White Weenie? Sure. But Let Me Tell You Some Stories…

Friday, September 17th – Nassif discusses how he designed the White Weenie deck that trounced Amsterdam – but more importantly, he shares the most insane and entertaining tales of his Hall of Fame-winning Magic career!

Pro Tour Amsterdam was pretty special, because it was one of the first times where I was standing on the sidelines while my friends were performing with my deck. I’m usually fortunate enough to be the one piloting our team’s creation to a good finish… But this time around, it wasn’t meant to be.

In some ways, though, I actually think I enjoyed it more. It felt like I was living every game more intensely. I was heartbroken when I watched Noah lose in round 14 while he was still in contention for the top 8, and I was more disappointed than Kai himself after he lost to Brad in the quarterfinals, and it felt more rewarding when Paul swept the top 8 than if I had done it myself.

Paul and I faced off earlier this season with a couple rounds left in Pro Tour San Diego, playing for Top 8. I beat him in a really close match, in
what was probably a good matchup for him. I felt pretty bad — it’s never fun to beat a friend in that spot. He’s the one person I’d rather

to, playing for the top 8…. so needless to say, it couldn’t have happened to a better person.


, Paul!

When I returned to Paris after the World Series of Poker, I decided to put some serious testing in for Pro Tour Amsterdam. The format was available on Magic Online, and I was back home for the rest of the summer. Earlier this year, I showed up in San Diego with close to no preparation for one of the first times in my Pro Tour career, but had managed to pull off an 8-0 start thanks to a well-tuned Standard deck built by Chapin and company, as well as getting a smooth ride in the first draft.

That lack of preparation caught up with me during the second day, where I made some very poor draft picks and some dumb mistakes in Constructed. I finished in a very disappointing twenty-first place after an undefeated day one. I decided to start trying my hardest again so that would never happen again — since losing after a strong run and knowing you could have done better is one of the worst feelings in Magic.

(In a funny coincidence, Brian
Kibler wrote extensively today about the feeling of losing after a 9-0 run

The Ferrett)

Most of my testing was based on the few MODO results available. I had noticed a deck list with the Pestermite/Splinter Twin combo early on. The idea was very appealing, as it was a fairly cheap two-card combo in colors that could support both countermagic and the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo. The fact that one of the pieces of the combo is a decent card on its own was a nice bonus. I decided to build the following deck:

Most of the cards are obvious inclusions. I thought Fulminator Mage would fit in the deck to keep opponents low on mana, making my Spell Pierces more effective to force the combo past removal. Getting rid of opposing Groves was nice, too, and I thought I’d be able to enchant them with Splinter Twin once in a while — but that never really happened in practice.

I also tried Cryptic Command, which is always solid, but I found it a bit too expensive at times. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was pretty good, since it gave you a decent alternative plan to help win the attrition war along with your burn spells and counters.

I don’t exactly remember what exact list I ended up with, but I think the Mages were gone, replaced by a couple Jaces and a couple Cryptic Commands, I had cut a Spell Pierce or two and had a couple Lightning Bolts main.

I built some of the decks of the MODO gauntlet in real life — Scapeshift (the version _Batutinha_ had a lot of success with), Faeries, U/R Pyromancer Ascension, Red Deck Wins — and had Antoine and Lucas over for some games. Lucas had a Grixis deck he liked, and it performed better than the random control decks I had tried online. Most of the decks seemed pretty solid, but none got us really excited. It looked like the format was going to be pretty open.

I don’t really remember when I decided to start testing White Weenie, but I’m pretty sure I was inspired by Insomniac_Bob’s success with Kithkin from the Daily Events. Before that, I had built a couple of G/W beatdown decks that ran almost all creatures to be able to play Ancient Ziggurat and maximize turn 1 Birds of Paradise/Noble Hierarch, turn 2 Knight of the Reliquary or Fauna Shaman.

It looked something like this:

Unfortunately, since I wasn’t planning on writing this article at the time, I deleted all my random deck lists from the net decks, so these lists are approximate.

I was doing well with this deck in the heads-up queues online, which was where I tested throughout most of August. However, there weren’t many decks that were getting bad results online, so I knew I couldn’t necessarily trust them.

I also liked Lucas’s Grixis deck, so I played that a bunch. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mystical Teachings, so I built a version with main deck Relic of Progenitus to make up for the lack of Extirpate. Also, I thought the card was all-around solid in the format — helping fight Punishing Fire and combo graveyard-based decks, shrinking Tarmogoyfs and Knight of the Reliquaries to put them in burn range, removing Kitchen Finks instead of having to shoot them twice with Punishing Fire.

Grixis would have been my second choice for the Pro Tour if I hadn’t played White Weenie.

My deck looked like this a week or so before the Pro Tour:

I’m not really sure how this version compares to
Michael Jacob Top 8 list
, and it still needed a lot of tuning — but I hadn’t considered Preordain despite trying it in the Faeries deck. I also had very little idea how popular Doran would be, so I might have looked a bit foolish playing Doom Blade over Terminate… but Terminate isn’t easy to cast with our lands.

Think Twice was there to let me hit land drops and have something to in the early turns, and I would have considered having more in my sideboard for the control and combo matchups — but unfortunately, sometimes it’s better to have cards that actually do stuff.

All in all, Grixis was solid but not spectacular. It also had the problem of having to play a guessing game when you get opening hands that are good against some type of decks, but not others. With a deck like White Weenie or Doran, you’re doing your own thing, so it rarely matters what you are up against.

During my testing, I picked up a bunch of misers along the road. Sadeg and Little D were included in my test group, which was more or less composed of the Ruels and a couple Parisians at this point, as well as Matignon and Wafo-Tapa, with whom we exchanged ideas and deck lists.

Then one day, Kai messaged me on MODO looking to battle some. It turns out he was planning on attending the Pro Tour and he didn’t really have anyone to test with, either — but he had a decent amount of free time and a stacked MODO account. The final two additions were Jay Elarar and Matt Sperling.

White Weenie is the deck I played the most throughout testing by far, even though I abandoned it at some point despite very good results in the heads- up queues (where I probably had over an 80% win rate). I just did

want to play White Weenie at the Pro Tour, so I tried to work some more on control decks. But I didn’t really get anywhere.

The deck list didn’t change that much along the way – only a few cards were getting switched around, and those were mostly the more expensive drops (Ranger of Eos, Elspeth, Ajani Goldmane, Baneslayer Angel), as well as the sideboard.

I never really considered going the Kithkin route – I just didn’t think it could be better than playing the “good creatures” since we we’re not losing much in speed, the deck was more resilient that way, and the maindecked Ethersworn Canonist drastically turned some matchups around, while being surprisingly disruptive against the Scapeshift deck. Canonist + Honor of the Pure was one of the best ways to fight Punishing Fire, and it made it harder for them both to ramp up to Scapeshift

to abuse Search for Tomorrow, Bloodbraid Elf, and Harmonize.

I remember Paul saying we were either going to hate our lives or love them if we played White Weenie.

I end up sleeving up the following 75 for the PT:

We had a maindecked Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender for a while, as well as one or two more Path to Exiles — but we decided to run a couple Mana Tithes instead, except for Jay, who ran all four in his sideboard, and Kai, who did not run any.

Two might seem like an odd number, but I think it’s actually a good one since it’s a card you’d like to draw one of, usually not two, but don’t mind not drawing any. It also makes it harder and less profitable for your opponent to play around. (Which you can see in practice
Michael Jacob report
— Knut)

One of the keys to the deck’s good performance was the fact we were running all four Brave the Elements. The card shines in this format, as it allows you to save your guys early, and acts as a Falter later in the game. It makes matchups like Scapeshift favorable, as it helps you pass through their armies of Tarmogoyfs and Kitchen Finks. It’s also the card that makes your Doran matchup so good, and it’s key in combination with Ethersworn Canonist against the combo decks, who usually have access to a couple of removal spells. I also think realizing that Path to Exile was mediocre, and hence unnecessary in the main deck, was very important to our success.

I don’t think there are any relevant tournaments in this format before the next rotation (sadly, there aren’t — T.F.), and I’m not sure White Weenie would still be good once people are ready for it…. but I don’t think I would change much at all to the list if I had to play the Pro Tour all over again. It’s also one of the few decks that doesn’t get hurt by Time Spiral rotating out — but it’s possible that once the new format shapes up, it won’t be viable any more.

One of the nice things about the deck is that people weren’t ready for it, and that it’s pretty hard to hate. In most matchups, we would know almost exactly what our opponent had in their main deck and sideboard, but they wouldn’t — and not playing around Brave the Elements or not knowing what we would board in surely gave us an edge.

It’s something you should keep in mind during testing when you believe you have a good deck that’s somewhat under the radar: the more you play it against your playtest partners, the more you start to lose. Instead of winning 70% of the time, you’re now barely winning half the matches. But your win rate will probably go up again in the actual tournament, when people are surprised all over again.

I was counting on that, as I lost a decent amount of confidence in the deck during the week before the Pro Tour. But Jay kept raving about how well the
deck was performing for him, which made me feel a bit better. It was kind of ironic — since when we first started chatting about the format,

didn’t think White Weenie was for real and I had to put in a bit of work to convince him.

I played Kai for a few hours on the Tuesday before the PT, and he kept crushing me with his version of U/R Ascension that transformed into a Pestermite/Splinter Twin deck. He also had all four Cryptic Command main, which makes the match-up a lot harder. It kind of worried me, as I thought Ascension would be one of the most played decks, but I just hoped that people would have more traditional sideboards, as I had been doing well whenever I played against the stock versions online. Kai had gotten a little inbred and wound up running two Forge-Tenders main and three Demystifies in his
sideboard. (As
Kai himself admits

— T.F.)

I’m not going to write a tournament report. Instead, Ted asked me if I’d write about the highlights of my Hall of Fame career, so here it is.

New York 2001: Team Limited Pro Tour

The match is tied at 1-1 and I’m playing the deciding game against Zvi. My teammates, Amiel “Royal” Tenenbaum and Nicolas Olivieri, are watching on the big screen. Zvi is at two life, but I’m dead on the board…

Nicolas: “Last card coming!”

On my turn, I draw… a Volcano Imp.

Amiel: “It hurts, doesn’t it?”

Nicolas: “I can’t belieeeeeeeeeeeeeve what fell.”

Amiel: “All our dreams…dashed!”

Nicolas: “Our hope’s down the freaking drain — that card couldn’t have helped him!”

I cast Death Bomb.

The Frenchies go crazy and we advance to the finals, only to have my dreams actually crushed for the second week in a row by Kai.

I think Zvi wrote an article after the tournament and talked about my “slow roll,” but I actually had a reason for it. The format was Rochester Team Draft, and I couldn’t remember if Zvi picked up a bounce spell — so I played in a way so that even if he did have one and made my Death Bomb fizzle, I would be able to attack for the last two points of damage. I did remember he didn’t have access to any kind of counterspell, so the one-turn window I gave him couldn’t hurt me.

The funny thing is that I had been playing terribly the whole match, but

the play he berated me for.

San Diego 2002: Booster Draft

I start off 6-0, including a win against Matt Linde, where I ripped runner-runner Innocent Blood with Mirari out — but managed to finish dead last, getting bashed along the way by some kid I had never heard off running multiple copies of Sneaky Homunculus. He ended up coming in fifth somehow, while Farid Meraghni became the first Frenchman to win a Pro Tour, wearing my light blue sweatshirt (which was never to be seen again).

Unfortunately for me, he was done winning for the weekend, as he didn’t get a single W on my team in the side drafts. Jason Zila, who I had never met, showed up on Sunday, and didn’t drop a single match in draft, despite having never played the format before.

Kobe 2004: Block Constructed

Kobe was pretty special. I started off 0-2 armed with my homebrew, a Tooth and Nail deck, built by the Belgians (Geoffrey Siron, Bernardo da Costa Cabral, and Vincent Lemoine). But I rallied back and won six matches in a row to make it into day 2, getting paired five times in a row against R/G — my best matchup.

Then there was round 15, playing for the top 8:

(From The Sideboard coverage)

Gabriel attacked for four and activated Mindslaver. He got to see a hand of three artifact lands and a Skullclamp. Gabriel/Hans played the Skullclamp, and considered equipping the Hoverguard to run it into his Blinkmoth. He could not bring himself to give Hans two cards and merely attacked the Hoverguard into his land. Gabriel had no extra mana available after activating the Blinkmoth and could not pump the Blinkmoth to a 2/2. He had not realized this immediately, and was embarrassed by his misplay.

He had no answer for the flier on his next turn, and lost the game, much to his chagrin.

Hoeh breathed a sigh of relief at his unexpected good fortune, “You are playing Type 1?”

“No, why?”

“You can do that with Mishra. This one needs another mana. Don’t worry you don’t need this match win as much as I do anyway.”

When asked if it was the worst mistake he made in a feature match, the glum Nassif groaned, “Probably the worst mistake I have made in my life.”

“That was pretty bad. You had complete control and all the information.”

Gabriel flashed his sly smile that did not completely jibe with his response, “I will feel really bad if I end up winning this match.”

I’m pretty sure I was lying. I don’t recall feeling bad about winning that one at all.

I ended up losing in the finals to Kuroda, the first Japanese Pro Tour champion and all-around great guy — but for the first time, I wasn’t too upset, as it was the first Pro Tour Top 8 I hadn’t misplayed in. I had won an incredibly close match against Ben Stark with a timely Chalice of the Void in game 5, and Jelger had wisely decided to get stone drunk the night before. That might or might have not affected his play and his sideboard strategy. But that’s not what made this match priceless:

(from The Sideboard coverage)

Jelger appeared very confident, and Gabriel broached the topic of a prize split. Jelger just shook his head and prepared for the match.

Gabriel Nassif – 2 Jelger Wiegersma – 1

Game 4

Jelger was now willing to talk about the possibility of a split. Gabriel laughed, “I don’t think I am the favorite to win this — even up 2-1 — but it doesn’t seem right to accept. You turned down my split.”

To this day, we still laugh about it whenever it comes up.

Pro Tour Atlanta 2005: Team Limited

I had decided to ask two of my good friends, David Rood and Gab Tsang, to leave World of Warcraft and come out of retirement for a weekend. We started off with two losses, and it was looking like I had wasted everybody’s time — but we X-0’d the rest of the Swiss to make top 4. I had never really
played with or against Gab before this Pro Tour, but I got to witness first-hand why he had earned the reputation of being a sheer master at the game.

We got paired in the semifinals against three Japanese players all making their Pro Sunday debut. Team One Spin was composed of Tomohiro Kaji, Kenji Tsumura, Tomoharu Saito, accounting for a whopping three GP Top 8s at the time and I remember thinking it was the only draft where we hadn’t out-drafted our opponents, but just out-opened them. The finals were less stressful and I was finally a Pro Tour champion after three second places.

Pro Tour Honolulu 2006: Standard

This event marked the first time the Pro Tour stopped in Hawaii, and was one of my best friend’s wins on the Tour. The beach house experience was awesome, but Mark hadn’t been able to enjoy it, showing up a day or two before the Pro Tour. That didn’t stop him from brewing his R/G deck on the spot, and taking the Pro Tour by storm. The fact that his opponents averaged three mulligans per match probably helped him, too. To top off the week, I got to witness an epic drunken brawl between him and Jelger, as they proceeded to flip over the table that all my cards were laying on. Why?

World Championships Paris 2006

This one remains bittersweet, as I most probably misplayed my way out of the finals — but I’ll always remember my run to the Top 8.

I had to 6-0 day 3, playing Extended, and showed up in the morning missing my copies of Counterbalance. Had the tournament not been delayed because of issues with the Parisian subway, I might have had to register a deck without one of its key cards. Craig Krempels was there to save the day, though, and I managed to win match after match, sitting alone in a corner after every round, trying to stay focused on my goal. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to Top 8 a tournament so badly, playing on my home turf… and I got help from lady luck in more than one way.

I got paired against one of the American newcomers, Luis Scott-Vargas, in round 14 and we had little time left for game three. Since we had four losses and a draw, another draw would knock us out of Top 8 contention, so I asked if he wanted one of us to scoop if we were clearly losing on board but extra turns were over. He accepted, and honored our agreement when I was one turn away from killing him with Meloku (if I recall properly). What I didn’t know — and only learned later on — was that Luis only had four losses at this point, so a draw wouldn’t have hurt him as much.

The quarterfinals against Tiago Chan were epic, as I barely came out on top despite having what seemed to be like a really easy matchup. Apparently it was supposed to be so easy that Tiago considered not changing his flight time (he had an early Sunday flight) and just forfeiting his Top 8 match.

World Championships New York 2007

I was staying at Mark’s place in East Lansing, MI, and battling it out on MODO with some random Standard brew while Mark was cooking dinner — a pasta dish with mozzarella in it. I stole a couple pieces of cheese and he told me I’d better not take anymore, which I did anyways. He then just dropped me from my eight-man and I got on a raging tilt.

I decided to fire up another one — this time with a Dragonstorm deck that Chapin had told us about, having mised the list himself from an eight-year-old kid in a side event during a GP. I don’t think we lost a match in our first four or five eight-mans, and decided to quickly retire the deck from online play.

I made back-to-back Worlds Top 8 that year, only losing in the semifinals to my teammate, Patrick, playing the same deck, a match that is most famous for its game four:

Pro Tour Kyoto 2009

JamieP (Parke), Heezy, and I stone broke the format in Kyoto. On our first evening there, we went out to a sushi place — one of those cool ones with the rotating tray. Despite slamming a bunch of plates each, we were still a bit hungry after leaving the place, and a McDonalds was conveniently located right across from the sushi place in the mall. We decided to run the “combo meal”: Sushi + Big Macs. That became our ritual for the week.

Mark brought his sandwich back to the hotel room and was eating it on my bed. I asked him to eat it somewhere else, since I didn’t especially want to sleep on a pile of bread crumbs — but that didn’t really work out, as he obviously started slamming it in a way that would get maximum crumbs on my pillow. JamieP pointed that I should maybe stand up for myself, at which point I replied, “He’s like some maniac who just always raises — what can I do?”

I remember not loving the idea of having a mixed Pro Tour, but I guess it worked out okay for me:

Dan Burdick a.k.a. Dan Place, gets most of the credit on that one. We were playing basketball in LA one day and he made the craziest shot, then justified his attempt the following way: either you miss, in which case everyone forgets about it and no one really cares, or you make it and it becomes an instant classic.

The finals against LSV were incredible too, and after a super-tense game 4 and an anti-climactic game 5, I had at last won my first individual Pro Tour title.

I rode my hot streak the following weekend, winning my first Grand Prix in Chicago with none other than Luis’s Counterbalance/Top deck. Can’t say the man holds a grudge.

Last week’s Pro Tour Amsterdam is up there for sure and they are many more stories worth sharing, but it’s hard to talk about everything. I am truly blessed to have made so many good friends along the way and lived so many great moments and I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me or showed support for my Hall of Fame induction.

Added Bonus

By Mark Herberholz

To protect the identities of the involved parties in the following story of a former Pro Tour player who has fallen to such lows that are about to be regaled upon you, the parties involved will all be given aliases.

This story takes place at a Pro Tour. The main character — let’s call him Washed Up — is, in fact, washed up. He hadn’t been putting up the finishes that he used to, and to make ends meet at this Pro Tour he had to con his mom into going for a vacation because he couldn’t afford the hotel room. Imagine the shame of popping off money finishes left and right, and now being forced to ask mommy for a handout.

Well, Washed Up’s ill luck continued at this PT just like the others. Despite a strong start, he lost something like the last six rounds to finish out of the money. So it was on the walk from the site when Washed Up was walking with a couple friends — one who knew of his hotel situation and one who didn’t. The one who didn’t asked who Washed Up was staying with. Washed Up pretended to mishear the question, and answered it as if he had asked where he was staying, and responded with “by the beach.”

The other friend — let’s call him Papa Blesseds — kept his silence for the time being, only to tell everyone he could find the next day about Washed Up’s little encounter, therefore letting everyone he has come to know on the Pro Tour the true extent of his long, sad spiral into Pro Tour purgatory.

I leave you to wonder about who this sad, sorry tale is about…