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It is impossible to talk about the present or the future without referencing the past. So some of my favorite stories are the ones with flash backs to run parallel of the story so I’m going to do my best to tell this story that way.
The week leading up Pax Unplugged 2018 I was talking to my good friend Scott Landis. He was coming up to a big weekend for the Transformers game, as this tournament would the first “major” event for the game outside of local events.
I didn’t even know how to play the game yet, but Scott told me to find him and give it a try. Long story short (Editor’s Note: too late)I had an absolute blast playing all weekend, even ended up going 4-1 in one of the events with the Twin Primes list the Vince handed me. From that day on I was hooked. I had found a new game to explore, and made new friends along the way that weekend to help me with this journey.
Going into the Energon Invitational this past week I had spent a month testing, capitalizing on every chance I could. I played with or against every deck in the gauntlet, I narrowed down my choices for which deck I had thought was best to a select few, but my choice would ultimately be made for me by Andrew Dovale. He had been testing with my teammate Gabriel Alonso in Miami all month long with a Galaxy Prime deck. I sat there Friday night watching Andrew make each deck Scott threw at him look like Tyson fighting a baby. Scott looked at me and said those words “what should we do?” and the answer was simple, we called an audible.
The morning of the event I tweeted this out. I didn’t know what the day would bring, but when an event of this magnitude is in your home town, you always get a moment of “Hey this is my backyard, I want to play my best and defend that turf.” Going into the day I was up early with my bunk mate Cameron (aka Arbitrary Hero) and he was just as excited to get to the event early. We were ready to walk the mile to Reading Terminal for breakfast, but instead we met Scott by taking an Uber with the rest of the team. I ate a porkroll egg and cheese from Smuckers, a Reading Terminal staple for me. We were mere hours from the start of the event and I sat there calm, which was different form other events that had passed. I wasn’t sure why in the moment, but it was good feeling, considering we did not play games with the Galaxy Prime list, but good ole Optimus had been my friend in every major event this year. So in the end it truly felt fitting that we found a way to play him for the biggest event in the history of Transformers.
Origins 2019: three weeks before the event, sideboards were announced, and I knew for certain what needed to be done. “All Hail Optimus” was a deck Scott had created in the Wave 1 meta and it was absent all of RotC because it had glaring issues with Aeriebots in a one game setting. The combiner team was the better blue deck straight up, it just had so much Pierce and burn that Optimus: BL just never had a shot of living long enough to make an impact on the match. Sideboards changed everything. I approached good friend and teammate (at the time) Mark Kinney with the idea of boarding Nemesis Primein with Photon Bombs to take away the one matchup we knew we couldn’t win. We all got together that next weekend (Scott, Palmer, Mark, and I) and quickly discovered the strength of this option. We knew right there what we would play in the Top 32 of the event, but not reveal it in the qualifier rounds unless absolutely necessary.
Round 1 of the Energon Invitational I was paired against the deck I had been planning to play all week Jetfire. I helped Scott build our version of that deck for month, It's only fitting that this was the first test of the day. The check if I had made the right call to audible. I proceeded to 2- 0 my opponent with little trouble in the match (not quite our list obviously on the Jetfire side also) and it was the first sign that we had made the right choice. The next round I was paired against a Prime-Megatron Deck and once again it was a quick 2-0. I completed step one of the day, be undefeated at the start of the sealed portion of the event.
Now I heard complaints far and wide around sealed, and I know it is easy to sooth egos by thinking that most of the top 8 had seemingly opened the nuts in sealed, thereby all going 3-0 etc., but that is simply not true. I want everyone to take a few moments to think, really think, about your pool and be honest with yourself: Was it really the best deck you could make from those cards? I sat across from Peter, who flew all the way to Pax Unplugged from Australia to play Transformers with his son. He registered my pool and thought it was unplayable: I had 2 Composite Armors with no tanks, and for what’s it worth I didn’t register them in my 40-card starting deck because even I made the mistake of thinking they were bad at first. The more I actually played with the deck, the orange-black combat icons were enough to make them worth it, so I boarded in Composite Armors for every game two in sealed. That's without a single tank because orange- black is the best pip combo for the format.
Many of my opponents were playing cards with Tough on them, so here’s a quick tip, having Tough honestly does nothing but allow you to potentially see more Greens, especially Tough armor. Most decks run 33% black pips so when you flip two blue to defend four, you're likely still taking four. You wasted your upgrade for the turn and your character still took four damage. This is just one of many small mistakes that I saw my opponents make. No I didn’t see many games, and I don’t know what is in every player’s packs, but what I know for sure is people could have easily misjudged a card like Composite Armor as unplayable without any Tanks, when that couldn’t be further form the truth. Since the card is absolutely insane when flipped for attacks. Point being with just that small example, that before we complain about a set, especially one that was designed for limited in mind, seriously take a step back and do some research. Maybe you made some deck errors building, or chose a wrong character, or simply over valued things that were not good in the format at all like Tough. I went 3-0 playing Major Prowl, Raider Caliburst, Raider Tailwind, Raider Detour no rare, no “bomb” just a group of solid character that when paired with the correct upgrades were able to hit hard and fast. Consitency over power, no character over 10 stars. Stealth was a key factor in so many games, putting a Smokethrower on Tailwind would make him the biggest threat on the table and my opponent was never able to interact with him. I played well for three rounds and was able to go undefeated in limited and start the event 5-0.
Philadelphia 2011, Convention Center. I am playing World of Warcraft TCG with teammates (and friends) Scott Landis, Bryan Klien, and Anthony Cruz. Scott and I had built the best deck in the room, Horde Paladin with a ton of unblockable direct damage. I started the event 5-0 and ended 6-3 and finished 9th…. It was an awful feeling. Scott and Anthony finished in the Top Eight with the same 60 cards I registered. We all should have made Top Eight that day but I was unable to finish the event well and it cost me, big time.
Here we are going into round 6 and I these old WoW demons were on my mind. I needed to get to my 6th and 7th wins to secure my spot amongst the Top Eight. However, it felt like fate wanted to toy with me and for the first time in the event as I would be paired against my friend Adam Bixler. We played three close games and Bixler played incredibly well, winning the match by make the right choices in the closing turns. He had one of the most unique decks in the room and was well on his way to Top Eight, but now I still had work to do.
Yet again having the flashback of my 5-0 start falling to pieces 8 years ago, Scott and I were paired in round seven, with both of us sitting at 5-1. Scott's loss came in sealed round 3, we were about to play a mirror (that we had zero practice of doing). I took game 1, Scott took game 2, and then I looked up and saw 2:56 on the clock and knew there would be no chance we would finish a game. We sat and talked and figured we would simply “flip for whites” rather then letting our opening hand decide a game. We flipped 18 cards before I won the battle of the whites and it felt like a crappy game of war. In the end, one of us was in better position to make top eight and the other still had a shot (Scott finished ninth on tiebreakers, so clearly there was a chance with some additional opponent wins in the later rounds).
So here I am, 6-1 coming off of beating my longtime friend and basically card mentor, still needing one more win to shore up my chances of making the elimination Sunday. Round eight was one to remember because what I didn’t know at the time was that it wouldn't be the last time I would face this opponent in the event! Ian Wall playing Gen OP, Prowl, Ironhide and side boarding OP: BL. We played two quick games and I was able to capture quick wins. I then locked myself up for top eight with a draw with Steffon in round nine. The day was long, the goal had been completed, and I was fortunate enough to earn a spot in the Top 8 of the first Energon Invitational.
Going into the Top Eight, I knew nothing about my opponent’s deck until I got back to the BNB and discovered Andrew had played against him during the Swiss rounds. He was able to give me some tips of how to approach the matchup. I took Andrew's advice, and after having a good heart to heart with my friend and teammate Gabe, went to bed knowing what the next day had instore for me.
Sunday I woke up, got ready, and left to meet Scott for breakfast (Reading Terminal again obv..) and discuss my top eight matchup. Neither of us knew much about William or the deck other than what Andrew was able to tell me. Another sweet thing about the day, was that Scott had the opportunity to commentate for the live stream, which is amazing for VS as a whole and fun venture for him personally to explore (something I'd love to do if given the chance). William and I played three tough games and I drew really well in game three, keeping him off his Overwhelming Advantage. Moving on to the Top Four, I would play against Jimmy Jian playing Insecticons. We played 4 games and I was able to take the win there as well. Now at this point I knew it would be some time before the finals and there I was standing by myself lost in thoughts.
Origins 2019 I had just come off of defeating my Top 4 opponent in a grueling game where my opponent made a mistake that cost him the game, I finished watching Steffon shore up his win against Mathew Brower. I set to play in the finals of the first major Transformers TCG event (the three names I had just mentioned all played and did well again in the EI). Steffon and I would play in a mirror match which he won the die roll and decided to go second which was a huge advantage in the match, beating me 2-0 and thus I was unable to be called the first Champion in history of the game, I watched as he was awarded a trophy from John Shork. I took the loss well and was happy for Steffon. We had been building that narrative all through the spring by splitting in finals and top four often at locals and never having to play one another directly. Playing in the first major event finals was just a fitting beginning to our story. Each of us wanted that win but he bested me and he said in the days to follow that he was sure I would get mine. Well I don't know if Steffon can tell the future or not, but he sure did guess right I suppose.
Ian had just defeated Steffon and my hope of rematch from Origins was gone, but my chance to redeem my second place finish there was still very much on the table. Now for anyone who hasn’t watched the games I suggest you take some time to do exactly that (currently still on the Pasttimes Twitch stream here: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/518797810 ) Ian and I had agreed that they had to look goofy for the viewers at home since the first three games all came down to one damage either way. However game four was much different. Ian attacked with Optimus Prime Battlefield Legend and played a Reckless Charge dealing 3 damage to him to overkill a Flamewar. I then looked at my hand and immediately realized the BFL would not untap due to that extra unnecessary damage it took, saving my team from another potentially big hit from the Autobt leader from Wave 1. The moment I KO’d it, I knew I had done it, I knew I had just won the First Energon Invitational. Two turns later I KO’d his General Optimus and had completed the mission: won the war and I couldn’t have been happier. My friends stood around the table clapping and cheering. Mark Kinney and Scott Landis hugged me while Drew Nolosco was trying to get me to do an interview with Matt Smith on stream. I didn’t know how to feel, the shock and genuine excitement was overwhelming. I sat and spoke with Matt nearly the entire time in my head saying, “Man I can’t believe any of this is real”.
A time for Thanks:
Andrew Dovale - I didn’t know your name before Friday night, I had barely spoken to you at all. You were generous enough to show us a deck that I simply had the privilege to pilot into a championship win. Thank you so much for entrusting us with the information you had found. I wish it could have been you to win it all, but I’m happy to have at least given your deck the time it deserved for everyone to see. Thank you sir.
Gabe Alonso - your chats all weekend long were motivational for me, they helped me see the big picture and kept me focused. Thank you sir. (ps. your Work Overtime is in the mail)
Steffon Pinckney - you told me six months ago that I'd get mine, and you told me ten minutes before the finals you knew I had it. You may have been more confidant that I was but for what it's worth it helped. Thank you, Sir
Vince - we spoke more leading up this event then we have before any other prior event. Your commitment to finding anything you possibly could kept me on my toes all month long and it kept me ready for all possibilities. You're eccentric but sometimes it’s just what we need. Thank you Sir.
Mark Kinney - Oh Mark what a year we had. Ups and downs and all arounds. But you have always told me the same thing since Origins: that I was the best player you knew. You have never doubted my skill in the game and you constantly reminded me of it. You along with the last name on this list, are a huge factor of why I became so good at this game. You gave me the ability to see the game on a different axis than most see it on, you became a friend in a very short time and I'm grateful for all of it. Thank you sir.
Which leads me to the one, the only, The Godfather: Scott Landis. We have been friends for my entire adult life. He’s not old enough to be my dad (well maybe haha (Editor’s Note: yeah im not THAT old)) but earning his respect has been important to me since we played the WoW TCG together. I’ve always looked up to him as a card player, and I’ve always wanted to make him proud to call me his teammate and friend. I’m sure I had been able to accomplish this before finish, but on this day, with this win, I knew he was proud of me and G-d damn did that feel so good. Thank you, Scott, for everything you have done for me. You are the most influential person in sculpting me into the card player that I am today, and I will forever be grateful for that. Thank you, my friend from the very bottom of my heart.
The weekend hasn’t full sunk in yet, but from the moment I won I had friends from far and wide congratulating me. Players I didn’t even know doing the same, and the feeling was amazing. I am so grateful for all of it, fortunate enough to call myself Energon Invitational Champion. It was an absolute amazing weekend, filled with laugh and love, I met all sorts of people from all over the world, players asking me for photos and signatures alike. I’m humbled by it all, and I hope that in the end I can just continue to do what I love to do and that’s meet new people and interviewing players from all over the world doing my “Traveling Transformers” podcasts for the VectorSigma.info Youtube channel. Most of all though I am looking forward to creating a card that everyone will love and play (no I still have no idea what that will be haha). Thank you once again to anyone that has reached out, thank you once again to my Team VectorSigma.info for helping me get through the weekend: this was our win. Thank you to Drew and Matt from Wizards for Signing my Galaxy Prime to remind me every time I play him of this weekend.
Until next time Auto-Bots Roll Out!
Daniel Arnold - Your 1st Energon Invitational Champion
And for my CM Punks fans out there
BEST IN THE WORLD!!!!!!
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“Till All Are One!”
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