THE BEST GAME I EVER SAW

Posted in GRAND PRIX SANTIAGO 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 2, 2014

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

Spoiler Alert: You will not get better at strategic play by reading this article. Spolier Alert 2: You may learn something about the human condition.

OK, so, the best game I ever saw, or even The Best Game I Ever Saw, took place at Pro Tour Yokohama in 2007. I was predisposed to expect an awesome weekend. It was my first time in Japan, and I was still very new to Team Coverage. The format was Block Constructed, specifically Time Spiral Block Constructed, and that meant all kinds of terrific decks, headlined by my idea of a good time at the time, Mystical Teachings. Add in that Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (part of this year's class for the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame) was playing the Teachings deck, and I was basically in MTG heaven.

It's no secret that Frank Karsten is someone I've always admired as a player, a writer, an analyst, and now as a colleague, so in a thoroughly professional and unbiased way, I was rooting for him to do well. Honestly, most people were wanting the Dutchie to do the business, since he had spent most of the weekend with an actual bucket beside his matches, periodically pausing to vomit copiously. (Simultaneously, 'awesome!' and 'Yuk!').

Frank Karsten

So why choose now to tell you about this long-ago match? Because, dear friends, we are in Chile, and every protagonist needs an opponent. In the last round of Swiss, Frank Karsten was drawn against Jose Luis Echeverria Paredes. Guess where he comes from, go on, guess...Good try, it isn't Bolivia, it's Chile. Frank had done the math (hell will freeze over before Frank doesn't do the math), and it was clear-cut. The winner of their last round encounter would be in the Top 8 on Sunday. The loser would be going home.

Jose Luis Echeverria Paredes

At the time, I was doing mostly podcasts for coverage, and part of that was a weird live-recorded hybrid of feature matches. I'd watch a match live, then write a script for the match I'd just watched, and then record it in the style of something resembling a boxing match, complete with crowd noise, and done at a pace where an entire match would be told in 7-10 minutes. For those of you who don't know what happens, here's the link. The 'live match coverage' starts at 11minutes23seconds.

For those of you who don't have 10 minutes spare, here's what happened. Both players were super-grindy. Paredes was on a Mystical Teachings list, and Frank was busy being as controlling as one could imagine – there were Damnations and Voids and Sudden Deaths coming out of every crevice.

Paredes took game 1, largely on the back of Draining Whelk. Karsten fought back in game 2, 'Boom! Karsten responds with the Hellkite from Bogardan' as I apparently said on commentary seven years ago. That took us to game 3, and the entrance to our drama of a third player, Sebastian Thaler, the 2006 Rookie of the Year. Thaler had already won his match – hell, almost everyone had already won or lost their matches – and he stood to gain a slot in the Top 8 if Karsten and Paredes fought each other to a standstill.

Paredes pounded away at the Karsten defences, but Frank wouldn't budge. He fell to 4, then 3, then 2, as they entered extra turns. Remember, Frank had done the math, and he knew that a draw would see them finish in exactly 9th and 10th place. He clawed his way back into the game, and when the extra turns dwindled to nothing he was in a dominant position. I don't believe I have ever felt more emotion for a Magic player's in-game emotions than when I saw Karsten with his head in his hands. He had literally taken himself beyond his physical limits to reach this position, and he was going to run out of turns. Had Echeverria been a longstanding Pro, an accommodation would likely have been reached, with one conceding to the other. But, to his credit, this was his first deep run at a Pro Tour, and he didn't want to give up the dream of the Top 8.

The result slip was handed in, and 1-1-1 was the final result. Sebastian Thaler finished 8th and played on Sunday. Jose Luis Echeverria Paredes and Frank Karsten finished 9th and 10th, of course they did, and didn't play on Sunday.

Sebastian Thaler

Before or since, I have yet to see two people fight so passionately for the same thing that they both want, in a spirit of simultaneously intense rivalry and utter courtesy. It was a breathtaking experience to stand on the edge of that table live, and to recreate it for the listeners in the minutes afterwards.

So now, here we are at Grand Prix Santiago, and as I look up from my laptop I see Jose Luis Echeverria Paredes in action once more. And as I connect my ipad to the internet, I notice a wireless network – Karsten.

Coincidence? I wouldn't put it past him...

And that match, seven years ago, featuring a Chilean and a Dutchman, remains The Best Game I Ever Saw.