(Metagame Archive) Risk Vs. Reward: The Mad World of Pro Circuit San Francisco

By Rian Fike

“You are to be admired. You wield none of the supernatural abilities that so many of your cohorts possess—but you have always managed to impede the actions of those you deem ‘villains.’ It makes you dangerous—a symbol that any man can fight the fight if he manages to find the will to do so.”

Merlyn, Deadly Archer in “Green Arrow #57”

It felt exactly like watching an old episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, except for one thing: it was showing a member of the family. Our most bizarre and beloved freaks, both the human and the cardboard, were in their finest form and on display for all to see in the Pro Circuit hall in San Francisco.

The Vs. System competitive community has fully matured, and this event was the conclusion of the second full season of top-level tournament play. Day 3 featured the most accomplished and skilled set of Top 8 finalists the game has ever seen. The Day 2 Draft battle to advance into the quarterfinals was filled almost completely by the top players, and it came down to the wire with intense finishes and classic matchups. When the dust had settled, there was a shock at the top. It was a shock heard ’round the world.

London-based Ian Vincent is our eighth Pro Circuit Champion. He won the $40,000 and the big chunk of glass due in large part to one of his friend’s unfortunate psychological conditions: fellow Englishman Tom Reeve is League-obsessed.

Linking up with Tim Willoughby in a serious endeavor is dangerous enough, but Ian Vincent flew to the Bay Area from the United Kingdom armed with an Archer and an itch. Known as “Draconis” on the forums, Tom Reeve had never been able to control his intense and insane desires for Talia and her friends. His mania was so overpowering that he played this cracked combination deck to a 22nd place finish at $10K London less than one year ago.


“League-obsessed Brother”

Tom Reeve


3 Magneto, Eric Lehnsherr

3 Magneto, Master of Magnetism

4 Merlyn, Deadly Archer

4 Mystique, Raven Darkholme

4 Mystique, Shape-Changing Assassin

4 Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff

3 Quicksilver, Speed Demon

1 Ra’s al Ghul, Immortal Villain

1 Ra’s al Ghul, The Demon’s Head

1 Scarlet Witch, Wanda Maximoff

4 Talia, Daughter of the Demon’s Head

Plot Twists

3 Insignificant Threat

4 The Demon’s Head

3 Tower of Babel


3 Avalon Space Station

1 Flying Fortress

1 Latverian Embassy

1 Lazarus Pit

4 Lost City

4 Metropolis

4 Mountain Stronghold

That was a Golden Age deck, and it would be improved greatly for all ages with later-developed location lovers like Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose and Ahmed Samsarra. In fact, our latest championship construction keys on Checkmate and its unparalleled abilities with the green cards that the League of Assassins likes so much.

Ahmed Samsarra was the final straw that sent Tom Reeve into temporary insanity. As soon as the card was in his hands, he dove headfirst into some sort of sick fantasy involving Merlyn, Deadly Archer and $40,000. There was no cure.      

Ian Vincent was the poor sap who had to carry out the twisted mission. Ahmed Samsarra and his Checkmate mates have some sick tricks to bring to the table, but they are nowhere close to being stable. Sasha Bordeaux once betrayed her team affiliation during a passionate affair with Batman. She leaked the secret information that allowed the Dark Knight to regain control of his Brother I Satellite personal worldwide espionage device. She ratted out her friends with a passionate kiss. Ahmed Samsarra’s cardboard incarnation within Vs. System is equally traitorous. He will kill the player who controls him in a heartbeat and without remorse.

As perhaps the most powerful resource management character in the metagame, Ahmed Samsarra needed to be designed with severe limitations. His alternate loss condition can cause serious loss of the mental facilities and of Pro Circuit prize monies. Ian Vincent found out the hardest way on Day 1. Here is the painful memory, taken directly from Ben Seck’s brilliant blog:


6:23 PM: The King is dead! Long live the . . . oops . . .
Ian Vincent from the United Kingdom was riding high with his Checkmate toolbox deck at 7-1 and was playing Scott Hunstad of Australia in the feature match area. Ian was beating Scott down hard with a combination involving a visible Ahmed Samsarra with a Knight Armor. But on the fourth turn, Scott recruited a Fatality, Flawless Victory. Ian, worried about his King getting KO’d by the Emerald Enemy, decided that the best way to avoid this was to move his King to the hidden area . . . by playing another Ahmed there. 

Scott looked enquiringly at Dave “Hump” Humpherys, wondering if he had missed something. They looked at each other, not sure if something had been missed. But Ian had just had a brain explosion that cost him the match. 

“I was going to lose anyway,” Ian lamented. “I had no real way to get my Ahmed out of the visible area. I was dumb for putting him visible against Villains United. Oh well.” It still probably counts as the worst play of the tournament . . . and we haven’t even finished Day 1!



If you didn’t follow the tournament at all, you may not believe what happened next. Ian Vincent showed the entire Vs. System community perhaps the largest set of British bollocks in recorded trading card game history. He regained his sanity. He refocused on the task at hand. He finished Day 1 in sixteenth place, dropping his last two matches and landing with a resounding thud at 7-3. This placed him just barely on the edge of the second Draft table for Day 2. He was visibly shaken but valiantly held his spirits and prepared to regroup.

The “Deep Green” deck that had been a head-sucking psychic wound in the mind of Tom Reeve for the entire six weeks between the Infinite Crisis Sneak Preview and the shiny new Silver Age had accounted for itself quite smartly. It had brilliant answers to each of the main archetypes in the environment. It was a complete surprise for its opponents. If Ian could somehow regain his wits and march his way through Day 2, his mate back in the U.K. was confident that Merlyn, Deadly Archer could easily arrow his way to the crown.

“Deep Green”

Ian Vincent

Pro Circuit San Francisco Champion

4 Ahmed Samsarra, White King
2 Annihilation Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army
1 Asmodeus, Duke of Hell
1 Deathstroke the Terminator, Lethal Weapon
1 Elimination Protocol ◊ OMAC Robot, Army
1 Fatality, Flawless Victory
1 Graziella Reza, Knight
2 Huntress, Reluctant Queen
1 Maxwell Lord, Black King
3 Merlyn, Deadly Archer
1 Metallo, John Corben
4 Mikado and Mosha, Angels of Destruction
1 Sage, Xavier’s Secret Weapon
1 Sarge Steel, Knight
1 Sasha Bordeaux, Autonomous Prototype
1 Sensei, Martial Arts Master
1 Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
4 Talia, Beloved Betrayer
1 Talia, Daughter of Madness

Plot Twists
3 Enemy of My Enemy
3 Knightmare Scenario

3 Brother Eye
4 Brother I Satellite
3 Checkmate Safe House
1 Coast City
1 Leslie Thompkins’s Clinic
1 Pit of Madness
1 Rook Control
1 Sewer System
1 Slaughter Swamp
1 The Science Spire
1 UN Building

4 Knight Armor

That deck looks like a neurotic smorgasbord of truly cool cats with quite a few hidden party spots. Green has never looked better. It has three major players as a base: the scintillating art of Talia, Beloved Betrayer as eye candy; the undeniable limey toolbox artistry of Ahmed Samsarra; and the simple human skills of Merlyn, Deadly Archer. It is now a proven masterpiece.


The proof was in the pudding, but it took some serious strength for Ian Vincent to dig his way through to Day 3. He started his Draft-day run through the valley of the big boys by facing off against Adam Prosak—a serious threat to anyone’s sanity. Ian moved to 8-3. He advanced to tackle the razor-sharp threat of Doug Tice. The Brit dropped to 8-4. Next up was a highly decorated winner named Michael Dalton. Score one for the U.K. that put Ian Vincent at 9-4 heading toward the next draft.  

If he could manage to finish 2-1 with each of his three draft decks, then maybe, just maybe this madness of Merlyn’s could have its go at the ring. Buoyed and bolstered by confidence, Ian Vincent trod on. Another Donkey Club member awaited—the third in four rounds. This time, the servant of the crown sat down across from a man who already owned a PC trophy. Adam Bernstein was not enough to slow Ian down, and Vincent moved to 10-4. Next up was the up-and-coming surprise of the tournament. Ian Vincent had previously been in the Top 20 at Pro Circuit Indianapolis 2004, but Gabriel Willmon had not. Ian climbed past the new name to reach 11-4, and he was fast securing his spot at the top table for the final draft. The last stepping-stone for his second draft deck appeared in the form of Michael Jacob. Ian Vincent moved up to 12-4 and sat down with a solid shot at Day 3.

After a 3-0 performance against that level of skill, any hint of wobble disappeared from Ian’s walk. He strode into a rematch against Doug Tice and came out with a checkmark on the British side of the slip. Our unexpected U.K. wonder was 13-4 and rolling, but not quite as fast as the reigning Pro Circuit Champion. Vidi dropped Ian to 13-5, leaving him with one more match with which to make Top 8 and aim those arrows at the big target. Eric Hunter was the last obstacle after a full day of dodging giants . . . and Ian Vincent emerged victorious. With his 14-5 record, he moved on to the Pro Circuit Top 8 and prepared the unlikely quiver of Merlyn, Deadly Archer for a truly unbelievable appearance on the biggest stage of all.

The forums were alive and in full bloom that night. Tom Reeve was pumped and predicting victory. Ian would need to take that Deadly Archer and shoot him through some very difficult territory, including the full complement of The Donkey Club with their Deadly Rose–based Ivy League deck. Tim Batow was the first opponent for Deep Green to aim at, and Team Alternate Win Condition’s Ahmed Samsarra deck was built very differently than the U.K. version.

I hope you are sitting down. What I am about to say could knock you off your feet, especially when you realize that you are not hallucinating. Tim Batow made the Top 8 of an actual Pro Circuit event while playing one copy of Kang, Kang Cobra alongside a lonely Bizarro World in a Checkmate location deck. I told you this stuff belonged on Ripley’s; now do you believe me? The mirror match reflected quite favorably on Ian Vincent and the Merlyn version of “how to build a row full of green.” The Englishman went further up the hill.

Ian Vincent had been a legitimate Donkey Killer on Day 2, but now he had to tangle with the vaunted Ivy League deck that abused Justice League of Arkham to deplete its opponent’s hand completely for the lock. Merlyn whiffed the first game, and Ian faced both elimination and a big confident burro ready to provide the knock-out kick. Then, the magic of a mania born halfway across the world, deep within the British Isles, kicked back for all it was worth. Gabe Walls went down, and Ian Vincent went into the finals in his wake.

In order to become the first Pro Circuit Champion from outside the States, Ian would need to hit the top-team trifecta. FTN’s master-kid and reigning Pro Circuit Champion Vidi Wijaya was in the finals and gunning for an unprecedented second consecutive title. Incredibly, without much doubt at all, the Deadly Archer put his Checkmate pieces into place with precision and polite fortune for a 3-0 triumph and a trip for Ian Vincent into the history books. The Pro Circuit was over, and a card from the Man of Steel set had been the key to victory.

Believe it or not.

I’d like to leave you now with a special tribute to Pro Circuit San Francisco. My wife, Nina, was inspired by Kim Caton’s fabulous run that ended in the first female Day 3 finish in the history of Vs. System. A painting happened in response. This is Nina’s interpretation of sixteen copies of Poison Ivy, Deadly Rose in the Top 8. Enjoy.


Rian Fike is also known as stubarnes and he wants to talk for a long time about the appearance of Psycho-Pirate in four of the Top 8 decks. He also can’t wait to expose the biggest money-winning AGL player from the event, but you are going to have to tune in next week for that. In the meantime, send a good word to rianfike@hattch.com.


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