Climbing Up the Mountain

Posted in The Week That Was on June 13, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Congratulations to everyone who did well at Regionals this past weekend. Runes of the Deus and Power of Fire were very good to me at New Jersey Regionals and I ended up going 4-2 against some tough competition. No tech here though since I am talking about Limited. For the Constructed portion I was done at the end of round four playing with mono-green Overrun Elves and ended up doing some pick-up drafts with a similarly scrubbed out group of friends while we rooted on our friends who were still in the thick of things.

Julian Levin and I played identical decks—based on the Dutch Elf deck from Pro Tour–Hollywood—and he managed to hold out several rounds longer than I did before picking up that second loss which meant that there was nothing more than packs in his future. Of our small group of players who tested together the last person standing from that group was Matt Ferrando with his token-generating black deck featuring the new Fling, Rite of Consumption.

Matt Ferrando soldiering on at 2008 Regionals.There were a handful of players from our local playgroup who earned a spot at Nats. Joining Matt in qualifying were Jack Calvi (playing a variant of Matt's deck) and someone who has become an overwhelming favorite to win any Northeast PTQ over the past two years, Robert Seder. During the last few blocks Rob has qualified for a fistful of Pro Tours (including a blue envelope for Berlin at the Sunday qualifier at Pro Tour–Hollywood), won State Championships, ground into U.S. Nationals, and now earned a berth to Nationals with more than a few hours to go before Round 1 begins.

While Rob has played in the New York area for years, including playing against me in Round 1 of a long ago PTQ at Neutral Ground, most regulars did not recall seeing him until he made a controversial first pick of Gather Courage over Tolsimir Wolfblood in the Top 8 of a Limited PTQ (that was eventually won by Limited Information columnist Steven Sadin). Rob has been unfairly saddled with the nom du draft of Gather Courage Guy despite a torrent of Top 8s since that one event and has been one of the most dominating players on the East Coast Magic scene.

A 23-year old Long Island, NY resident who does "Internet stuff" for a living, Rob has obviously set his sights higher than dominating the Eastern Seaboard. After earning his invite to Nationals I talked to Rob about the key to his success at the PTQ level and what he thinks it will take for him to complete his ascent of competitive Magic.

It turns out that Rob first encountered Magic when he was in the fifth grade and Revised was the base set.

"I remember disliking dual lands taking up my rare," laughed Rob as he remembered his early experiences with Magic cards. "Playing consisted of Fungusaur attacking Goblins and getting huge, creatures regenerating out of the graveyard, and Nightmare being the best thing ever. Then I didn't play again until senior year of high school when my friend and I got one of those starter sets for Sixth Edition. I'm pretty sure what made him think of playing were those commercials with Rhox attacking the guys in the lab coats."

A trip to the Planeshift Prerelease which ended in a third place finish hooked Rob on tournaments—Limited tournaments anyway.

"I played in some Constructed events here and there," recalled Rob who has won the last two Constructed PTQs he has played in as well as winning a berth at Regionals. "Old Neutral Ground Grudge Matches and the like, but after Counterspell rotated out I didn't play a match of Constructed for almost four years until the NAC qualifiers."

It took Rob about five years from the time he started playing more seriously to the point where he started to do well. He played in a couple of PTQs over that span of time but wanted to point out with a grin: "I can't even remember those, so I'm going to say they don't count."

A lucky calendar check at Neutral Ground set Rob Seder on a PTQ tear."One day I was checking the Neutral Ground calendar and saw a PTQ for Kobe," said Rob of the first of a string of PTQs that have definitely counted. "I really liked Ravnica and I actually had a job, so I could afford to go. I ended up Top 8ing that one, and the next week I won Limited States. That's about when I decided I was going to start really trying to qualify."

He added: "And to be slightly less than modest, it's about when I started to realize I was actually good at playing."

Rob already knew he could play Magic well at the local level. In fact, he only attended that PTQ for Kobe after one of his friends from Long Island started to tease him about his growing confidence.

"We'd just drafted that day and he asked who had won," said Rob of the origin story for Gather Courage Guy. "I am pretty sure I just rolled my eyes and said, 'Who do you think?' He laughed and said something along the lines of, 'Well, why don't you actually go win something real then?'"

"I don't think he really meant anything to it beyond just burning me, but it got me thinking about when I used to go to Neutral Ground and play in events. Luckily this exchange happened to be just a week before a PTQ at Neutral Ground, so I organized to go in to play with all my friends."

"The day of the tournament rolls around, and one by one my friends are either sleeping, cancel, or just don't pick up their phones. I was about to just walk back home from the train station when the amazingly corny thought crosses my mind, 'Was I going to go play for them, or was I going to go play for myself?'"

Since Rob and his friends had never really ventured into the PTQ arena before there was little appreciation for his accomplishment—making the Top 8 of a Limited PTQ at Neutral Ground is no easy task. Said Rob of his friend's reaction: "If anything, they made fun of me for losing [in the Top 8]."

It was not too long after that event that Rob earned his first of many Pro Tour invites to go along with his State Championship, Grinder qualification for U.S. Nationals, and now his invite via Regionals. Just a few weeks ago Rob won the Sunday qualifier at Pro Tour–Hollywood playing a 63-card Faerie deck in the Block Constructed tournament. Not that he intended to play that many cards...

"I actually had no idea it had happened until I was getting ready for the Top 8 deck check," he explained. "I was counting out my deck by tens to do it more quickly before the round started, and ended the last pile on 7. So I check, and yes, I had mixed some of my SB into the main deck, so very good thing I checked."

"I took my deck out and started counting again, this time ending on three. I did it again, and again ended on three. Now for whatever reason I didn't bother counting all the way to 60, and I thought I was missing 7 cards. I freaked out and called Adam Levitt and basically yell at him, 'Come to the Top 8 now, bring your Faeries deck, I'm missing cards, RUN!'"

"He comes up and we just spread out the deck in front of my opponent because I'm so concerned about getting a game loss or something and start counting. It doesn't look like anything is missing, all the spells, all the creatures, everything is there. Then he asks, "Wait, how many lands are you running?"

"What had happened was when I was sleeving my deck, I noticed some of the sleeves were a bit bent in the corners; three of them to be exact. Since I was taking apart my PT Faeries deck to make the PTQ deck, I had sleeves and cards spread out all over the place. What ended up happening was I sleeved all the creatures, all the spells, all the non-basics, all the Islands, and then all the Swamps. Except, I just sleeved the Swamps until I ran out of sleeves, including those extra three I had set aside. Oops."

Rob played the Top 8 with his 63-card deck and sided in an extra spell for one of his lands, in addition to any other sideboarding, and came away from the tournament with yet another blue envelope. He credits his ability to stay calm—whether it is realizing that you have mis-registered your deck or mulliganing down to four cards on the play—as the real secret to his success thus far.

"It's simple but I don't get pissed off," shrugged Rob. "I try to tell that to all my friends. I have some friends who are decent at Magic but they get mana screwed once and they start getting mad. There is no point in it. In the Hollywood PTQ Top 8, in Game 1 my opponent beat me, and then I mulliganed to four on the play. I know my friends and if that had happened to them they would have lost right there."

Never give up!"Luckily my hand was land, land, Peppersmoke, Bitterblossom," laughed Rob. "The look on his face when he lost was beautiful. Just stay calm. I know people who are good and if they get a little mana screwed... a little mana flooded... it just throws them off their entire game. Just don't get upset. There is nothing I like seeing more than my opponent getting mad. They just don't think about their turns anymore."

The deck that Rob used this past weekend was an update of Quick 'n Toast that carried him to a 6-0-2 record in the Swiss and the crucial elimination round win he needed to lock up the Nationals invite. The original plan had been to pilot Reveillark but Rob and his group made a late night audible into the powerful Swiss/French concoction from Pro Tour–Hollywood.

"I took out his third Wispmare for a Firespout, which was actually very useful," he explained after using the HybridClasm to slay the mortal enemy of Quick 'n Toast decks all day long. "When they 'shut off' my lands with Magus of the Moon I can just kill it. I played against two red-green decks in a row and I just destroyed them."

Robert Seder

Download Arena Decklist

With the qualification for Nationals and Berlin squared away I was curious how Robert was planning to tackle the next few months.

"My goals right now are focused outside of the actual tournaments, mainly playtesting. I don't do it. I really should," he said sheepishly. "I'd like to find a serious group of people to test with. I'm beginning to hate having last week's tech. I can't make decks at all, so when I play in Constructed I pretty much just look for whatever was posted for the last major event. I'd like to be on the front line for once. I have nothing official at the moment, but two other NG players qualified last weekend, so I know there will be people to test with."

Rob has yet to advance past the Day 2 cut at the Pro Tour level—although he was in the running at last year's Nationals until the late rounds—but is not going to be content with merely making it through to the next day of competition.

He describes his goal simply as: "Win. I don't know if that's cliché by now, but it's true. I don't plan on Top 8ing or Day 2ing. When I go I plan on winning—big talk considering I've done horrible at the PTs and GPs I've gone to, I know."

For players looking to win in the upcoming PTQ season—which officially gets underway this weekend—Rob advised players to avail themselves of the amazing color fixing available.

"Five-color insanity with Reflecting Pools," he suggested when asked what he would play if he could in the remaining PTQs before rethinking. "Or Faeries. Even if you don't like Faeries in Standard, they're so much nicer in Block. You don't have to worry about stupid Magus, you can run Sowers maindeck, and you don't lose all that much. Plus the games felt much less dependent on the one-two Ancestral Vision-Bitterblossom opening."

I don't know if any of the local players will be taking Rob's advice but I would be willing to bet that they will be happy to hear that they don't have to face him in the coming weeks of this season.

Firestarter: Regionals Scouting Reports

I saw more than one player toying with Dragonstorm—adding Manamorphose where Seething Song used to be—and Mike Flores got knocked out of the tournament by a Distant Melody from an Elf player. If you played in Regionals this weekend what was the coolest deck you saw that didn't quite make the cut but might be worth looking into?

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