The Magic Show #84 – Charlotte Bound

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Friday, February 22nd – Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re going to discuss the incredible return of Jon Finkel, the fallout from Wizards’ players meeting and what it means for the future of Organized Play, the allure of Shadowmoor, a few words on tomorrow’s live updates, and more! Let’s go!

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of the Magic Show. This week we’re going to discuss the incredible return of Jon Finkel, the fallout from Wizards’ players meeting and what it means for the future of Organized Play, the allure of Shadowmoor, a few words on tomorrow’s live updates, and more! Let’s go!

The Return of Jonny Magic

Wow, wow, wow! I tell you guys, it was not only thrilling but also fascinating to catch the Top 8 live via Wizards’ own webcast. Seeing as I was actually there for Valencia and never caught Yokohama or Geneva, this was a really cool and interesting experience. You know you’re a hardcore Magic nerd when you stay up until five in the morning watching the best in the world play.

By far the most interesting and lucky bit was Wizards focusing on Jon Finkel during the draft portion. Not only did we get to watch the greatest player this side of Kai draft at the Top 8 of a Pro Tour, he turned in an absolutely brilliant draft and won the whole thing to boot.

The keys to this draft were two picks: the first was a third pick Summon the School. Now I don’t know about you, but that says “Bring on the Merfolk!” and that’s exactly the way that Jon drafted it… until he tabled the Goldmeadow Stalwart. Then he made a choice. Instead of what I would consider 90% of the PTQ players in the world would do — simply take the Amoeboid Changeling and move on — Jon realized that the Kithkin were being left wide open, and they got some of the best and most powerful cards in Morningtide.

So into Kithkin he went, and the rest is history. Here’s a play I’d like to feature for you from the finals. Just look at this genius.

From the official coverage:

“On his next turn, Pascoli decided the time was right to send his Seething Pathblazer, and Finkel eventually decided to double block with his Kithkin Harbinger and Skirmisher. Before first strike damage, Pascoli sacrificed his Soulbright Flamekin and his Banneret to pump the Pathblazer up. Now that Pascoli had sacrificed half his team, Finkel decided to Coordinated Barrage Pathblazer. That’s a three-for-one there, kids, and you don’t find too many people coming back from that at this stage in a game.”

A three-for-one in the finals of a Pro Tour. He’s not the best for nothing, folks. Jon drafted five times a day for the past two weeks, honing his skills and losing only a single match all day long. Wow! Now that’s a record.

What are the takeaways here? First, in order to be the best you have to be able to read the signals. And here was a signal, in Pick 9, that determined the fate of the Pro Tour. Most players stop looking at or for signals around Pick 5. So pay attention to what tables and what good cards are coming a bit too late.

Another takeaway is how good archetypes become when you add the second set. As we’re about to go through this cycle all over again, I’m sure you’ll find in Shadowmoor that one archetype or another is incredible, and another is awesome if, quote, “You get the nuts.” We all knew how nuts the Kithkin deck was in triple Lorwyn… if you got the nuts. If you didn’t, you were ran over by more synergistic beatdown strategies like Goblins or Elves.

Thanks to Morningtide, however, you may now draft those little white buggers with reckless abandon and enjoy the power of a mini-Serra Angel and the versatility of the Reinforce mechanic. Mosquito Squad for the win!

Congratulations once again to Jon for going all the way. It’s not only a fascinating and awesome story, it’s an inspiring one. Magic is like riding a bike — er, well, more like flying a plane, where the cockpit keeps changing from year to year. But hey, at least we’ve upgraded from the Cessna to the Lorwyn jumbo jet, right? I love metaphors.

Organized Replay

This past few weeks have just been a long stream of articles, opinions, ideas and solutions to the “restructuring” of Organized Play. This seemed to culminate in Rich Hagon article “This isn’t Star Trek” where he likens the loss of Spock to the loss of a Pro Tour, where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the elitist few.

He also portrays the Magic the Gathering Player’s Union as an invite-only club where the best-of-the-best argue for who takes the most money home. Rich says, and I quote, “Because ultimately, what Magic lacks, and the players driving the union would really like, is a roomful of stupid people with lots of money. They want a game where said roomful of stupid rich people pay lots of money for the right to test themselves against the very best, and the very best win and take the stupid rich people’s money.”

While it may not have been 100% clear in Episode #81, I am indeed a Player’s Union member and official representative. I’ve chosen to align myself with the good folks who are in charge of this group precisely because I don’t want it to be seen as some elitist crap that doesn’t mean anything to the guy struggling in FNM. The Union is simply a mouthpiece for the community at large, something I try to bring every week here on the show, but with the Player’s Union we can speak to Wizards directly about pressing issues regarding each group. FNM’ers want incentives, they want foils, they want better prize support for those who don’t win, they want to keep the fun and camaraderie paramount. Pros want just the opposite — they want relentless competition, cut-throat payouts, and better prize support for both the effort and lifestyle required to be a professional Magic player.

In order to bridge this gap you have to have representatives from both sides. And that’s just what’s happening here. For those who choose to simply cast aside the Player’s Union as some Pros wet dream, let me assure that I hope to capture Wizards’ attention there just as much as I do here, and to talk directly to them about what most concerns you.

In fact, Wizards did have a player meeting in Kuala Lumpur where they addressed many important issues. The key to the meeting was this: States has failed. Only three to four percent of tournament players actually went to States or played in the Junior Super Series, and that my friends is a frighteningly low number.

My favorite theorem as to why that is comes from Ben Bleiweiss. He notes that because over the years there suddenly were three Champs/States titles — one for Standard, Two-Headed Giant, and Limited, the position and pride of being the “State Champ” was greatly diminished. Quite simply, they didn’t make it cool or unique enough. They diluted the “brand” of being State champ.

In the official Wizards article, they do what I like to call the corporate tap dance shuffle. In this exercise they explain that they’re listening, they ‘feel you,’ but in the end, specifics are just not possible. Here’s my favorite bit:

“While Wizards certainly can’t make financial promises about future seasons that haven’t been budgeted for yet, it’s possible that a schedule could be worked out that might allow players to know when these announcements would be coming. This way, much like format changes or set rotations, players would know ahead of time when they’d be getting the announcements for each season. This idea came up during the meeting and, though it wasn’t clear yet whether Wizards could actually commit to it, Chris said they’d look into the possibility.”

Wizards basically explains that they get their budgets sometime around 11PM on December 31st, and by the stroke of midnight they’ve shuffled around the Pro Players Club levels again to attain balance. I’m being facetious, but the point remains that for Pro Points to actually mean something, you’re going to need to get these schedules in place and keep them in place through some part of the following season.

Remember, these Pro Players Club levels and their stability affect those that aren’t on the tour. For someone to commit him or herself to attaining those levels, they’ll need a guarantee that the support will be there. Saying that in December top tier pros will need to hold their breath as come January things could be turned upside down again is not a good idea, in my opinion.

For starters, I’d say that Wizards should guarantee a date in which these new changes are announced. Seems simple enough. Second, I would request they look into guaranteeing Pro Players Club benefits for the first six months of the upcoming season. Again, I realize that these people are statistical freaks. They are not the guys who grind it out every week at the local shop. But they are the biggest and brightest stars that Magic has, and I think it’s important to at least try and keep them informed and involved.

But what to do about the grassroots? Wizards appears to be looking for the answer to getting asses in seats and new players in the game. What causes this? Is it new player rewards programs? Is it Magic Online, which, as the Ferrett pointed out, could make cardboard Magic a victim of its success? Is it foils?

I heard the other day about a CCG giving the winner of a huge tournament a completely foiled version of their deck. Can you imagine how popular this would be in Magic? It sounds silly, I guess, but I thought it was pure genius. What if you could win the tournament get all of those Polluted Deltas, Tarmogoyfs, and Sensei’s Divining Tops foiled for you? Even if you restricted the tournament to Standard, I think I’d be more than happy with some foil Garruks, Chameleon Colossus and Mutavaults as my prize for winning. Keep your cash boys, you gave me something just as good as money and much, much cooler. You would still be giving away thousands of dollars, depending on the deck of course, but the uniqueness and style of the prize would make it incredibly popular.

If a tournament organizer ever wanted to break attendance records, that’s the prize I would suggest. Anyway, this issue has been taking over the entire Magic community these past few weeks, and solutions are needed. If you know of a good way to get new people involved and get the tournament scene supercharged, let’s hear it.

Shadowmoor Incoming!

Okay, to no one’s surprise that had been paying attention to cards like Dolmen Gate, Shadowmoor is a “dark” Lorwyn. The book calls this event the “aurora.”

Personally, I see it as the, wait for it, “poisoning” of Lorywn. Yes, you see in Mark Rosewater most recent article I could practically see him giggling as he wrote three enticing paragraphs about what may be in store for us come April. He gives us lots of hints about Shadowmoor and its recently announced follow-up, Eventide. These two blocks will bring us, quote, “all new themes,” meaning this won’t be an Enchantment block or an Artifact block or even a Graveyard-based set as many had guessed.

As for my theory, I’ve already mentioned it. Shadowmoor block will focus on Poison. As Ben Bleiweiss noted last year in his “Five Ways To Fix Green” article, only the Time Spiral Swamp Mosquito actually includes the rules text about losing the game from ten poison counters. Every other creature with poison or “Poisonous” as Virulent Sliver features does not explain the condition of your opponent losing the game due to Poison Counters.

In his article, Mark promises “I am going to make the bold statement that in my opinion the Shadowmoor / Shadowmoor / Eventide draft environment is going to be the most dynamic thing you have ever seen.”

Would this be because suddenly you’ll have another column on your life totals sheet that tracks poison counters? We’ll see.

Other theorems include the return of split cards, which would allow Wizards to include all of the creature types in Lorwyn and show them change shape into something else. A Goblin that turns into a Kithkin, perhaps? Maybe not.

Either way, he promised two cards from Future Sight will be in Shadowmoor. The obvious choice is Mistmeadow Skulk, as the Goldmeadow turns into the Mistmeadow, but the other is destined to be the real defining card of Shadowmoor. Will it be the Poisonous Snake-Cult Initiation? Or perhaps the Transfigure mechanic seen on Fleshwrither? I guess we shall see.

Charlotte Bound

Okay boys and girls, this weekend is it. The $5,000 Standard Open is upon us, and it’s going to be a monster. Every Magic player I know is either going or lamenting about how they can’t go, and it’s time to figure out what you want to play, get that decklist written down, and be prepared for the best event this side of the Atlantic.

The Magic Show will be updating StarCityGames.com will live updates throughout the day. But this isn’t just a random string of updates. This weekend you’ll be following the story of three Magic players as they try and make the Top 8 and ultimately take home the lion’s share of the $5,000 prize.

Who are the players, how will their story be told, and what else is in store for the live updates? You’ll see first thing tomorrow – keep it tuned to the Magic Show, peeps, and thanks again for your awesome support. The Magic Show is nothing without Magic players like you watching, commenting, emailing, and cheering it on.

So until tomorrow Magic players, when you see me and the Magic playing populous slinging cards in Charlotte, this is Evan Erwin, tapping the cards so you don’t have to.

Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com
Written after I finished editing the Pro Tour Finals. Woohoo, go Finkel go!

Music Credits:
Show Title — “Energy” by Apples in Stereo
Return of Jonny Magic — “See You At The Lights” by 1990s
Organized Replay — “Pollockshields” by 1990s
Shadowmoor Incoming! — “M79” by Vampire Weekend
Charlotte Bound — “One (Blake’s Got A New Face)” by Vampire Weekend