Eternal Masters will be released at midnight, and I am celebrating by sharing some stories from my Magic past that involve cards reprinted in the set. The stories I share today all came to me while looking through the Eternal Masters card list, memories that were evoked by the sight of these cards.
My first Pro Tour was Philadelphia in 2005, Champions of Kamigawa Block Constructed. The deck I played, which I took from an article penned by a famous deck builder, was a late-game oriented control deck with ton of shuffle effects, including Kodama's Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and even Time of Need. The card holding my deck together was Sensei's Divining Top, but I only played three, because that's how many were in the posted decklist. Whatever logic justified it seemed reasonable at the time, but history shows that Sensei's Divining Top (not Umezawa's Jitte, as many predicted at the time) was the single best card in that block, and I should have played four. The kicker is that the artist of Sensei's Divining Top, Michael Sutfin, was in attendance at the Pro Tour, so I got mine signed, my three that is. I still have three signed copies of Sensei's Divining Top, and the haunting missing fourth copy reminds me of my rookie mistake whenever I play Miracles.
If I would have thought for myself for even a second I would have come the conclusion that adding the fourth Sensei's Divining Top to my deck was correct, but blind faith, perhaps driven from my own lack of confidence, drove me to play an inferior list.
Pro Tour Honolulu in 2009 featured Shards of Alara block constructed, and Jund with Bloodbraid Elf and Bituminous Blast was the clear "best deck" that defined the rest of the metagame. It was a great choice to play in the event, assuming your list was tuned. The Pro Tour was held the week before my college graduation, and being busy with finals and the like kept me from dedicating a ton of time to preparation. I had a lot of friends preparing, local and otherwise, and I had access to various control decks that ended up performing well, but I wanted to play Jund. In Hawaii I asked someone I respected for their decklist, and it included Lavalanche. I was skeptical, but he convinced me that it was very powerful and a mirror breaker. I ran it, and it destroyed my chances at a successful Pro Tour.
Lavalanche was as good as advertised when cast, but the issue is that Lavalanche does absolutely nothing when cascaded into. Including it in my deck made all of my cascade cards much worse, and no matter how good Lavalanche could potentially be, it would never make up for the downside of potentially cascading into it, especially considering the whole concept of Jund was to make the most of Bloodbraid Elf. If I put the work in and tested with the deck myself, the first time I cascaded into Lavalanche I would have realized it was unplayable.
Before Modern was a format, Extended filled the niche between Standard and Legacy, and it was my bread and butter way to qualify for the Pro Tour playing Qualifiers or Grand Prix. At one storied local PTQ, I navigated my Jeskai Isochron Scepter-Orim's Chant Control deck through out-of-state grinders and local ringers into the top 8, but it was there that I met my match. My deck was the hardcore control deck of the format, but I met a rare opponent with even more controlling elements and sources of card advantage, a deck that was built to go deep into the late game...a deck built around Gaea's Blessing.
My opponent was obnoxious; he talked too much, and he tapped his fingers on the table and even whistled when I was thinking, because he was trying to break my concentration. He won game one by looping multiple Gaea's Blessing and eventually running me out of resources, stranding me with plenty of creature removal. Things got worse during sideboarding, when my opponent's girlfriend appeared from outside to give him a drink, feed him grapes by hand, and massage his shoulders. My sideboard plan was to bring in a set of Meddling Mage, which would at best constrict his ability to play, and at worst constrain his Counterspells or removal. Game two played out much like the first, and Meddling Mage was a minor obstacle in him defeating me.
After my loss, my friend who I eliminated en route to the Top 8, someone who has since built a career out of analyzing and commentating games of Magic, told me that I had a really bad matchup, and he thought that I had to get as aggressive as possible with Meddling Mage and Exalted Angel. I agreed, the problem was that I didn't bring in my two copies of Exalted Angel. Even if they weren't part of an ideal plan, they gave me some way to steal a game against a deck I simply couldn't beat by controlling. I was accustomed to being the control deck in every other match I played, but this was an outlier case where I was truly the aggressive deck. I should have seen that my traditional control approach would not work in the matchup, and that I had to reorient myself by using my sideboard to make my deck as aggressive as possible. I also should have told my opponent to have some respect for me or the game, or built my own defenses against his antics, but I let him best me.
It was a lesson that every game of Magic, and every opponent, is unique, and they have to be approached differently. When starting a game against any opponent, in any format, it's necessary to assess your role in the matchup and determine which resources matter. The next step is building a winning strategy based on this assessment. Sometimes this strategy will deviate from your normal operating procedure. Identifying these extreme cases, and then planning a successful strategy to overcome them, is at the essence of competitive Magic. Whenever I see Gaea's Blessing and its artwork, I can't help but think of my opponent that day and the invite that got away.
Pro Tour Austin in 2009 was Extended, and leading up to the event all signs were that a U/B combo deck based around Dark Depths and the just-printed Vampire Hexmage was the best in the format. The combo was new, and it wasn't even out yet online, and my paper testing process was so woefully inadequate that I had never tried the new combo. When I arrived in Austin, all buzz was on the Dark Depths deck, and it was clear I and most everyone should play it. It would have been easy to get a decklist together, but I didn't own Dark Depths and didn't think I could find any, or I didn't want to shell out for them.
Really, I thought I could do better.
A friend and I worked on the Tezzerator deck, a classic blue control deck built around making the most of Tezzeret, the Seeker. We had the bright idea to add Isochron Scepter, and we spent hours debating the merits of various two-mana instant one-ofs and going deep finding split cards that we could abuse with the artifact. My friend bailed on the deck, and I played an overly-reactive deck that got wrecked by every proactive strategy I came across, from Storm to Zoo.
I spent precious time working on minor card choices for my lower-tier deck,which brought me to something completely unproven. Instead, I could have learned to play something I knew was excellent, whether it was Dark Depths or something else. I would have been able to pick up a new deck and play it competently, and anything would have been better than what I played. This was a case of complicating a simple problem, of looking for a solution for something that was already solved, and it's a lesson I think back to when I am having trouble deciding what to play in an event.
In 2007 there was a Time Spiral Block Constructed tournament in Montreal, and I drove up with some friends. It was a great trip with nothing but great memories, complete with police stops and border hijinks, but the event itself was certainly one of the least memorable I've attended. The tournament was a complete bust, because I played a Mono-Red Aggro deck. Beyond the countless Wall of Roots in my way, the low point of the tournament was losing game three of a mirror match where my opponent asked to go to the bathroom on his first mainphase, and then killed me after combat with a Disintegrate, knocking me out of day two contention.
I could have played the Mono-Blue Pickles deck that I eventually went on to win a PTQ with later in the season, or one of the main established decks, like U/B Mystical Teachings or W/G Aggro. I can't even imagine what brought me to believe that the red deck was a good choice. Not only was it far outside my comfort zone and experience level, it was also clearly second tier. The next day i picked up a U/G Pickles deck and coasted all the way to the top 4 of the PTQ at the GP, but I wonder what sort of GP finish I would have achieved had I played anything but a deck with Keldon Marauders.
Many players from the local area qualified for Pro Tour Berlin in 2008, and it led to a great environment where the community got together and really worked on preparing for the event. At one playtest session, someone said that online he came across a new Elfball combo deck based around Glimpse of Nature, and he really liked it and thought it was the next big thing in Extended. Now, he wasn't qualified, but he was an experienced player who wanted to help us succeed, and he was so convinced by the Elf deck that he had proxied it with a marker so we could test. I had seen the deck online too, and I discounted it as poorly built with some poor card choices, which at that time it admittedly had. We played some games, and while I can't recall the exact results, they don't matter. I discounted the deck and our friends opinion, as did the rest of the team, and despite his insistence that the Elf deck was the real deal, we ignored him.
As it played out, the Pro Tour metagame was dominated by tuned versions of the Elf deck, which put multiple versions into the top 8 and eventually won the event. Had I or anyone on the team taken our friend seriously, we would have quickly seen the potential of the Elf deck. I know we could have further developed it and given ourselves a great opportunity for a successful Pro Tour instead of the middling performances we all ultimately put on. I can best summarize this experience as a lesson in Humility.
Sometime not long after I discovered competitive Magic, I walked two or so miles to the local card store to buy the Wrath of God I knew they had in the display case. When I arrived, I handed over my $20 and received four revised Wrath of God, washed-out with a white border. I had plans for them, of course, a W/U Millstone Control deck that I had seen somewhere. The next day I played the deck on my literal kitchen table against my friend from across the street. His homemade casual deck didn't stand a chance against my Wrath of God backed up by disruption like Counterspell and card advantage like Fact or Fiction.
Sometime not long after I went on to win a Junior Super Series Challenge playing a Mono-Black Control deck with four Mutilate. Today, Languish is a pillar of Standard control decks, and sweepers like Tragic Arrogance and Planar Outburst contain creature decks. As Magic increases its focus on creatures, sweepers like Wrath of God will get even better. I won't soon forget the lesson Wrath of God taught me at the kitchen table, and those very copies still get used on occasion in my Modern and Legacy decks.
My first Grand Prix top eight was in Champions of Kamigawa block constructed, and I did it with Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. White Weenie wasn't the best deck, but it was the best at using Umezawa's Jitte, one of the format's defining cards, and a dominant force in the metagame. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails was a main reason the deck was so good at using Umezawa's Jitte, because it generally made combat a nightmare for the opponent in addition to countering targeted removal spells.
I drafted the sets of Champions of Kamigawa block more than I had any others in my life, and building my combat fundamentals translated well to winning in Constructed formats with small creatures. I credit Limited experience as creating the building blocks for my success with White Weenie and every aggressive deck I've played since, and in my eyes Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and White Weenie exemplify the fundamentals of creature combat, which has become so important in Magic today.
Playing with Eldrazi Displacer feels a lot like playing with Eight-and-a-Half-Tails in its ability to dominate combat and counter removal spells, so it's no surprise that the card has been wildly successful and continues to fill an ever-increasing role in Standard and beyond.
Many years ago, my two friends and I ventured to the Ohio State Championships. It was the biggest tournament they had ever seen, and they got to witness some of the characters that go along with the tournament experience. We met a man who had just lost to Visara the Dreadful, which we knew because he was colorfully retelling his misfortunate to anyone who would listen. It was an entirely inappropriate conversation for kids in middle school, or anyone really, so I can't retell it here, which makes this half a story, I suppose, but it was a great laugh that lasted as an inside joke for years. The man's point, that Visara the Dreadful was unbeatable if left in play, was not lost on us.
Some months later we used Visara the Dreadful in the Mono-Black Control deck we built and played to first, second, and third place in a Junior Super Series Challenge, which gave us another great story.
What are your favorite stories involving Eternal Masters cards?