Kyle Miller & The Grinders awoke just as I started to doze off and made their way for the tournament center, clearing up a spot on a bed to snag an extra couple hours of z’s. Breakfast was crepes at an overpriced food court in Bally’s, establishing the fact that when in Vegas, expect to be extorted. This is something that doesn’t bother me too much, and the sooner you get over the fact that your wallet is also running on fumes, the quicker you can forgive yourself for splurging on $25 breakfast buffets. Luckily the crepe was decent, and I headed to the convention center.
The priority was finding Xemit to draft his powered cube. Also an influential figure in MTG YouTube’s early years, Jeremy has since been grinding out his niche in the finance sector while pursuing a law degree in the good old state of Missouri. A couple of years ago, he spearheaded the Cartel Aristocrats finance cast which has since grown to become the second most popular in the community (just behind the Brew crew). Jeremy and I have known each other since my beginning, so I was looking forward to shaking his hand and giving him shit for all of the insufferable puns that he dishes out on his cast. He’s been good to me over the years. When my channel had just launched, he gave me a foil Who/What/Where/When/Why to welcome me to YouTube, and last year, when I bought a Bitterblossom from him for my cube, he sent a foil one over instead.
Unlike the day prior, though, I actually did want to draft and play this cube. I knew, given Jeremy’s affluent history with the game, that the cards within would be the cream of the crop for collectors. Fanning out your first booster and seeing nothing but deluxe and obscurely rare cards is part of the good cube experience after all. While we waited for the other members of our pod to finish up a waffle breakfast nearby, Casale, planted at the end of the table, noticed a wandering Christian Calcano, who he knew from years prior, and waved him down. Calcano took a seat at the end of the table. Soon thereafter from the woodwork emerged Pro Tour champion Gerry Thompson, then World Champion Brian Braun-Duin, who both joined Christian and Jim to talk shop between rounds.
“The number one rule of my cube is: if you don't know what the card does, you can’t play my cube!” Jeremy said as I flipped through my first pack. To give you an idea of what I saw, here was Jeremy’s feed while on site in Vegas:
And while I had to jog my memory to recall Blightsteel Colossus’s obscure and wordy textbox like a chump, Casale had a couple of the game’s greatest minds helping him draft in the corner:
Also to note: Jeremy drafted two pieces of Power. Humble brags. Almost as a rule of thumb, I tend to draft Black Red X when approaching an unfamiliar format for the first time, which usually gives me primo removal and decent card draw in Black and some reach with burn spells in Red. This time I decided to Jund ‘em out and play the grindy game of attrition. I was also passed a Dark Ritual and a Necropotence, so honestly I’m not sure I had a choice to stay away from the dark side. And after shuffling up for my first game, I was living the dream with a lethal opening hand.
Me: “Swamp, Dark Ritual, Necropotence. Pass.”
Opponent: “What year is it?!”
That felt damn good.
I won that match, then would go on to wreck Xemit’s Upheaval and Oath of Druids reanimator strategy, pitting me against Casale and his Pro deck for the last game of the day. Call it arrogance or misguided pride, I’ve always been told that Necropotence is a nigh-unbeatable card. But when your opponent lays down mana rock after mana rock in a format where Lotus is legal and foil Russian Blightsteels are wheeling around, you tend to draw concern when they’re comfortable with you keeping the enchantment that fills your hand stock-full of seven cards every turn. Even more so when they start counting their mana.
“I cast Emrakul, the Promised End,” said Jim.
I looked down at my hand and, for a slight moment, actually feel like I could beat that card.
“Sure. Sounds good. I can see why you needed all the rocks.”
“I untap and kill you with Necropotence.”
“Damn it, Casale!”
Xemit packed up the cube and thanked me for joining. I was honored to have a spot at the table. The dudes had to jet from the event center to join Douglas Johnson, an ex Cartel cast member and now permanent guest-host of Brainstorm Brewery, for his wedding out in the desert of Las Vegas. Much like my history with Casale, I have been following DJ’s career as a podcast host and finance grinder for a couple of years now, and seeing his crew celebrate his wedding was another testament to the community that Magic can provide.
After munching down another slice of spinach and mushroom pizza from Sbarro (which was admittedly pretty good!), I reconnected with FuckBlue Palmer and Simon for a game of EDH before dinner. Our fourth player this time was Josh Putz, known on Twitter as TheProxyGuy, who brought his Child of Alara deck to the table filled with his own creations that maximized punishment with board wipes and prison effects galore. To attempt to round up Josh’s portfolio in a blurb in this piece would be naïve. Chances are, you know of this man and his relentless work ethic. He’s made thousands of custom cards over the years, many of which he has printed and given to fellow wizards, and makes his supportive presence felt in the community. Within hours of the Invocations being spoiled, he had already mocked up a series of his own frames which corrected the errors of the originals and cleaned up the visual excess. For example:
Deck envy multiplies!
As promised, Proxy’s deck wrecked everything in its path. He really laid on the torture during his final turn of the game by slamming a Tangle Wire, then copying it with his own Phyrexian Metamorph, passing politely to me as I attempted to escape from the fray. Sometimes the irony of Magic is that your deck reflects the Evil Twin of your true colors: Proxy is warmhearted and giving, but his 100-stack plows over strategies like a juggernaut. Similarly, I worship Grixis, yet enjoy a good bro hug, of which I doubt Bolas approves.
“You gotta get on this cucumber water,” said Palmer as we waddled into the Marriott after the match. The receptionists at the front desk both waved and saluted Geoffrey as we walked in. It’s no surprise they knew him. The dude just pours out a bucket of friendship everywhere he goes. I had a headache and the chilled cucumber elixir was hitting the spot. Shoutout to the Marriott: they got it going on.
The last item on the agenda for the evening was to reconvene with Proxy to jam the Cube Redux: a fully custom collection made entirely of Josh’s work printed and sleeved for our drafting pleasure. Before meeting up in the Westgate, we decided to swing by the bar to grab some long overdue drinks. Palmer was hurting from his $22 Gordon Ramsey Burger, and by our food-hangover logic, it was no pain a good cocktail couldn’t mend. I approached the bar and caught sight of Mike Linnemann huddled around a table with known associates, howling about the art show and sipping on drinks of their own. As I got closer, I recognized a fellow prog rock geek that has been my kindred spirit since my first months on Twitter.
“You sneaky son of a bitch!” yelled Ant Tessitore, grappling me into a chokehold as I struggled to order a Gin & Tonic from the bartender.
“Nice of you to show up, Anthony,” said Mike, joining us, “y’all want drinks? I got drinks.”
“Damn, it is great to meet you,” I told Ant as I shook his hand. “How ‘bout the Volta?!”
Tessitore is a dork of the most lovable variety. I’ve seen photographs of his face here and there, as his social media is fairly low-key, and know him most by his voice on the SnackTime podcast, a show dedicated to the tasty, Vorthos elements of the game. Ant writes names and flavor text for Wizards of the Coast, a job he acquired in the most unorthodox of fashion. He describes his hire as the equivalent of “prancing right up to the enemy castle and yelling at the king to come down and joust.” His proving grounds approach has yielded fruitful results: a total of 57 pieces of Ant’s work made the cut for Amonkhet, which was his most successful set yet.
“Get your gin, Sam, it’s time to cube.”
We all sat down boozed and delirious from the day’s work, but were quickly revitalized with the cracking of our first pack. Much like the Xemitcube earlier in the day, Proxy’s cardpool is a work of art. A gorgeous mix of new and old is his style: you’ll find judge promo art with reworked frames, old textboxes mashed on new creatures, and pieces of his own Power 9 housed in Kaladesh Invention frames. One of the more unique throwbacks is an intentional misprint of Serendib Efreet, a blue card that was accidentally printed in a green frame back in the day; Proxy's Efreet kept the mistake. I stuck to my roots and drafted rampy Jund and ended up with a pretty good build. Then again, it’s cube: you kinda have to try hard to build a pile of shit.
I won my first match, then was paired with Linnemann in round 2. Quite frankly, he fucked me up something good. His deck was absolutely bonkers, and I’m pretty sure his stipulation was to draft “Cats and Dogs” as we passed packs around the table. Regal Caracal is a card. Mana Drain is also a card when I’m trying to cast Wurmcoil Engines and gigantic 8 drops on turn 6. He swept the floor with me, then did the same to Tessitore to win Proxy’s prize pack. Yeah: Josh brought his own prize packs for his own cube to give away to the winners of each draft. Mike cheerily took the victory and made a show about ripping open the envelope to unveil his prize:
Like most cards, this thing looked magnificent in person. The subtle gears in the textbox add to the time-manipulation flavor, and the updated Engle art turns a vintage classic into a modern collectible. Again, Proxy is the man. To share this whole thing with folks he hadn’t met until that day was a cool reflection of his character. I’ll leave you with Linnemann’s tweet. He said it best:
We called it a night and I headed for the monorail station. En route, I stumbled upon Raaanch and McQuacks chatting in the lobby and learned the origin of Stu’s outlandish nickname. “It was a commercial about ranch that my baseball buddies loved in high school. Real stupid.” I laughed and said goodnight again, then took off into the hot desert morning. On my quiet, winding ride on the monorail back to the hotel, I smiled. This was the best Friday night in Magic I’ve had in years.