Twenty Years Along the Rail

Posted in The Week That Was on January 3, 2014

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.

The game's best players across multiple decades making some of the most memorable plays ever caught on camera. 'Nuff said.


All week long here on DailyMTG we have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of Magic: The Gathering with Top 20 lists of everything from format-defining draft picks to the best flavor texts in the history of the game. Today, I am going to look back at the history of the game through the lens of video coverage at some of the most memorable moments. I am presenting these highlights in chronological order (you should feel encouraged to tweet your order at me at @Top8Games) nor am I constraining myself to a hard twenty. If you have ever heard me rattle off a Top 5 list you likely already know that I am not able to keep these things reined in.

Which Red Deck Wins?—Worlds Seattle, August 1998

On almost every angle you looked at the matchup, Jon Finkel was the favorite to win this mirror match between two future Pro Tour Hall of Famers. Both players were on Red Deck Wins but had taken different paths to get to the desired outcome. Jon was playing Ironclaw Orcs to Rubin's Mogg Flunkies, which should have made it impossible for the fifteen-year-old to attack. Finkel was playing more lands, which meant that he would be able to better operate his Cursed Scrolls. Finkel also had Hammer of Bogardan to further tip the already imbalanced scales in his favor. As it turned out, the pundits would be proven quite wrong.

TGO vs. RoY—Pro Tour Chicago, December 1999

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Bob Maher was playing in front of—and to—the hometown Chicago crowd as he played his Oath deck against eventual Rookie of the Year Brian Davis. Maher seemed down and out multiple times in this match but used every trick—and crucial free counterspells—in the bag to win his first Pro Tour.

Crumbled—Worlds Brussels, August 2000

Magic is a punishing game and it is easy to beat yourself up when you make a mistake, but you just need to look at this match between two of the greatest players of all time to realize that it literally happens to the best of them. It was the finals of the World Championships between Jon Finkel and Bob Maher—two players who would be inducted into the Hall of Fame the moment they were eligible—and it was a Tinker mirror match. The difference between victory and defeat can be as simple as playing a card before or after your attack step.

"9 Life?"—Pro Tour Nagoya, January 2005

It is rare to see Frank Karsten look befuddled but that is exactly what happened in his quarterfinal matchup against Terry Soh. The Top 8 had been a Champions of Kamigawa Rochester Draft, so they had seen each other draft their decks face up. Soh was up two games to one on Karsten as they played Game Four. Moss Kami was doing the heavy lifting for Karsten, eating up big chunks of Soh's life total.

After declining to block what would be a lethal attack, Soh turns to a judge to confirm he's safely at 9 life. "8" is the reply, at which point Soh's face drops. Bluff… or double bluff?

The Force Spike is Strong in This One—Pro Tour Los Angeles, October 2005

A pair of future Hall of Famers collided in the semifinals of Pro Tour Los Angeles in the Extended format, both playing Psychatog decks. Antoine Ruel showed the world how you could gain an advantage through body language when he Duressed Kenji Tsumura. The Japanese player cast Mana Leak and Ruel fiddled with an Island as if he were thinking about Mana Leak. Tsumura took it as an oversold bluff and promptly played his Psychatog on turn three into Ruel's waiting arms.

Dragons Ungiven—Worlds Yokohama, December 2005

After trading blows for the first four games, Frank Karsten and Akira Asahara shuffled up for Game Five of one of the semifinals matches. Asahara played out a relatively straightforward Form of the Dragon off an Enduring Ideal, but it was Karsten's topdeck manipulation with Sensei's Divining Top to play Gifts Ungiven, dropping his Yosei, the Morning Star and a couple other cards into the graveyard to be brought back with Goryo's Vengeance, that gave Karsten the victory. Frank moved on but was ultimately defeated in the finals by Katsuhiro Mori.

"Don't Look. Just Slam It!"—Pro Tour Honolulu, March 2006

Those fateful words preceded one of the most famous topdecks in the history of the game. England's Craig Jones was playing Game Five of the semifinals of Pro Tour Honolulu against eventual Hall of Famer Olivier Ruel. Ruel had wrested control of the game after a back-and-forth match that left Craig Jones with no cards in hand and just one draw step to find a miracle.

Anatomy Lesson—Pro Tour Charleston, June 2006

This is probably one of the most subtle choices on this list, since it is not about dramatically ripping a card off the top of the deck. Rather, this involves Tomohiro Kaji ripping apart Celso Zampere's deck and laying it out in front of him. The players had full knowledge of each other's decks and Kaji had just cast Mimeofacture on a Carven Caryatid. While searching through his opponent's deck he was able to lay it out and deduce exactly what cards his opponent was holding at that moment.

Recalibrating with Repeal—Worlds Paris, December 2006

It is Game Five of the quarterfinals of the World Championship. You are playing against future Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and you are about to "go off" with Dragonstorm when you suddenly realize you are a mana shy of your goal despite already having committed significant resources to getting there. What do you do?

"...15, 16, 17, 18, 19..."—Pro Tour San Diego, June 2007

The entire finals match between The Sliver Kids—Jake Van Lunen and Chris Lachmann—and Japan's Kentaro Yamamoto and Yuuta Takahashi is likely faster than at least half of the selected clips in this article. The format for this Pro Tour Top 8 was Two-Headed Giant Booster Draft, and The Sliver Kids started crushing the tournament with Slivers immediately and never let up right through to Sunday.

"Million to one. Story of my life..."—Worlds New York, December 2007

This was a mirror match between two players who would both be inducted into the Pro Tour Hall of Fame over the next handful of seasons. Patrick Chapin and Gabriel Nassif were both playing the Gassy Knoll deck (and if someone does a Top 20 list of deck names that should be right near the top) that could kill an opponent with burn, Dragons, or by Ignite Memories. The two players had traded games back and forth with Chapin taking the first and third. If he took the fourth, he would advance straight on to the finals. That looked like a foregone conclusion as Nassif sent back opening hand after opening hand until he was starting the fateful game with just four cards. Things were looking even more dire for the French player when his life was at 9 and Chapin's storm count was at five after casting Ignite Memories. How could he possibly survive the turn—much less win the game?

"Nassif's Called Shot."—Pro Tour Kyoto, February 2009

Gabriel Nassif is one of the most decorated players in the history of the game with wins at every level. Despite umpteen Top 8s at the Pro Tour level, he did not have an individual Pro Tour title coming into Pro Tour Kyoto. He very nearly did not make it out of the quarterfinals, when Matteo Orsini-Jones took him to a fifth and deciding game and looked to have the game all locked up when Thoughtseize revealed Nassif's hand to be a rather dull Reflecting Pool. Players fill their decks with powerful game-changing spells for a reason, though, and Nassif knew of at least one card that would completely turn things around. He fiddled with his mana and fatefully called his shot: "I'm preparing my Cruel Ultimatum mana."

Head Games—Pro Tour Kyoto, February 2009

The historic finals between a pair of future Hall of Famers went the full five games, but it was Game Four that will be the one people always remember. The game was a long, drawn-out affair with the threat of an unknown spell under Scott-Vargas's Windbrisk Heights. That spell ended up being a resolved Head Games, but somehow Nassif managed to clear his head and even up the match for an anticlimactic Game Five.

"Greatness, At Any Cost."—Vintage Championships 2010

When players won Invitationals and the chance to make a Magic card, did they consider what it would be like to lose to their cardboard doppelgangers? What about if you controlled the card that was killing you? Pro Tour Hall of Famer Bob Maher got to find out first hand as his own Dark Confidants betrayed him during the Vintage Championships.

Under the Gun—Worlds, San Francisco 2011

It started with four of them in the Top 8 of Worlds, but Conley Woods's ChannelFireball teammates had all been eliminated. He had come out strong against Craig Wescoe with two quick wins but the eventual Pro Tour Champion evened things up. Wescoe looked to be in an amazing spot when he started Game Five with Honor of the Pure and Geist of Saint Traft—a devastating opening. It seemed all but impossible for Woods to find his way out of the situation and I polled the crowd in front of the booth to see how many people thought Conley could pull it off. Few if any hands were raised...

Twice the Topdecks—Pro Tour Dark Ascension, February 2012

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Brian Kibler had already pulled off a wicked topdeck of a second Whipflare to deal with a nigh-unkillable air force of Dungeon Geists (locking down a Primeval Titan) and a pair of Drogskol Captains. Targeted removal could not take them down and only a Slagstorm or second Whipflare could force the match into Game Five. And what a Game Five it turned out to be.

Celestial Purge and Snapcaster Mage had made short work of Kibler's Huntmasters, but a lone Wolf token still roamed the land, while Finkel built up his air force with Moorland Haunt and Lingering Souls. Finkel had more than enough tokens to put one in the way of that pesky Wolf but at 10 life with Negate in hand, he felt pretty safe about keeping the clock ticking on Kibler. He decided to take 2 from the unblocked Wolf...

Hallelujah!—Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, May 2012

Only Alexander Hayne believed in miracles at the last Pro Tour of the 2012 season, and he packed his deck full of the cards that rewarded you for topdecking them as the first card of a turn. The Canadian player found himself staring down Gaudenis Vidugiris in a crucial Game Five of the finals that would not only earn the winner a trophy but a seat in the Player's Championship, Platinum, and one of the most memorable victories ever caught on camera.

TapDeck—World Magic Cup, August 2012

It was a do-or-die match between the US and Chinese Taipei that did not play out under the cameras but has been immortalized on video, anyway, courtesy of the Walking the Planes crew. Brian Kibler had lived off the top of his deck in Hawaii but Chinese Taipei was about to be on the other side of the experience with one fateful tap of the deck.

The Duke of... Miami?—Grand Prix Miami, June 2013

Text coverage reporter Nate Price called this semifinal match of Grand Prix Miami between Reid Duke and Brad Nelson one of the most thrilling matches in recent memory. The defeated Brad Nelson summed up the match with: "Best. Curse. Ever."

The Return of the Topdeck—World Magic Cup, August 2013

Players from France had won every trophy in the game but one—the Team World title. Led by Pro Tour Hall of Famer Raphael Levy, Team France had an opportunity to cross that off the their national bucket list, but it was going to require a small set of very specific cards to be on top of Timothee Simonot's deck...

Of course, with more than fifty hours of live coverage from Worlds Week, there are plenty of amazing moments for you to watch, and you can find it all here. Enjoy it while we get ready to bring you the next twenty years of live coverage of the game we all love so much.


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