Lights up in a cubicle with a bunch of Magic cards tacked to the walls. JON is sitting at a desk typing away at a typewriter—not a computer—because game respect game, yo. TED KNUTSON enters with a STACK OF PAPERS under his arm and leans against the entryway.
TED: Hey Jon.
JON: Wow, hey Ted! Long time, no see! How are you?
TED: I’m well, Jon. And what are we working on?
JON: Um… not a lot, just-
TED: THAT’S RIGHT, “NOT A LOT,” YOU’VE JUST BEEN SITTING HERE WITH YOUR THUMB UP YOUR ASS WHILE I’VE BEEN BLOWING UP. Ever heard of a little site called F#&%ING GRANTLAND? THEY LOVE YOUR BOY THERE. THEY CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF ME.
JON: Wow… uh, that’s great, Ted. I’m really happy for you.
TED: SHUT UP. NOW, IN YOUR BUSY SCHEDULE OF SITTING AROUND ON IRC TRYING TO DETERMINE IF GETTING UP TO TAKE A SHOWER IS WORTH IT, DID YOU READ MIKE FLORES’ ARTICLE?
JON: Which one are you talking about?
TED: THE ONE WITH THE TOP 20 ARTICLES, YOU IDIOT. DID YOU HONESTLY THINK I CAME HERE TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT MAGIC?! WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE, A LOSER?!
JON: No! Man, listen—I’m just-
TED: SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. NOW. YOU’RE GONNA REWRITE THAT ARTICLE.
JON: I am?
TED: YES, YOU FAT F%@&ING IDIOT, YOU’RE GONNA WRITE IT AND IT’S GOING TO BE THE PINNACLE OF YOUR LIFE’S ACHIEVEMENTS BECAUSE IT’S GONNA HAVE THE TED KNUTSON STAMP OF EXCELLENCE. (Ted drops the stack of papers with a thud next to the typewriter.) You’re gonna write about these articles. BECAUSE THEY ARE THE TRUTH.
JON: This is a lot to read.
TED: YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT IT IS, PORKY PIG. NOW GET OUT OF MY SIGHT.
JON: But this is my office.
TED: SHUT. UP.
* * *
“The tournament report is probably the most hackneyed thing in Magic writing, and it’s pretty rare to be able to get anything out of them. If the author is any good at writing and does end up having some gems in his or her tournament report, the advice would probably be better conveyed in an article about the deck—citing a few specific games—than a long, winding tournament report.”
I didn’t mean it, I swear!
The above quote came from this article, one that saw me in the midst of a bizarre social experiment where I was to play in 52 FNMs in a year and pilot a different deck each week (I ended up playing 50 of 52). Suffice it to say that finishing that column gave me a weird sort of PTSD—I used to love FNM, but I’ve only been to seven FNMs since.
I do not actually think the tournament report is the most hackneyed thing in Magic—that dubious honor goes to articles about tilt—now that I can talk objectively, I think tournament reports are probably the purest kind of Magic article. They offer enough freedom to be able to talk about whatever the author wants while providing just enough structure to ensure that the finished product won’t just be some kind of rant. Every tournament has a narrative, and it’s the job of the reporter to wrest it out, and support it. I’d like to think that Ted chose me for to write this because I have lots of experience writing tournament reports, but I can’t say for sure.
Former SCG Content Manager Ted Knutson e-mailed me somewhere in the ballpark of 20 articles he’s liked, from throughout Magic’s history. The majority of them are tournament reports. For brevity’s sake, I’ve trimmed it down to the top 10 for this week. There were certain ones that couldn’t make the cut simply because I wouldn’t be able to link to them. For example, Randy Buehler’s PT Chicago tournament report is superb, but it is also 16 JPGs worth of single-spaced, photocopied type that his wife apparently transcribed from some old forum since swallowed by time. I could include it here, but how would you be able to draw your own conclusions? (But seriously, trust me—it’s the best)
The New Pool Halls: Gambling and Magic by Brian Hacker
Even people who qualify regularly for events may not know about what pro players do when the tournament has long been over, or when the field is reduced to eight. The casual observer may never notice where most of the pro tour players are come sundown. You may need to look in cafeterias, in bars, in hotel lobbies. You may need to stay awake well into the midnight hours. You may have to search high and low to find that mecca of modern magic, the modern pool hall that is the pro tour money game circuit.
It’s not the longest article in the world, clocking in at under 1,000 words, but after Brian Hacker became immortalized in gold borders, he exposed the part of Magic that didn’t make it to the GP coverage on the mothership—money drafting. The comparison to the pool hall is quite apt: money drafting, when compulsively attended, is altogether frenzied and flagellatory. The time away from responsibilities and the money laid down adds up quickly and can be tough to keep track of. This kind of shared degeneracy ends up creating oddly strong bonds between people, making it easy for outsiders to misunderstand just what makes the cash games so appealing in the first place.
What makes this article so charming and funny now is a lot of the same things that are at work when you sit down to play a game of Tetris—you know that Tetris probably isn’t as good a game as Super Mario Galaxy, but you also subconsciously realize that before Tetris, the only games to play were Butter Churn and Watch Paint Dry; nothing had exposed money drafting before "The New Pool Halls," so that alone makes it groundbreaking enough to warrant inclusion here.
The names featured here almost make it worth the read in and of themselves—Gab Tsang, Hammer Regnier, Jon Finkel, Worth Wollpert, Jason Opalka, Chris Pikula, Tom Guevin, Igor Frayman, Gary Wise, Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz—all names that spark some recall, some more than others.
Punishment: But I Kept Rhymin’ by Tomi Walamies
In between rounds, PTR is trying to get me to money draft with him. I respond by saying that I am playing in the professional tournament. Kyle Rose, sitting next to us, says, "Thaar ain't no profassionals hier." I am still troubled about what he meant by professionals.
The runner-up report of Osyp’s PT Venice features one of my favorite comedic voices ever in Tomi Walamies, a Finnish guy that can effortlessly weave the essence of a matchup into the narrative of a tournament report without boring you to death. Here, Walamies does a great job of setting himself up as a complete brick coming into the tournament. I’ve resisted just simply quoting him thus far, but… can’t… stop… myself…
I try to chat a bit with the British, but they just greet me with the always friendly, "So you are not drunk yet?" I struggle to remember the days when some people were actually looking up to me. Well, I suppose things could be worse. I could be English.
I then get a call from my sister asking how I did in the tournament. As I tell her that I already lost she becomes very happy and says that now I can go to the main island and hang out with her and mom. What are my mom and sister doing in Venice, one might ask. Well, last year at the Nice PT, many European pros brought a woman with them to watch the tournament—never the one to be outdone, I decided to bring two.
When I get back to the site to register, I get to see the new picture on [card voidmage prodigy]Kai's card[/card]. It is hilarious! It seems that Wizards has recently adapted a utilitarian view and decided that the embarrassment of one is worth it if everyone else has good laughs. I wonder if Jens's card will look like [card brushwagg]this[/card].
I mean, I could copy/paste quotes here all day, but let’s move on.
The Black Perspective: PT Venice Champion’s Report Pts. 1 & 2 by Osyp Lebedowicz
Before the match started, Dave [Williams] informs me of something interesting Mark Rosewater says as the Feature matches are going up.
"Wow, two of you in a feature match, that's a first!"-Rosewater
"What do you mean two of us?!?"-Dave
"Uh..I mean....well...What I meant to say was...Ngggg (pulling at his neck collar)"-Rosewater
The other side of that fateful finals match in Venice comes in a two-part article written expertly by Osyp Lebedowicz, who you probably know better these days as the sometimes-SCG-commentator, or the guy that discusses television a lot on Twitter. A lot of the humor in Osyp’s writing could potentially be considered derogatory, if it weren’t for the fact that his tone is so conversational and that he’s so disarmingly self-deprecating.
Just like Tomi Walamies’ Venice report, Osyp details coming off his worst Constructed PT finish ever, and invests us in what happens by stating in no unclear terms that if he can’t turn the ship around in Italy, the dream is dead and he’s off the gravy train. So he slices through the Pro Tour, providing vivid, albeit oftentimes unflattering, pictures of his opponents along the way.
At this point you may have noticed that I’m a big fan of dry humor. That’s very perceptive. I’m very proud of you.
According to Webster – GP Pittsburgh by David Ochoa
I went undefeated on the day against non-Platinum players, which is to say I finished 9-1, losing round five in graceful fashion to EFro. Some people are just the luckiest.
I guess as a holder of a creative writing degree, I’m supposed to really stress the power of the written word, and alternately, to frown on the use of pictures in a text medium. I’m going to choose to ignore that instinct, and instead urge more people to include pictures of food in their articles.
I got to meet David in Providence this year (I would say his favorite game other than Magic is “guess how old I am”), and I’m not sure why I was so surprised that his knowledge of food so effortlessly blew me away. I’m not sure why, but I’m always grateful when Magicians are knowledgeable in stuff other than Magic. Web combines the increasingly rare talent of being able to write about Magic in a casual, easy way with passages about food that drive me crazy if I’m on an empty stomach.
A Champion Returns by Paul Rietzl
I get it. Europe is supposed to be this advanced, progressive culture with their modern attitudes on religion, drug laws, and freedom. But when three white men are denied entrance to a bar because of our sexual orientation? I went to bed dismayed. Amsterdam was not the wild social experiment I had thought.
If this isn’t the best tournament report of all time, then it’s certainly the best PT-winning report ever written. Since Paul chooses not to tell the story in a linear way, we get to see each and every one of the punts and bad beats that have led us to the opening of the story, the night before the Top 8. The thing about writing a winning report for something like a PT is that everyone already knows how the story ends. We all know where the chips are going to fall before we even click the link. To mitigate this, Paul introduces old-school pro Tom Guevin to the story in order to set up the gambit he took to win a quarterfinals match that looked miserable on paper.
Maybe it’s the pedigree of the people he tested with, but it’s more likely to just be his engaging style—Paul’s account of how he ended up choosing to play white weenie at an Extended PT never seems to drag or lull. He keeps you sucked in while impressively leaving no stone unturned. Every matchup is acknowledged, and every line of play the deck can take is illustrated in a way that’s totally accessible and unintimidating. It’s easy to dismiss this as “well it’s easy to explain white weenie,” but Paul routinely goes deeper than necessary, all the while maintaining engaging, thoughtful prose, when breaking down key matchups.
What ultimately makes a Paul Rietzl article appointment reading for me is not just his thoughtfulness, but his frank honesty, even about himself:
Brad is, quite simply, an extremely technically proficient player. Making outlandish bluffs against him, as I did in this match, is a fool's errand. He simply does not know how to make a mistake. Somehow, I win despite myself.
How I Mised Against Some Sticks by Jon Becker
Channeling the spirit of Tongo, I pound on my deck and ask an observing Flores, “How much do I want a [card]Wasteland[/card] right now?” Flores replies “pretty bad, Jon.”
Every time you hear about the best Jon Becker article you’ll invariably hear about Tomfidence. To quote Teddy CardGame:
Oh, and Becker really is one of the best writers around Magic, even if it was rare. This one is his favorite of his own work, and while it doesn't have the significance of a lot of what I sent, it IS really good.
What I will say is that this is my kind of tournament report, if only because the stakes are relatively low in the tournaments he plays and he also doesn’t win. Just like me! The report is about the evolution of a Junk deck in old Extended (Ice Age to Masques plus dual lands, Magic was weird), where Jon collaborated with an ostensibly young Gerard Fabiano on a deck, played a PTQ to X-1-1, and failed to make Top 8, while Gerard took home the blue envelope. Seeing the patient evolution of a deck, all in one article, is rare, and Jon makes for an interesting read.
Blessed by Tomi Walamies
At the site I meet the intellectual gamer Mark Zadjner. We take time off from our tight schedules to have a mature conversation.
"I HEAR THAT YOU ARE A COMEDIAN NOW!"
"TELL ME A JOKE!"
"COME ON ONE JOKE!"
Whenever I’m reading the work of someone I like, and they haven’t written in a while, I’m always appreciative when they take some time to discuss what’s going on in their lives. Two years after his finals appearance at PT Venice, Tomi Walamies has become a stand-up comedian, and while he’s touring in London, decides to enter a PTQ on somewhat of a lark. He ends up spiking it and subsequently Top 8s the accompanying Pro Tour, which sounds nice.
It’s nice to see the growth of Tomi’s comedic sensibilities between his reports for Venice and London. Here he is much more patient with his jokes and allows them to develop, and even calls them back later in the article. He’s also more comfortable here with letting himself go on seemingly random tangents: “existential ponderings” and the like.
Tomi starts off the tournament 0-2, before going on an incredible run, landing him in what would ultimately prove to be one of the most comically lopsided Top 8s ever played, in which Geoffrey Siron went 9-0 in games with a blistering almost-mono-red deck sporting double Barrel Down Sokenzan, among other goodies.
Luck, Skill, Victory – (Belated) GP Anaheim Report by Luis Scott-Vargas
After starting 2-1, I beat a Goblins deck, despite it being a (theoretically) bad matchup. Unfortunately, his full house of Piledrivers over Warchiefs lost to my pair of [card cabal therapy]Cabal Therapies[/card].
Repurposing an old tournament for something completely different than how it would’ve been used had it been published when it was supposed to be (in this case, nine years ago) really is a brilliant idea, and that’s exactly what LSV does here, illustrating all the flaws in his game and his frame.
There’s an old adage in storytelling: Show, don’t tell. What this means is that instead of telling me “the house was dingy,” put me inside the house as a reader. Give me wallpaper peeling off the wall. Give me the smell of stale cigarettes that hangs in every room. Instead of presenting all the bullet points at the top, LSV walks us through them, setting up whole stories, immersing us in 2003. Here, LSV uses a seemingly irrelevant old tournament to illustrate the idea that what you think is irrelevant about tournament Magic is the most likely to have value. It’s a brilliant article.
Understanding in a MODO Crash: Tricky! by Tim Aten
You know those guys you play in the later rounds of Day 1 of a Grand Prix, where you're still in contention for Day 2, who put up no fight whatsoever? The ones who play Body of Jukai and fall for the same on-board trick two turns in a row and announce "Untap. Upkeep. Draw a card." every single turn and have that vacant expression on their face like they're not really sure where they are or what they're doing and you get to wondering what these people possibly do in their daily lives since there's no way they have the competence or presence of mind to even find their way home by themselves? Often, after you 2-0 this sucker in three and a half minutes, you jokingly ask yourself or your friends, "How in the purple Dickens was that cat still in contention?" To answer: he probably played me.
Aside from having the best column name ever, Tim Aten made a name for himself in the earlier part of the century with his sullenness and preternatural Limited prowess. I would submit that there is no one more unrepentant about how he feels at any given time than Tim Aten, and it shows through in every single one of his articles—all of which contain two parts sound, helpful Limited theory for each part “pop-punk band you liked in middle school.” This particular article is great because if Tim Aten can write about anything, it’s his own misery. It would basically get to the point where you’d root for life to brick on Tim, and I’d like to think he took some satisfaction from that.
When I wrote draft recaps for SCG, I basically tried to copy Tim Aten, because he is simply the best that’s ever done it. It’s easy as a writer to sort of fly through a draft recap and become very dry. Tim never lost his voice for a second—he was always talking through each pick conversationally. That seems really easy to do, until you’re forced to discuss taking [card]Flow of Ideas[/card] over [card]Seeds of Strength[/card] and [card]Dark Heart of the Wood[/card].
There is Paul Rietzl, Pro Tour Champion—something I never thought I'd hear outside of maybe a Magic-themed episode of Sliders. Not to knock him—great player, great guy—it's just that the last time I saw him, the two of us were warming our hands over a barrel fire in the caboose of the gravy train.
What can I say about this article that I haven’t already? I could go beat by beat. The U/G madness deck list he writes out is brilliant (I did not get it the first time I read it, it’s a thinker). His metaphors and analogies are spot-on. References spanning all of Magic’s history. Also—I don’t know why, but for some reason, I like references to random Limited formats; Ffej articles always seem to have these. He also is unmatched at describing accurately how people actually act and speak. (“’How many Lightning Bolts did he have again? Three?’”) What "The Grind" is, in its essence, is a guy removed from Magic coming back into it and thus being able to finally see it objectively:
It should be fun. Somewhere along the line—maybe only at this tournament for me—it verged on being just too unfair of a contest. Even back when Grand Prix only drew in 500 people, the prize support felt pretty thin (first place—box of crackerjacks (no toy) second place—used VHS copy of Liar Liar). Now when they're all doubling and tripling in size, the tension is almost taken out of the experience because it has become so bald-facedly -EV (particularly when EV considers time and travel cost and doesn't include Pro Points). It felt absurd, unjustifiable, masochistic.
It is the complete tournament report because Ffej leaves nothing out—every tangent is explored, and well thought-out. It’s hard to imagine saying something about the state of Magic that hasn’t already been said here, the shocking part of that is that come October, "The Grind" will be three years old (it still has no commas), showing just how ahead of its time it was (and still is).
Hope you enjoyed. There are a ton more great articles to cover, so if you enjoyed this, let me know in the comments. OR! You could just pester these fine people to write more! Everyone has Twitter now!