28 Days Later: A Tournament Report *PART THREE*, the Epic Conclusion.
Was I pretentious to title this as “Epic”? Who knows? I’m a pretty modest guy, at least in public, and a “mild” introvert on top of that, so people may be a bit confused when they see me throwing all these crazy adjectives around on paper. It seems that for “epic” to be a valid descriptor, it must be earned from peers and not bestowed by oneself. I guess there are exceptions… In any case, “back to my neato story”.
Part 5: Japan: Land of the
Rising Irradiating Sun
I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t worried about going to Japan. In spite of its extreme awesomeness, the country had gone through an environmental and subsequent nuclear crisis which had me “concerned” to say the least. I’d been following updates from the State Department in addition to third-party organizations to figure out exactly how dangerous going to Nagoya would be, and as it turned out, everyone was saying that it was safe to drink the water (so to speak). Nevertheless, I didn’t want to come back all weird with a third arm or green skin like the Hulk (despite already having an impressive physique).
This was my first trip to Nagoya, which made me a bit excited, since it was somewhere new, and I was looking forward to taking advantage of my time there as a tourist unlike my previous visits to Chiba, Kyoto, and the surrounding cities. I knew of a few places to go, like Nagoya castle, but beyond that I hadn’t done much homework and planned to rely on advice from the locals and whatever suggestions that they had.
So there I was, twiddling my thumbs on the short three-hour flight, when suddenly I was jolted from my blissful daze as the intercom crackled to life:
“Something #$%#3223@#$ something #@@#$@##e etc.”
“Gentlemen and ladies, we are making our initial descent into the Nagoya area and will be on the ground in twenty minutes.”
“Huh? What?” I thought to myself. Were we there already? The normal landing speech carried on for a few minutes while I began thinking about what needed to be done once we landed: gather the kiddos, pick up baggage, clear customs, find food, book transit, and check into the hotels. I hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything. Being one of the adults on trips had its downsides even though I naturally possessed the extensive skillset required to traverse the foreign lands we were in. My previous excursions to Japan had involved a lot of turbulence, both literally and metaphorically, and when the flight crew performed a textbook-landing I thought it was an omen; perhaps everything would be fine.
I won’t bother you with any of the details about going through customs because we were in Japan (where everything works like it should). People were everywhere which made it almost impossible to get lost or be unaware of what needed to be done. We made our way out from the airport and towards the train line that serviced it, passing a Lawson’s on the way.
Before I go any further, I can’t simply say “passing a Lawson’s on the way” without giving a reasonable explanation as to exactly what that means. Lawson’s is a generic convenience store chain similar to 7-eleven or a well-stocked gas station (as people in the Midwest might already know). There exist many different competing companies within the realm of Japanese convenience stores, and I have no idea of where it’s positioned within it, but when I refer to “Lawson’s”, I’m referring to all of them.
While I’m on the topic of Japanese convenience stores, I must also explain just how superior they are compared to their “competitors”… and I mean the rest of the world. First off is the incredible selection. The categories of goods range from fresh food (tonkatsu, sandwiches, sushi, salads, along with noodles, rice, and curry dishes) to packaged perishables (sweet/savory pastries and breads) to dry-packaged goods (chips, nuts, candy, soy beans, and rice/seaweed-based snack mixes) to drinks (beer, wine, water, milk, juices, coffee, and tea flavored with everything imaginable) to books, magazines, and a variety of over-the-counter medicines. Secondly is their high level of accessibility. Convenience stores are quite literally convenient, and replace gas stations in Japan in that there are multiple on the corner of every block and open into the wee hours of the night. The obvious counterpoints used to diminish the impressiveness of such a great selection would be to bring up the space required to house said goods, their overall lack of quality, and high prices. Regarding the first counterpoint, space is an extremely limited commodity in Japan, and every inch of it is used very efficiently; most Lawson’s aren’t more than a dainty twenty-by-ten-foot cubicle crammed between a sushi joint and a cigarette vending machine outside of some houses. With regards to the quality and price of the food, it eschews the saying “You get what you pay for”.
In order to provide a glimpse of the vast selection available at a typical Lawson’s, look at the picture below. It is a sample of just some of the various types of Kit-Kat candy that you can find at one:
As I was saying…
We made our way out from the airport and towards the train line that serviced it, passing a Lawson’s on the way in addition to an information center where we were able to find out which train station our hotel was closest to. The transit maps had been daunting on my first trip, mainly because they were a wall of untranslatable information that required deciphering; they were certainly overwhelming. Now that I’d navigated my way around them on a few trips, understanding how to read them was as simple as
tying my shoes out-drafting my test group; easy as pie. Imagine though that you needed to be able to read the map below to get where you wanted to go, and you can begin to understand that it was only natural for someone’s brain to explode as a result.
We were at the pink station (the one with the airplane logo) on the bottom right and had to transfer at Nagoya station (the 850 at the center), the main transit hub, and then get onto a different line for a few more stops. See, that was simple.
The ticket-buying process didn’t involve everyone, of course, and the people who knew what they were doing basically told everyone else what to do. Most of the group gamed to see who would pay for the tickets which technically should have expedited the process, although in reality slowed it down. Imagine for a moment the sight of ten
loud Americans huddled around in a group, obviously blocking the ticket counter, shouting as credit cards were pulled from a hat. I forgot who ended up paying, but it certainly wasn’t the “welcome” that they’d been looking forward to.
The next train was departing in fifteen minutes which gave us more than enough time to start wandering around. Some people were hungry and the Lawson’s was pointed out again which was now on the opposite side of the station. Most of us had ignored the store initially except Paulo who had gazed at it for a bit; I knew what he was thinking. I walked up to him now and said, “PV, you know they probably have some chocolate in there.” “Yea, I know…” was his reply, and with no other encouragement, he made an immediate beeline towards the store to go “buy some water”. When he came back with his chocolate (and water of course), it became obvious to everyone just how hungry they were, and a stream of gamers formed (like a line of ants) going to and fro to forage for delicious late-night delicacies.
The train took a while to reach the city center, although that was simply because of distance, and the group disbanded to go to our respective hotels once we got there. The PT site was relatively far away from the area where most of the hotels were (roughly two kilometers), but I had been able to find a place that was conveniently located near a subway station a few stops away from it. The hotel was cheap and seemed fine on the booking site that I had used, although when I checked in with Wrapter and some of the other guys, I found that the pictures I had seen were actually of their flagship hotel and not this one (which “coincidently” wasn’t as nice). The room was sixty-something dollars per night which was a real bargain, and I knew that it was going to be just a bed and a bathroom cubicle (I was right, and they apparently charged $1 per square foot of space).
The room had been described as able to accommodate two people, although the bed was on the small side. However, the room suited my needs, which was to say that I wasn’t going to be unhappy unless I was unable to sleep. I wasn’t planning on hosting a tea and crumpets brunch or a black and white gala, I simply wanted to catch some Z’s at the end of a long day playing Magic. In the end, the only problem that arose was an insufficient amount of blankets which was quickly remedied.
I had noticed during check-in that there was a breakfast buffet available for 1,000 Yen (or 800 Yen if purchased in advance; roughly $10), and that spurred my interest. I considered myself to be an adventurous person and open to trying most foods, however I knew that a trip along the Pacific Rim would put my mettle to the test along with the fortitude of both my palate and stomach. There were some “foods” that the natives gobbled up here that most foreigners would wrinkle their nose at in disgust, but I had confidence in myself. I wanted to see what was being offered and so I bought a blind date with chance.
The nights had become more bearable as I was able to sleep regularly until just after 5:30 AM without interruption (running good? Yes sir!). I dozed for a while before getting up at 7 AM to eat. Was it silly that I had butterflies in my stomach as I watched the floor lights in the elevator count down? Probably. What I knew for certain was that I was a ravenous beast and needed sustenance; a sacrificial offering; a grand tribute to the gods. When I emerged from the elevator and walked across the hallway into the restaurant, I was surprised to see that the spread was quite reasonable and exactly what I had been looking forward to. The place seemed authentic with many of the key elements present and with only a few western concessions. Along with some croissants, hash browns, pork sausage, and scrambled eggs were more traditional dishes including various pickled vegetables (daikon, pearl onions, plums, lotus root, and turnips), salted grilled salmon and mackerel, braised root vegetables (burdock, carrot), miso soup, bean curd, curry rice, steamed rice, a few Chinese-inspired dishes (shuumai), and drinks (tea, coffee, juices, and ice water).
I went back up to the room after foraging for an hour or so, and I wasn’t surprised to see that Wrapter was still sleeping contently. No one from the other rooms seemed to be awake either, and so I went back down to the lobby to check out what info I could dig up on the area regarding sights to see and places to eat at. Apparently there were quite a few underground malls located adjacent to some of the various subway stations which were conveniently located nearby; I’d check those out later. People started to show up in the lobby at some point, and we began gaming. There wasn’t anywhere else to play except in the lobby itself which had a few tables, and although none of the staff protested against our presence, I knew that it had been aggravating nonetheless.
We tested block in the lobby all day long, and at the end of our extensive testing, we broke the format with a deck which featured eighteen Plains and named it “Tempered Steel”. Sadly we hadn’t come up with anything revolutionary, although there were key differences than what was already in the most popular deck at the time: four maindeck Hero of Bladehold and four sideboarded Mutagenic Growths for example. Spies came to and from their rooms and went about their business at various points in the day. I say spies simply because they were Magic players who weren’t in our test group. Calcano walked through the lobby from his room in the afternoon, and after chatting with him for a bit, he informed me of an “all you can eat dessert place” which sounded extremely interesting.
The afternoon was beginning to wane, and we decided to head over to the site to register even though we knew there wasn’t going to be a player party. I still had to pick up cards for my deck seeing as how the ones I had intended to bring were sitting neatly in boxes at home (due to my flight shenanigans taking up infinite time). ChannelFireball had been able to get a booth which made getting cards much easier, although I wasn’t completely sure that they’d have some of the more random commons/uncommons like Origin Spellbomb, Revoke Existence, and Leonin Relic-Warder. There would also be drafts to attend to once everything was settled with the deck.
The actual location of the site was still a mystery to us despite knowing the appropriate subway stop to get off at. However, on our way over there we encountered a bit of luck after I sighted John Shannon and other WOTC staff. We shadowed them for a short while and were led to Fukiage Hall after taking only one wrong turn in the labyrinth that was the subway. The site was like any other, and after I spotted the CFB booth and went through their selection of singles, I found that I wasn’t missing much. BenS was kind enough to find the remaining cards and get them for us because he needed them also. This is what I ended up settling on:
The list wasn’t far off from what Luis, Wrapter, and PV played, although the major difference that I would have changed if I were to run it back would have been to fit in a few Dismember to deal with problematic cards like Phyrexian Crusader.
For the first time in a long time we couldn’t find anyone to draft with. As odd as it was to be unable to find a draft in a room filled with Magic players, such was the case, and so we left to go back to Nagoya Station which was located underneath the massive site hotel. PV had already checked into his room, and Luis had informed us that there were two floors inside the hotel dedicated to restaurants that were worth checking out.
Most restaurants in Japan are expensive, or at the very least cost more than what’s available in the good ‘ol US of A, where value is more abundant than any other country I’ve been to. The cheapest places (fast-food like McDonalds and equivalent “curry/ramen houses”) started at 800 Yen while anything else was going to cost at least 2,400 Yen; those were the facts. I wasn’t totally opposed to spending $30 for some meals, although the gamer inside of me was always seeking the best value, and rightfully so seeing as how that concept had been forced upon me for the last fifteen years (yes, I’m old. Thanks for bringing that up. Jerk!). In any case, I went along for the times, and I’d get something if it was interesting. I still had a stash of beef jerky and roasted nuts that I’d brought with me from home if all else failed.
It turned out that settling on a place to eat was much harder for a group of eleven people than some would have imagined, especially when factors like price and ethnicity were considered. Some people didn’t want to spend $30 while others didn’t want to “eat a bowl of slop” for lack of a better description (this bowl’s too hot, this bowl’s too cold, etc.). There were many excellent choices, but there was always a piece of the puzzle that wouldn’t fit at the end. Finally we just decided to split into mini-groups and go where we all pleased. Wrapter defaulted to Indian which I was more than happy to go along with especially after surveying the other options that people had gone to. As much as I had wanted to get sushi, I had found that the quality wasn’t discernable compared to restaurants in the US.
The Indian restaurant was pretty awesome, and it seemed like everyone who ate there had a good time. Most of us got the same fixed meal which included three different types of curry, chicken and lamb kebab, Nan, and a cucumber salad for 2,400 Yen. We ate there for a while, chatting, talking about the tournament ahead of us. By the time we had finished it was getting late, and we went looking for the rest of our fragmented crew. We wandered around for a while and found them at a creperie where PV was waiting for his dessert (obviously). After everyone had finished up, we left to go to our respective hotels and sleep in preparation for the coming day’s work. I rebought on the breakfast at the hotel in the morning since I had enjoyed it so much the first time; everything was the same which was fine with me.
Day one of the PT was a disaster for me. I had jokingly talked about how I was ready for my lackluster 2-2-1 start for the constructed portion, which as it turned out wasn’t far off from the fact. I went 2-3 in constructed, drafted a fine deck, but then got destroyed (going 0-2), and was unable to finish in the top-200 to get a third pro point (the “daunting” task of going 4-4). I was trying to think of a seven-mana 2/5 creature to call myself when people asked about my terrible record, but I couldn’t think of any. When I searched through gatherer later on, I discovered that R&D had never made any (probably because they knew it would have been awful). Veteran Bodyguard was the closest match I could find, though that was based more on art than anything else.
Despite my quick exit from the Professional Tour: Nagoya, I still had high spirits and knew that I could capitalize on my newly acquired “free time”. It seemed like I had been the sacrificial lamb of the group as everyone else was in day two with decent records (except for that Brad Nelson fellow from Star City something something). In any case, at the end of the day playing in an area surrounded by “not food” businesses, it wasn’t surprising to find out that everyone was famished. The only food nearby that I had been aware of was a Lawson’s on the way back to the subway (which had been pillaged by the hordes of all food before round three was over) and one food vendor inside the site itself (they only had a few types of food but mainly specialized in being sold out). It was late, and since we were at different hotels, we decided to break up again and venture solo for sustenance. I told Wrapter about this Indian place that had a buffet for 980 Yen which immediately sold him, although I’m pretty sure now that the mere use of the syllable “Ind” would have been sufficient; and off we went with Matt Nass in tow.
The weather had become less hospitable as the day had worn on and greeted us with torrential rain as we walked out of the site. The others cabbed to Nagoya Station while we walked back to Fukiage Station because we were getting off at an earlier stop. After being lost for a bit, we were aided by a good Samuraitan who showed us exactly where our destination lay hidden. Unbeknownst to us, Indus, the place we were going had two locations, and the one I had chosen only had the buffet option on a few days (and today obviously wasn’t one of them). However, we weren’t going to let our poor fortune spoil our appetites and got busy ordering. I went with a dish similar to lamb vindaloo, but less spicy and without potatoes; it was scrump-didily-umptious. Oh my!
For some strange reason I had a lot of free time on Saturday. I had decided to “sleep in”, and by that I mean “try to sleep until 7 AM”; mission failed. I got up and went down to the breakfast to HAUMPH! I had planned on eating there every day which was like being at a million life while casting Slaughter with buyback; I was going to value-town. BenS, Kibler, and Wrapter all came down at various points to say hello before leaving for the site; work started at 9 AM for them. Even though I hadn’t been called in, I still had made a schedule to keep myself busy. Nate Price, my buddy and event coverage extraordinaire, told me of the network of shops underneath and around Sakae and Yabacho Station, which was far more expansive than I had originally heard. I had also followed up with Calcano, but he had unfortunately been unable to find the dessert buffet, although I thought I still had a lead on its location. After consulting my handy-dandy pocket guide that I’d found in the room, I discovered that I’d be able to get an effective three-for-one if I walked around the two aforementioned adjacent subway stations (which would also take me near the other Indus location). I was craving curry with a side of retribution, and only one place was going to quell my needs.
I made my way to Sakae station, under the city to where the shops lay. There were different sections dedicated to certain types of shops: clothing, jewelry, food, and so on. The shops weren’t just underground, and some extended upwards many floors into the buildings above. “Going down. Floor six: legal. Floor five: human resources. Floor four: cosmetics. Floor three: pastry delicatessens?!!” I’d like to say that I didn’t get lost, but that would be a blatant lie. Still, it was worth wandering by the same shops more than once. Here’s an example of just one of the many underground halls:
I had been underground for a while and needed to come up for a breath of fresh air, and so I walked along Central Park (not quite as grand as Manhattan, but still an enjoyable sight) near the Nagoya Tower. There were a lot of high-end shops along the way which caught my attention, like Tiffany’s and Gucci, but they weren’t for me. I had to keep my eye on the prize, and that led me to the Creston Hotel in the PARCO complex. I knew that the dessert shop was in PARCO, and while there were a few buildings to explore, I hit the jackpot on the first try. I went all the way up to the eighth floor and found it: Sweets Paradise.
The concept was simple: wait in line, pay 1,480 Yen, HAUMPH!, and finally get kicked out after seventy minutes. I looked through the windows to see what awaited and was content that the bounty was worth the time, but not today; tomorrow was going to work out better. Regardless of whether I went there today or tomorrow, there were going to be problems; the main one was the wait. There was a giant centipede outside the entrance to the left, its head was a sign-in sheet and its legs consisted of a long row of chairs wrapping around the corner with no end in sight, all filled with giggling small girls waiting for their turn to be let through the pearly
white pink gates. It seemed like I was out of my element. To say that I stuck out like a sore thumb would have been a gross understatement. There I was, a giant 6’5” American, wading around in a sea of Japanese school girls, outside of an all-you-can-eat-cake-shop (with a completely pink décor). Yea, this wasn’t awkward at all… Oh, and by the way, the “wait” I mentioned earlier was just over two hours.
I made my way out of PARCO and towards the Indus that we should have gone to the night before. Escaping the wrath of my appetite wasn’t going to prove such an easy task, especially by such a desirable type of cuisine. I made my way to Indus, sat down, got served water and a menu, and then I discovered that there were two sides to the restaurant (obviously I was on the wrong side). The host was kind enough to lead me to where I desired to go, and in no time I was deep into my second bowl of curry, sans rice and Nan; I’m a purist.
I was quite satisfied with the exploring that I’d done for the day and decided to head to the site. It was just after 2 PM when I arrived, but there were still plenty of rounds to be played. To summarize, Luis got lucky, made top-8 (going 9-0 with Tempered Steel), and everyone else playing the same 75 finished somewhere in the top-32 with a few stragglers in the top-64. It was just another day at the office.
I had planned Sunday to be the pinnacle of my trip, although new plans had to be made because the whole “winning the PT” thing got derailed. I decided to go to Nagoya Castle and the Atsuta-Jingu Shrine after breakfast, Sweets Paradise for “lunch”, head back to the site where Luis would be attacking for the win with a board consisting of Plague Stinger, Forest, Treasure Mage, and three Hexplate Golems, and then go out for a victory dinner; the plan was foolproof.
I started out with a trip downstairs to breakfast, although I managed to exercise a bit of restraint because I knew that I needed to save as much room for lunch as possible. Nagoya Castle was the first place on my list, and after a short trip on the subway, I was walking through the entrance to the surrounding gardens of the castle. To say that the sights were magnificent wouldn’t do them justice, and even though I’m one of the few people who could come close to aptly describe them, a few pictures will work more efficiently.
There were many gardens in the compound, and after I had thoroughly explored them, it was time for the featured attractions: the main donjon and the southeast turret (pictured below), along with others like the Kiyomasa Stone, the Camellia Tree, and the Golden Dolphins.
I had taken my time, making sure to explore as much as I could, and it was just past noon by the time I had satisfied myself. Slightly behind schedule, I made my way back into modern-day Japan and found the subway. The trip had taken a lot out of me for whatever reason, and I found that I wasn’t really in the mood to do much more walking around, so I decided to cut the day short and go straight to Sweets Paradise (fine, I’ll level with you. I just wanted to eat a bunch of cake).
I walked out from the elevator and onto the eighth floor at PARCO at 1 PM and zoomed in on my target which was obviously bustling, filled to the brim with sixteen-year-old couples; it was going to be a long wait. I signed in next to the time that was marked 15:45, my name “David O.” at the bottom of a list of names written in Japanese; using my last name’s initial was probably a bit gratuitous. I went to go sit down and zoned out for a while. Every so often a man would come out, grab the clipboard and sign-in sheets attached to it, and walk around calling out names of lucky soon-to-be-patrons, and finally mine was called just under two hours later.
I’d been to buffets before and considered myself to be a veteran of the eating ways, adept in strategy and able to dodge the many pitfalls that lay waiting. Not wanting to fill up on swill, I surveyed the battlefield to decide which decadent battles I wanted to fight. There were many types of cakes, although a few too many were simplistic plain ‘bread’ cakes which I didn’t realize at first; and so I made a few mistakes. Fortunately I was able to rebound and zoned in on the crème de la crème, going back for extra helpings. There was also a coffee bar which helped me through my diabetic crisis with some much-needed acidity to balance my “meal”. I tried to keep my pace constant just like I’d always done when eating at Fogo de Chao, but my zealousness in the beginning cause me to falter, and I slowed down towards the end. Still, it was a glorious effort.
Plate 1 (clockwise from top): Oranges and cream cake, chocolate layer cake, strawberry crème cake, orange crème cake, tiramisu, pistachio cake, chocolate brownie, vanilla cake, strawberry cake, orange tart, chocolate cake, vanilla cheesecake, vanilla cake with pistachio frosting.
In the background: the only opponents that managed to defeat me; they were just too unsavory. To the right: my receipt showing the ticket price and time that I was supposed to leave.
Plate 3 (clockwise from top): banana crème brulee, tiramisu, bananas and crème roll with brulee top, chocolate layer cake, crème caramel, strawberry mouse cake.
Plate 4 (clockwise from top): tiramisu, fruit crème puff, banana crème brulee, orange tart, strawberry short cake, orange crème cake, strawberry crème cake.
I had planned to make some joke along the lines of “Which of these plates do you think is the one most likely that I ate?” However I won’t try and kid you; I ate all of them. I really am on a diet. Seriously!
I saw that it was getting late and decided to forego a fifth plate, so I made my way out of Sweets Paradise and back to the site, moving just a bit slower than I normally did; a quick ride through the subway and I was there. My naturally impeccable timing made it so that I heard Rich Hagon announcing the semi-finalists as I walked in. Alas, the “champion… from the US…” was not Luis. Still, I was glad Sharfman won. I found out later that Luis had gotten ranched in the quarters by a Thopter Assembly; rares are nice. We drafted for a while and then went back to Nagoya station for dinner at an Italian place which was nice. I obviously wasn’t too hungry but couldn’t pass up a small fish entrée with steamed vegetables (I had to watch my figure).
Monday was travel day and we were all returning back to the United States. We had flights in the afternoon but didn’t have anything else left to do in town, so we went early to the airport. I had managed to get us onto an express train by accident, and as it turned out the extra 300 Yen for having non-stop service to the airport was an omen of bad tidings. When we went to check in to our flights, we were informed that our connection from Tokyo to San Francisco had been cancelled. I didn’t even flinch when I heard this. “Flight cancelled you say? Pfft, please! Don’t bother telling me anything girlfriend unless my plane’s being attacked by Godzilla or something.” (at least that’s was what I was thinking). Needless to say, the staff was able to find a reasonable solution in no time, and I was quickly rebooked with a connection through Los Angeles which only added a few hours to the trip.
I had been looking forward to getting some shopping done at the airport because I wanted to pick up some mochi candy to bring home, and after finding a few different types that I liked, it was nearly time to get going to my gate. The flight back was rather boring and so I won’t go into the remaining details. When I got home I fell into a deep sleep and was unconscious for many hours before waking up the next day to my “normal life”. The month of trips was almost over, and the last one was going to be the tastiest of them all.
Part 6: Kansas City: That’s not smog, that’s BBQ!
I was really excited about going to Kansas City. The last time I had been there was for Nationals in 2009 and had been craving the barbeque ever since. I could honestly say that it was the one place where I wouldn’t have been disappointed about skipping Fogo de Chao. We had gone to Arthur Bryant’s and Fiorillo’s Jack Stack a lot last time, but were looking to expand our horizons. I had heard rumblings from Conley about a place called Gates and how it was “the nut”, but for some strange reason, everyone else was disagreeing with him. On my flight back from Providence I had been watching The Food Network nonstop, and an episode of “Diner’s, Drive-Ins, and Dives” featuring Kansas City BBQ was on (which I obviously took as a sign). Afterwards, I had a list of potential targets to hit up.
I honestly didn’t care much for Jack Stack because it was just a bit too classy for what I was looking for. Their BBQ was fine; you just didn’t get much of it. I wanted to be able to buy meat by-the-pound from some dude missing three teeth named Tyrone who was behind a plexiglas window with a sign inscribed “DON’T TIP EMPLOYEES PLEASE” on it (aka, Arthur Byrant’s). I wanted the bare-bones nitty-gritty dive that you went to just for the BBQ, and nothing else. “No, I don’t want you to take my coat, thank you!”
Booking a direct flight to KC had been nearly impossible, and by the time that I arrived, it was nearly 5 PM. The only one to greet me at the airport was the suffocating humidity. My friend Eirik had arrived earlier than I, and so I met him at the site which was conveniently connected directly with the hotel. I had checked in, dropped my baggage in the room, and made my way to the site to register before finding Eirik birding a draft. We immediately looked at each other and knew what was up: a minute later we were outside of the hotel trying to get a cab to Arthur Bryant’s. And then we crossed paths with fortune…
“Hey!” I heard from behind me; it was BDM and Steve Sadin. I had been looking forward to running into them, not only because I hadn’t talked with them in a while, but also because they were pretty big foodies. They asked what was going on, and after I told them that we were going to Arthur Bryant’s, they said that we should try this place called Oklahoma Joes. I had never heard of it but what convinced me was when BDM said, “It’s on Anthony Bourdain’s list of thirteen places that you need to eat at before you die.”…
We quickly found a cab and went in search of this place that was apparently made out of an old gas station. At first I had been worried because the cabbie didn’t know where the place was and his GPS was being uncooperative; we only had a street intersection to go on. I really began to get worried when he started driving on the highway away from downtown and into a wooded residential area. “Man, we’re gonna die and I haven’t even eaten yet!” I thought. It looked like the cabbie was just trying to jack up the fare and was going to ask him what the deal was when I suddenly stopped myself. There we were in the middle of nowhere at some random intersection when it hit me: hickory. Dear lord, were we there? To our left was an old (yet still operational) gas station with a sign clearly labeled “Oklahoma Joes”, a line of people filed out of the door.
When we finally made it inside, we saw that there was a missing wall that once separated the gas station from whatever business used to occupy the space, and if you really wanted to, you could go and buy a liter of 10W-40 motor oil on your way out. It took roughly thirty minutes to reach the register and order, and when we got to the front the anticipation was killing us; we needed BBQ and needed it now! Their specialty, as I learned later on, was ribs, and between everyone there we got a few racks plus some additional meats like smoked turkey, pulled pork, and brisket. There were also sides like red beans and rice, baked beans, Texas toast, coleslaw, and so on. Everything was quite good, but nothing else compared to the ribs. They were honestly the best that I’d ever had. The smoke ring permeated through most of the meat, getting very close to the bone, filling every juicy morsel with the smoky flavor of hickory and mesquite. They were so insane, not getting them was punting. Seriously, it was like not playing necro, affinity, teachings, or caw-blade. They were simply the best.
There were leftovers from our dinner because we had ordered more than enough food but wanted to make sure that we had gotten everything to establish the proper ranking of BBQ deliciousness. There were apparently burnt ends which we heard were supposed to rival the ribs, but they only had them on a sandwich and it hadn’t been available today. We vowed to come back and try them later on. Luis and Wrapter were flying in late and had requested that some BBQ be waiting for them which made having leftovers (and subsequently a mini-fridge in the room) convenient. After loosening our belts, we headed back to the hotel.
That night was quite stormy and I was unable to sleep, though I couldn’t say if it was causality. The noise from the thunder and AC unit certainly didn’t help. I do know that I got very little rest and had been awake for more of the night than I had been asleep for. When I “woke up” in the morning, I took a quick shower and headed down to find some breakfast. I didn’t like what was at the hotel buffet, so I went and bought some coffee and sunflower seeds at a gift shop to tie me down until later. I had bigger prey in my sights.
The Grand Prix started and I got handed the best sealed pool that I’d ever had at an event (If you want to take some time and dabble with it to see if you can guess what I made, the entire pool is directly below along with my decklist which is further down the page).
I had talked with people and we had decided to eat at Arthur Bryant’s for lunch during the byes. Normally we’d draft or tune our sealed decks, but we were in Kansas City and needed to fully take advantage of our time here. Sperling had championed the burnt ends from Arthur Bryant’s to be at the top of the list of BBQ that they’d sampled, but he’d been unaware of Oklahoma Joes, and I courteously informed him about the best place he’d never been to. As we were walking out to lunch, I saw BDM and Sadin come back with sandwiches in hand; he’d gone back to Oklahoma Joes for the burnt ends. I was able to snag a piece from Steve and was somewhat delighted when I found that they weren’t as good as the ribs (although still quite good), mainly because I wouldn’t have been able to get them. After that we parted ways to go eat.
Arthur Bryant’s had a few locations, but the Original (the one I’d been to and will always refer to) was in the middle of nowhere. It was a brick building at the corner of two streets in a run down, semi-industrial/residential area with very little to distinguish it as a culinary treasure chest other than the giant “Arthur Bryant’s” logo painted on the side of it. Inside, the walls were covered with photos of celebrities and other public figures eating there in addition to awards praising them for their deep understanding of the BBQ craft. There wasn’t much that separated their menu from the other BBQ places that I’d been to, but their fare was near the top.
A lot of people went to Arthur Bryant’s for lunch, mainly the people from our test group (we always had the best, whatever “it” was: strategy, deck, sealed deck players, etc. EVERYTHING), and we had to take a bunch of taxis. By the time PV, Eirik, and I got there, most other people had already ordered and gotten their food. For today, I had decided to go with a light lunch, a pound of burnt ends, a tribute to Sperling and his wisdom; they were good. From my description earlier, Arthur Bryant’s can be summarized as a bare-bones place, rich with culture, and man can they BBQ. Still, they didn’t compare to Oklahoma Joes.
We got back before round three started because not all of us had a full set of byes, and so there was a bit of time to pass. Some people went about playing with their sealed pools, trying to tweak them and get advice from different people, seeing if they’d missed anything; I didn’t. I was in a food coma, lazy, and locked in with my forty. Practice games be damned. I went 8-1, losing only to Reitzl when he called his buddies Karn and Koth to help him smash me, and quite convincingly so, in a quick two games.
The deck I ended up registering was this:
Yes, I left awesome cards in the sideboard, but I had my reasons. Yes, I played Corrupted Harvester and was more than happy to do so. Having a large, resilient creature in a mono-removal deck that also blanked Volition Reins, Corrupted Conscience, and Enslave seemed like a good idea. Plus, he looked so adorable!
As soon as I finished my match I walked around looking for other people, trying to gather them so that we could make dinner plans. I wanted to go back to Oklahoma Joes and I was absolutely certain that other people did also; I knew Eirik, Luis, and Wrapter would be down. Rounding everyone up took a while, but we finally made it outside and got some taxis to take us there. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of not getting the ribs this time.
The wait was similar to the prior day with the line going out the door. As I recall, it didn’t let up until near closing time. I got a full rack of ribs (that’s fourteen, count them), a side of baked beans, and Texas toast, none of which I had the slightest intention taking back with me in a to-go box. Other less gluttonous souls matched my order but couldn’t quite perform, and as a result I was rewarded with their discarded sides. Paulo shipped me his bowl of chicken gumbo while Luis relinquished control of his baked beans. Word had spread about how good the place was, and so there were a ton of other people from the GP there as well. We all chatted for a while before heading back to the hotel, the taxis riding a bit lower to the ground than when they had brought us.
I didn’t eat breakfast the next morning…
Day 2 went well, technically. Both drafts ended with me going 2-1 in the pod. The second draft featured me getting paired up in the final two rounds, but scooping just wasn’t an option for me; I had to play. Picking up pro points was very necessary to my livelihood, and not something that I could just lightly disregard, and so that was that. Just like in Singapore, I managed to casually acquire yet another signature “under-the-radar top-16 finish”.
Draft #1 Deck:
Draft #2 Deck:
Luis squeaked into the top-8 as the only X-3, drafted the highly underrated “Myr Sire/Plague Myr/Scrapdiver Serpent aggro” archetype, and somehow ranched Yuuya’s superior deck in the finals after some rather “masterful” play from his other opponents. Sometimes you’re blessed I guess. In any case, the mood was celebratory, and we all went to the sports bar in the hotel because the city apparently shut down “early” on Sunday; it was 7 PM. The hours wore on, all the while our group was chatting away, relaxing with the knowledge that our “work week” was behind us. I was very tired and went up after a few hours, saying my goodbyes to the people on hand. My flight was at 6 AM the next day and I wanted to get some sleep.
The weekend had been over in a flash, and despite some unfortunate low points during the trip, there had been a lot of highs; many more in comparison. I had been glad to see my friends who hadn’t been able to make it out to Asia, and leaving them along with Kansas City itself was the lowest point of all; I would really miss the BBQ. The next event wasn’t going to be for a long time (seven weeks until Nationals at GenCon), and even though the food was a lot worse in Indy, I was certain that the company would still make up for it like always.