Dispatching the French had settled me. You can find Part 1 here. There couldn’t be many teams of that quality and our boys had left them riven with internecine tensions, tilting over from the ropes to the canvas. Nine points in the safe. Now for the hard-looking malchicks from beyond the Curtain, beyond the Wall. Except my opposite number, Russian Federation Champion 0012 Vladimir Mishustin, was wearing a pair of pink plushy rabbit ears, a disconcerting kind of half-Playboy outfit on a bearded man. These foibles are often a sign of a player whose mind is only half on the game and half on cultivating a certain kind of image – I should know, with the armless vests and the spinning cap.
Team Rounds 2: Russian Federation, Vladimir Mishustin Dredge
So he’s playing Dredge, which seems great for me since I’m also playing a pretty straightforward drag-car of a deck but Storm feels more streamlined, with tutor effects and card selectivity. He’s all in on the opening hand, which fortunately for me is not a great one in game 1. He calls Force of Will on a turn 1 Cabal Therapy, misses. I Thoughtseize his only creature so he can’t flashback and pop Ad Nauseam from 18 life and draw down to 4, hitting 0 Tendrils or Tutors. That’s fine – I’ve got a handful of Ponder effects to get deeper in, I’ll doubtless get to something relevant. About five Ponders, Preordains and Brainstorms, one fetchland activation and a Thoughtseize later, I’m passing the turn at a single life point. He does some things, gets an Ichorid in the bin, passes the turn to me… and I miss again. Fizzling of that magnitude is not characteristically what the deck does. I’m optimistic for the next game.
He’s severely limited on sideboard options, since I’m not exactly packing hate for his deck and he can’t reliably find cards that are good against me. Game two almost exactly the same turn of events come to pass. This time I’ve learned my lesson – after a huge Ad NauseamI pass the turn back with plentiful on-board mana, a hand full of card drawing and fetches to burn. Eventually I find the tutor and slay him.
The final game is something of a non-event as I generate enormous amounts of mana, despite having double Cabal Ritual Cabal Therapy’d out of my hand (The Patriarch undoubtedly spinning in his grave) and blow him to pieces with the recursion of Ill-Gotten Gains. Lucky he never had any of those crazy Breakthrough draws where I take 300 before I lay my first Gemstone Mine. Vladimir is a great sport though, very relaxed and I strike up a couple of conversations with him later on in the tournament, dropping in all my Nadsat and bits-and-pieces vocabulary from relationships past.
Daniel Gardner Esquire is humiliating Maxim in an entirely ungentlemanly way, insulting his mother, touching his girlfriend inappropriately, kicking his dog and exiling all of his permanents. James Bond never got where he is today making fun of ungainly Russian henchmen in such a fashion. My usual disdain for this impropriety is on hold for now – another British success in the team rounds and we’re keeping the dream of a good finish alive.
Now back to the lotteria of food decisions in Japan. Having been underwhelmed by the burger of the night before, we go adventurous and find a curry outlet in the mall which feeds us wholesome, nutritious, if unspectacular, fare for a modest outlay. Having now mastered the incalculable complexity of taking the shuttle bus back to the hotel, there’s no need to fork out another twenty-five quid taxi fare. One dazzling smile from the girl manning the reception desk and all the day’s worries and trauma melt away; one swift head-on-pillow movement and consciousness goes the same way.
Day 2: Draft’o’
Draft one is seated and I’m in the same pod as Mark Dictus. Promising, since we last drafted in anger back in Brighton. Not promising since we’re both boasting a pretty weak 2-4 record after a poor day of Standard. One of those is what might be called an ‘omen’ and the other is what might be ungenerously termed a ‘material reality’.
I open on Embersmith and entirely forgo the advice of Michael Jacob on the subject of Chrome Steed (‘barely playable’), ending up with three in a black-red metalcraft deck which has a pile of mana-myrs, a sixth pick Skinrender, couple of Galvanic Blasts, and a saucy Spikeshot Elder/Necrotic Ooze combo. The Skinrender really puts the deck over the top in terms of quality and I’m hoping I can pilot it to a positive record in the low bracket.
Round 7: Jesse Inman (USA USA USA) Infect
American players spook me a bit. There’s something in the intensity that feels foreign to me, a curious sense of difference that I don’t feel with European players. Pretty odd since I’ve lived there for a while, visited many times, and felt nothing of that xenos while there. Jesse is from the Carolinas, soft Southern accent, a bit drawn and sallow. Should be working on his complexion in the sun, but I guess the stigma of having a sunburned back dies hard in the South.
Game 1: Jesse has a Contagion Engine in his deck, which he draws, casts, resolves and activates.
Game 2: Jesse has a Carnifex Demon in his deck, which he draws, casts, resolves and presumably intends to activate when he has free black mana. This error costs him dearly as I Galvanic Blast it endstep and crush him with Chrome Steeds and assorted crap guys.
Game 3: This is perhaps the stand-out game of the limited rounds for me. He floods on mana meaning I land some blows with early creatures, but he eventually stabilises with infect creatures and a mad exchange of bodies means he’s left at four life facing down my board of three men. His active Trigon of Corruption has whittled down my forces to Lilliputian dimensions but he’s run out of men, so he’s forced into a last-gasp Hail Mary Genesis Wave for five (thereby guaranteeing he won’t get Contagion Engine or Carnifex Demon). Fortunately for Jesse, he hits two lands and two warm bodies meaning he can activate Trigon and block two of my three incoming creatures. I attack with everything, he shrinks and blocks to fall to three and wipe my board to a 1/1 Palladium Myr. I tap all my mana, make Necrotic Ooze and activate its inherited Vulshok Replica ability to kill him.
At which point he calls a judge! He informs me, in somewhat heated tones, that I’ve spent all my red mana so I can’t Shok him. The judge is inexorably clanking rhythmically towards the table – I point out that I’m incapable of spending my red mana on anything since I have four mountains and two swamps in play. By the time Judgebot 2000 has arrived Jesse has had second thoughts about trying to get me a game loss, presumably concerned about the prospect of a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. He backs down, and I’ve beaten the American bombs: take note, downtrodden nations of the world.
To be fair to him, he came up to me later on and apologised for being an ass. Even introduced me to his wife. So there you go.
Round 8: Takeshi Takagi (Japan) U/W Skies
This is a kind of anonymous round, since Takeshi – an older Japanese guy with the demeanour of one of those committed career men who never see their kids and drink sake till they go blind in karaoke bars with their superiors (more on that later) – doesn’t speak much English and my Japanese doesn’t go much further than ‘Koko ga itae desu’ (although it’s uncertain that I’d learned this sentence at this point in proceedings).
First game I keep a speculative hand of two lands, three and four drops, counting on either a land or one of my four mana-myrs. I don’t see either until he’s assembled six power worth of flying fish that kill me stone dead as I try to resolve Chrome Steeds.
Second game I keep a speculative hand of five land, Chrome Steed and a three-drop. Several lands later and I’m mournfully signing the slip. His deck didn’t do anything but make slightly pricy fliers and swing with them – I knew this was a chance gone begging and the next round was going to make me wish I’d mulliganed twice. Or stalled for a 0-0.
He beckoned me over before I reached the board and said: ‘The news is bad’.
So we’re playing. It’s strange, because we’ve become good friends despite never really playing much Magic together. He puts on a stern mien when he’s playing so I copy him and meticulously announce all spells, resolution, phases, triggers, targets – strange that I feel obliged to play tighter against a friend, and I do play well.
First game I’m mana-screwed after Galvanic Blasting an early mana myr and getting beats in with Painsmith. But eventually I draw out of my slump and he’s facing five guys with not much on his side of the board but a Trigon of Thought and Tumble Magnet. Then he end-step Magnets a man, main-phases the Magnet again, and Sunblasts me into oblivion. It’s like Sunblest, except instead of dying to type 2 diabetes twenty years later you keel over straight away.
Second game, I get stuck in with Chrome Steed, Panic Spellbomb and Palladium Myr. Eventually he’s forced to Sunblast ‘just’ my two guys when he’s on 7, so I Galvanic Blast him to 3 leaving him dead to Vulshok Replica if I can find it. I play a Leaden Myr, which leads to the humorous situation of his 6/5 Axe-wielding angel staying on defence, in case the 1 point of damage Mr Myr is threatening is enough to put him within weak Galvanic Blast range. Unfortunately he draws a Sunspear Shikari before I draw multiple creatures and he gets back out of range. I make the slight misplay of Skinrendering the Angel in an attempt to break through the deadlock, when I might have been better saving it for the Shikari I’d seen in game 1.
At this point I’m in a massive trough and just want to go home. Not to Blighty – that would be insensible. Just back to the hotel and the winning smiles of the customer service representatives. Hell, walking the streets under clear blue skies and the shining sun is calling me like those funny voices in your head when you’re dying of hypothermia on the side of a mountain telling you to just sleep, sleep for a moment, rest, regain strength, consolidate. Strange that Inman, with a powerhouse of good infect creatures, removal and bombs, would be my only vanquished opponent.
I’m very grateful for pep talks from Mark, who’s down amongst the dead men with me and feeling similar frustration, and also from Rich Hagon, who levels with me that it’s common knowledge I’m a psychological self-harmer when it comes to Magic, that I’m better than I think, and that he’s aghast to think I’d let weight of expectation adversely affect my performances in the tournament. Still some way to go before rock bottom at *this* point, but … grateful nonetheless.
Pop quiz: when’s the worst possible time to start force-drafting an archetype you’ve never pursued before?
First pick Cystbearer over Embersmith (that guy crapped out on me in draft 1 and I abhor flakes). Go all in, triple Untamed Might, every crap infect creature under the sun, one Plague Stinger, one Trigon of Rage, a non-zero number of Vector Asps… Genuinely I don’t think the deck was too bad. I guess I should have played Genesis Wave.
Round 10: Joszef Turcsanyi (Hungary) U/W Control
My opponent is monumentally uncommunicative, which I’d be happy to take responsibility for with my lack of Hungarian, except his English is solid enough when he does see fit to explain complex game-states.
He’s playing a defensive blue-white metalcraft deck which ruthlessly punishes the lack of removal in my deck. I remember a lot of reasonable defensive artifacts like Wall of Tanglecord and Neurok Replica, some Vedalken Certarchs, and a painful Steel Hellkite. Lose in two short games.
Round 11: Jorge Muniz (Puerto Rico) U/B Control
I’ve been tumbling down this bottomless well for some time now but finally I can see the bone-shattering impact waiting for me when the trough is finally plumbed. Jorge is the Puerto Rican national champion, which seems unfair since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Maybe if he hadn’t been invited, he wouldn’t be ritually butchering me with a deck entirely devoid of synergy or power – like being disembowelled with a cheap hacksaw, abandoned and neglected in a corner of the hardware cupboard by your house’s previous owners, recently come to light.
I light-fingered one game where he committed suicide by needlessly attacking with his penultimate blocker for 1 of my 15 odd life points and I made a Blackcleave Goblins to kill him. The other games I was frustrated by draws of just a couple of infect creatures and endless pump spells and Sylvok Replicas, dying to random beaters and solid but unspectacular removal spells. They do the job though.
There’s that skull-fracturing, rib-cracking, spine-wrecking impact. Rock bottom.
Round 12: Tae-sun Win Yoon (South Korea) W/R Metalcraft
Dan and Rich are tearing up the draft and I’m the cursed loadstone dragging the party down into the depths. 2-4 is a dismal draft score, but 1-5 is literally the end of the world. None of my matches for the rest of the week felt quite as pressurised as this one.
Fortunately for me my opponent was Korean, which meant I got to tell him I loved him (in Korean), and that he was a princess, thus putting him massively off his game.
Game one he was heavily metalcraft but he wasn’t getting much of note online while I was getting in with a handful of infect beasties. Trigon of Rage meant he was taking huge punishment quickly – facing a lethal Plague Stinger and Ichorclaw Myr, he blocked the Myr and triumphantly threw down Dispense Justice. Tricksy Koreans, trying to cheatses us. Might have worked in a PTQ against me, but at this point my focus was pretty crystalline.
Game two he was stuck on one Goblin Gaveleer with Bladed Pinions as I built up a sizeable force, and I eventually found Tumble Magnet before he could threaten my life total. Some trading commenced but he never really found his footing. I drew endless Sylvok Replicas in this game like in the preceding round, but this time they were actually good, always seeming to keep him one artifact off metalcraft. At the end of the game he searched through my deck making gasps of astonishment and asking how I ended up in the bottom bracket… wish it had come out of the gates for me a bit better against the blue decks.
Complete disaster narrowly averted.
Jonno and Dan_G were intent on more curry so we left them to it, intent on Japanese Tex-Mex. Unfortunately it looked like the Tex Mex joint was hosting one of those all-male sake-slamming work nights, so we went to Subway instead. Where I found the Holy Grail of sandwiches – prawn and avocado, which I have fetishised since Nationals as the source of all my powers. This time its glorious combination of vegetable fats and lean crustacean protein was improved, if such apostasy can even be understood, by the addition of a rich pesto sauce. Now I felt ready to crush the extended rounds.
Then after the sandwich, a vision from the past. An overweight, older, balder, but nevertheless instantly recognisable figure walked in and pointed directly at me. I experienced one of those strange moments of relapse back to a bygone age – Rajesh Ganesan, my closest friend from my time at UCL as a tender 17 year old. Some unfortunate circumstances had led to his abrupt departure from the UK, under a cloud and chased by pitchfork wielding people who may have been our mutual friends. Here he was, a decade on. I’d long given up on the prospect of seeing him again, and there he was. Turns out after I introduced him to competitive Magic all those years ago, he’d kept it up and was at the tournament in a trading capacity. Sadly the passage of time and the effect of silence and distance had effaced the strong bond we’d had as young men, but there was still a trace of that old easy-going friendship left. Maybe when I emigrate out East, leaving behind me the apocalyptic ruin of British higher education, we’ll play some pool together again.
Back at the hotel and we’re trying to forge ten boxes of random cards into three competitive Extended decks for day 3. While I’m trawling endlessly for Cryptic Commands, I’m pleading with the boys to find me a Jund list from somewhere, anywhere, that I can take to Makuhari Messe the next day and BBE everyone into submission. Needless to say said list fails to materialise and I fall back on the German 4CC list that has been donated by some of my continental friends. I rehash the sideboard, sticking in Sower of Temptation since I know loads of people will be playing G/W Tramp with no removal, and maybe I’ll randomly gank some Lark players (note: this is called ‘clumsy foreshadowing’). Hopes are not high – sophisticated control decks are supposed to be piloted by experienced, canny operators. Where are my Putrid Leeches?
Rejoin the quest at a later point as I bite a hand that once fed me, we experience more British Imperial nostalgia, and Lady Luck turns her radiant visage once more to smile upon me.
Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing,