The Kyoto Punt

When I wasn’t exporting the cringiest in Australian idioms to the wider world from the booth at PT Hour of Devastation, I was in the feature match area as a spotter. You end up with feet as sore as a Straya Day sunburn, but it’s the best seat in the house to watch the biggest names in Magic crack one another’s skulls. Besides, my super-secret tech to look after the old feet was to double-sock it. In Kyoto’s 35 degree, 95% humidity weather, I was double-socking it. Let no-one say I don’t suffer for my art.

There were some huge highlights for me throughout the weekend, starting with Mike Sigrist’s soul read on Bram Snepvangers with his Hour of Revelation, through to Jon Finkel’s absolute evisceration of Frank “the Flying Dutchman” Karsten. But something that stood out above so much else in the weekend’s coverage for many – myself included – was The Kyoto Punt.

For those who aren’t already across this, here’s the sitch: Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa is tied up 2-2 against Yam Wing Chun in the semifinals. PV is on 11, with no blockers against a Hazoret and five lands, and Yam has Collective Defiance in hand. PV is stone-cold dead to an Incendiary Flow off the top. Yam peels a fresh card from his library, and before we get to see what it is, several great empires rise and fall, glaciers grind through the mountains, continents shift across the face of the earth, and Luke Mulcahy decides what his next play will be (“land, go, no, wait, hang on, actually, yeah, go, ok, go ahead”).

I will say this: Yam had been on the squeeze from the very start. He wasn’t hamming it up for the cameras – this guy had been slow-rolling his draw steps at every point I’d seen him play. He would draw a card, put it at the back of his hand without looking at it, and would then squeeze it out like Matthew Lloyd sinking the pill from the 50. Every single time. Kept a tight seven, want to get the game going? I ain’t about that, says Yam, as he squeezes out his very first draw step. Yam lives and breathes for the slow-roll. While being interviewed by BDM, Yam said he even covers up a portion of his monitor while playing on MTGO so he can slowroll himself there. Yam is living the squeeze life.

When the card is revealed to be Incendiary Flow, the crowd in the viewing area go up like Bay 13 on Boxing Day. Yam’s got it, he’s done it, bloody ripper, what a legend. PV knows it, too – his arched eyebrow towards the frenzied crowd says as much. Not that he can do anything with this information – he’s hit the big F6, right clicked, and is hovering above “Concede game”. He’s on 11, and Yam has 5 from Hazoret, 3 from Defiance, and now 3 from the Flow – ggwp, no re.

You would think that Yam’s slowroll lifestyle would give him the time he needed to not take the only line that loses him the game in this spot. Rather perversely, however, it seemed to have had the opposite effect. He seizes his Hazoret, slams her sideways with the power and fury of all the Red Mages of the world, and it all comes a gutser when he realises he’s holding two sorceries and a 5/4 that can’t attack if you’re holding too much cardboard.

Skip to 1hr 37 seconds for the Majesty

It was the punt of a lifetime, a punt that will live in infamy. I was there to see, first hand, how Yam was rocked to his very core after realising his mistake, as he slammed his two cards onto the table and ripped his headset off. He stood up from his chair briefly, looking around wildly as though seeking a way out – and then, seconds later, resumed his seat, picked up his cards, straightened out his lands, took a deep breath, shook his head, and started to figure out how he was going to move forward.

Standing behind Yam as this played out stirred a wild cocktail of responses in my heart, as I imagine it did for the tens of thousands around the world who were watching. Heartbreak and anguish for someone who punted a big wobbly one down the field – but then, for me at least, a flood of stunned admiration with how he got on with the job. Within seconds, Yam was all business, eyes forward, focussed and careful.

So many of us – myself included – would tilt so much that all the pinball machines of the world would overload and shutdown. Instead, it was amazing to see the way in which he handled himself following his error. Of course, as we all know, PV played with characteristic precision over the next two turns to seal the win, and then went on to take down the whole tournament. PV, who is beyond all doubt an S. Tendulkar or a V. Richards even if he’s not a D. Bradman, demonstrated his mastery of the game throughout the tournament, and richly deserves the accolades that came with his victory.

But Yam Wing Chun – whose name will forever be connected to the Kyoto Punt – emerged from this whole affair impressing many people with his demeanour and attitude. After PV pushed through the final points of damage, Yam extended his hand, stood up, took a few moments to compose himself further, then returned to the table to shake hands a second time and wish PV the very best of luck in the finals.

In my view, Yam Wing Chun acquitted himself supremely well in this situation. He behaved with grace and integrity, demonstrated a sporting attitude of respect for his opponent, and most importantly, respect for the game.

Many of us connected with Yam at the point that he punted. Everyone has made a mistake such as the one Yam made, even if the stakes weren’t perhaps as high, and the collective heartbreak we all felt for this guy would have had cardiologists worldwide thinking about buying their next holiday houses. He was the everyman, going up against the best in the biz, and we bloody love a good underdog in Australia, don’t we fellas? It was agonising to watch him go down like this, but Yam can still take away a huge amount from his performance at PT Hour of Devastation.

Yam is a wizard who plays the game with an incredible amount of heart. Whether you love or hate the squeeze, Yam is clearly dedicated to getting the maximum level of enjoyment from every game of cards with monsters that he plays. After beating Sam Black to secure a Top 8 berth in round 16 (which, incidentally, involved a ferocious punt on the part of Black), he wept openly at the table and was cheered on raucously from his friends on the sidelines. Even after walking away from his defeat in the semifinals, he had a wry smile on his face and still appeared to be having a bloody great time, irrespective of what was going on inside his heart.

Old mate Yam has a rough couple of weeks ahead of him, as the VCR player in his head keeps hitting rewind on what happened during the semifinal. However, the positivity and support shown to him in the wake of the Kyoto Punt by the community at large was truly wonderful to see, and he fully deserves the praise he is receiving for how he handled himself. He’s earned my respect and admiration, whatever that’s worth, and has exemplified the very highest level of sporting conduct – bloody good on ya, mate.