I’m back from Pro Tour: Austin. Wow! What a great PT. By now, you probably know about Brian Kibler coming back from 0-2 and racing Progenitus, but that was only part of the awesomeness. Plus, I have an update on the MTGO Community Challenge Cup.
Everything about the entire weekend was awesome. Except the sleep. Normally, 10-12 hours of sleep is more than enough, but not when stretched over 4 nights. We arrived in Austin about midnight, and got to bed around 1am. And it just kept getting worse.
But it was totally worth the sleep deprivation.
The Main Event
The PT was large. We had over 400 players in the PT, and almost 80 judges in attendance, most of whom were on the floor of the main event. I was on the paper team. The responsibility of the paper team is pretty basic: post the pairings, distribute results slips, then stay on the floor to handle judge calls.
I got a lot, but the most common were requests for oracle wordings on cards, especially foreign cards. I was disappointed to discover that I can’t recognize foreign Zendikar cards. I still haven’t had a chance to draft the set.
Being this busy — with non-Magic stuff – sucks.
With almost fifty judges working the Pro Tour, players rarely have to wait long for a judge. Questions and problems get handled quickly. The one downside is that any given judge can get a bit bored, especially when players know what they are doing. Especially this one. I don’t tolerate boredom well.
I created “Judge Bingo” partly to alleviate my boredom — but mainly as both an icebreaker and as a training tool. It was an icebreaker because every judge had a bingo question, and every judge was looking for questions. It was a training tool because all the questions involved the Comprehensive Rules, the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide or the Magic Tournament Rules. Here are a few examples — could you answer them correctly? (answers below)
8. What state based actions affect only players?
13. A Meddling Mage is in play with no card named. What infraction has occurred?
32. A player misses a Slaughter Pact trigger. You are called over to the match to issue the penalty for Missed Trigger. You ask the obligatory “have you had this penalty before?” The player says yes, twice before. The head judge confirms the upgrade to a game loss. So, does the player lose two games, or just one, and why?
34. A player casts Grizzly Bears when Trinisphere, Helm of Resistance and an opponent-controlled Grand Arbiter Augustine. What is the converted mana cost of the Grizzly Bears?
63. Name the turn-based actions that, in the past, did use the stack.
The questions have numbers because each judge also had a bingo card. Get the answer right, and if you have the number, you filled a square. If you got a bingo, you got packs.
The biggest problem I had in compiling the 75 questions used (traditional Bingo cards have numbers from 1-75) was providing not only the answers but also the appropriate rule references. I was doing okay until October, when the new rules came out. Not only did some of the answers change, but the Comp Rules, MIPG, and MTR were all renumbered. I did miss a few citation changes.
Here are the answers:
8. Poison counters, losing the game at zero life and losing because you tried to draw from an empty library.
13. Game Play Error — Illegal Game State. (NOT Missed Trigger.)
32. One. Normally, the “fix” for a missed trigger is to resolve it immediately, using the default result if there is one. For Slaughter Pact, the default is “lose the game,” so when you resolve the trigger the player loses. However, the upgrade path for repeated Game Play Errors is Warning, Warning, Game Loss. Since you apply the Game Loss immediately, the game is over and you do not need to fix the game state by resolving the trigger.
34. Two. The converted mana cost is always what’s printed in the upper right hand corner of the card. What the player actually has to pay may differ.
63.Drawing at the start of the draw phase and combat damage.
Stuff like that. How did you do?
The DCI promoted a couple judges at Pro Tour Austin. Eli Shiffrin earned Level 3. Congrats. Carlos Ho earned Level 4. Big congrats. Most importantly (I’m biased), my wife became a Level 4 judge.
Ingrid Lind-Jahn is, I believe, the first female L4 in the history of Magic. I don’t think either Elaine Chase or BethMo made L4 before moving on to jobs at Wizards.
I’m proud of Ingrid. She earned it.
The Pro Tour
I got to do pushtool again. That means pushing images and info to accompany the video coverage. I get to listen to Randy Buehler and BDM doing coverage, watch the video feed and enjoy. Best Sunday job there is.
The Top 8 was great. Watch the coverage — almost all of it. A couple games are slow; mainly the dredge matchups. Anything involving Kibler is worth the view.
Kibler is now part of a vary exclusive group — those people that have beaten a Progenitus when Progenitus attacks first.
MTGO in Austin
Magic Online is not Magic’s poor relation anymore. At Pro Tour: Berlin, Wizards had one computer to demo the game. By U.S. Nationals, Magic Online had eight, and was running drafts. At Austin, MTGO had 16 stations, and was running double drafts and sealed most of the weekend. It also ran a tournament — eight special drafts fed into a final draft, with the finals of that draft being played out Sunday morning, on the big set.
Wizards also gave the finals the full coverage package. Lights, cameras, playing in the arena, Randy and BDM doing coverage — all of that is obvious when you watch the video. What is less obvious is that MTGO also got full support from the entire package — Scott Larabee, the director (can’t remember Bruce’s last name, sorry), the production crew: everything that Wizards uses to produce the videos of the paper Top 8. Even me, doing pushtool.
That effort started well before Sunday morning. I was done judging about 6pm Saturday, but then I had to head over to coverage to talk about pushtool. I also got my marching orders on handling the online event. Basically, Wizards was going to loan me an administrator account so I could mute the room and watch the finals. My job would be to maximize cards and abilities as the coverage guys talked about it. The video stream would then show what my account saw as I watched the game. So, when you see a card blow up during the game — that was me.
We worked a while on getting that account set up — but that did not work. Turns out some part of that process is bugged, but the bug is pretty low on the priority list. Fixing game-affecting bugs — important. Fixing the bugs that let you temporarily assign administrator privileges to me so I can block chat while watching a game — not so much. So we arranged a workaround — actually, a couple, depending on how this worked.
About 9pm, the Wizards folks convened in the production truck. It included Witney from organized play, Helene from brand, Mike Gills from MTGO, and others — and I got to tag along. We were watching the output from the laptop running the client, through the various systems, etc. Unfortunately, the mix of the old laptop, the fusion box, and the mash-up of digital to NTSC and other conversions — the image looked pretty bad. I was impressed, though, by the response. The first comment came not from the MTGO folks, but from Brand — something like “the interface is our weakest feature, and this makes it look worse — this won’t work.” If the senior execs in Brand know enough about MTGO to spot that instantly, MTGO is getting attention.
We spent a couple hours trying different options trying to improve the picture quality. My contribution was to run the program so they would have output to test. I sat in front of a laptop, watching random games in the casual room and blowing up random cards. Click on a card, blow it up, hold five seconds, move to the next. That way the production crew could see whether the small cards looked okay, the large cards looked okay, and whether the animations caused problems.
Short story — the quality never got good enough to be acceptable. Instead, they decided to project the match on a large screen TV and point a camera at that. Not ideal, but it was getting late. The crew started resetting camera, while Mike Gills (and another guy whose name I forgot, sorry) started setting up a computer to drive the TV. My contributions consisted mainly of staying out of the way, plus taping down cables, etc. Eventually, we had lugged one of the computers driving the MTGO play area over to the arena and the TV, and got it running both the big screen TV and the monitor I would be watching. This was not easy. The computer was locked down six ways from Sunday. Think about it — these were the computers that the public had semi-supervised access to all weekend. They had a lot of security software to make sure no one hacked, infected, or otherwise mucked with them. The downside, though — reconfiguring them for two monitors was a royal pain.
We finished about 1:30am or so. Want to get to know someone? Work with them at the end of a 16+ hour day, when they are struggling with a recalcitrant problem.
I’ve known Matt Tabak and some of the folks at WotC for years. I met some of the others — Mike, HÃ©lÃ¨ne, etc. — for the first time this weekend. All I can say is that Wizards has a lot of good people working on Magic and MTGO.
Along the same lines, I also got to spend some time talking to Adriana, WotC’s interface designer, and seeing a preview of the new interface. I was impressed by both. The mock-ups and demos that they had all seemed useful and intuitive, and there was nothing obviously wrong — no mana wheels or the like. My only regret was that they didn’t have any working models of multiplayer formats, but my conversations convinced me that they were working with that in mind as well.
Overall, MTGO looks pretty promising.
Which is good, because I will be playing on it a lot in the next couple weeks.
Magic Community Challenge Cup
For those who missed the announcements, Wizards has invited a team of four writers and four community leaders to fly out to Renton (at WotC expense) and face a team of 8 Wizards employees for a two-day / four-format tournament. I’m on the community team.
I talked to Mike Gills about this. A few notes.
1) This is not the replacement for the Invitational or anything. WotC just had a bit of money left in the promotions budget, and Mike got permission to use it on this.
2) Most of R&D want to play, but Mike promised that we would not be facing Mike Turian + Aaron Forsythe + Eric Lauer + Worth Wolpert + all the other pros + Mark Rosewater. We may face some, but we will also be facing some people from other parts of the MTGO staff. Mike Gills won’t be one, though: he’s the TO / facilitator. I’m betting that Maro does play — and probably a few R&D folks.
3) R&D will be building Team WotC’s decks.
That last is a bit scary. We have four formats. Invasion block draft and Zendikar draft are reasonably straightforward. The other two are Unified Standard and Unified 100 Card Singleton. That means that the 8 Standard decks cannot have more than four Baneslayer Angels spread among all the decks. The Singleton decks cannot share any cards (other than basic lands, of course.)
The WotC team has R&D working for them. We have — the community. We have several threads in the Wizards forums where people can give us advice and assistance, or even just wish us luck.
Here’s the main thread:
We also have subthreads for each format.
Unified Constructed Strategy
Unified 100-Card Singleton Strategy
Zendikar Draft Strategy
IPA Draft Strategy
Another reason to help us — if we win, and you posted a comment and your MTGO user name in the forum — you get a Momir Vig avatar and free entry into a community Momir Vig online tourney. If we lose, you all get a free Gleemox.
We’d prefer winning.
We also have a room on MTGO. We will be playtesting and hanging out in the CCC room. Just type “/join CCC” in a chat log. We welcome any and all help. However, we have three rules for that room.
* No trade requests or bots please
* Play a deck that is reasonable for the Unified deckbuilding constraint. Usually this will be one of the community-made decks in the Unified Standard thread or Unified 100CS thread, but if you would like to play your own deck on the theory that WotC might play it, please make the power-level appropriate.
* Post feedback on the decks (including suggested changes) in the appropriate thread
Wizards has promised that its players won’t read the threads. I’m hoping that any that are reading this article stop now. I’m going to talk about some decks.
For the Standard environment, the community has built eight non-overlapping decks. Here are the short versions.
I have also worked on two other decks. The first was a Mono-Green Beats deck that I built just to get a better feel for building in the format. (You do strange things at 8pm at night, when you have been up since 3am.) I was also trying to make sure I didn’t steal too much from other decks. The problem is that it keeps winning just enough to pique my interest. (I always have this problem with stuff I build.)
Pete’s Mono-Green V2
4 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
2 Ant Queen
4 Borderland Ranger
3 Elvish Visionary
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Master of the Wild Hunt
2 Noble Hierarch
2 Scute Mob
4 Terra Stomper
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 Howl of the Night Pack
3 Rampant Growth
3 Vines of Vastwood
2 Acidic Slime
3 Great Sable Stag
3 Cudgel Troll
2 Grazing Gladehart
Yes, I know this really struggles against Boros Bushwhacker — but Boros Bushwhacker is highly unlikely in this format. Boros Bushwhacker wants a bunch of fetches and other cards that we just cannot spare if the other decks are going to be any good. Even this deck wants Noble Hierarchs and Great Sable Stags that it will have to share with other decks.
The trick isn’t getting eight Standard decks — it is getting eight Standard decks that don’t overlap.
We also have the problem that all of us are real people with real lives (and often writing careers on top of that.) We can’t all take time to choose, learn, and become expert with the best decks. We may have to play the deck that we know best.
Sam, of gamingangels.com, loves her Extended Mill deck. I tried to adapt that to Standard Unified, because it does not have much overlap and because it seemed like a decent challenge. So far, it seems okay against most decks, but it just folds to Vampires. It seems milling Bloodghast is not optimal. Anyway, here’s the UB Mill deck.
Sam’s UB Mill deck v1.2
4 Jwar Isle Refuge
2 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Hedron Crab
3 Jhessian Zombies
4 Kathari Remnant
4 Nemesis of Reason
4 Wall of Frost
4 Archive Trap
3 Haunting Echoes
3 Jace Beleren
4 Mind Funeral
4 Agony Warp
What this deck really needs is a way to stop fliers. Yes, I know — Wall of Denial. However, I really want to save that — and the WB fetches etc. — for the Esper deck and other decks that can better use them.
We could use a lot of help. Pop on over to the forums, or meet us in the CCC room on MTGO.
See you there.
“CC_1M_Words” is my new god account for this tourney.