Diamonds in the Rough: An Antwerp Story – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop

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Diamonds in the Rough: An Antwerp Story – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop

Warning, contains Grant’s usual adult language.

The house next door to me had been empty for a while. I’d gotten on swimmingly with our previous neighbour, an elderly gentleman who I’d seldom seen or heard beyond his everyday comings and goings. But now he was gone. Whether deceased or moved on, it was unclear. What was certain though, was that the house was empty. For a good year, we had no neighbours. We got too used to the peace and quiet.

One day though, the silence was no more. I opened the door to the stairwell, to see a ‘yoof’ sitting in the stairwell.

‘What are you doing?’, I politely enquired, as I didn’t think I’d ordered any junkies that week, unless I’d gotten really drunk on eBay again and forgotten about it.

‘My girlfriend’s locked me out, I’m just waiting for her to wake up, I’m Stephen, I’m your new neighbour’.

I shook his proffered, emaciated hand, mustered a obviously disingenuous ‘nice to meet you’, and went inside.

After dropping my bag off, getting changed out of my work clothes and generally relaxing for half an hour or so, I decided to head to the shops to sort out some sustenance for the evening. I opened the door. He was still there.

‘Women, eh?’, I offered.

Y’fuckinwhat?’, he eruditely responded.

‘It’s a terrible business, getting locked out, isn’t it’.

‘Aye pal, it’s fucking shite’.

I wandered down the stairs. As I reached the bottom, I felt a tap on my shoulder. ‘Here, mate, did you just nick my baccy?’ This question is ludicrous on a number of levels.

Firstly, I don’t smoke.

Secondly, I’m not a thief.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the entire interaction we’d had, I was on my feet while he was sitting down, back to the wall, about three feet minimum away from me at all time.

‘Um, no champ, sorry.’ was about all I could manage.

I already missed the old man.

Grand Prix Antwerp 2013

I played in GP Antwerp at the weekend. It didn’t go particularly well.

I desperately didn’t want to play Jund. I really didn’t want to play the deck. I’ve played it pretty much since Modern’s inception, and I wanted a change. My Magic Online account replete with fetchlands, Tarmogoyfs and Kiki Jiki’s, I set out to find the deck what would usurp Jund. Nothing clicked.

I think, I was almost spoiled for choice. I would play a few matches with a deck, run into a horrible matchup or two and give up, thinking, ‘Jund wouldn’t have lost to that toilet’, and move onto the next flavour of the week.

Modern Junk jund

The result of my three weeks semi-intensive Magic Online testing had led me to believe that the decks that I would be willing to entertain playing at GP Antwerp were Jund or Living End. Nothing was putting up even remotely close to acceptable numbers for me.

I discounted either flavour of Birthing Pod, due to unfamiliarity with the deck, and not having any byes for the event at the time of leaving would mean nine rounds with a complicated combo deck, and I just wasn’t confident in my abilities enough to not cost myself at least 3-4 games due to incompetence and stupidity.

Living EndSo it came down to Jund or Living End. In the end, I think Living End would probably have been the better choice, due to the land denial package in the main deck, coupled with the largely inadequate hate in the majority of sideboards in Magic Online daily events making the deck incredibly well positioned currently.

I didn’t want to roll the dice though, I couldn’t do it. I wanted to feel like I had some amount of control over the games I was playing, and felt comfortable enough with my knowledge of the format to attempt to interact with people without falling short due to my own ineptitude.

I decided to Jund people that weekend.

3am Friday Morning

The trip itself started early on. Like really early. As it turns out, flying into Belgium isn’t the easiest of things, with most airports only doing it once a day, if that. While there were other options, like flying the Amsterdam and getting a train into Antwerp, the time involved in such a venture wasn’t really worth it.

I decided to fly out early on Friday morning, to give me time to sneak in a GP Trial or two, as I value byes at these events pretty highly. Sadly, early meant a flight at 6.30am.

I’m lucky enough to live in an area that runs a regular bus service to the airport, so I wouldn’t end up massively out of pocket for a taxi, but still, that’s slim comfort when your alarm goes off at 3am, and you’ve been tossing and turning since 9pm that evening, when you’ve foolishly decided to attempt to get to bed early.

I took the twenty minute walk to the bus stop, and got there just in time to catch a bus. Even at 4am, the buses come every ten minutes. Edinburgh is a wonderful place.

I got to Edinburgh Airport with plenty of time to spare, and decided to go to the bar upstairs to wait for everyone, thinking a nice pint or two would set me up nicely for the days travelling ahead. I asked the barman for a pint of Staropramen only to be met with a derisory sneer and a ‘Sir, the bar doesn’t open until 5am’. #scumbag.

I decided to go through security, and see if that would kill the twenty minutes I needed to before I could start shotgunning cans of Special Brew like the piece of shit that I am. I was selected at random for a full body scan, which was fun, and also killed some more time.

When I finally cleared security, I met Ben Cabrelli in the Caffe Nero, and we sat and had a chat for a while. I logged onto the Airports wifi and sent Tom a message telling him where we were. Ten minutes later, he rolled up, prick that he is, pulling his suitcase on wheels, and saying ‘we’re all in the pub’. I don’t need to be asked to the pub twice. We relocated.

wetherspoons edinburgh airport

Our party for this weekend would be:

Me – Handsome, bohemian man-about-town.
Tom Robinson – None of those things.
Hazel – Tom’s girlfriend. Mussel enthusiast.
Ben Cabrelli – ‘Four card combo? Sold’
Tim Allen – ‘Necrotic Ooze combo is the best deck, not close’
Josh Garratt – More flipflops than a beach shop.
Mark Greene – ‘I’ll fly out to Amsterdam the week before. To ‘visit friends’.
Kate – Once cried in McDonalds because they didn’t bring her food fast enough.

The first five of us were on the same flight, with the latter three joining us there at various, staggered points over the course of the day. For now though, we were all assembled in the Wetherspoons in the Airport. The first hurdle had been cleared.

As we boarded the plane last, we ended up sitting separately throughout the plane. This was, to me, completely irrelevant, as I immediately pulled my hood over my face, and slept the entire flight. We cleared Belgian customs with ease, and made our way outside, where we would be getting a bus to Charleroi station, where we would catch a train to Antwerp, where we would meet the rest of the party who were already in the country, where we would find our hotels, where we would stash our bags while we found something to eat.

charleroi station

Tom had tried to find an apartment that slept eight, but every time he found one, they either didn’t respond at all, or had just been booked. As an aside, I see Magic players constantly booking the first budget hotel they find, and booking 3-4 rooms in it as a group to split among themselves. This is stupid. With a little forward planning, you could find an alternative that slept all of you, and that offered a considerably higher standard of facilities for a similar, and quite frequently cheaper cost than the alleged ‘budget’ option.

In this case, Tom had abandoned the idea of housing all eight of us under one roof, and had booked an apartment for four – the two couples, and offered the other four a list of prospective others. They picked the budget Ibis. The only nice thing I would say about the Ibis is that it was closer to the train station than our apartment, so they got to drop their bags of first.

antwerp jewish quarterApparently, Antwerp has a sizable Jewish community, so as we wandered about, we had to dodge the many Hasid’s zipping about on their bikes from the past, and avoid being slapped by their billowing sideburns, which look absolutely excellent flapping behind them as they pedal furiously.

Every other shop around Antwerp city centre is some sort of Diamond based store. Apparently, it’s the diamond capital of Europe. Hazel made Tom look at rings for a bit.

We elected to stash our bags in the boys hotel, get some food, and get a cab up to our own afterwards. Our taxi driver was a bit on the crazy side, and sped as fast as he could, seeming incredibly eager to sit in the traffic just up ahead as opposed to the traffic he was sitting in now. At one point, he just about hit a poor old Belgian lady who’d had the cheek to attempt to cross the road in front of him.

The gentleman who owned the Apartment we’d rented had his company offices in the same building, so when we arrived, Tom put a call in to him, and he was down promptly. We ported our bags upstairs, and he showed us around.

winning

The apartment was a dump. I mean, we only had two balconies. What a joke. Three minimum, in my opinion. The dining room table was only big enough for six people to draft around, not eight. Plus, only one of the bedrooms had an en-suite. To say we were furious would be an understatement. To top it off, we were going to have to walk two minutes to get to the tournament site. Two minutes! We were incandescent with rage.

While the guy showed Tom and Hazel around, I dumped my bags in the room with no en-suite, as generally the rule is that if you book the apartment, you get the better room, and began unpacking.

My Magic playing inventory for the weekend was:

2 Tshirts – 1 Geek reference, 1 Band.
2 Boxer Shorts – Because not changing them is nasty.
2 Pairs of socks – See above.
2 Shirts – So as not to look like a hobo in the evening.
1 deck box – Jund.
1 deck box – Potential Jund sideboard cards + cards I said I’d lend people.
1 long box – Cube.
1 Love Letters – Non-Magic game.
1 Phone Charger – No explanation needed.
1 Toothbrush – Oral hygiene is important.
1 Deodorant – Don’t be the smelly guy at the Magic Tournament. Nobody likes the smelly guy.
1 Pen – To write mean notes to people with.
1 Life Total Pad – To keep track of all the life I lose Thoughtseizing people.

And that was pretty much it. I travel light.

We unpacked, then Tom and I took a walk to the venue, to see the lay of the land. He’d been fortunate enough to win a GP Trial a couple of weeks before, and would be skipping rounds one and two in the morning. He’d also pre-registered the sleep-in special, so didn’t need to be on site at all until around about midday on Saturday. Largely, stuff like that is why I value byes so highly. My body clock doesn’t wake me up properly until some time around midday anyway, so the first rounds of a tournament are always somewhat sketchy while I try and become cognisant of what’s happening around me.

We met up with the rest of our party, who’d also headed over, gloated about how nice our apartment was, and decided to queue up for a GP Trial, in an effort to not have to play as much tomorrow.

I lasted about five minutes in the queue before realising that

A) I was exhausted

and

B) In no state of mind to be playing Magic, so I left.

beerEveryone else joined me. We pottered about, and some people bought cards and whatnot. We decided that rather than play Magic that mattered, we’d go back to our apartment and do a Cube draft and have a couple of beers.

Kate’s plane was landing in Amsterdam at 8pm or so, and she had an ETA in Antwerp of about midnight, so I knew that getting an early night wasn’t really going to be an option for me. I drank beers. I drank a lot of beers. At one point, I considered stopping drinking beers, but I drank more beers until that thought went away. By the time Kate arrived, I was quite drunk.

Tom, Hazel, Kate and I stayed up until around 2am. We played Magic. I won the cube draft, very easily with my Golgari deck with five Gravediggers. We played Love Letters. I was very bad at it. We drank. Which is to say, I drank. A lot.

Day 1, Hungover.

I woke up groggier than usual. Perfect. Hungover, and I’ve got to play nine rounds of Magic. Thanks, past Grant. What an idiot.

I’m coming closer and closer to realising that I’m now an adult man, and can’t handle drinking heavily the night before doing something important. I realise that this is a British thing generally at GPs, and in fact, in addition to me, I heard about two other British players who had alcohol related mishaps that caused them to miss portions of Day Two.

I stumbled to the site, where I registered the following as my weapon of choice for the weekend:-

Jund

Dark Confidant Modern Masters4 Blackcleave Cliffs
2 Blood Crypt
1 Forest
3 Marsh Flats
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Raging Ravine
1 Stomping Ground
2 Swamp
3 Treetop Village
4 Verdant Catacombs

4 Dark Confidant
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Olivia Voldaren
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf

2 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Liliana of the Veil

Lightning Bolt 233px3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Terminate
3 Thoughtseize

Sideboard

2 Ancient Grudge
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Batterskull
4 Fuminator Mage
2 Jund Charm
2 Shatterstorm
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
1 Thoughtseize

The deck was excellent.

I’d play these 75 again in a heartbeat. Every card is obvious, and I know why it’s there, and what it’s for. This is how preparation makes you feel. You just feel like you GET the format, and playing a deck like Jund, where you get to regulate how your opponent plays is a really powerful feeling. While the deck itself is quite unremarkable, the way it shapes the format, and forces everyone to play on its level is not, and I see no reason to play any deck other than a Jund variant in the near future.

I decided to show my individuality at the Magic tournament by being an overweight man with glasses, and to wear a t-shirt that referenced something geeky that I like. Imagine my surprise when just about everyone else in the tournament hall had the same idea as me. Egg and my face were, once again, in perfect alignment.

My tournament was uneventful for the most part.

I played against:

Round One – Twin – 2-0
Round Two – Merfolk – 1-2
Round Three – Gruultron – 2-0
Round Four – Affinity – 2-0
Round Five – Kikipod – 2-0
Round Six – Foil Jund – 0-2
Round Seven – UWR Blade Splicer – 2-0
Round Eight – Bogle – 2-1
Round Nine – Krenko Goblins – 0-2

Mana LeakI have no interest in writing a detailed report on each round, so I can only assume you feel the same way about reading it. I played appallingly against Merfolk in game three, having put my opponent on Mana Leak, and deciding not to respect it for the sake of saving two damage, and promptly dying to the Mana Leak, like the moron that I am.

Round Six was interesting, as it was a mirror match, but his mirror was very shiny. He had all the deck foiled, with Japanese fetchlands etc. While I think I could probably muster £10,000 worth of value out of my Magic collection, to see a similar amount of value in 75 cards that are being played with simultaneously was somewhat out of the ordinary. Naturally, I riffle shuffled the hell out of his deck because I’m a terrible person, and wanted to watch him squirm.

Round Nine was my win-and-in. I thought my opponent was playing the one-drop Goblin deck that was running about online for a while when he led with Legion Loyalist, so I Lightning Bolted it. A couple of turns later, a Wort, Boggart Auntie hit, and my removal had run out. I died.

Game two, he made a Krenko, and started cranking out an absurd number of Goblins. I failed to draw one of my four post-board sweepers, and crashed out of the tournament to a guy playing Wort, Boggart Auntie in Modern. It was a fair end to the day, given my behaviour the previous evening.

Of the Edinburgh contingent of six, none of us had made Day Two, with Tom and I coming closest, both losing Round Nine. That is, quite honestly, unacceptable to me.

I was quite happy with my play after round three or so, so there is a silver lining, but I really need to start remembering that Magic is an intellectual pursuit, and that staying up until 3am the night before getting drunk isn’t exactly conducive to helping with the concentrated bursts of intensive reasoning that Magic demands, and treat the game with the respect that it deserves.

After losing, I went back to the apartment to meet the girls, who’d been traipsing round the city all day, crashing funerals and suchlike, who were waiting on us to finish so we could go and grab something to eat, and have a shower. I got sucked into a conversation, and the rest of the guys arrived. I’d have to skip that shower.

Antwerp, Wandering Around

Antwerp by night banner

I was unaware that Antwerp had such a thriving red-light district, but it was in full swing when we stumbled through it that evening. We wandered around, trying to find somewhere that would feed us, but with it being so late, we were unsuccessful. We were forced to eat kebab wraps from a street side vendor, and while my expectations were not high, the food was actually of about as excellent quality as that sort of thing can be.

We headed back to our apartment, as it was close by, and said our goodbyes. Kate had to be up at 5am to get her flight back home, as she was due to be teaching the following day, and once again, the flights in and out of Belgium weren’t overly conducive to getting a good night’s sleep.

I woke up around nine am, and contemplated going to the site and doing some 8-man pick ups, or trying to scrounge a Legacy deck and play in the big event, but I elected to lie in bed and wallow in my disappointment for a while, before going back to sleep and waking up around noon. I walked over to the tournament site, wandered around a bit, watched some of the British contingent playing in Day Two, before heading off to get some lunch.

We did a team draft in the evening with my cube against Matt Light, Neil Rigby and Paul Richardson, which my team lost in impressive fashion, costing me a princely sum of five Euros. Neil crashed on our couch that evening, and in the morning, we watched a program on MTV called ‘I used to be fat’, which was pretty much the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and reiterated that

A) I’m too old for MTV

and

B) Not having a TV tuned in at home is the right call.

We got lunch with the rest of the boys, and caught the train back to Charleroi. Played a spot of Cards Against Humanity on the train for the first time, which I also won very easily. Apparently, when the games don’t matter, I’m quite good at them…

Lessons learned

Wort, Boggart Auntie1. Treat the game with respect. It’s very difficult, and I’m behaving like it’s not.
2. Stop drinking the night before something important.
3. When I test a format sufficiently, I’m actually pretty good at Magic.
4. Jund is a very good deck.
5. I’m very lucky to know such an intelligent, supportive group of people from all over the country.
6. Fuck Wort, Boggart Auntie.

Stay classy mtgUK,

Grant

 

 

 

 

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