Welcome back for another installment of “Nate Price’s Magical Adventures!” This week, I’ll be continuing right where I left off last week, with two more days to go of the US National Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota. If you missed what happened leading up to this point, I highly recommend checking it out here. Anyway, back to the story!
So when I left off, it was the end of Friday night, I had just finished an awesome dinner at a pretty cool Japanese steakhouse with the other coverage guys and a smattering of other excellent people, and David Ochoa had just finished draining the Buddha. That image never gets old!
After running to the liquor store nearby with one Brian “Sometimes You Drink Out of a Grand Prix Winner’s Trophy” Kibler, we meander back over to the hotel for a draft or two before bed. I find the rest of the coverage guys, Steve Sadin, and Brian David-Marshall creating some space in the hotel lobby for us to get a draft going. Space at this hotel was at a premium, and these guys were real sweethearts to take the effort to make sure we had ample space to play.
I cracked my first pack and saw a Magma Phoenix staring back at me. I have a long standing love affair with Phoenixes in Magic. My love for them burns strong before blowing up in my face, only to be reborn every couple of years when they release a new variant. I quickly snatch the powerful rare and move on to the next pack. I will be completely honest with you, I remember very little about this draft other than I tried to draft the black-red sacrifice deck that I saw drafted during day one of Nats and that I failed miserably. Apparently, the deck doesn’t run to well without sacrifice outlets. Or Act of Treason. What I ended up with was a deck of forty cards that, in all honesty, I would have rather burned to ashes than played. My matches were mercifully quick and painless, very clearly not in my favor. After getting my ass handed to me in short order, I surrendered the notion of a second draft and crawled off to have one more beer and then go to sleep. I had work in the morning!
About 6:45 the next morning, the dulcet chimes of my iPhone’s alarm signaled to me that it was time to begin my day. I woke up and went for a short “run” on the laughable gym equipment of the hotel in which we were staying. I find it very funny that I insist on being healthy and exercising every morning when I’m out on assignments, but virtually never when I’m at home. Just more proof that Magic makes you a better person. After returning to the room and taking a refreshing shower, Adam and I hooked up with Dave Guskin and Monty Ashley to head to the event site. It was during this walk that Dave approached me with one of the most fun ideas I have ever heard of: a Vintage rotisserie draft.
Vintage rotisseries have become all the rage over the past few months in the professional Magic world. That I know of, there have been multiple drafts by the channelfireball.com crew, a couple out east in the New York area, and a ton back up in Seattle. The WotC crew loves them some rotisseries, and who can blame them? The format is incredibly fun, and I knew that, against the ringers I was going to be facing, I was going to have to do some research. More on this to come.
Again, I’m not going to dip too much into the actual coverage of the event since we kinda took care of that on Wizards.com, but we did have some very fun things happen over the course of Saturday’s gameplay. After doing a little thinking and bouncing of ideas off of some of the better players in the game, I decided on a strategy for my Vintage rotisserie draft. Knowing that most people would be looking to lock up one of the following archetypesâ€”either red or black aggro, Oath of Druids, Reanimator, Combo (usually Time Vault/Voltaic Key, Painters Servant/Grindstone, or Earthcraft/Squirrels Nest), blue Artifacts, or Stormâ€”I decided that if I was in the middle of the pack, I would try to draft a Napster-style monoblack control deck. With the ability to take all of the Demonic Tutor variants in the game, and access late to any of the single strategy hosers I would need, I could fashion a pretty solid deck to counter the field. On the off chance that it didn’t work out the way I’d planned, many of the cards are shared by the monoblack aggro deck, so I’d have an easy audible. When I found myself on the wheel, things became complicated. The wheel is the best place to draft the combo decks in this format since most of the really good combo decks are two-card combos. If you are in the middle of the pack and select a combo piece, it’s really easy to simply hate draft the other piece before you get back to it. The wheel avoids this by simply allowing you to pick both cards consecutively. It was time for a decision.
Regardless of my deck of choice, I got some very good cracks at mana acceleration early, which are good in any deck. My first wheel was Mana Crypt and Mox Jet, the next one containing Mana Vault and Dark Ritual. The way the draft was shaping up, I figured I’d have a better time with the denial strategy. Vault was taken early, and there were a Workshop deck, Graveyard-based deck, and standard blue control deck in the making, all of which are handled fairly easily by the Napster deck. I started taking some tutors, but as soon as I made my move, two others joined in as well. This put a kink in my plans. Without access to Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, I decided to go into my second audible and draft Suicide Black. With the mana acceleration I had managed to draft and the discard I was planning on drafting anyway, the deck was a powerful second choice.
At this point, it’s important to mention against whom I was drafting. First, there was the obvious Dave Guskin, the one who organized the draft in the first place. Beyond him, we had R&D intern Peter Knudson, Zac “Memphis Belle” Hill, Stephen Birkilid, and Sam, Dave’s friend from the Twin Cities. Sam was not on location, and Peter was sparsely available during the day. Zac was off gunslinging, and Birkilid was simple “around the room” more often than not. This draft was not easy to pull off. At one point, we had enlisted a couple of people to simply act as gofers for us, running to the other side of the room to get Zac’s picks and trying to play the Where’s Waldo game of finding Birkilid in a crowd. Things went slowly until near the end of the day, when we were finally able to get most of us around a table at the same time and get some serious picks in. Unfortunately, it was not to be completed on Saturday. As time passed, we got closer and closer to the event of the eveningâ€”Magic karaokeâ€”and I was not about to miss that!
Giving up on the draft for the evening, and vowing to pick up in the morning, we all trudged off to the hotel to prepare for what we assumed was going to be a fairly standard night of karaoke for me and the boys.
We were not prepared.
All throughout the weekend, we had been chatting up everyone we wanted to see out about our plans for karaoke on Saturday night. As expected, we didn’t really get too many people who were as gung-ho about going out as we were. We got no more than a half dozen confirmations. Regardless, everyone had been given all of the details, so we decided if they showed up, sweet. If not, we were still going to have a damn good time.
Flash forward a twenty minute cab ride. We arrive at our location, what looks like a reasonable, little neighborhood bar whose name was less memorable than I would like. It will be referred to hereafter as “the bar.” We had to take a couple of cabs to accommodate the group of people we were heading out with and I was in the second cab, so the first group had already entered the building when I arrived. Upon walking into the bar, I wouldn’t believe my eyes. The place was packed from wall to wall, which wasn’t much of a surprise. After all, it’s freaking karaoke! Who doesn’t love it!? What blew my mind was the fact that there were approximately sixty Magic players, judges, and event staff taking up the entire back side of the bar, right by the microphone. It was unreal! I had expected to get like ten to twelve people to come out and sixty answered the call. We simply took the place over. After getting drinks and putting our first songs in, there was a veritable murderer’s row of good times, from Patrick Chapin rocking a suit like a boss to Zac Hill literally blowing the roof off with his rendition of Pearl Jam’s Jeremy. It was simply amazing!
To add to all of this, near the end of the evening, who should we spy walking through the door than Zvi Mowshowitz. Now, other than hearing about his insane Rock Band chops, I never pegged Zvi for the karaoke type. Apparently, he’s like a thundercloud of good times. All it takes is the right conditions for a storm of epic proportions to settle around him. He put his song in and all of us waited with bated breath until we saw his name appear on the bottom of the karaoke monitors. Zvi was finally up on deck.
“Thanks for coming out guys, it’s been a blast, but now it’s time to go!”
Wait, what?! I don’t think you understand. Zvi’s up next. ZVI!!! We have to hear him go on! Despite much outcry, our pleas fell on deaf ears. Somewhere in the back corner, I think from Brian Kibler’s mouth, came a simple three word chantâ€””we want zvi. We want Zvi. WE WANT ZVI!” Like an avalanche the room of sixty people who had been waiting for nearly forty minutes for Zvi to sing picked up the chant. Meanwhile, being the proactive kind of person I am, I started walking around a collection to give to the karaoke DJ so that they could stay open for one more hour. I figured that they had probably only paid her through 2am, so she was packing up because they hadn’t paid her to stay. I was willing to fix that. When I presented her with the $100 we had collected, she politely refused, saying that she couldn’t stay any longer. When I offered to double it, she informed me that it was apparently Minnesota that was screwing us, and not her. The bar had to close at two because that’s closing time in the North Star State.
RUJK?! We have a once-in-a-lifetime epic chance to see THE Zvi Mowshowitz perform at karaoke and we’re defeated by blue laws? Give me a break. Despite the roar of the crowd begging for more, they were still obligate by law to not let us have even a measly five more minutes of fun and promptly asked all of us to leave. I’d like to tell you that there was a mob scene that followed and we stood up for everything right and entertaining, but, let’s face it, we’re Magic players. All we can do if we feel we’re being cheated is call a judge, and there were at least ten judges there all headed to the door with their head bowed in disappointment. There would be no appealing this ruling.
Dejected, we all took cabs back to the hotel for a reasonable night’s rest, but we weren’t finished with the fun just yet. Sunday is one of the best days to be working on the Pro Tour because it starts a little later than the other days and tends to run a little shorter as well. Combine that with the fact that you get to watch the pinnacle of play in a given tournament, and it should be little wonder that Sunday is my favorite day for coverage. After a grueling and incredibly intense set of matches in the Top 8, the US National team was presented, much to the applause of the droves of spectators that turned out to watch the Top 8 play. With trophies in hand, the player all wandered off to celebrate with their friends, especially Josh “Wrapter” Utter-Leyton, who was fortunate enough to take home the title.
With all of the coverage for the weekend in the books, we had a little time left to burn before heading off to the staff dinner, so we decided to scare up a draft. Unfortunately, our opponents turned out to be no slouches. Dave Guskin and I picked up a third to face our opponents: New York superstar Josh Ravitz, recent Grand Prix-Columbus finalist Tom Martell, and Floridian Ben Stark. Needless to say, it looked like we were a little outclassed. Luckily for my team, they had me. I managed to draft a sick little red-white number, featuring a couple copies of Chandras Spitfire, Prodigal Pyromancer, and a decent suite of removal. I managed to out race everyone and stall long enough against Ben’s even more aggressive red-white deck that I managed to 3-0 against some of the best competition in the world! Not bad for someone who works a desk all day!
After the draft, the writers and I packed up and headed to the staff dinner that Legions Events Organizer Steve Port had put together. I had just found out that Steve’s wife Lindsay was fairly pregnant earlier in the weekend, so it was nice to see her and “Little Gozer,” as they were referring to him, in attendance at the dinner. Guskin, Zac Hill, Adam Styborski, and I all sat at one of the tables with less people at it and a little more room. We came to game. I brought the new deck-building card game Ascension with me. The game, a wonderful derivative of the same style of game as Dominion, was designed by a few people you may have heard of: Justin Gary, Rob Dougherty, and, of course, Brian Kibler. It’s rare to see Kibler at an event these days without a deck box tucked under his arm, just waiting for a chance to play. Anyway, dinner took place at an awesome spot called Hell’s Kitchen. The food was pretty unreal, though I was told they cut their teeth originally as a breakfast spot. While eating, I started to get the hankering for a good time.
“So Zac…karaoke again tonight?”
All of a sudden, it was on again. I did a little research and found this great little joint called Las Vegas Lounge near our hotel that we could head to later on in the evening. After finishing dinner and saying our goodbyes, we began our escapade. After arriving at our karaoke joint du chois for the evening, we were a little blown away by what awaited us. This was perhaps the tiniest little dive bar I’ve ever had the pleasure of singing in. It was literally a hole in the wall, with barely enough room for forty people on a good night. The only people in there to sing were obviously regulars who had made this their place. It was perfect. The first guy to get up and sing was a guy who reminded me of a combination of Brad Neslon, Drew Carey, and a Velcro factory singing “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” by The Darkness. And he was spot on the whole time. This bar was a bar of ringers.
After congratulating him on successfully BLOWING OUR MINDS, we put our names into the hat. I started off with a little “No Rain,” by Blind Melon, while Zac went for “Miss Murder,” by AFI. In short order, we had made a new group of friends! After a bit of talking and singing, the waitress came around passing out these little raffle tickets. Unsure of what exactly they meant, I asked some of our new buddies what the hell was going on. They explained that this was a drawing for prizes done every night. They gave away free drinks, random other stuff, etc. In general, it seemed like an awesome idea. At the end of it all, they drew one final ticket to determine their “Customer of the Night,” who got discounted drinks for the remainder of the night, as well as their name on a badass neon board near the front door for all to behold and envy. As we waited on the edge of our seats, they slowly read off the numbers, one by one. When the final number sounded, who should be the Customer of the Night other than yours truly! Running like I had just been called down in the Price is Right over to the neon board, I quickly added my name to the winner’s box on the sign, clearly the envy of all. My evening now complete, I just sat back, drank some more, and continued to sing songs, content in the knowledge that I was officially the envy of all around me.
As the wee hours of the morning approached, the three of us made our way back to the hotel for some much earned rest. Sleep came quickly, as it tends to do after a night of simply being MORE AWESOME THAN EVERYONE ELSE. Confident that I had left my indelible mark on the city of Minneapolis during my brief stay, I arose in the morning for breakfast refreshed and a little sad to leave. And hungry. Definitely hungry. Wrangling up Sadin, BDM, and the writers, we headed out to this place Steve Port had recommended to us called Keys CafÃ©. Apparently, it’s a bit of a Minneapolis legend in the breakfast world, and rightfully so. I got a ridiculous omelet, as well as split the actual best cinnamon roll I have ever had in my life with BDM. It was good enough that deciding how to split it up almost came to fork stabbings. Even splitting it up as fairly as we could (we managed to get the last one), neither of us was really satisfied by what we got if only because it was so damn delicious that we could have eaten a dozen more each on our own. Regardless, breakfast was badass, and I had a plane to catch. Adam and I shared a cab to the airport since our flight times were fairly close, and we left our friends behind to see another day. After a hearty round of goodbyes and promises to come visit, we made our way off to the flights to head back to real life. What a drag.
My time in Minneapolis was some of the most fun I’ve had at an event, and mostly due to the fact that the people I like to spend my time with, and most of the Magic community in general, are absolutely amazing people. How else do explain the night out at Ichiban, DOMINATING a bar on karaoke night, or simply celebrating with Josh Utter-Leyton and the boys after a successful weekend? These are the things that make Magic the most fun for me, the things that really make me glad to travel. I will admit that I kind of fill an interesting role for Wizards from time to time, usually presenting the extracurricular side of Magic to showcase how awesome these events can be, even to the uninvited. Part of the reason I like writing these articles here for you is that it separates me and my stories from Wizards themselves. I want to show you guys that I really do love going to these events, and I always have a great time, even when Wizards isn’t paying me to say so! I truly do love these events and think that everyone who has the means and a little time off can simply gain so much by travelling to play the game they love.
Play the game, see the world.
These used to be the motto of Organized Play, and they’ve never rung more truly in my ears. My next tournaments are going to be the SCG Open event in Nashville later this month, as well as the Grand Prix there the month after. I hope you get a chance to make it out to one of these events to really appreciate how great travelling for Magic can be. Come and find me! I’ll be the one in the middle of people having a great time. You should be too.