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The History of Team CMU: Part 2

Nate Heiss

The 1998-1999 season has to be my favorite due to my presence at most of the Pro Tours that year. A lot of people felt this was a dangerous time for Magic. However, once combo winter passed, WotC cracked down on most of the bad elements of Magic one by one, slowly making it a better game for everyone. Team CMU was in good form through this year and continued to produce high tournament finishes.

Chicago 1998 Enter the Forsythe

It was around this time that CMU started to get friendlier with a small time team called The Watchmen, composed of Aaron Forsythe, Jake Hillman, Scott Teamman, and Mike Byrne. They were the newest additions to the Friends of CMU category and we drafted with them frequently. Aaron Forsythe ended up qualifying for his first Pro Tour that season.

At this point, due to space capacity, we started migrating out of our beloved Cyert Hall and into a Miami Subs restaurant and the Pitt Student Union where local great guy Jean-Luc Park would hold tournaments every week, judged by Darth May. We would stay after the tournaments and draft once or twice, until the storeowners/custodians started giving us funny looks. On other nights, we would meet at the all amazing, all illustrious, Original Hot Dog Shop CMU branch, located in CMU's Student Union. The 'O' (as Pittsburgh natives call it) is simply amazing. A single large order of fries can feed an Ethiopian family of twelve for a day or one Team CMU for a night. No joke here, folks.

We did a lot of drafting that season, gobbling up large quantities of O' fries and Miami subs along the way. Gary Wise and Jon Finkel were among the many people that visited us for playtesting purposes that time around, and were reentered into the Friends of CMU category (even though Jon was kind of a Deadguy at the time).

Most of CMU liked the Red/White combo for the multitude of tricks and enhancers it provided, not to mention the removal. Another combination that was surprisingly good was that of Green/White, which is usually something to avoid (unless your name is Mike Turian). CMU did very well using this strategy, with Randy, Erik, and Mike all playing to make Top 8 in the last round, and all subsequently losing. Thus we put three people in the Top 16, and Forsythe won his last round to grab hold of 17th place. Why did we do so well? Some of the team members believe that the main reason (besides playtesting) had to do with booking two separate rooms for the event. One for the people that snored and one for the ones that did not... it is amazing how much of a difference that makes.

During the Chicago season I qualified for the next Pro Tour, PT Rome, with my Turbo-Tradewind deck. This was a deck that used Manakins, Mox Diamonds, and Tradewinds to get a super fast lock on the game, mixed up with some control and beat-down elements. It used some Counters and Keepers of the Mind, but the most notably cool part of the deck (besides the Manakins) was the Curiosity/Mawcor combo that the deck could use to instantly win the game. I had to go through Del Laugel (sometimes better known as Randy's wife, via a quirk of a male dominated sport) playing Counter- Phoenix, and Jake Hillman playing Trade-Awake in order to qualify. If I may add, it was quite a lot of fun...

Turbo Tradewind (aka The Mawcor Deck)
PT Chicago 1998

Main Deck
4  Stalking Stones
19  Island
3  Thalakos Drifters
4  Mawcor
4  Manakin
2  Legacy's Allure
3  Mox Diamond
3  Counterspell
4  Forbid
3  Keeper of the Mind
1  Mind Over Matter
4  Curiosity
2  Capsize
1  Thalakos Drifters
3  Propaganda
1  Capsize
2  Whispers of the Muse
2  Legacy's Allure
4  Hammerhead Shark
1  Mind Over Matter
1  Rootwater Hunter

The Academy of Rome

Rome was a particularly fun Pro Tour for me because it was my only Pro Tour outside of the U.S., and it is also my highest Pro Tour finish so far. This was a particularly strange Extended Pro Tour that included all of the cards from Urza's Saga (before any of the insane cards were banned) and set the stage for a field full of combo decks and anti-combo decks. Thus was the dawn of Combo Winter.

CMU continued their streak of being the best and brightest, making an Academy deck that had the unique property of using four Vampiric Tutors and only one Stroke of Genius, with many hoser cards in the sideboard. This would go on to be a popular CMU plan in the future. Randy, Erik, Mike, Forsythe, and myself went to Rome. I was the only person from CMU not playing this super Academy deck. As everyone who knows me well enough knows, I absolutely abhor playing those types of combo decks (the ones that don't go infinite), doing so only twice in my Magic career: once at States with ProsBloom, and once at GP Philly with a Modified NecroDonate, going 1-2 drop both times.

Vampiric Academy
PT Rome 1998

Main Deck
4  Underground Sea
3  Tundra
3  Volcanic Island
3  City of Brass
4  Wasteland
4  Tolarian Academy
4  Windfall
4  Time Spiral
1  Stroke of Genius
1  Mind over Matter
3  Vampiric Tutor
4  Impulse
3  Abeyance
2  Counterspell
3  Scroll Rack
2  Urza's Baubles
4  Mox Diamonds
4  Lotus Petals
4  Mana Vaults
1  Perish (A'la Lauer)
1  City of Solitude
1  Gloom
1  Gorilla Shaman
2  Hydroblast
4  Chill
3  Pyroblast
1  Abeyance
1  Capsize

Instead I played a Rec/Sur deck whose origins lie in the elf-loving mind of Mike Turian. It had a built in Great Whale/Triskelion combo that could kill rather quickly, the average being turn 4.5. The deck worked great and used a lot of tricky cards like Cartographer (to bring back Wastelands), Gorilla Shaman (in addition to the Uktabi), and Buried Alives to get the combo.

Whale Rec/Sur
PT Rome 1998

Main Deck
2  Swamp
3  Forest
2  Taiga
2  Tropical Island
2  Savannah
4  Bayou
3  Wasteland
2  Gaea's Cradle
1  Great Whale
1  Triskelion
1  Wood Elves
2  Fyndhorn Elves
2  Llanowar Elves
3  Elves of Deep Shadow
1  Quirion Ranger
4  Birds of Paradise
1  Hermit Druid
1  Spike Feeder
1  Lhurgoyf
2  Wall of Roots
1  Gorilla Shaman	
1  Monk Realist
1  Krovikan Horror
1  Night Soil
1  Vampiric Tutor
3  Red  Elemental Blast
1  Titania's Song
2  Ashen Ghoul
1  Wall of Blossoms
2  Brass Man
1  Sand Golem
1  Granger Guildmage

Randy, Erik, and I made day two with great records, while Mike bit the bullet on some close games and was out quickly. Aaron and I went out to find food after the day ended, following Hacker and some other players to a Chinese restaurant. When we left, however, we had no clue how to get back to the site! We wandered the streets of Rome after dark for about an hour, and after turning down countless five-way intersections, we found the tourney site. Aaron decided he wanted to know how he ended up and went to find someone with a list. To his surprise he had just barely squeaked into Day 2 at 95th place! After that, we decided to get some sleep for the coming day. I can't imagine how surprised Aaron was at this turn of events.

After Day 2 was said and done, Erik was in the Top 8 and I made Top 16. Randy just missed it at 17th place. Aaron actually came back from 95th to 46th, making money. It was another delightful finish for an already prestigious Team CMU.

PTLA3 - Draft Black

All of our testing result pointed toward the obvious: draft Black.

With Rome behind us, we started to look forward to PTLA3, which was Saga/Saga/Saga Rochester. Needless to say, everyone was grappling over Pestilence and Corrupts, among other black goodies. Most people expressed that there was an average of 4 black drafters at a table. When it was a CMU draft, you could expect about 1 or 2 NON-Black drafters. We practiced the art of forcing colors more then anything that season. We did not mind drafting any color combo as long as it included Black. My personal favorite was Black/Blue, which I almost always forced. Randy, Erik, Mike, and I were qualified, and we tested like there was no tomorrow. We had many visitors while testing for LA, including Wise, Finkel, Schneider, Taylor and Chapin. All of our testing result pointed toward the obvious: draft Black.

Off the Boat!

When LA rolled around, everyone flew down and took up residence on the illustrious 'Boat' the Queen Mary. By this point, "off the Boat!" jokes were getting old, referring to Diabolic Edict. Randy, Mike and I ended up making Day 2, and rested peacefully on the boat that night. After Day 2, Randy made another Top 16, and Mike and I made Top 32. More great finishes for CMU!

Highlights from LA included a few outrageous decks we drafted. In one draft, Mike managed to construct a mono Green deck that had 20 creatures and 3 spells! He spent the next few rounds saying, "Summon another guy!" while his opponents groaned. I managed to draft a combo deck, sporting Time Spiral, Great Whale, and Peregrine Drake. In one game I cast Great Whale, then Peregrine Drake, then Corrupt, then Time Spiraled, then cast a Hollow Dog and a Looming Shade all in the same turn. All that my opponent could do was make a startled whelping noise that perfectly translated from Japanese into English with no discrepancies.

The Uber-man Cometh

CMU and Deadguy decided to hook up and break the upcoming format of the next Pro Tour...

After LA, the most heinous and utter failure in Magic took place, and it was called the Uberteam. Once Price won LA with his puppies, CMU and Deadguy decided to hook up and break the upcoming format of the next Pro Tour (PTNY), Saga/Legacy Block Constructed. This seemed like a good idea because Deadguy's strength was playtesting the heck out of one of their decks until they had the utmost super version of it. This seemed to work well with the CMU strategy of analyzing the good decks in the format and devising a more powerful deck then all of them put together.

We first started with GP Kansas City, an Extended GP (including the new bannings from Saga, but not Memory Jar) where CMU and Deadguy would test their new dynamics. I ended up building a mono Blue Morphling deck that beat the field rather soundly, except for Stompy and Sligh. Luckily, both of these weaknesses were few and far between in that environment. Randy took the deck to a couple tournaments and changed a few cards, then sent the deck to Pikula. We were ready to rumble. Other decks chosen by testing-mates included a Memory Jar deck with modification, piloted by Erik Lauer.

I had a pretty bad experience with Kansas City, being that my first round opponent was Mark Gordon. I initially thought, "Yay! A no name player that I can beat on!" He proceeded to throw down a few Raging Goblins, Pups, and Fireblasts on the table. He then went on to beat Randy Buehler and Chris Pikula to win the tournament. There wasn't a lot of Sligh, but there was one really good version.

In my second round, I received my only game loss ever from a judge, the reason being tardiness. I quickly shuffled up my deck and lost the die roll, but I wasn't too worried about winning the next 2 games. He started off by pitching a Spirit Guide... Sligh and Stompy were the only bad match-ups for that deck, really...

With all of my newfound time at Kansas, I started my testing for NY. I joined Pat Chapin in his room, and we started to pit our decks against each other. My best deck used Wildfires and Academies alongside Karn and other artifacts. It was not too far off from the deck most of us ended up playing, after all of the tweaks are considered. Chapin had a deck full of Deranged Hermits, Clouds of Fairies, and Barrin, making an infinite loop using Gaea's Cradle. His deck was excellent, but extremely complicated to play.

When all of the dust settled at Kansas, Randy and Chris made Top 8. Another great finish by CMU and Deadguy. It seemed our Uber days would be good ones. Eric Taylor and Pat Chapin were also included in our testing adventures.

Our testing produced a few key decks, the first of which being the Wildfire Academy deck that was so popular at NY. The second deck was a Fluctuator Combo Deck, similar to the one Zvi used to make Top 8 with. The third deck was a mono-Green beatdown deck that Mike Turian favored. The last was Chapin's 4 color Combo deck, which was actually a beating against most of the field. Most of CMU played Wildfire, most of Deadguy played Fluctuator.

As it turned out, we all got slammed... hard. Randy was seen wandering around on Day 2 saying, "So this is what people do when they get cut on Day 1!" Out of everyone, very few made it to Day 2, with Chapin and I being the leaders at 6-1 and 4-2-1. I ended up bombing on Day 2, finishing out of the money. Chapin ended up making Top 16. Out of all the people involved, it was the most horrible finish of any Pro Tour. Our Uber days came to a quick close and our trend of poor performance at PTNY continued.

U.S. Nationals, 1999

Randy actually ran a 16-deck double elimination tournament, recording all the matches, with himself as the pilot of both decks for the most part of it!

Randy attended so many GP's that even he probably could not remember them all. He had finished highly in them as well as Pro Tours. Because of this, he was frequently asked to fly out to stores in order to do card signings at tourneys and the like. Around Nationals 99, however, WotC invited him to teach at the Magic Summer camp, which he would fly to sometime after Nationals and finish up just as Worlds was going to start. Randy proudly accepted the honor.

While testing for Nationals, Randy and Del put more testing into their efforts than I had ever seen them do. Randy actually ran a 16-deck double elimination tournament, recording all the matches, with himself as the pilot of both decks for the most part of it! Del and some of the guys helped him out in a couple matches where it was hard to play against himself. After all of his efforts, Humility Prayer won. Randy was not satisfied with the result, so he ran it again. It turned out that while the Humility Prayer deck was not an optimal choice for Nationals, a White Weenie deck with Humility/Prayers in the sideboard looked very strong. This was surprising, considering the combo deck of the time was a solid one (The Bargain/Delusions deck, also called Phantom Menace by Zvi). Everyone worked on the deck for a bit, and it ended up getting some Resistance Fighters to thwart Hatred, but not much else changed. The only real question was the correct balance of Crusades/Glorious Anthems to play.

The Limited portion of Nationals was easy to test for. Green got a nice boost from Destiny and some new rares were out there to be drafted, but Black still remained reasonably strong. The only real new innovation was the Lava Axe deck, which drafted lots of Goblins, Reckless Abandons, and Lava Axes in order to use a burn strategy. It was very effective.

We learned this strategy when a horde of Canadians came down to test with us after NY. This 'Horde' actually consisted of Gary Wise (a comical Horde by himself), The Juggernaut Gab Tsang, 'Pikachu' Jeff Fung (we were finally able to see some Fung on Fung match-ups, via Elliot), Mark Schick, and Wolfman. We did a lot of testing over those few days, and decided that the Goblin-Axe plan was a keeper.

Other interesting preparations for the tourneys to come included what could have been called the original 'Masters Series,' which had 16 players and used a 9 round Swiss format with the draft type being Urza's block Rochester. Participants included all of CMU, much of Deadguy (OMS's, Finkel, Price, etc.), Bachmann, Feming Chan, and Bello among others. The Top 8 was mostly CMU guys, Forsythe, and Finkel, so I guess we did ok.

Worlds 1999

This was the first Worlds to be held outside of the cozy and wet WotC center in Seattle and it was scheduled for a place way beyond the reaches of Seattle rain. Worlds was to be held in Japan that year to the dismay of many players gawking at the ticket prices.

Mike, Erik, and Randy (with the aid of WotC camp) all ended up shelling out the grand and a half it took to fly over to the land of the rising sun, but they took some very powerful decks and draft strategies with them. The Goblin-Axe plan was our tech for Limited, even though it was starting to become more or less widespread at that point. They took a peculiar version of Survival to Worlds; it sported an Earthcraft engine that let you access much more mana then normal, compounding the effect of the already Survival deck. The Standard deck we used was a new version of the deck that was wildly successful the year before, CMU Blue. Randy was once again amazingly successful with the deck, going 6-0 in the Standard portion.

CMU Blue
Worlds 1999

Main Deck
4 Faerie Conclave
16 Island
4 Stalking Stones
4 Wasteland
3 Masticore	
4 Powder Keg
4 Counterspell
4 Dismiss
4 Forbid
4 Mana Leak
1 Miscalculation
4 Treachery
4 Whispers of the Muse
1 Masticore
4 Annul
1 Capsize
3 Chill
3 Legacy's Allure
2 Maze of Shadows
1 Stroke of Genius

Unfortunately, CMU luck didn't hold out. By Day 3, Randy was the only guy left in the Top 64 and ended up finishing in 56th place. So much for making a profit off of the Japanese Pro Tour market... at least Randy got to order an authentic Japanese dish by randomly selecting from the unreadable menu and getting... Steak.

Another Season for CMU

With the season done, Team CMU took stock of their accomplishments and decided that we had done pretty well on the whole, when you exclude NY. Pat Chapin wiggled his way onto the team after discussing it at length with Randy on multiple occasions. Brian was basically either off the team or a ghost of a member at that point. We all wanted him on, but his educational and other duties (as well as distance) kept him from really manifesting himself in any way other then a tech link. New Friends of CMU also appeared in the forms of the Watchmen, minus Jake Hillman (he moved away, sadly). We became more open to outside players in the general area.

The history of CMU will be continued and concluded in the next segment, detailing everything from the beginning of the 99' season to today.

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