You Lika The Juice? – The Awesomeness of Cool Things

The StarCityGames.com Open Series comes to Seattle!
Friday, June 4th – Most Magic content on the web is dedicated to the awesomeness of winning Magic tournaments, and it’s an awesome feeling to be sure, even at the lower levels where I’ve chalked up my victories. Yet the coolest things about Magic are actually what happen around and outside of tournaments—the Magic Community, the connections you make with people you might not have ever had the chance to interact with if it wasn’t for this awesome game. I wanted to share some of those cool things today.

Most Magic content on the web is dedicated to the awesomeness of winning Magic tournaments, and it’s an awesome feeling to be sure, even at the lower levels where I’ve chalked up my victories. Yet the coolest things about Magic are actually what happen around and outside of tournaments—the Magic Community, the connections you make with people you might not have ever had the chance to interact with if it wasn’t for this awesome game. I wanted to share some of those cool things today.

House of Sixten & Robby Rothe Jr. Are Awesome!
A couple weeks back I ended my column with a humorous short scene I sketched out based around a Magic pun that I thought would make a great comic strip. I was hoping that one of my readers might happen to also be an amateur comic artist and might be willing to whip it up for me, but in my heart of hearts I was hoping that it might get done in the awesome Lotus Cobra Is Evil strip. I’ve mentioned the strip before, and you can find the whole series archived at MtgColorPie blog. Well, Robby “Mr. MtgColorPie blog” Rothe Jr. passed along my idea to House of Sixten, and while he wasn’t able to execute my sketch (as he explained in his intro here), he did one better—he put me in the strip! Check it out here, reprinted with permission:

This has got to be one of the coolest, funniest, and most embarrassing Magic things that have ever happened to me! Slightly embarrassed because Sixten is obviously poking a bit of fun at my griping about Mythics, but I can totally laugh at myself, especially when it’s done in Lotus Cobra Is Evil!

Sheldon Menery Is Awesome!
Level 5 badass and all around cool cat Sheldon Menery proposed an EDH Invitational in his column this week, and I was honored that he included me in his list of 16. It was awesome to be listed among so many great folks, and I can only imagine the fun plays and fantastic stories that would come out of something like this. While having something like this actually happen feels pretty much like wishful thinking, if anyone could get the ball rolling towards reality, it’s certainly Sheldon. I’m crossing my fingers!

Glen Godard and the Premier Tournament Organizers Are Awesome!
A couple months back, I got notice that I was being sent a pretty cool prize. Sun Mesa Event’s Glenn Godard had nominated my Champs-themed column “The Standard Dilemma” for the 2009s Writing Contest where it was chosen as Honorable Mention in the Most Poignant category by Judges Chris Galvin, Matt Cavotta, and Skaff Elias. I received a case of Magic: the Gathering Jones Soda and a totally awesome plaque. I’ve been wanting to share a picture of it, but my camera battery died and I just recently got a replacement so here’s what it looked like.

For those who don’t know, Glen Godard was the man who saved States/Champs when Wizards decided to axe it from their schedule of events in order to channel the resources into supporting smaller, store-level events. Glen mustered together Magic’s Premier Tournament Organizers across the country (including our own awesome StarCityGames.com) to pick up the baton and have carried it these past two years. Personally, States/Champs has always been one of my favorite events all year, and I know there are a lot of others who love it too, so I just wanted to again extend my appreciation and thanks to Glen and all the PTOs out there. You are all awesome!

JD Whitney and the Casual Magic Showcase at GPDC Are Awesome!
While the lion’s share of Grand Prix: DC coverage was for the main event, there was something awesome happening in the side event tables that I think deserves some recognition. Big Magic events often have side drafts and even recently some have been running 4-man EDH pods, but a crew of dedicated casual Magicians really stepped things up to the next level at the Grand Prix with the Casual Magic Showcase. The ringleader, John-David Whitney, with no budget, volunteers, and prize support by Dream Wizards, managed to throw some seriously fun Casual events that caught the attention of Wizards of the Coast. I wanted to ask JD some questions about this awesome event in the hopes that it just might be the first of more to come.

Q. Hi JD! First, tell us a little about yourself?
A. My name is John-David Whitney and I’ve been playing Magic since the Dark. I’ve been a high school teacher for most of the last decade (math, government, economics), but recently went to full-time Captain Dad duty taking care of my little ones.

I started playing Magic in college, excitedly got my butt kicked, moved to DC in 1996 & joined a new playgroup, where I got my butt kicked some more. Leapt into tournaments, got my butt severely kicked. Rinse and repeat, and lost something like 1,743 times in a row–except when we played group games. Somehow I won lots of those, and Dave R, our resident MTG hunter/killer (the only one with Pro points), paid me my greatest compliment: “If it’s a group game, kill JD first.” Joy – I’d found my calling! Eventually that playgroup died to the all-too-common attrition: graduation, new jobs/towns, family commitments, etc.

I met our local gaming store/tournament guru (Laurel Chiat of Rockville Maryland’s Dream Wizards) in 2004, and she gladly accepted my suggestion that we complement FNM with a Casual Magic night on Thursdays. The MTG Casualties were born, focused 100% on fun, mostly with group games and weirdo formats, many homegrown. Roughly 300 Casual Magic Thursday Nights later, we’ve got an email list of well over 200 players and we draw over 30 players a week, more than FNM most of the time!

Q. Where did you get the idea for the Casual Magic Showcase at GPDC?
A. That was entirely Laurel Chiat’s idea. We’ve got a strong working relationship, and she’s been a big supporter of what we do, since it’s the perfect destination for new, returning, or just naturally casual/social Magic players. She and her staff have gladly promoted our Casual Thursdays, since it makes good business sense for them to offer an alternative to the many competitive events that they host. Laurel contacted me in January, informed me that she was the tournament organizer for Grand Prix DC, and asked if I would like to design some Casual side events to broaden the kinds of Magic on offer. Count me in!

Q. How did you prepare for the event, and who helped you make it happen?
A. My original idea was to pick one casual multiplayer format and gun hard to promote it, but Laurel thought we should do a broad set of events & fun offerings. Since that’s what we do most Thursdays (we call it “open Chaos”), how could I argue with that? It was a great idea, so while I focused on multiplayer games/tournaments, she added in Cube & Stack gunslinging, a hilarious Vintage all-6″x9″ MTG promo draft, and an exhibit featuring a rare collection of MTG misprints/errors.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time prepping formats/rules, schedules, prizes, and promotions. Thanks god for my wife’s support, because this wasn’t easy. I dedicated myself wholeheartedly to the venture, and it required sacrifices from my playgroup and my family. This was a virgin event, and bold to boot. Everything had to be built from the ground up, and I’m very grateful to all who contributed.

In particular, I utilized a Casual Magic braintrust that has spent over 6 years refining fun formats and rules questions. This may have been the biggest Casual Magic offering ever put on at a major MTG event, and I needed help. My most trusted lieutenant, as always, was Aaron Qureshi, a math major and fierce Casual Magic player, who recently left one of those 3-letter agencies (that should not be mentioned publicly) to become… a Catholic priest. True story – there’s your next must-have interview, Bennie! (Very cool—I may have to do that! —Bennie)

The formats: EDH was a no-brainer, and rightly so. It was by far the most popular format we had on offer. Next came Peasant, but in Standard sets only! Adam Styborski (he’s been part of our playgroup in Rockville MD for 2 years now) made the original suggestion for Peasant in Zendikar Block, and we expanded it to Standard to increase the play possibilities. The Standard limitation helped to kill the ever-dangerous combo wipeouts, made it easy for anyone to build a fun deck (even new players), and created a new deck-building challenge for the dedicated Casual player.

Last but not least, we couldn’t help but choose Group Game Draft, our most popular homegrown format over the last 6 years. Simple idea: draft as usual, but play a Chaos game (Free-For-All) instead of duels! This format is endlessly exciting, with the usual multiplayer politics figuring heavily in a limited format that provides all sorts of time to explore new card/set dynamics, and I’ve never come across a cooler Casual invention than Group Game Draft’s “Rumble Rule”, courtesy of the afore-mentioned Aaron Q. It works like this: we track all damage/life loss you do to your several opponents, and each time you hit increments of 20 you get to choose any card from your sideboard (drafted but not in your deck) and play it for free any time it’s legal to do so. We’ve seen decks Rumble in off-color cards like Hex, Nicol Bolas, or Progenitus up the wazoo. We needed something that would stoke the bloodlust and plow through the ground stall of creature-heavy, limited card pools, and man did we strike it rich! (The Rumble Rule sounds awesome! —Bennie)

All three formats were offered at GP DC as 4-player on-demand games, and multiple-round tournaments. Ambition was not lacking.

Q. What sort of attendance to the CMS were you expecting, and how did the actual response compare?
A. We were able to score about 150 or so players for Casual Magic at the GP!

EDH was the shining star of our formats. As round 4 of the GP got underway, we capped our EDH tourney at 36. Over the next hour or two, we must have had 50 more inquiries about our EDH tournament, but due to our Casual staff limitations (100% volunteer), we were unable to open up a second tourney. Luckily, we had single 4-player games as well, and 20 or so of those games fired off at the GP.

Q. Did you have many people run the whole Casual Gauntlet?
A. The Casual Gauntlet was an idea I fought hard for, despite its audacity. We intended to track players who participated in all three Casual tournaments to eventually crown four ‘Lords of Casual Magic @ GPDC’ who did best across all three formats. I thought the gauntlet idea would be great for promoting the Casual Magic Showcase at the GP, but our plans were so alien to the regular competitive tournament scene that we struggled to organize and promote it in time to get the word out. So most attendees only heard about what we were doing when they arrived at the GP – we ran pretty much 100% on walk-up traffic. It remains somewhat of a mystery how to promote Casual events to the ‘kitchen table’ crowd that enjoys fun formats, a social environment more than elimination-style tournaments, and group games. If I enjoyed Magic with my friends, but was not plugged into tournaments and net decks, how would I find a Casual opportunity like this?

We learned a big lesson about Casual format name recognition at the GP. EDH soared, and Group Game Draft generated strong interest, but Peasant fell flat on its face. We had a few people sign up who were very eager to play, but when we held out for at least 16 players for the tourney, it didn’t materialize.

The Group Game Draft tournament was capped at 16 players, as the GP was so popular that they actually ran out of boosters for the side events! So by the end of the weekend, we had run EDH and Group Game Draft tourneys, but not Peasant. Luckily, this gave us a chance to increase the prizes for the events that did fire off: ‘Lord of Casual Magic’ t-shirts, signed artwork and playmats, and generous booster pack prizes, thanks to Laurel and Dream Wizards.

Q. For the Group Game Draft, what format was it, and were there any interesting group-game shenanigans along the way?
A. Too many cool plays to detail them all – in Group Game Draft, every game is simultaneously hilarious and a nail-biter: “You played THAT? AND you killed me with it?!?” We did two rounds of drafting/Chaos games. First up was Zen/Zen/WWK, and here’s a juicy endgame for you: With 8 points of flying damage ready to rain down on the falling life totals of 2 opponents, the Red Baron was both in command and fearing the inevitable gang-up from his two foes. Tough call, given the ground-pounders he faced, as he lost one flier after another to the nit-picks of both opponents. He managed to Mind Sludge Joe Cool, the only other player with fliers, ripping a Terra Stomper and Wolfbriar Elemental from his hand, only to lose to Joe’s sizable Timbermaw Larva equipped with Kitesail and juiced from Quest for the Gemblades. The big hit scored a Rumble card, but left Joe with little to defend against the sole remaining opponent. Good drafting choice, then, to sideboard that Haze Frog, which Rumbled in to neutralize the inevitable alpha strike from Charlie Brown. They don’t call him Joe Cool for nothing.

The second round was Rise/Rise/Rise, and the winners’ table from round 1 saw turn-3 Hand of Emrakul hit hard and often. But “In the Group Game Dynamic We Trust”, and sure enough between 3 players they found a way to neutralize that terrifying early threat. Two players suffered horrible land-gluts, but who’s to argue with the winner’s Ulamog’s Crusher backed up by a fully-leveled Guul Draz Assassin? Somehow the fiend was politically protected from demise when it was a lowly 1/1, much to everyone’s chagrin. And that’s how you win a Group Game Draft, especially when some fool passes you the Assassin instead of counter-drafting!

Q. Who were crowned Lords of Casual Magic, and what sort of prizes did they get?
A. With a little wrangling, I managed to score cool prizes for the top 4 in both our EDH and Group Game Draft tourneys, which we let players choose from in place order. For EDH, the top players picked (in order) a From the Vault: Exiled box, a ‘Lord of Casual Magic @ GP DC’ t-shirt with an awesome full-sized dragon sketch courtesy of on-site artist Matt Stewart, a GP DC playmat signed by Dan Scott, and a ‘Vampire Hexmage’ print signed by Eric Deschamps.

For the Group Game Draft tourney, the top player picked a fully-tricked out Battlegrace Angel print, again courtesy of Matt Stewart, followed by a Daarken-sketched ‘Lord of Casual Magic’ t-shirt, signed GP DC playmat, and a boatload of Zendikar fancy-pants lands as a 4th-place booby prize. We even managed to get pack prizes to every player who participated in all our events.

Q. Adam Styborski recounted some changes to the EDH rules to accommodate the tournament setting, was that run for all the EDH games?
A. The on-demand 4-player games included starting at 40 life, one free mulligan to 7 followed by Paris, everyone draws on turn 1, and winners would be deck-checked to keep it clean. The EDH tourney had the same, except starting life was 30 (to keep rounds manageably short) and we had to come up with a way to keep degenerate decks under control. Thanks to the official EDH rules guys, we found that the Democratic Victory rule was perfect for our needs. In the EDH tourney, game winners got 9 pts, second place got 6 pts, and third got 3 pts. Then, at the end of the game, each player got to award 3 pts to an opponent whose play/deck they enjoyed the most. That meant your best chance for winning the tourney was to play a deck that wins and is also fun for others to play against.

Keeping rounds efficient still required a mechanism to end the sometimes-interminable EDH games. Armageddon Clock was well-themed and too much fun to be ignored. We edited the text a bit to really bring home the bacon: “At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, put a Doom counter on Armageddon Clock. At the beginning of each draw step, Armageddon Clock deals damage to each player equal to the number of counters on it. 4: Remove a Doom counter from Armageddon Clock during your upkeep step.” And no one could Shatter or Disenchant the Armageddon Clock because it was in the Armageddon Clock zone. And the Doom counters? Smiley faces and butterflies!

Q. Styborski broke down the EDH “metagame” as 4 Uril, 2 each Sharuum, Omnath, Wort (Boggart Auntie), Momir, Teferi, Scion of the Ur-Dragon, and 20 Other various and assorted Generals. Do you happen to have what those 20 were?
A. Sliver Overlord, Xira Arien, Balthor the Defiled, Kresh, Eladamri, Kami of the Crescent Moon, Doran, Rith, Seshiro the Anointed, Zur, Sapling of Colfenor, Iname Death Aspect, Sen Triplets, Kira, Oona, Raksha Golden Cub, Akroma Angel of Fury, Captain Sisay, Rhys the Redeemed, and W.C. Fields.

Q. Styborski recounted with the Armageddon Clock chewing up life a player used General Jaya Ballard with a freshly drawn Basilisk Collar to play her Inferno ability to wipe the board and jump up to 42 life. Winning the game and all the victory points possible was a fairly epic feat. Any other good stories from the EDH tables?
A. Epic indeed. Another table was crushed with some Howling Mine/Ebony Owl Netsuke mojo, but you’ve gotta give credit to the guy who pulled off his Iname Death Aspect/Crypt of Agadeem/Brush With Death combo. The key piece? Onyx Talisman, for infinite Agadeem mana. Yeesh, I’ve been playing bad cards for 15 years now, and even I thought the Talismans were crap. Bravo, oh brave deck-builder! (the Talismans are awesome, Malachite Talisman + Gaea’s Cradle has long been a group-game staple with me — Bennie)

Q. You mentioned Paul Levy, WotC’s brand manager came to talk with you at the GP– what did you two talk about? Any chance they may want to try bringing the Showcase to other GPs?
A. I talked to lots of folks that weekend about what we were doing–it generated genuine excitement! We handed out rules sheets and contact info to plenty of people. One guy hung around for a good 15 minutes talking shop; he really liked what we were about. There’s so much to be gained from offering Casual Magic to all sorts of players! I mentioned to him that Paul Levy from WotC had even stopped by, but I was doing that headless-chicken busy dance so I hadn’t gotten to talk to him. Of course, it was Paul Levy who was standing in front of me at the time – cue the laugh track.

He and I are supposed to talk further about Casual Magic, and I very much look forward to it. Wizards had a fantastic year in 2009, but I truly believe that dedicated support for Casual Magic can blow away any previous gains for the company. It’s not that hard to imagine–a great place for players of all sorts who enjoy the social and creative elements of the game as much as competitive players enjoy tournaments. It’s perfect for new and returning players, and the market for women playing Magic is just begging to be blown open, if only there was greater emphasis on community play and opportunities for cooperation (if only in seeking the untimely demise of another – not an alien concept to the ladies!).

The mind boggles at the possibilities. How hard would it be to create a family-styled 2-Headed Giant game of Magic? Picture a tournament featuring brothers and sisters, parents and children, uncles and nieces all teaming up to demolish the competition. Planechase/Vanguard-type team cards for different family configurations would send the event over the top. As you can imagine, I’m very excited to have caught the attention of the company that brought us this amazing game, and I hold great hope for advancing the cause of Casual Magic, in all its many forms.

Q: Any last thoughts gleaned from this experience at GP: DC?
A: I’ve believed for many years (and practiced it to great effect) that group games open up a massive new dimension to Magic that’s mostly missing from competitive dueling. The social interplay means that your relationship with other players is just as or more important as the cards you play. You cannot help but add teamwork, and trust, and a fair way to score points with good-humored “I can’t believe you tricked me with that!” plays. We managed to pull in well over 100 players into our group game shenanigans at GP: DC, despite near-zero promotion. People want this, and they’ll pay to get it. With some effort, anyone can design multiplayer/casual events that can succeed even at the most competitive of events. It’s not easy, but it is doable. Take heart – Casual Magic is on its way, and you can make it happen in your neck of the woods too.

One last thing I must mention. I picked bright yellow t-shirts for the “Lords of Casual Magic @ GP DC” winners, and bright orange for the MTG Casualty staffers. We had great visibility because of this, but I realized halfway thru that we missed the bull’s eye, if only by a hair. MTG Casualties are born to be Red Shirts. I’ve always advocated what I see as a central tenet of Casual Magic – you should enjoy the games you lose and the games you win. It’s where the name ‘MTG Casualties’ originated: we may be the walking dead if our weirdo rogue deck creations show up at competitive tournaments, but that’s a badge of honor as far as I’m concerned. We’re shooting for the glory of crushing Krosan Beast beatings, not Top 8s. And when we’re enjoying our time playing with friends old and new, whipping out our strange Magic creations, we’re having fun with Magic the exact same way that every single player first experienced the game: “holy cow, what the heck was that you just played? That was AWESOME! …even though it kicked my butt from here to Timbuktu.”

That’s my kind of Magic. The kind where another person’s play, their awesome card combinations, their bizarre path to victory, is just as cool as yours. And if it destroyed you and everyone else, it’s just as exciting as when you are the king of the hill. Hence the Red Shirts, the official uniform of MTG Casualties everywhere: “We who are about to die SALUTE YOU!”

Thanks again Bennie! It’s wonderful to get a chance to share the incalculable fun of Casual Magic with more players. And by the way, you rock. Keep up the good work, straddling the funky divide between fun and competition. Why not have both?

Yep, Magic is truly awesome, as are all of you! Thanks for reading.

Take care!


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

New to EDH? Be sure to check out my EDH Primer, part 1, part 2, and part 3.

My current EDH decks:
Jacques Le Vert (lots of legends, good stuff)
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (DRAGONS, RAHRRR!!)
Halfdane (Clone ‘n’ Kaldra)
Reki, the History of Kamigawa (more legends than you can shake a stick at)