Pro Tour Valencia

This weekend is Pro Tour Valencia, the last Pro Tour of 2007 and the penultimate major event, to be followed by Worlds later on this year. The qualifiers for Valencia were Time Spiral block constructed. I participated in one regular PTQ, as well as Grand Prix San Francisco. As I’m not in Valencia right now, you know I didn’t qualify at either, although I did pick up some nifty video of the top eight at the GP.
Although the qualifying season was block constructed, PT Valencia itself is Extended. Whereas Standard is the current core set and the last two blocks, Extended stretches back through several core sets and quite a few blocks. At the moment, this boils down to the difference between 1,878 cards in Standard versus 5,169 cards in Extended. In practice, this means that Extended decks are faster, offer more complex interactions, and you need to be even more watchful for explosive combo decks. You can read more about various Magic formats here.
In his most recent column, Mike Flores reviews the shifting Extended online metagame (where it’s easier to track what’s being played). The top three archetypes are Goblins, TEPS, and NarcoBridge Ichorid (or just “Dredge”), the second and third both being combo decks to watch out for. Frank Karsten also looks at the Extended game and the specter of Dredge in his final column. Although TEPS (which stands for the uninformative name “The Extended Perfect Storm”) has been around for a while, the big concern going into Valencia has been about Dredge. Dredge truly is an explosive combo deck, with the potential to make fairly regular turn three kills. It’s also highly vulnerable to being “hated out” by people packing specific cards to oppose it (TEPS, using storm as its major mechanic, is more robust). This brings up the prisoner’s dilemma aspect of the metagame. If you pack appropriate sideboard hate against Dredge (perhaps half your sideboard), you will be less competitive against the rest of the field. If everyone else packs hate against Dredge, then you don’t have to. If everyone makes this assumption, then there will be a paucity of hate against Dredge — and it makes sense to play it. And so it goes.
This kind of situation cropped up at Pro Tour Columbus in 2005, when Pierre Canali brought his Affinity deck to another Extended PT. As may happen with Dredge, most players assumed that the easily hated out Affinity build was a bad idea, and neither played it nor prepared realistically for it — only eight players actually showed up with Affinity. Thus, despite some impressive misplays, Canali won the tournament.
For a while now, Wizards has been doing live webcasts of the top eight (quarter-, semi-, and finals matches) for Pro Tour events. More recently, they’ve begun podcasts and now YouTube videos covering topics on each day leading up to the top eight. Here are two YouTube videos featuring commentator Brian David-Marshall, looking at topics ranging from the potential metagame through the player of the year race and fine Spanish pork (no kidding — a hundred euros a pound).

This one has the pork story, as well as Frank Karsten’s discussion of the metagame.

This has an interview with Paul Cheon (who I spoke with at GP SF) and Mark Herberholz, and gives some insight into how groups of players work together to test for an event.
The PT has had a somewhat shaky start with the venue actually flooding on Thursday, forcing an evacuation. In this video posted today, BDM and Randy Buehler discuss what happened, and the revised format for the event. Most interesting for me was the fact that the last-chance qualifier was flooded out in round eight of eight. The last-chance qualifier is a PTQ held on-site, that will normally qualify something like four people for the PT the next day. With seven rounds down and water literally flooding into the gaming area, the head event coordinator decided to simply stop the qualifier, look at the records, set a cutoff, and take everyone above the cutoff. As a result, nineteen people were qualified for the PT, rather than the normal four.

This YouTube video taken by a Magic player from Madrid shows the hotel gaming area the organizers set up for the players to bide their time on Friday:

Players received free Lorwyn cards to play with if they wanted. The event will continue on Saturday with a compressed schedule. Instead of the normal set of eight rounds, eight rounds, top eight, it’ll be ten rounds, then three rounds followed by a top eight the same day. I’m planning on watching the live webcast of the top eight, which should be at some unpleasantly early time here (they’re estimating it for 1:30 pm in Valencia).
Continuing coverage can be found on YouTube and on the Wizards site.