Yankee Stadium. Churascurria Plata Forma. A great evening winds down.
Day 10: Tuesday, September 9th.
I’m sitting here in the living room of Paul Jordan apartment with the air conditioner blowing on me. The back of my neck is a chilly ten degrees, gooseflesh standing out enough to make the skin feel like a Braille minefield, but there isn’t anywhere else to sit, so here I will stay for the foreseeable future. I’m a guest, and beggars can’t be choosers.
Perhaps it’s best that my sub-zero nape is keeping me alert, because I have a lot to get on the record before I turn in tonight. It’s been a long day – the only others awake are Gary, Filo, and Antonino. They’re all in the room with me – Antonino sprawled out on the floor, Gary on the couch, and Filo on the chair just to my right. As always, I’m manning the footrest. We seem to be coexisting quite well despite the fact that I’m the odd man out here tonight (I’m supposed to be staying at Eugene’s place) and I’ll be doing my best not to get in the way as my three companions gradually drift off into slumber, dreams of Pro Tour: Boston dancing in their heads.
It shouldn’t be too hard for me to avoid stepping on toes – gamers are a pretty generous group when it comes to hospitality, and they tend to look after their own. You only have to clean up after yourself (and even that requirement is pretty lax) and make sure to follow any house rules – for example this one just invoked by Antonino DeRosa upon his return from the bathroom:
“There’s a rule. Target man takes a s**t, target man must then close the door.”
That might be an actual rule, or maybe something that DeRosa made up on the spot. Neither one would surprise me. I have been instructed, however, to mention that Antonino DeRosa is very sexy, single, and that he enjoys D-cups and walks in the park.
This is the danger of writing with others present and awake.
At present, all three of my new friends are engrossed in a TV”documentary” about Las Vegas showgirls. As you might expect from a program that would captivate a trio of gaming men, it is rife with nudity. Filo speaks no English, but nonetheless I effortlessly got the gist of what he exclaimed as topless women started to dance daintily across the screen, gargantuan breasts bouncing merrily in time with the beat.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Filo.
So what did I do today? Just my first trip to New York, my first trip to Yankee Stadium, and my second trip to a Brazilian meathouse, all in the space of six short hours. It’s a lot to tell, but I have nothing but time. As the others in our little clique wind down like aged clockwork, I’m just firing up for tonight. There are paragraphs to hammer out, and miles to go before I sleep. It all started as most of my mornings have – at Eugene Harvey’s house. I slept late, and came back from the shower to find Eugene and his brother Brian (another orange-haired, blue-eyed gamer) playing some Goldeneye with Josh Rider.
“Ah, a Cougar Magnum – the ‘License To Kill’ nut low,” commented Josh, just after picking up the much-maligned revolver. He was quickly eliminated by Eugene, who was wielding a semi-automatic pistol, complete with faster rate of fire. We burned a good hour on a back-and-forth killfest before the elder Harvey brother went out to drop off the younger, run some errands and pick up food. I took advantage of the lull to put Soul Calibur II, which I am pretty good at, into the GameCube. I also discreetly disconnected the N64 – rendering Goldeneye, which I suck at, unplayable. Diabolical. In any case, Soul Calibur II is good times. I was still engrossed in Weapon Master Mode when Eugene returned with Burger King in tow.
While we chowed down, a call was made to Paul Jordan to confirm what had been arranged yesterday – namely that someone was coming to pick me up from TOGIT and take me to the Yankee game that evening. The response we got was essentially “Huh?”
As planners, we make excellent gamers.
I thought I was screwed, but Eugene did me a huge favor by dropping me off at Paul’s himself. Thanks, Eugene! After the forty-minute drive from Hillsborough to Madison, the last step was to get from Madison to Yankee Stadium, where the Bronx Bombers would shortly be toiling away in an attempt to survive the mighty Tigers, one of the worst teams in the modern era… All one hundred and three years of it.
That’s a lot of mediocrity to surpass, but if I’ve learned one thing about driving back and forth to Garden City PTQs in Michigan, it’s that you can’t underestimate the Detroit area when it comes to being terrible. Worst roads, worst crime, worst team – it comes naturally.
There’s one thing I promised myself that I would describe, and that’s the drive into New York. It started in Madison of course, though that doesn’t mean much by itself – there are many cities and towns with that name. Enough to confuse a geographical stick like myself.
GT: “Madison – doesn’t Adrian Sullivan live around here?”
JoshR (rolling eyes): “Yeah, that’s in Wisconsin.”
Whoops. Oh well – live and learn. As we made out way towards the George Washington bridge (a mammoth construction of stone and steel), we gradually left behind the cleanliness of the New Jersey suburbs and started in on the ruddier areas of the Garden State. Our car was Gary, myself, and Gerard, and we were following the car containing Paul Jordan, Filo, and Antonino. As I said above, it was maybe twenty minutes before the surrounding neighborhood started to slide its way down from middle class towards whatever dwells below.
Gary: “We must be getting near New York – this looks like a slum!”
Gerard: “Nah, it’s just Newark.”
Gerard Fabiano was my car-mate for the trip into New York.
It’s here that I have to admit that I faltered in one regard of this fine day. Aside from the picture of Gerard above, the rest of the photos documenting my adventures in New York didn’t come out in usable form, due to a camera malfunction. The photos from Wednesday were likewise destroyed, so I’m afraid you’ll have to use your imaginations when you tune in tomorrow to hear the tale of my last day in Jersey.
I’ll try to paint the pictures for you in words, instead – this truly was an eye-opening trip, and it’s worthy of the effort. Now, where was I? Oh yes – we were headed out from Jersey towards the Big Apple.
Eventually we swung onto a vast, five-lane highway that was circling the massive island of New York itself. It was certainly a humbling view, to see the mass of humanity lying just across the river, and as I took a good look at the majestic skyline, it occurred to me that I couldn’t spot anything that was obviously missing. This was my first trip to New York, and I had never seen it with the Twin Towers standing. Any native New Yorker would be able to conjure up the memory easily from any one of a thousand trips around the five boroughs. Not so for a neophyte. It’s something I’ll never know.
Even without those two towers, it was an impressive site – a jagged, jutting series of tremendous architectural masterworks, unrolling endlessly from east to west and dotted with lights of all shapes and sizes. I come from a town of about 80,000 – the only time I see that many lights is when our small-but-flamboyant gay community starts to decorate their houses at Christmas. Even with television and the big screen having prepared me for New York over the course of twenty-three years with countless depictions of the snarled traffic, crowded thoroughfares and labyrinthine streets, I was taken aback by the sheer size of it.
After crossing the George Washington bridge, it wasn’t long before Yankee Stadium was almost on top of me – a monolith looming out of the night. The streets were starting to get dark. There were people everywhere – more people walking out on the street than you’ll ever seen in my hometown. The scent of franks and brats was heavy in the air, mingling with smoke and automobile fumes, and I could barely hear a thing with all the shouting voices and the clatter of an elevated train straight overhead.
We found some scalpers in short order. Well-trained from long days in card stores trying to bargain with the only people more unreasonable than scalpers (namely, card traders), we dickered them down to $60 for six adjacent third-deck seats in no time – with Gary doing most of the talking. I spent the whole time standing there, looking and feeling whiter than I’d ever looked or felt in my life.
I mentioned previously that there are no Jews in Sarnia. Well, there’s like one black guy. Maybe two. I think they’re brothers or something. Fraternal brothers, I mean.
The stadium itself was nothing beyond what I had come to expect from my own long-ago trips to Tiger Stadium, Skydome, and Joe Louis Arena, but as I traversed the halls looking for my seat, I could feel the weight of years on the place, and the history contained within. The Yankees aren’t just your run of the mill franchise, after all – they’re the franchise. The New York Yankees stand for America; they’re the most popular team in the most populous city in the nation. Ads for Yankee hats say “It’s not just a hat, it’s a flag.”
Our seat was, as I said, three levels up. The escalators weren’t working, much to the chagrin of a wheezing Antonino DeRosa, so we had to trek our way all the way up into the rarified air of the cheap seats without electronic aid. Just like in the olden days, when players made $11,000/year and counted themselves lucky to make that much.
We settled into our seats in the second inning just in time to watch the Yankees start to put the boots to the worst team in baseball, a lackluster, bumbling squad with one 27th of the humongous Yankee payroll, and also one 27th the talent. Gary was nice enough to order us hot dogs, explaining that”everyone has to experience a hot dog at Yankee Stadium at least once.” It’s part of the atmosphere, I guess. Do I remember other hotdogs at other ballparks?
Sitting here with an air conditioner blasting the back of my head, I remember. I didn’t then, but I do now.
The last time I had a dog at the ballpark, I was ten years old. I finished the last bite just as Luis Salazar came to the plate for the home team. It was Tiger Stadium, 1990. Al Kaline used to go on and on about Ballpark franks during station identification.
I remember my father was a Tiger’s fan. He took me to that game and bought me that hot dog. We were behind home plate and to the right. I was into it, yelling out cheers for the Tigers, recognizing their names from Channel 4 on TV, where I’d tune and listen to Kaline and George Kell call the games. Alan Trammell wasn’t a manager then. Trammell was just a player. The manager was Sparky Anderson, a veritable ancient, manager of the Tigers, and before that, the Reds. I remember being ten years old and thinking that”Sparky” was a funny name. I remember it was 420 feet to dead center field in Detroit then, longest in the American League. I was proud that”my” park was the biggest and the deepest, with a second deck beyond the outfield that would almost overhang the first.
This is all coming back to me in a sort of rush, like bursting out of a cold cellar into the warm sunlight, but it’s not really a surprise because of course the memories themselves were always there. They are not appearing from nothingness so much as they are being unearthed from beneath the cover of years. The memory one I’m holding onto, right now, with the room utterly silent and totally dark around me, with this laptop illuminating my face in a spectre’s mask of ghoulish light, is the memory of my father buying me a hot dog and cotton candy at Tiger Stadium. Baseball was his hobby then, like Magic is my hobby now, though he had a teaching job and not enough time to write about the game.
I remember poring over newspapers with him to see who was leading the majors. I remember helping him with the computer simulated baseball leagues, spending countless evenings with him getting statistics out of The Sporting News or The Toronto Star and plugging them into a program on our 75mhz PC. Programs were clunky then. He’d always get frustrated with the interface and bang the mouse on the computer desk.
“Banging the mouse doesn’t help, dad,” I’d say.
He’d sigh then. “I know,” he’d reply, and smile.
Things have changed so much. Now, I don’t even watch baseball anymore. My game is Magic, not a nation-spanning institution but a niche card game published along with a hundred other games by Hasbro. Still, I love it even more than I loved baseball back then. I wonder what my father would have thought, if he saw me play Magic now, or if he was able to read what I now write.
I miss him. I wish my dad could see me play or write today. And this memory has really knocked me on my ass, I don’t mind telling you. But I guess that’s the way it works.
The Yankee game, of course, was more than just a hotdog and a memory. Gary and Paul Jordan, the biggest baseball fans there, were having a whale of a time jawing with a number of unfortunate Tiger fans that made the trip. The rest of us had a good time for the first seven innings, and then I think the mood gradually changed from wonderment to boredom as the two teams entered the 8th stanza deadlocked at 2-2. Gerard and I, having had enough of the baseball experience, began cheering in earnest for the Yanks to score so we could get the hell out of there and have some dinner. Sure enough, the home team came through with two runs in the bottom of the 8th, and then Mariano Rivera came out of the bullpen while”Enter Sandman” erupted from the PA system. Game to the Yankees, with tertiary victories for the hungry Magic players.
On the way out of the stadium, I got a first-hand education in the seedier, earthier side of New York, and though the combination of those two words makes the gritty metropolis sound like some sort of gigantic garden, that’s not really the effect I’m going for. We hadn’t walked more than fifteen seconds outside of the ballpark gates when a large man directly in front of me leaned over into a nearby tree planter and casually vomited. I say”casually” because it took him all of two seconds to do it, after which he resumed walking. Obviously he was a practiced post-game puker.
A little further along, there were scantily-clad women standing around, handing out leaflets for a strip club. We took them, but I think the only one of us that might have entertained serious thoughts about going was Antonino. Still, even a hormone-driven guy like him wasn’t about to miss our dinner at Churascurria Plata Forma – a Brazilian meathouse along the lines of Fogo De Chao, the restaurant I went to with the guys from YMG at Pro Tour: Chicago (though Rob Dougherty, a vegetarian, was absent). Restaurants like CPF and Fogo are popular choices when it comes time to have a huge meal to wrap up a Pro Tour or Grand Prix, and the experience is most often memorable enough to make the report, should one be written.
Before making our way to dinner, though, we had to make our way back to the car first, and that meant more of New York on foot. The first bum we passed had a sign that said “Not going to lie – keeping it real. I need a beer.” I got a chuckle out of that. The second was about two blocks later, right after the guy selling illicit DVDs. She was middle aged, on the ground, weeping, with her back up against a telephone pole. Her sign said”homeless and HIV positive,” and that was just the first line – there were full paragraphs on it.
Someone made a comment as we passed that “that’s way too much to read.” I generally don’t give money to panhandlers – haven’t ever since I read the”Blind Willy” chapter of Stephen King’s”Hearts In Atlantis” – but something about passing the poor woman by without even bothering to read her sign made me feel disconcerted. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because in some way, we all have a sign. Most are just unwritten. I wouldn’t want anyone to pass mine by without so much as a glance.
Dinner was terrific, but at $100 Canadian, I wouldn’t have been satisfied with any less. It was the single most expensive meal I have ever had in my twenty-three years, and though I’d like to say that it was worth it, the truth is that I’m pretty sure I could find a better use for a hundred bucks. I really had no choice, though – I had to go. It’s part of the story. In some ways, $100 is a small price to pay for the pictures I took, and the memories I’ll always have. I suppose I’m just a hopeless romantic.
Somewhere out there, the is a pragmatist with $100 still in his pocket.
It was probably also because of the mammoth price tag that we stuffed ourselves like taxidermy subjects. Antonino even went to the bathroom mid-meal to, as he put it, “drop some off.” I guess when you want to get your money’s worth, you have to pull out all the stops. Or, as the case may be, push out all the stops. Gary Wise told us a story about how Skaff Elias, grandfather of the Pro Tour, once came up with a grand plan to get an expensive meal for free by overloading orange juice orders to the point where the establishment could not meet the orange juice needs of the party. It worked about as well as you might suspect.
What else is there to tell? We came, we saw, we ate, we paid, and we went home to watch some TV, and that’s where I now sit. I think I’ll finish up here, close this laptop, and go to bed myself.
Day 11: Wednesday, September 11th
Drafts. Werewolf with Antonino. The last day in New Jersey.
The last day. If you change one letter in that sentence, you get”the lost day,” and that’s what this is, because you’re about to enter the part of this series that was written predominately”after the fact.” To be precise, I’m trying to write about what happened on September 11th, 2003, and it’s now October 22nd, 2003. (And thanks to all the pictures and the rude interruption of States and Pro Tour: New Orleans, it’s two weeks after that – The Ferrett) Forty days is a fine length of time to get thrown into solitary confinement or to stay sober, but when it comes to this project, I think I probably should have gotten started a little sooner.
The truth is, I was tired as hell after the road trip, and I didn’t have the energy. Now I do, but I’ll have to piece this account together from the fragments of my memory. In some cases there are no fragments left – the memory is entirely missing!
One thing I do remember is the game we played – Werewolf. It’s a party game probably invented a hojillion years ago in Germany or some other place where peasants had nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs in between harvest festivals and tax collections, but that ancient origin only proves what the Amish have been saying for years: That the old ways are, in some ways, the best.
Basically, it works like this (and for those of you who are familiar with the game, bear with me as I explain it to the uninitiated):
It is best played with nine or ten people – eight or nine players and a moderator. Once the moderator is decided, you need to decide which of the”townsfolk” are normal humans, which are werewolves, and which is”the seer,” a special townsfolk with the power to tell whether or not any other townsfolk is a werewolf. The decide this, we used some common Magic cards that were lying around – six green cards for townsfolk, two black cards for werewolves, and one white card for the seer.
Once that is decided, the game is simple. The moderator starts the every turn with these instructions:
1.”Everyone, close your eyes.”
2.”Werewolves, open your eyes.
3.”Werewolves, choose someone to kill.” (They do so by pointing – note that if Gary Wise is playing, it is usually him)
4.”Werewolves, close your eyes.”
5.”Seer, open your eyes.” (Note that this step is crucial even if the Seer is already dead)
6.”Seer, point to someone who you think might be a Werewolf.”
7. (During this step, the moderator will flash a thumbs-up if the chosen person is a werewolf, and a thumbs-down if he or she isn’t.)
8.”Seer, close your eyes.”
9.”The sun rises. Everyone wakes up…except for the mutilated body of [insert person killed by werewolf here], who has been savagely killed in his sleep.”
From this point, it’s the job of the townsfolk to figure out someone to burn at the stake that evening. They have no information to go on except the information given by the seer and their own conclusions based on how people are acting, and who died. For example, if the sun rises on the first day and Gary Wise is not yet dead, it is probably because he is a werewolf himself, and you can bet he’s getting torched that evening.
The townsfolk decide who gets burned by putting it to a vote (presided over by the moderator). Once the voting is done, the person being tied to the stake has a chance to defend him or herself with some final statements. This is where it helps to be a convincing speaker (Gary), a savvy player (Eugene) or an excellent liar (Osyp).
You can also just say “I don’t care, I’m tired” and get torched (Josh Rider).
Then, once the person in question has been killed, the moderator will tell the congregation the results of their murder. Usually the answer is “Congratulations, dummy, you killed a townsfolk. The two Werewolves are still alive.” The sun sets, and you repeat the whole thing again until either a) The werewolves are both dead; or b) There are only four townsfolk remaining, two of which are werewolves. (This means the werewolves win, since a majority vote killing a werewolf is impossible.)
Our game lasted about three hours, and it was certainly a lot of fun, especially when Antonino forgot the color-coding system and we had two Seers by accident.
Imagine hearing this with your eyes closed:
Moderator (Pat Sullivan):“Seer, open your eyes. And… We have some confusion.”
(Two seconds of silence)
Osyp (yelling)“…YOU’RE SO STUPID, ANTONINO!”
I laughed about it, on and off, for a good two days. Maybe you had to be there. Now, since I don’t remember much more about this day (I do know that it was a frenzy of last-minute drafts and travel arrangements, with the job of deciding car seating being left to yours truly), I think the time has come for me to write a little bit about the only Hobart house member that I haven’t devoted significant time to – Mike Turian.
Mike Turian smiling and playing cards, as usual.
I’m not sure why I waited until now to talk about Mike. It’s probably because his most significant contribution to the trip (from my perspective) didn’t come until we were already in Boston, and I guess that is what I’ll tell you about now – though in its own small and simple way, this story isn’t noteworthy at all, but just one example of something that nice people around the world do all the time.
Before I get into that, though, let me give you the rundown on Mike Turian: He’s a goof ball. There’s no other way to say it. Sure, he can play the lights out at a Magic table, but so can Mike Long, and you don’t see Mike Long running around saying”Potato!” and”Zug zug!” for no reason. Mike is a breath of fresh air. In my time playing Magic, I’ve met plenty of card players who act as prickly as porcupines, surrounding themselves with jargon-spewing, judgmental friends, always with an attitude. They talk too loudly about too many negative things. Mike acts how a Magic player should act. He is competent as hell, to be sure, and he can project that competence right at you when you’re across the table from him, but there is no chip on his shoulder.
With some people, it’s like you have to pass a test proving your worthiness to get to know them. If you don’t keep it tight enough or you’re a little bit naÃ¯ve or an introvert, you’re out in the cold. Instead of armoring himself in negativity, Mike radiates simple kindness.
It was because of that part of his personality that he was so effortlessly able to make me feel at home at Hobart. The thing I remember most about Mike, though, is that he was the only one of my new road trip friends to ask how I was on the morning of September 14th, 2003. Why is that significant? Well, I’d had a”rough day.”
There was no question I was pretty down on Friday evening. Following the extraordinary amount of effort I’d put out during my first day of Sideboard coverage, I was wiped out and wishing for nothing but my warm bed back in Canada. The little invisible”mood barometer” I carry with me was definitely trending downward, and everyone could tell. Gary Wise, not the most sensitive guy in the world (but to his credit trying to help) asked me what was wrong as we were having dinner than evening.
I didn’t really know how to answer, so instead of just giving it to him straight, I compounded the problem by hemming and hawwing a little before I confessed that I didn’t really want to talk about it. Of course, Gary is nothing if not persistent, and I eventually turned his attentions elsewhere by promising to spill the trouble to him in our hotel room later that night.
Of course, there was nothing to tell. Sometimes you just get depressed, homesick, and you feel like fifteen pounds of garbage in a ten-pound bag. I was at a loss for words to explain the feelings to Gary, who, while a friend, was a new friend. More than that, he had a lot to worry about the next day – like playing in the Pro Tour. I figured he needed his sleep.
When the time came and Gary wanted me to tell him what the problem was, I flat-out reneged and told him to just get some sleep. I can’t remember what he said to me after that, but it was icy – Gary doesn’t like to get jerked around (not that that was my intention). We didn’t speak anymore that night, and I went to bed with one more thing to worry about.
Long story short, the next person to mention the matter was Mike Turian.
“Are you okay?”he asked me in between rounds. “Gary told me you weren’t feeling well.” I told him what had happened the evening prior, and Mike was quick to assure me that I needn’t worry. “That’s no problem.”
Pretty simple, right? I probably would have dismissed it as an idle assurance from anyone else – but not from Mike. I believed him. He’s just that sort of guy. On that day in September, Mike Turian cinched up the Top 8 and put my mind at ease, both without breaking stride.
That’s Mike. What can I say?
Well besides, “Potato potato potato. Yes yes yes. Zug zug.” That one is already taken.
Day 12: Thursday, September 12th
JoshR runs it. Meeting everyone. The drive to Boston.
Quite a Thursday, with lots to tell.
Eugene and I made the drive down to the tournament site with Matt Sitarsky, a friendly young man who reminds me a lot of”Jay” of”Jay and Silent Bob” fame. He is the only person I have ever met that actually says”yo” at the end of his sentences, and he spruces up those same sentences with plenty of Sitarsky charm.
“That song was mad hot, yo,” he was heard to remark following a rousing bit of radio play. From that one sentence, I’m sure the sharp-minded amongst you can extrapolate the general line of his speech patterns. Yes, quite a character – and generous enough to get us to the event site despite his seething hatred of Boston roads. Any second I expected him to yell,”Snoochie Boochies!”
The event site was teeming with Pros of all shapes and sizes, many of them surrounded by a full compliment of barnacles. As a barnacle myself, I briefly considered the idea of trying to find a female barnacle with whom to hook up – but none were apparent. Oh well. Time to go exploring with the camera! You never know who you might find at a Pro Tour event!
First of all, no tournament experience is complete without Mark Zadjner, patron saint of glaucoma patients the world over.
The incomparable Mark Zadjner.
Mark was rather subdued all weekend, possibly to prevent an untimely death at the hands of his teammates, an eventuality predicted by Gary Wise. No matter though – robbed of the chance to take pictures of Mark offending people and being loud, my camera was thus free to wander the thoroughfare with a more general eye.
Hey look, it’s Mark Rosewater!
Me and my MaRo.
I’ve always had a lot of respect for Mark, though he takes a lot of heat for many things that happen in Magic, probably due to his position as the most outspoken member of the design team. Did you know that he reads StarCityGames and other websites every day? It’s nice to know that a writer can make a difference. So if you have thoughts about the direction of Magic, send them on in to The Ferrett! Make sure to include lots of errant HTML tags, poorly-edited photos, spelling and grammatical mistakes, and sections cut and pasted out of a variety of word processing programs.
(Just kidding, Ferrett.)
Back when I was writing”The Daily Shot,” I put together a short piece called”The Eight Finest Magic Writers.” Basically, it was a list of the eight guys I thought everyone should read. Mark was on there, though he never gets any credit as a writer. If I were to write it again today, he would still be on it. I think everyone interested in Magic should read his Monday column. You can find it on MagicTheGathering.com, and if you’ve never read it before, make sure to go back through the archive and see what he’s had to say about the game over the course of his tenure as the Monday columnist. You’ll be surprised how much of it is relevant, whether you’re a hardened veteran or a kitchen-table specialist.
Hold on? What’s that up in the sky? It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s….
Interlude: Chronicle of Super Barn!!!
There is no card that Super Barn! finds unlendable, no drink unfetchable. No object desired by the hull is beyond the pervasive grasp of Super Barn!. I am the sultan of serfs, the baron of barns, the lord of lackeys, overseer of the obsequious.
Hark! What is that sound that reaches my ear? Is it the sound of a skilled player in need of aid from the finest of barns? I’d recognize that sound anywhere – to my attuned ear, it’s natural. Super Barn! is like a mother goat hearing the bleating cries of her litter in distress. You’re in luck, whoever you are. You shall soon have the sword-arm of Super Barn! to call upon.
There you are!
And so it begins.
Thus ends the first chapter of my tale. Faster than a speeding combo deck. Able to leap tall Five-Color decks in a single bound. Until next time, I am…
And so it ends. Next to a babe.
Part of going to any event is the opportunity to see friends. I was certainly able to do that in Boston, and it pleases me to note that all of my old favorites remain a league of extraordinary gentlemen. One of the friends that I saw on Thursday was Josh Bennett (OMC), and when he confirmed that I would indeed be working for the Sideboard for the duration of the event, I wanted to get up and dance a little jig. When you love a job, there’s no sweeter set of syllables than”Be here at 8:30 tomorrow.”
It means you’re in, baby. Remember what I said before about my path? Mission accomplished! Not only was I going to be able to write (what I hoped would be) a great article about the weeks leading up to the tournament, but I was going to be able to work for Sideboard and tell the story of the tournament itself! On top of that, I was going to get compensated for doing this work that I enjoyed. Good times.
Now, what about the other two paths? Gary Wise would not start play until Friday, Day 1 of the Pro Tour, but what of JoshR? Thursday was his day to shine. Having finally decided on a teammate (Antonino DeRosa’s friend Filo Piernoli), Josh and Paul took the name”Block Party,” a reference to the number of teams that were running the event just to practice and/or scoop to them. With so many teams in the last chance qualifier, the numbers said that they had a poor chance of success – but when you’ve got talented players with plenty of blocking help, you can throw numbers out the window.
Things started to look even better when they saw the card pool they had to work with, which was ridiculous with a capital”R.” When you’ve got cards like this…
“Josh, Paul and Filo have good stuff to work with in the LCQ.”
…and you’ve got teams like this blocking for you…
A blocking/practice squad. The third teammate, not pictured, was Marco Blume.
…you’re already a good ways along the road top success. You’ve got a leg up, so to speak. You’ve just got to capitalize on the advantage. I knew they could do it, and you could tell from the way they went about building their decks, they were confident. Confident, but taking nothing for granted nonetheless. I could offer you some sort of overblown metaphor here, and tell you that building three decks out of a Sealed Deck card pool is as intricate a task as defusing a tactical nuke, but I think I’ll postpone and just let the results speak for themselves.
“Much like Saddam circa 2002, these guys have decisions to make about where to put those bombs.”
Once all was said and done, they had Paul playing U/W, JoshR with Monoblack, and Filo with R/G. The decks seemed amazing, with great synergy, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving. The overall power level of each deck in a Team Sealed competition is going to be higher than that of a well-built draft deck. The size of the card pool dictates that phenomenon. For that reason, you can’t get lulled into a false sense of security by decks that seem insane – it’s a trap that can end your day. You’re never invincible in Magic – we’ve all learned that by now – and alas, it was time for a quick reminder to come up and bite Block Party right in the ass.
“Paul getting rolled in Round 1 – he’s manascrewed with five land on turn 10.”
Filo managed to take his match without too much trouble (Fierce Empath for Silvos will do that) but Paul went down to land trouble, and Josh Rider ran the double-mulligan in Game 3 of his match. All eyes were on him as he tried to pull out of the disadvantage with a turn 4 Graveborn Muse. Unfortunately for Josh, it was Pacified, and he was unable to muster sufficient pressure before he died to combination of flying damage (from Call to the Grave-immune Mistforms) and Graveborn life loss.
Block Party starts out 0-1. This wasn’t in the script.
As you can imagine, it was do or die from then on. One loss and the trip to Boston was all for naught. Just as I expected, though, the team didn’t fold in the face of this grim situation. Instead, they flourished. It was a long slog through countless rounds against determined opponents (because of the first round loss, Block Party was never in the same bracket as any of the blocking teams) and even I, the big fan, didn’t find out how it turned out until the next morning. They were 0-1 early on and feeling down, one loss meant certain doom, and anything and everything can happen in Magic.
Nonetheless, they did it!
Block Party facing elimination.
Paul, being spectated by a gaggle of Magic’s elite, pulls out his match.
…and eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, Block Party took it down. Two out of three paths walked. JoshR rides again on the Pro Tour.
Days 13-15: Friday-Sunday, September 13th-15th
These were amazing days. At first, I figured I’d take this space by telling you about my experiences writing for the Sideboard as a match reporter and feature columnist. That’s all well and good – but to tell you the truth, further reflection shows that there isn’t anything fancy to relate in that department. It was a great experience, through and through. I got to work with good people including my dear friend OMC, I got to cover big matches in the game I love. I have nothing but good feelings about the time I spent, and emotions that pure don’t need ten paragraphs of space. They aren’t hidden away in vaults waiting to be unlocked by words, they just are. Everyone understands the joy of accomplishment and the unfettered happiness that comes with positive new experiences.
No, I don’t think I’ll spend any more talking about what I did on the weekend. Instead, I should tell you for the last time about the people I worked with and traveled with, the friends and acquaintances I gained. The CMU-TOGIT conglomerate brought a number of teams to the event – and to me, each one had a different personality and dynamic. I worked, played, slept, and ate alongside these guys for two weeks. The feeling I had as they took to the tables on Friday was one of anticipation, pride and excitement. I knew I was watching stories unfold, and that I was a small part of each one.
There was Stalking Tiger, Hidden Shark – a team composed of Josh Ravitz, Tony Tsai, and Paul Jordan. The grumpiest of the grumpy drafters joins forces with the trickiest of the tricky Asians, and along with Paul Jordan (possibly playing in his last major event before he’s claimed by the gaping maw of mainstream life) they try to take it all home. They would finish 118th. I think our paths will cross again.
There was Barns & Noble – the team of Osyp Lebedowicz, Antonino DeRosa, and Morgan Douglass. Joe Black, New Jersey’s greatest spinner of apocrypha and an accomplished PT champ, goes for the gold alongside Morgan Douglass (who I did not meet) and the one, the only Antonino, perhaps the funniest big man this side of Cedric the Entertainer. They ended up in 57th. I won’t soon forget the time I got to spend with Antonino and Osyp, and I look forward to seeing them down the road.
Osyp and Antonino – ladykillers.
There was Slay Pillage Gerard – composed of Scott McCord, Gerard Fabiano, and Jon Sonne. They were the only squad that my camera didn’t capture (unfortunately, some of my film was destroyed), but even without a visual record, I can remember the draft lessons I learned from the blunt-spoken McCord. I’ll be able to recall without error the way Gerard seemed to switch gears from subdued to confident when he was at the Magic table, and it won’t be a problem to recall the way Sonne’s eyes seemed to gleam when he was able to put Haunted Cadaver or Cabal Interrogator to use. They ended up 17th, taking home $2,100.
There was Hola Les Stupids – composed of Josh Rider, Paul Sottosanti, and Filoberto Piernoli. Sporting a name changed in honor of Farid’s ability to sound dumb in three languages simultaneously and playing on a mere one hour of sleep, they would finish up in 113th place. For Josh Rider and company, though, I think the major victory was the qualification itself. Discussion on the way back to Toronto would try to hammer away at that accomplishment, rendering it meaningless without a strong Pro Tour showing to compliment it, but I’m of the belief that not every victory can be measured in cash and PT points. And just in case you’re wondering, this is the long, mournful bloodhound’s face that you get when you’ve had one hour of sleep.
This is why they invented Jolt Cola.
There was Team TOGIT – composed of Pat Sullivan, Craig Krempels, and Adam Horvath. They ended up in 76th, lower than they would have liked considering all the testing they did, but every serious player knows that sometimes things just don’t go your way. In fact, Pat Sullivan really got the short end of the stick in thie article series. Without a doubt, Pat was the funniest, wittiest and most interesting person I met that I nonetheless didn’t find the time to write about in any volume. I did get one picture of him, but it’s right after a loss and in it, he looks like he’s trying to kill me with his thoughts. Pat is a good man, though. So is Craig Krempels, who made the best of a bad situation as you can see below:
Craig Krempels at Table 1! Hey, wait a minute…
That brings me, I suppose, to the closest thing this tale has to a group of protagonists. Zabuton Nemonaut, the team of Gary Wise, Mike Turian, and Eugene Harvey. I’ve already talked at length about each member of this team, so there isn’t much left to say except that I think that Gary made it all the way to the end of his path. He didn’t win Boston, true, but he took home $6,000 with a third-place finish, and that leaves him with a lot of options as far as which way he wants to take his card playing career. I’ll be looking on with interest as he makes those decisions.
It was, in a way, storybook perfect. I got to work for Sideboard. Josh Rider qualified. Gary had a high finish. I guess the next step is to live happily ever after.
The Zabuton Nemonaut game face.
I won’t soon forget those guys. From beginning to end, the trip to Pro Tour: Boston was a life-changing experience for me, probably the least worldly of young men. Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but I got to see new places, meet new people – it was the epitome of a great trip. I can only hope that someday I get a chance to head back Pittsburgh way, where the hills are steep and the network cables always abuzz.
Josh, Gary and I started out as uncertain travellers, three gents headed to Boston and back – but in the end, all three of us achieved what we had come to achieve. I like that. I think Magic needs more stories like it. It was good times, distilled and rolled into a two week package. It was a long road up, and a long road home. I don’t know if I could call the best time of my life – but I do know that when we passed Pearson Airport and made our way into Toronto with”Highway To Hell” playing on the car stereo, everything seemed to be right with the world.
I want to thank Gary Wise for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to do something like this – it was probably one of the nicest things that anyone has ever done for me. I want to thank everyone at the Hobart House for taking me in and making me feel at home – that hospitality is greatly appreciated. I want to thank all the players out in New Jersey for being nice to me and letting me be involved – it was great to meet you all. I should also thank Josh Bennett for allowing me to work for the Sideboard – without his help, friendship and encouragement, I wouldn’t be where I am today. JoshR – thanks for the advice, for a place to stay in Toronto, and for being a good friend. Ferrett and Pete – thanks for giving me the forum to post this account. And you readers – thanks for taking the time to make it all the way through. It’s been quite a trip, hasn’t it?
This article series could have been better than it was – and for that, I blame myself. To be more specific, it could have benefited greatly from being more serialized. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the necessary arrangements, and with delays piling up, we decided to post it in larger sections. Despite this shortcoming, I thank you all for coming out and sharing in my experiences in Boston. I hope you enjoyed yourselves in the reading of this account as much as I did while writing it.
Now for the hard part. This is where my story ends, at least as it relates to Pro Tour: Boston. There are no more pages to be written, no more pictures to be taken. It’s tough to let this tale go, scattered to the four winds, but I can take solace in the fact that when I come back to my archive on StarCityGames, The Road To Boston will always be here, waiting for me to read and remember the whole thing all over again.
I’ll close the book now. Feel free to come by anytime, though, if you want to hear the story again. We’ll go through it together.