Playing Among Giants

Posted in Serious Fun on July 29, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

The theme this week is our "favorite Magic moment." Since I've spent the last five years writing about all my favorite moments playing Magic – at tournaments, around the kitchen table, at local shops, and so on – I gotta say my clip's empty on this one. But I hope readers won't mind if I reminisce about an event that I also wrote up at the Sideboard site about two years ago.

Now, bear in mind I've never qualified for the Pro Tour. I'm one of those annoying, mediocre players who will insist he could qualify if he only had a bit more time in his life. And maybe I'm right, and maybe I'm horribly wrong. But one thing I know: back in the year of Invasion block, I was pretty darn good in limited formats. I spent that year batting better than .500 in matches against the top 5 players in the state, reached Top 4 in a qualifier, and beat the Ukrainian champion in a side draft at the World Championships in Toronto. Not spectacular – but not shabby, either.

Anthony (center) plays with his team at Grand Prix - Columbus.

In addition to individual sealed and draft, I indulged with a couple of friends in team limited format. I agree with most Pros who've spoken on the topic: team limited is the most amazing Magic format of all time. Not nearly enough players play this format, in part because it's harder to show up with two friends than it is to show up by yourself at a tournament, I suppose. But the vast majority of casual players have no idea what they're missing.

I'll continue the sales pitch another time – team limited only comes into this story tangentially. Our team went to a Grand Prix in Columbus to try to qualify for the Pro Tour in that format. We failed, in no small part because I had an insanely bad day and let my team down. But before we left, a singular moment arrived.


I knew Gary Wise from reporting at a couple of Pro Tours before that day, so we spent a few moments chatting while in Columbus. (Some of you may be familiar with Gary's legacy as a Pro Tour champion, limited formats expert, and writer for the Sideboard.) As I was literally moving toward the door to leave the event and Columbus altogether, Gary caught my attention and called me over to a table.

"I want you to be here for this," he told me. "A bunch of us are going to Rochester draft, if you're interested."

What the heck, right? Probably just a few random people he was going to draw together. I checked with my friends, and they were fine waiting a bit longer.

Then the table came together, and I felt the blood drain from my face.

First was Scott Johns, a Pro Tour champion. Then I saw Zvi Moshowitz, a Pro Tour champion. Then Patrick Mello – I'm pretty sure he's a Pro Tour champion too; but even if he's not, he can kick my ass. Then Brian Kibler, who isn't a Pro Tour champion but comes mighty close. (Plus, I hear the ladies love him, which is intimidating even when you're married.) Sense a trend here?

So Scott Johns asks me in a polite sort of way why I'm standing right next to the table where they'll all be drafting, and I'm ready to tell him that there's a space-time continuum problem that I intend to correct immediately, but then Gary walks up again, tells me to sit down, and then sits down himself to my left. (I assume he did this so that no one else would complain about what the Casual Play Dork fed them in packs one and three.)

I look to my right as everyone else takes his seat, and I see Kai Budde smiling gamely back at me.

This is a fine little joke you've played on me, Gary, I steam to myself as Scott busts the first pack open and lays out the fifteen cards face up. Of course, I also felt deep gratitude toward the jerk for giving me the chance to draft with these guys, so I kept my mouth shut.

The draft itself went fine. I mean, when Scott Johns and Kai Budde are sending you signals from your right and Gary Wise is picking up signals to your left, you're unlikely to screw up much. Red-black was my clear choice, and since it was my favorite style of Invasion limited deck to play, it really couldn't have gone better. Annihilate, Halam Djinn, Duskwalker, Shivan Zombie, all the basics were there. I did take the liberty of asking the table's opinion in one situation, and Gary told me of one late pick in the second pack that he might have done differently, but otherwise, the table consensus was that I wasn't nearly as much of an idiot as they'd originally thought.

Man, I wish I could end the story there. But unfortunately, you're probably all wondering how I did with that finely drafted deck. (Well, wonder is a strong word. Let's say rather that you'd all like closure.) Let's see how few words I can use to some this up:

I mulliganed three times in game one. I lost to Zvi's natural talent in game two.

There, I think that handles it. Of course, my friends Todd and Bob were there to snicker and wince alternately the entire time. (Mulligan one got a snicker. Mulligan two got a wince, as they began to feel sorry for me. Mulligan three? Back to snickering.)

But honestly, playing the decks was incidental to what that draft meant to me. Very few Magic players have drafted among such company – my friends and I tallied up the Pro Tour points of my competitors on the plane ride back, and it was pretty eye-opening. Gary was great to set that up for me, and I'd jump at the chance again in a heartbeat, though I don't suppose that opportunity will ever come again.

Maybe if I qualify for the Pro Tour... well, let's see how good Mirrodin block is to me...


Since that was pretty short, and since I'm better known for my casual and multiplayer gaming, I'll put up another "ten-year" moment.

About a month ago, I was in a three-player firefight with friends Dave and Paul. (This isn't my brother-in-law Paul, whose love affair with Vexing Arcanix I detailed a few weeks ago. That's Evil Paul. This is another Paul in our group. We call him Good Paul.) I'm using a red-black creatureless cycling deck with Lightning Rift; Dave has a blue-black milling deck, and Paul has a blue-green pinging-poison deck.

Lightning Rift

I hate articles that set up too much of a multiplayer game, so I'll try to keep the description brief: Dave is at one life, with an active Cephalid Coliseum and more than ten cards in his library. Paul is at eight life, with two active pingers, two active Seeker of Skybreak, and eight cards in his library. I am at four life, with three Lightning Rifts, a Seal of Fire, a mere two cards in my library, and two cycling cards in my hand.

Now, the rule in our group is that when someone dies, all spells and effects they control disappear from the stack. (This sets up more interesting situations, we feel, than the "hand grenade" method. And in this case, we're certainly right.) So here's the lowdown: Paul can kill either of us, whenever he wants – but not both, and I'm the larger threat to him. Dave can kill either of us, whenever he wants – but not both, Paul's the larger threat to him. And I can kill either of them, but not both, and they're both horrific threats.

So bottom line, we're all three kingmakers – but no one can claim the kingship on his own, unless someone makes a mistake.

At the end of Paul turn to my right, I had to force things since my own draw phase would either kill me or neutralize my main weapon (cycling). With the mana I had open I could distribute ten damage (four Rift hits through two cycles, and the Seal), which was technically enough since I could send eight to Paul and two to Dave – but the problem was, I needed more damage to counter whatever either opponent did in response. (Dave could kill me through Cephalid Coliseum draw, and Paul through pinging.)

As it turned out, I failed my calculations completely, dissipated my energy too much, and didn't get either of them out of the game before I was gone. But I didn't choose this story for this week because I won, or even because I was close. I chose this story because it was a good time, spent with good friends, who played a good game. Every week, I get a charge higher than that day I drafted with Kai and Zvi – I play with my friends, the best buds in the world. On this tenth anniversary of Magic, they deserve at least as much attention as all the high-profile pros and Wizards staff who dominate our Internet community. So, to Evil Paul, Good Paul, Dave, Todd, Don, Curt, George, Joe, Troy, Bob, Anthony D., and all the other folks I've knocked decks with at local shops and between rounds at tournaments – thank you for all the good times. Every time I'm gaming with you, I'm playing among giants.

You may reach Anthony Alongi at He regrets that he does NOT have the time to help with your deck, so please don't ask. But he'll chat on just about any other topic.

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