A small GP trumps a big PTQ?

Last weekend was one of the few without an SCG Open Series weekend – mostly because SCG reasonably enough doesn’t want to overlap with American GP events. After all, you don’t want your “name” players to have to decide between the Open Series and the one North American Legacy GP this year.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this gave Riki Hayashi a little time to consider a fairly dramatic downturn in attendance at his local PTQs – leading him to ask if the SCG Open Series is killing PTQs.
You should read Riki’s post, but his spark for thinking about this issue was a PTQ with 30 players in Roanoke, Virginia. That’s shockingly low for a PTQ along the American east coast. As Riki says, it feels more like one of the PTQs that one hears about in smaller Eastern European nations, or in isolated American states like Alaska and Hawaii.
Riki does a good job of breaking out some reasonable hypotheses for possible causes of this weak turnout:

  • Competition from GP providence (he thinks Roanoke may have lost perhaps 5-10 players to this)
  • Memorial Day weekend (people off on family vacations, etc)
  • Standard hate (people stay home to avoid Stoneforge Mystic and friends)
  • The SCG Open Series

These are all reasonable hypotheses, but Riki lingers on the last one, which is particularly interesting. The core idea goes like so:
An Open Series event is more generally rewarding than a PTQ.
I’ll use Riki’s words for this part:
PTQs have always been a winner-take-all thing. No one is there to collect their packs of product. Heck, when allowed to split the product prize, most finals give all of the packs to the loser, and he is indeed the loser because 2 boxes is nothing compared to qualifying for the Pro Tour. When 2nd place is “tied for dead last” you have a lopsided prize structure.
On the other hand, tournaments like the SCG Open Series provide cash prizes down to 32nd place, and making Top 8 is a pretty good day all around. With Top 4 prize splits being the norm, the only extra bonus for winning it all is a trophy, some extra Player’s Club points, and some more notoriety. Even before he finally broke through in Charlotte last month, AJ Sacher was doing quite well on the Open Series circuit despite “never winning anything.” PTQs are not so forgiving, and it’s possible that having an alternative tournament series where you can actually go home with something substantive despite not winning it all is changing the way people look at PTQs.

That’s a highly plausible suggestion. If you’re going to have to travel any significant distance to a PTQ where the prize structure is, in essence, “one player wins, everyone else loses” then you might prefer to just head out to an Open Series event instead, where you earn points toward leveling up and you have the potential to meaningfully “cash” in each event.
By extension, the impact here is not limited to the SCG Open Series, but to other, similar events that have really proliferated with the success of the Open Series. For example, the TCGPlayer series which, while incredibly poorly promoted, still features a fairly regular schedule of large events.
So, neat hypothesis. Does it pan out?
Testing Riki’s hypothesis
I agree with the intrinsic plausibility of the “Open Series trumps PTQs” hypothesis

This week’s In Development…is actually last week’s In Development!

After ChannelFireball’s unplanned week of downtime, it’s In Development time again.
Pleasingly enough, the article I wrote for last week was not some super-timely metagame breaker, but rather is a somewhat more timeless discussion of how we make those subtle choices between individual cards in our deck…and the somewhat surprising way in which “best for us” may not be the same as “best.”
So click here to read this still highly relevant bit of Magic theory, and then hit me up in the comments, by email, or on twitter to let me know what you think.

This week’s In Development – to Chancellor or not to Chancellor?

It’s in Development time again!
This week I’m directing my borderline over-intense focus on the question of whether Chancellor of the Tangle is any good at all, staring from the basic question of, “How often do I get one in my opening hand?”
Click here to read the article, and then let me know what you think. Will you be Tangling in Standard starting this weekend?

This week’s In Development – your concepts go where you cannot

We had a local Nationals Qualifier last weekend – two, actually.
Sadly, I couldn’t make it to either one. Work took precedence and I had to let them slide. As you’d expect, it was pretty frustrating.
Although I wasn’t able to play with the deck I’d built and tested for the weekend, it turns out that someone else was.
Click here to read about how my deck got to play in the SCG Standard Open in Charlotte while I spent the weekend cracking down on some science.

N-1 drops and the new Tempered Steel

Earlier this morning I mentioned in a passing comment on twitter that the new, post-New Phyrexia Tempered Steel list suddenly felt like a legitimate fast aggro deck to me. This prompted a bunch of you to ask, “Why? What’s the list?”
So I guess folks haven’t seen lists. That’s not really surprising, since the excitement over new archetypes — such as Twin combo builds — leads us to spend a lot more time writing actual articles about them, rather than focusing on an update to a deck that is, fundamentally, undercosted dudes.
Here’s the list I have in my playtest pool. It’s from a Magic League Standard Trial event, and was played to a third place finish by Epilogue.

60 Main deck:
16× Plains
Inkmoth Nexus
Hex Parasite
Porcelain Legionnaire
Vault Skirge
Steel Overseer
Signal Pest
Phyrexian Revoker
Tempered Steel
Glint Hawk Idol
Mox Opal
15 Sideboard:
Phyrexian Revoker
Torpor Orb
Kor Firewalker
Tumble Magnet
Journey to Nowhere
Leonin Relic-Warder

The notable updates from New Phyrexia include Hex Parasite, Porcelain Legionnaire, and Vault Skirge.
Vault Skirge gives you a flying, lifelink 1/1 for 1 mana (and 2 life, but that’s a gigantic “whatever” in this deck) that, conveniently, is immune to countering via Mental Misstep. Neat. And yes, that has come up in testing.
Hex Parasite is, of course, a nicely aggressive one drop. And while I’m not in love with it as a planeswalker solution, it does do something I hadn’t even considered prior to testing — it strips counters off of Pyromancer Ascension..which is actually pretty harsh for the Ascension/Twin lists.
Finally, Porcelain Legionnaire is simply a 3/1 first striker for 2 mana, which is excellent as well.
This is still very much not my style of deck, but it does, at least, generate the kind of game where on turn three you have multiple creatures and a Tempered Steel facing down the Caw-Blade player’s lone Stoneforge Mystic. And the poor dear hasn’t even been able to equip herself yet.
I suspect this deck will not exactly be a long-term performer, as it will force opponents to run more copies of Day of Judgment…and then once they do, it will be a lot harder to work with, and you’ll find you’d rather be packing a bunch of burn spells. But in the short term, it’s ridiculously aggressive, and far less prone to the kind of janky, stutter-step starts that the old Tempered Steel deck suffered from.