Untold Legends – The Pro Tour Circuit in 1997

Friday, November 5th – Hi guys, I am Tomi Walamies. Here are some of my stories from the Pro Tour circuit. Names have been changed, since The German Juggernaut sounds like a mustachioed wrestler.

The Walamies. Three Pro Tour Top 8s. Semi-permanent Finnish National Champion. He even let some other Finn steal the English National title from under their noses in 2003. Don’t underestimate Norse solidarity.

Few are aware he held the Finnish snow-wrestling title belt for six months in 2004 and 2005.

A brilliant student, Walamies graduated from university with a degree in international business. He was well on his way to becoming a high-powered and highly-paid executive.

Then he said, “F— it, I’m going to
tell jokes


He was a fantastic
Magic writer,

when he could be

Some argue he was as good as
onetime teammate

Jeff Cunningham. Others feel he was better. I just know he’s

Most days that seems like enough.

“Sorry Ted. I have no stories suitable for a family site.” — Anton Jonsson, 2010

Hi guys,

I am Tomi Walamies. Here are some of my stories from the Pro Tour circuit. Names have been changed, since The German Juggernaut sounds like a mustachioed wrestler. But first a bit of intro.

There won’t be wild partying stories due to the writer being a terrible drunk. Not the fun kind, but the stupor and passing out kind. Okay, here’s one: Chris Benafel was surprised to see me sober at a Pro Tour in 2002. This was due to him painfully trying to find a taxi driver a couple of months earlier in Sydney who would accept me as a customer. Thanks, Chris. Quick action from someone with so many draws and 1-0 wins to his name.

Instead this will be a rough outline of what it was like playing on the circuit in 1997. Hopefully there will be some lessons learned. Do as I say, not as I do, etc.

These things did happen a while ago so details will be hazy. Also, events are remembered as how they happened to someone relatively young. Opponents will be demonized for dramatic purposes.

I was born in 1980 and got into Magic in 1994. My first tournament, the National Championship, was in 1995. The only change I’d make to the decklist is replacing the fourth Nettling Imp with a fourth Royal Assassin. Magic soon became a hobby and then an obsession. My high school notebooks were filled with decklists. It was odd studying for exams when there’s “4 Erhnam Djinn” next to Stalin.

I learned and got better by losing a lot of games at the local shop. That is still true about Magic. The games you lose are a way better learning experience than the ones you win. Positive results in life in general tend to make you blind to improvement. Not only does the winner of a match think they played it great, but they tend to dismiss the loser’s strategy. Needless to say this kind of shortsightedness is deadly.

After several qualifier attempts, the PT circuit was finally calling in 1997. This was the second year of the Tour, and the format was Mirage-Mirage-Visions Rochester Draft. Things were a bit different back then. Other Finns who’d been playing events told me how to look out for cheaters and screw them back. A supposedly popular strategy was to make your deck two lands, one spell all the way, and then do two different pile shuffles which negate each other. The way to combat this was to pile shuffle your opponent back in a certain method to give them all lands and all spells. Yes, this actually happened. Another ridiculous thing: Limited events used Ice Age lands. These looked a bit different from the back, possibly from being older cards. So people could more efficiently fix their draws and knew when to use shuffle effects to avoid drawing lands.

With all this talk about cheating, it’s only appropriate to reveal something. My first round at the Pro Tour was odd to say the least. After the first draft at the Queen Mary boat in Los Angeles, I looked at the standings and saw a bye next to my name. This seemed odd for an 8-man pod. I figured they’d correct it soon and quickly ran outside to the parking lot. During the escape, there was a voice coming out of the speaker system asking me to go to the judge’s table. No thanks. The next fifty minutes were spent looking at American cars (like Japanese ones, but with religious catchphrases attached to the back) and practicing the stupid foreigner impression. Eventually the organizers were forced to award me and my opponent a bye for not showing up.

Do Magic “crimes” get old and hence become unpunishable? Boasting about it probably makes things worse. This was the only time I cheated, and the whole ordeal had an effect on me as a player and a person. There’s no way to defend the action though.

Anyway. Not a bad start. Might have cost a soul though.

I didn’t make Day 2.

Jonathan Brown, an American who had lived all his life in Finland, suggested we play a Legacy side event. Back then it was called Type 1.5. We both just kept winning rounds and were behaving in a substandard manner. When Jonathan said out loud, “It’s like we’re getting plus two plus two when playing against non-Finns!” The judge told us to tone it down in no unclear terms. To this day it troubles me: Is that boast more obnoxious or nerdy?

I beat Jonathan in the semis and started watching the other one. Semifinals player Bob Maher looked at me, then at the judge, and said, “Isn’t that illegal scouting resulting in a disqualification?” Bear in mind, this was one of the biggest side events at that Pro Tour. The judge said, “Yes, it is. I should disqualify you.” He then looked at me for a while, smiled, and said. “I won’t do it. Go there.” And pointed away. Did this rule actually exist? No clue. Anything did seem possible. There was an obscure thing called the rules, and it was used more for twisting to get occasional gains against lesser players than as a guideline on how the game should be played.

Bob won the semis and apologized for his behavior. But he was just following the rules, right? Which the judge chose to ignore after savoring my squirming look for a while.

I beat Bob in the finals when he Mana Drained a Goblin Balloon Brigade and burned for one.

The next PT was in New York a few months later. Just to give an idea of the timeline, Savage Garden’s song “I Want You (Cherry Cola)” was inescapable. I’m pretty sure it played even in public showers.

I won a PTQ and then played in another qualifier without understanding there would be no prize no matter the eventual outcome. Nice play. Concepts like cause and effect are a bit fuzzy for a 16-year old.

The format was 5th Edition-5th Edition-Visions Booster Draft. I started the Pro Tour 5-0 and was stalled out in round 6 to a draw. Mark LePine played the third game incredibly slowly when it became clear a loss was inevitable. This didn’t feel odd or make me angry. It was kind of part of the game back then. Cheaters existed — were rampant, in fact — and slow-play warnings were unheard of. Stalling wasn’t even considered cheating. Big tournaments were like the Wild West, but with less deodorant.

What pissed me off, though, was round 1. The opponent patiently waited for me to sleeve the deck and then told me to take the sleeves off. There was a rule in Limited where you could ask for a de-sleeve. I’m not making any of this up! And it was used as a mind trick.

If more video coverage existed of earlier events, parents wouldn’t let their kids out afterschool.

On Day 2, all the Finns arrived early to find that the draft had already started. What the hell? Dread and confusion faded as it was revealed to be the junior division’s draft. Everyone under eighteen had the option to play this portion of the event to win college fund money instead of actual cash. Not sure how this works. The decision to play the bigger event was easy due to the university being free in Finland. Socialism at its worst.

Watching the junior draft was exciting. A guy opened Fireball and Binding Grasp first-pick. Instead he spent the full minute debating between Feldon’s Cane and Svyelunite Temple before going with the Temple. Either this was the first ever example of extremely aggressive archetype drafting or the overall quality of play has increased.

I went 3-2-1 not getting a second draw in the last round and losing to Mike Pustilnik. Eventual finish: 10th. Mike was a class act and played great. Nice guy too. With all the other shady stuff going on, getting to play against him was rewarding. Subconsciously, I aspired to be something similar. It would take a long time getting rid of all the teenage angst first though.

Also, I messed up with the pairings. Needing two Swiss points in the last two rounds, it felt logical to take a draw in round 11. A closer look at the pairings and pods would’ve revealed that none was coming in round 12.

Finishing tenth was odd. Frustrating, sure, but suddenly there were a lot less insults and intimidation back home. The older kids had no case when their official lifetime winnings were zero. This fascination with Magic money doesn’t apply just inside the player circle. Later on at random parties, I’d be introduced to non-Magic people (civilians) with talk about winnings. This felt awkward, kind of cool, and sad. It’s a great game even without the money involved.

Tenth place paid 2,400 occasionally more-valuable-than-Canadian dollars. I flew back and woke up the next morning incredibly jetlagged when the phone rang. Some adult was annoyed at me sounding tired at 11 a.m. and graciously said how they accepted my earlier request for a summer job delivering newspapers. I laughed and hung up. Still no manners, but a modicum of style.

An important side note: It was about this time that I started collecting Brushwaggs. I managed 117 copies in total. This collection was due to a salesperson at the local shop referring to it as “The Green Ball Lightning” in a futile effort at marketing speech. This created the phrase “Brushwagg is faster than lightning and rounder than a ball!” Just in case anyone was wondering.

The phrase never entered popular Magic lingo outside the Helsinki shop?

My bad.

Tenth-place finish meant two automatic qualifications: Chicago and Mainz. I couldn’t wait! Chicago was in October 1997. The format was Extended. It was a new thing and had just debuted at Worlds a few months ago. The World Championships used to be held in August. I didn’t qualify for that one.

My weapon of choice was a piss-poor mono-red burn deck. Wildfire Emissary just seemed too good not to play. It’s like a red Necropotence, except it’s not. I’m not sure I even had it in the deck. After going 4-3, my only other memory of the whole trip was eating shrimp. Seriously, I have no other recollection.

Next up in 1997 was Pro Tour Mainz in December. Germany is always a pleasure to visit. It’s like the biggest factory in the world. Everything is efficient and tastes of bratwurst.

The format was Tempest-Tempest-Tempest Rochester Draft. Round 1 was against Terry Borer. The guy had won the PT in New York. I shuffled and presented the deck. Terry kept shuffling his. I picked mine up to continue shuffling in order to stave off boredom. Terry said: “You can’t do that. You’ve presented your deck already.” It was at this time that the sheer amount of rules-lawyering bullsh*t had simply gotten enough. Time to fight back. The issue being a minor one mattered not. “It wasn’t an official presentation of the deck. I simply laid the deck out to catch some rest,” said with awkward English and a heavy accent.

Terry complained about me being a rules lawyer. This sounded like a compliment. Finally one of the crew. After losing the match 0-2, Terry sighed and announced loudly, “I guess we’re not in New York anymore!” It seemed redundant. Anyone having trouble telling apart NY and Mainz has problems incurable by sharp insights.

I went 3-0 and 0-3, drafting terribly twice. Tempo was an alien concept to most people outside of the elite circles. The idea of a mana curve was slowly gaining momentum. There wasn’t much info online, as the internet was just forming. Surfing for porn was even worse. No thumbnails! You’d wait ages for the picture to load, all the while hoping it was a woman this time.

Onto the side events it was. My finals opponent in a random booster draft was a middle-aged Italian gentleman. He was severely mana-screwed. To make matters worse, the guy was surrounded by six or seven “friends” who laughed every time he didn’t draw a land. The guy got angry and started shouting at the spectators in Italian. He spoke minimal English to me, and it was all cordial. The majority of the playing time was spent in heated arguments with the backstabbers.

This felt more like a sitcom than a rules violation. One of the friends tried to give him play advice, but the player just got angrier. He stood up and called the guy something which sounded fascinatingly unprintable. Finally he drew a Swamp, his splash color, and everyone erupted in laughter pointing at my Warthog. The judge came up, and I
kid you not

started mocking him in Italian! The opponent said something like, “Mana Finito! Warthogo! Nailo in the Coffino!” and conceded.

Ladies and gentlemen, these have been the stories of 1997. Three years before the Millennium Bug destroyed the world. Not included was the incident when the majority of Finnish Pro Players went to the Spice World premiere. It was an easier, more innocent era.

Aside from cheating. Why has breaking and lawyering the rules toned down since then? There are multiple reasons. The judges are way better now. No one’s looking at you deciding whether to punish at will with an obscure ruling to make a personal point. Slow play is severely punished, and the judges are good at recognizing it. Ice Age lands aren’t used.

But MODO might be the biggest thing. It shows players how the game, from a rules standpoint, is supposed to proceed. This not only deters people from trying to make up odd rules on the spot but teaches everyone how to activate and cast stuff properly. A huge amount of unnecessary ambiguity is gone.

MODO has removed the attitude of “Gamers are supposed to game the rules as well.” This makes for a healthier environment.

It was fun looking back at my first year of trying to go Pro. I’ll write more another day, if there’s demand for these meandering stories about stone-dead formats. It’s probably a good idea to repeat the disclaimer that the memories in question can be awfully subjective. Hopefully someone got something out of this.

Instead of a closing chapter with lessons learned, here’s a bonus story of how I met Kai.

At European Championships 1999 we were playing to make it to Day 2. The matchup was Mono-Blue Control versus GamekeeperIridescent DrakeAbductionAltar of Dementia combo. Kai starts game 3 with Ancient Tomb, Defense Grid. I stare down at two Annuls and play an Island. On turn 3, Kai Boils away three Islands, leaving me with zero permanents. Then he casts Scroll Rack and starts using it every turn with shuffle effects. He proceeds to draw absolutely nothing out of a selection of something like two hundred cards and dies eventually to Thieving Magpie and Morphling.

The next time we play is at a practice draft the day before Pro Tour London 1999. Everyone’s favorite Gladiator extra has won the World Championships in between. He casts Iridescent Drake turn 4.

“You must really like that card.”

Without a warning, he picks it up and throws it at my face. It hits the forehead and bounces back on the floor. Kai starts laughing.

German humor is different.