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According to Webster – What Really Happens at Nationals

Ah yes, Nationals; where stars are born, championed crowned, and names taken. Needless to say, all that glory was happening while I was busy signing up for side events. Let’s just say that my tournament didn’t go according to plan. While my actual tournament wasn’t as epic as Gindy’s (because, he like won and stuff), my trip was still memorable; so much that I’d wager my tale is comparable to any other.

The Mansion

The story begins a few weeks before the tournament when I get a call from Luis:

Luis: “Hey. What are you doing?”

Me: “Drafting.”

Luis: “So Gerry says a friend of his has a mansion that we can stay at for Nats.”

Me: “A mansion eh? Sweet! Not having to deal with a hotel seems nice.”

Luis: “Yea. It’ll be you, me, Gerry, Penick, Michael Jacob, Chapin, Gindy, and Steve Sadin staying there.”

As we later found out, the mansion was too far from the site to travel to and from each day that we’d have to get a hotel anyways. The site hotel still had a few rooms available for the tournament rate, though they only had one room with a king bed.

Up to this point, we’d been talking about what to play. There was an Elves list that MJ had been working with for a while and showed lots of promise. Chapin had a Five-Color Cascade deck while Gerry was looking at a more traditional version that had plays before turn three. Gindy was working with a GW deck that he’d been having success with online. A large part of our brewing would be made moot once Australia, Japan, and Spain finished their Nationals the week prior to ours and establish a metagame. When the dust settled, we had found our “secret” elf deck wasn’t as much of a secret anymore. Having first dibs on a format has its benefits. It was back to the drawing board for us.

Travel day arrived earlier than expected. I had thought we still had an additional week to screw around, but apparently not. We were leaving especially early for a domestic tournament (the Monday before) so we could brew a sweet deck with our mansion think tank. I was meeting up with Luis at the Kansas City airport where someone from the group would come and pick us up (hopefully). All I had was an address and a phone number. I had no idea how far away the place was and wasn’t looking forward to finding out it’d be a thirty minute cab ride.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of traveling through the great halls of the Kansas City international airport, let me share a bit of advice: pack a lunch. When I arrived there at the late hour of 8 PM, I found nothing open. That’s right, not even the unwavering lights of Newsbeat were on to save me. I just wanted a candy bar or some chips to maintain my girlish figure. Ticketing counters and TSA security checkpoints were empty. There was not a soul there save the one gate disembarking. The airport was as desolate as Tacoma during the Grand Prix. Despite the displeasure voiced ever-so-loudly by my stomach, I had other business to deal with.

I had scheduled my flight to arrive shortly before Luis’ so I could meet up with him. Unfortunately, my plane in Denver had been delayed from taking off for some unimportant reason. After everything was said and done, I had to rush across terminals in the rain via shuttle after taking ten minutes to find the one person on shift to tell me that I’m an idiot and that Delta lands in Terminal C, not Terminal A. Thanks for not having signs! However, being the incredibly resourceful person that I am, everything worked itself out and I was able to meet up with Luis right after he landed.

Steve Sadin and Gerry came to pick us up, and thankfully so. The ride actually would have been thirty minutes. We were obviously hungry and decided to stop at some place on the way back. There were a few promising malls laden with eateries of all kinds. We thought we were set. I was looking forward to The Cheesecake Factory or some local steakhouse. Of course, we must continue the theme of nothing going according to plan. The freeway exit that was right next to where we wanted to go actually went in the opposite direction and we had to loop back; five free way exits, two interchanges, and twenty minutes later, we were where we wanted to be. By the way, it’s 10:03 PM. Did I mention that everywhere closes at 10 PM. FML. Dejected, we had no choice but to go to Wendy’s and eat in the car. The raining darkness outside mirrored my displeasure, but I didn’t care. I just wanted food.

Up until this point, much of the trip wasn’t going according to plan. That all changed when we got to where we were staying. Our host, Eric Knight, had an incredible place that almost matched his hospitality. The first thing I saw when I walked in was Chapin, MJ, and Eric’s friend Danny in the den along with this GIANT bean-bag chair. Seriously, this thing was seven feet in diameter and would be a source of much entertainment later on as bets were taken on whether Chapin could jump from one couch onto it without hitting the ground (some seven to eight feet); that topic is still being debated.

The mansion had lots of rooms (gee, go figure), three floors, and a few pets. There was an awesome Pomeranian named Moose and an evil cat that would hiss and claw at everyone except Eric. I think there was only a truce because Eric was the one who fed her. Moose followed the saying that every dog is the best dog on earth. Gerry had apparently been playing fetch with him for hours during playtesting with a squeaky octopus toy that was irresistible; despite our best attempts to throw the toy as far away as possible into the most hidden areas of the mansion, Moose would come back with the octopus in his mouth, squeaking, demanding more attention.

One of the more appetizing prospects of the trip was the barbeque with Kansas City being one of the barbeque capitols of the country and all. We were set to go to this place (which I found later was a chain) called Jack’s Stack. I can say for sure that I was quite satisfied. While the actual barbequed meats were delicious (everything from Prime beef ribs, pork ribs, burnt ends, sausage, and chicken), what I found to be the best were the side dishes. The cheesy corn bake was recommended and it delivered. However, the pinnacle of the meal was the baked beans; they were with certainty the best I have ever had. The smoky sweetness of molasses, assorted secret spices, seasoned salts, and burnt ends mixed in with the slowly-cooked beans made for a divine combination. Throughout the trip, we went to Jack’s Stack three times. At the end, I would just get two sides of baked beans with my meal instead of the other nonsense. Seasonal vegetables? NO SIR! The beans were just that good.

We finally got down to testing, though our thoughts about the format changed almost hourly. Elves was the first deck we looked at, though after losing constantly to traditional 5-CC and not having a good plan for the mirror we abandoned it for alternatives. Luis was busy brewing a quad-laser Time Warp Faeries deck while Steve and Gerry were working on traditional 5-CC. Chapin was pretty much set on playing his cascade 5-cc deck and wanted to test only with that which was fine for him. The postboard games were heavily in favor of Cascade versus traditional 5-CC, but preboard was the opposite; that kind of situation wasn’t appealing for a time-consuming matchup in a tournament where people are less experienced, and thus were going to play slower than when compared to a Pro Tour. MJ was hammering out Elves, but moved to exploring a Jund deck which is where I eventually followed. I had been in the middle, playing against whomever with whatever while not really liking anything.

Partway through the testing our last wayward friend, John Penick, arrived at the mansion (although he seemed to be quite ill). As quiet as ever, he sat down on a nice reclining chair and fell into a deep sleep in an attempt to lose his illness in his dreams. Twenty-four hours of sleep later his state had only gotten worse. Gerry, Steve, and I went on a trip to a clinic “ten minutes away” for some enzymes. One hour and seventy dollars later, Penick had his Cool-Aid drink mix but found out they had given him the wrong type. Another trip had to be made to get the replacements, though I didn’t rebuy on that little adventure. Sadly, Penick didn’t get better and ended up not playing in Nationals which is lucky for a lot of us because he certainly would have crushed.

It was time to head to Kansas City and the site hotel. We were joined later by Josh Utter-Leyton (Wrapter) and Steve Edelson. We tested more with the remaining time that we had. I ended up playing the Jund deck that MJ brewed up. He was pretty happy playing with it.

Maindeck:

Jund

The card certain to raise the most questions is Master of the Wild Hunt; it replaced Garruk Wildspeaker because it was harder to kill and proved more useful against cards the deck had problems against, namely Cloudgoat Ranger. Faeries and Elves were favorable matchups. Five-Color control seemed like it was about even, though their cards are generally better than yours. Thoughtseize, Great Sable Stag, Putrid Leech, and Sign in Blood are very good against them. Kithkin was a tough matchup, but we didn’t expect as much of that with the popularity of Elves and 5-CC. Mono-red was also a very hard matchup to beat.

The Tournament

As far as my tournament rounds are concerned, I don’t remember them in detail. I can’t recall whether my opponent won the die roll, took a mulligan, or led off with Vivid Marsh instead of Vivid Meadow. For the first four Standard rounds I played against Faeries, 5-CC, Jund, and Faeries, losing only to the Jund player when he out-tempoed me in game one with triple Lightning Bolt and game three with four Anathemancer triggers. That’s just the way it goes. I gave the deck to my longtime friend Eric Mixon to play in the PTQ. He started 5-0, but sadly got paired against mono-red two rounds in a row and didn’t make it. He said he liked the list a lot. I was content with a 3-1 start and looking forward to the draft.

When comparing formats, I’ll take almost any drafting format to a constructed format; mainly because testing a limited format is different than constructed. Drafting doesn’t require you to metagame or rigorously test decks against each other to formulate the best method of playing a matchup due to the common game scenarios that occur. Drafting exposes a person to more unique board situations and requires a different skill set which is what appeals to me.

My first deck was good though I ended up going 1-2 with it, winning only in the last round against the person that ended up 0-3. I opened up Sarkan Vol and solidified myself in big-mana Jund after getting Drumhunter and Jund Charm sixth from Paul Reitzl. I opened Wall of Reverence, Path to Exile, and Wild Leotau in Conflux, taking the Wall because I had a Naya Panorama and Bant Panorama. Wild Leotau was on-color but Wall of Reverence was a better card. Alara Reborn delivered some sweet cards like Dragon Broodmother third and Slave of Bolas. Overall, my deck ended needing a few filler cards despite reading the pod correctly. Both of my losses were frustrating. Even though I had a good amount of mana-fixing, drawing too many lands and not drawing black mana cost me a few games. Despite the very lackluster start at 4-3, it was still possible to Top 8 if I rattled off seven wins in a row. I was looking forward to drafting again. I had the fire.

The site hotel was quite large and had a few restaurants inside it. We opted for a sports bar. Chapin, Little Darwin (Paul Reitzl), Tom Martell, Heezy, Matt Sperling, and Brian Kibler were already in there and a few drinks ahead of us. They had been busy setting lines on various questions like how much Sheldon Menery can bench press; if you took the over on 274.5, you’d have won some money. Next time you want to appeal a judge call from him, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Needless to say, the topics made for much entertainment. The times we had at the sports bar were actually insane, though the food paled in comparison. I’d never had bad pizza until then. I wasn’t ready to pay for the terrible food so opted into the credit card game. At least there’s some justice left in the world as I didn’t “win”. Steve Edelson graciously paid for the food. Thanks Steve!

There was some side-betting going on an adjacent table with Cedric Phillips and some of his friends. At one point, a slice of pizza was thrown across the room. It didn’t miss my table and we were obviously displeased. I felt obliged to get up to sort out our assailant. I wasn’t in the best of moods and having to deal with someone acting like a child would have been an easy excuse to act rashly. I told him how I felt and he promptly left and came back later to apologize which was quite mature of him.

During the weekend, there was also a huge jewelry convention. There were some 4,500 cougars prowling around ready for the club. They were wandering all around the hotel in packs. They were coming in and out of the sports bar in droves. One group gave special attention to the other table. It was a site to say the least.

Day two came around and with it a new draft. I could redeem myself in my eyes. I almost missed the start of the draft because of the terrible acoustics in the hall. The draft started quite well. I took Oblivion Ring, Agony Warp, Sanctum Gargoyle, and Akrasan Squire in that order, getting a second Akrasan Squire seventh. I thought I was golden. However, there was too much Esper passing through me. Each pack had three playable cards which sent bad signals to the people passing to me in Conflux. As expected, it didn’t see any Esper cards from that point. Furthermore, Esper was nonexistent in Alara Reborn. I had to shift into a Bant deck with terrible mana. The Metallurgeon, Sanctum Gargoyle, and other Esper cards I picked up earlier ended up being much worse than expected. I lost round one and decided to drop at that point. My deck wasn’t good enough to win two more rounds with certainty.

So that was my Nationals for 2009. The tournament was a terrible outing; certainly the worst I’ve ever had with drafting. The trip wasn’t over yet though and I was determined to salvage what I could. There were two side events that I was looking at: the Magic Online Live Series and the sanctioned Vintage (Black Lotus/Mox Jet for 1st/2nd) event on Sunday. I would have loved to win the MOLS. again. However, getting into one of the last two qualifier queues would be more difficult than it was at Honolulu because a raffle was used to determine the participants. Sadly my name wasn’t chosen for either of the two queues and I was left with playing Vintage.

There was a sanctioned Vintage satellite tournament on Saturday for the main tournament on Sunday. The winner on Saturday would get free entry and a round one bye on Sunday in addition to ten dual lands. A whooping thirteen people showed up for the Saturday tournament. I decided to play a Tezzeret list similar to Jimmy McCarthy’s from the ICBM open in Chicago from the previous weekend. After a few changes and several rounds later, I find myself in the finals. I was offered a split on the dual lands, but I wanted to battle for everything. I ended up losing to the BUG fish deck, buy hey, I got six Shards draft sets! Sure the matchup was technically unfavorable, but I’d give myself odds against any random person.

Some of the people from New York (Phil Napoli, Gerrard Fabiano, Lan Ho, and Osyp) brought a sweet game with them called Catchphrase that was drawing much attention during the day. It was so much fun. It’s a handheld electronic gizmo that shows a word seen by only one person on a team. There are two teams with three or four players. The other people on the team have to guess the word that the one person describes with specific set of restrictions in what can and can’t be said. There’s a timer on the device. One of the methods of playing is like hot potato. Catchphrase was so popular that a Facebook group was set up and a tournament scheduled to be played during GP: Boston. Tom Martell, Cedric Phillips, Matt Sperling, and I were unstoppable until bested by the New Yorkers. I’ll get you next time Steve Sadin (shakes fist at the sky)!!!

Luis and Gerry wanted to play in the Vintage on Sunday also and were brewing up a sweet Tezzeret list with [card]Dark Confidant[/card] that sideboarded into [card]Oath of Druids[/card] against difficult aggro matchups. I had fallen asleep on the floor before they had finished their brewing. Ultimately, Gerry ended up not being able to play and went to do some other stuff. The attendance for the Vintage was dismal. I was expecting about fifty people because the prize was good and the tournament format was Swiss plus Top 8 instead of Swiss +1. Only twenty-two people showed up. Luis and I met in the finals and split which was “convenient”. In the Swiss I lost to 5-C Stax and won against UGW Fish, Painter, and Ichorid. In the Top 8, I beat another Time Vault control deck and Ichorid. This is what I ended up playing:

Tezzeret Control:

The deck was quite solid and performed well for me all day. Several slots were decided on because the tournament was non-proxy. Fire/Ice and Sower of Temptation might have been something else such as Gorilla Shaman, Red Elemental Blast, and/or another draw spell like Night’s Whisper had proxies been allowed.

Now that it was Monday, Luis and I had but a few hours to tackle our last objective: Arthur Bryant’s. It is considered one of the best barbeque establishments in existence. As we were riding in the taxi, I thought about what the place would look like. Most restaurants named after someone are upscale, at least the ones I’ve seen. Suddenly the taxi driver says, “We’re here”. I looked around and see nothing but an industrialized area that could be from any declining city in America. Across the street was an old brick building with “Arthur Bryant’s” in faded paint. The sight was actually more promising than if it had been anything else. It had the feeling of pure authenticity.

Inside, the walls are covered with news clippings, magazine articles, awards, and photos dating back to the 1920’s. The menu is simple and elegant: sandwiches, meat by the pound, and sides. Behind a plexiglass window where the employees are working non-stop slicing the various barbequed meats there’s a giant brick kiln. Inside the kiln, whole briskets can be seen smoking ever so slowly. I couldn’t wait any longer. True to their reputation, Arthur Bryant’s delivered the most delicious barbeque I’ve ever had. The pulled pork was by far the best.

Most people have an idea of what a sandwich is. Arthur Bryant’s strays away from the common stereotype and embrace a purer form: one slice of white bread, barbeque sauce, a heaping stack of meat, more barbeque sauce, and a final slice of white bread. Throw some sliced pickles in along with some fries, wrap it in some butcher paper, and you’ve got yourself some lunch to-go. After everything is said and done, you are presented with a four-inch-thick “sandwich”.

Having finished one of the better lunches I’ve ever had, Luis and I went back to the hotel and go our separate ways. Lan Ho wanted to interview him for a video he’s filming so I carpooled back to the airport with Sam Stein and Adam Yurchick. After harassing the taxi driver for trying to charge us more than the flat rate he said he was giving us initially, we split up.

That’s it. My story is over. The trip was really awesome. Some people may question why? I performed terribly at Nationals. Sure, I split the Vintage side tournament which equates to about $500 for me. That alone doesn’t even cover the plane ticket plus hotel let alone the food costs. The times made everything worth it; they bind people together. Actually, as I wrote this out just now, Paul Cheon messaged me on AIM from the exile island of Curacao asking for a shout out after I told him I was writing my article for this week. Here’s to you buddy. If it hadn’t been for these events, we’d have never met.

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