Pete Hoefling has been running StarCityGames.com successfully for years – even before it was a world-class website. He’s made a lot of great decisions and has truly had a positive impact on Magic as a whole. And just this past weekend, Pete wowed me with yet another excellent move on both his part and the part of Magic players here in Roanoke, VA – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that Pete’s new policy is brilliant, for I’m sure that it will result in a spiral of positive consequences that improve the Magical lives of all those involved.
So what is this miracle innovation? Listen up, players and storeowners alike!
It’s called”Casual Magic,” and it’s a combination of tournament and casual Magic play. Pete started the program this past Sunday, and has begun it by requiring no entry fee. The format of the tournament is basically Type 1.5, with the ability to have individual cards banned or unbanned at Pete’s whim (thus making the program an unsanctionable format). The prize structure for this particular tournament was three boosters for first, two for second, and one for third – though the prize structure is not set in stone and will probably change when Pete begins charging admission in June. Furthermore, Pete gave out a random rare to everyone who played in the first round, with one lucky individual receiving a Fork. And to top it all off, those still playing in Round Three received a free Sideboard magazine. Truly, I got more stuff at this tournament than I’d ever received at a tournament I paid for!
So to begin with, we already have a winning combination of factors: A low (currently nonexistent) entry fee and free stuff. You can’t lose! But that’s not even the best part The phrase”you can’t lose” can not, of course, apply to actual games of Magic, but Casual Magic allows most players to come much closer to that ideal. The best feature of Casual Magic is how it keeps everything casual: Players who have achieved two or more Top Eights in any sanctioned event of any weight are not eligible to participate. There is actually no chance of Random Scrub facing off against Random Pro, thus giving the scrub a much greater chance to flourish in a less competitive environment.
This in itself makes the environment a healthy one for new players. Perhaps the most destructive thing in Magic is the inability of new players to succeed – or even feel welcome – at tournaments. In a tournament made especially for their benefit, such feelings of inadequacy are sure to be dealt with. Although players attending their first tournament-like event aren’t likely to win the whole thing, repeated attendance week after week will improve their play skill. The more experienced players (who are fairly good-willed in Roanoke) will be able to sit down with newer players and help them improve their decks and their play. Eventually, it will not be unthinkable for someone who was once considered a”newbie” to raise to the ranks of champion within the Casual Magic environment. It’s then just one step for that player to begin his climb of expertise in the sanctioned tournament scene.
This all sounds great in theory – though in truth, only time will tell if the great benefits to be reaped from this program can actually be reached. What I can share with you, though, is how the first Casual Magic tournament at Star City Games went and why I think that this will breed only good things in the future.
I guess that functions as a decent segue, eh?
I walked into Star City Games at about 1:30, thinking I had plenty of time to choose a proper deck and construct a sideboard for it. When I went into the game room, though, Pete said to me,”You’re late.” Apparently, these tournaments will be starting at 1:00 as opposed to the previous 2:00 start-time of StarCity’s weekly tournaments.”That’s okay, though. Play him!” Pete said, indicating the player who would have otherwise received a bye.
So much for having time! I grabbed a deck that wouldn’t be too competitive, but that still had a chance to win. I couldn’t take my Permission deck because it has four Fact or Fictions in it (which are banned), and my Wildfire deck had eight banned cards (Grim Monolith and Voltaic Key). So I chose one of the most fun decks in my whole collection – which happens also to be decent. Of course, I didn’t have time to build a sideboard, so I hoped the deck would be good enough on its own! Here’s what I played:
I Want a Verdant Force Right Now!
4x Llanowar Elves
4x Priest of Titania
2x Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
4x Multani’s Acolyte
4x Yavimaya Elder
4x Spike Feeder
4x Pattern of Rebirth
4x Verdant Force
3x Creeping Mold
2x Coat of Arms
3x Gaea’s Cradle
2x Dust Bowl
The premise of the deck is simple: Get out a Verdant Force as quickly as possible and go to town. Tons of mana can be put into this goal – or failing that, into amassing a huge, Coat-driven army or a machine-gunning Masticore. The deck can have a Verdant Force out as early as turn 3 by first playing a Llanowar Elves, then a Spike Feeder, then a Pattern of Rebirth. It’s got all the speed of a beatdown deck, with just enough elves and Verdant Forces to make it that much more fun to play.
(Note: All names have been withheld to protect the innocent, which include either me for not remembering them, or them for not doing quite what they should have.)
The first round of this Casual Magic tournament is an excellent example of how new players can feel comfortable in a tournament setting. I’ve been playing Magic since just before Tempest became Standard-legal, so I don’t consider myself a newbie; I’ll even admit that I went into this tournament hoping that I would weed out the newer players and play the more experienced folks for the win. Now, maybe I should have been in it more for the fun, but I’ve never actually won a tournament, and I really thought I had a shot here.
So, when my opponent made exclamations like,”Yes! I just drew Predator, Flagship! You’re going down!” I merely smiled and kept playing. Granted, as he made such remarks nearly every turn, I should have mentioned to him that it’s not a good strategy to announce what you draw as you draw it (or even, in one case, reveal a card in hand). However, my standard of”never underestimate your opponent” kicked in, and I maintained a vigil against those cards and any other surprises up his sleeve.
The first round didn’t see a Masticore, Verdant Force, or Pattern of Rebirth… But Acolyte/Feeder/Elder beats did the trick, and I was able to handily win the first game. Neither of us sideboarded for the second game. During said second game, I’d say that my opponent got”mana screwed” if it weren’t for one thing: The reason he couldn’t play any spells was because, as far as I could tell, said Predator was the cheapest spell in his deck! He even turned around the Krosan Cloudscraper with a grin and an,”I can’t wait to get this guy out!” Why he was playing with Ensnaring Bridge, I can’t guess.
Yeah, I crushed him. Yeah, he had to ask to see what Masticore did. Yeah, he had fun.
And that’s the key. I was quietly beating the tar out of the poor kid, and he kept loving it. He thought my cards were cool, and he had the utmost confidence that his spells could crush me given the opportunity. And although I didn’t offer to help him with his deck, I was by no means the kind of player that [author name="John Liu"]John Liu[/author] hates. He had a great time, and I got to sweep 2-0. In the end, everyone wins.
Oh, and we all got free rares. Notch on trade sheet:”+1 Onulet.”
Round Two was quite a bit different from Round One. And, by quite a bit, I mean quite a bit! My opponent was definitely not a newbie; in fact, he was one of the higher-tier players at the tournament (which, remember, does not allow those with more than one Top Eight to compete).
Now, before Round Two, Bob (let’s just call him Bob) and I were talking about Casual Magic and how certain cards were banned. In fact, we started talking about Wildfire and how it’d be very difficult to play without Grim Monoliths and Voltaic Keys. So imagine my surprise when a store employee walks by and says,”You’re playing with Wildfire?” Apparently, he was more familiar with Bob’s complement of decks than I was.
“Yeah,” Bob said.
“Without Grims or Keys?”
To make a long story short, yes, Pete did let him change decks. ‘Course, the only other thing he had on him was a weird Psychatog deck for Type Two – but, with my passion against Psychatog, I was not too happy about the turn of events. For even though my deck is poor against Wildfire, Wildfire with no Monoliths and Keys is another story altogether!
We got down to business. Of course, at this point, we’ve already wasted about seven or eight of our thirty minutes. (Yes, there are thirty-minute rounds in this format – though Pete is taking suggestions about match length. Here’s my suggestion, Pete: Extend it!) We do our thing, and I notice that Extended decks really have an edge over Type Two decks. Masticore, anyone? Even if Undead Gladiator does reanimate, it only takes two mana to keep him from attacking.
Yeah, Bob was playing with Undead Gladiator. Yeah, that’s a pretty popular rare. No, Bob didn’t own any. So, therefore, yeah, he did plop down a very nice-looking proxy during the middle of our game.”What the heck is that?” I exclaim.
“Ah! I totally forgot those were in there!”
Well, I wanted him to put a basic land in place of them (store policy for low-level events), but he asked me to let him keep them in. He said he was going to buy two Gladiators immediately after the match to make it as if he really owned them. Now, I’m a pretty nice guy, and I was playing in a Casual Magic tournament, so I let him slide. I didn’t even tell the judge. But time was running short, and his ten or so sideboard cards against me were slowing down the onslaught. Hibernation slowed me down for a turn, though Multani’s Acolyte made things all right. Also, just before I killed Bob, he cast Wrath of God (I told you it was a weird Psychatog deck). Grr.
Then we got into final turns. Given the right draws, I could have come back and played out a Verdant Force for the win, but that was pretty unlikely. On the final turn, though, Bob’s conscience got the best of him: He realized that his time-wasting got us into extra turns and in any other situation, he would have been given at least a game loss for his mistakes – so he conceded to me, thus making me 4-0.
So I went on to Round Three with a perfect record! This match finds me against another of the higher-caliber players of StarCity, so I’m really playing the tournament like I’d hoped. Jack (we’ll call him Jack) was playing some kind of Reanimator deck that he’d had to strip of Entombs during his first round (apparently, he pulled a Bob), so his deck wasn’t quite as broken as it might have been. Anyway, he definitely got manascrewed the first game, and I owned him. The second game, though, was a bit… Different. Though it wasn’t quite so different that I could forget that we were playing Casual Magic.
See Jack casts Burning Wish to go get a Buried Alive out of his sideboard. He realizes it’s not there and says that he forgot to take it out of his deck during sideboarding. So, he goes searching through his library! I do, indeed, protest, but he’s pretty quick about it, and I really don’t want to push it in such a casual environment.
Then he tries to cast it during my next end step. *sigh* Some people just don’t learn. (This is a higher-caliber player? – The Ferrett, seriously doubting this claim)
Anyway, after cursing his draws long enough to get enough mana on the board to Masti-kill any huge creature that he could summon up, I felt sure of my victory. I did, in fact, end up winning, continuing my perfect streak. My dreams of winning a tournament seemed to be within my grasp!
So, the fourth and final round dawned, and I found myself playing against the other 3-0 player. And this guy is what Casual Magic is all about! He’d stopped playing Magic for several years and recently got back in. When he heard about Casual Magic, he brought his only deck up and decided to try it out. Well, his all-Zombie monstrosity did very well, and I’m actually not surprised. In a non-competitive environment like this one, a tribal deck with closely-related cards can do very well. I knew when he cast a Zombie and used Amplify to give it +4/+4 that I was in for a match!
As fortune would have it, luck was on my side in the first game. I played the ol’ Spike Feeder/Pattern of Rebirth trick to get a Verdant Force out about turn 6, thinking that my opponent’s demise was at hand. Who could guess that he’d play Cruel Revival? Luckily, I plucked another Pattern for the Feeder in my hand and was able to get out another Force the next turn. After building up enough Saprolings to crash through his formidable defenses, I took the win.
Game Two saw very similar forces on his side, though my ever-growing army was able to fuel my Cradle enough to Masti-kill all his creatures, clearing the way for my tide. In both of those games, I think I drew about five Verdant Forces – and I cast three of them. Wow!
So for those of you who weren’t keeping track, that results in a perfect record – and a victory in Star City’s first Casual Magic tournament! And with no sideboard! Amazing! Remember that bit about”everyone winning?” Well, the not-so-competitive players definitely had fun at the tournament, and the more competitive players were allowed to duke it out. Also, for decent players like myself, there exists a feasible chance of winning such a tournament! Sure, I don’t think I’ll be ready to participate in the gunslinging that Pete and Ben Bleiweiss were running, but I just may become a Known Entity at those tournaments.
I think that a lot of players are going to get caught up in this format, be it good players working for the win or not-so-good players striving to improve. This program may even be good enough for Wizards to sanction if it catches on – kind of like a Type 1.5 Friday Night Magic. But, even if my record isn’t going to increase, I still feel that I’ll be drawn back to this link between casual play and tournament Magic.
And, that about wraps up my spiel on Casual Magic. I think it’s an excellent program, and you can look forward to updates as to how it’s faring here in Roanoke. Until then, though, here’s to Verdant Forces serving up the beats!