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The letter T!his past weekend crowned a number of new 2010 National Champions. Even better—especially for you at home, who were not lucky enough to view the action in real life—we have some awesome new looks at some of our favorite archetypes ... plus a couple of brand new ones! One of the most diverse—inspired even—Standard formats in years continues with names you might already know, like Mythic Conscription and Pyromancer Ascension, plus soon-to-be favorites like Dredge-uh-Vine and Soul Sisters. Let's go!


Mythic Conscription

Josh Utter-Leyton's Mythic Conscription
Standard - 1st Place - 2010 U.S. National Championships


Our first look at an old—and resurgently dominant—favorite is your 2010 U.S. National Champion Joshua Utter-Leyton with Mythic Conscription. Already a great deck, Utter-Leyton's look is unique in how streamlined it is. One of his Top 8 opponents, John "Conrad" Kolos, praised the deck by saying that it is like other Mythic Conscription decks ... but with none of the "bad" cards.

In that sense, the deck is both curious and wonderful by what it doesn't have. A great many Bant decks (including the successful builds from other Nationals!) these days are hybrids. The lines between Next Level Bant and Mythic Conscription (and even Naya) have, by and large, been blurred; blurred as well by further hybridizations including everything from planeswalkers to Fauna Shaman strategies. Champions of "the Blue, the Green, and the White" have been pitching Vengevine to find their Sovereigns of Lost Alara, cutting back on the actual copies of Eldrazi Conscription. In some places they are even adding Squadron Hawk for both future Fauna Shaman fodder and as a self-contained re-buy for the Vengevine.

Utter-Leyton's deck has none of that.


This is a deck that has returned to the fundamental strengths of the Mythic strategy. Lots of lands. All the mana accelerators ... and a pair of Explores! He wanted to get his lands out in order to hit his threats. He really wanted to get his lands out to hit his threats.

And what about those threats?

Utter-Leyton's configuration is unambiguous in its single-mindedness.

Four copies of Knight of the Reliquary.

Four copies of Sovereigns of Lost Alara.

No melting pot of Rhinos or Angels or anything else. His next best option with his copious mana was just to hit Elspeth and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Along with the addition of Mana Leak, the refocus towards a planeswalker offense rather than a creature-forcing one gave Utter-Leyton the subtle ability to play White-Blue Control's game, albeit a much faster variation of it thanks to all that acceleration.

From the sideboard ...

Bojuka Bog: A singleton that works in concert with Knight of the Reliquary, Bojuka Bog is the utterly available sworn enemy of Vengevine, Extractor Demon, and Call to Mind.

Celestial Purge: A mana-efficient answer to everything from Putrid Leech to Hell's Thunder to Pyromancer Ascension.

Linvala, Keeper of Silence: Utter-Leyton's deck is somewhat less vulnerable to Linvala because he "only" gets his Birds and Elves shut off. But because of all his lands and Explores, he is in far less trouble than, say, a deck that needs Fauna Shaman online to look good. At the same time, the combination of fourteen accelerators and four copies of Linvala can make for serious problems going the other way. Sorry Birds/Elves/Hierarchs/Shamans/Sparkmages/etc.

Dredge-uh-Vine

Brad Nelson's Dredge-uh-Vine
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 U.S. National Championships


David Ochoa's Dredge-uh-Vine
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 U.S. National Championships


Who has inherited the bounties of the graveyard? Fauna Shaman.

The Dredgevine decks of previous seasons already played Misty Rainforest and Verdant Catacombs to power up Hedron Crab. But now those green-fetching options are going for—believe it or not—actual Forests! The secret to this deck's synergy is that Fauna Shaman can set up the same kinds of absurd draws that Merfolk Looter and Enclave Cryptologist did in the past ... but actually aim.


Your goal with Dredge-uh-Vine in front of you is to flop Vengevines and Extractor Demons into the graveyard however you can, then haste them into the battlefield, hopefully crashing forward at the same time with Renegade Dopplegangers.

Same as it ever was, right?

Unlike the last look at Dredgevine, Dredge-uh-Vine can actually cast Vengevine with Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, or just plain Forest, reducing the number of awkward draws the former Blue-Black version could be subject to ... and in fact, turning those into synergistic opportunities for offense.

Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp

John Kolos's Mono-Green Eldraz
Standard - Top 8 - U.S. National Championships


Conrad Kolos made his second appearance in a United States National Championships Top 8, this time with a Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp deck based on Pol Uros's from the Spain National Championships just a few weeks ago.

Conrad described his choice as being "a worse Primeval Titan deck than Valakut ... but a better Summoning Trap deck."

The reason his Summoning Traps can be so good is that if he can accelerate to six, Kolos could potentially Trap into not just a mere Siege-Gang Commander, but an Eldrazi giant such as Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

I always considered this strategy to be powerful but ultimately a blunt object. Conrad, however, played it in quite a cerebral fashion. The decisions he made with Primeval Titan varied greatly depending on not just his opponent, not just the pace of the battlefield, but what he thought might happen in the near future.

For example, if he were getting beat down, Conrad might stall with multiple Khalni Gardens as "chump" blockers while he set up for Primeval Titan counterattacks.

If he were up against another Titan deck, he might grab two Tectonic Edges to take out Valakut before it could take out his Titan (or him).


And there were all kinds of different factors around when to get an Eye of Ugin. If he felt the Titan was not long for the world, he might get Eye of Ugin to rebuild offensively. Subtly, Eye of Ugin "essentially enters the battlefield untapped" so if he started off by finding two Eldrazi Temples on his own turn, his first attack with Primeval Titan might find Eye of Ugin which would discount the payment for an impending Eldrazi or All Is Dust even though he couldn't tap it for mana immediately post-combat.

One of the limitations we have lamented for some weeks is the seeming randomness of ramp-on-ramp mirrors. It often feels like one mage has two accelerators and the other—especially on the draw—has his or her hands tied (or is forced to mulligan without a way to get big faster).


Out of the sideboard Conrad played a tiny Sol Ring, inspired by none other than Zvi Mowshowitz. Joraga Treespeaker lets the player on the draw (or any ramp in a sideboarded game) to start the acceleration game a turn sooner, and for that matter, to break serve.

For example, rather than being subject to the regular rules of ramp, the Treespeaker lets you level up on turn two, and immediately drop an Explore, Rampant Growth, or Everflowing Chalice on the same turn. Then, you can untap with five mana, and a likely shot at six for the Primeval Titan or Summoning Trap.

Naya Homebrew

Eric Froehlich's Naya Homebrew
Standard - Top 8 - U.S. National Championships


Returning Pro Tour—and poker—superstar Eric "EFro" Froehlich dropped all kinds of thunder on the U.S. Nationals metagame with a brand new way to brew up Naya.

I, at one point, asked EFro what he was playing, and he listed a whole bunch of cards—Trace of Abundance, planeswalkers, Destructive Force—and the question became what didn't he have? Unlike many popular Naya decks, Froehlich's deck was thin on creatures. He only had the big, bomb-tacular, land-loving kind: Knight of the Reliquary and Primeval Titan.


The rest of his deck was acceleration, planeswalkers, and removal; the most important of which was Destructive Force.

This is a deck that can get a huge advantage from Destructive Force. Because it can hit seven mana quite quickly between the many Rampant Growths, Garruk activations, and so forth (and of course the freebie mana from Knight of the Reliquary), the Naya Homebrew can often literally cripple the opponent with Destructive Force, sending all his or her permanents to the grave in one fell swoop.

A Primeval Titan has 6 toughness (Destructive Force deals a mere 5 damage), and Knight of the Reliquary is sure to live through the chaos ... What that means is, if and when the red seven-drop resolves, Froehlich would be left with a huge way to win, and win well before the opponent could recover.

One card that we see in Eric's sideboard—and echoed over a few with red mana—is Ricochet Trap. This card is useful in a number of different situations, obviously primarily against blue mages. For example:

  • Once you have eight mana available (or seven mana and an untapped Knight of the Reliquary, which is actually much trickier) cast Destructive Force. The opponent moves to counter it, but you can set up Red Mana to cast Ricochet Trap at a discount and move the countermagic to the Trap, forcing your threat home.
  • Against Pyromancer Ascension to steal Time Warps (ouch!)

Pyromancer Ascension

Tim Sussino's Pyromancer Ascension
Standard - Top 8 - U.S. National Championships

Main Deck

60 cards

Halimar Depths
Island
Mountain
Scalding Tarn

22 lands


0 creatures

Burst Lightning
Call to Mind
Into the Roil
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Ponder
Preordain
Pyromancer Ascension
See Beyond
Time Warp
Treasure Hunt

38 other spells

Sideboard
Echo Mage
Flashfreeze
Inferno Titan
Into the Roil
Spell Pierce

15 sideboard cards



We will spend more time on the Pyromancer Ascension archetype later in this article, going over the Germany National Championship. In terms of this deck list, Sussino went with Burst Lightning in the main deck (essentially pre-sideboarding against decks like Bant and Naya, while giving himself another way to cheaply power up the Ascension), as well as the Halimar Depths / Treasure Hunt two-card combination that we saw from France Nationals.

A dilemma that all Pyromancer Ascension players (myself included) faced coming into this past weekend was how to deal with sideboarded games. Pyromancer Ascension is generally considered to have the strongest Game 1 expectation of any deck, but is perhaps the most vulnerable to sideboarding. For example, it can have problems with everything from Relic of Progenitus to Celestial Purge to Manabarbs. Truly mean-spirited options like Ricochet Trap, and, of course, countermagic (up to and including Flashfreeze) also hamper it.

What's a mage to do?

In this case, Sussino went with a main plan of Echo Mage and Inferno Titan. Echo Mage allows an Ascension player to produce an Ascension-like effect without falling victim to surprisingly narrow splash damage like Celestial Purge or Negate, and can steal wins if the opponent has sided out all his creature elimination. Inferno Titan is a durable hatchet-man, somewhat in the vein of Sphinx of Jwar Isle from previous lists, but with a much poorer attitude when applied to Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch. While not as slippery as the Sphinx, Inferno Titan rides the same "I am assuming you don't have creature kill in his deck anyway" train of thought that can add such value to "Surprise!"-style sideboards.

Red Deck Wins

Anthony Eason's Red Deck Wins
Standard - Top 8 - U.S. National Championships


Nothing to see here. Nothing special. Ho hum. Just the Red Deck. Red Deck wins again!

Runner-up Eason came within inches of the U.S. title with the straightforward—but still deadly consistent—Red Deck. Twenty-four lands, four of everything he wanted to play. Specific decisions:

Four Earthquake / Four Staggershock: This is somewhat of a change relative to earlier lists. Many Noble Hierarch / Lotus Cobra lists are particularly vulnerable to the Earthquake versions. Eason didn't play any copies of Quenchable Fire; the world is now just too blue.

Devastating Summons / Goblin Bushwhacker in the sideboard: Anthony went with the more predictable "Red Deck" rather than the "Devastating Red" para-combo main ... But left himself the option to explode in Games 2 and 3.

Ricochet Trap: Again with the Ricochet Trap! Most Time Warp combination players have no interest in seeing what a Red Deck can do with a few extra turns.

White-Blue Control

Gerard Fabiano's White-Blue Control
Standard - Top 8 - U.S. National Championships


I certainly would not have anticipated playing against zero copies of Path to Exile and Day of Judgment out of White-Blue Control had I been sitting across from Gerard Fabiano ... would you?

Gerard's deck list is a surprising one, full of feints and gambles (one Cancel, two Flashfreezes) that—deck list sight unseen—might make for remarkably poor decision-making, especially since he could make good use of Preordain to fix and fidget with his draws.

Gerard's sideboard continues the theme with an eclectic threat mix. Meddling Mage and a lonely Relic of Progenitus against combo, Calcite Snappers that can both protect planeswalkers and crack back for 4, Linvala to lock down Birds and Hierarchs.

All that said, it's not like Gerard is in any way compromising on power level. Elspeth, Gideon Jura, and the Jace brothers are all busty threat spells; and even in the absence of a traditional sweeper, Oblivion Ring and Into the Roil can do quite a lot against quite a lot.

Soul Sisters

Though it didn't actually make Top 8 of this tournament, the new Soul Sisters deck bears a mention. Played by "first pick" Gavin Verhey, (typically) Naya master Tom "the Boss" Ross, and the patron saint of rogue decks Conley Woods, Soul Sisters is like the Cobb salad of the attack phase. Just as the Cobb is the salad option for those that love cheeseburgers, Soul Sisters is the White Weenie for beatdown players who love to gain life rather than maliciously take it away.

I mean just look at this deck list:

Gavin Verhey's Soul Sisters
Standard - 2010 U.S. Nationals Championships


So much lifelink.

So many Soul Wardens.

Now there is an eclectic lineup including (according to Tom) "the Tarmogoyf" (Ajani's Pridemate) to "the Baneslayer Angel" (Serra Ascendant)—presumably Ranger of Eos is the "Fact or Fiction."

I actually playtested against this deck a fair amount (albeit after the tournament) and found it remarkably difficult to wrap my head around. There never seemed like anything worth spending countermagic on ... and then I would die with three Mana Leaks in my hand. Or I would underrate the card quality of the deck, only to fold when it ran out what seemed like a "real" card (say an opportune Oblivion Ring or Brave the Elements).

Over the course of several games I built up a respect for the deck's overall play. I mean, of course this deck should blow out Red Deck or Boros Bushwhacker, but something bigger? Or maybe a combo deck? Turns out it's pretty good there.


Soul Sisters is a great example of synergy overcoming a seeming gap in card power. All those Soul Wardens team up with all those other little guys in more than one way—at the same time. Elspeth, Knight-Errant doesn't just make a 1/1 ... she gears up "the Tarmogoyf" and the "Baneslayer Angel." Ranger of Eos doesn't just grab a pair of "Baneslayer Angels", it can set up a Soul Warden board that allows the deck to literally explode with life points the following turn.

This deck plays for a surprisingly long-term game, and litters the board with cards that many players won't deign to interact with ... until it's too late.


Red-Green Valakut Ramp

Dennis Johannsen's Red-Green
Standard - 1st Place - 2010 Germany National Championships


The German Champion went with a red-green look at Primeval Titan.

Primary plan on this deck is to accelerate into Primeval Titan and start swinging, then the Mountains and the Molten Pinnacles start hitting the 'field—in some cases dealing enormous clumps of damage immediately. Because Primeval Titan can search up not just the Mountains you need, but multiple copies of Valakut as well—all at the same time—death can often come in just one or two trampling swings.

The backup plan? Thanks to Avenger of Zendikar and Rampaging Baloths? Tons and tons of huge monsters.

Johannsen's unique sideboarding wrinkle comes in the way of one Swamp and four copies of Thought Hemorrhage; with the multitude of mana-fixing in his deck, a third turn Thought Hemorrhage, particularly against combo, is very realistic.

Jund

Jörg Unfried's Jund
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Germany National Championships


Twenty-seven lands. Siege-Gang Commander and Master of the Wild Hunt main. Sparkmage/Collar combo out of the side. Heavier removal, including Bituminous Blast.

Sebastian Potyka's Jund
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Germany National Championships


Twenty-seven lands. Main deck Obstinate Baloth and Grave Titan. Medium removal, top end Sarkhan the Mad.

Pyromancer Ascension

Tobias Gräfensteiner's Pyromancer Ascension
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Germany National Championships

Main Deck

60 cards

10  Island
Khalni Garden
Mountain
Scalding Tarn

22 lands


0 creatures

Burst Lightning
Call to Mind
Foresee
Into the Roil
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Ponder
Preordain
Pyromancer Ascension
See Beyond
Time Warp

38 other spells

Sideboard
Dispel
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Flashfreeze
Polymorph
Progenitus
Spawning Breath

15 sideboard cards



Daniel Gräfensteiner's Pyromancer Ascension
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Germany National Championships

Main Deck

60 cards

10  Island
Khalni Garden
Mountain
Scalding Tarn

22 lands


0 creatures

Burst Lightning
Call to Mind
Foresee
Into the Roil
Lightning Bolt
Mana Leak
Ponder
Preordain
Pyromancer Ascension
See Beyond
Time Warp

38 other spells

Sideboard
Dispel
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Flashfreeze
Polymorph
Progenitus
Spawning Breath

15 sideboard cards



Tobias and Daniel Gräfensteiner played hybrid Pyromancer Ascension combo/combo decks.

The most notable difference between their decks and what you may have seen online is the presence of Khalni Garden in the main deck, along with some slightly compromised card choices (say three Time Warps).


This version of Pyromancer Ascension gives up a little bit in the Ascension category (a lower likelihood of casting Ponder and Preordain on the first turn, for instance) ... but gains something strange and wonderful and very big out of the board.

The Gräfensteiner list literally transforms into a different combo deck!

Remember when we were talking about how each Pyromancer Ascension player has to think about how he can avoid or beat a hateful sideboard? That first-turn Relic of Progenitus? That damnable Leyline of whatever (Sanctity? The Void? You know, "whatever")?


Different mages have opted for little Jace, or chasing down with Kiln Fiends. These, however, went with Spawning Breath and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Rawr.

The irony? Polymorph may actually be the faster combo!

Polymorph

Tobias Dreger's Polymorph
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Germany National Championships


Speaking of Polymorph, Tobias Dreger went with a straight Polymorph combo deck, rather than a combo deck that swerves into Polymorph.

How do you construct a Polymorph deck?

The first thing is that you need to have a very limited number of actual creature cards, because you don't actually want to cast your creatures fairly. For example, it might seem like playing Birds of Paradise to accelerate into Polymorph is useful ... until you realize you are just swapping Birds for Birds much of the time.

Instead your first creature needs to be a non-creature card. So in a deck like Dreger's, that might be a creature-land like Gargoyle Castle, a token from Awakening Zone, or the ubiquitous enabler Khalni Garden.

Now the other thing that might wreck you as a Polymorph player is actually drawing your creature cards. Drawing one—or for God's sake both—of your creatures is an absolute no-no. That is why you will see almost all Polymorph players uncompromisingly play four copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor main deck.

While most other Jace mages have dropped from four to three (like Next Level Bant) or mixed in little Jace (you know, Jace Beleren), Polymorph players need the actual Brainstorm function to put back extraneous 15/15 Eldrazi villains so they can pop them right back up.

Polymorph ... Mass Polymorph?


The more expensive version of Polymorph might seem unusual given that a deck like Dreger's will often be swinging for the fences with only one or two creatures in on the battlefield, but consider the ways that poor Polymorph can miss ... not only is Polymorph vulnerable to countermagic, but a point removal spell (or even worse, an active Cunning Sparkmage) can fizzle Polymorph before it reaches its intended target victim.

Mass Polymorph doesn't need to "hit" to hit. In fact, Mass Polymorph demands a sacrifice, which runs circles around a point removal spell.

Four-Color Fauna Shaman


Hauck's hybrid deck runs on a Fauna Shaman engine, and seeks to take advantage of both sides of the green-white gamut.

From Naya—Cunning Sparkmage and Bloodbraid Elf. Cunning Sparkmage tag teams with Stoneforge Mystic to set up the Basilisk Collar lockdown. And Bloodbraid Elf essentially guarantees a Vengevine re-buy.

From Bant—Sovereigns of Lost Alara. This is a "Naya" deck that can "win out of nowhere" a la Mythic Conscription.


White-Blue Control

Florian Pils's White-Blue Control
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Germany National Championships


Again we see the heavy influence of Sun Titan on individual decisions for the white-blue mage:

Arid Mesa and Misty Rainforest: These might as well be Plains and Island, functionally (and separately from Jace, the Mind Sculptor) ... But with Sun Titan, they are like Rampant Growths.

Tectonic Edge: White-Blue can play the Primeval Titan / Edge game ... A little less explosively, but more quickly as Sun Titan's Tectonic Edge enters the battlefield untapped.

Jace Beleren: The incremental card draw spell is the one that can recur on the back of the incremental card draw Titan.

Gather Specimens: Ka-pow! This might be the single most disgusting thing you can do in response to an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (whether from Summoning Trap, Polymorph, or even hard-cast); no, I didn't counter that. Perfectly awesome against Titans and other bombs as well, of course.


That's right ... even more National Championship action, Top 8 deck lists, etc. It was a loaded weekend!

Naya Fauna Shaman

Naya Fauna Shaman was the most successful deck of the 2010 Great Britain National Championship. The continued evolution of Naya not only put three players into the Top 8, but also crowned the 2010 British Champion.



It's always fun to try to deconstruct what players are thinking coming into a tournament based solely upon their deck lists. For example, in the case of Richard Bland and the event Champion, Jackson, we have a deck with only a single non-creature spell (Basilisk Collar), which itself is part of the Stoneforge Mystic-Cunning Sparkmage connection, laced together by Fauna Shaman.

Looking a bit deeper we see—in the context of a Top 8 where more than half the players were Fauna Shaman based—they played a main deck Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and a backup copy in the 'board. Whether or not she came up, you can kind of see the direction Jackson was thinking beforehand. Two Qasali Pridemages main? A lot of Naya decks don't play it at all.

How about those Sparkmages? In the age of Fauna Shaman, a good many mages play only one, even if they can bring more in against opposing Birds and Elves. How about a duo with three Cunning Sparkmages, each?

Spoiling for a fight.


Main deck bullets include both Baneslayer Angel and Obstinate Baloth as potential life-gain options (with the latter also being a Blightning spoiler), plus Qasali Pridemage (Pyromancer Ascension); Realm Razer and Sun Titan were there for big value.

Cleak's deck seems less prepared for Linvala mirrors, with no Keeper of Silence spoiling the main, and only one in the side, essentially requiring Fauna Shaman online before she can leap in to help.

Bant Fauna Shaman


Here is a rare deck—only three Mana Leaks. Randle's only other noncreature spell? A lone Eldrazi Conscription that he really, really doesn't want to draw.

The Fauna Shaman engine gives this deck a number of options. He can start tossing Vengevines to play as a powered up Next Level Bant, or go and get the one Sovereigns to run like Mythic Conscription. Primeval Titan is a real threat in this deck, and can play monolithically, fetching up Celestial Colonnade and Stirring Wildwood to build more and more offense ... and landfall?


An interesting customization in Randle's deck hearkens back to Zvi Mowshowitz's original Mythic deck with Admonition Angel. Primeval Titan, along with Knight of the Reliquary of course, can set up Admonition Angel for mass (and massive) shenanigans.


Though Foster and Randle both ostensibly played hybrid Bant Fauna Shaman decks, their philosophies of game play could not be more different. We may have paused a moment at Randle's mere three Mana Leaks, but Foster played none at all!

Instead he spent his spell slots on planeswalkers and a somewhat more concerted Eldrazi Conscription package.

Despite the presence of his Fauna Shaman engine, there isn't much in the way of "fancy" for this deck, save perhaps the lone Ranger of Eos ... itself a fine Vengevine enabler.

Jund

Andrew Morrison's Jund
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Great Britain National Championships


The deck list we have is fifty-six cards; I presume the missing culprits are four copies of the one-time best card in Standard, Blightning. If this is the case, Morrison's Jund is essentially the modern classic, if a bit light on Bituminous Blasts, making room for a couple of planeswalkers, a couple of Siege-Gang Commanders at the tippy-top high end.


In the sideboard we see one copy of Slave of Bolas. Yes, that is about the worst thing that can possibly happen to your Primeval Titan / Sun Titan / Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.

Eduardo Sajgalik's Jund
Standard - Top 8 - 2010 Great Britain National Championships


Twenty-six is actually light in the mana for Jund decks these days, with most versions we have been looking at up around twenty-seven. This might especially be the case given Eduardo's Grave Titans on six, as well as a pair of relatively expensive Siege-Gang Commanders.

Customizations for this deck include Obstinate Baloth main and side, and one Nest Invader as an incremental Putrid Leech / Bloodbraid Elf-accelerator.

Sideboard includes one Prophetic Prism (Spreading Seas) and one Slave of Bolas (as above).

And whew.

Nationals—U.S. Nationals that is—was an exciting weekend for me. It was an opportunity to see friends I hadn't seen for awhile, in some cases years. It was also the chance to pick the brains of players I had only read about in books (and by "books" I mean "the Internet"). I know that you slavishly login to this column every week (and I appreciate that, thank you), but if you have the chance, I really recommend attending a live event. The pro players you have been cheering for from far away are, by and large, approachable and friendly, and more than willing to lend an ear and/or help bring up the next guard of top players. It really is a great time, and a chance to hang out with guys, and a few gals, just like you (but in different bodies), and friends you simply haven't made yet. Like I said: I recommend.

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