Why do you hate Elves? (redux)

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote a post with this title that had nothing to do with what this post is going to be about. But it occurred to me that the name is apropos, and I really enjoyed the original.
As we head into a new Extended PTQ season, I’ve been watching and participating in forum traffic concerning new builds and revisions of current builds meant to challenge and win at PTQs (as a reminder, here’s an overview of our current metagame). From that forum traffic, I’ve culled a couple recurring concepts:
Elves is a cheap deck, so many people will be playing it.
Elves is easily hated out, so not many people will be playing it.
Zoo is the default deck.
Mono-blue control will not be common, so why defend against it?
This last one brought me up short, because I think it’s the most problematic thought in the bunch. Now, for starters, I’m in an area with a lot (a lot!) of good players, so it’s reasonable to expect that you’ll run into more than a few mono-blue control builds. However, there’s a second, more important point, and it’s one that I coincidentally just saw remarked on by Mike Flores in this article from last May. Let’s roll out the key sentence here:
The deck to make Top 8 is almost certainly a different deck than the one that you want to actually win the tournament.
Here, let me expand this thought to say that the deck to make top eight is a different deck than the one you’d bring to face the field.
To clarify, maybe it is likely that there won’t be so many players running mono-blue decks in the tournament as a whole. However, if you’re planning on winning the whole thing, then you’re also planning on being at the top tables, and if that’s the case, you’re going to be playing against decks that good players brought.
Or, briefly, I expect to hit a lot of mono-blue control.
Of course, I also expect to have to plow through a big dose of Elves and Zoo, so what I’m basically coming to is the fairly boring conclusion that anything I need to play has to be able to beat MUC, Elves, and Zoo. Woot! However, I think it’s important to be able to point your emphasis in the right direction, and I think that will mean beating countermagic-oriented control builds more than anything else.
After all, the point of going to the PTQ is to win the whole thing, right?

D&D Fourth Edition — A good third impression

When D&D 4E was announced and initially released, I check in with some of the discussions about it on the RPGnet d20/D&D forum, hoping to get a feel for the game based on people who’d actually had a chance to read it and play it. Curiously, it was the complaints about the new game that really inspired my interest, as the things that die-hard fans of earlier editions were citing as flaws or problems were things that sounded great to me.
A little later, I found out about the Penny Arcade / PVP podcast series, in which the creators of both comics sat down with Wizards employees to play their way through some adventures using the new rules. This is a great set of podcasts to listen to, as the play group includes an experienced player, someone who played in high school, and brand-new player. You can check out the first podcast in the series here. The guys in the podcast had a lot of fun, and are often hilarious to listen to. Even though the style of game they played is likely not the kind I’d play, it still highlighted the new rules quite well, and garnered even more interest from me.
Yesterday, I was given the 4E combined set, featuring the Player’s Guide, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. I spent some time reading through them yesterday, and was really impressed. Although there are things I love about how the new rules work, that’s not what was most striking.
The 4E books are very, very clearly written and wonderfully organized. The “this is a roleplaying game” introduction is quite good (although I haven’t needed one of these in years), and the little box explaining the history of D&D is excellent. From there, the rules are clearly laid out, with basics first and elaboration later. In the appropriately titled “The Core Mechanic” section, the basics of the d20 system are laid out. Later on, we have clean and smooth explanations on making characters, using powers, and so forth. Throughout the books, the authors do an excellent job of presenting the simple, clean concepts first, then adding the elaborations later.
But I was even more impressed by all the non-rules assistance for play. There’s a substantial section discussing characters and characterization, with helpful suggestions on setting up ideas about what your character wants in life, how he or she would react in different situations, and so forth. In prior editions, lip service has been paid to making a character a character, but in this edition, it gets an entire package of helpful advice. This is very important, since the ability to play an actual character with actual characterization is perhaps one of the unique, market-defining traits of a pen-and-paper roleplaying game. I think the authors of 4E got this in a way that people haven’t in prior editions. After all, if you aren’t playing an individual character, you might as well be playing a computer RPG. This pattern of strong assistance for the non-rules aspect of gaming continues into the Dungeon Master’s Guide, where there’s a wealth of advice on running adventures, pacing story, setting up campaigns, making spot decisions, and the especially practical advice of “how long should I put aside to prepare?”
I am quite impressed. This set of books really is a great introductory package to get even brand-new players started on the game, and on roleplaying in general. I’d recommend it to someone who wants to give tabletop roleplaying try.

Starting the new PTQ season with Silvestri

Although I haven’t been writing much about it, I’ve been putting serious thought into builds and testing for the upcoming PTQ season (that starts with Grand Prix Los Angeles 2009 in mid January). Me being me, I’m almost certainly going with a deck that has appearances from at least the colors black and green, but I’ll put more concrete info on my deck choice later, after GP LA.
In the mean time, I wanted to set up a pointer to this article by Josh Silvestri that takes a look at the current Extended metagame and offers some very solid advice on how to test for it. Two quick highlights:
Other than that, it means the propensity to keep ‘okay’ hands is going to get a lot of people killed and complaining about how lucky decks/players/format are. It isn

Why we need to read the prospectus

In a very casual way, I pulled up the Standard records of this year’s top eight to make a vague guess at how they might do (click here to see that post). Humorously, the final result is almost an inversion of how everyone did on day one of Worlds, with the two worst performers, Jamie Parke and Antti Malin, making it to the finals.
One is reminded of the standard investment disclaimer of “past performance is not indicative of future performance.”
However, we also may be looking at the effect of (1) learning a great deal from the practical “shakedown period” of the first six rounds, and (2) having a team to work on the matchups for you. I have no idea who Antti turned to, if anyone, but Jamie Parke had the backing of Jon Finkel, Gab Nassif, and others in trying to figure out how to take down each matchup. As Brian David-Marshall pointed out in the coverage, even though Jamie was completely blown out by his playtest partner playing Ikeda’s Blightning Beatdown deck during testing, playing fifteen or sixteen games against it gave him a comfort level that he wouldn’t have just from looking at the list, and taught him the obvious mistakes that he needed to avoid.
Faced with the problem of taking a deck that had critically underperformed into a key series of matches, Jamie was able to rely on a cadre of experienced players to assist him in working out a strategy for dealing with his problematic first-round matchup. Not only do you benefit from the experience of tremendous players when you’re in a position to have this kind of help — you also get to have an extra person-day or more of playtesting, because your friends can afford to stay up all night to do testing, while you get enough sleep to make sure you don’t make obvious errors during a day of best-of-five matches against incredibly tough opponents.
Or, more briefly, this is why we can’t just build a bracket based on how the first day turned out.

Worlds 2008 – In the lee of the metagame

I watched almost all of the individual top eight and the team event today, starting at a brisk 6:45am, PST. Worlds has an especially long final day, and I finally had to cut out before the final match could start to do some work out in the real world. I enjoyed the presentation this year, with the individual and team events interleaved throughout the day. I really enjoyed most of it — and it was interesting to see four of the five Faeries decks drop out of the individual event in the quarterfinals (although, sadly, this meant that there was no on-air game time featuring Frank Karsten, and very little time with Akira Asahara). The team semifinals and finals were both exciting, and honestly, I was rooting for everyone, although the American team just a bit more than everyone else.
Wizards has dutifully posted the top performing Standard and Extended decks. I don’t care too much about Standard right now (not until the end of January, when Superstars may well have another Standard $1K). However, I’m quite interested in Extended. You can see all the decks whose pilots did 4-2 or better in the Extended portion by clicking here. There may be some risk in drawing conclusions from deck performance across six rounds at the tail end of a long event, but it’s still worthwhile to see what did well and how people tweaked their designs. Let’s start by seeing what people played. I’ve broken it down, going from most to least common archetype. Click through to the extended entry to see the breakdown, and some commentary.

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Worlds 2008 — predicting the outcome

To start with, I’m basically rooting for Frank Karsten to win. He’s entertaining as a writer and player, and he might well have won Worlds 2005 but for a fairly significant gameplay error on the part of, well, everyone present at the final match. That said, what do the players’ records from the Standard portion of Worlds suggest about their likely success?
First, what were the records?
6-0 – Akira Asahara
5-1 – Tsuyoshi Ikeda, Kerem Hannes, Paulo Vitor damo da Rosa,
4-2 – Kenji Tsumura, Frank Karsten
3-3 – Antti Malin
2-3-1 – Jamie Parke
That bodes ill for Mr. Parke.
I was wondering, perhaps, if I could find out how the players fared against each other in the Standard rounds, but none of them played each other, so that’s out. Absent really knowing what their matchups were, I think the most we can safely say is that Jamie Parke is in trouble, and perhaps — perhaps — Antti Malin won’t make it past Akira Asahara. But who knows? Maybe Malin just needed some time to get up to speed.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow (well, later today — I really need to sleep!).

Worlds 2008 top eight (Way to go, Frank!)

The final standings for worlds are up, and here’s your top eight:
1. Paulo Vitor damo da Rosa (42 points)
2. Antti Malin (42 points)
3. Kenji Tsumura (42 points)
4. Frank Karsten (41 points)
5. Tsuyoshi Ikeda (40 points)
6. Hannes Kerem (40 points)
7. Akira Asahara (40 points)
8. Jamie Parke (40 points)
I’m happy to see Frank in this top eight, as he’s an entertaining player to watch (if, potentially, a rather slow one). Notably, both Frank and Kenji have been putting “less emphasis” on Magic this year. This is another impressive finish by Paulo, and in general is a top eight just chock full of experienced players. Congratulations, then, to Hannes Kerem, whom I’d never heard of before this event.
With a strong 17th place finish, Aaron Nicastri should also be the rookie of the year this year — unless Kerem straight up wins Worlds (shades of 2004 there), or forces a playoff with a tie and certain team results from Austalia. While we’re talking “of the years,” Olivier Ruel settled in at 37th place, and will not be stealing the prize from Shuhei, so that’s set.
For fun, check out just how Frank, with ‘not enough time to test,’ put together his Faeries deck.
Finally, in teams, we have Brazil in first place and Japan in second, with the US and Australia taking third and fourth place, respectively.

Worlds 2008 — That’s an impressive round

As I work on other things today, I’m checking in on the Worlds coverage. Here are the very impressive tables one through four from round 15:
Table 1: Hannes Kerem versus Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa
Table 2: Tsuyoshi Ikeda versus Kenji Tsumura
Table 3: Ervin Tormos versus Marijn Lybaert
Table 4: Masashi Oiso versus Frank Karsten
Also fun is this deck tech featuring “Sunburst Gifts”, the slight revamp of the winning deck from Winter King. It’s four-color Gifts featuring some interesting Sunburst cards, including a recursive Etched Oracle.

Grand Prix Los Angeles 2009 – information

Sunmesa events has begun posting information about Grand Prix Los Angeles 2009. This event, scheduled for January 17th and 18th, with GP Trials on the 16th, will be in the Extended format. There are also a number of side events, including a PTQ for Honolulu (and, as always, the top competitors in the GP proper will receive invites to that Pro Tour).
Click here for the GP Los Angeles 2009 information site
Notes on the event, in brief:

  • Pre-register to receive for the venue hotel and get a free draft
  • First 650 participants receive a Stoic Angel play mat
  • GP trials start at 12pm on the 16th and are 32-player, single-elimination flights
  • First two GP trials of the day are half price
  • Side events include a PTQ and a bunch of other stuff
  • Guest artist is Volkan Baga

All in all, it sounds quite good. If I can, I’ll be attending, and will hope to hit one or more GP trials. Ideally, I’d attend a local one well ahead of the event. Superstars is having one tomorrow (that is, Saturday, December 13th), but I can’t make it. The Sunmesa site promises to list other GP trials soon, so check the site and maybe find one in your area. If you can manage it, a three-round GP bye is pretty nice.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area around mid-January, it’s worth popping by to give the GP a shot, check out the side events, see (and maybe play against) some pros, and just have a good time.