When Bad Things Happen to Bad People
Forward by Jeff Cunningham
When Mark asked me to write the opening for his report I was surprised. Why me, the most vocal of his detractors?
Mark knows that I am the only one who understands him.
I am the one who appreciates the absurdity of his position on top of the Player of the Year race, and his three Pro Tour Top 8s. The joke of the FNM second-stringer masquerading as Kai proper.
I am the one who comprehends the sheer astronomical amount of luck that was involved in this ascent. Fate’s ultimate cruelty was electing this tyrant, while the righteous were left to weep from the gutter.
I am one who knew that, one day, there would be justice.
Mark’s report, like a nightmare, is both fleeting and powerful. It is a glimpse into the diary of a mad carpenter, a man somehow surprised to see his gnarly house, made shoddily and with the crudest of materials, come crashing down.
This report is the morning after a drinking binge.
It is the crest of a parabola, and the beginning of the steady plummet downwards to negative infinity.
It is when the bad things happen to the bad people. It is when reality attacks.
Mark paid me my -1% this Pro Tour: a very heavy $8. This report, then, is the community’s share, your -1%.
After Hawaii, I was on Cloud 9. Pro Tour Heaven, if you will. I was unbreakable, unstoppable, invulnerable even. I kept one-landers on the play, and got there every time. My opponents were manascrewed in the semis of every 8-4. Every time I needed to topdeck, I pulled ‘em like Jones. It was like Fate desired me to win.
Then, Prague happened.
I had my opponents manascrew me, and topdeck me, out of Top 8 contention, Top 16 contention, and finally Top 32 contention. I had to settle for a meager Top 64.
Was this it? Was my short, albeit glorious run at its end?
I stated to doubt myself. I would mulligan those one-landers. I would simply concede in the semis of 8-4s, rather than deal with the disgrace of defeat.
Then I found what, at the time, I thought to be my saving grace. PT Charleston. If there is a format that I think I excel at, it is Block Constructed… and if there is a second, it is Team.
I recruited long-time team member Sam Gomersall, and recent addition — everyone’s favorite Southerner – Neil Reeves. I convinced Neil to come up to Michigan before the Pro Tour, telling him it was only a ten-hour drive to Charleston and that he wouldn’t have to drive at all; in reality, it’s a fifteen-hour drive, and we made him drive for six long hours of it. Ding!
Side note — it’s quite easy to trick a Southerner, Neil more so than most.
We all meet up in East Lansing, and rather than test the format we instead just drink and play XBox 360. Our secret plan was to let Nassif break the format and then steal his decks. However, Nassif’s secret plan was to break Pot Limit Omaha, and steal our decks. We ended up having to do some work on our own.
It was pretty clear early on that Neil wanted to play a URW control deck. We finally settled on a list with the enchantment plan. Our next best deck was B/W. Our B/W deck didn’t feature Bats and such, but instead concentrated on Dark Confidants and Plagued Rusalkas. Many of you may think this is a poor choice, but the B/W deck is competitive while taking almost zero cards from any of the other decks. When you are limited to four of any card per team, this is a very strong point when deck choice comes in. Were I to do it over again, I would still play B/W in our team.
Sam ended up going 7/7 with the B/W deck, being at the wrong end of some pretty savage topdecks. Finally, our third deck was essentially all of the good stuff packed into a five-color mana denial deck. I had the pleasure of playing that deck. We didn’t come across the realization that eight land destruction spells in a format of bounce lands and control decks is pretty hot until the night before the Pro Tour. Therefore, my deck was about four to six cards askew.
I played Telling Time as a replacement for Compulsive Research, and it was pretty bad. In retrospect, I should have just played some copies of Invoke the Firemind and Carven Caryatid, as I kept ending all my games with ten or more mana in play… and I just needed to topdeck either a burn spell or some card draw to get me back in the fight. I also had a little trouble with Giant Solifuge, but I think that was more due to poor draws than a poor build. After all, I had four copies of both Loxodon Hierarch and Rolling Spoil in the main.
I will list the decks that we played, but I refuse to list our sideboards – they were all so terrible, and I can’t condone anyone copying down a list and playing it in a future tournament. You can easily look at similar decks to get an idea of what would be good in the sideboard.
Here is the deck that I played.
This deck is much better than my showing of 7-7 would suggest. I mulliganed more than in any tournament in recent memory, and I kept numerous one-land Farseek / Signet hands on the draw and never ever hit my second land drop on time. I also got topdecked out of my match versus D-25, and if you read my feature match versus the eventual champs you will notice that I am not really doing anything; that is because I got quite flooded. Regretfully, I don’t think that Team Block Constructed will be a PTQ format, or else I would recommend playing this deck. However, if you need something for those MTGO queues, try this deck with Compulsive Researches over the Telling Times, and Invoke the Fireminds over the Indrik Stomphowlers.
Moving on to our B/W Beatdown deck…
Yes, Veteran Armorer seems bad. Actually, he is ridiculous in this format and deck. Trust me!
This deck is very good at emptying the opponent’s hand; unfortunately, you are usually left with a Shrieking Grotesque and an Orzhov Pontiff, and they are at twelve life with no board presence. I say “unfortunately” because Sam lost three or four matches with that exact same scenario. The sideboard card that you really want is the mighty Bottled Cloister. If you play this deck, make sure you have four of them. They provide you with some late game gas. Also, Skeletal Vampire may be better than Last Gasp, as this deck already crushes beatdown – and I do mean crushes.
Now, our URW enchantment deck:
This deck is very very good. The only deck it had a problem with in testing was the land denial deck. If you don’t have Searing Meditation then the B/W Beatdown deck also becomes a bad matchup. Also, if the B/R Beatdown deck has Rain of Gore, then the matchup leans slightly to their favor, assuming you sideboard Rain of Embers. Keep in mind that the lifegain ability on Firemane Angel is a “may” effect.
Let’s move onto the tournament.
It’s amazing how a player can’t seem to recall the road they travelled to success in a Magic tournament – that one large topdeck to win that crucial match – but players can remember with surprising accuracy the beats they have taken in their career. Let’s just say I recalled quite a few moments from this tournament. Here is the tale of my last bout with reality.
Reigning champion (Mark Herberholz) versus Up-and-Comer (Reality)
Round 1 (Round 3 of the Pro Tour)
I am being beaten down, from 22, by a Scorched Rusalka and a Rakdos Guildmage. I’m staring at a hand of three Wrecking Balls and a Savage Twister, with no Red mana in play. I take the second game… in game 3, my hand is full of removal and a Simic Sky Swallower. I am at eleven, versus my opponent’s empty board and three cards in hand.
Those three cards?
This round goes to Reality, but with the stamina and heart of a champ I keep going without falling to the mat. I still have high hopes; this puts my team at a record of 1-2, a record I once had at Hawaii and San Diego (my first Top 8). I am smiling at Reality in the corner, knowing that I would be sure to get my second win and escape this fight unscathed.
Round 2 (Round 7 of the Pro Tour)
Game 3 again, and we both end up mulliganing. He is with B/R, and ends up mulliganing to the double Rise hand while I stall on three lands. At any time I can come back, with a topdecked Ribbons of Night or Savage Twister, but Reality comes at me with a wicked left cross. My vision is blurred. When everything clears up, the round is lost and my teammates can’t even look at me.
Don’t worry boys, I think, beating Reality is as easy as money-drafting against Cunningham. I’ll come through. I’m the level 99 Blessed Holy Avenger Blade!
Round 3 (Round 9 of the Pro Tour)
It is the land destruction mirror, but I have Remands and Simic Sky Swallower, which should give me the edge. Game 3, I play so tight. I trick him into attacking me with his Helldozer, so I can Last Gasp it and block, a move I had to make otherwise I’d have no lands in play in two turns. I am bobbing and weaving, and it seems like I am finally going to win. I knock Reality to the mat, it’s down… 6… 7… 8… 9…
Reality gets up, and there is a savage gleam in my eye as I can literally taste the victory… All of a sudden, Reality comes out of nowhere! He’s been running the rope-a-dope on me all along! My opponent shows me the Demonfire for lethal, and blindly flips over the top card of his deck, which happens to be a Mountain to cast it.
It’s all a blur of lights, and I’m trying to cover up while being backed into the ropes… the bell can’t come soon enough.
Round 4 (Round 10 of the Pro Tour)
I’m playing versus G/W/B/u, and the last glimmer of hope is all that’s keeping me alive. If we win out, we can get some extra Pro Points and cash. The match is up to me, as Sam is playing versus every single last cantrip removal and mass removal spell in the format. Neil is winning his match, and again it is all down to me on game 3.
I keep a one-lander on the draw after mulliganing, with a signet and a Farseek, along with a Wrecking Ball and Remand. If I draw the land, I will beat Reality into the ground and celebrate by dancing on its face.
My first draw step yields… Remand.
Okay, okay… I wrap up Reality to buy myself some time, to catch my breath.
My second draw step is coming up… Telling Time.
It’s okay, I can still come back from this, I’m a level 99 Blade, remember?
My opponent Rolling Spoils.
A goblin thief has stolen my level 99 Blessed Holy Avenger Blade. I am back to the level 1 Default Butter Knife.
Round 5 (Round 15 of the Pro Tour)
We realize that there is no hope of getting an extra Pro Point, and find out that we played the last four rounds for no reason. I struggle in the fight, and eventually get TKO’d,
We even lose the fun match.
I wander around, saying, “This is what happens when Reality hits.”
Everyone I talk to doesn’t know who I am, and proceeds to tell me to stop barning their FNM champion friend… did fame and fortune leave me this fast? Well, the fortune did… but the fame along with it? I guess so.
I get in a three-on-three draft with Gary Talim and Ken Krouner, thinking that one of us is due a win. We 0-9, and argue over who has to pay due to the Gimp Rule. We end up paying triple and wander off.
I proceed to three-on-three draft against Finkel and two fossils, for fifty, with Little D and JRavitz on my team. I know, I was on tilt, and no one else wanted to team with me. I proceed to watch Ravitz pack his deck chock full of seven 1/1s. He claims he closed his eyes during Guildpact and just shuffled and took a card, but I know that he just wanted to twist his level 1 blade into my side.
I realize I have to 3-0 – 2-1 maybe – to win this draft. I lose my first round and then, before I can finish another match, we have lost the draft.
I am on tilt again, and rematch Finkel for higher stakes. I proceed to get manascrewed games 1 and 2. I mulligan to four, and scream, “Why, God, why?!” My cards stick together due to the tears, and Finkel accuses me of drawing an extra card. I run away, as no one should see a grown man weep.
Upon my return, God has reached down and touched my team. A miracle has happened: little D and Ravitz got five between them. I attribute this to them being able to beat down Reality, as the unmerciful beating it laid upon me must have tired it out.
I can’t believe I passed up drinking for this. What have I become? FFEJ?
Sunday, I get back to three-on-three drafting. Levy finds me and tells me he needs a third versus some easy opponents.
I try and dissuade him… No, please, I can’t win, I killed your mother, I’m only drafting mono-White. He isn’t convinced, and drags me along. We end up losing as Siron gets manascrewed and mulligans in all of his matches. I secretly laugh inside when coughing up the spoils of war, as I am not the only one who has fallen far and low.
I’m short-stacked and drawing slim. I see Nassif, and am all in. We didn’t win a draft in Prague, so we must be due. We even get to draft versus the Japanese.
My deck is a four-color monstrosity, and – surprise surprise – I get no mana fixers or bounce lands. Did I mention we drafted versus the Japanese?
I haven’t felt this way in forever (three months). I’d almost forgotten how sweet it is. I was only playing two Forests, two Islands, three Swamps, and eight Plains. I can’t believe I finally got there.
I run around the venue, telling everyone the great news about how Reality beat me so badly but that I’d finally managed to get a sucker punch back in.
Then it happens.
Jeroen Remie says it.
That one fateful sentence.
“What if this whole tournament wasn’t Reality hitting you at all, and getting there with that Nephilim was Reality for you… what if you are that blessed?”
Wise words indeed.