-Gabe Carleton-Barnes


@unclegcb on Twitter


February 8, 1987. Seattle, Washington. The NBA All-Star game. Rolando Blackman steps to the free throw line, all alone. Time has expired, his West team is down 2, but Rolando was fouled in the final moments and he has 2 free throws to force overtime.

The first free throw rattles in. One left. Thousands of people watch in person, many more watch on live TV. They are on the edge of their seats.

But Rolando isn't. As he releases the ball, he shouts something.

Swish. The West goes on to win in overtime.

Confidence, baby. Confidence!


June 1, 2014. Jakarta, Indonesia. I check my email as I get off the airplane. My MTG email list, Draft-PDX, is filling my inbox with updates sweating our boy Jaron Heard in the top 8 of a PTQ for our hometown Pro Tour. He's taking it down.

I missed the PTQ to do some non-Magic related travel for a change, but you can only run so far from the game. I find my hostel in Jakarta and my good friend Conrad Kolos is there waiting for me. Conrad and I became friends on the NE PTQ circuit. We're not in SE Asia for Magic, but we start talking about Modern decks for the PTQ season in short order. We agree to grow travel mustaches.

The next PTQ I miss on the trip is for Honolulu, and Draft-PDX is lighting up again, as we put 3 members into the top 8 and one of them, Brian Weller-Gordon, takes it down. Seeing your friends succeed always stokes the fire. Conrad and I are wandering around palaces discussing new uses for Pyromancer's Ascension and the optimal removal suite for B/G midrange. We're brewing enchantress decks. We try to modo on the hostel's wifi in Bangkok with frustrating results.

Conrad's mustache is coming in nicely. Mine.. isn't.

On our flight to Cambodia we return to Conrad's pet deck: Scapeshift. It's a deck I've always respected but never actually played. Conrad has very clear ideas about how the deck should be built.

- 26 lands, no less.

- Play cantrips: the deck requires 8 pieces of cardboard to win, sometimes 9. (Scapeshift + lands) You don't want an attrition game.

- Play all the Cryptics and all the Remands.

June 14, 2014. Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The last night of my trip. We are watching World Cup Soccer. To make it interesting, we place a bet on the match results: loser keeps his travel mustache for a week. Colombia leads 2-0 when Greek striker Theofanis Gekas has a wide-open net on a beautiful cross, but heads it right into the top bar. It bounces out of the box. I'm losing this bet.


June 16, 2014. Portland, Oregon. Draft-PDX gets together on Mondays to draft. This week attendance is good: we have 2 full drafts going. That's because PTQ winners buy cake for the list, and today Brian is paying his cake debt, while the boys mock my 'stache. The coming weekend offers 2 PTQs in the Northwest, but both are long trips. Saturday is Victoria, BC. That's Canada. And it's an island. 3-4 hour drive to Seattle, then a 3 hour ferry ride. Sunday offers Spokane, Washington, a 6-7 hour drive.

These are not great options, but cake stokes fires, so Jon Metzger and I decide we'll figure out how to get to Victoria. Spokane is impossible with our Monday-morning day jobs. Besides, this is a villain’s mustache: stealing another country’s PTQ seems appropriate.

June 17. I'm digging through my cards, building Conrad's Scapeshift deck. Jon messages me: the ferry schedules to Victoria from Seattle are impossible. Seattle PTQ regular Zaiem Beg tells Jon that Victoria PTQ's might as well be on the moon. We aren't going.

June 18. Jaron is hosting some Modern-testing. David Stroud is shaking his head. He's tested 3 decks against me with Scapeshift and I'm winning 16-4. He calls it a night. Tom Huteson and I go for a drink. He thinks we should go to Victoria.

June 19. The plan is back on: if we leave Portland at 4 on Friday, we can drive up the Olympic Peninsula and catch the last ferry from Port Angeles, WA, on Friday night. We book a hostel in Victoria and borrow the cards we need. I spend the rest of the evening packing and modoing the Modern 1v1 queues.

June 20, 4 pm. Jon picks us up and fights his way through rush hour traffic out of Portland. 5.5 hours later we catch our ferry. We haven’t had time to stop for dinner.

June 21, 10 am. This PTQ is staring *on time*. Victoria's isolation has kept registration down to 108, and it's almost all Canadians. Jon, Tom, and I are the villains, here trying to steal a Q from Canada. For the first time, my sleezy mustache feels appropriate.

Here's what I registered:

4 Scapeshift

4 Cryptic Command

4 Remand

4 Peer Through Depths

4 Search for Tomorrow

3 Explore

3 Sakura Tribe-Elder

2 Repeal

2 Electrolyze

2 Lighting Bolt

1 Relic of Progenitus

1 Spell Snare

3 Forest

3 Island

2 Mountain

4 Stomping Ground

4 Steam Vents

1 Breeding Pool

1 Misty Rainforest

2 Yavimaya Coast

2 Cascade Bluffs

2 Flooded Grove

2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle


1 Batterskull

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

1 Inferno Titan

1 Shadow of Doubt

1 Vendilion Clique

1 Seal of Primordium

2 Anger of the Gods

2 Ancient Grudge

2 Dispel

3 Obstinate Baloth

Here are my sideboard notes, scribbled down on the most appropriate piece of paper I could find at the bakery where we had breakfast:

Cake menu. Confidence, baby.

Tom registered the same 75, Jon played U/R Twin.

Round 1. I'm paired against B/G midrange, a tough matchup. Game 1 goes well: I survive the early discard, prevent him from sticking Liliana or Confidant early, deploy plenty of lands, and start searching for Scapeshift. I probably look at 45 cards, but no Scapeshift appears. I run out of defensive spells and die to creatures. I win game 2, and when he activates Liliana on turn 3 of game 3, I put an Obstinate Baloth into play and use it to attack Liliana to death the next turn. Things look good, until I hit an incredible glut of land.

0-1. That's ok, we get 1 loss.

Round 2. I win the die roll. My opponent plays a Slippery Boggle on turn 1. Sigh. However, he is stuck on 1 land, so I set about Repealing and Remanding his Keen Sense each turn, and he misses the second land long enough for me to win the race. Game 2 he annihilates me. Game 3 looks good, but I get stuck on lands: I have the Scapeshift, I just need to hit land drops. I play the Cryptic cantrip-fog game for a couple turns, then the "Repeal and Seal 2 enchantments so I don't die" game for a turn, and I only need 1 more land. I draw for my turn: Electrolyze. I'm dead next turn. We have 1 play: Electrolyze the face and draw a land.

I stroke the mustache for luck.

Cast Electrolyze.

Draw Misty Rainforest.


Round 3. B/G again, but game 1 goes smoothly and I'm up. Game 2 he resolves Liliana and starts ticking it up, but he has no other pressure and I'm building up lands with plenty of cards to dig for a Scapeshift. I draw a Baloth and start applying pressure to Liliana. He discards a Life from the Loam, which is disorienting, but when he starts spending every turn dredging with no pressure on the board I realize he hasn't tested this matchup. He gives me plenty of time to find a Scapeshift and pitch my opponent into the fires of Mt Valakut.


Round 4. R/G Tron. Game 1 looks great. I'm a turn away from winning. But my opponent resolves a Sundering Titan and... that's a real setback. Later, he kills his own Sundering Titan and destroys 3 more lands. That’s a bit much to overcome.

Game 2 I draw 3 Cryptics and 3 Remands, and the outcome is still in question. After he searches up Eye of Ugin with Expedition Map, I bounce one of his Urza Lands so he can't play & activate the Eye, buying just enough time to bury him in lava.

Game 3 looks good: my opponent plays a bunch of non-urza lands and my hand is solid, including a Shadow of Doubt in case he finds an Expedition Map. I'm 2 land drops away from critical mass when he plays his 5th land (2nd Urza Land) and casts Slaughter Games. I respond with Shadow of Doubt. He names Scapeshift. I reveal my hand (no Scapeshifts) and show him my graveyard. He asks if he can search my library. I say "No. Shadow of Doubt says players can't search libraries". He makes a face that tells me 2 things: 1- he didn't realize Shadow of Doubt did that. 2- he is not at all worried that he just lost the game. I get the distinct impression that he has a good hand.

The next turn, I draw Scapeshift. I'm 1 land short of the kill, so I pass the turn with Cryptic Command at the ready. My opponent draws and starts to tap his lands, then stops, does some counting, says, "that does work!" and casts Expedition Map off one of his Urza lands. He then taps his other Urza land and his forest to sacrifice it, leaving a red source and a black source untapped.

I stop him. I consider. I tap out to cast Cryptic Command bouncing one of his tapped Urza lands. He searches for the 3rd Urza land, but he can't get the Tron together this turn, so he only has 3 mana available. He passes the turn, I kill him, and he shows me the Slaughter Games he could have cast the prior turn if he hadn't gotten clever, or if I hadn't bounced his land. Well, that was close.


Round 5. U/R Twin. Great opponent, but this matchup is a joke. I playtested 20+ games of this and won better than 80% of them. This is no different, though game 1 is comically drawn out as I can't find a Scapeshift and I end the game at 5 life off 4 lightning bolts, 1 shockland, and a hit from a Deceiver Exarch. Game 2 is quicker.


Round 6. Affinity. We split the first 2 games, and game 3 looks good but I get into a funny situation that happens with this deck a lot: I miss multiple land drops, and then a few turns later I have multiple lands in hand that I can't get into play fast enough. It's because of all the cantrips, of course, but it's a strange experience. I blunt my opponent's initial assault, but he comes out of it with a Blinkmoth Nexus carrying 3 +1/+1 counters. He follows with a second Blinkmoth and a Memnite. On my turn, I've got 4 lands in play, 2 in hand, a Repeal and a Peer Through Depths. My opponent is on 18 (Vault Skirge). I'm at 5.

I mainphase my Peer before playing a land. I see Cryptic and Scapeshift. I take the Scapeshift (can't cast Cryptic of 3 lands), knowing I must draw action off Repeal to buy another turn. I Repeal the Memnite now in case I draw Seal of Primordium, but I draw another land. I play a land and pass, knowing I'm dead.

My opponent only has 4 lands, though, and he decides to cast Spellskite, leaving him unable to kill me. I go to 1, but I don't know that this board offers me any outs.

I draw another Scapeshift. Mani Davoudi, standing behind me, laughs at my plight. I look at him and say, "obviously, right?" I flip through my hand. I look at my opponent and make the only play I can make. I sigh, play my 6th land, and cast Scapeshift. My opponent shrugs. I pick up my cards, turn to Mani, and say: "You can't take Cryptic there, can you?"

Mani says: "I think you SHOULD take Cryptic!"

I start to argue. A judge asks for the slip. I turn, grab the slip before my opponent can, sign it, hand it to him, and turn back to my conversation.

Mani and I argue for a while. My opponent stays, listening, asking the occasional polite question: he didn’t know, for example, that Spellskite could redirect all the Valakut triggers. We eventually decide that taking Scapeshift is correct, but that I should have played the Scapeshift bluff on the last turn more convincingly.

That's when my opponent tells me that it was plenty convincing: he filled out the slip 2-1 for me.

I'm flabbergasted. I was so sure the bluff wouldn't work that I just assumed it hadn't. To me, signing a slip without putting the results on it (like I did) is the same as filling out a defeat slip: but my opponent was in his first PTQ and didn't catch this. He did the honorable thing and filled out the result that reflected his intent, which was to concede.

We talk about how to avoid this in the future. My opponent is surprisingly calm about the situation, and keeps track of me for the rest of the tournament, cheering me on.

5-1, somehow.

Round 7. Can’t draw, but my opponent is U/R Twin. I believe we covered this earlier.

6-1, and the 4th seed.

Quarterfinals. Birthing Pod. This matchup is almost as good as Twin. He is mana-creature flooded game 1 and I have little trouble putting together the win. Game 2 he has a near-perfect draw, resolving turn-2 Pod, hitting me with discard creatures, and building a quick clock. But my draw is good too, and he waits one turn too long to search up an Aven Mindcensor: I supplement my land drop with a Tribe-Elder to get to land 7 and kill him while he is tapped out.

Semifinals. Affinity. I'm on the play, but when I take my second mulligan the thought crosses my mind that the ghost of round 6 might be back to haunt me.

Naw, I don't believe in ghosts. My opponent kept 7 but it's not an explosive 7, and my 5 card hand is solid. I bounce and remand my way through the first few turns preserving a life total of 18, but he has been activating an Overseer and has lots of power on the board as I find my third blue mana and start cantrip-fogging him with Cryptics. He gets in for 1 infect with an Italian Inkmoth, and the next turn he could sacrifice his board to Ravager and infect me out after a second Cryptic, but opts to play it safe against my untapped red mana. He deploys another Ravager and 2 other artifacts: next turn it won't be so risky.

I play a land but I need 1 more turn to kill him. I have one Cryptic left, and one way to win.

He plays another Inkmoth and declares attackers. I calmly tap for Cryptic: "Tap your guys and bounce the Italian Inkmoth" I instruct. He looks at his board. He activates his Steel Overseer. He puts counters on his creatures. He picks up his Italian Inkmoth Nexus and taps his guys. He passes the turn, and I kill him.

For any of our readers out there who are new to the Cryptic Command game, here's what should have happened:

"Tap your guys and bounce the Italian Inkmoth" I instruct. He activates his Inkmoth Nexus and sacrifices it to his Ravager. My Cryptic Command no longer has any legal targets, and he attacks me with all his creatures for lethal.

My only out was my opponent missing this play. Confidence, baby, confidence!

Game 2 I keep 6 with no green mana, but I have an Anger of the Gods. It gets Spell Pierced and I don't draw green.

Game 3. Sideboarded games, on the play, with 7 card hands against Affinity are much more winnable: I find a Grudge and am able to outrace him with my accelerators.

Finals. B/G midrange against Drew Christensen. Drew is a very good man who trounced me on day 1 of GP Vancouver earlier in the year, and we have been friendly since. He won the last PTQ in Victoria.

Drew had crushed my deck, in Tom’s hands, in the swiss. Drew is on the play, and we both mulligan. Then he mulligans again, and my hand is good. I am confident. My draws are smooth and balanced. I hit land drops, I have action... and I get completely taken apart. Drew runs discard into Liliana into Thrun and then starts dissecting my filter-land heavy mana base with a pair of Tectonic Edges. I never have a chance.

For a moment, I am disheartened. But I stick to my sideboard plan. I remind myself that in Magic anything can happen, and I shuffle up for game 2. Drew mulligans again. My hand is not spectacular, but it's good. On turn 2, he plays Confidant off Overgrown Tomb and Tectonic Edge, and I can't kill it. I play a Tribe-Elder the next turn, and he attacks into it. I read him for another Confidant and decide that accelerating is more important than killing his Bob if he can replace it. Instead he follows up with a green creature and misses his land drop.

I Repeal his Bob 2 turns later, and he still hasn't drawn a 3rd land. I win with relative ease and a Batterskull.

Any given sunday


He goes to his sideboard, looking for an answer to Batterskull.

Game 3. He muses over his 7-card hand for a bit, and I tease him that he can't possibly mulligan all 3 games of the finals. He assures me that he can, but decides to keep.

He plays a turn 2 Bob and I Bolt it on his end step, then play a Tribe-Elder. He plays a land and sticks a Goyf. I sac the Elder, play a 4th land, and cast a freshly-drawn Vendilion Clique on his draw. His hand is all land and a Maelstrom Pulse, but the lands include 2 Tectonic Edges and a Treetop Village. I let him keep his hand: I have Cryptic, Repeal, Obstinate Baloth to go with lands.

Over the next few turns we race Clique vs Goyf, which is only attacking for 3, and sometimes Treetop. I Cryptic a Thoughtseize, Repeal the Goyf to buy time, fog with a Tribe-Elder, and although I look behind in the race I am pretty sure I'm ahead with Baloth waiting in the wings. He hits me with Tectonic Edge to keep any Scapeshifts at bay, but I am drawing plenty of land. Eventually, he's at 9 or so with a 4/5 Goyf and a naked Scavenging Ooze, 3 cards in hand, 5 lands in play. I'm at 8 with 6 lands, my hand is Baloth and land. I draw Remand. I play land #7, attack him to 5, and play the Baloth going to 11. End step he grows his Ooze to 3/3 going to 7. He draws, considers, and targets Baloth with Maelstrom Pulse. I Remand, drawing Scapeshift. I wait tensely for him to play the land I know he has, tap out, and stick his Maelstrom Pulse.

The wait isn't long. After he attacks me to 4 I say, "I have this card" and reveal the Scapeshift. He counts my lands, sighs, extends the hand, and promises to see me in Hawaii.

June 22, Portland, Oregon. My dad’s house. My dad has had a full, bushy mustache for my entire life. I allow a photo of us with our mismatched facial hair before taking my shave machine out of my bag and returning my lip to its normal state. I look into the mirror but I don’t quite recognize myself again, yet.


Conrad Kolos: Never a dull moment traveling with Conrad Kolos: good times, great Magic mind, and one helluva Scapeshift list.

Jon Metzger: Feeds the fire, drives the car, lends the cards, laughs at the jokes, on point with the snacks. All-in-all, a premier PTQ accomplice.

Tom Huteson: For stoking the fire, reflecting confidence, same-75ing, and being great company.

Jaron Heard: For hosting gaming and supporting the Scapeshift enthusiasm.

David Stroud: For letting me beat up on all the bad matchups he had handy.

Drew Christensen: For being a great opponent and handling bad beats with class. See you in Honolulu.

Stephen Greig: For support, honesty, fine play, and learning from bad beats rather than harping on them.

Mani Davoudi: I appreciate a man who will discuss a play with me even when I’m being an asshole.

Tournament staff: I have never left the finals of a PTQ with the sun shining before this tournament.

Draft-PDX: Good run fellas, let’s keep it up.


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