“Did you catch the definition of scription-fiction?” whispered Heather as she shifted from her seat next to me in the lecture hall and glanced in my direction. I nodded in acknowledgement as I looked down at my notepad and scrounged through a combination of notes about Lacan and half completed decklists as the professor continued to move through her lecture in the background. Scription-fiction scription-fiction… where are you? The elusive term finally catches my eye when I notice I had written down “3x scription fiction” instead of “3x Natural Order” in my Threshold decklist. Heh.
“It’s the machinery of the narrative… the title and epigraph” I whispered back. I received a muffled “thanks” and returned to writing Legacy decklists. I wouldn’t normally be cramming Magic into my school hours but it was Friday and I didn’t know what I was going to play. I had been testing Legacy in my sparse free time and still wasn’t sure which deck I liked. The entire format was a big mystery. Sure I expected Goblins Dreadstill Ad Nauseam and Threshold to be the major decks to beat at the Grand Prix but it had been ridiculously hard to get consistent percentages against any three of the major four decks and still be able to beat the swarm of anything and everything in Legacy which lurked right behind. I looked down at the half-complete four color fish decklist I was working on and wondered how its plan would match up against those four decks. It’s probably good against threshold and okay as most decks with Counterbalance and Force of Will are against Ad Nauseam but Goblins is probably difficult to –
My thought was interrupted by the unzipping of bags and the sound of books closing. I snapped out of my theory-induced daze and began to follow suit; class was ending.
“Have fun this weekend!” said Heather with a perfectly shaped smile spread across her face.
I coyly smiled back with the kind of grin you only get when you know something the other person doesn’t. I sure hoped I was going to have fun; it was going to be nice to get out to a GP and game after a few weeks of focusing on my studies. I glanced over at the clock… I didn’t have the time or boldness today to explain exactly what I was doing even though I suspected she already knew from the all-too-easy Googling of my name. “Thanks! You too! I hope you and your boyfriend have a lot of fun this weekend.” I turned around and calmly darted out of class making sure that I had enough time to make my rapidly approaching flight.
I sat down in the airplane and prepared myself for the four and a half hour flight at hand. Distressingly there wasn’t a single other Magic player I recognized on board: a first in six years of traveling to tournaments. I really wanted to deckbuild and get in some practice games against myself at the least but there was no way I was going to be able to deftly maneuver my hands let alone play a game of Magic shoved into the middle of the row. I popped in a piece of gum and my mind slowly began to drift back through the past two months…
It all began at the end of Grand Prix: Los Angeles. I placed 13th with Alex West’s phenomenal build of Faeries and locked up a slot at Honolulu along with three pro points. I decided then that if there was chance for me to make a serious run at the pro level of Magic this year was my best opportunity. I wasn’t qualified for Kyoto but with Grand Prix: Seattle a 20 minutes drive from where I live tentative plans to go to Grand Prix: Boston and now at least one guaranteed Pro Tour attendance for a total of at bare minimum five pro points I could aim to hit Level 2 before Nationals and hopefully Level 3 before the end of the year. I looked through the list of Grand Prix tournaments to see what other events I could make it to and confidently booked a flight to Chicago.
Unfortunately my testing hadn’t resulted in the same confidence. Legacy was a mostly foreign environment and learning about all of the decks was not a quick process. I had gone from one deck to the next seldom finding one which felt like it was anywhere near a good choice for the Grand Prix. I tested Ad Nauseam for a long time but I knew Counterbalance we going to be a gigantic portion of the Grand Prix (especially since I was coming in with three byes) and I could not get the numbers against Counterbalance decks that I wanted no matter how much disruption I sideboard or played maindeck. The resolution of Counterbalance was particularly terrible for you because you need to resolve 0 1 and usually 2 casting cost spells to win the game and so even a blind Counterbalance was a problem. If you tried to Mystical Tutor into a Wipe Away or Krosan Grip it gave them even more time to find answers to you. After that I dedicated myself to figuring out the best Counterbalance deck since I was sure Tendrils of Agony decks and Counterbalance decks were the best two strategies.
Finding the best Counterbalance deck proved even more frustrating than trying to beat Counterbalance with Ad Nauseam. The versions of Threshold I had especially the Alix Hatsfield version with Progenitus seemed pretty good but more in the “this-is-the-stock-deck-you-need-to-be-able-to-beat” sense than the “this-deck-is-the-best-deck-to-play” sense. Finally a week and a half before the Grand Prix I began to tinker around with It’s The Fear an Intuition based control deck and thought it was both pretty good and something I could play and do well with. I hadn’t been able to play and refine it as much as I’d like but my worries about refining the strategy were mostly quelled when Gerry Thompson piloted an It’s The Fear variant made by Luis Scott-Vargas - exactly the kind of thing I was looking for - in a side event at Pro Tour: Kyoto the week before.
I was leaning toward It’s The Fear but I still wanted to test some other ideas. I wonder if…
“Excuse me” interrupted a female voice. I opened my eyes to see that my trip into the think tank had been interrupted by a stewardess. “Are you three together?”
The slightest hint of a smirk crept to the corners of my mouth as I recalled that there was an African American teenage girl to my left and an elderly Asian man to my right. Still she was only doing her job. We could have theoretically been adopted or something. I shook my head no.
“There’s an entire open row in the back if any of you want to spread out” she noted while looking directly at me as if she knew I could use some breathing room. I immediately unbuckled my seat. I think I put the stewardess into a state of shock by how fast I took up her offer grabbed my messenger bag and thanked the stewardess on my way into the back. I sat next to the window turned on my iTouch and then pulled out the box of Legacy staples kindly lent to me by Max McCall. It was time to go into mad scientist mode.
I wanted to build a fish list with Counterbalance and Top. I had really liked how a version of fish build by David Gearhart (aptly titled “Major Fluffy the Furry Fury of the Seven Seas”) was performing in my playtesting and aimed to model my version after his. The Cold-Eye Selkies in his version were blowouts with any equipment but were sometimes a little slow and required you to play a bunch of equipment you didn’t really want to play to make them good. I built a few versions of the deck drew hands and played some games against standard openings from opponents in my head. By the time the plane landed I had a maindeck I really liked and felt was a strong competitor. I even had a very original name for it: Plane Brew.
“We are now about to make our final descent into Chicago” the voice rang over the intercom. “Please stow all portable electronic devices and put your seat backs and tray tables into their upright and locked position.” I frowned. Hopefully I’d be able to get some more testing and theorizing in once I arrived at the site.
The bumpy landing quickly turned into a smooth taxi towards the gate. I turned on my cell phone and checked the time: 7:41pm. I walked through the unfamiliar O’Hare Airport and called All Star Cab a cab company which had the absurdly low flat rate of $30 from the airport to the hotel which was located almost a half an hour away. I stepped outside and checked the time again: 7:47pm. A few minutes passed. 7:51pm. 7:55pm. 8:01pm. I began to pace back and forth both due to impatience and to avoid the abundance of secondhand smoke. I looked down at the time again. 8:09pm. 8:16 PM. 8:22pm… Just as I considered calling the cab company again to see if they had actually dispatched a cab for me I heard a startling honk in front of me and looked up into the window of All Star cab number 64. I was finally on my way to the event.
I burst through the doors of the convention hall and took in a gasp of the oddly refreshing musty gamer air. Ah home sweet home. The hotel/convention center was absolute gigantic but I didn’t have time to marvel at it right now; I immediately made a beeline to registration and then looked around for anybody I knew. I quickly stumbled upon Brett Piazza and Conley Woods testing Conley’s B/G/w midrange deck with Progenitus versus a stock list of threshold in the back of the room.
“Can I get in some games with one of you?” I inquired. “I built a new deck on the plane here that I want to try out.” Conley quickly took me up on the offer. “My deck is pretty sweet” I added while shuffling up. “It has Dark Confidant.”
I quickly 3-0’d Conley’s deck despite being stuck on one land for three turns the first game and dropping to one life versus Conley’s 20+ with a Dark Confidant in play in the third. Maybe my deck was good enough to play in the Grand Prix after all.
Conley and Brett left in a quest for dinner and so I once again wandered around looking for people I knew. Fortunately I ran into just the two-man combination I was looking for: Steve Sadin and Alex West. They were huddled in the hallway just outside the convention hall and intensely looking at a torn and crumpled piece of paper as though it was some sacred document. That paper could only be one thing: a decklist. I hoped it was one obtained from sifting through LSV’s trash…
“This deck is awesome” said Steve as he showed us his U/W control decklist. It was a U/W Landstill deck without Standstill but with an Enlightened Tutor engine and Counterbalance-Top. It looked kind of slow.
“How much testing have you done with this deck Steve?” I asked.
“Not a lot recently but it was really good when Zvi played it a year and a half ago.” A year and a half ago? That’s awfully reassuring… I glanced at Alex as if to look for his opinion.
“I’ve only played a few games with it” began Alex. “I’m convinced so far.” We quickly got into a discussion about card selections and what could be changed. There was a single Standstill which seemed completely unnecessary and we were bickering about what it should be.
As we stood there we began to magnetically attract a few other friends and comrades to our little discussion. Christian Calcano came over and after deciding to play Steve’s deck asked “do you have any Wastelands?”
“Look I’m not just made of Wastelands” replied Steve in a ridiculous tone only he was capable of producing.
Joel Popick was the next to wander over and fall into the deck’s captivating grasp. “Do you have any extra Moats?” he asked.
“Look I’m not just made of Moats” replied Steve in the same ridiculous tone as before.
Joel mumbled something about having to buy Moats and walked off. I remembered I still needed two for the deck and on a whim jokingly called after him “buy some for me too.”
To my surprise he replied. “Sure just give them back after the tournament. I’m going to resell them.”
Was he serious? How lucky! “I guess Joel is made of Moats” I whispered. We all laughed at my terrible joke for absolutely no good reason then Alex and I headed up to a room so we could try and rummage through cards together to build two copies of Sadin’s deck.
“Are you sure this deck is good?” I asked Alex on the way upstairs. “It looks kind of counter to what I’ve learned about the format.”
Alex shrugged. “It seems good. Besides do you have any better ideas?”
I thought back to the fish deck I had just been testing. “Well… not really. Something just feels wrong about playing this deck. I always get these gut feelings about things and they’re almost always right. Right now my gut is telling me playing this deck is a mistake.”
Alex gave me a take-it-or-leave-it look and shrugged again. “It’s probably just because you haven’t tested the deck and feel unprepared. I’m the same way don’t worry. I’m sure it will get better after playing some games.” I checked the time: 10:18. We needed to build two copies of this deck fast so we could start testing and get to bed at a reasonable hour. I watched as the perfectly reflective silver elevator doors closed behind us and we headed to the room.
I looked down at my plate full of breakfast foods. Some pineapple and some strawberries a banana a piece of toast a bowl of cereal yogurt and a mini-Danish. Some Magic player I had never talked to in my life looks at me and says “that looks way too healthy.”
For no apparent reason I immediately reply in an off-the-cuff fashion by saying “story of my life.” That doesn’t even make sense…
My attention quickly moved elsewhere. Today was going to be a long day of grinding out games which meant I needed a strong breakfast. Steve’s U/W control had done very well against Team America and Threshold in playtesting the night before while being about 50/50 with Goblins so I had settled in on playing it. After devouring my so-called “healthy” food I went to the tournament hall and met up with a group of players playing our deck so we could finalize our decks.
The final half hour before the Grand Prix passed by in a flurry of last minute decisions and changes revolving around the last spots in the sideboard which occurred in a blur akin to a movie montage…
I wanted more cards for Goblins. Steve says we’d have to cut dredge hate. I claim Goblins will be more popular than Dredge. Steve checks my opinion with Gerry Thompson. Gerry agrees but lets me know I’m being tricked into playing a bad deck. I begin to realize that I’m starting to agree with Gerry but it’s too late for me to do anything about it. I start to get depressed about my deck. I snap back to reality when they announce registration is closing. Steve says we should add Tivadar’s Crusade. I don’t want such a narrow card and would rather play Hydroblast. Alex wants to play a Warmth. I would rather have Hydroblast. I begin to cut dredge hate for Hydroblasts. Steve tells me again that they should be Tivadar’s Crusade. I don’t feel like a narrow one mana less Wrath of God is what I want and add in Hydroblast anyway. I question Pulse of the Fields. Steve says they’re important against Affinity. I ask why we don’t have an Energy Flux. Steve says it’s unnecessary but we can cut a Pulse for it if we need to. I ask why one Pulse instead of a card we can tutor up since that will make a one of more relevant. Steve tells me that’s not how Magic works. Sam Black high fives Steve. I add in a Back to Basics. Everyone agrees that Back to Basics is bad. I cross out Back to Basics. I cut a fourth Hydroblast for a second Pulse. I cut Threads of Disloyalty for a second Pulse. The judges put up seatings. Jake Van Lunen asks me if he should cut a Wrath for a copy of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. I tell him that it seems good but without any testing I’m not sure. I stare at my decklist and wonder if I should make that change. The judges announce 1228 players. I realize I won a game of over-under I made back in Seattle. I should have put money on that bet. I realize that I have more important things to think about. I decide to not cut a Wrath. I quickly scribble “A Scandal in Bohemia” on my decksheet because it sounds like a good name for a Legacy deck. The judge collects my list and I receive the same feeling I always do when the judge takes my decklist: my fate is sealed.
I get up and immediately seek out Alex. It was time to finish building our decks. Through efforts on the part of Chris Jobin Paul Nicolo Matt Hague and Mat Marr Alex and I end up with complete decks by the start of round 2. I spent a few minutes hanging out with my Monday Night Magic cohost Tom and then retreat upstairs to spend the rest of our pre-bye time in Steve’s room to discuss sideboarding strategy with Steve and Alex.
By the time I arrive Steve and Alex already have most of a sideboarding guide written up. We quickly run down the list of matchups.
“Most of your matchups are pretty self explanatory” explains Steve. “You just play the control deck. The most important thing in most of your beatdown matchups is to protect a Moat –”
“Or Humility” Alex chimed in.
“Right” continued Steve. “Humility is better than Moat against Goblins and against Survival they have no way to beat Humility.”
“Don’t they have Krosan Grip?” I asked.
“Nah just Harmonic Slivers and creatures like that.”
“Are you sure? It seems like a card they would still sideboard to be able to split second Counterbalance.”
“I’m positive. Humility is all you need against them. Oh although it’s probably important to know you can’t win if you have Humility and Moat in play.”
“Can’t you Seal of Cleansing your own Humility and crack in for 10 with Dragons?”
Steve gave me a “get real” look and continued. “Anyway in any Standstill matchup don’t crack their Standstill unless you are getting very low on life or the position is obviously precarious. You are a better Standstill deck than they are because you not only have Factories and Wastelands but you also have Eternal Dragon to hit all of your land drops and thin your deck.”
“It means exactly what it says” said Steve. “It’s impossible to win that matchup now.”
“Alright. I’d rather be prepared against Goblins anyway. By the way how good is Moat against Threshold? I wasn’t sure if it was very good or not last night.”
“Game 1 it’s pretty good” said Steve. “After boarding they’re going to have Krosan Grip so don’t fall into a situation where you lose to Grip.”
“Threshold might also have Trygon Predator maindeck so make sure you can counter that if you need to” added Alex.
“I guess you can float Aura of Silence with Counterbalance in that matchup and hold your Countermagic.” I looked down the sideboard plan and noted that Aura of Silence almost always came in for Seal of Cleansing. “Why isn’t this Aura of Silence maindeck over Seal of Cleansing anyway?” Ironically an aura of silence filled the room.
“Yeah Aura of Silence is probably just better” said Steve. Great. We haven’t even started playing yet and we’ve already found a mistake made in our deckbuilding. “Here let me call Zvi and he can look over our sideboarding plans” offered Steve to break the awkward silence.
After a long conversation with Zvi Steve let us know the exciting conclusion: “Zvi says we can sideboard out one Wasteland in any matchup where we aren’t going to be fighting them on mana.” Alex only had two byes so we headed down just as round 2 ended. I spent round 3 sleeving my deck and watching Mat Marr play some games on the side and then finally it was time for me to start playing. Where’s Alex? I wonder how he did. On the other hand maybe it is better if I don’t know…
Round 4 began with a string of mulligans for my opponent. He went down to five cards missed his second land drop cast a Brainstorm and then did nothing until he conceded to my assembled Counterbalance Top Wasteland and Crucible. The game wasn’t remotely close but the problem I wasn’t exactly sure as to what he was playing. Some kind of beatdown deck no doubt. I brought in Humility Aura of Silence Moat and the Explosives.
Game 2 began much better for him. He landed an Aether Vial followed by Dark Confidant Jotun Grunt a Meddling Mage on Swords to Plowshares and another Dark Confidant. I sucked up a ton of damage and fooled around with my Top while I ensured the Grunt died keeping my Force to make sure I resolved Humility. Sure enough I went for Humility on turn 4 he forced it and I forced back resolving Humility and turning his army of Invitational superstars into piddly 1/1s. I untapped cast Counterbalance and held back my Mishra’s Factory to block. He played an Engineered Explosives for two which would kill my Counterbalance along with all of his creatures if he used it and passed the turn. I untapped played another Factory passed the turn and he questionably vialed in another two drop: Serra Avenger. He played an inexplicable Engineered Explosives for 0 perhaps to bluff the ability to destroy Mishra’s Factory and I simply shrugged. He ended his turn I looked at my top three cards with ‘Top glanced at my hand full of Countermagic and knew I was in for the long haul. I won when he conceded approximately 20 turns later after time was called and I demonstrated that I was in fact competent enough to not let any of his Static Orbs resolve and to trim his herd of creatures with Wraths to ensure he wasn’t going to overwhelm me.
We handed a judge our slip and now that our match was over Noah Swartz who had been watching my match painfully waiting for it to end eagerly begins to talk.
“A guy tried to steal a bag from Ben Wienburg during his match and the judge James Eliot tackled him to the ground then knocked him out cold” said Noah. The attempted burgling of Ben’s bag soon became the most hotly discussed topic of the round as no less than four other people came up to me and began to tell me some variation of the story. In some versions of the story James just grabbed the robber in others he put the robber in a headlock and choked the air out of him and in a third he had jumped over a table with a match in progress to catch the guy.
It was a good story no doubt but I was curious what actually happened and looked for Ben to see if he knew. Before I could find him I heard “Round 5 pairings have been posted” over the loudspeaker and promptly found my seat.
I recognized my opponent Jason Imperiale from the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Montreal. I remember that he played G/W in the Top 8 of that GP and recall that he placed second in a east coast PTQ with Dredge made memorable by the fact he had sideboard Bitterblossoms. I kept his accomplishments in mind as the match began just in case they proved useful. I kept a strong hand with Counterbalance and Top and he mulliganed down to four on the play and didn’t think very long about any of his hands. I quickly assembled Counterbalance-Top as he did nothing. I figured he was just going to concede as soon as he had to discard and didn’t play anything not commonly seen in Threshold. As I expected he conceded as soon as his hand had eight cards.
His mulliganing and past history inclined me to put him on dredge so I sideboarded in Explosives Relic Moat and Humility. I was correct and game 2 he had over half his deck dredged by the end of turn 2. My correctness wasn’t going to help me win; this game wasn’t even close. The one major decision I made was to make him play the game out by electing not to concede to his Cabal Therapy and allowing him to see my true strategy. In return for seeing my information I saw more of his dredges and noted that he flipped four Pithing Needles but zero bounce effects. I feigned resideboarding but he didn’t resideboard for game 3. If I could land a Moat I was probably good.
My opening hand game 3 was a Swords Moat Top Relic a Flooded Strand and two Wastelands. I figured he would keep a hand with Needle to match my hate but that was okay by me because it bought me a turn towards Moat. I played turn 1 Relic and he sure enough had the Needle. He played it off a turn 1 Cephalid Coliseum and I didn’t feel like he would be willingly exposing his Coliseum meaning his hand either had two or it was his only land. I followed up with a Wasteland on his Coliseum and he had no more lands and altered his plan to holding 8 cards and discarding. I built up to Moat mana and cast it he futilely attacked me a few times with 1/1 fliers and I eventually cast a Dragon and killed him.
I checked in with Alex and he was 4-1. I looked for Ben again so I could hear his account of the backpack story but failed at finding him before round 6 pairings were put up.
My sixth round opponent was playing Merfolk. After I plowed his first creature he cast a Standstill with a Mutavault in play no doubt thinking he had the advantage. I Wastelanded his Mutavault played a Factory the next turn which shortly ran into an opposing Wasteland then began to trump his strategy with Eternal Dragon. He stopped hitting land drops and I played a Factory so he saw that he needed to break his own Standstill. Success! He spat his hand of merfolk onto the table and I took the opportunity to Enlightened Tutor for a Moat. I cast Moat with Force backup and there was nothing he could do. I eventually killed him with Eternal Dragon several turns later.
In game 2 he began with the much more problematic AEther Vial while I answered with my own overpowered one casting cost artifact. I began to craft my hand as he opened with a strong start and quickly knocked down over half my life. He Forced my Swords on his Lord of Atlantis and with no cards in his hand to my open four mana he resolved a Standstill. This was my window of opportunity as long as he didn’t draw countermagic off the Standstill so I went for Enlightened Tutor into Moat. I missed my land drop and hoped he didn’t draw the Daze laying my Moat onto the table.
“Resolves” he said reluctantly. I spent the next three turns setting up Counterbalance-Top and looked to be in a good position. I had another Enlightened Tutor in my hand all I needed to do was search for Humility and I would lock the match up. All I needed was Humility. Humility Humility Humility…
“End of your turn Echoing Truth your Moat” came a voice from across the table. Aha I had the tutor to counter it. What a perfect opportunity! This way I could counter a spell and still do what I was going to do anyway. I cast Enlightened Tutor and confidently found my Humility put it on top of my library with a grin and looked up… then realized that he had cast Echoing Truth. A spell which cost two. A spell which if resolved would lose me the game. And I had just searched my library for a card which cost four. The crowd my game had drawn looked absolutely flabbergasted.
“Well that was pretty dumb.” I announced. “In fact that was probably by far the worst play I can ever remember making… well ever.” I looked down at my hand. A Crucible a Force of Will and a Counterspell. I used one of my four available mana to activate ‘Top and look for a two drop or a Blue card. No good. I sighed and cracked a fetchland shuffling away the Humility I had searched for. I activated ‘Top again. Three lands. A swing and a miss. Then I realized my second blunder: I should have just cast Counterspell instead of Topping twice. I maintained my composure and removed Counterspell to Force of Will with two Blue mana untapped hoping he wouldn’t Force it back.
He thought for a second and I hoped that he wouldn’t call my bluff if he indeed had the Force. “Resolves” he said. He untapped and then to continue the display of our Magical prowess at the 5-0 table cast Standstill played AEther Vial and said go.
“I’ll draw three cards” I said as he is dumbfounded by what just happened. I untapped found a two with my ‘Top in the fresh three cards floated it for the rest of the game and eventually won with Eternal Dragon just before time ran out.
I finally managed to track down Ben and ask exactly what had happened with the bag incident. “James definitely tackled the thief” he told me. “At least I’m 6-0 now. What’s your record?”
“Well Moat is 3-0 so far” I said with a slight chuckle and a smile. The unmistakable rumble of the PA system kicked up signaling an impending announcement about pairings. Sure enough “Players pairings for round 7 have now been posted” echoed throughout the room.
My round 7 opponent was playing UGr threshold. Game 1 he played a turn 1 Mongoose and I matched his Mongoose with a turn 1 Explosives for one. As soon as I let go of the Explosives I remembered the dangerous enchantment which lurked in Threshold and regretted my play. To punish my mistake he followed his Mongoose up with a Counterbalance the next turn. I attempted a Counterbalance of my own but found it countered by a Tarmogoyf on top of his library. He played the Tarmogoyf and shipped the turn with a Blue up. I went for a second Counterbalance but found it countered by a Wearbear and then tried to play a ‘Top which he had a Brainstorm into reveal Ponder to counter. He Ponders and casts a Wearbear and I cast Moat.
He casts Brainstorm in response and stacks Fire/Ice on top. He reveals it and I hesitate remembering something about it not working that way. He said “it’s just like Dark Confidant” and I quell the dispute in my mind by agreeing and putting Moat into the graveyard. He plays a cantrip hits threshold casts a Trygon Predator and I untap find nothing and concede.
I considered bringing in the Blasts but I imagine he’s going to take out his Lightning Bolts and will more commonly be Icing my lands than Firing me if he even leaves them in. The only card he could have which Max McCall had warned me about was Price of Progress but I didn’t want to bring in the Blasts just for those.
I lead off this game with a ‘Top he Forces and I Force back removing another Force. I opt not to play a turn 2 Counterbalance in case he has Daze and pass the turn. He plays Tarmogoyf and I cycle a Dragon then untap and play Counterbalance. He plays a Trygon Predator which I untap and Plow away. He Krosan Grips my Counterbalance on his next turn and bashes for a bundle with ‘Goyf before casting a Mongoose. I draw another Plow and aim it at his ‘Goyf but he reloads with another Mongoose and a Counterbalance of his own. I cast Brainstorm so that I can go one card deeper with ‘Top but he flips for his Counterbalance and counters it with a Brainstorm of his own. He hits thresh and bashes for 6. I untap and play Moat but when he nonchalantly tells me it resolves I know something’s up. He untaps and casts Price of Progress killing me.
I catch up with Paul Nicolo to see how he’s doing. “5-2” he replies. “You?”
I shake my head. “Lost my last one. I misplayed my Engineered Explosives game 1 and then he always had the right card for his Counterbalance. Tarmogoyf for Counterbalance Brainstorm for ‘Top then he had Brainstorm to stack Fire/Ice for my Moat – “
“That doesn’t work” interrupted Paul. “Fire/Ice only counters two casting cost spells off of Counterbalance.”
“I knew it!” I exclaimed immediately realizing that I sounded like a rules victim who was trying to cover their lack of knowledge by claiming they allegedly knew the ruling they lost to even though they didn’t call a judge on it. Man I sounded like a buffoon. I always ranked that claim up there with the people who say that they “knew you had it” even though they walked right into your game-ending card anyway. I wanted to get something to eat at the concession stand but before I could round 7 pairings were being put up.
It was me versus Mike Jacob this round. We had last faced down in a feature match on Day 2 of Grand Prix: Los Angeles where he was playing G/B Loam and I was playing Faeries. As we sat down I joked that I was waiting for the feature match announcement to come over the loudspeaker.
“You think that highly of me?” quipped Jacob which was directly followed by a booming announcement throughout the room: “the feature match for round 7 is table 41 Michael Jacob versus Gavin Verhey.”
“See?” I said with an equally goofy and confused grin.
I was starving and my mental energy had been drained from four nearly consecutive try-and-grind-out-a-win matches of Magic in an unfamiliar format. I was quickly dismantled by Mike in two games that were more or less a joke. He had triple Survival in his opening hand the first game and the second had the Krosan Grips that Steve had assured me the deck wouldn’t be bringing in. My stomach growled. The “good news” was at least I could finally eat some food.
“I’d like a Caesar salad and two bottles of water please.” The girl behind the counter gave me a strange look.
“You’re buying one of the first salads we’ve sold all day” she let me know.
“Well I need to eat something which will put me in the zone and help me focus.”
“And you’re using a salad to pump you up? Isn’t a salad a little too healthy for that?” I sighed and opted not to reply with “story of my life.”
“No thank you” I said.
I found an open table and sat down. Okay time to focus and relax. You didn’t come all this way to 6-0 0-3. I put my iPod earbuds in my ears and flicked through my music. Missy Higgins… no too soft. J Minus… No too romantic. Lesley Roy… Perfect. I updated the MTGCast twitter feed with my status and ate my salad at the wonderfully serene table. I saw people starting to move towards the pairing board and got up. It was time to win this thing.
In the final round I was once again up against merfolk. The game began with an Aether Vial on his end followed up by a Force of Will on my Sensei’s Divining Top. He played a land and passed the turn and I followed suit. The Vial heralded a Cursecatcher at the end of my turn and he Wastelanded me attacked and passed on his. I Enlightened Tutored for ‘Top with the land he targeted. I had wanted to save it to find Moat but I was going to need to hit the rest of my land drops to get that far and I only had one more land. My ‘Top resolved and he Vialed a Silvergill Adept into play at the end of my turn. He cast another Cursecatcher and then a Standstill which sadly resolved then attacked and vialed in a Merrow Reejerey which I broke the Standstill to Plow away. I played a land and he cast a Lord of Atlantis and attacked with his team of Adept and Cursecatcher then Vialed in another Reejerey. I had a Plow for the Lord but a ‘Top activation yielded nothing useful and I died soon thereafter from the gilled beatdown of his creatures and Mutavaults.
The second game I mulliganed to six and Moat was in my opening hand so I kept. On my first two turns I played lands while he played a Vial off of a Mutavault on his first turn. On his second turn he Wastelanded me and then Vialed in Cursecatcher at the end of my turn followed by Wastelanding me a second time and a Lord of Atlantis off the Vial. I Brainstormed and found a ‘Top while he attacked and played a Standstill. I played a third land and cracked my fetchland to find a Tundra since I needed both colors and presumed he wouldn’t have another Wasteland. I used the Tundra to Plow his Lord and break the Standstill but he replaced it with a fresh Merrow Reejerey off the Vial and then played a third Wasteland and knocked off my Tundra. I found a third land off my ‘Top but when no fourth land for Moat showed itself I extended my hand and congratulated my opponent on making Day 2.
I walked away from the match disappointed and went to go see how the others who played the deck had finished. None of us had made Day 2 except for Chris Lachmann. One thing was certain: I needed to drown myself in Chicago pizza with some friends. I asked around to see who would be interested in going out to dinner and Brett Piazza invited me to come along with his crew on their way out to eat pizza… until we were walking towards the car and it turns out their car only held five and I was the sixth. Even the small victory of going out to get pizza eluded me.
I returned to the event hall and found Kenny Mayer Brett Blackman Ben Wienburg and Calosso Fuentes crowded around a menu. I quickly elected to get in on their pizza-ordering and split a cheese pizza with Kenny. He called them and ordered our food then told us all the bad news.
“It’s going to take about an hour and 15 minutes to arrive.” I groaned at Kenny’s remark. I checked the time: 10:35. I wasn’t going to get dinner until almost midnight. I spent a chunk of time working with Chris Jobin on tweaking his Faeries build for the PTQ the next day then headed back towards their room when I encountered Calosso and Manuel Bucher in the chairs near the front desk.
Manuel rushed towards me with Calosso in tow. “I have a question” he said in his foreign accent. “Would you describe him as a troublemaker?” as he pointed to Calosso
“Yeah obviously” I said.
“WHAT?!” yelled Calosso at the top of his lungs causing the hotel staff and all of the patrons downstairs to stare at him as though they were trying to use their collective psychic energy to will him off the Earth.
“I rest my case” I stated. I thought about what I had said and added “but he is a very handsome troublemaker” prompting a chuckle from both of them. “However Manuel you have the superior scarf.”
Manuel raised his eyebrow in confusion. I couldn’t just use any description; I had to put it in terms we could mutually understand. I pointed to Calosso’s black and pink scarf. “That scarf is kind of like attacking with a Mogg Fanatic” I explained. I moved my finger from Calosso’s scarf towards Manuel’s beautiful navy blue and beige scarf. “This scarf is more like setting up a Gifts Ungiven pile that includes Azami Lady of Scrolls.”
Manuel beamed although the look of confusion was still present on his face. “This is a strange thing describing scarves as Magic actions…” I could see the gears beginning to move in his brain about the possibilities of what I had just brought to his attention. Manuel is undoubtedly going to be breaking the scarf format later in the year.
After leaving Manuel with something to ponder I finally headed to Kenny’s room and waited with everybody else for the pizza to arrive and learned that Kenny was horribly sick. Great I was splitting my pizza with a sick guy.
After losing a few rounds of the Resounding Silence game a knock at the door heralded the hallowed pizza. It was difficult to handle and there was way too much cheese but at least it was sustenance.
Brett left the room to share his spaghetti with a girl he had met and Calosso had headed back down to the lobby. With the room finally quiet Ben asked “So what are you going to do tomorrow?”
“I dunno” I said. “Probably go into Chicago and see the city. I never get to actually see the cities I travel to because I’m too busy playing and can’t stay afterwards because of my classes.”
“Yeah that’s probably a good idea” Ben said.
The pounding rain thumped across the windows of the hotel’s restaurant; the clouds obscured the morning sun. I took a sip from my fresh glass of orange juice and sighed. The weather was horrible and it was either a $50 cab ride into Chicago or an hour train ride each way. So much for that plan. It looked like another few hours in the convention hall was in my future. I finished breakfast and headed to the tournament site with the mission of getting cards back from everybody I had lent them to.
I received back the cards I had lent out and returned ones I had borrowed and then suddenly found myself stuck. I didn’t feel like drafting didn’t play Vintage already had three byes for GP: Seattle and couldn’t PTQ so all of the side events were out for me. Instead I just lingered around and cheered on my friends and teammates from the sidelines while people constantly came up to me and asked me how I was doing in the GP. After I told them I 0-3’d my last three rounds to not make Day 2 they would ask me how I was doing in the PTQ. Awkward.
Surprisingly less awkward tons of people I had never met who liked my column and/or Monday Night Magic introduced themselves and we talked about what was on their mind. Everybody kept asking if I was going to write a report about Grand Prix: Chicago. “Maybe” I continually replied. “It depends on if I can figure out how to make an article about 6 rounds of Magic interesting.”
I walked into the lecture hall as my black bookbag pressed into the shoulder where my Ultra Pro bag had casually hung just a day before. Bleh I hated the Monday after a tournament weekend. It always reeked of the unfortunate return to reality. Then again reality does have its bonuses…
I found where Heather was seated amidst the growing sea of students and climbed up the blue carpeted stairs until I came to the row she was sitting in. I took my usual seat next to her and stowed my bag under the seat.
“Hey! How was your weekend?” she asked.
Everything ran through my mind: flying to Chicago talking with friends I only get to see every once in a while switching to a new deck less than 24 hour before the event being told I eat too healthy not once but twice starting out 6-0 ending up 6-3 talking about scarves using Magic terms splitting a Chicago style pizza…
I glanced over at the clock on the right side of the classroom… Two minutes until class. Maybe another day. I shoved my thoughts away and put on my best smile.
“Not too bad. How about yours?”
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online Lesurgo everywhere else