Curiosity is the Gift That Keeps on Giving

A roll down memory lane where Michael recalls playing creature enchantments, Erg Raiders, and Hill Giants to a PTQ Top 4… In Constructed.

I am getting on a plane to go back to my ancestral home of Gates Mills, Ohio in a few hours (and by “ancestral” I mean my parents moved when I was a senior in college) to give thanks for Thanksgiving.

Technically I started playing Magic living in Ohio, but I didn’t become a serious tournament player until I had been living in Philadelphia for a couple of years, so most of the Magic I played during my first tenure in the Buckeye State was kitchen table Magic — you know, where pumping tons of mana into a Killer Bees or playing a third turn Craw Wurm could make a body go all Timmy Power Gamer.

You may chuckle, but I am pretty fond of some of those long nights up, doing battle with decks I made myself, in a time of true available card scarcity.

However I did spend the better part of a year living back at home in between graduating college and first moving to New York to help run The Dojo in the spring and summer of 1999.

During that stretch I did relatively well at the local level, including a Limited PTQ Top 8, a Limited PTQ win, numerous Constructed PTQ Top 8s, a Constructed PTQ win, an invitation to US Nationals, an undefeated Grand Prix Day one (in games, not just matches), and of course my “virtual Top 8” 9th on breakers US Nationals Top 8 in Ohio’s capital itself.

I am very fond of this time period in my life even though at the time I was actually quite miserable — no girl, lying in the fetal position crying about having no girl, spending 100% of my time trying to get on the Pro Tour (which, admittedly I did pretty well), eating three pound bags of M&Ms every night — what am I thinking?!? Why the aich ee double hockey sticks should I be fond of this? Never mind that bit.

Anyway, this is the deck that turned it all around for me:

“George” by Mike Donais

3 Capsize
4 Counterspell
4 Curiosity
3 Dominating Licid
4 Forbid
4 Hammerhead Sharks
4 Legacy’s Allure
4 Manta Riders
3 Thalakos Drifters
2 Thalakos Seer
3 Tradewind Rider

19 Island
3 Maze of Shadows

3 Bottle Gnomes
1 Helm of Possession
3 Portcullis
3 Mana Leak
2 Steal Enchantment
1 Thalakos Drifters
2 Stalking Stones

I didn’t do a tournament report for this one so I had to roll up the sleeves and find an article Mike Donais had written about it; this is a mashup between Mike’s article and Gary Krakower’s GP Austin-winning sideboard (but it is more or less the deck I used to get to the PTQ Top 4).

At the point that I made this Top 8 I had not qualified for a Constructed Pro Tour in going on two years (and remember, two years at that point was about 2/3 of the lifetime of the Pro Tour). I am sure a lot of you know how infinitely frustrating it was to put so much time and effort into my “hobby” and come up short time and again.

But George — even as a Top 8 / Top 4 and not actual PTQ win — showed me that I could do something and paved the way to all those subsequent Top 8s, PTQ wins, and so on for the rest of the year. In fact, I had a gigantic ratings advantage after this year in Ohio that I spent 1999-2000 qualified for every Pro Tour until New York 2000, where I embarassingly missed a PT in my own back yard (no, we don’t really have back yards in New York).

Yes, George was a very unusual deck — I mean Curiosity and Manta Riders in a format full of Survival of the Fittest, Living Death, and Mogg Fanatic — but was rewarding to play. One of the things I liked about it was how self-deprecating I could be thanks to the relatively low power of my individual spells, basically Goblin Baloon Brigade or a suped up Hill Giant. I could play all apologetic about the fact that I was summoning a Manta Riders. Meanwhile I knew it was going to kill the other guy, even when that other guy was a standout who taught me everything I knew, like Worth Wollpert.

I actually rolled undefeated through the tournament until my eventual loss to Jason Marks in the Top 4 (Jason is John Marks’s younger brother); including a Top 8 victory over my old Dallas rommate Worth and Swiss pairings with David “Tourless” Weitz (who would go on to be Ohio State Champion that year) and eventual Grand Prix superstar Trey Van Cleave.

The cards I liked best were Manta Riders (but only when enhanced by Curiosity) and Thalakos Drifters (which, combined with Curiosity made for a fair clock). The card that was least impressive for me was — believe it or not — Tradewind Riders. Tradewind was just a bit slow for this strategy, which was the beatdown in every matchup.

I actually beat Jason in Game One due to my Mike’s main deck Hammerhead Sharks (he had something like 14 Islands starting), but he came back to take the match with his Shard Phoenix, even though I had him on the ropes in Game Two (yeah, I probably gave it away). If memory serves, Jason took the PTQ (it was either him or Tourless Weitz, but as I recall Pro Tour Rome was the same day as Ohio States, and Weitz was in Ohio to win THAT tournament… but hey, it’s been ten years).

In addition to “turning around” a long stretch of non-finishes, I think this deck went a long way in shaping my outlook as a metagame player. Today R&D might just print a Blue Erg Raiders [that can block, I mean], but back then playing a card like Hammerhead Shark — with a significant crimp in overall flexibility — was a bit of a leap of faith. No, it wasn’t very good against the popular Survival of the Fittest decks, but Hammerhead Shark was a great beatdown creature against the Island-laden Shard Phoenix and Awakening decks, and a superb blocker against the Cursed Scroll-less Red Decks.

Thanks Mike.

Thanks George.

Thanks… giving?


facebook comments:


#1 jmgh on 11.25.08 at 4:16 pm

I remember my Carrion Ants at this time….. ahhhh.. Good time’s 😀

Have a great Thanksgiving day Mike!

#2 kenseiden on 11.27.08 at 10:08 am

this article reminds me the time when 99% of the field were homebrews, since there was no decklists on the interntez, and the very few strategies online were easyly outclassed.

well I was quite happy these times, even going casual/rogue.

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