Last week, I traveled to Renton to meet up with the Online Team and go head to head with the Wizards themselves. I knocked off Mark Rosewater, Mike Turian and Erik Lauer — and the team pulled out the win. Fourteen rounds, President Obama, and the Miracle of the Multi-ball — all in this classic tournament report!
Every good tournament report starts with the bad beats story of the trip to the event.
The trip wasn’t that bad. Wizards flew me from Madison to Seattle. Ingrid gave me a ride to the airport, and as we arrived, we noted all the people with big, powerful cameras along the edge of the airport. A few seconds of thought reminded us that President Obama was giving a speech in Madison that afternoon. Air Force One landed just after we arrived. I also had a long enough wait that I saw the Presidential motorcade return. It’s impressive — a dozen or so police cars, plus limos, black SUVs, several press vans, etc. Then the airport closed down while Air Force One loaded, taxied, and took off.
The delay in flights to let Air Force One leave would have meant tight connections and running through airports, but it would have been doable. However, once our plane landed and unloaded, the gate check person announced that our plane was broken. Everyone would have to be rebooked. I was not going to make my connection, or the welcome dinner. A big line formed at the gate for rebooking — but I raced down to the front desk and got into that much shorter line. I managed to snag a last seat on another flight — this one through O’Hare. I got my ticket, went back through security and walked back down the concourse — and I was at my new gate while the line for rebookings at my old gate was still a couple dozen people long. It was also well into the “fly tomorrow” scenarios, which would have meant that I would miss multiple rounds.
Whew — glad I ran.
The flight out – the new one — was fine. I had no problems with connections and arrived in Seattle around 1am. The only downside was that I had missed the welcome dinner Wizards had thrown at a local restaurant — and by the time I arrived, everyone else was in bed.
I met up with the team — most of it — the next morning at breakfast. Erik Friborg was the first to arrive, and he had news. One of our teammates — John Baichtal, Wired Magazine’s GeekDad — was not going to arrive until late, and we would have a substitute. Better yet, the substitute was Randy Buehler!
Mike Gills explained that John had called and said he would be very late, and — if Mike could find a substitute — would prefer to simply watch and report. Fair enough. Randy was a) available, b) a member of the press (he does coverage at PTs), and — most important of all — Randy Buehler! Maybe Wizards had looked at the caliber of the former pros playing on the WotC team, and decided to even the score. Maybe not. Who cares?
We had Randy Buehler on our team!
Mike also explained the sophisticated pairing system that would be used for the event. Actually, he just emptied a bag of Littlest Pet Shop figurines on the table, and told us to choose one. (Littlest Pet Shop is a Hasbro brand.) We wrote our names on our figs. At the start of each new format, Mike threw all eight figs into the Magic Online Community Cup itself, and each Wizards player drew a fig. That established the pairings for that round. Subsequent pairings were based on win-loss record, etc., but every round, every match was Wizards versus Community.
Anyway, we finished breakfast and walked over to WotC headquarters. The hotel is only maybe 150 meters from their building. And — highly surprising for Seattle — it wasn’t raining that morning. The day was starting out pretty good.
We arrived at Wizards and went to the fourth floor lobby. We were playing in a pair of side-by side conference rooms just off the lobby. The larger room held a huge conference table which was equipped with 12 computers and monitors. The other, smaller conference room had four more computers. The rooms were crowded — at any given time, not only were the Community Team and the eight Wizards employees playing present, but a half dozen others were generally around watching and giving advice as well. Fun times!
These were unsanctioned matches, and Mike Gills allowed — even encouraged — advice and cooperative play. This was a community event, after all. That advice was useful — especially when it allowed Randy Buehler to help us tweak our draft decks. On the other hand, the Wizards advice contingent was a bit bigger. In one epic match, Randy was playing Mike Turian, and they were seated at computers next to each other. They had angled their screens away from each other, but both sides had accumulated a crowd behind them. Randy had Mike Linton and me standing behind him, offering what advice we could. Mike had Aaron Forsythe, Eric Lauer, Lee Sharpe, Ryan Dhuse, Alexis, Vincent Price and a few others. I’m not sure how much the numbers / quality of the advice affected the outcome, but Randy lost this one 1-2.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Wizards corporate offices are a lot like any other cubicle farm anywhere. (If you don’t already know what a cubicle farm looks like, odds are pretty good that you will sooner or later.) However, there really is an 8 foot tall Shivan Dragon in the lobby, and life-sized Star Wars and busts scattered around — and a lot of toys pretty much everywhere. Over the years, I have been in at least 100 corporate offices. Wizards has the coolest by far.
The first format was Zendikar draft. Since the event was played on Magic Online, each team was split between the two drafts, and the Littlest Pet Shop system used to find round one opponents. I was in draft two. Seating in MTGO drafts is random, so we just entered and drafted. After construction, we simply saved our decks, dropped from the online draft, and manually challenged our WotC opponents each round. Apparently Magic Online does not support ordered pairings for drafts. (Not that it needs to, outside of special stuff like this.)
I opened Emeria, the Sky Ruin in my first pack, and passed that on. We quickly discovered that I was passing directly to Randy, who was passing to teammate Alex, a.k.a. SpikeboyM. I did pretty well, while Randy took one for the team and drafted Green. Actually, “pretty well” is an understatement. The draft viewer for my draft is here. I ended up playing this:
1 Arrow Volley Trap
1 Day of Judgment
1 Hideous End
2 Pitfall Trap
1 Soul Stair Expedition
1 Bala Ged Thief
1 Blood Seeker
3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
1 Guul Draz Vampire
1 Hagra Crocodile
1 Hagra Diabolist
1 Kor Skyfisher
1 Makindi Shieldmate
2 Nimana Sell-Sword
1 Ondu Cleric
1 Stonework Puma
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Kabira Crossroads
Round 1: Mark Rosewater 2-0
Mark was actually seated directly across the table from me during the draft and play, but with the computers and two monitors in the way, I could not see him unless I stood up. We could — and did — call to each other.
Mark had no problems with the cards, of course, but did have some with the interface. It took him some time to recognize all the instances where the computer was waiting for him to pass priority, or to okay an obvious prompt. Paper Magic has shortcut rules for a reason — most people don’t need to either announce or respond to an Expedition trigger going on the stack, they simply add the counter. Magic Online, though, requires both players to acknowledge the trigger before the controller can choose whether or not to add the counter.
Mark also had some problems with my deck. My open was something like Guul Draz Vampire, Hexmage, kicked Gatekeeper #1, kicked Gatekeeper #2. Mark’s deck and draws were okay. Mine were both insane, and I won without having to reveal the Day of Judgment.
Round 2: Gordon Culp 2-1
Gordon is a nice guy, and probably a very good executive. He is a fair Magic player, but not a highly experienced drafter. His Red deck got steamrolled in games 1 and 3, but in game 2 his Bladetusk Boars wandered over and ate my face while my removal hid at the bottom of my deck.
I think one of these games ended when I sacrificed Soul Stair Expedition to return two Gatekeepers to hand, when I already had a favorable on-board position. Or maybe that was in another match.
Round 3: Adam Dixon 1-2
I don’t remember all of these games. I do remember that he had a Punishing Fire in the graveyard, and I screwed up with my allies. The gain life trigger is optional — all I had to do is click “no.” I got that right most of the time, but not every time.
I also remember game 3. Adam had a bunch of fat creatures, including a huge Timbermaw Larva and a Rampaging Baloths that gave me some trouble. In game 3, I drew Arrow Volley Trap, which was countered by a pump spell, then no more removal for turn after turn. There were eight cards in my library that could have gotten me the win in game 3 — and at the end of the match, they were still in my library.
100 Card Singleton
We had a ton of help from the community building these decks. We got a lot of advice, and a couple of 100 CS specialists created a spreadsheet and tweaked the heck out of these decks. We worked for a couple weeks on the decks.
On the Wizards side, Aaron Forsythe built all eight decks, including the sideboards. He also, apparently, did it all in the week or so before the event.
After looking at both sets of decklists and playing the matches out, the Wizards decks are just plain better. Ours are not bad by any means, but the Wizards decklists are better. The fact that the whole community, with an extra week to work, can’t do better than one single R&D guy actually makes me kinda happy. R&D should have the best and the brightest, and they do.
We had allocated the decks according to play style, skill, and preference. I was slated to play the UW control / combo deck. John was slated to play the GBW aggro / good stuff deck. However, with Randy Buehler taking John’s place, I offered to trade decks. Randy jumped at the chance. This did mean that I was suddenly playing a deck that I had not practiced with, but the GBW deck is really straightforward.
Round 4: Lee Sharpe 2-0
Things were a bit delayed as I tried to get the GBW deck to load. I had loaded the text file the team was using, then saved the build it to netdecks. That seemed to go well, and the legality check said the deck was legal in 100 card singleton. However, when I tried to challenge Lee, or when he challenged me, the program would not recognize my deck. After a couple loads and reloads, some tweaking and a bit of fiddling got the deck loaded. Vampire Hexmage was the problem card, but we never did figure out why.
The games themselves took less time. I don’t remember them well. I thought Lee was some sort of Mono-White Control that ramped up to lots of Wrath effects and Decree of Justice style stuff. Actually, he was White Weenie. When White Weenie draws that many lands, it does not win.
At least, that’s my highly fuzzy recollection, and I think Pernicious Deed was involved in my wins. Beyond that, no clue.
Round 5: Tolena Thorburn 1-2
Unfortunately, I remember this match all too clearly. I also remember that Tolena was gracious and friendly afterwards, and I’m ashamed to say that I was all grumpy and snarly. The Goblins deck was so blasted fast, and all my lands entered the battlefield tapped. Moreover, there are few experiences more difficult to endure than having an opponent play a Goblin Recruiter on turn 2, then slowly stack the revealed goblins in the window, while you just wait to lose. It’s worse after you have mulliganed.
I managed to steal one game, but it wasn’t easy.
Tolena is the Communications Manager at WotC. She was one of the least experienced players on the Wizards team. She played in all 14 rounds of the event, and her overall record was better than mine. Better than Randy Buehler for that matter — and she didn’t have all that much help from her WotC teammates. The WotC folks can play this game.
Round 6: Mike Turian 2-1
Game 1 was where I really learned just how much better the Wizards decks were. Mike had Phyrexian Plaguelord, which he combined with Eternal Witness, other graveyard recursion and Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree to just dominate my board.
Game 2 was a little more in my favor, as my guys just got there before he could set up, while Spectral Lynx held off Tarmogoyf and friends. The Lynx had tried that trick in game 1, but the Plaguelord — not curiosity — had killed that cat.
Game 3 was really close, but I topdecked Ob Nixilis and drained him for 9 points off land drops. Next turn I ripped Profane Command to drain him and give all my guys
fear intimidate. Without Ob Nixilis, though, Profane Command would have not been enough.
Round 7: Vincent Price 1-2
Vincent was Mono-Black, and a very fast Mono-Black. I remember almost none of this matchup, beyond seeing a turn 1 Sarcomancy and killing the Zombie. That might have been a mistake: I did deal a few points with Sarcomancy as a result, but my removal might have been better saved for one of his later monsters. I do remember getting a two-for-one with Engineered Plague set to humans, killing a Nekrataal and a Dark Confidant, but since the Nekrataal had just two-for-oned me, it was even. Overall, the match was not. 2-1 him.
At the end of the day, we were behind. I was at 4-3, and felt reasonably good, despite a few misplays. We felt we had a slim chance, just not a very good one. The scoring was a bit strange. Instead of simply totaling match wins, players won extra points for winning streaks. Alex had 3-0ed the draft, which had saved our butts. Still, we were behind.
After the event, as we were sitting around eating pizza and discussing the games, Mike Gills came to talk. John, a.k.a. Wired GeekDad, had arrived late in round 6, and watched. He now really wanted to play. (I can hardly blame him — we were clearly having a blast.) The question was, what should we do?
We could just add him and drop Randy Buehler. Randy had been filling in for John, and now John was here. Option one was John comes in and Randy goes home.
None of us were too happy with that plan. First of all, we were already behind, and we would be cutting our best player. That’s rough. We were also unhappy with the thought that Randy had made arrangements to get the time to play free, and had agreed to step in at the last moment, etc., and we were turning him away. Not a perfect idea for many, many reasons.
We could also lock John out, but he was invited, had come, and playing was clearly infinitely more interesting than watching and reporting.
A couple of us volunteered to drop, to allow both John and Randy to play, but it was pretty clear that no one was excited about that outcome. I certainly did not want to take the hit. We also discussed having each person skip one round, but that does not work well with a draft.
We discussed having a nine-player team. That makes for a slightly awkward draft, and byes every round, but the real problem was Standard. Unified Standard. It was already 7pm. We would have to build a ninth deck, without overlapping, that night. So would Wizards, and the guy who built Wizards’ decks was on vacation. I figured that I could bang together a Soldiers deck, but it would suck.
Alternatively, we could simply let each team duplicate a deck, but that idea was squelched immediately. That would double everyone’s chance of playing Jund — and raise the possibility of having to lose to Jund twice in four rounds. No thank you.
We talked it over, and came to no conclusion. Mike said he’d think about it, but, in the meantime, we should head over to the hotel to play some Magic.
I swung by my room to get rid of my coat (wet by now — Seattle was being Seattle, and it was raining), then doubled back to the hotel meeting room. At that point, a bunch of WotC folks had arrived. Four drafts were already in progress, and EDH had broken out. I got into the fifth draft.
We were drafting some packs supplied by Mike. Instead of new product, he had taken some leftover Eight Edition cards and made packs. On the downside, it was Eight Edition. On the plus side, he had made packs out of some leftover redemption sets — meaning that he had shuffled up a couple complete sets, so the packs were one third rares, one third uncommon and one third commons. Best of all, they were FOIL redemption sets.
Prizes were also pretty sweet. Mike had got a couple Foil Zendikar sets, and shuffled them up. Prizes were league style. Whenever you played a game, against anyone from any draft, you both drew a Zendikar card at random from Mike’s box, and the winner got choice. I never drew anything good, but my opponents drew three foil fetchlands. Since I won each of those games, I was pretty happy.
I also won my EDH game, with a lot of help from Hammie’s mana screw. All in all, a good night.
Mike Gills joined us for breakfast the next morning. We discussed a lot of options for making Magic Online better (a topic for other articles), and Mike explained how he was going to resolve the John / Randy issue.
The solution was “Multi-ball.”
The concept was simple. Eight players would play the normal formats. The ninth player would play a ninth member of the WotC team in special formats. Whichever multi-ball player won more matches would earn a multiplier for his team’s score. So, if one player won one more match than his opponent, that team got a 1.5 score multiplier. Win two more matches, and you get a 2x multiplier, and so forth.
The formats were Momir Vig Basic for the Standard part, and sealed deck during the Invasion block draft. We just had to choose
victims volunteers to play the formats. The choices were not too hard: only Erik / Hamtastic would admit to having played much Momir Vig, so he was in. Walter / Bubba0077 loved sealed, and played it a lot, so he was an immediate volunteer, and our best chance of pulling off an upset.
Once again, the day started with some deck reshuffling. John was playing, so he got the deck he had prepared to play. Hammie was playing Momir Vig, so his deck went to our token Canadian, Mike / DangerLinto. Mike’s UW control deck went to Randy. Unfortunately, my Warp Weird deck didn’t go anywhere. It was inconsistent, but better than the alternatives. (Note: I had also looked at playing a Pyromancer’s Ascension deck that was very similar to the Wizards build, but I did not have enough time to learn the deck before the event.)
Round 8: Erik Sorenson with Mono-White Control 0-2
I was completely destroyed by his deck. He had Honor the Fallen, Marital Coup, Day of Judgment, and Baneslayer Angels. We swapped Wrath effects for a bit, while my Walls of Reverence held him off. Once he got Baneslayer and Honor the Pure out, though, I had to Warp. I got lands — he got double Baneslayer.
I sided out the Warp Worlds, because his permanent count equaled mine. I brought in the second Iona and the Lavalanches, and Acidic Slimes. I did manage to hold him off a bit, but he hit Wrath, then Baneslayer, and I could not find an out.
He had a sick deck — and all the worse because his was 100% foil. Once again, it seemed that the Wizards folks were better at this deckbuilding stuff than we were. They were certainly more expensive.
I was sitting next to Mike Linton this round, and gave him some advice after my round ended. He beat Jund, which seemed incredible. Jund is really hard to beat, but the RW Ascension deck is good.
Round 9: Erik Lauer with Pyromancer’s Ascension 2-0
This is my one perfect match.
Game 1, on the draw, I accelerated into double Khalni Heart Expeditions, Trace of Abundance, and ripped fetchlands when needed. The result was a turn 5 Warp World, which was lethal.
In my article on the deck, I mentioned sideboarding in Ricochet. Cool idea, but kinda illegal since Lorwyn Block rotated out of Standard. I replaced the Ricochets with Relic of Progenitus. Lucky call. I sided in the Relics and Acidic Slimes for the Walls, Iona and so forth. Game 2 my opening hand was Swamp, Relic, stuff, and I kept. I ripped some lands and so forth, and held Erik check just long enough for the win.
Round 10: Mike Turian with Bant 0-2
His deck was very, very fast, and he played it well. I died on turn 5 game 1. Game 2 I had sided in the Lavalanches, and he carefully played around them. (Last week I forgot to include the “if you are WotC, don’t read” disclaimer in my article. Both Mike and Aaron not only read my discussion of sideboarding strategy, but also were the first two posts. Oops.)
I actually might have pulled out game 2, but I forgot to set the stop to let me blow my Panorama during my upkeep. I had to — I had seen my card via Oracle of Mul Daya, and it was not an out. Had I set the stop, and blown the Panorama, and ripped Lavalanche… but I didn’t.
On the plus side, I did get to watch Hammie playing his RW Ascension deck. He, AJ Impy and a few others had created it from the ruins of Time Sieve, and it was our one really good and innovative deck for the tournament. Mike Linton had been playing it for the first two rounds, but both Mike and Hammie were getting tired playing the decks they had, so they swapped back for the final two rounds. (Momir Vig is interesting, but it is not fast, and it actually does require very careful play.)
Here’s the RW Ascension deck. Keep in mind that this was unified Standard, so Day of Judgment, Baneslayer Angel, etc. were not available. Despite that, the deck worked well.
3 Arid Mesa
3 Ajani Vengeant
3 Chandra Nalaar
3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Intimidation Bolt
4 Luminarch Ascension
2 Martial Coup
4 Safe Passage
4 Scepter of Dominance
The basic concept — Fogs, sweepers and so forth — worked to set up the Time Sieve combo in past Standards. Now it sets up Planeswalkers and Luminarch Ascension. This might be worth a try in non-unified Standard. Modified, of course. Baneslayer Angel might actually be a better card than Scepter of Dominance or Angelsong.
Round 11: Adrianna with Vampires 0-2
Once again, I faced a very fast, consistent deck while playing a slow, inconsistent deck. I ramped up quickly, then just kept ramping further and never drew anything to do with the mana. For game 2, I sided out the Warp Worlds for Lavalanches, since we both had lots of permanents. This game was very close, but it, like the first, came down to whether Vampire Nocturnus would reveal a Black card, letting the Vampires fly over for the win, or a land, in which case I would win the next turn. The odds are with vampires, and that’s what happened.
I was reasonably pleased with the deck, including the Acidic Slimes, Master of the Hunts and Lavalanches. It was probably the best eighth deck we could have built. It seems better than Pyromancer’s Ascension, since it is less of a one trick pony. It is just a shame it isn’t a bit more consistent.
I did not get the miracle hook-up in this draft, and my deck was not much more than mediocre. You can see my draft in the draft viewer, and my build is pretty obvious from my draft. I’m not going to do a round-by-round breakdown, because I really don’t remember all that much about it. I lost a tough fight in the first round, clawed out a 2-1 win in the second, and got absolutely destroyed by Worth Wolpert’s insane RG deck in the final round. The last beating was absolutely one sided. I think we could have played that match 100 times, and I would have been luck to win two.
I did, after my loss, wander into the small conference room and stood behind a couple WotC folks (Alexis, Matt Tabak and Ryan Dhuse). I was completely blown away with just how good these folks were. They not only had good decks, but they completely understood how the matchups were going to go. They completely dominated their opponents. Invasion’s mechanics include color and land type switching, and bounce, and they abused these mechanics to keep their opponents from doing anything. It was brutal. Worse yet, these are not R&D folks: Alexis and Ryan are software engineers, and Matt was a customer service lead. Despite this, they were kicking our butts quite thoroughly.
Not completely, though. When the IPA draft was all done, we had split the matches evenly. Both teams went 12-12.
The big news, however, was that Bubba0077 managed to 3-0 the sealed multi-ball matches, while Hammie and Dangerlinto tag-teamed into a winning record in Momir Vig. That, plus the match wins, and the additional points for streaks, all resulted in the following final score.
Community Team: 398 points.
Wizards of the Coast: 341 points.
“One Million Words” in the upcoming Momir Vig Community Tournament!
Oh, yes — almost forgot the props and slops. It’s traditional.
Team: thanks for carrying me!
Alex: Nice record, and 3-0ing the Zendikar draft gave us a great start
Erik: RW Ascension was our one great deck. Nice job.
Sam: I’ll be looking for you online!
Bubba: MULTI-BALL FTW!!!
Tweaker: I’m grateful for a bunch of stuff: the playtesting, the ideas, MyMTGO — but I think I’ll thank you in advance for the stuff that’s still coming.
John: Glad you could make it, and nice job in the draft!
Randy: Thanks for helping out, and for all the advice. Sorry the decks we gave you weren’t better.
The Community: It wasn’t called the Community Team for nothing. I may have knocked our decks for not being perfect, but the help of the community made them infinitely better than they would have been if we had built them ourselves. I don’t think we could have built 8 playable, much less competitive, 100 CS decks without the help, and we played most of the community Standard decks. We also read a lot of advice from the community about drafting, especially drafting IPA. We could not have won without all your help. Thanks, all, and enjoy your Momir Vigs.
Mike Gills: This was genius. Let’s do it again. I’m free the weekend after Thanksgiving…
None — even with missing my connections, and missing dinner, and the rain, it was still a great event. No slops at all.