How stealing a piece of cheese almost won me the World Championship


My testing team for the 2007 World Championship that would be held in New York City consisted of only two people, Patrick Chapin and Mark Herberholz. And as it happens, our fate would be decided by one peculiar incident. 

The year prior, Mark and I had tested together for Worlds, which happened to be held in my hometown of Paris. He had flown in to stay and practice with me before the tournament and, to get maximum value out of our time and my Magic: Online account as well as deal with Mark’s jetlag, we had implemented an ingenious strategy: the shift change. I would play on Magic: Online for eight hours, Mark would wake up, we would playtest together for eight hours then it would be his turn to start grinding on Magic: Online while I got some sleep. You could say the system worked out for me.

A little miracle

After a lot of testing, we ended up mashing two Standard decks together, Blue Tron and Martyr Proclamation, into one and registered Blue-White Martyr Tron. I went undefeated on Day 1 and Mark won four of his six matches. Day 2, the draft part of the tournament, didn’t go as well for us but we still each won three matches, which meant I could still make Top 8 if I went undefeated in Extended on day three. The issue was I didn’t really know what to play, but Antonino Da Rosa and his Italian friends hooked me up with a great Jeskai Counterbalance list.  

And that was only the first of many fortunate things that still had to happen for me to make it. 

On Saturday morning, the clock was slowly approaching 9 a.m. and I was still missing cards, namely Counterbalance. The dealers were completely out of the blue enchantment, and I couldn’t find anyone who had extra. I was literally out of time, but the first small miracle happened. The Paris subway was experiencing issues, so the judges decided to give the missing players some extra time and postpone the start of Day 3. It was Craig Krempels who ended up coming to my rescue, walking up to me with a playset of Counterbalance a few minutes before pairings were posted. 

Another miracle

The second small miracle, I only found about much later. In round 14, I got paired against a young up and comer by the name of Luis Scott-Vargas and we had little time left going into Game 3. A draw would be pretty much just as bad a loss for our chances of Top 8, so I suggested that in the case one of us was way ahead when time was called, the other player would scoop as to not mutually knock each other out of Top 8 contention. He accepted and when the final extra turn was over, I had the game all but locked up and Luis honored our agreement and gave me the win. As it turns out, and I can’t even remember now how I eventually found out about it, I had gotten paired up and Luis could have afforded the draw. Had I known and had Luis realized, our deal probably would have never even been in the first place and our draw would have put an end to my Top 8 run. 

But my favorite memory happened during the last round of the swiss. I had a win-and-in against fellow Frenchman Jonathan Rispal, and when Mark walked up to me by the feature area, I could all but point with a sad face at the one on the scoreboard next to my name. He gave me a commiserating look and leaned in to give me a hug but as he did, I just slid away to point at the zero next to Jonathan’s name, which I had been hiding with my body. It’s been over 15 years so I can't exactly remember what happened next, but my best guess would be that we just started jumping around like maniacs yelling “That’s game, boys” over and over. 

On Sunday, I faced Tiago Chan in the quarterfinals and what looked like an easy matchup on paper ended up being an incredibly long and hard-fought battle. After being down two to one, I managed to claw my way back to eventually advance to the semis after what is probably one of the longest matches in the history of pro Magic. 

The semifinals against Makihito Mihara were as close as it gets, and it all came down to one slight misstep in Game 5 costing me the match and a shot at the World Champion title. 

As it turns out, I would have another chance at it the following year.  

It was my turn to fly over the Atlantic to playtest for Worlds, and meet up with Mark in his residence of East Lansing, Michigan, home of the Riv and Pancheros Mexican Grill. 

Just a little piece of cheese

We had been playing a lot of Standard but it felt like we were stuck in reverse. I was sitting at Mark’s desk, playing a Magic Online league (I guess it was three rounds eight-player tournaments back then), trying to convince myself that my white-green brew was any good when it was clear as day that it was stone mediocre at best, while he was preparing dinner, his trademark pasta dish. Heezy was chopping away at tomatoes and fresh herbs but it was the mozzarella that caught my eye. I casually rolled my chair over by the kitchen counter and grabbed a piece of cheese. Mark gave me a “Don’t do that again” look as I moved back to the laptop. A few seconds later, I rolled over again and swooped another bit.  

“Please stop, there isn’t that much, and I need all of it”. 

I nodded but after another moment, I couldn’t resist and grabbed a third piece. We looked at each other, I grinned, and he smiled back but something felt off. He slowly walked over to the desk, got a handle of the mouse, right-clicked and dropped me from my league, as casual as could be. I just sat there, wondering where it all went wrong. Tilt ensued, Mark started laughing and told me the deck was garbage anyway. I tried to argue but I knew deep down he was right. Still a little upset, I eventually shrugged it off, still pretending to be mad at Mark though and decided to fire another league with a list I had built a bit earlier but hadn’t had a chance to try out yet. 

The deck was based around the card Dragonstorm and the idea had come from Chapin who himself had seen someone play with the card in a side event during the previous Grand Prix. Heezy and I came up with our own list based on the little bit Patrick had told us and I started jamming games.  

Dragonstorm

First league: easy 3-0. Second league: 3-0. Third league: another 3-0. I’m not even sure we dropped a game. We knew we had something special and decided to “retire” the deck from the online queues, hoping it wasn’t too late and that none of our opponents were qualified for Worlds or would make much of it.  

Patrick drove from Detroit the next day and we spent the rest of our time in East Lansing tuning the deck, practicing for the draft portion as well as getting ready for Legacy. 

Him and I would go on to face each other in the semifinals of Worlds that year. 

A lot of you probably know how the story ends, now you know how it began. 

Author: Gabriel Nassif

Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame, Member of Team CFBUltimateGuard

While Gab has one of the most storied and prolific careers in Magic, he came from humble beginnings, learning Magic in middle school around when Ice Age came out. While Gab is known for being a Constructed specialist and considered one of the best deckbuilders of all time, he has a deep love for Limited in all forms. Learn more about Gab.