I’m approaching this article a little differently than I would a normal Magic article. We’re going to go back to 1999, I’m a 19 year Music Education Major at the University of Louisville, and am getting ready to play in my first ever Magic: The Gathering tournament. The organizer, Brennan Moody, had rented out the hotel that my high school had the prom at, and it was even in the same ballroom. It was a nice room in a nice hotel that no longer exists, and as I walked in to the room with my group of friends (who for the most part have ended up becoming my closest friends, because of a card game), I had a particular swagger in my step.
States was always a maligned tournament, it never qualified anyone for Nationals (which was incredibly silly from my point of view, why wouldn’t a National Championship include the best players from each state?) and was mainly a way for players to play with the newest set before the Pro Tour, and for bragging rights. If I recall correctly, the winner in 1999 got a Magic branded duffel bag filled with some packs.
After standing in line I got my DCI number, filled out a decklist, which unlike my friends I had copied card for card from InQuest magazine, a leading publication of the time. They wanted to be original and I just wanted to win. I wanted to make a name for myself, and as I sat down against my first round opponent, I sized him up, shuffled my deck, presented, and with confidence of having already won, drew my seven. I was playing this, or well, something very close to this. I was so confidant in this deck that I played it nearly blind, and had loaned out my cool Deranged Hermit Opposition deck to a friend. While I knew that deck inside and out, I just didn’t like playing it, it was great for dominating games at the local laser tag arena, but I thought it was weak in Standard.
There may have been some number of Palinchrons or Peregrine Drake in the main as well, I lost that issue of InQuest years ago, heck maybe even throwing it away after I got back from the event. This is a close version of the deck though. And I was very happy that this article from Starcity existed while I was searching for it.
Back to event. I remember getting my opener and very quickly deciding to keep. It had everything I needed to go off quickly, and as soon as I started to go off, my opponent looked at me and asked me why I was untapping lands. I told him it was because I was casting my Cloud of Faeries and he looked at me like I shot his dog. He told me that the card did not work like that when combined with Bubbling Muck I was putting it in to play, and not casting it. He explained the difference, and seemed like a nice enough fellow, so I did not think about calling a judge, surely this entrenched member of the community would not lie to a new player!
Switching gears, I went to into Cloud beatdown mode, and lost the game, and then the match. I continued to play the event with the understanding that the errata he told me about was correct, and that I had wasted time and money when I should have been studying or practicing musical things.
I eventually learned that he was not correct, but I just did not want to look like a jerk to my opponent. It taught me a very valuable lesson, which almost turned me off from the competitive side of the game. I thankfully had a really good local game store, and players much better than me to take me under their wing and I learned a lot from them.
Magic back in 1999 was not the best place, it was intimidating and filled with cheats.
However, I enjoyed the friends that I had made through the game so I continued to play in events. My next big event was Regionals, which was the event that actually fed Nationals. A friend drove us up to Columbus with the condition that I have a deck for him because he was not a fan of the combo decks in the format. Matt if I recall correctly, ended up playing a stock White Weenie list, and I again went with a Bargain deck. It was a format that was pretty much Bargain and Replenish as the decks to beat, and I figured I would go with one of the combo decks. Professional Events Services ran this event, and it was a monster, something like 375 players, which was one of the largest Magic events to date.
I wonder what people who played in that event, quit playing afterwards, and lost touch with the game would think of now when they saw Grand Prix numbers.
The problem was, it was a new build of Bargain, it used white, and I had never played it before. I had however teched out the White Weenie deck, and was great with it. We were just playtesting in a greasy spoon diner the night before the event, and just decided to switch decks.
I had basically been handed the keys to a sports car after driving go karts all my life. This deck was one of the best decks in the format, and I still couldn’t buy a win, which I think proves that netdecking is not in the best interests of a player if they have no idea what they are doing with the deck.
My big lesson from this event was that switching decks the night before was not going to work out most likely, and I needed to play things that I knew, and knew well. I also needed to get off of combo decks because I didn’t understand them. I hadn’t learned enough at the time to play them competently.
After Regionals I made an effort to play decks and cards that I liked, and would not come off of a deck when I really loved it. It was never reported, but I actually won my first event during Memorial Day of that year. I played Sol Malka’s The Rock and His Millions in a local Standard event, and had went undefeated through the swiss and elimination rounds, where the same friend that drove me to Columbus was playing the local ringer, in a weird Mono Blue versus Bargain matchup. I was sweating because of the temperature, and my desires to not play against Bargain, because I did not feel like I could beat it. My friend won, and we played out the finals, and I was able to sneak in a Deranged Hermit and just overwhelm him with squirrels.
The Rock and His Millions
We had a tradition that after an event, we would go get food, and because I had won, I decided to treat my friends to the meal. I also bought a playset of Hatreds. This leads me to my next lesson, don’t buy cards if they are about to rotate out of Standard, because you’ll either waste money for a deck for them, or never play them.
I held on to that (set of) Hatred for years. I never got a chance to play them.
It was nice not playing combo in an event. It was kinda weird, but the whole midrange control strategy felt good to me, and I shortly found myself moving to Minnesota.
I have family up there, and I had lost my father the year before. I had also failed out of college, not taking the probation letter seriously, I just lacked direction, and wanted to see another place besides Kentucky. I actually had started a job at Walmart the day before I decided to go, but I left that store, called my uncle, and ended up on a bus for a 24 hour ride.
Minnesota was super nice. Jesse Ventura had been sworn in as governor and the city was just immaculate. It was one of the cleanest places I had ever been.
The Magic up north was great too. Dreamers Cards and Games was where I would normally play, and I became friends with a player who top eighted Grand Prix San Francisco, I’m pretty sure it was Shawn Roush, my memory sadly fails me. I do remember he was really cool, and quite giving, very generous, an outstanding human. It was 17 years ago so forgive me.
While I was in Minnesota, I found out that Block Constructed was a format. I really thought the only way to play Magic was Standard or Extended. It was Masques Block, and the format was pretty much Rebels or Rising Waters. Sure some people tried to make Death-Pit Offering and UR Counter Chicken (named for the red avatar Avatar of Fury) work but the best bets were Rebels and Waters.
That of course meant I wanted to try to be smarter than the room, and decided to play Nether Go.
This was one of the decks that while researching was hard to find. Masques Block coverage seems to be lost to the ravages of time, which is unfortunate because early Magic coverage I feel is pretty important to the game.
In the course of a year I learned a lot about Magic, had won my first tournament, and had started to grasp what I really liked playing. Control decks, either counter or resource based would be where I would end up in most of my events for the next seven or eight years. I recall playing, and this is just off the top of my head, in different big events (PTQs, Grand Prix and such) the following cards: Stasis, Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore, Goblin Trenches, Annex, Magnivore, Pillage, Slith Firewalker (which is awfully aggro in a list of control cards, but it was backed up by Stone Rain), Merfolk of the Pearl Trident (yeah I tried Merfolk in my first Extended events), Cryptic Command (which might be the best card I’ve listed so far), Astral Slide, Shard Phoenix, and I could probably go a bit longer but it’s getting late, and I just wanted to show off a sampling of the control stuff I played.
I went from being a combo player, to a player that really enjoyed midrange and control decks in the course of that year, and while I was lucky to be friends with players that top eighted Grand Prix and learned how to play a lot better from them, what really made Magic great for me back then was just hanging out with the people that made themselves part of my life. Magic is a great game, but it’s made great by the people in it.
I’m not sure if there was a point to this article, but I really enjoyed writing it.
Next week I am sure I will find something to say about the Pro Tour, or maybe I’ll go on another memory filled journey, who knows?
Thanks for reading!
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