The Riki Rules – Launches and Leaks

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Tuesday, October 7th – The Shard deck construction rule for the Launch Party came and went without incident. I’m sure that a story will trickle in from some corner of the world where a careless player received a game loss for building outside a Shard, but my LP wasn’t going to be that story.

The Shard deck construction rule for the Launch Party came and went without incident. I’m sure that a story will trickle in from some corner of the world where a careless player received a game loss for building outside a Shard, but my LP wasn’t going to be that story. Perhaps I erred on the side of overly-cautious when I made three separate announcements during deck construction to stick to a Shard, and I closely monitored the card piles being turned into decks.

Actually, I don’t think I was overreacting at all since I still got four or five different questions on the specifics of the restriction during deck construction. Mostly players wanted to know if they could splash an off-Shard basic land for Wild Nacatl and clarification on using semi-off Obelisks and cycling cards.

Despite my multiple announcements, I did my best to give the rule a chance, presenting it as a “bold experiment.” Of course, the grizzled veterans weren’t having any of it. The biggest complaint was that the restriction to one Shard prevented the splashing of powerful spells in fourth and even fifth colors, leading to some pretty subpar cards making it into decks simply because they were in-Shard (like one deck that featured not one but two Gustrider Exuberants with only one creature with power five or greater – yikes!)

There were plenty of new faces on hand for the LP as well, several of whom had come for the Prerelease last week only to be turned away because of the 24 player cap. Thank goodness they came back only to be blindsided by the new Shard construction rule. They were a little surprised by the rule, but adapted quickly. I think it helped that everyone at least had some experience with Sealed deck construction already. I can’t even imagine what might have happened if a new player had chosen an LP as his first foray into sanctioned Magic, and isn’t that a sad thing to say about a Launch Party?

If Wizards wants to do weird deck construction rules like this in the future, I would suggest balancing the colors better. It’s been a long-held truism that Green is the best color in Sealed deck (and Blue in Draft). This was definitely the case for the LP, as over half of the 32 decks were Naya. Bant was a not-so-close second, while Jund, Grixis, and Esper only had two or three representatives each.

The Naya deck is particularly unforgiving to slow opponents, with potential 3/3 Nacatls swinging on turn 3 and 5/4 Wooly Thoctars joining them the following turn. Eventual winner of the Sealed flight, Eirik Aune, declared the Thoctar “stupid” because if you get lucky and play it on turn 3 it puts you two or three turns ahead of an opponent who might be hiccupping on colors or just waiting to play his five- and six-drop creatures of the same size.

Overall, it was an interesting experiment, but I’m left wondering about the timing of it. In a scientific experiment, you change one variable at a time to compare against the control. For Shards of Alara, Wizards has changed too many variables with the new local Prerelease structure and the Shard rule for the Launch Party. When attendance is down for Conflux – I mean, if attendance is down for Conflux Prereleases – how will they know what variables factored in? I suppose they can take a poll at MTG.com:

Why did you not attend the Conflux Prerelease?
a) The Shards of Alara Prerelease sucked.
b) I don’t want to use the Shard construction rule.
c) I couldn’t find any information about it on MTG.com.
d) All of the above.

Speaking of the new MTG.com, let’s throw some more wood on that fire because we still haven’t burned the new website down enough. At the Launch Party, one of the players expressed some interest in the new Intro Packs, the replacement for Pre-con Starter decks. These things actually look a lot better than those old Pre-cons, but the player wanted some more details on the contents of the deck besides the foil visible on the front of the package.

With no list of contents on the packaging, I turned to MTG.com for help. Why did I do this? Perhaps I’m a masochist, or maybe I just have fond memories of a time when the Mothership website was useful for things other than cheap jokes. Apparently those days are long gone because I couldn’t find any useful information on the Intro Packs. After a few fitful clicks, I arrived at the “Shards of Alara product information” page which seemed promising since I was looking for information on a product from Shards of Alara. There I found an image of the five Intro Packs, but they weren’t clickable, nor was there any link anywhere in the description of the image, mostly because there was no description of the image. If I didn’t already know what the Intro Packs looked like, I would have had no idea what I was looking at.

On the right hand side of the page, there was a list of various links to the FAQ, Prerelease and Launch Party information, and descriptions of the five Shards. These are all useful links to varying degrees. Just last week, I went to the Launch Party info page to confirm that the Shard rule was in fact real. And the FAQ has proven most useful for all those burning rules questions about unearth and such. But where’s the, you know, product information? Intro Packs? Fat Packs? I could have sworn that back in the day they used to post full deck lists for the Pre-cons somewhere on the website.

The only thing approaching product information is the brief description of the book “A Planeswalker’s Guide to Alara,” which actually seems kind of cool. It features “full-color illustrations drawn from early concept art and final card art to bring the worlds of Magic to life.” Over the past few years, I’ve become a big fan of Magic art, going so far as to start a budding collection of original art, so a book like this seems right up my alley. Unfortunately, the page only shows the cover of the book, and none of the art within. Sure, I’ve seen plenty of full-sized art in Magic Arcana and Doug Beyer’s column (who is also one of the author’s of this book), but shouldn’t there be at least some examples to go along with the description of the book for interested customers? Do they really think the cover and description are enough to tease customers?

All of this nonsense makes me wonder what exactly this “product information” page is for. Who is the target audience? This kind of ties into Rueben Bresler’s column last week, “Toy or Game?” Like many of the people who responded in the forums, I disagree with Rueben’s premise that Magic has to primarily be one or other to each of us. Such zero sum equations rarely work out when examining personal interests. Do you like that girl for her brains or her body?

I was also concerned that Rueben left out the social aspect of the game, which is probably the biggest factor for me. Like Zac Hill, I am a big booster of the people in Magic. One of the big positives cited for the old “big” Prereleases was the People Factor: getting to see people that you normally wouldn’t. I know that I always get a kick out of seeing the Oroville crew, a group of 3-6 guys who make a ridiculous drive of 3-4 hours to San Jose. They would also show up for an occasional PTQ, but I knew I could always count on them showing up for the specialness of the Prerelease.

I’ve read plenty of testimonials from players who were able to attend their first Prerelease because they didn’t have to drive an hour or more. In terms of acquisition, these stories are obviously a positive of the new system. But at what cost? Why do we need to cater to the lowest common denominator in terms of travel capability? What’s next, forget about the stores because a 30-minute dive is too much – let’s just send product to players and let them have Prereleases at home.

Sarcasm aside, the problem is that Wizards is acquiring their new customer base at the expense of much of their old one. Evan Erwin is on record as saying he will likely not attend the Conflux Prerelease if things don’t change back. Will we even get a player testimonial style video for Shards of Alara? I’m in pretty much the same boat as Evan. 500 people is worth a two-hour drive. 30 minutes for 50 people, not so much. And quite a few of my Spike friends have told me that they won’t bother to show up next time because the prize structure isn’t worth the price of getting up and taking a shower. Wizards may trot out attendance figures for Shards and proclaim it a success, but I think they are going to be vastly disappointed come Conflux if early reactions are any indication, because a lot of those people, especially the experienced crowd, isn’t coming back for a second run at this.

The two divergent points of view on the Prerelease got me thinking about Disneyland. Yeah, Disneyland, because that’s essentially what the old Prereleases were: the Magic Kingdom of… Magic. The new Prereleases are like the Disney Stores you find at the mall. Local players might be happy that they can now buy Disney merchandise without having to go to the Magic Kingdom themselves, but for those of us who have been to Disneyland, there’s no way the store can replicate the experience. Like I said, it’s great that people are getting to experience the Prerelease for the first time, but my guess is that those players would enjoy the full experience even more. That they can’t do so due to financial or transportation-related issues is unfortunate.

I travel a lot for Magic. Even with judge compensation, I operate at a slight loss. But I do it because I love this game/toy. If you’re unwilling or unable to drive a couple of hours to a Prerelease, you either don’t love the game enough or, like me a few years ago, you need to get off your couch and get a job. For those younger players who can’t go because of parental issues, your parents don’t love you enough. No! That’s not what I wanted to say. I actually work with someone whose teenage son plays Magic. I doubt that she would be willing to drive her son two hours to a big Prerelease, but would she be willing to let him go in my car? We haven’t talked about this type of thing, and I’m not saying it has to be me personally, but I think that she would let him go on a day trip with a trusted adult driver.

Another hot topic in Magic is networking. It gets bandied about a lot more in the higher circles where it becomes important for going to PTs and GPs to secure a good group of playtesters and finding roommates and carpools to keep costs down, but those lessons can apply at the local level. I know I really started to go a lot more PTQs when I got a consistent group of friends to carpool with.

The other big news last week was the Conflux leak. While doing a Google search, someone discovered a cached file that contained all the names for Magic cards in English and Japanese… including Conflux. The rumor mill message board went bonkers overnight. Other writers will probably be feeding you information about the card names and what they mean for the set itself, but I thought that I might add my own unique perspective on the source of the leak, since the website is in Japanese.

Understand that I don’t have any inside information on this website. The description of the site says that it is:

“A Japanese site for players (duelists), judges, rules gurus and candidates for those positions, appointed by Wizards of the Coast and under the supervision of Japan NetRep “Pao” Kaoru Yonemura. This is a collection of rules documents pertaining to the trading card game Magic: the Gathering, sometimes called Magic, Gather, and Gathering. Takaratomy and Wizards of the Coast are not responsible for the materials presented on this site. This site is the sole responsibility of “Pao” Kaoru Yonemura.”

“Pao” is apparently a nickname or possible online screen name. In addition to being the Japanese NetRep, Kaoru is a Level 2 judge and the “Japanese card translational technical editor.” Given these positions, it starts to make some sense as to why he would have access to the Conflux card names. He was probably responsible for translating the names (and possibly rules text) into Japanese.

The site itself is what it says it is. Looking through the list of rulings and errata, I’m struck by how many cards are apparently mistranslated or misprinted in Japanese. The Japanese Reaper King is missing the supertype Legendary. Repel Intruders can counter any spell, not just creatures. Goatnapper steals Mountain Goats, instead of just Goats. Seeing all these misprints makes me appreciate the caliber of Japanese players even more (and it might explain why many of them prefer to play with English cards).

That brings us to this leak. I didn’t get a chance to see the original document before it was taken down. From the excerpts I’ve seen, it looks like it was a full card name translation list. What happened? How did it end up on the Internet? Will there be repercussions for this leak? So far there’s been nothing, and it’s entirely possible that Wizards may try to push this under the rug and pretend like it never happened. The funny fallout of all of this is that a whole bunch of players who can’t read Japanese will now be monitoring this site regularly to see if anything else leaks. Myself, I’ll be going through the Japanese rulings and translations to further my understanding of Magic in Japanese.

Next week, I’ll be returning to more traditional judging matters, following up on Zac Hill article last week on shuffling.

Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a judge.

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