Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #242 – Trying and Failing to Give Wizards My Money

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Thursday, September 11th – For some time, I have been trying to play in an online Constructed tournament so I can write about the experience. The forums, and other writers, have complained about the state of Constructed online, so I wanted to see for myself. I set aside the time, found a deck and… well, the good news is that I am undefeated. The bad news is that I still haven’t played in a Constructed PE. Therein lies the story.

For some time, I have been trying to play in an online Constructed tournament so I can write about the experience. The forums, and other writers, have complained about the state of Constructed online, so I wanted to see for myself. I set aside the time, found a deck and… well, the good news is that I am undefeated. The bad news is that I still haven’t played in a Constructed PE. Therein lies the story.

I won’t play in the eight-man single elimination queues (con8s.) I don’t have all the cards needed for a complete version of a Tier 1 deck, so I tend to play home-brews, modified versions of netdecks and so forth. The 8-mans seem to be full of people playing fully powered decks for profit. That means that I am highly likely to lose, since my deck will be worse, and my playtesting far more limited. Since the 8mans are single elimination, I will be, effectively, paying 6 tickets per match. I’m not going to do that.

(Note: as I was writing this article, I found a Wizards announcement that the 8man queues are moving to a Swiss format. More on that later.)

A far better option, for me at least, is playing in the Swiss rounds of PEs. These cost roughly the same entry fee, but let me play at least the five (or possibly more) Swiss rounds, and I will even have a shot (albeit a very long one) at making that Top 8 and playing another round or two. Frankly, I haven’t playtested enough to have a serious shot at winning packs, but I do want to see whether there are other players interested in playing all rounds. In other words, I am wondering if anyone else plays Constructed for fun.

The downside to PEs is that they take a lot of time. The last time I tried to play one was back during the Eventide release events. The smaller, no-top-8 events were not filling, so I joined a 4x Sealed PE. The downside was that it started at 7pm. I entered, and watched the numbers climb. A few seconds before the event was to start, the number of players hit 65. I dropped. So did a couple others, and the event actually started with 62 players. PEs take an hour per round, plus time to build. With over 64 players, that meant seven rounds — the top 8 draft would not have started until about 3am, and the finals would not have started until close to dawn.

I can’t do that anymore. I keep falling asleep between rounds once it gets past 2am.

Constructed PEs can have the same problems. To prevent this, I aimed for the earlier events. This means I pretty much have to play on weekends or on my day off. (Flextime FTW!) I had Thursday, September 4th off. The forecast called for a 100% chance of rain, so I was not going to be able to work in the garden or fields. Seemed like a perfect day to play Magic, and my best chance to get into a PE.

I checked out the events schedule a couple days ahead of time. There was a Standard PE starting at 4am. Even for me, 4am is a bit early. There was also a Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block Constructed event at 10am. That seems a lot more reasonable.

The first step was to choose a deck. That involves compromises.

Yes, I know I can just spend the money and buy anything I need. However, I was not willing to break my budget to get a deck. More importantly, I still own a couple of tournament packs and some Eventide boosters which I will, eventually, open in sealed events. Since I am sure I will open great stuff, I don’t want to pay cash for something. (I’m joking, of course — I will open crap.) The budget rules. I have about $10 left in the budget — the rest is allocated already. The entry fee will eat most of that $10.

Time to look for a deck.

Pre-Eventide, I had a passable Kithkin deck. Post-Eventide, however, I don’t. The problem is Figure of Destiny. I have zero, despite playing in over 50 Eventide drafts and sealed events. Since they currently run over 15 tickets apiece online, my budget won’t cover even one. I have played Kithkin without the Figures — it does make it easy to squeeze in the Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders. However, it is not anywhere near as powerful, and I don’t really like playing the deck.

Looking over recent event coverage, I also see a lot of Red decks — which also require Figure of Destiny. I have tried playing an alternative (with cards like Tarfire taking the place of the Figures), but it does not seem to consistently beat Tier 1 decks. I do have a playset of Demigod of Revenge, though, so it isn’t dreadful. However, people seem to be ready for Red decks, so playing a weak Red deck seems sub-optimal.

I have been kicking around a mono-Black deck. It uses my playsets of Thoughtseize and Demigod of Revenge to good effect, but it goes downhill quickly from there. Dusk Urchins have never been all that powerful. Worse yet, whenever I do draw a hand of Shriekmaws and Makeshift Mannequins, my opponent is always playing Doran or other Black creatures, or no creatures. I see Adrian Sullivan had a decent BW deck along the same lines, but I have only two Fetid Heaths, and a pair of Reflecting Pools. Without the lands, my version Adrian’s deck could not be consistent enough. (Not to mention that I was also short various White cards, and playing Mass Calcify in place of Hallowed Burial does not improve the deck.)

How about Faeries? I’m out of practice, have 3 Scions, one Vendilion Clique and no Sunken Ruins. Maybe not.

I have also played various versions of Quick n’ Toast. It is a cool deck, but I don’t really want to play for money, ratings points, and prizes with a deck missing critical parts of its manabase, as well as a couple of major pieces. From Eventide, I have one Twilight Mire, two Fetid Heaths, and a goat land. No Flooded Heaths or the like, so Quick n’ Toast, Fattie Merfolk, Elementals, and Kelpie decks are not possible. Even Doran is out — I only own two Dorans.

Since this is a multi-colored format, not having the lands kinda sucks.

I do own a playset of Chameleon Colossus, so I was looking at decks to play them in. I spent a bit of time reviewing decklists, but got bored with trying to rejigger lands, and just threw together a base Green deck and took it to the tournament practice room.

Mono Green Mess

22 Forest
4 Fertile Ground
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Spitting Image

4 Chameleon Colossus
3 Cloudthresher
2 Deity of Scars
4 Devoted Druid
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Oversoul of Dusk
2 Primalcrux
3 Quillspike
3 Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers
3 Wilt-Leaf Liege

1 Cloudthresher
2 Eyes of the Wisent
2 Guttural Response
3 Mercy Killing
2 Primal Command
3 Snakeform
2 Wheel of Sun and Moon

My results in the tournament practice room were… strange. I played against a very few netdecks. I played against a fair number of decks like mine — unusual homebrews or Tier 1 decks missing critical pieces. (Okay — maybe the Kithkin decks did have Figure of Destiny, and just never drew them in over 20 games.) Whatever — the reason I want to play in a PE is to see what that environment is like, because the tournament practice room is too random.

I also been playing a variant on the Dramatic Entrance deck that Bennie wrote about recently. I have lost to that deck when my opponent played Dramatic Entrance popping in a Woodfall Primus on turns 4, 5 and 6, but I can’t get it to perform quite that well.

Wednesday night, I got home from work, logged in to MTGO for some final practice and saw the following:

Short Downtime for September 4, 2008
We need to clean up an issue in one of our reporting copies of the database following 9/3/08’s DB maintenance.

The system will be down from 8:00 am PDT / 1500 UTC to 10:00 am PDT / 1700 UTC

The 10am (CST) block tournament I was planning in playing in — gone. Bummer.

It was raining — hard — so I played Guild Wars instead. It was rock solid and fun. My clan chat worked, and I could meet and play with friends easily. It was all the things MTGO should be — and it was enough fun that I was still playing Guild Wars when MTGO came back up and launched a Standard tournament. I missed it — assuming it fired — but I probably enjoyed myself more. I also skipped the Extended tournament starting at 10pm. Obv.

Of course, I still had an article to write. I needed to play in a PE. Friday was out — I was drafting at FNM, which starts at a reasonable time and fires reliably. Saturday I had other commitments during the best times. I looked up the PE schedule for Sunday, however, and found one Standard event starting at 7am.

Now I needed a Standard deck.

I have been playing a number of Standard decks online. I am not wildly excited about any. They tend to range from out-an-out oddities (like the Enduring Renewal / Deathrender / Mogg Fanatic deck) to weak Faeries (with Pestermites filling in for the missing Scions) and outdated decks (like an “updated” version of Zvi’s RG Deus of Calamity deck.) Once again, I threw out the decks I could not build (like Merfolk with Flooded Grove and anything with Figure of Destiny).

I do have pretty much all the cards for UW Reveillark, but I knew I would not have any time to practice with the deck before the event, and I am really rusty with the combo online. Not a choice. Ditto Pyromancer’s Swath — not to mention that I’m missing a few cards for those decks.

I could play GB Elves, or Stoken Tokens. I was missing the Furystoke Giants from tokens, but since they run about three for a ticket online, that was not a big problem.

I also had a RG beats deck. Not great, but I liked it, and the purpose of all this was to see what the no hope brackets were like in PEs, so it seemed a good choice. Here’s what I had ready for battle.

Random RG Beats

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Magus of the Moon
4 Deus of Calamity
4 Chameleon Colossus
3 Birds of Paradise
3 Cloudthresher

3 Firespout
4 Lash Out
4 Tarfire
1 Primal Command

4 Treetop Village
4 Karplusan Forest
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Fire-Lit Thicket
7 Forest
1 Mountain

1 Boartusk Liege
1 Cloudthresher
1 Firespout
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Masked Admirers
1 Phosphorescent Feast
2 Primal Command
1 Shivan Dragon
2 Squall Line
2 Sulfurous Blast
2 Woodfall Primus

I was at my computer at 6:20am. I had Magic Online up and running, and my deck chosen. I loaded it into the deck editor for one last check, then entered the daily events queue.

To cut a long story short, by 7:15am they had 9 players signed up for the event. The minimum is 24. I exited the queue and shut down Magic Online. Not a total loss — the day was shaping up to be gorgeous. I worked in the shop for a while, put in a few miles on my bike and played “chase me” with the dogs. Then we went to the Wisconsin Sheep & Wool Festival, where Ingrid bought yarn and such and I watched sheep dog trials and ate really good pie sold at really good prices. I did not wear my “I have Wood for Sheep” T-shirt.

So much time, so little Magic content. I could talk about my play in the tournament practice room, but I played against a lot of unusual / not Tier 1 decks. Do you really care how RG burn beats the Howling Mine / Forced Fruition / Sinking Hope deck? Thought not.

Wizards has admitted that they have a problem with Constructed events. They announced changes (last Friday, but I didn’t notice them until Monday morning.)

The biggest change is that the eight-man Constructed queues will (starting yesterday, by the time you read this) be Swiss events, and pay out one pack per win. Here’s the announcement:

Constructed 8-man Swiss Queues
It takes more time and resources to create Constructed decks, regardless of format. Making a deck and then losing the 1st round in single elimination is counterproductive to testing against a variety of opponents. In addition, Constructed is a harder to learn for new players and thus creating smoother payout queues will make for a less intimidating environment for them.

We are proposing replacing the current 8-player Single Elimination Constructed queues with 8-man 3 round Swiss queues with a 3-2-1 payout (meaning win a pack for each round you win) starting next Wednesday September 10.

We would make this change as a test and keep it for at least a month so we can measure play numbers and compare them to the previous single elimination numbers.

After that time we would keep them as is, revert to the single elimination queues, or have both up at the same time (if this won’t split the player base down too small).

Yay! About time. I am willing to pay to play three rounds, even if I don’t have a reasonable chance to win packs.

Now I know that a lot of the current participants in the con8s are probably pissed off right now. Many to most of them have been playing in these events with an eye towards making a profit. The profit level falls a lot when you have to go 3-0 to make a profit. (2-1 just barely breaks even with draft sets selling for 10-11 tickets online.) We may lose a few of these players — they may shift to PEs. However, even with these people in the queues, the numbers have been bad. Even if we lose 10% of con8 players permanently, having just 1% of the casual players join queues regularly should significantly grow the number of players. Speaking personally, I am far more likely to join a queue if I know that I can play three rounds. I am even likely to join other formats, like Extended and Classic, knowing that I should get at least three interesting matches, even if I don’t win.

People can play in con8s for a number of reasons — to test decks, to win prizes, or just for a couple hours of fun. With a single-elimination format, the only reason to join was winning prizes. With all three reasons in force, the numbers should jump significantly.

They will. I have no doubt that the first month will see dramatic increases in numbers of players. What remains to be seen is whether these players will still be playing in a couple of months.


“one million words” in a con8s, at the moment.