Under the Coverage: U.S. Nationals 2006

As detailed in an article that I won’t link because it’ll depress you, I am now an editor for the Pro Tour coverage team. Although many people think that I got the position because I’m a filthy lucksack, it’s actually based entirely on my merits (i.e., Ted Knutson thinks I’m cool).

As detailed in an article that I won’t link because it’ll depress you, I am now an editor for the Pro Tour coverage team. Although many people think that I got the position because I’m a filthy lucksack, it’s actually based entirely on my merits (i.e., Ted Knutson thinks I’m cool).

I was worried that fellow coverage hound and StarCityGames writer John F. Rizzo and I would end up stepping on each other’s toes with our behind-the-scenes accounts, but it turned out that his Nationals report (for those of you on the happier side of the Golden Curtain) covered rather different ground than mine. His was mostly about me being a love god, if I recall correctly. You’ve heard the rumors; now hear the truth! what I have to say about it.

I couldn’t miss much of my day job for this, so I flew out Friday afternoon, missing out on a full day of Nationals. My half-hour flight out of Champaign was delayed half an hour because the plane was not physically present. I was worried about my connector, but it was departing from the B side of the gate at which I’d arrived on the A side, so I got on my next plane barely on time and without ever setting foot in O’Hare. One of the flight attendants was gorgeous, but I’m not Rizzo, so I’m not going to spend the next paragraph talking about her. Let’s just say you had to be there.

Once on the ground in Atlanta, I wandered around for a bit, and then found a number for an airport shuttle. I called for one and waited for it for forty minutes, then called back to figure out what the problem was. They told me that they don’t run a shuttle to my hotel, and that I needed to call someone else entirely. Whoever told me otherwise had been either very stupid or outright lying. These are, incidentally, two of my pet peeves.

After following some bad directions, then some good ones, I ended up on a shuttle with a driver who tried to fleece me ("It’s… uh… twenty-five dollars," he said, when the phone had said twenty. I didn’t pay extra). Also on the shuttle were a couple of JSS kids and their parents or guardians. We chatted about Magic until I got to my hotel, which is attached to the convention center. It’s the most luxurious place I’ve ever stayed in. Okay, that’s not saying much, but the place is nice. They don’t have a frosted glass map of the world with clocks for different time zones at Motel 6, you know?

I checked in, met my roommate (a friendly side events guy whose name almost definitely started with “N”), and headed down to the tourney hall. It had banners, trophies, and a feature match area shaped like a play mat. I didn’t even know about the super-sized Game of the Year set to be played on it, so I thought it was just a nice cosmetic touch.

I tried to touch base with any of my few contacts, but Nationals was over for the day. I figured they were all probably asleep, it being almost ten o’clock (how little I knew!). I did, however, personally see Ben Goodman, who is literally five foot even. Guy looks like a Keebler elf.

There was one place still open in the food court, a little Chinese kitchen charging twice what would really be reasonable, or at least half again. I ate some delicious Pad Thai and then headed back toward my room. I wasn’t going to go down to the first floor atrium area (which goes all the way up to the top of the hotel), but while I was walking around it on the balcony, I saw a couple guys with Big Decks. I’d never seen Five-Color actually being played before, so I decided to check it out.

Once I was down there, though, I noticed a team draft featuring (among others) Brian David-Marshall and Randy Buehler. I’d met BDM in St. Louis, so I stopped in and said hey. BDM was friendly and made me feel very much free to stay. He sounds like a streetwise Brooklyn cop (although he will forgive this humble Midwesterner, I hope, if he doesn’t actually hail from Brooklyn). It turned out that one of the guys with his back turned was Ted Knutson, who didn’t recognize me right away. Believe me, I took umbrage.

They were drafting Coldsnap when I walked up, but the empty packs on the table told the full story: Ice Age-Alliances-Coldsnap. They were all complaining about the format as they finished up, except for Randy, who was complaining that Richie Hoaen (of Drafting with Rich fame) had hooked him into Black with a second-pick Hyalopterous Lemure (“only” a 3/3 flyer for five in a format with minimal removal or evasion), then savagely cut him off. Richie had taken Dark Banishing over the Lemure, which… well, nobody could really fault him for. “I don’t care what you took,” said Randy. “Ya hooked me!”

I’ve heard Randy’s voice before on podcasts, and it never seemed like the sort of voice you’d expect him to have. Hearing it actually emanating from him is even weirder, but you get used to it.

Ted Knutson, meanwhile, has a voice tailor-made for bedtime stories – very gentle and soft and friendly. Unfortunately, he also has a tendency to bark orders, so I think the Knutty Kiddie Klub would get ugly well before the allotted thirty minutes were up.

As Knutson shuffled up against Richie, still complaining about the format, he finally recognized me and happily welcomed me to sit down. We chatted, and he mentioned that he snagged Rizzo for this because he’d never actually met him. I said that I was looking forward to meeting Rizzo but not to editing him.

“It’s not that bad,” said Ted, smiling. “He’s right behind you, by the way.”

“He is?” I asked incredulously, turning around. Behind me was the same guy who’d been there when I sat down – some rough-hewn stubbly guy in glasses and a hat playing against Randy. I turned back to Ted. “Really?” He nodded. “That’s Rizzo?” He nodded again.

I shook my head. “Man, why don’t any of us look like our pictures?”

I introduced myself to Rizzo, who said, “Ah yes, Kelly Digges. The up-and-comer. The one with the sense of humor.” He’s marginally less weird in person than he is in his articles, but no less charming.

I sat and watched them play for a while. The full roster of the draft turned out to be Randy Buehler, BDM, John Rizzo, Ted Knutson, Richie Hoaen, and coverage photographer Craig Gibson. Richie blew out Knutson, who politely requested that this be the last round. “This format sucks!”

Meanwhile, Randy Buehler raced his Hibernation’s End against Rizzo’s Dark Depths and lost – twice. Rizzo devoted one entire page in his notes to saying, “Beat RB with DD” and another entire page to saying, “TWICE.” Randy reacted with the quiet surprise of someone who fully accepts that he lost and understands why – but really, really wasn’t expecting to. He concluded that while it’s too slow for CCC draft, Dark Depths might in fact be a huge finisher in this slower environment. Rizzo second-picked it – typical of his own strange form of genius.

There was a scrapbooking convention going on elsewhere in the convention center. I don’t know what they were thinking putting a repressed male-dominated hobby and a repressed female-dominated hobby so close together, but you could cut the sexual tension in the air with a Jitte (or a pair of pinking shears, depending on which side of the line you were standing). Many of the ladies were older or overweight, but a select few were pretty hot, especially if you’re thirty-odd plus and married, as these guys generally are. Watching Knutson watch women is hilarious… he’s almost as bad as I am. Rizzo was ribald as ever in describing the “SILFs” (as they’ve taken to calling the hot ones).

One group of scrapbookers (not SILFs) hooted over the railing of the upstairs balcony at us in disturbingly suggestive fashion, and a quick scan of lines of sight showed only one person sitting anywhere near where they were looking. “They’re talking to you,” Knutson said to me pointedly. He had already decided that I am a ladies’ man.

At this point, an older scrapbooker (shown in the photo essay in the coverage) with a SILFy friend saw us and our Magic cards and asked if we were here for an event. Randy told her about Nationals, and she mentioned that her son is into Magic.

“Oh, that’s great,” said Randy. “How old is he?” She replied, “He’s 23. He just went to Texas to play [presumably in Regionals].” Randy said later that that was his favorite part – not 10, not 15… 23. BDM whispered in the lady’s ear who exactly she was talking to, and she started gushing – the way a woman might gush at Vin Diesel or, I don’t know, Adrian Sullivan (or so I’ve heard).

Randy, taking it in good humor, looked for a card he could sign for her son, and BDM hit the jackpot when he pulled a minty Ice Age Counterspell out of his sideboard. Randy signed it. The lady started to take a picture, but BDM gestured at Craig and said, “Actually, he’s a professional photographer…” Craig took a picture of her and Randy on her camera, and she left, still gushing and thanking Randy. As soon as she was gone, everyone spent the next five minutes laughing about it – except for Rizzo, who spent the next five minutes talking about how badly he wanted to bang the lady’s friend.

The lady then came back with her son on the phone, and handed the phone to Randy.

“Hi, this is Randy Buehler,” said Randy Buehler. “I’m playing against John Rizzo right now… Ice Age-Alliances-Coldsnap. Yeah, it’s terrible… Well, I just attacked in…”

This literally happened. I can’t say anything about it that tops the fact itself.

I then noticed a girl we couldn’t see very well, dressed like she was going to a club, wandering around the second-floor balcony looking at the art on the walls. We concluded that she was not a scrapbooker, and I wondered aloud what her deal was.

“Go find out,” said Knutson.

“What? Oh… Uh…”

“No, do it,” he said firmly. “You wanna know, so go find out. Come back and tell us what her deal is.”

Like the grizzled but gentle WWII sergeant who’s going to pour his heart out in the third act, Knutson is very hard to say no to. Thus I found myself on the second floor, asking this young woman to hold an elevator for me. She asked me what floor I needed, and I hedged, badly (“the top” would have been good, but I believe instead I opted for “Uhhhhhh… I dunno.”). She turned out to be cute enough but younger than I expected. Once again, I’m in a strange state without having studied their age of consent laws… gotta read up on these things before I go (not that I would, y’know, ever… it’s just always interesting to know whether I’d be thrown in jail if I did).

On the ride up, she mentioned being frustrated that the business center was closed and she couldn’t get online. “I’ve got a laptop with wireless,” I said. “Down in the atrium. You wanna use it?”

“Really?” she said. “That’s not a problem?”

“Not at all,” I replied. “I was going back down there anyway.”

And thus we rode all the way back down, and I cemented my reputation with Knutson and Rizzo by going for intel about a girl and returning with the girl in tow. Meanwhile, she told me that her name is Faith and that she’s here to invest in a legal downloading pyramid scheme, although of course she didn’t call it that. “In eight months, this thing’s going to be second only to iTunes,” she told me, with a straight face.

(And Faith, if you’re reading this, I’m very surprised.)

I quickly tired of her company, and I think she put me off ever using the word “interesting” again, but I am, alas, an altruist at heart, so she and I went off in search of a signal. Pyramid schemes, going off with strange men… this girl is a little too trusting. Most of the guys I was hanging out with, of course, saw me retrieve this girl and then promptly sweep her away.

Anyway, after she checked her MySpace account and told me all about the pyramid scheme (BurnLodge.com, which seems to be a broken link that does nothing but produce pop-ups), and I told her all about Magic (“Oh… interesting.”), Ted intercepted us on the way back to the atrium to let me know that the party was over, the draft having ended (whether because it resolved or because Ted wanted to quit, I don’t know, though I assume Randy and Richie insisted on playing it out).

Waiting for the elevator, I met Events Manager Greg Collins, my new boss, who was younger than I expected; looks kind of like a cross between Bruce Campbell and Dave Coulier. Faith and I rode the elevator up with Greg and some side events guys, and I, having committed myself to getting off at the third floor without considering the consequences, stepped off the elevator and left her to ride the rest of the way up in a car full of Magic guys. Classy. I told Faith that it was nice to meet her and Greg that I’d see him in the morning.

I stumbled in around 1AM, probably woke up my roommate (whose face I never saw again that weekend except twice briefly while we were both working), went back downstairs to schedule a wakeup call, ate half a pound of complimentary jelly beans at the front counter, probably woke up my roommate again, and went to sleep.

I awoke the next morning, my roommate long gone, and got to the tourney hall exactly on time (8:30, mercifully; an editor’s day starts later than anybody else’s). Greg showed me where they keep the free snacks and drinks, gave me my official coverage shirts (plain but fetching black polos), handed me my meal expense allowance, and gave me my contracts and W-9 to sign.

My workday started with seven other guys, lurking behind the drafters at the top table (including Gabe Walls, who’s very funny) and writing down all their picks for entry into the Draft Viewer. I had Alex Kudlick, who I’d never heard of but who ended up making Top 8. Rizzo had eventual National Champion Paul Cheon, later claiming to have gifted him with good karma. I told Rizzo and Knutson all about Faith and her pyramid scheme (they had missed out on the details) while we were waiting for things to start.

“Nice girl,” I said. “Dumb as a brick, though.” That drew a laugh. Man, when did I turn into an asshole?

They asked me how old she was, and I truthfully said I didn’t know. I related the end of the story, and Rizzo said, “Don’t say that! Just leave it hanging.”

I said, “John, eight Wizards employees saw us part ways in the elevator! What do you want from me?”

He shrugged. “Well, in my article I’ll leave it nice and vague,” he said. “Add to your mystique.”

The draft itself was fascinating to watch. Gabe Walls had Rich Hoaen looking over his shoulder, which I don’t envy him. For my part, I have learned that when I question a “real” player’s pick, I’m usually wrong. Still, I must admit that I was puzzled when Kudlick took an off-color Zombie Musher fourth pick third pack over a double-on-color Highland Weald. That can’t be right… can it?

After the draft, Greg asked me to add all of Gatherer to my spellcheck so that I wouldn’t have big red underlines on “Krovikan” or “Jokulmorder.” I tried to copy and paste it (accidentally including the images), but my computer spent 20 minutes thinking about it before I found the “Force Quit” button in Finder. That’s right, kids, my brand new MacBook… froze up.

Greg forwarded me a text-only Gatherer list, and I then faced the prospect of hitting “Add” in my spellchecker several thousand times. I found the hotkey for that and concocted a jury-rig that made the Nationals blog: my cellphone held down the Apple key while a stack of coins held down the A (they weren’t heavy enough to press the key, but they were heavy enough to keep it depressed). Everyone was amused, and I was astonished that it worked.

Knutson and I walked across the hall together at one point, and he asked, “So this is going to work out for you with your other job?”

I told him that it was, and that I’d already gotten the time off for Kobe and Paris.

“Good,” he said, gently as ever. “You’re welcome.”

My actual job was to edit feature match coverage and blog entries – reading for sense and grammar, checking that player names and card names are correct, and enforcing a simple style sheet. I’m an editor by trade, so this sort of thing is pretty basic to me. The hardest part is cooking up suitably “witty” titles and picture captions. There’s a unique breed of horrible cleverness required that’s hard to muster and appallingly easy to maintain.

The weird thing about editing the feature match coverage is that once you’re really into it, you’re a full round behind what’s actually going on. You’re an insider, and yet you have less of a clue about the outcome of the last round than some random jerk out on the floor.

Later in the day I sat in with BDM while he covered a feature match. I wanted to see how it was done before I gave it a try. We covered De Rosa versus John “Conrad” Kolos, which was fun. De Rosa’s very funny, and Kolos held his own.

Greg gave me a very good piece of advice: cruise the feature match tables every round to see the players. This has the very practical benefit of later being able to match name to picture in the coverage (we place all the pictures, which come to us raw from the photographer). It’s also going to help me become conversant in the personalities of the Tour very quickly without all the work of making flashcards.

In the coverage station, there was a stack of nametags for all the players who weren’t there, an impressive list topped by Finkel and Kastle and running down through a ton of name-brand players. It was my conviction that there was some kind of card game to be had with these, but I couldn’t figure out any rules.

After the Top 8 was announced, to much cheering, they played the Game of the Year, an exhibition game between Richard Garfield and Alan Comer using giant cards. You can read about it in the coverage; it was pretty fun to watch. They held a raffle to give away the giant cards, some of which Garfield signed, but of course I wasn’t eligible. The commensurate perk to working coverage is getting to stand inside the ropes for stuff like this, as long as you don’t block anybody’s view.

At some point I noticed that the retail store was selling Russian Dissension and bought a few (I took some Russian and always like to practice), and they tried to enter me in the raffle. I was wearing my Wizards shirt and everything. Eh.

While the coverage was wrapping up, Rizzo and I were sitting in the back talking when Knutson walked in. “Come on,” he said. “Dinner. Let’s go.” Unable to resist his commands, we followed him.

“You want Mexican or barbecue?” he asked.

“Uh, neither,” said Rizzo. “I don’t eat that spicy, greasy stuff.”

“Man, what do you eat?” Knutson shot back. Rizzo shrugged and said basically that he’d eat what Teddy Card Game put in front of him. I’m not crazy about either one myself, but I decided for once to keep my damn picky mouth shut.

I asked if I should check with Greg before leaving, and Knutson said, “You think he cares?” We were going to dinner; it had been decided. We met up with a bunch of players I didn’t recognize, and the group decided on Mexican. In the car on the way there, Knutson, Rizzo, and Michael Patnik shot the breeze about players they know, while Mike’s hot Japanese girlfriend listened. It’s probably for the best that I was sitting between her and Rizzo.

The food wasn’t too bad. I noticed several of the guys whispering and looking at me, and I asked them what was up. They glanced amongst themselves to nominate a spokesman, who said, “We don’t know who you are.” Well, I didn’t know who they were, either. I introduced myself, and one of them (Vandersomething?) said that he’d written for StarCityGames.com once or twice and had read some of my stuff. My presence thus validated, I was left alone.

Rizzo pored over the menu looking for anything edible, and settled on a double order of french fries. Two of the guys bummed cigarettes and a light off him, and he commented after they stepped outside that the really funny part was that they just called a 40-year-old “dude.”

When it came time to pay, five of the guys gambled for their meal, as is apparently their custom. You buy in by putting your credit card in the pile, and then one of the cards is randomly selected (by elimination, with much yelling). That person then pays for everybody who bought in. Odds are, your meal is free. Completely nuts.

Out in the parking lot, they bought packs off Rizzo so they could go to a strip club and draft RGD. I wish I was kidding. According to the forum responses to Rizzo’s article, they ended up getting made fun of by the MC for playing Magic, and then getting kicked out for gambling. Man, am I sorry I missed that.

After dinner, I went to the hall to collect my laptop while Rizzo went back to his hotel and Knutson went to meet BDM in the hotel restaurant. He welcomed me to join him, I think. Anyway, I did, so I hope I was welcome.

The restaurant was really nice, the sort of place I generally never set foot in. The whole coverage team minus Rizzo was there – Randy, BDM, Doug Beyer, Greg Collins, Craig Gibson, Ted, and myself. I asked if I could join them and detected no reluctance on their part.

I got to sit in on some high-level stuff. They talked about the whereabouts of some of the name players who hadn’t shown up, who’s leaving MagictheGathering.com and possible replacements, and some fascinating market research, none of which I can tell you anything about. There was also, of course, some laughing and joking; it’s a fun group.

After second dinner it was already pretty late, but Randy wanted to draft. I get the feeling that Randy always wants to draft; a man after my own heart. Knutson said that he was “running on E” (I assume that he meant “empty” rather than one of those non-gateway drugs we don’t get to talk about on this family site) and went to bed. We recruited somebody from another table and went out in the atrium to wait for Randy to get the packs. He wanted Coldsnap rather than RGD, and I had to agree. I’m garbage at RGD, as you may have noticed, and I was very keen on not embarrassing myself.

As we sat around, I spied Faith coming down in the glass elevator, once again all dressed up, apparently with no place to go. She waved at me through the elevator wall and sat down to chat with us; I never found out where she was actually headed. She seemed keen on staying, so we invited her to watch us draft, and I gave her a crash course in colors and card types. This is what I do, you see; I lure in attractive, possibly underage women with the promise of free wireless and then teach them how to play Magic. Or something.

The teams worked out as BDM, Greg, and myself versus Randy (gulp), Craig, and Assistant Brand Manager Jake Theis, whom you may remember as the guy giving the socks away. I don’t know whether he ever did high-level play, but I got that feeling. The seating was, moving clockwise, Greg – Craig – BDM – Jake – me – Randy. I didn’t mention that this is my first team draft or that I am generally terrible at draft; I simply resolved to really focus and to draft and play my best.

We started drafting, with Faith looking over my shoulder and occasionally asking a quiet question. She quickly grasped that the contents of the pack were secret and didn’t ask anything stupid. Passing to Randy, I first-picked Garza’s Assassin over Skred and never looked back, feeling pretty good about a second-pick Soul Spike and fourth- or fifth-pick Arctic Nishoba, which seemed a little late to me.

I had a pretty nice B/G thing going, but in the second pack, things got weird. Second pick, Randy passed me a Skred and a Surging Flame. Was it possible there was something I overlooked in that first pack and Skred made it past him? Or had he just first-picked Rimescale Dragon or something? With nothing else remotely interesting in the pack, I grabbed the Skred to splash. I ended up picking up another one in pack 3.

I opened a foil Ohran Viper in pack 3, and almost windmill-slammed it, but Faith asked about the shiny card and Buehler mentioned that it makes them more valuable and that we’re playing for the cards. Good to know. Ohran Viper is quite good, but there was something else in the pack I wanted more, and I should really remember what it was.

I almost – almost! – took a Stalking Yeti in pack 3, but the RR and the BB don’t play well together in the B/G/r deck. I shipped it to Randy; gift-wrapping might have been appropriate, but there wasn’t time.

At the end of the draft, my only regret (okay, one of two) was not having enough snow lands; I only got 3. I had Phobian Phantasm, Chill to the Bone, Krovikan Rot, a lone foily Aurochs Herd to go with two Rimehorn Aurochs, and two Skreds splashed off a Mountain and a Tresserhorn Sinks. My other regret was not having any Zombie Musher or Grim Harvest; BDM said later that he grabbed a Harvest too late in pack 3 and that I should almost certainly have taken it over whatever I took instead. The card is nuts, and my deck really could have abused it.

Faith got up to take a phone call, and we had a quick powwow concerning her age. Eighteen or nineteen was the prevailing opinion, but Jake firmly insisted that “Sixteen is still in play here.” I was forced to agree.

Meanwhile, Randy declared that his deck was “insane” and informed us that we were going to lose. I was probably passing him even more gifts than I was even aware of; if he carried their team, I’d blame myself.

BDM was playing Idiot Life with tons of Kjeldoran Outriders, and Greg was playing U/W/g or something. During deckbuilding, the subject of age came up. Faith asked us how old we are, and BDM replied that he is “some multiple” of her age… “How old are you?” he tacked on at the end. After a slight and ominous hesitation, she answered “Seventeen.” BDM, to his credit, didn’t even glance at me. We later interpreted her answer to mean that she was 17 at absolute maximum, though perhaps we were giving her too much credit.

I shuffled up first round against Jake Theis, who turned out to be playing R/X nutty burn with two Skred, two Lightning Storm, and five, count ‘em, five Surging Flame. [Hey, I can beat that… – Craig]

I beat him 2-0 after two close-fought games. My fat was too fat, my removal too removing, and it didn’t hurt that he whiffed on three Flames over the course of the match, two of them being the first two in game 1. BDM warned me that Jake is a sore loser, and said, “Look! He’s actually turning red!” Indeed he was.

“I’ve improved a lot,” said Jake. “For instance, I’m not killing anyone right now.”

Faith said that it was time for bed but thanked us for letting her watch. She gave me her card for the pyramid scheme thing with her number, email address, and MySpace account on it. As soon as she was gone, I said, for the benefit of the other team, “Seventeen.” Talk then turned, naturally, to age of consent laws. “This is the South,” said Jake. BDM replied, “Sure! Anything goes!” I agreed, but said I wasn’t planning on emailing her because I don’t want to deal with the FBI.

(Two seconds’ Google research after the fact reveals that the age of consent in Georgia is sixteen. This is good, because it means that Rizzo’s “testimony” won’t form the basis of a criminal suit against me.)

Randy annihilated BDM and Greg took down Craig, leaving us up 2-1. I sat down across from The Man himself for round 2.

I won’t hold you in suspense; he demolished me. His deck was flat-out nuts, with three Aurochs Herd and a Rimehorn Aurochs (plus a random Bull or two), two Stalking Yetis, at least one Skred, two Ohran Viper, tons of snow lands, and the terrifyingly powerful Scrying Sheets. He later said that he picked either Scrying Sheets or Stalking Yeti over the Skred and Flame that he passed me in pack 2; can’t argue with that. He also confirmed that the Skred I shipped him in pack 1 sent him into Red.

He did make one huge play mistake early in game 1. I was tapped out except for Tresserhorn Sink, and each of us had a Boreal Centaur. The board was otherwise basically clear, with everything having died in one way or another. He dropped Shape of the Wiitigo on his Boreal Centaur and swung, but I said “Wait!” – and Skredded the Centaur in response to the spell. He said that he had flat-out missed that I had Red up, and had he noticed it, he would instead have deployed the Aurochs plan, which was my eventual downfall.

I answered with my own embarrassing mistake in the endgame, Skredding an attacker for one too little when the right play was concession, showing him in game 1 that I had two Skred and looking like an idiot. Oh, well. He and I played another game for fun, in which he only demolished me a little.

Greg lost to Jake’s burn, but BDM and Craig took forever. Idiot Life versus what turned out to be U/B control; no wonder it was taking a while. I chatted with my sister on the phone while I waited, trying to explain to her how cool it was that I was team drafting with Randy Buehler. BDM eventually sealed the deal, leaving things tied up at 3-3.

In round 3, Craig had me sweating early with Grim Harvest, Controvert, and Krovikan Rot, but I was able to maneuver them one by one into the RFG pile. Meanwhile, Randy beat Greg in short order and headed for bed without so much as a game loss, confidently announcing to his team that as long as one of them won, they had it.

I beat Craig.

BDM beat Jake.

I just won a team draft against Randy Buehler, acquitting myself well with a winning record of 2-1.

To divvy up the cards, BDM and I performed the standard you-cut-I-choose (more popularly applied to pie). He divided the pile into foil Ohran Viper and everything else, and I took the Viper. He said he’d settle with Greg later. We discussed the draft on the elevator, and I (after once again having to go back down for a wake-up call) lurched into my room at 3am and fell asleep.

I didn’t have to be there until 10am that day, because the festivities started at nine and the editor’s on an hour delay. Even so, there were no quarterfinals to edit when I arrived. I traded my foil Ohran Viper for a Breeding Pool and a white-bordered City of Brass, but I might have been better off just getting two Watery Graves. Eh.

On my way back to coverage-land, I noticed Richard Garfield signing cards for people. I wanted to have him sign something, but not just some random card. I headed back to the dealer and started rifling through the only Alpha cards I could afford: basic lands. Islands were $3.00 where the rest were $1.50, for obvious reasons. I shelled out for an Island, for the same obvious reasons.

I waited while Dr. Garfield signed a giant novelty Phelddagrif and drew a mortarboard on it, then introduced myself and asked him to sign "the most broken card in Alpha." That drew a chuckle. He’s quiet and modest; a pleasure to be around. He signed my Island, drawing a little swimmer being attacked by a shark off its shores.

I mentioned that I narrowly avoided taking Calculus from (original Magic playtester and R&D member) William Jockusch’s mother, which surprised him.

"I didn’t even know she taught," he said. "I’ll file that one away."

(I also recently found out that Creative Director Brady Dommermuth used to work at the same small editing firm in Illinois where I work. Go figure.)

I headed back to the coverage area and kept busy for several hours editing all four quarterfinals.

The semifinals, of course, brought us the Ben Zoz/Ben Lundquist matchup and a lively discussion about the title. Despite what Rizzo would have you think, they weren’t all porn movie rejects. My original title was “Battle of the Bens,” but Rizzo dismissed it as “too easy.” We all liked “Hot Ben On Ben Action,” but Greg reluctantly vetoed it. I eventually settled on “A Case of the Bens,” which I believe was Rizzo’s idea, but not before cycling through an impressive list of alternates:

Ben vs. Ben
Ben Makes the Team!
Ben There, Done That
Ben Squared
It’s All About the Benjamins
Ben’s Big Game
The Bens Have It
Big Bens
Bens and Breaks
etc. ad nauseam

I’m telling you, this title and caption humor is insidious. If it weren’t cheesy, it’d be dull… and that would have Ben a shame!

(Sorry. I’d hang myself, but I don’t have any rope.)

Greg Collins revealed to me that he’d been saving a title in case Ben Zoz took the whole tournament, unwilling to use it for each successive victory in case he could use it for the final round: “Kneel Before Zoz.”

Now that’s a title.

I had to head out around 5pm that day to catch my plane, so I had my suitcase under the table. Greg asked me if I had room in there for a booster box. Uh, let me check… yeah, I think I might be able to squeeze that in.

I couldn’t stay for the staff dinner (which fact I sorely regretted), but before I headed out I noticed Randy rounding people up for a pre-dinner draft. The guy’s a fiend!

I bid a misty-eyed farewell to my coverage compatriots, getting to say “See you in Kobe!” and mean it. I caught a shuttle back to the airport, and… Well, I can’t put it any better than I put it at the time:

I am typing this section in the taxi back to the airport with six other Magic guys. Craig Krempels is sitting in front of me, and – may I be honest here? – the man has beautiful hair. This is not something I typically say of a guy, but it’s just so sleek and long and blond… What shampoo does he use? Is he just genetically superior? He’s sitting under a vent, his windblown locks undulating like living things. What is his secret?

Uh, yeah, that went to kind of a weird place. Let’s bear in mind that I was low on sleep at the time, and I’d been spending too much time with Rizzo, and Krempels really does have gorgeous hair. Really.

My flight out of Atlanta was hugely delayed because the lavatory was being serviced, of all things, but at least that meant that when I missed the last flight from Chicago to Champaign they put me up in a hotel for free. The bartender there knew how to make a Singapore Sling, which was not free, but it was worth it.

Arriving back a day later than intended, I ended up working all of two days before jetting off to Seattle for my best friend’s wedding and lunch with Mark Rosewater, but that’s another story – and not one I’m going to write about much. Sorry, kids, but that was for my own private ends (except not sinister like that made it sound).

My first coverage stint was a hell of a ride. I got to hang out and play Magic with some great people, hang around Nationals for money, prove my prowess with the ladies without actually doing anything, make terrible puns, and drop big names like they were going out of style.

Above all, I got to join a group of people I respect and admire for a weekend that felt more like play than work… and that, my friends, is the very best way to get paid.

I don’t know if I’m a lucksack… but I sure feel like one.

Kelly Digges