I am finally home for a couple days to get things straight before Grand Prix Portland. It took this last month to really appreciate sleeping in my own bed, seeing my girlfriend, washing clothes, and getting a chance to catch up with you guys. It has been a very fun couple of weeks but I am so glad to get a chance to unwind.
I was thinking about doing my tournament report this week. I had another great tournament and my best finish yet, but I have so many things I want to talk about. Another reason to not do round by round coverage is because almost half of them are on Magicthegathering.com. Instead I want to talk about my five favorite parts about Pro Tour Amsterdam.
#5 Playing around the improbable
In round 5 I sit down against Robert van Medevoort. I do not know Robert personally, but I have seen his name around the block and know it will be a good match. I get info that he is playing Goblins, but I don’t know a single card in the deck but Punishing Fire. We shuffle up for our match and my opening hand is this:
This hand just looks insane against a Goblin deck, even if I don’t know exactly how he is attacking me. I lead with Rainforest and pass. His start astonishes me when he plays Mountain, pitches Simian Spirit Guide and plays Warren Instigator. I untap and know that his deck might have Teetering Peaks or something else, and that holding the instant removal could have its benefits. The other thing to think about is that I don’t think any card in the format will beat me except for Brute Force. I will wait a minute for you to read it.
So I kill the creature right away and tell him that I can’t let him Brute Force me. He gives me the weirdest look and untaps. I give a good chuckle when he plays Lavaclaw Reaches and Tattermunge Maniac. I untap and slam Doran onto the board. He sends in the stupid goblin and after I block plays Brute Force and Punishing Fire to finish off the Treefolk.
Now this is not the most amazing play of the tournament. What I value here is that I was able to process a card that I have not seen or tested with in years. My mind just crunched the numbers and gave me the card I have to be afraid of. This 6th sense type ability is something I have when I am playing great Magic. This made me feel very good going into the draft portions of the tournament.
PS. His turn one play game two was the Manic while I played Loam Lion. CHUMP ATTACK!
#4 Brian Kibler
I first met Brian Kibler during Pro Tour Austin. He had a great weekend there if I do remember correctly. I had a few conversations with him there and a few more the next weekend at the Grand Prix in Florida. This was a beginning to a great friendship.
The best part about Brian is that he is exactly the same as when he is on camera. He is always ready for a good night out on the town as well as countless hours of playtesting. His love for the game and for the lifestyle is something I have learned to make part of my experience at the Pro Tour. He is just good at everything when it comes to Magic.
When I got into town we all started testing at Luis’s apartment. The first day there Brian had a sweet Doran list. Well it wasn’t actually good. The idea was great, but it had many problems. He did have the most important part of technology already figured out, Loam Lion. From there I was all aboard testing the deck. When someone thought of Treefolk Harbinger I was sold; I was playing Doran. The only problem with the deck was its manabase. Kibler, Tom Ross, and I worked for almost an entire day figuring out the holes and we had a deck.
We worked on the deck for a few days and went to battle. We both were undefeated going into draft until we got paired for the first round of draft. This was a train wreck for him. He was playing the White Aggro deck with 4 Infantry Veteran. My deck was Prodigal Pyromancer, Fauna Shaman to find it, Pyroclasm, Triskelion, and more goodies to beat his archetype.
I made easy work of his deck and got to a point in game two where I was dealing him lethal damage with [card]Hornet Sting[/card]. Once I showed him the spell he didn’t look frustrated from the dominance of the match, or not from losing to me nut perfecting him two games in a row. He laughed and instantly told me I punted. I was confused for a second because the way I play Magic is concentrating on the games. Focus is important and I wasn’t even thinking about how I could have a good joke or make an impressive slow roll.
He told me that I HAVE to ask what you are at before I make that play. It was very funny once he told me the scenario of saying,” What are you at? 1? Ok, Hornet Sting you!” It would have been funny, but to find out he was sad I didn’t do that to him was just another chance to see into his psyche. Seeing first-hand how well he takes every situation with this game with that great ear to ear smile makes me know he is Hall of Fame quality and I am so glad for him for making it in. He is simply one of the best.
I also spent the Monday after the tournament hanging out with him. The guy know how to have a good time and even though he is six years older than me, he still can party circles around me. As Zach Hill would say,” The guy is just DI Gas!”
#3 Kill you with my G instant
So you already know about Hornet Sting, but I won four separate games of limited this weekend by casting a different G instant as my last spell. The second story comes from round 7 against non other than Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.
When Guillaume was winning Pro Tours and playing the best Magic in the World I was just a young fan boy. My favorite Magic player? Guillaume Wafo-Tapa. I thought Guillaume was the best thing about Magic. I watched his Pro Tour winning videos more times then my favorite movies. I took in anything I could learn from this man. I was even on the Pro Tour for about a year before I built up the courage to talk to him.
This is a foolish thing since I know that everyone on the Pro Tour are just great people and very easy to approach. For some reason I just couldn’t do it until I sat down with him at Grand Prix Columbus a couple months ago.
I was about to play him in round 7. I walked into the feature match area to see him talking with Zach Hill. I told Zach (with Guillaume standing there) that I used to idolize his play. We sat down to play and what do I do next? SPILL MY ENTIRE DECK ALL OVER THE TABLE! How embarrassing. I felt like the fan boy that he might play in round 4 of a Grand Prix, not his undefeated opponent late in a Pro Tour. I needed to refocus if I wanted to play a good match. What did I do next in our match? I played an unlimited stream of Green guys against his Blue/Black control deck. In game three he played Mind Control (trading for two of my six power guys), Doom Blade, Assassinate, and a few counterspells. I played….DUDE, DUDE, DUDE, DUDE, DUDE, DUDE. I play my first non-creature spell on the last turn of the game when he tries to kill my last guy. I also have to read the card to make sure it does what I want it to. I cast Autumn’s Veil. Sloppy wins are still wins.
The next story is from round 9 against Conley Woods. I get some great inside information before I play against Conley. Brian Kibler was passing to Conley for pack two so I get to find out that he has Overwhelming Stampede in his deck. This is some great information to have.
Deep into game one the board is a train wreck. There are multiple guys on the board with him also having the Magma Phoenix + Protean Hydra combo. I finally get to a critical mass of spells to combat his board even though he has been telegraphing Lightning Bolt. I attack with everything but a Giant Spider and he blocks thinking his Phoenix would die. I then Diminish the creature that is going to kill his Phoenix. He thinks forever and lets damage resolve.
At end of turn he asks if this will blow me out and tries to bolt his Phoenix. I respond with Giant Growth. I love this game since it was almost the opposite of a normal game. I was trying to keep his creature alive by throwing away as many cards as possible while all he wanted to do was get it in the yard. Magic is a great game.
Now that I knew he had Overrun in his deck I boarded in Fog over a bad creature for game two. The game goes long and I win the game because Fog was in my hand. When I cast the spell against him he looks a bit distraught and questions why I would Fog him. I told him I knew he had the Stampede and he questions how I knew. This is when Brian Kibler chimes in with an instant,” I told him?” He then laughs and smiles at Conley. This is yet another reason why Brian Kibler makes my top 5.
#2 Draft theory in action
Now this theory might already be out there somewhere and I have never heard of it, but I was working on a strategy of drafting when you know what the guy to your right is going to do from pick one. This also only works when there are two different ways to draft a specific color. This idea was pure theory and it is only for very specific situations so I thought I would never have a chance to try it. All of the stars aligned and I was finally able to put this theory in action.
For draft two I was sitting to Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s left. This would mean he would be passing to me for packs one and three. I knew Guillaume would have a preference to blue and probably ignore green cards. This is what he did in our first draft and knowing so much about him would help me with this pack.
Pack one was even influenced by this information. The pack was
The best card in this pack in my opinion is Pacifism. The white deck is also the most powerful draft strategy you can draft in M11. This is the deck I would want to draft given any other circumstance, but I knew I would have the chance at a decent green deck, making Triskelion a better choice. I took the artifact ready to get an abundance of green cards. This is when something strange happened. I got passed this.
The best card in this pack by far is Conundrum Sphinx. The other strange thing about this pack is that it is the sickest Blue card that costs four or less mana. Why would Guillaume pass such a powerful card. I had to do some thinking before I could make my pick. The only uncommons I could see anyone taking over Sphinx would be Fireball and Mind Control. I put Guillaume on taking the Sphinx over Fireball for signaling purposes, so he had to have taken Mind Control.
In most draft formats this type of information can be very good for getting out of the way and trying to hook the guy to your left into the same color as the guy on your right. I decided to try something different. Instead of getting out of the way, I would help Guillaume cut the color. I knew Guillaume would take the more controling spells from blue and even the bombs.
The only way this was going to work is if he gave me a great opening into another color that I could have be my dominant color and allow me to draft an aggressive deck. Blue is a great color to try this in since there are many cards that are blue and only go into aggressive decks. Guillaume would pass me all of the Cloud Elementals and Sleeps while I still would be able to pick up on my base colored cards.
Sure, enough the draft went according to plan when he passed me Cloud Elemental and every green card on this side of the draft. Pack one ended with me having multiple Garruk’s Companion’s and even an 8th pick Llanowar Elves.
Pack two found me taking 8 blue cards in a row before my first green card. With Guillaume’s help we were both able to make sure blue was wide open for the pack. I had all the blue cards my deck needed besides an Unsummon I wanted to pick up. Pack three still had an abundance of green cards for me to finish my deck with.
The strategy worked out perfectly for me. I ended up with a very impressive deck and was able to slightly weaken my most feared opponents deck. I was ready to go to battle and eventually 3-0ed the pod. The funny thing is so did Guillaume.
#1 Meeting and beating Kai
This is obviously my favorite part of this trip. When I started playing Magic, Kai Budde was the legendary myth of Magic. His name would come up from time to time and it was always about his dominance over the game. He was just the best player to play the game during his time and everyone knew it. People wanted to be like Kai and for good reason. I never thought I would get the chance to meet the man.
When I saw Kai walking around the site during registration I was a bit awestruck. I might finally get a chance to meet him. I did not even dream I would get the chance to play him in the tournament, let alone on Sunday. We had our first conversation some time during day two outside. We introduced ourselves and made some Magic small talk. This was such a great opportunity to finally meet the game’s biggest legend.
The great part about this meeting is that he is in fact one the game’s best. His approach to the game and how he carries himself is impressive. He was so laid back and easy to talk to it was unbelievable. Just with a few small conversations that day I was able to learn so much about him. I was yet again a fanboy. A fanboy about to face Kai in the top 8.
After all the procedural things where taken care of, Ben Stark, Tom Ross, and I went to find food before testing. We found a great steak place and talked theory about the match. Ben was the only person who has seen Kai play Magic so I learned as much about how he plays from him.
After that we got about 6-8 hours of testing in before I was back at the site for the top 8. An hour before game time Kai came outside to chat. We ended up talking theory about our match and he even talked about things he learned about in testing. He only spent a few hours testing and was on the same page I was. I knew I was facing a master when I came into this knowledge. Kai was very friendly and seemed to be so happy playing Magic on the big stage again. I was in a different boat.
Last time I was on the big stage of a Pro Tour Top 8, the lights were too much. The draft did not go my way and I did not draft to my full potential. After I had a bad draft I was against one of the most powerful decks at the table. Once I was down a game I went into a state of fear. This fear was not about losing, but of looking stupid on the main stage. I kind of broke down and was looking for an excuse to give up. I lost the quarterfinal match and my tournament was over. I told myself I would never allow this to happen ever again. I had to take all fear out of my game when playing at that level. I just didn’t know my next chance would be against Kai Budde.
I sat down against Kai ready to battle. I knew the matchup was in his favor, but only slightly. I also had the die roll so the chances of pulling off a 2-1 lead was possible. This just did not happen. Game one went long with his deck doing what it does best. The matchup is very interesting.
White Weenie has two advantages in the matchup. The deck is better in the early and late game. This means that Doran either has to come out to fast or win in the middle game. If the game goes deep his deck has way more powerful spells off the top. It is also very hard to deal with a [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] on turn one.
I ended up going in the hole two games to none. This was when I could have broken down and given up. I almost did just that. Then a little voice in the back of my head told me I was going to win it. I knew the deck was stacked against me but I had to win this match. It would get me to level eight and a good chance at player of the year.
Game three was the first game my deck did what it was supposed to and I quickly got a win. Now it was time to win back to back games on the draw. Kai’s hand in game four was a bit sketchy if he didn’t draw some spells and that’s exactly what happened. He started off with a [card]Figure of Destiny[/card] but didn’t have any other guys to go with it. He just turned it into a really big 9/9 holding back my guys. When I topdecked [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] to stop him from killing me I got my chance at game 5.
We shuffled up and resolved mulligans. He had to go to 6 while my opener was
We then got paused so they could have both the Kibler/Jacob game 5 and ours on camera. As I was walking around Kai did not look happy. He then told me he didn’t have the Lynx and I started to think this could be real. The game started and my draw easily overpowered his. I ended up coming back from 0-2 to win the match. It was my biggest match ever against the best player ever. It is and probably will go down as my favorite match of Magic. Well, unless I win a PT down the road…