by Randy Buehler
Dave Williams is the ultimate "confidence player" and he sat down in full trash talk mode, laughing at Jakub Slemr for drafting Reya Dawnbringer over Benalish Trapper. Slemr protested that he only did it because his deck sucks. His deck didn't actually suck, but Slemr always downplays his decks and his own playing ability. Slemr's self-deprecating stile is quite a contrast with Williams' brashness. Williams spent all their shuffling time talking to me explaining how randomly Slemr had drafted and how it had dragged down both their decks. After quite a litany of that, the jolly Czech even apologized, quietly saying, "you know there was no intent." Williams stayed slouched down in his chair, but inwardly I think he felt great about getting inside Slemr's head.
Slemr was two players upstream of Williams and the guy on Slemr's left switched colors so much that Slemr felt he had no choice but to draft a 4-color green deck. Williams was drafting his trademark black/blue deck and was not happy to see Jakub draft a few prime black removal spells that otherwise would have wound up in Williams' deck. Slemr's mana worked out fine in game 1 with turn 2 Fertile Ground, turn 3 Rooting Kavu, and turn 4 Utopia Tree. Williams swept away Slemr's creatures with Reckless Spite, but Slemr regained card advantage by casting turn 5 Hypnotic Cloud with kicker, forcing Williams to discard Repulse, Recover, and Dream Thrush. Williams Probed back and then started dropping fliers: Tower Drake . . . Tower Drake . . . Faerie Squadron with kicker. The players flew through their turns as Slemr answered with a 6/6 Vodalian Serpent and an Agonizing Demise for the Metathran Zombie that would otherwise have held it off. Williams was forced to leave back chump blockers for the Serpent, but he managed to win the race by attacking through the air. He then turned to me to continue his running commentary - "That Cloud was pretty ****ing good. If he doesn't Cloud there it's no contest." In other words, "my deck is so good that you can't even beat me when you get lucky, Jakub."
Slemr had the Fertile Ground again on turn 2 in game 2. And he had Hypnotic Cloud with kicker yet again, forcing Williams to discard Phyrexian Slayer, Repulse, and Repulse. I find it quite interesting how quickly Williams decided what to discard. Many players would have rolled their eyes or squirmed in pain, but Williams just threw those three cards away like it was no pain at all - he wouldn't want to give his opponent any of that precious confidence. The one card Williams got to keep was Vodalian Serpent and he drew the land he needed next turn to play it with kicker. However, Slemr calmly untapped and destroyed Williams' side of the board with an Exotic Curse for his Faerie Squadron and a Demise for his Vodalian Serpent. This actually did elicit a response from Williams, who complained "You had to have that Demise. . . my Demise!" Slemr's Molimo cleaned up shortly thereafter and the players were on to game 3.
I looked up at the clock at this point and there still 45 minutes left in the round. Both players are confident enough to race through their turns, speeding up the pace of their games in the hopes that their opponents will make mistakes. Slemr's hides his quiet confidence behind a very happy-go-lucky countenance, but anyone who watches him play can see not only that he's good, but that he knows he's good.
Williams started game 3 with Metathran Zombie, Tidal Visionary, and then a Phyrexian Slayer. Slemr played Harrow and Glimmering Angel. Williams Probed, with kicker (bye-bye Reya), and then Slemr dropped Pincer Spider. Williams served with his Phyrexian Slayer knowing that he could use Tidal Visionary to turn the Pincer Spider white if Slemr chose to block. (Recall that the Slayer's special ability is "Whenever Phyrexian Slayer becomes blocked by a white creature, destroy that creature. It can't be regenerated.") Slemr blocked anyway and then Williams immediately, defiantly tapped his Tidal Visionary and announced "it's white." Slemr, just as immediately and just as defiantly explained (with a Czech accent, of course) "that ability only triggers on blocking . . . it doesn't die." Whoa! The Slayer's ability only works if the blocking creature is white when declared as a blocker. Never underestimate the importance of rules knowledge. And never underestimate the playing ability of Jakub Slemr. After a judge confirmed Slemr's claim, Williams had to blow a Repulse on the (white) Spider so his Slayer wouldn't die. With no mana left to do anything else, Williams said "done" and Slemr Hypnotic Clouded him with kicker. With his brash confidence slipping away every turn, Willaims howled "You draw that Cloud every game. You're killing me!"
Slemr's answer was perfect: "I know."
The game went on for many more turns, no one of which lasted more than 10 seconds. Slemr whittled Williams down to 1 with Glimmering Angel before Williams finally found an answer in the form of Recover on a Tower Drake. Kicked Benalish Lancers stared across the board at regenerators until Slemr broke the stalemate with a 10/10 trampling Molimo, Maro-Sorceror.
Slemr extended his hand, but Williams refused to shake it. Slemr left his hand extended for a few seconds saying "whatever, it's your choice" and Williams just got more bitter and upset. As he walked way, Williams continued hurling insults "I've never felt this way about anyone before . . . I hate everything about you . . . Maybe if you ****ing learned how to draft!" Slemr protested "it's not my fault." And it wasn't. Rochester draft has always been a very political format and Invasion has made everything even more complicated. All those gold cards plus the viability of 5-color green decks means it's both more tempting to screw one's neighbor and a better strategy. I suspected that this tournament might get bloody and I was not disappointed.
Final Result: Slemr 2 - Williams 1