Prepping your deck and your trade binder for the PTQ

Still trying to decide what to play at the next PTQ? In this article Riki Hayashi talks about the Changeling Ninja deck that took second place at the last Los Angeles PTQ:
There are very few actual good cards in this deck. When Trinket Mage is the best mainstream card you’re playing, something is certainly amiss. (Okay, maybe Umezawa’s Jitte, but Trinks sees more play in Extended.)
Like the Wizards deck, this deck gets by because these draft rejects can combine to form a mighty Voltron-like warrior. When you stack enough synergies together, even Mothdust Changeling can become a monster.

He also talks about which cards you should bring as trade/sale-bait for last-minute shoppers. That’s probably worth looking at.

Dundee and Los Angeles

As I went to take care of an errand today, I listened to show 18 of DeckConstruct. In it, Dan talks about attending a PTQ in Dundee (that’s in Scotland, and is a very lovely town) that had 22 attendees.
In contrast, the Los Angeles PTQ on the 16th had 186 attendees.
Also, second place in Los Angeles went to ninjas. Seriously.

PTQing the Bay Area

I’ve spent most of the weekend sick (or else, hey, I could have been at the underattended GP Vancouver, right?), so I’m not up for making much sense right now. But I did want to aggregate a couple useful bits of information ahead of next weekend’s PTQ here in the Bay Area.
The Top 64 decks at GP Vancouver 2008
The Top 8 decks at GP Vancouver 2008
A review of the prior Bay Area PTQ for this season
A review of this season’s Seattle PTQ
The Top 8 decks at the PTQ in Los Angeles
It’s hard to say whether one should look for a big influence from the top eighting decks at reported events, or just expect this time to be like last time. The last Bay Area PTQ has in early February, and featured 30 Doran decks, 26 Dredge decks, 21 Blue/Shackles decks, 19 Affinity decks, and 29 aggro R/G/x decks. There were just 9 Goblin decks, 9 Ideal decks, and a handful of other randomness. At GP Vancouver (as recorded here), the single biggest contingent was various R/G/x decks, followed by Blue control, then Doran, then Goblins (!), then Death Cloud…then Dredge and Affinity.
I know I’m going to play Kokusho, so now I’m looking at all of this information, pondering what kind of field I think I’m likely to face in a little less than a week.
Of course, for now I’m just willing my immune system to get it together and purge whatever I’ve caught from my system.

Maralen Sligh

Maralen of the Mornsong is one of the standout “not as useful as you think it is” cards from Morningtide. I mentioned it twice, most recently in my review of interesting black cards from Morningtide. In general, people have been trying to find a place for Maralen in control and combo decks. I think this is a mistake, as letting your opponent tutor freely at the cost of damage is pretty much the opposite of a control strategy — and the work involved in keeping them from tutoring is too much — so much, in fact, that it dilutes the strength of your control or combo build.
As many have pointed out, the most common outcome for Maralen is that you’ll play her, then your opponent will take three, tutor up removal, and kill her. There’s exactly one place where this is perfectly fine — a high-power aggro deck. Stick Maralen in a Rakdos/Sligh-style build, and she works out well. Decklist and a little more discussion in the extended.

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Breath in again, 40K RP didn’t go away

People were wigging out over on RPGnet at the announcement that Games Workshop was going to reorient the output of its imprint, Black Library, canceling the nascent Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying line and canceling Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. This was particularly irritating to people who’d been hoping for a Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game for two decades only to see the game canceled after a lone book saw print.
Well, as it happens, GW wasn’t killing the line. Instead, they’ve just signed an agreement with Fantasy Flight Games, publishers of Arkham Horror, World of Warcraft: the Boardgame, Tide of Iron, and a personal favorite of mine, War of the Ring, to be the exclusive publisher of board games, card games, and roleplaying games based on Games Workshop’s properties.
“We are just so thrilled to partner with Games Workshop in such an encompassing deal,” said Christian T. Petersen, CEO and founder of FFG. “Not only will we be able to continue the publication of some phenomenal roleplaying, card, and board games currently on the market, but we look forward to creating new games for the popular GW universes!”
This is exciting news, as FFG has a good track record for publishing fun, high quality games. I especially like that they’re not just going to be a reprint house, but will be able to generate new games based on the licensed material.
You can read the original press release, in PDF form, here.

“Let me not do something stupid.”

Brian David-Marshall has interviewed Jon Finkel here on the Wizards site. In the wake of Jon’s first pro tour top eight (and a win at that!) since 2003 or so, Brian asks him about how he got into Magic in the first place, his early tournament experiences, and what it’s like to go back to competitive play after all this time.
I especially like the contrast between what he was actually thinking and doing and how the match coverage reporter spun it. I’ve experienced this dichotomy myself, after watching a friendly, fast-paced game between Saito and Olivier Ruell at GP San Francisco be portrayed in the coverage as “glacially” slow and “frosty” due to a supposed antagonism between the two players. The drama’s not really necessary — the game is interesting enough. Here’s Jon on that topic:
It was funny…I was reading the coverage and the guy was talking about me playing mind games with my opponent because I made him burn for one and asked him not to look at my deck while shuffling. This guy has ascribed this whole internal world to my mind that has no basis in reality. I had him burn for one because he had a mana in his pool and he said, “go.” He was at two, but if he was at 20 I would still have him burn for one. The way he was shuffling there was a chance that he could see the bottom card of my library…probably not, but don’t look down while you are shuffling.
I am not saying that in my lifetime I haven’t played mind games with people. I think I probably play less than many people. I certainly wasn’t there. What should I do? Go back and say, “Would you like to go back and untap one of your lands in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour? You don’t need to burn this time.”

The idea that I showed up for Prague not caring and that I had some renewed sense of urgency for this tournament is…it is a fun narrative maybe for people to tell. Although it is kind of annoying when people tell a narrative about your life and you are just like, “Man, could you have at least asked me?”
It’s a good interview. Jon seems nice and level-headed, and has a good grasp on the balance between skill and luck involved in winning a PT.

Good, solid theming

I haven’t played this game, but “Oh My God! There’s An Axe In My Head.” The Game of International Diplomacy has a great premise:
GENEVA, 1920.
The League of Nations convenes for the first time. Proud to be the host for this august world body, Switzerland invites their champion axe-juggling troupe, Les Bella Lieben Jolie De Von Giorno, to entertain the assembled delegates. Unfortunately, halfway through the demonstration, the Troupe goes insane, and begins hurling axes into the audience, splitting head after head. The Secretary General calls for calm, but before he can order a recess, his cranium is split as well.
The remaining Great Powers use the confusion to pass the gavel between themselves, conduct international business amidst the chaos, and generally try to shift the balance of world power while escaping a bunch of armed psychopaths.

Brought to you by the folks who also brought you the classic Yamara strip in Dragon magazine. Looking back, Yamara is in many ways a sort of ancestor to the current hilarity of The Order of the Stick.

Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur: An amazing top eight

The second day of swiss rounds finished some time ago in Kuala Lumpur, and the resulting top eight is one of the coolest ones I’ve seen. Check it out:
1. Jon Finkel — Hall of Fame member, with eleven Pro Tour top eights and two Junior Pro Tour top eights, from back when they had those. Jon is in with a 13-1-1 record, the only one in the tournament to do so well.
2. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa — Winner of Pro Tour Yokohama 2007.
3. Mike Hron — Winner of Pro Tour Geneva 2007
4. Joel Calafell — Top eight at GP Stuttgart 2007 and top sixteen at GP Bilbao 2005.
5. Marcio Carvalho — Top eight at Worlds 2005, as well as four GP top eights, including a win at GP Lisbon.
6. Nicolai Herzog — Another Hall of Fame member, with four PT top eights, including two in the same season, and two GP top eights.
7. Ming Xu — The only amateur in the group, Ming qualified on ranking, which is a pretty solid achievement.
8. Mario Pascoli — Multiple GP top eights, and a whole bunch of PT appearances.
I’m really looking forward to watching the top eight. You can watch it live by going to the live webcast page. The top eight webcast starts at 6:45 pm PST. I won’t be watching it live, however, as I’ll be off attending an animation showing and talk. Fortunately, Wizards archives this stuff pretty promptly, so I’ll download it and watch it then. I’m not sure what the ideal finish would be, but it might be something like Jon Finkel versus Ming Xu in the finals — hall of famer versus brand new guy from an emerging market. That’d be pretty good.
There’s one other notable finish — Steve Sadin came in twelfth. He’s decided to be serious about winning this year, and I suspect he’ll continue to move up the standings throughout 2008. Which is, all told, pretty cool.

Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur: Coverage et al

Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur is currently ongoing. Day one (Friday) is complete. As always, there are a lot of ways you can check in on what’s happening, starting with the Wizards YouTube channel:

Rich Hagon and Bill Stark are standing in for Randy and Brian David-Marshall because Randy was called away by work concerns and Brian is rather sick with pneumonia. Rich Hagon and Bill Stark are very good replacements. If you read tournament coverage, you’ve probably read some of Bill’s writing, and if you listen to the Podcasts from tournaments and European GPs, you’ve heard Rich Hagon’s excellent audio coverage.
You can read Kuala Lumpur coverage at the Pro Tour Kuala Lumpur 2008 web page. This page leads to some individual match coverage, individual round results, the daily blogs, and so forth.
You can also listen to Rich Hagon’s audio coverage from the podcast page. Rich does an excellent job with the podcasts, both in terms of content and in presentation. He’s a natural performer, and manages some really interesting interviews in each podcast. I appreciate his match coverage most of all — I found audio narratives of matches much more pleasing than text-based ones.
So far, perhaps the most intriguing outcome from the first day of this limited-format event (Lorwyn block draft) is high-level finishes from hall of fame players. At the end of round seven, we had Nicolai Herzog in thirteenth (6-1) and Jon Finkel in fifteenth (6-1 as well).
Only two players ended day one with perfect records: Paul Cheon and Martin Juza.
Finally, of last year’s Pro Tour winners, only two made the cut to day two: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (6-1) and Mike Hron (5-2).

How not to die, and other concerns

This past week or so saw two articles on concerning the current Extended season.
First up is Zaiem Beg’s article succinctly titled Beating Dredge. Mike Flores predicted early in the season that Dredge wouldn’t see a single win because it’s so easy to hate out…but following that logic, everyone apparently expected everyone else to either (1) do the hating for them or (2) decide Dredge was a bad plan, and few people ran hate. In his most recent Top8 Magic podcasts, Flores has admitted he was wrong — because he expected people to keep the hate in, anyway, knowing that Dredge is often the “worst case scenario” for what you might run into (and that would have kept Dredge out of top eights). As Zaiem explains in this article, you have to defend against Dredge, because if you don’t, it just wins.
Every time I hear someone say, “Well, I’ll just concede the Dredge matchup and have a strong chance against everything else,” or when they say, “I’ll just leave the hate out because everyone else will hate it out,” I cringe. If that’s your plan, I hope you won’t be too disappointed when you don’t win the PTQ.
It’s a deck, it’s out there, and even if you don’t think it’s that good because it’s too fragile, it will crush you if you are unprepared. It’s seeing a lot of play because it’s relatively cheap to build by Extended standards and it’s absurdly powerful.

The second article, by Kuan-Kuan Tian, has the rather anime-esque title Bubble Hulk: Evolution (“I liked the original Bubble Hulk, but this follow-up series just rehashes all the same ideas. Let’s watch I My Me! Strawberry Eggs instead.”). Bubble Hulk is a weird Protean Hulk / Reveillark combo build that tries to combo out into a one-turn win. In this article, Tian guides a friend through the playtesting of the deck against Next-Level Blue. You may not want to read the whole thing, but you should at least click through to page two and then scroll down. You’ll know when you’ve hit the funny bit.