Magic Travels and Other Tales – Spreading the Sickness in Lille with Grant Hislop

UB Mystical Teachings – A Pauper Video Article by Grant Hislop

The Journey

Welcome to part 3 of my travelogue. So far, I’ve covered what happened in Madrid, and the horrors of Morocco. This time, we’ll cover the third, and final leg of the trip, which also includes the GP in Lille.

As you may remember, I didn’t particularly enjoy Morocco, but I’d had a good time in Madrid, and was keen to meet up with the British contingent again in Lille. Kat and I had got on the plane with plenty time to spare, and were going to be flying into Charles De Gaulle airport, in Paris, and would be getting a connecting train from the airport into Lille, where, according to Googlemaps, we’d be around a 15 minute walk from our hotel.

We managed to make it into CDG without incident, grabbed something to eat at the McDonalds, changed our remaining Scottish money into Euros (The Frenchies didn’t have any issues with the Scottish notes. Score 1 for France), and made our way to the station.

Here, the bad times started. Our train was going to be delayed by 45 minutes. We settled in for a wait. I’d been reading James Ellroy’s ‘The Black Dahlia’, so was quite comfortable sitting in the station. As the 45 minute mark approached, we were slightly concerned that we hadn’t heard a platform announcement. 10 minutes after we were supposed to belatedly depart, another announcement came, that we were to be delayed another 30 minutes. How tedious…

Eventually, we got on the train, obviously in a carriage with the obligatory crying baby, and began the hour long journey into Lille. We enjoyed glorious views of electricity pylons, and foggy countryside. Just like being back at home. Wonderful…

When we arrived into Lille, we had more helpful instructions from Googlemaps of the ‘Go West etc’ variety, which I may have previously mentioned my distaste for, and started walking. By coincidence, the tournament venue was en route to our hotel, which crossed one of the first things I like to do when I go to a GP off the to-do-list, which was a bonus. Kat obviously demanded that I carry on to our hotel, rather than abandoning her and seeing who was at the venue already. Women, eh?

Our hotel was about 5 minutes further on from the venue, which was pretty sweet. We checked in, stashed our bags, dumped our clothes on the floor. There was a TV in the room, and Kat was quite pleased to discover that one of the English language channels was BBC Worldwide. I don’t quite understand the appeal of going on holiday, and watching TV in your hotel room, especially as we don’t actually have or watch TV at home. She seemed happy though, and you can’t put a price on a bit of peace and quiet from your missus, can you?

While Kat was busy watching some documentary on Hasidic Jews or something equally gripping, I decided to make a break for it, and head back to the Magic tournament, and see what was going on. One of the best parts of these tournaments is getting to see a bunch of people you rarely get to spend time with, and doing so in a situation that’s completely out of their comfort zone.

I wandered around for a while, before bumping into Matt Light, Cyrus Bales and a few other English players. I joined them, and there was the usual What are you playing?’, ‘Why, that’s rubbish?’, ‘Play X instead conversations which generally happen at events, but I was pretty sold on Spirits. I’d been away for nearly 2 weeks, and hadn’t had any internet access, so I was pretty out of the loop. Spirits seemed like a pretty forgiving deck, and operated in a space I was comfortable being in, playing like something inbetween Caw-Blade and Faeries, both decks which I’d previously enjoyed playing. I wasn’t really aware of the existence of the RG Aggro deck, or the sweet UB Zombies deck, piloted by eventual (undefeated) winner Rich Parker (Richs tournament report coming soon on mtgUK), but I didn’t realistically have many expectations for the GP, having not actually played a match of Standard for a few weeks.

The Grand Prix: Day 1

I’d arrived just as the GP Trials for the day were ending, so decided to try my luck in an 8-man instead. Even I’m not stupid enough to sit down to a GP having never played a game with the deck I intended to run. I mulled to 5 in game 1 of the mirror, and got rolled by a T2 flipped Delver of Secrets, and mulled all the way to 3 in game 2 (admittedly, Ponder, Island, Delver), and didn’t put up much of a fight. Sigh. 8-mans being single elimination, that was it for me.

It was pretty late by this point, and I was going to head back to the hotel to get Kat, and go and grab some dinner, but on my way out, I saw the rest of the Scottish contingent arrive. They were so prepared for France, they’d even brought their own Frenchman to act as a guide. Scottish contingent was Chris Baldwin, who is fast becoming one of my favourite travel companions, Antoine Boulay, who is a string of onions and a bicycle short of being a cartoon Frenchman, Larry Martin, Chris Hogg, Stuie McAlpine and Alan Hutton. I knew all of these guys pretty well, aside from Alan, who I’d never met before.

Alan’s a fairly new player, but he’s got a lot of potential. From what I’ve seen, if he quickens the pace of his play, he’ll start Top-8ing PTQ’s in fairly short order. It doesn’t hurt that he’s absolutely hilarious as well. Top man.

They wanted to register for the event, buy some cards for decks etc, but then were game for food and light-to-moderate boozing. I left them at the venue, and went back to the hotel to collect Kat. When I got there, she was standing in the lobby, staring at the vending machine. I asked her what she was doing, and she said Buying tea, you left with all the money. It’s hard to be sympathetic when we’re 5 minutes away from the venue anyway, and if she was desperate, she could just have come and got me.

We rounded up the Scots, and followed Antoine’s directions into the city. Magic venues are generally on the outskirts of the towns that it’s alleged that they’re in. I’m fearful that a future GP Edinburgh will actually be GP Fife or GP Kirkcaldy (Or Keer Kal Dee if you’re Rob Wagner). We walked around for 15-20 minutes, before settling on a restaurant/brew house somewhere fairly close to the venue.

This place brewed its own beer on-site and served food, and indeed served us well for the coming next few days. The beer came by the litre, in gigantic glasses, and we quickly put away a couple of them while eating. Eventually, the brew-house closed, and we were considering calling it a night, given that we had a GP in the morning. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t really care too much about the Magic at these events, and didn’t realistically think I’d day 2 anyway, given the absence of any testing, lack of knowledge of the format, and playing a deck that was so obviously on everyone’s radar, so as such was quite easily persuaded to carry on the drinking elsewhere.

We wandered a little bit more, and found an open bar. Another litre or two of beer each, and we headed back to the hotel. I knew I’d have to be back for 8.30am, or some similar ungodly hour, but Kat intended to spend the day wandering around Lille, and possibly head to the zoo, so she wasn’t overly concerned. Being the sophisticated lady that she is, on the way back, she stopped for a piss behind a hedge, but fell arse over tit while trying to hide from someone walking past. My girlfriend ladies and gentlemen. What a classy bird.


The Grand Prix: Day 2

The next morning, with a pretty bad hangover, considering I’d drank relatively little (about 6-7 pints), I shambled towards the venue. Once more, the only Magic cards I had on me were my deck, in a box, and pens and paper. Don’t make thieves jobs easier guys. I knew that I’d have one bye, so while all the n00blets were playing, Heathy (Heathys report here) and I took a walk to get some food and supplies for the day. I got a bit lost trying to find somewhere that sold large bottles of cola, but stumbled upon a Lidl somewhere, and retraced my steps, and arrived just as time was being called on the round.

Again, I don’t want to go over every match, I find reading stuff like that pretty boring, and I’d assume you do to, so I’ll try my best to just cover the moderately interesting or mildly amusing stuff that happened.

My round 2 opponent was called Pierre-Marie Colnel, and I assumed by this that he was French. I sat down, gave it the old ‘Bonjour, mon nom est Grant, etes-vous Pierre-Marie?’, only to be met with a blank stare. I asked ‘Are you local?’, again looking to get some conversation going, only to be told ‘No, I’m German’, while he looked at me like I was an idiot. Now, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, admittedly, but I don’t think it’s outside the realms of possibility to assume that a man named Pierre-Marie MIGHT come from France, especially given that we were IN FRANCE at the time. We played, I mulled a lot, he won 2-1. Sigh…

While I was watching Larry play a post-board game in the UB mirror, I watched him Surgically Extract his opponent’s Nihil Spellbomb for some reason, and flip through the deck, and his opponent’s hand. Larry handed the deck back, after shuffling, and his opponent picked it up and searched for the other Nihil Spellbomb which Larry hadn’t taken. I’d assumed that he’d left them in as it was a nothing card, and he wanted to reduce his opponents outs, and the mana to play them, as at this stage, Larry had milled 2 Ghost Quarters, and was sitting behind double Drownyard and a hand full of counters. I should have called a judge at this point, but didn’t. Don’t touch your deck when you’re not meant to boys and girls, and certainly don’t start looking through your library when you’re not meant to. Nothing good can come of it.

Stuie played a guy whose surname was Huntington-Smythe, or something, and assumed that it was an English guy. He walked over, sat down, and said something along the lines of ‘how’s it going this weekend then man?’, and was given a blank stare and an ‘A’WHUUUUUUU?!’ as means of response. I wish I could properly convey in print quite how amusing Stuie’s face was when recounting this to the group, but I’m no wordsmith. We all spent the remainder of the weekend shouting this at each other. At various points over the weekend someone would say ‘A’Whuuu?’, and that’d be us all in stitches again. I’m pretty sure it’s one of those ‘You had to be there’ stories, but goddamn it was hilarious. Even now, I’m typing with a massive smile on my face.

Chris Hogg made one of his opponents cry, leading to him being called Heartless Hogg for the remainder of the weekend. If memory serves, he played a Gideon Jura, and she had him on 4 life, and didn’t realise the Angel token her Geist of Saint Traft was making didn’t also have to attack Gideon, and could have finished him off. Then he finds a wrath, and wins the game some time later. After the game, he pointed out the interaction, to be a gentleman, and she burst into tears, saying ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’. Hogg’s too much of a gent to just stoneface her and say ‘Because I would have lost’, but I like to pretend that’s how it happened. He was getting evil looks from her and her boyfriend for the rest of the weekend, to everyone else’s amusement. Alan Hutton feels it prudent that I mention Hoggwarts School of Girl’s Tears and Misery somewhere here, and who am I to argue?

In the last round of the day, I played against someone playing UB. I won G1, he won G2, then started pulling all his SB cards out. We’d had a fair amount of banter throughout the game, and given that we were both dead, and there was literally no pressure, it was the most relaxed of the day. He was asking what I thought of Praetor’s Grasp, or something, and I said ‘It seems ok, but we’ve only got 5 minutes on the clock, so we’d better get a move on’, and he looked confused. He said, but I’ve won 2-0, then had a quick check of his life-total pad, and realised that he’d actually lost G1, much to his disappointment. He put all his cards back in, and we shuffled. I didn’t have enough time to win, but was quite far ahead when time was called. I wasn’t going to ask for a concession, when nothing was on the line, and he didn’t offer it either, unsurprisingly, so I ended up on a depressing 4-4-1 for the day, easily my worst GP performance ever.

It was pretty hard to be upset, given how much fun I’d had, and how woefully unprepared I was. Plus, now I didn’t have to get up super-early again, so we’d be able to get properly drunk, and see some more of Lille. I called Kat, and she came to the venue again. She’d apparently slept til about 1 in the afternoon and watched BBC Worldwide all day.

We didn’t make it past the Brewhouse again. We ate, and had several more beers, and commiserated about the fact that not one of us had managed better than a 5-4 record, which is really pretty bad, even for Scottish players.

Kat managed to control her bladder on the way home, and we got back to the hotel around 2am, or thereabouts. I’d intended to play the Doran deck that I’ve written about previously in the Modern challenge the following day, rather than having to get up early to play standard again, especially given that I wasn’t particularly enamoured with any of the decks that I had access to. I’d been given a bunch of cards by Ben Cabrelli to get signed, so I’d pencilled in about half an hour to stand in a queue.


The Grand Prix: Day 3

I ended up actually waking up around 10am, and jumped in the shower. My hangover was once again, most prodigious, but this time, I probably deserved it. I got to the venue just as the artists were setting up, and was fortunate enough to miss the queues almost entirely. 3 guys in front of me were getting Steve Argyle to paint their Liliana of the Veil’s as a Jedi, a nun and something else which escapes me currently, and that took a while, but it was a lot quicker than I’d expected.

I found the rest of the British players dotted around the hall, and watched while Dan Royde, Cyrus and Eduardo Sajgalik drafted French Lorwyn. They were trying to round up people for another one, but as I’d never drafted Lorwyn before, as I was on a hobby-break, and the best way to draft a format for the first time isn’t in a language you can’t speak, I had to opt out. I’d missed the cut-off for Modern, because I couldn’t be bothered getting up, so when the rest of the Scots started trickling in, we did a draft of my cube, which I very easily 3-0’d, having drafted a UB deck which I’d have been hard-pressed to improve if I’d just pulled all the Blue and Black cards out of the cube, and built a 40-card deck with access to all of them. Kat was very happy to win a round, beating Chris Baldwin in the losers finals, to determine the single 0-3.

Chris is hilarious to watch play. He stone-faced Kat throughout the match, and it really put her off.

Once we’d finished the draft, it was again time to eat. We’d decided that as pleasant as the Brewhouse was, we’d try something different for our last night together as a group, and would find a different restaurant. We ended up walking for like 45 minutes, before we picked one of the seemingly identical ones to go into. We almost immediately regretted the decision. We were all attired for a Magic tournament, and I hadn’t had access to deodorant or clean clothes for about a week now, so wasn’t smelling at my best. I recall explaining to people that I’d run out of clean clothes 2 countries ago, and that I was sorry that I smelled like a Magic player. I also remember Matt Light not believing that I was that bad, sniffing my armpit, and nearly vomiting. Brilliant stuff. Wash kids. As long as you smell human, people will like you better. Pearls of wisdom.

The food was fine, but nothing special. By the time it was over, we’d all decided to just go back to the Brewhouse, and formulate new plans from there, after we’d got a couple litres of beer in us. It so happened that a bunch of the English guys had had the same idea as us, and were drinking in there as well. We joined up with tournament winner Rich Parker, Manveer and Baljeet Samra, Heathy and a guy I don’t know. I think his name was Ian, but I couldn’t be certain.

Post-beers, we again followed Antoine’s local knowledge to where there were likely to be open pubs. Through the pissing rain we trekked, and eventually saw a likely looking location in the distance. As we approached, I had to laugh. The name of the bar was ‘O Scotland’. Chris walked across the road, shouting ‘Hey Grant, we’re home!’ Sadly, the non-English speaking bouncer took umbrage at this, and wouldn’t let us in, saying that we were too drunk, and anyway, I was wearing shorts. Obviously it’s not a particularly authentic Scottish pub if they’re turning people away for looking like shit, smelling worse and being overly-inebriated, and at that point I was only actually 2 out of those 3….

Denied from our ‘local’ bar, we continued the search, and were rewarded with a Heavy-Metal pub a short distance away. I’m a pretty big metal-head, so I was happy. I don’t know about many of the others, but I was pretty comfortable. One of Antoine’s local friends had joined our party, and for some reason, I’d introduced myself by saying ‘J’Mapelle Frites’. He said ‘I don’t think that’s what you mean’, in perfect English, but I was adamant that my name was Chips. Again, I’m sure it’s a ‘you had to be there’ type thing, but Kat got into a conversation with the obligatory drunk old man that seems standard issue for pubs in France as well as Britain, and introduced herself as ‘Madame Frites’, to his great amusement.

We said our goodbyes sometime around 2am again, and headed back to our respective hotels. We were all flying back on the Monday, us to Edinburgh, them to Glasgow, so we said our goodbyes. Kat and I were meant to check out of our hotel at 10am, which seemed slightly unrealistic to me, so we’d intended to feign ignorance if there were any problems, and head out at noon-ish, and walk around Lille for a couple of hours. I hadn’t actually done anything remotely touristy while I’d been there, and couldn’t tell you anything about Lille other than about the Grand Palais and the pubs I’d seen, so I was quite looking forward to it.


The Last Day

Unfortunately, we woke up to 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, and it was still falling at an alarming rate. We checked out without incident (score one for pretend ignorance of hotel procedures), and walked into town. We decided to just call off the tourist plans, and hole up in the McDonalds at the train station for the 3 hours that we’d have to kill. We were fortunate enough to run into (Lithuanian National Champion) Tomas Sukaitis and one of his friends who’d had a similar idea. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember Tomas’ friend’s name, but we did a 4-person cube draft with them, and after we’d done the second round, it was time for Kat and I to head into the station to check the impact of the snow on our train.

The departure time came and went without any announcement again, and we began to worry. We’d set it up so that we’d be getting into Charles De Gaulle with around an hour and a half to get through security etc, which would have been plenty, especially seeing as we weren’t checking any bags.

15 minutes after the due departure time, they gave us a platform, and we dutifully boarded the train. It continued sitting in the station for another 15 or so minutes, before crawling at a snails pace out of Lille. We drove at around 10-15 mph for about half an hour, before getting to the edge of the snow, and resuming travel at a sensible pace. We were pretty sure that we were going to miss the flight, so looked at alternative options for getting back. In any case, in order to transfer our flight, we’d be down a hundred Euros as a changeover fee. The possibilities were either the next day, to Edinburgh, which would mean adding accommodation in Paris for a night, at our cost or to fly into Newcastle that night, and have to make our way from there, presumably by bus or train, at around £30 each for the privilege, so we were pretty sombre for the journey.

We rolled into the station with about 10 minutes before our gate closed, and sprinted through the airport to terminal 4. When we got to the security scanners, I ‘Excuse me’d’ my way to the front of the queue without any objections, and we were fortunate enough to make it just as the gate was closing. The stewardess gave us a bit of a hard time about being late, but as it happened, we weren’t even the last ones to board. I’ve never been late for a flight before, so I wasn’t overly aware of what would happen, but I guess they have to give people a hard time to make them Think Twice about turning up late with regularity.

We landed safely, and got back home without further incident.


Final Thoughts

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading these articles, and they’ve given a bit more of an idea about what the GP experience is like for those who acknowledge that they probably won’t do particularly well at them, and are there more for the holiday than the Magic.

Stay classy mtgUK (Anchorman 2’s just been announced, how exciting!)




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