Notes From CommandFest Seattle

Sheldon Menery had a grand time as a special guest at CommandFest Seattle! The “Godfather of Commander” shares his memories of the event.

The initial CommandFest weekend was an all-star spectacular hit success. Both the Seattle event, which I attended, and the one in Chicago were sold out. I can only speak directly of my experience onsite in Seattle, and I can tell you that the mood in the room was amazing. Relaxed and amazing.

That was my first takeaway. I have quite a few more. Getting said takeaways is why I really wanted to be there in the first place (obviously “slinging the 100-card decks” and “hanging out with the fans” -adjacent), so that’s good news.

Commander fans really are Magic’s best fan base. As with anything, there might be a few bad actors, but on the whole, it was quite eye-opening to see how things were with nothing but Commander players in the room. They were the ones who brought the chill. Even if some of them might also be competitive players in other formats, in this context they also brought the tension-free excitement.

No one suffered from prize money anxiety. The primary goal of nearly everyone just seemed to be having fun. Artist Rob Alexander pointed out that no one was worried about getting to their next round on time, so the line at his booth was never long, just steady. He shared a meal with me, Scott, and Toby Sunday night and expressed that they Commander-only crowd was one of the best he’s ever experienced. He also said he’d bring way more tokens to the next one.

I burned through a Sharpie signing playmats and cards. I suppose I should bring more next time.

Downtown Seattle, extending out to the area near the Seattle Center, is a pretty cool place. I don’t mind spending time there at all. Good restaurants and one of the best moods of a large urban area in my experience. Thinking on it, the city seems rather European, which is odd since it’s about as far from Europe as you can get in the Northern Hemisphere.

Channel Fireball Events did a nice job, especially since they put together the show in such a short amount of time. They were taking a big risk, and I’m happy to see it rewarded. Big props to Trevor Baker, John Alderfer, CJ Crooks, and the entire on-site events team for making things run so smoothly. There might be a few things I’d do differently, and I’ve offered my feedback already. There’s one part I’ll readily discuss, though.

The Seattle version was chock-full of well known and well-regarded Commander personalities. From the RC and most of the CAG to The Professor, Josh Lee Kwai, Riley Knight, and multiple-threat figures like Olivia Gobert-Hicks and Crim, there was some star power in the room. Other than the stream, they didn’t make full use of us. Again, understanding that they cobbled the show together in nearly no time, every one of us were willing to step away from playing in order to connect more with the fans—from panels to meet-and-greets to interviews or whatever.

As far as I can tell, all of us had a great time. I can also say that we felt extremely underutilized. When an organizer brings me into a show, which CFBE did while adapting to the demands my extremely exacting schedule (which includes medical trips), I expect to work. This means more than just playing games (although I want plenty of that as well). I want to exceed the value of the resources they expended getting me there.

Please understand that this isn’t a criticism of CFBE so much as outreach to future CommandFest TOs—please make sure to put us to good use, especially in being able to interact with more than three other people at a time. We’re happy to do it. You could probably even get us to suggest ideas. Playing with the fans still needs to be the majority of what we do, but we can and want to also do so much more.

The Saturday night party, which was a hard-ticketed event at the Museum of Pop Culture, might have been one of the best I’ve been to, simply because the space was so large. Just like the on-site room, the vibe was so chill. Best yet, it gives me opportunity to provide this 100% a troll of our beloved SCG President: there was no karaoke.

I’m not saying that people who love karaoke shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy it (I will defend to the death your right to partake in something you love, even if it’s not my thing); I’m saying that it takes a special kind of monster to foist it on people who don’t. For some of us, karaoke is the cigar smoke of sound. Anyway, I’ve digressed. The party was great because of the aforementioned vibe and room. The food was good, the music wasn’t distractingly loud, and there was plenty of space for folks who wanted to play games to play games. There was also plenty of space for folks who just wanted to chat to do so. Nicely executed.

I played close to 30 games over three days. Some were what you’d expect; some were deliciously wild and wacky; and some were super-intense. The only really miserable ones (and there were only two) featured someone ramping into Grand Arbiter Augustin IV on Turn 3.

The idea to have multiple signs declaring what kind of game experience players would like is a strong one. I might have even color-coded the tablecloths (but understand that could get into additional expense that might not show a return). The first day, I plopped down right next to the casual sign as soon as I got in the door and camped out there all day.

On Friday, I played with too many people I already knew. It wasn’t by design; it was from the fact that it was a lighter day, and fellow RC members, CAG members, and folks from the office were there. We always seemed to be looking for a game around the same time. Next time I’ll be more mobile. The signs were fine, but I realized by end of day Friday that people were just finding games and open tables wherever. In future events, I want to play with as close as possible to zero people I know well. There are definitely fans who I’m happy to spend repeat time with, but I’ll keep the insiders to a minimum—unless, like in the case of CAG member Shivam Bhatt, we’ve never played together before, a situation we remedied onsite.

Rule 0 worked most of the time. The folks I played with were quite good at assessing and articulating the power level of their decks, as well as tapping into the mood of the kind of game everyone else was looking for. In fact, the only times Rule 0 didn’t work from my perspective the aforementioned two games in which someone ramped into Grand Arbiter Augustin IV on Turn 3. There’s no way anyone can interpret that move as “casual.”

Making sure that no one else can play Magic is a particularly good way of winning Magic games—no argument. It also fails at ensuring that everyone at the table is enjoying themselves (with the recognition that there’s some small subsection of folks for whom that is indeed enjoyable—it’s nowhere near the majority case). The best games weren’t those that I won, they were the ones in which everyone did stuff and had an opportunity to play. Once that goal is achieved, who actually wins the game is far less relevant.

In the two matches I played on the stream, featuring five different people, I have the fewest Twitter followers by a pretty healthy margin (in case you’re curious, in order it’s @TolarianCollege, @joshleekwai, @goberthicks, @NissaCosplay, and @Theasianavenger). I guess this suggests if I want more followers I should start making video content—but I have a face built for radio. Congrats to Olivia for winning the whole charity event, supporting RAINN, getting $1000 for a very worthy cause.

Chronologically, here’s what my weekend looked like:

The first thing we did wasn’t related to the event at all. The Commander Rules Committee (RC) added Olivia Gobert-Hicks to the Commander Advisory Group (CAG). The discussion had been ongoing for quite some time, and we decided to open the festivities with the announcement. The other members of the CAG were 100% behind Olivia’s appointment, mostly because five of six had met her in real life and know what kind of person she is.

Olivia brings to the CAG a razor-sharp wit, a vast intellectual toolbox, and perhaps most importantly, a deep and abiding love of the format. She’s already one of the format’s greatest evangelists. True story: she’s been playing since 2014 and has never played any other format. We expect wonderful things. With my other hat on as a Magic designer, we were lucky enough that her flight out of Seattle was late on Monday, so that we could bring her into the building to help us playtesting a future product. It’s on a team I’m not on, so I only got to hang with her for a few minutes, but she apparently had some outstanding feedback for the team lead. Looks like her appointment is already paying dividends.

As I mentioned, I grabbed a table in the middle of the hall right by the “Looking for Casual” sign. I wanted to clearly signal what kinds of games I was looking for. Also as mentioned, I got them. Unlike other events, I decided to not take notes on games, instead trying to spend more time simply chatting with the people I was playing with. It meant that there would be fewer game-related details in this report, but it also meant that I could better connect with the people I was enjoying games with. There was Eva and Jon, a couple who lived outside the city and raised rabbits and horses. There was Duke, a retired airline and former Navy pilot, and his son Michael. There were folks from the local area, and there were people from out of town. I experienced a beautiful cross-section of the Commander community, and the great people that the format is all about.

On Saturday, the first thing was Round 1 of the charity event. I played Muldrotha, Speaking Primely with Olivia (Breya, Etherium Shaper); Josh (Roon of the Hidden Realm); and The Professor (Kaseto, Orochi Archmage). The game featured a great deal of delightful trash talk, deal-making, and quality play. I had an Oracle of Mul Daya that unfortunately netted me exactly one land over five turns. Prof started hitting everyone with poison counters in the very techy form of Kaseto-backed Spitting Cobra. He in fact got me to nine poison (without any proliferate shenanigans) in relatively short order.

Olivia struggled to get going, and Josh started getting out of hand. There was a critical turn in which I used Massacre Girl to successfully bait out one counterspell so that I could cast the real back-breaker, Decree of Pain. Unfortunately, that got countered as well. From there, I stayed alive a short time, Sudden Spoiling giving me a reprieve, but that only delayed things while Josh got more and more ahead of the rest of us. By the time Prof dealt the last poison to me (and no, poison is not changing), Josh was casting Venser, Shaper Savant with Panharmonicon and Mirari’s Wake on the battlefield—so Capsize with buyback for four instead of six (and a Capsize that you couldn’t counter by getting rid of the target). From there, the other two were short work, with Olivia dying last, giving her the second-place advancement to the Sunday pod.

I played a few games after that, and then availed myself of the quiet room CFB had set aside for the judges, just to close my eyes in some silence for fifteen minutes. I’m constantly amazed at how a little respite like that can be so energizing. From there, I played a bunch more games, closing down the hall and heading straight for the party.

Amidst all the gaming going on, I got to catch up with former Pro Tour broadcast partner and all-around fine human being Marshall Sutcliffe. We talked about the changing state of top-level professional Magic, getting Brian David-Marshall into the Hall of Fame, and all manner of things. I hadn’t seen him in nearly six years, so it was great to catch up. I got in some other great chats with the fans of the format, and one of them made me remember the actual first change I made to what became Commander—but I’ll leave that as a teaser to next week’s piece, which includes a brief look through the format’s history.

On Sunday, given an extra hour’s rest by both the hall opening later and the clocks setting back, fellow RC member Scott Larabee and I had time to tuck into a good breakfast at one of his favorite local spots. Then it was to the consolation round of the tournament with Prof (Sygg, River Guide); Nadine (Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign); and Crim (Alela, Artful Provocateur).

Crim took over with an early Grand Arbiter, and killed me just as I was about to recover. Nadine, who was sitting to Crim’s left, had a chance to save me but chose not to, asserting that it wasn’t strategically advantageous to do so. Friend and pretty decent Magic player Gerry Thompson was sitting nearby, so I called on him to plead my case, but she summarily rejected my appeal before I could talk him into offering some support. Nadine got her just deserts (okay, maybe not just) when she tried to Cyclonic Rift Crim’s hugely advantageous battlefield state, but he had a Cryptic Command ready. From there, it was all over but the shouting. She mentioned afterward that she had an opportunity at the end of my turn to do it with Crim tapped out, but wanted to force his hand and not let him rebuild. It was a fair assessment that I would have disagreed with even if Crim had been killing Prof, since the game was essentially three-against-one at that point, but we all see the game state differently.

After that, it was a pile more games. I had three excellent ones with essentially the same group. The first was a particularly intense one with Joey from EDHRec and Andy from Archidekt and a fourth person (who came out very strong only to get eliminated early), and another replacing him with Andy’s Archidekt colleague Michael. In the first, we somehow overcame Joey’s three Cabal Coffers in his Syr Konrad, the Bold deck. In the second, Andy showed an early threat with a Turn 4 Ghalta, Primal Hunger, but a timely Boros Fury-Shield from me and battlefield wipe from Michael turned into a much longer game. In the finale, I nearly made Joey do it to himself with his 25/25 commander, but he had a tricky move involving slipping all the counters off it onto his Hangarback Walker, and it was lights out for me. The games were secondary to the excellent chats about Magic and life.

I closed the hall with a game with Olivia, Nadine, and their friend Joe Lawson, whom I had met online during one of Olivia’s streaming sessions. We were laughing it up so hard remembering the last time I tuned in (you’ll have to ask one of them about the details of Joe’s memorably coined phrase, since this is a family-friendly website) that we couldn’t actually finish our game before they started shutting down the event.

Thanks again to the folks at CFBE for working with me and getting me in there, and the fans for making it an emotional and emotionally-rewarding weekend. The success of the two simultaneous CommandFests is great news for the future of Commander. I look forward to the next one in December in DC, but before then, I’ll see you very shortly at SCG CON Winter 2019. Hang onto your hat, because we’re going to have a grand time.

Sheldon Menery Deck Database

Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database! Click each section for lists of all my decks.

If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery Monday Night Gamers.”