I was privileged and honored to be nominated for the Magic Online Community Cup, which took place two weeks ago. The week was a blast and it was
awesome to meet the other members of the MTGO Community as well as the online Magic Community, from the inimitable Luis Scott-Vargas to a contingent
from the LoadingReadyRun Canadian gaming comedy collective.
The formats for the Community Cup were unified Modern, unified Standard, and Scars Block draft. For the unified formats, there could be a maximum of
four copies of any card across all eight decks.
When the formats were announced, I knew the coordination between decks was going to be significantly easier than coordinating between people. I set up
a forum on one of those free forum hosts to let us have concurrent discussions on deck coordination and individual lists without crossing the streams.
Lists for Modern were due first, but were also the easiest. Right off the bat, we could rattle off six or seven Modern archetypes with virtually no
overlap. With the help of the tireless Jarvis Yu, we quickly jotted down a series of base decklists from last Extended season and the season before for
Faeries, Elves, Reveillark, Mono Red Burn, Hypergenesis, R/G Scapeshift, Dragonstorm and Jund. Reveillark we chose because it was a blue deck that
wasn’t reliant on Cryptic Command, which, with the fetchlands, was one of the few bottlenecks of the format.
We then realized that we were missing a Stoneforge Mystic deck, arguably the best deck from the last Extended season. We wondered if we could split the
Cryptics with Faeries, or if we should move the Stoneforges into another deck (maybe Junk). Ultimately we decided between Jace and Elspeth that we
could just give Fae all the Cryptics. We scrapped Dragonstorm to make U/G Scapeshift, since it could really maximize Peer through Depths and Remand
(and could also run 10 natural Mountains without going up to 66), as well as having Condescend as an adequate Cryptic replacement. LSV vetoed
Reveillark and instead we ran Junk to use up our Dark Confidants and Tarmogoyfs.
Near the end we compiled a list of all the flagship cards from previous formats that we weren’t using as an oversight check (which at one point
included Tarmogoyf. Whoops!). The list ended up included Enduring Ideal, Aether Vial, Gifts Ungiven, Tron/12 Post, the dredge cards, and Tezzeret. Vial
just didn’t fit, since no Mutavault/Cryptic killed Merfolk and we couldn’t really put together a BW disruption bears deck. Enduring Ideal
and a few other cards just weren’t powerful enough. The rest (especially a big mana deck) seemed very promising but unfortunately was on the
wrong side of the value proposition. The most work we did in building “new” decks was adapting U/G Scapeshift to the available shockland
We knew that adapting proven decks would result all in reasonable lists, but we didn’t have time to test and tinker new decks that might
ultimately end up being not a deck. Dredge, for example, appeared extremely well positioned, but a bad build could sink you pretty fast. The closest
available list we had was from old Standard and was heavily reliant on Golgari Grave Troll (banned in the Modern format).
Some late night tinkering with LSV solidified the decklists, including the inspired Jund sideboard including of all the graveyard hate and Chalice of
the Voids, which directly lead to two match wins. The final lists can be .
Building decks for Standard was significantly harder. Not only was there a smaller card pool, but the bleeding identities of the decks also made for
significantly more permutations of possible decks to mix and match (Stoneforge Mystic for example was in Caw-Blade, Darkblade, Twinblade, W/G
Vengevine, U/G/w Vengevine, etc.). The non-overlapping decks we knew we were playing were green poison, Elves, Vampires, Mono-Red and Valakut. The blue
decks were harder to fit together, so we punted the decision until 2am the day before for LSV to hammer out lists on his iPhone. Green poison became
Green/White poison, and the remaining decks became Stoneforge/Puresteel Paladin, Tempered Steel/Quest, U/R Splinter Twin and U/B Singleton. I chided
LSV for not making the Singleton a true singleton list, to which he pointed out the mana was sufficiently bad. It was a pretty sad missed opportunity,
because had we been able to build a true singleton list, we would have been able to run four copies of it in the unified format for full style points.
As it went for the Community Cup, I was pretty damn stoked. I arrived in Seattle around noon on Tuesday and was waiting for the hotel shuttle when
Community Manager Mike Robles found me on Twitter to tell me they were picking people up from the airport in person. Someone from WotC later said that
instead of holding up small printed signs with peoples’ names on it, they had jokingly suggested using the giant prop cards from giant Magic they
had lying around the office. There would be no way I would miss that coming out of baggage claim.
As he dropped us off at the Hotel, Mike handed off a swag bag with a couple complete sets and duel decks and sleeves and boosters. How awesome is that.
Whiffy Penguin and I killed some time in the hotel lobby mashing the Tezzeret vs. Elspeth decks together. Spoiler: the blue deck wins.
Dinner that night was at a steak house and I got to sit between Aaron Forsythe and Erik Lauer, hearing all sorts of secrets about Magic design and
development. I got to complain to Erik about how important it would have been for Whip Vine to make it to MTGO via Master’s Editions. Erik in
turn spoiled the card that was previously cryptically hinted at in an old Maro article for being nixed partly because it wouldn’t work on Magic
Tribal Artifact – Changeling
When this comes into play, choose a creature type.
T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Spend this mana only to cast spells of the chosen type.
Lee Sharpe explained that every time a new mana restriction was created, it basically creates a geometric level of complexity in the system, and this
was pretty much unworkable, so it got the ax.
Wednesday morning we boarded a car-boat for the Seattle Duck tour, where I somehow got volunteered to be the life vest model. Our Duck-boat captain
asked for my name, somehow heard it as Ben, and then morphed it into Don halfway through the demonstration. He also kept calling us all wizards, which
was somewhat awkward.
The draft was that afternoon. I picked Grim Affliction out of a decent pack and settled into a removal-heavy U/B half-poison list. The half-poison
wasn’t really that big a deal since it was a controlling deck and ultimately ambivalent about finishers. The draft was pretty funny because the
Community team was sitting in two lines with full view of each other’s gigantic monitors, and without a prohibition on crosstalk, we
figured out our relative draft order pretty quickly. I remember getting up to see how our team in the other pod was doing and looked in horror as Sunie
pondered over a pack that included Thopter Assembly. As I stammered “uh, take the Assembly?”, her neighbor helpfully pointed out that three of
them were literally sitting in a row in the draft and already figured out which of them would get the bomb.
The draft went well. I dispatched my first two opponents, then got destroyed by UI director Gordon Culp. Game two I kept Plague Stinger, Wall of
Tanglecord, a few three-drops, some removal, and two lands. He then revealed turn zero Chancellor of the Annex, and then I whiffed on my third land, so
the force spike wrecked me. Game three I just wasn’t in it as his fliers overran me.
That night we played the Multiball format, which turned out to be Archenemy on the newly released Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012. It was decently fun,
although not really at the time. I wasn’t familiar with the interface at all and the Archenemy level is sufficiently hard that the Wizards team
easily pulled the 6-0 sweep, our team felled twice by a cackling Zac Hill. We tried to game the system by running three copies of the red deck, but
Zac’s first scheme hit a 4/6 Golem which killed each of us in turn.
For Modern, I got my choice of Faeries and loved every minute of it. I got all the opening hands you dream about drawing. One of them was literally
Ancestral Visions, Bitterblossom and five lands *drool*. I got a decent set of matchups against Hypergenesis, beatdown Elves and fully powered Jund
(that had stolen Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf from the other WotC decks) and went 1-2.
Modern feels like a great format even after having only played a few matches. There are any number of viable decks and I’m not exactly sure what
is best. Faeries is obviously great, but Hypergenesis, Stoneforge, Junk, Jund, Elves, Dredge could easily end up being best deck. It’d be nice to
have an eternal format that isn’t reliant on dual lands and Force of Will (none of which I own, of course). It feels relatively fresh, although
I’m sure a couple months of widespread play would be needed to sort everything out. I think it would be significantly better than the previous
Extended format and would not be surprised to see it as the third Worlds format.
That Thursday, we got the awesome tour of the Wizards office, with the obligatory posing in front of the uncut Beta sheets. Unfortunately we were at an
awkward time between set designs where they didn’t have anything they could really show us that wasn’t already public, but it was still
great seeing where the Magic is made and talking with R&D member Mark Globus. We also got an hour to discuss the state of Magic Online with Chris
Kiritz, Magic Online Business Manager, the aforementioned Gordon Culp and Worth Wollpert, head of all digital Magic things. We got a lot of great
questions in about all things large and small and I hope to put together that information and my thoughts on them in a separate article.
We spent that night at the spectacular Card Kingdom, twenty minutes by highway from downtown Seattle but somehow still within city limits. The place is
awesome. Tons of tables, a full stocked bar and tasty sandwiches. Wizards distributed the yet-to-be-released new Commander decks to us and we squabbled
about who would get what. I ended up with the Heavenly Inferno deck. It wasn’t my first choice of The Mimeoplasm, but there is something pretty
sweet about dropping a dragon directly into play attacking. The decks are a little beginner-ish (including all-stars like Congregate), but I was pretty
surprised at how solid the core is, with actual all-stars like Mother of Runes, Lightning Greaves and good mana.
Later I was wandering around the tables when I saw Zaiem Beg playing a Caw Blade mirror match, with both players deep in discussion over a turn that
had just happened. Our side of the board is after drawing our card for
the turn. Only the hawk is known to our opponent. Our opponent’s board looks like this with three known cards, four unknown cards in hand and two Mystics in play. Three or so
turns ago, we had cast Divine Offering on one Batterskull and he had a window to cast Spell Pierce but did not. He hasn’t really had an
opportunity to cast a two mana counter and has missed at least one land drop.
I walked through the game state, thinking aloud about what we had to do and what we thought our opponent had in hand. Clearly we are losing this game
and would like to cast Jace, but it’s also exceedingly likely that our opponent has a Jace or a counter. After ten minutes of discussion, Gavin
Verhey walked by and we rewound the discussion. Another ten minutes and we came to a conclusion.
We need to cast Jace this turn, even if it’s likely he can immediately counter/remove it, since this is really the only way we can get back in
the game. Waiting a turn to hope to draw a seventh land to pay for leak is probably out of the question because his extra cards will bury us the longer
we wait. If we play Jace, we brainstorm with the default play of attacking and Dismembering his Batterskull once it enters the battlefield. We do this
pre-combat because we do have the privilege of playing around a topdecked Spell Pierce. If we succeed, we are up a card on Jace and at least
have a Batterskull to none. If he has the counter, we were likely losing in any circumstance. If he has a Jace to legend ours, we have at least
regained the initiative and gotten a brainstorm to boot.
After Gavin and I came to agreement, Luis walked by and we again rewound the decision tree and game state. Within a minute, Luis just blurts that we
should just cast Jace pre-combat and see what happens, essentially coming to the decision Gavin and Zaiem and I took a half an hour to get to.
Later, Gavin Verhey broke my brain by asking me how one would hardcast an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in Standard, turn one on the play. Five hours later,
a car full of us got the answer. There are at least a few and two that can go off as a goldfish.
I’m really going to miss casting Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard. I absolutely believe the bans were the right decision, but it is a shame
that Stoneforge Mystic pushed it to a point where it was abusing the format the way it was since it was fair (or fair-ish) for the better part of a
year. I am looking for an excuse to play blue cards post-ban, but have to entertain the possibility of playing a red deck come Nationals. At the very
least, I’ll get one last hurrah this weekend when I win the last MTGO PTQ for Philly.
Friday’s format was Standard. After dismembering the Wizards team in Modern, our lead was nigh insurmountable unless the wheels feel off in the
same way they had for Wizards the day before. Our lists were a little less tuned and probably included some stinkers, but we were confident in enough
of them. I piloted the UR Splinter Twin, losing to Tom Lapille’s Darkblade deck, but winning the mirror versus David Humphreys and against Kelly
Digges’ Birthing Pod/Fauna Shaman deck (who ultimately got the last laugh by making me play out the combo, as I gingerly clicked through and
tried not to untap my Splinter Twin with Exarch copies). We ended up extending our lead and continuing the fine tradition of the Community keeping the
Ultimately, I think the advantage is pretty clearly on the Community team, despite their awesome roster of Hall of Famers. Someone from Wizards
mentioned earlier that they thought draft was their weakest format because they don’t actually get to draft the current set that much. That
sounds true but probably also applies to the constructed formats as well. I would guess most of the development team is living in the future and only
really sees the big decks and headlines of current Standard. Maybe some of the smaller innovations in Standard are off the radar, like having Mental
Missteps in the Splinter Twin sideboard.
We finished off the day with one of the coolest events possible. Wizards had cracked a few foil sets of MD5, hand collated them into boosters and then
set up a few drafts for us and Wizards employees. I had the amazing pack 1 pick 1 choice of Sword of Fire and Ice vs. Vedalken Shackles, and ended up
with a pretty sweet U/B control deck (though at one point I had to pass foil Mindslaver and Death Cloud for an Iron Myr. Gotta win). The prizes for
winning were pulling two cards from a set of foil M12 with winner getting first choice. Awesome.
Mike Robles also busted out a box of Worldwake and we played multiplayer pack wars. I also got to Winston draft with Alexis Jansen and got my ass
handed to me in a series of matches.
All-in-all the week was amazing. Chris, Mike, and the rest of the Wizards team were perfect hosts and put together an awesome event (organized by the
Vincent Price of congratulatory e-mail fame) and entertainment and dinners. Seattle has good BBQ. Who knew? It is a huge privilege to be recognized as
a part of the Magic Online community and get to meet all the people who put the game and MTGO together.