Ten Years Later, Nicole Is Still Missing

It has now been ten years since Nicole disappeared, and we still don't know what happened to her.  Something I never dreamed I would ever say.

The world has moved on.  No one reads Livejournal anymore and I'm not sure this blogging site will last another five years.  I had to re-learn how to write an update because everything has changed and I can no longer edit the original post like I used to.  Many of the websites I saved as reference no longer exist.

In my own life, I've got two children that Nicole will never meet and will know of her only through photos and stories.  I live in a house that Nicole saw from the outside, but that she will never visit.  I have and will experience joys and heartbreaks that I will never be able to share with her.

There is a gap in my life, but it is slowly closing.  This is good in that we all need to heal, but as Nicole fades from people's memory, there is sadness.

Syria remains a disaster.  As the "Lonely Planet", one of Nicole's favourite guide books, says: "Syria is one of the most dangerous places on the planet.  To put it simply, you can't go.  And if you can, you shouldn't".  Up to half a million people killed, nearly two million wounded, and at least four million in exile as refugees.  It is horrifying.

And it makes it impossible for us to ever find out what happened.  Our only hope is that someone with information decides to share it with us, but how many people who were there have survived?  When people are struggling to eat and find shelter, confessing to us will never be a priority.  We are learning to accept that we will never know.

But that doesn't make it any easier.

My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria

(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)



My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.


She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.

Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).


No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.  UPDATE:  On January 19th, 2019, Amine contacted me.  He does not remember anything unusual.

Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.


In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.

My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.

There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.

We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.


For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:

From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.

You can always email me directly and anonymously at

All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.


March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):

Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.

Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.

Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.

An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.

Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.

March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:

"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."

Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.

February 11th, 2012 (Morning):

Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!

January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.

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Stop Hurting Me!

Round 5:

Opponent times out for inactivity. I'm sure he had a Dragon in his deck though.

Round 6:

I get a turn 3 Call of the Herd and then miss three straight land drops. I still hold my own until turn 7 when Numot the Dragon comes into play. He's the one that destroys lands. I play my fourth land and think, "at least I don't mind using Rough to clear the board, because I'll never get to six mana to play Tumble!"

Final tally: 12 spells, 4 lands.

Game 2 sees me not Shocking a morphed Shaper Parasite on turn four becaues I have Rough and Grapeshot in my hand and figure I can do better with a 4/2 to trade with his Spider. I didn't know it was a Parasite, but there was certainly a good possibility that in his four-colour deck he wasn't playing Fathom Seer, Brine Elemental or Aquamorph. And Shapeshifter is still a good target.

I then face a series of complicated decisions involving the three aforementioned red spells. I almost always get into trouble when my kill spells aren't straightforward. I actually dislike having mass kill - it's just not my style and it only messes me up (except, of course, in those rare instances when it owns your opponent after a fast start). Despite massive card disadvantage, he seems to draw nothing but dudes and make some dubious choices to give me the win.

Of course, it doesn't matter because in game three I mulligan this hand:

Stonewood Invocation, Fury Sliver, 3 Mountains, 2 Forests

into this one:

Mire Boa, Sporesower Thallid, Stuffy Doll, Pyrohemia, Forest, Forest

What can I do? I have to hope for a Mountain.

Guess how many lands I had on turn 7 when I conceded? That's right, three Forests. The fourth land was 16 cards into the deck at which point I would have drawn 12 spells and 3 lands.

Of course, this game he opens with a 2/1 and a 4/1 that I would love to Rough up a bit. But no, his Grapeshot kills the Boa and Call of the Herd eventually just chump blocks the Halberdier as his Dryad and other creatures run me over.

My deck, which wiredaces thought was amazing, went 2-3-bye. Granted, Geordie probably figured it would be played properly, and wouldn't face four Dragons. Note that there's 5 Dragons in 55 rares, and each person only gets two, so if my rudimentary math skills are at all up to par, I should only see 1-2 dragons in six rounds. Of course, I probably should see a 4th mana source with 19 in the deck, but that didn't happen too frequently either. Aren't I lucky?

Thus it comes down to:

Inferior Deck Construction?


Inferior Play Skills?

If only I had a paid account and could do polls!

No Really, I Mean It - Ouch.

Once again I find myself with 30+ minutes until the next round, despite being the last to finish in the agonizing 2-hour first round.

Round 3

I drew cards. I played them properly. I won the game.
I drew cards. I played them properly. I won the game.

Any questions?

Round 4

I drew cards. I almost played them properly. He double-mulliganed. He played a turn 5 Stonebrow. I lost the game.
I drew cards. I played them properly. He played a turn 5 Dragon. I lost the game.

Any questions?

I know *I* have some questions...

Do you keep this opening hand:

Rough/Tumble, Deadwood Treefolk, Search for Tomorrow, 3 Forests, Mountain?

It has no action, and the Deadwood Treefolk is, uh, dead until you get guys into the graveyard. I thought he was a bomb, but he's really only "all that" in top-deck battles and the late game of a war of attrition that's stalled. That's what we call, "insights from Mr. Obvious" - it's like you're reading StarCity set reviews right here on LiveJournal!


So it's five land and a mediocre mass-kill spell. I kept it because he was going first with 5 cards, and I figure I can buy time and perhaps a 2 for 1 with the Rough.

Needless to say, Rough feels like Gentle against Stonebrow.

What I also failed to remember, of course, is that everyone has a Dragon in their deck, and if Tumble is the only way you have to deal with a 6/6 flyer, you need to save it. Rough/Tumble is a 6-mana Wing Snare for me. I've taken two or three of the cocky flying lizards down already today. So my opening hand was 5 mana and nothing.

Another question...

When you're tapped out and your opponent attacks with a 2/3 and 6/6 into your 3/6 Deadwood, do you:

1) block the 6/6 and throw away your 3/6 for no reason?
2) block the 2/3 despite having Stonewood Invocation in hand and no other creatures with the assumption that you're opponent in the 2-1 bracket is an idiot and thus is just throwing away his 2/3 for no reason?
3) take 8 and play a Totem with four mana free the next turn so you can destroy the Stonebrow?

I think we can all guess which idiotic play I might have chosen...and for those that are interested, "Ovinize" was the trick. Word of Seizing was his next trick and he likely would have used it the following turn on my 3/6 (to be countered by the Invocation), so it's not like an auto-win - my opponent's 5-card hand was pretty good (or my 7 cards were just bad?) My only other option was to immediately Rough the Shaper Parasite as a 1-for-1 so my River Boa lived (not really good against Stonebrow), but I got greedy with so many lands in hand AND he missed his third land drop AND he didn't have any Islands at that point and there aren't a lot of scary green or red morphs.

More questions...

Do you keep this hand:

Battering Sliver, Call of the Herd, Stuffy Doll, Yavimaya Dryad, Forest, Mountain, Mountain?

I think you do. You have turn 3 Call with a turn 4 follow-up on a single land. Thus the Dryad isn't that important on turn 3, but if it does come up then Stuffy Doll is next and you only need one more land to play your hand.

It turned out really well if he didn't have a 6/6 flier on turn 5. I actually raced and almost beat Intet because he drew so many lands, but he picked up enough blockers to take the match.

What can you do? (besides, of course, playing properly and not losing earlier rounds to lag and pressing the wrong key)


After all the fun I've been having with drafting, I thought I'd try the 4X Sealed this afternoon at 2pm. I've just finished the second round.

If you've played MTGO, then you know that I must be a masochist to play in a Premiere Event because there's no way the server can handle it. Sure enough, after game 1 of the first round the server crashes. What a surprise.

And it's laggy. Every click takes forever to process. It's incredibly frustrating because all of my clocked time is wasted waiting for clicks to process and obnoxious graphics to roll across the screen so I can click on them.

First Round

I win the first game. I throw away the second game because I choose not to trample over for two because it's really important that the other creature die, and if it does die, then I've got board control and don't need to worry about two damage.

It dies. It comes back to life with Evolution Charm. I die in a race with him at 1 life.

I destroy him third game as he's getting killed by lag. He missed his second land drop, keeping Mountain, Chromatic Star, Looter, which seems a bit risky. And as proof that Looter sucks - 4 hits with a the Looter and I couldn't care less. One power does not scare me.

Round 2

This is where I start swearing and cursing.

Turn three, I press F6 on his turn and it doesn't work, so I press it again, and all of a sudden, I've missed my third turn.


I think, "maybe it won't matter" because I kept a 5 land, Wall, Invocation hand and don't have any threats. But it ends up mattering. My curve gets thrown off by some expensive draws and Stuffy Doll doesn't hit play on turn 4, but instead joins us on turn 7. I lose with him at less than 4 life (I think it was just 1).

I swear that I'll never do that again. And then promptly miss my FIRST FUCKING TURN of game 2, forcing me to discard. I pressed F6 on his turn, then it didn't seem to work, so I pressed F4 and due to lag, skipped my turn. It's hard to express just how incredibly frustrating it is to do this. Imagine swear words. Lots of swear words.

It's not certain that I would have won game 2, but it was a lot more likely. Just to make sure I didn't mount a comeback, I threw away the game a second time by not pinging my own creature so his "about to die" Flametongue could kill his Hydra. It probably didn't matter because he had a Dragon to finish me. Everyone seems to have a Dragon. Hell, I have a dragon, but it's BRW and I'm GRx. I also have Desolation Giant, but the WW splash seems like too much.

I'm happy to send out my sealed .dec file if anyone else would like a go at it! (I'd include a text listing, but it's in alphabetical order and not really useful for a tricky build)

Those Who Can't...

I want to rant about education.

This has been building up in me for years (as many English teachers at parties I've attended have discovered), but juggernt's recent rhetorical comment brought it to the surface. I haven't done a non-Magic rant in a while, so why not give it a go and see if my muscles are soft?

His point was the oft-mentioned cliche that, "wouldn't it be nice if teachers were paid as much as celebrities and athletes".

As a person whose family and friends are filled with teachers, I have one thing to say to that, Puh-lease. Is 10-16 weeks of vacation not enough?

Have you seen what they teach in school these days? When we start finding teachers who know how to really teach, and realize what should be taught versus rote learning and archaic literature (Shakespeare, I'm looking at you), *then* maybe they'll start earning a bit more coin.

Our school systems are based on 19th century "what a gentleman should know" type of learning versus things that are useful for improving your life and improving society. Schools rush computers into the classrooms even though they've been repeatedly proven not to improve (and potentially hurt) learning or grades (duh!). Schools teach Latin and Shakespeare and 2-dimensional Geometry while ignoring basic economics and politics that might help students become productive and contribute to the society around them (or at least improve the quality of their voting). Where's the critical thought? Where's the ability to see biased writing, understand statistics and be skeptical of government and advertising? People and team skills? Anyone? Anyone?

You know what was, by far, the most valuable class for me in high school? Typing. It got me high paying jobs all through high school and university, and had me working with computers all the time learning word processing and spreadsheet skills. It is closely followed by Computer Science and Economics where I learned coding and decision-making skills as simple as opportunity cost. None of those courses are mandatory.

You know what was easily the most useless set of courses? English. That's a course you have to take throughout high school up here in Canada. I love reading and writing and in the appropriate situation, I'm not a bad speaker. But none of that is due to what I learned in English where my marks fluctuated wildly depending on my relationship with the teacher. What about French? Most of English Canada needs to take French and yet very few of us can actually understand a native speaker. Give us a red octagonal sign with "Arrêt" though, and we can both tell you what it means and conjugate it! Math? Why not un-inspire generations of children by making it boring and seemingly inapplicable?

That leads me to the worst crime - the methods of teaching. Teachers and textbooks make it look like everything is already known. I read Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" and afterwards I wanted to jump up and start taking a degree in both paleontology and biology because I never realized how much is still waiting to be discovered. But all through school there was a feeling of nothing new to be explored and all the big problems had been solved. There are millions of kids out there who have memorized hundreds, if not thousands, of Magic cards and song lyrics and television shows (or improved their language skills with roleplaying games) because they're fun, but they can't figure out how to get kids learning the basics of primary subjects or inspire them to go into the sciences. We can't even get them to read!

Where are the goals? Some kids will want to make lots of money, show them how! Others will want to help people or learn about the world around them, still others will want to teach or lead or build or drive subways (though I can't possibly imagine anyone who really wants to do that - they deserve the big money). What do we do about that? Nothing! We teach them all the same subjects, the same way they were taught to us and to our parents before us. The theory is that if you teach the basics, the rest can be figured out, but we seem to have forgotten how to teach application.

I realize that this is somewhat similar to blaming government workers for the sorry state of the government. It's not entirely the fault of the educator, but they're hardly guilt-free, especially as many of them go on to help design curriculums and policy. There are lots of bad teachers out there, and there are lots of mediocre teachers out there. But similarly, there are lots of not-so-good actors and athletes and they're not making a lot of money either.

Where are the great teachers? The ones that inspire students, that challenge them? That make students better people for having attended the class, not just a bigger bucket of facts? Get them together and I assure you that within a generation, they'll be living in big houses and attending the best parties.

Granted there are different levels of education. It's been a while since I've attended primary schooling, but seeing how it turns out later, I suspect the beginnings aren't so different. And university education is just as bad - everything I learned from university was by accident!

The education system is a massive failure, and the teachers are its guardians and propagators. They don't deserve to be paid more until they start producing a better product. Unfortunately, I don't see the people demanding such an improvement until they become better educated!

The Pain Returns

First pick Castle Raptor over Ixidron because there are other blue cards in the pack and I feel like playing solid cards that will always do me well. Other choices are Sol'Kanar and Spiketail. Second pick is Might Sliver over 2/2 white flanker. I never get Might Slivers, so I figure maybe now is my chance. But I hate drafting slivers over better cards. I take Watcher Sliver over Looter, then get a Spinneret Sliver, then take Gemhide Sliver over Fathom Seer (argh!) but can't resist taking Chromatic Star over Venser Sliver.

A second Gemhide says I can do as many colours as I want, but I don't get to long range the 5-colour 4/4 Ur-Dragon. I end up in GWr with two Bonesplitters, Lightning Axe and Rift Bolt maindeck (4/4 Trampling sliver and red Prodigal in the side). Every card is good - Penumbra Spider, Stonecloaker, Saltfield Recluse, Poultice Sliver, Cloudchaser, two Citanul Woodreaders, 2 Amrou Seekers, Mire Boa, Errant Doomsayers and Sunlance.

My first round opponent is Japanese with an 1846 ranking, "kajikaji". Perhaps a Japanese pro?

I miss my 4th land drop but know to play the Seeker before the regenerating sliver and start hitting for 2. But with no 4th land in side, I trade the Poultice for Flowstone Channeler so my Boa can hit play because I need to stay high in life for when the Halbedier un-suspends. Unfortunately, he has Prodigal so the trade isn't worth it, and I draw the 4th land so I could have hit with the Bonesplitter'd 4/2 regenerator. My inexperience with (and lack of faith in) slivers is showing.

Watcher followed by Might followed by Bonesplitter would seem to be good times, but Temporal Isolation and Fortify on the 4/1 takes down the Watcher and the Might sliver. Again, my error entirely - I knew I passed two Fortify and should have taken the hit and waited until I had mana open for Lightning Axe. Luckily Orcish Cannonade took out the Seeker so we're still close on life at 14 to 13 for me.

The Lightning Axe turns out handy on the Pardic Dragon next turn, and Saltfield Recluse says I'll win the race if he doesn't have anything. Unfortunately he does and Skirk Shaman makes the board more complicated. I top-deck a 4/4 Spinneret Sliver and I'm feeling a lot better at 4 life facing a pinger, 4/1 and 2/2 red fear guy. He does nothing and I draw a second seeker. This allows me to attack with the 4/4 green sliver, keep the 4/4 red sliver back, and still have extra creatures and tricks so he concedes.

Game two has me open weakly with two Forests, two Plains, Poultice and Bonesplitter Sliver and Saltfield Recluse. Not aggressive unless he has no blockers and I draw a Mountain. Again I make the grievous error of trading Poultice Sliver for Mogg War Marshall and a token. A ridiculously bad trade given that I drew the mountain and would have two 4/2 regenerating slivers the following turn. Skirk Shaman laughs at the Spider I play instead, and despite stalling at three lands, he continues to play spells with Flowstone Channeler. I again get foolishly aggressive and attack with the spider into Red-White leaving only a 4/2 to block. It's sometimes tough to watch these games afterwards when I can see just how stupid I'm playing. He takes the two to 18 and Sudden Shocks my guy (so losing the Poultice earlier wasn't so bad) to hit me for 5 down to 11.

I'm up to 6 mana now with two more in hand. I play out the Recluse and keep Stonecloaker back. My problem with Stonecloaker is that I want to be aggressive with it, I don't want to sit around. But finally I'm in a position to sit around as the board is at parity.

Pardic Dragon

Did I say parity? I meant...parity. A suspended Pardic Dragon (he's still at 3 mana) is very ineffective against gating creatures and I begin the Stonecloaker dance to put on those time counters.

He attacks with everything and I know I'm screwed - he's holding Fortify. Why am I screwed? Because I foolishly attacked with the Spider again thinking the Stonecloaker provided defence! The Stonecloaker trades with a 4/2 Channeler and I take 5 down to 4 because I'm stupid.

Might Sliver comes into play only to face Aether Membrane (not a combo with a suspended Pardic Dragon) so I lay an 8th land and follow up with Watcher Sliver and the Spider that came to hide for the Stonecloaker. This is where my earlier Chromatic Star pick comes to haunt me as he plays a 5/7 Venser sliver that I can only glare at with frustration. I hated 9 other slivers (some in my colours), but not the one that was most important.

He plays Eron the Relentless while I draw my 10th and 11th lands. Suddenly his 5/7, 5/2 and 2/2 attack into my two 4/6s and a 2/4. What's up with this? Apparently nothing - he loses the Venser and I turn a Spider into a token and take no damage. I draw Rift Bolt for Eron and now I can attack back with everything to apply pressure!

Except, of course, that I'm a frickin' idiot. Those of you who are shaking your head at how stupid I must be to attack into a Membrane with a token creature deserve to be winning more 8-4 drafts. Or perhaps FNM and pre-releases. I lose the 2/4 spider, kill a goblin token, and hit him to 12. He slaps down a Basalt Gargoyle that I can no longer block while I draw land #12. I continue to attack into the Membrane and deal 4 a turn while making sure the Dragon will never see play, but as I draw the 13th land in 21 cards, I am forced to concede because of my own idiocy. The top two cards are Chromatic Star and land, but this game was mine for the taking if I had played it properly at all.

Game 3 has the usual "mulligan or not?" question:

Castle Raptors, Lightning Axe, Bonesplitter Sliver, Citanul Woodreader, Mountain, Plains, Plains.

I think this is a keeper even though I can't play any spells. I have 9 green sources that get the Woodreaders out, and any land gets a Bonesplitter while two lands gets me the Raptor, all the while having Lightning Axe back-up.

By turn four I haven't draw another land but I have drawn a Cloudchaser for turn three and Chromatic Star for turn 4. I decide to hold the Star and pop it for green and the Woodreader on turn 5 as I still haven't draw a 4th land and I'm now facing two 1/1 goblins and a Basalt Gargoyle.

I did, however, draw Stonecloaker, but I still don't know how to use it properly. I finally draw the Forest so with a 2/2 flier and 1/4 guy in play, I can Axe, play any of two Bonesplitters and a Watcher, or hold back on Stonecloaker.

I decide to hit with the Cloudchaser to make it a bit of a race, and play the Watcher to hold the ground hoping that my sliver combos will overwhelm the losing race in the air. He hits six mana and the Dragon comes to play once again. This necessitates a Lava Axe (discarding a just-drawn Woodreader) and I attack with the 2/2 and 2/4, this time intelligently leaving the 1/4 back in case of shenanigans. Perhaps I should have attacked with the 1/4 and attempted to lure a goblin in for Stonecloaker beatings?

A moot point as he plays Venser Sliver and Sudden Shocks my Stonecloaker when I exchange it for the Woodreaders. It's turn 8, I'm at 9 life, and I'm agonizing for a land so I can play the Raptor and solidify the board. Can "agonizing" even be used that way?

I attack for 2 knocking him to 12 and play a Bonesplitter so I have two 4/4s in play. Only when he attacks with everything do I realize what a stupid thing I've done - the man has two Fortify! Had I kept the Cloudchaser back, then I get another turn and maybe the Castle Raptor, or the other Bonesplitter, or anything that isn't being dead!


But as usual, I can't really complain - it was my own fault. Exactly how many times do you hear that from someone whining about their Magic loss?

[EDIT: I forgot to mention that for game 3 I put in an 18th land to go with the Star and the two Gemhide Slivers because I was worried his multiple pingers would batter my mana base. 20 sources and still no 5th land!]

Best In The World?

I'm back at the draft table. An 8-4 draft again, looking forward to a weekend of online Magic fun and no bathing.

In my draft is Gainsay, who I believe is former pro Andrew Cuneo and won the invite to the World Champs a few years ago. Also in the draft is Finkel. The Finkel. I get all giggly inside - as Krakower says, I have a non-sexual crush on Finkel. I admire success and good looks, and he's got both! I suspect he doesn't feel the same about me, especially after a certain sea-sickness incident on a South African shark-viewing boat with an open bar that I took full advantage of, but that's a story for another day.

The draft opens with Soot and Stuffy Doll. I go with the removal and follow it up with Careful Consideration over Fathom Seer. No blue or black (or anything else for that matter) seems to be coming through (third-pick Lens) and I'm passing up Mindstabs because there's nothing else to see. After pack one I have a Trespasser to go with the Soot, and a bunch of mediocre blue cards (blue is always hotly contested at the 8-4 table).

Pack two doesn't help me out - the Seer put someone close to me in blue downstream, and I think they're taking the black as well. I first-pick Dark Withering to go with all my madness outlets and see no other madness cards though I do snag a second-pick Expanse...sigh. My top unmentioned picks after two packs are a two Stormcloud Djinns, Spiketail Hatchling, Snapback and a late Phthisis. Then it's down to gray ogres and Mystical Teaching type picks.

I'm set for a third colour (probably red to go with the Soot) in pack three and I'm gifted with the UWR Dragon! Which I can't play. Despite a U/W storage land, the double splash is a mistake. I get tormented a bit more 5-6 packs later with the BGW Dragon. Bastard dragons and their haughty reptilian smirks.

I do pick up Jodah's Avenger which I've played against but never with, as well as 3 Erratic Mutation. I'm not sure if I'm over-estimating it or not, but I didn't think I'd get that many. Aeon Chronicler is another rare I've had disputes over so I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.

By the end I've got 10-12 creatures and 12-14 spells. My creatures are all pretty mediocre, but with all my card-drawing and removal I'm hopeful I can get to the second round and then, who knows?

Round 1:

My opponent has never played MTGO before. He mulligans to 6, misses his second, third and 4th turn land drop, and then discards Halberdier. I win this one, despite having a bit of land trouble in game 2.

Round 2:

The Legendary Jon Finkel. One of the most feared players of the game. Someone you never want to sit across when facing elimination from prizes. I believe I've only played Jon once in Sanctioned Magic, and he beat me around at PT Chicago in the final rounds. He's also pretty good lifetime against me in money drafting. He might just be better than me.

I whip him in under 30 seconds.

Don't ask me - for some reason he dropped from the draft after winning the first round. Probably had millions to win in a sports betting emergency - perhaps the last minute odds on the NHL playoffs?

Round 3:

Not sure yet, I'm still waiting out my bye. But I thought I'd get this written before the draft ends so I can spend more time with the Armoire afterwards. While she enjoyed watching "300" last night, she's starting to give the computer quite the evil glare for all the time it takes from her. I've begun to worry that my power bar may go missing...

So should I play it out? Mediocre deck (as always), finals of an 8-4? Or take the 6 packs and live to fight another day, perhaps the 4X Sealed on Sunday?

EDIT: Cuneo draws with me in the Finals. The Armoire has arrived and I must be off to greet her!
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And So Endeth The Pain...

8-4 draft on tilt.

Opening pack gives me Shapeshifter or Soot with Fathom Seer as the other card in either colour. My gut says Shapeshifter even though black is generally under-drafted. The Squish Test is no good here - sometimes Soot beats Shapeshifter, sometimes it doesn't, the first tie I can remember in 10 years of applying the test.

Second pick is Ixidron, Brine Elemental or Looter. I hate the Looter, and I under-value Brine Elemental because I never seem to be in the right position to use it. I've never played with Ixidron, but it has never impressed me on the other side of the table, likely because my creatures are always so bad that it's a step up!

I go with Ixidron. I get a Riftwing at some point and a late Pentarch Paladin that I'm probably over-valuing. I grab a Gorgon and then hate a Mindstab only to decide in pack two that I'm going to be black-blue because there are no other white cards. I grab a blink as a possible splash and then get passed a BUG Dragon but both end up in my sideboard. As those of you who have read the GP Dallas top 8 coverage (see the Quarterfinals vs. Blackwell), I don't like splashing two forests for a Dragon. I'm still playing plenty of rares with Ixidron, Magus of the Cabal, Nether Traitor, Shapeshifter and Null Profusion (one of my favourite cards). My only removal are two Cradle to Grave, Midnight Charm and Dark Withering.

I'm convinced my deck is not good. I'm playing Deadly Grub, Merfolk Thaumaturgist and Skulking Knight over Timebender and another Grub. Extra points to those of you who notice the combo between Deadly Grub and Ixidron - I know I didn't. The plan was to survive long enough to play one of my many 5-drops (including Stormcloud Djinn and Gorgon but not Evil Eye or Dementia Sliver) and hope to win on, uh, card quality?

Game 1 see early beatdown with a 2/1 and 1/2 backed by Cradle to Grave for both the Sporesower Thallid and Ghost Ship - they are better than I expected. Nether Traitor pinged for a couple before I finally drew a 5th land and used Ixidron to upgrade my guys and downgrade his two Deepwalkers. Now that I have mana, a Magus of the Coffers and Dark Withering allow me to fight through Pongify, Snapback, Utopia Vow and Brine Elemental with a bunch of good spells as backup.

Game 2 has me screaming at the screen again. Do you keep this hand:

Stormcloud Djinn, Cradle to Grave, Skulking Knight, Rightwing Cloudskate, Mindstab, Island, Island?

Of course you don't! Only 9 swamps means you have one action card. You need to draw three lands for the flier and by the time you draw the Swamp you'll likely have other things to do than hold it open for Cradle. And without a Swamp on turn 1, Mindstab gets a lot weaker.

So of course I keep. I'm not bright that way.

Island, Suspend Cloudskate
No play
Discard Mindstab.
He taps his five Forests and hits me for five with Weatherseed Totem.
Island, Morphed Aquamorph Entity, Cloudskate the Totem.
He replays the Totem and adds a 4/4 Sporesower.
Island, unmorph the 1/5 and take 5 down to 10.

At this point, there's lots of yelling at the Armoire about how unjust the world is, though admist my rage I do note that he's stuck at 6 Forests and is likely raging at his partner as well.

Island #5 arrives. Unlike before, I'm not sitting on a hand of off-colour spells so I can slap down a relatively unimportant Stormcloud. He then hammers the table with Jedit. If there's any time you want to draw 6 Forests it's when you have Weatherseed Totem and Jedit.

Luckily, I have Ixidron. His 4/4 and 5/5 become measely 2/2s that can only look on in wistful envy at my 5/5 blue illusion.

I'm at 10. He attacks with his two morphs and 5/3 trampler into my one un-tapped morph and a 5/5 blocker hoping to trade his two morphs for my morph and Ixidron. I craftily see through it and only block one of the morphs with Ixidron. Oh wait, didn't he have Strenght in Numbers last game?

He did. And he does. Except, inexplicably, he concedes instead. I chase after him in the chat room and apparently he got so locked into trading a morph and Strength for my 5/5 Ixidron and knocking me to 3 that he missed just playing it on the unblocked creatures for the win. He then suddenly realized I had 9 power hitting back with the Aquamorph and was so frustrated about having a hand of off-colour cards that he quit in frustration.

Important lesson to the kids - never go on tilt. Especially against me - I may not have even seen the play!

So I get a gift win and I'm in to the second round. But this is 8-4, I know how this ends - with a loss in game 3 and crying into my drink.

Round 2, Game 1:

Do you keep this hand:

Gorgon Recluse, Ixidron, Mana Skimmer, Cradle to Grave, Island, Swamp, Swamp?

Of course you don't! The only spell you can play is reactive and may be useless. Two of your spells require two additional lands, and neither turns the game around. What are you thinking?

No idea. I know I kept, but I'm a sucker that way.

Three turns later I haven't drawn a fourth land and he Psychotic Episodes me. He has a choice of the Island on top of my deck, or the cards in my opening hand plus Mystical Teachings and Midnight Charm. He agonizes over this one for a while and I can't help but empathize. Of course, I'm also ranting at the monitor (the Armoire has wisely vacated at this point) about how if it's not LD, it's pseudo-LD via weird discard spells. I figure if he takes the Island, I'm screwed, but try to console myself that I always seem to draw lands in clumps, so maybe this is a good thing...

He takes the skimmer. I draw the Island and Teachings for Think Twice when he doesn't play anything. Teachings for Think Twice is not what you want to be doing, but my deck just didn't have good targets and a 3/1 flyer against Black-Red didn't seem optimal.

Another land puts the Gorgon in play against his Basal Sliver and suddenly this game is looking like a really interesting control match where I'm playing blue (so I win). He takes 2-3 minutes to plan out his next few turns and I eventually Teachings again for the Crookclaw and play it.

He slaps down Endrek Sahr. That's not good, especially if he was thinking a lot - it means he's optimizing the math. Ironically, I would have taken Endrek but I wasn't definitely in black at that point. I may have even taken the Crookclaw over it. He then uses Basal Slivers very aggressively to quickly bring out 11 thrulls.

The problem is that Ixidron is now useless as I don't want to turn the 1/1s into 2/2 morphs. Except, of course, that I'm an idiot and Ixidron doesn't affect tokens. Sigh...

Rule #2 - Read the cards in your hand. Moron.

I'm desperate to get Null Profusion in play and hopefully draw lots of blockers, but he Charms the 3/1 and it only takes two turns to beat me down.

So much for my control match advantage.

Game 2 and the usual question, would you keep this hand?

Nether Traitor, Mystical Teachings, Dark Withering, Island, Swamp, Swamp.

Of course you don't! You have a measly 1/1 threat and then no active plays until turn 5 at best. The Withering may even be a dead card (I already sideboarded out one of the Cradles for lack of targets).

So of course I keep. It had three lands, at this point I'm willing to sacrifice small children for any hand that has more than two but less than five lands.

Turn two Traitor, turn three suspend Mindstab and play Trickster face-up. How very convenient! I Teachings for Think Twice and then he makes his first error - he Orcish Cannonades the Traitor and then Charms the Trickster, allowing me to get the Traitor back. Not so good.

I'm struggling for a 5th land against Syphon-Mage and Spitting Sliver but luckily he's willing to trade the Mage for my off-the-top Mana Skimmer. He slaps down two more gray ogres (Channeler and another Mage) before Mindstab strips him of Soot and Tendrils. Ouch.

I then draw my fifth land and turn everybody into a morph. One of the best things about 1/1 shadow guys is when they turn into 2/2 blockers. He Soots my morph and trades a 2/2 and Riftbolt for my Gorgon, following it up with Basal sliver. But I slap down the almightly Grub and Think a second time into Cloudskate. The Traitor comes back when the Grub dies and the Cloudskate buys me the tempo I need to easily win it with three cards back to his none.

Game 3, where I traditionally lose it in gruesome fashion.

I of course keep my opening hand. But this time it's the right decision - Pit Keeper, Aphamorph, Null Profusion, Midnight Charm, two Swamps and an Island. Keeper, Grub, Morph and Charm on a Two-Headed Sliver means my first four turns are juicy. Turn five Riftwing puts him at 8 with only four lands in play while turn six sees my grub grow up into a Deadly Insect, which was actually annoying because it meant I missed out on 3 points of damage. Fury Sliver on the other side stops the Insect but I had waited a turn to play Null Profusion so I had two cards in hand.

He attacks me down to 13 with the Fury Sliver despite being at 4 life and facing a 2/2 flier and a 6/1 un-targetable. This is not good news - it means he's got something really good. Sure enough, Battering Sliver now gives him 14 points of trampling damage on-board versus my not-so-Deadly Insect. Luckily my draft MVP Ixidron had been drawn last turn so all is well as he and the Insect hold off the morphs while the Riftwing flies to victory!

That's right, VICTORY!

The guy in the finals split and my last three packs turned into six so I can draft once again.

What did I learn?

1) I should get paid to write these. "Drafting with Rich" my ass!
2) Nether Traitor isn't horrible. And it feels like sticking it to your opponent every time you bring it back.
3) Ixidron is very good in a deck with lots of weak creatures. It's also particularly good against Slivers. AND it doesn't affect tokens - don't forget that.
4) Magus of the Coffers is excellent for being a 4/4 for five mana in black.
5) The Gorgon is better than I've been thinking. I always used to play Basilisk, why do I keep thinking the Gorgon is only good for Madness?
6) Cradle to Grave is a hit. I'm playing them from now on.
7) Deadly Grub isn't that bad. It's got an efficient power/toughness ratio. It's not amazing, but I wouldn't be too ashamed to play it. I only wish I'd had a chance to get the Skulking Knight out and see what would have happened.
8) I spend more time writing these up than actually playing them. My admiration to any that actually made it through all of these!
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Will The Pain Ever End?

Oh my god, I don't believe it happened again. One is going to start thinking I'm just horrible at this game.

On the plus side, Magic Online v3.0 won't work on my current computer, so perhaps my agony will be ended for me.

Opening pack I'm facing Sulfurous Blast, Castle Raptors and Stuffy Doll. Blast is the correct choice (I think), but I have come to HATE the Blast. It kills all your creatures, but doesn't always kill his. Once in a while it's amazing when you fall behind, often it's an even trade, and maybe it's three to the head. The Raptors are very, very solid.

I take the Blast anyway. Get passed foil Lightning Axe and a bunch more red cards. Don't really have a second colour so I go with blue and have a Kraken and some weak blue. Final build - mostly red with 10 Mountains and 7 Islands. I have Warrens and two Grapeshot to go with Whispers, Dead, Lightning Axe and Brute Force as just the 1cc spells, not to mention two Coal Stokers. My hope is to get storm synergy (two suspend guys) or fast attackers with some removal, or at worst, Sulfurous Blast once I've put out the Wildfire Emissary, Slipstream Serpent or Deep-Sea Kraken.

Game 1 I roll him. He's a 1601 ranking and I remove all his creatures and don't even need to pop the Kraken for the win. I miss my fourth land drop, but that's okay - my decks can handle that for a turn. Game end has me at 6 lands and 10 spells. I note that he's playing Havenwood Wurm.

Game 2 I should have mulliganed. I keep 3 mountains, 2 islands, Skycutter and Primal Plasma. I then throw away the Plasma when he has 7 mana untapped and I foolishly attack into Havenwood Wurm. I'm an idiot. He draws four slivers to my Mogg War Marshal and Ironclaw Buzzardiers and I get my but kicked with 10 lands and 6 spells, including an un-popped Kraken. I note that he actually has TWO Havenwood Wurms.

Game 3. Opening hand:

Coal Stoaker, Conflagrate, Synchronous Sliver, Ironclaw Buzzardiers, Snapback, Island, Island.

Do you keep?

Obviously not - even if you draw one of your ten mountains, you also need to draw lands 3, 4 and 5 to get your curve out. And the Stoker doesn't curve into anything if you play the Buzzardiers on turn 3. The removal is pricey or temporary - there's little to like about this hand.

So why did I keep it?

See game 2 - I'm an idiot. I was playing first and didn't want to risk getting screwed, which is stupid, stupid, stupid. I should have drawn against him, because my deck has a half-dozen cheap removal spells and can handle the rush of inadequate creatures.

Turn 1: Island
Turn 2: Island
Turn 3: Curse the Gods
Turn 4: Opponent asks why I'm upset with my draw as I discard Conflagrate.
Turn 5: Island, Snapback Mana Skimmer (LD always shows up at times like these!)
Turn 6: Begin writing LJ post in my head.
Turn 7: Island.

His board is Mana Skimmer (tapping my Island) and Phantom Wurm. Amazingly, I'm not dead! I play Coal Stoker, Dead the Skimmer and Grapeshot the Wurm to 3/1. In response, he flashes in Havenwood Wurm. Oh well, so much for not being dead.

On his turn, Uktabi Drake joins the fun and Strength in Numbers finishes me off when I block! And of course from my opponent...

"Good Game".

Fuck You.

(Of course, I didn't actually say that, and it's not his fault at all, but I had to let it out for all of you who have always wanted to say it)

Final Tally - 9 spells, 5 lands, which just goes to show that the order they arrive in can often matter a lot more than how many actually appear. I'm heading back into the trenches because I'm on tilt - expect another update in about 45 minutes.