Quite a few years ago I made top 8 of my first SCG Open, against a stacked run of opponents, under some questionable circumstances. As a result, when I wrote a tournament report, it was well received by the small audience it reached.
It was one of my early attempts at writing about Magic. I was not new to writing, just writing about Magic.
As this piece was important to how I eventually wrote a few others I have decided to share it here. It captures my early voice. It was originally just posted on The Source, and fortunately it is still there because I did not save it anywhere. You will find it in its entirety below, though I will take a moment to edit for clarity. There are a few missing words, spelling errors, and poorly structured segments.The true power of words, especially as they relate to history, is in revision, but I have no desire to change the story or take anything away from what it was. So I will not do a full rewrite, but I will brush it up enough to make reading it slightly easier.
For those who have already read it, read it again. Remember how much you enjoyed it. Share it with people who need this sort of literature in their lives.
SCG Los Angeles March 2011
“Champions are Forged in Hellfire” -Norman Mailer
Welcome to Los Angeles.
Saturday, March 27th was the Standard portion of the SCG Open. Most of my friends were playing, but I had L.A. Kings tickets and no standard deck. The Convention Center was across from the Staples Center, so it was easy to stop by the venue before heading to the game.
The Next day was going to be my second SCG Open, the first being two and a half months earlier in San Jose, when we went up with a heavy amount of green mana to pay the full mana cost of my 31st birthday. That trip was a brilliant success in some ways and a beautiful disaster in others. The Hometown tournament would be different. On site, socializing and passing time, I could feel it. This one was it. I was going to carve my name in its belly.
I reflected on San Jose as I pretended to listen to a local discuss his EDH deck, and thought about all of the known crimes as well as the ones still lurking unknown like premonitions in a Poe story, waiting for the most inopportune time to spring themselves on the protagonist (myself.) All things will be answered in time, and though one of the crew broke into top 8 in San Jose, Legacy in Los Angeles was more important. It was our turf as well as our format. The usual crew of ringers may have been taking down events all over the country, but they were not going to do it here.
I may not be a native, but I have planted myself in this city and made it mine. I could not let an army of villainous ringers storm in and take what rightfully belongs to me, to us, the Los Angeles Legacy community. We are the good guys. Victory rightfully belonged to us.
But more of that later.
This tournament started years earlier. I was struck with a vision of some of my finer days in the distant kingdom of Detroit, and with it I remembered an important piece of understanding. Contrary to what Pro Players and writers for most of the retail sites keep telling us, the best way to dominate a tournament is not to be rested, nourished, and focused. Soldiers do not stay at the Hilton and eat fancy, high end or home cooked meals before war. They snort PCP and listen to Slayer. The bust out their firearms with intensity and madness, enthusiastically or maniacally preparing to make the world safe from any would be enemy.
So the plan was simple. Be a soldier, not a politician. Fuel up with blood and fire, not comfort. I made the decision that no illegal substances should join this fight, knowing well that the idea would be cast aside with the first temptation, but I told myself they had no place in this fight. I am a champion of the people. I had to do this thing right. I would prepare for this war by depriving myself of sleep and consuming copious amounts of whiskey. I would chase oblivion all the way to the edge, and just before I fell over I would become the rock of determination. There was enemy gold to be taken, and the land was thirsty for the blood of our enemies.
What I learned in Detroit, The Way of the Warrior, would be employed in Los Angeles. But it was not the only piece of my past I would need.
I sold my entire collection, including my power (I was a vintage player back then) sometime in 2005. The last thing that I was to sell was my 2 land charbelcher deck, sans power, finished out with ten proxies and ready for a friend who never followed through. Life got away and it was lost in a drawer. I found it down the road and jumped back into Vintage, playing at my Michigan Base of Operations, RIW Hobbies. My first time back I won two side events, taking home a pair of Drains and a Library of Alexandria. This began the slow process of limping a collection back together.
I rebuilt quite the empire. But as soon as I did, I burned it back to the ground. I sold my collection under some duress in 2007, and it seemed unlikely I would ever play again. Once again, the belcher deck remained with me, albeit by accident. It had been reforged and decorated in many battles, but it was once again relegated to a forgotten existence in the darkness.
In both eras of Belcher, I locked my car keys in the trunk of my car numerous times at events. Why? Because we were pounding shots of Jameson between rounds, and the source was always my trunk. As such I learned to operate the cannon even while heavily intoxicated. Granted, some decks are easier to pilot while inebriated than others, just as some vehicles are easier to drive (ask yourself, would you rather ride a bike or drive a tank after two pitchers of beer and seven double jim beams?) but I honed that into a skill, into an art. Alcohol provides a little help with the frame of mind needed to throw aside reservation and commit everything to your instincts. I could write a novel on this, but it would take a lunatic mob of wandering heathens to appreciate the work, so perhaps its better left as is.
My return to Magic happened near the end of 2009, when I bought a collection that allowed me to play anything I wanted in Legacy just before I moved to Los Angeles. I played my first event a couple months later, opting for Reanimator featuring Mystical Tutor. Once the banning put me in check, I bumbled through the days that followed with a myriad of decks, finding success occasionally with Storm and one extravagantly hostile performance with Aggro Loam.
I did not plan to play Belcher at the event. I had some different ideas, and even though I recently was doing well with it, now properly fitted for Legacy, it was not even really on my radar. I still had my cannon, I still drink whiskey like water, and I am still easily distracted when I am not rallying for war.
Fast forward back to that Saturday. I had just come in from taunting both sides of an anti-war demonstration, and was patting myself on the back for choosing to see the Kings crush the Atrocity of the Ages, The Colorado Avalanche. I had a handful of cards on me, and I suddenly remembered I needed to sell them to finance some suspicious activity. I was sipping Chivas from a flask, as the Wild Turkey I had on the subway was now just a memory. I was going to be a train wreck later, as there was a poker party planned for my apartment after the hockey game, and I was going to have to keep going for the next six hours if I planned to make it to my own gathering.
My roommate, was was from Toronto, was sitting in a bar in Detroit (he was there for work) in his Maple Leafs Jersey like some lunatic with a penchant for being lynched. We spoke on the phone for a brief bit, mostly about how Los Angeles does not appreciate hockey, and that there was more intensity that that bar in Hell than there would be at the game I was about to attend live. It was sad, and perhaps the first negative thought I had about my new homeland, but it was forgotten as I finished off the flask and headed to the game.
On my way out I had a hard time not noticing the plethora of beautiful women and very non-magic like other passersby. I assumed they were not there for the jewelry show I passed on my way in, and it was clear they were not there for a card tournament. It was then that I discovered with some surprise that the AdultCon was going on downstairs. The scantily clad women made sense and the world was a better place.
Before I fully escaped I bumped in to fellow Crusader and Savior of Peasants, Liam Kane. We quickly began talking about decks, as I still had no idea what I would play. I had not played magic in three or four weeks. I did not know what to play then either, so I played Charbelcher in a fifty seven player event at Knightware in Studio City. I made top 8 and won two taigas, lost a close game three to the SoCal Paladin Alexander Kwan. I still had belcher together, and while I loved the deck more than any other, I had just finished picking up the cards I needed for Cephalid Breakfast and was wanting to try it out.
I followed Liam back into the hall, and once again I was engaged with magic players.
I picked up some cards for my War. Suddenly I realized I did not want to take them with me to the hockey game. Perhaps I could take them down to AdultCon and get them signed? It was tempting, but I decided better of it. It was getting close to game time. I had to go.
I got outside and lost my want to go. I found a guy to take the tickets, gave up on the hockey game, and set about finding a ride back to the Valley. I stopped off at Knightware briefly for the last couple things I might want to add to whatever I was going to play, then took the bus home.
I grabbed more Wild Turkey from the corner store and made it home just as the first savages wholly unfamiliar with Magic and seemingly oblivious to the fact that I played arrived to sling some different cards. It did not take long for others to show and for some small games to fire. Things were blurry at best for most of the evening, but around midnight I rounded up 33 bottes of beer and nine bottles of whiskey that were slain by the ten fiends scattered about my home.
It was at this point that I discovered that having no furniture in my living room made it an ideal MMA ring. By the time I made much sense of it, and after some heavy horseplay, it was three thirty. I needed to be asleep hours ago. I got to my feet, doused the natives in pig’s blood, and sent them howling into the night. All I could do was hope they did not burn down my relatively peaceful neighborhood as I tried to sleep. I had four hours until I would be getting up for the tournament, and there was no way I would be able to sleep off this drunken stupor by then.
As anticipated, I woke up drunk. I got up, gathered up more bottles, and attempted to make breakfast. I finished off a glass of Jameson that was in the refrigerator and staggered to my room for a change of clothes. It was going to be a brutal day. I needed caffeine, maybe something stronger, but any hope of either was fading. My ride was already supposed to there, and there was no sign of him. It was too late to bus it, and I suddenly swallowed the idea that I may not even be going. Maybe it didn’t matter that I still had no deck selected.
When Ethan arrived there was no way we could make it by ten. I resigned to playing the draft open and trading and we headed out. Somehow a miracle occurred. The Red Sea (or the 101/I-5) parted and we made it to downtown LA with no traffic or cops (which was good considering I was drinking beers.) Ethan dropped me at the door and I walked into the hall three minutes after ten. Registration was closed. Or maybe not. They let me register. I was the last one to do so. It was a kind gesture, and conveniently pushed the event to nine rounds. But then it did not. I do not know what happened, but in the end it was still an 8 round event.
A group of locals helped me fill out my deck list. I was going to have to play belcher because nothing else was sleeved. It was clear that the room was full of villains, hungry for the blood and wealth of my city, and it was clear that fate intended for me to dispense them with my cannon and protect the innocent from their invasion. I was meant to be the Champion of the People. I was a real life Good Guy. I was a drunken vigilante with a gun, and I was going to proceed to shoot fiends and foes at every turn.
At the player’s meeting I started to wonder about all the articles about mental and physical health that were smeared online. Plenty of rest? Snacks? Water? Focus? I never paid too much attention to this in the past, but I was the most relaxed and rested a person could be going in to SCG San Jose, and as such the universe set out to crush me with good match ups and mockery of my preparation with upsetting defeats.
I was not rested. I was not sober. I was Hungry. But I did not want a snack. How can a person hunger for the blood of his enemies when drinking tea and eating crumpets? I drained a flask and considered pulling the last beer from my bag. I was thinking about Apocalypse Now and the rounds to come. The only true way to slay these fiends who were bent on violating my home was to overwhelm them with savagery.
Here is where I provide the meat of this tournament report. I will try to refrain from adding too much between round content and try to remain focused. The length of this piece is already unnecessary. There will be some points where it needs to happen, or where I cannot resist, as my ranting and raving are essential to provide understanding. There was something important going on in LA. This quest was not lighthearted. I was charged with establishing a future free of tyranny for the masses. I did not lose sight of that.
Round One: Brian Kibler with Junk
A King amongst Monsters right at the start! He was polite, almost charming, and if he was not my opponent I would have felt bad doing what I was set out to do. I felt as if I had met Brian once before, but I could not recall anything specific. Maybe I just recognized his face and learned his tone from articles. I killed him quickly game one, allowing him to only play a bayou and Sensei’s Divining Top before shooting him.
He stayed calm, looked through the deck to reassure himself that there was not a second land (which he asked me about) and noted a few things mentally before moving to sideboard. We shuffled up for game two and I found myself not wanting to converse and give away my inebriation, as if he somehow did not know from the obvious smell of liquor pouring out of my skin. I looked him in the eye anxiously and wondered for a moment if I was the actual monster. He opened the game with a thoughtseize, taking my burning wish and depriving me the chance to play sixteen goblins on the first turn. It was right then that I knew he was Evil. I drew a card and passed. He cast a hymn to tourach and cut deeper. I drew another card and passed. I needed a weapon. He played a Dark Confidant. I drew and played a tinder wall. He would not attack me. I would not be wounded by his propaganda minister. He revealed a land. He played a second confidant and a Tarmogoyf. Things were getting out of hand. I needed to do something. I drew a Charbelcher. Normally, ripping your opponent’s hand apart and then deploying an army is a great way to win a game. But sometimes that opponent is meant to prevail. I ramped through and shot him with everything I had, winning a game for myself and a battle for humanity.
An auspicious start for our hero. I suddenly remembered hearing that Brian made top 8 the day prior and congratulated him, and he was polite enough to correct me by telling me it was top 4. I escaped to the company of my allies, reported my good deed, and secured a refill on my flask. I obtained another beer and pounded it in front of a judge who pretended not to notice, and set about making use of the healthy chunk of time I had before next round.
Round Two: Michael with Solidarity
My opponent did not wish to speak to me. I lost the die roll and he confirmed being on the play without making eye contact. I wished him luck and got not response. There was only one way to handle this. Well, there is always more than one way, but as I wished to keep my drunkenness from being a problem, I decided it was best to just keep quiet this round. I was intoxicated so my that all I wrote down was that my opponent had two islands in play when I shot him with a Charbelcher on my second turn in game one. I remember him suddenly becoming vocal, and in a less than pleasant way he shared his distaste for my deck and the kind of people who play it. He suggested it was unfair, and I wondered what he had planned to do with those islands. I decided not to point out the absurdity of this in spite of being told I was ruining the format.
Game two, turn one Island again. I try to resolve a Charbelcher with two red elemental blasts in hand. He casts force of will and I blast it. I dont have mana to fire. On turn three he casts a cunning wish for a chain of vapor and soon I am holding my cannon again. I eventually cast it again and get countered, and later on draw a xantid swarm to push the next one through. I resolve it and pass. My next turn I play my charbelcher. I cannot fire yet. I pass. He does the same. I draw my card and attack with my Xantid Swarm. He casts a bounce spell and I attempt to activate. He responds by chaining spells into a brain freeze and I dont have enough cards in my library to kill him. Game two took thirty five minutes. Most of that time my opponent had priority. He expressed his annoyance at the time and rushed me through sideboarding. His conduct was tasteless, and it emphasized the importance of knocking him down.
I was on the play game three. I resolved a Lion’s Eye Diamond. I ramped to four mana and cast Charbelcher. He forced it. He played and island and passed. I drew and passed. He played another island. I drew. I cast two tinder walls and then a charbelcher. He brainstormed, and none of the lengthy minutes of staring at the top of his deck could save him. When he slowly admitted it, I killed him and made the world a better place.
It erupted as he picked up his cards. He was having a controlled tantrum. He reiterated his distaste and made me aware of how little he thought of my play skill or the personality of a belcher player. I sat there, drunk, quiet, amused. The insults poured forth. The less I said the worse it became. He told me that I was the cause of him quitting magic. He said he would never play another tournament. He then offered to sell me his deck. I wondered to myself why I would want to buy a slower and less pleasant combo deck, when I already had one that worked rather well. I figured he would not have an intelligent reply, so I chose not to ask.
I drank more whiskey and listened as players from the local scene thanked me for causing him to quit. At least his future absence would keep him from behaving the same way with a more sensitive or sober player in the future. My victory was not just a match win, it was a celebration of justice.
Round Three: Kyle with Dredge
We spoke about something but I was too drunk to know what it was. I lost the die roll and had a hand that could make 8 goblins. He kept seven. I might make ten, but if not I would surely lose. I mulliganed. And then mulliganed again. And again. I died quickly, and 8 goblins would have lost. Such is the Way of the Cannon. I had to win the next two. The fate and freedom of the people was on the line.
My notes for game two:
90 damage! Boom!
Vicious and appropriate. This was a fiend who casually plays with dead things. I set the screws in my head. I needed to keep his open grave depravity from spreading. I recall him mulliganing heavily game three, and if I am to believe the scrawl of my own hand I beat him with sixteen goblins after having my Charbelcher ripped away with Cabal Therapy. Purification through Vigilante Justice. The mission was successful. I slipped away to drink to my victory.
Round Four: Kanan with Deadguy Ale
My opponent was young and rather standoffish. We exchanged greetings and we shuffled up. He won the die roll, I wish him luck, and wished I could just crack another beer right at the table. Was I a fiend? Was this my end? Is he a villain himself, or just a misguided good guy caught in the crossfire? He opened with a Weathered Wayfarer. It no longer mattered what his position was. I could not take a chance. He had to die. Weathered Wayfarer? How could it ever hope to activate? There is only one land in my deck! I made sixteen goblins on my turn and passed back. I finished him off in two attack steps and then watched him bring in eight or nine cards out of his sideboard.
I feel invincible. I mull to five and keep a hand that is one red source shy of instantaneous victory. A turn one Pithing Needle changes all that. A runed Halo provides security. A stoneforge mystic provides aggression. I am dead before I can do anything. I suddenly remembered my mortality.
I was not going down like that. I shot him with a Charbelcher on turn one of our third game, not letting him take a turn. I wished him luck as he headed out to face demons of his own, and I set out seeking mine. I found it in a flask courtesy of my crew, and I felt alive even if I was somewhat off balance.
Round Five: Patrick Sullivan with Burn
I was unfamiliar with my opponent even though everyone else seemed to know him. I made a questionable mulligan decision, having no idea that I should expect a burn deck, and my mull to five makes 8 tokens and almost gets there before I am eradicated with fire. His deck is awesome. It is the most efficient burn I have ever seen.
I won game two on turn one. I pulled out game three by having an abundance of early goblins. This villain was the nicest guy I ever met. He was the kind of fiend that makes the good guys look like the bad guys. I left the table wondering again about my existence, but I rinsed away the existential crisis with more whiskey. History is written by the victors, and even if my methods are unsound my victories will be painted as just in the aftermath.
Round Six: Tim with a Dredge Variant
My opponent opened game one with an underground sea and a putrid imp. I was confused. I did what came naturally. I shot him with a charbelcher, and I was left to wonder what kind of nonsense was going on. Game two was even stranger. I mulled to five and died to a few zombie tokens out of this dredge hybrid. I never recovered from my poor opener, and I was forced to battle for everything in game 3.
My hand: Simian Spirit Guide. Rite of Flame. Desperate Ritual. Manamorphose. Lion’s Eye Diamond. Goblin Charbelcher. Empty the Warrens. I have to draw a mana source. I peel a lotus petal in my draw step. I shoot him for lethal. The world is safe. These Hybrid Moments are over.
I can draw into top 8.
Round Seven: Joe Lossett with Cephalid Breakfast (DRAW)
Round Eight: Carlos with Merfolk (DRAW)
Even with two draws I end the swiss with 76% tie breakers. Many of my opponents lost to no one but me.
Joe Lossett with Cephalid Breakfast
Things are sketchy at this point. I sobered up a little during my two byes, at some food, wandered accidentally into the AdultCon downstairs, tried to find my friends, realized I was not at a magic tournament anymore, contemplated the world and its odd way of leading me astray, and somehow made it to a seat across from a very serious looking opponent.
I played first. I chained into a seething song and he cast Force of Will. On turn two I tried it again. He forced another seething song. On turn five I cast a Charbelcher. I might win through two Forces. I activated and missed. 8 damage. He comboed out the next turn. It was a beautiful failure.
Game two I ran out a belcher from my hand of five. It met Force of Will once again. He comboed off before I did anything else. His play and his etiquette were exquisite. I wished him luck and I meant it.
As I sought my band of merry heathens I wondered to myself if sobering up and eating were a mistake, as if somehow by superstition a lack of continual flow of whiskey down my throat allowed him to beat me. He had everything. But then, so did I. If anything, it was a terrible match up that was closer than it should have been under rough conditions.
So ends this quest, or at least the better part of it. It was many hours later that I arrived home, just in time to get ready for work. The experience was surreal. I was once again properly reunited with my One Landed Friend. The deck could be ridiculed. A drunken pilot could be ridiculed. But the results were there. If it takes no skill, than others should follow down that path. Making top 8 of an SCG open felt like an accomplishment.
Liam and Alex of my regular group also made top 8. Tony made top 32. Six of my Eight swiss opponents were in top 16 or better, one quit magic forever, and the other was close. I would like to thank everyone who contributed to my day. I would like to thank everyone who willingly dealt with my madness. I would like to thank all of my opponents for losing to me, even if they felt jaded in the process. But above all, I would like to thank Caleb for keeping me well fueled for so long.
Thank you to Ethan who got me to the tournament through biblical level tribulation.
And finally, thank you for reading along. I dedicate this report to Jack, who did not think I could write anything longer than my last piece. This is really a rough copy, in need of some work, but I am not trying to write a novel, just share some information and experiences.
That is it. An early piece of the MTG Underground, before it became what it is today. There are a few more from this era, my hazy days in LA, that I will share in the next couple of weeks. It not only gives sight into where I am coming from, but also a little bit of what Legacy was like at different points in time. If I try hard enough I may even be able to find some old vintage pieces, but that remains to be seen.
From the Underground With Love, The Doctor is leaving the Building.