Tim’s Top Fives – The Five Most Ridiculous Things Seen at a Pro Tour
Welcome to another top five from me, your editor, Tim Willoughby. I’ve been working on the Pro Tour for a number of years, and every now and then you see something a little bit different. If you are looking for hot deck tech, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for another week. This time, I’m going to cover some of the more unusual sights at the Pro Tour, to show that even at the top level, there is a little room for ridiculosity.
5) One With Nothing
By and large, I’ve never been a big fan of lists of the worst of anything. For a kickoff, they tend to be a bit of a downer. If we were to discuss the ‘worst cards ever printed’ then there would be a number of candidates. None of them would be cards you’d want to play in all but the corneriest of cases. At some point there’d probably be an argument about the bizarre case where playing Break Open was a good choice, versus the merits of the combo potential of Wood Elemental. Whatever this list is, I want to avoid confusing it with a list of the worst Magic cards ever printed.
Nonetheless, the first entry on this list does qualify as one of the worst cards ever printed, and the way it makes my top five is that I’m pretty confident it’s the worst card ever to see play at the Pro Tour in constructed.
For those of you unfamiliar with One With Nothing, it is almost exactly as bad as it looks. Maybe a little worse. Being able to discard your entire hand at instant speed for one black mana and a card is something that is dubious value at any time, and requires a fairly specific set of circumstances. Somehow or other, the stars aligned such that for a desperate few, One With Nothing became their card of choice for Pro Tour Honolulu.
This isn’t the Pro Tour that happened just a few short months ago. The very first Pro Tour Honolulu was Standard with Ravnica and Kamigawa block. This was a format where midrange or slower strategies were far from unusual. The amount of punishment for a slow start was comparatively low, while the upside of casting big spells was substantial. Ultimately Mark Herberholz preyed on this by playing a very aggressive red green deck to victory. For others though, there was a rather novel option. With Howling Mine and Kami of the Crescent Moon, there were a few ways of keeping both players’ hands stocked. With Boomerang and Eye of Nowhere, a canny player could effectively stave off the late game, making opposing hands exceptionally large, while battlefields remained largely empty. The final piece in the puzzle for a very unusual deck was Ebony Owl Netsuke, to punish players for having substantial hand sizes.
‘Owling Mine’, as it was called, was a deck that had some of the more lop-sided matchups in Pro Tour History. It was highly favoured against late game decks, but could more or less never beat an aggro deck. In the top eight of the Pro Tour, Antoine Ruel joked that he wished he could sideboard in Ancestral Recall as a classy way of conceding his match against one of the aggro decks in the format.
Let us get back to One With Nothing. Fearing the matchup against a deck that wins by filling up its opponent’s hand, some players took extreme measures. The coverage team at the event couldn’t believe their luck! Somehow or other one of the worst cards ever printed was seeing play for a legitimate reason. The thinking went that by being able to ditch one’s hand, the key plan of Owling Mine would be defeated, and control decks could go back to being decent late-game monsters.
Sadly, we never really got to see this plan in action, for even though it received a lot of press, only three players in the tournament actually went for it, with the most notable being Tobi Henke, himself now a regular on the European GP coverage team. It’s possible that more people may have wanted to pull the trigger on the One With Nothing plan, but couldn’t find any in Hawaii. There were certainly tales from that Pro Tour of the desperate measures players had to go to in order to find Faith’s Fetters, so it is possible that nobody packed One With Nothing either.
Thankfully three players did, and while they didn’t do very well, they successfully propelled a terrible card into the list of the top five most unlikely things to see at a Pro Tour.
4. The all land deck
If we venture further back into the dim dark days of the Pro Tour, we can find a few other surprising decks at the Pro Tour. The very first time that the Pro Tour visited Japan was Pro Tour Tokyo, right after Planeshift had come out. That tournament was won by Zvi Mowshowitz, now a member of the Hall of Fame, using a powerful blue white deck designed by Englishman John Ormerod. While Zvi’s deck was pretty cool, it is not the deck that I want to talk about today. That honour falls to Dan Bock from the USA, who showed up with the most singularly unusual deck in Pro Tour history.
Back in those days, there were a number of motivations for players on the Pro Tour. Bock was as much a card trader as he was a player, and was very excited to get to travel to Japan with the game he loved. While he’d won a constructed PTQ, he didn’t consider himself much of a constructed player, and was at a loss for a competitive deck to play in the event. As the days ticked down before the Pro Tour, he remained stuck for a good deck to take him to victory. The only things that were certain in Bock’s mind were that he definitely intended to go to Japan, and that he wanted to claim the 2 Pro Points he’d get for playing in the event. Everything else was open to chance.
As it turns out, Dan Bock never found the perfect deck to compete with in the Pro Tour, so he ended up taking quite the opposite approach. The deck he played (which secured him a feature match no less) contained nothing but basic lands. He played it for his feature match, and unsurprisingly didn’t fare too well, dropping at the end of the round, and making Pro Tour history as he did so.
A couple of points of note. Bock didn’t actually finish last at Pro Tour Tokyo. Because of a disqualification, Bock ended up counting as second to last in Japan. Additionally, while he is the only player ever to run 60 basic lands, there have been a few players to run 39 basics and just a single spell. In each case this has been a limited strategy based around a single powerful card, and in each case it was a sideboard plan. As it turns out, both Pack Rat and Lost in the Woods are good enough that sometimes you just want to play a big pile of basic lands and one powerful spell. It’s not the perfect plan, but something like Lost in the Woods alongside a lot of copies of Forest creates a board state that some decks just can’t beat. As it turns out there’s quite a big difference between having one good spell, and not having any.
3. The Swedish Shark of Triumph
Now, let us be clear. There have been quite a lot of unusual pieces of attire in and around high level Magic. Neil Rigby once played a Grand Prix dressed as the Pink Panther for example. However, of any iconic item of Magic clothing, the winner for me is a hat that was dubbed ‘The Swedish Shark of Triumph’.
Before King of the Hill was a thing at the Pro Tour, the Swedish Magic community instituted something similar, thanks to a very special hat depicting a shark having a good old nosh on the wearer’s head. At the 2010 Magic World Championships there was a simple rule. Whichever Swedish player was doing the best at the start of each round would wear the hat.
This was all just a bit of fun, but for the fact that in 2010, Sweden seemed spurred to great things. Ludvig Londos was seen strutting around in the shark hat for some time. Ultimately Love Janse was the final wearer of the shark though, making the Semi-Finals against Guillaume Wafo Tapa before finally being knocked out of the event. This was the Swede’s first Pro Tour, and with fish in tow, he nearly took down the crown.
I can only assume that the retirement of the Swedish Shark of Triumph was in part the fault of Joel Larsson. The Pro Tour Gatecrash finalist is known for having one of the most luxurious haircuts in Pro Magic, and not one well suited to hat wearing. Perhaps now that Olle Rade is on the Sweden National Team, there is potential to see the return of the Shark, as Nice in December might be a good time to have something to keep one’s head warm.
2. An Air Horn
Seriously. When trying to think of surprising things to encounter at a Pro level Magic event, there are very few (read: exactly one) things I expect less than an air horn. This is unfortunate, as not knowing that it is coming is a very good way to find oneself jumping out of one’s skin.
The scene was another World Championships. The year was 2007, and quite a crowd had gathered in New York to witness a star-studded top eight. As is common of Pro Tours, there was a large projection screen up to allow the throng to see the games as they happened, with players kept well away on a film set of sorts where all the action would take place. As it turns out, this particular year the crowd was particularly rambunctious, getting behind some of their magical heroes as eight became four.
One of the semi-finals saw a newly returned to Magic Patrick Chapin up against Gabriel Nassif. Both players were playing a mono-red Dragonstorm deck, and one of the games involved was remains for me one of the great moments in Magic.
Nassif, already down in the match, took three successive mulligans, to mean he’d be starting with just four cards. Winning a mirror match this way would be almost impossible. Chapin had a solid hand, and went for a substantial storm win. With a flurry of burn spells, he got Nassif down to just nine life, before casting Ignite Memories for five.
As Nassif dodged a hailstorm of bullets, the crowd got more and more pumped. When Nassif not only survived the Ignite Memories, but struck back with his own for the win, the shouts of elation were drowned out by only one thing…
An air horn.
1. A bottle of ketchup
After the theatrics of our number two slot, it seems hard to imagine something more ridiculous or unlikely than we’ve already spoken about. It took one of the best players ever to pick up a Magic card to achieve it, but achieve it they did.
Kai Budde is something of a legend, having won seven Pro Tours, a feat which may never be equalled. As crazy as it seems now, it was even crazier when it was happening. There was a golden era where Kai won just about everything. In December of 2000, he won Pro Tour Chicago. In May of 2001, he won Pro Tour Barcelona. He won Pro Tour New York with his team in September, following which one commenter, Eric Taylor, vowed that it was impossible that the German Juggernaut would win Pro Tour New Orleans.
Based on form, this seemed like a terrible call, and with a topdecked Morphling in the finals against Tomi Walamies, Kai cemented his legend, while condemning Taylor to a pretty unpleasant fate.
At the very next Pro Tour in San Diego, Taylor arrived wearing a black fedora, and carrying a large bottle of tomato ketchup. He then proceeded to sit down and make a valiant effort at eating his hat.
These days there is a pretty hard line on any form of gambling around Pro Tour results. That isn’t entirely because of a certain chapeau consumption incident, but suffice to say Eric wouldn’t be making such proclamations again, even if he were allowed to.
Are there any items that you think I’ve missed? Do you have a top five theme you’d like to see in future weeks? Drop me a line in the comments or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll see if I can’t find a few more novel top fives for you as we get to the most wonderful time of the year.