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The Ten Greatest Battles of All Time

Monday, April 22, 2002

It's hard to believe that I've been playing Magic for eight years. In that time I've been a PTQ competitor, deck historian, Premier Event reporter, onetime Editor-in-Chief of the first great Magic site, and have even kept the seats warm at the Feature Match tables once or twice myself. Over the course of those eight years I've witnessed some great Magic. I've seen incredible plays, heard trash talk from the most unlikely mouths, watched friends dominate Premier Events, and even witnessed an entire city rally around their home town boy in a tearjerker of a Pro Tour finals.

I've seen incredible plays, heard trash talk from the most unlikely mouths, watched friends dominate Premier Events, and even witnessed an entire city rally around their home town boy in a tearjerker of a Pro Tour finals.

Despite what the title claims, these probably aren't really The Ten Greatest Battles of All Time, they're just the Ten Most Memorable Matches I've Ever Seen. Just.

Your Top 10 list is probably different from mine. You might also cheer for a different set of heroes. Even if you don't, you might nevertheless have made different choices... Brian Kibler suggested I select Jon Finkel vs. Rich Frangiosa at U.S. Nationals 2000 ("where Finkel had to beat the Story Circle!")... but with two separate Finkel matches and two separate Napster entries already, I thought that overkill. The point is, these matches are memorable to me... but I hope that you might also like the following snapshots from games that have entertained me, impressed me, or in some instances, taught me to be a better player.


10. Jonathan Becker (PT Junk) vs. Unknown Opponent (The Red Zone)

I wanted very much to post a Kai Budde match, but as I've never actually seen Kai Budde play (believe it or not), I decided to instead post a Kai Budde moment. The time was Regionals 2001; the matchup was the worst possible for Junk, with Becker somehow able to split the first two games. The opponent had sided in Scorching Lava, usually there for Nether Spirit, but equally effective against Ramosian Sergeant and that annoying snake, River Boa.

I remember glancing over Jon's shoulder and wondering why when he passed his first turn, there was still a Sergeant in his hand... It was only after his second turn, when the opponent untapped, and gleefully sent a main-phase Scorching Lava at the "helpless" 1/1, did Becker's plan become obvious. He responded with Wax/Wane, and had just gone a long way in winning a difficult matchup.

Much like Kai Budde figures out how to beat even the toughest matchups (admittedly by drawing his last Donate off the top of his deck, at times), Becker had figured out he would never win if that Sergeant traveled the bin. Just as his opponent overvauled a draw with a sideboard card in the hand, Becker went with the best plan to pull out the game...

It was enough.

Little plays by our friends, especially where they diverge from what we would choose ourselves, are often the things that teach us to play better. With this match, there was nothing on the line. Becker's opponent was eliminated from contention, and my friend himself didn't quite make it through the next five rounds without a loss. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity for excellent play, and for that reason had a lasting impact for me.


9. Jonathan Finkel (Napster) vs. Chris Benafel (Ponza Rotta Red)

You could make an argument for their U.S. Nationals Finals match, which had more on the line and certainly involved more yelling and cheering (including that famous Buehler/Hacker moment "Why is he cycling that Rapid Decay!?!") and Benafel's plea "You could at least make it look close...", but for my money, it was their clash in the Swiss rounds that the more fun to watch.

You see Napster was the perfect deck for Jonathan Magic at that point; it had the most raw power of any deck in the format (at least until Tinker's appearance at Worlds), and was full of complex decisions... The deck was particularly rewarding to the king of decision-makers and eventual champion. This game, on the other hand, showcased the awesome power of the unlikely draw, and saw the eventual champion on auto-pilot.

Jon opened up with...

Dark Ritual,
Dark Ritual,
Dark Ritual,
Skittering Horror!

... And his second turn play was Rishadan Port!

Benafel had been Mind Twisted, mana stunted, and was facing down a 4/3 before his first play! Quite understandably, he complained about Finkel's "you had to have exactly those cards" luck... but aloofly characteristic of Jon, he responded with "Well, if I had drawn one fewer Ritual, I would have just Persecuted you on the second turn."


First, a little preamble to the next match... Future teammate John Shuler and I shared the bottom rung of Day 2 of Bob Maher's Chicago and ended up playing for not-last place. If you know either of us, you might by now suspect that the fireworks did not take long to hit, and that the primary lament was from Mark Rosewater, who would have made it a Feature Match but for our dismal positions in the tournament at that point. This match featured my conceding, John conceding in response, both of us being informed that neither of us would be allowed to concede, and my sideboarding out Simian Grunts (yes, sadly, Simian Grunts) simply so that John would not have the pleasure of finding them with Lobotomy. So loud and disruptive and quite fun was this match (yes, I won), that it earned a rowdy complaint from, it would ironically turn out (and I do mean ironically), John's next-round opponent, leading up to...

8. J. Gary Wise (Suicide Brown) vs. John Shuler (Necro-Tinker)

In the words of Gary himself:

"My match up with John Shuler was hardly a 'great battle'. When I sat down to play John, I'd never actually spoken with him and have to admit I didn't know too much about him, so what I got was a total shocker. John has as much personality as anyone on Tour, and he brought it to that particular table with as much vengeance as I've seen anyone do.

"Before the first game, John informed me that he would concede to me if we ever got to the point where he might achieve victory. I kind of half-smiled, worrying that he might be playing some kind of mind game and didn't accept his word at face value. Game one, he absolutely crippled me, with some combination of Dark Ritual, Mana Vault, Smokestack and Processor coming out of his hand on the first couple of turns. Game two was much of the same, with John doing something obscene involving a very fast 19 point Processor and the mana to make a token.

"Now, when he gets down the Processor, he calls over Mike Feuell and asks him to go to the side events area and get a Pikachu card to represent his 19/19 guy, and he refuses to continue until Mike gets back. I'm getting worried about time issues because this could be a stall, but Nat Fairbanks is watching the whole thing and is making sure everything's copasetic.

"I ask John, who is again telling me about the impending concession, about why he's conceding, and he explains that Matt Vienneau cheesed him out in their match, offending him so much that he wanted to lose as much as possible in order to hurt Matt's tiebreakers. Now, I've had my battles with Matt, who I like a lot around 80% of the time and despise the other 20%, but even I have never found myself disgusted enough with him to throw a Pro Tour, so I'm sitting there wondering what kind of a psycho I'm playing against when Feuell gets back and presents the Pikachu card. Shuler inspects the card and informs Mike that it's the wrong Pikachu, that he wants the common variety and sends this level iii judge scurrying back to the play area, and we sit there chatting, with our match frozen in time. Five more minutes pass (this is round 14 and we're both out of the money) and Feuell gets back and informs John he needs to get the card back to its owner, and Shuler goes off, talking about how he'll need to keep the cards and what the hell was Mike thinking. Rather than continuing to weather the storm, Feuell sheepishly heads back to side events, showing up another five minutes down the line, and Shuler is finally appeased. He grabs a marker, signs the Pikachu, marks its power and toughness on the card and puts it into play. Two turns later, as I'm about to die with damage on the stack, John finally extends his hand, conceding, and gives me the card. I think he lost his last five matches in a row on purpose or something. With the time stops, the insane draws, the continued yelling between Shuler and Mike Flores, the smirking judges surrounding the table, the end-of-PT fatigue and the anti-Vienneau venom, it was definitely one of the strangest moments of my career. Matt finished 32nd, and John and I now do a dinner each year. Good times."


7. altran (TDC Black) vs. Scott Seville (3-color Green)

In the Top 8 of a PTQ for Dave Price's LA, then-Demonic Attorney Scott Seville, famous for his Top 8 performance at Grand Prix-Kansas City, squared off with the amazing altran, famous for, well, this match. The TDC Black deck would end up being immortalized in Beth Moursund's Deck Deconstrution Companion, albeit misattributed to some Albert TranS rather than altran proper.

The setup, from altran's tournament report:

"The third game was one to remember... I knock him down to 15 when he establishes total control. This is what he has on the table... two Serrated Arrows, a Stormbind, two Land Taxes, a Mana Bird, a Priest, and an Aura of Silence. I have... Swamps.

"I'm hoping to bleed some Arrow tokens, so I play a Barrow Ghoul, hoping to be able to later cast the 25 knights I had in my hand. I had only one creature in the graveyard, so theoretically, the Ghoul can only get one hit in. So I sac that one creature, and send in the Ghoul. Scott makes the smart play of not doing anything to the Ghoul, and takes 4 on the chin, bringing him down to 11. My Barrow Ghoul will die the next turn, so I cast a Knight of Stromgald, hoping Scott will kill it. Duh, he doesn't. He Armageddons or something, and I Contagion his [Soltari Priest] and my Knight. Beatings. He takes a final hit from the Ghoul leaving him at 7. Okay. What the hell am I gonna do with two Arrows, a Stormbind, two Land Taxes, and Aura of Silence, and a Centaur (which he eventually puts down) on the table?"

Now at this point, certain undesirables ruin the spectacle for everyone. Cheering, hooting, and hollering forces Head Judge Tony Parodi to throw out everyone not actually playing in the Top 8. I am approached by fellow Top 8er by Alex Shvartsman.

"Your friend made a good run, but he's going to lose this one."

"I think he's going to apply Choking Sands to a dual land, and then follow up with one of the most famous plays in PTQ history. Calling out 'Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!', altran will cast Demonic Consultation for his one Kaervek's Spite and then Spite the face."

"How many Spites?"

"One, of course."

"Bah," said Alex, and left.

The only thing I didn't anticipate, was that Seville went on to tap one mana, show Swords to Plowshares... and frown at his board of one (0 power) Birds of Paradise and one (untargetable) Jolrael's Centaur.

Before 1998, Consulting for singletons was unheard of; altran has been autographing the black instant ever since.


6. Zvi Mowshowitz (ID19) vs. Steve McArthur (White Lightning)

It was the summer of 1999. It was the weekend of U.S. Nationals. Wild things were happening with the new Classic rules... the stack made Delusions of Mediocrity not just a powerful combination component, but an opportunity for an opponent with a Disenchant to play 10-point Lightning Bolt. The aptly named White Lightning deck, behind the power of a pre-errata Waylay, could play three 2/2 creatures at the end of the opponent's turn and swing for six like Ball Lightning, super-charging the white weenie deck.

Zvi Mowshowitz was hot in the summer of 1999, coming off of a Top 8 loss to Casey McCarrel at PT-NY and a Top 8 performance at GP-DC. He had declared the power of Yawgmoth's Bargain and was playing for a spot on the U.S. National Team with young Steve McArthur, a Texan who idolized Bill Macey and was even playing his signature archetype.

Zvi had been 10-point Bolted. He had Parised into a no-land 5-card hand against a deck full of Disenchants. His back was firmly against the wall.

He was down 0-2, then 1-2, then had somehow battled to 2-2.

He had turned a two-game deficit into a one game ante match... If only Zvi could take game 5, his spot on the U.S. National Team would be assured.

It was now McArthur's turn to Paris to 5. That's all right, thought Steve, I have a pair of Soul Wardens in my hand. These are trouble for the Blaze-killing Bargain combination deck.

I guess they're a problem unless the opponent opens with...

Dark Ritual,
Grim Monolith,
Voltaic Key,

"Go ahead and gain 1," retorted Zvi, knowing that a double-mulligan victim would not likely be able to answer a turn-1 Gasticore.

McArthur played a Japanese Soul Warden to match his English one and passed the turn.

A turn later, and firmly in control of the game behind Grim Monolith/Voltaic Key, Zvi poked the Japanese Soul Warden with his Masticore. McArthur moved the English one into his graveyard, when Zvi corrected him.

A blank look from the hapless McArthur earned possibly the best trash talk response in the history of Magic:

"That's all right Steve. You can keep the Japanese chick... BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT GOING TO TOKYO."

The rest, as they say, is another Worlds win for Team U.S.A.


5. Brian Kibler (Burned Alive) vs. Jon Finkel (Counterpost)

If you are one Jonathan Magic, basically no one can defeat you on a consistent basis. To this day, after a year of Kai Budde dominance on the Pro Tour, you still have the best win percentage of anyone to play serious Magic. Unless your opponent is heavily armored there is nothing that can stop your blistering offense... but oddly enough, the proper set of armor for Protection from Jonathan Magic appears to be a pair of Tevas and a tie-dyed shirt.

Oh there are legends of the clashes between Dragonmaster and Shadowmage Infiltrator. There are those that would claim that against Finkel's Capsize.dec, Kibler once played a third-turn Rathi Dragon, sacrificing all his lands but one, and scored from twenty. Some would claim, with the tables turned, it was Finkel who, with monogreen, went all-out with a Narcissism alpha-strike, but was robbed of the kill by a timely Aether Burst from Kibler, in this version inexplicably cast as the blue mage. And there is Anthony Alongi who once wrote "For all of this reporter's expectations of writing for his first Pro Tour, he never imagined that he would be able to write the sentence, 'Brian Kibler came over with an Armadillo Cloaked Rith to smack Jon Finkel and force him to concede.'"

And while all those stories are true, there was one match that started them all.

"On July 4th weekend 1997, Justin Gary was an unknown who had somehow stolen the U.S. National Championship and Bob Maher was some little kid. Jon Finkel, coming off of a U.S. Open win, was on his way to having the best Magic weekend since Dennis Bentley won the U.S. Nationals crown a year earlier. Kibler had yet to have his moment in the spotlight, with his Grand Prix-Toronto (or Pro Tour-Canada, as the pundits call it) win still a month in the making, but he, too, had won a grinder - the very last one - to qualify for Nationals. Finkel was armed with his then-trademark Counterpost deck, Kibler with multicolor Burned Alive he'd designed in concert with fellow deckbuilding guru Brian Schneider. Finkel's Counterpost deck was armed to the teeth against traditional Buried Alive decks, complete with Swords to Plowshares, Serrated Arrows, and Circle of Protection: Black waiting in the sideboard. Kibler's deck, however, as has since become something of his trademark, was hardly traditional.

"The deciding game three was a fast and furious one, with Kibler's Knight of Stromgald followed quickly by Buried Alive for a trio of Ashen Ghouls, while Finkel cantrip'd through his deck and put land into play with the mighty Thawing Glaciers. On Finkel's fifth turn he tapped out to drop a Serrated Arrows, all but stopping the future Dragonmaster's undead army in its tracks, and played out his Thawing Glaciers to continue digging for land. Kibler would have none of it, however, and after sending in his Knight unscathed, couldn't help but crack a smile when he played his sideboard bomb.


Losing to Kibler has over the years become common practice for Jonathan, but this match was worth it just to see the jaw of the best player in the world hit the table. Just. Like. So.


4. Steve OMS (Monoblack) vs. Mike Long (B-g)

Even if you didn't know that Steve OMS is a popular guy on the Pro Tour, you would probably be able to infer that for yourself if you watched the Top 8 draft of 1999 PT-LA. Urza's Saga was a Limited set "blacker than Torment" according to some, but Steve OMS's monoblack deck was protected by what has been understated as "friendly drafting". With Deadguy friends Worth Wollpert and Jon Finkel dedicating themselves to g-r and u-w, Steve had free reign to pick up nothing but Befouls and Corrupts. History tells us that Steve and his perfect black deck prevailed over Jon Finkel in the finals, but along the way, his most impressive match was against Mike Long.

Mike had drafted some powerful black and green cards. In addition to the undisputed best color of Urza's Saga, Long had added some of green's fastest and most efficient creatures. Oddly, though, Mike left two copies of Befoul in his sideboard, starting off-color cycling cards instead of them... As flexible as Befoul normally was as a removal card, in order to get past his quarterfinals opponent, Long could not afford to have overcosted Stone Rains in his main deck.

Steve's deck performed brilliantly in the first two games, but Mike battled back in game three, allowing Steve to start in game four... and what a game four it was.

Steve played a swamp and passed the turn.

Mike played a forest, and threatened with a Pouncing Jaguar. The Jaguar, a 2/2 for only Green Mana, would be a devastating clock against Steve's powerful - but slow - black deck... if only it would stay in play.

Just as Mike played that Jaguar, I remember the thought passing through my head I wonder if Steve plays Dark Ritual...

My question was answered on OMS's second turn, as he played Dark Ritual, and cast the 4 mana Befoul on Mike's only land. Not only was his forest gone, but Mike would not be able to pay echo on the Pouncing Jaguar... he was down to no permanents! A couple of turns later, Mike had a forest once again, and played Acridian, another undercosted echo creature - a 2/4 for 1 ManaGreen Mana. Once again, Steve had the Befoul for Mike's only green source!

The next several turns... Steve's Duress on Mike's Corrupt, his taking complete control of the board with Pestilence and Hollow Dogs, simply formalized a game that was won in the first four turns. It is rare that you see that kind of domination in a Limited game.

Then again, it's pretty rare to see a draft deck nearly as good as Mr. OMS's.


3. Bob Maher, Jr. (Maher Oath) vs. Brian Davis (Free Spell Necro)

In the days before the discovery of Trix, PT-Chicago's Extended Top 8 was made up of eight great, eight different, decks. On one side of the finals, an unknown teenager from Memphis, TN had beaten Britain's "deck of the tournament", the Skull Catapult, and followed up by taking down France's five-color green. On the other side of the finals table, a hometown favorite had piloted a deck that would eventually be named for him past the previous year's Chicago champion in a pseudo-mirror match, and kept strong against Christian Luhrs's aggressive Sliver deck.

The age old battle would be fought once again in Chicago's finals, in what would briefly be called the greatest of Constructed formats. On one side, the rookie, wielding the power of death; on the other, the has-been - but born again - with Oath of Druids at his command. It was Davis vs. Maher. It was the most dramatic Pro Tour finals of all time.

Game 1 looked to be all Davis. He opened with the best possible hand for Necropotence, including swamp, Dark Ritual, Duress, Unmask, and of course The Skull itself. Especially going first, he was almost guaranteed to destroy Bob's hand and force The Best Drawing Engine in the History of Magic into play.

Though Davis claimed "good game" with his opening turn, Bob stuck it out, even as everything from Swords to Plowshares to Morphling was ripped out of his hand. It was a missed land drop for Davis on turn five - almost unheard of with Necropotence in play -- that gave Maher his opening. Counterspells and library manipulation kept Brian's eventual Drain Life attempts largely unresolved... though he was drawing a ton of cards, the rookie's life total was dwindling thanks to The Skull.

And then the crowd roared.

Maher had drawn Ivory Mask. Davis's Skittering Skirges were a non-issue against the Oath of Druids deck. As long as Brian couldn't actually target Bob, how the home town boy chose to win was just a formality... he already had.

With Game 2, momentum was firmly with the home town favorite. Davis declared a mulligan, got off to a slow start, and ended up facing a Maher Compost despite a Duress on his Enlightened Tutor. After a late-game play error by the rookie, the title seemed all but in Maher's hands...

But the next game changed all that.

Game 3 was all Davis. Another perfect opening hand saw him with turn-1 Necropotence, an opponent totally stripped of resources, and a fresh seven for turn two. Davis lost a pair of Nevinyrral's Disks to Maher's Counterspells, but the Oath player could not stop the flurry of Corrupts and Drain Lifes from young Davis. It is rare to see Morphling hit play and have no effect on the game, but all the Shapeshifter could do was look left and right as his master got tagged by Davis's kill cards.

Game 4 was as odd as Game 1. This time Davis didn't get turn-1 Necropotence. In fact, he didn't get much of anything. One Unmask hit, another was countered. When Davis finally found a Demonic Consultation for Necropotence, Maher of course had the Counterspell. With Davis's draw so poor, it looked like Bob was in complete control. Nevertheless, even while getting slugged by Bob's Treetop Village, Brian played for the win with his vastly suboptimal draw. Making a desperation Drain Life, Davis was rewarded with a topdecked Dark Ritual the next turn, emptying Maher's life total with his other card... another Drain Life.

Game 5 had, perhaps, the most lopsided opening in history.

On one side, Maher declared a mulligan (going first).

On the other side, Davis had, once again, the best possible hand to start. Leading with an Unmask that took Compost, Davis had yet another turn-1 Necropotence!

Maher stalled on land.

Davis drew two Wastelands.

Maher had no land.

But something happened. Despite Davis's perfect opening, despite his opponent's bad luck, The Skull refused to give the rookie any swamps. Though Maher had been himself stuck without permanents, he had a window that turned into a floodgate.

Persecute? Counterspell.
Drain Life? Force of Will.
Drain Life? Disrupt!

Maher's miracle comeback was complete when Davis, now at one life due to a fickle Necropotence, sent his last Corrupt at the eventual champion... unsuccessfully.

Once again, the crowd roared. The local boy turned Pro Tour Champion, the has-been went on to become the Player of the Year. In one of the few true Kodak Moments of professional Magic, the victor caught his then-girlfriend in mid-air.

Yep, he got the girl, too.


2. Brian Hacker (Free Spell Necro) vs. Jay Elarar (Pooh Burn)

Though it may seem anticlimactic in the face of the previous two matches, both the final battle and this gem from Round Seven of GP-Seattle stick in my mind as some of the most brilliant, eccentric, and eye-opening Magic matches I've ever witnessed.

Elarar, who would eventually make Top 8 in this Grand Prix, brought Seth Burn's Chicago deck, Pooh Burn, to Seattle, while Hacker played a "free spell" Necropotence deck similar to the one played by Brian Davis in our previous battle. Game 1 saw Hacker almost recklessly spend his hand on Elarar's creatures, and then Consult for a Dark Ritual with only 2 land and 3 cards in hand. Rather than playing The Skull, California's innovator of beatdown put into play a hand-depleting Masticore! Banking on the theory that Elarar's small creatures and burn would not be able to hang with the 4/4 regenerating monster, despite the fact that it would prevent any future development on the part of Hacker (locking him firmly under his own 'Core), his gambit was rewarded by a win that only Seth himself (later a fan of throwing away all possible resources to win close games with Blue Skies) could appreciate.

Jay came back for Game 2, taking the win with the rather humdrum Sligh draw of Ball Lightning and burn.

It was Game Three that showed off Hacker's magic. In a move that would have infuriated Erik Lauer, Hacker sided out half his Necropotences against the burn deck. Jay had shown him something in game one... so Hacker meant once again to win with the Masticore plan. Using his acceleration and manipulation to get a quick 'Core once again in play, Hacker wiped up Jay's board and had him on a clock. Hacker had figured out that Elarar didn't know that he could Incinerate the Masticore to death - the then-young Classic rules seemed to imply that Hacker could respond with a successful regeneration - so it was not likely that Elarar would even try to burn away the Masticore unless he had no other possible play; at that point, under next-to-no board pressure, the San Diego native would almost certainly have 2 mana open. Under Hacker's clock, Elarar drew a sideboard bomb - Spellshock - but unfortunately ended up locking himself under it, unable to Fireblast out his opponent without first killing himself!

Jay of course came back to earn a number of great finishes, not the least of which were a PT Top 8, Masters Finals, and JSS Championship... yet this match is a perfect example of how one of the greatest players of all time could play against his opponent - even a fine opponent - and not just his deck archetype. Hacker knew that Jay was too good a strategist to let him feed Necropotence with his Spinning Darknesses, so he simply had to play into the one opening his opponent did give him. Ironically, Jay lost in the GP-Seattle Top 8 to an almost identical inability to Incinerate a Masticore... at the hands of Dave Price's very different monoblack Hatred deck!


1. Steve OMS (Napster) vs. David Humpherys (Replenish)

It may have not seemed like much; both of these great Pro Tour Champions was now just one match out of Top 8 contention at the 2000 U.S. Nationals. In the last round of Swiss, just one year before that vaunted expansion of prize money, with nothing on the line but some DCI points that would be ultimately meaningless for combatants of such standing, these players clashed for nothing but pride... and the opportunity to show off a perfect game.

Steve knew that Dave was running Replenish. Going first, his hand was absolutely perfect... A couple of lands, a Dark Ritual, a Phyrexian Negator, a Stromgald Cabal, and that most miserly of mulligans, the Vampiric Tutor itself, stared back at the boy from Brooklyn.

Think back at what you would have done with a grip like this.

Testing showed that in order to beat a Stromgald Cabal, Replenish needed either to ramp up to eight mana under absolutely no pressure or to have a Ring of Gix in play. Steve knew that if YMG had Ring of Gix at all, it wouldn't have been in the main deck. My first instinct as a spectator and Silver Bullet player was "swamp, Ritual, win!"

And then Steve showed me the right play.

Instead of turn-1 Stromgald Cabal, Steve went for turn-1 Phyrexian Negator. After the Hump passed his first turn, Steve untapped, cast Vampiric Tutor on his upkeep for a second Dark Ritual, and ensured the win by playing Stromgald Cabal on turn 2. Watching this game, it was painfully obvious how vastly superior Steve's play was to the one I would have made. Of all the people to whom I have ever told this story, the only ones who came up with the complete, correct, answer to that opening hand were Pro Tour champions Finkel and Mowshowitz.

Of all the people to whom I have ever told this story, the only ones who came up with the complete, correct, answer to that opening hand were Pro Tour champions Finkel and Mowshowitz.

Zvi once explained to me that the problem with perfect play is that, especially with an overpowered-yet-decision-heavy deck like Napster or Turbo-Land, you will have ten possible plays, nine of which are wrong, but seven of which win the game. Making a play like mine would have in all likelihood won the game at some point, but would not have promoted correct play... In fact, a win in the face of an error rewards being bad. Go figure.

For his part, Jonathan Magic said "Mike, if you keep testing with me and Steve, that will be the only play you see!"

Delighted at this prospect, I was prepared to become a technically proficient Magician. Of course history tells us that immediately after this brilliant Championship-over-Championship summer for The Machine, despite a subsequent pair of back-to-back PT Top 8s, Jonathan Magic decided to completely eschew Pro Tour preparation...

... And I remain exactly as bad as I ever was.

I hope you liked this little departure as much as I liked remembering the memorable moments that made it up!

Mike has been a leading voice in the game's strategy for as long as there has been a Magic Internet. He is the former editor of The Magic Dojo and a sometime Pro player. Michael J. Flores: Deckade, is a compilation of Mike's first ten years of strategy and theory (i.e. before he joined, and is available at

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