This, That And The Other

This week’s column isn’t exactly focused, and for that I apologize. But there are a lot of little things that I wanted to talk about, so bear with me while I skip around. STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS SHOULD MEAN SOMETHING This topic pops up each year after States, and each year nothing is done about it. But…

This week’s column isn’t exactly focused, and for that I apologize. But there are a lot of little things that I wanted to talk about, so bear with me while I skip around.

This topic pops up each year after States, and each year nothing is done about it. But the fact of the matter is, winning States really doesn’t mean anything. It’s a nice little feather in your cap, and your DCI Constructed ratings get a nice boost. You get a box of product and a cool little plaque. When I had the pleasure of winning last year, all this was quite nice to have. But ultimately the victory is hollow, because there’s little incentive for the State’s very best players to show up. Let me say it again.

There’s little incentive for the State’s very best players to show up.

Now, I don’t mean the folks who play in States and do well aren’t among the State’s best, because the ones who make it to the Top 8 in these tournaments have to be good to make it there. I’m talking about the players who are so good they make money at Magic. Guys that have been to the Big Show. Allow me to illustrate:

I took a look at the ranking players in Virginia to find name players who elected not to play at the States Championships. See if you recognize any of them.

Dominic Crapuchettes. Andrew Cuneo. Kyle Rose. Mike Long. Chris Bishop. Pete Leiher. John Slaughter. Michael Katz.

These are the names pulled out of the current top 40 of Virginia. If I dug a little deeper, I’m sure I’d find more. Virginia has a lot of Magic talent, and lots of representatives either on the Tour or not far removed from it. And mostly, they aren’t interested in battling for the title of State Champ. This year I did have the pleasure of playing Donnie Gallitz at States, and the winner Tom Coppage has been to the Pro Tour at least once that I know of. But by and large, the Pro Community shrugs its collective shoulders and doesn’t bother to participate.

Doesn’t this cheapen States? I mean, last year, thrilled as I was to be the State Champ, I didn’t feel like I was among the best in the state. Pete Leiher and John Slaughter were the only Pro Tour guys I know of who competed at 1999 Virginia States.

Maybe it’s me, but shouldn’t States be like a mini-Nationals? Don’t you want to mill around the top tables and see the best players in the state battling for the title?

So how can we turn it around? How do we lure Magic’s best players to States? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Put up a $1,000 prize, or more. Make the payola comparable to a Pro Tour victory, and they will come. Money always talks. If nothing else, it could help pay for that trip to Pro Tour Baghdad.
2) If you have pro tour points or high rankings, you get one or two byes at States. Kind of like a Grand Prix, though I don’t think you should give three byes, since the tournament is likely to be much smaller than a GP. This can reassure those top-level players who worry about their DCI rankings taking a massive hit by losing to some random dude with a deck that’s so bad it beats their finely-tuned creation.
3) Offer three byes to Regionals. While I’d love to see winning States giving you an invite to Nationals, I can see the argument that the two tournaments are too far removed from each other to justify this. So why not split the difference and give the State Champ three byes at Regionals? This gives him a great jump on making the top 8, and qualifying for Nationals, without giving him a shoe-in.
4) Create a Battle of Champions – a high-money tournament held at Nationals, where only State champs past and present could participate. Maybe give invites the top 8 players who haven’t been invited to Nationals already. I mean, wouldn’t it be great to win your State Championship, win the Battle of Champions, and then make it through the Nationals gauntlet to win a spot on the U.S. National team?

A quick disclaimer on my suggestions for byes: while I like the idea of byes, I definitely see the problem with byes weighing so heavily in tiebreakers, as we are seeing in the Grand Prixes. Before I would agree to add byes to States and Regionals, first this problem needs to be corrected. So far the best suggestion I’ve heard is to reset all tie breakers after the last round of byes, so that all players with 2-0 records would have the same tie-breakers as those with two byes. This just seems fair.

Whatever the solution, I really think that something needs to be done to make States meaningful. Please respond with your thoughts and ideas on this; Wizards does pay attention to these websites, so let them know how you feel about this issue! With enough public pressure, we could raise the States Championships to be another premier Magic event on the calendar.

I have to be honest with you – I am just not excited about the Extended PTQ season. I look at the top decks and, not only are there no decks that I’d enjoy playing, there’s no decks I’d enjoy playing against. Banning Dark Ritual and Mana Vault has slowed down NecroDonate by a turn or two, but it’s not down and out by any means. In fact, all of the decks are basically the same: Get a key card or two into play fast, and protect it with cheap, undercosted spells. For NecroDonate, it’s getting a Necro on the board (finding it with a Tutor, if necessary), and forcing it on the board with either Duress or Force of Will. Or you play out your Survival of the Fittest and back it up with Force of Will. Or your Oath of Druids and back it up with a Force of Will. Or a couple of untargetable Slivers, backed up with a Force of Will. Or you cast your Replenish with Force of Will backup.

Doesn’t anyone else see a pattern here?

Force of Will has turned Extended into a combo-fest. Just about every deck has some sort of critical permanent that they need to get on the board to win, and they protect it with Force of Will. Pitching the Force is technically card disadvantage – you’re throwing away two cards to counter one, and you’re even losing a life to boot. But obviously, this disadvantage is totally negated by the advantage you gain from getting that special permanent on the board. And Force of Will allows – encourages – players to play these permanents as fast as they can without worrying about losing it to an untimely Disenchant or Emerald Charm.

Pop Quiz, Hotshot: How many decks in the top 8 at Grand Prix Phoenix ran four Forces of Will?
Answer: Seven. (As you’d no doubt know, dear readers, if you read the OTHER great article on this topic last Friday – The Ferrett)

This strikes me as problematic.

Without Force of Will, players would be forced to choose two paths: Either they’d have to wait a little longer to play that critical spell so that they’d have Counterspell mana available (or some other way to protect it), or they’d have to make the deck resilient enough to win without that critical enchantments. Either development would seem to be good for the game.

And don’t give me any crap about the banning of the Force crushing mono-blue decks! Just look at any Type 2 environment post-Alliances and you’ll see good blue decks doing well. Blue has plenty of other control options available; it would easily adjust to the loss of the Force.

So open your minds, folks, and think about it for a minute. Wizards tried to slow the environment down a bit by ridding us of Dark Ritual and Mana Vault. They were only partially successful. They need to finish the job by adding Force of Will to the list. Your ability to compete in Extended should not be defined by your ability to scrounge up four Forces of Will. Since Wizards obviously does not want to ban Necro, we need to ban the last speed component that breaks the environment: Ban Force of Will.

Right after the States results started getting posted, Star City listed top 8 decks from States around the country… and the cost to buy them from Star City! I thought this was an interesting idea, kinda like what Jay Schneider used to do on New Wave (I think). But then a fellow columnist Will Rieffer wrote about the decks, which ones were cheapest and which ones were the most expensive. And I think I had the dubious honor of being tied for the most expensive, mostly due to having four each of Birds of Utopia Trees, in addition to all sorts of rares. And it wasn’t even a combo deck! The sad thing was, if I had playtested the deck a little more, it would have ended up even MORE expensive; though I would have cut two pricey Utopia Trees, I was also planning on replacing the Shocks with Urza’s Rage. Talk about pricey! But the writer also jokingly insinuated that I must be well-off to afford to build this sort of deck, and I couldn’t let that comment drift on by unchallenged! I get these cards the old-fashioned way: By trading for ’em. Sure, I might have to buy a few singles here and there, but generally I hustle to wheel and deal for the cards I need. So, while I may have assembled a rare-intensive G/R/W deck, my black and blue collection suffered for it. I’ve gone down to a single Undermine, which has got to be my favorite counterspell, and I have few of the new Dragon Legends left. These cards are hard to get, and I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be able to use them in decks anytime soon. If you are willing to trade good cards you LIKE for good cards you NEED, then anyone can assemble even the priciest of decks.

Anyway, I’m going to wrap things up now. For those of you who are interested, I do have a new email address. Long time readers will probably get a kick out of it.

Bennie Smith