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Magic Invitational Tournament Report

Mark Rosewater

Magic Invitational 2000 Trivia Test

All of the following questions are answered in the tournament report below:

  1. Why am I going to miss my first Pro Tour ever?
  2. What player originally turned down his invitation?
  3. What player was most vocally shocked by his invitation?
  4. Who does Chris Pikula call his "favorite player"?
  5. What Invitational player had a passport that expired two days before the tournament ended?
  6. What do I think is the best game for the Super Nintendo System?
  7. What two Invitational players lost their luggage?
  8. What two "Malaysian pastimes" did Wise, O'Mahoney Schwartz, Budde and Baberowksi enjoy during the few days they arrived early?
  9. Which of the following was not a dinner option at the Invitational: KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut or Wendy's?
  10. What Invitational participant was consistently offered porn at the Night Market in Kuala Lumpur?
  11. What activity has a "mandatory death sentence" in Malaysia?
  12. Who was left behind during the tour of Kuala Lumpur?
  13. Which Invitational player bowled the best game of the week? And the worst?
  14. Who was a member of intramural teams with the names "Friends and Fun" and "Backside Attack"?
  15. Who was generally agreed as being the best basketball players of the Invitational players?
  16. What formerly weak card proved to be the environment definer in Duplicate Limited? Who was the only one to play it in the playtest?
  17. What player commented to Long during their match: "I've been practicing my shuffling technique"?
  18. What was the only constructed block played in the Block Party format that didn't have a deck go 3-0?
  19. How long did four rounds of play on the second day take?
  20. What Invitational player is 0-7 lifetime in Solomon Draft?
  21. Who did Pikula promise to fly to the next Invitational in exchange for decks?
  22. Where did Humpherys and Kastle keep their constructed decks?
  23. Which Invitationals had their finals held in a mall?
  24. According to World Champ Kai Budde, what should a top player look for in a signature card?
  25. Which of the following were not part of the opening ceremony: five giant wind socks with the letters "M" "A" "G" "I" and "C" on them, dramatic music as a poster of the event was raised through smoke, five dancers each dressed in a color of Magic or a rain of confetti.
  26. What did Chris Pikula refer to as "the impossible dream"?
  27. What Invitational player bought the most stuff at the Night Market?
  28. Who did Pikula ask to not watch him draft in the finals?
  29. Why kind of food did the players refuse to eat for the final dinner?
  30. What Invitational player should you stay far away from when going through U.S. Customs?

I have managed to attend every Pro Tour since its inception (a streak that will end in New York due to the upcoming birth of my first child), every World Championship, every U.S. Nationals, and numerous Grand Prix. Yet in all that time, I have never written a single tournament report. Okay, okay, I didn't actually play in any of the aforementioned events (except '94 U.S. Nationals and '94 Worlds), but I never wrote my account of what happened. As I'm requiring each of the sixteen Invitational players to turn in a tournament report, I felt it only fair that I submit my own version of what expired in Kuala Lumpur. Warning: This is a long report. Entertaining I hope, but long.

The Envelope Please

My tournament report actually starts many months before our trip to Malaysia. It begins at Pro Tour Washington D.C. One of the most enjoyable parts of running the Invitational is getting to hand out the invitations at the first Pro Tour of the year. Because the Invitational is a special event (and because we only have sixteen players), we actually make sixteen engraved invitations which are handed out to the invitees. Many of the invited players already know they're invited, but a few (mostly those invited on one of the two ballots) have learned to check in and see if I have an envelope for them.

The invitation handing out went well with several players, Gary Wise being the most vocal, quite surprised by their inclusion. One by one the players verbally RSVPed for the event. By Sunday night I had fifteen replies of "yes". The sixteenth player pulled me aside that night to let me know that they didn't think they could make it. While they wanted to attend, they just didn't believe they would be able to get the time off of work to attend the week long event. The player's name was Chris Pikula.

In and Out

Pikula hadn't exactly given me a "no". He asked how long he could stretch having to make a decision to allow him additional time to figure out how to make it work. I told him that we needed to book the airline tickets in the beginning of December. While I waited for Pikula to give a definitive answer, several other players bowed out for various reasons.

Randy Buehler got hired by R&D and thus was no longer eligible to play (although we did take him along to Kuala Lumpur to cover the event). Buehler out, Brain Hacker in. Next Svend Geertsen chose to bail on the event due to a three month vacation in South America. We offered to fly him from South America, but Svend had no idea where he would be in the first week of March to fly out of. Geertsen out, Nicolai Herzog in. Then Casey McCarrel got a six month suspension from the DCI. Although the event is not sanctioned, it is still a premiere event and requires players to be in good standing with the DCI to attend. McCarrel out, Pat Chapin in. Finally, Tommi Hovi bowed out due to school obligations. Hovi out, Dave Humpherys in. This final change would have perhaps the biggest effect on the outcome of this year's event.

December rolled around and Pikula finally committed to coming to the event. From what I understand, Pikula acceptance was a combination of badgering on the part of Price and Finkel, some new vacation time at work, and the news that his "favorite player" Dave Humpherys has been invited to the event.

Not So Fast

The tickets were booked for all sixteen players. I began working on the limited formats. Everything seemed wonderful. And then, I get a call from, of course, Chris Pikula. Pikula informed me that he was potentially up for a job promotion. If he got the promotion, which he assured me was far from a done deal, he would have to attend a weeks-long class which might or might not have conflicted with the Invitational. If the class conflicted, he would be unable to attend. Not wanting to drop out at the last minute, Pikula called to warn me. I asked Pikula what the chances were that he would get the promotion, have to take the class, and have the class start the week of the Invitational. Very low, he replied. But he stressed that he would understand if I wanted to replace him since he could not guarantee that he could attend. The tickets had a week's grace period, so if we wanted we were able to cancel Pikula's ticket and call his replacement, Erik Lauer.

In the end, we decided that it was worth the risk to book Pikula's ticket. We understood that we might have to book a ticket for Lauer at the last second, but we felt that the odds were high that Pikula would attend the event.

When I ran into Pikula in the airport (most of the American players and staff flew over on the same plane), I commented that it wasn't until that moment that I was sure he was going to participate in the event. It was also at this point that I learned that Pat Chapin had a small problem with his passport. Although everything was fine for his departure, his passport expired two days before he was scheduled to return. Chapin's plan was to get to Malaysia and then wing it on the return. As we would later see, not the brightest of ideas.

From Here to Eternity

For those that have never flown to Asia, let alone the middle of Asia, let me say bluntly that it's a long flight. All said and done, it takes about 24 hours to travel from Seattle to Kuala Lumpur. And then on top of it, you lose a day going. So, I left Seattle at 6:30 pm on Sunday and arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 12:15 pm on Tuesday.

Luckily, we had a great plane over with individual monitors in the seats. This allowed us to watch a variety of different movies as well as play numerous video games. All the video games were from the Super Nintendo system. I blew a good five to six hours playing the best game on the system, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

One change to the tournament this year was that I required the players to turn in their winning card before the tournament began. As such, I was visited frequently on the plane by players who wanted to test out their latest card idea on me. Pikula alone approached me with ten to fifteen different card ideas.

Looks Like We Made It

After an hour lay-over in Taipei (where they made us get off the plane and surprise, surprise the players started playing Magic) and another six hour flight, we finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Chapin was concerned that he would be unable to get into the country, but since deducing the problem required noticing the expiration date, understanding how long Chapin was scheduled to be in the country, and doing actual math, he got into the country without a fuss. That is, until he went to find his luggage. Upon arriving, Chapin learned that his bag was sitting in the Los Angeles Airport. (The count of lost luggage would climb to two when Jakub Slemr lost his luggage en route from Amsterdam.)

Laura Waniuk (formerly Laura Carroll, the player coordinator for the Pro Tour), in charge of coordinating the site for the Invitational and Grand Prix, arranged for a series of taxis to pick us up at the airport. Although I was scheduled to ride with Buehler, I ended up in a taxi with Dave Price who was scheduled to ride with Chapin (both Buehler and Chapin are delayed at the luggage pick-up).

After an hour ride, we finally arrived at the hotel. The hotel was everything the pictures off the web promised. And it was air-conditioned, a big plus due to the very muggy weather. In fact, one of the on-going jokes about the Invitational is that I always demand an air-conditioned room ever since the Rio Invitational. The tempature in Rio was over 100 degrees Farenheit and the Invitational somehow lucked into the only air-conditioned room in the whole site. The Grand Prix (as champions Finkel and O'Mahoney Schwartz can attest) was blisteringly hot. Charlie Catino, the head judge of the event, used to visit the Invitational room once every hour to "check up on how the Invitational was going".

I was rooming with Skaff Elias (the creator of the Pro Tour). Unfortunately, our room wasn't ready yet so we crashed at Brian Hacker's room until our room was ready. There we learned about the escapades of the Invitational members who had arrived early (Gary Wise, Steven O'Mahoney Schwartz, Kai Budde, and Dirk Baberowski). Other than a jaunt to a local store, it seems the quartet had hung around the hotel taking up two Malaysian pastimes: bowling and receiving massages. They stressed that the massages were actual massages and not "massages". Chapin then showed up and informed us of his missing luggage.

I Love It When an Invitational Comes Together

After getting into our room, Skaff and I and several of the players took a trip to the next door mall. This was where we would be playing on Saturday and Sunday and where the Grand Prix would be held. The most interesting thing I've learned travelling around the world on Magic's dime is learning what kind of influence the U.S. has had on the world. We were half way around the globe and I still could chose to eat dinner at McDonald's, KFC, or Pizza Hut with desert at Dunkin' Donuts, TCBY, or Baskin Robbins.

Skaff was on a quest to find sneakers and a basketball as he realized this trip would be the ideal time to set up daily basketball games. Although almost foiled by his big feet and the difficulty of finding a basketball in Malaysia, Skaff got his shoes and a ball. After a little scouting, Skaff also found not one but two different basketball courts.

Meanwhile, I was making last minute checks that everything was set up for the Invitational. All the players had arrived, except Mike Long and Koichiro Maki, but both were expected to arrive later that night. I also picked up my cel phone from Laura. As my wife was five weeks from her due date, I wanted to reachable anytime day or night. (As expected, my wife avoided giving birth for the whole trip and now I'm back in Seattle waiting for the special day.)

That evening we had the player meeting where I ran through the week's events and handed out the Invitational polo shirts. The players were given one more day to finalize their card ideas. The original plan after the meeting was to go out to dinner, but I get dragged along on an excursion to the Night Market.

Everything Has a Price

Often when I visit foreign cities for a Magic event, I try to take time to see some of the local flavor. The Night Market was definitely a chance to get a sense of Kuala Lumpur's identity. As I wandered the aisles of the market, I learned two things. First, you could bargain for anything. A "Gucci" watch for my wife started at 480 Ringits (about $120) and ended at 20 ($5). Second, I learned that for some reason I attracted numerous offers of porn. I'm not sure what about me inspired the zest of the salesmen (I should stress that porn, like drugs, is illegal in Malaysia, although drug smuggling came with a "mandatory death sentence"), but I could not walk more than fifty feet without an offer. The players found this quite funny and it was to be the source of many jokes during the weekend.

After our night out, I ended up having dinner with Pikula, Price and Humpherys at Pizza Hut. I listened as they talked about what decks they expected to play during the week. As all the players were aware, Humpherys and Kastle had done more preparation for the event than any of the other players.

See the World (Then Eat)

Wednesday was Tour Day. This is an opportunity for the players and staff to play tourist while also providing many good photo-ops of all the players. The tour has become one of my favorite parts of the Invitational. I have many pleasant memories of discussing Magic while visiting beautiful sites around the world. Not too much of excitement happened during the tour although the bus did manage to go two blocks before the group realized we had left Wise behind.

After the tour, everyone had the afternoon off. I had planned to go to the waterpark, but a heavy rainstorm forced me to bowl instead. As I'm sure will come to light in many of the tournament reports, bowling figures heavily into the event. With a bowling alley in the mall next door and games just sixty cents a piece, the players and staff found themselves doing a lot of bowling. The high of the week was 216 bowled by Wise (with Humpherys close behind with 211) and the low was something under 50 bowled by Finkel.

That night the players were treated to a dinner on Wizards of the Coast. The highlight of the dinner was the group picking on Finkel for the questionable names of some of the intramural teams he had played on ("Friends and Fun" and "Backside Attack"). The dinner was also the time where the players turned in their card ideas. All of them were posted on the sideboard and there are many interesting ideas among them.

The Fun Begins

One of the nice parts of the Invitational is the little extras we are able to attach to the event. The first day was held in the hotel, and as such, we were able to offer the players breakfast before the first round, lunch after the second round, and snacks after the fourth. Several of the players had gotten up early as they were recruited by Skaff to play in his daily 7:00 am basketball game. Skaff pointed out that the participants in the basketball game (Finkel, Pikula, Long, Baberowksi) did better on average than those who did not play. For those interested, it was the combined feeling that the strongest basketball player of the Invitational invitees was Finkel. Best at basketball, worst at bowling. I guess that's fair.

The first event of the tournament was three rounds of Duplicate Limited. This and Standard are the only two formats to have been played at every Invitational. The point of Duplicate Limited is to test the players ability to gauge a new environment. To make this test a little more difficult, I both changed the power level and added a few new cards. The fact that all the players are on equal footing and can use this knowledge in building their deck, makes this a very skill-intensive format. I do plan in future years of setting some restrictions to keep players from sideboarding into completely different decks.

Each year at the Invitational, I try to throw something different at the players. In Hong Kong, I gave them very low level cards (half the field played Mishra's War machine). In Rio, a very high level. In Barcelona, a very middle-of-the-road level. Of them all, I had enjoyed Hong Kong's card mix the most. With three more years of bad cards at my disposal it seemed like a perfect opportunity.

The key to a good Duplicate Limited card mix is to give the players a lot of deck construction choices. Since the power level was so low, I chose to give them access to powerful card combinations. Cards such as Conspiracy, Donate, and Opalescence combined with numerous other cards for some interesting kills.

In addition, I threaded a few themes through the card set. First, with Conspiracy and many of the new cards revolving around creature types, I had a strong creature type theme. Next I put in Rolling Stones and a wall in each color (except white, of course) to add a wall flavor. Finally with cards like Opalescence and the new card Share My Pain, enchantments played a key role. Also, I chose not to include artifacts as I found they were problematic in previous years' card mixes.

I was also allowed once again to make some original cards for the event. This was particularly hard this year for two reasons. First, as in previous years, I was not allowed to get too clever with my cards. Whenever I come up with a neat new idea, I'm asked to remove it and save it for a future expansion. Not only did the cards have to be "not too interesting" but I had to make them at a very low power level. I tried hard to come up cards that required careful thought as to how to use them best.

My favorite was Undercover Disguise that allowed players to change a card's creature type. Although many players figured out that it could be used to turn creatures into walls, no one figured out my favorite use. If a player found himself facing off his creature against its opposite (not hard to do in Duplicate Limited), they could cast Undercover Disguise on their opponent's creature making it a legend. The creature now legendary would look around, see another card in play with the same name and destroy itself. I ran the rules by the rules team to make sure I was ruling it correctly. But unfortunately it never came up as no player thought to try it.

Once I had my first card mix put together, I had a playtest which included myself, Buehler, Jeff Donais, and several other people from Organized Play. Our playtest showed that black was overplayed and white and blue were underplayed. In a fine Invitational tradition we overcompensated and made black too weak and white and blue a little too strong. In addition, we underestimated the power of green. At the event, green was the most played color (used by 12 players) with black the least played (used by 3 players).

The overpowered card that ended up defining the environment was Dracoplasm. Ironically, I was the only one who played it in the practice test. I assumed I was overvaluing it because no one else played the card.

The only scene of interest the first day was a match between Dave Price and Mike Long. As many know, there is no love lost between the two. (Price while shuffling: "I've been practicing my shuffling technique.")During one game, Price realized that he was a card behind in card count. I was called over and we retraced what has happened. Long, who had been trying his hardest to be on best behavior, was a bit upset as he felt he was being accused. In the end, Price realized that it was he who had made the mistake (by forgetting a draw) and the match continued.

A Chip Off The Old Block

N

ext up was Block Party. This format was the brainchild of Jeff Donais. The idea behind it was that it allowed players to use decks they had long since abandoned and play them against one another. This turned out to be a big hit among the players. Decks from four of the five blocks appeared (and with PT New York using Masques block decks, no one was expecting to see anyone use the Masques block) In fact, three of the blocks (Ice Age, Tempest and Urza's Saga) had a winning 3-0 record. The sole loser of the bunch was the Mirage block that had an overall 1-5 record (both Wise and Slemr played Ertog decks).

There has been some talk about sanctioning the Block Party format. If you are interested in seeing it (or, I guess, adamant not to see it), please contact the DCI and let them know your opinion.

After two rounds of Block Party, we were done for the first day. In previous years, the Invitational had always ended extraordinarily early, usually around four in the afternoon. But in an attempt to take advantage of the time freedom of the event, I ran the Invitational without time limits this year. As we would see, this would impact the event on the next day.

Keeping in the theme of the week, dinner was at Pizza Hut (where I got to watch Nicolai Herzog utterly destroy Kai Budde with his block party deck again and again) and bowling.

Chapter Two

The second day started at 10:00am. Or 9:00 am if you wanted to eat the free breakfast. Or 7:00 am if Skaff roped you into an early game of basketball. After a final round of Block Party, we began what would be the three longest rounds of the tournament - Solomon Draft.

Solomon Draft is a very interesting draft that many players feel is the most skill testing of the draft formats. Unfortunately, the format is logistically hard to run and takes an abnormally long amount of time. For these reasons, it will never be used at a Pro Tour. But since the Invitational has more time and far fewer players than the average tournament, it served as the ideal place to play the format. For those interested, every previous Invitational save Barcelona has used Solomon Draft.

To spice things up, I cut down the number of cards drafted but significantly turned up the power level (perhaps to compensate for the low power level of Duplicate Limited). While there was some debate as to what effect this had on the draft, the players all agreed that it created a unique draft experience. The downside of the Solomon Draft is that each round took a ridiculous amount of time. Starting at 10:00 am, with a lunch break and a snack break, four rounds of play took over twelve hours. For everyone's sanity, the group decided to postpone the tenth round (the first one using Type I) until the next day. Also, for those that like this type of statistic, Pikula has the overall worst record for Solomon Draft with an Invitational life time stat (from Rio and Kuala Lumpur) of 0-7.

"The Deal"

That night began the most interesting aspect of this year's Invitational. Having done very little preparation, Pikula had depended upon decks from Dave Humpherys. Humpherys had in fact given Pikula the Squirrel Prison deck that Pikula went 3-0 with in Block Party. Unfortunately for Pikula, Humpherys was still in contention for the finals. At the end of the day, Humpherys informed Pikula that he had to cut him off. Humpherys wanted to win and giving deck tech away to one of his key competitors didn't make a lot of sense.

Pikula realized he was in trouble. But then Humpherys offered a deal. If Pikula would promise to fly him to next year's Invitational if he won, Humpherys would be willing to give him decks. Pikula jumped at the chance. With several witnesses nearby (Buehler among them), Pikula agreed to the terms. Humpherys then ceremonily removed his decks from the hotel safe.

The exact deal was this. Humpherys had two decks for each of the remaining formats. Pikula could use the deck Humpherys chose not to use. Then if Pikula won, he would fly Humpherys to the next year's Invitational and Humpherys would have to build decks for Pikula. If Humpherys managed to get himself invited next year, he no longer had to provide Pikula decks. But Humpherys joked that perhaps a new deal could be arranged next year.

To the Mall

The last two days of the Invitational were held at the next door mall. This isn't the first time we've held the Invitational in a mall as the final two days of the Hong Kong Invitational were also held in a local mall. Besides having quick access to Auntie Em's Pretzels and Starbucks, the mall allowed for numerous spectators. With the Grand Prix just a floor below, the players began to experience one of the special parts of any Invitational: rabid autograph requests. Kai Budde felt the key to autograph signing was to be equated with a rare card. He felt bad for Darwin Kastle, for example, because Kastle's signature card, Avalanche Riders, was an uncommon and "every kid has four of those".

While the players joked about how much signing they did, they all seemed to enjoy it. Even after the thousand of Maros (and Look At Me, I'm the DCIs) I've signed, its still fun when a player approaches and sheepishly asks if I wouldn't mind autographing his card. The Invitational is an exhibition after all, so it's nice for the top players to get a chance to mingle with players from the other side of the world.

With the tenth round pushed off from the previous day, we had six rounds of constructed to complete. Donais and I were joking about who would finish first, the Invitational or the Grand Prix. Both had six rounds for the day. We had less players but the Grand Prix didn't have a preplanned hour lunch break. We quickly knocked off the three Type I rounds and had our lunch break. Before we could start the Standard rounds, we had to wait for an opening ceremony. For those that have never been to a big tournament in Asia, opening ceremonies are very important. It's hard to describe this ceremony but let's just say the following were involved: five giant wind socks with the letters "M" "A" "G" "I" and "C" on them, dramatic music as a poster of the event was raised through smoke, and a rain of confetti.

Let the Drama Begin

The final three rounds proved very tense as many of the top players had not yet played one another. While several of the players joked I had planned this, I noted that this was the first year in the history of the Invitational where people in contention were playing each other in the final rounds. Last year, for example, while Long and Pikula both played Svend Geertsen in an attempt to reach the finals, they had played each other on an earlier day.

By the last round, six players were still in contention: Finkel, Chapin, Humpherys, Long, Mowshowitz, and Pikula. Finkel and Chapin were one game ahead playing one another. This meant that the winner was definitely in and the loser was forced to rely on tie-breakers. The first tie-breaker was the players' records against the players they were tied with. It seemed that each player had beaten half of those in contention and had been beaten by the other half.

After some thought (I hadn't thought of the scenario where three players are tied with 1-1 records against the other two), I decided that the second tie-breaker would be a play-off in Standard. If that ended in another tie, the play-off would continue in Type I.

The other tense match of the final round was between Pikula and Long. As with the Price/Long match, the previous history between this two was pretty lengthy and none too friendly. Both had made an effort to get along that week, but with the finals on the line for each, most of the friendly bantering went out the window. The match was very close, but Pikula pulled it out in the end.

Even so, Chris was still at the whim of the tie-breakers. He had beaten Chapin, Humpherys, Mowshowitz and now Long, so his only worry was Finkel (who had beaten him in Solomon Draft). Finkel and Chapin were still playing. Pikula was loudly rooting for Finkel since he not only wanted to play him in the finals, but he knew that he lost to him on tie-breakers if Finkel lost this last round. Pikula also checked in on the other two matches that mattered, Mowshowitz vs. Wise and Humpherys vs. Slemr. Ironically, Pikula wanted both of them to win since he beat them on tie-breakers and they had each beaten either Chapin or Finkel.

All of a sudden a cry comes from the Chapin/Finkel match. Chapin raises his finger in a sign of victory and starts screaming "Yes! Yes!" Pikula quickly goes over to the match and starts berating Finkel for losing. Chapin's victory means the finals will be a repeat between Chapin and Finkel.

But then it becomes clear that things are not what they seem. Finkel has in fact won the round but he and Chapin decided to play a joke on Pikula. Once it becomes apparent that Finkel has actually won, Pikula starts celebrating as he has beat all three people who could tie him (Chapin, Humpherys, and Mowshowitz) in their head to head match. The finals will be Pikula vs. Finkel. Pikula begins referring to winning as "the impossible dream".

"Porn?"

With the finals set, a number of players as well as Skaff and myself (as well as Bob Maher, Jr. who was playing in the Grand Prix) decided to return to the Night Market. With a previous experience under their belt, everyone was more in the buying mood. A number of the players teamed up and purchased a bulk of 60 + video CDs (at the cost of about $1.20 each).

Once again, I was offered many pornographic video CDs. Maher who had not believed the others when they told stories about my affinity for drawing porn dealers had an opportunity to witness the phenomenon first hand. In addition, I started attracting seedy dealers selling drug paraphenalia. Remembering the "mandatory death penalty", I tried hard to stress my disinterest.

The real story of the evening was Finkel who seemed obsessed with the bargain hunting. I'm not sure what all Finkel bought but I'm guessing he bought an extra suitcase to carry it all home.

Our trip ended with Pikula trying to haggle for a tape of techno music that played non-stop at the market. The guy would not budge on the price and it was annoying Pikula. I finally had to remind him that he was haggling over 3 ringats (75 cents).

We caught a taxi and returned to the hotel. A quick note for anyone traveling in Kuala Lumpur. The cost of a taxi is all over the board. During the trip from the hotel to the Night Market we at different times paid 90, 30 and 15 ringits.

Once we got back, we had dinner and nixed bowling as it had gotten too late. We did though have the joy of having Humpherys describe in detail for us a rat that had just snuck in the door and ran across the floor.

"The Impossible Dream"

The finals of this year's Invitational introduced a new structure. Instead of playing best 3 out of 5 of a single format like in previous years, the finalists would play 2 out of 3 games in all five formats. The evening before, Pikula and Finkel had agreed on an order: Standard, Block Party, Type I, Solomon Draft, Duplicate Limited.

Going into the finals, it was agreed that Pikula was a longshot. Finkel had the edge in the majority of formats, but Pikula wasn't about to give up the "dream". He worked with Humpherys and Hacker the night before examining his sideboarding options. In addition, Pikula got lessons on Solomon Drafting. Although his 0-6 record did not speak well for his drafting abilities, Pikula kept stressing that the person he came closest to beating in the Solomon Draft rounds was Finkel.

Pikula knew going into the Standard match that his chances were slim (Pikula was playing a rebel deck while Finkel was playing Yawgmoth's Bargain), but a quick double Masticore beatdown game 1 led him to a 1-0 lead. Games 2 and 3 went exactly as everyone had predicted and Finkel won handily.

Pikula was more confident going into the Block Party match. He was playing Squirrel Prison against Finkel's Living Death deck. Game 1 was drawn out but Pikula topdecked a Deranged Hermit the turn he needed it and was able to lock Finkel down. Finkel came back game 2. Pikula's opening hand in game 3 was a beating and Pikula quickly one to even up the match score 1-1.

Pikula was pretty happy following the second match. He knew he was going to lose the Standard match and needed to win the Block Party match to have a chance. The impossible dream was still alive.

Match 3 was a toss-up as both were playing similar versions of Type I Necro Donate decks. The tensest moment was during the third game when Pikula Consulted away his library and was forced to watch turn after turn as Finkel drew trying to find a way to keep a Donated Illusions from killing him. Pikula knew that his odds in Solomon Draft were not in his favor. If Finkel drew an answer here, he would have to outdraft Finkel to win. Luckily, Finkel drew no answer and lost the Type I match 2-1.

Pikula asked all the Invitational players not to watch the Solomon Draft. All in all, Pikula was happy with his draft. He had a lot of bombs but was forced into three colors with twenty lands. Finkel had less bombs but a much tighter deck. In the end, Pikula was defeated by the one color he thought had the least potential in the format: green. Pikula had assumed since the card set were all high powered that green would be the weakest since green has fewer true top end bombs than the other colors. Finkel took advantage of this bias to draft a very mana friendly green arsenal that ultimately ran Pikula over. The finals were now tied at 2-2. Pikula had gone 3-0 in the Duplicate Limited rounds. Unfortunately, he had built his original deck poorly and was forced to start the first game with his registered deck. Nonetheless, Pikula won the first game. He then sideboarded into a deck very similar to Finkel's. Game 2 was very back and forth as Finkel and Pikula fought over a Duplicity. Momentum finally ended in Pikula's favor and he won the game.

Pikula was understandably very excited as was Humpherys. Humpherys kept saying that he never thought the deal would ever pay off, but now that it had he kept joking about what kind of flight he wanted. The award ceremony quickly followed and Chris was given his marble monolith trophy.

But Wait, There's More

After the award ceremony, several of the players (including myself) played some basketball at the nearby water park. For the record, I am a very bad basketball player.

That night, Wizards of the Coast took out all the players for a farewell dinner. I had originally planned to take the crew out to an authentic Malaysian restaurant, but the group rebelled when they realized they were going to a restaurant that several of them had gone to a few days earlier and hated. We ended up at an Italian restaurant in the hotel. A good time was had by all and Skaff tried to convince everyone to drink the restaurant out of orange juice.

After dinner, we had another night of bowling. For a twist, a number of us started bowling left handed. The scary part was I think it helped my average. At one point, I went strike, strike, spare.

After bowling, the Americans (the Europeans had to catch a flight) drafted in the lobby. I got them basic land and then went upstairs to crash.

The Trip Home

The flight home was far worse than the ride to Kuala Lumpur. The plane was full, the movies were worse, and no video games.

The story would end here if not for a little closure on the Chapin passport situation. The Malaysians stopped Chapin when he tried to leave the country. Chapin played dumb and managed to get out with just a warning.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Customs was not as lax. Once Chapin was stopped, the customs people figured out he wasn't travelling alone. They pulled all of us aside (Chapin, Finkel, Pikula, Price, Kastle, and Buehler) except for Humpherys and Skaff. A team of rubber-gloved agents arrived and all our luggage was searched. One by one we explained what exactly Magic was and why we were in Malaysia. When I finally left, Chapin was still being held for questioning. The joke was that our tournament reports would all end "And Chapin was never heard from again."

So that, in a not so small a nutshell, was my trip to Kuala Lumpur. The event ran smoothly with no controversies and a dramatic finals so all went well. For those interested, I also announced the criteria for next year's Invitational. For those that don't want to read it, the biggest difference will be the adding of a slot for the team PT champion (the team member with the most pro points for the season), a slot for the highest ranking Latin American player, and a condensing of the vote to a single on-line vote (with only four slots as opposed to the previous combined six slots).

If you've managed to read this far, thanks for taking the time to read my entire report. All sixteen players are supposed to turn in their tournament reports, so check the Sideboard for them all. Until next year.

Oh yeah. And Chapin was never heard from again.



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