The Magic Online Column. Allegedly.

For his first foray on SCG Free, the mighty blisterguy does his level best to avoid talking about Magic Online. Instead, he waxes lyrical on the pressures of fame, shares a cupful of tales from his trip to Worlds, and joins the debate regarding the WotC lawsuit.

Good ol’ Ted, eh?

I mean, he’s a great guy. Several times, he’s managed to convince me to start writing for this here website again, and despite my getting lazy over and over, he’ll get back on that twisting-my-arm bandwagon without skipping a beat. So yeah, great guy. That’s what I keep telling myself now. His parting gift to this site was to convince five of us to agree to a weekly column for the SCG Free. I guess he caught me at a weak moment…

My chosen topic is Magic Online, which means each week I’ll waffle on about the Magical Online game. I think we all know there could be some straying from the point, as I’m usually prone to doing, but what the heck. How bad can it be?

(You had better not be clicking into the forums right now to answer that question.)

To prove my point, this week I will not talk about Magic Online at all. Next week, however, I will give a rundown on why you should be playing on Magical Online… but this week, I’ll talk about other stuff.

The Good.

First, I’d like to apologize to those of you who were expecting a lengthy tournament report from my trip to the World Championships in Japan. It sure was a trip worthy of a lengthy report, but I was not man enough to withstand such an experience. Instead, I came home and burnt myself out by going straight back to work. Add a healthy dose of unhealthy Holiday Season depression (separation of long-term relationship late-mid 2005, and so on) and it just never really happened. Anyhoo, what follows will hopefully satisfy the two or three of you hanging out for these shenanigans. Just a warning though, there may be more names dropped here than any website could possibly handle.

There is already some form of documentation about my trip on this here site. There was going to be a diary for each day of the trip, but after Ted mislaid day 2 (we were swapping quite a few files that weekend in the coverage team) and I coma’d out at the end of day 3, things fell through.

To recap, the flight sucked because Will Ferrell should not be endured at a distance of three feet for an extended (read as: two movies in a row) period of time. The ninety-minute bus trip from the airport to Yokohama was cool, and literally made up for the flight itself. We almost got lost inside Yokohama Station, but thankfully a super-friendly happy fun times local pretty young lady (who had traveled to New Zealand herself, so we got off on the right foot with her right away) guided us to the train we needed to get to Sakuragicho, where the venue and our hotel happened to be.

Day 1 went very well for me. I had playtested my way to a decent build of Sunforger Control that helped me to a 5-1 finish… more than I had personally hoped for. After I killed someone with a Hidetsugu’s Second Rite in round 4, I tracked down Randy Buehler and his trusty podcast recorder and made him interview me. I was pleasantly surprised when he replied that he had been keeping an eye out for me so he could put a face to the name “blisterguy”. Fair enough, I guess.

Day 2 wasn’t so good, and a bunch of named pros took turns at bashing me about in the Booster Drafts. My first Draft yielded a slow Red/White deck, which is definitely not the way I like to play, but Ted had eyes for my deck and described it as exactly what he would have liked to draft. After going 0-3 with it, I started a list of people I’d like to money draft against, and put Ted at the top. Although losing to Kenji Tsumura and Nicolai Herzog is something you can’t be too disappointed with when you’re as green as I am.

My second Draft went much better. Despite it being just as jam-packed with pros as the first, I ended up with the “I’m the only one drafting this” Red/White Aggro deck we all dream of. With it, I beat a guy from the South African national team, and last year’s World Champion Julien Nuijten. How do you beat a World Champion? You get him to draw three non-mana cards in game 1, and only three mana cards in game 2. Julien was pretty upset by this, understandably. I guess it was at that point that he realized that he wasn’t going to manage a repeat performance. In the final round, Jelger Wiegersma crushed me with a Green/White/Red monstrosity featuring several Selesnya Evangels, a Siege Wurm, a Firemane Angel, and a Brightflame at the very least. While finishing the day 2-4 obviously wasn’t as great as my 5-1 day one run, but it was closer to how I expected to do.

Day 3, I screwed up. More to the point, I screwed it up long before I set foot on Japanese soil. I decided, long enough in advance, that I was going to play Affinity. This was not a mistake as such, but I didn’t learn my match-ups inside and out, meaning that I finished again at 2-4. At least two of those loses can be attributed to mistakes I made through this lack of solid practice. Ending up 9-9 was, quite frankly, what I’d hoped for, but the fact that I could have managed 11-7 or even better, with proper preparation, does sting a little.

However, at the end of the day, I went over to talk to The Man – also known as Head Judge Sheldon Menery – about a friend of mine who happened to be taking a judge exam while we were here. After I tried to part ways with Sheldon – who omg is an awesome judge, for serious – a gentleman came running out from behind the scorekeepers station yelling “Ray, Ray! Wait!”

I recognized this man instantly, from his head of curly blond hair alone. Which incidentally was all I could see sticking up from behind the scorekeepers desk, because this guy is not a tall man. Still, most Magic players will admit that they’d recognize a picture of Mark Rosewater when shown one, but few would expect him to be chasing them down. He shook my hand and told me that he’d always wanted to meet me, and that he read me all over the internet. As I tried to get my tongue untied I realized that this meant he also followed some of my posts on other forums of perhaps ill repute, where some of my behavior could be considered less than savory. At least, it’s not suitable for viewing by young people, or parents, or people with heart conditions.

Mark has an infectious smile, so we sat and grinned at each other. I finally plucked up the courage and asked him if he had any say in letting me help with the coverage. Mark firmly shook his head with a, “nope, but follow me,” and dragged me backstage to meet the Coverage Producer: one Greg Collins, who drew a blank when introduced to “some guy” called Ray Walkinshaw.

(Queue deflating ego balloon.)

“You know,” Mark prodded, still grinning, “blisterguy!”

Greg’s face lit up as he shook my hand, “Ted’s told me all about you!”

Good ol’ Ted, eh?

(Queue ever-increasing ego zeppelin.)

“So,” Greg, continued, “Ted tells me you want to help with the coverage?” I confirmed that I was equipped with my laptop and the will to do whatever they asked, and before I knew it I had a date with the coverage team the next morning at nine. As I tried to leave the backstage area, Brian David-Marshall barreled up to me with more of what Mark had said earlier. “blisterguy! I’ve always wanted to meet you! Do you remember when you started writing for my site?” and so on. I told BDM that I sure did remember that, but I was somewhat floored that he did too. Over the next few days I met Paul Sottosanti, Eli Kaplan, Scott Johns, Aaron Forsythe and even Devin Low. Devin even felt compelled to introduce himself as “Hi, I’m Devin Low, I work in Wizards of the Coast Research and Development,” before I interrupted him to let him know that yeah, I knew who he was, his picture was often in those articles about who worked on which set. He turned to Aaron with a confused look on his fiz, to have Aaron and Mark laugh while letting him know that he had been profiled several times on MagicTheGathering.com

What I truly hoped for was a chance to cover one of the Top 8 matches on the Sunday. Greg was generous enough to let me do not only the Top 8 match between Akira Asahara and Marcio Carvalho, but also Asahara’s Top 4 match against Frank Karsten. Complete with camera time. As geeky as it sounds, those last two days with the coverage team were way cooler than anything I have done with this game, ever. Even cooler than playing at the World Championship itself. Well, except maybe for the bit where Aaron Forsythe handed me a foil Watery Grave and said, “here you go… just kidding,” with what can only be described as a fiendish cackle. That wasn’t quite so cool.

As we were packing up, Scott and Greg (yeah, first name basis obv obv) were like “hay man, thanks for helping out, will we see you in Hawaii?” to which I think I made the mistake of replying “well we’ll see eh? Yeah, why not?” Now I have to get my butt to Hawaii in just over a month, and I ain’t takin’ my cards with me, know what I mean?


What a chore imo.

The Bad.

So that was The Good, and this is The Bad. You may have seen in the Magical Headlines recently that Rancored_Elf of MtgSalvation.com fame, and even MtgSalvation itself are about to become entangled with Wizards of the Coast’s legal department for something that amounts to their receiving and posting spoilers from upcoming Magical sets.

Many people over at MtgSal are clamoring for some kind of reply from one of the faces they know at WotC, anything to help shed some light on the situation and stop them fearing the worst. While the signal-to-noise ratio over there is off the clock right now, one thing is for sure: the majority of MtgSal’s posters are frightened that their site will be shut down, and that their mentor and spiritual leader Rancored_Elf will be locked away fo’ life. Sadly, nobody from the official camp is able to shed any light on this kind of thing without risking their positions within the company, so you’ll have to settle for me and my wee soapbox.

Now when I say “bad”, you might assume I’m like the rest of the crowd over at MtgSal in proclaiming WotC as the devil himself for this turn of events. That they’re turning on the very fan-base they depend on for their income, and what harm are spoilers anyway? Unfortunately, I’m of the opinion that the “bad” is the fact that so many people in one place fail to understand that Hasbro and WotC have all but been forced into this position by the ever increasing revelation of their unreleased – and in some cases, unfinished or unrefined – products. I know that if I were in their position, I’d probably be having a good ol’ sulk about it too.

Many people are putting forward arguments that spoilers boost sales and increase prerelease attendance, but aren’t particularly forthcoming with any proof of these facts. Well, other than one guy stating that he didn’t buy any Onslaught packs because he knew what was in the set and didn’t like the flavor (great argument, Nigel!). The way I see it, if there are no non-sanctioned spoilers for a set, people will either attend a prerelease event or wait for the Gatherer card database to be updated. If that doesn’t increase spoiler attendance, who knows what will?

Others are saying that by “attacking a beloved institution and community,” WotC will alienate the majority of their customer base. I’m reasonably certain that the number of active users and inactive lurkers that read MtgSal fails to resemble anything near a “majority” of the World’s Magic-playing populous. If every person from MtgSal quit Magic altogether, then others will continue to play and in ten years time, few will remember this burst of legal activity.

And the legal activity itself? What I’m hearing is “MtgSal is being sued!” and “free R_E!” What I’m reading, from the official WotC press release, is that Rancored_Elf is simply being forced to provide as much information as possible about his “informants.” MtgSal has been served with a notice to remove certain threads from its site, which it has now done. I doubt that WotC are seeking damages in any of these cases; they’re merely ensuring their leaks are plugged by tracking down those employees and contractors who are breaching their Non-Disclosure Agreements.

So what does this mean in the long run? I assume it will mean fewer spoilers. By the time I got to my local prerelease on Saturday, the spoiler on MtgSal was still incomplete. I suspect the same will be true for the Dissension prerelease in May. As recently as last week, people (myself included) have been discussing the virtues of avoiding spoilers altogether before prereleases, and seeing how much fun it would be to open a pack where you didn’t know a single card contained within. I got a hint this weekend past, when every now and again I’d wander past a table and see some card that hadn’t made it onto the spoiler… I have to say, I kinda like the idea.

The other reason is to help avoid disappointment. Remember how the spoiler version of Moonlight Bargain cost 2BB, yet the real card cost 3BB? And how Giant Solifuge was spoiled with a power and toughness of 4/3 instead of 4/1? Wreak Havoc cost 1RG, instead of 2RG? Avoiding spoilers will help prevent those little deaths we all had to die.

The Ugly.

Other than the fact that I have now committed myself to both avoiding spoilers, and getting myself to Hawaii to help cover the Pro Tour, (which is some ugly in the way of promises), The Ugly will be my own little Music Bit, like all the cool writers on this site have in their articles. Unlike those other writers, I am incapable of providing a list of my top ten songs or albums of 2005. For me, 2005 was all about “Alien” from Canadian Metal genius Devin Townsend and his band Strapping Young Lad. Which for me, now ranks up there with Radiohead’s “OK Computer” as an album I listened several times a day for three months in a row. Both of these albums will be on heavy rotation, on whatever portable music device I carry with me, for many years to come. Every time I hear either of these albums, I get taken to a Happy Place where everything is right in the world. Unfortunately for many others in my area, I often listen to them while driving. If you live near me, it might be a good idea to take the bus.

Until next week, when I’ll talk about Magic Online… take care, and stay off the road in front of me!