28 Days Later: A Tournament Report (Zombies not included)*PART ONE*
It’s been a while since I’ve written a tournament report, mainly due to a combination of this year not going nearly as well as the previous few in conjunction with better finishes by my teammates (which prompted them to write reports of their own; though not nearly as flowing, eloquent, or grand). Sure I’ve gotten a few GP top-16/32s, but that’s nothing to get excited about, and as much as I’ve wanted to write reports about them and the resulting misadventures, “duplicate” material isn’t exactly the type of reading that I imagine would excite the masses (even if it is better). Despite my stance on the subject of recycled stories, the last month was quite eventful and demands to be retold.
I knew crunch time was coming. Starting on May 27 there would be tournaments every weekend at some location distant from the previous and with a different format. We, the team, had to prep for Providence (Legacy), Singapore (Standard), Nagoya (Scars Block Constructed/Draft), and Kansas City (BBQ Scars Block Sealed/Draft). Nagoya was the biggest event because it was the Pro Tour and thus had the highest reward attached to it. “Thankfully” we had already solved Singapore back at PT Paris because Standard was so stale due to us creating the best deck ever (Caw Blade; you’re welcome, folks) and didn’t require much investigation. We’d been watching the SCG 5k tournaments to see if anything new popped up that was awesome but saw nothing except Splinter Twin. Providence required a bit more work, but we figured that we would be able to just throw something together like Counterbalance and be fine; Legacy had seemed like it’d changed much and it was only a Grand Prix. As for Kansas City, that was going to be a freeroll because of our group’s natural tendencies to “practice” drafting more than any other format despite perhaps not needing it. I mean, it’s drafting. What else is there to say?
Scars Block Constructed was the biggest and most important hurdle for the group to overcome, and we were able to get the ball rolling relatively early this time. Our test group from Paris hadn’t taken Gandalf’s advice (when he said to Frodo) of “Keep it secret. Keep it safe!” and a bunch of rando-commandos got our list (or at least the basic shell idea). This time was going to be different; the level of separation would eclipse even that of the Iron Curtain. Like I said earlier, we got off to an early start using our normal interweb channels along with the local San Francisco-based group WAY back in mid-March. The obvious place to start with testing was by playing two-set block on Magic Online which allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the good cards in the format along with various interactions. I say “us” loosely because I didn’t like playing (Constructed bores me in general) and much preferred making observations and comments based on what I saw.
Two-set block gave us a lot more insight to its fully-fledged form than we initially gave it credit for, namely the format’s terrible mana. The control decks were bad because they had one SOM dual (if they were lucky) and an equal split of two basic land types. These control decks were trying to run cards like Steel Sabotage, Grasp of Darkness, Stoic Rebuttal, and Blue Sun’s Zenith while having almost no manafixing whatsoever; they were destined to fail. It wasn’t a surprise to see that they were being crushed by the bad versions of Tempered Steel, Kuldotha Red (the Koth + 56 Mountain deck), and Mono-Black Infect.
All of a sudden life became busy and our testing slowed dramatically. Maybe it was because New Phyrexia wasn’t out yet or something else, but regardless of what the reason was, the month of April was a very unproductive month regarding our team prep online. I did manage to find an awesomely cheap flight to Boston though (SFO-> BOS nonstop/round trip on Jet Blue for $400; more on this later). New Phyrexia was fully spoiled earlier than normal thanks to some Insidious Bookworms who couldn’t decipher the NDA acronym even if their Magic careers depended on it, and we were able to start testing with some new cards which brought the wind back into our sails locally.
Wrapter and Matt Nass(sssssssssssss), our Brewmasters, had worked up a slew of obviously bad decks ranging from Mono-Green Infect to multiple versions of some of the more obvious archetypes like Kuldotha Red and Tezerret. We had been testing other terrible decks like the roughly fifty awful Birthing Pod lists that PV kept sending us despite ignoring him for weeks. “But guys, you can ramp into SHEOLDRED!!111!!” Luis had made actually literally every Consecrated Sphinx list possible (except a good one) and had even included some spicy hits like the quad-Spire Monitor stealth force (aka blue’s Skinrender). Even I had made a few decks, although they were mostly different versions of aggro like Battle Cry Red, Infect, and Tempered Steel.
The cards that we focused on were Koth of the Hammer, Thrun, the Last Troll, Hero of Bladehold, and Inkmoth Nexus. Those four cards were giving our control decks the most trouble and it was difficult to find a card that dealt with everything; Stoic Rebuttal dealt with Koth unless they were on the play and had a Sphere of the Suns or Myr; Grasp of Darkness killed Hero; Phyrexian Metamorph killed Thrun; Slice in Twain killed Inkmoth Nexus. Luis had built a RUG control deck on Magic Online with SOM/MBS which gave us what seemed like a reasonable shell to work with, giving us lots of value cards like Viridian Corruptor, Slice in Twain, Thrun, Consecrated Sphinx, Stoic Rebuttal, and Red Sun’s Zenith. However, after working with the deck for a while and watch it play out, I found that there were a lot of cards that I didn’t like. Viridian Emissary was very weak because it would just sit in play a lot of the time and not give you the utility that it was supposed to. Beast Within and Stoic Rebuttal didn’t work well in conjunction with each other unless you also had a Thrun out. It seemed like the deck’s answers were too narrow (ex: splashing red for Galvanic Blast to deal with Nexus).
By now it was a few weeks into May and the Providence info sheet had just gone up (two weeks before the event; so timely). I had searched for flights to Boston and always remembered them being much more expensive than $400, so I booked it despite lacking the GP info. To my dismay I found that Boston and Providence weren’t exactly a stone’s throw away from each other and that getting from Logan International would require some extra effort (being sixty miles away). I knew that I should have checked first, and that fact had lingered away in the back of my mind, but I just never got around to doing it. In my haste, when I had booked my flight in April (before info had been put up), I had searched for nearby airports on TripAdvisor and found that flights to Boston were almost two hundred dollars cheaper than flights to Providence. However, as it turned out, there were a number of ways to travel between the two cities with ease, and we decided to rent a car in the end. Renting a car was our best option because it was graduation weekend at Brown University, and for lack of a better verb, the festivities were browning us due to the hordes of adoring parents filling up the normally vacant hotel rooms around town. We ended up booking a low-end hotel ten miles away, roughly two counties from the site in the middle of nowhere. As it turn out, having a rental car worked out the best because getting around Providence would have proven difficult otherwise (which made the ticket to Boston a mise). Sometimes you just have foresight… or play badly but still get rewarded.
Part 1: Onwards, to Providence: may it shine upon you.
Travel day to Boston had arrived every day preceding it had been a rat-race involving various extracurricular activities ranging from helping friends move to going to a Rammstein concert (which was AMAZING). I had packed two separate bags, one for the coming weekend’s trip back east and another for the two-week adventure to the Asian-Pacific rim directly following it. My flight back to the Bay Area from Boston was arriving late at night, roughly a dozen hours after everyone else in the car which meant I had some time to be a tourist in Bean Town. I planned the important part of the day out first and had found a few places to eat at (priorities people!) and then settled on exploring the Freedom Trail (a series of colonial buildings and other places like Paul Revere’s House). Tourist day will wait a bit as it’s getting ahead of the story.
The flight to Boston was awesome mainly because it was non-stop and on Jet Blue which I recommend above all others except Virgin in terms of service, amenities, LEGROOM, etc. After a pleasant flight, I realized that there were some obvious concessions: we were in Boston. I’m not knocking the town because it definitely has character; it also has about an equal ratio of undesired humidity and heat. After picking up Nass, PV, and Zaiem, we high-tailed it to the Budget rental, got our sedan, and quickly made our way to the highway and towards Providence. It wasn’t until we got onto the actual highway that we were immediately greeted by rush hour traffic, and what should have been a brisk hour-long trip turned into a two-and-a-half hour commuting nightmare.
We finally made it to Providence and began looking for a place suitable for us to feast at. There were a lot of Italian places and other assorted upscale restaurants, but very little that we wanted to go to for a quick bite before heading to the site. “Luckily” for us, there was absolutely no parking which gave us extra time to cruise a bit and retrace our path while looking again and the options. Eventually we gave up and pulled off the main drag to find parking, and after negotiating with a space that was a bit smaller than what we needed, found a deserted Jamaican restaurant. It was fairly obvious that we had some authentic home-cooking in store for us judging by the lady that served us; either that or she was a Broadway prodigy tucked away in New England. After some confusion during ordering, we settled on swapping some food with each other and happily devoured our meals. For once in his life Paulo ordered the chicken, which was quite good. We gamed for the bill afterwards (mine had been tied for the most expensive and so I got value out of it) and I immediately lost; I always lose. After dinner we walked back to the car a bit more slowly than from it and headed to the site.
Our Legacy deck wasn’t exactly settled on, and while some of us had been advocating a four-color monstrosity including Mountain, Karakas, Counterspell, and Dark Confidant, others were looking to play something a bit more mainstream like Baseruption or Team America. Earlier in our theory-testing phase, we had to figure out if Stoneforge Mystic was better than Tarmogoyf; it was. Yes, you read that correctly. As good as Tarmogoyf had been in the past, Stoneforge for Batterskull was more impressive against Zoo and Merfolk, which were two of the matchups that we were concerned with. Eventually the group was separated into two groups, one wanted to play black and Dark Confidant and the other wanted to play just blue/white with Standstill. International Magic Superstar Martin Yuuuuuuuuuuuuza and Owen (I-never-lose-a-match-in-the-Swiss) Turtenwald were on the U/W deck while most other people were either undecided or on the black splash for Bobby dearest. Everyone there (PV, LSV, Owen, Martin, EFro, Kibler, Brad, Conley, BenS, Lucas Blohon, Zaiem, Nassty, and I) argued for two hours and came to no consensus about what was best. At one point we were talking about playing three Force of Will and four Inquisition of Kozilek because they are better against aggro. Martin, Efro, and Owen stuck with their guns in the end, while the rest went with Bob. After a while we couldn’t figure out a good sideboard and found that the deck wasn’t performing very well against Zoo/Merfolk so we scrapped it for a more tested archetype: BUG Landstill. Pernicious Deed was the card that we were most interested in as well as Jace, the Mind Sculptor in a shell with a moderate amount of creature removal.
I hadn’t brought the right cards for the Landstill deck and had to scramble to pick up the last few. Thankfully I didn’t have to buy Standstills which would have been miserable, although I wasn’t able to play with the optimal versions. For example, I had brought three signed simplified Chinese Deeds and had to borrow one very played English one along with only two foil Jaces. At one point I had considered mulliganing because I had drawn the English Deed alongside my foil Mental Missteps, foil Brainstorms, signed Forces, etc. This is what I ended up playing in the end:
It was getting late but some of us were hungry so we decided to drive over near the campus and pick up some food. I had scouted some restaurants online earlier in the week and had found a falafel restaurant that was open late. We got lost on the way and took the scenic route on the freeway, but managed to find the street it was on; big mistake. The place was located in the heart of campus which was packed solid with rowdy partying college kids (I guess “college kids” would have sufficed). The place was like a scene out of a movie. You know that one progressive college party scene from that movie where everything’s a blur with Blink 182 playing their hearts in the background? Yea, that one. Well, we were in it right now. Everything came to a halt and it took forever to find parking, get food, and get out of dodge. The entire endeavor took close to two hours; time that we didn’t really have considering that it was late.
The hotel wasn’t too far away (about eight miles) and the directions that I had looked at on Google Maps had shown that it was relatively easy to navigate to, even for an untrained monkey. Well, let me tell you one thing: sometimes a plan goes awry. We were also using an iPhone for directions which was fine except that the batteries were running low, and in combination with poorly marked streets and a lack of confidence, I managed to get us lost multiple times. After doubling back for the fourth time back onto the original long road that we had turned onto, we found our hotel standing exactly where it should have been. Confidence people, confidence!
When we got to the room we found that it was an oven without the tractor engine-powered air conditioning unit on. I was in a bit of a vice because I am a light sleeper and also don’t like sleeping in warm rooms. Wrapter was flying into Providence late and got to the room around 1 AM which was about when I would have fallen asleep. I courteously said hello when he came in. Thanks! Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep that night. Usually I’m lucky if I get four hours and this night was slightly below average. I’m still not sure whether I’ve gotten used to it or not.
I was the first one up (because I’d been awake for the last two hours) and immediately headed down to the breakfast. One nice thing about lower-end “lodges” is that they usually have a complimentary continental breakfast which is generally nothing more than a few cereal options, some bulk Danish pastries from Costco, white and wheat bread, coffee/milk/concentrated orange juice, and bagels with cream cheese (if you’re lucky). There were only two stories in the place and the elevator was a bit sluggish so I made my way to the stairs and immediately stopped in my tracks. I knew that smell. BACON! Even the most trained Olympian couldn’t have descended those two flights as quickly as I had. I walked into the dining area coolly and calmly and stood there motionless in complete awe; eggs, bacon, and cinnamon buns were awaiting my arrival. I was in heaven.
An hour later…
“You guys should really check out the breakfast; it’s decent.” I say as I waddle back into the room, my belt not quite as tight as usual.
Most people weren’t up and by the time they had managed to straggle downstairs to see what the scoop was, there wasn’t much time to take advantage of the cornucopia of goodness. From the looks in their eyes, they weren’t going to make the same mistake twice. We headed to the site, this time directly and without getting lost, and began playing in round four (most of us). In summary, I lost round eight to pick up my third loss and dropped. I’m not going to go into detail about the matches because, frankly, reading about actual matches isn’t what a real tournament report should focus on.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled to have missed day two, especially since it would mean that I wouldn’t have anything to do on Sunday except railbird and possibly draft. Both PV and Owen were undefeated after the Swiss rounds were over, and we went in search of food. There were infinite of us (roughly nine) which meant that it was going to be difficult to satisfy everyone’s picky taste. We wandered around downtown aimlessly for a while before settling on a nearly deserted pub that ended up being terrible due to both bad service and very mediocre food. Even the most simplistic instructions were messed up. Orders were mixed up, the wrong food came out, and it became blatantly obvious how inexperienced the restaurant staff was. After the disappointing meal, everyone headed their separate ways.
Sunday dawned and I’d found that the night had been slightly more bearable as I’d been able to sleep in late until 6 AM (lucky, I know). I went down and smashed the breakfast again, eating enough eggs to put most Easter hunts to shame. I had found a sweet Italian place to eat at (Siena restaurant) and planned on booking some reservations for dinner, but other than that, I was free to do whatever which was a whole lot of nothing while day two played out. Both Owen and PV made top 8 while Martin nearly made it but couldn’t find the last match win to seal the deal. Owen got ranched promptly in the quarters while Paulo made it to the semis only to meet the same fate, losing to the eventual winner (the no FOW dude).
I had gone exploring around downtown to find something to eat in the afternoon only to find a desolate ghost town. Many of the storefronts were vacant and the majority of the others were closed for whatever reason; I guess Sunday was more like siesta day in Providence. Maybe everyone was at the Brown graduation; who knows? It was mid-afternoon and I was in a quandary because I needed to eat but didn’t want to spoil my appetite while also needing something devoid of sugar and white carbohydrates (simple, I know). After walking past multiple pizza joints and pita stands, I found a store with some reasonable salads and picked one up with some Charcuterie business on it. Martin saw it when I got back and demanded tribute which was good because it was too large for me to handle in one sitting.
Siena was on the other side of the freeway near the Jamaican place that we had gone to on Friday, and after finding parking roughly a mile away, we (Zaiem, Paulo, Luis, Wrapter, and I) were seated inside away from the rest of the world. The menu was classic Tuscan with some New England influenced dishes like lobster ravioli. We ordered a few caprese salads and pizza ala vodka (tomato vodka sauce, chicken, fresh mozzarella, gorgonzola, and eggplant) for the table in addition to the drinks and entrees that we devoured with great satisfaction. I had been looking forward to some local cuisine and found it in the frutti di mare with linguine (shrimp, littlenecks, ocean scallops, white fish and swordfish sautéed in a red clam sauce). The lobster ravioli had been too rich for Luis and so I took it up myself to polish that off as well, and afterwards we all ordered desert. I managed to resist the temptation of cheesecake and get the budino di panettone (bread pudding made with Italian almond sweet bread and served warm with an amaretto, bourbon, brown sugar and butter glaze, topped with whipped cream). We were all quite satisfied with the fine dining experience; it was definitely the highlight of the trip to Providence.
Part 2: Baking in Boston: Sweating Memorial Day in Beantown.
The majority of people had booked a morning departure from Boston while I had just gotten the cheapest option available which meant that this time I was stuck with an 8 PM flight back to San Francisco, and as a result I had an entire day to spend in town. We left the Hotel at 5 AM which was sadly an hour before the breakfast opened up, although that didn’t stop me from sneaking in and brewing a cup of tea to go (value is value). Like I had said earlier, I had scoured the interweb for things to do/places to eat in Boston and had a few lines of play available. It was important for me to have multiple options available in case unforeseen factors arose to throw a wrench in my plans ranging from weather, bad information, or something else. I was sure that I’d be hiking through the urban jungle on the Freedom Trail, a series of historical buildings that dotted the downtown Boston area as well as Charlestown.
Luckily for me, downtown Boston was on the way to the airport which made it reasonable to have the car drop me off at the start of the trail: Boston Common (the oldest park in the country). I said goodbye to my friends before embarking on my adventure, “See you in Singapore in two days.” I had planned on eating before leaving Providence, but couldn’t because we had left so early which meant that I had to scrounge for food. Unfortunately it was 6 AM on Memorial Day, and the likeliness of finding businesses open at that time seemed nil. I walked around aimlessly for a while until I found a Starbucks which provided me both with some information about where to find some real food and also the caffeine that I so desperately needed to get myself through the day without being a zombie. I was soon directed to a CVS where I bought some jerky for me and batteries for my camera.
I waited around for about an hour on a park bench next to a grand church while enjoying my “breakfast” before setting off back to the Common to embark. From what I had read about the Trail, it was going to take anywhere from ninety minutes to upwards of a few hours to get from start to finish which left me with enough time to also get lunch and do something else. I had decided that I’d see how I felt after lunch before doing anything else which meant that there was only one thing to do: start hiking. The Trail was marked by a line in the pavement which took its followers winding through various neighborhoods and eventually to Bunker Hill in Charlestown. It took me a while to find the start of the trail because Boston Common is over fifty acres in size, but after asking a few people without much luck, I finally was able to find someone who pointed me in the right direction.
The Freedom Trail includes the following landmarks and can be read about in detail here (http://www.cityofboston.gov/freedomtrail/default.asp): Boston Common, Massachusetts State House, Park Street Church, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel and Burying Ground, First Public School Site and Ben Franklin Statue, Former Site of the Old Corner Bookstore, Old South Meeting House, Old State House, Boston Massacre Site, Faneuil Hall, Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, USS Constitution and Charlestown Navy Yard, and Bunker Hill Monument.
Memorial Day turned out to be a scorcher with temperatures in the mid-80’s along with the typical uncomfortable amount of humidity that Boston was known for. I had managed to complete the trail in a few hours with the satisfaction that I’d spent ample time actually soaking in the culture which had been interesting enough. The Trail had also taken me near the location of where I’d planned on eating lunch (Neptune Oyster) which was supposed to have some great fare including an awesome lobster roll. Alas, I found the shop closed for the day and had to make plans elsewhere. By the time I had reached Bunker Hill it was approaching noon and the day was beginning to wear on me. I stayed in Charlestown for a while before heading back in search of food.
I wasn’t in the mood for Italian again despite the grand selection of restaurants in the North End neighborhood, and instead I made a beeline for a Mongolian barbeque buffet that I had seen earlier in downtown: Fire & Ice. The restaurant was apparently a chain as I had heard tales of its supreme selection of seafood at the Providence location which turned out to be absent from the lunch menu. Alas, my desires for fresh sea scallops and crab were left wanting as the place was far from the blade that its name promised. Nevertheless, it was sufficient enough to sate me with its offerings of various cuts of beef, poultry, and fish.
I finished lunch after about an hour of relaxed grazing and made my way back to the broiler that was downtown Boston. Unfortunately the heat was getting to me despite wearing a hat, a light backpack, and a lot of water to drink. I wandered around aimlessly for about an hour before deciding to call it quits and head to the airport. The heat had killed my spirits and all that was left was my desire to go home. I managed to find the subway and navigated it to a bus that took me to the airport, all for the low cost of $2. I still had a few hours at the airport before my flight, but at least I was out of the heat.
My flight back was uneventful, mainly because I slept for over four hours which left less than two to pass. I thought about many things: my friends, my bad outing at the grand prix, the coming weeks abroad, testing for Block, and what I’d be eating during the entire time among other things. My head was swirling with the unknown when I heard the PA crackle followed by the captain’s voice; we were landing in twenty minutes. I was home, for now.
To be continued…