Next week at Superstars

At the last 5K, Shaun Gregson mentioned that Superstars would be having “something” special toward the end of March. I noticed that the Superstars schedule has updated, revealing the event. It is:
Superstars Spring Tournament Series Standard 1K
This is a 1K Standard tournament that has the requisite prizes and that qualifies the top 10% of the field for entrance to a 5K on June 26th, 2010. Listed prizes for this week’s event include various foils for first through third place (Worldwake set, Jace, and Baneslayer, in that order) in addition to the qualification and other prizes based on attendance.
This tournament costs $20 to enter, or $18 if you preregister on the web. It starts at 10am on March 27th – next Saturday.
You can always check the full schedule of events at Superstars by clicking here. As a reminder, the normal Magic schedule looks like this:
Monday – Draft at 7pm (ZZW)
Tuesday – Draft at 7pm (WWW)
Wednesday – Standard at 7pm
Thursday – Legacy at 7pm (10 proxy)
Friday – FNM featuring both Draft and Standard at 7pm (ZZW draft)
Saturday – Special events each week, so check the schedule
Sunday – Standard “win a box” tournament at 10am, along with special weekly events
…and, as always, if you can round up a set of people who want to draft, you can draft, scheduled or not.
If you’re within driving distance of San Jose, you should swing by for some of the events at Superstars. It’s a great environment full of nice folks.

Sigh

VesuvanDoppelganger.jpeg
As you’ll no doubt have caught from all the traffic on the topic, Wizards has updated their reprint policy with respect to the Reserve List. Here’s the update:
A previous version of this policy allowed premium versions of cards on the reserved list to be printed. Starting in 2011, no cards on the reserved list will be printed in either premium or non-premium form.
As a stakeholder and someone who was playing and buying cards back when the original Reserved list policy came out, this is disappointing. Way back when in the early 90s, I supported the idea. Then again, I was also in high school. You’re going to read a lot of material elsewhere about how this impacts competitive Legacy play – a topic that’s worth the discussion, and inspires me to hope that Wizards will just do some hacky workaround like special, not-legal-in-Standard, nearly functional reprints of certain cards.
What bothers me is that I’ll never get to play Vesuvan Doppelganger in Standard. I have five of them (Revised edition, which is the printing I’m showing above). It’s not an overpowered card by any means, and it’s probably not good enough for Standard play unless I can particularly channel my inner Johnny nature, but it’s a card for which I have a lot of nostalgia and affection, so if it came up in a future set, I’d certainly try to make it work.
I came back to Magic partly on the strength of Time Spiral block, which had a pleasing mix of modern Magic design (which is much, much better) and callbacks to settings and cards I was familiar with from my first pass through the game. The “time shifted” reprints, in particular, were kind of fun and a neat way to plug the old into the new.
These days, one of the fun parts about having an older card reprinted – such as Duress in M10 or Reflecting Pool in Shadowmoor – is getting to see earlier printings of the card, with their often very different art, being played across from you at a Standard event. I’d like that option to be open to all the cards, and it makes me sigh a little that there’s now not even a finite chance that I’ll be able to plunk one of my white-bordered, Quinton Hoover, Doppelgangers down on the battlefield so my opponent can ask, “What’s that?”

This week’s In Development – Better an active pilot than an autopilot

This week’s In Development follows up, in spirit, on some of my recent posts. This time around, it’s all about how overly broad generalization about what you’re playing and playing against will mean that you’re (1) making bad play choices and (2) not sure why your game isn’t working out the way you’d like it to.
You can read more here.
You can also follow me at twitter here.

Fun with Junk

After a hyper-busy week, I had a relaxing time at the Sunday Standard event at Superstars yesterday. With no time at all to prepare, I ran, card-for-card, the Stoneforge Mystic Junk list I wrote about in last week’s In Development. I went 4-1 and took second place; I think first may have gone to a Vampires deck that I never ended up playing. I beat Jund, 2-0 yet again in games that were quite fun. I still don’t understand why people are so traumatized by this deck, but I may touch on one reason in my In Development this week.
The most interesting deck I played against was the Mono-Green Tokens build in my last round match. I beat him 2-0, but I got to see how the deck worked better in some additional games we played after the match. I’m still favored, but the ability for his deck to do an end-of-turn Cobra Trap followed by an Overrun is hilarious. Similarly, an Eldrazi Monument powered by Garruk, Cobra Trap, and Bestial Menace is awesome and kind of scary. Fortunately, SMJ is a true cockroach, and can endure through these kinds of problems.
Most awesome was when I killed his Garruk and got Cobra Trapped afterward. Just imagine the Indiana Jones flavor there – the planeswalker calls down a Maelstrom Pulse to drive off his opponent’s planeswalker ally, and suddenly a swarm of cobras springs forth from the scorched earth left behind.
Awesome.
Other great fun on the day included a thirty-minute comeback game against Mythic, which saw me go all the way down to two life, and then come right back up to over sixty life and the win, and using a Tectonic Edge to screw up my Jund opponent’s combat math and swing for the win with my Knights.
I’m really enjoying Standard right now, and look forward to any opportunity to play it with our great pool of local players.

Watch the whole game

This seems to be my week to disagree with Anthony Palmerio. In addition to his normal episode of The Proffessors for the week, Anthony put together a Theory in Practice episode discussing Magic highlight videos, with the premise that they are “the greatest way to watch Magic games.”
So yeah, I disagree.
I understand where Anthony is coming from when he says “I don’t like to sit there watching ten minutes of shuffling, ten minutes of game play, and ten minutes of thinking,” but I think there’s an issue with the idea that highlight videos let you “see what happened in the game, and why.”
Trying to actually understand a Magic match from a highlight video is a lot like trying to recreate the flow of a baseball game from a highlight reel, or understand how poker is played by watching the highly edited television coverage of poker. You’re going to come away thinking that baseball is all about hits that are or aren’t fielded properly, and that poker is about people going all-in all the time.
That whole “ten minutes of thinking” part of the game is, well, part of the game. If we’re looking at it from a learning perspective, you will understand a lot more about the “why” portion of “what happened and why” if you watch the entire game play out. The idea that “important things weren’t happening” in the rather slow Dreadstill versus Team America match at Worlds 2008 just shows that the viewer isn’t following the dynamic of the match.
I do realize some people just kind of zone out during any game that slows down. I’m with Randy Buehler here, though – I like watching two control players try to decide when to act, when to break a (perhaps literal) standstill, and so forth. To me, this is not downtime – it’s the part of the match that is very interesting, far more so than someone just swinging with a bunch of creatures.
One of my favorite top eights of all time is Worlds 2005, focusing on the quarters and semis in particular. I’ve actually stripped the audio portion out of this event and have it on my iPod (that’s five hours of listening right there for the semis and quarters, by the way); I even have the semis on two CDs in my car music collection.
I do think it helps if you don’t just try to sit and watch the matches with literally nothing else going on. As I’m always doing something else when I watch a movie or television program anyway, this isn’t exactly a big problem for me.
Don’t get me wrong – I do love a highlight reel, and the ChannelFireball crew did a brilliant job with their highlight coverage of the recent 5K top 32. I’ve also made my own highlight clip, featuring my absolute favorite PT match moment:

I just think that it’s good to recall that highlight videos are just what they say on the tin. They’re fun and excellent narrative experiences, but probably bad learning tools.
Here’s Anthony’s video:

A snapshot of Constructed interest

I’ve noticed that the MTGSalvation forums are among the most active out there. Conveniently, they also display how many users are on any given forum at the moment, giving us a snapshot into what topics are drawing the most interest. Right now, the number of users actively viewing each forum tallies like so:
Standard – 254
Extended – 24
Legacy – 43
Vintage – 9
Block – 9
Interesting, but about what I would expect. There are other venues for dedicated Vintage players, and Extended, while being my favorite format, tends to go in bursts around PTQ seasons, whereas interest in Legacy is perennial. I don’t know if I was expecting Standard to win by an order of magnitude, or for Block to be as weak as it is, but there you go.

A pleasant nostalgia in Rise of the Eldrazi

With the release of more pictures and other teasers for Rise of the Eldrazi, I was suddenly struck this evening by a bit of correlative nostalgia.
The Zendikar to Eldrazi transition reminds me of Earthdawn.
Earthdawn is a fantasy roleplaying game originally published by FASA, the folks who brought you Battletech (which spawned the Mechwarrior games) and Shadowrun. The Earthdawn property is currently licensed by Redbrick Limited, and you can see their Earthdawn product line by clicking here.
The concepts behind Earthdawn and Rise both clearly plug into the Greek titan myth (click here to learn more about those guys), and the general idea of “older, scarier things that are coming back.”
In Rise, the Eldrazi are coming back, and it’s bad news for everyone.
RiselikeEarthdawn1.jpg
An Eldrazi – clearly bad news
In Earthdawn, Magic moves in multi-thousand-year cycles. When it’s surging high, things go terribly wrong, and big, old-time magical creatures known as Horrors come out and wreck the world. The setup for the Earthdawn game is that when times were bad, people bricked themselves into great underground cities, some of which survived…and now that magic is on the downswing again, adventurers are out exploring the world, delving into cities that didn’t make it, and fighting the occasional Horror.
RiselikeEarthdawn2.jpg
An Earthdawn Horror – you will lose some party members on this one
Given that Zendikar is the “adventure gaming” block, it’s not surprising that it would have some overlap with any fantasy adventure RPG. That said, I always loved the Earthdawn setting as one of real action and adventure, and it’s nice that Zendikar, Worldwake, and Rise are pinging that same spot in my mind.

Legacy PTQs

A few days ago, Aaron Forsythe suggested the possibility of Legacy PTQs via twitter, following the massive turnout at GP Madrid 2010. The general responses that I saw ranged from “Yes” through “Yes, if you reprint dual lands.” Brian Kibler and I asked the same question, which boils down to:
“Sure, attendance at GP Madrid was huge, but how many people there actually had viable Legacy decks?”
More generally, how many people are actually viable in general going into a Legacy event?
Lino Burgold’s writeup of GP Madrid touches on the experience of playing through earlier-round opponents. I say ‘earlier’ as Lino still had his three byes, so these are people who have one way or another made it undefeated to rounds four and beyond. Consider:
The funny thing about Legacy players I noticed, is that they are a lot more casual than the usual player I expect to meet at a PTQ or even at the weekly draft I do at home. This means they are a lot more narrow-minded about the game in general. They often don

Jund is not just Jund

I just turned off the latest episode of The Proffessors a few minutes in after Anthony complained about the Jund matchup being “random” and flashed Bituminous Blast and Bloodbraid on the screen. While I appreciate Anthony’s production quality, this is one more in a chain of people complaining about Jund on the basis of it being basically braindead to play.
I think it’s the Bituminous Blast that just did it for me this time. Here’s PT San Diego champion Simon Gortzen’s Jund list:

18 Creatures:
Bloodbraid Elf
Broodmate Dragon
Putrid Leech
Siege-Gang Commander
Sprouting Thrinax
15 Spells:
Blightning
Garruk Wildspeaker
Lightning Bolt
Maelstrom Pulse
Rampant Growth
27 Land:
Dragonskull Summit
Forest
Lavaclaw Reaches
Mountain
Raging Ravine
Rootbound Crag
Savage Lands
Swamp
Verdant Catacombs
15 Sideboard:
Deathmark
Great Sable Stag
Maelstrom Pulse
Master of the Wild Hunt
Pithing Needle
Terminate

Notice the absence of Bituminous Blast anywhere in that list. Indeed, Simon’s main deck is relatively “removal light,” running just Bolts and Pulses, where other Jund lists run Terminates and Bituminous Blasts as well. Gortzen also chose to run twenty-seven lands and two copies of Rampant Growth, putting the emphasis on smooth mana progression.
I’m not really surprised by that choice.
As Mike Flores pointed out, Gortzen also made sound strategic choices with how he played his cards, keeping his Blightnings in hand to use as planeswalker removal rather than just autopiloting them out on turn three. You’ll notice this in playing against Jund players as well. When your opponent just runs on autopilot, it’s easy to beat them.
The idea that Jund plays itself, or is just “random,” fundamentally misunderstands how the deck works. In playing against Jund, you should take a page from Nassim Taleb and assume that their Bloodbraids will hit the “worst case” for you. Likewise, in playing Jund, you should assume that your Bloodbraids are likely to be blanks, and plan accordingly.
The complaints about Jund now sound a lot like the complaints during Pro Tour Honolulu about cascade generally. I actually enjoy playing with and against Jund, and I think Simon Gortzen made a tremendous update to the deck and played quite cleverly.
I understand that players get a little bored when there seem to be “only a few” viable deck types in Standard. This is in one sense a product of the size of the card pools. There are just a handful of reasonable decks in Block, more in Standard, many more in Extended, and tremendously more in Legacy. However, it’s also a confluence of other factors such as the fact that not everyone feels like designing and testing a deck, so reasonably stable designs are going to see a lot of play from people who just want to play.
I’d also suggest that the perception that there are just a few dominant decks relies on a very shallow review of the decks, as I alluded to above. Gortzen’s Jund is a significant update on pre-Worldwake Jund. Indeed, it relies critically on new cards from Worldwake, and does not just “autopilot” on the prior Jund plan. As someone who pretty reliably plays novel or semi-novel deck designs, I have a great deal of appreciation for players who can tweak or significantly update a known archetype to deal with a shifting metagame or to accommodate a new set.
It’s only “Jund wins again” if you’re not paying attention. If you’re so inclined, go back to the Pro Tour San Diego coverage and compare the top Standard lists to all the others. There are differences there, and they’re interesting and fun.