You Lika The Juice? – How Magic Got Its States Groove Back

Read Bennie Smith every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, September 11th – States has always been my favorite tournament. It was a “big” tournament that didn’t feed anything else, so it drew many more casual players than the PTQs and Regionals tournaments, and it had a nice, laid-back flavor even as people tried hard to win the bragging rights of State Champion.

States has always been my favorite tournament. It was a “big” tournament that didn’t feed anything else, so it drew many more casual players than the PTQs and Regionals tournaments, and it had a nice, laid-back flavor even as people tried hard to win the bragging rights of State Champion. It was also the coming-out party for a brand new Standard, losing an entire block of cards and tossing a brand new “big” set into the mix.
For someone who enjoys exploring new cards and mechanics as much as I do, with the casually competitive atmosphere, States offered me the perfect storm of Magic euphoria. I was terribly upset to learn that States had been unceremoniously booted from the calendar after being deemed a “failure” by Organized Play. Now we learn that States has been added back to the schedule November 8. HOORAY!

Now, if you’re like me, you probably figured that the acquisition-obsessed Wizards of the Coast finally saw the light after being beaten over the head for months by emails, forum rants, and countless column inches from writers such as myself raising hell about their decision. We Want Our States Champs Back!!! Power to the people, baby – real change from the grass roots and all that! I’m here to tell you, however… that was not really the case.

So who brought States back to the calendar this year?

The Premier Tournament Organizers.

Yes, the Premier Tournament Organizers… and it all started at the GAMA show in Las Vegas, with Glen Godard of Sun Mesa Events. Sun Mesa runs Magic events in Albuquerque, Lubbock Texas, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Reno. According to sources, Mr. Godard got the ball rolling on bringing back States so I got him online to ask him about it.

Bennie: So, how did you all get States back in the mix?
Glen: States was cancelled back at the start of the year, and I was one sad panda. As a player, I had always loved States. It was an event where if I wanted to spend the time getting ready I could compete well.
Bennie: yeah, me too
Glen: Then at the GAMA trade show in Las Vegas I was visiting with a number of Organizers who had run States/Champs in the past, and they were all working on some kind of individual championships for their areas, and I said to myself “This is dumb… if we all work together, the players will be happier, and we will have better events.” So I ask those who were around that if I worked up a program presented it to Wizards, would they team up? The happy answer to that was, “Sure!” From there we had to find organizers that covered all 50 states and Provinces… that was a challenge unto itself.
Bennie: No doubt! Who all helped you track those folks down?
Glen: I approached several Wizards Magic folks at the show, and while they were somewhat skeptical, they were all supportive. Laura Kilgore is one of the folks inside Wizards that worked very hard to support this effort.
Bennie: Did any of them explain further about their decision to end the States events in the first place?
Glen: I can’t speak for Wizards, but I can offer an opinion of my own… At the end of 2007, if you look at Magic we had a nice program which served existing customers pretty well. However, a very large block of those events only had, say, five to ten thousand players in them, and it was always the same players… so something had to change
Bennie: It seems to me they should have done something to draw more/new players in rather than just axe a successful and popular program for existing players…
Glen: That’s easy for you and me to say; gamers hate change, and I don’t mean just a little… they hate it a ton. When anything goes away, it feels like a loss, which is understandable, but sometimes the forest burns and the new growth is better strong and more vibrant than before. I liken this to what Peter Atkinson said in regard to the Magic launch: all the retailers said it would never work, so go figure.
Bennie: Haha! You don’t sound like someone who led a grass roots rebellion to get states back…
Glen: Well… That’s kinda different. For me, States was worth fighting for, and by fighting I don’t mean complaining on some random message boards. I mean rolling up your sleeves, finding out how to make a bunch of separate stakeholders get their needs met, and hopefully bringing them together, knowing all the while it could go down in flames.
Bennie: So what was the program you worked up to get everyone united around?
Glen: Very close to what you see now as States/Champs. I mean, let’s face it, as hard as it was it’s not like designing a new event.
Bennie: You pretty much just used past States events as a blueprint… any major differences?
Glen: The absolutely huge difference is that anyone who wins a State or Provincial Championship will have FREE entry into any Constructed Premier event offered by all the Organizers who participate. Not just your local state/province, but also the entire continent.
Bennie: Nice! I’ve seen some organizers do that sort of thing before for their own area.
Glen: Exactly, this was an outgrowth of that idea. As I was mentioning on another message board, it’s a close as a mid range player can get to a gravy train.
Bennie: Hahaha, perfect!
Glen: Thanks.
Bennie: I’m definitely that kinda player.
Glen: I am too. The closest I ever came was 2nd in the New Mexico States. And you know States is super special to me… it’s a community in which you know all the players. No poachers come along and steal the event; it’s meant for you. At least that’s how I felt.
Bennie: Yeah… it’s always had a great vibe for me. A lot of the same people come out, not necessarily the PTQ crowd.
Glen: You always get a mix.
Bennie: Plus, it’s a brand new format that hasn’t yet solidified into stock decks yet; I think that’s appealing to mid-range players. It’s easier to try new things.
Glen: Yes. In my opinion, States is about Pride and Honor… prizes are almost extra, so the strict PT or PTQ crowd doesn’t get as motivated, and that’s fine, but mid range players deserve some loving too… that’s States/Champs.
Bennie: Any other significant changes?
Glen: Nope. If you limit your variable, you have a better chance of tracking what works and what doesn’t work.
Bennie: Did Laura Kilgore help get you in touch with the other organizers, or was there other stuff she did too?
Glen: We already had information on the vast majority of organizers; we just had to fill in the spots as we went along.
Bennie: You contacted people and got commitments from all fifty states and provinces?
Glen: not all provinces are represented, but all that held one in 2007.
Bennie: That’s very impressive for a grass-roots campaign!
Glen: It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard either. Organizers and players both loved States/Champs. We couldn’t let it die if we could avoid it.
Bennie: Once you got everyone together, what did you do next in contacting Wizards?
Glen: We at Sun Mesa Events created a proposal, ran the main points of it past our organizing partners, and made a presentation at Pro Tour: Hollywood to Scott Larabee and Laura Kilgore. We were tickled pink to learn at U.S. Nationals that it had been approved!
Bennie: Is Wizards going to be able to give out those cool full-art cards as prizes too?
Glen: There will be a foil participation card for all players (though supplies are limited). Something I should mention is that some players in other regions around the world might feel slighted with North America having a State/Champs and others not. Much like England for the 2HG last year while we did not, some regional differences in programs are going to occur.
Bennie: Yeah… I guess it really shows how important the Premier Tournament Organizers really are! Players who really enjoy these events need to make sure they support ’em, and bring their friends.
Glen: Yep! Bring your friends, and watch what you see. Perhaps you can organize an excellent league/program/challenge for your area! One thing I thing this entire experience has taught me – This Wizards Play Network is vastly underestimated by the Magic Community.
Bennie: Yeah? I admit, I haven’t really checked into it.
Glen: For the first time ever, anyone anywhere can run high class events. That’s huge! If you love Magic, any single player can now make his/her own way. Want to run a Magic league at your summer camp? You can do that with support from Wizards.
Bennie: That’s a great idea!
Glen: Want to have FNM at your mid school strategy club? You can do that. This is where the money from some of these lost programs is going to, and in the big picture it’s very exciting because it put the power of organizing in your hands.
Bennie: Tell me about yourself… how did you get into being a TO?
Glen: Jody Godard and I have been running Magic Events since the beginning of Magic. We kinda just fell into it step by step, as I was such a goober for the game
Bennie: I can relate… how did you first run across Magic?
Glen: That’s an interesting story… I had just gone into partnership to buy our local gamestore, and we traveled to Fort Worth to attend Origins back in 93. Wizards had some sample decks and were demo-ing like mad men.
Bennie: I heard about that…
Glen: I played, and I was hooked, Peter Atkinson was very kind and sent our store a couple of sample decks, and we were demo-ing well before release. Then the road tour came along, and we created quite a turn out. It was an amazing time, watching a new style of game created.
Bennie: I guess the road tour never made it Richmond VA, heh.
Glen: Sadly no.
Bennie: I read about it in White Wolf magazine that fall, hunted up two starter decks and gave one to a buddy, and we were hooked.
Glen: Yep, the game is like that.
Bennie: Magic ripped through my D&D crew like crack, hehe.
Glen: It was pretty amazing.
Bennie: When did States come along? I wasn’t into the tournament scene until sometime in 1998.
Glen: 1997… they did a Standard and Limited. Larry Kock and Zane Barker won our first New Mexico versions. After that it was just Standard for years before they tried out 2HG and Limited.
Bennie: I appreciate your time and giving us the inside scoop on how Magic got its States groove back. Thanks to you and all the TOs who worked so hard to bring a beloved tournament back!
Glen: You’re very welcome!

The important thing I get from this revelation is that if it weren’t for the initiative and effort from our Premier Tournament Organizers, States would still be a discarded casualty of the Acquisition Magic Shake-up. What does that mean? What it means is that if you enjoy States, if you’re like me and Glen and really enjoy the atmosphere of States and the embodiment of casually-competitive tournaments, then I would strongly urge you to make sure you pencil in time to attend your State/Province Championship on November 8th. Not only that, but bring some friends with you, and if some of those friends are new players, that’s even better. If our Tournament Organizers can show an increase in attendance from last year – including a noticeable number of new players – we can all make a loud and proud point that States is a tournament Organized Play needs to keep around and support.

I had a few loose ends I’d like to tie up here as we pivot towards a new Magic season this fall.

Adventures with Demigod Doran
Some weeks back I talked about my quest for building a base-black Doran deck that could also run the awesome Demigod of Revenge. One of my readers, Paul Bremner (a.k.a. Feral Thallid in the forums) took his own version on a tear through his PTQ and made it to the semi-finals. I thought it would be cool for my readers to see how he did (and it certainly makes me wish I’d put more time into developing and playing the deck).

Hi Bennie – here’s the deck I played:

Round 1 – Lukasz Musial playing Mono-Red Elemental Shamans
I lost 2 out of 3 games. I drew 1 Nameless Inversion and zero Crib Swaps. I managed to take game 2 with a surprise Demigod for his last 5 life – the surprise value (and hence game-stealing ability) of the Demigods helped me all day.

Sideboarding: -4 Thoughtseize, +3 Soul Snuffers +1 Nameless Inversion

Round 2 – Matteo Orsini-Jones playing Quick n’ Toast
Seems like my Swiss gambit hadn’t paid off, as Matteo is one of the top English players. I get a quick curve of Vanquisher into Doran that puts him low quickly – Doran stopping Finks from trading with my Vanquisher seems awesome. A surprise Demigod when he figures he’s stabilized takes the first. Game 2 he Mulldrifters and Mannequins multiple times to slow my attack and draw a ton of cards; the multiple Wraths he draws, and my mana-heavy draw, means we move on to game 3. No Wraths this time mean my pressure is too much… the Guttural Response I played in game 2 forces him to play around it, and he makes a Colossus to block against my board of 2 Vanquishers rather than keeping Cryptic Command mana open. I ripped Profane Command and it was pretty much game over.

Sideboarding: -4 Scarblade Elite, -2 Treefolk Harbinger, -1 Demigod of Revenge, +3 Guttural Response, +2 Wispmare, +2 Puppeteer Clique

Round 3 – Stephen McIntosh playing midrange Red with Firespouts, Incendiary Commands, and Fulminator Mages
I get enough land so my card advantage from the Assassins and gang of hard-to-deal-with guys make it a fairly easy match.

Sideboarding: -1 Wickerbough Elder, -1 Profane Command, +2 Puppeteer Clique

Round 4 – Matthew Taylor playing Five-Color Elementals
As this is his first big tournament, Matt is doing pretty well. However, I used to play Five-Color Elementals and know how to beat it (kill the Smokebraiders and Soulstokes), and took the match in 3.

Sideboarding: -1 Wickerbough Elder, -1 Demigod of Revenge, -1 Profane Command, +2 Puppeteer Clique, +1 Nameless Inversion

Round 5 – Adam Barnett playing Quick n’ Toast
My car mate and the best player from my store seems like a sucky pairing for me here. Some slight mana issues both games for Adam mean I take it in two… Thoughtseize was also key here to making sure he had no chance: game 1 I double Thoughtseized him, resulting in manaflood, and game 2 I take his Runed Halo so he’d get no time to draw lands and stabilize.

Sideboarding: -4 Scarblade Elite, -2 Treefolk Harbinger, -1 Demigod of Revenge, +3 Guttural Response, +2 Wispmare, +2 Puppeteer Clique

Round 6 – Nicholas A. Lovett playing Kelpie
Game 1 I know what he’s playing, so I feel safe keeping a slightly slow double Demigod hand. He Snakeforms the first Demigod, but the second brings it back and is too much to handle. He punts game 2, and I’m hoping to ID into the Top 8.

Sideboarding: -1 Wickerbough Elder, -2 Treefolk Harbinger, -1 Nameless Inversion, -1 Profane Command, +3 Guttural Response, +2 Puppeteer Clique

Round 7 – Philip C. Griffiths playing Quick n’ Toast
I’m paired down so have to play it out, it’s the third Toast matchup and the third win against it. I’m in the Top 8!

Sideboarding: -4 Scarblade Elite, -2 Treefolk Harbinger, -1 Demigod of Revenge, +3 Guttural Response, +2 Wispmare, +2 Puppeteer Clique

Quarterfinals – Wen Ching Kwan playing Kithkin
He has slight mana issues both games, and my deck is unforgiving with fast pressure and removal. Game 2 Demigod meant I could kill him after Pollen Lullaby kept my guys from untapping, as the turn of breathing space he figured he’d bought turned out not to exist.

Sideboarding: -2 Thoughtseize, -1 Demigod of Revenge, -1 Profane Command, +3 Soul Snuffers, +1 Nameless Inversion (I want a couple of Thoughtseizes to hit Mirrorweave)

Semifinals – Bojan Tamburic playing Kithkin
My deck provides too much land and not enough action both games, and I get run over like Kithkin can do.

Thoughtseize and Demigods make the control matchup pretty good since I have a lot of hard-to-handle threats, and Thoughtseize helps get them into play and keep them there; Demigods are also awesome post-Wrath. Guttural Response from the board is amazing, making postboard games even better given Toast’s reliance on counterspells.

The aggro matchs I played showed I ought to have adjusted my manabase to allow me to play Firespout in the board, as Soul Snuffers weren’t really good enough.

Scarblade Elite feels dirty when you get a second use out of a removal spell or a dead Colossus.

The main deck Wickerbough was never relevant as I didn’t really need him game 1… I’d probably move him to the board for the 4th Inversion in the main.

Still, as I’d only tested the deck versus my mate’s Torrent deck (who also made Top 8 – go Robin!) it did pretty well. More testing and a less on-the-fly boarding plan to make things run a bit smoother means I’m gonna consider this a good base deck post rotation.

Thanks Paul! I agree, the deck is certainly chock full of powerful cards, and should certainly be a good core starting point. The only downside is that the three-color Doran combination doesn’t fit into the Shards three-color theme, so we won’t be able to take easy advantage of additional manafixing. Still, there is bound to be some good Green, White, and Black spells to choose from to enhance the package.

Elf-guy flat on his back
Next up – remember the elf deck I ended up playing in the PTQ I wrote about last week? My original thought was that, after my tournament report, I’d be able to share some words from the deck designer Ben Strickland, but I didn’t hear back from him before deadline. Turns out the guy got a back injury that put him in the hospital! He eventually emailed me his thoughts, as dictated to his father, so here we go!

Hi Bennie!

The first idea to develop the elf deck for Block Constructed came from playing many Green decks over the years. I made a list of all the best Green cards in the format and curved it out into an elf deck.

I had done a lot of testing online. A lot of friends counseled me to play some of the top Internet decks in the format, but I refused and played using my own creation.

I always play better in the field using my own decks, because I feel I sort of have the home-field advantage. This is because I’ve learned how to play against their decks, but they don’t know how to play against mine.

After the PTQ in which I made Top 4, I made some changes to the deck. I cut one Heritage Druid and one Snakeform, and added one Wolf Skull Shaman and one Chameleon Colossus. For the sideboard, I cut 3 Firespouts and 2 Masked Admirers for four Kitchen Finks and one more Tower Above.

In the last PTQ, I played against 3 Doran, 2 Faeries, and 1 Furystoke Giant deck with tokens. Tower Above and Chameleon Colossus were key in my Doran matchup, as well as Cloudthresher in my Faerie matchups. Versus the Token deck I would play Cloudthresher in response to Giant to kill flying tokens. In Top 8 I played against Mono Red, where Cloudthresher and Primal Command gave me the edge. In Top 4 I played against Five-Color Merfolk, I put in a couple of Primal Commands and Tower Above as well as Guttural Response – unfortunately he sideboarded out all Blue Instants against me. I got him to one life in the third game before he killed me.

As a rule of thumb for the Mosswort Bridge, I almost always put a sideboard card under it. Otherwise Chameleon Colossus and Cloudthresher were my top picks. Against decks packing Firespout, I would just try not to overextend and force the Firespout unless I could drop a Chameleon Colossus afterwards.

Thanks, Ben! Congrats on another fine performance, and I hope you have a speedy recovery from your back injury! I think Ben’s mono-Green elf deck has a lot of potential for growth in the new Standard, especially since elves are the dominant race of the Naya shard… we’re bound to get some decent Elf and Green spells to tinker with.

FNM — last week, this week
Okay, to wrap things up… last week I drafted Shadowmoor and Eventide, and did very well, was undefeated in the Swiss, and made the cut for the final four (where I promptly got crushed). I had a few interesting stories from the draft… going in, I didn’t really have a plan, though I’d been reading the Drafting With series to try and get a feeling for how drafts can go. In pack 1 there wasn’t any standout good card, so I ended up grabbing the Foxfire Oak – not exactly first pick material, but a solid man who doesn’t necessarily lock you in to playing Red too. However, I ended up picking up some quality Red removal spells to go along with a few more Green critters so that by the end of pack 1 I’m solidly in Green/Red. Pack 2 I open it, leaf back to the rare… and find Boartusk Liege staring back at me, as if the Magic gods were nodding at me for drafting correctly! I end up getting a Mossbridge Troll relatively late when there wasn’t much else going on, but since I’d drafted Tattermunge Witch I figured why not give it a try? Pack 3 I open a Thunderblust and figure, hmm – that certainly goes a long way towards getting that 10 power the Troll loves so much, doesn’t it? I end up attacking with a 27/27 trampling Troll in three games during the Swiss – living the dream, baby! After getting hammered by the troll in game 1, when I slap down the troll again in game 2 I start chanting “Troll! Troll! Troll!” and my opponent just scoops. Seriously fun times.

This week’s FNM is Standard, and I have a truly wacky and interesting deck I’m going to try running in this “dead” format. I mean, why not? Hopefully I’ll have something fun and interesting to report to you for next week’s column.

Take care!


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