Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Quest for the Pro Tour

(In case you're wondering, the text isn't full justified because THAT'S NO LONGER AN OPTION ON BLOGGER. This software is actually WORSE than it was three years ago when GOOGLE bought it. WTF is wrong with that company? They used to make such great stuff.)

Sorry, just started a new advertising campaign and wanted people drawn to this website to see a sample of the book I'm trying to get them to buy. Also, a test to see what I can do with Marilyn's Story as far as marketing. I could explain more, but it's long and an experiment. You would be bored. More rambles to come soon, mostly about my massive comic collection and what to do with it, Ifanboy.com, TV show reviews, why Harley Davidson sucks, how pistons = thrusting according to Wendy and other randomness. For now, the first chapter of The Quest for the Pro Tour, by me, edited by my good friend Chris McMahon.

Strangely enough, my father introduced me to Magic.

I stopped into Comics & Collectibles, the shop he and my mother owned, and he showed me an Unlimited booster pack. “This game is sweeping the nation,” he said. Had I ever seen it?

I told him that I had heard of it, but I had never seen it. I also had heard that TSR was going to be releasing a game like it, but using more of a Dungeons and Dragons theme and rules to it.

The game piqued my curiosity, but why should I learn Magic when Spellfire was coming out soon? Spellfire, I was sure, was going to blow Magic out of the water. Since everyone already plays Dungeons and Dragons, why not just pick up the card game version as well? It’s sure to be more popular than Magic. Anything with a fantasy theme has to be done better by the company that made the ultimate role playing game, than some upstart company I had never heard of. I wonder how many other people thought this very same thought?

I bought a starter and a booster pack of Magic, just to look at the artwork and see if the game was anything that grabbed me, but I knew I was going to wait for Spellfire before I made any kind of real monetary investment.

In the pack I got some cards that looked interesting, like a Serra Angel, Camouflage, Juggernaut, Lightning Bolt, Giant Growth, etc. The art did look well done, especially the red card by Quinton Hoover; Earthbind. That was my favorite. They were of high quality, not flimsy, and not cardboard stiff. Good paper stock and the art was vibrant and interesting. This game was obviously a labor of love for someone.

I tried reading the rules, but they were confusing and I didn’t want to put too much time into it. I shoved the packs into my desk at home and waited for the arrival of Spellfire.

I didn’t have long to wait, because weeks later, Spellfire came out. I was immediately disappointed. Obviously NOT a labor of love, TSR had done it again. In their infinite wisdom they were reusing old artwork for the cards. Too cheap to pay for new artists and new work, they had cropped pieces of art from already overused artwork and put them on cards. Magical swords and staffs were shown with a hand attached to someone off camera. Characters were obviously pulled out of a battle scene where they might be minor characters, or the sole focus of the piece. The cards were cheap and rushed to market.

It was horrible.

I will later find out that two very good friends of mine, Rodney and Hilary, had seen the game Spellfire at a game convention. The man running the TSR booth was soliciting opinions on the game, because it had not yet been released.
Hilary and Rod both told him in no uncertain terms that if they used the already over-used artwork on these cards that the game would fail. People were sick of seeing the same piece of art on modules, computer games, and calendars and on the covers of books. They weren’t fooling anyone.

Hilary can be very blunt when he wants to be, and he was very blunt here.
The man responded that people had liked that artwork for years, it provided a familiar feel to the cards, and that they were keeping it.

I’ll bet you all my Magic cards he knew the public was sick to death of re-used artwork, but was just spouting the company line to appease the stockholders. I promptly dumped my first and only pack of Spellfire cards in the trash and gave up the CCG game forever.

It’s just a fad and will die out, I thought.

But it didn’t.

Every month at our AD&D sessions, the rest of the crew was playing Magic before we started, and they didn’t want to stop. Everyone would finally arrive, and they would delay starting AD&D as long as possible. This went on for months and every week they would try and get The Lovely Mare (my wife) and I to play. But we resisted. I was already obsessed with my wife, my computer, Dungeons and Dragons, working out, comic books, regular books, and a host of other things that kept me too busy. Did I really need another obsession to suck more money out of me?

I didn’t think so.
Besides, it’s just a fad and will die out.
But still it didn’t.

Whenever our group of friends got together they played Magic at every available opportunity and every free moment. They never got sick of it.

Perplexing.

One day, Mare and I met Hilary and Michele in Burlington, and we headed over to the University Mall to pick up Doug.

Doug was in a Magic tournament in the Mall.

We arrive just as Doug is started a duel for third place. Michele and Mare are talking, and Hil and I went over to watch Doug finish up.

Doug’s opponent is Buddy.
The duel starts.

Immediately I am captivated. Not by the game and not by anything that I see happen that I understand, but more by their intense concentration. Doug and Buddy are completely focused on the game. A loud crowd is around the players, some watching, some just on their way to the other side of the mall to different shops. But neither of them notices anything outside of the game. Every move is agonized over. Every step is careful and deliberate.

I have no idea what is going on; who is winning or losing, but I am enthralled. I know they are competing, and they are very serious about it. I feel like I’m watching a wrestling tournament. That’s the only thing I can compare it to.
I wrestled for seven years, four of them in High School. I miss the competitive outlet, and I can tell this is just what I am looking for. I can feel the need to win in both competitors. I can feel the thrill of the competition. And it’s all down to just them. There is no team. There is no one else to fall back on. Just single combat, like wrestling. Whether they win or lose is in their hands alone.

And I’m hooked.
I am so hooked.
Doug wins.

“Alright,” I tell him. “You got me. You finally got me. I want to learn.”

At the time, I have no idea how much those words will mean. How much money, time and effort I will spend on a game that becomes more obsession and burning passion than quiet pastime.

As it turns out, both Doug and Hilary are off this Wednesday. I also have the day off. I invite them both down for lunch, to spend the day, and teach me how to play. That’s how I started. The lovely Mare was sucked in soon after. Two more happy members of the craze called Magic.

Weeks go by with just me playing, and my beautiful bride knows she is in trouble. I have found a new obsession, and with me, that means total commitment. I don’t watch football, or really, any sport on TV, and that’s a good thing. Otherwise I would be one of those guys that grabs a couple twelve packs on Saturday morning and never leaves the couch until Sunday night when it’s time to go bed, unwashed and drunk. I make up for this by being totally focused and involved in whatever this year’s obsession is. For the past four years, it’s been my computer. Adventure games, role-playing games, Doom, Warcraft, programming, animation, and lately, the Internet. Whatever was hot, I bought and devoured it like candy. I’ve soaked up so much monitor radiation my skin has a pale yellow tint to it. Sunlight hurts my eyes, and on a good day, I don’t leave the house. Twelve hour stretches staring at my seventeen inch monitor is a day in heaven for me.

Magic leaves all of this in the dust.

My brand new two thousand-dollar computer might as well be in the boxes and stored in the cellar. There are days when I never even turn it on. And for the people that know me, that’s the equivalent of me announcing that I don’t need air, and then disappearing into the ocean for six days.

It’s amazing and impossible, but Magic does it.

I start to “tap the vein” as my friends call it. This is when you spend the last change in your pocket to buy another pack of Magic cards. This is when you decide that lunch really isn’t that important, and skip going to McDonalds so that you can get a couple packs of Revised at the end of the day. This is when you are so obsessed with Magic that you will sell your blood if you can find anyone to buy it.
After a particularly long weekend of Magic, The Lovely Mare decides that it’s either beat’em or join’em, and she asks me to teach her to play on a Monday night.
After we get out of work, I am all-aquiver with anticipation to teach her, but in her calm way she makes me wait until after we eat, and cuddle the puppy for a while, and then finally, at about seven in the evening, she says “okay teach me.”
I tell her the most important part about learning Magic is taking off all your clothes. This frees the minds for…

She smacks me.

Mare doesn’t buy it, tells me to shut up and teach her the game.
She picks it up right away, and after a few false starts, a few learning games, and a few hours, she looks up with a big smile on her face –
“Hey, this is really fun!”

Got her!

We stay up way past our bedtime and play Magic until midnight. We have work the next day so we reluctantly go to bed, and for the next six months Mare and I get closer than we have ever been. In the mornings we get up, brew coffee, play Magic. When ready, we sip coffee, play more Magic. Then it’s a shower, get ready for work and then a quick game before we head out the door. Work an eight-hour day, come home, play Magic, eat dinner, play Magic, ignore the computer, play Magic, build decks, collect cards, play Magic, make love, and then play some more Magic. It’s great. We spend every waking moment together.

The lovely Mare has always been, and always will be my best friend. We have the same political views, the same taste in music, the same love of quiet nights at home and want the same things out of life. But with most things I like them a lot more than my wife.

Like computer games.

I can play computer games all day.

My wife will get obsessed with something for a limited amount of time, and then doesn’t want any more of it.

I’ll finish Warcraft and go right out and buy the next game and then go home and devote a hundred hours into solving that!

My wife got obsessed with Doom for a while. Every waking moment was spent blasting aliens and marines. To see her diminutive frame, long blond hair trailing down her back, and designer clothes perched in front of a seventeen inch monitor, eyes ablaze with concentration and bloodlust, waiting for the next imp to poke his head around the corner so she can blast it, is a sight not to be believed.

“Yes! I am the Woman! Honey I did it!” She would shout as she killed the boss of level fifteen. “Come look! Come look!”

But once Doom was done, that was it. Her thirst quenched, she didn’t want to see the computer for six months.

So, while we were both intense about Magic, we spent every second together, doing something we both loved. And it lasted a long time.

Hil, Michele, Doug and Rod donated about 250 cards apiece to our collections, and this helped us get started. But, we still bought a ton of cards from Comics & Collectibles, the store my folks used to own. And like everyone else, we went though the same card obsessions that all beginners go through. Force of Nature was the most prized card in my possession. As soon as I got four, I was going to rule the Magic world! Deck building occupied all my free time. When it was laundry day my wife would end up with twenty-seven little lists from my pants pocket with all the contents of the next killer decks. The lovely Mare started to collect complete sets, and started to collect Serra Angels. She had a book of them. I noticed that Louise had a book of Serra Angels, and so did Michele, Hilary’s wife.

Something about that card and women.

The group would get together and play Magic on the weekends, and sometimes, even on weekdays Hil and Michele would come down for dinner and a night of Magic. Doug and I would play Magic every Wednesday from nine in the morning to three in the afternoon.
It was the golden age of Magic.

We start to go to tournaments, and of course, we get crushed.

We take our newbie decks, we play, we get crushed and we get disappointed, and then we redouble our efforts and vow to come back to the challenges the next time with a deck that will defeat everyone!

Magic takes a long time to learn. It takes a long time to start winning at tournaments. It took me almost a year to consistently do well in tournaments. My wife, who I consider to be the finest Magic player the world has ever seen, has never won a tournament. The last tournament she was in, she took third.
After Mare took third, she decided that her obsession with Magic was over. She got too tense, too nervous, and too involved. She didn’t like the way the game made her feel. It made her nervous and sick.

Admittedly, I wasn’t much help either.

My love of tournaments was growing by leaps and bounds as I started to do better and better in them. My decks started to get better and better. The fun days of Magic were over for me. Each deck was a scalpel, designed to eviscerate an opponent in any way possible. The decks were designed to win, and there was no longer any such thing as “cheese”. Discard was big on my list for the amount of power and disruption that was in the strategy, and large creatures were always a favorite as well.

So, I would empty my wife’s carefully planned strategic hand, and then a few hits from a juggernaut would end the game before it even gets started. Or else I’d play the Kird Ape deck. I would blow away anything in the way, attack with the apes and the blood-lusted elves, then direct damage to finish them off. Game over inside of three minutes. That’s a lot of fun, huh?

Also, there are too many sets released all at once.

Ice Age, Chronicles, and Fourth Edition all hit the stores at about the same time, and Mare finds that she can’t get a set completed without spending a fortune on cards. There’s too much out there, and she still needs some cards for her Revised set!

So, The Lovely Mare cuts back on Magic almost entirely.

It was a sad day for me. Nothing would rekindle her love of the game.

Sigh.

The rest of us continue to play, and I continue to improve, thanks mostly to Doug’s careful tutelage. Doug really took me under his wing when I first started. What this means is, he beat me up a lot with a wide variety of decks. And through this I learned. He told me the secrets of Magic. What cards looked worthless but were really powerful and vice versa. What cards were tournament worthy, and how important a sideboard was.

That was a hard lesson. I hate sideboards, but Doug taught me how to use them to win. It’s a prejudice that lasts to this day, but it doesn’t matter. I win a good portion of my duels on the strength of my sideboard.


So, the entire group has a fun activity that they enjoy, and we go into Comics & Collectibles on Saturday and we play massive multi-player melees. It’s a blast. The game is the most fun we’ve had since the group met in college and played endless sessions of AD&D.

Then one day, Magic changed forever.

The new Duelist came in the mail. I opened it up, and right on page three was an ad that would take Magic to a whole new level.

Pro Tour NY.
Cash Prizes
Compete against the Best Players in the World.

And most of all, what wasn’t printed on that page –

Fame.

All of a sudden, Magic was like the Pro Golf Tour or the U.S. Open Tennis tournament. Since there was money involved, there was at least the excuse that all this play-testing was going to be worth something someday.

Magic had a different flavor to it.

In order to get into the Pro Tour, you had to call a number that was provided in the ad, at a certain time, at a certain date. We knew that this number was going to be ringing like the bells of a church at noon, and we were determined to get in.
I got out of work early in order to get home in time to make the call. Doug was going in late, Michele was working for her parents that day and was going to call from work, and whoever got in first would register, and then immediately call again and try to register Rod, who couldn’t get the time off to do it himself.

The fateful day came, I flew home from work, and at the appointed minute, I started dialing. I got into the queue almost immediately, and then was promptly kicked off the line.

“What the hell?” I cursed and hit the redial button furiously.

Busy, redial, busy, redial, busy, redial, busy, redial, and on and on and on.

After fifteen minutes of this, I was finally able to get in. This time, I wasn’t kicked out, gave my name and address and asked if I could register someone else, and was politely told that no, I could not. One registration per phone call.

Hang up, anxiously call Doug.

Busy, redial, busy, ring.

I hear the phone make that clicking noise that it makes when the person on the other end hits redial when he doesn’t know the phone has someone on the line.

“Doug!” I shout. “Doug!”

“Hello?”

“Doug! I’m in! I just got through! I’m in! Did you make it yet?”

“NO! Damn it! I was in, and then I was cut off and the phone went dead! Damn it! I have to get in! Register Rod and I’ll call you back when I get in!”

So I start the cycle again.

Busy, redial, busy, redial, busy, redial, busy, redial, and on and on and on.
Until finally, I get in, give them Rod’s name, and he’s in.
As I hang up, the phone rings.
It’s Doug.
“Jamie! I’m in! I got through! Is Rod registered?”
“Yeah! I just got off the phone! How about Hil and Michele?”
“I just talked to Michele. She’s in, and so is Hilary. Michele and her sisters have been using all three lines at the office to get through.
“We’re all in!”

We are all going to the Pro Tour.

Estimated time of redials and attempts to get through to register for the first Pro Tour and register all five of us: half an hour.
And we’re in.

It makes no sense to any of us. The phones at WoTC headquarters have been busy since the time they allowed people to call. They were deluged with phone calls from all over the world, and yet, somehow, the five of us from one state have gotten in.

We are very happy.

Magic becomes even more of an obsession for us.

Many people play golf for fun during the week, get in a couple of rounds on the weekend, and really enjoy it. But they know that it is just a chance to get together with buddies, test themselves and have a good time.

My wife and I play tennis in the summer, and we’re a pretty good match for each other. Sometimes we even keep score. Neither of us thinks that we will be at Wimbledon any time soon. But it’s a great sport, keeps us relatively fit, and we like it.

But in Magic, we now have a chance to be on the Pro Tour!

The real thing.

We are going to get a chance to play Magic for real.

Professionally.

We start to train like professionals. Weekends are taken up with getting ready for New York. Rodney is working on a Blue/Black deck that focuses on discard and control. It’s a heinous thing that he can’t quite perfect before he gives it up. Hilary is working on about a hundred decks a day, and can’t decide what to focus on. Doug is working on a Red/Black land destruction deck, and when it gets rolling, it’s unstoppable. I’m focusing on straight green, and there are days when I crush everyone around me.

But green just doesn’t have it.

There are certain decks that can’t handle all the creatures coming at them, and then there are others that can handle them with ease. It has very little to do with skill, and more to do with the pairings that I will get in New York. Green just isn’t flexible enough to handle certain kinds of decks. It has no depth, no other options than a creature rush.

Rodney finally has settled on a Red/Blue deck that maintains control of the board until he can pull forth a big fatty like a Shivan or a Mahamoti.

Hilary is going with a solid red Power Surge deck.

I change my mind entirely on what kind of deck I am going with, and end up playing a solid black, big creature discard deck that will become my signature deck.
Doug has no idea what he’s playing, and brings a bunch of decks with him to NY to try and decide on the way.

After weeks and weeks of play-testing, it is finally the week of the Pro Tour.

Doug and I will be taking the train to NY. We have no desire to fight traffic all the way into the city, and we figure that the train will allow us to play-test on the way down. We plan on sitting in the dining car for the entire trip and playing Magic for eight hours. Doug still has to decide on a deck. He is leaning towards the Red/Black land destruction deck, but I’m trying to convince him that Land Tax is going to be everywhere and his deck will do nothing. The train trip will decide for him.

As is usual for a night before a tournament, I sleep very little, and am exhausted even before the day starts. Doug and I board the train at 7:15 a.m. in Essex, VT and look forward to a long day of Magic ahead of us. It is snowing lightly, and I’m glad we aren’t driving. Weather reports say a fierce blizzard is coming. They couldn’t be more right.

The first bit of bad news is that there is no dining car.

We are traveling in the only train with no dining car. That’s bad. The seats we are in have that little table that folds down from the seats in front of us, but it’s not the same. We are able to play Magic, but the dice keep rolling around, and we lose cards every now and then, and we are as cramped as we can get with all our bags all around us. We are able to play Magic, but it’s nothing like we envisioned.
Well, at least we’re not driving in this weather, which continues to get worse as the day goes on.

Doug and I play fifty games of Magic on the train ride. We learn a little, and hope we make the right choices. I already know what deck I am going with, but there are a few cards that I am not sure about. Doug has five decks with him, and so do I. Despite the fact that I am already settled on a deck, I have brought four test decks with me.

We discover that land destruction really can’t beat a deck that has elves in it, and even worse, if your opponent gets too much land in his initial draw, then the land destruction is worthless. If I draw five lands, and then proceed to draw three more over the course of five turns, then almost assuredly, the land destruction deck has failed and will lose. Land Tax makes the strategy even more unfeasible.

Doug abandons it.

He tries his Blue/White Unsummon deck, and it also meets with failure. Autumn Willow is a popular card, and defeats his strategy entirely. As we are pulling into New York, he decides to go discard with me, and is happy with his choice. His deck has a few differences than mine. Doug is using Racks and more Nightmares. I prefer Sengir Vampires to Racks, and find that my opponent still takes four damage from a Sengir no matter how full his hand is. Nightmares are great as well, but I am cautious about the six casting cost, and the fact that I think Armageddon is going to be everywhere this weekend. I only put one Nightmare in.

We get off the train and head for the street.

I hate the city. I hate the crowds, the noise, the filth, and everything about it. The city has nothing to offer me. When I was in college, people from out of state would always complain that there was nothing to do in Vermont. Like what? Go to the malls? Go out to clubs? Go to the movies? All boring, and in my opinion a waste of valuable time.

I have never had trouble getting a girlfriend, and yet, I have never met a woman in a club. You don’t meet people in clubs; you meet them in banks, the grocery store, at work or at the health club. Nightclubs have nothing to offer me unless I want to go dancing, but I can’t see wanting to do that every night. Movies are wonderful, and I love them, but I don’t want to, nor can I afford to, go every day. Once or twice a week is usually plenty, and the local theater has two screens, so I hardly think I need nine choices. And a mall? What? To hang out? Shop? Sit on a bench and watch people go by? What? I fail to see the attraction.

I have hundreds of books to read, strategy articles to pore over, yard work to be done, stories to write, videos to rent, and computer games to play. I have a wife that needs attention, a dog that needs walks, a house that needs care, various chores, other interests, and not enough time to do them in. I live in Vermont, the most beautiful state in the Union.

What do I need the city for?

This point is driven home as I walk through the station.

I’m looking all around, trying to find an exit as I walk, looking for a sign that Doug and I heading in the right direction, and suddenly, my left foot stops in mid air.

I was just about to step on a man dying in front of me.

That’s right, a man, lying on the cold floor with white foam coming out of his mouth and a blank look in his eyes. Police are standing around him, and a small crowd, but I was really lost in the ether. I almost walked right onto him.

I pull my foot back from mid-air and head off in another direction. The police are there, but doing nothing but talking. What can they do? Nothing I would imagine. The rest of the crowd does exactly what I do – they move along and do their best to ignore him.

I hate the city. I hate the city. I hate the city.

Doug and I finally reach the street, and it is freezing cold, and the blizzard has blown in with earnest. It is windy and cold, and I’m not wearing near enough clothes. Having no idea what we are supposed to do to get a cab, we stand in a line that looks like it’s for country bumpkins like us. Fifty people are in line, waiting for a cab in the cold. There is no enclosure to stand in so little flecks of cold snow blow down the backs of our necks as we wait. The blizzard has hit full force, and New York is getting blanketed. It takes us over forty-five minutes to get to the head of the line and get a cab. As we reach the head of the line, an ambulance pulls up and glides to a halt.

Now? The ambulance is arriving now? It’s been forty-five minutes! Is this the ambulance for the guy that was lying on the floor in the station? How horrifying! I decide that while I’m in the city, I’ll do my best not to overdose on Crack. Luckily, that shouldn’t be too hard…

I hate the city.

So, we get into the cab. The driver is wearing a turban, and speaks very little English. We mention the Puck building several times and he starts to drive.
He drives us through another world.

It is warm and quiet in the cab, and we watch the passers-by. The warmth of the car feels magical after being in the cold for forty-five minutes, and both Doug and I are sleepy. The entire ride has a dreamy, mystical, hazy feel to it. Dusk is settling in. There are small Korean markets on almost every corner, flowers at all of them. Thousands of people are walking in the streets, and there is a soft blanket of snow over everything. There is a strong wind swirling among the buildings, making the snow look like a fog or a mist. People, cars and city streets emerge from the mist, silently. I’ve never seen so many people in all my life. There are no trees, and no parks anywhere. Everything is covered in concrete, and nothing is natural for as far as the eye can see. Cars weave in and around us in a graceful dance that is aided by the slippery conditions of the snow, then disappear back into the mist. The cars slide and skid around corners, slowly making their way through the icy streets. People are out collecting supplies for the storm, and it is very crowded.
It takes about half an hour to get to the Puck building. Doug and I say very little, and I can tell he is in awe much like me. The city is just a whole different world than we are used to.

The driver drops us off at the corner of the Puck building. I hand him ten dollars and we make our way inside. It’s very crowded. We are going to meet Hilary, Michele and Rod here, and then head over to George’s apartment and spend the next two nights there. George is Doug’s stepbrother, and a very nice guy. His apartment is smaller than my wife’s clothes closet and we have to sleep six people in it. He pays a thousand dollars a month in rent for an apartment that is smaller than my kitchen.

Ah, the city!

Deck registration sheets are there for us and we hastily fill them out, and then get into line to register and make our way into the main room where the reception will be taking place.

We get inside and I go to the bar to get a Coke.

Bad news.

It’s an open bar.

I love to drink, maybe even more so than the next guy, but I think this is a bad idea right off the bat. If the rest of the Magic playing community is anything like me and the gamers I’ve known all my life, there’s going to be a lot of drunken people here tonight.

Hilary and Michele and Rod show up eventually, and they are thrilled with the open bar and think it’s a great idea.

As it turns out, they were one of the last people let in to New York because they closed the freeway right after letting them through. The weather is that bad. The drive down took them forever, but they made it, and we are here for a weekend of professional Magic!

The main room is filled with people from all over the world. Some are playing Classic for ante, and others are just milling about. I see famous players that I have only read about in magazines, and I see that we are not the only team to show up with shirts. I see Team Belgium shirts, Hammer’s Hitmen shirts, Team France, and a host of others.

Spirits are high and we are all hopeful.

Sadly, I was right on target with my predictions about the open bar. Richard Garfield stands up to talk and tell us his vision of the Pro Tour and what tomorrow will bring, but everyone is so loose that virtually no one pays attention.
The creator of the game that brought us all here is speaking, and no one is listening.

It’s a sad day.

Let’s hope tomorrow will be better.

We head out early from the reception because we are all starving, and head back to George’s apartment. We need a good night’s sleep for tomorrow, and we are all going to try hard to get it. Well, except for Hilary and Michele and Rod who immediately head out to try and find the Hard Rock CafĂ© at eleven o’clock at night.

Sigh

Doug and I have no desire to waste valuable sleep time looking for a trendy eatery, and head to the nearest diner and then to George’s place.
George’s apartment is tiny.

We take up ALL the available floor space. Six people in an apartment the size of a closet, and Rod snores!

Despite the fact that Doug and I get back to the apartment early, we don’t get much more sleep than anyone else. Hil, Michele and Rod arrive back an hour after we do, and wake us up, and then George arrives home an hour after that and wakes us up again.

It’s a long night, but the train ride has left me exhausted. I wake up feeling okay, shower, and off we go!

The Puck building is nine blocks from George’s apartment, so we walk it, praying we aren’t late.

We shouldn’t have worried. As soon as we get there, we know it’s going to be a long time before we begin.

It takes forever to start. They announce that there is a delay because they found some cards hidden by one of the tables in the play area. Hidden cards? The bastards! The first Pro Tournament and already cheating! Damn!

Well, here’s the deck I played –

4 Terror
3 Nevinyrral’s Disk
3 Serrated Arrows
4 Hymns
4 Dark Ritual
1 Zuran Orb
4 Hypnotic Specter
4 Abyssal Specter
2 Hasran Ogress
3 Shimian Night Stalker
4 Sengir
2 Ihsan’s Shade
1 Nightmare
16 Swamps
4 Mishra’s Factory
4 Strip Mine
24 land
62 cards

But, we do finally start, and in my first round, I smash my opponent.

He is playing a green and white deck and gets totally land screwed in the first game, and the second. As soon as I see a Llanowar Elf or a mana bird hit the board I Terror it, keeping him low on mana sources. My deck is designed to take people out fast, and it does. While he is land screwed, I go to work with my Hymns and Hypnotics, stripping him of valuable spells. In the third game, he’s not quite as land screwed but the Glooms finish him off.

He’s a heavyset guy that is pleasant, but very discouraged.

“What am I doing here? I should have stayed home if this is the kind of weekend I’m going to have. But, I don’t understand it! My deck never does this! I’ve put a lot of work into this, and this is a good deck! Really!”

I agree that it looks like a nice deck, but tell him there is nothing you can do about land screw. No matter how good the deck is, if you don’t get land, you will lose. I say the nice things I always say when I beat someone. I am as nice as I can be, but I have to leave and tell the others how I did.

He is depressed and I am gonna explode. I swept! My first opponent and I sweep him! It’s gonna be a good day! I rush out to the big meeting room to wait for everyone else to finish.

On a side note here, the guy I just played goes on to be one of the best players in the tournament. I see him walking in with the rest of the best players in the later rounds. I see him walking in with all the people that have 4-1 records and then later, I see him walk in with all the people at 5-1. He must have been right. It was a good deck!

I meet everyone else out in the main room, and some are happy and some are sad. Doug has lost, Hilary has lost, Michele has won, and Rod has won.

Rod is especially happy. Like me, his deck has swept, and he feels great about it. There is that defining moment in a tournament, usually after the first round, when you know you have made the correct choice, and that you will have a good day. You know you have a great sideboard, you know your deck inside and out, and you know that you are going to play well during the day. Rod feels that way.

I am guardedly optimistic at this point. I feel my deck is good, but I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch.

The next round starts, and they let in all the people who won their first match before the people who lost. The room is divided into sections, with tables at each section. On each table, is a card with your name on it. On this card is your name and DCI number. Look through all the tables for your nametag each round. The better your record, the closer you are to the far end of the room. By letting in people that have a winning record first, it makes it easier to find what table you are at.
I get totally land screwed in this round. My opponent is nice enough about this, and I placate myself as best as I can by telling him it happened to my opponent last round, so I guess this round it’s my turn. His Erhnam Djinns run rampant on me, and I sit there like a moron, unable to do anything.

I finally get land in the third game, and then one moment really defines why I did so well in this tournament.

Serrated Arrows.

When I first saw these, I figured that these would be the most powerful cards to come out of Homelands. I didn’t see all the ramifications of this card yet, but what I did see, was a way for a solid green deck to have a way to take out all the annoying 1/1 creatures that just ruin their day –

Royal Assassins
Tims
Sorceress Queens.

All gone now thanks to the Serrated Arrows. I could play solid green, and finally have a really efficient way to take out those creatures that had plagued me. I immediately snagged all the Serrated Arrows they had at the shop, and they have been a huge part of our play-testing in getting ready for the Pro Tour. Thank God.
In play-testing, we also discovered that a Sengir Vampire or a Shimian Night Stalker can block an Erhnam Djinn and live if you put a Serrated Arrow through the Erhnam’s hide just as blocking is declared.

This happened in the third game.

I attacked with my Shimian, my opponent blocked with his Erhnam so I arrowed him. He picks his Erhnam up and puts him in the graveyard and tells me my Shimian is dead too.

I smile and explain why he isn’t.

He doesn’t get it at first, then reads the Arrows closer, reads them again, frowns, and then gets it.

I have lost, but my Shimian goes on to win the game for me so I don’t get swept in this round.

It is the golden age of Magic.

Robert S. Hahn has just released The Schools of Magic to those of us lucky to have Internet access. The Pro Tour has just started, and my friends and I are playing with Serrated Arrows. They make the difference between defeat and victory more times than I can count. We are in New York City playing a game we love to play, against the best players in the world, and we are young and alive. It is the first Magic Pro Tour – and we are here.

I head back out to see the Team and find out how our records are. Everyone who lost in the first round, has won. Everyone who had won, has lost. Except Rod. His Red/Blue Phat Moti deck has won again.

You can tell he is feeling great. His deck feels good and he is playing well. He is hopeful, and no longer has that look of “I’m just here to have fun” but has that eager, “I may actually do well” look on his face. He “gets” it now. He’s in the first Pro Tour with a 2-0 record. He realizes where he is, and he realizes that he has a chance.

Hil, Doug, Michele and I are all still hopeful, but really just hope that Rod will continue to do well. If just one of us does well, it will make this whole weekend great for all of us. Just one in the top 16, would be so great.

I try to get some food, but I can’t really eat. I get some coffee and a Coke, because I’m tired and dehydrated. I eat the usual food of Magic players everywhere. Almost nothing. And nothing good.

They again call people back in who have the best records.

Rod walks back in with a 2-0 record, right at the head of the line. Watching them all walk in, I am envious. I want to be one of the firsts called in. I want the rest of the players to watch, as I get to walk in and find my seat before the rest of the players. I want to be good at this game. I want to be “a name.”

In the third round, I face off against the most original deck I have ever faced.
My opponent comes over with a friend; perhaps his brother.

They are both very joyful and full of life. They talk a lot, they joke, they are very happy. I’m a little grumpy from my loss, and I am quiet. They don’t look like they take this very serious, and that annoys me a little. This is the Pro Tour for God’s sake!

Sigh

At this moment, I want to slap myself for feeling this way. I don’t feel this way most of the time, but I’m reporting how I felt right then.

I’m just grumpy from my recent loss, little sleep, no food, and the fact that a lot of people were talking during Richard Garfield’s speech last night. I just want this to be a respected pursuit.

They are far too happy. I quietly think that I will crush my opponent since he obviously has not put the thought into this that I have. Since he obviously does not care about this competition at all.

Side note – Don’t think negative thoughts.

They never help anything. They just poison your attitude towards the rest of the world. Be positive. See the good in people. See the good in the world. Be happy. If you think life sucks, then no matter what you do, life will suck. If you think life is a grand adventure to be enjoyed, then that is what it will be. It’s all in your attitude. Whenever I think like a negative bastard, I immediately regret it.

Like right now.

The second they tell us we can begin, my opponent transforms.

He stops talking with his friend, thrusts his hand out to me, introduces himself, gets a tight, concentrated look on his face, and wishes me good luck. He sucks his entire aura inward, and becomes a force. He is entirely self-contained. He is so focused on the game; my concentration seems meager and small next to his. You can just feel the inner sweat dripping off his spirit. He has no other goal at this moment than to beat me at Magic. No other thought. No sleeplessness, no dizziness, no joking, no looking around the room. The man sitting across from him is his opponent. That is all that matters. I’m literally shocked and amazed.

What happened to the jester sitting across from me not three seconds ago?

We start to play, and he is an example of cool, quiet concentration. Every land he plays is thought over. Every time he taps a land for mana, he leaves his hand on it to make sure that he wants to tap that particular land, for that particular color at that particular time. He taps everything a full ninety-degrees, attacks before he summons more creatures, and is a technically flawless player.

He has the most original deck that to this day, I have ever seen. It is five colors, and uses Birds of Paradise for mana as well as Cities of Brass and Fellwar Stones. The first game, I beat him when I have 2 life left. Since it is five colors, I have no idea what to expect. He has Fireballs, Power Sinks, Erhnams, everything.
He starts to sideboard, leans over to his friend and says, “Hey, I lost to a discard deck! Big surprise, huh?”

In the second game, he takes me with a Derelor.

Once again, I am amazed. Since I really have nothing to sideboard against him, (five colors) I wondered what he would sideboard against me.

He sideboards Derelors.

As near as I can tell his whole sideboard consists of spells that he considers great, that he can cast using his Fellwar stones. Against a red deck he sides in Bolts.

He gets some early Birds of Paradise, two Spectral Bears, and then a Derelor. It’s too much for me to take, and he runs over me. I’m backpedaling from the word go, and it’s a very tense game, but I never have a chance to pull it out.

Like a consummate professional, he looks through his sideboard again; to make sure that there is nothing else he has in there that will help him take the third game.
I follow his fine example, and find another Serrated Arrows to put in my deck.

Birds of Paradise hate Serrated Arrows.

And they decide the third game for us.

I strip all but his City of Brass and arrow any birds he puts down.

He doesn’t have a very good draw, but I have a God-draw. Despite the fact that I have such a better draw than he does, he still almost wins it. It’s a nail-biter right to the end. It’s one of those games of Magic where the mental energy is so intense that you are drained after the match is done.

I am exhausted, but exuberant.

At the first Professional Magic the Gathering Tour, I am 2-1

I’m back in it.

“You’re a very composed opponent” he tells me. “Very calm and quiet. Fun to play against.”

I tell him about my first impressions of him and his friend, and how I had no idea I was in for the fight of my life. I had no idea he would be so concentrated. So focused.

We talk for a bit afterwards, and he asks me why I’m not playing with Derelors.
I laugh and tell him, “I’m running straight black. I can’t afford the extra black in the casting cost for everything else.”

He is very serious, and gives me some advice that I use for the next year.

“You don’t use the Derelor that way. You don’t play him and then play something else. You use a Dark Ritual to bring him out on the second turn, and then you beat your opponent with it. You let them react to a second turn 4/4 before you do anything else. If they Plow it, great. Next turn lay a Hypnotic Specter, knowing they have just had to use a Plow on your second turn Derelor, and might not have another one. If they foolishly ignore it, and think its’ disadvantage will be enough to hinder you, then show them the error of their ways. Attack them every turn with an early 4/4, they’ll get the picture soon enough.”

He was so right.

I traded for 4 of them that day, and have never regretted it. The Derelor became one of my favorite creatures and remains that way even today.

I head back out to the main hall, and the five of us swap stories.

Hil has lost, Michele has lost, Doug has won, I have won and RODNEY HAS WON AGAIN!
Rodney is 3-0 in the first Professional Tour for Magic. He looks good, he feels good, and we are all hopeful that he will continue to do well and buy us all some really cool stuff with his winnings. We talk of how everyone is doing, and we have not yet realized how important it is to eat well on tournament day. I get a brownie and another Coke.

We talk about people that we have seen, and people we want to play against, and what a great idea this whole thing is. Everyone wants to play a famous player and win. Just about everyone’s goals for the group are to be able to go back to Vermont and say “I took on and I crushed him!

I get my wish in the next round, and I briefly think of the old saying – “Be careful what you wish for, because you just may get it.”

My opponent is Mark Hernandez, the man who took second at last year’s World’s. A little tremor of anticipation, excitement, nerves and adrenaline passes through me.
Mark Hernandez.

He sits down, and he’s pleasant enough, but he doesn’t speak much English, and he can tell I am not the player that he is. He is a little impatient with me, but nice overall. He’s playing some blue monstrosity with a ton of artifacts, and Mahamoti Djinn. In the third game, he taps out to lay Djinn, and in the next draw I get a Disk and play it. He has a line of artifacts on the table as long as my arm.
Fellwar stones, Icys, Racks, the Djinn, and everything on the board goes up in a puff of artifact smoke as I blow the Disk, clearing the board. I lay down the Sengir I had been holding and beat him to death with it.

I have swept Mark Hernandez and I am 3-1 in the first Professional Tour.


It is a great day.


I can’t wait to get back to the main room to tell everyone, and it looks like everyone else is not doing as well. My team looks a little dejected.

Rodney has lost his first match. He tells us that he couldn’t find his nametag and finally found it under the cameras. His match was one of the ones filmed. He played Sean Fleischman and got smoked. His first loss.

You can tell it’s hit him hard, but he is still hopeful.

Hell, I’ve got the same record as him now, with both of us at 3-1, and I feel great. I’m going all the way, I can feel it! I do my best to infect him with my attitude, but he is not quite as confident as he was. Michele has won, Doug has won and Hilary has won. We don’t have a bad record, but it’s not great either.

It’s getting late in the day, and I wonder what time we will be finishing? We have done four rounds of Swiss so far, and still another three to go. Many predict that the seven rounds of Swiss will take until midnight, maybe more. I don’t care. As exhausted as I am, I’m having a blast, and can’t wait for the next round to start.
I have two sweeps. I am 3-1. My next opponent is another non-English speaking Magic player, and he is also famous. I have gotten my wish twice. Be careful what you wish for.

I am playing Andre Redi from Italy.

We shake hands, and I grimace as soon as we start.

White/Green Land Tax. I hate this deck! Land Tax is so abusive. Just about as abusive as the Hymns I’m playing I guess. grin

The first game takes a while, but in the end, I am able to finish him off.
We sideboard, and I throw in four Glooms. I so much wanted to add Demonic Consults for the Glooms, so I would effectively have had six Glooms in my sideboard, but I did not. I needed the space for other things. So we shuffle and shuffle, and shuffle, and then he hands me his deck and I shuffle it, and he shuffles mine, and then we start.

Second turn he lays down a Circle of Protection: Black.

I groan.

I have Disks, but he disenchants them, and I have Arrows and those help, but the COP: Black holds up, and I never see a Gloom. Not the entire game.

So, we shuffle again, and then we shuffle some more, and then we shuffle some more, then we swap decks and shuffle some more.

1-1

Facing off against Andre Redi.

In the first Professional Magic tournament.

Please let me get the Glooms to render his COP: Black useless.

On the second turn, he lays down a COP: Black.

I groan.

I desperately struggle to get some hits in with my Mishra’s, dropping him down a few points before he can get a big fatty on the board. I know he has Johtull Wurms, Lhurgoyfs and Dervishes in his deck. I have to get some Disks and Arrows on the board before he mounts an unstoppable assault.

I get off to a great start with a Hyppie on the board, Arrows on the board, and a Shimian Night Stalker right off the bat.

He sits serenely behind his COP and taps a land every now and then to prevent damage, and I pray for a Gloom.

About the tenth turn, someone at a far table hollers over to Andre in Italian, and Andre hollers back, they say a couple of words in Italian, and then Andre focuses on the game again. He taps two Forests, and hastily lays down a Dervish. I tap my Arrows and kill them, and he picks the Dervish back up, realizing what he has just done. He looks at me imploringly and holds out the card.

I point towards the table, where he lays it again, I tap the Arrows, and he puts them in the graveyard. He stands up and hollers over to his friend –

“Distraction! DIS-TRAC-TION!”

He hollers it with a thick accent and shakes his fist angrily in the direction of his friend.

He sits, smiles and shrugs, as if to indicate : ah well.

We continue. He disenchants my Arrows when he draws another Dervish, and then plays the Dervish.

He has a ton of land out, I have a ton of fliers, and the only thing that will save me, is if I draw an Arrows, a Disk or a Gloom, right now! I’m holding a Drain Life, and know that if I could get a Gloom on the board, I would have enough creatures to swarm him, and then drain him to death. It is twenty rounds into the game and I have yet to see a Gloom.

The Dervish starts his relentless assault. I am able to get some Arrows on the board when he is a 3/3 and keep him from getting bigger for a few turns, but he keeps pounding away on me.

I JUST NEED ONE OF MY FOUR GLOOMS! ARRRRGGGGHHHH!

The Dervish continues to pound away on me, and I finally have to drain something on the board in order to get enough life to stay alive for a couple more rounds. I draw, and draw and draw. The Whirling Dervish just gets bigger and bigger and I’m sure the damn thing is going to be in my dreams tonight. I can’t stop it, and it just keeps growing.

At 8/8 (eleven rounds after he laid it, thanks to the Arrows) the whirling little bastard kills me. I grab my deck and furiously paw through the cards. Twenty cards left in my library, and all four Glooms sitting right on the bottom. It would have been another seven turns before I even got the first one.

I pull the four Glooms out and hurl them to the table in disgust. I hold up four fingers to Andre Redi, my opponent, and say “Four!”

He looks at the Glooms on the table then looks through his deck that he has already shuffled back together and finds his COP: Black.

He throws it to the table and laughs a good natured, isn’t this game just so crazy laugh. “One!” He says. “One!” and laughs and laughs.

This game will haunt me until the day I die. Can you fathom what this game kept me from?

The most horrible, most frustrating, unlucky and depressing game of Magic I have ever played.

I pick up my toys and I go home.

Well, I meet the rest of the Team in the large meeting hall adjacent to the play area, and we compare notes.

I am 3-2, Doug is 3-2, Rod is 3-2, Hilary is 2-3, and Michele is 2-3.

We are running exactly fifty percent. We figure that two losses are the cut off point, and that anyone with three losses is out of it. Anyone with two losses has to win the rest of the day, and have a good amount of sweeps to get in. It’s ten o’clock at night when this round ends.

I have two sweeps, and I have not been swept once. I’m doing okay.

Andre Redi comes up to me, and I introduce him to the rest of the Team and he points at the deck I am holding in my hand.

“No rocks?” he says to me. “No rocks?

No one can figure out what he is trying to say.

He repeats it seven times before I finally figure out what he’s saying.

No “Racks!”

No, I try to explain as best as I can, Sengirs don’t care how many cards you have in hand, they’ll hit you for four regardless. I hate standard discard.

No Racks.

So we mill about for a bit, and then Andre comes running up to us again, this time in a panic.

He’s holding up a Strip Mine.

One of his Strip Mines has been declared marked because it’s so worn, and he needs another. Michele digs one out of her pack and trades it to him. Catastrophe averted.

So, we start the next round at just about eleven o’clock at night, and I have to play a teammate for the first time.

Doug and I are facing off.

We have quite similar decks, but he has more discard and Racks than I do, but I have bigger creatures.

In each of the games that we play, he is able to get off to a better start than I am, but in the end, my bigger creatures win me the game. At one point, I finish him off with a 2/2 Nightmare, its small size due to the fact that I had to sac all my lands to the Zorb to stay alive.

It’s a hellish hour-long struggle, and each game, I am sure I am going to lose just before I am able to recover and win. Each game is a squeaker, but I sweep him. I feel bad for beating Doug, but I am now 4-2, with three sweeps, which should put me right in contention. Just one more round.

As we finish, they tell us that this is the final round for today, and that they will finish up the last round in the morning at 8:00 a.m.

It is 1:00 a.m.

It’s been a bad round for Team Quarterstaff. Everyone has lost but me.

Spirits are both low and high. We do a lot of calculating to see if I have a chance to make the top 16 if I win the final round, and it looks like I do. My three sweeps will help me break most tiebreakers, and I have a nice high score. No one has swept me.

We get back to George’s apartment and finally to bed at just about two in the morning, and fall into a coma.

The alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m. and I am the first one in the shower.

I have to make the top 16, baby! I have to!

We all head in to the last round.

Everyone looks exhausted, but everyone is excited about the last round.

I sit down and chat with some people sitting around me, and meet someone that I will correspond with through e-mail to this day. Marc Aquino.

We are both 4-2, and trying hard to make it into the top 16.

I’m so beat; I can’t remember any of this game.

My opponent is very gracious and very nice. I beat him 2-1, he wishes me luck, and tells me that he was out of it anyway because he had no sweeps. He tells me he’s glad I won. What a sportsman.

I head back out to the great hall and look for everyone.

I won! I WON!

The round takes forever to end, and then it takes infinity squared to figure out the top 16.

I call my Lovely Bride, and my parents and let them know that I am in contention for the money rounds. Everyone is tense for a good two hours while they calculate the top competitors.

As it turns out, I am half a game, and half a point from being in the top 16.

Despite my 5-2 record with three sweeps, there are two people who went 5-1-1. Since the top 16 is based on match points first, I am out of it.

So close.

So, so close.

I can’t believe that I didn’t get one Gloom against Redi in two games, and I can’t believe that he got his sole COP: Black on his opening hand in both games.

What rotten, rotten luck.

Oh well.


I end up tied for eighteenth based on points.

We watch the top 16 matches, and then watch the first game of the finals. Finally, so tired that Michele starts to weep from exhaustion, we head back to George’s apartment for a restless nights sleep.

What a weekend.

I went, I learned a ton, and I had a blast!

And it was only the beginning.

Note : There is a lot more "whitespace" needed on a website than on a book. The printed and Kindle version looks a bit different.

9 comments:

  1. how pistons = thrusting according to Wendy

    Potention for the greatest Jamie article ever.

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  2. wall of text crits you for 1123213231245000000
    You Die!

    LOL

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  3. Hey Jamie(Druss),

    Long time no see. This is Acid Sin from Asheron's Call. I've seen your site a couple of times in the past, but never posted. I wanted to let you know that I personally look forward to the book. Even as a young kid I remember you always having a way with words, and you still do.

    Boy, did I enjoy reading The Source boards from school. Your stories, and others, were great. Made my day fly by! Still to this day I look back fondly at that whole experience. I still talk to Dark Arkon from time to time about those AC days when I get the chance to see him.

    Seems like things are going great for you which is awesome. Obviously a lot has happened with me since that time between then and now. Real life aside, I actually picked up, and still play from time to time, your old favorite game. I never realized how respected you were in that community until after AC. I even recently was a member of Blood in Darkfall.... surprisingly not much has changed with them. =p

    Anyways, how are all the old TSS guys doing? It's been ages. I tried to check your public forums, but they don't seem to be used at all. If you have another forum or somewhere I could send ya my private email I would love to hear how everything is going.

    Glad to see things are going well.
    Will(Acid Sin)

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  4. I was in NY for the first Pro Tour as well. Went with a friend. The craziest thing about it was that it was January. Fracking cold. One of the things I remember most was staying at the Hilton between the towers of the world trade center. The way the towers stood against the wind made the snow rise upwards over our room window and disapper into the darkness.

    Anyway, my friend played a R/G monstrosity trying to use lightning bolts & Kird Apes. He didn't get too far. Zack Dolan took home the win which was fine because back then we all had no idea what we were doing. We played because it was fun. It was a glorious time.

    Zack and I eventually became friends, with him graduating from Stanford and me from San Jose State University. I also used to play against Brian Weissman at FNM as well. He credits me for creating the first 'sligh' deck (mono red with strip mines, Orcs [artillery, Brassclaw, Ironclaw, Spies and Captains]. It worked like a charm because the two dominant spells in the format were StP and Control Magic. With StP, you'd just have extra life to power your artillery, and if your opponent Control Magic'd an Orc, he still couldn't block (due to his shitty 'ability') . I did hate Erhnam with a passion though. He was too big and cheap for me to 1 for 1.

    Great post this week. It brings me back to simpler times.

    Cheers!

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  5. Was talking a little out my ass there. Zack Dolan didn't win PTNY. My bad.

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  6. Zak beat Bertrand Lestree to win the first Magic World Championships, which was essentially a Type 1/Classic tournament, Kird Apes would have been legal at that one but not at PTNY.

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  7. I already bought the book probably over a year ago. It is a great read. Only wish there was more magic stories coming. Like Jamie hitting the local gameshop to play with spanish cards against spanish players.

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  8. Heya Jamie! It's Drake Draco. It's nice to see you still writing :) Drop me a line sometime at reuthrax@yahoo.com so we can catch up. It's been a while!

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