City Champs: The Quest from Chump to Champ

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It is the sophomore year of Magic’s grueling City Champs cycle. Last year’s efforts rewarded a player from each City (or City-based area) an invite to Nationals. Not only did this help pave the way for new blood in the competitive scene, but this gave some hope to the regular weekend warriors. The Friday Night Magic crowd can now get their feet wet in a series of tournaments that actually matter in the grand scheme of things. And after some voiced complaints regarding 2007’s City Champs, it seems Wizards of the Coast has tried to run a tighter ship with the 2008 trials.

I didn’t play in the 2007 City Champs for my city, Seattle. I wasn’t really into the competitive mindset at that point, and a tournament without some sort of flashy Foil Prize Support was not very appealing to me. However, that was then, and this is a story about now. The 2008 City Champs have come to my local FNM shop, just north of Seattle. To top it all off, the DCI sent some shiny Foils to get my attention. I’m not much of a Constructed player; but the first event was Limited, and Limited is my friend. So I paid the $25 entry fee, and the rest is history.

And by history, I mean things better off left in the past. My sealed pool was pretty horrific. With no clear directions in my card pool, I had to sacrifice a stable mana base just to get some power out of my build. I ended up going 4 colors, and the mana-fixing Green was not one of them. Still, I built a strong deck; and with two Vivid lands and a Shimmering Grotto, I did the best I could. I won my first match going 2-1. The deck was shaky, but I am a fairly skilled pilot.

In the second round, I managed to get the win in just 2 games and started to feel a bit more confident with my build. The third round came, and I ended up going 2-1, leaving me and only one other player at 3-0. We contemplated the draw, but his tiebreakers were flawless, and there was another player who pulled off a 2-0-1 record. Thus I played it out and ended up losing 0-2. My mana base was at its shakiest of the night for both games. I left the tournament with a measly 2 points.

Fast-forward to the next City Champs Qualifier at my local hobby shop--a Standard Constructed tournament. The only Constructed deck I had any familiarity with at that point was a W/g Kithkin build I had played at State Champs. It took me 3-0 (2-0 each round) until I faced back-to-back losses against players that ended up in the Top 8. Did I mention that this was only my second Constructed tournament (and my first week of sanctioned Constructed play)? I was still unsure of the deck because it had some bad matches...particularly against anything with Shriekmaw abuse.

So I go on tilt at 3:00 AM the night before the tournament and build a Mono-Black Rack deck for the first Constructed City Champs Qualifier. The deck wasn’t very good. In fact, I decided to let my inner Timmy run wild and packed a playset of Nether Traitors and Liege of the Pit main-deck. I thought it would be cool. I mean, what’s more embarrassing than getting beat by Liege of the Pit?

Seriously? Really? Weak.
Try getting beat by your own Liege of the Pit. My U/W Control opponent played a Sower of Temptation targeting my morph creature, as he was curious to see what it could be in a Mono-Black build. He looked at the Liege and laughed. Then he top-decked his second Coalition Relic and laughed even harder. He managed to un-morph my Liege of the Pit after two successful Ancestral Visions resolved. He then laughed his way to victory with a hand full of counter spells. It didn't matter though, as I could draw no removal. He took the round and I started off in the Loser’s Bracket.

My next match was against a kid who begrudgingly shouted “Oh great! I get paired up against Gavin Verhey and now I have to face Fridge...the two toughest people!” I looked around the room and saw Eric Reasoner, an accomplished player who took second at this year’s State Champs and a notable number of other top contenders. I thought to myself, “You have no idea, do you, kid."

Oh, but he did have an idea. It was a Kithkin-based idea, with Kinsbaile Balloonist and a few other notable 4-drops that I didn’t know made the average Kithkin deck. Of course, my deck was such a pile of rubbish that this kid stomped me. He beat me quick and left me at 0-2 in no time. I quickly notified the Tournament Organizer that I would be dropping.

The next two events were more of the same...I put up a fight, going 3-2 in a Draft and 2-2 in another Standard event. Still, it seemed hopeless to me, as I only picked up 1 point each time. Yet I remained in the Top 8 via those 1 point earnings. It seemed like City Champs could be a war of attrition, awarding those that constantly showed up to the events. I figured that since I was still in the running, I would give it my best for the last 4 tournaments.

The next tournament was a Sealed Deck. This was the format I had done the best at so far, so I was excited to play it. My pool consisted of a lot of fun stuff, including 2 Flamekin Harbingers and 2 Nova Chasers. The deck was lightning-fast, and it earned me first place at this event. All of a sudden, I went from struggling at the bottom of the Top 8 to sitting comfortably in the Top 4. The event after this was scheduled to be Standard. The format rotates from Limited to Constructed, if you haven’t noticed.

This time, I had prepared for the event. I had a playset of Tarmogoyf and had picked up a set of Thoughtseize and Garruk Wildspeaker too. Add in some Troll Ascetics, the usual elves, and we’ve got ourselves a viable deck. My build wasn’t far off from one of the Japanese builds that went 5-0 at Worlds this year. It was a bit of a net deck, but it is not like they are awarding points for originality...and I was bloodthirsty for the points.

Fresh off of my victory the week before, I was looking forward to snagging a Top 4 spot at this event. I played the new Dragonstorm deck in the first round against a guy who had been playing it for quite a while. He knew how to work it. Luckily for me, I had things like Thoughtseize and Loxodon Warhammer to completely throw his game off. I beat him in a quick two games; and he was my hardest opponent until the finals, where I 2-0’d all of my matches to that point.

Fear the Pickle Lock!

The finals, however, were against a buddy of mine. He had actually flown out to Worlds this year and, in doing so, missed out on some needed City Champs points. He had only picked up a second place before and really needed the first place points to stay in the shop’s Top 8. I offered the draw, knowing he wouldn’t take it. We played it out, and in the first game he got me with a Pickles Lock. He was feeling confident at this point, but I was still feeling very confident too. I didn’t need the first place points, and I knew that going 1-2 against him would lock me into second place. The second game, I played very aggressively, knowing that I couldn’t face the Pickle Lock again. I won out very quickly, and we went to game 3.

At this point, I was ready to take the loss, but I played the game out for fun. A Thoughtseize from me ripped his hand apart. I played a Garruk, which he went to great lengths to kill...only to see me drop a second Garruk. My numerous Treetop Villages had him down to 8 life; this game was mine. At this point, my mana base was about 5 Green sources and one Swamp. He played a morph creature, and I played a Slaughter Pact, getting rid of it. Now I knew he had bounce in his deck, and I knew I only had one Black mana source on the table. I also knew my friend needed the win more than I did.

He flashed back his Mystical Teachings for a Venser, bouncing my one Swamp and keeping me from paying the Pact's upkeep cost. Smiling, I revealed my hand to have two Swamps and a Gemstone Mine. I said good game, and we both left happy. Those 4 points put me into the number one spot at the shop. Still, I wasn’t ready to sit back and relax. I played in the next Limited event and took second place again. Now I am in the number one spot at the shop with a substantial lead.

With one more event left until the shop’s Top 8 event, I am virtually locked in as the point leader. Only one guy can knock me down to second, and it would take his winning the entire tournament and my not making the Top 4. I started out this event as a total scrub, a City Chump, if you will...but still, I stuck with it. I picked up a hand full of Foil Promos while treading the competitive waters. I could be in for a rude awakening come the Top 8 tournament, but I could also do really well.

That is the beauty of City Champs, at least to me. It is a gateway to competitive play that happens at the grassroots. For those of us who rarely venture further than their local shop, City Champs brings the allure of bigger things. It has definitely opened me up to some new opportunities. I played in my first PTQ during this City Champs season. I also am preparing for my first Grand Prix.

With the recent fall of the Magic Scholarship Series and what seems like a negative revamping of Champs and the Pro Tour structure, I wonder if City Champs will even be there to entice future casual players into taking their game further. I hope it is. This is only its second year in existence; but from personal experience, I view it as successful growth. In our shop alone, it has brought forth some new players and has even encouraged some older players to return.

We are the Champions, my friends...
It is sad, though. With word of some City Champs events not meeting the 8-man criteria needed to make it official and other levels of competitive play falling apart, I fear we could lose this gem before it really gains speed. For those that are already taking part in City Champs, I encourage you to support it as much as possible. Hopefully, for those that haven’t been able to play in it yet, it will be around next year for all of you to enjoy. I, for one, am looking forward to making my way out to some other shops next time around.

Win, lose, or draw; the competitive aspect of Magic is something everybody should try out. It has made me a better player and has increased my enjoyment of this game, more than I ever imagined. In a time when Organized Play has taken a few hits (MSS, Pro Tour, Champs), it is really up to all of us to support the programs we can; and City Champs is a program easily accessible to almost anyone. For a list of City Champs events in your area, visit the official website here.


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