London and Beyond

I don’t get to play many pro tours, so I wanted to talk a bit about my experience, my testing, and my path to earning an invite.

Near the end of the final PPTQ season I noticed that I wouldn’t have a lot of opportunities to play anymore. Things were pretty busy for me, so my options were one final event right over the Iowa border, or try and drive up to Minneapolis to play in an LCQ. I wasn’t going to drive four hours for that shot, so it was do-or-die in Iowa.

There was a bad GW Explore deck that I had a lot of fun with, and I’d practiced with it quite a bit in the past, so I just sleeved that up. This was the deck the Madison guys took to a GP last fall, that used Path of Discovery to get a massive number of explore triggers. This let you dig for specific cards quickly and make a bunch of huge lifelinkers. The draw to the deck was that you had the ability to go way over the top of all the grindy creature decks (GB), and could transform into an Ajani/Adanto Vanguard beatdown pile when you couldn’t count on your board sticking around. The metagame at the event was perfect for the deck, with my one terrible matchup, Teferi control, basically nonexistent. I had some close early rounds, and if I remember correctly, I went to time a lot.

After a few rounds I went out for a quick lunch and noticed that I had a lot of phone calls from my family. My grandmother had died that morning. She’d been ill for a long time so it wasn’t a shock or anything, but it was a huge blow. Magic is great distraction from real harrowing life issues, however, and I managed to pour all my mental energy into playing during each round, and I worked on booking a flight to the funeral in between. I think I actually played quite well, and I typically do play better when I’m not feeling my best. I over-socialize a bit more than is productive, so when I have a headache or I’m stressed about something that I want to ignore, I’m often good at putting more of myself into each game.

I made it to the finals of the event and got paired against longtime Iowa friend Steve Nesteby on red aggro, a matchup I think is favorable when you both have average draws – but he smashed me. At the very end, he confessed that he thought I would put more effort into testing for the RPTQ, and that he’d be perfectly happy with the few hundred in credit that we had decided would go to second place. And just like that, I’d been gifted an invite to the RPTQ.

For the new standard format, I really liked the Esper control decks that were popping up. I built a list that I really liked, took it to a local 1k the week before the RPTQ, and lost in the semifinals to my friend Jeremy who was also on Esper control, but I liked his list much better. He was convinced that Thought Erasure was the best way to answer the biggest threats, and he was totally right. I was winning a lot more once I played the full set of discard spells. I also liked playing a few Notion Rains. One of the most common ways to lose with the deck was missing land drops 4-6 or missing a color, and the surveil from both of these cards mostly ensured that never happened.

I was a little worried about the GB + Hydroid Krasis decks that were becoming more popular, but Severa and I tested the matchup for a few hours during the week, and we found that going up to 3 Hostage Takers in the board of Esper Control was the best way to address the Krasis problem.

I stuck with Esper in the RPTQ, and again faced the meta I expected. I played against a lot of GBu decks and our practiced gameplan worked out. I played against Mono U in the finals, a matchup I had no experience with. My friend Evan had done well with blue in the RPTQ, so we discussed my general approach and sideboard plan and everything worked out in my favor once I cut down on clunky disruption.

I did make one pretty huge mistake in the final game: I was way ahead on life thanks to an uncontested Lyra, but my opponent had a single creature on board. I played Hostage Taker, and with its trigger on the stack, he Dove Down. If he had played the spell with the pirate on the stack, I would have been forced to remove my own Lyra, but we both missed the interaction. I think I’m a huge favorite even if this does go badly because I can just remove my Hostage Taker and keep beating down, but I end up expending a lot more resources that way.

So I was again qualified for the Pro Tour. For a long time we had zero information, but eventually it was revealed that the formats would be perfect for me. I love modern and was happy to get to play it, and the prerelease limited format is something we’d been prepared for in Madison for a long time. We often build set cubes to start drafting a week early, and this would be a great final test of what we’d been doing.

I decided early on to start learning the “Best” deck, Izzet Phoenix. I actually flew out to GP Tampa to test it out, something I wouldn’t normally do, but I had a vacation day I needed to burn at work and the practice would be especially valuable. I reasoned that if I was able to do well with the deck, I could spend my time working on lot of other things and have Phoenix as a backup plan. And that’s exactly what happened.

We learned about the new mulligan rule and began breaking out basically every deck we could think of that might benefit from the change. Severa had announced early on that he was just going to lock in GDS and get a ton of reps with it, and Sam did exactly the same thing with Lantern after top8ing Tampa. I churned through decks in a hurry. We tested out Grishoalbrand, Tron, Amulet, Ad Nauseum, Bogles, Cheerios, Jund Shadow, a few awful Mox Amber + Mox Opal Decks (“if someone breaks it and plays 8 moxes at the PT, it’s going to be us!”), and plenty of other piles.

The deck that snagged my attention for a long time was Amulet Titan. I was winning with it a lot in testing, but once I tried playing it on modo and had to be more precise about my triggers, and was playing against more hostile opponents, I started losing. I realized I had two options at this point: 1) Play nothing but Amulet Titan until the PT so that I could get in the reps to play it competently or 2) Keep learning all the decks in the format to better understand the metagame and look for something else I liked. It was also pointed out to me, around this time, that I might get totally slain by jetlag and be incapable of fully focusing on tight Amulet gameplay when it mattered most.

This is a good time to bring up my sleep preparation. I’d never traveled to Europe before, but I’d been to Hawaii and handled the sleep pretty well. I can usually operate on little rest, but I’m really not myself on less than 7 hours. I made a spreadsheet for myself of bedtimes and wakeup times (15 minutes earlier each day!), and slowly adjusted to Europe over the course of three weeks. Normally my alarm goes off at 6:30 am, but by the time we left for London I was easily getting up at 4. This meant that the 6 hour time shift would be cut down to 3.5 hours, which is much more manageable and much easier to slip into over 2-3 days.

Anyway, I tried out lots of decks against the metric of “does this beat both Tron and GDS” and basically nothing survived. Those two decks seemed best at punishing opposite extremes, and I figured that if something could beat both, it was probably worth spending time on. Humans was probably the closest thing, but I really just hate Aether Vial, and I knew I wouldn’t have fun playing it. In the end, I went back to Phoenix, but I made a lot of sideboard changes after what I’d learned. The two biggest takeaways were that neither Blood Moon nor Molten Rain were even close to good enough against Tron, and that Dredge was very beatable if you drew ANY hate cards, even if they were weaker ones. These points led to me playing Alpine Moon over some Blood Moons, and to playing a second Anger of the Gods over a second Ravenous Trap.

Alpine Moon was substantially better vs Tron. The main thing you needed was to pressure them while disrupting their mana. All the other options cost 3, and that was far too much. It slowed you down just as much as it slowed them, while Alpine Moon could slot in anywhere you had an extra mana. The second Anger was mostly there to account for the uptick in Humans, while being *enough* vs Dredge. All of these calls ended up being great for the real metagame, and I think my time spent trying out decks helped me tune my final list a lot.

We built our set cube the Friday before London and got in something like nine or ten drafts over the course of the weekend. This part of testing was espcially fun. Folks from all over the midwest came into town, and we regularly had two full 8-person drafts going at once. Draft weekends are often taxing because some people never really figure out what they’re doing, and will burn through a lot of time and money without making progress. This time it was much smaller and more relaxed, with a lot more discussion, and because we weren’t playing for anything (we usually draft rares at the end), there was no pressure to finish playing with terrible decks.

The highlight of the weekend was Matt Sikkink Johnson holding Wyatt’s cards for him and making all his plays so that he could pet my cat, Moxie, while getting through a game of Magic. Oh, and Moxie stealing people’s breakfast sandwiches. (I guess the best part of the weekend was really my cat, as it usually is.)
I was doing surprisingly well, with a few 3-0s and zero 0-3s against some of the Midwest’s best. I learned that I really liked UR and BR, and if I couldn’t be one of those beatdown decks, I wanted to be a rampy 3-5 color control deck that went way over the top. By the time the event rolled around, I’d done close to 15 drafts and felt ready.

Travel to London was fairly easy. I took a bunch of pills on the plane and got in a few hours of sleep. Our Airbnb kinda sucked – my wife and I shared one bedroom, Ben Rasmussen and his fiancée had another, and Matt Severa had a third – though he insisted that it didn’t count as a *bed*room because it didn’t “have a bed.”  And it didn’t count as a room because it didn’t “have a door.” They can’t all be winners. I did everything I could to try and stay awake as long as possible to get on a normal sleep schedule. I ended up going to bed at 10:30, waking up around 7, and had zero problems for the rest of the trip. Thanks melatonin and coffee!

We did a few drafts on-site before the PT, and I noticed that some of my grindy decks had a hard time closing, but I wasn’t really sure how to fix the problem. There weren’t a lot of big, hard to kill threats in the format that could actually push through a board stall. This theme continued throughout the weekend.

My first draft pod had Steve Rubin, one French player I recognized, and no one else I knew. It also only had 7 players, which meant it was impossible to 0-3. I started off my draft with a Spark Double, then immediately got passed a Teferi. A good start! I got a third pick Sorin and we were off to the races. Sam and I had discussed right before the event that a lot of people who hadn’t drafted a lot might be afraid to take rares they hadn’t played with, and it seemed like that was the case. I expected to be an Esper control deck and picked up some late fixing so that I could play any bombs I opened. And then I got passed Widespread Brutality, Nicol Bolas, the “Bitterblossom”, and Bolas’s Citadel by the end of the draft. My power level was through the roof.

No photo description available.

And then I got the round one bye! I was feeling great about my draft. My first real opponent had a RG deck, but I was able to dismantle him in game one, going Teferi > Spark Double > removal spell > Bolas. We both agreed my deck was insane, but in game two he had a two-drop and a Living Twister, which took a lot of resources to remove, and then he played a Chandra. I couldn’t keep my planeswalkers on board and got run over. In game 3 he went 2-drop, Twister, Chandra, Tolsmir, and I wasn’t close to being in the game.

Round 3 was mostly the same. Opponent was on UW fliers and I didn’t have the means to protect my walkers or my life total the way I would have hoped. Game 3 was a close one though, and we ground out forever and got into topdeck mode. He hit a single creature and a few lands while I hit all air. I checked the top of my deck after the game because I’m stupid, and saw the Aid the Fallen that would have returned Bolas and Spark double and easily put the game away.

So that was a disaster. I had exactly the kind of start I needed to have an amazing run at the PT, with every advantage thrown my way, but I couldn’t capitalize on it. I felt a little down, but I was excited for modern. The metagame breakdown had been released that morning and I thought it looked perfect – I was fully prepared for everything at the top, and all my bad matchups were tiny fractions of the field.
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Round 4 I got paired against burn, which was about 4% of the field, and I got destroyed. Now I was 1-3, with zero actual wins in matches played. When I lost game one of the next round to Tron I was just about ready to pack it in, but my sideboard cards carried me through the match. Now I was 2-3, and soon I beat Dredge, Ad Nauseum, and Whir Prison to end up 5-3 on the day. Not bad after leaving the draft at 1-2!

My realistic goal for the event was to finish 11-5, which would qualify me for the next Mythic Championship. This still seemed in reach – if I could go 5-3 after a bad a draft, certainly I could go 6-2 the next day. We fueled up on curry from a place called Pier Masala, which we’d also gone to the night before, and it was fantastic. The curry in London doesn’t fuck around, and this rivaled the very best I’d ever had in the States.

My second draft was similar. My pod had Corey Burkhart, Riku Kumagi, and no one else I really knew. I first picked a Tamiyo’s Epiphany out of a pack that had basically nothing, and then got passed a Time Wipe. I don’t love straight UW as an archetype, so I knew I’d likely again be in a control pile. In pack two I opened a Jace and immediately got passed a Tamiyo, so a plan of self-mill control seemed pretty reasonable. I was again short on real ways to pressure my opponent. One angle I did have was Huatli. Every creature in my deck had more toughness than power so Huatli actually gave me a big boost. I had several 1/3 fliers, 3/4 griffins, and even the 3/6 giant that gains 5 life.

I was paired against Corey in the first round, and I stole game one by decking myself with Jace. In games two and three he was able to grind me out with two copies of Enter the God Eternals, and when I was forced to pull the trigger on my Time Wipe, he followed up with Command the Dreadhorde – not a beatable card for my mill deck.

In the second round I played vs WR aggro, and he couldn’t beat either Time Wipe or the lifegain giant + Huatli. 11 life in one turn is a lot.

The third round was against Riku, and we had two back and forth games that only left us with about 8 minutes on the clock for the third. We got in about 15 quick, do-nothing turns, but I had most of the lands in my deck in play while he only had four, and I couldn’t keep up with the density of his draw.

Another 1-2 meant I’d have to win out in order to qualify for Barcelona.

I sat down for the first round of Modern against fellow Midwest grinder Matt Hoey. He was on humans, which I was pretty comfortable with, but I flooded out comically in game one playing zero spells multiple turns in a row, and then missed my second land drop after 5 looks in game two before getting locked out by Thalia. I might have been able to draw my fourth land on turn 6-ish to play an Anger of the Gods and survive, but I bricked and died.

The next round was probably my worst played of the event, against Brad Nelson. I had given up a little now that I was dead for my goals, and played without any kind of real plan against his Jund deck. Instead I just did some fine see-spell/play-spell magic and he picked me apart.

I took a short walk after this and got some caffeine, and decided that even though I was dead for another PT, I should really focus and use this opportunity to play the best I could. It had been four years since my last PT, I had no idea how long it would be until my next one, and I really ought to finish strong.

I had a great match against Steve Rubin next, on GDS. It was a matchup I’d played a LOT against Severa so I was really well prepared, but his game plan post-board was really unique. He’d brought in the UB Extraction card and started stripping my win cons out of my deck, so I was suddenly left with only one crackling drake as a way to win. Luckily I had an active ascension, so I was able to find it almost immediately, and he didn’t draw a way to remove it. Steve is a great player and is one of the nicest people I’ve had a chance to play against, so this was a nice way to ease back in after titling off a bit.

My last two matches weren’t anything special for the most part. I drew hate cards and won my post-board games against Titan Shift, and then won a Phoenix Mirror with the exact same maindeck 60 after drawing all the best cards for the matchup. That last opponent was also very nice, and gave me some Russian chocolate as a gift that actually tasted pretty good.

So I finished 9-7, which wasn’t the best result, but it was hard to be upset. I was very happy with my modern performance and preparation, but fell short on limited. I would play my same phoenix 74 (might have played a Gut Shot over the second Lightning Axe) if I had to do the tournament again, though I would also give a look to the new 4-Ascension builds that have been popping up. The limited portion was tough. I went a little overboard, and the one choice I look back on with wonder was a Bolas Citadel over Kasmina while deep in Grixis Control. The one game I played the Citadel it completely took over, but there were also another time or two when I just couldn’t spend my turn putting it out.

GP Madison is next (reading this again right before I post it, we did good! 29th place!), so I’ll be looking to make some adjustments based on what I’ve learned. After that, I need to shift my focus back to standard to attempt to get back on the “Mythic Championship” train. I feel like I’m playing good magic right now, and I’m confident I’ll be around again soon.


Madison Gobblin’ Guide 2019

Welcome back to Madison!

In general, my food guide from a few years ago still holds up, and if you want something extensive with a full guide to the city, check that out. The neighborhoods are all the same, getting around is the same, and the event is in the exact same venue:

Gobblin’ Guide – Where to eat during the Madison GP

Obviously some things have changed over the many months, and a few restaurants have closed or opened.

Some notable things before we get to new recommendations from myself and some of Madison’s best and brightest:

  • It’s graduation weekend. You’ll want to call ahead basically everywhere.
  • “That BBQ Joint” closed. It was probably the best food in the city. Smash that ‘F’ key.
  • Paul’s Pel’Meni moved. Probably totally irrelevant to you unless you visited last time (smart) and remember where it was.
  • Sophia’s closed, but it reopened as Humble Pie. I’m told it’s still got a very handmade touch, with one woman who takes great care to craft perfect pastries.
  • PLAN B closed and reopened as Prism after some ownership drama. I haven’t been back since, so I can’t say whether it’s still great, but the reviews look solid.
  • Netherworld Games moved to State Street. It’s got a bigger, cleaner playspace, and it’s closer to many bars and restaurants.

Okay, time for some updated recommendations:

Cheese Curd tiers:


Old Fashioned, fresh out of the fryer, with Tiger Sauce. There’s a window of about five minutes after they’re fried when they’re the best food in the world.


Merchant. They have a huge drink menu and a medium food menu, but it’s one of the best and most consistent spots for drinks and curds.

Graze. When you want some heavy, cheddary curds made by a dude who beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef.

Tipsy Cow. Goat cheese curds, yo.


Basically everywhere else in the city, including Culver’s.


Dotty’s Dumpling Dowry. AMAZING burgers, amazingly medium curds. If it’s the only place in the city you go that serves them, it’s still worth your time to check them out, but don’t judge us based on them.

I want to eat the most Wisconsin meal possible:

Go to the Old Fashioned. While you’re waiting 45 minutes for a table, get a Brandy Old Fashioned. When you get to your table, drink a Spotted Cow, eat cheese curds with Tiger Sauce, and if it’s Friday night, get the fish fry.

I want to go to the place where locals wait 90 minutes for a table every night:

There are a lot of Thai/Vietnamese/Laotian places in Madison, and most of them are totally great. Lao Laan Xang, Bah Thai, Sa Bai Thong, Sala Thai. All really solid, but there’s one place in town that everyone flocks to and it’s pretty well deserved.

Ha Long Bay is the gem, and it’s not uncommon for the line to be around the block for a table, especially when the weather is good. They do take reservations and they do take out, so your best bet is always to call ahead. They stop answering the phone when they’re slammed, so if they don’t answer, sadly move along.

Squash curry, duck curry, pad Thai, any pho, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try the crispy-sour-sweet Need Khao Tod.

It’s late at night and I want to eat something I’ll regret in the morning:

Burrito Drive and a menthol cigarette.

It’s late at night and I want to eat something good:

The late night menu at the Tornado Room. It’s a great steakhouse that server killer burgers, steaks, and more at WELL below market rates for such a classy supper club.

It’s late at night and I refuse to eat anything but celebrity chef fusion cuisine:

If you want to pile your plate high with ramen, waffle fries, fried chicken, and kimchi, Sujeo on East Washington is the spot.

There are 15 of us and we don’t have a reservation:

The Great Dane is a pretty basic brew-pub kinda place, but they have a few locations and they’re all large. It’s usually easy to find space for a lot of people if you’re good with mostly fried food and beer.

I’m eating low-carb / keto:

Besides the obvious steaks and burgers, there’s a place on the far East side called Good Food Low Carb Cafe and every item on their menu, from zoodle pasta to cheesecake is low carb. They’re always loaded up with heavy cream to add to your cold-brew, as well. While you’re visiting, check out Misty Mountain Games, literally next door. If you’re looking for a local FNM, this is worth the trip for dinner and gaming.

The beloved regional fast food joint:

It’s called Culver’s and their signature item is the Butter Burger. If you’re not sold on that, move along (but at least stop in for some frozen custard on your way out of town).

Just point me to the underrated masterpiece that’s pretty close to the venue:

Taqueria Guadalajara. It’s totally busted and usually not too crowded. The Horchata is top-tier, and everything on the menu is delicious.

Where should we go if we want a block that’s not swamped with college kids to walk around and catch a casual dinner?

The Atwood neighborhood is off on the east side of town, just far enough away that it’s mostly locals. Within a 5 minute walk of each other you’ll find:

  • Monty’s Blue Plate Diner (meatloaf and a Fat Elvis Milkshake)
  • Lao Laan Xang (squash curry)
  • Alchemy (craft cocktails, ribs, sweet potato fries)
  • Tex Tubbs Taco Palace (weirdo tacos: Pork and pineapple, fried Brussels sprouts, fried avocado)
  • Mint Mark (I hate tapas, but people who like tapas love this place)

Where to break your fast:

  • Sardine: a quick drive from the venue, very fancy omelets.
  • Marigold: also downtown and delicious
  • Short Stack: prepare for a line down the block, but it’s got great classic breakfast foods. Also downtown.
  • Monty’s Blue Plate Diner: my favorite hearty breakfast. Sweet potato hash, huevos rancheros, breakfast burrito, any omelette.
  • Manna: it’s a long drive and slow service, but the breakfast is delicious. Not kosher, but delicious Jewish food inspirations.

Legitimately great Indian food:

The two best places are on opposite sides of town.

Swagat, on the far West side has an unbeatable buffet that’s worth the trip for lunchtime, as long as you don’t have to be back in time to play a match.

Swad, on the East side (technically in Monona), is a strong contender for best food in the city. I actually forgot to include it in my personal best-of when I wrote it earlier because I eat there TOO MUCH. Usually about once a week or so. Their buffet is nothing special, but their regular menu is basically perfect, and if you find yourself in the mood for Indian food at the end of the day, this rivals the best curry I had in London during the MC.


Personal recommendations:

Me, Louis Kaplan, your personal hero:


Graze is owned by Madison’s Tory Miller, who took down Bobby Flay on Iron Chef Showdown last year. The whole restaurant is in one huge, modern room with super high ceilings and a premium view of the capitol building, but none of that really matters. All you need to know is this, my pick for best entree in the city:

–Hot Chicken & Pickles–

Broasted Tothill Farms chicken, pork glaze, waffle, maple syrup, cinnamon-cayenne butter


An *extensive* cocktail menu (My favorite drink in the city is The Regret with Death’s Door gin – the combination of lemon and rosemary gives a wonderful nose-hit with every sip) and tier-one cheese curds mean this is a great place to snack after a long day of gaming. Their regular menu isn’t incredible or anything, so I’d stick to burgers, pasta, and fried chicken sandwiches once you get past the appetizer round.

Ha Long Bay

You’ll have to make your way down to the too-cool Willy Street neighborhood for this one, and you miiiiight be waiting outside for an hour, but you’ll understand why after your first bite of curry, pho, or stir-fried noodles. If you’re feeling adventurous, order the crispy-sour-sweet Nem Khao Tod, just don’t forget to pair it with a perfectly balanced Thai Iced Tea.


Former level-infinity judge and CFB all-star Jason Lems:

RED Sushi

RED (“Refreshing, Elegant, & Delicious”) is hands-down my favorite place in town to get my fresh fish fix, but it also has a great set of vegetarian rolls and even a fair number of vegan options  – such as the Nutty Vegan (grilled zucchini, avocado, fried tofu, sweet chili sauce, and peanuts) or the Vegan Rainbow (grilled asparagus, avocado, grilled red/yellow/green peppers, unagi sauce, and seasonal microgreens).

For a truly decadent experience, inquire about a meal at the Chef’s Table. My visit included 16 courses, including fresh fish flown in from Japan just for us, prepared directly in front of us by the owner.

Tornado Steak House

I’ve become a bit of a steak snob, diving deep into sous-vide cooking, smoking, various searing methods, fancy salts, etc – and the Tornado Steak House never fails to deliver top-notch meat. My personal favorite is the Filet Au Poivre, but you really can’t go wrong.

Being in the heart of downtown Madison, they didn’t want to miss out on the bar crowd, so from 10p – 1a they serve a late night menu. The prices drop dramatically but the quality does not.


While the name and menu certainly contain a strong Italian vibe, don’t think this place is “just pasta.”  Their seafood is Tier 1 and you’ll be hard-pressed to find better lamb. The environment and ambiance is like nothing else I’ve experienced in town. Lombardino’s is definitely a go-to when entertaining out-of-town guests.  Be sure to grab a side order of the grilled portabellas (you can thank me later).


Veggie-fueled Mastermind Sam Black (all Sam’s picks are vegan or vegetarian highlights)

Monsoon Siam — Kao Soi

Koi Sushi — Hong Sue Eggplant Casserole

Marigold Kitchen — Roasted Sweet Potato, Kale, and Pesto Hash


Eddie Song (Yeah sure, I’d love to take recommendations from a guy who white-borders his magic cards)

The Old Fashioned  

Very classic Wisconsin fare, good prices, bomb cheese curds. Fish Fry Fridays and Prime Rib on Saturdays are what I look out for.

Tornado Steakhouse 

Good steaks. This one time, there was a dude who almost choked to death, so that kinda killed the mood, but the food was good. The Filet Au Poivre is my go to if I’m not STARVING, but the ribeye is huge if that’s what you are looking for.


It’s my favorite place for Chinese food, but it’s out on the West side, not close to the venue. I like the 辣子鸡.


When you’re not watching him stream, here’s where you can creepliy gaze at Caleb Durward while he eats:


Alchemy has my favorite Old Fashioned in the world. They use local cherries, a house-made cherry brandy, and a light dash of ginger soda on top. The food is great too, with some of the best wings around (especially if you’re a blue cheese fiend like myself). I usually get the stuffed grilled cheese sandwich, it’s got tons of awesome roasted veggies topped off with a cilantro pesto sauce. For dessert they serve a selection of cheesecakes made by a local food cart and they are to _die_ for.  

Salvatore’s Tomato Pies

Salvatore’s serves a style of NJ pie (thin crust, cheese/toppings under the sauce), and it’s my pick for the best pizza in Madison. The emphasis on fresh, local-sourced ingredients warps the menu in a good way. Great crust too. The service has been consistently good for me, and the staff knows a lot about the booze options so it’s a good place to ask questions. The seating area is small so keep that in mind if you’re looking to dine in vs grab takeout.  

Runner up: If you’re jonesing for a slightly greasier pie with a crunchy cracker-thin crust that’s still artisanal af, Grampa’s Pizzeria is another place for fantastic pizza.  

The Heritage Tavern

Sometimes when you’re traveling it’s nice to splurge a bit, and Heritage is my pick for fancy-plated foody-type eats. While brunch is priced somewhat standard for the area, their dinner is a little on the pricy side, with large plates in the thirty dollar range and smaller plates averaging around fifteen/per. That said, the food and service is consistently excellent, and their tempura bacon-wrapped cheese curds stand out in a town full of awesome cheese curds. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, I recommend the Never Blended. Fair warning though, I’ve never managed to just have one!


Ben “So wisconsin-y he literally grew up on a dairy farm” Rasmussen

The Old Fashioned

Wisconsin made and sourced everything. Right on the Capitol square. Get yourself some cheese curds.

Baldwin Street Grill

My favorite dive bar. Cheap drinks, sports to watch, and fun bartenders. Take on the “Thor burger” if you think you can handle it.


Madison’s Brazilian Steakhouse. Unlimited meat, reasonably priced and right off of State Street.


Aged like a fine Wisconsin cheddar, your constructed master – Matt Severa

Strings Ramen

311 N Frances St.

Don’t let the casual college vibe fool you; Strings on Francis St. serves up tier one ramen.  Are you into spice? Are you a Masochist? Are you ok with signing a waiver? Then the level 5 Hell Ramen has your name on it.  For those that prefer to enjoy their food, stick with the level 3 which has most of the kick without all of the bitterness. If you’re looking for something more standard, my personal favorite is the Miso broth.


829 E Washington Ave

Looking for a spot with that trendy gentrified hipster feel?  Jardin is for you. This is one of those places with a rotating menu, so if you’re picky you probably want to check their website before you go.  The carrots and parsnips are the perfect precursor to the lamb shank or pork chops. If you’re feeling steak, look for the bone-in dry-aged ribeye.

What happens when someone loots your MTGO account

I’m going to go ahead and preface this by telling you to change your MTGO password today. If you just want the TLDR for this post, that was it.

On June 6th, someone logged into my MTGO account and took everything. Not everything everything – they didn’t do me the favor of clearing out the thousands of excess unplayable commons, but they took every card worth more than a nickel, along with all my packs and tickets.

I told very few people about this for a few reasons:

  1. I thought there was a good chance that the thief was someone I knew and didn’t want to provide them with any extra information.
  2. I was already putting a lot of time and energy into fixing the issue and I didn’t want to field a bunch of questions or engage in a lot of sympathy conversations.
  3. Most people just really didn’t need to know. I saw another person post that their account had also been broken into during this time (more on this later) and them making the information public didn’t really seem to do anything.

So why am I posting now? Honestly, the official WOTC investigation process was very slow and opaque, and I was left in the dark about what was going on behind the scenes, which was frustrating and left me wondering what was going on constantly. I had a moment of questioning about whether I should share this information at all, as it might make it easier for someone to steal in the future, but a minimally intelligent thief would likely look into all this in advance anyway while a victim would be forced to play catch-up after they’ve already been swindled.

Okay, onto the narrative.

I share cards with a handful of people on MTGO. It’s one of the best ways to save money. Rather than spending 100 dollars on a playset of some modern staple, you can spend 30 seconds logging onto a friend’s account and borrowing cards you know they’re not using, and then just put them back when you’re done. It’s fast, it saves you a ton of money, and it’s super insecure. Anyone with access to your account can really do anything they want with it in any window of time when they know you won’t be logging on.

But that’s always the big tradeoff with security, right? No one wants to be inconvenienced with 2FA or extra logon checks or even keeping your password to yourself, because that takes time.

So on Tuesday night, June 5th, I logged onto two friends accounts to borrow some cards in order to test for the Standard RPTQ. During this transaction, I VERY luckily noticed that I still had a lot of modern cards from {person}, maybe $3-350 worth, and returned them. This was late at night so after I had the standard deck together, I logged off.

After work the next day, I logged on to play a league and noticed that it said I didn’t have any legal decks together. On occasion, MTGO takes an unreasonably long time to load your collection and that was the first explanation I reached.

I switched over to my collection tab, noticed a couple of “reward” packs (you know, the blue ones that have one promo card inside them?), and cracked them open. That part all seemed to work fine. Next I clicked on the deck I built the night before – about 80% of it was marked as missing. The most likely explanation in this moment was that one of my friends had logged onto my account and taken the cards they needed for this same deck without telling me. Wouldn’t be the first time.

So now I check my “MTGO Borrows” Google doc that shows who has borrowed cards from each other, and nothing looks like it matches up with this recent change. I look back in my collection tab, filter for all mythic rares, and find that they’re basically all gone. I re-logged once more, just to make sure this wasn’t just some bug, but everything is still gone.

At this point, I’m in damage evaluation mode. I check my rares, flip through old decks, look at my ticket count, scan my old packs, and come to the conclusion that it’s a total loss. I didn’t really have a good idea for what my account was worth at the start, but I figured that, with a solid collection of modern staples, it was likely at least $1500 worth, and now we were down to scraps.

I actually had plans that night that I ended up keeping (we won bar trivia), but before I left for that, I:

  • Changed my MTGO password
  • Told the very small handful of people from whom I had borrowed more than ~$40 worth of cards about the breach
  • Messaged a friend who works at WOTC to ask if there were any steps I should take, on top of opening a customer service ticket
  • Opened a customer service ticket – I made sure to tell them about my movement of cards on Tuesday, so that they wouldn’t suspect {person} for taking a bunch of modern cards late at night
  • Googled “sell MTGO account” and emailed every company on the first page of results asking if they had any records of transactions. During this process, I noticed that a few bots will pay out in Bitcoin, and that if the thief used this payment method, I was very likely to never see any kind of justice

For most of the people I talked to about it, I just said “My stuff got stolen. I have no idea if or when I’ll be getting it back. If you need your cards back before that gets figured out, let me know and I’ll reimburse you for the cost.”

My WOTC friend basically told me to go with the standard practice of opening a ticket, but that they’d see if there were any extra actions I should take (Nothing came of this, which was fine. I don’t expect every person at a company to have influence over unrelated tasks).

Most of the bot chain companies got back to me, but none of them had any real information other than CardBot, whose account “TheBuyBot” was very involved. Here’s the log they sent me:

Some things to note:

  • They turned my cards / packs into 1594 tickets. This probably means the cost of my collection was somewhere in the range of 1800-2000 in order to buy it all back.
  • The traded in two major chunks, three transactions between 5:45am and 5:47am, and another seven transactions between 11:20am and 11:29am.  Whoever this was, they were sloppy/bold enough to return after getting away with $1200 on the first pass.

I updated my WOTC ticket with this information, and waited for a reply. They got back to me the next day, June 7th, with this. Bolding is my own, in case you want to just skim this form letter:


We are sorry this happened to you. We will investigate the incident and take appropriate action. We have opened an investigation regarding your account. To ensure there is no further damage to your account we have deactivated it until we can verify the details of the account with you and make any changes necessary to secure your account again. I would also recommend that you change the passwords on your computer and e-mail accounts as these may have been compromised as well.

Investigations typically last about two weeks. After the investigation has been completed we will contact you to inform you of our findings.

Please be aware that the security of your account and any action taken with your account are your responsibility as per the Terms of Service. Trades cannot be reversed and no compensation will be given for any potential loss.

Bear in mind that per our privacy policy we do not discuss disciplinary action taken on other players. Depending on the circumstances and results of the investigation a player may receive a warning, a suspension or termination if warranted.

You can assist our investigation by answering the following questions:

1) Do you share this account with anyone else?

2) Does anyone else use your computer?

3) Is your password easily guessable?

4) Do you run any mod or bot programs for Magic Online or any other game?

5) Have you recently run a virus scan on your computer?

6) Is there anyone else who would know the password or security answer to this account?

7) Do you use any Magic or gaming related websites or apps that would use the same username as your Magic Online username and/ or that you would list your Magic Online username on?

We appreciate your patience during the investigation, we will update you when we are able to reactivate your account.


Account Specialist

Wizards of the Coast


I answered the questions as best I could, truthfully, and replied within a few minutes.

The next few days were pretty miserable, flipping between thoughts like:

“Well, I probably just won’t be able to justify playing MTGO anymore.”

“I’m very thankful I’m in a position where losing an asset worth almost 2K isn’t going to majorly disrupt my life.”

“It’s likely that a friend stole $1600 from me, and WOTC isn’t going to tell me who it was.”

“Well, testing for the RPTQ just got a lot more annoying.”

The most lingering and disturbing aspect of all this was the idea that a friend stole from me. I’ve trusted a dozen or so people with my MTGO password over the years, and who knows how many of them gave it to someone else? It seemed SO MUCH more likely that one of those people opportunistically raided my account than that another person was able to just crack my password. I’m certainly an over-trusting person, and generally an apologist, but this was seriously testing my beliefs.

So I miserably made a list. I went back through my facebook chatlogs and searched for my MTGO handle. Made a spreadsheet of everyone I could imagine I might have given my password to, or was close enough that a mutual friend might have given it to them, considered how much they had to lose by becoming a pariah of the Magic community, how much I modeled them taking a major risk for $1600, etc. I thought about all the extra little factors: Who had messaged me out of the blue in the few days leading up to the theft? Who had used my computer in the days and weeks leading up to the theft?

It sucked, but I figured that I couldn’t help but think about all these things anyway, and maybe condensing all these negative thought into the block of an evening would let me stop wondering about them while I waited to hear more, and it mostly did its job. Nothing was really conclusive though – all it did was make me consider how much of a rampant sociopath someone would have to be to pull off a move like this.

On June 13th, a week later, WOTC got back to me:

Hi Louis,

Thanks for your patience while we have continued to investigate this situation.

We have determined the following details:

On 6/6 your account was accessed via its username and password from IP address {REDACTED}

During that login session items in your collection were traded to users “TheBuyBot” and “GoatBotsB” in exchange for event tickets.

Afterward 1225 event tickets were traded from your account to the user “xiggison” who was operating on the same IP address at that time.

Do you know this user, or have any information about anyone in the area of this IP address? Have you discovered any further information about this incident since you first contacted us?

Thank you for your patience and cooperation.

Best regards,


Account Specialist

Wizards of the Coast


I looked up the IP address and saw it was a major city that a friend of mine was near, but that person was, in terms of social and moral value, very close to last place on people I had considered suspects. It was certainly a piece of evidence, but nowhere near conclusive. IP addresses are not difficult to manipulate, so if the thief were very cunning, they could even be using this as a false lead.

I messaged all the bot chains again with this new account name, and one of them got back to me:

Hello Louis,

Thank you for your message.

We are sorry to hear this. Was Wizards so far helpful in any way?

You can always check your full trade history here:

There you can also see the trade with GoatBotsB, although that was just 19 tickets. So the majority of your collection was probably sold elsewhere.

However, the other account you mentioned did sell event tickets to us a week ago. If you let the Wizards support contact us, we can provide them with the personal information of the receiver of the payment (bank account number, full name, address, zipcode, etc). Please note that from our experience, the receiver of the payment is not always involved in the hack; sometimes it’s a careless bitcoin seller that was waiting for a bank transfer, before sending bitcoins to the hacker in return.

I’ve suggested Wizards a few times to implement some kind of ip-address protection (click on an email-link to approve when somebody from a different ip-address logs into your account) or a 2 factor authentication, but so far they’ve not implemented anything of the kind.

Kind regards,




A major step forward. I messaged WOTC once again, relaying all this information. At this moment I was really hopeful. GoatBots was cooperating and the information would surely be valuable. I also sent them a list of friends’ screen names, just in case any of them had ever been used from that IP address.

There were still a few missing pieces, though – in WOTC’s email, they said that 1225 tickets had been transferred to that other screen name, but the trade logs showed that my thief had liquidated my collection for 1594 tickets, plus some tickets of my own.

The hope faded quickly over the next few weeks. I hadn’t heard anything from WOTC, they weren’t responding to my emails, and I even noticed on twitter that Andrew “JohnnyHotsauce” Shrout had his account broken into just a few days before my breach, and he had seen no progress.

And that’s where it stood for a while. If you’re hoping for a dramatic ending where I unmask the thief, let me apologize in advance.

I got this email on Friday June 29th, 23 days after the looting:


Thanks very much for your patience while we have continued to investigate this situation.

Our investigation has concluded that your account was accessed using your registered username and password, by a malicious actor from an IP address in Sweden. During this access the malicious actor traded with users to liquidate items from your collection to event tickets, which they later sold to a 3rd party.

Unfortunately, the cards traded could not be recovered as they have entered the greater trade sphere of Magic Online and are with users totally unrelated to your account’s compromise. We have reclaimed the event ticket items sold from your account (1625), those should now be returned to your collection.

We believe your account’s compromise is the result of compromised login information from outside sites or services. We urge you to ensure your login information is unique from service to service to protect you from situations such as these. Unfortunately, we have no further information to provide regarding the malicious actor.

At this time, we consider this investigation closed. Please be aware that the security of your account is your responsibility and that Wizards of the Coast cannot assume responsibility for any potential losses incurred.


Magic Online Digital Security

Wizards of the Coast


On first reading I completely glossed over the sentence where they mention returning 1625 tickets to my account, but I logged on and there they were. I’m certainly out quite a bit from the process, in terms of time, money, stress, and as it turns out, undue suspicions.

I checked Twitter later that day and found that Andrew Shrout’s case had also been resolved on the same day, and that the thief had also been from the same place. It now seems like too much of a coincidence for it to be anyone but a person unknown to me. If you stole it, are a friend of mine, and are reading this right now, damn. You’re good at this and could probably make way more money doing something legitimate.

My guess, after all of this, is that I made an account on a Magic message board at some point in the last 15 years, and that my credentials were a bit too close to those of my MTGO account. Someone probably got ahold of the wildly unsecured data through there and went on a thieving spree using the information.

If you talked to me at any point in the last month and I seemed distant or out of it, there’s a good chance it was as a result of all this. Maybe I was working through some new information, maybe I had spent the afternoon putting your name on a list. Sorry about all that –  I’m sure if you know me well enough at all, you know what affect doing that kind of thing would have on me, and how relieved I was to discover that the thief was almost certainly not a friend.

Now go change your MTGO password.

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.


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:


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.


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:

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.


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.


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:

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.


My own performance at GP Minneapolis was pretty mediocre, but I had a good time living vicariously through Steve and Ray, both of whom crushed the main event, and I was able to watch a lot of their matches. I even found out, as the top8 was announced, that Corey, Lothamer, and Rob had been cruising through the top tables, sweetening the results well beyond my expectations.

In the end, Steve took it all down while I half-watched via Twitch on the ride home. It’s hard to put into words how happy I felt for him – Steve was a regular on the PT for a while before putting Magic on the back burner in order to better his life. On coming back to play more, he’s had good but not incredible results, and I think this event was the payoff he’s deserved for a long time.

As for me, I played the same vehicles deck that Rob top8d with (Severa’s build). I had a really hard time settling on a list for the event. Typically, at the start of a season, I pay a little attention to Standard and then put a laser focus on the PT results in order to figure out where I want to be. Then I usually have a few weeks of PPTQs and local events to try things out and refine my list to meet my playstyle.

I didn’t have that opportunity here. Because the PPTQ format was Modern I had to learn that format in a hurry and then switch gears the day after the PT. I had very little time to think things through and iterate decklists, so I ended up on Vehicles, one of the few decks in Standard I had some experience with. Severa really liked his version, and I’ve done well playing off the back of his knowledge in the past, but I think it was a mistake this time.

I think an understated aspect of deckbuilding is that two people can be playing different version of the same deck and both of them can be right about which list is better for them, based on playstyle and biases. In this specific case I was worried about the Zombies matchup. My experience had shown me that I was basically an aggro deck playing against a midrange deck that hard-shifted from defense to beatdown around turn 5 or 6. In my understanding, Matt viewed the matchup as a race in the air, and placed a lot of emphasis on his ability to clock them while staying alive with the lifegain from four Aethersphere Harvesters.

As a result, I think that going with Matt’s plan led me to board in a way the required me to make decisions I wasn’t practiced with and didn’t have time to learn. Instead, I think that Ray’s board plan of Declaration in Stone and Skysovereign more aligned with how I viewed the matchup, and it’s the sideboard I should have gone with. I think those cards have the better potential to screw up Zombies’s ability to turn the corner on those crucial turns 5 and 6, and that they force them to continue staying on the defensive when that’s a position that benefits Vehicles.

In the end, I have only myself to blame for my decisions. I’m the only one who knows my own biases and play patterns, and I should have been more comfortable breaking ranks. I went 6-3 in the GP, losing twice to Zombies, and once to a questionable mulligan decision. (Do you keep Swamp, Spire of Industry, Scrounger, Ballista, Inspector, Exemplar, Exemplar on the play in game one?)

I was kind of dejected after losing the last round, and dropped to play in the PTQ, but I now think I should have stayed in the main event. The addition of the bronze pro level makes an extra pro point or two worthwhile, even when the cash is of minimal impact.

By the time morning rolled around, I was pretty pumped for sealed deck. I opened a really solid UGb pool with good fixing, a good curve with a strong top end, a bunch of removal, and a Liliana. There were even a handful of the blue and black color-hoser sideboard cards, which I expected to be quite strong.

I do really like the single-elimination system for PTQs, or I did until I lost round one after dying with three lands in play both games.

To top it off, I was playing 16 lands plus two Amulets, chose to draw both games, and my opponent had three different basics in play on turn 3 both games, with a UR God in play on turn 6 both times.

After the match he commented that he didn’t have mana problems because he had amazing fixing, which he proceeded to lay out for me. He had less than I did, and I scrambled to collect my stuff and get away from the area before I felt obligated to bang my head on the table.

I kept playing for packs, and only one of my other matches was eventful. In game one I flooded out and just didn’t do much. In our second game, I had a good curve into Liliana, which ended the game in a hurry. For game three, she decided to sideboard into a different deck, which is an underused approach to an unfavorable matchup.

Unfortunately, around minute 7 of her sideboarding, I felt obligated to call a judge to ask for extra time. She seemed to take a lot of offense to this, saying that she only went for it because we still had nearly 25 minutes on the clock. I responded that I had no issue with that, and didn’t want her punished in any way, but that I just wanted to make sure that we had time to play our game, and would rather solve the issue now than worry about it if we went to time. In the end she got a warning, and we were given two extra turns for the end of the match.

This seemed to color the attitude of the rest of our match, though, and there was some obvious tension and nervousness: On turn three she tried to cast a red creature with no red mana, which I didn’t make a big deal about. Then a few turns later she sacrificed the green +3/+3 desert and attacked with the pumped creature along with the Camel that forces an opponent to discard when it dies.

I thought a bit about which card I was going to discard, blocked the Camel with a 3/3, and then she said something along the lines of “Oh, I don’t control a desert anymore, that was a mistake.” I didn’t say anything for a moment, and then a bystander watching from her side of the board said “well you still get the trigger with a desert in the graveyard.”

I only took a moment to respond to this, but I figured I had three options.

1) Say nothing to the bystander and discard a card. This risks them pointing out more missed triggers in the future, which I obviously don’t want.

2) Call a judge for outside assistance. I didn’t care nearly enough for this, and actively wanted to avoid inserting even more tension into the match, despite this being the technically correct call. If this had been the main event, this certainly would have been my line, but not for what had a become a random side event for packs.

3) My line, which was to tell the bystander that triggers are the player’s responsibility, and if they see a problem in the future they should call a judge. He responded that she was supposed to get the trigger, and I repeated that if he sees a problem, he should call a judge. He seemed really annoyed by this – maybe from his perspective I was being scummy (maybe from yours’ too?). I dunno.

Anyway, she now pointed out that she did have a desert in her yard, and I was fine with discarding a card.

At this point I was pretty off balance and distracted. The game only went on a few more turns, but I just missed on-board lethal and died to a burn spell on the swing back. No real legitimate excuses here. I should have been more focused. I was, again, mostly just happy to get away from the match.

I think this is a big part of the reason I typically avoid side events at GPs. I’m fine playing nice and easygoing games with people (I let my final two opponents take back multiple plays because it was clear they were still learning some things about the format), but sometimes the matches are close and tense, and it stresses me out to switch back and forth between taking it all seriously and letting small errors slide.

The social aspect of the game is too important to me, and I hate having to call out opponents who don’t know that they’re doing something wrong, or don’t view it as consequential. It’s really not a good experience for either of us.

In the end, the weekend was a net plus. I got to watch good friends have some exceptional results, and I think I figured out some things about my priorities for the upcoming GPs (I’ll be in Indy and DC, skipping Denver). I don’t know much about this draft format, so I’m probably going to be showing up for them more often in the next few weeks.

PS: Oh, and I also got to learn the”Dandan” game thanks to Steve Nesteby! I went ahead and ordered all the cards for it, so if you like quick but skill-testing variant magic, make sure to ask me about it next time you see me.

PSPS: One final congrats to Steve Locke. What an insane run!

Four letter word, clue is “Event I went to this weekend”

I haven’t written anything in a while, and in my sleep deprived state I was able to convince myself that firing up the ol’ blog was a good idea.

The Plan

I started eyeballing GP NJ a few months back. I don’t fly to events all that often, but this one looked to be pretty convenient. My parents live on Long Island, so I could easily tie a GP trip into a meetup with them, and in addition, I knew I would have an RPTQ two weeks ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have to put much effort into extra testing. A solid plan overall.

The aforementioned RPTQ went about as well as possible for a total failure. It was my second “finals” loss in a row, but the deck was great and I was capable of piloting it at a not-embarrassing level. With a ton of homework stopping me from actual testing, all my further preparation for the GP was just looking at event results and figuring out what kind of metagame I wanted to adjust for.

In the end, I knew that I basically wanted to play a ballista vehicles build that was specifically tuned for the mirror and 4C Saheeli, which was probably a pretty obvious choice to anyone who had actually been putting in games. Severa was on the same page about the deck’s overall positioning in the format, so I was happy to just take his advice regarding specific card choices.

Getting There

On Friday, Sam, Severa and I left for the airport shortly after sunrise, with the intention of arriving in New York early enough that I could have dinner with my parents, but snow in that area delayed our flight long enough that the option disappeared. They wished me good luck over the phone, and I switched over completely to tournament prep thinking.

When we finally got onto the plane, I was seated further back from the other two, and so I jumped right into a printed-out version of this crossword:

When I saw that this one had a theme of “Bad Puns” I knew it would be golden. Our plane sat at the gate for nearly an hour before taking off, and I had made my way through most of the puzzle, but I got stuck working on 27-Across and the clues around it, so I started soliciting help from my seat-mate Jamie, who was very friendly.

Jamie was on his way home to New York, and we got to talking about the difference between Manhattan and Madison rent (large), the best public transit options(subway, by a lot), etc. We even found out that we both went to high school in the Philadelphia suburbs and graduated a year apart. Normal airplane small-talk.

He eventually asked what I was doing in NY, and I explained that I was travelling for a Magic: The Gathering tournament, which he said he’d heard of, but never played, and he began to pepper me with questions about it. This is basically the ideal scenario – I love talking about my hobbies, but I feel bad when I monopolize the conversation with my own experiences, so when someone is asking questions, the floodgates open.

I could tell he actually had some reason to be interested – he mentioned that his brother in-law was good friends with some Magic pro and wanted to know if I’d ever heard of Seth Manfield. I told him I was familiar with most world champions. Eventually he asked me to teach him how to play. I had my deck close by, so we went through the basics. He was unimpressed by my beta basics, but was a big fan of Avacyn.

We got to LaGuardia and started comparing transit options. We could either pay $109 for a 45-minute Uber, or pay about $10 each for a 90-minute public option. We went with the latter, and waited in the cold for our bus. New York was FREEZING. It’s rare that I get off a plane coming from Wisconsin only to complain about how cold it is when we land, but this was bad.

When our bus arrived, we found out that we didn’t have the means to pay for it. They didn’t take cash. Our only options were to already have a metro card, or to pay with coins – that is, 11 quarters each. Since we didn’t have 33 quarters, we had to take a 15-minute shuttle to a different gate, one that sold the cards, purchase cards from a kiosk, and then get on the bus from there. It seemed poorly thought out to have a big bus terminal right outside one of the gates that you simply couldn’t use if you were an out of town person just arriving, but the rest of our trip went well.


We had a few drinks and got to work on our final decklists and sideboard plans. Sam wanted to try out a last minute brew, so we rearranged the hotel room furniture to accommodate battling. I ended up going 6-1 against him, he decided to go with an already tuned build of 4C Saheeli, and I registered my deck feeling good about all my choices.

2 Archangel Avacyn
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Walking Ballista
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Fatal Push
4 Heart of Kiran
4 Unlicensed Disintegration
4 Aether Hub
4 Concealed Courtyard
1 Foreboding Ruins
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Mountain
1 Needle Spires
2 Plains
4 Spire of Industry
2 Swamp

2 Anguished Unmaking
1 Archangel Avacyn
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Oath of Chandra
1 Oath of Liliana
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Painful Truths
1 Release the Gremlins
3 Transgress the Mind

Many of the choices are pretty conventional.

Anguished unmaking ended up being an MVP that I was happy to draw 100% of the time. 1x Release may look odd, but we were cutting our Hearts in the mirror, and we expected the best players to be doing the same, meaning that release would have either no targets, or only bad targets. We talked a lot about playing one or no Chandras to have better mana, playing more Ob Nix instead, but decided that Chandra on turn four was just too good. Transgress was a consolation to the people trying to play decks based around Marvel or Tower, and they were useful the times I faced those matchups.

The Tournament

I started off playing pretty poorly in my first round, but tightened up as the day went on. Most of my matches were straightforward, other than my feature in round 6, against Chris Lansdell on pure Marvel. I made a decision in game 3 that may or may not have cost me:

My board was four lands, an Exemplar, a Thalia, and a Scrounger. Another Scrounger, a Disintegration, and a Transgress in hand. His board was lands, green Puzzleknot, and a Servant of the Conduit, with lots of energy. I transgressed him and saw another green Puzzleknot, an Unnatural Obsolescence, a Whir of Invention (which essentially finds a Marvel), and a Fumigate, any of which he’d be able to cast the next turn.

So if I take his Fumigate, I can play my other scrounger and attack for 6 (he’ll Obsolete my first scrounger). He can’t block or he won’t be able to Whirl, and he’ll go to 9. That leaves him DOB to my creatures, plus I’ll have a disintegration in hand. On his next turn, he’ll have to Marvel and basically find either another Fumigate or an Ulamog. Any other creature and he dies.

If I take his Whir, he Fumigates, I can bring back scrounger, he buys a few turns with Puzzleknots, and I’ve got very little action going forward while he tries to find his own.

I take his Fumigate and things go according to plan. At first. When I attack the next turn, he blocks with Servant, Whirs for Marvel, and spins. If he hits Fumigate or Ulamog I’m probably toast, but anything else should be good. His creatures all come into play tapped, and I’ve got my disintegration for the last few damage. Instead he hits Confiscation Coup, steals my Thalia, goes to 6, and then untaps, plays and cracks some Puzzleknots to pad his life total, and just Marvels out monsters for the rest of the game.

I finish day one at 8-1, beating Josh Ravitz in the final round, and fill myself with some drinks and Outback Steakhouse to prepare for . . .

Day Two

Round 10, my opponent Radiant Flames away two creatures, but can’t answer the Gideon I play after, and we’re off to game two. We get deck checked mid-round, and when the judge comes back with only my deck and a slip, I’m pretty sure one of us is about to get blown out. He tells me I’m all good (I was NOT very confident, given that it was my first time using the online registration form) and takes my opponent away. He comes back furious. Apparently he submitted 59 cards, and when he opened his box, he points to a Wandering Fumarole in his board, claims that he would “NEVER BOARD OUT A LAND, I DID NOT PUT THAT THERE.” The judge walks back to the deck check station, deliberates, and then comes back and confirms that the land was in his sideboard when he passed it off.

In round 12 I’m up against Corey Baumeister. We’ve interacted very little in the past, but I know he’s related to Brad Nelson so I assume he’s on the same deck(4C), and I know he’s good, as he lost to Cecchetti in the finals of a GP, and won his last two RPTQs (GEEZ, WHAT’S THAT LIKE?!). He’s super personable and very nice throughout our match.

In game one, he’s tanking a lot, so I push him to speed up a bit, which he acknowledges and responds to well. On his last turn, with just about 25 mins on the clock, he taps out (and starts tanking again), which leaves him dead to a line that I’m showing on board. I inform him that I do see the line, to save some time, and we sideboard in a hurry. All that time pressure ended up being for nothing, since I have a busted curveout in G2 while he struggles with his mana, and the game lasts all of two minutes.

In round 13 I’m battling Paul Rietzel in the mirror at table one. He’s the last undefeated player and playing against HOFers is one of the best parts of doing well at tournaments. I also watched him sideboard during one of his other matches, so I knew what his available options were.

The first two games are one-sided, but the third is a slugfest. Multiple Avacyns flipping, planeswalkers getting killed, etc. Finally we reach a board state where we’re both super low on life. We both have flipped Avacyns, so I attack mine into his, and when he blocks, I cast another. Now my board is a flipped Avacyn, an unflipped Avacyn, and I’ve got 5 life to his empty board. End step he returns a scrounger, untaps, peels an Unlicensed Disintegration, which lets him kill my Avacyn, and then me.

Now I’m sitting at 11-2, needing to win both my final rounds to top8.

I lose them both instead.

Round 14 I get smashed by Frank Skarren on GB. I saw him chatting with some mutual acquaintances, so I assumed he knew what deck I was on, while I didn’t know the matchup. My hand was terrible vs GB and I got destroyed, and then in game two he was able to grind me out with Kalitas and Skysovereign while I couldn’t find an answer to either.

Dead for the invite, I was now playing for top 32 in the last round.

He was also on GB, but we traded our first two games.

In G3 I start with a Concealed Courtyard and Thraben Inspector on the play, then on turn two, I play a Spire. My hand is Mountain, Mountain, Chandra, Oath of Chandra, Fatal Push. He passes back on turn two and I crack my clue. I draw a Gideon I now can’t cast. I use Chandra to kill his turn 3 play, and then cast a bunch of removal while ticking up Chandra. I keep drawing white spells and non-white lands, we keep passing back and forth for a while, me pinging him with Chandra repeatedly, until he eventually gets out a Skysovereign and a Kalitas. I die with two Gideon and an Avacyn in hand and no second white source, when I would have dominated the game simply by not cracking my clue on the second turn.

I finish in 53rd to cover most of the trip’s expenses.

Back Again

Our trip back is easier than the way out, although we got blown out by the subway. Apparently, if you swipe your ticket and go to the wrong side of the tracks, you’ve got to swipe (and thus, pay) again to get the correct side. We make it to our gate and battlebox for a while to kill some time until we get on our plane. After sitting on the runway for an hour (all seated together this time, at least) we get told that the brakes aren’t working (is that bad?) and we’re asked to deplane, wait in the terminal for another 30 mins or so, and then board all over again. Luckily I’ve got more crosswords, and Severa (reluctantly) and Sam (happily) help me out.

We land in Chicago after 1am thanks to the delay, which felt significantly warmer despite the heavy snowfall. Our drive back to Madison is a bit rough since the roads aren’t really plowed yet, but I manage to climb into bed just before 4am.

Looking at the immediate future, I don’t have much Magic to play. There are a few local modern tournaments, which is nice because the format looks excellent right now and the stakes are low, so I don’t feel priced into testing any more than I want to. Other than that, it’s all clear until Amonkhet is released. I intend to play a TON of that format since the RPTQ is sealed, and I’d like to win because Japan sounds awesome. Fun fact: I’m 1-5 in matches that qualify me for the pro tour. I should probably improve that record one of these days.

My final semester is almost over, and I’ve got new jobs on the horizon, with much better pay and a lot more free time expected. I’m hoping that means I’ll get to focus on Magic more. For the last two years, I’ve felt myself improving, but haven’t quite had the time or energy to make a push I’ve been satisfied with. It is taxing to consistently watch your efforts wiped out by single games of magic, and despite my efforts to stay relentlessly positive, they payoff I’ve been waiting for can’t come soon enough.

Fit to Print

I am not a scientist; this is anecdotal.
I’m not going to try and buck the trend of claiming that 2016 was a shit year, but in terms of my own personal growth, it was among the best. I improved most of my personal relationships, cut a huge swath through my remaining school courses, and I’m generally very happy with my own life.

Maybe most significantly, I lost more than 20% of my bodyweight with basically zero effort. I started off 2016 hovering around 245 pounds and feeling miserable. Just before thanksgiving this year, my doctor marked me down at 192 pounds, with perfect blood pressure and cholesterol, which surprised me given that I had eaten four eggs cooked in butter with a side of bacon and coffee that morning. And the morning before that. And basically every morning this year.

If you’ve ever commented on my weight loss or brought up anything about dieting to me over the course of 2016, I’m sorry. I tend to go on and on about it all in person, but I’ve been quiet about it all online. I figured this would be a good time to write about it though, since people frequently try and lose weight around this time of year.

My diet was based on the Ketogenic plan – basically an extremely low-carb diet where you eat almost no sugar, forcing your body to burn fat for energy instead. Your body needs a little sugar to function, but when you stay below 15g-35g per day (depending on your goals, and your specific body chemistry) for a week or two at a time, your body is basically burning fat nonstop, whether you’re exercising or just sitting on your ass. Instead of using a constant stream of sugar for fuel, it taps into your reserves, and I had a LOT of reserves.

Now, sugar is in a LOT of foods. About half of all food options suddenly disappear. In exchange, you get to eat whatever you want from the other half of the spectrum. Fatty meats, cheeses, eggs, oily dressings, all the good stuff. You feel bad about not eating pizza until you remember that you can just eat a plate-full of cheese and pepperoni and you’re losing weight doing it.

Now, counting carbs is boring, but you need to do it for the first week or two until you get into a good rhythm. Past that point, I suggest just breaking your food into 3 categories:

Always – meats, cheeses, green leafy plants and vegetables, eggs,
Sometimes – some fruits, peanut butter, most sauces / salsas, alcohol
Never – Bread, beer, sugar, soda, cakes, crackers, ice cream, some fruits

Now I just know what I can pig out on, what I can occasionally eat, and what I just need to totally avoid.

The first two weeks are bad. For a while, your body will be constantly asking you for sugar in the form of being hungry, maybe even when your stomach is full. Some people get kind of sick during this time, and feel very drained.

After that initial “keto-flu” stage, it’s smooth sailing. At two weeks, I was considering giving up because I was eating all the time and couldn’t possibly be losing weight. After a month I started noticing the positive changes in my appearance. At two months, other people were taking notice. About four months in, I weighed myself for the first time and saw that I dropped nearly 35 pounds.

Now, full disclaimer – you will have a little less energy overall, but your energy levels are VERY constant. Rather than having spikes related to sugar all day, you just have one smooth stream of energy. I still find that I need to eat elevated sugar levels on days when I need strong focus – competitions, etc.

This is a good time to bring up cheat days. It is way better for you to have one day every two weeks where you totally break down and eat fettuccini alfredo with cake for dessert instead of eating a LITTLE too much sugar every day. The whole purpose of this diet is to break the pattern of eating sugar every day, and if you can get to the point where you’re past those daily cravings, you’ve won.

Now, one important note in regards to fiber: eat it. Eat a lot of it. You don’t need me to tell you what happens to your digestive system if you eat nothing but meat and cheese for weeks on end. The best source of fiber here is vegetables. When we measure carbs, we actually count NET carbs, which is the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber – basically the stuff your body doesn’t process that just shoots out the other end. Vegetables are great for this. Salads with no-sugar dressings are great. I endorse this one:

I don’t recommend sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners and the like tend to give me stomach problems. Don’t try and replace sugar – just avoid it.

What does my typical daily diet look like?

Breakfast – 3-4 eggs, cooked in butter with a diced meat or vegetable thrown in, sometimes bacon or sausage, black coffee
Lunch – Two fatty chicken hindquarters covered in spices and/or a salad with chicken or cheese added depending on how hungry I am
Dinner – some meat, either chicken or two cheeseburgers with a veggie side
Snacks – pickles, almonds, peanut butter, cheeses, veggies, berries, 2-3 times per day

Eating on the run is pretty easy too. I did the Chiptopia campaign pretty effortlessly this summer, eating this 36 times in 3 months:
Salad bowl, no rice or beans, chicken, fajita veggies, spicy salsa, guac, sour cream, extra lettuce, cheese

Other meal options:
Jimmy johns – Gargantuan unwich
Mexican restaurants – Fajitas, no rice beans or tortillas, extra veggies
Steak house – lol
Culvers / any fast food – Burgers with no bun (careful with sauces)
Even subway has salads that are actually pretty decent, better than their sandwiches, anyway

Once you get into it, you’ll be hungry less often. You’ll start craving fats instead of sugars, but your body will constantly be burning more fat than you put in. Combine this with a tiny amount of exercise for great results.

I wish I could better convey how easy this was, but I also have the privilege of working at home, so food prep is easy. That said, there’s really no reason you can’t make a bunch of food in advance and bring it with you.

I think one of the reasons that no diet before this one has ever really worked out for me is that they’re all based on little substitutions that are strict downgrades, or they just want you to eat less. Obviously eating less is ideal, but it’s also super hard if you’ve been training yourself to eat for fun for 30 years. This diet makes one huge change that you have to get used to for a while, but once you do, there is no restriction on your indulgences – add an extra scoop of sour cream here, order an extra side of bacon there, and it all still works out fine.

Finally, it helps out a lot if the people around you are supportive. My wife was very skeptical at first, worried that I was either going to hurt myself, or that our quality of life would take a hit with so many food restrictions. Turns out that it’s actually really easy to have one person eat spaghetti and meatballs while the other person just eats meatballs. Once she saw I was committed, she helped me out every step of the way, often making sacrifices so that I could stick to my plan. Find people in your life who are willing to help you out.

Finally, here’s a before and after. The first picture is from last August, where I was in that 240-250 range, and the second is me a few weeks ago, somewhere around 195. Change doesn’t have to be hard if you’re willing to look long-term. Make small sacrifices, get help from your friends, see big returns.


Modern- Making the Stars Align

I haven’t loved modern lately. Most recently, I’d been playing dredge, and although it was powerful, the post-board game of trying to fight through absurd hate cards was just a little too taxing.

With more than a month to go until I have to play modern next, I thought I might do some brewing. I started thinking about how linear all the decks were, and about how focused the most popular sideboard slots were, and how, if I could dodge all those cards, I might be able to build something powerful that no one was prepared for.

My mind drifted back to PT Origins, the only Pro Tour I’ve had the opportunity to play. During our testing, there was a very powerful constellation deck that crushed the aggro decks and had the grinding power to beat the control and midrange piles. Problem was, Back to Nature (1G, Instant, Destroy all Enchantments) was in the format, and if everyone came to the same conclusions that we did about the power of the deck, there was a good chance our opponents would have a bunch of two-mana, one-sided Obliterates in their sideboards.

I started flipping through the top decks on MTGGodfish, looking at how easy it was for people to kill any enchantments I would play against them:

Dredge: 2-4 Nature’s Claim / Abrupt Decay, 1-2 Ratchet Bomb/ EE

Infect: 2-4 Nature’s Claim

Affinity: 0

Bant Eldrazi: 2 EE, 1 Worldbreaker

Jund: 1-3 Abrupt Decay, 1-2 Pulse, 1-2 EE

Burn: 2-4 Destructive Revelry

This was looking great. Most decks only have a handful of spot removal options, and with enough powerful enchantments, we could really overload them. Here are my first build, and final build:



In the maindeck, the biggest retooling was the manabase. I originally played very few actual forests so that I could cast Runed Halo more easily, but Eddie Song convinced me that Utopia Sprawl was worth the change.


A solid argument.

Alright, down to card choices:

I decided to stick with Birds of Paradise over Arbor Elf. Arbor Elf is only better when we already have good mana, and Birds gives us the ability to chump block flyers for a while, including Inkmoth Nexus and most affinity creatures. It also lets us keep hands with lots of basic forests.

The land base has been fine so far, but I’m not sure about Wooded Foothills. In the first few turns, you almost always fetch Forest or Temple Garden, and after that, you almost always want to get a Plains. It’s possible I should be playing a GW check-land.

Birds and Utopia Sprawl are pretty obvious. You almost always name white with Sprawl.

The engine cards:

  • Herald of the Pantheon is your slowest accelerator, but he does the most work once you get rolling. It’s not uncommon to cast 4-5 enchantments in a late-game turn, and this guy makes that possible. The lifegain is not irrelevant.
  • Courser of Kruphix is hard to kill, a great blocker, and helps you churn through your deck. With fetches, you can often fix your draws in the late game, especially once you’re going off with Eidolon.
  • Eidolon of Blossoms is your endgame. If you untap with this in play, you’ll basically never run out of things to do again (at least until you’ve got the board locked up, and spend every turn digging for your win-con). Multiples are absurd, though it’s not a “may” trigger, so you occasionally risk decking yourself. I’ve definitely exiled my own Eidolons so that I could keep casting spells.

The prison cards:

  • Journey to Nowhere / Oblivion Ring. I had four Journey and three Rings in my earlier builds, but I found that the mana cost rarely mattered, and the versatility often did.
  • Ghostly Prison is insane right now. Dredge likes to end the game with like, 4 lands in play, and this card makes it basically impossible for them to get through. Infect wants to cast multiple spells in addition to attacking, and this makes that very difficult.
  • Runed Halo is the card that makes the deck possible. Its best use is as a spot removal spell that gives them a bunch of dead draws. Most of the big decks only play a handful of different creatures, and decks like dredge excel at making a lot of copies of them. Against dredge, your main plan is to get Halos on Narcomoeba, Prized Amalgam, and Conflagrate, while sitting behind a set of Ghostly Prisons.

The win con:

  • You need SOMETHING here, but I’m not sure if Sigil is the best option. It’s very good at giving you serious inevitability after tapping out one time in the midgame. That said, it’s expensive, doesn’t kill through Ensnaring Bridge, and often takes a few turns to kill if you’re in topdeck mode.
  • Other options include Helix Pinnacle and Luminarch Ascension. Both of these are cheaper, which means that you can do something else on the turn you play them very often. Pinnacle is much slower, but it beats basically everything, and Luminarch Ascension ends up being more mana in the long run, but you get to break down the mana investment rather than paying all at once.
  • I think Starfield of Nyx is bad. The board gets so locked up in the endgame that I don’t think you can count on a bunch of 3/3s and 4/4s without evasion to end the game, especially when you open them up to removal spells.

The sideboard:

  • 4 Nyx Fleece Ram – the card I’m most uncertain about. We already have a bunch of residual life gain. I don’t really want this anywhere except burn, and that deck is way down in popularity. It’s possible this is just supposed to be Leyline of Sanctity, and that we’re just supposed to bank on that, Runed Halo, and spot removal to shut burn down.
  • 3 Rest in Peace – for dredge, of course. Even though I think our matchup is good, they’re better prepared to fight through hate in the board games, and we need another way to keep them down. I also bring in some vs lantern, and the various graveyard combo decks.
  • 2 Stony Silence – lantern, affinity, tron. Pretty sure tron is unwinnable, but I think the games we do win start with Stony Silence.
  • 2 Path to Exile – For decks where we just can’t spend 3 mana on our spot removal, or where instant speed really matters.
  • 2 Seal of Primordium – Lantern, Affinity, kind of a catchall.
  • 2 Kruphix’s Insight – This has really impressed me. It was basically for matchups where I have a lot of cards to cut, or where I expect them to go very long, and it has helped a lot. Regularly draws you 3 cards.

Potential sideboard options:

  • Nevermore – Basically more runed halos, but also useful for decks like Ad Nauseum, where they don’t have to target you to win the game.
  • Dovescape – Seems too expensive, and I’m not doing anything broken with it.
  • Suppression Field – Turns off a lot of things like Ratchet Bomb, EE, and some creature-based combo decks.
  • Sphere of Safety – Likely impossible to get through.
  • COP: Red – Maybe better than ram?
  • Leyline of Sanctity
  • Elspeth (the big one)
  • Choke

When I put this together, I wasn’t expecting much.

I 2-0’d my first opponent, but they were playing martyr.

Then I 2-0’d dredge.

Then I beat dredge again.

Then I beat dredge again.

And then in game 3, playing for the 5-0, I fetched a temple garden on turn one, played two forests, and then died to a blood moon with a hand full of white cards. A kiln fiend ate me alive. What could have been had I only fetched a plains?!

I decided to run it back, and this time only managed a 2-3 finish.

I lost to a Blue Moon deck after using an oblivion ring to remove a creature instead of blanking it with Runed Halo, and then getting crushed by a Docent of Perfection that I couldn’t get off the board.

Then I lost a close one to affinity after deciding that I could afford to play Eidolon instead of Ghostly Prison. He topdecked a Cranial Plating to kill me.

I lost to Ad Nauseum because of another sequencing error, choosing to put more pressure on the board rather than play a Runed Halo, and his last card in hand was an Ad Nauseum.

The wins weren’t anything special, from what I remember.

It was still early, so I ran it back again, this time going 4-1 again.

My only loss in this league was to a Protean Hulk deck. In game one he put two Hulks in his yard early on. What do you name with Runed Halo there? I asked a few people, and we settled on Mogg Fanatic, so I named that. Then I played another Halo the next turn, naming Griselbrand, just in case he had that as a backup Through The Breach card. He untapped and killed me with Hulk combo, using Death Cultist as the kill.

In game two, I mulligained into a Rest in Peace hand, and he killed me with Mindcrank / Duskmantle Guildmage (after bouncing my rest in peace). I wasn’t even mad.

The rest of the league was mostly crushing UR decks, Dredge, and Affinity.

Overall, I played 5 matches against dredge and only dropped two games. Both of them pre-board, on the draw, with hands I would have mulligained had I known the matchup. If you just want to beat that deck, this is a great option.

Not sure if this deck is real, but it’s consistent, powerful, fun, and you get to beat up on modern’s current boogeyman.

A Draft

Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:
Was tempted to Rhino since Hydra is so strong, but the power level is a bit too off-balance.

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:
Considered serpent. If the rest of the packs are as green-light as this, i might end up with a low-curve BW deck. Also don’t have much experience with this card, and have heard wildly different accounts. Want to give it a shot.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:
WB, i was saying?

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:
Nothing great overall, but I want to keep my curve low.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:
Pack is pretty bad, but i think gearshift ace makes this card decently playable.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:
Pretty much nothing that draws me into any color.

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:
I might end up going bigger and ditching the midnight oil. Wondering if i should be blue at this point.

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:
Strong red signal after some weak red packs.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 12:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 13:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 1:

My Pick:
If I had seen more than 9 green cards total in pack one, I might have gone for the cub, but it’s clearly shut-off.

Pack 2 pick 2:

My Pick:
If I didn’t want to try and make midnight oil work, i think there’s an argument for Augmenter.

Pack 2 pick 3:

My Pick:
Training pretty hard these days.

Pack 2 pick 4:

My Pick:
Never had this card either. Let’s try it out.

Pack 2 pick 5:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 6:

My Pick:
Goes well with my trains and my dragster.

Pack 2 pick 7:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 8:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 9:

My Pick:
The rest of these packs are very weak, and I’m wondering if I’m going to end up with a mess.

Pack 2 pick 10:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 11:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 12:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 13:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 1:

My Pick:
P1P1 I slam Snare Thopter. I think this is much closer with my archetype well-established. I need cheap creatures, and this guy is right on theme.

Pack 3 pick 2:

My Pick:
Hoping the gravedigger will wheel.

Pack 3 pick 3:

My Pick:
Hooked up.

Pack 3 pick 4:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 5:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 6:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 7:

My Pick:
I keep being told that this guy is underrated, so lets put him to the test.

Pack 3 pick 8:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 9:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 10:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 11:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 12:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 13:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 14:

My Pick:

Ended up here. Would you have built it differently?


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New Musings (Newsings?)

I’ve put off writing for a while now, mainly due to a chronic shortage of time and a lack of any worthwhile successes to talk about. I managed to win a PPTQ this weekend, solving both of those problems.

It was my fifth win across 44 events. All of my wins so far have been Standard, and three of them took place at this same venue, Bob’s Baseball Dungeon Dugout. Bob’s is something of a gem and something of a shithole, and I keep winning his events.

14925712_10209963491835767_2939702179680568913_nThe Dugout, courtesy of Wyatt Darby

The store is in a basement, with carpeting of an age that rivals the collection of core-set fatpacks lining every shelf. When the play space fills up, it overflows into an unfinished storage room that adds extra motivation to continue placing in the top half of the field.

Bob himself adds some flair to the store. Posters about 9/11 conspiracies and news clippings about the days when politicians were noble can be found taped to the refrigerator, and it’s not uncommon to hear an outburst of armchair commentary about whatever baseball game is on the TV in the middle of your match. There are a few other oddities as well – each player in his PPTQs gets to throw some darts at a board, and the best score gets to take home a free fat-pack at the end of the night. Bob doesn’t really understand Magic, and his lack of preparation (that is, lack of a printer) can be a little off-putting, but at the end of the day, he’s willing to make the decisions required to make sure the people in the room are happy, or at least entertained.

*Record Scratch*

*Freeze Frame*

“So I bet you’re wondering how I ended up in this basement game-store. . . ”

I hated the last standard format, almost entirely because of Collected Company. Not because it was overpowered, or because it put too much restriction on deckbuilding. I mainly hated sitting across from an opponent with 5 open mana up, trying to go through all the billion (someone check my math) possibilities of what they could have.

Avacyn? Spell Queller? Collected company into any combination of Spell Queller / Reflector Mage / Thalia / Selfless Spirit / Displacer /  Tireless Tracker / Sylvan Advocate? There were too many possibilities, and I simply don’t have the processing power to find those situations enjoyable in any way. Especially when I was also playing Company, and we would both just be sitting back out of fear, while digging for some stupid trump card so our collective misery could end.

Modern season was also a bust. I played some Death’s Shadow, some Elves, and some Dredge once they printed Cathartic Reunion, but I never really enjoyed myself. The good decks just aren’t that fun, getting crushed by oppressive sideboard cards feels miserable, and losing because you never saw your own sideboard cards feels just as bad.

After all of that nonsense, the new standard format feels great. The aggro decks are interesting, the tempo decks get to leverage their pilot’s timing abilities, the control decks have cool finishers, the midrange decks are clean and consistent, and the combo decks . . . exist.

I finished 16th in the SCG Classic last weekend playing a list very close to Shota’s PT winner, swapping out a few outdated SB cards for some Dragonmaster Outcasts, which I expected to give me an edge over the UW flash decks that looked to be a threat. I never actually drew the outcasts in that matchup, and in the end I finished a win outside of Top8.

It might seem reasonable to continue working on the deck after a reasonably solid finish, but it looked like the tide was about to turn, and I couldn’t really justify trying to force through a deck that was decently behind against the most popular choice in the field.

On Saturday, with zero testing, I took this to my PPTQ:
1 Noxious Gearhulk
4 Sylvan Advocate
3 Tireless Tracker
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Vessel of Nascency
4 Grapple with the Past
4 Grasp of Darkness
2 Murder
1 Ruinous Path
1 Dead Weight
2 Transgress the Mind
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
6 Forest
7 Swamp
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Blighted Fen
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Hissing Quagmire

1 Appetite for the Unnatural
2 Natural State
1 Essence Extraction
1 To the Slaughter
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Flaying Tendrils
1 Lost Legacy
2 Pick the Brain
1 Transgress the Mind
1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury (last minute, couldn’t find a Nissa)
1 Dead Weight

This is very close to the deck that won the American GP last weekend, with some small tweaks.

I’ve been asked several times about Sylvan Advocate over Grim Flayer:

  • Advocate lives through Flaying Tendrils
  • Advocate can attack into Spell Queller / Reflector Mage
  • Advocate matches up well against Grim Flayer
  • Advocate is more reliable against aggro

Beyond that, I’m philosophically inclined to play Advocate. Given the choice of two cards, I’m more likely to play the one that consistently shores up a problem rather than the one that has the potential to do something busted. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I under-perform in Modern . . . 

I finished 3-2, beating RW Vehicles, Grixis Prized Amalgam, and UWR Control, losing to both UW Flash players I faced.

This was a problem. I felt like I got a little unlucky to lose my UW matches, getting flooded in g3 of one (namedrop Eddie Song), and getting stuck on three lands in g3 of the other, but if this was a matchup I wanted to stomp, I needed to make some changes.

For Sunday, I did this:

-1 Tireless Tracker, -1 Transgress the Mind, -1 Murder
+1 Ishkanah, +1 Pilgrim’s Eye, +1 Ruinous Path

-1 Gonti / Nissa, -1 Dead Weight
+1 Tireless Tracker, +1 Transgress the Mind

I wanted to be better against UW, so I addressed two problems:

  1. Adding an Ishkanah to bridge through the midgame.
  2. Adding another spell to kill Gideon.

On top of adding an Ishkanah, I wanted to make them better when I drew them, and Pilgrim’s Eye seemed like the best way to do it. It helped ensure that I’d hit my fifth land on time, and was an easy way to get over the Delirium threshold.

Tireless tracker was only good in the UW games where I was already stable, and those games tended to be favorable anyway, since my deck is just loaded with tutors at that point. I almost cut Dead Weight from the maindeck instead of Transgress, but looking around the room, there were a few more aggro decks than I was comfortable with, so I put my discard spell in the board instead.

Round 1 I got paired against Box on WB midrange, and our games were uneventful. His draws were below average, and mine were great.

Round 2 I beat RG energy, and again my draws were much further above the curve than his.

Round 3 I lost to Tyler Schroeder, who had rolled into the event as part of a car containing Jason Kenjar, Nathan Lothamer (fresh off his first PT), and Wyatt Darby, who had just won a PPTQ the day before, and was along for the ride.

Game 3 was the most interesting. I ultimated a Liliana, but because he had a wall of Spell Quellers and Reflector Mages, I couldn’t profitably attack without stacking up zombies for a few turns. When I first got to 10+ zombies, he cast Declaration in Stone, forcing me to start over, and allowing him to take out a big chunk of my life total.

During this whole time, I was sitting on a hand of Traverse, Traverse, To the Slaughter, but with only Sorcery, Instant, and Planeswalker in my graveyard, I couldn’t put any of them to use. On the turn when I was going to get back up to 14 zombies, I drew a land, but declined to play it for no real reason.

On his next turn, he cast Declaration again. I responded with my Slaughter, targeting myself, in order to keep most of my zombies around, but he countered with Spell Shrivel, which I couldn’t pay for because I hadn’t played my land for the turn. I lost.

Round 4 I played against Nathan Lothamer, and in both Games 2 and 3, we got into a situation where we both had Emrakul mana, and both had  Emrakul in hand (in game 2, we actually both had two Emrakul in hand). It had been several months since I had to wrap my head around how these turns would play out. It ended up being pretty complicated, especially because there was a Liliana on his side of the board in Game 2, which meant that his monster beat mine in a fight.

We ended up going to turns, and although I couldn’t quite kill him on turn 4, it was clear that I was definitely going to win the game given another attack, and he conceded.

Round 5 I defeated Grixis Prized Amalgam, and then beat him again in the top four. Our games were more close than interesting, especially our final battle, where I topdecked a flaying tendrils the turn before he topdecked  what would have been a lethal Fiery Temper.

In the finals I was against Tyler again. He commented that a mutual friend had told him stories of me being an endboss, and here he was, trying to beat me in the finals on the day we met.

In game 3, we got into a position where I was slightly ahead on board, and was threatening to cast an Emrakul should he ever tap low on my turn. When he went for a Gideon, I punched back with Emrakul, countered his Gideon emblem with the Summary Dismissal he had been saving for my Emrakul, ate his team, did a big chunk of damage, and then sat back after he Reflector Mage’d my Emrakul.

I knew he was sitting on another counter, but I had a plan. I let him exile my 13/13, and on his turn, forced him to attack, and before blockers, used a Natural State to free Kalitas from a Stasis Snare, ate his board, and built a zombie army that would take me to victory.

I’m hoping to write a bit more about what I’ve been doing magic-wise, so I’ll probably have some more posts soon. If you want to see some really bad drafting (where I manage to win anyway), check out the few posts before this one.