I got back from GP: Philly this weekend, an all-around curious experience about which I'll write soon, and find the following e-mail waiting for me (some might say it was waiting in ambush, but I like to think that it was there simply to reinvigorate and refocus):
Subject: Paging Big Timer New Yorkers
Now would be a good time to deliver part 2. I know you've had time to battle with the NG folks on a regular basis. That should mean you have time to write too, right?
Managing Editor, StarCityGames.com
“Every move you make, every step you take, I'll be watching you.”
I needed this kick in the ass (even if it does cruelly remind me that every time I try to write write I write right (which you might think would be a good and positive thing, but really you're just an idiot) instead of writing correctly. Thanks Ted). I've been living the easy life for the past two weeks. Sure, the triumphant (though less triumphant than it could have been) trophy parade through the five boroughs was a little hectic. But mostly I've been lounging. At Amber's. At my dad's. At my old hangout, The Stand, in Sheepshead Bay. At Kings Games. And at Neutral Ground. Drafting with Flores, BDM and the rest of that crew. Mocking Legacy while playing in something somewhat closely resembling a competition (I don't know if I'm talking about the NG mock tournament or the actual GP either. I like to blur the lines figuratively and the stumble around in a self-made haze. It's like you never really understand a thing until you've groped at it blindly... sorry, there's no pay-off on that one).
Anyway, I've got to finish this report. I'm writing for posterity, so here we go — time to quit sitting on my big fat... laurels. Time to explain my perspective on a fairly interesting Top 8 Sunday. Time to own up to what's mine.
But first, a disclaimer:
Many a kind soul, coming to my defense in the face of some childishly malicious backlash from some of the internet community, has offered the following mitigation:
I have to object, appreciatively, to give myself a little more and a little less credit. To give you a more honest picture of my strengths and weaknesses. As a person and a player, I handle pressure well. I don't give up because of my own mistakes no matter who is watching. And I'm perfectly willing to go with the flow of events, all the while trying to direct it.
As a player, I'm all too prone to making silly mistakes, mistakes based on a lack of focus and not any shortage of reasoning ability. I'm the type of player who will Logic for zero or try to pump an Aquamoeba with a point of damage already on it. I'm as likely to make those mistakes at a prerelease as in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour.
I'm not going to write about the Top 8 the same way I did about the swiss. There's plenty of play-by-play coverage at magicthegathering.com, and many of you were watching the live webcast. Instead, I'll concentrate on the conversations and inner monologues, on my reflections on and reactions to the day.
Everyone was giving me advice the night before. Sleep plenty. Don't drink much alcohol. Spend some time not thinking about Magic. All good and well, but the best advice came from my dad. He told me to make sure I set aside some time the morning of for a quiet walk by myself. I did basically that, adding two small twists. I brought Bjork and an Army of Me along for the trip. And I vomited. On the sidewalk. And kept walking. The whole thing was surprisingly refreshing and cathartic.
For a Magic player, he's pretty funny. Probably because he's mainly a Pokemon player.
Saturday night, after the final standings had been announced and the brackets were handed out, Ervin and I chatted briefly, attempting to feel each other up - to measure the man we'd be facing in the morning. At least, that's what I was doing. That, and trying to put the fear in him.
Me: “BDW, eh? Well... good luck with that. And hey, nice shoes.”
So the next morning when I saw him again and asked him how testing had gone, I was pretty surprised at his answer.
Ervin: “God, your deck is as inconsistent as your writing. I dunno if we were doing something wrong, but we had 42 different guys play the deck and had to mulligan two-thirds of the games. Maybe you're some kind of genius and we just had no clue what we were supposed to be doing. And please, don't say anything about how I use Pokemon to pick up chicks.”
On the one hand, people often advocate mulliganning more aggressively than you probably do, an important skill indeed, but I often find myself keeping pretty aggressively, especially in Constructed, trusting my deck to draw into the missing piece a significant amount of the time.
On the other hand, MadTog, as opposed to classic Madness builds, has the ability to keep hands that consist almost solely of the peripheral support cards. A hand like Darkblast, Deep Analysis, Careful Study, Gifts and three lands, any three almost, is an easy keep in almost any matchup.
When Ervin and I sat down at the back table of the Top 8 area, Ted Knutson sidled over (sidled is appropriate Knuts, write?) and started flirting with us immediately. Having felt a little nervous earlier, sweaty palms and such, his friendly playfulness helped me settle right in. After attending Texas State University and partying heavily with the Theater Department there, having men flirt with me really puts me in a comfort zone. Of course, Ervin got most of the attention, but I wasn't jealous at all. Really. [I think Ervin demands attention, but Billy was pretty quiet. Regardless, Billy looked ravaging. So much so, that if I were a curator of a museum, I would have sacrificed all of my artifacts to him. — Knut]
We began shuffling. I stopped. And started again because Ervin was still going. I stopped again, trying to impose my will on the pace of this match. He kept on shuffling. See, while I may be “that one player who will just always have (Ervin's) number” (his own words...basically), Ervin absolutely owns me when it comes to shuffling. I shuffled some more so I would look like I knew what I was doing (and I did know what I was doing. I was getting owned). He dominated me like this before every game, even when I cried and asked him to stop. Owned. Except for those three games I won.
At some point during the match we heard McDaniel had beaten Chang. We both frowned a little bit. But whatever.
Epiphany. I think Ervin shuffled so much because he wanted our match to take longer so that eventually (as in, after all the other matches were done) we would get to play in front of the camera. Well played, Ervin. Well played.
Mason Peatross said the Desire matchup was a walk for me. Jeremy Jackson said Mason tends to exaggerate things. A lot of other people said they don't understand how I can win the matchup at all. In my understanding, it comes down to this. As long as I draw a creature or two in the first three turns and see at least three of my disruption spells, I should win the game. And for the most part, that's how it played out. In the first two games, I didn't see any disruption. In the last three I saw plenty and was able to win those games with minimal pressure. To facilitate this game plan, I went from siding in 2 Naturalizes in game 2 (hoping to just catch a Heartbeat) to all 4 by game 4 (recognizing how crucial it was to do so). Most crucially, I pulled out all the stops in game 5, siding in my super-tech, the devastating blue and black Naturalize.
And that's how I won the sideboard war.
Sorry. I'm not trying to make light of that game 5 fiasco and my significant role in it. I understand the game played out in a way that no fan of Magic wants to see a game play out, and I understand that much of the problem was my sloppy play. Also, while a broad perspective reveals that the fault was not all my own, it would be pretty lame of me to try to share the blame. With that in mind, I'd like to share my perspective on the various plays of interest in that infamous game 5.
Quite ironically, at the end of game 4, in which I did 16 points of damage to myself, I joked about Chris laying a Heartbeat on his last turn and tricking me into manaburning myself to death. So, of course, with a Heartbeat in play, I tap three lands for a Tog and clearly pass the turn with three mana floating. I'm a little embarrassed when the judge tells me I have mana floating and asks me what I'd like to do with it, but I overcome my shame and Naturalize Chris's Heartbeat. Chris rightly points out that I had passed the turn and the table judge explains that he's there to provide a MODO-like experience. As far as I can tell, there are two issues here:
I, like most other competitive players, fully believe it is the player's responsibility to understand the game state, to know his opportunities to execute certain actions*, to be in charge of making his plays, and to suffer the consequences of failing to do any of those. My feeling is that the table judge is there, in an instance such as this, to keep track of everything so that when I pass the turn, we all know how much I've manaburned for.
That said, with a table judge present and the full judging staff behind him, I cannot take responsibility, as a player, for those actions and decisions that are rightly the jurisdiction of the judging staff. I'm not talking about any mistakes anyone else made. I'm merely arguing the legitimacy of my taking the opportunity to play Naturalize rather than manaburn when that chance was presented to me.**
As far as I know, Chris didn't actually have the win in his hand, only a Fact or Fiction with which to dig for it, so in no way was he guaranteed to win if he untapped with Heartbeat in play. Still, it's inarguable that the Naturalize turn was pivotal. Add to that, the fact that the Naturalize was played illegally and I deserve every rip I've received online.
As far as Cephalid Coliseum is concerned, there's really not much to say. I popped Coliseum, announcing and pausing for responses, and I drew three cards. The three cards were irrelevant. Completely. It could've been any three cards in the deck and the information wouldn't have changed anything... unless they turned out to be the Stifles I had snuck in for this matchup, in which case I'm pretty sure they would've had no choice but to DQ me immediately. This was an all-or-nothing turn and the order of operations was mostly unimportant as long as my Tog added up lethal.
I wouldn't have been surprised if the judges came back on that final ruling and declared it a game loss. Me and Chris both knew the match came down to this ruling. He was bluffing a Moment's Peace he didn't have, and I couldn't afford to let him live another turn, so I had to risk that Peace. The ruling came back against me, but also in my favor — 2 major procedural errors, but I would be allowed to proceed with the win.
My thoughts on the ruling: if it was based on the fact that the three cards were irrelevant, that I should've been stopped before drawing, and that my hand was reconstructable on camera, then the ruling sits ok with me. If it was based on the DCI's desire to not have matches being decided by a judge, then it seems misguided. I agree that no one wants to see a player lose just because of a judge, but in this case, I would be losing because of my own mistakes; the judge would just happen to be there. Also, no one ever wants to see a judge win a match for a player, and well... So, it all depends on the DCI's reasoning for the ruling.
The guy makes me proud to be a part of the Magic-playing community. The poise with which he handled the three game comeback, keeping himself in the match the whole time. The grace he showed during that game 5 and in its aftermath. The bored look of terror in his eyes whether he's running Extended Desire or Legacy Solidarity as he patiently absorbs the beatdown turn after turn, round after round.
Chris and Ervin were both great guys, and I we spent a bit of time at GP: Philly reminiscing and teasing each other. I think it really says something about the Magic scene that with all the possibility for anger or bitterness, for endless teasing by random people, I can go scrub out at a GP and still have a ton of fun. But that's another story. First, I really must finish this one.
I feel like I'm shorting Antoine here, but after practically handing him $10,000, we're just now sorta breaking even. Fact is, for all the talk on the Wizards forum about how Antoine totally masterminded me and set me up for everything, I never really gave him a chance to. Game 3 of that match, the one where I really threw away the on-the-board win, I made two mistakes. One was not winning on the last turn, being content to draw cards instead. Two was forgetting that he only had one Meloku; had I remembered that at the time, I would've given him a four to one Fact split in a second. That mistake didn't matter in how the game played out. The other cards I handed him with Meloku were irrelevant mostly, and I wanted to make sure he took the Meloku pile and played Meloku the next turn, but it is a mistake that's indicative of my room for improvement.
Congratulations again, Antoine. And Happy Belated Birthday.
P.S. Feel free to hit me up on email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or aim: tha illness (I know. The name is sick.)
*Better players than me still make mistakes or have an incomplete knowledge of all the possibilities in the game. For example, in the Finals, Antoine had to ask the judge if I was able to play a land while Arrogant Wurm was on the stack after a Careful Study.
**Honestly, how many of you, having tried to pass the turn with mana in your pool only to be prompted by MODO to do something with it, would decide to pass the turn and manaburn because you were taking responsibility for your mistake? Charles Mousseau says you're a liar.