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Catching Up With Kai Budde


Jarda Bilek
Jarda Bilek

This article originally appeared on cmus.cz and forms part of the Blackborder.com cmus.cz partnership.

As a sidenote, the interview was held in English, while Jarda was taking notes in Czech and the interview was first published in Czech and then translated back into English. Therefore, the sentences might not be precisely the same as Kai said them, but I really tried my best to keep the meaning of them. So Kai, if you‘re reading this, I hope that you don‘t mind if the text is slightly different from your original interview! :) - Adam Koska

About Jarda Bilek

Jarda Bilek is currently one of the most active writers at www.cmus.cz (Czech Magic Under Scope). Besides writing pro player profiles, he also devotes time to constructed and sometimes does event coverage. His main strength is that he remembers almost the complete Magic history, especially all the major international events.

The German Juggernaut

Times are changing. Kai Budde, the name that used to cause fear and tremor, doesn‘t even ring a bell with many young players today. But lets face the facts: During his five years of utter dominance, Kai managed to hoist the Pro Tour trophy seven times, win the PoY race four times and earn more than $350‘000 . When a player makes the top 8 of a Pro Tour two times in a single season, we consider it a major success today. If you want to really understand what success means, however, look at Kai‘s stats: He made Magic the Gathering almost look like tennis, where one player stays at the very top for multiple seasons and the others just can‘t beat him, no matter what they do. Kai doesn‘t play Magic on the professional level anymore, but since his induction to the Hall of Fame in 2006, he shows up at a Pro Tour every now and then, and those of you who went to the last World Championship in Rome could meet him in person. Our „field reporter“ Jarda Bílek, being the skilled journalist he is, seized this opportunity to ask Kai a couple of questions.

Kai Budde
Kai Budde

Catching Up With Kai Budde

Jarda: You played Worlds 2006 in Paris, where you also attended your inauguration ceremony for the HoF, as the first tournament after your break from the game, and now you came here to Rome. What do you expect from your performance today? Is it perhaps the beginning of your comeback?

Kai: Well, I‘ve played Worlds in New York as well, but I missed Memphis, that‘s true. I would like to play Worlds every year, since it‘s the biggest Pro Tour and I still have a lot of friends here. On the other hand, Memphis is not exactly a city I would need to see. I don‘t think about a „comeback“, as I usually work on the weekends, so it wouldn‘t be possible, even if I wanted to.

You won the Player of the Year title three years in a row, then you slowly disappeared from the scene after the season that ended with Worlds in San Francisco and you didn‘t even attend the next Worlds in Japan. What happened?

I don‘t see it as myself „quitting Magic“ all of a sudden, but a lot of my friends and testing partners stopped playing in the season that you mentioned, so suddenly my preparation wasn‘t as good as before and therefore I didn‘t have such good insight into the formats. I wouldn‘t have skipped PTs otherwise, since I‘m fully aware of how hard it is to get back once you stop, but I also didn‘t enjoy travelling to far-away PTs in Asia anymore... I would say there were multiple reasons.

During your University years, you spent most of your free time travelling the world and playing cards. What was the attitude of your family and non-Magic friends towards Magic? Were you a good student?

I don‘t think I was a good student, I‘d say I was quite the opposite. But my parents were really supportive. Yeah, I played cards, but while doing so, I‘ve earned $300‘000. If I hadn‘t played Magic, I would have  had to work to support my studies, so for me, playing Magic was some sort of work, although a really pleasant one. Also, I‘ve never spent my time travelling to Asian GPs, and I believe I haven‘t even been to a US GP more than twice – and both times it was connected with a Pro Tour in the US.

Phoenix Foundation
The legendary Phoenix Foundation

You were „one third“ of the Phoenix Foundation, the most successful team that ever took part in a MtG team competition. What was the secret behind the team‘s dominance? Was it a combination of skill, luck, preparation, or was it all about something else? Also, are you still friends with Dirk and Marco?

Yeah, I am, we work together and we‘re still friends. I don‘t think the primary reason of our success was luck. Team draft really was a unique format. You know, in those times, there was no Magic Online and so it was a lot harder to prepare for a Pro Tour. When somebody qualified, they usually only had the opportunity to playtest against people from their town, store, shop. So if the format was team-draft 3v3, a lot of teams had literally zero preparation. However, we always arrived to the US a week or two earlier, met Osyp and other top players and practiced a lot of drafts.

So you think the 3v3 draft was the format where pros had the biggest edge over the amateurs?

Definitely - as I already said, it was a unique format. And if you didn‘t have the chance to playtest against good opponents, the chances to succeed on the PT were very low.

In the 2000-2001 season, you managed to win both PT Chicago and PT Barcelona and then, a couple of months later, PT New Orleans. Three PT wins in one calendar year – and in three different formats to boot – that sounds totally unbelievable today. What was it like? There surely were many excellent players, but were you really that much better than anybody else back then?

Of course it felt great and it‘s still kind of hard to describe. I was very lucky as far as the matchups in the top8 were concerned – if I recall it correctly, I won 85% of my lifetime matches in the top8. And you obviously need a fair amount of luck to do that.

Speaking of success, what do you think are the conditions one has to meet in order to succeed, for example, in any given constructed tournament?

The best strategy is to know what the others are going to play and come with something that nobody else expects.

So something along the lines of PT Berlin, where the „Combo Elves“ players brought a deck that caught many people off  guard?

That‘s not exactly what I mean. In Berlin, more than one third of the field in day two consisted of Elves, and that‘s a lot. When I played Masters in New York, we came with a Necro Donate deck that caught most people off  guard, since most people played UG Survival. That was a good time. Later, Wizards banned the most important combo pieces (Dark Ritual, Necropotence) and I still managed to win PT New Orleans, again with Illusion-Donate. I believe we really caught the field off guard that time.

Donate Illusions by Kai Budde

Converted Mana Cost
Basic Land14

This deck forms part of my feature article:

Catching Up With Kai Budde

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Kai Budde
The German Juggernaut

But if I recall correctly, some Americans played Donate in New Orleans as well, didn‘t they?

Sure, Kibler and others posted some very good results with the deck as well, but it was still a relatively marginal number of players, compared to the whole field. Surely you agree that it was a different story than Elves in Berlin.

We‘re currently in Rome and when you say „Rome“ a lot of people will recall the PT that was „spoiled“ by the Academy deck. Do you have some interesting stories from that tournament?

That was an odd tournament. I played a BG Survival / Recurring Nightmare deck. We knew about the Academy deck, but we didn‘t expect them to be so fast, we thought most of the players would prefer consistency over speed. Also, we expected to see a lot of burn decks, since they had a good matchup against Academy – and our deck could beat Burn with ease. I must admit we were surprised by so many fast versions of Academy in the field.

Speaking of speed... I remember the Extended GP Vienna that you won with a High Tide combo deck. This deck was played in the top 8 by pros like Jon Finkel or Jakub Šlemr, however, your version was a lot different from theirs, since your deck was a couple of turns slower – was it for the sake of greater consistency?

Sure, the Sligh decks were almost nonexistent in that format and the only aggro deck in the format was the Countersliver deck that could kill ideally around turn six, so there was no reason to hurry with our High Tide deck. And the mirrors of High Tide looked something like both players playing Islands and waiting... there was no reason to push the deck to be as fast as possible, it simply wasn‘t necessary.

Do you think that „professional“ Magic has changed, compared to the past? What do you think about the evolution of Pro Magic in recent years?

The situation of the Pro Magic scene is completely different than it used to be. First, there‘s Magic online, which makes the game a lot more competitive, so of course it‘s a lot harder to post good results on the PT. It‘s good that the Pro Players Club gives people benefits according to their results, but the fact, that there‘s not 5 PTs + Worlds each year, but just 3 PTs + Worlds, makes it necessary for people, who take Pro Magic seriously, to fly all over the world to attend GPs. What I believe is missing the most in today‘s Pro Magic is something along the lines of Masters – that was a very good motivation for people to try to be „Pro“. Also, I think it was a lot more worth for the top players than some sort of Pro level – today, there are about 4-5 people with the highest level and the others don‘t really earn much money by playing Magic, but with Masters, which used to be before each PT, there were 32 people qualified and even those that lost their first round (Masters was a single elimination tournament) earned $2‘000 for their troubles.

Can you define what is it about Magic that still attracts you to the game, why do you still find Magic interesting?

The beautiful thing about Magic is that it keeps evolving. Even when you play the game for ten years, each season is different, there are still new cards, new possibilities... Also, the game is a lot more complex and diverse than it used to be – cards are more sophisticated, have more abilities etc. And that‘s really cool, in my opinion. When I look around, I still see a lot of old faces that keep returning to Magic even after years, because it is still an interesting and unique game. I used to play chess, but I soon lost my interest, because the game didn‘t evolve, there was nothing new for me.

Thank you very much for your time!

My pleasure.

Thanks for reading.

Jaroušek Bílek

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