Friday Night Magic – Part Two

Wow. I have to say I have been very pleased with the response to my last article. While a lot of it consisted of things like "Bennie, you’re an idiot– the foils you suggested are horrible," the main thing was that I struck a cord out there. People *do* care about the prize support for…

Wow. I have to say I have been very pleased with the response to my last article. While a lot of it consisted of things like "Bennie, you’re an idiot– the foils you suggested are horrible," the main thing was that I struck a cord out there. People *do* care about the prize support for FNM. I was worried that I might be over-reacting in my outrage, though I was out of line by calling for the resignation for whomever held the responsibility for choosing the prize cards for FNM. The responsible party himself wrote in and gave an explanation of sorts for the logic behind the prize cards; quote Mr. Jeff Donais:

>I am the person who picked the prize cards for the program.

Oops. Sorry I was calling for your head! 🙂

>When the program was designed, we purposely picked a wide >range of quality level for the prize cards. >For example, we have some amazing cards like River Boa, >Longbow Archer and Shock and we have some cards that are not >as popular, such as Mind Warp and Volcanic Geyser (although >the art is cool on both of those and they look great in foil >version).

I’d have to agree that the cards do *look* good. But so do River Boa and Uktabi Orangutan. I’m guessing that they wanted to have different cards that appealed to different players – the "playable" cards for the more serious gamer, and the other cards for the more casual gamer. But I have to wonder about the logic of this when you hold it up to the light of the real world; ultimately, prizes should have some sort of value for people to want to compete for them. Even a casual player would love to win a foil River Boa or other "amazing" foil card– if nothing else, he or she could trade them to the more competitive players for a boatload of "trash rares" that actually make good group-game cards. Another thought is to have one of the more popular, powerful cards be the top prize for winning the tournament, and the more casual/fun foil cards be awarded for good sport and the random door prize.

>We had to decide these cards well over a year ago, before we >knew the impact of the program. We had no idea what kind of >response we would get or what kind of attendance we would see. >Obviously we now know that the program is extremely popular >and the cards that have been selected for next year are all >generally tournament playable cards.

This is great news, folks! Let’s just hope Friday Night Magic lasts that long.

>I think you will be extremely happy with next season’s prize >cards for Friday Night Magic, so just hang in there. In fact, >you will probably be incredibly happy with the FNM card for >July.

More good news. Can’t wait to see what it is.

>Remember that prize support is not something that we typically >offer for DCI programs. The excitement level for this program >has been higher than we anticipated and we are very happy >about that. We plan to support it for as long as people keep >playing in it. >Best Regards, >Jeff Donais >DCI

When I first received this letter, I was pleased that Jeff took the time to reply and explain some of the decisions that went into choosing the prizes. A few friends of mine who read it, however, zeroed in on the closing remarks and were less than amused. They felt that the DCI was saying, "you should feel lucky we’re giving you anything, so stop your whining!" I don’t think that’s what Jeff meant, but I do think it reveals perhaps a lack of understanding by the DCI of how vital prize support is to the survival of the this game. Magic has gone past its initial excitement phase; it’s still fun for most of us, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not as "exciting" in and of itself. In Aaron Forsythe tournament report from Nationals (congratulations, Aaron), he mentions "the game is now 49% fun, 49% work, and only 2% wonder and amazement." Remember how, in the early days of Magic, you’d walk into a shop with your deck, shuffle up and play someone who blew you away when he played a Spinal Villain, or a Diamond Valley or Word of Command? You’d say, "what the HECK does that card do?" Magic was thrilling because it was new, fresh, and full of surprises. You’d play one copy of a card in your deck because it was the only one you owned; heck, it might be the only one in the shop. While that time is done pretty much over now, unique prize cards can capture some of that excitement. "Dude, where did you get a foil Mana Bird? How much do you want for it?" It’s great that Wizards is adding more prizes to the Pro Tour, but don’t forget the bread and butter of us scrubs and wannabe’s who provide 99% of your revenue. Keep *us* excited, and we’ll keep coming back for more. Heck, can’t you write off prize support as promotional costs?

Anyway, thanks Jeff for replying, and thanks for paying attention to the success of FNM and adjusting the prize support accordingly. I hope we see it faster than we did for Arena, God rest its soul…

All right, now let’s get on to addressing what you all really want to know: Did Bennie recommend those horrible cards for foil prizes as a joke, or is actually just an eloquent idiot? Some people weighed in with their opinions:

"… All i want are cards that i can actually fit into decks. I don’t want Browse or Orcish Artillery…"

"…How terrible was Bennie Smith list of 6th Edition cards he’d like to see foiled? besides a couple of ideas that would be great (like lanowar elves! these things are played way too much to not be offered foiled), most of his ideas were just dumb…"

"… After reading your article (I normally don’t) I was given the impression that you are an idiot…"

That was my favorite! 🙂

Chad Ellis was also less than pleased with my list, and gave some great thoughts on the subject:

>Bennie makes a good argument — that giving out unusable foils >as prize support is fairly weak. But then he blows his own >case by arguing that WotC should give out some worse cards. >Granted, Chill is a sideboard card…but it is a fairly >popular one that a lot of Blue players would like to have. And >is it really less wanted than some of the cards Bennie >recommends? >Grinning Totem. I don’t care how cool it looks, this card does >*not* see tournament play. >Gravedigger. A favorite for graveyard recursion…in Limited. >Psychic Venom, Sage Owl???

A well-known player once argued strongly that Sage Owl was better than Impulse… 🙂

I just wanted to step in here and mention a couple of things. First of all, I made a bad assumption when compiling my list, and that was that most people preferred foil permanents. I made that assumption because that’s what *I* prefer, and it makes the most logical sense. A foil permanent sits out there and looks all cool and shiny for a while (until your opponent destroys it); a foil instant or sorcery flashes once and is gone. However, lots of people just like foil spells in general. Some try to make all foil or mostly foil decks. Maybe they like to look at those foil Counterspells or Disenchants while they sit in their hand and dazzle themselves. But I now think limiting foils to permanents was a wrong assumption. Whoops.

However, I think people need to be a little more open minded about some of my choices– I gave lots and lots of card choices with the idea that Friday Night Magic might be around for a while, and at least out-last the Urza block. Sure, cards like Gravedigger and Browse might pale in comparison to what’s available right now, but remember folks– 6th edition is living in the shadow of an overpowered set in the Urza block. There’s little in 6th edition that doesn’t suck in comparison. But once that’s gone, who knows what cards might be considered playable? Gravedigger and Browse had places in decks of the past; before Whispers of the Muse and Stroke of Genius came along, I thought Browse was an amazing card, having been on the receiving end of a beating from Browse decks circa Ice Age and Mirage. Without a strong heir apparent in the Masques block for blue card drawing, Browse could make a comeback. With the new "stack" rules, it’s even more powerful than it used to be– you can browse in response to a spell being cast and put on the stack, and choose the best card out of five to react to it (say, Counterspell), and then cast the spell.

My main thought in choosing these cards was that they at least be playable. Maybe they weren’t the bomb cards people are currently playing, but are there that many 6th edition cards getting played right now? However, adding spells to the list of foils opens up the opportunity for popular, decent cards to be thrown into the prize pool. I’ll offer up a revised list later in the article.

Chad continues:

>But Bennie is on the right track. What should Wizards give >out? Not obscure rares, and not narrow cards. Give us what we >want. Staples. They’ve given us River Boa and Terror. That’s >the right trend. >Foil Disenchant. Shock. Llanowar Elves (as Bennie suggests). >Not Mind Warp, but Stupor. Pillage. MM already offers foil >Counterspell (and Disenchant, for that matter), but cards >along these lines. >A bad foil rare only gets a collector excited. But a good foil >common…now that’s something I might want four of. I’m not a >collector by nature, but foils are fun, and I’m still looking >for two more foil Counterspells. I like using my Snuff Out and >really enjoyed taking four foil Avalanche Riders to Pro Tour >NY last year. >Staples…good cards that are popular in many decks.

Chad’s last point clarifies my position much better than I did– bad foils only get collectors excited, but good foils get players excited. Friday Night Magic is for the players, and the prizes should reflect that.

One other thing– why limit the prize cards to commons or uncommons, anyway? It isn’t as if it costs Wizards any extra money to print up a foil Wrath of God rather than a foil Llanowar Elf. Foil rares get people excited and stirs up their desire to win; all it can do is help boost attendance and participation. If you want to give out foil rares and uncommons/commons, why not have foil rares as the main prize for winning the tournament, and give out the uncommon/common cards as best sport and the random prize?

Speaking of "best sport" and the random prize, I got one or two letters from people who mentioned that it was often tough choosing best sport, and how sometimes the winner of the tournament won the random prize, too. So they ended up making up their own prize structure. Now, I won’t get into the fact that WotC would probably be very unhappy about monkeying with their prize structure (since it’s mentioned in their advertisements for FNM), but it’s really not that hard to do it right. Here’s how we handle it in our shop– the winner obviously gets a prize. Then, everybody who is still at the shop votes in a secret ballot (written on the back of their match record) for the best sport with this criteria: 1) you can’t vote for the winner because, obviously, trying to horde 2/3 or the prizes is not very sporting; 2) you can’t vote for yourself because that’s selfish and obviously not sporting! and 3) you can only vote for players who are still around at the end of the tournament because hanging around even after you’ve been eliminated and supporting the guys still in it is sporting. Then, for the random prize, everyone still left around that hasn’t already gotten a prize rolls off for it. This is actually in the rules– players who’ve already won a foil for first place and good sport aren’t eligible for the random prize. See, that wasn’t so hard!

All right, so now I feel obligated to present my revised picks for Friday Night Magic (and Arena if applicable) foil prizes. Special thanks go out to Chad Ellis, Richie Proffitt and Christopher Redman for their suggestions for foil prizes.

City of Brass
Karplusan Forest, Adakar Wastes, Brushlands, Underground River, Sulphurous Springs
Llanowar Elves
Birds of Paradise
Tranquil Grove
Hammer of Bogardan
Hidden Horror
Vampiric Tutor
Browse (after Urza block rotates)
Mystical Tutor
Enlightened Tutor
Longbow Archer*
Ankh of Mishra
The Diamonds (Sky, Marble, etc.)

*I think Shock and Longbow Archer are already slotted for FNM prizes, but I included them in my list because I think they’re good choices.

Keep showing your support for Friday Night Magic, folks. The prizes may not be great right now, but with enough participation, as Jeff Donias says, thing will only get better.

Have fun!