Pro Tour - Los Angeles Report
by Brian Kibler

     Magic is a fickle game.  Some days everything comes up right, and you feel like you're meant to win.  Other days it's just not in the cards, and you go home empty handed.  Just a few days ago, I was talking to my father on AOL Instant Messenger and he asked about how I did in LA.  I told him I ended up 74th, one win out of the money.  What's his response?  "You're in a rut."

                Now, suffice it to say my father is not the most up to date on the goings-on of the Magic world, but he certainly knows about my finish in Chicago just two months back. A solid day one followed up with narrowly missing the money on day two at the Pro Tour immediately after a semi-final result hardly seems like a rut to me, but maybe he knows something I don't.  After all, I haven't been doing that well Magic-wise since Chicago.  I went to the Grand Prixes in New Orleans and Amsterdam over my spring break, and missed day two in each of them.  In New Orleans I had a great sealed deck and lost once to Steve OMS and his Acolytes, and dropped my second in the last round to a ridiculous deck (one of the alleged "constructed" decks of the tournament), despite my opponent's repeated misplays.  In Amsterdam, with only two byes due to my Chicago points not counting until after LA, I was even less fortunate, piloting my abysmal sealed deck to a stellar 1-2 record in played matches before dropping out to explore the city.

                Things seemed like they were looking up when I went to the Planeshift Prerelease the weekend before LA.  I hadn't ever attended a Prerelease before, and was going more to practice Invasion Rochester draft than to see the new cards as I already had the spoiler to do my reviews for The Sideboard Online.  Despite this, I entered one of the flights, and dropped only a single game in all five rounds.  I played some T2 with my Chicago deck, signed some Riths, and managed to organize a Rochester draft with eight solid players.  All was well, until I came back from giving some newer players advice on limited deck construction and found my bag to be missing, complete with my boxes of Invasion I had for draft practice, the Planeshift box I'd just won, my CD player, and my Chicago deck.  Despite asking around and scouring the tournament site looking for it, my bag was nowhere to be found.  To top it all off, my friend Steve Hirsch with whom I'd come to the tournament realized he locked his keys in his car, and we had to sit around waiting for someone to come open it for us.  Nothing like calling a tow truck to top off a lovely day.

                The thought of LA looming on the horizon did nothing to raise my spirits.  Any other Pro Tour stop and I'd have no worries, but the boat and I have a sordid history.  In 1998, I was 6-1 after the first day, took down Jon Finkel in the first round of day 2, and went spiraling to a dismal 1-5 record for the rest of the day, ending up 60th at 8-6.  My first PT back after my two year hiatus was LA last year, where I again went into day 2 with a solid record, won a few matches, then ended up bombing my last draft and missing the money.  One could not blame me, then, for being less than thrilled about the prospect of the third part in a trilogy that could aptly be titled "Curse of the Queen Mary".

                My trip to LA was relatively uneventful, although punctuated by yet another bad omen.  As I got out of my cab from the airport, I forgot the CD player I'd borrowed from my friend in the back seat.  I realized it almost immediately as the cab pulled away, and called the cab company at the number I got on my receipt.  For some reason, they couldn't contact the driver, and told me to call back later to talk to someone in lost and found.  Suffice it to say I never saw the CD player again.

                Somewhere between all the lost-CD player calls, I eventually check in and run into my roommates for the weekend, the incomparable Lan D. Ho and one Joseph Crosby, whose presence in Atlanta will be sorely missed when he moves back to Florida.  Said individuals were also my Chicago roommates, for point of reference, and Crosby joked "You did well sleeping with me last time - why ruin a good thing?"  Why indeed.  After one practice draft and dinner at the hotel restaurant, we call it an early night, picking up stragglers Mike Bregoli and Tim McKenna, who end up crashing on our floor.

                Now, if I have any complaints about the Queen Mary other than my abysmal day 2 record there, it's the showers.  I think they're designed for the Oompa Loompas from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, because they come up to my chin at best.  In any case, after performing acts of contortionism to get myself clean, I grab breakfast at the hotel restaurant buffet with my room's motley crew and head down to the tournament area.

                My first draft is at pod 23, and has a few names I recognize, with Tomi Walamies in the first position feeding Danny Mandel, followed by Tom Harle, myself, Christian Fehr, Dominic Ortega, Andy Klein, and Michael Gurney in the eighth seat.  The very first pack throws my world into chaos.  My basic draft strategy for Invasion is, in essence, "Draft Green/White".  Not only is this color combination generally underdrafted due to its less impressive looking commons, but even when other players at a table do draft it, they tend to have incorrect pick orders, leaving you with the superior cards.  For point of reference, the pick order for G/W I used in LA was tappers, Cloaks, Spiders, bears, Growths.  That is, Benalish Trapper and Thornscape Apprentice are automatic first picks, followed by Armadillo Cloak, Pincer Spider, any of the two power creatures for two mana (Nomadic Elf, Llanowar Knight, and Quirion Sentinel), and lastly Explosive Growth and Aggressive Urge.  You may note that no where in this pick scheme will you find Serpentine Kavu, Kavu Climber, or any of the white fliers.  This is because the reason G/W wins is unsurpassed aggression.  It has the most common two power creatures for two mana, along with two common tappers, which are far more powerful used aggressively than defensively.  Explosive Growth (which I often refer to as "Hatred") allows you to break through opposing blockers or just go in for the kill.  In any case, Tomi Walamies first picks Faerie Squadron, Danny Mandel takes Scorching Lava, and I almost choke when Tom Harle takes Wax/Wane in the seat directly to my right. 

                Time for plan B.  Plan B is "Draft aggressive B/R or U/B".  The best card left in the pack for either of these strategies is Kavu Aggressor, and I take it, mentally locking myself into R/B because I don't want to fight with Harle on my right for green.  I solidify myself in the next few packs with another Kavu Aggressor and a Tribal Flames, and opening my pack the best card for me is Sparring Golem.  This is to be a sign of things to come, as in my second pack I again open no quality red or black cards, and am once again stuck with a Sparring Golem as my first pick.  I do, however, receive multiple Shivan Zombies from the left and one from my right, but my deck is weakened as Ortega two to my left starts taking black cards for no apparent reason in his G/R deck, going so far as to draft two Soul Burns and a Shivan Zombie, which don't seem like a very effective splash in a deck with two copies of Verdeloth the Ancient.  Harle on my right ends up G/W/R, and I lose even more picks on that side.  I open my third pack, and end up with nothing but a Cursed Flesh in my colors.  I decide that's not going to cut it, and hate the Teferi's Moat that would otherwise have gone to Fehr's U/W/g Treva deck on my left.  In the end, I wind up with an extremely aggressive B/R deck with a great mana curve, including seven two power two drops, six three power (counting Sparring Golem) three drops, and three haste creatures in the form of Kavu Runner and two Pouncing Kavus, but very little in the way of removal, as all of the terror effects were opened on the other side of the table and made their way into Michael Gurney's deck.  I figure I can manage a 2-1 with this deck due simply to its extreme aggression, maybe even 3-0 if my draws are particularly explosive.       

Round 1: Michael Gurney

                Well, forget about the 3-0 dream.  Gurney runs over me as my deck sputters out entirely.  Game one I miss a two drop, but have turn three and four Kavu Aggressors.  He attempts to stabilize with Nightscape Master, which I Tribal Flames, but he has the Recover and replays it.  I Scavenged Weaponry one of my Aggressors to take it out of Master range, but he Demises it and kills my Pouncing Kavu with Plague Spores.  Without any removal for the Master, the game spirals out of control quickly, and soon we're sideboarding for game two.  I put in a Skittish Kavu, going for my full complement of two drops in the hopes that I'll manage to draw one this game. 

                I might as well have left it out, as my two drop this game is none other than the stellar Pouncing Kavu!  My seven actual two drops seem to be hiding, but I Maniacal Rage up the Pouncer and hope for the best.  My hopes get met with an Agonizing Demise, of course, and I empty my hand to drop a Sparring Golem and Shivan Zombie on the table, saying "Breath me?" in the hopes that I'll get a negative response.  It was not to be, though, and Mike has his Breath of Darigaaz and sweeps the board, making it only a matter of time before I get my first ever round one loss at the Pro Tour.

Matches 0-1 Games 0-2

Round 2: Andy Klein

                Game one is absurdly close, as yet again I fail to play a two drop, but manage to get a great deal of aggression going before he's able to stabilize.  Unfortunately, he gets Wings of Hope on an Ardent Solider, and my no-terror deck has little to deal with it.  I Maniacal Rage it just so it can't block and continue to swing, and manage to lose the race by exactly one life due to his Samite Archer. 

                Game two I get a reasonable draw but, as has become my deck's theme, no two drop.  Andy doesn't have much to stop me though, and pretty soon my Kavu Aggressors and Sparring Golem run over him.  Game three I finally manage to get one of those fabled "aggressive draws" my deck should be capable of, as I play Shivan Zombies on turns two through four, Cursed Fleshing his Samite Archer somewhere along the way.  He never plays a non white creature (although I had Exotic Curse in my hand anyway) and dies in short order.

Matches 1-1 Games 2-3

Round 3: Christian Fehr

                I really don't remember many details about this match, probably because it was so demoralizing.  Yet again, I failed to play a creature on the second turn of both games, and Christian's tappers punished me for it.  I lose two straight as his white creatures mock the Shivan Zombies buried deep in my deck.

Matches 1-2 Games 2-5

                Coming off my worst ever start in a Pro Tour, I resolve to 4-0 my second draft to go into day two with a respectable record.  While a single loss won't put me out of day 2, it will leave me struggling when I get there.  And everything goes perfectly.  My second draft pod has Tim Danziger in seat one, followed by Haakon Monsen, Alessanda Vegna, myself, Mike Bower, Joseph Whitney, Jeff Auer, and Koji Noda.  Tim opens, and takes an Armadillo Cloak over a Thornscape Apprentice, which makes it to me as Haakon and Alessanda take red and blue cards.  The rest of the draft goes beautifully, with Vegna on my right solidifying as U/B with a splash of red for Ghitu Fire and Urza's Rage and Bower on my left entrenched in R/B.  Haakon seems to be R/B, but switches into green for a Nomadic Elf late in the first set of packs, which annoys me, but otherwise doesn't disrupt my strategy, as he takes all the Serpentine Kavus and Kavu Climbers while I pick up the bears. 

I end up with FIVE Quirion Sentinels and two Harrows, which allow me to support a four color mana base with only 16 land, including a Keldon Necropolis.  My three tappers and two Explosive Growths supported my quick beats amazingly well, and my deck even includes Molimo, Maro Sorcerer to dominate the late game, as well as the potential for both Strength of Unity and Armadillo Cloak on Glimmering Angel.  In short, this was the deck I aimed to draft going in, and I got it.  The most amusing story of this table is Tim Danziger drafting a carbon copy of my Chicago deck, complete with Rith and FOUR Armadillo Cloaks.  After going 1-2 and dropping from the tournament, he asks me to sign all of them, and I happily comply.

Round 4: Alessandro Vegna

                To put it simply, Alessandro's deck is bad.  Awful, in fact.  I didn't pay much attention to him during the draft, because he was staying mostly out of my colors, so I didn't realize just how atrocious his deck was until he played a turn two Bog Initiate in game one.  That doesn't do much to hold off my creatures, and despite his plethora of bounce, I overrun him quickly.  Game two is similar, and he even stalls on land.  One down, three to go.

Matches 2-2 Games 4-5

Round 5:  Jeff Auer

                Jeff's deck is fairly solid, but has the distinct disadvantage of being U/W.  My personal opinion on the format is that U/W is just a much worse deck than G/W, as it has access to only one common bear and its power cards are inherently reactive, like Exclude and Shackles.  Generally U/W plans to control the board with tappers and win in the air, which is a much less efficient use of tappers than neutralizing your opponent's blockers and smashing them with Nomadic Elves and Llanowar Knights.  In any case, I knew Jeff's deck contained a trio of Excludes, which forced me to play around them carefully.

                Game one opened as a savage beating, as I managed to play out a pair of Sentinels before Jeff had Exclude mana up.  I pound him down to single digits of life, and get out my Necropolis, but he drops the bomb - Treva the Renewer.  Any other dragon, and I can finish him off with the Necropolis in time, but Treva gives him sufficient life to hold me off.  I draw a Benalish Trapper the turn after he plays Treva, which is one turn too late, as the seven life he gains puts him out of Necropolis range and my creatures just aren't enough to punch through.

                Games two and three run together, but they pretty much came down to the same thing - my tappers, Sentinels, and Explosive Growths put too much pressure on Jeff for him to effectively use his Excludes or mount an effective defensive.  He's forced to tap out to deal with my early rush, and I drop my trappers and blow past his blockers with Explosive Growth, putting him even farther behind.  Invasion block draft is dominated by tempo decks, and G/W keeps up with the best of them.  Two down, two to go.

Matches 3-2 Games 6-6

Round 6:  Haakon Monsen

                Monsen's deck ended up being much more green and much less black than he was in the first pack, and he ended up with a number of Thunderscape Apprentices, which are very good in the green on green matchup.  At this point fatigue was starting to set in, as there were computer problems that delayed the start of the round, and I quite frankly can't remember the details of this match for the life of me, except that I won two games to one, taking the third in five minutes as time on the clock ran out.  Bears4L - one match left.

Matches 4-2 Games 8-7

Round 7: Mike Bower

                I've chatted with Mike on IRC before, and it's unfortunate that I have to play him in the last round when I can potentially knock him out of day two contention.  His deck had gotten a bit of a squeeze from the drafter to his left dipping into his colors, the drafter to my right scooping up Ghitu Fire and Urza's Rage, and my own pick of Keldon Necropolis in the first set of packs.  He ended up with a fairly mediocre R/B deck with a decent amount of removal, but a rather poor creature base, as shown in the first game by his turn three play of Slimy Kavu.  This would prove to be the death of him, as my ultra-aggressive Sentinel deck completely ran him over in two quick games, sealing my day one record at a solid 5-2 and unfortunately knocking him out of contention.  Sorry, Mike. 

Matches 5-2 Games 10-7

                At this point it's something ridiculous like one AM, and I'm exhausted.  Crosby and Lan both missed second day, as did Bregoli, and McKenna decides to move to Eric Kesselmen's room to get a bed for the night, so I'm the sole competitor left in my hotel room.  We order some room service, since that's all that's still open, and before I know it I'm asleep.


                I wake up the next morning still wearing my clothes from the day before.  No, this isn't the classic college walk of shame; I was just so exhausted previous evening that I fell asleep as soon as I put my head down after finishing my late-night dinner.  I head up to the hotel restaurant for the stellar buffet breakfast, alone this time, down some granola and scrambled eggs and get ready to draft.

                My first pod for the day had me in the frustrating first seat, passing to Tomi Walamies, who fed in turn John Ormerod, Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Jonas Cleeman, Gary Wise, Laurent Pagoreck, and Terry Lau.  I open and pick Angel of Mercy, sticking with the G/W plan, and for some reason Tomi takes Stormscape Apprentice to my left, essentially declaring himself to be playing at least one of the same colors as me, leaving Scorching Lava to John Ormerod.  In the next pack, Tomi opens and takes Armadillo Cloak, which makes almost as little sense as his Stormscape Apprentice pick, in my eyes, and pretty much lights the fuse to our fight for colors.  I wheel a white card and a Tranquility, announcing loud and clear my intention to be the G/W mage, but he won't listen, and we continue to fight throughout the draft.  Ormerod ends up as the only R/B player at the entire table, getting the gift of a fifth pick Agonizing Demise in the last set of packs as Pagoreck takes UTOPIA TREE for his five color (primarily R/G/B) deck, and Terry Lau takes Zanam Djinn for his U/B deck.  Throughout the draft, Gary Wise and I get repeated cautions for "facial expressions" while watching some players draft, and at this point I literally ask the judge "Will I get a warning if I vomit all over the table?"  I end up with a solid deck, hurt by my fighting with Tomi to my left, but not overly weakened due to the fact that I was passing to him on the majority of the packs.  Unfortunately, a large amount of the powerful G/W cards were opened while he was passing to me, so he managed to end up with more tappers and the sole Armadillo Cloak at the table, and Gary Wise got the gifts of Sunscape and Thornscape Masters.  I feel like I can beat any of the decks at the table with relative ease with the exception of Gary, who I still have a good shot against due to my Kavu Titan and Molimo, Maro Sorcerer against his primarily G/R deck. 

Round 8: Jonas Cleeman

                Jonas drafted a powerful U/B deck, but U/B is the perfect matchup for G/W, especially when the G/W deck draws Obsidian Acolyte.  Game one, my Acolyte completely shuts him down, and I take it home with bears.  Game two I don't quite recall, but I pull through without too much difficulty.  Sorry for the lack of details, but it was a quick match - not much to tell.

Matches 6-2 Games 12-7

Round 9: Tomi Walamies

                So I just won my first round of day two on the boat.  Time for the slide to start, right?  Right.  Before the match Tomi and I discuss his picks, and he agrees he should've taken Scorching Lava over Stormscape Apprentice.  I resolve myself to punishing him for his mistake, and go about it swiftly in game one,  mauling him with bears, Pincer Spiders, and Kavu Titan.  Game two I draw a one land hand and mulligan, and keep a hand with two plains playing second.  Despite my mulligan, I end up discarding before playing my third land, and Tommi runs me over.  In the third game, I'm playing first, and keep an incredible hand with only two plains for land yet again.  This time, I don't discard, but have no play on turn two or three, draw a forest on turn four and start to mount a comeback, but Tommi has his one Armadillo Cloak and ends it quickly.  Afterwards, as we're sitting and talking, someone comes over to ask me to sign Riths and Cloaks, and Tommi asks me to sign the Cloak he just beat me with.  I take it in stride, despite my annoyance with the loss, and sign it while joking I should tear it up.  

Matches 6-3 Games 13-9

Round 10: John Ormerod

                At long last, I'm featured, and I sit down ready for a battle.  The details of this match are listed in the feature match report coverage at The Sideboard Online, so I'll let that do most of the talking.  Game one I have my Obsidian Acolyte on the draw, but choose to lead with other creatures to draw his cheaper red removal.  He bites, and the Acolyte survives after he uses a Tribal Flames, Scorching Lava, and Shivan Emissary to remove my early offense.  A second Acolyte joins the fray, but I just can't seem to draw anything to finish John off.  Soon he starts Plague Spores'ing just to kill my Plains, and manages to kill both Acolytes, but this leaves him without removal for the Angel of Mercy and Molimo who eventually take it home.  Game two showed the power of Acolytes once again, as a single 1/1 for 1W held off his entire team and made mine unblockable.  Ahhh Green/White.

Matches 7-3 Games 15-9

Round 11: Gary Wise

                Another potential feature, but this is the all Japanese feature match round, and Gary and I are overlooked.  Probably a good thing, too, given the fact that each of us lost a game in this match to an incredibly basic mistake.  Game one, I get a threat-light draw, but my threats are Kavu Titan and Molimo along with mana acceleration.  Gary manages to draw his one Shackles AND one tapper, which I Deliver to give myself another turn of attacking with my Molimo.  Unfortunately, on one of my turns I randomly decided to not play a land (with MOLIMO in play!) and because of this Gary is able to kill my Maro Sorcerer with a double block and Explosive Growth.  The game spirals out of control from there.  Game two is incredibly tight, with an oversight in life totals on Gary's part giving me the win, as he casts Aggressive Urge for no reason and leaves himself without enough mana to recast the creature I Deliver and an Apprentice to chump block.  Game three is another case of two plains going second, and again I keep.  I manage to draw a forest before discarding, but because of the lack of a forest on turn two I'm unable to play a bear to mount enough early aggression to beat him down before his Sunscape Master can take control of the board.  Despite this, I manage to get a lot of damage in as he's smashing me with enormous creatures courtesy of the Master's green ability, and when he all-out attacks  I have Stand to keep my Angel of Mercy alive, and attack back with it and my kicked Kavu Titan with Gary at eight life.  I have two Explosive growths in my hand, and when Gary taps three and starts to say "Restra…" I'm ready to Growth the other creature for the win, but before revealing the card and completing the word "Restrain", Gary realizes his mistake, pulls his hand back, and says "Damage on the stack?"  I'm visibly annoyed at this turn of events, as this puts me a mere point of damage away from killing him (which a turn two bear would have easily dealt), but I chalk one up in the loss column and see my back-to-back Top 8 dreams melt away.

Matches 7-4 Games 16-10

                It all comes down to my last pod.  If I pull out a 3-0 I end up in the top 16, 2-1 probably top 32 with my tiebreakers.  Anything less and it's no money for me.  What happens?  Yet again I'm seat one, at a table with, in order, Niels Sanders Jensen, Gary Krakower, Loic Dobringa, Yubin Tao, Danny Mandel, Johan Franzen, and Jurgan Hahn.  I open my pack and I'm faced with a decision that I've thought about countless times - Dromar the Banisher vs Thornscape Apprentice.  I agonize for the entire length of the pack review, and end up taking the Dragon.  Now, if you'll notice my record for the tournament thus far, I haven't lost a single match in which I've played a forest on turn two all three games.  I honestly think Thornscape Apprentice is the correct pick, but from the way the packs panned out, I don't think I had a chance regardless of what I took.  Every Vodalian Zombie and Recoil was opened on the other side of the table, finding their way into the deck of Danny Mandel.  There was one Llanowar Knight, no Nomadic Elves, and no Quirion Sentinels at the entire table, along with a single Pincer Spider.  If I had taken the Apprentice, my deck would have been terrible as well, especially with the quadruple Zombie-triple Recoil monstrosity that Danny ended up with at the table.  In any case, I ended up salvaging the draft as best as I think I could, ending up with three Vodalian Serpents at a table with half blue drafters, along with a pair of Dream Thrushes to make them deadly against my non-blue opponents.

Round 12: Niels Sanders Jensen

                Games one and two are very similar, except in one I play Dromar and in the other I don't.  He drops a turn one Battleflies and Maniacal Rages it on turn two, with my deck having no answer but another flier or Barrin's Unmaking.  Game one I lose to the flies, but game two Dromar cleans up the mess.  The third game is very long, but only because it takes me so long to find a way to win.  I manage to lock up his entire attack with Teferi's Moat, naming red, leaving him with a single Firescreamer for offense against my Vodalian Serpent.  I eventually beat him down with Thrush/Serpent madness.

Matches 8-4 Games 18-11

Round 13: Gary Krakower

                Gary had perhaps the worst draft deck I've ever seen out of Invasion only, and he'd somehow won a match.  Perhaps it was his day, because it certainly wasn't mine.  Game one is looking great until his G/W/U deck Harrows for two swamps and casts Tsabo's Assassin.  There's literally nothing I can do against it, and I lose in short order.  Game two I pound him as he draws the less broken ninety percent of his deck.  In the third game, he draws all of his flying creatures, I draw none of mine and no tappers, and I can't keep up.  Sometimes you just don't win.

Matches 8-5 Games 19-13

Round 14: Johan Franzen           

                At this point I'm getting really demoralized, as the Curse of the Queen Mary seems to have struck again.  This match doesn't help things any.  Johan at first asks if I want to draw, and I explain that I don't think anyone with 25 points will make it.  We look at the standings and decide we have to play.  Johan's R/B deck (in which he is splashing blue for Prohibit, of all cards) crushes me.  He has multiple Agonizing Demises, which make my Serpent defense horrible, and I never see my Moat or Dromar before I'm dead. 

Matches 8-6 Games 19-15

                Another trip to the boat, another miserable day two finish.  I spend the rest of my time in LA money drafting, or should I say doing charity work, as I always seem to win matches but never seem to win money with Noah Boeken on my team.  I watch the semis and finals, and am torn between rooting for MikeyP and Rith, but in the end MikeyP prevails, and all is well.  The top eight draft looks like Kyle Rose's seat was somehow meant to be mine, with a pair of Riths just waiting for me, but it was not to be - only so many Chicago top eight finishers could repeat on the boat, it seems.  I sign A LOT of dragons and Cloaks, even going so far as to sign nearly an entire copy of my Chicago deck for one JSS player (Hey Nadi!), and am very much flattered when Adrian Sullivan points out another with the deck name "Brian Kibler is my Hero", and the Sideboard takes a few pictures of me watching his matches.  All in all, despite the unfortunate ending to my LA story, I had a blast, and would do it all over again.  The Magic Pro Tour is an amazing story, with the Finkel's and Budde's and Kamiel's - and yes, even the Kibler's - and I'm happy to be a part of it whenever I can.

                On an interesting note, on my flight home from Long Beach to Atlanta, when the captain's announcement that we're about to land wakes me up, I notice something that almost strikes me as an omen.  The woman in the seat next to me is reading a book titled "Do what you love: The money will come."  Well, I am.  And hopefully it will.  Take care, and until next time - good luck!

Brian Kibler


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