This summer has been completely insane for me. I’ve covered U.S. Nationals, Pro Tour: Seattle, Grand Prix: Orlando, The StarCityGames.com Power 9 tournament, Grand Prix: New Jersey, and the first Vs. System Pro Circuit event so far, and on Tuesday I will be heading out to San Francisco to see my first Magic Worlds. Today I’m going to tell you what I learned about Block Constructed during that period of time, take a brief look forward to what you can expect to see at Worlds, and tell some more tales.
The Evolution of Block
Let’s pause for a moment and take a look at where we started with this whole Block thing, shall we?
Anan Go – Kobe
G/R Freshmaker – NJ
Jeff Garza – Orlando
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Affinity – Kobe
Affinity – Orlando
Affinity – GP:NJ
Tooth and Nail – Kobe
U/G Tooth – Orlando
G/R Tooth and Nail – GP: NJ
In my mind, this is the lineage of decks from Kobe to New Jersey. Anan Go players gradually added more creatures and slightly less pure hate for Affinity decks in order to deal with the Green decks that predominated around the time of Orlando. Then Freshmaker rose up, playing more efficient/powerful spells in order to better deal with the Affinity menace, while still maintaining a lot of game against the Tooth decks. The G/R deck exchanges a kill spell for Wayfarer’s Bauble to help with their manabase, but they make it up by playing Eternal Witness. For the longest time the Red decks were tier 1, but I think the Jersey metagame pushed them out of that slot, proving that you can’t overload really good Affinity players with one-for-one removal and still win, especially if they are playing Moriok Riggers.
The Affinity decks have hardly changed. They are playing one more land now, lost Clamp but added Cranial Plating, added Atogs for more game against Red, and then pushed that over the top with Moriok Riggers. The best Block Constructed decks always played Aether Vial and four Darksteel Citadels and Blinkmoth Nexus, and have hardly changed outside of that. I still find it amusing that most Pros flat out missed Shrapnel Blast when testing for Kobe, but they’ve never needed the card in the maindeck for Block play.
Oh, and sorry Antonino, good buddy, but the deck still doesn’t need Somber Hoverguard. The goofy Blue flier doesn’t help Plating, Affinity, doesn’t sac to Ravager or Atog, doesn’t pump Riggers, dies to Magma Jet and a single Arc-Slogger shot, and it still makes you use Blue mana for casting spells instead of drawing cards or leaving your Spheres on the board to boost Affinity. I am Jack’s Seething Lack of Synergy… look at me go. The other big piece of Affinity tech listed above is Relic Barrier, quite the tasty mirror match card.
The Tooth and Nail decks have changed a great deal since Nassif debuted the deck in Kobe – or have they? Look at the decks listed above. In spite of going adding two different colors along the way, the threat base remained identical between Garza’s deck and Nassif’s original. Oblivion Stone is too slow and unnecessary when you have eight one-mana artifact removal spells plus Eternal Witness, and Mindslaver doesn’t do enough fast enough to run it in the maindeck, while Rude Awakening functions as acceleration and additional kill. Aside from those changes, the decks are nearly identical, which shows that, as usual, Gab got it nearly right, right from the start.
In my opinion, there are two tier 1 decks right now and everything else. Affinity is obviously deck number one, and it will remain that way. What a stupidly disgusting deck. The fact that Rigger is Black is just that much more frustrating, because there is no good way to get rid of him unless you play the Cog deck and play bounce and Purge. Welcome to the continually compounding mistakes of R&D with regard to Affinity.
Regardless, Affinity decks actually have something to think about going into Worlds (and for the rest of the PTQ season for that matter): Do you start maindecking a way to take care of the Leonin Abunas/Platinum Angel combo? I’m not sure you do, because your game 1 against G/R Tooth and Nail remains pretty good, but it’s definitely something to think about. Scooping when you’re still at twenty life because your opponent was able to cast an aggressive Tooth and Nail isn’t particularly fun. Perhaps you just run more answers in your sideboard so that games two and three are better for you. BDM and I were talking about it at the Grand Prix, and though it seems awful, we both think siding in a couple of Electrostatic Bolts is a solid plan because it doubles your outs.
Tooth is clearly the other tier 1 deck, and I doubt that it has much room to change before Worlds. Expect to see similar G/R decklists next week during the Block Constructed portion of Worlds.
After those two decks, you end up with a hodgepodge of tier 2 decks that may or may not be good, depending on the metagame you face. Cheesequake has a lot of power, but is prone to inconsistent draws. Freshmaker is a good deck, but can’t quite make it over the hump to tier 1, for whatever reason. The Cog deck is very clever, but even Jan Holland admitted he was surprised at how well he did with it, because his testing group didn’t really know how powerful it was before they played it in New Jersey.
Big Red as we know it isn’t dead, but it is on life support. Slith Firewalkers are largely useless at this point, so those have to go, and in their place, I think you work back to the Anan Go roots – play more removal in the maindeck and Damping Matrix. Do you try to find a way to work a Black splash into the deck so you can Terror Auriok Salvagers, Arc-Sloggers, Molder Slugs, etc? I honestly don’t know. Now that I think about it, I don’t really care either… you couldn’t pay me enough to play Big Red in this environment. You can’t deal with both Tooth and Affinity decks with your maindeck, and the deck just doesn’t have the firepower or synergy of the other big decks in the format. Why bother?
62.5% of the top 8 in Jersey was Vial Affinity, an absurd number when compared with the 30% of the field that ran the deck on Day 2. Actually, that number is pretty absurd when compared with anything, especially at a 950 person tournament. The good thing for Wizards is that play skill plays a huge part in whether or not this deck succeeds, which means Affinity isn’t dominating the PTQ circuit the way it’s dominating GPs. It doesn’t change the fact that good players can win right through the hate, making Affinity the cockroach of the Magic World. Yes, I know you’re frustrated with seeing, hearing about, and playing with or against the deck. Everybody is.
I think the real question for Worlds and the rest of the PTQ season is Affinity or No? which isn’t particularly healthy, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now.
So how many viable Type Two decks exist right now? I honestly don’t know because Block Constructed has taken over the writing world, but here are the possibilities I can see: Affinity, G/W Slide, Goblin Bidding, Mono-White Control, U/W, and Nassif LD. It will be interesting to see if Affinity makes a comeback at Worlds or if the more powerful control elements are able to keep the deck in check better than the Block metagame has done.
As for Draft, the format remains really interesting. B/R is obviously very strong if you get the cards (just like last year), but after that things are pretty open. Any deck featuring Cogs and Trinket Mage has a good chance of winning, sunburst is a viable strategy, and I hear rumors that people are actually making non-sunburst Green decks and W/B decks work consistently. Unlike previous full block draft environments, matchups remain less important in this format than overall card quality, which should make for some very interesting happenings at the booster draft tables.
In answer to the”Who is going to be the Player of the Year” question, your guess is as good as mine, but with two Constructed formats, it’s hard to bet against Nassif.
Stories from Around the Way
The Grand Prix site in Elizabeth, New Jersey was pretty much the worst Grand Prix venue of all time. The RexPlex is okay in and of itself, but everything else about the site was awful. For starters, the site is located right next to the Port of New Jersey, meaning it’s in a relatively seedy area that is not only uncomfortable to walk around, but is also dangerous to drive around (cranky semi drivers are everywhere). There were no decent restaurants nearby, so getting good food during the event was nearly impossible, as you were basically forced to eat the garbage they were serving at the concession stand or to go try and fight through the maze of Ikea and wait in a forty-five minute line at their cafe.
Look, I know that holding GPs in NYC isn’t feasible because it’s too expensive, but can we please find someplace for the new Grand Prix in that area that doesn’t make Kai ask,”Is this how all U.S. Grand Prix sites are, because this is embarrassing?” The Euro GPs are gorgeous, all I’m asking for is non-suck.
On Saturday night in Orlando, I was supposed to go party with the TOGIT kids and Brian Kibler, but I mixed up the name of the bar Chillers with Chili’s, and then thought I misheard what Antonino said and hung out outside TGIFriday’s, two buildings down from where they were waiting for me, thus missing out on the partying Saturday night that gave Osyp such a massive hangover for Sunday (he actually threw up right before the first round.) I also missed the following exchange that has already been partially relayed on another site:
Osyp (to the waitress):”Excuse me miss, do you see those very fine ladies sitting at the table over there? Can you please send them three waters and tell them it’s from us?”
Waitress:”You’re kidding, right?”
Osyp:”Not at all.”
Waitress (delivers drinks and comes back):”They were unimpressed.”
Five minutes later, Osyp and Antonino go over to the table…
Osyp:”Hello ladies. I’m so sorry about the waters. You see our friend over there at the table *points to Jon Sonne* thought it would be funny to send you waters. He’s obviously an idiot, because you deserve so much more. Can I buy you a real drink?”
Antonino:”Would you like to dance?”
After Osyp’s victory in Orlando, I went to dinner with Krempels, Osyp, Matt Boccio, and Larsson. We were originally going to head to The Cheesecake Factory, but opted into Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse instead, at least doubling the cost of our meals in exchange for fantastic hunks of meat served on plates that are delivered to your table at 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Dinner was fabulous, but unfortunately for me, the rest of my table referred to me only as dad for the entire meal. It may have been one of the worst best meals of my life. You f***ers.
After dinner, we bounced across the street to introduce the crew to Cold Stone Creamery, where Boccio ordered the large in the giant chocolate-dipped waffle cone. The thing was friggin enormous, and after our dinner of steak and potatoes, I put a dollar on the fact that there was no way he could eat the whole thing. Matt is a master, however, and did eat every last bite, though watching his misery as he chewed through the final quarter was worth every cent.
I already covered the reasons why you shouldn’t follow Gerard Fabiano or Jeremy Moore anywhere on the Sideboard.com, but here’s a link for you in case you missed it. In other Gerard news, he showed up to NJ on Friday night late with a huge, bleeding gash on the top of his head. When asked how this happened, he stated,”I ran into a tree.”
Brian David-Marshall is so shady. Flores, Becker, BDM, Steve Sadin and I all go out to dinner on Saturday night after the GP. When we ask where we’re going, BDM says a nice little steak place in North Jersey. Flores immediately points out that we’re obviously just going someplace close to Brian’s apartment so we can drop him off. Brian swears this is not the case, and we all pack up and head into the city. The place we were originally going to closes just as we’re arriving, so Brian audibles and we go somewhere else that tells us they turn into a club at 11PM and won’t let anyone wearing jeans or sandals in at that point.
Soooo, we go to an all-night diner, eat diner food (including Cinnamon-Raisin French Toast for me that happens to be regular French Toast with cinnamon sprinkled on the bread and a box of raisins literally just dumped onto the bread itself). Flores orders a steak, and everyone else gets normal stuff. While the food was mediocre, the company for the dinner was great (though every single story from that dinner is utterly unrepeatable on this website), and driving along the river looking at the NYC skyline was rather nice.
After dinner, we all drove back to the site… but not before dropping BDM off at his apartment a mere five minutes away.
Stories From that Other Game
For those of you who are blissfully unaware, the first Vs. System (you know, that Marvel/DC game) Pro Circuit event took place last weekend and was utterly dominated by Magic players. Dragon Master Brian Kibler is now Dr. Kibler, Diabolic Genius, as he piloted his Common Enemy (Fantastic Four + Dr. Doom) deck to the $40,000 first prize and a ride in the Batmobile. In addition to Kibler, seven of the top 8 were Magic players, six of whom you have probably heard of before including Gabe Walls, Neil Reeves, and U.S. National Champion Craig Krempels.
In my mind, two companies with big money Pro Tours and good games is a great thing for anyone interested in professional gaming. Vs. has fewer Pro Circuit (PC) events and no end of year payout right now, but their events have a larger total payout, pay more for each comparable slot, and deliver money all the way down to 75th place. Looking at all the MTG players at the top of the standings, it’s obvious that both games use comparable skill sets, though at the moment many players seem to feel Vs. is the harder of the two games.
Competitive Magic players who aren’t at least considering playing Vs. right now are basically throwing away money. The level of play skill even at the PC was very low, which means you are getting in on the ground floor of a game that is not very well understood. How many times have you wished that you could go back to the early days of Magic when nobody knew anything and start playing then so you could get a leg up on the competition? That’s exactly what people have the chance to do right now, and the people running the PC have promised they are in it for the long haul.
Another benefit for MTGers is that Upper Deck may be the first legitimate competitor to Wizards of the Coast, ever. Competition is good for the customer, as it generally means that companies are more responsive to the needs of their customers because they risk losing them if they are not. Have you noticed how we keep hearing that Magic is doing better than ever, and that sales keep going up for each new set? That’s great news, but when was the last time the prizes on the Pro Tour got a big bump? Prices of both virtual and real packs increased 12% earlier in the year, but way back in 1998 Brian Seldon received $34,000 for winning Worlds. This year, the winner of Worlds will take home $35,000, about a 3% increase over six years. There is a substantial difference between team payouts for Worlds, as in 1998 (50K) and 2004 (207K), but the individual prizes have only increased $7,000 in seven years.
I talked to gentleman extraordinaire Scott Larabee (Thanks for the info, Scott), and he said that more complete numbers for PTs over the years will be on The Sideboard next week sometime, so expect me to revisit this topic in the future (particularly if it turns out that I’m very wrong, which is possible).
It was actually difficult to find the numbers for older Pro Tours, so I might be wrong about the individual prize package not increasing much over the years (and to be fair, the Masters/End-of-Year Payout did start up somewhere in there and it pays out $635,000 extra this year, though that system has been in place for years now as well). And I’m not saying that Wizards doesn’t give something back to the players, because they obviously do through player rewards, larger Grand Prix payouts, etc. But competition from another company that is very player-friendly can only help fans of both games. (While on the subject of GPs, isn’t it about time that the prize payout increase for events big enough to make a cut to the top 128 worthwhile? Am I the only one who feels this way?)
The production values at the PC were pretty awesome. It’s not really a big deal or anything, but just hanging out in the PC area to see the sites was pretty cool. Former StarCityGames.com editor Omeed Dariani only got to sit in the Batmobile, but Jeff Donais actually got to go out and take the thing for a spin after the PC was over as we literally watched him ride off into the sunset. We later saw him stop at a stoplight on our way to dinner and get smacked down by the Batmobile’s owner for turning on the flashing red light on top of the Batmobile. Good times.
As for the game itself, I was actually impressed. Draft is a little weak right now mostly due to the size of the current draft set (only 165 cards in DC Origins means there aren’t enough viable strategies to pursue when drafting), but the Constructed format is very impressive. Common Enemy was the big story of the weekend, but Teen Titans is actually the most complicated deck I have ever seen in any card game ever. Designed mostly by Magic deckbuilding genius John Ormerod, just talking to he and Tim Willoughby about the deck blew my mind, but seeing it in play at the hands of someone good is that much better. Having a game in its infancy with that much card interactivity made me think that players will have a lot of options available to them in the coming years.
Is the game better than Magic? No, not at all. But it could get there… and to me, having multiple companies that offer good games and over a million dollars in prize money every year is a good thing.
Alright, onto more fun stuff… Gamers will bet on anything. The Ben Seck is an absolute master at Rock, Paper, Scissors. He was 18-2 on the weekend, earning his creditors big money in the Jeff Donais-sponsored Rock, Paper, Scissors Invitational before finally going down in defeat to Huey Jensen. All of this was after destroying Matt Boccio the night before in the hotel room, as Boccio bageled the event in between playtesting for his top 8 match.
Speaking of TBS, he and Tony Tsai are highly entertaining individuals, and I recommend barning them whenever the opportunity arises. The Shark (as Tsai is known) is one of the more quietly funny people I’ve met.
R&D member and former StarCityGames.com writer Paul”Smiley” Sottosanti (his friends call him”Future”… I still call him Smiley) finished second at the Vs. Grand Prix after learning the game the night before.
We went out to dinner at Bucca di Beppo on Saturday night, courtesy of T8 competitors Matt Boccio and Craig Krempels. While at dinner, someone at the table observed that Matt Larsson was the only player present who hadn’t cashed on day 2, causing Steve Sadin to raise a John Fiorillo-drawn Penguin sketch in front of Larsson’s face saying”Wah wah wah” in his best Burgess Meredith Penguin voice. The next day during the 10K semis, Tony Tsai used the same sketch to taunt Paul Sottosanti every time Paul made a mistake or missed with Longshot. I highly recommend everyone find their own Penguin sketch/card and adopt this behavior, as it’s not only fun to do, but also entertaining to the people watching.
My first feature match for the PC was scrapped because it featured too much buffoonery. The match was round 1, Matt Boccio vs. Alex Shvartsman. Boccio started things off by holding the match up for 3 minutes while he went and bought a missing card for his deck. Then Alex illegally used one of his cards at least twice in the match, but neither the players nor the judge realized this until one of the spectators pointed it out after the match (to be fair, it didn’t affect the match outcome). The folks at Upper Deck decided that this was not what they wanted to record as one of the first Pro Circuit matches ever, and thus it was discarded.
Speaking of Alex, both he and Your Move Games leader Rob Dougherty went 6-0 in the draft portion of the event, a strange thing indeed.
There’s an awful joke I learned recently that I tried to share this weekend with Gerard Fabiano, the absolute master of ruining jokes, whether he tells them or not. The joke (admittedly tacky) goes like this:
Q: What’s the opposite of Christopher Walken?
A: Christopher Reeve.
Me: Gerard, I have a joke for you.
G: Oh really? Go ahead, I love jokes.
Me: Okay, What’s the opposite of Christopher Walken?
G: *blink* *blank stare* Who’s Christopher Walken?
StarWarsKid:”Gerard is really surprising, because he looks smart until he opens his mouth, and then you realize he’s sooo dumb.”
The hardest part about traveling for me is the fact that I’m an awful away-dumper. Seriously… I went to the Naval Academy for a week-long recruitment camp when I was sixteen and didn’t drop a deuce for six days. Six days. At home I’m Big freaking Ben in terms of regularity. Kansas City at U.S. Nationals? 1 time in six days. GenCon? Same thing. For some reason when I go on the road, I can’t go on the road. Complete insanity. Luckily I’m in good company, since The Sports Guy and De Rosa both have identical problems.
In other news, Jim Ferraiolo recently broke the record for most dumps taken in a twenty-four hour period after eating curry at a local Indian food restaurant.
Did you ever wonder who the hell thought it was a good idea to put arm rests on airplane seats at the same height as your hips? Who exactly did they design these things for anyway? I think someone just adapted an old Vlad Tepes torture device and sold it to the airlines as the perfect ergonomic seat to use on flights of three hours or longer. Friggin’ ridiculous.
You may have noticed that the StarCityGames.com Power 9 tournament in Richmond will now feature former Magic Pro, former MagictheGathering.com editor, and current member of R&D Aaron Forsythe. Back in Seattle, Randy and I were talking over dinner about the Power 9 tournaments, and he mentioned that it’s too bad the event wasn’t within driving distance, because he knew plenty of Wizards folks who might be interested in playing. At first I sat there dumbfounded, because I didn’t realize they could play in the event, but then I got on the phone with Pete and told him how cool it would be. Unfortunately the timing was just wrong for the first tournament, and Randy is living in Babyville now and is not allowed to leave home for a while. But somehow Aaron got permission from his lovely wife Anne to come out and visit us. Sweet, no? It will be even sweeter if you beat him in the Swiss rounds and earn yourself a pack of Italian Legends.
Expect Matt Boccio to guest on my column soon and share details with the new hit of your Fall TV lineup: The Dan Bridy Show!
One more thing before I go: cheesecake, cheesecake, cheesecake, Gisele, Gisele, cheesecake! (And Michelle Trachtenberg, who is hereby classified as”other”.)
The Holy Kanoot
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