What I Learned at Pro Tour Chicago

Posted in Event Coverage

By Wizards of the Coast

Casual Musings by Anthony Alongi

Anthony Alongi reports on a Masters feature match
Well, talk about your fish out of water. While I am known primarily (indeed, perhaps exclusively) for my Casual Fridays column on StarCityGames.com, Omeed decided to take a chance on me and have me come report for the Sideboard for a weekend. The fact that the weekend was in Chicago during the Pro Tour was, no doubt, a horrible oversight by Mr. Dariani that could very well cost him his job.

I showed up in time to see the very end of the Masters Gateway, as Andrew Cuneo won one of two open slots to compete in this prestigious event. I am writing this now as the Pro Tour semi-finals come to a close, with Kai Budde taking out Brian "The Body" Kibler 3-1 and Kamiel Cornelissen nursing a 2-0 lead over Rob Dougherty. What I'm relating to you below is what happened between those two points in time.

As this is my first Pro Tour, I tried to stay aware of all the tiny details that were taking place around me. Upon entering the Gateway area, I was able to make out several Pros from their Internet photos. Others were less recognizable - I think I ran into Jon Finkel about four times before I realized who he actually was. (No doubt he's still trying to figure out who the lousy jerk was who kept running into him. Or perhaps he has moved on emotionally, and is occupied with how he will spend all of his tournament winnings to date.)

The first well-known pro Omeed introduced to me was Alex Shvartsman. I can say with certainty, though I've only known him now for a few days, that Alex one of the most decent and thoughtful figures in the Magic community. He helped me reflect on several matches, including both his own and others he had nothing to do with. And I served as a sort of good-luck charm for him in the Masters, reporting on all of his winning matches . . . until he ran into Finkel last night, anyway. Thank you for your time, Alex. Good luck on your next run.

Another figure I want to tip my hat to, though we didn't talk nearly as much, is Brian Kibler. Brian is the guy who, after taking two years off from pro Magic, took on a 9-0 Jon Finkel here in Chicago and bested the best with an Armadillo Cloak on a Rith. Every Magic player under 18 should know and worship Mr. Kibler, if they don't already. By making the semi-finals with what was essentially a rogue deck, Brian has given us all hope that future Standard events will not lock into a Rebels/Fire rut. (Yeah, blue-white control is out there, too. You can imagine how happy that makes me.)

Brian dubbed his deck "The Red Zone," and there's a reason for that. It's a nice, long reason, too.

Throughout the weekend, the tables in the Feature Match area had new playmats for use in marking off zones of play and other important areas. Mark Rosewater stressed the importance to players of using the playmats properly, and there were many moments when he took a good deal of good-natured ribbing for his insistence that they adhere to the playmat guidelines. (Mark Rosewater has to have the thickest skin known to man. Every whine, vocal or electronic, about Magic ends up in his ears. We have to take it easy on this guy, people. I have the very distinct impression that the guy has a hidden, locked armory packed with AK-47s; and one of these days some innocuous insult on the internet by a guy in Appleton, Wisconsin is just going to set Mark off to that armory with the key and a twitching eye.)

Anyway, about these playmats. Each is a piece of foam core (and do you have any idea how many people I had to bother to find that out? Investigative reporting, people, is the lifeblood of America) large enough to lay across the table, so both players are on the same mat. It's green, with small zones on the inner side (toward the middle of a long table) for library and graveyard, and larger zones on either side for land and non-land permanents. Finally, in the middle, there's a big red stripe where "action" takes place. Attackers must be tapped and placed in the red zone, new spells must be placed there ("on the stack"), etc.

I can't even begin to count the number of players who screwed up with this thing. Mark haunted the Feature Match area every day, admonishing players to keep all non-game objects off the playmats and prodding players who forgot to put their attackers in the red zone. He was a real stickler about it because he felt (and he's right) that on television, it would make viewing a lot easier if cards were in pre-ordained zones that one could track. Brian Kibler, who had no apparent name for his deck, played a couple of feature matches early on and apparently suffered much trauma under Mark's tutelage. Since his deck spent so much time attacking like a Fires deck, but had no Fires in it, he decided to call his name "The Red Zone": an homage to the zone he should have had his cards in all the time, but never did. I hope that the name sticks, and that the deck becomes popular. As sound as Mark's reasons were for strictly enforcing the playmat zones, it is just too wonderful to contemplate this little piece of Magic lore gaining general acceptance. And goodness knows, Mark should get crap for something else besides this broken set or that, for once. He would probably find it a tremendous relief.

Throughout the weekend, I learned several lessons. I am going to save some of them for a future Casual Fridays, I think, since some bear more reflection than thirty minutes can provide. But here are a few to tide you over until then:

1) THE BIG NAMES OF MAGIC ARE SHORTER THAN YOU THINK. I set aside Bob Maher, Michelle Bush, and Sigurd Eskeland, here. But everyone else is tiny. Little tiny magical gnomes who could kick my buttocks at any table, any day of the week. Very disturbing.

For example, did you know that Jeff Donais is only three feet and nine inches tall? And Zvi Moshowitz, even when standing up straight, couldn't have topped four foot five. I think more Magic players need to eat their Wheaties. The Pro Tour Chicago area at the Hyatt was well-apportioned and looked lovely, but it was hard to ignore the fact that you had to take three escalators down from hotel reception to get here. I feel like I could put my foot through the floor and wiggle my toes at China. Plants don't grow well in environments like this; and neither do people. Want taller Magic players? I have three words for you: Grand Prix Katmandu.

2) MAGIC IS ABOUT THREE HAIR-WIDTHS AWAY FROM BEING A BLOOD SPORT. The Feature Match area consisted of two tables surrounded by an elevated walkway on three sides and ropes on the fourth. The walkway had this thick metal railing on it, and spectators would lean on and hang off of it as they watched the matches below. Sitting in there, looking up at all of the intense faces, I felt like I was beyond Thunderdome. Budde would send his rebels over at Slemr for the finishing blow and you'd hear rumblings and chuckling. I half-expected someone to scream out, "FINISH HIM!" The elevated walkway is a real smart idea; but I'm still kind of creeped out by it.

3) SOME PENGUINS ARE JUST TOO DARN TALL. I don't know if I can put this experience into words. Bear with me as I try. Both Michelle Bush and I were very disturbed by the decorations in the main lobby of the Hyatt Regency. The winter exhibit dominates the two-floor lobby/restaurant area, and features a large pool fountain, several snowy islands populated by life-size stuffed penguin and polar bear models... and the Uber-Penguins.

Here's their deal. There are three of them, each one about twenty feet tall. Each is on a rotating pedestal, and so slowly spins around to survey the wintry scene before them. They are disproportionately pear-shaped, and have no eyes. Painted-over duct tape is visible in spots.

And the one on the far right is waiting for the right moment to kill me.

Its head, unlike the other two, is pointed at a strange downward angle. If it had chins, they would be tripled up. Its body is just a bit less proportionate than the others, with just a bit more duct tape. It's almost...TOO fake... like a REAL giant penguin that's just trying to blend in with the other, mechanical ones.

Last night, Jeff Donais took several of us, including Josh Bennett, Omeed Dariani, and Michelle Bush, to the restaurant to eat (and well, yes, I suppose drink, too . . . why do you ask?). We had a table that was probably a safe distance from the penguins; but Michelle and I were not solidly sure of this fact. We kept glancing over there throughout the meal. After Michelle had a few glasses of wine, I had her pretty certain that the penguin on the far right was, in fact, spinning a bit faster than the others... and it was getting closer.

We all made fake, over-deep, scary penguin voices to comment on the meal, the hotel, and public service messages. I suppose . . . no, I'm pretty darn certain, reading over this now . . . that you had to be there. So if you're in Chicago this month, stop by the Hyatt Regency on the Riverfront and see what I mean. Just don't . . . get . . . too . . . close . . . .

4) THE STAFF AT WIZARDS REALLY GO OUT OF THEIR WAY FOR THE PLAYERS. Yeah, yeah, it's the Sideboard, an official site, they're paying me, they can edit this however they like. Screw that noize. They let me write what I want, as long as I was informative as well. They want you readers to be entertained. They want the players here to feel comfortable, and have a good time. They spend countless hours talking about whether the pros are happy, whether casual players are happy, whether card dealers are happy . . . .

And you know, they're selfless about it. They never (at least in my presence) talk about whether THEY are happy. They seem so, and I hope so. But if they are, it's because they feel satisfaction when they see the games that are played in shops and at Pro Tours. (And I hope those of you who take regular shots at them in chat rooms and message boards ease back a bit on the throttle, when you try to show the world how clever and insulting you can be.)

Those of you who have never been to a high-profile event, you should go. I'm not saying you should "sell out and go Pro." There's not a doubt in my mind that I'll be playing casual Magic for a long, long time, no matter how strong my contacts with the professional Magic world get. The reason you should go is, you should soak in Magic at its highest public profile. You should see how much fun the very top players have when they or their opponent makes a stellar play. You should see how players and spectators talk about matches for days after they happen - that Kibler win over Finkel really deserves all the attention it has been getting. And you should see how hard the people behind the scenes - the tourney organizers, the people who move the chairs, the folks who sell stuff at the concession stands, and everyone else - work to make Magic players happy.

I wasn't even competing, and it made ME feel good. I think it will make you feel good, too.

And so now here I am, in the press room, trying to convince Sheldon Menery to end his report on the Budde-Kibler match, ". . . and that's my final judgment!" It's been an exhausting but fun weekend. I'm ready to stop watching and start playing again, that's for sure.

See you all next Friday.

Paxus Maximus,
Anthony Alongi

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