The Deadly Stilt Man, Part II

I realize that asking players to prepare for two similar things is very unfair. In school, I am sure none of you are forced to take, say, two related classes at the same time. Calculus and Chemistry? Probability and Statistics? That would be crazy! Give me a break.

Poor poor Masters players…

F. The Humble Zvi and the Masters Changes (Well, someone has to disagree!)

Recently, Zvi wrote an article applauding the change in the Masters prize structure (which I personally disagree wholeheartedly with – but not being a person who is intended to benefit therefrom, my opinion is likely largely irrelevant to Wizards). In it, Zvi said this:

[Discussing numerous perceived problems with the Masters system]”The worst of all however in my opinion is that it was a huge distraction. Wizards’ interest is in building up stars. Winning a Masters series helps make you a star, but it’s nothing like winning a Pro Tour. The perception is that winning a Masters while less likely is more of a matter of good fortune, and to an extent that’s true. The problem is that players who are preparing for the Masters series are not using that same time to prepare for the Pro Tour. This first got to me in New Orleans. I had just posted an impressive record at Worlds with TurboLand, and made the incorrect judgment that so little would change in the new Extended that it would not be my primary testing focus. Instead I decided to study the art of booster draft so that I could win the Masters series.

That testing paid off, and I made it to the third round before Mike [Pustilnik’s] Wild Mongrels knocked me out from a position I could never have drafted a good enough deck from. It was one draft, so these things happen. But as a result, I didn’t put in enough grunt work for the Pro Tour itself. While I was very good with my deck and liked it, I had an out of date sideboard and didn’t know certain new matchups well, and as a direct result failed to make the second day. My choice, but that prevented me from being on Masters for a while (since I proved close but just out) and prevented me from posting a finish Wizards could advertise.

The full article can be found at Brainburst.com

This one burns me.

Get this logic:

Zvi says that as a result of actively choosing to practice for the Masters, rather than the Pro Tour, he was not as prepared for the Pro Tour and did not do as well, which in turn prevented him from being on the Masters for a while and”prevented [him] from posting a finish Wizards could advertise.”

[Insert Scooby-Doo astounded and confused sound here]

So, Zvi, the old Masters system was a bad thing again how?

Because you misjudged whether the Extended environment would materially change between Worlds and New Orleans?

Because you chose not to playtest for the Pro Tour?

Because you misallocated your time?

Because concentrating on the Masters”prevented you from posting a finish [in the pro tour] that Wizards could advertise”?

Whew! I am glad That Wizards fixed that problem. They must have been up nights.

Good lord. I do not think I have heard such an arrogant statement, maybe EVER.

Oh wait, I have.

Zvi described why the new system was better, and in so doing said:

The money is something a pro can count on, since not making the top fifty in Pro Tour points for the year would mean you have no business calling yourself a pro.


Lets see who was”not a pro” after the 2000-2001 season:

  • Ben Rubin (56th) (Wow, too bad he won those two Masters this season! Don’t you hate to see some random non-Zvi-defined-Pro win, since the Masters money is intended only for people who have business calling themselves Pros? Rubin! What was that upstart thinking?)
  • Raphael Levy (54th)
  • Ben Ronaldson
  • Tomi Walamies
  • Gab Tsang
  • Brian Hegstad
  • Brian Hacker
  • Eric Froehlich
  • Frederico Bastos
  • Brian Davis
  • Antonio De Rosa
  • Tomi Hovi
  • Matt Linde
  • Joe Crosby
  • Pete Leiher
  • Brian Hubble
  • EDT
  • Christian Luhrs
  • Alex Witt
  • Dave Price
  • Sigurd Eskeland
  • Dustin Stern
  • Neil Reeves
  • Gary Krakower
  • Nicholas Labarre
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Matt Ranks

How about 2001-2002?

  • Antonio De Rosa
  • Neil Reeves (keep working at it, NR!)
  • Matt Linde
  • Svend Geertson
  • Terry Tsang
  • Scott McCord
  • EDT
  • Matt Ranks
  • Frederico Bastos
  • Andrew Johnson
  • Alan Comer
  • Dave Price (I am sure this guy will do something someday)
  • Gab Tsang
  • Andrea Santin
  • Don Gallitz
  • Jon Finkel (this guy, too – I just have a good feeling…)
  • Matt Vienneau (well, okay, Zvi has me on this one)
  • Kyle Rose
  • Pete Leiher
  • Ben Seck
  • Pat Chapin
  • Mike Long

And if the top 50 were determined just before Pro Tour: Venice …..

  • Jens Thoren
  • Mike Turian
  • Chris Benafel
  • Joe Crosby
  • Nicholas Labarre
  • Mike Pustilnik (Guess that Pro Tour win was just a fluke. And to think that this guy took $25,000 away from a deserving Zvi-defined-pro in New Orleans! Oh, wait – Benafel is not a pro either, apparently.)
  • Kyle Rose
  • Matt Ranks
  • Matt Linde
  • Ben Seck
  • Ken Ho
  • Eric Froelich
  • Dave Price
  • Alex Shvartsman
  • Dave Humphries
  • Tomi Walamies
  • Frederico Bastos (thought he was going to make it this time, eh?)

That is a lot of people who are going to be surprised that they have no business calling themselves pros.

I feel particularly bad for poor Frederico Bastos, who”has no right calling himself a pro,” under Zvi’s criteria. After all, he has only played in every individual Pro Tour and World Championship for the past three years. But I suppose in those twelve consecutive pro events, he probably did crappy. Oh, except for his Top 8 in Tokyo. And his Top 8 in Los Angeles the next year. But other than that, a pro? Certainly not! Where does he get off?

Yeah. I think that might be more arrogant.

Sigh. I wasn’t going to get into this, but what the hell – while I have the Muse awake, mise well run it.

Zvi, in his article, basically asserts that the original concept of the Masters was to allow at least a small group of elite players the ability to become more”pro” – that is, dedicated to playing Magic as a full-time endeavor – and he is correct. However, I believe that the”old” system did that much the same extent as the”new” system, and did so with a larger number of incidental benefits to the community than the”new” system offers, while not representing a significant improvement in achieving the original goals of the Masters.

First, the old system did reward the top pros. Look at the top 8 of each of the non-team masters finals, and see if you can find anyone who you would not consider a pro:

  • NY2000: Jensen (Huey), Zila, Eskeland, Van Cleave, Rubin, Marsh, Maher, Baberowski
  • CHI2000: Rubin, Finkel, Shvartsman, Kyle Rose, Maher, Dave Williams, Bregoli, Luhrs
  • BAR2001: Rubin, Elarar, Mowshowitz, Finkel, Fuller, Turian, Neimenen, Bell
  • N.O.2002: Pustilnik, Benafel, Maher, Boeken, Mowshowitz, Fuller, Sadeghpour*, Olivieri
  • SD2002: Fuller, Humphries, Walamies, Hegstad, Daugherty, Fujita, Kastle, Steve OMS
  • NICE2002: Witt*, J. Gary, Budde, A. Ruel, Walamies, Olivieri, Thoren, Mello
  • HOU2002: Thoren, G. Wise, Froelich, R. Levy, Nitter, Anton J, Shvartsman, Wiegersma
  • CHI2003: Canu, Ho, Reeves, A. Ruel, Budde, G. Wise, Humphries, Cornellisen

* – Grinders. Witt was the only”grinder” to make the finals of a Masters event.

There are approximately Eleventy Million PT and GP top 8s there.

In addition, the old system offered something incidental to each other group of players. Fringe pros, those with seven points or a high enough rating (1900 in the given format as of six weeks prior to the event), got to try to grind in, and get a shot at the large dollars – and that gave us some great stories, such as Alexander Witt winning the whole thing, and Alan Shuldiner beating Ben Rubin in Houston for a shot at the big time (he ended up with”only” $4,000). Under the new system, this is not the case – the fringe pros have nothing (yes, yes, I know this was not a part of what Wizards was trying to achieve, but it was a nice side benefit).

More importantly, the non-pros got something out of the old Masters system too – lessons. Each Pro Tour season, and leading into the appropriate pro tournament, the internet community begins to intensely focus on the current qualifier format. The pros at your local store, or the aspiring pros at least, play solely the PT format and/or the PTQ format, if applicable. But the Masters was always an”off season” format; that is, when the PT was a booster draft, the Masters was Extended (except for Barcelona, when it was block). When the PT was Rochester draft, the Masters was Standard. When the PT was constructed, the Masters was booster draft.

As a result, the community got to see what the top pros were thinking, in terms of a format not otherwise important to them, but (particularly in the case of standard) very important to the average FNM and casual, but aspiring, player. Look at all of the traffic on the StarCity and Brainburst forums following the Chicago Masters; the Masters decklists generated enormous traffic and dozens of articles discussing developing the Standard metagame, with those decks as its basis. The pros were essentially forced to update the metagame for the benefit of the community, and in return were given between 2K and 25K, depending on their ultimate results. The pros benefited. The community benefited. All was well.

Also, the coverage was pretty cool, though there certainly could have been more of it. But I am a feature match coverage junkie, so, maybe others don’t share my view here.

But under the new system? Well, the top fifty benefit, clearly… But the incidental community benefits, which I think became significant and appreciated, are gone.

Now, as additional evidence of distraction taking its toll on the mighty pros, and depriving poor Wizards of the ability to publicize (“advertise”) such pros’ exploits to their benefit, Zvi refers to a match where Eric Froehlich”actively wanted to lose to me… because he wanted to sleep more for the Masters…”

Well, first off, let’s assume this was during the 2001-2002 season – since according to Zvi’s criteria, EFro could not have considered himself a Pro in 2000-2001 or in 2002-2003 (thus far). Why did Froehlich need to get more sleep? Was he jetlagged, ill, or out partying? I don’t know – I can’t find Zvi’s article discussing this (though I know I read it at the time). If he was ill or lagged, and decided that his effort was better spent doing well in the Masters than in the Pro Tour with what he felt was a poor build and having a poor day, so what? Should that indict the Masters system?

Of course not. If he was out partying and was hung over or some such, then that is his own fault – and again, he was probably right that getting some sleep before the Masters was his best shot at winning some money. Perhaps Zvi’s point is that the old Masters system didn’t force Froehlich to try hard enough in the Pro Tour, and thus do well, and thus allow Wizards to benefit by marketing EFro’s exploits. If so, that is a ridiculous assertion.

For goodness’ sake. If you are qualified for a Masters, and choose to practice not at all, concentrating fully on the Pro Tour, you were guaranteed $2,000. That is $2000 for no work. Let’s say we get a minimally-industrious pro, who has a general idea of a deck he or she wants to play, well, since they have it built, or maybe its sligh or whatever. Lets assume that, in the course of their rigorous Pro Tour testing schedule, they manage to squeeze in a hundred playtest games for a Constructed format masters while waiting for their eighth man to show in draft, or whatever. Despite that effort, our poor pro loses in the first round, getting a mere $2,000.

Well, that was $20 a playtest game. Not bad. Not bad at all.

If they win the”average” amount, which Zvi pins at around $5,000, that is $50 per playtest game. I don’t know about you, but if anyone wants to pay me to playtest any format at $20 a game, my appointment book is open and clear.

Let’s say that it’s a little harder, and the Masters is a draft format. God, it is so hard to get other halfway competent players to draft. Wouldn’t it be great if there was someplace a pro could go, to play Magic with other people, maybe do a booster or Rochester draft at any time of the day or night…


If you do five drafts over the two-month period between Masters, and we’ll assume you play three rounds in each, that is maybe fifteen hours of testing – which cannot have a material impact on your prep for the main event. Simply cannot. Fifteen hours of work for $2,000, minimum? Would you draft for $134 an hour? I would. If you won the”average” amount $5,000? A paltry $334 per hour.

I realize that asking players to prepare for two similar things is very unfair. In school, I am sure none of you are forced to take, say, two related classes at the same time. Calculus and Chemistry? Probability and Statistics? That would be crazy! Give me a break.

Poor poor Masters players.

Allow me an indulgence.

Boo hoo hoo! Boooooooo hoo hoo! Snif.

Okay. All better now.

G. Indulgences And Confessions

Okay, time to momentarily go Seth Burn on yo’ ass.

Speaking of Seth, I embarrassingly enough lost my SuperBowl bet with him (I took the Raiders straight up at 2:3), and now owe him three deli sandwiches from Katz’ Deli in NYC on Houston. I haven’t been there since the game, and I wanted to confirm to Seth in a public forum that this debt is acknowledged and will be satisfied next time I am in NYC. Well partially satisfied, anyway, since Katz’ sandwiches are roughly the size of your head (although I am willing to bet the sandwiches are far tastier), and I seriously doubt anyone could possibly go through three in a sitting. Certainly not Seth, who must weigh all of a buck forty-five. Though both Flores and John Shuler can put away two, somehow, on a good night.

By the way, if you are new to the game and have not read John Shuler’s stuff, he is amazing. One of the best writers ever. Here are two amusing pieces (both humor):

I may or may not have forced not one, but two people to mana burn themselves to death with Invokers at GP: Boston. If I did, I felt really bad about it.

I think ninety percent of everyone on earth would pay an extra five bucks to have their sealed deck pre-registered for them at sealed deck tournaments. And the tournaments would be an hour shorter.

Osyp only wants you to believe he is all Ukranian. Osyp may or may not have been recently spotted, however, at local Taiwanese-Ukrainian rallies, may or may not claim on his tax returns a Shoshone Indian Reservation place of residence, may or may not receive annual Alaskan permanent natural resource maintenance payments, may or may not speak fluent German which he claims he learned from his Aleutian mother (who has a small shipping company in her hometown of Ghent she inherited from her Aztec family), and he may or may not sit on the board of the NAAAUDDRP (National Association for the Advancement of Afro-Ukranian Dance Dance Revolution Players). In any event, Osyp is definitely pure octane.

Words of Worship may or may not be good. Okay, that’s a lie. Words of Worship is terrible and there must be something better for you to play than that. (No, thanks, I don’t want to argue with you about this over the e-mail. Play it at Regionals at your own peril).

Jordan Berkowitz may or may not have already spent the bulk of his Venice winnings on hip track suits, innumerable apple cobblers at John Harvard’s, a”fresh up” of his ‘do and”all da bitches,” if so, expect him to be hungry in Yokohama.

Huey may or may not have purchased a matching track suit.

I may or may not have honestly felt bad about making people mana burn to death twice. All right, God, I felt bad. You guys are getting too good at guessing here.

Go Syracuse! I am an ardent Orangeman Basketball fan (and an SU alum).

One recent Magic team may or may not have recently begun to require that its members sign nondisclosure agreements. This may or may not be one of the most idiotic things I have ever heard of.

Someone on MODO, who seemed nice, may or may not have (i) named their clan”Tongo Smash,” and (ii) IM’d me and asked me where I got that name (tongonation), because he just made it up, and it was a neat coincidence. I may or may not, ironically (or maybe appropriately), lose to Tongo Smash Clan members every time I ever play them.

Mike Flores may or may not, somehow honestly believe that Naomi Watts is”more beautiful” than Charlize Theron. If he does, he is most certainly incorrect. Or at least delusional. This may or may not be Randy Buehler next poll question on magicthegathering.com.

I think that I take Willbender over Echo Tracer, though it is a pretty close call. Every time I flip Willbender, dreamwrecking ensues.

Krosan Vorine is almost always better than Brontotherium.

This made me lol for about twenty minutes.

Cards I will not be sorry to see go: F**ing Upheaval, Opposition, Static Orb, Ensnaring Bridge, Wild Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm

Cards I will not/would not be happy to see come back: Blood Moon, any card that emulates any of the above annoying effects except for Winter Orb, which I have an unnatural affection for.

Cards I would love to have back: Pyrokinesis, any Spider (love dem spiders), Armadillo Cloak, Chimeric Idol, Tormod’s f**ing Crypt (which I have wanted back since long before threshold existed), some 3cc hard counter – Dissipate, perhaps?

I would have bet money that these words had never before been strung together -“The Deadly Stilt Man.”

H. Conclusion

Well, thanks for slogging through this thing, and hope it gave you a chuckle or two. If it was not up to expectations, apologies – I’ll try to do better next time. As per usual, feedback’s always welcome :D. See ya at Regionals.

Jon Becker

Tongo’s Counsel

[email protected]