Secret Wars

Posted in Feature on October 6, 2008

By Noah Weil

You have been selected to participate in a series of competitions. The winner will receive the ultimate Prize.

Your presence is required.

Rest well. It will be a long event.

Required presence be damned, I was going to say no. I had things going on, and fighting for ultimate power was not on the day's to-do list. But the missive was not kidding. Evil Tony, the Tournament Organizer From Beyond, would not take "no" for an answer. I had retired with my books and papers, ready to spend a quiet weekend at home. But as they say, the best laid plans. A presence appeared. It transported me and many other people to some alternate space, seemingly against our will. But were we captured? Or did Tony just ask the right people? Regardless, at the appropriate time there arrived 58 of us. Most of us, including me, were just tired. Some looked very excited.

Conversation among us was curt, presumably to size up the enemy, make alliances, plant seeds of discord, and so on. There was nothing else to do. Our location was simply the interior of a featureless room. It appeared we were in a nondescript gray box. Once in a while, though, the illusion would waver and we could see that we were fighting and dying in some otherworldly space, travelling at indescribable speeds. It was almost beautiful, and terrifying. Ironically, much later I would get ruined by another otherworldly journey.

Tony popped in and explained the structure. We would draft and fight and fight and draft. At the end our standing would determine the champion and battlefields for all bonus events. Winning would advance you. Losing was not recommended.

When people think of drafting, they imagine people sitting around a table, holding and passing scraps of cardboard. This is simply an explanation our minds concocted to protect our fragile psyche. The Beyonder, in his infinite whimsy, pulled back the curtain.

Our dimension connects to many other planes of existence. On each of those planes are powerful weapons: eldritch flame, fearsome beasts, chimney imps, etc. From the pool of the universe are pieces of matter plucked and placed in what can only be described as a large basin. Stare at these representations of life and weaponry and pick what you would like to reside in your quiver. Walk forward and do it again, but know the being in front of you has already made their choice! In a loop you shuffle until your armory is full and the basin is empty. But if that's too hard to grasp, think of that scene in Kickboxer where Jean-Claude Van Damme dipped his hand in glue, then had to decide between glass or nails or gummi bears. When we draft, we are all Jean-Claude.

As impossibly fearsome as this process is to concoct, tyrannical Tony took it one step further. We weren't merely trudging around a vessel in one world, we were walking between worlds, in helical fashion. Whatever mastery one thought they had for the typical universe, and some of these combatants were arrogant indeed, this required not just the talent to see what existed in the current universe, but what could occur a realm over. Tony decided to begin with a Midas touch draft after making a final announcement:

Beyonder Tony: "By my decree, all types are as printed! No one has to know any of those silly new creature types."

Mark Gottlieb: "Hey, I'm in the room!"

So how did Draft #1 work? Each person received three sets to draft with, per normal. The difference was that these sets were connected in theme first and universe second. Were you Invasion, Guildpact, Apocalypse or Ravnica, Planeshift, Dissension? Whatever you were, the next passed pack wasn't. Here's how the table would look:

There's probably a correct chroma-course for this kind of challenge. I don't know it and it was far too early in the day to try to figure it out. Are you a Dragon or a Fact or a Fiction? Get in my belly.

Fact or Fiction

The first-pick Fact or Fiction fit this strategy perfectly. Mindmoil in an otherwise weak pack seemed like a reasonable complement. There were a few choices, though. Fairly late was an option of Scatter the Seeds versus Root-Kin Ally. Obviously they work well together, and double obviously the one being passed would not come back, I went with what I felt was intrinsically stronger (although less likely to be fantastic) in Root-Kin Ally. Later Ulasht, the Hate Seed appeared to make a mockery of the pick, but in reality Gruul Turf was the easy grab. The bounce lands were unbelievably good here. With all due respect to Ancient Spring, you're no Dimir Aqueduct. Not that I got either one.

The last ponder was in Apocalypse, with Spritmonger versus Jilt. I took the Jilt. I wasn't in black, but that's hardly a disqualifier in this format. No, it's just that Jilt is so ungodly powerful. Have you ever been jilted? It hurts.

Draft 1

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Is Reroute good here? No one knows, but I liked having it available. Similarly, was Petrahydrox a disaster in waiting? As long as there weren't a ton of commons from the other world that all had minor but targeting tap abilities, things would be set. Petrahydrox got replaced a lot.

"Thank you all for coming to this little 'the gathering.' My goal was to seek the strongest warriors your world has to offer and see who comes out on top. You are all here because you are strong and you like to fight. So FIGHT!"

To battle!

Battle 1: Charles Wong

I told Charles I was producing an article on the event. Charles suggested it would read well if I started the first game with a really strong opening. Obliging his artistic eye, our game began with my Gaea's Skyfolk into Silkwing Faerie into Whirlpool Drake progression.

Aside on Whirlpool Drake: Is this cheatiest mechanic of all time? Play, shuffle in your hand real quick before they can verify how many cards you had and pick up a few extra? Of course you can do the backwards math to verify, but still. People I played this against were waiting for me to resolve the effect, but I felt compelled to splay my hand in front of them before each draw.

Second aside on Whirlpool Drake: This was a fine start and an easy fourth turn play to make. But Whirlpool Drake was a tough card in my deck. On the one hand it's a great way to refresh after blank Allied Strategies and/or Fact or Fiction. On the other hand, playing out lands is good with both of those spells, to play what you draw off them, and that's besides the obvious Pyromatics. I call this the Door of Destinies problem.

All those asides aside, Whirlpool shuffled a bunch of lands in and spit a bunch of lands out. Charles, who had never played in either of these universes, showed talent. Viashino Fangtail, Manacles of Decay, Goblin Spelunkers; these are not bad cards to cast. Beats were trading back and forth, and for such a great start, I was in genuine danger of getting killed. But luckily all those lands did turn into something; the turn before probable death a flyer of mine sneaked through, and Pyromatics poked over the finish line. Charles told me he was going to do the exact same thing the next turn. Whew!

Next game was a little less kinetic. I played a land and some guys. Holding a bunch more land, including the as-yet-unplayed Mountain, on the fifth turn I threw out a main-phase Fact or Fiction. Would the sandbag maneuver trip Charles up? Kind of, but only by putting the Mountain in the two-card pile. Charles looked sad when I grabbed the three-card side with red cards and played the Mountain I already had. Charles' sadness ended when, much later, he aimed Soul Burn at my face and then sacrificed Bloodfire Colossus. Did I mention Charles had drafted well?

Luckily and anti-climactically, the final game ended with Charles' own flood. I again began fairly speedy, this time stopping at four lands and simply playing dude after dude. Charles was in real trouble, and I still had Allied Strategies and FoF as backup. Charles couldn't get out of that and offered his hand in defeat.

Poor Charles looked so crestfallen. He was farther from the Prize. However, Charles was a fighter. He sprang back quickly. Was there an opportunity to continue the barrage on his spirit, keep him suppressed a little longer? Sure, but that's not how we operate. I promised myself I would never lose, but barring that, not take it hard. At the very least, not get kicked when I was down.

Battle 2: Noah Shephardson

What happens when a pair of Noahs do battle? Flooding, of course. Poor Noah (the other one) had a fairly smooth black-red-green build that started with cheap beats and ended in Thunderscape Battlemage. Unfortunately, early discard and early disruption couldn't overcome drawing a ton of lands, and other Noah went down once his initial offense was suppressed.

The next fight was a little more interesting, but Fact or Fiction brought yours truly far ahead. The killer turn was when a bloodthirsty Scab-Clan Mauler was blocked by an opposing 3/3, grabbed a Gaea's Might, and allowed me to put another creature onto the field after. The damage plus tempo was just too much to come back from. Other Noah promised to have fun and keep his head warm through the rest of the day. Other Noah is good people.

The table I first drafted at, this Invasion/Ravnica draft, was a mix of experienced and inexperienced players. The next draft, the one that would occur after this battle, consisted of essentially the strongest players in the region. When people saw the line-up of this table, they half-jokingly compared it favorably to most Grand Prix Top 8. By my rough count, there were over 200 pro tour points gathered there.

But here's the thing. Despite the 7-8 Pro Tour attendees around that table, our atmosphere was wholly casual. Talking during the draft, trash talking during the draft, flashing cards, gang signs, and so on. Ironic considering our location in outer space, it was a very relaxed atmosphere. And despite the life-and-death cosmic Battleworld struggle we all found ourselves engaged in, we managed to have fun. There's a time and place for everything, even in a place removed from time, outside of space...

Battle 3: Tom LaPille

Tom and I had compared decks a round earlier, and we each thought the other had the stronger build. Tom's green-blue-black was full of two-for-ones to suppress the opponent and gain control. My deck had three-for-ones, but needed early offense or tempo to make those matter. In that kind of matchup, the controlling deck has the edge, and that's what went down here.

For example, Fact or Fiction provided Penumbra Bobcat and Scab-Clan Mauler, but when Bobcat got Steamcore Weirded and Mauler Repulsed or Temporal Spring, the effect of the bomby blue uncommon was mitigated. Speaking of bomby blue uncommons, I was able to make some good offense with Assault Zeppelid until a Stormscape Battlemage made its cruel appearance. Later there was an opportunity by Tom to guarantee his not losing by delaying the winning stroke for a turn. He instead went for the risk to himself to lock in his win the next turn. This was a total judgment call that was basically a question of how unassailable his position was. Obviously if you're in a place where you can lose or can't lose you should take the second option. But if it's always possible to lose, than you want the game to end faster. What all this meant was that I had the singular opportunity to draw Pyromatics and squeak out the win. I did not.

The next one went far worse for me. A double mulligan led into a reasonable hand, but being down two cards in this matchup was a real problem. Scab-Clan Mauler was targeted by what would have been a backbreaking Temporal Spring, but the clutch Gainsay stopped that madness. Unfortunately, with Gainsay graveyard-domiciled I had no defense against Izzet Chronarch and, later, Repulse on Izzet Chronarch. I had drawn far too many lands at this point anyway, but clearly this was a tough position to escape from. Again, I did not.

So there was a loss. But that's okay, right? Just a fun casual event, right? Right. We keep our head up.

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The next dimension for battle was the Kamigawa world. Instead of multi-multi-set affairs, we went the other direction. Tony, in his omniscience, determined that the full Champions / Betrayers / Saviors experience was subpar. Most of us, mere mortals, happening to agree with him. So instead the dark overlord conscripted us to a triple Champions draft. On the potential of CCC still being sub-optimal, this series would feature only two battles instead of the normal three.

As mentioned earlier, this table was full of some of the fiercest fighters around. Everyone at the table, compared to maybe 50% of the rest of the room, had drafted this format before. Casual and fun-loving though we were, no one was expecting any kind of gaffe with draft quality. In another circumstance I would have been wishing for a different table (even table 1 was softer). But here, today, I was just excited to draft amongst the best this realm had to offer.

The first pick was by far my most difficult: Nezumi Shortfang against Pain Kami.

Nezumi Shortfang
Pain Kami

Both are very good, first pick quality. Shortfang has more potential to outright pillage, but the Pain Kami is consistently rock solid. And with soulshift functions in the set, Pain Kami can do great things. Abstractly I feel Pain Kami is a touch stronger but:

  • I've had good luck with Shortfang.
  • There was a Waking Nightmare in the pack I expected to table.
  • I really like black in triple Champions.
  • Rare baby!

Afterwards I spoke with key villain Eric Reasoner about the pick, and he agreed it was a close call.

IM with Eric ReasonerEric: does pain kami dome?
Eric: ah no
Eric: cinder dude does
Me: i looked too
Eric: right... i remember 'you're no cinder dude'

On the tight picks, style usually trumps "raw" power level. When a pick is that close, some say there is no wrong decision. That's probably inaccurate, but it's comforting. Others, and we call them forum dwellers, would likely disagree.

After taking black and passing red, I received a booster stuffed with scarlet goodness. Godo, Bandit Warlord; Emberfist Zubera; Blind With Anger; Akki Coalflinger; Devouring Rage... On the black side was a lone Wicked Akuba. The Wicked Akuba is a card I am fond of, and offers a lot of tricks in the Champions x3 world. Based on not trying to tangle with red and stay in black, it seemed like the right call.

Things were mostly on course after that. A third-pick Befoul was a chorus unto good decision-making. White seemed to be the only color that was getting passed with any regularity, so it defaulted as the second color, although I was almost all creatures so far. I was still taking black whenever possible, except for pick 7 of pack 1. There I had the choice of Gibbering Kami or Otherworldly Journey.

Gibbering Kami
Otherworldly Journey

If you think you're black-white, and I was pretty sure I was, this is a close pick. One rescues lost Akuba or pushes damage, the other pushes damage or rescues lost Akuba. Gibbers is quite good with these type of decks, but O.J. offers an awful lot of tricky potential. And feeling short on spells (and liking cheap ones at that), I grabbed the instant. Another judgment call. Unfortunately, the fellow on my left, who had not seen a single black card passed, took it upon himself to note this late Gibbering Kami was some kind of flare that black was wide open and he should draft black at all costs and not drafting black could result in physical harm to a member of his family, etc. Needless to say between my hard work and his random 2/2 flier, black was well and truly cut.

In the second pack this supercut resulted in missing out on juicy inclusions, notably triple Rend. However, for all that missed potential the deck ended quite playable. Pack 3 finally provided the stellar Devouring Greed, amusingly in a pack with both the regular and the foil version. I took the regular, as a single foil can be problematic in draft and also to (slightly) disguise my deck. Overall I did like this one. It was only a Kabuto Moth and a Kokusho, the Evening Star away from perfection.

Draft 2

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Sideboard (3)
2 Reciprocate 1 Harsh Deceiver

Battle 4: Eric Reasoner

Eric, normally a good friend and comrade, had teamed up with evil Tony to be some kind of dark lieutenant. Eric worked very hard in securing Tony's twisted demesne and the product involved. I thought I knew him, but apparently he has a malicious streak.

Our first fight was weird. My hand was mana-shy, although it had the ability to throw out two Wicked Akubas with Indomitable Will backup. Eric was also short on lands, but his deck was cheap enough that it didn't seem to be hindering him too much. A Distress with Eric at three lands revealed Consuming Vortex, Masako the Humorless, Blessed Breath, Kami of Ancient Law, and Harsh Deceiver. They were all annoying in various ways. Breath and Vortex appeared to be a problem, and certainly my Indomitable Wills were negated versus that hand. But I had the Rend Flesh for Masako the Humorless, and I didn't think Eric would have the mana for doing too many silly tricks.

Of those cards, the one that seemed most difficult to handle was Harsh Deceiver; it being immune to Rend and a fantastic Akuba blocker. So out went the Deceiver, where the turn after I promptly drew Befoul and used it on the lone Island. Had I but known! Unfortunately, Eric drew another Island soon after and began to establish defense and then offense with Soratami Rainshaper. Although I had some nice strong cards in my hand, I was still stuck with those four lands. The Oni would be grand, and in general playing out Spirits for some future Devouring Greed also seemed effective. Sadly the mana didn't quite come together, and Eric used his triple (!) Vortex to good effect while his fliers sealed the deal.

The next game was the opposite. My draw was smooth as silk and Eric was missing land, particularly Plains. Wicked, Wicked, Cutthroat was well and good enough.

Our final fight of this engaging set saw more mutual stumbling. I took a double mull, yet for all that was making a game of it. Eric's Kitsune Diviner was fairly decent but my Cursed Ronin was holding off the world and letting me recover cards and board presence. Unfortunately those accursed fliers started appearing again, and the race was back on. Between Blessed Breath and Kami of the Painted Road I was able to sneak some guys through, and then Devouring Greed Eric down to a single life (after being corrected on math). But it was not enough, and Eric swept through soon after for the kill.

We laughed afterwards and shook hands, discussing how we always have congenial and entertaining matches. It's really a very friendly event.

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Battle 5: Matt Shoop

Matt, warping time, used scouting from the last round to draft the perfect foil to my Champions deck. Like Eric, he was blue-white, this one with triple Kami of Ancient Law, Consuming Vortex, Kami of Twisted Reflection, and a little friend we like to call Keiga, the Tide Star.

However, these creatures all suffered a key weakness. None of them were black. And that was good news for Nezumi Cutthroat, who began his relentless throat-cuttery. Back and forth the dudes went, and yes Keiga, the Tide Star is gigantic and tough to kill, thankyouverymuch. But there was an ace available to me, known as the Race Killer a.k.a. Devouring Greed. The turn or so before the Dragon was to sweep in for the finishing breath, Greed granted its caster 8 life, and unfortunately for Matt, stole those from him. This was not an uncommon finale in triple Champions drafts of old.

But it's the second game where things broke the norm. In came the two Reciprocates for the two worthless Indomitable Wills, as well as Harsh Deceiver to block Matt's small people. Again Cutthroat hit, but unlike the first time, there was very little backing him up. Worse, Matt had a Kitsune Healer negating much of the Nezumi's good work. Meanwhile, I was flooding like a fiend and all of Matt's small-but-persistent 2/2s were rapidly swinging things back to Matt's advantage.

But there were two points that went in my favor. The first was that old chestnut, Matt being a little too defensive with his creatures. Healer, for example, should have been battling much more often. With me at 3 life Matt attacked with Soratami Mirror-Guard and Kami of Twisted Reflection, while leaving the Healer back. Had he done so I would have been dead, but by attacking with only those two, my Rend Flesh allowed me to hit the Soratami. Matt reflected and decided to keep the Kami around to deal the damage, knocking me to a single life. With no relevant cards in hand I untapped and drew Harsh Deceiver. Facing off against the two 2/2s, it seemed I was dead on the board.

Nezumi Cutthroat

Dead or not, I wasn't done scrambling for purchase. I played Harsh Deceiver and simply stayed back with the Cutthroat. Matt drew, looked at the board, and didn't attack! I was still alive!

I wasn't thinking of it at the time, but when I was putting together my notes for this war journal, I recalled that Zvi Moshowitz had described this exact situation in one of his columns. My only chance of survival was Matt not knowing the full text of the creatures, and that seemed to be what happened. Eventually I started drawing more people, allowing Cutthroat to resume attacking. Devouring Greed again finished off the deal.

I have nothing against conceding, but there was a slim shot I had to take before giving up, and happily it worked out. This particular situation was interesting because this was Matt's first exposure with Champions of Kamigawa spells. I realize I got lucky to get that situation to work, but at least I gave myself the opportunity to get lucky. Matt and I talked afterwards about the games, and he agreed not knowing the cards certainly hurt him there. But he was very friendly about it, and seemed to genuinely enjoy our battle. A good sport.

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After two rounds with the contentious CCC format, we were moving on to new affairs. Once again our evil mastermind had envisioned a fusion of old world and new. This time we were forced to deal with the almost unfathomable combination of Onslaught block with Lorwyn. Tribal-Hybrid, or "Tribrid," worked similarly to the gold draft from before.

Crested Craghorn

Of course Goblins and Elves would be the strongest tribes to draft, but just as certainly they would be in highest demand. I really didn't know how to approach things, except to believe that the changelings would play awfully well.

First pack was Onslaught and had the fairly obvious Solar Blast over Mistform Dreamer and Barkhide Mauler. The next pack had the option of Silvergill Douser and Avian Changeling. Believing that the person on my left would enjoy the Dreamer, and also feeling the changeling was the strongest card for this pack, I went with the 2/2 flier. The next pack was the key, with Catapult Squad ripe for the plucking. After that I was dedicated white-red Soldiers, and never looked back. I figured the person passing to me was in red, but I was getting enough white that I never saw a need to get out.

Being passed a Lash Out in the second rotation sweetened the deal, even though someone downstream ended up with an (at least) third-pick Timberwatch Elves. Speaking of the second rotation, two Crested Craghorns came by impossibly late, passes I must attribute to people not having played with them in Legions the first time around. They would end up being key players in the final build.

Draft 3

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The Door of Destinies was an interesting one. Have you played with the card before? It's utterly sick in any dedicated tribal deck. Just the Anthem effect is probably worth the card, but when you start getting into +2 or +3...

But this was hardly a dedicated Soldier deck. Door of Destinies is pretty easy to play when it's in your opening hand. But many of my matches involved having a Soldier or two in hand with no Door in sight. Play them out for consistent effect or hold on to them for big gains later on? I call this the Whirlpool Drake problem, and there's no easy answer. I did like this deck, though, and thought overall it was the strongest collection of the day.

Battle 6: Jesse Hampton

Jesse prefaced our fight with the powerful declaration that his deck was "the worst deck ever drafted." Unlike the prodigious pessimisms pro players produce, pretending or parodying an actual portentous proclamation, Jesse's deck really was bad—a blue-red-green mess that, as far as anyone could tell, consisted of Glintwing Invoker and lands.

The provoke game was in full effect here, with this saucy board out on turn six:

A 7.2 on the 'Must Be Nice' scale

Here was Jesse after being attacked with a 4/4 provoker with healing backup:

You'll pardon the blurriness, but that natural reaction was too good to pass up. Anyhoo I won that game.

But the next one did not start off as well. I was missing some lands, maybe a color, and that double mulligan didn't help either. Jesse showed his deck had some cards lying around. I don't remember if I conceded after he activated Glintwing Invoker or after he stormed out Temporal Fissure, but in any case we were moving on to the third.

Jesse's deck, while poor, did have a pair of Aethersnipes, along with a Read the Runes to dig for them, or I guess sac with evoke on the stack (although that never came up). It was an odd game because we kept switching aggressor and defender roles. If their deck is bad you don't really want to take damage, because you win any kind of late game. But in this particular matchup, Jesse's late game wasn't that awful, but his card quality really was far worse. So things kept shifting. This was a key battle to win, and we were both feeling each other out without being overly committal.

One slick turn came when Jesse played that accursed Glintwing Invoker and I (quickly) Lashed it Out. The clash revealed nothing for me, and Jesse his Ridgetop Raptor. The double-striker was actually going to be a problem for me and Jesse correctly kept it and played it. I drew and casually, casually cycled the freshly drawn Solar Blast, as if it was in my hand the whole time. I'm all about the stoic veneer. Inside I was giggling.

My deck kept creeping out card advantage and doing its best not to get trapped in some kind of Snipe / Fissure combo. Jesse couldn't really put it together, and many turns later I took the win.

Battle 7: "Evil" Christian Robertsen

He didn't use to be evil. But look at that goatee! He also didn't use to be a daddy, so congratulations to him for that. I knew this was a crafty opponent, if for only being able to escape his house for an entire day of drafting.

Christian's deck was excellent. Really, really good. Quicksilver Dragon, Marsh Flitter, Warren Pilferers, Wall of Deceit, and, I found out later, a Future Sight. There wasn't much tribal action going on, just a host of strong spells. Christian did have an Amoeboid Changeling to mess around with things, but in our match that didn't come up much.

Unfortunately for Christian's really, really good deck he had trouble with Deftblade Elite with Catapult Squad (with random Soldier). We spent the first turns establishing a board presence, but when the combo turned up it was Abyss time. Dragon Scales on the Elite made it even more fearsome; two cards made to exist alongside Catapult Squad. Goldmeadow Harrier was key in keeping myself alive and well. Christian's Marsh Flitter slowed things down a bit, and the Pilferers to bring it back didn't hurt. But Christian had already been ravaged in the card advantage arena, and I still had more creatures to play. At 8 life with an empty board, facing an army, Christian had to concede.

Christian took a double mulligan in the next one, which also did not help his poor-seeming matchup. And yet, he made a game of it. Quicksilver Dragon is impossibly large. Door of Destinies made its first appearance, but while my Avian Changeling was 5/5, I had taken so many hits it necessitated staying on defense. Aven Redeemer was a huge help here. An Amoeboid Changeling promised bad things, and after being killed and Pilfered, required killing again. Amusingly, the first game was won entirely on the back of single-toughness creatures. This time they were a little larger, making Christian's brought-in Festercreep wholly ineffective.

Eventually I drew another flying Soldier, allowing me to start swinging in the air. Christian played some more people and made an alpha strike back, but the blocks and damage prevention were there and I walked away with the match.

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As people sat down and prepared themselves for this final "normal" round, the room grew dark. There was no obvious source for the encroaching gloom, but since we were playing in a pocket dimension with no obvious source of light, it was an inconsequential puzzle. He spoke:

"Welcome, my combatants, to our final round! You have all fought and died marvelously! You have provided vast entertainment, and that must be rewarded. Nothing is impossible for me to accomplish. Therefore, the winner of this round will be awarded fabulous prizes:

  1. First choice of universe in the bonus round.
  2. A single casting of Level 9 Wish (with no exp loss)

I've invested a lot of my power into this event and am eager to see the endgame. So FIGHT!"

Battle 8: David Derrickson

I was awestruck by Tony's incredible offer. David was bored. Although we both had two losses and were therefore mathematically still in the hunt for first place, David was having none of it. David was one of those "pure fighters" invited to the event; combat for its own sake. Who was I to deny him?

David was full of bluster and confidence, but his bravado was not misplaced in our first encounter. David was midrange black-green with fliers and fatties at the top, but his real strength was the bevy of removal his deck contained. And if he didn't have a lot of it, he sure used it judiciously. Needleshot Gourna was a real problem me, but theoretically a Crested Craghorn + Catapult Squad would take it down. But what happens when the Squad is Nameless Inverted before blocking? Well, bad things, that's what. I made a critical mistake this game too, watching a Chartooth Cougar eat a Violet Pall with a morphed Daru Mender at the ready. I was too caught up in the attack to even think the response, which is silly. I'm pretty sure I would have lost anyway, but of course that doesn't matter. The Gourna and Sootfeather Flock wrapped things up. David got, if possible, even more dismissive. Game on David!

Sootfeather Flock
Door of Destinies

And happily I got to fight back this time. David again started well, with a Krosan Vorine and Sootfeather Flock. But I had the removal for both, and down came the potent Door of Destinies. Soldiers began to power up the world and just like that, David was in chump mode, followed by dead mode As we shuffled up for our final fight, David started to extend some grudging respect. Would our last game be a worthy one?

As it turned out, mostly. No mulligans, but on the draw I was a sad fellow being forced into a first play-fourth turn Door of Destinies. My MVP card of course, but it allowed David to smack me hard with a Spined Basher and Leery Fogbeast. The defense started to come together, but beginning at 10 life was more than problematic.

However Door was and is a very solid card and the forces were getting stronger. Not a lot stronger, as there was an annoying flood situation going down. But somewhat; a 3/3 Mosquito Guard holds off most everything earthbound. I was able to sneak in a few points here and there, but with my flood and David's continual critter drop, I was frustratingly stuck on defense.

However off the top, an avenue presented itself. David had tapped five of his six lands for another Sootfeather Flock and passed the turn back to me. I had random guys on the ground, as well as 4/4 Avian Changeling. A freshly drawn Crested Craghorn presented options. I spent a lot of time on this turn, memorable if only because this was by far the longest thought-out turn of the day. Eventually I decided to use the Craghorn to set up a proactive race. I don't remember exactly how things were playing out, but trust me when I say it was complex combat. Craghorn was played and attacked, alongside a bunch of other creatures. Provoke triggers went flying everywhere, assuring a destructive but positive finale.

Or not. David calmly tapped his final land and played Peppersmoke on the Craghorn.




Needless to say, that was a brutal, brutal monkey wrench in the oh-so carefully wrought plan. With a key creature unprovoked, but incited, my team took a trouncing. I wasn't technically out of it yet, but the blow was severe enough that the rest of the draws had to be picture perfect. They were not, and David took it all.

Afterwards David and I shook hands on our well-fought series. As always, losing is no fun. But playing tight games against a top player does have intrinsic joy, even if the outcome ended up unfortunate. With a spring in my step, I wished David all the luck in the world for the bonus round.

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And just like that, we had our winner. We'll get to him and his heroics in a little bit. First there was the bonus round to run.

We fighters resided in a self-enclosed space. But as the three events would indicate, this tiny dimension had unlimited access to everywhere else in the multiverse (except, sadly, Unlimited world). Playing this access theme to its logical conclusion, the final event gave its players the keys to the kingdoms.

Here's how it went down. Every person got to choose what they wanted to use for the final draft but only so long as space remained there. First place got to go anywhere they wanted, then second place, and so on down the line to the very end. Second place could follow first place to whatever world he wanted to visit, but then he'd have to play against Mr. First Place, now wouldn't he? It was beautiful and elegant. Tony summoned his eight portals, which led to:

Urza's World
Tempest World
Mirage World
Invasion World
Odyssey World
Mirrodin World
Ravnica World
Shadowmoor World

Make sense? Tony read off your name, and your job was to jump to the appropriate space, stat. I, at 13th place, was guaranteed either of the primo seats in Saga World or Tempest World. But really, I was hoping for Rath. I love that place. Here's how the first 13 went down:

  1. Urza's Saga
  2. Tempest
  3. Urza's Saga
  4. Tempest
  5. Urza's Saga
  6. Ravnica
  7. Tempest
  8. Urza's Saga
  9. Tempest
  10. Urza's Saga
  11. Urza's Saga
  12. Tempest

Sweet, I was in! The rest of folk settled in their particular seats. Some places ended with seven people, although certainly not the top two. Unlike the rest, this draft was single elimination. And only the winner of each world would get their bonus prize. We received our signal to begin, and with palpable glee I cracked a collection I had not seen in too long.

Rolling Thunder

Here's the thing about Tempest Draft: it rocks. It's not perfect, but the packs have enough depth to give you something to work with, without so many picks that the decks build themselves. It's hard to open a truly awful booster, but at the same time this format does not reward auto-drafting. Aside from cube drafting (which we really should do for this event sometime), Tempest block draft may be the best Limited format of all time. It's not, but it is really, really fun.

Here's a quick primer on Tempest drafting.

Step 1: Open Tempest booster
Step 2: Check for Rolling Thunder
If Rolling Thunder = yes go to "victory dance"
If Rolling Thunder = no sigh and proceed to draft for real.

My pack failed the Roll check. It did not fail the "open good cards" test. In fact I had the rainbow suite to choose from for pick one. It looked like this:

Muscle Sliver, Pacifism, Dauthi Mercenary, Capsize, Lowland Giant, Diabolic Edict

The only color I don't like to pick up is white, although it's hardly unplayable. Of these, I was on the fence between Dauthi Mercenary and Capsize. Diabolic Edict is good, and if it was Evincar's Justice or Dark Banishing, no problem. But in my view, if I were to take a black card, Edict is just slightly worse than the potentially game ending skull-breathing shadow man. Regardless however, I took Capsize. Why Capsize? I couldn't put my finger on it, but I just had a feeling it was a good card to take here. I was really close to the shadow guy, but at the last second switched it over to the spell. Just a feeling.

If life has taught us anything, it's to never trust feelings. A second-pick Thalakos Mistfolk resulted in a grand total of two blue cards by the end of the draft. I was not yet aware of how badly blue was being savaged in front of me, and looking at my third-pick Kindle, didn't really care. When blue dried to nothing I stuck with red when possible, but even that looked shallow. Everything looked poor actually, although a late Skyshroud Elf implied openness in green. Muscle Sliver tabling would have been gravy, but that sure didn't happen.

Stronghold's Fanning the Flames check failed, and the careful examination of anything blue likewise yielded nothing. Then the check for red: Mogg Flunkies. I could certainly grab it—it's not a bad card at all—but in the uncommon slot was a powerful green option. Tempting Licid, well, tempted with promises of Lure and a mechanic no one could comprehended. Deciding to abandon blue I went for the Licid and was pleasantly surprised to receive another in the next pack. The Carnassid after that locked in green as a primary color, and Flowstone Mauler did the same for red. I figured out my colors! As you'll soon see, Stronghold's gifts were many. I thought for sure with no one in red-green Spined Sliver would come back, but no such luck.

Tempting Licid
Flowstone Mauler

While red-green is legit for this format, Exodus is not kind to the archetype. Ogre Shaman check? I would have settled for a Sonic Burst, but even that was not to be. I grabbed more creatures, including a late and laughably ironic Keeper of Beasts. Here's the final deck, and no it's not a shining moment:

Draft 4: "The Illicit Licid"

Download Arena Decklist

Brian, the person on my right, wasn't just blue, he was blue-red. And boy did he hit that red hard No less than four Sonic Bursts resided in his two slot. He had passed a Wayward Soul for the first one. Perhaps that pick is correct, but I had to chuckle when I saw Brian get decked after his opponent played Circle of Protection: Red. I just needed one, Brian!

Well anyway, there was a battle to fight.

Battle 9: "Still Evil" Christian Robertsen

Christian was again my opponent, and this time was here for revenge. Christian's demonic influence was on full effect in our first game, which resulted in a double mulligan for yours truly. As far as I could tell Christian had a good stuff black-red-green deck, featuring among other things Kindle, Dark Banishing, and Skyshroud Archer. I got badly smashed this game, discarding at least three times. But I did have a move at the end. Picking up my cards in disgust, I began shuffling quickly, declaring "Whatever man, I don't even care. Let's get this over with." I tried to set the stage for Christian to shuffle up quickly too. Why did this matter? Well, my sideboard was completely nil. I had nothing to switch around, ever. It's possible Christian was in the same boat, but if he wasn't, I'll bet he'd want to take out that Skyshroud Archer for something more effective against my red-green self. The plan worked, though, and Christian mirrored my speed shuffle/presentation.

And the next one went better. I had mana, allowing me the core ability to do things. Keeper of Beasts took an early Dark Banishing, which was lovely. Sonic Burst from Christian (does everyone have this card?) killed something relevant but forced Christian to pitch Hatred! The Licids were doing their defensive magic while Telethopter repeatedly took to the air. It was still getting surprisingly tight on the damage side, but when the 'Thopter received Giant Strength, things moved rapidly back in my favor. Although Christian did stop the 5/3 flier, he was low enough that a full-on attack plus Kindle was enough to finish it off.

Our final game started off interesting enough. I was slightly mana shy, but I was able to put out double Mogg Flunkies as well as a Licid. Christian was under a little pressure, but not enough to prevent him from... Well, see for yourself:

It was too much to handle. I stayed alive for a few turns, but every combat got worse until eventually there was nothing to offer but the handshake.

Christian went on to the finals, where he faced off against Eric Reasoner. There Eric somehow won, using a deck with Armored Pegasus, which proves all this occurred in a place other than Earth. Eric took the bonus round prize for winning the table, which was two draft sets.

Speaking of prizes, we had a winner to claim his own. The fighter who emerged at the very top of the standings after eight grueling rounds was brawler Martin Goldman-Kirst.

As winner, Martin got to invoke the grand prize:

Evil Beyonder Tony: Well Goldman-Kirst, it seems you have won our Secret Wars. Through savage combat you have triumphed over the pitiful fools who kneel at your feet, and have earned your reward of a single Wish. Anything in the universe is yours. However you may want to Wish for... a way to return home! Hahahaha!!!
Martin: Actually this was a lot of fun. I wish to do it again!
Evil Defeated Beyonder Tony: What? WHAT?! Noooooooooooooooo!!!

Next page

With Tony defeated, we were free to escape his dark arena and return home. But the memories of this dark event would haunt us for years to come. Someday I pray, with time and the support of our loved ones, we may yet heal.

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