Have you ever wanted to do something crazy? It could be subtle, like wearing a bowtie instead of a regular tie, or something really crazy that I probably can’t mention here. Some people use Magic as their outlet to do crazy things, such as that buddy that plays a Battle of Wits deck at a PTQ or Dan Bock playing an all basic land deck at PT Tokyo.
Well, I’ve always had this crazy desire to play a preconstucted deck at a major event. I imagined ripping off the shrink-wrap right after sitting down and just shuffling it together, then doing the same thing every round after that. At the SCG Standard Open in Minneapolis, I was finally able to live that dream. I also got a chance to interview Wizards R&D, who creates the Event Decks.
Interview with Wizards R&D
1. What is the purpose of designing and selling the Event Decks?
One of the best things we’ve noticed about the growth of Magic over the last few years has been the number of great in-store communities that have developed as a result of holding regular Magic tournaments, such as Friday Night Magic. Although the atmosphere at these events is often quite casual and welcoming, it can still be very intimidating for a player who is new to Magic or new to tournaments. We wanted to provide players with a deck they could pick up right off of the shelf and immediately use to compete in their local store’s Game Day or FNM Standard tournaments. If, after the tournament, that player wants to expand and improve upon the deck, there are suggestions on how to do so in the deck’s insert.
2. Where does the initial idea for building an Event Deck come from, such as do people choose their pet cards and build decks around them?
Generally, we look at cards we’ve been playing and identify a few that fit some of the Event Deck parameters. A suitable candidate needs to be accessible and appealing to players making their first foray into Standard and Friday Night Magic. It also needs to work within rarity constraints.
3. In what time period are the Event Decks designed relative to the set’s creation?
They are designed relatively late in the development process. Not everything in the set is locked down at that point, but all of the major moving parts are in place and most of the cards are what they will be.
4. Do you have to follow a set of rules in building the deck, such as only a certain number of rares?
We work with a number of guidelines, such as the total of number of rares (seven per deck) and identifying a few key commons and uncommons to include four of. Outside of that, trying to provide a wide variety of cards that makes sense in the deck is key. That way, players are exposed to many different ideas and get to tweak their decks in the directions they like most. Trying to include cards players will want in their collections is also important, especially as they get comfortable with Standard and start building their own decks.
5. Are the decks designed more to be interesting or to be competitive?
Honestly, both. Event Decks aim to deliver a fun entrance into competitive Constructed play. We want players to feel competitive at the FNM level with these Event Decks; otherwise, they’re more likely to conclude that FNM just isn’t for them. At the same time, playing these decks is an experience in itself. If players don’t enjoy that experience, no amount of winning will make a difference.
6. Is building the mana base the most difficult part of the deck since you are limited on the number of rare lands you can play?
Obviously, any Event Deck would be in better shape with more rare lands and the mana consistency they provide. We usually make a priority of including one or two rare multicolor lands, supplemented by common and uncommon lands like Evolving Wilds. That way, we can introduce players to the benefits of multicolor lands. One important feature of Event Decks is that players can improve them over time. Pointing out these rare lands is a good way to empower newer players to dive into that process.
7. Is the War of Attrition deck considered a mistake because Stoneforge Mystic was banned and a special case had to be made for people who might have bought the deck? Did that situation restrict what cards you could include in the future?
It’s funny, but shortly after Stoneforge Mystic was banned we worried that Birthing Pod might prove to be similarly powerful and format defining. The War of Attrition solution wasn’t the most elegant thing we’ve ever done, but it worked. In the end, we decided we’d rather continue to include the most exciting cards possible in Event Decks rather than water down the decks in an attempt to avoid similar situations in the future.
SCG Standard Open: Minneapolis Adventures
It was Tuesday, August 28th. I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and headed to the computer. I realized that I had to do it; the timing was perfect. So I went to StarCityGames.com and ordered three Event Decks, scheduling the delivery for SCG Open Series: Minneapolis. After I clicked confirm, there was no going back. I was too invested. I was finally going to get to show everyone how to get maximum value out of playing a preconstructed deck.
On Thursday, August 30th, I bought the remaining cards I needed for the deck online so that I could practice. Perhaps it was the desire to do well and make the moment extra special after planning on doing this for so many years. Or maybe I’m just that competitive that even after handicapping myself with a preconstructed deck, I still wanted to win.
Saturday, September 1st, I woke up and was physically shaking. I’d never felt this way before a tournament. I concluded that it must be because I was so excited to finally do this.
I walked up to the SCG dealer booth, picked up my three Repeat Performance decks, and mentioned how excited I was. The sales guy asked if I just needed some guaranteed Thragtusks. I commented, "No, I’m playing the precon." He gave me a puzzled look and asked why I needed three of them. I explained that the plan was to crack open the deck every round in front of my opponent. He wished me luck and told me to get back to him about how I did.
The registration line was rather long, so I make the rounds telling my friends of my plan. Quite a few remarked that I was finally going to do it after I had explained this crazy plan on so many car rides. I spotted Reuben Bresler, told him my plan, and asked for a feature match so my friends could watch. He agreed and let me hold the deck up in my Quick Questions photo. I didn’t realize it at the time, but choosing the Wit’s End background was very appropriate.
As I waited in line to pay, I explained my plan to Steve Peterman, one of the local judges. He told me about how Tasha Jamison played a precon at GP Dallas and won three rounds. For deck registration, she took the decklist out of the deck box, wrote her info on it, and handed it in. I explained that I couldn’t do that since opening the deck in front of my opponent was the plan, but I did think that was awesome.
When the pairings went up, I didn’t rush to my seat since I knew I’d probably get a feature match. When I finally did sit down, I didn’t take anything out, which my opponent found very odd. When they announced the feature match, he was very surprised. We sat down at the table and made some small talk. I found out that his name is Ty Quinn, he’s from Winnipeg, and he plays at Fusion Games, which is owned by Jason Howden, who I used to play with on the Pro Tour. He was still very puzzled as I hadn’t pulled out my deck yet since I was waiting to get the maximum effect.
Finally, the round started. I pulled the Event Deck out of my backpack and ripped off the shrink-wrap. He got that look on his face of it all making sense now. I then shuffled up the deck without sleeves since I had a fresh deck for the next round.
I won the die roll, which is pretty important because you need a fast start with this deck. I guess preconstructed decks have a tendency to flood out because they contain more land to make the mana ratios work.
I got a pretty fast opener with turn 2 Borderland Ranger and turn 3 Roaring Primadox, and he had to mulligan with his U/W Delver deck. Since I had played it online, I knew that speed was more important that card advantage, so I bounced my Arbor Elf instead of my Borderland Ranger with my turn 3 Roaring Primadox. He was unlucky with flipping his Delver, and when he did flip it I had Stingerfling Spider to kill it and block his Angel token from his Geist of Saint Traft. Since he was at low life I was able to swarm him for the kill despite him having Sword of Feast and Famine. My good friend Stonehorn Dignitary was MVP, as my opponent had to Vapor Snag my Roaring Primadox on his turn to break up the combo.
YES! I had won the first game.
Game 2 I got four creatures from Lead the Stampede and was able to swarm him for the kill, with Stonehorn showing up again to mess up his clock and buy me time to assemble the army.
After I sat down, my opponent asked me if I didn’t have my deck since I hadn’t pulled it out. I replied that I had my deck but just didn’t feel like shuffling yet. After everyone was seated around me, I pulled out the new Event Deck. Just as I had imagined, everyone got a confused look on their face as I opened my precon. My friend Charlie who was nearby asked me what I was doing, and I explained that I was getting my deck ready. "But you already played, haven’t you?" he stammered. "Yeah, I’m 1-1," I replied. Finally, it dawned on him what I was doing. I still had to explain to some confused people around me that I was playing an identical copy so it was perfectly legal.
After I got smashed by Mutilate and Wurmcoil Engine, my opponent commented how much he liked my presentation of pulling out a new deck. I like to think that I made everyone’s day a little more fun with that.
I conceded to my friend so I could go to Chipotle, which I think was an excellent idea! I did make all the people around me laugh when I explained what I was doing in the tournament. It was great when the guy next to me said, "Oh, you’re the guy who’s running around with a backpack full of precons."
I did the same presentation as round 3, but only my opponent was slightly confused. I think it was just too late in the day for everyone to notice, and since I was in the 1-3 bracket most people didn’t care what was going on.
In conclusion, it was almost as fun as I imagined. It was disappointing to play my friends twice, and I regret not just breaking out the new deck for every round and getting the tournament over with. After all, one reason I did this was so that I would have plenty of time to get home for my son Ryan’s 8th birthday. I also wish I had chosen a deck that was better against mass removal, but then I probably wouldn’t have beaten Delver, which was really sweet.
Also, I’ll never do it for a major event again since it would be diminishing returns to repeat it, but I hope to do it again for an FNM. My friend Hans Christensen has played precons at FNM and made Top 4 at my local store. I also apparently infected Charlie with the idea.
I’d like to thank all my opponents for being good sports, especially my first round opponent, and Wizards R&D for taking the time to answer my questions. Also, if you have a story about playing an Event Deck, let me know in the comments because I’d enjoy hearing them.
Good luck, and definitely have fun.
I am Izzet because it has the best jokes "What time Izzet? Izzet time for a topdeck?"