As one of the first to arrive each morning, I get to see the venue in a way most people don’t — in a word, empty. Those of you who know the film ‘Rollerball’ will be aware that nothing much happens for the first few minutes, and it’s extremely atmospheric as they build up towards the big game. That’s how I feel coming into a Pro Tour venue first thing. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of chairs, lying empty, later to be the scene of triumph and disaster. A Feature Match area where the Top 8 will mostly be decided, and then where the live feed will be beamed around the world on Super Sunday. In the far corner, a gathering of the stripes, as the judges convene for their daily briefing. And without the players, and the noise, and the hustle and bustle, it’s possible to see the setting in its perfect state, and it’s beautiful. I may not like the alarm clock, but I like the view when I get to the site plenty.
We did a feature on Australian Aaron Nicastri at Pro Tour: Berlin, but I’d met him at Hollywood earlier in the year, when he was doing well deep into Day 2. The morning after Charles Gindy lifted the title, I met Nicastri in the hotel lobby, and asked about his plans. Turned out he was renting a car and was off to the bright lights of Vegas. You can take or leave the whole gambling thing to your taste, but I like the fact that he was so obviously embracing life — he was in the same continent as something that might be cool, so he decided to check it out. When he won Nationals, that attitude caused him to push the ‘go’ button on a Magic career that could culminate in him winning Rookie of the Year. That meant I got the chance to cover his opening Draft. A lot of web traffic (that’s you guys) head for the Draft Viewer — it’s one of our most popular features, but the table that’s covered looks a little odd. Grand Prix regulars will be used to a Coverage reporter or two hovering over the shoulder of a key player during the Draft, occasionally reaching in to check the identity of a card just taken. For the Draft viewer, everyone at the table has their own personal recorder, noting every pick of every pack. With stern instructions to make the cards visible to us hacks it’s generally not too bad, but occasionally we have to reconstruct a few picks by seeing what subsequently went. One to-remain-nameless Pro made one of my first Pro Tour Drafts absolute hell, as he slid each pick straight down his chest and on to the table, having spent the seconds available flicking the cards in the booster round and round and round, giving me approximately half a second to guess where he’d stopped the merry go round. Quite what he would have done if I hadn’t already asked him to be helpful I have no idea. Still, on the plus side, whenever someone volunteers to help on the coverage at a Grand Prix, I know exactly who to recommend they go watch!
I’ve mentioned this already, but I want to do it justice. As a theater director, I hopefully understand something about setting, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like the Feature Match area here at Worlds for adding to the drama of the occasion. First great idea — five feature matches, each themed initially by color, and then by Shard. Fluorescent strips in the five mana colors provided two see-through ‘walls’ for each match, spaced around a central walkway. The tables themselves were packed with Magic art from the five shards, with Bant as the White table, Esper the Blue, and so on. In an awesome move that delivered Worlds to a level approximately 17 steps above standard Grand Prix fare, high definition TVs showed the players, their countries, the match score, and in some very special cases, the Hall of Fame logo. Again, the attention to detail was impressive, with every virtual scoreboard liveried according to the matching shard. For spectators too, this had to be about the best Feature Match ever, with two raised platforms bracketing each match, creating a super-tense amphitheatre that Rome next year will be hard-pressed to match. To stand in the middle of that arena, swivelling to look at ten of the biggest names in the game going toe to toe, was something I’ll never forget. Sometimes you can see that a budget goes on getting to a particular city (New York, Honolulu), and sometimes you can see the money on-screen. Memphis turned out to be a great location, but the Feature Match area was my idea of a tourist attraction, and if they ever get to making a permanent Magic Hall of Fame museum (when I’m about 60, at a guess) this is the set that should be there in perpetuity. Magnificent.
Having comprehensively failed art at school, I’m very much in awe of the talent that goes into each and every Magic card. This afternoon I got the chance to record a video piece with Mark Purvis from WOTC, as we unveiled ten pieces of artwork from Conflux. One of the weird things about dealing with people inside Wizards is that they’re all on different Magic ‘time zones.’ Some of them are busy processing payments from events six months ago. Some are busy writing about this weekend. Some are planning for Alara Reborn. Most in R&D are well down the line of polishing off the Fall 2009 expansion, while Organized Play is busy scouting venues for 2010. That can lead to slightly awkward conversations, as everyone present tries to work out who knows what, and what can safely be talked about. Travelling with Mark Purvis and Mark Rosewater back from the player party at Graceland, I realized that Mark P knew a bunch of stuff that I didn’t about Conflux, but that I knew some stuff about Alara Reborn that he didn’t, because I was involved on the flavor team. Mark R meanwhile knew a ton of stuff that we didn’t about everything, because he knows everything. That meant he could talk to Mark P about Conflux, but not ideally in front of me, and to me about Alara Reborn, but ideally not in front of Mark P, before discovering we all knew the thing that we were talking about, even though none of us knew quite how one of the others knew. Weird, but a ton of fun. And for the record, when it comes to keeping secrets, I’m pretty sure that getting R&D to run the CIA would be a major step forward in the field of homeland security.
It does tend to make one’s job easier when the story comes to you, rather than you searching for it yourself. The Austrians are rapidly becoming my favorite group in this respect, since they will always come and find one of us if there’s a story to tell. In Pro Tour: Berlin, that story was about the success of the Dredge deck they decided to run, with almost all of them posting impressive numbers. This time around it was the tale of a Draft deck with seven Glaze Fiends out of a total of 20 artifacts. Christopher Wolf looks rather fine in his Craig Gibson-shot profile shot in the coverage, and I’m eagerly awaiting a flood of requests from gamer chicks looking for a young, single white male who really knows how to go rogue. That’s if Tim Willoughby turns them down first, of course.
Elsewhere in the world of the final Draft came the hard-to-believe tale of two Pros further down the field looking to indulge in a friendly wager. While one would Draft normally, he would have to play every single card he picked! His ‘opponent’ meanwhile, was only allowed to pick the Rare in each opening booster, and then a card entirely at random from then on, which he then had to cobble together a deck from. There’s a perfectly valid argument that this sort of thing doesn’t showcase the game at its best, but, if this happened, it does show a certain grim sense of humor, something that Pros aren’t necessarily known for at the sharp end.
With the Main Event done for the day, it’s time to turn my attention to the Magic Game Show. Since we tested this out at U.S. Nationals earlier in the year, I’ve a pretty good idea of how the shape of the show will go, but confess to some nervousness about the questions themselves. As with any quiz, the problem is finding the answer to the conundrum, ‘How easy is this question?’ since, if you know the answer, it always appears easy, and if you absolutely don’t know, it appears impossible. Ideally we want players to get at least 32 Rares (players get up to 15 questions, and from question 5 onwards start winning Rares, doubling up as we go along), but I’d be quite happy if we managed not to give away 1,000 to a single player. Let’s face it, 500 or even 250 Rares is a lot better than a kick in the teeth, especially as, from my cursory glance through the massive piles, there’s some very playable stuff in there.
So the Game Show has come and gone, and I was given a comedy gift in the form of our second competitor, who I’m going to call Mr. Booster. He got to question five safely, as he should, and it turned out that a Blind Seer would be his. I offered to trade it for a random Shards booster. He said yes, but struggled to get the pack open. I took it back from him, gave it to the audience as a random prize, and offered him another. Yep, he couldn’t open that one either. That one got sent into the audience too, but when he held his hand out for a third he didn’t get one — I think he’d comprehensively shown his inability! Eventually, with a lot of fun and laughter along the way, he got all the way to 500 Rares, and then baulked at the final question. Bear in mind that if you get this wrong, you drop from 500 Rares all the way back down to 32. ‘The 20 members of the Magic Hall of Fame have 27 Pro Tour wins between them, but how many do not have a Pro Tour win?’ No options to choose between, just a straight-up ‘how many’? Dylan very wisely took his 500, and I added in an extra Shards booster as ‘a lifetime of free entertainment!’ Answer to this trickiest of trivia questions at the end.
Finally — finally — I’m home for the night, with a Saturday ahead even longer than today. Still, Friday ended with a flourish, as I randomly went for dinner in a bar down the street, and found myself dining with Jacob van Lunen and Jamie Parke, who were busy testing for Extended. As Jamie tried to learn the Mono-Blue Control deck against Elves, he kept looking at proxy cards and saying, ‘So what does this do?’ JP is something of a quick study it turns out, which unfortunately wouldn’t turn out to be true for Ervin Tormos. Tormos went into Saturday leading the field on 11-1, but didn’t get a single win out of Extended… and yes, I’m writing this bit some days after the fact. I may be Godlike, at least physically, but I’m not omniscient. Yet. Give me time.
Great Britain. Oh how it makes me proud to be able to legitimately type those words. It gets a little wearing, taking all the flak from my American colleagues, as yet another U.S. face hoists the metaphorical flag. Not that I begrudge them their success, I just wish there was a little more home-grown action to get excited about. With Quentin Martin semi-detached, and Sam Gomersall thoroughly so, Stuart Wright has been the lone Pro almost throughout my time on Tour. The Orsini-Jones brothers were a formidable pair, at least in GB terms, but with both at University and in separate parts of the country, the Coventry squad of which they were the pinnacle seems to have dissipated. Still, Jonathan Randle, Ioannis Kyriazis and the Scot, Stephen Murray, come into today with serious hopes of having a second successful Team session, and then setting sail for home in Extended with a shot at the Top 4. Whatever happens, they can hold their heads high.
In what may prove to be a turning point for both teams, Jonathan Randle found three land on top of his deck over the deciding turns of the deciding game of the deciding match against Japan, with Yuuya Watanabe pulling out the victory for the overall favorites for the Team Title. Just one Incinerate, that’s all it would have taken, but the margins are always tight. Yet again I’m reminded of the players who kick down the door of opportunity when it’s just a fraction ajar, and although they didn’t do much wrong, that door may be closing on Team GB, while Japan look set to roar onwards and upwards. I’m beginning to think that this may be the most important individual characteristic that separates the great from the simply very good.
With a small lull in proceedings, I get the chance to put my thoughts in order for the Roundtable panel discussion I’m hosting this evening. Five guests feels like at least two too many, especially as I could happily spend an hour interviewing any one of them, let alone five. Doing more than scratching the surface could be tricky, but I think the correct answer is for me to shut the hell up as much as possible, and just let ’em talk. Matt Place, Mike Turian, Aaron Forsythe, Mark Rosewater, and Richard Garfield make for quite the line-up, wouldn’t you say?
Just when the Main Event is coming to the boil, a necessary event intervenes, far from the crucial cards turning sideways in the last few rounds. Every Pro Tour Saturday means a webcast meeting which features a stack of characters who most of you never get to see, but without whom the live cast just wouldn’t happen. That means camera crew, director, floor manager, Pro Tour manager, Tournament Organiser, the Talent (that’s BDM, Randy & me), the tech crew…it needs a pretty big table to house all the departments that have to come together the following morning to make everything work out. It’s an important part of my weekend too, since it reminds me (just in case I was thinking of forgetting) what a ton of smart people go to work to help me do my job better. Told you I was a lucky guy.
The bar has been raised pretty high when it comes to jokes about Elvis/Elvish, and there was definitely pressure on me to perform. Whilst still deeply fond of the ‘Gilt Leaf Bacon Tree’ gag, which you can find in an earlier missive, it seemed I was the only member of the coverage team who felt able to dispense with personal feelings of shame, revulsion and humiliation (what’s a bit more? I carry those around with me all the time) and pen a tale of The King that featured every single Elvish card Gatherer could come up with. If rubbish jokes are your thing, and apparently I’m not alone on this, feel free to check out the disaster that is my very own Elvish Aberration.
So Kenji knocked out Oiso, Paulo got over the finish line, Jamie Parke completed a massive turnaround from Day 1, Asahara and Ikeda quietly and unspectacularly made their way into Sunday, Malin ensured Pro status for next year, Karsten skipped his way into the reckoning, and Kerem made us think ‘who he?’ Japan and the USA turned paper supremacy into card supremacy, Australia edged out Malaysia in a massive last-round swing, and Brazil turned up with minimal fanfare, and I’m still not quite sure how they did it. Too much going on to keep track of everything as usual, but this warrants further investigation. Edel or no, this Brazilian squad didn’t look obvious candidates for the semis, and with the big two matched against each other they must now have a great chance of making the final.
The Roundtable discussion is done, and went well. It occurred to me that when I gave you the list of people taking part, you may not be entirely familiar with their careers to date. Here’s how I introduced them to a large crowd:
Our first guest won PT: Mainz in 1997. A native of Kansas City, he spent time running a game store before coming to Wizards of the Coast on a date he still remembers, September 3rd 2003. Following work on various Magic Webites, he became an Associate Developer, and was Lead Developer on Dissension, Eventide and ‘Scissors’, the completion of the Shards of Alara block. Please welcome Mr. Matt Place.
Mike Turian comes from Pittsburgh. He began playing Magic at the age of 13, and was finally convinced to play by a persistent friend at a leadership training conference. He first played on the Pro Tour in 1997, at the same tournament where Randy Buehler made his debut. He joined Wizards in 2004, first working in development on Guildpact. He’s been the lead developer on Future Sight, Morningtide, Conflux and some other sets we can’t talk about yet. We can talk about the fact that he’s been married to the lovely Rachel for exactly 55 days. He is of course, one of the Hall of Fame class of 2008 inducted on Thursday. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mike Turian.
Our next guest also hails from Pittsburgh. With two Top 4 Pro Tour appearances, he joined WOTC in 2001 as the editor in chief of the soon to appear magicthegathering.com, reflecting his background in writing and editing in the fledgling online Magic community. Hanging out in R&D — and who wouldn’t want to that on a coffee break — led to Mark Rosewater asking him to join the team. Married with two children and with a third on the way, He’s spent his time between Design and development, eventually moving to his current post as director of R&D. Please welcome Mr. Aaron Forsythe.
Mark Rosewater joined the company as a freelance writer contributing puzzles for the Duelist. Since working on Development on Alliances, he’s never left R&D. He’s been involved in the Design of every set since then, including Lead Design on Tempest, Unglued and Unhinged, Odyssey, Mirrodin, Urza’s Destiny, Ravnica, Shadowmoor and Eventide, plus the two major expansions of 2009 and 10, ‘live’ of live long and prosper and ‘lights’ of lights camera action. For the last 5 years he has been the Head Designer for Magic. That means that he’s had a hand in roughly 25% of all the cards in Magic history. When he finds the time, he lives in Asaquah Washington with his wife and three children, including the ready-made two-headed giant team, twins. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Mark Rosewater.
And to round off our line-up about games, we thought we’d invite a games designer along. This gentleman has quite a resume. In the world of board games, he’s designed such games as Rocketville, What Were You Thinking, Pecking Order, the Great Dalmuti, Robo Rally, Filthy Rich (I like that title) and co-designer on Stonehenge and Twitch. In the computer games world, he’s responsible for both Schizoid on the Xbox and Spectremancer on PC, plus some flash games for Bella Sera. In the field of Trading Card Games he is the man behind Vampire, Battletech, Netrunner, the Star Wars TCG, NBA showdown. He’s currently working on a stack of different boardgame projects across a wide range of strategic thinking. Oh, and he also created Magic the Gathering. Some of you may even have heard of him, please welcome Mr. Richard Garfield.
They turned out to be every bit as smart, lively and entertaining as their history suggested. Plenty of intelligent questions from the floor kept us going, and we ended with each panellist contributing three cards from the history of the game to make up a Time Capsule booster. Hopefully the recording of this awesome meeting of the Magic Brains Trust will surface sometime next year.
Few people know where the light switch is in a convention center. One man who does is Head of Coverage Greg Collins, since he’s usually only just in front of the security guards when it comes time to leave. Without fail, he’s the first to arrive in the morning, and without fail he’s the last to leave in the evening. Directly or otherwise, he has a hand in every word, every picture, and every clip from the Pro Tour. As I sat here trying to cobble together the script for tomorrow morning’s Top 8 Preview, a heavy hand fell on my shoulder. This couldn’t be happening — with an hour or more of work still in front of me, GC was deserting the sinking ship. Good grief, even he was done for the night. It was then that I knew that something had gone horribly wrong. If I didn’t get cracking, even Friday Night Magic would be done, and then it really would be just me and the cleaners. Grimlingtons.
And now to close, definitive proof that there is indeed a God. So, one of the things I love about my American friends is their use of words that either haven’t been invented yet, or have been thoroughly manhandled and put through the colonial mill. Take ‘punchy,’ for instance. To me this likely meant ‘like a punch, similar to a fist in the solar plexus’ or possibly ‘a liquid beverage, similar in smell and composition to punch, often involving rum’. Apparently, ‘punchy’ actually translates as (approximately), ‘When you’re really tired at the end of a long day, and you’re a tiny bit stressed and you decide to say things that you might often think but you wouldn’t often say because they might be a bit inappropriate or even potentially offensive and frequently surreal’. By 10.35pm I was punchy, and very hungry. The prospect of getting back to the room, changing, going out, finding a bar, waiting for food, knowing I had a 7.30am shoot the next morning was just awful.
And then, a mirage. Standing in front of me, what looked like an FNM player, clutching a Domino’s pizza box. All coherent thought fled. I approached this total stranger and said, ‘Hi, you don’t know me, but I’ve been working for 15 hours straight, and I’m starving, so in a moment I’m going to ask you where you got that pizza, and if you say ‘Domino’s’, because I already know that (since I can read the box) I’m going to have to kill you, so please don’t mess me around, for the love of God, where did you get that pizza?’ And he grins at me (which was a nice response to being harangued by a British lunatic) and points over his shoulder and says, ‘That guy there.’ My shoulders slump, imagining ‘that guy there’ to be his mate, who had just returned from a 2 hour roundtrip to the nearest Domino’s. Not so. ‘No, that guy there. From Domino’s. They bring a whole ton of pizzas here every night, for $12.’ Readers, I literally RAN. Twelve bucks later I find myself in the comfort of my lovely room, contentedly slopping sausage and pepperoni onto my laptop keys, watching Galaxy Quest on NBC, and generally giving thanks for the Lord’s infinite and manifold mercies. Next time your faith wavers, remember Rich and the Pizza, and watch your belief grow strong once more.
And that, as they say, is that. With only Super Sunday to come, I’ll be bringing you my thoughts on Malin and Co as I start my highly selective rundown of the Worlds results. And of course, at this festive time of year, a very peaceful and blessed Christmas to you and yours.
As ever, thanks for reading…