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Journal of the Texas Guildmages – 20 years

Written by Jeff Zandi on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

Journal of the Texas Guildmages – 20 years

Jeff Zandi

Jeff Zandi is a level 2 judge and an eight-time veteran of the Pro Tour. He has written continuously about Magic for over eighteen years. His team, the Texas Guildmages, have the longest running regular game in history, meeting at his home every Tuesday night since 1996.

I’m extremely proud to organize a weekly get together on Tuesday nights at my house to booster draft. We also fit in a certain amount of constructed practice and make plans for upcoming tournaments. We are a team called the Texas Guildmages. Tonight is the twentieth anniversary of our first meeting as a team. Later in this article, I’ll share the results of our most recent Kaladesh booster draft. Before that, however, I’d like to tell you a little something about the group of guys that I’ve been playing Magic with for so long.

Twenty years ago, when the Pro Tour was just beginning, there was a group of us that ran into each other at tournaments all the time and who all called Games Galore in Arlington home. Teams were beginning to spring up in the centers of Magic’s power, in Los Angeles, in New York and in other big cities in the East. George Baxter, the Dallas legend from the top eight of the very first Pro Tour, started his own team in the summer of 1996. The group of us from Games Galore decided to form our own team.

The funny thing is, the team really picked itself. It was a simple matter of making it official. There were eight of us that were practicing together at the game store and, occasionally at my house in Coppell. Soon we were traveling to Pro Tour Qualifiers all over the state and beyond. The other guys thought having a team name and t-shirts was pretty corny but once Baxter had Team Dallas up and running my guys thought an official team might be a good idea.


This is the earliest picture of the team. Our team’s best player, Minh Huynh, had just gotten a fancy new camera. He had me take the photo. This picture was taken at the start of Pro Tour Dallas in November, 1996. The guy sitting down is Cortney Cunningham. Standing behind him, from left to right, are James Murphy, Minh Huynh, James Jenkins, Scot Martin, James Jenkins, Andrew Finch and Jason Page. Andrew Finch worked for Wizards of the Coast at that time and had joined us for a booster draft a few days before Pro Tour Dallas. Jason Page was meant to be our eighth player but just as we were finalizing our starting roster, Jason traded competitive Magic for fraternity parties at the University of Texas at Arlington. He didn’t leave us high and dry, far from it. Jason had a pal, a couple of years younger than he, who stuck with Magic when Jason moved on. This kid was David Williams. In short order, David became our eighth team member.

Why do you need a team in the first place? Teaming up was a way to let everyone in our area know that we had a common goal. More importantly, it defined a group of people who were taking the game seriously, who could be counted on for weekly practice and who could be counted on for out of town trips. Right from the start, we developed some requirements for membership that we have stuck with to this very day. Each team member is dedicated to playing competitive Magic at the highest possible level. Members contribute to the team with their attendance at our weekly practices whenever they can. Members share information, time, decklists and cards to help other members.

When we started out, exactly twenty years ago tonight, we already had some Pro Tour experience on the team. James Jenkins played in the first Pro Tour in New York in February, 1996. Minh Huynh won the first Pro Tour Qualifier in Texas and finished in the money at the second Pro Tour event, in Los Angeles. Scot Martin won money at the next Pro Tour event, in Columbus. James Murphy and James Stroud qualified for Pro Tour Dallas. It took another year for Cortney and I to qualify. Cortney broke through and qualified for Pro Tour Chicago in 1997. I qualified and became the first Guildmage to play abroad at Pro Tour Mainz in 1997. As a matter of fact, that started my best streak in the game, I qualified and played in the next two Pro Tours after Mainz, in 1998, in Los Angeles and New York City. We never became the team with the most Pro Tour fame or money, but we have always done a very good job of getting players to the Pro Tour.

Baxter started Team Dallas back in 1996 with eight players for a simple reason, booster draft had become a competitive format and you needed eight players for a proper draft. The Texas Guildmages have tried to keep an active membership of around eight players for the same reason. Recently, just a couple of weeks ago, in fact, we added players to our official roster for the first time in several years. We added the 38th, 39th and 40th members to our roster, in the persons of Tuan Doan, Lawson Zandi and Patrick Lynch. Our twenty-year-long quest to keep eight active players in our membership has caused our official roster to grow from our original eight to a list with forty names on it. We would never kick off one of our previous members just because they had retired from competitive play. We would find the next good player in our area and keep moving forward.

Yes, it was completely gratifying to announce my own son, Lawson, as an official Guildmage. Over a hundred Guildmage meetings came and went before he was even born. Another five hundred meetings took place before he was old enough and good enough at the game to practice with us on Tuesday nights. Back then, when our roster had only barely crept into the thirties, Lawson would ask what his Guildmage number might be by the time he qualified for the team. I would tell him that he would probably be Guildmage #50.

Tonight, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the team, I had the pleasure of handing out new team t-shirts.


Tonight’s Action

Tonight we drafted Kaladesh with ten players. We played four rounds of Swiss cutting to a top four. In that top four, Tuan (undefeated in Swiss) beat Maitland 2-0 while Brian beat yours truly in two straight games. I thought my red/white aggro deck was pretty good this week. Brian’s deck did a good job of jamming up the board and holding me off until his big late game cards came in to finish me off. I started this little tournament 3-0 and then lost to tonight’s big winners, Tuan in the last round of Swiss and then Brian in the semifinals. Tough but fair.

This was the first time since Kaladesh arrived that the winning decks weren’t of the aggressive persuasion. This is usually a sign that the draft format is maturing, that players are figuring out a way to stretch the format to a place where later turns matter. Control decks? I’m not sure I would call them that exactly, though I suppose they might be. I like to think that each block of sets gives us a different playground for limited, but usually I only mean that to say that each block is slightly different. Kaladesh is very different because there really aren’t a lot of expensive-to-cast cards that get played in limited. In so many limited formats the question is how many six and possibly even seven-drops can you play in your deck. In Kaladesh, there are hardly any sixes and sevens that you even want to play. It’s a good thing, too, because the format is so pared down, so full of cheap playables, that at least half the decks are only playing sixteen land. This means all the decks are fairly fast. The good news is that there aren’t very many six and seven-drops that you want to play in this format, the bad news is that you would be hard pressed to play sixes and sevens even if you wanted to. There is a single card that makes the biggest difference in your deck’s ability to play a six or seven-drop.

Wild Wanderer is the card that decides whether or not you can or should play a six or seven casting cost card in the current limited formats. She also has a lot to say about your deck’s ability to splash a third color. Her best ability, though, is ramping decks just enough so that six-casting-cost-spells aren’t a terrible idea. On prerelease weekend, I scoffed at this card a little. I mean, I played it in my green decks, she’s too good not to play. She’s on curve, she gets land and puts it into play and she blocks and trades with a lot of the creatures in the format. I scoffed, though, because I thought Wild Wanderer was an odd kind of card. Mana acceleration? Yeah, on turn four. Is that really accelerating your mana? Now I know the answer is yes.

Tonight’s Winning Decks

Thriving Turtle is an interesting card. It feels good to play a creature on turn one, but this one’s a 0/3 Turtle. As soon as you attack once and spend energy to get a +1/+1 counter on Thriving Turtle, it turns into a pretty good card for a control deck. This card is an oddity, a creature that helps you defend but which is only really good when you can play it on turn one. Brian addresses this problem by playing three copies. Late arriving Thriving Turtles don’t feel very good, but at least provide more energy for Brian’s other energy-hungry monsters. For example, his two copies of Longtusk Cub.

This uncommon 2/2 is first pick worthy. When you are on the play and drop one of these on turn two you have a good chance to take over the game on turn three. You probably will need something to help your Cub attack through. I assume my opponent managed to play a creature that could trade with my Cub on his second turn. Brian’s deck can fix that situation with Blossoming Defense or Nature’s Way, or, better yet, he could simply play one of his other six creatures that provide energy counters when they enter the battlefield. Or else he could play Kujar Seedsculptor and put a counter on Longtusk Cub before attacking. Once the Cub hits your opponent and starts making his own energy counters, he’s a hard creature to stop. He goes great in green/blue decks that have a lot in the way of energy producers (which Brian has) and bounce spells (which Brian doesn’t have).

It’s a good thing that Brian has all kinds of good early game business for turns one, two and three, because his four-slot is jammed up with seven spells. Only one of these is Wild Wanderer. Three copies of Malfunction provide almost hard removal. Because Malfunction also taps the creature it enchants and keeps that creature tapped, you don’t get “gotten” in quite the same way when your opponent surprises you with instant-speed enchantment removal. Instead, your opponent will wait until the end of your turn to remove the enchantment when they are able. For a green/blue deck, Brian has really good removal with three copies of Malfunction to go with Hunt the Weak and Nature’s Way.

Brian’s early game, along with the extra land from Wild Wanderer, help make it possible for Brian to play his deck’s best win condition, Aethersquall Ancient. There aren’t that many seven-drops that you really want to play in limited but Aethersquall Ancient is certainly one of the few that you do.

Thriving Rat is the cousin of Thriving Turtle. Both of these energy creatures were overlooked early in the current limited format in all but the most energy-centered decks. This week, Brian and Tuan showed us how good both of these underrated creatures can be. Just as Brian has three Thriving Turtles in his deck, Tuan has a trio of Thriving Rats. Generally speaking, green is a better color for +1/+1 counters than black, but Tuan has a lot going on with +1/+1 counters in this deck, so much so that he squeezes in a green splash for Armorcraft Judge in an attempt to draw some free cards for the creatures he already has in play with +1/+1 counters. This splash raised my eyebrow when I first saw it. After playing a couple dozen games with Tuan’s deck, my doubts are more or less confirmed. The number of things that have to happen right before Tuan draws any free cards from Armorcraft Judge make the play a waste of time. I get that he has Blooming Marsh and Prophetic Prism to make the green mana happen, it just isn’t worth it. When you splash a color for one card, you risk having a dead card in your hand in a certain number of games. To make that risk pay off, the card needs to be a big game-changing effect, not a 3/3 monster that might let you draw one, two or possibly three cards for free (I never drew more than two cards after at least two dozen games with Tuan’s deck). Other than this one decision, I very much like Tuan’s build.

While there are plenty of games where this deck gets a fast start with Thriving Rats and Lawless Brokers, aided by the recursion granted by a pair of Restoration Gearsmiths. There are plenty of games that can be won more or less with just the cards in Tuan’s deck that cost four or less mana. But not most of the games. In most games, this deck’s biggest strength is its ability to kill creatures on the other side of the board with a pair of Tidy Conclusions as well as the ability to kill creatures on both sides of the board with Fumigate and Cataclysmic Gearhulk. Of these latter two, Fumigate is the much more powerful weapon. Just kill them all and let God sort them out while you gain (in most cases regain) a life for each of the creatures destroyed. Of course, there’s always a downside to having mass removal as one of the best cards in your deck: you generally have to be losing for it to be any good. You can’t just play it as soon as you are able, you have to craft a situation in which it’s way better for you than it is for your opponent. That’s not too difficult in the current booster draft format. There is so little mass removal that players don’t have much of a reason to hold back. Also, the creatures tend to be smaller in this format and so players often need to play every creature as soon as they can to take over the board. These factors make Fumigate a better card than a similar card might have been six months or a year ago.

Cataclysmic Gearhulk is less impressive than Fumigate, at least as far as mass destruction is concerned. It’s hard for Gearhulk to seriously disrupt the board in Tuan’s deck. Like Fumigate, Cataclysmic Gearhulk is a better card the worse things are for you on the board. Unlike Fumigate, I suggest playing Gearhulk as quickly as possible in most cases. He’s a better monster than he is a removal card.

Finally, there’s Marionette Master. This was the MVP of a black/blue artifact-based sealed deck for me back on prerelease weekend. It didn’t take me long to learn that you wanted to put counters on Marionette Master instead of creating Servo tokens. The better for making your opponent take big chunks of damage each time one of your artifacts go to the graveyard. You might prefer to make Servo tokens if you have Syndicate Trafficker in play. The Master is a little less masterful in Tuan’s deck where there just aren’t as many opportunities for artifacts to go to the graveyard. Still, it happens from time to time. If you draw Marionette Master and you have a Restoration Gearsmith in your hand as well, you might play the Master creating Servo tokens and then figure out a way to get your Master killed so that you can bring it back with Restoration Gearsmith and replay it putting the +1/+1 counters on it. That’s a lot of work, however.

The Matchup

I played almost thirty games between these two decks. Every one of the first ten went to Brian’s green/blue deck. I was afraid Tuan’s deck might not be good at all in the matchup even though Tuan defeated Brian 2-1 in the first round of our tournament. In these early games, Brian simply got off one fast start after another with way too many counters on Longtusk Cub way too often. It’s funny how a streak of games can make you start to think one deck is good and another totally bad. Tuan’s deck won most of the rest of the games I played. It may be that the good plays for Brian’s deck came to me easier or that Tuan’s deck performed better once I was practiced with both decks. It could also be the luck of the draw. On paper, I have to say I do prefer Brian’s green/blue deck but the games don’t lie, Tuan’s black/white has the power to clear boards and assert itself with flyers and a certain amount of recursion. Both decks are impressive for playing a level above the aggressive decks. Advantage Tuan.

Guildhall Draft Finalists Year to Date

Listed here are the number of times a player has reached the finals of one of our Swiss booster drafts. Mark Hendrickson has finished the year with the most finals appearances for the past four years. He has a little bit of work to do in November and December if he wants to make it five years in a row.

11 Scot Martin
11 Jeff Zandi
9 Mark Hendrickson
8 Tuan Doan
7 Lawson Zandi
4 Maitland Griffith
3 Matt Banks
3 Jon Toone
2 Aaron Tobey
2 Michael Ferri
2 Patrick Lynch
2 Cesar Collazo
2 Brian Heine
1 William Oats
1 Blake Bombich
1 Matt Tuck
1 Stephen Marshall
1 Bassel Said
1 Cole Campbell
1 Ian Jasheway
1 Brandon Robicheaux

Texas Guildmage meeting #974, Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Roll Call (in order of arrival)
Jeff Zandi, Guildmage #7.
Lawson Zandi, Guildmage #39, 14th meeting in a row, 359th lifetime.
Maitland Griffith, guest, 9th meeting in a row, 20th lifetime.
Scot Martin, Guildmage #4, 4th meeting in a row, 274th lifetime.
Jon Toone, Guildmage #28, 2nd meeting in a row, 233rd lifetime.
Brian Heine, Guildmage #35, 1st meeting in a row, 142nd lifetime.
Ian Jasheway, Guildmage #37, 1st meeting in a row, 71st lifetime.
Chris Weng, guest, 3rd meeting in a row, 7th lifetime.
Blake Bombich, guest, 13th meeting in a row, 96th lifetime.
Tuan Doan, Guildmage #38, 14th meeting in a row, 102nd lifetime.
Mark Hendrickson, Guildmage #26, 3rd meeting in a row, 452nd lifetime.

Meeting ran from 6:34pm to 2:58am

Here’s the play-by-play of a match played between the two finalists’ decks.

T1 Tuan keeps Swamp, Plains, Syndicate Trafficker, Thriving Ibex, Cataclysmic Gearhulk, Impeccable Timing, Thriving Rats. Plays Swamp.
T1 Brian keeps four Forests, Island, Riparian Tiger and Aethersquall Ancient. Draws and plays Forest.
T2 Tuan draws Subtle Strike, plays Plains, plays Syndicate Trafficker.
T2 Brian draws Nimble Innovator, plays Island.
T3 Tuan draws Restoration Gearsmith, attacks with Trafficker (20-17), plays Thriving Rats getting two energy counters.
T3 Brian draws and plays Longtusk Cub, plays Forest.
T4 Tuan draws and plays Prophetic Prism drawing Swamp, plays Swamp.
T4 Brian draws Armorcraft Judge, plays Forest, plays Nimble Innovator drawing Island.
T5 Tuan draws Armorcraft Judge (seriously).
T5 Brian draws Nature’s Way, plays Island, plays Riparian Tiger getting two energy counters.
T6 Tuan draws and plays Plains.
T6 Brian draws Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter, plays Forest, attacks with Tiger, Tiger triggers, Tuan responds playing Impeccable Timing targeting Tiger, Tuan plays Subtle Strike putting a +1/+1 counter on Thriving Rats and giving Riparian Tiger -1/-1 until end of turn (Tiger dies), Brian plays Oviya Pashiri, activates Longtusk Cub paying two energy counters to put a +1/+1 counter on Cub, plays Armorcraft Judge, Judge triggers and Brian draws Thriving Turtle.
T7 Tuan draws and plays Lawless Broker.
T7 Brian draws and plays Island, plays Aethersquall Ancient.
T8 Tuan draws Thriving Rats, plays Thriving Ibex getting two more energy counters.
T8 Aethersquall Ancient triggers at the beginning of Brian’s upkeep giving him three energy counters, Brian draws Malfunction, plays Forest, attacks with Ancient (14-17), plays Thriving Turtle getting two more energy counters.
T9 Tuan draws and plays Lawless Broker, at end of turn Brian activates Oviya Pashiri’s second ability putting a 6/6 colorless Construct artifact creature token onto the battlefield.
T9 Aethersquall Ancient triggers and gives Brian three energy counters, Brian draws Thriving Turtle, attacks with Ancient (8-17), plays Thriving Turtle getting two more energy counters.
T10 Tuan draws Skyswirl Harrier, activates Prophetic Prism making a green mana, plays Armorcraft Judge drawing Tidy Conclusion, at end of turn Brian activates Oviya Pashiri’s second ability creating an 8/8 colorless Construct artifact creature token.
T10 Aethersquall Ancient triggers and gives Brian three more energy counters, Brian draws Thriving Rhino, attacks with Ancient (2-17).
T11 Tuan draws and plays Plains, plays Tidy Conclusion targeting Aethersquall Ancient, Brian responds activating the second ability of Oviya Pashiri creating a 9/9 colorless Construct artifact creature token.
T11 Brian draws and plays Kujar Seedsculptor putting a +1/+1 counter on Armorcraft Judge, attacks with Longtusk Cub and Armorcraft Judge and three Construct tokens, Lawless Broker blocks Cub, Lawless Broker blocks 9/9 Construct, Armorcraft Judge blocks Armorcraft Judge, Syndicate Trafficker blocks 8/8, Thriving Rats blocks 6/6 Construct, Brian activates Cub twice spending four energy counters to put two +1/+1 counters on Cub, two Lawless Brokers trigger when they die each putting a +1/+1 counter on Thriving Ibex.
T12 Tuan draws and plays Swamp, plays Cataclysmic Gearhulk, Tuan keeps Gearhulk and Ibex, Brian keeps Longtusk Cub and 9/9 Construct.
T12 Brian draws and plays Island, plays Nature’s Way targeting Construct token and Gearhulk, attacks with Cub and Construct, Ibex blocks Construct (-3 -17).

T1 Tuan keeps Swamp, Plains, Blooming Marsh, Syndicate Trafficker, Subtle Strike, Ambitious Aetherborn, Rush of Vitality. Plays Blooming Marsh.
T1 Brian keeps Forest, Island, Sage of Shaila’s Claim, Longtusk Cub, Vedalken Blademaster, Nature’s Way and Riparian Tiger. Draws Armorcraft Judge.
T2 Tuan draws Lawless Broker, plays Plains, plays Syndicate Trafficker.
T2 Brian draws Thriving Turtle, plays Island, plays Longtusk Cub.
T3 Tuan draws Restoration Gearsmith, plays Swamp.
T3 Brian draws and plays Forest, plays Thriving Turtle and Brian gets two energy counters, plays Sage of Shaila’s Claim getting three more energy counters.
T4 Tuan draws and plays Plains.
T4 Brian draws and plays Island, activates Cub spending two energy counters to put a +1/+1 counter on Longtusk Cub, plays Armorcraft Judge drawing Forest.
T5 Tuan draws and plays Prophetic Prism drawing Skyswirl Harrier.
T5 Brian draws and plays Island, plays Riparian Tiger giving Brian two more energy counters.
T6 Tuan draws and plays Swamp, plays Ambitious Aetherborn, fabricate triggers and Tuan creates a 1/1 colorless Servo artifact creature token.
T6 Brian draws and plays Forest, plays Nature’s Way targeting Riparian Tiger and Ambitious Aetherborn, attacks with Longtusk Cub and Riparian Tiger and Armorcraft Judge and Sage of Shaila’s Claim, Tiger triggers and Brian pays two energy counters to give the Tiger +2/+2 until end of turn, Lawless Broker and Servo token block Longtusk Cub (9-20), Lawless Broker triggers when it dies and puts a +1/+1 counter on Syndicate Trafficker, Brian plays Vedalken Blademaster.
T7 Tuan draws Marionette Master, plays Restoration Gearsmith returning Lawless Broker to his hand from the graveyard.
T7 Brian draws Island, attacks with Blademaster and Tiger and Sage and Judge, Tiger triggers, Brian spends two energy counters giving the Tiger +2/+2 until end of turn, Trafficker blocks Judge, Gearsmith blocks Blademaster, Tuan sacrifices Prophetic Prism to Trafficker to put a +1/+1 counter on Trafficker making it indestructible until end of turn (1-20).
T8 Tuan draws and plays Thriving Rats giving Tuan two energy counters, plays Lawless Broker.
T8 Brian draws Malfunction, plays Island.
T9 Tuan draws and plays Plains, plays Marionette Master putting three +1/+1 counters on it when it enters the battlefield.
T9 Brian draws and plays Oviya Pashira, Sage Lifecrafter, plays Forest.
T10 Tuan draws and plays Swamp, plays Skyswirl Harrier.
T10 Brian draws Wild Wanderer.
T11 Tuan draws Tidy Conclusion, attacks with Harrier (1-17), at end of turn Brian activates Oviya Pashiri’s second ability, Tuan responds playing Tidy Conclusion targeting Oviya Pashiri, ability resolves creating a 3/3 Construct artifact creature token.
T11 Brian draws Forest, plays Wild Wanderer, Wanderer triggers and Brian searches his library putting an Island onto the battlefield tapped, plays Malfunction enchanting and tapping Skyswirl Harrier.
T12 Tuan draws and plays Swamp.
T12 Brian draws and plays Nimble Innovator drawing Island.
T13 Tuan draws and plays Plains, plays Subtle Strike putting another +1/+1 counter on Syndicate Trafficker and -1/-1 on Sage of Shaila’s Claim, attacks with Trafficker blocked by Thriving Turtle.
T13 Brian draws and plays Thriving Turtle giving Brian two more energy counters, attacks with Tiger, Tiger triggers and Brian spends two energy counters to give the Tiger +2/+2 until end of turn, Master and Lawless Broker block Tiger, Brian chooses to damage Master first, Tuan plays Rush of Vitality targeting Marionette Master (6-17).
T14 Tuan draws and plays Thriving Rats getting another two energy counters.
T14 Brian draws Blooming Defense.
T15 Tuan draws Tidy Conclusion.
T15 Brian draws and plays Forest.
T16 Tuan draws and plays Thriving Rats getting two more energy counters.
T16 Brian draws Hunt the Weak.
T17 Tuan draws Plains, attacks with Lawless Broker blocked by Thriving Turtle.
T17 Brian draws and plays Sky Skiff.
T18 Tuan draws and plays Swamp, attacks with Broker blocked by Nimble Innovator, Broker triggers when it dies and puts a +1/+1 counter on Marionette Master.
T18 Brian draws and plays Forest, crews Sky Skiff with Wild Wanderer, attacks with Skiff, Tuan plays Tidy Conclusion targeting Sky Skiff, Brian responds playing Blossoming Defense targeting Sky Skiff (2-17).
T19 Tuan draws Plains, attacks with Master and Trafficker and Gearsmith and three Thriving Rats, each Rats triggers and Tuan pays two energy counters each (six total) to put a +1/+1 counter on each Thriving Rats, Construct token blocks Syndicate Trafficker (2-3).
T19 Brian draws Island, attacks with Wild Wanderer (-1 -3).

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