The History of Team CMU: Part 3

Nate Heiss

This article marks the second era of Team CMU, when the parting of our valued teammates Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer changed our entire point of view. Those of us remaining on the team did not know what to expect, but we all knew that it would not end our Magic playing days. The drought and comeback of CMU are some of the richest parts of our history.

Team DC, Nate's Folly, and a Grand Prix

I was accepted as an official Team CMU member after my performance in LA the previous year, and had been trying to earn my keep since then. Pat Chapin was briefly initiated onto the team a few months after me, when he performed well in PTNY, making Top 16. Pat and I actually spent a lot of time together before NY doing testing and discussing team plans for DC. Pat and I were going to pool our PT points along with one more person that had 6 points or more and become auto-qualified for DC by a thin margin. However, with only a few weeks before the Team-registration deadline occurred, Pat decided to play with Aaron Forsythe and Eric Taylor as teammates, conveniently excluding me from the team, leaving me high and dry. I only needed one more Pro Tour point to make the gravy train; however, without a team to play with in PTDC, I would not be awarded that crucial last point.

Besides being mortally upset at Pat, I found myself looking for a new team. I had to throw it together within a few weeks, finding some people that were good enough to play with and had the right number of points. After numerous calls, IRC conversations, and e-mails, I managed to work something out with Peter Radonjic and Terry Lau of Vancouver. We registered our team and started pooling our knowledge of the Team Draft format.

However, one fateful day, I got a call close to midnight. The phone rang in one of those rings that makes you aware that something has gone wrong. It is the kind of ring you hear when someone you know has just gotten injured or worse. As it turns out, the ominous ringing phone did not lie. It was Pete, and he was calling to tell me that Terry had just ripped his Achilles tendon very badly, and the doctors would not let him get on a plane to anywhere, let alone across the continent to DC. Thus ended my dreams of making the gravy train and Pro Tour DC.

The rest of CMU was doing just dandy with Mike, Randy, and Erik on the same team. After many drafts and much discussion, they devised a strategy of working around each person's strong points, which mainly consisted of giving Mike a beat-down deck.

I drove down to DC with Forsythe and company, meeting the rest of the guys there. I was hoping that they would let me register; give me 7 losses and 1 PT point. No such luck. I proceeded to become a spectator for the first time at a Pro Tour.

Team CMU cleaned house for most of the tournament, and only missed Top 4 because of a few close calls and time limits. They needed to win one of their last two rounds, but only pulled out a draw. The most interesting win they had in the tournament was when it was five minutes until the round was to begin, and Mike discovered that he lost his deck! Mike and I scrambled to the dealer with his deck list in hand and bought his entire draft deck on the spot in seven minus flat. Team CMU went on to win that round 1-0-2, with the only win coming from Mike's deck. Mike was really the most broken element of the team, and did not lose a single match during the entire tournament.

I had one other interesting point of light while at DC, and that was testing my new UBC deck in the qualifier. I showed the deck to Adrian Sullivan, telling him that I needed a cool name for the deck, and he said it bore a striking resemblance to Mike Pustilnik's U/G deck. I decided to consult Pustilnik on this and it turned out that Adrian was right... we both had very similar decks that used Deranged Hermits and Opposition. Mikey P and I decided to work on the deck together for a little while and came up with the name Squirrel Prison. We decided that this was the deck we would play when we went to GP Memphis, which took place a short time after DC.

Close to the time of GP Memphis, our decks basically sported the same cards, the only difference being that he had a Stroke of Genius. Later on he said that he probably should have played mine. Over the course of the tournament, we bashed our opponents left and right. Mike ended up winning the GP and I ended up in 9th place due to a triple Skirge top-deck by my opponent. To this day, I have never been killed by the Skirge/Will/Bargain combo, I usually just get beat in the head by Skirge Familiars.

Squirrel Prison

Main Deck
4 Treetop Village
2 Slippery Karst
8 Forest
10 Island 
3 Heart Warden
1 Wizard Mentor
2 Masticore
2 Morphling 
4 Deranged Hermit
4 Priest of Titania
4 Yavimaya Elder
4 Yavimaya Granger
4 Opposition
4 Treachery
4 Annul
2 Harmonic Convergence
2 Arcane Lab
2 Quash
2 Douse
2 Gaea's Embrace
2 Powder Keg
2 Power Sink
1 Confiscate

I must have had some bad Karma, because I happened to come in 9th at the first Grand Prix EVER when no slots passed down to 9th place. No train, no Top 8, no slot, no nothing. I know this is a sob story, but losing all that I had painstakingly worked for effectively made me frustrated enough with the game to shun it for almost an entire year, playing only sparsely and ironing out meta-games. Beyond that, I had almost no contact with Magic. Instead, I decided to take a break and re-enter the real world with my girlfriend.

London, Farewell to Arms

Randy had recently finished up his book on 6th Edition, which WotC hired him to write. This was the beginning of his relationship with WotC that landed him the R&D position he has today.

London was ordained to be Randy Buehler's final Pro Tour due to the WotC mandate that none of their employees are able to participate in its promotional events. Randy was moving on to become one of the enigmatic R&D members who create all the cards you know and love. We all hoped that he would make the card sets better and more balanced at the same time. Invasion was the first set Randy worked on... how do you think he's doing? I think he's doing great.

Randy and Erik ended up doing poorly in London. Mike made Top 32, but it would not happen again for a long time. Newcomer Andrew Johnson also sported a nice finish at 37th place. London ended up being an uneventful Pro Tour that marked the beginning of the drought of Team CMU, a time when no member or friend of CMU placed in the Top 32 of a PT or GP. Shortly after Randy left for Seattle, Erik showed up to playtest more infrequently and became rather uninterested in Magic. He eventually moved back home to Connecticut where he still resides today, living a Magic-free life (as far as anyone knows).

Chicago and The New CMU

Thus, the Members of Team CMU stood at an inactive Dan Silberman, a Nate Heiss on semi-sabbatical, and a Mike Turian, still raring to go. For the next series of Pro Tours, Mike was the only member to attend, and he kept the team alive, if barely.

Team CMU was mostly left with 'Friends of CMU' in the place of the actual figurehead of a team. Elliot Fung, Aaron Forsythe, Andrew Cuneo, Scott Teamman, and a newly acquired Andrew Johnson filled out the spaces that the rest of us had left vacant. These people and the original members of Team CMU were now more integrated then ever. We encouraged anyone to come test with us; which is not something we actively did in previous seasons (we never turned people away either). In essence, the old team was tearing down the line that had always been there in the Buehler/Lauer era that made a definite distinction between the members of CMU and the 'Friends of CMU.' This new amorphous being is what has been called the New CMU.

When Chicago came around, Aaron and I started to convert my UBC Squirrel Prison to an Extended variant. The deck took to its new format very well. It showed superior versatility to the most diverse Survival decks and had a speedy Tradewind lock that few other decks could match.

Mike decided to take it to Chicago, giving a copy of it to Kurt Burgner when he got there. The deck was very versatile, and Kurt took it to the Top 32. Mike did not make Day 2 with the deck, and attributed it to his consistently poor performance in Constructed Pro Tours...The drought continues. Brian Davis ended up making the finals with a Necro deck that was about five cards off from the version I gave to Eric Taylor, who gave it to Craig Wescoe, who gave it to Davis.

Donate me a Philly Cheese-steak or a Verdant Force!

The Extended season was booming with the cries of people getting crushed by Necro yet again. The most popular decks for the PTQ NY format fell into two distinct categories: Necro Donate and things that tried to beat Necro Donate, but didn't do a very good job of it.

In a desperate attempt to qualify for the Standard Pro Tour, I lowered myself to playing a custom rigged Necro Donate deck that sported more Tutors, Mox Diamonds, and Wastelands. The deck was more powerful then the best Necro Donate decks I have seen to date, but it did not matter since I cannot play combo for my life, and went 1-3 drop.

Mike and Aaron took a different route, playing a modified Secret Force deck, aptly named Secret Forsythe. This deck fared much better then anyone could have expected, Mike was in contention for Top 16 until he lost an upset match up against a Sligh deck. Aaron just missed the cut to Day 2 at 6-2.

LA-LA Land

Mike, Aaron and newcomer to CMU Andrew Johnson found themselves qualified for the Boat in 2000, but it did them little good. None of them made Day 2. Mike could have drawn in, but did not in order to boost his record for the next day. Zvi took him down, and Mike had nothing left but to draft on the Boat.

NY - The Rebels

At this point, we were all a bit concerned about how much the team had fallen apart. Did we really need Buehler and Lauer that badly? We practiced hard for MBC but could not come up with anything that everyone else did not already know about. We did most of our practice for NY at Mark Globus's house in Columbus along with some of the other residents who found themselves qualified for the Tour.

Mike Sivvi'ed it up and leapt headfirst into the fray of Rebels that flooded NY. Yet again, Mike found himself with a 4-2 record playing for Day 2 and losing. Globus made Top 16 with the same deck as Mike, so at least our testing efforts were not in vain.

GP St. Louis

I found myself wishing I was on Mike's team again when Team Pudge made the finals of St. Louis. Mike decided to team up with Gary Wise and Scott Johns to wage war against the best three man teams in Magic.

The most exciting part of St. Louis is that it signaled the end of the drought of CMU. After almost six months, we were ready to clean house with our skills again. As if to reaffirm this fact, The Car Acrobatic team, composed of Aaron Forsythe, Andrew Cuneo, and Andrew Johnson was newly formed and qualified on the first try in Columbus.

GP Pittsburgh, finally!

I never understood how amazing it was to wake up, drive for ten minutes, and find a Grand Prix. It was a truly stunning experience.

When I arrived, I found the lovable Team Pudge up at head judge Mike Guptil's podium discussing a name change for their team. No one really liked the name Pudge, and Mike was lobbying for Team Bert & Ernie. I suggested that they should take a Potato-like name, and Gary shouted "Potato!" Mike responded with "Potato!" and somebody said something about Potato Nation. I suggested it was a keeper, thus the nation of Potatos was formed.

I finally assembled a team for myself including the MIA Ron Kotwica and Matt Bodesheim, both of whom did about ten drafts a week for months previous to the GP. I told them I could build us some nice decks for the Sealed, and they would have to guide me through the Draft. The catch was that we did not quite make Day 2 due to some poor decks and a little lack in skill. I thought we did okay overall with no byes. At least we got to knock the Car Acrobatic Team out of contention.

The most interesting team at the tournament was team 5-legs, which sported Brian Kowal, and soon to be Katie Schneider, and a crippled Dan Silberman, who showed up to the GP in crutches at the last minute! They did not make Day 2, but it was definitely a team to remember.

Regionals, ANGRY CMU, and the Champ!

When Regionals came around, I was looking at playing a Replenish deck that Silberman made. However, my lucky fail safe device, Mike Turian, kicked in. The following conversation ensued:

Mike: "Nate, after Philly you told me to remind you to never play a combo deck ever again. Every time you have ever played a combo deck, you go 1-2 drop."
Nate: "But it is more of a control deck then a combo deck!"
Mike: "1-2 drop!"

I could not really argue with that infallible logic, which lead me to play my Mono-Green hyper beat down, dubbed Draw-Boa. It was looking very good considering that Replenish was the popular deck at the time, and it almost never lost to them. I was feeling confident at doing well and it looked like everyone else was too. I ended up coming a match short when I lost to the Vine Dryad-double Rancor draw. Tough break, eh?

Eugene Harvey, who had joined our group a month earlier, made an interesting rogue deck that used Pattern of Rebirth like a Survival of the Fittest. He was able to get enough testing in to make it close to Top 8, but in the end the deck just wasn't tuned enough.

Andy Johnson (Now referred to as Andy most of the time to prevent confusion between him and Cuneo) decided to play a Replenish deck similar to the one I was looking into before Mike set me straight. He did well for a while, but ended up short of making it.

Aaron liked beat down until he re-made a deck that he let his brother Neil use previously. After testing it a bit, he stated that it actually had a winning percentage versus everything, including combo! This deck was of course the infamous Angry Hermit deck that he used to qualify and make Top 4 in Nationals with. Who knew a fun deck could go so far?

ANGRY Hermit

Main Deck
2 Treetop Village
4 Karplusan Forest
2 Gaea's Cradle
4 Rishadan Port
2 Mountain
11 Forest
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Avalanche Riders
4 Deranged Hermit
3 Yavimaya Elder
3 Skyshroud Poacher
3 Masticore
2 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary 
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Arc Lightning
4 Plow Under
4 Blastoderm
3 Thran Foundry
2 Ancient Hydra
1 Masticore
2 Boil
2 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Splinter

While Aaron seemed to have stolen the spotlight with his surprise discovery of Angry Hermit, Elliot Fung actually had the best story of Regionals that year. He was set on playing a finely-tuned Replenish deck all throughout play testing, but while in the car on the way to Columbus, Mike convinced him to do the inconceivable. Mike convinced Elliot to play Rebels, listing off a deck from scratch. Elliot built the deck, and the next thing he knew, he was playing against Trey Van Cleve in the finals in a mirror matchup, and became the reigning champion of Ohio Valley. Thus, Elliot was no longer known as Elliot Fung, but he was transformed into "The Champ."

Grizzly Rebels

Main Deck
4 Rishadan Port
19 Plains
4 Ramosian Sergeant
4 Steadfast Guard
4 Fresh Volunteers
4 Mother of Runes
4 Longbow Archers
4 Crusade
4 Parallax Wave
3 Armageddon 
3 Disenchant
3 Reverent Mantra
4 Wrath of God 
3 Defender En-Vec
2 Seal of Cleansing
2 Erase
2 Absolute Law
1 Armageddon
1 Reverent Mantra

US Nationals, I'm going to Disney Land!

Mike, Aaron, and the Champ all went down to sunny Florida to participate in US Nationals. This was the first US Nats to be held outside of Ohio, and a lot of people got lost trying to scout out the new territory. Mike decided to hop on the ANGRY bandwagon with Aaron, Fung decided to play Grizzly Rebels again with the blessing of Dave Price.

Three Pittsburghers went to the US National championships, three Pittsburghers made Top 8. The drought, if there was any doubt, was definitely over. Mike had a mirror matchup with Aaron to make the team, and Aaron won, taking him to Worlds in Belgium.

The absolute domination that CMU delivered at Nationals quieted any talk of CMU dying. The respect of Team CMU was restored, and once again was fearsome force on the Pro Tour circuit. The re-emergence of CMU is perhaps one of the most important moments in the team's history.

Farewell to Fung

After his success at Nationals, Elliot Fung found himself with a Diploma from CMU as well as an acceptance to Pepperdine University, a Law School on the shores of CA. The sea called to him, and he was forced to part with all of us in Pittsburgh. Perhaps one day he will make a comeback as the oldest and best friend of Team CMU.


Aaron Forsythe was the only member of Team CMU to attend Worlds at Belgium in 2000. This marks the first Professional event Mike Turian missed since he started playing on the Tour, not because he was not qualified, but because of ticket prices. That is what I call a streak!

Aaron helped the US Team along to gain another great victory over the rest of the world, and made Top 32 in the main event along the way while playing his modified ANGRY Hermit deck and a new blue-beat down deck that was circulating around at Worlds.

NY, CMU-Geddon

In preparation for the second Team Pro Tour, the Car Acrobatic Team (Forsythe, Cuneo, Johnson) and Mike Turian did multiple team drafts a week, with people like myself, Scott, and Eugene sitting in for Gary Wise and Scott Johns, who were doing their own practicing in their corners of the continent. Mike discovered a very interesting strategy during our play testing of having the guy on the left draft Blue. This was a fairly unheard of thing to do, but as it turned out, it was the best strategy they could possibly come up with. Both Potato Nation and Car Acrobatic team used this strategy to tromp on their opponents when NY started. Ironically, this was the first Pro Tour NY that CMU ever really did well in spite of the absence of our two powerhouses of old. In fact, we did more than well; it was safe to say that CMU plus Scott and Gary dominated the field.

The Car Acrobatic Team came in second place, losing to none other than Team Potato Nation. This amazing performance accomplished three very important things in a single stroke:

First of all, NY gave to Mike, Scott, and Gary what they had coming to them for a long time. Each of them deserved the win so much that it was almost poetic to see them all win at the same time. They all bring so much to the table besides their decks, and I am glad to see that they accomplished what they have worked so hard for.

Second of all, it cemented the return of Andrew Cuneo, who had not played extensively for years, but now had come to get second place in a Pro-Tour as well as winning the first Master Tournament Gateway Qualifier.

Third, if there was any doubt left in the Magic community's mind about CMU being a force to be reckoned with, it was surely blown away with this repeat Top 8/Top 4 domination. It also gave Andy Johnson a more prominent name that would be recognized as easily as Turian's, Forsythe's, or Cuneo's.

Chicago Firing Fires

When we started play testing for Chicago, we discovered Fires almost instantly. For a short while, we wondered if it would stay a secret, but the deck was about as hard to find as Academy. The next great deck we found was Rebels. After tuning our Fires and Rebel decks, we found they tended to go close to 50/50 with each other, with a slight advantage to Fires. We decided to add Green to the Rebel deck for Wax/Wane, and then Rebels became the deck of choice due to the fact that no one was really packing hate for Rebels.

Mike, Aaron, Cuneo and Johnson went out to Chicago to do battle with the best. Unfortunately, CMU was not able to get very far, with Mike being the only member to make money at 40th place. Some of the Team CMU members did not think we did enough testing for this Pro Tour, not coming up with an original deck idea that beat the meta-game, attributing to the poor performance at Chicago.

LA - The Final Boat

This year's PTLA could have very well been the final PT to grace the decks of the Queen Mary. Pittsburgh as a whole had a very exciting claim to this PT, sending seven people in the area to the Boat, the largest number ever. Turian, Forsythe, Cuneo, Johnson, Kotwica, Teamman, and Silberman all put a valiant effort into quickly testing the format. We had very little time to test Invasion Draft on a whole. The problem was in the scheduling of winter break for CMU, which does not end until January 14th. This left approximately two weeks to test for a Pro Tour, which is obviously not enough, especially with the highly complex world of Invasion 5-color Draft. When all was said and done in LA, most of the Pittsburghers did not make Day 2, but Mike Turian and Ron Kotwica managed to make Top 64.

Tokyo and beyond

With two slow Pro Tours behind us, Team CMU has redoubled its efforts in testing for PT Tokyo. We are sending out our strike force of Mike Turian, Aaron Forsythe, Andrew Cuneo, and Andrew Johnson. Everyone likes the format and everyone is testing hard, feeling out the format as we go along. Expect to see finely tuned decks and top-notch performances at Japan.

That is the History of Team CMU in a very large nutshell. Of course, not everything was included in the history, as CMU has so many great things to tell and no time to do it in. This entire series has been mostly from my point of view of course, but has much input from the other people involved. Each person that has been involved with CMU has his own story to tell, and I guarantee you they are interesting ones!

You can count on one thing: CMU will surely stay one of the best and brightest for a long time to come! If you have any questions about this 3-part series or about the team, please feel free to contact me at I leave you with a precious moment of CMU history; with the best quote Team CMU ever remembers hearing:

"No blocks... mmm... attack with everyone!"

-Mike Turian, in his sleep.

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