This time of year, you often start getting “year in review” type stories for just about everything. Well, don’t worry, this isn’t really one of those. Instead, I would like to take you on a little trip back in time with me. Magic® was young, and everything was a little different than now. Well, not everything.
My First Tournament
Our story starts on a very cold, snowy morning in December 1994. Today, my friends and I have set our sights on Wheeling, WV. Through a series of fortunate events, we find out about a gaming convention being held there, Wheel-Con. Several different games will be demonstrated and played, but we are all packing our Magic decks, planning on playing in our first ever tournament.
For weeks, we have been testing our decks and tweaking our skills. The goal is simple: go, learn, and have fun. A new tool has helped us to prepare for the event; it is called the Internet. Our school has recently added two computers to the library, which students can use to access the World Wide Web. Using the new tool is not easy, as most of it is still text-based and not the user-friendly interface we all know and love today. Our research hasn’t had anything to do with what decks to play; rather, we are looking for information about what is legal to play in a tournament.
Using the Internet, and with the help of a new magazine we found, The Duelist, we are able to find out that our decks must be 60 cards, not the 40-card minimum listed in the little rule books we got with our starter sets. Also, we learn that you can use no more than four of any one card in your deck. Additionally, there is a list, a long list, of cards that are either restricted (that you cannot play more than one of) or banned (that you cannot play at all).
I will be playing an all black deck, designed to disrupt my opponent’s plan until some of my big creatures can end the game for me. My best friend, John, will be playing a red deck that does one thing—damage. A couple of the other guys going with us have some skills, but when we play in our group, it always seems to be the two of us that come out on top.
The Big Day
To start with a cliché, we get up way too early and leave for Wheeling. Wheeling is only a 40-minute drive north from where we live, but we have planned to arrive early. Once we get to the site, we find that there are a couple different dealers set up, and we see many cards we have never seen before. None of the dealers have a Black Lotus, a card that none of us has ever seen but we have heard stories about. We do see some of the Moxen, but none of us can imagine paying the hefty sum of $40 to get one. I do buy a Cyclopean Tomb for $5 that I put right into my deck. I have some Bog Wraiths in my deck, and the Cyclopean Tomb will make sure that they can’t be blocked by my opponent’s creatures.
During the day, there are to be four qualifier tournaments, one starting every 2 hours. Each tournament can have up to 16 players in it, and the top four from each will get to play in the final tournament at the end of the day. The entry fee for each qualifier is $5. The first qualifier starts at 10 a.m., and the others start at 2-hour intervals after that. All of us enter the first qualifier. When I sit down to play against my first opponent, I am nervous; this is the realization of many weeks of preparation for me. I quickly lose my match. The qualifiers, like the finals, are single elimination. Just like that, I am out of my first tournament.
I watch some of my friends play. A couple of them lose their first round as well, but John and Nick are still in the tournament. Noon passes and I have not entered the second qualifier. I have 2 hours to decide if I want to try again.
Noon means lunchtime. Those of us not still playing go to Domino’s Pizza. There is one nearby that has some tables where you can sit and eat your pie. We share our experience during the first qualifier as we debate whether to try again. The decision is unanimous; we all must try one more time. When we get back, we find out that John and Nick both have qualified for the final tournament. Nick has even received a prize in the first qualifier: second place, an envelope with some cards from Antiquities®.
I have better luck in the second qualifier. First round I face a younger kid. He has only been playing for a couple of weeks. I win easily. Next round is another player playing all black. This player has all of his cards in hard plastic protectors, the kind you might put baseball cards inside. This is the first time I have ever seen someone put their Magic cards into protectors when playing. His deck is fast, and he has a Mox Jet and creatures from Arabian Nights® I have never seen called Stone-Throwing Devils. His deck is not quite fast enough, however, and my deck is able to take control with its bigger flying creatures. The Bog Wraiths in my deck help a lot as well, enabling me to attack at will with no way for him to defend himself.
By winning that match, I qualified for the final event, but this tournament was not over yet. The next round I played against a player using red. I had a lot of experience playing against red decks from practicing against John, but this deck was different from what I was used to. This red deck used lots of little goblins. Each game, my opponent would come at me with lots of these little monsters before my big creatures could come out. I quickly lost game one, but game two, my Terrors came at the right time and my Sengir Vampire started eating up the little goblins. The final game of the match is close; he comes out fast with some goblins that get pumped up with a Goblin Shrine. This is when my purchase from earlier that day pays off. I use a Dark Ritual to play my Cyclopean Tomb. This allows me to turn the Mountain that his Goblin Shrine was on into a Swamp. Goblin Shrine is an Enchant Land that gives all goblins +1/+0 as long as it is enchanting a Mountain. Changing his Mountain into a Swamp slowed the goblin assault just enough to allow me to stabilize and come back to win the game.
I don’t remember the finals from this qualifier, other than to say I lost horribly. I only remember receiving an envelope for second place. When I opened it, I found an Argothian Pixies and a Sage of Lat-Nam. These were two cards I already had from Antiquities, but I was very happy to get them.
After the third qualifier, four out of the five of us were qualified for the finals. John, Nick, Ed, and I were all going to have the chance to win the first tournament we ever played in; all we had to do was win four more games.
Hitting the Big Time
That evening, around 7 o’clock, the final 16 players were seated and play began. My opponent that round was playing all black, just like me. However, instead of a 60-card deck, his was at least 200 cards. I was able to use an early Hymn to Tourach and some beats from a Hypnotic Specter to empty my opponent’s hand. The first game went quickly, as my early discard totally impaired his ability to defend himself.
In the second game, I wasn’t able to get any early discard, but by about turn five or six, he had used a Mind Twist to empty my hand. This game was going to take a little bit longer than the last. We were each able to build up our defenses, and I was able to build up my hand once again. Then, just when I felt I was getting the upper hand and I was holding a Drain Life, waiting to have enough mana to apply the killing blow, he once again Mind Twisted me.
This was very confusing to me. I had read that Mind Twist was supposed to be restricted, yet he had at least two in his deck. I asked him how many of those he was playing. He told me he had four in his deck. I told him I thought that Mind Twist was restricted. He said he had no idea what I was talking about. Since I had no idea what I should do, I simply told him he should talk to a tournament official before he started next round.
As it turns out, he never did have to have that chat with the judges. The next turn, I drew one of my Bog Wraiths, and over the next several turns it proceeded to deliver a finishing blow. Still, I wondered what would have happened if the judges found out that his deck was illegal. I didn’t want to get him in trouble, but I had assumed that everyone always played by the rules.
A Little Help From My Friends
I was paired against John in the next round. We had practiced against one another for the last month, and we knew each other’s decks very well. The first two games went smoothly, with John and I trading wins. The final game, however, I couldn’t have won without John’s help.
John started out by dealing some damage to me with Lightning Bolt, and I used Hymn to Tourach to get rid of some of his burn spells. Then in turn three he played a Mana Flare. This must have been a recent change because I had never seen Mana Flare in his deck before. This did allow me to play a third-turn Sengir Vampire and take one mana burn, so I was not too upset. On his next turn, John used Disintegrate to hit me for 7 damage, and I went down to 9 life. On my turn, I attacked him with my Vampire for 4 and then I played a Drain Life, taking 6 life from him and giving it back to me. On the next turn, John hurled a Fireball at my head, dealing 9 damage to me and dropping me to 6. After the game, he showed me he was holding another Fireball, but it didn’t matter because I had another Drain Life in my hand, and John’s Mana Flare ensured that I had enough mana to make it lethal on the next turn.
The next two games were like nothing I had experienced before with my deck. In game one of the next match, I was able to play two Dark Rituals on turn two to play the only copy of Demonic Hordes in my deck. The hordes can destroy a land every turn just by tapping it; however, you have to pay (B)(B)(B) or it taps and destroys one of your lands instead. I only had two Swamps in play, so it was fortunate that I had another Dark Ritual in my hand to play for the next turn’s upkeep. The game was long, but my opponent never had enough land to play any meaningful spells.
In game two, I found out more about how my opponent’s deck worked. He was using Counterspells to stop everything I did. I wasn’t able to get any of my creatures into play, and the few creatures he played were killed by my Terrors. Then, I finally got a card into play. *Interlude* During the time that Tempest™ was in Standard, a player might find him- or herself in a position where his or her opponent had an active Cursed Scroll and none of the creatures in his or her deck had toughness greater than 2. This was often called “Scroll lock”, because you would be unable to mount any offense, and eventually you would lose to the damage from the “Cursed Scroll.” *End Interlude* The card I played was Aladdin’s Ring. Essentially, I was able to put my opponent into “Ring lock.”
I played Nick in the final. He was a decent player, but unlike any other time today, I had confidence that I would win. For winning the tournament, I got some more Antiquities commons and a $20 gift certificate for Walden’s books. What was more important, however, was the awesome time I had.
I have played in and judged countless tournaments since that first experience. Yet, nothing, not judging a Pro Tour, not Drafting in a PTQ top eight, not flying all over the country to play Magic, nothing can match that first tournament. Magic can take you great places and introduce you to amazing new friends. Hopefully, this little trip down memory lane has helped you to see that even the most mundane experiences can turn into important life events.