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Round 8: Shortcut to Nowhere

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After a quick, "What's up, kids?" from me upon arriving at the table, I get greeted with a smile by both Quentin and Melissa.

"All my feature matches have been pseudo-feature matches so far. It's kind of nice to have a reporter sit down," Quentin revealed.

You guys know Quentin, also known as the incredibly descriptive yet ambiguous "Q." Q is the brain behind the most recent incarnation of magicthegathering.com's column Limited Information. Needless to say, Quentin is known more for his Limited chops than his Constructed prowess, but regardless of format, he can sling some cardboard.

His opponent, Melissa DeTora, comes from the New England Magic factory in the U.S. She's made the run to a few Pro Tours but is still chasing that elusive high-profile finish.

"Yeah, this is my fifth PT, but I've never done too well," Melissa admitted when Quentin said he recognized her name.

"Well, maybe we can change that. Not against me, I hope," Quentin offered with a smile.

Game 1

Melissa started down a card on the play, which is never good in a control-on-control match. Both players played the first few turns out as these matchups usually go, drawing cards and building mana bases. When Melissa paused before deciding to use her Sakura-Tribe Elder, it seemed like she might be the first to stumble. A Wall of Roots, Polluted Delta, and Eternal Witness returning the Tribe Elder, though, quashed that fear rather quickly.

Quentin pulled the second piece of his 'Tron out on turn three, leaving just an Urza's Mine to complete the trifecta. A Thirst for Knowledge on the next turn found him the remaining piece, and the 'Tron assembled. ("And I'll form the head!") Melissa decided to Putrefy Q's Simic Signet before taking her next turn, denying him access to green mana.

A Living Wish from Melissa magically turned into an Eternal Witness, which in turn turned into a Putrefy. After the chain of spells came to an end, Melissa sent her earlier Eternal Witness into the red zone. Quentin just took the damage unfazed. When he untapped, played, and then activated a Mindslaver, it soon became clear why he didn't mind the Putrefy returning to Melissa's hand.

For Melissa's turn, Q chose simply to Putrefy one of Melissa's Eternal Witnesses and tap her out. This left her with only a freshly drawn Genesis in her hand, and only one creature in play. On his third turn in a row, Quentin transmuted a Tolaria West to snag an Academy Ruins, which would set up the Mindslaver lock if Melissa couldn't do something about it. Her draw didn't help her, and she had to concede.

Martin 1, DeTora 0

Between games, Quentin called BDM over to let him in on an interesting little tidbit of info.

"There are three people who are playing this deck, and they're all 5-2 or better. Rich, Johan [Sadeghpour], and me. The Limited guys."

Doesn't sound like they're limited to only being good in Limited. (That almost hurt to type.)

Game 2

Melissa had the unfortunate displeasure of once again taking a trip northeast to Paris. Her six-card hand was much better, though, since it held lands. I've heard they make the play experience a little better. Again she started out with a few lands and a Sakura-Tribe Elder to keep up in the mana race. Q had himself an Island, a 'Tron piece, and a Chrome Mox on green.

Melissa started to get set up for the long haul on her next turn. A Trinket Mage fetched a Sensei's Divining Top, which can be incredibly powerful if left alone for a few turns. Q had the Thirst for Knowledge he telegraphed the previous turn, and it put a Platinum Angel in the bin. He was a little light on 'Tron pieces this game. Only the Urza's Mine he played on the second turn decided to show up for this game. Worse still, on Melissa's next turn, a Vindicate ate the Mine, leaving him with lots of blue and green mana, but 0 for 3 for the 'Tron.

Not one to be discouraged, Q played a Sylvan Scrying to snag one of his remaining Urza's Mines and plopped it down in the vacant lot where his old one used to stand. Melissa started to go after Quentin's hand on her next turn. Duress revealed a hand with a lot of potential that didn't really do anything. From a hand of two Tolaria Wests, Gifts Ungiven, Deep Analysis, Breeding Pool, Life from the Loam, and Simic Signet, Melissa chose the most powerful card—Gifts Ungiven. Life from the Loam wasn't too worrisome for her due to an earlier played Tormod's Crypt that sat mocking Q's graveyard of Urza's lands. She also played an Eternal Witness returning the incredibly utile Vindicate to her hand.

Q transmuted one of his Tolaria Wests to fetch an Urza's Tower and dropped it into play. Melissa just wouldn't leave those poor Urza's Mines alone, though, and used her freshly grown Vindicate to put a second into the bin. Quentin needed to start putting things together. He tried digging a little deeper with his Deep Analysis, and ended up simply settling on transmuting a Tolaria West for an Urza's Power Plant. When Melissa used her Eternal Witness to return Duress and strip Quentin of his only nonland card, Quentin conceded.

Martin 1, DeTora 1

Game 3

Game 3 didn't start out quite the way Quentin would have liked. While Melissa was able to play a Wall of Roots and a Top on turn two, she was more importantly able to play a third land. Quentin's hiccup was only temporary, though, as his turn four produced another land, and not just any land. It was a second 'Tron piece. One Power Plant would put Q in the driver's seat.

As Melissa mulled over a decision for her next turn, Quentin moved to the next step. "You got a Vindicate over there? Where's it aimed?" Melissa revealed the Vindicate and aimed it squarely at Q's Tower. A Trinket Mage, back for more beats, also came down for Melissa, and came fully equipped with a Tormod's Crypt. No Loam for you.

Well, despite being denied Life from the Loam, Quentin was able to Gifts Ungiven at the end of her turn. After a bit of time in the tank, Melissa gave Quentin a Sylvan Scrying and a Tolaria West as opposed to an Urza's Power Plant and Urza's Tower. Q untapped, drew his card, and then Scryed for an Urza's Tower. He was two-thirds of the way there, and he had the means to fill it out soon. Unfortunately, he wouldn't be able to do as many cool things as he would have liked, since Melissa drew and played Duress on her next turn. Quentin played Krosan Grip on Melissa's Tormod's Crypt immediately, which I guess is really the only way you can play a Grip. Speaking of grips (God, I love a good segue), Q's was quite good, and Melissa sheared a Mindslaver from a hand that also contained a Life from the Loam, Tolaria West, Condescend, and Thirst for Knowledge.

Now that he was out from under the Tormod's Crypt, Q was free to Life from the Loam and fill out his 'Tron. Another Living Wish chain from Melissa ended when Quentin Condescended the Eternal Witness she had wished for. That should have been the last thing she got to do all game.

On Quentin's next turn, he transmuted the Tolaria West in his hand to get an Academy Ruins, which returned his previously Duressed Mindslaver. He activated it and then called for a judge. This is where things get interesting.

A few turns earlier, Quentin had asked the judge watching their match if he could step aside for a little conference. He took a short break and asked the judge a question I couldn't get close enough to hear. Apparently unsatisfied with the answer he received, Q waited until now to appeal to Jaap Brouwer. When Melissa asked what it was about, Quentin responded, channeling his inner Steven Hawking: "It's a matter of infinite turns. It's a time issue." Deep.

Let me break it down for you. Quentin had gotten to the point where he had Melissa locked in an infinite loop. He would recur Mindslaver and activate it every turn from here out. He was going to leave Melissa with no untapped lands and no way of producing mana. Knowing that she had no free spells in her deck, Quentin was planning to disallow her priority for the rest of the game. Effectively, there was nothing she could do while Quentin built up his mana and waited to draw a threat.

To clarify how this works, I had a conversation with Jaap after the match had finished about shortening turns. Shortening turns is accomplished by means of shortcuts. I know, it's kinda simple. A shortcut in Magic is "an action taken by players to skip parts of the technical play sequence without explicitly announcing them." (a quote from the Penalty Guidelines section 51, courtesy of Jaap). In this case, Quentin was going to recur, pay for, and activate his Mindslaver on every one of his turns. Shortcuts like this still have to take into account windows for opponents to respond. And most importantly, shortcuts must be understood by the opponent as well.

This situation is the perfect example of when a shortcut could be useful in speeding up what otherwise might be a lengthy process. Q was going to take that action every turn in order to maintain his lock, and Melissa was never going to have priority unless he chose to let her. So basically Quentin was free to avoid having to go through the motions of regrowing, playing, and activating his Mindslaver every turn. He simply paid the mana and put his Mindslaver on top of his graveyard and it was assumed to have been done.

There are a few rules associated with shortcuts on the level Quentin was trying to take them. Jaap was brought in the make sure that Quentin followed all of the rules necessary and approved everything Quentin had told Melissa. If he, or Melissa with her turn under control, was supposed to draw cards, he had to draw them. If he had to discard to get to the maximum hand size, it had to be done. This means that he couldn't simply say "I'm going to take every turn until these following conditions have been met." He had to go through the most rudimentary steps.

Magic players use shortcuts all the time, taking for granted what they are. If you've ever left a mana source tapped through your untap to pay for a cards upkeep, you've used a shortcut. This is just the same principle on a larger scale. Bear in mind that to use a shortcut, you have to make sure your opponent understands the situation. Melissa was very sporting to understand that Quentin was going to be making all of her decisions for the rest of the game and to let him do it his way, so hats off to Melissa for showing some real style.

Another interesting issue is the use of loops. For a technical explanation, see section 421 of the Comprehensive Rules. In short, if you control all actions in that loop then you can choose a number and the loop is repeated that many times or until another player intervenes, whichever comes first. In the case of Q, since he can set up shortcuts and controls all the elements of the loops, he can take many many turns in a few seconds.

Quentin began the process of winning the unlosable game. He had two minutes and five extra turns to get a threat into play and do lethal damage. He began going through the motions, and set up his first Mindslaver turn. He used Melissa's Top to hide her cards a few turns down, tapped her out, and then passed her turn. A few turns later, an interesting development occurred. Rather than returning his Mindslaver, he returned his Triskelion to put a threat on the board. I wasn't sure what he was planning, but as soon as he passed the turn, you could see the look in his eyes.

"You get a real turn. Wait. . . I gave you a turn? I meant. . . Wow. You got me. I screwed myself."

Quentin was playing absurdly fast up to this point in an attempt to get Melissa from 12 to 0 within the time constraints. Without moving as fast as he was, it was going to be impossible for him to do what needed to be done in time. He had a plan, had the game in total control, and then crossed some circuits. This is why the time constraints were so crucial in this game. If Quentin had infinite time, it was impossible for him to lose. Instead, he had to play at superhuman speed to get the kill in time, and it's impossible to play a perfect game when you're playing at the speed he was forced to play. Making matters worse was the fact that one of the cards he knew he had hidden on the top of her deck was a Tormod's Crypt, which Melissa used to wipe the Mindslaver out of Q's graveyard.

Quentin: "Shoot me now."

After a few passing turns, Melissa managed to play a Loxodon Hierarch to put her out of reach. After the almost obligatory requests for concession, the game ended in a draw. It's a shame for Quentin that he didn't have more time.

Remember, kids, speed kills. Or in this case, fails to.

Martin 1, DeTora 1 (DRAW)

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