Last year’s Nationals had been moderately disappointing once the final scene was set. Granted, I had made top 8 while playing a sweet deck, a result that I would have been satisfied with going into the tournament. However, once the dust cleared after the showdown on Sunday, I had been left mortally wounded after losing two straight matches to not make the team. On top of that, I had lost the CC game at dinner the night before for a cool three-hundo and split away half of my prizes with Brad (who I had very casually dispatched in the quarters faster than Conley Woods being at nine life while playing Zoo “Fetch, crack!”). Despite having made the right decisions, I hadn’t been rewarded which was moderately depressing.
SCENE: Post-apocalyptic wasteland at sunset.
CHARACTER: Our hero, wounded, eyes burning with determination. (Think of a mash-up of Luke on Tatooine searching for the droids in Episode 4 and Kirk buried alive in Star Trek 2 “KHHHHANNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!”)
I vowed that next year would be different.
In truth I hadn’t thought much about Nats since this time last year. The tournament usually fell during a period when there were other more important tasks at hand. For example, last year there was Pro Tour Amsterdam to prepare for which had been a relatively unexplored format and had required the majority of our focus. Additionally, the payout for Nats wasn’t really comparable to a Pro Tour (both in terms of pro points and cash payout). The main difference between last year and this year’s tournament was that this year’s was more isolated (which was good); it hadn’t been bunched up with the third Pro Tour. However, my Nationals prep was still suffering from some problems, namely getting the ball rolling.
The Standard format had been fleshed out thanks to the coverage of the SCG 5k tournaments in addition to other Nationals tournaments going on (Japan, France, and Italy; their coverage making it to the mothership) which did some of the testing for me. The other half of the tournament was Magic 2012 draft which I didn’t mind practicing (honestly, who doesn’t like drafting?). Another problem that fueled my apathy was that the format seemed to be dominated by Caw Blade, despite having its wings snipped (so to speak) after Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic had been banned. We fooled around for a while with decks like Valakut, Tempered Steel, Blue/Black, Pyromancer Ascension, and 4-C Birthing Pod/Hartebeest/Twin control (shhh, don’t tell anyone about this “masterpiece”), but in the end we came home to mommy.
Nationals was being held at Gen Con in Indianapolis which was pretty cool. I hadn’t been to Gen Con before and was looking forward to the experience. I had heard wild stories about the sheer number of people that attended the event which put into perspective the niche that Magic had in the gaming world despite it being so amazing. There were a number of tournaments being held at Gen Con that I’d never made it to before, and I saw this year as an opportunity to double up on the festivities (namely the Vintage and Legacy Championships). Unfortunately I discovered that both tournaments were scheduled overlapped with day one/two of Nats respectively. Nevertheless, I decided to bring decks because there were other tournaments that I could still play in, and even the Legacy champs if I got knocked out early at Nats.
It took a while to solidify the details of our trip during the week before the tournament because we had a few working plans to consider, the main difference between each being if/where we were meeting up to test. In the end we decided to take a trip to Las Vegas and pow-wow at Gabe Walls’ and EFro’s place for five days before leaving for Gen Con. I had never been to Sin City “for realz” as an adult (assuming that you can swallow that blatant lie; the one about me being an adult) and naturally had some concerns, primarily whether I’d actually enjoy the trip in the first place. I had never bothered to learn how to play Poker, at least at the level of understanding how to calculate odds, raise based on the pot, and so on, and so the prospect of being the fish at the table wasn’t exactly alluring. Additionally, I didn’t care much for the plethora of negative-EV games which eliminated the rest of the gambling options. “Value” had been engrained into my psyche as a result of my Magic tenure and I couldn’t stomach the thought of throwing my chips away for some rather mediocre entertainment. I had also never been to a show before like Cirque de Soleil et al. and wasn’t sure how much I’d like them, but I figured that the trip would be worth it because the company was going to be awesome at the very least. I truly had no idea.
Part 1: Sin City
Soon it was time to depart for Las Vegas. Luis and I were flying solo as Wrapter had other obligations to attend to while our friend Fob was meeting us in Indy. The flight was over soon enough even though it wasn’t nonstop. We could have taken flights on Virgin, Southwest, or another carrier with direct flights, but our allegiance to Delta was constant; gotta rack up those frequent flier miles. We both arrived before noon, and even then the mercury was pushing well past my comfort zone; thankfully it was just dry desert heat. I had known about the sweltering temperatures beforehand and had wisely packed accordingly; I had a bag full of stylish shorts at my disposal along with some swimming trunks. If there was one thing that I was certain of, it was that I’d be spending time by the pool whenever possible.
Gabe was picking us up from the airport, and while I remember that he drove an Escalade the last time we had met up with him, I had forgotten what kind it was. The airport was practically a Cadillac dealership so it took a while to find out which one Gabe was in. However, Gabe gave us a “subtle” hint as to which car he was driving.
*HONK* *HONK* *HONK*
I shook my head as Gabe drove up blaring his horn repeatedly, grinning from ear to ear, cackling much to his own and Luis’s amusement; classic GWalls…
We had some errands to run before heading over to Gabe’s place (the Panorama Towers) which included getting lunch and buying groceries for the time we’d be in town. I’d always had a passion for cooking, and never saw preparing my own food as a chore, but rather as an activity that I enjoyed. Frankly I was awesome, and could whip up some exquisite food with the flick of my wrist. We first stopped at a Mexican restaurant to eat at, our meal including tableside-prepared guacamole, shrimp/chorizo/pork/beef/chicken fajitas (aka: the Business; yes with a capital “B”), and the classic sides. The food was pretty good but nothing over the top, at least in the eyes of a skilled meh-HEE-khan-oh.
After lunch we went shopping to pick up the groceries for the week. One of the sticking points that I also had about going on the trip was the necessity of a functional kitchen because I disliked eating out all the time. I roamed through the various aisles looking for suitable ingredients as a sculptor would look for the proper piece of stone to carve his masterpiece from. Some people simply wouldn’t understand the fuss I went through, and Luis and Gabe were among them; although I have to admit that spending five minutes deciding between a boneless Boston Butt pork roast and a Blade-end pork loin roast may have been a bit excessive (proper marbling is important yo). After picking out a healthy supply of vegetables, lentils, and a bottle of mediocre Pinot Noir, we made our way back to Gabe’s place to get settled in.
The Panorama Towers was just off of the strip near the Bellagio and had a great view, although it wasn’t as good as from Alex Melnikow’s place across the way (which we toured later on). Nevertheless, we quickly found ourselves in an awesome locale and made ourselves at home; we were drafting triple Invasion, playing Dominion online, and “testing” other important formats/matchups in no time (like Vintage Cat Stax versus the field). Really though, we did test a lot; honestly…
As I said earlier, we had come to the conclusion that Caw Blade was the deck to play and decided to play it and all of its iterations against the mirror and other decks. The versions of Caw Blade ranged from “Man Blade” (aka Hero Blade; Man Blade sounds better though) with Hero of Bladehold and Blade Splicer to the versions that Oscar Flores and Nick Spagnolo had been playing at the SCG Seattle 5k from the prior weekend. We talked about and tried many different cards including Everflowing Chalice, Oblivion Ring, Deprive, Sword of War and Peace, Volition Reins, and other more embarrassing cards that I won’t bother mentioning.
Meanwhile, Gabe had been busy brewing a deck to smash Caw Blade, and while he was definitely onto something by the time that we had to leave, it wasn’t quite close enough to being perfected in the end. The deck had problems against Valakut, a matchup which we weren’t comfortable conceding to, and so we shelved it for our tried-and-true UW monstrosity. At some point I may reveal the exact list that Gabe had made, but until then I’ll only say that its mana-producing lands were all basic and it included four copies of the most underrated card in Magic 2012.
Most of the days in Vegas followed a certain pattern. I’d wake up hours before everyone else, usually between 6 AM and 7 AM, and sit outside on the balcony after breakfast for a few hours while going through several cups of tea. The Nevada landscape was interesting enough, and being over thirteen stories high in the air provided a nice view to use as a backdrop for my thoughts. Usually someone would be awake by noon at which point we’d start playing after they made “breakfast” for themselves. The gaming would last all day long with more people showing up at various times. Dave Williams, Brock Parker, Alex, Ken Krouner, and some other people whose names I’ve unfortunately forgotten (due to senility) would show up to game, and we’d have a good time playing assorted formats.
Every day the gaming festivities would continue non-stop well into the evening until people started to get hungry, at which point we’d either: A) make dinner B) order out C) go out. Option A was my go-to choice for the most part as I had planned several meals worthy of Michelin stars on their own ahead at the start of the trip. However, I had still planned on going out to a few places.
I had heard about the buffets at the larger casinos and how they were supposed to be quite lavish. Being the fatty glutton that I am, I was naturally attracted by the prospect of endless troughs of delicious slaw, and I had inquired about the details of such places earlier in the trip. On Saturday we went to the Bellagio, but we quickly found it to be a major punt because it was 6 PM and we were without a VIP which meant that we would have had to stand in the peasant line for over an hour to get in. We all decided to audible and head over to the Rio and eat at their seafood buffet. The place had a Pan-Asian theme with Mediterranean and Latin influences along with classic New England elements. I was in heaven. Rebuys on the steamed lobster tails? Yes please. Gabe and Luis were the only other people that had gone with me, and while they surely ate their fill, they couldn’t keep up with the trained professional that I was. Gabe and Luis had a lot to talk about, and they surely had time to do just that as I continued to snack for an additional ninety minutes. Needless to say I went a bit overboard, and for “some reason” it took a bit longer to walk back to the car as I wheezed in sheer satisfaction of a job well done.
On Monday we went to Texas de Brazil, a chain of Brazilian Steakhouses similar to Fogo de Chao. I had been to TDB once before, and while I had enjoyed the experience very much, both Gabe and EFro told me that the Las Vegas location was much better. For those of you who’ve never been to a Brazilian Steakhouse before (aka Churrascaria) or read almost any of my other reports, the concept is quite simple. Waiters with skewers of roasted meats wander around serving you cuts of delicious goodness tableside. There is also an excellent salad bar, wine list, and dessert menu to boot. The selection of meats included pork ribs, flank steak, parmesan chicken, leg of lamb, parmesan pork, pork loin, Brazilian sausage, chicken breast wrapped in bacon, beef ribs, lamb chops, picanha (house special beef sirloin), garlic picanha, filet mignon (Mons’s Goblin Raiders), and filet mignon wrapped in bacon (Goblin Lackey, aka: strictly better). The salad bar included four freshly made dressings, artisan breads, imported Manchego and Parmesan cheeses, fresh buffalo mozzarella, steamed asparagus with strawberry sauce, Brazilian hearts of palm, grilled Portobello mushrooms, Greek olives, shrimp salad, imported Italian salamis, sautéed mushrooms, herbed sweet onions, pork black beans, jasmine rice, spicy surimi sushi, and other specialties.
On our last day we went to Lotus of Siam with Dave, Gabe, Alex and his better half. The place was apparently regarded as the best Thai restaurant in the country or something similar to that. Dave had eaten there multiple times earlier in the week (his regular schedule) and I had heard nothing but praise from everyone else which made me all the more intrigued. I had expected the restaurant to be located on some upscale street lined with boutiques or inside a fancy hotel, however that wasn’t the case as we drove through what seemed like an ordinary middle-class neighborhood and into a deserted (at the time) strip mall. “We’re here.” Gabe said.
I trailed off in disbelief as I got out, “Eh. Really..?”
One of the storefronts had the “Lotus of Siam” logo on it and once inside I realized that we’d gone through a portal to some magical place that promised to satiate our palates. On the walls I saw various commendations including the James Beard award; I knew then that this place was the real deal. “This place is … deceptive” I said to Gabe.
“You have no idea” was his reply.
We ordered many dishes, some of which we shared family-style, and others that we greedily ate alone. Alex wanted to split a five-pound lobster with someone, but hadn’t found any takers; in hindsight I wish I had because it sounded like quite the adventure. We split appetizers of golden tofu, Issan-style beef jerky, chicken satay, and EN TUAN soup before our entrees came out. I had decided to get NUA YUM KATIEM (sliced charbroiled beef served on a bed of sliced cabbage, topped with fresh garlic and a spicy sauce) and crispy duck with chili mint leaves. The food was quite delicious and I had a good time up to the point where I lost the game (naturally; I always lose).
By the time that we’d left Las Vegas, I was sure that I’d gained a “few” pounds, both of knowledge about Standard and around my rock-hard mid-section (I’ll be modest for once). It was Wednesday and we were meeting up with our friend Fob (yes, the Fob) who was more excited about Gen Con than anyone else I knew. He wasn’t qualified for Nats, but was still going because of everything else. Most of the day was wasted traveling as was typically the case when flying three time zones east. We got in around 6 PM and headed into town to check in at the Marriot which was adjacent to the Indianapolis Convention Center.
Part 2: GC, Gen Con, Gaming Central
Gen Con’s presence in Indy was very apparent as we saw streams of gamers walking to and fro the Convention Center. The events had spilled over from the Center itself and into the hotels that were connected to it; we may have walked through a live dungeon event just to get to the hotel elevator. After we got situated, we decided to head across the skywalk and get our badges. There was a giant line greeting us on the other side, and it stretched far into the distance ending out of sight. Not being sure what the line was for, I didn’t want to stand in it only to find out that it was a “complaint line” or something similar, and so we walked onwards to find some help. Eventually we found a staffed information kiosk and were pointed in the right direction. As it turned out, the giant line was for “will call”, and the one for badge registration was thankfully much shorter. Five minutes later we had our badges and were off to get some dinner.
Luis and Fob were hungry and there were others who wanted to meet up with us to eat. Our layover had been in Memphis earlier in the day, and I had somehow managed to find a place in the terminal that served barbeque (shocking, I know) and wasn’t exactly in the mood for food after having consumed a pound of pulled pork. At that point I decided to part ways with my comrades and get settled in the hotel. When I asked them about it later, they said I had made the right play by not going out because the food had been terrible.
I had to take care of some things, get some laps in at the pool, and then relax. There were a few tournaments that I wanted to play on Thursday, namely the Vintage Champs prelim and the Scars Block Constructed Championship; the prelim was at 10 AM and the Block champs was at 6 PM. The Vintage gave out two byes, a netbook, and M12 boosters for prizes, and while I wasn’t going to be able to use the byes if I won (due to the “awesome” scheduling of the events), Dave was planning on playing in the Vintage Champs instead of Nats and could; I was there to run interference. After I had finished up everything, I decided to turn in early and get some sleep.
I didn’t sleep very well at all and probably got less than four hours total, which is to say that I ran about average for a trip. The combination of factors including snoring, a loud AC unit, and a foreign bed made catching those oh-so-precious Z’s very difficult. Regardless of my troubles, I still got up bright and early at 7:30 AM to get some food at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. The spread was quite reasonable; although it cost more than what I preferred to spend on my morning meal ($19 after everything was said and done which was very average for a hotel). I had wanted to find a taqueria the night before so I could just go there and get some chorizo with eggs and beans, but I figured that the odds of success in downtown Indy were “low” to say the least.
The buffet was above average for a hotel buffet and included some extra features like a manned-waffle/omelet station in addition to some more desirable proteins like smoked salmon and other less-commonly seen dishes like potatoes Lyonnaise and potatoes O’Brien. The classic staples of bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages, fresh fruit, cereals, and breads/pastries/muffins also were being offered up, although I was mostly interested in just the bacon. Between the smoked salmon, omelet station, and bacon, I was a happy man. I went up so much that the guy behind the griddle had my order down before I had left Indy… although in reality that was because he had a superb memory and remembered after just the first time. We headed off to the Convention Center after we’d finished.
Walking through the Convention Center to the site was like being on another world; a world of fantasy; a world of fantasy being evacuated; a world of fantasy being evacuated because aliens were attacking it. The halls were clogged with all sorts of people from every game genre imaginable, and most seemed like they were fanatics. Many were dressed from head to toe in period costumes. It wasn’t uncommon at all to see androids, dwarves, elves, and various comic book characters roaming the halls, mingling, going about their business. Every game ever invented was there, regardless of genre. Rock band? Puerto Rico? Warhammer? Uno? Everything.
Luis and I were running interference in the Vintage prelim for Dave while Fob was off trying to grind into Nats with Man Blade. It had been a while since I’d played Vintage but I had been paying attention to tournament results and wanted to try a version of Turbo Tezzeret that I’d been brewing. The deck had put up very good results and I was looking forward to playing with it. This is what I signed up with:
I hadn’t played any games with the deck and making changes from the stock list was a bit more difficult as a result. The weaker cards seemed like Grim Monolith #3, Imperial Seal, Thirst for Knowledge, and Voltaic Key #4 which were axed to make room for a set of Dark Confidants; Bobby was awesome and I really wanted to play with him. I also changed the manabase around slightly to accommodate a basic Swamp since I’d want Black mana against Wasteland decks. I wasn’t sure about Mental Misstep, but I decided to give it a chance and run it anyways.
The tournament was actually a disaster for everyone else. Dave got his deck stolen from his backpack by some scumbag and obviously couldn’t continue; I felt really bad for him especially considering the details of the story which I won’t bother going into. Luis got knocked out early although it wasn’t due to theft, literally at least (hearing about his games made it reasonable to say that “he was robbed”). I was flying solo all by my lonesome self, wreaking havoc on aspiring vintage champions. I got paired down in the last round of Swiss but won anyways, and eventually lost in the top four to Jimmy McCarthy (who was my only loss in the Swiss). In the end I got eight draft sets for my effort. I liked the deck, and the Yixlid Jailers were especially good in two rounds when I boarded them in against my UW fish opponents; attack away Meddling Mage!
The Block Championship was starting in half an hour, but I decided against playing in it because I was tired and didn’t like the idea of playing until 2 AM with Nats being the next morning. Everyone else had the same opinion and so we all went out to EFro’s hotel to eat; there was a nice Italian restaurant on the ground floor (Osteria Pronto). The rest of the group had gone ahead of me while I went back to the hotel to drop my bags off, and I met them at the restaurant shortly afterwards. The food and company was good, and overall everyone had a good time. I decided to get a seared tuna appetizer, brick-roasted chicken, with sides of asparagus/green beans, and a glass of Chenin blanc, all of which was quite delicious. We talked a bit about the Caw Blade list a bit while we ate. Small changes were made here and there, and by the end of the meal we’d come to a reasonable consensus about the seventy-five that we were going to play.
This is the list that we settled on:
Sleep proved to be elusive again that night. Many of the troubles I’d had the night before reacquainted themselves with me, and I don’t think I got more than an hour of unbroken rest at a time. Fortunately I didn’t feel exhausted when I woke up and hoped that I would feel the same way in twelve hours when the day was over. I got ready and went down to the breakfast buffet to feast. I’d run the mono-bacon control plan in Singapore and been moderately pleased with the results as I emerged victorious from the vast majority of Caw Blade mirrors that had blurred all but one round of the tournament together. However, I still had lost a few matches and needed to step it up a notch; mono-bacon control was good but it needed an extra kick. I decided that a split between smoked salmon and bacon would be optimal. Several helpings and an hour later I’d gotten my fill, and after a trip to Starbucks in the lobby for a venti French Roast, I was feeling like Popeye just eating a can of spinach; rejuvenated. Carpe Diem!
I managed to 3-1 the first portion of Standard, losing in round three to the mirror. I had been beaten back to the Stone Age by Sun Titan and Tectonic Edge in game two and was more than ready to get away from constructed and into the draft portion. Most draft pods were quite soft because so much of what went into qualifying for the tournament was based on constructed, and I was looking forward to walking away with a handful of lollipops in a wake of crying babies… or something like that. In any case, I was anxious to crack some boosters.
“Open the ‘A’ booster and count out fourteen cards face down in front of you”
I flipped the backwards card over and saw a Frost Titan. Blood rushed away from my brain as my pupils dilated. Scoreboard! After taking Frost Titan I recognized that the guy to my right had taken Fireball while passing me Royal Assassin. From there I went into Blue/Black and didn’t have to make too many tough decisions because both colors were relatively open. Here’s what I ended up with:
I very easily 3-0’d with the deck and found myself near the top of the standings. After everyone had finished their rounds, we all gathered together before heading out to eat. EFro had made reservations at a place called The Eagle’s Nest which was located in the Hyatt; it was an upscale fine dining establishment. On top of that (well, there was nothing since it was literally at the top of the Hyatt) the restaurant revolved; talk about a wow factor! Unfortunately everyone was a bit underdressed seeing that we were all wearing basketball shorts and t-shirts, with only Matt Nass adorned in the appropriate attire, standing out like the stylish emblem that he is. After waiting another ten minutes for the elevator to reach us, we were able to retrace our steps back to the streets below.
I didn’t have a good idea where I was headed, but my intuition was strong and I’d learned to rightfully trust it a long time ago. BDM and I had met up earlier in the day and naturally the conversation gravitated towards food and good local places to eat. He was kind enough to tip me off on St. Elmo’s steakhouse and Harry & Izzy’s, the two restaurants being run by life-long friends with partly overlapping menus. We saw a Ruth’s Chris across the street and looked at the menu, but it wasn’t what we were looking for at that time. Just then I looked across the street and saw the two places that BDM had been talking about and managed to coax the group to go check them out. St. Elmo’s was too much like Ruth’s Chris but Harry & Izzy’s hit the mark.
There were a few things that I was told to get from Harry & Izzy’s: 1) the shrimp cocktail, slathered in delicious horseradish 2) the prime rib sandwich, topped with white cheddar, side of au jus, creamy horseradish, and house-cut fries. I may have recommended those to Wrapter, Fob, and Luis at least once. The prime rib sandwich was a value-town gem, and it arrived stacked high on a plate loaded with fries; it definitely looked awesome. I decided to get the seared tuna appetizer with seaweed salad, the 14 oz. peppercorn strip steak with sides of asparagus and fried green tomatoes while washing everything down with a glass of rose’ and fair-trade viognier (I’m so thoughtful). The food was quite satisfying and even more when I didn’t have to pay for it; thanks Luis!
I managed to sleep a bit better that night and didn’t wake up nearly as much as the previous two. Still, it wasn’t the picture perfect that I had been searching for. I slammed the buffet and got coffee in the lobby afterwards like I’d done every morning since arriving in Indy. The smoked salmon/bacon combo had worked the day before and so I saw no good reason to deviate from it. I was looking forward to the day mainly because it was starting with a draft. The second draft started off much more awkwardly than the first because I opened a packed stacked with good cards; I took Fireball while passing Doom Blade, Vampire Outcasts, Chandra’s Outrage, and Stormfront Pegasus. Next pick I took Shock over a second Doom Blade and Royal Assassin. However my gambit seemed like it was going to collapse like a house of cards when I saw the next pick; I had a choice between Sengir Vampire, Merfolk Looter, and nothing else. I went with the Sengir and thankfully didn’t get cut off from Black in the first and third pack, and I ended up with a reasonable pile afterwards.
I 3-0’d again and it wasn’t very close; the deck was good and I was playing pretty tightly in the morning. However, I had loosened up a bit during the final constructed rounds; round eleven in particular was rather embarrassing. I could double-draw into top 8 and took the time to get some more cards signed; I had started getting them signed the day before during the draft rounds thanks to them being sixty-minutes long. When the standings were posted going into the last round it looked like Owen, Luis, and I were all able to draw into top 8, and after a bit of conniving, figured the best way to go about it. After the dust had settled, we found each other in different brackets with the possibility of all three of us being on the National team; I was stoked.
We were ready to leave to get dinner and just had a few things to take care of before leaving, but unfortunately we couldn’t get printed decklists (which was out of the ordinary). If the matchup had been anything other than the Caw Blade mirror, then I would have been very angry, but I was a master and only concerned about the one that was going to be taking place at St. Elmo’s steakhouse in about an hour. Even though we had made reservations, it still took a bit longer to get a table because the place was packed. Fob and I went with EFro and elected to enjoy some drinks in the air-conditioned bar in lieu of standing outside in the sweltering humidity that embraced Indianapolis.
Our number was finally called and we were led through a labyrinth of rooms packed full with tables of patrons; right, straight, right, downstairs, straight, left and we were there. We were a party of nine, and it took a while to get everything rolling, but the meal was fantastic. I had made sure to get the legendary shrimp cocktail although backed down from the 32-oz. porterhouse that Conley had gotten the night before. It was late and I didn’t like eating a lot at that hour; I would have smashed two if it were earlier. I decided that I’d be content with another 14-oz. NY strip and was quite happy with the results. My go-to side of asparagus was on hand and I couldn’t say no to tradition. The shrimp cocktail was truly something else; the horseradish cleared my sinuses, had my eyes watering, and wishing I had more than five jumbo shrimp to enjoy it with. The steak matchup proved to still be “favorable”, naturally, and without need of help from the sideboard. Three hours later when it was just the restaurant staff left, we decided that it was time to go and made our way back to our respective hotels.
That night I slept like a rock; it was so nice. For once the external nuisances weren’t able to break through my defenses and rouse me from my slumber. It was 7 AM and time to get up which meant that the top 8 was less than two hours away. I readily made my way downstairs to get breakfast again and was joined by Luis shortly afterwards seeing as how we both had matches to play that day. We had been told that the top 8 was starting at 9 AM, but that turned out to be a gross exaggeration as we didn’t start for an additional thirty minutes. Oh well.
The top 8 played out just like the Vintage prelim had on Thursday; both my friends lost early and it was just little old me playing for all of the marbles, although in this case I could use the metaphorical “byes”. I smashed my way through the two Caw Blade matches, although the dream ended for me in the finals in a disheartening manner as it was a four-one-one tag team of Ali-Jace-Karn-Liliana against me. Despite losing horribly, I was still happy with the overall result. I had made the team, an improvement from last year, and managed to collect a few pro points and cash money along the way.
We had made reservations to go to Fogo afterwards for dinner (yes, we’re completely degenerate) and I was really looking forward to it. However, the experience was a lackluster one. Overall, the service was fairly mediocre and the cuts of meat weren’t as satisfying as they had been at other Fogo restaurants and especially TDB. I wanted braised beef ribs and no amount of bacon-wrapped fillet was going to make up for it. The food was still good, but my heart just wasn’t in it. The highlight of the meal, aside from the company, was the side of baked plantains that were like the crème brûlée flambée of the fruit world; they were simply divine. I had eaten a lot by the time we’d left and wasn’t in the mood to hang out for much longer, and so I made my way back to the room without formal goodbyes to everyone; I just wanted to sleep.
Monday started early because we had an 8 AM flight to get out of Dodge. Gen Con had been an overwhelming experience and one that I wasn’t sure I’d want to repeat. The sheer amount of theft marked the whole experience with an ugly imprint showing just how terrible people could be. Granted, the rest of the trip was awesome, but not enough to counteract the negative aspects. The trip home was a quiet one, and for some reason I was able to sleep on the two plane rides for a fair bit of time which “shortened” the journey. Overall I was happy with my performance this year compared to last and had dramatically improved my finish from fourth to second. If results had any indication of things to come, I’d be looking forward to next year’s tournament for sure.