The People's Column #2: Pro Tour - New York 2000-2001
Having won the Atlanta team PTQ back in May, Eric Ewald, Dave Leader and I journeyed to New York for our second, fourth and fourth Pro Tours, respectively. We competed under the name "Sol Malka Fan Club." This was Eric's idea because, as he put it, "if we win the PTQ and get to the Pro Tour, people will know of Sol from his tournament reports, but no one will know who we (Eric and Dave) are."
Nothing especially exciting happened prior to the tournament, so... wait a minute, I guess one thing did. Alex McConnell, who was there for the Gateway tournament and stayed in our hotel room, got stuck in the bathroom for TWO HOURS after the rest of us had left for the Pro Tour Friday morning. The hotel was kinda old and the door just wouldn't open if it was closed tightly enough. Sorry man, that had to suck. :(
Anyway, on to the PT.
Our first set of sealed decks was a little below average. I got to play the best of the three decks we built, a White/blue featuring Crooked Scales, Flowstone Armor, and Rappelling Scouts. Eric played Green/Red with Kyren Negotiations and the card of the weekend for us - Magistrate's Veto. Dave played the worst of our decks, a Black/Blue with a couple of uncommon Merc searchers and not much else.
In round 1 we faced Alien Nation, a Brazilian PTQ-winning team. My opponent, Willy, played Green/Black, and was the aggressor early with a Fen Stalker. I removed it via Lightbringer, but he played another plus a Silverglade Elemental. He wasn't able to tap out for the Stalker, but I had no choice but to team up on the Silverglade with a 2/2 and a 2/1. Willy had a trick to remove one of them before damage, and the Silverglade and Fen Stalker finished me off.
In game 2 I did a lot of damage with a Nightwind Glider and barely held down the ground against Willy's six Spontaneous Generation tokens and grizzly bears. At eight mana, he lost his Giant Caterpillar in combat, but didn't sac it for a token. After combat, I learned why when he tapped all eight mana for...Avatar of Woe! I attacked to put him at two with flyers, and had two grizzly bears back to chump, and he couldn't kill the Glider. However, he topdecked a Seal of Doom to allow him to attack for just enough damage to kill me. So for the fourth time in as many attempts, I failed to win my first match of the Pro Tour. This time, luckily, I had two teammates to bail me out. Leader crushed his opponent in record time, and Ewald pulled out a tough game 3 in which both players mulliganed.
In round 2 we faced Team Diesel. Chris Senhouse actually recognized Eric as the player of the B/R "Randall" Extended deck from the 97-98 PTQ season, and we had a good time chatting about the various 1.x decks pioneered by people at our table (Senhouse's Countersliver, Bush's Necro-Donate, my Black Jank from '99 and G/B Survival from the 2000 1.x season). Michelle Bush's R/B deck demolished Leader in several minutes, but Ewald was able to defeat Senhouse (who was U/W; I suspect Magistrate's Veto had something to do with it).
I took the first game from Joel Frank when he came out mana light in game 1. He was a step behind in game 2 as well, but we reached a parity position in the late game after I held off his numerous green fatties. I hadn't found my artifacts yet, so I just served for one with Rappelling Scouts while Joel began using Undertaker to cycle Giant Caterpillar for tokens. My Crossbow Infantry kept them from attacking. I drew Soothsaying and after a couple of turns was able to find and play Crooked Scales for the first time. Joel saw the writing on the wall and made his move. At the end of my turn he Maggot Therapied my Infantry, but I was ready with Cho-Manno's Blessing. He untapped and alpha striked. I blocked everything except Horned Troll and two tokens, having Seal of Removal and Crossbow Infantry to deal with those. After blockers Joel tapped his four swamps and four forests. I said out loud, "Good thing Vitalizing Wind costs nine." Oops. He looked at the board, and his teammates suddenly seemed deflated. Sure enough, he had Vitalizing Wind in hand. He sunk the green mana into his Troll, burned on the four black, and conceded right there!
Our second set of sealed decks was better. Eric played Green/Red again, Dave played White with a splash of blue, and I too splashed blue into my mostly Black, heavy-flyer deck. Stinging Barrier was my only card requiring UU, so I played eleven swamps to support cards like my Primeval Shambler.
In the third round we faced The Farm, a Scandinavian team featuring PTNY 99-00 champ Sigurd Eskeland, my opponent. He seemed mana light in the first game with his Black/Red deck. We fought over a Deepwood Ghoul; I saved it from one removal spell with Seal of Removal, but it died to Maggot Therapy. On turn 5 I topdecked Primeval Shambler and cast it. It served for massive damage. Sigurd got out a Spur Grappler, which I targeted with Steal Strength on his next upkeep; he chose to let it go. I got Sigurd to five before he could play another creature, Cateran Enforcer, which he was forced to chump with. He had to chump with his own Primeval Shambler a turn or two later. Finally he dropped a nonblack creature, which I targeted with Vendetta for the win. For the second game I took out all my blue creatures, brought in Skulking Fugitive, some other black creatures, and a Dehydration (which didn't make the initial cut due to the strength of our decks). I fell a little behind early, but got out Bog Smugglers and two Belbe's Perchers to race Sigurd's own Smugglers while random Mercs held down the ground against
Enforcer and friends. I won the race and the match. Eric lost, but Dave won and we stayed undefeated.
In round 4 we met the eventual finalists, Car Acrobatic Team. My opponent was Aaron Forsythe. His G/R absolutely wrecked me in the first game with a Squallmonger; I had an Outrigger which traded for Keldon Berserker, and two small flyers which paid to the 'Monger. I got out a Rathi Intimidator, but Aaron got ahead and finished me with the 'Monger.
In game 2 we reached a position in which both of us were cardless and Aaron had the only nonland permanent, a Chimeric Idol. It must have done fifteen damage to me. I Severed a Thresher Beast, but didn't draw well enough to stop the Idol or the assault that followed, and dropped my match. Eric lost when he couldn't draw burn to deal the last point of damage to his opponent after Murderous Betrayal left him at one, so we lost our first match as a team.
We went into our third and final deckbuilding session knowing we needed one more match win to guarantee Day 2. Our decks were somewhere in between our first and second in terms of quality. I built a mono-white deck with a strong Rebel engine, three Gliders, and several artifact creatures. Eric played Black/Blue and Leader took the Green/Red.
Round 5 pitted us against the Florida team of Antonino De Rosa, Ben Stark, and my opponent, Scott Molasky. He and I have played numerous times during my days in South Florida, and our matches always seem to come down to something silly like mana problems. This time was no exception. During a relatively even first game, a judge called Scott away because of a decklist problem, and a few minutes later, Scott received a match loss for not listing a Fog Patch, giving him an illegal 39-card decklist. We played out the match anyway (sans sideboards), and I won 2-1. Meanwhile, Leader lost, but Ewald won, and we advanced to 4-1 and Day 2.
In the final round of Day 1 we faced Goblin Gate, another Scandinavian team (I think they were from Finland). I won 2-0, due mainly to a Flowstone Thopter and somewhat passive play by my opponent (not serving with Thresher Beast and Primeval Shambler). Leader had his opponent at three in the third game, and needed to remove his opponent's Diplomatic Escort to push through the final damage before getting killed next turn by Blockade Runner. He tapped five of his eight land for Devastate, but his opponent had just topdecked a Rethink, and Dave lost. Eric, meanwhile, went into Game 3 with a strong hand, including Sever Soul, other powerful BB spells, and a Dominate, plus a swamp and two islands. To make a long story short, at least ten turns later he still hadn't found the swamp, and lost a game he would have easily won had he drawn the swamp at any time. We lost a tough one but still entered the second day in pretty good shape.
4-2, 17th entering Day 2.
In other Atlanta news, the 40 Oz. Allstars (Matt Ranks, Joe Crosby, and Rudy Edwards) also finished Day 1 at 4-2, right behind us in 18th place. The Brothers Parker had a strong start, beating Shvartsman and Zvi's team in round 1 (with 12-year-old Zach taking down Shvartsman!) but losing their last four matches to finish 2-4. Still, they were the only Atlanta team to be awarded a feature match (in round 2 - they won). From what I understand, at some point during Day 1, Mark Rosewater was considering us for a feature match, and asked Randy Buehler who "else" was on the Sol Malka Fan Club - and the Goblin War Buggy replied, "A couple of sticks." Whatever.
Round 7 - Antarctica. Mise well start at the top, no? I was to play Jon Finkel for the first time. We stuck to our plan: I took Green/Black, Eric took Blue/Red, and Dave took White and splashed another color. I was creature-light until Prophecy, and managed to pick up *four* Skyshroud Sentinels in just six packs of Nemesis. Luckily, I really filled out my deck in Prophecy and didn't have to play the Sentinels, which even in multiples still suck. I had a ton of grizzly bears, three Terrors, and a few fatties, though I still had to play the bad Deepwood Tantiv. Finkel, unsurprisingly, went Blue/White, with Dominate and Ensnare. He failed to draw blue mana early in Game 1, so I dropped Belbe's Percher and Darba on the mana curve without fearing Daze (he had two). The Darba did a ton of damage before trading with a creature or two once Jon got his blue mana, and we found ourselves in a position where Jon was at two life to my twenty and facing a Vintara Elephant and Pygmy Razorback with only a Drake Hatchling. That's when a judge called me aside. Immediately I realized I had messed up my land count on my decklist. He showed me the list, and had no choice but to give me a game loss. I was furious since I was on the verge of taking Game 1 from Finkel, but there was nothing I could do; it was my own careless mistake and I can't blame anyone else for it.
I got a fast start in Game 2 with a few bears, playing around Daze after turn 2, and pushed through quite a bit of damage before Jon started dropping flyers. I also had a Deepwood Elder and Vintara Snapper in hand, but couldn't draw my second of nine Forests. I had a Rathi Intimidator serving, but I could sense that Jon had his Ensnare. I cast my Tantiv with a land open, and Jon Dazed. I suspected Jon was setting me up for Withdraw, but couldn't just give away the creature, and paid it. Jon Dazed again and the Tantiv was countered. I served with the Intimidator to put Jon at one. He served with his flyers and would kill me next turn (assuming he was still alive); he also played a Mine Bearer. I drew Thresher Beast (useless, given my one Forest), went to attack, and sure enough Jon Ensnared. I conceded. Eric and Dave both got swept, so my decklist error didn't cost us the match, but that didn't make me feel any better about screwing up.
We regrouped and went up against Team Olari from Denmark in round 8. We benefited from some fortunate picks (I lucked out with an Alexi on the last pack), and they seemed to overemphasize defensive drafting, which cost them a few solid cards for their own decks. I ended up Black/Blue this time. My opponent was mono-black. In the first game, I dropped two random blue creatures to try and draw a Terror away from Alexi. I also dropped an Oraxid, giving him four 2/2 Monkey Cage tokens. Next turn I played Alexi. My opponent untapped and scooped.
In game 2 he missed his third land drop and I played a Wandering Eye, showing two Blockade Runners and a Massacre. He missed his land drop on the fourth turn, and conceded right then and there! I wasn't complaining. Dave won and we were back on track.
At this point, we had the same record as Matt, Rudy and Joe. So naturally we faced them in round 9. I went back to my Black/Green ways, and played a mirror match versus Joe Crosby. I had a Chilling Apparition in my deck, plus several black grizzlies and a few green fatties, so I played a Dark Ritual over my 10th swamp (with seven forests). I drew Ritual-Apparition game 1, but was only going second. It served once through a Spineless Thug and nailed a land, but that was the only time it got through. The ground locked up and Crosby was the only one serving, with a Vine Dryad. Meanwhile I played a Monkey Cage and cast Highway Robber, creating four 2/2s. Crosby attacked for the win with me at five by pumping two lands into the Dryad with an Agent of Shauku, and I Snuffed it out. He conceded the next turn in the interest of time, since he was badly outnumbered by my ground forces.
Joe took the second game with a Blastoderm and the Dryad again as I failed to develop black mana early. In the third, I looked at my opening hand... Chilling Apparition... Dark Ritual... Show me the Swamp... Swamp! I'm going first. Joe's turn-2 Thug won't help him. I nail about four cards from Joe's hand, and use Wild Might to get the Chilly through an instant Vine Dryad. With that kind of card advantage, I'm able to overwhelm Joe with a couple of evasive creatures and my own Agent. Ewald drops his match to Matt Ranks, and Leader takes a tough draw with Rudy, so we draw as a team.
Round 10 pairs up with Les Videurs des Quais, a French team. My opponent drafted mostly Green and Black, like me, but counterdrafted a Defender en-Vec and Jeweled Spirit that prompted him to go three-color. The highlight of the draft came toward the end of Prophecy. I was wavering (physically) between a Marsh Boa and a Wild Might. In the end, I went with the landwalker. Our opponents had fun mocking my frantic gesturing, but I got the last laugh. I smashed my opponent in the first game with Bog Smugglers, Blastoderm, Treetop Bracered Phyrexian Prowler, and Pit Raptor. In game two we both were mana light and discarded once. We pulled out of it at the same time, and I did massive damage with Blastoderm and an Agent. He Muzzled the Agent. I served with the 'Derm to take him to seven, then with five mana in play used Reverent Silence (maindeck due to Death Pit Offering) to remove the Muzzle and attack to put him at one, with the 'Derm due to fade out next turn. With my last mana, I slam down that Marsh Boa. :) Dave wins and we're virtually guaranteed to finish in the top 20 and make money.
In the eleventh and final round we face Huey, Ben, and Casey. We have some trouble settling into colors, as I first-pick a Thermal Glider and take mostly White cards. In the end, I go Black/White, Eric goes Blue/Green, and Leader goes Green/Red. We got outdrafted, and going into Prophecy I looked to have no chance whatsoever versus Huey's G/B with fatties, two Massacres, and Belbe's Armor - plus Spidersilk Armor, Saproling Burst and Living Terrain. Midway through Prophecy I start to reach for an Aura Fracture on the backswing of a pack. Leader sees me and tries to physically push my hand toward the Mine Bearer, but I overpower him and slam that Aura Fracture into my drafted pile. In the next-to-last pack, Casey has the first pick and then sends the pack over to us. Avatar of Woe is the rare, Casey's not black, and there's a good card (Troubled Healer?) for him, so I get it. The final pack has as its rare... Avatar of Woe! I get it as well, and suddenly I have a real shot vs. Huey. Plus, between the Avatars and Volrath the Fallen, I made Huey's early-pick Hunted Wumpus unplayable. :)
I fill my deck with as many 3+ toughness creatures and tricks (Silkenfist Fighter, Skulking Fugitive, Wall of Distortion, Rhystic Shield) as possible, cutting quality cards like Soul Charmer and Cateran Brute to do it. Huey, meanwhile, has a Port and plays a Despoil to try to keep me from getting to eight mana. He Despoils me early in game 1 and when he kills me with two hill giants I'm at seven mana with Avatar in hand.
In game 2 I stabilize pretty early despite his Port. In the late game, with me at seven or eight mana and holding the Avatar, Huey draws, looks concerned, and plays Silt Crawler. Suddenly that guy has a huge drawback - it neutralizes his Port for the turn. I draw a land anyway, slam down the Avatar, and lock up the game. In the third, I stabilize even earlier, but a post-combat Massacre puts us both in topdeck mode. Huey's first is Vintara Elephant; I am forced to answer with double Vicious Hunger, returning me to fourteen life versus his twenty. I get a Fresh Volunteers and start serving. He gets a Horned Troll, but I get a Fugitive followed by Volrath and a Mageta's Boon to keep the Volunteer alive and serving. Huey's next creature is an irrelevant Belbe's Percher, and I swarm for the unlikely match win.
Leader, sadly, gets a match loss for a decklist problem. Ewald, though, snatches a draw from Casey when his Calming Verse removes Heightened Awareness and drops a Muzzle from his Stinging Barrier, giving him Game 2 with time almost out. We finish with a hard-earned draw.
Final record for the Sol Malka Fan Club: 6-3-2, 15th place out of 110 teams.
$900 for each of us.
In other news, the 40 Oz. Allstars, Matt, Rudy, and Joe, win their last two to
finish 10th place.
That would be two out of three Atlanta teams in the money. And the third beat a high-powered team of PT heroes and won a feature match, all in their collective first PT effort.
News flash: We can play down here in Atlanta.
Thanks to Dave Leader and Eric Ewald, two good friends and great players. We win and lose as a team. You're my #1 fans. :)
Next stop: Invasion Limited PTQs for LA.
--The People's Champion