Pro Tour San Diego didn’t play out exactly the way I had planned, at least not for myself. Anyone that looked at the standings should have continued scrolling down towards the bottom of the page; eventually my name will come into sight. That’s right; I’m way down there at the bottom. Even though my performance in the main event was quite dreary, the overall experience down in San Diego was as warm as a midsummer’s night.
Everyone who had stayed in the Bay Area after Grand Prix Oakland headed down to San Diego; this included Gerry Thompson, Gabe Walls, Paulo VDdR, Luis, Ben Stark (BenS), Jeff Huang (Fob), Josh Utter-Leyton (Wrapter), Brad Nelson (FFfreak), Cory Baumeister, Tom Raney, Tom Ross (The Boss), myself, and some guys from North Dakota (sorry I forgot your names; Burdles will suffice). Most of us were flying down except for Wrapter who was driving down with FFfreak, Tom Raney, The Boss, and the Burdles in tow. I wasn’t in the mood for an eight-hour drive down to San Diego which is why I opted for a one-hour flight.
When I got to the airport (SFO), I found that it was much more crowded than normal. That was okay though since I had planned ahead and arrived earlier than I needed to. Fob was waiting there for me as he had arrived about ten minutes earlier than I. We both went to check in at a kiosk, but had to get into another line because of some problems. Fob was obviously disgruntled (more than normally) and violently kicked his luggage in front of him as the line advanced (luckily, not as violently as he kicks a bike). At one point, he kicked his bag so hard that it struck an old woman in the back. He apologized profusely as the woman turned around and said, “It’s okay son; I’m sure you meant to do it anyways”¦”
The line was long and slow. Eventually we got to the front and I got to talk to one of the service representatives. The check-in kiosk has put me onto a later flight and I hadn’t been able to fix it. When I told the lady what had happened, she snarled back at me:
Me: “Hello, something happened during the check-in process. The computer said that I had been put onto a later flight. I’m supposed to be on Flight 650.”
Rep: “The computer says you aren’t on Flight 650. What did you do when you checked in?”
Me: “I entered my flight info, but something went wrong and I got put onto a different flight.”
Rep: “You should have talked to a service rep when something happened. The flight is full. I don’t think I’ll be able to get you onto your flight.”
Me: “I did talk to someone. They told me to see you. Here we are. What can you do to fix it?
Rep: “Hold on. Here’s your ticket. Be careful next time.”
After that ordeal, Fob and I passed through the security check-in and got to our gate. I hadn’t had time to have my morning coffee so I stopped my Starbucks to pick up my pick-me-up. Luis and Gabe arrived later on shortly before we were able to board the plane. I was stuck away from the three of them and missed out on the cube draft that they did on the flight; luckily it was only an hour long.
San Diego has been the best venue for tournaments that I’ve ever been to. I’ve visited the city four times for Nationals/Pro Tours and have always returned more impressed than I had previously been. The weather is the best I’ve experienced; that’s saying a lot being from the Bay Area with its vast array of micro-climates. Downtown San Diego offers a range of cuisines so diverse, you’d be convinced that nothing is missing. The nightlife is energetic and flashy, just like the scenery; it’s as pleasant as the weather.
We got off the plane and were greeted by the sun, a beacon of warm experiences to come. After arranging for a taxi, we made our way to the hotel which was about two blocks from the site (San Diego Convention Center). It was lunchtime and I knew exactly where to go: Tin Fish. At this restaurant just across from the convention center in the Gaslamp District exists some of the best fish tacos that I’ve had. They offer a wide range of fish from the traditional cod to salmon, swordfish, halibut, and crab. After devouring a few swordfish tacos accompanied with some fries, we headed back to the hotel to check in and continue playtesting.
We had been playtesting for a while, but hadn’t come to many conclusions. Jund was still good as was Vampires. We were looking for a good [card jace the mindsculptor]Jace[/card] deck, but hadn’t been happy with Grixis or U/W/r. The Boss had been playing with a Naya deck for a while and Gabe was impressed with it when battling against it. We had scrapped most of the other decks to focus on the Naya deck, but there was still a lot of work to be done. We were still working on a few slots in the maindeck and some in the sideboard when time ran out.
We went to the player registration/party but were disappointed. The recent player dinners had been excellent. However, the downside to San Diego was that it’s expensive. It didn’t seem like there was much of the budget left to have a good spread ready for the players. A handful of grapes later, I was heading back to the registration line where the rest of the group had been waiting. I managed to meet up with them when they were in the front of the line. Mise!
Gerry had gone to play in the LCQ which was Sealed instead of Standard for some reason. He was X-0 before we left to find a place to eat and do more brewing with the deck. Eventually we settled for The Spaghetti Factory. I usually don’t like eating there because I’ve never been impressed by the food. This time I had to make a concession because of the lack of places that would accommodate a party of eight Magic players squatting seats for a few hours. The wait was an hour, but there was a lounge above the restaurant where we could relax and chat. The appetizers that people ordered were tiny and expensive which was the opposite of what the restaurant itself was like.
After dinner I parted ways with the group. I went back to the room to sleep while they went to the site to draft and do other stuff. They came back eventually; we talked through sideboarding plans and went to sleep. That night was one of the worst I’ve had in while. It seemed like someone had left a chainsaw on or two people were singing an opera in tandem because the snoring was so loud. Additionally, I had forgotten to bring ear plugs for the trip and was subject to broken sleep throughout the night. I woke up to find Gerry walking into the room. I didn’t know what time it was and asked him how the LCQ went. I found out that he’d lost in the last round playing for the slot.
I woke up a few hours later at 7:30 AM. I wasn’t fully rested but couldn’t do much to solve that problem. After rousing my friends, we made our way to the site. I found a Starbucks inside the convention center and shelled out $2.75 for some black coffee. The tournament got began with the player meeting followed by five rounds of Standard and three rounds of Worldwake draft. I played the Naya deck that we’d been working on.
The list was the same that Luis decided to run except that I had a Dauntless Escort in place of the Elspeth, Knight Errant in the maindeck and two [card]Great Sable Stag[/card]s in place of the two Baneslayer Angels in the sideboard.
Round 1: Taisuke Ishii [JPN]: White Weenie.
Game 1: I keep Noble Hierarch, Oblivion Ring, 2 Bloodbraid Elf, Forest, and 2 Misty Rainforest on the draw. He played Brave the Elements in response to my Oblivion Ring which made me remove my second Noble Hierarch. Then he played an Elspeth and beat me down. I never drew a red source to cast my hand.
Game 2: I played Bloodbraid Elf, Wild Nacatl, and Knight of the Reliquary to beat him down along with Ajani Vengeant and Lightning Bolt to remove his Steppe Lynx and Knight of the White Orchid. Partway through the game, he revealed a Martial Coup while shuffling.
Game 3: This game went long. I killed his Steppe Lynx with Lightning Bolt and he played Ranger of Eos which got two Soul Wardens. I didn’t have a Dauntless Escort to protect from a Day of Judgment/Martial Coup so I had to sandbag my threats. The Soul Wardens gained a bunch of life and finally died when he had to play Martial Coup for five. Time was called before I could use Sejiri Steppe to let my 17/17 Scute Mob deal him lethal.
Round 2: Michael Jacob [USA]: Naya.
Game 2: He played a Cunning Sparkmage to kill my Noble Hierarch, but I had a Cunning Sparkmage of my own to kill his. I killed off his Noble Hierarch the turn afterwards and took control of the game with a Knight of the Reliquary and Bloodbraid Elf.
Round 3: Nikola Vavra [CZE]: White Weenie.
Game 1: I used Lightning Bolt to kill of his Steppe Lynx which gave me enough time to find a Behemoth Sledge with Stoneforge Mystic and strap it onto Ranger of Eos; the Wild Nacatl and Scute Mob finished the job.
Game 2: I mulliganed to five and was never able to get into the game.
Game 3: I took a lot of damage early from a Steppe Lynx with Honor the Pure, but stabilized with Basilisk Collar, Cunning Sparkmage, and Knight of the Reliquary. An Emeria Angel threatened to finish me off when he used it in combination with a fetchland to make a few tokens, but the Basilisk Collar gained enough life in combat with the help of a Ranger of Eos and Wild Nacatl. I was able to win with a Sejiri Steppe later on.
Round 4: Patrick Chapin [USA]: UW Control.
Game 1: I beat down with some creatures before getting wrathed. The game went long and he played an Iona, Shield of Emeria. However, I was able to attack through it for the win.
Game 2: I played a Great Sable Stag and started attacking with it and a manland before the Stag got killed by a Day of Judgment. My manlands were destroyed with Tectonic Edges and he was able to stabilize at one life. I never resolved any threats and he killed me with a Celestial Colonnade.
Game 3: We were short on time and agreed to finish the match. My draw was awkward because I had Wild Nacatl and Stirring Wildwood in hand along with Plains and Mountain. I played another Nacatl but get wrathed by Day of Judgment before it could attack twice. The Stirring Wildwood got in another hit before it got destroyed by Tectonic Edge. I got him down to two life before he was able to stabilize and start using Jace, the Mind Sculptor. He played a Baneslayer Angel and killed me with it the turn before being able to use Jace’s ultimate ability.
Round 5: Sebastien Roulot [FRA]: Vampires.
Game 1: He played a Vampire Hexmage and Vampire Hexmage in consecutive turns. I would have been able to deal with them except that he played a Vampire Nocturnus the turn afterwards. The Nocturnus revealed a Tendrils of Corruption which allowed him to fly over the blocks that I had arranged the turn before. I had Behemoth Sledge and could have played two ways depending on whether he would reveal another black card. I decided to gamble and play in a fashion that would leave me dead to a black card but much further ahead on the board than otherwise. He revealed a black card, used the Tendrils to kill my Birds of Paradise, and killed me.
Game 2: This game was the same as the first one. He played some Nighthawks and a Nocturnus. I didn’t have a Path to Exile or Oblivion Ring to kill it and got killed in the air before I could stabilize and take control of the game.
I was very unhappy with how the Standard rounds had played out and was looking forward to the draft. I knew that I had to 3-0 the draft to make day two. I was comfortable with Worldwake draft despite only having played in less than a dozen drafts.
Draft Pod 1:
Marcel Angelo Zafra [CAN]
Matthew Boccio [USA]
Jarg Unfried [DEU]
Philip Yam [USA]
David Ochoa [USA]
Philippe Pham [FRA]
Taisuke Ishii [JPN]
Lucas Siow [USA]
The pod was more difficult than I had hoped for. I was expecting a bunch of PTQ winners which wasn’t quite the case. I knew a few people (Lucas and Phil) were better than the average Joe. I started with a Plated Geopede over Welkin Tern and Living Tsunami but quickly realized that red was being cut when I saw Surrakar Marauder and Welkin Tern pick three. Plated Geopede had been taken from that pack as well. I dipped into black with the Marauder and then blue for a Welkin Tern fourth knowing that blue wouldn’t be the best color to be in for pack two. However, I wasn’t seeing green or white which left Blue as the only other choice. I stuck with black as my base and was rewarded for the remaining picks. Here’s what I ended up with:
Round 6: Matthew Boccio [USA]: Green/White.
At this point I knew that I was out of the tournament. I couldn’t make day two but wanted to play more because winning the last two rounds would be better than ending the day on a loss.
Round 7: Marcel Angelo Zafra [CAN]: Green/Black
I didn’t play very well in these games. The day had caught up with me; as a result, I made a few mistakes in the match which cost me game one. After losing I dropped.
At this point I went around watching my friends and chat. Most of them were doing better than I which wasn’t very hard. I hadn’t received a beating this bad in a while. However, I didn’t let it get the best of me (well, maybe it did). After watching the side events for a bit, I went out to dinner with Gerry and MJ (Michael Jacob) back at Tin Fish. I had to run back the double fish taco platter again; the swordfish from earlier had been too good to not have for a second time. This time, it was accompanied by 32 oz of Fat Tire Ale. The beer took me a while to finish, but I managed
I found out that Luis was 8-0. I wanted to play in a team draft before heading back to the hotel, but it was too late for Luis. He decided to bird it before heading back to sleep. In the end, it ended up being Wrapter, Gatormage, and me against TomM, and more Floridians. I started in Blue/White and got a Hedron Crab midway through pack one. I opened Archive Trap pack two and got two more Hedron Crabs as well as two Trapmaker’s Snares. Needless to say, my deck led me to a quick 3-0/6-0 with two Windrider Eels watching the action from my sideboard. After the draft was over, we headed back to the Marriot to sleep.
Saturday was a lazy day for me. I hadn’t planned much prior to leaving because I had planned to be playing in the Pro Tour. I wasn’t too excited about the Side Events and had decided to be more social. I went to get some coffee from Starbucks before going inside the site (priorities are important) and birding matches. We had also planned to eat at a Brazilian Steakhouse that I had found in the area for dinner. As a result, I had to skimp on what I had been planning to eat for the day.
Partway through the day, Marshall Fine and I went out to get lunch at Dick’s Last Resort. They serve American-style food there. I had gone there before the last time the Pro Tour had visited San Diego and had been impressed. After having some crab cakes with fries and watching some Olympic curling matches, we headed back to the site. Luis was still X-0 with a few rounds to play before being a lock for top 8. I decided to go watch some more side event matches that my friends were playing in. Some of the Florida guys needed a sixth for a draft and managed to wrangle me into it. I ended up with a sick red/white deck with Basilisk Collar. Although I did lose a game in this draft, I still 3-0’d with ease. After gaming the rares, I came out with nothing.
The convention center staff had set up some tables for food in the middle of the room. However, they hadn’t brought out anything else besides serving utensils which led to a lot of speculation as to what they would be serving. There were plastic plates and forks as well as serving knives for pies, small ladles for dressings/sauces, and covered heating dishes. After a while we discovered that a dessert would be served. There were two kinds of sweet breads: pound cake and short cake. There were also various toppings including sweetened strawberries, sweetened mixed berries, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream.
The convention center staff successfully held off the ravenous Magic players for a while until an announcement was made from the Side Events booth that anyone could enjoy the food. At that moment a horde of people surrounded the three immaculate tables of delicious confections. The scene was like a flock of Pigeons in a city park being fed by a person with bread. After finding out that Luis was a lock for top 8, we decided to change the dinner plans at Rei Do Gado (the Brazilian Steakhouse) to Sunday. The change of plans was convenient because there was still dessert left over. I walked towards the tables and joined the rest of the rats with wings.
After the Pro Tour had finished the Swiss rounds, Luis was on top at 16-0 which was pretty amazing. We went out to dinner at Lou & Mickey’s, a fantastic restaurant across the street from Nobu and Tin Fish. I had also been there in a previous trip and knew that it was an excellent place to eat, although a bit more expensive than most places. The dinner was lavish; I had chicken piccata with lemon and capers along with a side of spinach with garlic. After we were all finished, we headed back to the site to test for the top 8. A few hours later (around 1 AM), we were satisfied with our results and headed back to get to sleep.
I had planned on playing in the 3K Super Draft which meant that I had to get there early because it was limited to 128 people and was a fairly popular event. Most people who played on the Pro Tour wouldn’t have much to do on Sunday which increased the demand even further. I got to the site just before 8 AM and found a line of twenty people waiting in front of me which wasn’t that bad. After signing up, I had to trek a few blocks to a different Starbucks because the closer one was closed. I returned to find that the event had filled up and was ready to start.
FFfreak and Alex West were in the pod with me. The packs got handed out and I asked FFfreak which pack I should open first. The fate of my draft rested on his decision. He wanted to switch packs but I denied him. As it turns out he opened Marsh Casualties. However, I opened Vampire Nighthawk. Pick two was between Marsh Flats and Kazandu Blademaster. The Blademaster was a trap. If I ended up black/white, Marsh Flats is better. I was more inclined to play Nighthawk which would make Marsh Flats better if I stayed in black. From that point, I dabbled in white for a few Kor Skyfishers. The deck ended up being quite good, although a bit slow.
Draft Deck #1:
I was able to easily go 3-0 with the deck despite throwing a game in round two. twice. The fourth round was odd. I got a bye. So many people had dropped from the pod and I had already played everyone else that remained. Fate had changed her view of me; I was on a rebound. I had the highest tiebreakers going into the second draft and was in a great position to top 8. I don’t remember exactly how the picks went in the second draft, but this was the deck that I ended up with:
Draft Deck #2:
The matches in the second draft were more interesting than the first. The first round was close. I was paired against a mono-green deck and barely won. Game one he mulliganed to five; that game wasn’t close. Game two he played Bestial Menace and was close to killing me. I had to make a choice in combat where I could win if I drew a land on the following turn or block more conservatively. I played it safe, but drew the land. I was still ready to win the game, but he had Nature’s Claim to destroy his Hedron Scrabbler and gain life. Game three involved me setting up Goblin Shortcutter followed by Smoldering Spires and Brave the Elements to prevent him from blocking.
I was convinced to draw in the second round but forgot about the way that 128-person tournaments play out. Generally, X-0-2 made it into top 8. However, tournaments with 128 people are different. Assuming that no draws happened, there would be four people at 5-0 and twenty people at 4-1 at the start of round six. If the 5-0’s drew rounds six and seven, then there would be five people from the 4-1 bracket that end up at 6-1. That meant that one of the 5-0-2 people would come in ninth and miss. I knew about that fact, but forgot about it at the time. I drew round six, but played for fun. I won, turned in the results slip, and quickly remembered the math. However, it was too late.
I knew that some people had dropped in the early rounds at X-1. That gave me a glimmer of hope that the number of X-1 people would be able to accommodate a draw in round seven. When the standings were put up, I found that to not be the case. Pairings went up and I went to my match. I had been paired up against the only 6-0. I asked if he wanted to concede after explaining to him that he was a lock for top even with a loss. He said that he wouldn’t concede for free, but would if I gave him 25% of what I won. Sirens went off in my head. I had to unfortunately call a judge because my opponent tried to bribe me.
I wasn’t happy about calling a judge because I wanted to battle; my deck was good. However, it was the right thing to do and I had to protect myself. I couldn’t carry on the conversation that my opponent had been trying to have with me any further. I would rather have had the situation not happen at all, but it did. We got split up and interviewed. My opponent got disqualified. This wasn’t the way I wanted to make top 8, but it’s what I was dealt.
The top 8 draft started and my draft turned into a train wreck. I took Burst Lightning, Kor Skyfisher, and Steppe Lynx first. I saw that red was being cut and drafted accordingly. I planned for a heavy-white deck and picked up two Brave the Elements. I figured that I would get enough red and white in pack two along with white in pack three to have a deck similar to the one I had in the second pod. However, pack two played out much differently. Both red and white were much shallower than I had expected. I opened Conqueror’s Pledge but received very little support after that. Pack three was the same. I opened Apex Hawks and got passed Chain Reaction and Perimeter Captain. However, the rest of my picks were very mediocre and defensive which was the opposite of what pack one had been. In the end, my card pool was a mix of offensive and defensive cards.
I figured that I’d have to build my deck to be able to mise wins out of nowhere. This is what I came up with:
Top 8 Draft:
My top 8 match played out like I had planned. The match went to three games. Both of our decks weren’t that good. As a result, the games were long with a moderately high number of decisions made. I managed to win after using various mise-cards as leverage. After the first round was done, the top four arranged for a prize split ($750 each). The split wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Morgan Chang. Thanks a lot Morgan!
After the necessary forms had been filled out, I ran off to Rei Do Gado to meet up with Fob, Gabe, Wrapter, PV, Gabe, and The Boss who had gone there before my top 8 match had started. I hadn’t eaten anything all day except for the coffee in the morning and had been anticipating gorging myself on the sixteen kinds of succulent meats they had roasting on skewers. When I got there, I found that the group had finished eating and was about ready to head back to the site! Such is life. I had a literal bite of cheesecake before heading out. I went back to the room to clean up before going back to the site. The site was closing up and my friends didn’t have enough time to finish the cube draft that had started; they went back to the Marriot to finish up. I went back to the room to sleep.
We took a taxi back to the airport in the morning. We didn’t have any trouble with checking in, but ran into some at the security checkpoint. As it turned out, boxes of cards look very suspicious. Luis, Fob, and I were pulled to the side for an additional screening. After ten minutes, we were back on our way to the gate where we talked with Bard_Taliesin for a while before flying back to the Bay Area. The actual Pro Tour had been a disaster for me. Besides that, I had an incredible time and was thrilled about the next time that I’d see all the friends that I have at Grand Prix Houston in April.