generally try to keep my long complaint sessions to the clan chatroom to prevent exactly that sort of thing – but word does get around, especially when you’re in a clan filled with pros, semi-pros and cusp players, all of whom know people.
The advice was most frustrating because it didn’t seem like something tangible I could tackle with practice. If someone tells you that you need to know the cards better, or you need to do more playtesting, or you need to brush up on the rules, or you need a better understanding of pick orders, or card advantage, or tempo, that’s something you can work on. But”rein in your emotions”? That seemed like a tall order.
What other choice do I have, though? It’s clear that I’ve hit a plateau with regards to my play – I don’t seem to be getting much better regardless of how much I practice – so now it’s time to work on aspects of my game that, up until the ride to Jersey, I didn’t know existed. It’s funny how a new series of challenges can come right out of nowhere.
Back to the car ride. After crossing the state line, it was just a short jaunt to Osyp’s house. I actually almost delayed us for a few extra minutes, but I doubted that Gary would have appreciated me stopping on the shoulder to get a picture of me standing next to the sign that said”Kutztown – 2 Miles.” We were late as it was. Josh Rider did, however, suggest that we try to get some gym uniforms from the school.”Property of Kutztown University.”
After we found Osyp’s, a sprawling duplex type deal with mazelike corridors, it was time to step out of the travelling shoes and back into the boots of the gamer. The house was packed with Magic talent – Pat Sullivan, Adam Horvath, Tony Tsai, Scott McCord, Antonino DeRosa (as well as his Italian friend Filo), Osyp Lebedowicz, Josh Ravitz, John Sonne, Gerard Fabiano, and Paul Jordan. I was overwhelmed, but the guys made me feel very welcome from the first moment I stepped in the door. It wasn’t long before I was joining everyone else in laughing along with one of Osyp’s stories.
Antonino DeRosa was especially friendly, and he assured me that I shouldn’t be afraid to talk to him or any of his friends, since they were, according to him”probably the nicest group of quote-unquote ‘pros’ around.”
I asked him if that meant the rest of the Pros were pretty much a bunch of bags.
“Pretty much, yeah,” replied Antonino.
Antonino’s friend Filo didn’t speak much English at all, so Antonino had to constantly translate everything that was said – a very nice service to provide for a friend from overseas, but not the most convenient task, especially when you often have to translate things that you’d rather not – such as jokes at your expense.
“Ha! Antonino has to translate his own beats!” laughed a pointing Gary Wise, after Antonino had been burned by an Osyp witticism. Filo just smiled and nodded until Antonino informed him (in Italian) that Wise was not only an unmitigated prick but also a convicted arsonist. At least I think that’s what he said. My Italian is rusty.
Antonino is a character, though. With a charming accent and an infectious smile, the big man always brings levity to the room, whether he’s serving with men on the Magic table or running around the room making high-pitched squealing noises at random. And did you know that Antonino won the CMU-TOGIT vs. YMG triathalon? It’s true. Gerard Fabiano was the host of the first event – a spelling bee, which Antonino won over his nemesis Gabe”Samwise Gamgee” Walls, who was representing YMG. The second event was a game of DC-10, and Walls was victorious after cheating, which was ruled legal because”it had never been specifically said that cheating wasn’t allowed.”
It came down to a sumo wrestling match. Advantage: Antonino. Sure enough, he took home the prize.
We made a quick trip to Burger King, and then Eugene, Gary and I ran a draft against Pat Sullivan, John Sonne and Scott McCord. I’d like to report that I acquitted myself well, but in actuality I got wrecked by Sonne in about 1,000 games in a row. We did learn a lot about the important cards for the matchup – I was stuck with the multiple Skinthinners and one-toughness guys against Sonne’s Zombies, fast fliers, Festering Goblins, and Death’s-Head Buzzard, resulting in a massacre.
Sonne also used the combination of Cabal Interrogator, Unburden, and Blackmail to great effect, often totally taking the steam out of my draws with vicious hand destruction (discard is, I would later discover, a Sonne trademark). The U/B on U/B mirror in Seat C only came about in the first place because Eugene and Gary had found that G/x hadn’t been working in that seat and wanted to try something new. It was also possible that U/B might be a good metagame call against teams that had gone with the conventional wisdom of a Seat C G/x drafter. With evasion creatures, removal and tempo tricks, U/B is usually at the advantage in such clashes.
It was a fun night. Movies, drafts, Soul Calibur II (Osyp: “I can jump out of the ring? That’s bullsh*t!”), and dinner at Burger King all combined for some good times. At about 1:00 a.m., Eugene, Josh and I made our way back to the Harvey house to sleep away our troubles. Eugene’s house is a marvel – the perfect example of what a house becomes when many game-happy boys grow up there.
The electricity-driven entertainments were legion. Nintendo. Genesis. N64. Gamecube. PS2. A computer running strategy games, poker and MODO. Mountains and mountains of Magic cards. Four different remote controls mixed with tangles of console accessories and stacks upon stacks of games for every system. It’s what my house would look like if I’d had a brother. I bet Eugene even has a”Power Glove” somewhere in his basement, stored alongside that pistol they used to sell to help you play”Duck Hunt.”
Eugene and I have a lot in common.
Though I didn’t know anything about Eugene before I came to Pittsburgh (except that he won a chili cookoff once) visiting his house and talking to him for a while was all it took to convince me that we have quite a few things in common, not the least of which is our affinity for Coca-Cola, the finest of soft drinks. Because of these similarities, it was sublimely easy to bunk down in his house for the night. I went to bed on a fold-out couch surrounded by console systems, DVDs, games and gaming accessories. Just like home.
Sometimes when you’re far away from where you grew up, it’s nice to find out that, in some ways, you’re really not so far away after all.
Day 9: Monday, September 8th
Draft. Draft. Draft.
I’m sitting on a footrest just a few feet away from the draft table here at the Osyp/Paul Jordan estate. The testing is really starting to rev up, with at least four or five team drafts running this evening. Tonight’s final draft featured the team of Wise, Harvey, and Horvath against Antonino DeRosa, Tony Tsai (“Watch out,” he warns,”Asians are tricky!”) and Filo Piernoli, Antonino’s Italian-speaking companion.
The draft itself was a wild and crazy affair and a lot of fun to watch. Horvath, drafting near-monogreen in Seat A, had an Elvish Vanguard and four (!!!) Wirewood Elves, and added two Timberwatches, a Wirewood Hivemaster, and a Patron of the Wild to that tally at the start of the Legions pack. Filo, drafting U/B in the opposing seat A, was none too pleased to open a Timberwatch Elf himself and see it go to Horvath. He had a strong pick for himself, though, and hate drafting wasn’t an option. They’re about to start playing as I write this.
The other testers are about to retire for the night, with Osyp already asleep and Josh Rider zonked out on the mauve couch just to my right. Paul Jordan is also headed to bed, and just tossed off a comment about how I shouldn’t refer to this place as”Osyp’s House” since the Ukranian’s name”isn’t even on the lease.” Thus, I shall henceforth refer to our gathering place as”Paul Jordan House,” per Paul’s instructions.
Just like in the evenings at the Hobart house, things are gradually slowing down. The television, usually ablaze with whatever movie the gamers want to watch, has fallen silent. At a table about five feet from me, Tony Tsai and Gary Wise are swapping old PTQ stories, but they are doing so in the half-volume voices of the late evening. Filo and Adam have just hunkered down on the floor in front of me, sitting Indian-style, to play their match. I can hear the slapping of cards on the carpet much more clearly as the voices and personalities take it down a notch.
I got to play some fun Magic today. Craig Krempels and Jon Sonne needed a third to draft against Osyp, Antonino and Filo, and so I got the job – and ended up facing off against the Pro Tour: Venice Champion himself. He eventually beat me and my U/B deck, which featured multiple copies of Day of the Dragon (one in the sideboard, alas) in a tight five game match. Hilariously enough, Osyp was able to counter my 4UUU enchantment, in part, with two copies of Dragonstalker. Of course, he also had Exalted Angel, which wasn’t so funny. Even my two Cruel Revivals couldn’t save me. Meanwhile, Antonino’s unfair Timberwatch Elf draws annihilated Krempels, who come turn 5 had about as much chance of winning his match as I do of becoming Miss America 2004.
My Day of the Dragon is no match for Osyp!
I also had a good time watching the talented (and now Great Barn In History!) Josh Ravitz draft, as he possesses a very expressive face and, without a doubt, the widest repertoire of negative facial expressions I have ever seen.
Here’s a quick guide to the many drafting moods of Ravitz:
And that’s just during Pack 1! Maybe he might smile a little if he opened Rorix, but I have no way to confirm that. If I happen to cover one of his matches while working for the Sideboard in Boston, I’m going to take a word from the list at random, and then use it to describe Ravitz’ expression while the draft is proceeding.
“Ravitz appeared ________________ as the packs were opened.”
“Ravitz had a _____________ look on his face as he reviewed the pack.”
“Ravitz seemed to be __________ as his opponents made their picks.”
Pure gold. That sort of preparation is what separates good match coverage from bad match coverage.
This is the closest anyone ever got to see Josh happy the entire weekend.
I’m excited about tomorrow. We’re going to watch a Yankees game, and it should be good times even if they are trying to beat the hapless Tigers – a task that’s pretty much the MLB equivalent of swinging a bat through wet tissue paper. When your manager is sitting your pitchers because he doesn’t want the stigma of losing so much to follow them through their careers, you know you’ve got a bad team. They can’t win at home and they can’t win on the road. I have it on good authority that their general manager can’t figure out where else to play.
It won’t be a cheap trip, but I think I have enough in my budget. And speaking of money, Antonino DeRosa just asked me what I do for living. I told him that I write and that I game, and he seemed to accept that without much comment. Up until this trip, though, I wasn’t sure that I could make it as a writer/gamer. 15,000 words later (which should be about the halfway point of this series), I feel a lot better about the idea. Maybe a year from now I’ll come back here and see Antonino, and when he asks me again what I’m up to, I can tell him that I’m writing, that things are going well, and that I’m making my own way doing what I love. That’s all I can hope for.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch some Magic. See you soon.