Last weekend I went from the newest format to the oldest, and back again. Both went pretty well. The old stuff: I judged the StarCityGames.com Vintage event in Chicago. The new stuff: drafting Lorwyn online. I’ve got some comments, some observations and some anecdotes. Enjoy — I did.
The weekend, technically, started on Friday. I managed to get into one early morning draft on MTGO — by early, I mean 4:30am local time. For a while, if you wanted to draft on MTGO, you had to draft early. During prime time, because of lag and stability issues, Wizards was disabling drafts. (That’s prime time in the U.S. — basically evenings and weekends. It may be fixed, now.) [Nope. — Craig, tired of the whole shebang.]
The current version of MTGO has a programming problem. While the game code was written to allow it to be run on multiple servers, the transactions code was not. That means while a theoretically infinite number of games could be ongoing, the transactions — log-ins, getting and opening packs, trade requests, game replays, chat, messages, buying and selling, etc. — are limited to the amount that can be run on ONE server. Even with a good server, the system has problems when the number of users hits 4,500 or so. (That’s from Worth Wolpert at Wizards, in an interview printed here.)
Wizards has disabled some features, including replays, and the program is much more stable and less laggy then it was last week. (Early last week I got a refund on the one prime-time PE I tried to play in — round 1 never ended.) Even so, it is still a bit slow. The lag drives me nuts in drafts. Even in real life, I tend to pick cards quickly, then wait impatiently for the next pack. I am not a patient person. In real life drafts, I can look around, fidget, crack jokes, and otherwise annoy fellow drafters. Online, I just have to sit and wait. I usually bring up a solitaire game, or something like that.
That is actually a bad idea. Under Windows, when MTGO displays a new pack, MTGO automatically becomes the active window. Occasionally, when you are clicking on a card in solitaire, you suddenly find yourself clicking something in MTGO instead. Friday morning, I was passed an Eyeblight’s Ending, which would have gone perfectly in the UB deck I was drafting. Because I was playing solitaire, I ended up clicking on an Ingot Chewer instead. Then, a pack later, I did it again.
I lost game 3 Friday morning when my opponent nailed my dude with an Eyeblight’s Ending. On the plus side, I got to work on time.
Not a good bargain, IMHO.
Ingrid and I were both judging at the StarCityGames.com Vintage event on Saturday. Ingrid was head judge. We discussed driving down Friday night or Saturday. It is about three hours from our place, the first part (or last part returning) of which is country road. The deer are out and about this time of year, meaning you slow down at night or win a free hood ornament. The trip takes about 3 hours each way.
We guesstimated about 150 players, meaning eight rounds plus Top 8. That’s about twelve hours of play, plus another two hours for set-up and wrap up. We decided we could not drive down, work the event, and drive home safely. I voted for working the event, then getting a hotel room Saturday night. Ingrid voted for a hotel Friday, since she wanted to be wide awake while head judging.
Head judges’ can overrule floor judges. We drove down Friday.
We got out of work a little early and dropped off the dogs at the kennel. The drive was not too bad. The heavy traffic was going the other way, and we spent the drive discussing probable questions, judging issues, and trying to guess what card interactions were most likely to require judge intervention. Thanks in large part to the StarCityGames.com premium articles (mainly Menendian’s, but also some of Chapin’s), we knew all the main archetypes, and had gone through the oracle text and rulings for every potentially problematic card.
I had also copied the entire Vintage Oracle out of Gatherer, copied the text into Word and gone through the document to delete all duplications. (FWIW, if you copy Oracle into Word, in twelve point Times New Roman font, you get four pages of:
The Vintage oracle, with duplications, runs almost 2,000 pages. With duplications removed, it still runs 1,450 pages. I chose not to print it out. Ingrid converted it to iSilo, and copied it to her Palm. She beamed it to me. I had busted my Palm at PT San Diego, but it is all fixed now.)
Having the Oracle text is important. The most common judge call all day was a request for current Oracle wording. The most common single card that people wanted wordings for? Illusionary Mask. The calls were so frequent that we downloaded the text into Word, then printed out copies for judges to carry. Looking up something on a Palm takes 5-10 seconds — pulling a piece of paper out of your pocket takes 3.
Chicago is a good place for Pizza and Italian Beef sandwiches. We found a local place that did both — and was still open. Dinner was good.
Saturday morning we got up at 6am, showered, had some breakfast and got to the venue by 7:30. Actually, we got to Dupage University about then, but had to do some driving around. StarCityGames.com listed the location as the Conference Center at 435 Fawell, but the buildings don’t have numbers or signs saying “Conference Center.” Eventually, I just started stopping and running inside any likely buildings, looking for people who looked like Magic players. (Yes, you can tell Magic Players for other students…) That worked.
We pulled into a nearby parking lot and spotted Ben Bleiweiss standing by a van. He hadn’t been able to find the room either. (Blame the local TO that helped set this up — he has been running events at the college for a while, and never thought about out-of-towners having problems finding the right room. His local players all know the place.)
On the plus side, the venue itself was great. The room was really large, with plenty of tables and elbow room. The walls had fabric sound panels, so the noise was not a problem all day. It was probably one of the top ten venues in which I have ever played or judged. Sweet.
Ben introduced me to Chris Woltereck (his online introduction is here.) Chris was working for StarCityGames at this event, not playing. Working means buying and selling cards. It also means helping haul cards and display cases to and from the van. We judges got to help with that, too. When you think of the profit card dealers make, remember that the dealers have to haul all that product in and fill the display cases, then tear down and pack up at the end of the day. That’s the card dealer equivalent of picking up trash and pushing in chairs for judges — it’s the sh**ty little jobs that you get paid for. The rest is done for fun.
The judges also had to do some set up. Fortunately, the chairs and tables were pretty much all in place, and set up correctly for a change. We just had to move one row of tables, then set up the judge’s station and logistics. Then we had to number tables, set up the clock and get the tournament created in the DCI reporter software. The judges also set up their laptops. In this case, we had three: Ingrid’s, Nick’s and the TOs. Judges like to have their laptops available, to check Oracle, run IRC and so forth. I would have brought mine, too, but I knew space would be at a premium (it was), and I can use Ingrid’s.
The laptops were useful. The scorekeeper was new, and he had some problems with reporter early on. Ingrid was able to sort out nearly everything immediately, but one strange glitch was new. Fortunately, someone on IRC had seen the problem before, and the problem was quickly solved. We started registration almost on time, and the event started on schedule.
By the time round 1 had started, I had already answered a couple dozen questions. About half were rules interactions. The rest were all related to Proxies.
Wizards does not allow proxies in sanctioned events*. However, the StarCityGames.com event was not sanctioned. StarCityGames allowed players to play up to ten proxies. The rules for proxies were simple: you could write proxies with a Sharpie on a basic land, or on a card from which the artwork, the content of the text box and other incorrect information was removed. There are good reasons for both requirements / restrictions.
The Sharpie rule is simple: if you write with a ball point, the writing is often raised and visible on the backside of the card. You can sometimes see this through a sleeve, resulting in a marked major penalty. You can also feel the letters, meaning that if a player with ballpoint proxies strokes the top card in his deck (a common habit with many players), we judges have to start thinking about DQs. Not good, but a no-ballpoints rule solves both problems.
The no pictures rule has equally good logic. Some places do allow players to keep the pictures, but the first proxies I saw on Saturday shows the possible problems. The player had made a Mana Crypt proxy out of an old, white-bordered Tormod’s Crypt. He had crossed out the name and text box, but the picture remained. The problem is obvious: Tormod’s Crypt is a commonly played card in the format. Many decks play differently when an opponent has a Crypt in play: at the StarCityGames Indy event, all of the Top 8 decks except Friggorid ran Yawgmoth’s Will, meaning that all of those other decks had to worry about graveyard removal. Friggorid definitely had to. Thus, even though the proxy did clearly have the name and text changed, I suspect seeing a card with the picture of Tormod’s Crypt on the table might have distracted some opponents. That’s not allowed: I gave the player a couple basic lands and made him create new proxies.
Proxies have problems. However, if you wonder why StarCityGames runs proxy tournaments, you have not been looking at the prices of Vintage cards recently. We had 125 players on Saturday, despite competing with a PTQ in Madison (191 players) and, I understand, in Ohio as well. Without proxies, we would have had far fewer players.
Card Prices: Yikes!
After we were set up, and before the event started, I got a couple minutes to window shop at the StarCityGames booth. Good gawd! I bought my Power for a Vintage tourney at Gencon in 2001. I think I paid, for the entire P9, less than the current price of a single Black Lotus.
Out of curiosity, I looked at what I had paid for some old cards. In years past, StarCityGames paid its writers in store credit. I used to rack up considerable credit, then order a bunch of cards. I kept copies of the emails. In 2002, I ordered a Bazaar of Baghdad for $29.00, shortly after the prices started going up because of the Threshold mechanic. The current price for played copies is $200. Not everything has gone up that much: I paid $79 for a Library of Alexandria back then, and they are now “only” $100. The Arabian Knights Flying Men I ordered were $4.00 then, and are $4.00 now. On the flip side, I ordered two Hystrodon at $12.00 apiece that day, and a Gigapede at $6.00. That was not money well spent.
The simple fact is that Proxies let players afford to play Tier 1 decks without a huge investment. Without the proxies, I doubt a dozen players could have fielded competitive decks, and the rest would probably have stayed home.
“Vintage players don’t know how combat works. Standard players don’t know how to draw cards.” – [email protected] DeGraff (I think.)
Watching the tournament, it was pretty clear that the Vintage community is different from the competitive / PT-and-wannabee community. The feel is different.
First of all, many of the Top 8 contenders in a Vintage event know each other and what each other is playing, and are willing to discuss tech and card choices at length. This was Day 1 of a two-day event, but I heard one GAT player telling another “Ponder is insane — you have to try it.” I also did not have any thought that players were hiding secret tech. At a pro tour, I have heard a pro cursing because he got chosen for a round 3 feature match — meaning that everyone would know his card and deck choices. I doubt any members of the Vintage community would feel the same way.
Maybe this difference would not have been so pronounced if there had not been competing PTQs nearby. Or maybe it would.
Another difference between the groups was summed up in the above quote. Before Tarmogoyf entered the format, there was very little combat. Combos went off or they did not. Even in Oath decks, tokens from Forbidden Orchard did not block Simic Sky Swallower or Akroma. The nuances of combat were pretty much unknown.
At the event, I personally had to explain the combat phase to several players, and the other judges all had the same experience. People did not know how blockers worked (if I bounce his blocker, I deal damage to him, right? Answer: not without trample). People were confused about Haste (if I Swords the Heart Sliver before damage, all his slivers are removed from combat, right? Answer: you should have thought of that before attackers were assigned.) I had one player call me about Razormane Masticore and Maze of Ith: yes, you can untap it after First Strike damage has resolved, and that does not “undo” the damage.
As for whether Standard players don’t know how to draw cards — I know it is true for Limited. I have often gotten Sift sixth or seventh pick. Overall, I would have to agree with the idea that Standard players undervalue card drawing. People never seem to care enough about my suspended Aeon Chronicler, or to counter my card drawers.
Overall, I don’t think I prefer one group to the other — they are just different. I will say that judging for the Vintage crowd was certainly a pleasant experience.
I managed to spend a lot of time watching tables and matches. I don’t have the decklists available to do a count, but here’s what I saw:
GAT with Goyf
RG Vial Beats
The Oath decks did not seem to be doing well. Affinity was out in limited numbers. RG Vial Beats was not common (but it did win the tournament, so that might change.) The rest of the archetypes were scattered all over.
I had one call from a player who watched his opponent play Phyrexian Dreadnought, then Aether Vial out a second and sacrifice one to pay for the other. Yes, that works. It surprised a couple onlookers as well.
I had an interesting discussion about whether players could start a game in extra turns. They cannot — if the game has not begun before time is called, it does not start. The player then asks what happens if the game “starts” before time is called, but then a player takes a mulligan and time is called when he is mulliganning. That’s a more interesting question, but it was moot here. The players had extra time because of a deck check. The mulligans finished before time was called for their match.
I got a number of questions on Illusionary Mask and turning creatures face up. Short answer: it’s like morph. You can do it any time you have priority. It does not use the stack. It cannot be Stifled.
Ingrid had set the times for tardiness penalties at zero and ten minutes. That’s completely reasonable. The tournament was run at the Competitive level (REL 3, for those of you who, like me, still say Type I.) She was starting the matches, and could see the entire room clearly from the podium. She wouldn’t start the round if people were moving towards their seats. Still, a pair of players argued that she had to allow three minutes at the start of the round. It was, supposedly, “in the rules.” No, it isn’t. Three minutes is an option at TO/HJ discretion, but zero and ten are the standard for competitive events. In this case, the HJ and TO had agreed on zero and ten. “Magic Players, you have 50 minutes, you may begin.” is not a signal to stop playing 5color and head for the pairings sheet.
Finally, even if you are playing Vintage, if you burn a Tarmogoyf for exactly enough, but use a type of spell not yet in the graveyard, it ain’t gonna die. You’d think people would know that by now.
“Why aren’t you scooping?”
At the end of one round, I came over to a match still in progress. One player was tapped out, with three Goblin Digging Teams (tapped — and we had a discussion about acceptable tokens later), a Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Piledriver in play. His opponent was playing Empty Gush, and attempting to go off. He had cast draw spells and Yawgmoth’s Will, and was casting Time Walk. Then he Gushed a few times, replayed lands with Fastbond and cast everything possible out of his graveyard, then flashed Empty the Warrens and extended his hand. His opponent just sat there, doing math, then asked how many goblins. “Twenty,” the Gush player responded, and I have the Time Walk turn.” He also had a Tarmogoyf.
I was standing behind the goblins player, and could see his life total and hand. He had Pyrokinesis in hand, and another red card. He could kill 4 goblins with the Pyrokinesis, chump the Tarmogoyf with the Piledriver and win next turn. Unfortunately, he was at 15 life.
Most Unusual Proxy
A lot of players proxied Black Lotuses, Ancestral Recalls, Bazaars of Baghdad, etc. [email protected] DeGraff, on the other hand, proxied Ingot Chewers. Seriously — the Lorwyn common. He had the power, but didn’t have Ingot Chewers — at least not on hand, initially. (Later on, I did give him one I found on a table in a pile of draft leavings.)
Ingot Chewer is not a bad card in Vintage. For one thing, for one Red mana, it kills a Chalice of the Void set at one. Chalice cares about the converted mana cost, not the Evoke cost. Ian also mentioned that, sometime in the late game, both players have nothing left and a 3/3 can just win.
Most unexpected card
One Affinity player was running Brass Gnats over Ornithopters. I have not figured out why. True, Chalice of the Void set at zero stops Ornithopter, but a Chalice set at one stops Disciple and Skullclamp, which seems more critical to me. I would also expect most people to side out Chalice against a deck like Affinity, where the converted mana costs range all over the board.
I expect I’m missing something. Or maybe the player just likes Gnats.
The Top 8
After seven rounds, the Top 8 was as follows:
Manuel Fernandez, playing GAT w/ Goyf
Owen Turtenwald playing Trinket Goyf (“The Stone Blade”)
[email protected] Degraff playing storm combo (“3-1”)
Dan Carp playing Empty Gifts (“Empty-Phelda-Gifts”)
Jerry Yang playing shop aggro (created by Trogdon)
Jimmy McCarthy with GAT
Jamison Bryant with R/G beats (“Monkey Missiles”)
Jake Hempfer playing Trinket Goyf (“The Stone Blade”)
I did not get the decklists, but they should be in the database already, or shortly. Check the Vintage box to the right of the article.
For those who care about things like the Team ICBM and Team Meandeck rivalry, the score in this Top 8 seems to be 5-0. Of more importance to me, UW Wisconsin beat Michigan on Saturday. Of more importance to most of the crowd, Illinois beat Ohio State. As far as ICBM versus Meandeck goes, the Top 8 was a shut-out. It’s great to be on the right side of a shut-out. (For instance, Green Bay 34, Minnesota 0. Just
I didn’t get a lot of time to watch the quarter- or semi-finals games. I was watching a lot of games at once. I do remember a couple of things.
[email protected]’s game 3 came down to mana screw — partly enforced. He had no Black mana source, but had a couple of Dark Rituals and Cabal Rituals in hand, along with a Mind’s Desire. He drew a Lotus Petal, blew it for Dark Ritual — and Manuel Brainstormed into Mana Drain. Two or three turns later he drew a Underground Sea, but his opponent Gushed into another Mana Drain — and Manuel’s Tarmogoyf killed him before he got another chance to use the Sea.
From another match: turn 1 Swamp, Black Lotus, Duress, Tarmogoyf, Tarmogoyf is a pretty good start. It’s less good when your opponent topdecks Smother twice in a row. [Wow, Vintage IS broken! — Craig, amused.]
I watched the Jamison’s RG monster destroy Owen in the first round of the Top 8, then saw an opponent Tinker for Darksteel Colossus on turn 2 next round. I turned away, but turned back a moment later when I heard the crowd erupt. The Darksteel Colossus was gone, and Jamison had…
… wait for it…
… a Stingscouger in play.
In Vintage. Sweet.
One match in the Top 4 ended on a sour note. The players had a discrepancy on life totals. One player said he had five life — the other had it recorded as four. Both were using paper, and neither had noted sources — just numbers. I listened to both, then looked at the notes that a coverage reporter took. Not a great option, but “failure to agree on reality” disputes rarely have easy answers. In the end, the player at four / five life just conceded, while I was still talking to the reporter. Since this was unsanctioned, I let it die there. I think I would have ruled 4 life, had it come to that.
While one side of the bracket played out swiftly, the other got bogged in a GAT versus GAT mirror match. The end showed just how broken Quirion Dryad is in this format. One player (Jimmy, IIRC) cast a Dryad, and Manuel quickly was reduced to chump blocking — with Tarmogoyfs. Jimmy then dropped a Goyf and passed. However, at the end of that turn, Manuel Vampiric Tutored for either Fastbond or Yawgmoth’s Will. He started his turn at something like ten life, with nothing but five lands in play. He ended his turn at something like three life — but with two Tarmogoyfs and a 12/12 Dryad in play and an extra turn to come. (Fastbond, Dryad, Gush, Lotus, Duress, Yawgmoth’s Will, Lotus, Ancestral, Gush, Gush, Time Walk, Duress, etc. — all from the graveyard.) He flashed Cunning Wish, and Jimmy scooped. (Cunning Wish would have found Berserk, meaning that even chumping with a Goyf would not have stopped lethal damage.)
It’s like Legacy — Aether Vial beats Threshold
The finals came down to Manuel with GAT — Goyf verses Jamison’s RG beats. It was a slaughter. RG beats just blew GAT away. A turn 1 Aether Vial didn’t hurt — nor did drawing more Tarmogoyfs than Manuel drew Smothers. The clincher was probably Vialing out a Magus of the Moon — Gush does not work as well with Mountains.
Best part (in my opinion) was that the finals was done early, and Ingrid and I were back on the road by a little after eleven, and home by a bit after 2am. The downside was that I lost the coin flip, and had to get up at 6am to ransom the dogs. The kennels are only open for pickup on Sunday from 7am to 7:30am, and again after 4pm. On the plus side, after getting the dogs and running around with them for a while, I could get into a PE on Sunday.
My PE pool sucked. I may have misbuilt, but I don’t really see how it could have been much better. I had no more than four members of any tribe (six if you count the three Merfolk AND the triple Aquitect’s Wills.) On the plus side, Colfenor had left me his Urn and two copies of his Plans — one of which was foiled. The Urn might have been good, if I had had more than two creatures with a toughness of 4 or more.
I lost round 1 (surprise), then dropped. Then I went outside to throw tennis balls for the dogs. The dogs are great therapy — no matter how bad Magic gets, wagging tails make it better.
I came back in, made some lunch and drafted again. This time I drafted double Titan Champions, a Shriekmaw, some elves and a Squeaking Pie Sneak. Once again, I got passed an Eyeblight’s Ending — at which point Buster tried to crawl into my lap.
Buster weighs about 80 pounds. (Craig — that’s about 5.7 stone, for those few of you who use an even more arcane system of measure than U.S. pounds. For those going metric — well, if you are enlightened enough to use logical measures, you are enlightened to do the math yourself.)
Buster is a very aptly named dog who came to us from a rescue group after several previous owners had decided they could not cope with him. He is well behaved, at times, but was a stray for six months or so. His “gotta get food” instincts run deep. In this case, he smelled the dog cookies in my shirt pocket. He got them, but not until after I misclicked on the Eyeblights Ending and got a Tar Pitcher — and after Buster got off and sat down.
My first round opponent had Garruk Wildspeaker, a bunch of treefolk and Timber Protector all in game 1. Fortunately, I had a Weed Strangle for the Timber Protector and my fear dudes went the distance. He also has Blue — for double Mulldrifters and some Fairies. Seriously — double Mulldrifters, both passed, in an 8-4. Remember when I said that Standard/Limited players don’t know how to draw cards? Yeah, like that.
My opponent also had a Mistbind Clique, which hit the board during my upkeep, the turn in which I was going to Weed Strangle his dudes in order not to die. Game 3, however, I managed to start with a turn 2 Squeaker revealing Changeling Titan, then the Titan and the other Titan. He tried flashing Clique with no faerie in play during my upkeep, but I floated mana then Fistfulled the Titans and won the clash.
Round 2 my opponent twice tried to Nameless Inversion my Imperious Perfect, and each time I had Fistful of Force. He typed “sigh, of course.” I responded “Sure — that’s why you draft triple Fists.” Actually, I typed something like “suer —that’s why I drfted trips”, because Buster was pushing my arm asking to go out. He does ask nicely — but if I’m distracted and don’t notice, he pushes. I told him okay, wait, and he lay down. Fortunately for Buster, I won shortly thereafter and split the finals.
That felt good — I haven’t won all that many Lorwyn drafts recently. I went 1-1-1 at the last two FNMs, and online I have won barely enough packs to stay on the plus side. It felt good for Buster, too, once he got outside and watered the bushes.
After that, I quit drafting to watch the Green Bay Packers play their divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. As every Packers fan knows, the Vikings are everything foul and evil in life and football. It is always cathartic to see them get their just reward.
Did I mention that the Packers won 34-0?
I did? Who cares! Packers 34, Vikings 0. As it should be.
It was a good weekend.
“one million words” on MTGO
* Wizards does not allow the use of proxies at any event they sanction. This is only partly because of money. It is partly because allowing more proxies, especially in other formats, would reduce the value of some older cards, thus harming the dealers that keep the game alive. Most importantly, as I understand it, if Wizards allows reproduction of its cards, it could lose its copyright protection. It is probably possible to write rules that allow proxies but do not allow other companies to print and sell copies of Magic cards, but no one can ever guarantee that any such set of legal rules has no loopholes. An absolute ban, on the other hand, has no loopholes. Two hundred years of copyright law make that really clear — and there is no way Wizards would put that at risk.
I also understand that is part of the reason that players do not own the digital representations of cards on MTGO — Wizards is not relinquishing any ownership rights in any case. At least, that’s my understanding. I’m not a lawyer — I just work with enough of them to know I need to add that disclaimer.