SCG Daily – Musings from Dan Paskins

This week’s Daily author is the master of the Red himself, Englishman Dan Paskins.

I was recently asked by the editor if I wanted to write a daily “blog” for this website. Still being a bit unfamiliar with this interweb thingy, I wasn’t quite sure what a “blog” was, beyond the fact that “in a blog” is an anagram of “a goblin”, and that “blog” rhymes with “Mogg”, something which Ben Bleiweiss has already exploited with hilarious results. So I did some research, and it seems to involve people going on about whatever they feel like, which can never be a bad thing except when they say something outrageously and gut-wrenchingly stupid.

I have always enjoyed going on about whatever I feel like, though usually it involves Goblins in which case I call it a “strategy article” or, more recently, a “Premium Strategy article”. I have some other stories that I’d like to tell, though, and over the course of this week, I intend to tell the story of when Flooded Shoreline was a key part of the best deck in the world, explain what The Trap was, revisit my collection of books about Magic strategy to see what we can learn today from George Baxter and have a general rant about a whole range of things on Friday. But today I’m going to talk about online coverage of Pro Tours and Grand Prix.

About three weeks ago I went along to GP: Eindhoven. I had a rather frustrating time of playing, losing Red Deck Wins mirror matches despite having maindeck Fledgling Dragons against people who sideboarded in stuff like Ensnaring Bridge and Cursed Totem which had literally no effect on the game. Not that I’m bitter. Happily, this had little effect on my enjoyment of the weekend, as I just switched to plan B, that of helping with the Sideboard coverage.

I don’t know how many of you actually read the event coverage of big Magic tournaments, but it is something which I absolutely love. In recent times the level of coverage has improved leaps and bounds, especially the video coverage of the Top 8 at Pro Tours and the reporting which extends beyond just match reports to every aspect of the tournament experience – which decks are featuring on the top tables, particularly good stories of victory or defeat, noteworthy individual performances, that sort of thing. At any big tournament (and the Grand Prix are the biggest Magic tournaments around), there are hundreds of these stories which anyone interested in Magic would love to hear about. So how many people do Wizards get to do this coverage?

For a Grand Prix, one person onsite and another back in the States uploading it onto the site. For a Pro Tour, four people. And that’s not only writing reports of what is happening each round, but also taking the pictures and making sure that laptop works and all the technical stuff.

I think that Craig Jones, Brian David-Marshall and Rui Olivera, who are the people Wizards get to do this at Grand Prix, do a fantastic job [Hrm, I feel conspicuously absent from that list… – Knut, also a reporter for Magicthegathering.com, but apparently not a good one]. But this is something which for me is an obvious no-brainer. One person, on their own, will struggle to get more than one update per round, especially when you consider all the other stuff that they have to do, and the fact that working non-stop for 12+ hours without a break is actually quite demanding. Each extra person that you get means an extra article each round, meaning that it’s possible to cover all the exciting new decks, provide behind the scenes info and still cover a match each round.

This isn’t just good for people’s entertainment at the time. When a Grand Prix produces a new deck, like whenever Tsuyoshi Fujita turns up or something, people preparing for the next PTQ scramble for information about the deck. An interview with the designer and some reports about how it got on in actual tournament games can be invaluable in trying to understand it and decide whether or not it is worth considering. In Eindhoven, the new deck was the “Topdeck” deck, which was played by some noteworthy players, put four of the five people who played it into Day 2 including one (Star City columnist Ruud Warmenhoven) who was in Top 8 contention until the very last round. With just one person doing Sideboard coverage, we would have been able to provide only the most minimal coverage, whereas as it was we were able to have an interview with the deck designer, and cover the deck in action on three separate occasions. As it happens, “Topdeck” didn’t manage to break out from its strong showing at the GP to become a force on the PTQ circuit, but I can’t be alone in wishing that some other decks in the past which debuted at Grand Prix had had similar levels of coverage.

That’s the easy improvement which I would make. Something else where there must be room for improvement is in feature match coverage. I say, “must be room for improvement”, because I’ve read in many tournament reports that the reporter got it wrong or didn’t understand what was really going on. The problem is that it is really hard to do top notch feature match coverage. Judging what is happening and what the key decisions are without being able to see both players’ hands is difficult – is the Desire player ready to go off next turn, or do they have a hand full of Islands? Trying to explain what is happening when it is a deck which you are familiar with is one thing, but what about when it is a Pro Tour and you are trying to do the coverage without having ever seen the deck before? Added to which is the fact that the person doing the reporting is rarely going to be as good as the people playing the match that they are covering – after all – if they were then they would be playing rather than reporting. And getting people to cover a match where they don’t understand the strategy and write incorrect stuff doesn’t help anyone.

This is all the more true in Limited coverage. I asked John Ormerod a while back what he thought would improve the Sideboard coverage, and he said that detailed coverage of a top pro – what picks they made, and then an interview with them in which they were asked about all their picks and why they chose one card rather than another, followed by covering how they got on in their matches. This would be an excellent idea, and a very valuable learning tool, but probably isn’t practical in a tournament setting – it is, after all, a fairly substantial disadvantage to one competitor to have to spend time explaining all his draft picks. My experience of doing event coverage occasionally for quite a while is that players are very accommodating about answering questions from Sideboard reporters, as well as at things like showing what they have sideboarded between games (Olivier Ruel is especially good about this), but ultimately they are competing at a level which requires quite serious levels of concentration and demands from people doing coverage should be kept to a minimum.

The other great advantage of event coverage is that as you get towards the final round, some of the top players drop out or are eliminated, and I wish that more could be done to encourage them to have a go at doing coverage. Frank Karsten and Julien Nuijten helped out with the Top 8 coverage in Eindhoven, and I learned a lot just from the way that they evaluated matchups when I asked them to do Top 8 predictions (amazingly, their system of looking at the decklists and discussing what the key cards would be was superior to my “always pick the Red Deck”). I’d also like to say that it is really unfair that as well as being World Champion, Julien can write better articles than me in both English and Dutch.

Inspired by Aaron Forsythe, I’d like to end today’s article with some questions, though rather than doing a poll I’d just encourage you to go over to the forums and discuss them. The questions are:

Do you read the event coverage of major tournaments? If not, is there anything which would make you do so? If so, how do you think it could be improved?

Tomorrow: When Flooded Shoreline ruled Britannia, and what it taught us.

Take care

Dan xxx