'm just as shocked as you are.
Never in a million years would I think that I could be playing in the Magic Invitational. In the past, the Writers' Pick was a slot determined by writers. For whatever reason, the event organizers decided that this year, the Writers' Pick would be given to a writer. While I qualify as a writer, I never expected to win. It was, as they say, an honour just to be nominated. Luckily for me, it seems that the fans of Jamie Wakefield, John Rizzo, JMS, and Mark Gottlieb (among others) were gone fishing the week of the voting.
If you said that my Pro Tour resume was slender, you would win the Understatement of the Year Award. Most of the other invitees probably have more Pro Tour Top 8s than I have kitchen table tournament Top 8s (and we usually only get 5-6 guys to show up). I'm probably not even the highest rated player in my apartment (and my roommate doesn't even play Magic). I might be the only person on the planet who has covered more sanctioned matches than he's played. The ratio is something like 2:1.
But what was I gonna do? Turn down the invitation? Yeah, right. I was playing to win and/or not embarrass myself too badly.
As you know, when you win the Invitational, you get to see your likeness on a card of your own design. Now, I'm not much of a card designer. At least, I'm not much of a "design" designer. I was playing along with the Great Designer Search until the Un-set challenge, at which point, my brain promptly exploded. I don't have the grand visions that are required to design cohesive Magic sets, but if you asked me to do something extraordinarily narrow, like make 100 green fatties that cost seven mana, I could probably come up with some halfway decent stuff.
If I could've worked on any Magic set ever made, I would've picked Time Spiral. I love all the references to past cards, and just about any fantasy card that I've designed has been loaded with references to other cards. Here's a short list of my favourite things in Magic:
1. Creatures with comes-into-play abilities.
2. Green creatures.
3. Fetching a lot of land with cards like Skyshroud Claim.
Put it all together and you get green creatures with comes-into-play abilities that get better (or finally become playable) when you have a ton of land in play. Basically, I'm going to submit a, uh, seven-mana green fatty.
I did a bit of research, and while several people have submitted green cards, they are usually things like Survival of the Fittest or Holistic Wisdom (or both) tacked on to the body of a Grizzly Bear. From what I could gather, only two people in the history of the Invitational have submitted green fatties (say, creatures with a combined power and toughness of 10 or greater) and neither of those creatures is particularly "green." First, there was Gerardo Godinez's submission in 2000 (the year Jon Finkel won):
GG, Master of the Shadow
Creature - Beast
Flying, protection from black
Fading 4 (This creature comes into play with four fade counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a fade counter from it. If you can't, sacrifice it.)
The second one was Brian Kibler's submission in 2001 (the year Kai Budde won):
Creature - Dragon Angel
When Apocalyptic Dragon-Kin comes into play, discard your hand and destroy all other permanents in play.
Most of the Invitational submissions I've seen have the phrase "draw a card" on them somewhere, often in multiple locations. I just so happen to like card-drawing, too. Especially in green. A couple cards that I've tried to use, with little success, are Nature's Resurgence and Collective Unconscious. What if you turned them into a creature's comes-into-play ability?
Creature - Elf Druid Mutant
When CARDNAME comes into play, choose one - Draw a card for each creature you control; or each player draws a card for each creature card in his or her graveyard.
It wasn't big on Jungian analysis or Gaia theory. It much preferred Jugan analysis and Child of Gaea theory.
Okay, that body (or any body, really) with either one of those two abilities would probably be ridiculous. If I had to choose one, though, it'd be the Nature's Resurgence ability. This card wasn't exciting enough for me, despite being an Elf that will often draw you six cards. So, keeping in mind what Devin Low wrote about making good green fatties, I came up with this, a tweak on Krakilin and/or Ivy Elemental:
Crackling Ivy XGG
Creature - Plant Fungus
CARDNAME comes into play with X +1/+1 counters on it.
When CARDNAME comes into play, put X 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens into play.
"The specimen's dish seems to be broken." - Mycologist, last words
It's like a weed that grows out of control. Not bad, but I can probably do better. One of my favourite cards of all time is Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. He's big and he can make your whole team bigger. The cool part, though, is his ability to animate lands. This allows you do fun things in concert with Triskelion or Goblin Sharpshooter, but it also gives you some measure of protection against board sweepers like Wrath of God. As long as you have some green mana available, your opponent knows that a Wrath will also take out many of his lands. With that in mind, I came up with this:
Creature - Fungus Elemental
2G: Until end of turn, all lands become 2/2 creatures that are still lands.
"Ugh." - Ugg, goblin goon
Now, I like those cards. They are definitely cards I would put in my decks. But this is the Invitational. You (or, at least, I) only get one shot. Why not go for broke and tack as many abilities as possible on to a single card? Here's what you'd get if you combined three of my favourite cards:
Creature - Giant Ape
When CARDNAME comes into play, if you played it from your hand, choose one - Destroy all artifacts; or creatures you control get +3/+3 and gain trample until end of turn; or put a 1/1 green Insect creature token into play for each Forest you control.
Bolts of lightning were no match for its peels of thunder.
For reference, that's Overrun, Beacon of Creation, and the card that I'm still hoping will become the first Un-card to make it into a "real" Magic set, Uktabi Kong. The question of how my ugly mug will get into the art of this card is something I will leave up to the Creative guys.
2006 Invitational Champ - Antoine Ruel
2006 Player of the Year - Shouta Yasoka
2006 World Champion - Makahito Mihara
Road Warrior - Tiago Chan
The Fanatic - Shuhei Nakamura
Resident Genius - Katsuhiro Mori
APAC - Kenji Tsumura
Latin America - Willy Edel
Europe - Frank Karsten
North America - Mark Herberholz
Judges' Pick - Raphael Levy
Players' Pick - Gabriel Nassif
Pick of Writers - ME!
R&D Pick - Anton Jonsson
Fan Favourite - Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Fan Favourite - Tsuyoshi Fujita
One of these things is not like the others.
The Format Breakdown
As with every Invitational, the players are forced to really think on their feet, since most of the formats are strange and new.
Duplicate Mini-Master With Vanguard
In case you are unfamiliar with Mini-Master, here's what Kelly Digges had to say about it in a recent-ish feature article:
"Each player opens one booster pack without looking at it, shuffles in two of each basic land, and then uses that as his or her library. Players don't lose for being unable to draw a card, and there's usually a rule to enable cards with three or more of one colored mana symbol to be played (for instance, once per game you may exchange a basic land in your hand for another type of basic land). As a variant, some groups let you look at the pack first and add as many basic land of each type as you want."
For this one, we were each given the same "pool" of cards, a variation on the "dream pack" conjured up by BDM, Mike Flores, and Scott McCord over at top8magic.com. The pack has the usual distribution of rares, uncommons, and commons, with the latter being neatly divided up into two cards of each colour and a Ravnica Karoo. Here's the pack:
1 Savage Twister
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Errant Ephemeron
1 Rolling Thunder
1 Empyrial Armor
1 Faith's Fetters
1 Crypt Rats
1 Izzet Boilerworks
This format is a little, uh, draw-dependent. Since it was Vanguard, I decided to play with the Akroma, Angel of Wrath Avatar and just hope that my creatures got protection from red and/or protection from black. Sadly, even though they often did, I still went 0-3.
Ravnica Block Sealed
It's always fun to go back in time a bit and play some long-forgotten Limited format, and what has been forgotten for longer than RGD Sealed? Incredibly, when I sat down to look at my card pool, I realized that I had opened the exact same set of cards that I opened at Grand Prix - Toronto. Unfortunately, even though I've had almost a year to think about it, I still had no idea how to build the deck. If you want to take a crack at it, here's the pool I used to build the deck I took to an 0-3 record:
Ravnica Block Sealed Pool
Guardian of the Guildpact
Weight of Spires
Taste for Mayhem
Seal of Doom
2 Rally the Righteous
Consult the Necrosages
Clutch of the Undercity
Duskmantle, House of Shadow
Golgari Rot Farm
Masques of Kamigawa
Wow, the flattery continues. Several months ago, on this very site, in this very column, I introduced this very format to this very planet. It was received with such widespread acclaim that Mark Rosewater chose it as one of the formats for this year's Invitational.
Basically, the format is a sort of "What if…?" Standard, made up of less-than-beloved Masques Block (Mercadian Masques, Nemesis, and Prophecy), Kamigawa Block (Champions, Betrayers, and Saviors of Kamigawa), and the latest Core Set (in this case, Ninth Edition).
Instead of resting on what few laurels I had, I decided to scrap all of my previous MoK decks (even Kiki-Pirates) and start fresh. I didn't want to do something lame, like play Rebels with Shining Shoal. Since the main focus of Kamigawa Block was "Legendary Creatures," I decided to see how this aspect of the block intersected with Masques Block.
I quickly hit on Volrath the Fallen as the card that I wanted to build around. As a discard outlet, you can use him alongside Slumbering Tora to set up a Footsteps of the Goryo or Goryo's Vengeance on Kokusho, the Evening Star or Iname as One. If you pitch Iname to Volrath, you'll have an 18/16 creature! Of course, you'll have a huge guy that can be chump-blocked all day long, which is why I included a pair of Shizos.
I didn't end up playing that deck, however. Here's what I played to an 0-3 record:
U/G Masumaro, First to Live
The deck seeks to combine the Saviors of Kamigawa "wisdom" cards (in particular, the "Maro" cycle) with Howling Wolf, Nesting Wurm, and Ensnare from Nemesis. Spontaneous Generation is a "wisdom" card that came before its time and it works well with all the hand fillers. The deck can win out of nowhere with the combination of Masumaro and Ensnare. At the end of your opponent's turn, play Ensnare by returning two Islands to your hand. This will tap all creatures and give Masumaro +4/+4. On your turn, you can play Gush or Seek the Horizon or Howling Wolf and pump Masumaro even more. Since all of your opponent's creatures will be tapped at this point, you can swing freely, just like Vladimir Guerrero.
Reject Rare Draft
Green is notoriously bad in Reject Rare Draft. Compared to normal draft formats, green retains all of its weaknesses (no removal, little evasion), but has none of its usual strengths (there are very few mana-fixers or combat tricks in the rare slot). Last time I tried to draft green in this format, I ended up with a handful of Vexing Beetles and not much else. Take that, Last Word!
Borrowing a page from Zvi Mowshowitz's playbook, I decided to attempt the "green gambit" and force the colour. To let everybody know that I was planning to do this, I was outfitted with a homemade green t-shirt bearing the image of a certain Badger from Rysoria. Badgers? Badgers? We'll certainly be needing some of those.
I first-picked a Golgari Grave-Troll (What was that doing in there?), and it gave me something to focus on for the rest of the draft. I started picking cards that wanted a full graveyard (Bearscape, Chlorophant, Nature's Resurgence, and the very splashable Death or Glory) and cards that could fill it up (Wood Sage, Cephalid Vandal, False Memories, and Animal Magnetism). Unsurprisingly, I got a late-pick Pedantic Learning, which goes so well with all of my self-milling cards that I decided to run it. I also picked up a Words of Wilding, whose ability to allow me to skip my draw will come in handy since there's a good chance that I will deck myself otherwise.
After the first two packs, I still didn't have any removal, or, for that matter, any way to deal with creatures whatsoever. Luckily, the third pack served up a Cytoplast Manipulator (to go with my Spike Breeder, Evolution Vat, and Erithizon), a Suncrusher (to go with, among other things, the Vat), and a very late Stone-Tongue Basilisk. I managed to snap up a few more goodies before the draft was done, including Omnibian, Anthroplasm, Sekki, Seasons' Guide, and Novijen Sages (which is amazing with both Chlorophant and Anthroplasm). With so many good Simic cards coming in the third pack, you'd think I engineered the card pool myself. Last and probably least, I quite happily snapped up a fifteenth-pick R. Badger to round out the deck.
Here's what I played to an 0-3 record:
Auction of the Elder Dragons
What better way to finish the Invitational than with a 16-player free-for-all, Elder Dragon Highlander-style? The bidding process becomes even more interesting when you consider that you will now have to fend off 15 opponents with your reduced life total. With that in mind, I opted to wait things out and took a less powerful deck at a lower price. It wasn't as tuned as the other decks, but it looked like a lot of fun to play, and had a bit of a Snake subtheme that I couldn't resist. Here's the deck:
As you might expect, everybody quickly ganged up on the four people still in contention and eliminated them from the game. Since I had locked up last place, I could safely be ignored. The rest of the competitors fell one by one, until only Makahito Mihara and I were left. I was up 22 to 1 on life and he was in danger of losing next turn to my Wishmonger. Mihara, playing with Vaevictis Asmadi, played Rite of Flame, Mana Geyser, Seething Song, and Cabal Ritual before playing Dragonstorm for five dragons. He fetched Bogardan Hellkite, Brimstone Dragon, Rorix Bladewing, Fire Dragon, and Kokusho, the Evening Star. The Hellkite domed me for 5, the Fire DragonSpitting Earth'd Kokusho, which drained me for 5 more, and the hasty dragons crashed in for the final 12 points.
Missed it by that much. And by "that much," I mean "a lot."
Until next time, have fun making believe.