The Comeback Kid

The score was 78-80 and the San Antonio Spurs were set to inbound the ball with 11.2 seconds left in the game, hoping to hold on to their dwindling lead on the Houston Rockets and ensure victory in Houston. It was mere minutes ago that the Spurs had held a stranglehold on the game until a couple of lucky shots made it close. If they could hold on for one more play it would be over. The ball was inbounded, rockets defenders pressured the ball as the ball handler tried to dribble away from trouble.

And that's when the impossible happened.

The guy dribbling the ball seemingly lost control of it. He dribbled it off his chest and it bounced out of his reach onto the floor, right into the hands of a Rocket. Eight seconds. Spurs defenders started running back to defend a potential game winning shot as the Rockets charged down the court. Five seconds. A Rocket approached the three-point line and pulled up for the game winning shot, just out of reach of a Spurs defender. Two seconds.

And just like that, the game had been won.




The event I just recounted was from a game nearly four years ago in the regular season of the NBA. The Rockets were down by 10 with 50 seconds left and preceded to score 17 points to come back and win the game in the final seconds against their division rival.

Question: What does basketball have to do with Magic: the Gathering? 99.9 percent of the time the games go somewhat normally. But it's that .1% of the time that I would argue is why we play Magic. That one time the unexpected happens and it gives you a story to tell for years and years to your friends. Just like no self respecting Rockets fan would ever forget this amazing comeback, Magic players for years have been recounting their amazing stories where the impossible happened and they pulled out a victory that surprises even them to this day.

College Multiplayer Madness

The scene starts out in the college dorm cafeteria, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. People had already started to leave to go home to spend time with their families, so it was just me and and five other friends at the table. After we all ate lunch, one of the guys busted out with a bunch of decks and suggested we play. Now, this all sounds normal right? But the thing was, we weren't a "Magic" group. He had no way of knowing that everyone at the table played Magic, but it just kind of worked out that everyone knew how to play the game. We all grabbed a deck and started a large multiplayer game.

But it wasn't like your normal multiplayer game. No one knew what his own deck did (except for the one guy who owned all the decks). It was interesting to see each individual player try to figure out what his deck did. I took a quick peek at mine and saw a lot of red and some artifacts and figured it was some kind of burn deck. Which wasn't looking good because burn does horrible in multiplayer games.

I draw my first seven cards and I had three red sources of mana, a Shrapnel Blast, a Fireblast, a Mana Vault, and a Solemn Simulacrum. I expected the burn, but not the artifacts. My next couple of draws were Trash for Treasure and Cave-In. I had no clue what the deck did. It kind of seemed like the idea was to get a ton of mana and then hit them with a big Blaze or something like that, but then what was up with the artifact tricks? I looked around and my opponents were having similar struggles to find out what their decks did. The guy next to me was running some kind of graveyard-recursion type deck involving dredge and tricks with Anger and such (we'll call him Graveyard Guy for the purpose of this story). We had another guy with what looked like a control deck with random tricks and removal (we'll refer to him as Control Guy), another guy laid a turn two Lightning Rift (Rift Guy), and the other two had actual creature-based decks, one white and one green (White Creature Guy and Green Creature Guy).

In the early game we all set up our boards, attack with a weenie here and there, and get early damage in. I stockpile burn and try and figure out who I'm going to one-shot before I run out of ammo. I had to waste my two Shrapnel Blasts on an early planeswalker and a fatty creature, so my dreams of taking out an opponent with a slew of Blasts and Bolts was fading away as I tried to stay alive. I drew into a Nuisance Engine that helped me create blockers to fend off attacks. Meanwhile, Rift Guy was cycling away and dealing uncounterable damage to anything he felt like. Removal was thrown back and forth and decks traded blows.

We were getting midway into the game when Green Creature Guy and White Creature Guy had to go to class. Then it was just me, Rift Guy, Control Guy, and Graveyard Guy. Graveyard Guy on his turn dredged up a Golgari Grave-Troll, and played it as a 13/13 haste (Anger in the graveyard), and swung at Rift Guy - who subsequently hit the Troll with a Swords to Plowshares, putting Graveyard Guy at 32 life. It was becoming increasingly obvious that we had to kill this Graveyard Guy before he got out of hand. He was at the point where he had no cards in hand and could pretty much dredge up whatever tricks he wanted each turn. It was going to be hard to kill the guy with him sitting at 32 life.

We all passed our turns while Graveyard Guy looked into his graveyard (which is now sitting at a solid 30+ cards) to see if he could find anymore tricks. He found Worm Harvest. And since it was a dredge deck, it was easy enough to dredge a land back to his hand to pay for the retrace cost of Worm Harvest, making seven 1/1 tokens with haste. He attempted to attack Control Guy, who prevented the attack by tapping his dudes using Thoughtweft Gambit. On his turn he played Wrath of God and cleared the board.

I said, "Okay, Rift Guy, you have Lightning Rift and solid removal. Control Guy has Wrath and combat tricks. I have burn and Nuisance Engine. I got the raw end of this deal."

And the guy that made the decks (Rift Guy) replied, "I assume you have a bunch of inefficient burn in your hand right?"

"Right." I said, staring at my three Fireblasts.

"You'll soon draw the card that works with it and then it will be obvious what the deck does."

I couldn't for the life of me figure out what he was talking about. What card can you abuse with Lightning Blast? And that's when I drew Countryside Crusher. I laid it down and ended my turn, thinking something was going to go down on my next turn. I figured if I could survive the next turn without Graveyard Guy completely comboing out on me, I could take someone out. I had three Fireblasts, a Lightning Bolt, and a Cave-In in terms of burn. The three Fireblasts would give my Crusher +6/+6 on top of whatever bonus he got from that upkeep, and on top of that whatever I drew that turn (that was guaranteed to be a non-land card thanks to Crusher). An alpha strike like that should be able to kill Graveyard Guy, and it would give the other two players something to worry about for a turn or so.

But the keyword was "if." Graveyard Guy had found another aspect to the combo. First he started off by dredging a land back and retracing Worm Harvest, but then he flashed back three Dread Returns in his graveyard and got three Creakwood Lieges, which gave +2/+2 to black green creatures. So with three of them in play, each of the seven hasty Worm tokens was 7/7. His attack was enough to kill Control Guy and bring Rift Guy to 1. I stayed alive by blocking with my Simulacrum and two Pest tokens. This game was basically over. Even if we were somehow able to deal with the three Lieges, there was nothing we could do about him replaying Worm Harvest every turn. And if we couldn't deal with the Lieges, he would untap and easily have enough tokens to take out Rift Guy and myself no matter what. It was either win the game this turn somehow, or lose.

That's when I realized I had the game won. Graveyard Guy had tapped out and was sitting at 21 life (thanks to a couple of hits from Lightning Rift), so I could burn him with my three Fireblasts and one Lightning Bolt, then swing for 9+ with the Crusher; a Cave-In would take care of Rift Guy. Graveyard Guy had no way to respond to my spells because his hand was empty and his graveyard had no tricks left. It was over! I was sitting there writing out my victory speech. You know how in the movie when the good guy catches the bad guy and gives that victory "I just caught you" speech? I was thinking something along the lines of "you won't get far in life playing Worm Harvest every turn" or something corny like that.

It's really hard to describe the thoughts and feelings that were going through my head at the time. I know everyone has moments like these where they know they have the game won, but I think everyone experiences it differently. I was trying to act as unassuming and nonchalant as possible. My "burn" deck had no business being in this multiplayer game, yet I was about to take -

"Wrath of God," said Rift guy, tapping four lands.


A one man army...
So close... yet so far away. I placed the Crusher in my graveyard, now back to square one with only 17 points of burn not being enough to kill two players at once. Unless I pulled maybe another Shrapnal Blast, or maybe Blaze, something to get extra damage in, I was finished.

I drew my final card: Hostility. I had to read the card several times to figure out if I had actually won. I threw the card down victoriously, shelled out my burn, which turned into 3/1 Elemental tokens with haste. Then I swung for the win, knocking out both Graveyard Guy and Rift Guy in a single blow.

It had been a nearly a year since I had played any kind of Magic, but no matter how far away you have strayed from the game, a victory like that can always make you appreciate what the game is about.

Comeback Article Makes Its Own Comeback

As I said at the beginning, that was before Thanksgiving break. And as soon as I could after that game had happened I wrote down as much as I could remember about the game, eventually making it into what you saw above.

But there was a problem.

The article just wasn't long enough. There were a couple of solutions posed. One was to elaborate. Maybe explain events that happened in the early game a bit more, or perhaps add some more background about the players I faced, or go into more detail about the plays I made. But the problem with that was I'm just not that good at stretching articles while still keeping them interesting to the reader. So I dismissed that idea. Another plan was to just add another story. I had other stories, but they didn't make sense within the context of the article. It wouldn't make sense to have a story about a multiplayer comeback game a month ago and then later cut to completely separate story that happened a long time ago. The chances of this article getting published looked bleak. But then I had another very memorable Magic tournament.

Knight In Shining Armor

Before going into the story, I'll provide a little background. I hadn't set foot in a Magic shop in forever. College does that to you. Every now and then, my college buddies and I would show up at a store to draft (and I love drafting), then sell or give away whatever cards we opened. The weekend before Christmas, I was invited to draft at a store ten minutes away from my house, and a lot of the same guys from the multiplayer game happened to frequent that store as well.

Here's the catch, though: I hadn't drafted Shards of Alara ever. I had heard things here and there, I still kept up with the major happenings in Magic, so I wasn't completely out of the loop. But I wasn't completely squared away on what cards are good and what strategies are good. We had to get a lot of that information when we got there.

We got seated and ready to draft. Pack one contained no bombs, and I picked Resounding Silence. As packs were passed, I noticed a lot of blue and black was being passed around, so it was looking like I had to go white/blue/black with maybe a splash of green to cycle Resounding Silence.

Pack two was more of the same. I filled out my green splash with some Waveskimmer Avens and Necrogenesis. I later found out that I made a few mispicks. For whatever reason I didn't pick the blue or black capsules; I remember one of each getting passed to me. Although in my defense I think I passed on the black capsule for other removal. The other thing is that I kept getting passed Resounding Silence. I could've had four in my deck. I passed on some of them them because I figured if they were getting passed up, there might be something I'm not thinking of that made them bad removal (and I know everyone is hitting their heads wondering what I was thinking now). Mispicks for sure, but I'll chalk that up to it being the first time drafting Shards. I'm not going to make that mistake again.

In pack three I opened... Elspeth, Knight Errant! Not only was it a bomb mythic rare, but it was a bomb mythic rare that I could actually play without having to splash into another color. I finished the pack drafting more support for my Esper-splash-green deck. And that gave me.

Knight in Shining Armor[/deckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Flyers
2 Waveskimmer Aven
4 Skeletal Kathari
2 Tidehollow Strix
1 Welkin Guide
1 Kathari Screecher
1 Sanctum Gargoyle
1 Cloudheath Drake

Non-flyers
1 Elspeth, Knight Errant
1 Knight of the Skyward Eye
1 Grixis Battlemage
1 Necrogenesis
1 Rockcaster Platoon
1 Dawnray Archer

Removal
2 Excommunicate
2 Resounding Silence

Land/Mana Fixing
1 Bant Panorama
1 Grixis Panorama
1 Seaside Citadel
1 Obelisk of Bant
1 Obelisk of Esper
5 Plains
4 Swamp
3 Island
1 Forest



Deck breakdown:


Newsflash! This card owns.
The strategy was pretty simple. I would hold off the opponent with cards like Resounding Silence, Excommunicate, and my weenies until I could get to four and five mana where the bulk of my fliers came into play and I could start hitting them through the air. I didn't plan on this happening while I was drafting, but only four of my creatures weren't fliers.

Elspeth... This card is nuts in draft. Although I have a feeling you already know that. If they can't deal with her fast, you win the game. Worst case scenario, she's a Fog for a couple of turns.

Then there's Necrogenesis. I remember reading an article on this very website about a draft where the author found out how good Necrogenesis was. I don't remember who it was specifically, but I owe the picking of this card to that article. Having said that, this card is perfect for my deck. It allows for a one-sided race against beatdown decks. I can swing through the air with my fliers, and yet have the ability to chump block for long enough to be able to pull out a win.

Round 1: With 20 people entering the tournament, there would be five rounds of Swiss with a cut to the top 4. Now, before I get into the action, I should warn you that I didn't plan on making a draft article when I was actually playing the games, so I didn't write anything down, and most of this is coming from memory (which means some rounds will be really short).

My first round opponent was playing the same colors as I was, except I was playing mostly fliers and he wasn't. Game 1 was an easy victory on the back of Elspeth and a crew of fliers, but in games 2 and 3 I was less fortunate. I got out my flying crew, but he had two Sanctum Gargoyles and used that to stall while creating card advantage by bringing back his capsules. In game 3, I almost broke the soft lock with my own Gargoyle, but he was able to Gather Specimens it and grab another artifact from his graveyard, sealing the victory for himself.

Record 0-1 (1-2)

This wasn't looking good for me. I would have to win four rounds in a row to even have a shot at the top 4. But considering that I would have to go through the losers' bracket to get there, my tiebreakers probably wouldn't be all that good. Would the inexperienced Shards drafter have enough to make it? Or would one slip up be the end of him? [/dramatic comic book announcer]

Readers, to get the full effect of this article, it might be a good idea to put on the theme song to Rocky III or an equivalent comeback montage song. I'll wait.

...

..

.

Okay, are you ready now? Then onto round two!

Round 2: This guy was easy. He had no fliers and no big beefy creatures and no removal. So I had nothing to worry about. I beat him 2-0 in record time.

Record 1-1 (3-2)

Round 3: In game 1, I pulled a fourth-turn Elspeth after playing a turn 3 flier, but then I misplayed. Instead of pumping out a token to protect Elspeth, I pumped the beater and swung for 5, forgetting that he had 5 damage in creatures on the table. Fortunately, the opponent for some reason only swung with two creatures, so I wasn't punished for my bad play.

In the second game, he played out double Deathgreeters. I had some fliers here and there. I used some to race and held some back to block. He played Onyx Goblet which put me on a clock. Fortunately, Necrogenesis came down and I was able to win the race by using tokens to block and my fliers to swing.

Record 2-1 (5-2)

Round 4: I was up against my friend "White Creature Guy" from the multiplayer game. Both of us were 2-1 and both of us needed a win here to have a shot at getting into the top 4. But the interesting part was that my friend had been out of Magic since Invasion/Oddessey. I got into Magic around then and he was one of the people that helped teach me how to play in high school, and this was the first one-on-one game I had played against him since those days.

He was playing a red/green/Wwite (splash blue/black) beatdown deck. I saw the ends of a few matches against other opponents and he would always have around ten creatures on the board. So I wasn't completely sure what to expect here. He opened game 1 with Deft Duelist and some other beaters. I dropped a fourth-turn Elspeth, but didn't have enough beef to support it and it died. He continued the beatdown with Rakeclaw Gargantuan, a Thunder-Thrash Elder that was a 4/4, and some other weenies. I had Necrogenesis and maybe a blocker or two.

I'm sure you've seen those action movies where it's one guy versus ten beefy muscular guys and the one guy always wins. That's basically what happened. Necrogenesis owned. It helped that I was able to make perfect blocks to keep me alive and get creatures killed in the process. He got me down to 1 before I was able to stabilize with Waveskimmer Aven and eventually kill him with tokens.

Game 2 was the same story. He played beef, I couldn't handle it, and I lost. But game 3 was epic. He got out a Jhessian Infiltrator and Battlegrace Angel. I couldn't race him with fliers because he had a beefy flier that could block and kill any of my fliers. I wasn't drawing removal, my planeswalker, or anything to combat this situation. He just kept swinging for 3 thanks to the Angel's exalted ability, and I was on a clock. Fortunately, my non-fliers came to the rescue for the first time in the tournament. I laid down a Knight of the Skyward Eye, which allowed me to swing for 6 thanks to Waveskimmer Aven's exalted ability as well as the Knight's own pump. I was still on a clock, taking 3 a turn. Eventually the Knight died in combat to a beefy blocker, but I was able to lay down my other ground beater, Rockcaster Platoon. That beat face for a few turns. Finally, I was at 3 and he was at 10. He had Battlegrace Angel and his Infiltrator. I had my beater and a Necrogenesis I had played that turn. The only thing I could do was swing with my 5/7 beater. He blocked the 5/7 with the Angel itself. And I thought I was done. I had forgotten I just got rid of his only exalted creature, making his unblockable attack for only 2, putting me to 1 instead of dead. At the end of the turn I had ten mana available and Necrogenesis on the table. We had been trading creatures all game. There were enough to make five tokens, which I did, and next turn I swung for the win. Epic.

Record 3-1 (7-3)

Round 5: I was playing another RGW beatdown deck, but this one was slightly faster and had less beats. In game 1, a fourth-turn Elspeth won it for me once again. He was almost able to kill it, but I think he was torn between racing it and killing it - although I think I had the game won either way. Game 2 he led out with Wild Nacatl and some weenie beaters and just raced me. I got mana flooded and couldn't do anything about it.

Then Elspeth single-handedly won me the game again in game 3.

Record 4-1 (9-4)

We got finished our match early and the guy in first was playing another undefeated guy. I caught the end of the match hearing bits and pieces of what was going on.

"I gotta play as if that card is on the top of my library" he says as he blocks in such a way that puts him at 1. Then he draws his card, and it was the card he was hoping for. He laid it down and won game 3. Turns out him winning the game put me in the top 4! I hadn't drafted in forever. I hadn't drafted Shards at all. I made a few draft mistakes and a few play mistakes, but despite all that here I was in the top 4.

Top 4: I'm playing the guy that just topdecked his way to winning his match in the game I just saw. He was the #1 seed, and was a regular at the store. I was just a guy that showed up because his friends suggested it would be a fun thing to do. We were both playing Esper decks, but mine splashed more green and his had more of an artifact theme.

Game 1 went fast, as I rode Elspeth and a few fliers to victory. He didn't have the beef or the removal to stop me. For game 2, I topdecked Elspeth on the fourth turn, but not much else came up. The Knight survived a few turns on tokens and blockers, but eventually he was able to tap down or remove my blockers due to the black capsule and Fatestitcher and was able to kill Elspeth. I survived a little longer, but I didn't have black mana and my hand was full of black spells. He eventually took me down with Quietus Spike.

At this point the other match had ended, so everyone in the entire store was watching this game. And I'm not going to lie, the pressure got to me a little. I made a few misplays here and there. I would swing into his ground troops, and he would just block and regenerate the artifact creature with Metallurgeon, killing my creature. When he attacked with a 2/2 I tried blocking it with my Grixis Battlemage, forgetting that he could weaken it with his Esper Battlemage. I swung in for a few damage here and there with my fliers, but eventually he was able to play his second Esper Battlemage. And nearly all of my fliers had a toughness of 2. I was able to draw and play Elspeth and Rockcaster Platoon (he couldn't kill that with his crew of Battlemages). Slowly I played the fliers that I had held back.

He made his first series of misplays in that he let them live. For the life of me, I don't know why he never tried killing off my fliers at the end of my turn. Perhaps he thought I had something I didn't. He was at 4 life after a series of attacks (he played a third Battlemage, meaning he could prevent 6 damage to himself). It wasn't looking good for me, since if I swung he would just kill off my attackers or prevent 6 damage. But wait... he couldn't do both. If I alpha struck with all of my fliers (making the 5/7 a 8/10 flier thanks to Elspeth), surely I would have enough damage to win the game.

And I would've won the game, had I actually realized this at the time. For some reason I held back my fliers thinking that it was important to protect against a counterstrike against Elspeth. But I was at 19 and he probably wouldn't attack anyway because I could take his damage. That one final misplay cost me the game and the match.

Final Result: 3rd-4th place finish

I wish I had played better, although I had benefited from a couple of misplays on my opponents' behalf, allowing me to win some games I shouldn't have. And in any case, I'll take a semifinal loss considering the long shot I was to begin with anyway. I sold Elspeth for a wad of cash, enough to pay for my draft, and called the day a success. And it gave me this great story to tell. While it wasn't the ultimate comeback everyone probably hopes for, it was still a great run and the important thing is that I enjoyed the ride - and have a new story to tell.

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