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Jeff Zandi is a six time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.


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This Space For Rent

The Southwestern Paladin
Gathered in the Guildhall
by Jeff Zandi
December 26, 2006

There are some parties that you just never want to end. For me, one of these parties started ten years ago in the upstairs loft of my quiet little three bedroom home in Coppell, Texas. Ten years ago, with Magic’s Professional Tour moving successfully through its first year, a collection of players began playing together on Tuesday nights at my place. This group became known as the Texas Guildmages, and the upstairs loft that has been the team’s home base for these ten years has since become affectionately known as the Guildhall.


In this, the first of ten installments, I would like to welcome you to my little gaming loft, to the many great players that I have been honored to host over the years, and give you a sense of the weekly goings-on. The team, like the Pro Tour itself, is now ten years old. In around twenty weeks, the team will celebrate its 500th weekly team meeting with a very special gathering. I am very proud to be a part of this play group, and I am especially thrilled to have been able to host what I believe is the single longest running regular game in the history of Magic: the Gathering!


Meeting Number 482  –  Roll Call


Tonight was our 482nd meeting. We had seven players, one short of a proper booster draft table, but everyone was pretty happy with the turnout. For Thanksgiving week, with lots of people taking time off from work or school and many traveling out of town, we were very happy to have seven players. Mark Dean arrived first, he is living in Hearst, just about half an hour away from my house, while he works on finishing a degree program at the University of North Texas in nearby Denton. Wilma, as Mark Dean is better known among Texas Magic players, is the longtime boyfriend of Angie Riley. Angie was the first female player to win a PTQ in Texas, and the better looking half of the first father/daughter tandem to play in the Pro Tour. We used to like to hassle Wilma that he was the only Magic player in Texas whose girlfriend was better at the game than he was, but Dean’s skills are considerable.


Hunter Burton and Brian Heine arrived next. Hunter is blowing up in 2006. He qualified for his first Pro Tour in the team constructed season back in the Spring along with two other first timers Jon Toone (virtually inseparable from Hunter) and Steven Bruce. Since then, Hunter has won two individual PTQs. Hunter survived to day two at Pro Tour Kobe recently. It may or may not be a coincidence that Hunter and Toone started practicing in the Guildhall at the beginning of this year… Brian Heine is a great junior player who has moved on to the Pro Tour, he has a good mind for the cards.


Blake Miller and Kevin Delger arrived next. Blake is easy going, but don’t let that fool you, he can get as fired up about Magic tournaments as anybody else. Blake looks and acts like a regular underachiever, a predictable gamer demographic. Looks can be a bit deceiving. In his square day gig, Blake Miller works in the mortgage lending industry. This past Saturday, Blake traveled to Pat’s Games in Austin where he finished second in a Dreamblade 1K event. This is his second runner up performance in a Dreamblade 1K, giving him enough tournament points in WOTC’s newest miniatures game to qualify Blake for the 2007 Dreamblade national championship. There are two things you notice whenever you see Blake, the ever present boonie cap (kind of a floppy brimmed hat) of which he has many, and the funny t-shirt. Today’s t-shirt features no words, just a blue shirt with a weathered looking yellow Pac Man on it. Kevin Delger is newer to the fold, he has only been over a few times. He and Blake play together frequently at a very good game store in Garland called Comic Book Craze.


Mark Hendrickson arrives a little after seven o’clock to complete tonight’s group. Mark is thirty-five years old and has been married for many years. Mark plays in live tournaments nearly every week, and has appeared in the Guildhall more than sixty times (the most of anyone tonight, myself excluded). You can add to Mark’s impressive amount of live play an unmatched (by anyone I know) amount of Magic Online play. Mark is closer to having an entire play set on Magic Online than anyone else I know, and he puts these cards to work in online constructed tournaments virtually every day of the week. Mark admits to twenty hours or so of online play, but since I see him playing every time I log on, I imagine he is playing even more Magic Online than he admits.


This Week’s Chatter


The meeting starts each Tuesday night at 7:00pm, but it’s normal for us to wait up to a half hour for stragglers. Tonight, hopeful for an eighth player, (maybe Steven Bruce, maybe Mason Peatross) we sit around and chat for awhile. Hunter and Brian haven’t been making very many Tuesday nights lately: Brian has school commitments and Hunter has been busy with this and that. Hunter, Mark and I have all qualified in the past month or so for Pro Tour Geneva. We’re waiting for more information from Wizards of the Coast about the event so that we can start making plans, including some hotel reservations near wherever the event is being held. Comic Book Craze in Garland may be awarding a prize of hotel accommodations at Pro Tour Geneva. The three of us and Steven Bruce, who also qualified recently for Geneva, agree that we need to win that tournament. The details about that tournament have not really been ironed out, I don’t even know what the format will be. It won’t matter, we need to win that event. There was a Standard constructed tournament last weekend with about twenty people paying $25 each to play, the prize was very enticing, your choice of either a Mox Ruby, $200 cash, $250 in store credit, or THREE booster boxes of Time Spiral. The usually perky and always good natured Hunter Burton is quiet tonight, a little sullen. He shouldn’t be, he and another Tuesday night regular, level II DCI judge Eric Jones, split the prizes in the finals of the Mox tournament. In their prize split, the two players ended up each getting two booster boxes of Time Spiral. Not bad work at all. Hunter aced that tournament in a way that is pretty unusual for him, he played control. Here’s the deck Hunter played along with the version of the better known Beach House deck Eric Jones played:


Hunter Burton
Snow Control
4 Snow-Covered Mountains

13 Snow-Covered Islands
4 Steam Vents
3 Scrying Sheets
3 Think Twice
3 Whispers of the Muse
2 Rewind
3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
3 Repeal
4 Cancel
4 Remand
4 Mana Leak
4 Skred
2 Demonfire
3 Tormod's Crypt
2 Serrated Arrows
4 Spell Snare
3 Pyroclasm
3 Shadow of Doubt

Eric Jones
Beach House control
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Golgari Rot Farm
2 Orzhov Basilica

4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Temple Garden
4 Godless Shrine
2 Vesuva
2 Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree
2 Swamp
1 Plains
4 Wrath of God
4 Faith's Fetters
3 Call of the Herd
3 Angel of Despair
4 Mortify
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Phyrexian Arena
2 Persecute
1 Phyrexian Totem
4 Orzhov Signet
2 Debtor's Knell
2 Sacred Mesa
3 Sacred Ground
1 Debtor's Knell
3 Leyline of the Void
1 Sacred Mesa
4 Castigate
1 Jester's Cap
1 Persecute
1 Evangelize


Time Spiral Booster Draft


Absent an eighth player, we drafted Time Spiral with seven players. I randomized the seating and we drafted. Here are the Guildhall house rules for booster drafts: we randomly seat all players and we play three rounds of Swiss play with random first round opponents (meaning you don’t necessarily play against the person four seats away from you in the draft). We like to play three rounds of Swiss, as opposed to single elimination, to give each player the maximum amount of play out of the deck they drafted. The main point of our drafts is to practice drafting cards and playing with the cards we draft. After three Swiss rounds, we cut to the top four finishers, which usually cuts cleanly to a single 3-0 player and three 2-1 players. The final four are seated according to their Swiss finish, so the 3-0 player plays against the 2-1 finisher with the worst tiebreakers. After one semi final round, the two players in the finals split up the rares and foils (and timeshifted cards in the case of Time Spiral) in any manner that pleases them. Players either bring their own booster packs or buy them from the house at three bucks a pack. We like forcing the finalists to split up their prizes instead of playing out the match so that we can either have another booster draft or so that people can get home a little sooner if they need to. Playing for the rares and foils is a very good way to enforce proper card selection.


Here’s what happened in the draft. My first pick was a Sudden Shock. I have to admit that I got hung up on red from the first time I drafted Time Spiral. I actually believe the best decks you can draft in the format are white/blue, but I love to draft red and feel like you can take red and end up with a good deck with any of the other colors. The player to my right is Hunter and he passes me Tendrils of Corruption, which I take for some reason, thinking I might get to be THE black player, or that I would run the red/black deck with all the removal. Meanwhile, I’m passing white to the left like nobody’s business, and the player to my left, Mark Hendrickson, is definitely reading the tea leaves correctly and taking optimal advantage. Well, I’ve drafted two cards so far and I’ve already made two mistakes. There’s nothing at all wrong with the first pick Sudden Shock, except that in my mind I’ve LOCKED INTO red, and for the rest of the first pack I totally ignore the fact that no good red cards are coming through Hunter at all. The second mistake is taking the second pick Tendrils of Corruption without realizing the commitment to black that is needed to make that pick. I pick up a Dark Withering and a Skittering Horror in the first pack, the only other playable black cards I see, which should have told me that there wasn’t going to be enough quality black coming to me. I failed to figure that out until the last pack. Early in the second pack I start taking green cards, and by the end of the second pack I have a nice little group of red cards, a nice little group of green cards and a nice little group of black cards. When we all open our third packs, I say aloud, “Come on first pick, please take me OUT of a color!” It sort of did, a first pick Might Sliver cleared up my confusion and focused me on a green/red strategy with some small hope of being the Sliver player. This draft, ladies and gentlemen, has gone seriously wrong for me. This is what I’m trying to explain. If you want to do well in Time Spiral booster draft, you cannot let yourself wander through three different colors with no clear decision on the colors you will play until the third pack.


Guildmage History


Today in Magic, teams and playtest groups are a time honored and well understood concept. Back in 1996, this was not necessarily the case. In 1996, Magic’s “Million Dollar Black Lotus Tour” began, and my playtest group was very casual indeed. Every Friday night, a group of us would play Magic at either Kent’s apartment, Ken and Dawn’s house or me and my wife’s home. Kent Parish is my best friend from high school and a single dad who liked Magic but wasn’t into tournaments too much. Ken and Dawn were a married couple from back East. Ken liked to play with his cards in those RIDICULOUS baggy sleeves to protect his cards. Dawn liked to buy expensive power cards so that she could beat the rest of us and then use proxies of the expensive cards she had just bought. At this point in time, you didn’t really play Magic at stores and tournaments were just starting to happen regularly around Dallas.


A month or so before the first Pro Tour event, we all got this post card in the mail from Wizards of the Coast (because we had all joined the DCI in order to get a subscription to the Duelist magazine) announcing the new Pro Tour. In order to play in the first event, to be held in New York City in January of ’96, you had to call Wizards of the Coast on a certain day at a certain time. I was intrigued by the idea of a professional tour, it sounded very exciting and it sounded like Magic was finally going places, but I couldn’t really see myself traveling all the way to New York City just to get blasted out of a big tournament. Dawn Fontaine, Ken Warrix’ very assertive bride, hit those digits on that certain day but was unable to get her name on the tournament list. A few Texas players did manage to get on the list. On that snowy weekend in New York City, Magic’s Pro Tour took off with a bang, and competitive card playing would never be the same again.


Local Magic guru George Baxter finished in the top eight at Pro Tour number one. When he returned home, he began working on assembling a team that he would use for playtesting in his quest to dominate the new Pro Tour. Baxter held a series of tournaments at a store in several suburban locations around the Greater Dallas area. I played in all but one of these events, you could miss one of the events without hurting your chances to make the team. After George’s five qualifying tournaments were completed, he took the seven players with the best cumulative finishes and they became Team Dallas. I was number eight. If I wanted to be on a big-time Magic team, I was going to have to look elsewhere.


Around this time, in the Fall of ’96, the group I was playing Magic with had changed. I had become friends with Minh Huynh. When I met him, he was working at Virtual World. At Virtual World, you paid between seven and ten bucks per TEN MINUTE game to play Battletech (a mech battle game, naturally) or Red Planet (a racing game in the Martian canals). In between matches at Virtual World, Minh was playing games of Magic with friends or just anybody who had a deck. Minh was responsible for getting me and some of my other Magic friends to take the game seriously. When Dallas hosted the first Pro Tour Qualifier in the state of Texas, the event was held as part of a science fiction and comic book convention. That tournament awarded two seats to Magic’s second Pro Tour event, which would be held in Los Angeles. A couple of us competed in that tournament. I was eliminated late in the tournament by Bryan Sammon, one of the guys who had beat me out to be a part of Baxter’s team. My friend Minh was doing very well in the tournament when I went home for the day. A couple of hours later, Minh randomly dropped by my house, excited to announce that he had won one of the seats for Pro Tour Los Angeles. At the second PT, the first to feature booster drafting, Minh finished in the money, automatically qualified for the third Pro Tour to be held in Columbus, Ohio, in July. Playtesting became even more important to our little group of budding tournament players. By September, my regular Magic group was completely different than a year earlier, in fact, I was the only person in common to both groups.


The new group consisted of Minh Huynh, myself, Cortney Cunningham, who was going to store tournaments in Dallas with me each Saturday, and six players we got to know hanging out at Games Galore in Arlington, Texas, the best Magic store in the area at the time. From Games Galore, we gathered six really good Magic players, college fratboy Jason Page, James Stroud and his roommate/high school buddy Marcus Trevino, junior competitor James Murphy, Maryland transplant James Jenkins and Pro Tour Columbus notable finisher Scot Martin. Before long, the bunch of us were meeting on Tuesday nights at my house, building decks, practicing and planning for the future.


Closing the Book on Another Meeting


Thanks for joining me in this first installment of what I hope will be a fun-to-read account of the weekly gathering of the Guildmages. It’s 12:30am and the house is finally quiet again, empty of Magic players until next week. I think I’ll see if I can get a quick booster draft in on Magic Online before I go to sleep…


Jeff Zandi

Texas Guildmages

Level II DCI Judge

Zanman on Magic Online





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