Removed From Game – Covering Grand Prix: Brussels

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Tuesday, March 30th – Want to know who’s doing well during an event? Who’s out? What new deck’s the hot tech for the weekend? Who got disqualified? Don’t ask Rich, he’s too busy actually writing and recording the stuff to know things like that! Join him for a trip inside the coverage of the largest Standard event ever held.

Not for the first time in these hallowed pages, I’ve made myself a liar. Last week, I said that I’d be talking about lots of suggestions I’d received for making the overall Grand Prix experience even better. It’s not true, at least not this week. To be honest, so many people came up to me during Brussels, packed full of enthusiasm about their own particular tweak on an already excellent system, that to process it all, and attempt to round it into a coherent whole has been beyond me, what with the small matter of navigating planes, trains, and automobiles to finally arrive back at the hub of world Magic, Scunthorpe.

Therefore, do please keep sending me your suggestions this week, and (hopefully) we’ll reconvene in seven days to discuss some possibilities. I do still want to talk about the Grand Prix this past weekend, however, and this has been brought about by a couple of specific moments. On Friday, I was chatting with a friend who is on the fringes of Pro Magic (think a couple of Pro Tours, a few Grand Prix Day Twos, regular PTQs etc) and he told me that he never really read Event Coverage, believing that there was nothing really ‘for him’ there. I told him, truthfully, that I considered this to be spectacularly unlikely, since trying to find features that are going to appeal to lots of different sectors of the Magic community are what we’re all about.

The second episode happened on Saturday, when someone I didn’t know came up and said, ‘So who’s winning?’ I get this question at Pro Tours a lot, and the answer is almost invariably ‘I don’t know.’ This comes as quite a surprise to most people, as they reason that I must be on top of what’s going on, round by round, as part of my job. The reality is that every interview, every podcast, every chat with a trader, every search for a decklist, and 101 other tasks, all comes before putting my eyes in front of the latest Standings. As a result, when people ask me who won on a Sunday night, my tongue-in-cheek answer is ‘I’ll let you know when I get home and read the coverage.’

To be fair, I do actually recollect that Emanuele Giusti of Italy won Grand Prix: Brussels, I remember what he looks like, how the two games in the Final went, and how utterly shattered I was by the time I went to bed. But I’m sure there are lots of people who know far more about what happened in Brussels than I do. So I thought today I’d try and kill two birds with one stone. I’m going to read the event coverage, right now. If I’m right, I’m going to learn a lot about the Grand Prix, and quite a lot about aspects of Magic in the process. Then the next time I see my friend, I’ll be able to look him in the eye and say ‘Really? Nothing for you? How about….’

Info: Fact Sheet — When we grow up, Facts are things we’re forced to learn, but once we’re older we tend to treat them more as the friends and companions they truly are. I always learn a bunch from this collection of details. A free Umezawa’s Jitte? Cool. Grand Prix Trials? Now that’s a massive surprise in Europe. More on this shortly. Head Judge Kevin Desprez. That’s good news, he’s really experienced, almost entirely unflappable, a good leader. Public Events List — Wow, Super FNM on Friday night, and that Legacy event on Sunday looks ridiculous. And the artists — Don’t really know Veronique Meignaud, but Rob Alexander? Fantastic, can’t wait to see him again. Oh, and a handy link to all their Magic art. Anything else? How to get there.

Info: Day 1 Playerlist — In Europe, we pretty much always have so many players that we split the tournament into two halves. When there are more than 1,600 players, it’s very hard first thing on Saturday morning to spot all the big names, so it’s always a big moment when we get to scroll down the hundreds and hundreds, and work out who we’re going to be following through the weekend. Saito? Nakamura? Are both Ruels here, and are they in the same half? What about Sam Black and Gaudenis Vidugiris, have they made the trip? Plus, inevitably, we each keep an eye on our close friends, and players from our home Nation. Since Brussels had a staff of Englishman Tim Willoughby, Englishman Rich Hagon, and Englishman David Sutcliffe, we were all naturally focused on the performance of the two Argentineans…

Info: Day 1 Country Breakdown — And this is how we knew that there were two Argentineans. More to the point, so did they. Half way through day one, up comes Argentinean number one, and says ‘It says here that there are two of us. Can you find me the other player? Less than two minutes later, they were busy conversing in whatever language Argentineans use to talk to each other, tracked down through the country breakdown. Of course, we’re also interested in growing trends, which is one of the first signs that a community might be about to make some noise at a global level. You can see the rise of the Czech players over the last few years, as more and more of them attend Grand Prix. We also get a chance to work out roughly how likely it is that a particular country will have a Top 8 slot. The host nation would have their work cut out, as they had less than a quarter of the total.

Now we’re into the meat of the day one coverage. Although there are nine rounds, the four Feature Match tables will usually be empty until at least Round 3, and sometimes Round 4. That’s when the Pros enter the race, with their three Byes, and those are the rounds where we’re most likely to find two names going head to head. Of course, one of the most important parts of coverage, which we take very seriously, is getting each and every result up.

We know that there are people all over the world, clicking ‘Refresh’ repeatedly, and then scrolling down the pairings page for Round 2 to find their brother, friend, cousin, son… and then going to the results for the round, and scrolling down with near-infinite slowness, until the screen just shows the table before the result they want. And then they crack, and with one final flick of the mouse, they get the jolt of either pleasure or disappointment, and another bit of the personal story they’re following becomes known.

Saturday, 12.16pm — You’ve Got to Flight for Your Right to Party

We know that players love decklists. When we started providing every Pro Tour decklist, we got offers of holidays in the Bahamas, free vodka for a year, and a Nike sportswear contract, all to say thanks. I don’t drink alcohol, and the Caribbean can get a little warm, but man, those Air Jordan’s are bangin’. Anyways, whenever we get the chance to share decklists with you, we do, and with an enormous set of Grand Prix Trials on the Friday, it was our first order of business on Saturday. Yes, there were six Jund winners, but that still left fourteen others, and hardly any were repeats. Whatever you wanted to play in Standard, you could do it, and feel you had a chance of success.

Podcast — Friday on Saturday

It’s me for the first time! There’s always an element of overlap between the text coverage and my shows. Let’s be truthful, podcasts are for those of you who enjoy plenty of time, and actively want to spend several hours soaking it all in. If I wanted a particular decklist, or match report, I wouldn’t go near a radio, I’d be straight to the paper, or the internet. No, podcasts are all about the pleasure of the journey, and in this opening salvo, I went back to Friday, talked about those Trial winning decks, and went over an awesome experience I had doing Super FNM.

In a way, I was glad that I went 3-1. First, because 3-1 is pretty good. Second, because if I’d gone
4-0 I would have felt I couldn’t talk about it. I mean, that sounds like showing off. I met four terrific opponents, made one play that made me feel there was still hope for me, and that I was actually listening and learning from all the Pros I spend my time with, and just enjoyed Magic for being Magic.

Saturday, 1pm — The morning after the night before

David Sutcliffe had also taken part in Super FNM, and this was our chance to give all the Sealed fans a chance to try their hand at building a deck from a complete Pool list. I’m always surprised this kind of thing isn’t done more. A few years ago, during Ravnica if memory serves, a group of friends agreed to list the product as we opened new boosters. With each set of six boosters, we had a typed-up Sealed Pool, and with each of us opening a box, with a bit of hard work we’d got 24 Sealed Pools listed, ready to build, test, and talk about. In terms of added value, this is such a simple thing, and it really helps your Sealed play.

Meanwhile, you get to build from David’s Pool, check out his utterly saucy Rares, and feel smug as you spot plays you would have made.

1.36pm — And I Would Planeswalk 500 Miles, and I Would Planeswalk 500 More…

Tim Willoughby loves his music, and his writing is littered with cultural references, both pop and otherwise. In this feature, he went inside the Country Breakdown numbers, and introduced us to some of the players who might be making it to the top tables. This is a great place to find out about someone like Ben Stark, with a nice story to tell, but who could be lost in the crowd. We like to give the long-distance travellers some love, as well as some airmiles. They deserve it, both for their perseverance, and their sense of adventure, which I always admire. 6,000 miles to play cards? Well done.

2.08pm — Not the Rise of the Eldrazi product section

With the Rise of the Eldrazi Product Section going live earlier in the week, we wanted to check out the stuff you could buy right now with the money that was burning a hole in your pocket. I’m not a comic book reader at all (Sandman was just incredible, but represents my sum total), but that Planeswalker book looked spectacular. Intro Packs are something I have just about one of every deck ever made, so they’re old friends. The Versus decks are fun, ‘Agents of Artifice’ was one of my favorite books in any genre last year, and who doesn’t have a ‘lucky’ deckbox or favorite set of sleeves? We could have gone on taking eye-candy photos for ages, because we didn’t even start on playmats. Oooooo, playmats….

2.42pm — Talking Shop

If you want to know the price of any given Rare, you are well served. May I recommend to you a certain website by the name of starcitygames.com? Still, what we try to do in coverage is give you the sense of what the flow of cards are. What cards are dealers sold out of? Why? Is it just because of Legacy, or is there a Highlander event that a certain card is good for, and everyone wants one? This is a feature at almost every event, and if you read them all one after the other, you’d have an interesting overview of Trading Trends through the year.

Podcast — Pro Expo at GP Brussels

Round Four gets us underway with the Pros, and I get to go round all four Feature Matches, navigating the crowds between the tables to try and keep an eye on all the action. Inevitably, there’s a ‘snapshot’ feel to this kind of thing, because even the fastest players have plenty of thinking time where the game itself doesn’t change, but getting Remi Fortier, Worlds Finalist David Reitbauer, and reigning Pro Tour Champion Simon Goertzen in his first Premier match since winning in San Diego, is a great lineup.

Feature Match Round 4 — Jace Off: Jan Doise v Remi Fortier

For more in-depth action, we know plenty of you like full match reports, and our best match of Round Four featured the Pro Tour Valencia winner up against the Top 8 man from Pro Tour: Berlin in 2008. This was Blue-White against Turbo Fog, and although it was a fairly routine victory for Fortier, it’s still nice to be able to give some shop window time to a niche deck like Turbo Fog. And, depending on the matchup, you can learn a thing or two about how the Pros play the game.

Podcast — The Best of British

I’m always very careful before I put fellow Brits in front of a camera, or in this case, microphone. We haven’t always been super-successful as a nation, and I don’t want to abuse my position to give airtime to friends just because they’re friends. However, there’s been some momentum building in the last few months, and it felt like a reasonable time to share that story. What certainly helped from a global angle is that star of the show was a certain Mr. Craig Stevenson, talking about many of the fabulous writers available for perusal on, oh, now what was that website again?

Feature Match Round 6 — Vincent Lemoine v Robert van Medevoort

Ticking all sorts of boxes, this match had a home player (Lemoine), a well-known near-neighbor and Pro (van Medevoort), a fun and funky deck that came out of San Diego via Niels Viaene (Open the Vaults), and the chance to see Jund take a beating. (Although we didn’t know that at the time, honest!)

2.42pm — The More Things Change…

A lot of what we do is ‘up to the minute’ stuff, and what’s important in Round Four is only important until Round Five comes along. However, we always try to take some time out to evaluate something in a more meaningful fashion, and some writers are really suited to this, like David Sutcliffe. In this piece, he talks about some really old cards, how they’re similar, or even functionally identical, to some recent additions, and how evaluating where these cards sit in their current environment is crucial to them making the leap from kitchen table to top table. These things are really tough to pull off, because they require a lot of knowledge, and a lot of thought, and marshalling your thoughts is difficult when the noise level can be staggering. Still, read it and you’ll see, there’s definitely stuff here most of us can use in our daily Magic lives.

Podcast — Seven is the Magic Number

I confess, I find the titles for shows really hard to come up with, since they’re all variations on a theme of ‘first show, next show, later show, last show’. Still, we strive to create… At our daily meeting, the coverage team had picked over possible storylines to keep an eye on, and Olivier Ruel has been high on the watch list for a while, because of his ongoing attempt to oust Kai Budde as the all-time Pro Points leader, which Kai currently holds by a meagre one Point. Hence, a match against Slovak powerhouse and online master, Robert Jurkovic, was an obvious headline match to follow for audio fans, backed up, as usual, by three more.

Feature Match Round 8: Chasing a Dream — Sebastian Thaler v Olivier Ruel

Ruel was back in Round Eight, this time in text format. As I say, we want to cover all the bases, and if you’re French, and your English isn’t necessarily excellent, you can still pick out all the key plays, something that’s tricky with an audio host talking non-stop.

9.03pm — Round Nine. Round Up.

While we tend to focus on the best-known players, which are usually (but not always) also the most successful players, the last Round of Day One is a chance to spotlight players who are having success on that day, including those who have struggled manfully (or womanfully) all day with no Byes. Anton Fyssas, Ruben Snijdewind, Sjors Thielen, Robby Bisschop — these aren’t names that resonate around the world, at least not yet, but in a few years we may be able to look back and point to their first appearance in coverage, three years before they claim the World Championship.

Feature Match Round 9 — Tomoharu Saito v Manuel Bucher

Nerds that we are, this is the kind of thing that coverage lives for. We like Saito, we like Bucher, and we’d love to see them both make it to Day Two, because they’re good guys both, and good for the game. However, what we also love is two great players going head to head, where only one can advance at the expense of the other. When it’s a Jund mirror, we have the chance to gain some insight into how great players play a deck that a lot of people pick up and play very, very badly, and we also have the chance for massive plays — whatever you think about it, Bituminous Blast into Bloodbraid Elf into, well, anything really, is one hell of a game changer, and that makes for Magic that’s fun to watch.

9.49pm — Magical Art in Brussels

This article had been in the making since round about midday. Like any non-time-sensitive piece, it kept getting pushed down the queue on the To Do list, because pairings, decklists, and feature matches, wait for no man. Thankfully, we got there in the end, as we know there’s a vocal part of our audience who wished we spent more time with the amazing artists who bring the game to life. Veronique may be quite new at the whole Magic gig, but she was super-popular all weekend long.

Podcast — Day One Wrap

For any particular result or standing, the text coverage is always the way ahead. I did once, at Paris 2008, seriously contemplate naming the complete field. At that time, the Grand Prix was the largest ever event, and I wanted to commemorate everyone who had contributed to that being the case. However, a few quick sums told me that even if I was able to gabble forty names a minute, I’d still be going for nearly an hour.

Still, we like the audio coverage to be standalone, so that if you’re listening on the bus on the way to work, or in your car, or while you’re cooking the dinner, you can feel you’ve had a full and worthwhile Grand Prix experience without me telling you ‘go look at page X.’ That changes once we hit the Top 8, because we really do like to make things easily accessible, but on day one, no podcast set is complete without the wrap.

So, there you have it, all the coverage of the Grand Prix. Oh wait, that was only Saturday. Then there was (try saying this lot in one breath):

A round-up of the opening salvos, Tom van Lamoen versus Seb Thaler, a podcast packed with Pros speaking their mind, the Naya Allies deck in action, and a great piece analysing the deck afterwards, the Day Two Metagame breakdown, four more audio matches in Round Twelve, a feature showcasing everything that was going on in the world of Public Events, covering Standard, Legacy, Extended, and the Champion Challenge. There was Martin Juza in play by play action, a feature on a great Magic family, the Kelterbaums, an extended interview with Rob Alexander with a fun and unusual format that led to some revelations about one of the best ever Magic artists and his work, a fun piece on the home country, Hannes Kerem trying to derail Thaler, the last round quick hits as players jostled for position, the top 8 decklists, the top 8 players profiles, three quarter finals, a semi-final, the final, a three and a half minute podcast giving you the final in RichTime (with no voice left), a closing blurb, a trophy shot, and a complete final standings, including Pro Points and prize money awarded.

And that really was it. I’ve just read every word of it. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to call my friend, because if you like Magic, there’s something here for everyone.

And, as always, a massive thank you for listening to, reading, talking about, and caring about, all the material we create for you. It really would be a pointless exercise without knowing you’re out there, sharing the experience.

Until next week, as ever, thanks for reading (because every article has to end that way — it’s the law),