Six Months with “The REAL Madison ‘A’ Squad”

Last year, WOTC announced the string of team events leading up to the Pro Tour in Minneapolis. In an effort to dodge the drama and extra work that comes with finding teammates for event after event, I locked in with two fine gentlemen with the understanding that this would be our default team, and that if any of us qualified for the team RPTQ, the others would automatically be part of their squad.

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Those teammates are:

Dan Cecchetti (my phone autocorrects his name now, thank god): Dan’s most easily celebrated feature is his willingness to always be in for X, where X is whatever degenerate thing you want to do, with a little more on top of that. Want to credit card game? It only makes sense to next-level. Want to split the 64oz prime rib? Sure, which outrageous dessert would go best with that?

His most well-known magic accomplishments include winning GP Miami with GW Mastery of the Unseen, a deck with a wincon of life total integer overflow, a known bug that causes your opponent to lose all interest in ever playing Magic again. He also represented the greatest nation in history at the World Magic Cup (after getting insanely lucky to beat me in the qualifier).

Ben Rasmussen: Ben makes things happen. He does a lot of the work to make the Madison Magic scene something worth celebrating, and if someone new and interesting comes to town, he’s the most likely to reach out and make sure they find the right place to start. When my wife and I moved to Madison a few years back, he offered us whatever we needed to help get settled, and he continues to put me in touch with the right people whenever a new challenge arrives.

Ben also hates fun, which makes him a perfect counterbalance for Dan. There’s something extra amusing about doing a bunch of stupid nonsense if there’s someone shaking their head nearby. Even though Ben hates fun, he IS fun. He loves telling stories, and as long as it’s a slow day on Twitter, you can count on him for some extended conversation that you walk away from feeling like both of you are enriched for the experience.

The year started off pretty exciting for me – I bought a house, which meant that my budget, in terms of both time and money, would be greatly limited for a few months. I decided that I would skip any solo GPs that required time off from work. This meant I could focus on just Limited and one Constructed format, making it much easier to prepare.

From the start, our team configuration was pretty straightforward. None of us had any relevant Legacy experience so we gave that to Dan. He would be practicing the least anyway, and has the most natural talent for picking up a deck and figuring out its nuances as he goes. Ben hates Standard slightly less than he hates Modern, so we gave him that, which meant I got to play the best format in Magic for the next few months.

I played Bant Knightfall at the California GP and I honestly couldn’t tell you what my teammates were on. You’re so off-sync when you have to switch to thinking about other formats that it was often best for us just to casually observe each other and make sure we didn’t do anything stupid. We died pretty early, and although I wanted to keep playing, my team was done with Magic for the day, so instead we did literal nothing until after round 8. It was actually extra tilting because I did convince them to play one extra round, and DURING that round, a big modern event started that I definitely would have just solo’d had I noticed it.

A few of us went out for dinner that night at a mid-level steakhouse while Ben had drinks with some other friends. Our waitress was a very small woman who seemed to be having trouble projecting her voice enough for the entire table to hear her at once, which led to a lot of awkward repetition, but she did seem determined to make us have fun. When Ben showed up halfway through our meal, we made some stupid joke about isolating him from the rest of us. She saw her moment and decided that we MUST build a fort out of menus to hide him away, and got to work building it. It was a little baffling, but I don’t think any of us were sober enough to protest, even when she brought out a camera.

And that’s how you end up with a picture like this:

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On Sunday we played an Ixalan Team Sealed PTQ and went 4-0 with a great pool before falling in the last round to miss top4. We spent all of our tickets on some Masters set packs and opened like, $6 in value for a day’s play.

Dan drove Severa, Ben, and me to the airport, and on the way there, in a haze of late-night tired energy, Severa and I came up with Spooncoin, a cryptocurrency that took the form of one-second clips from the Soundgarden song Spoonman. It might have just been some one-shot stupid comment, but Ben seemed so offended by how bad our idea was that we didn’t stop talking about it. He ended up stuck between us in the car, and also on the entire flight home, and I’m quite convinced he wanted to murder us, but we thought the whole thing was hilarious. (side note: I now have a definitive ranking of the best one-second clips of that song, so that when we create this ‘coin’, we can save the most valuable bits for ourselves) (second side note: yeah, I know that’s not how cryptocurrencies work).

GP Indianapolis was uneventful. We had a solid sealed pool and finished x-2 on day one after losing to a team headlined by Seth Manfield in the final round, but went 2-3 on day two before dropping out.

A week later, the three of us played in the same 22 player PPTQ, and when we all made top8 and managed to dodge each other in the quarters, we were sure that we’d be a lock for the win. Instead we didn’t make it past the semis and the entire season went terribly for us all.

In March, I decided to play in an LCQ for the single-player RPTQ later that month. The organizers listed the wrong format TWICE, and to compensate, they left it as a dirt-cheap sealed event with an insane payout. The field was completely stacked, but I had a great sealed pool and a really strong read on my seat at the top8 table, so I drafted a bonkers UR aggro deck while the rest of the table fought over WB and I managed to win the whole thing.

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The RPTQ went pretty bad for me, and I could only pull off a 4-3 record with yet another insane sealed pool (Tetzimoc and Settle the Wreckage in an overall great BW deck). Luckily, Ben swept the swiss and he had a much better deck than his opponent in the top8, so he won his PT invite AND an RPTQ invite for our team.

Soon after, Dominaria came out.

In Madison, we usually do “draft camp” on release weekend, but this time there was a team GP on that date so we decided to get a VERY early start on the format and build a printed-proxy “set cube” the day the full spoiler went up. We spent the entire weekend and week before the prerelease drafting and building team sealed pools, then did our normal draft camp during the prerelease.

The GP Columbus trip was actually pretty great. We stayed with an old friend of Ben and Dan, Josh Rayden, who put us up in a super nice house where we each had our own bedroom and bathroom, and his nerdy game-room setup was easily the nicest i’ve ever seen. Between the amazing streaming space and self-3d printed models, he looked to be living the dream.

Going into the event I felt great about our chances, but our pools was quite weak and we landed on a 4-3 record. We traveled around the city a bit, hopping from restaurant to restaurant in Josh’s Tesla until we ended up a place with solid whiskey flights and some decent looking food. I got tricked, though, and saw a meal that said it came with broccoli rice, which I assumed was riced broccoli, and that was enough to sell me on the choice. It turned out to be a big pile of regular rice with a piece of broccoli in it.

The next day we had a solid pool for the PTQ and plowed through the swiss, losing in a top4 that included the teams of Josh McClain / Sam Pardee / Jacob Wilson and Ben Rubin / Corey Burkhart / Rich Hoaen. We lost to the other guys in the top4 in an unexciting fashion (I got stuck on lands while Dan got smashed by a Traxos on Serra’s Wings backed up by an Icy Manipulator) but ended up with 156 packs EACH, which has basically let me draft endlessly since then.

There was an odd judge call during the match – after a few turns of Ben’s game, I looked over and noticed that the faces of Ben’s opponent’s sleeves didn’t match – all of his lands were glossy, all of his other cards were matte. When my match started and the same thing was true for my opponent, we called a judge. The judge said that the backs of the cards were all the same, and that the pattern was not as uniform was we had observed (not all lands were in glossy-front sleeves, not all other cards were matte), so it was fine and they could keep playing. This seemed very wrong to me, but the head judge disagreed. You can read some of the discussion here:

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This PTQ also featured one of my favorite moments of the entire team season – Ben drew his opening hand and kept. Then his opponent kept, and Ben called a judge. Ben says “I drew my opening hand and thought ‘this looks amazing!’ Then I realized that it was an 8 card hand and that’s why it looked so good.”  They go through their normal spiel, and eventually Ben shows the hand to me and Dan before it gets mulligained away and . . . it’s not even a good hand. Not good for a seven-card, and DEFINITELY not good for an eight.

The top4 of the GP included teams with Matt Severa and Sam Black, and also a team with Jake Lamb, a local player who attended our draft camp. It was a lot of work to assemble our set cube and reschedule draft weekend, but it certainly looks like the plan paid off.

Our next event was GP Toronto, but Dan was busy with EDC shenanigans so we replaced him with John Stolzmann as our legacy expert. John actually has a ton of experience with the format and came with a deck that looked like total nonsense to me – I got exactly one card into the list before I found one I had never heard of (Children of Korlis?). Moreso than ever, we were all kind of doing our own thing at this event – there was no way I would be able to provide any reasonable input on what was going on in anyone else’s games.

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The trip to Toronto itself was an adventure – my wife, Anna, and I drove to Canada ahead of time and made a stop over in Niagara Falls. It was a pretty surreal place once you got over the fact that you were DEFINITELY going to get wet. There’s a fine mist surrounding the entire city and you can’t really help but wipe off your glasses every 15 minutes. It was an incredible sight though, and well worth the 90 minute drive if you ever find yourself in Toronto.

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Toronto itself was one of my favorite places I’ve ever been on a Magic trip, which reminds me of how great Vancouver was – is it possible that Canada is actually amazing and we’re all just suckers for not moving there? Everything was so clean, the people were diverse and interesting, the food was consistently great, and it wasn’t THAT expensive once you worked out the 20% discount of the currency conversion.

The GP and PTQ didn’t go great, so there’s not much to say there. I ended up playing Humans, a deck that I wasn’t super happy with that also happened to have a huge target on its head. John was an awesome teammate who I’d be happy to have along any time. He was great conversation, a solid catchphrase player, and was generally easygoing and nice – about as good as you can possibly ask for from a teammate you’ve never met.

Anna and I spent another day in Toronto after the GP and it continued to impress. We walked several miles kilometers through a wide variety of neighborhoods, past sporting events, playgrounds full of happy kids, and fun bars, eventually stopping for a drink at a classic cocktail lounge where we faced a dilemma:

In Canada, when you finish your meal / drink, they bring a scanner over to your table instead of taking your card from you. I accidentally pressed ‘no tip’ on the scanner but figured it was no big deal – I’d just leave cash before we left. After she walked away, I remembered that my only cash was American, so we just left an extra big tip for the conversion hassle. It was probably a super inconvenient though, as I know that if someone left me some Canadian money in Wisconsin, it would be pretty close to garbage.

I stayed in Michigan with Anna’s family for a week between the Toronto and DC, so I had very little downtime between the two events. We got back very late Thursday night, and on Friday afternoon I jumped on a plane with the rest of Madison’s finest.

We had yet another Mediocre GP, this time with a misbuilt sealed pool featuring a GW deck that couldn’t go over or under any real deck, and mostly just hoped to draw its 2-3 best cards every game to do anything substantial. We spent the rest of the day messing around on site. DC friend Nicole Leister repeatedly destroyed me in battlebox, a format she’s never played featuring mostly cards she’s never seen. It was a serious beating.

Our PTQ was also a bust, and we declined a split at 3-2 because we “came to game” and got completely crushed. We did end up going to an incredible Hot Pot restaurant that was way better than any similar thing in Madison, and though it was almost a 30 minute drive from the venue, I plan to return at every opportunity in the future.

After dinner, Dan and I went back to the hotel and played Pack Pai Gow for keeps with our weekend’s winnings. Mike Hron greatly improved the game by suggesting that instead of using the blank basic land, we should just be allowed to play with our tokens / emblems. We mostly split our games, and when we got to our final packs, Dan proposed that we wager the entire pool so far on this ultimate round. How can you say no to that? It ended up working out well because Dan didn’t have room in his luggage for more cards anyway.

Fast forward to this past weekend . . .

On the Friday before the RPTQ, Dan took a bus from Chicago to Madison, and instead of practicing we decided to play Scythe with some of Madison’s finest for 6 hours. If you’ve never played Scythe before, it’s a game where you play as one of five animal friends collecting farm implements, ending when one player finally collects the golden scythe and is able to protect their family from the mean ol’ farmer. I think. . . I dunno, I didn’t win any games.

The next day, Dan and I settled on our UW and Mono Red lists, but we still had no idea what Ben was going to play, other than that it would include black cards. He ended up throwing together a pile of sultai planeswalkers and we agreed that if it wasn’t embarrassing against both Red and UW, we were okay with him playing it. His first iteration included some awful cards like Muldrotha (no way am I taking the time to check that spelling), and somehow he snuck that card into his final list as well. The deck actually ended up having some interesting angles to it, as UW decks had a hard time fighting through both Siphoner/Scarab God and an endless pile of planeswalkers.

On the drive up to Minneapolis, Dan and I burned through some 50ish packs playing more Pack Pai Gow while Ben drove and listened to the Brewers. Dan was crushing me for a while until I opened a Karn and knew I had to step up my game to hold onto that golden ticket, and I managed to pull off a super-tight victory. A handful of games later, Dan returned the favor, only his Karn was foil (I told you he likes to escalate the degeneracy). By the end of the drive, he had won 26 games to my 16, which redeemed his devastating loss in DC.

I woke up in our hotel at 2:30am the night before the RPTQ and did some quick math on the odds of Dan and I finding another team if I smothered Ben to end his snoring, but in the end a pair of headphones and a white noise audio track on Spotify saved his life.

Song of the trip:

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We ended up smashing our way through the first three rounds of the event before the difficulty ramped up in a hurry. In round four my opponent opened up with double Freebooter, picking apart my hand, but I ran perfect draw steps for a while to stay in the game. Finally on the turn I was about to Approach for the second time, my opponent Fatal Pushed his own Freebooter and bought it back with TSG, stripping the Approach from my hand and sealing the game. Our next game also had an interesting back and forth, but it never played out as both my teammates had already won.

In round 5 we played against a team including lifelong hero Lukas Carlson and lifelong villain Eddie Song. Ben won the match for us with five planeswalkers in play, including one of Eddie’s Teferis, and we spent some time talking about double-drawing into top8. As it turned out, there were enough variables in place that it wasn’t safe for us to draw – we might be forced to play in round 7, and we figured that battling would give us two shots to win a match, where drawing only gave us one.

Obviously we lost both, and our tournament officially ended when the oldest Kiefer kicked Fight with Fire at me while I stared down at the multiple Teferis stuck in my hand and four lands in play. We finished 9th out of 125 teams for 12 packs each, which is honestly a totally shameful payout.

We decided to roll 4d6 for our team’s sealed box, and I beat Dan’s monstrous 19 (4% or so) to take it. The team of CalebD, Matt Hoey, and Joe Bernal ran the same gambit, and when Joe came out ahead, we decided to roll off to take home both boxes. I obviously won, and the day’s emotional roller coaster reached its final peak.

So that’s how six months of team Magic went for our team. We worked well together and had a few deep runs, but in the end, the real treasure was the friendship we strengthened along the way (And also all these boxes of Dominaria I’m sitting on. Should I hold or sell?).

I’ll be at GP Minneapolis at the end of July, and I just signed on to go to Gen Con at the start of August, so if you’re going to those events, say hi! It’ll be my first Gen Con and I’m pretty pumped about it. Maybe I’ll even get to do a Beta draft. My next team event will be Detroit later this year, where I plan on getting hard-carried by Steve Locke and Josh McClain.

I have a plan for another article that should HOPEFULLY be coming up in the next week or two, so if all goes well, I won’t have another 11-month gap between entries.

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