Welcome to Pro Tour–Austin! The crack reporting squad of Bill Stark, Rich Hagon, Josh Bennett, Monty Ashley, Marc Calderaro, and Craig Gibson are combing the halls of the Austin Convention Center for all the inside information.
TABLE OF CONTENT
- 8:28 p.m. – Player of the Year Post-Swiss Update
by Monty Ashley
- 7:10 p.m. – Questioning Mark
by Bill Stark
- 6:33 p.m. – MTGO Meets Real Life
by Josh Bennett
- 5:55 p.m. – Agents of Ari
by Rich Hagon
- 5:22 p.m. – Talking with Erik Friborg and PureMTGO.com
by Bill Stark
- 5:01 p.m. – ... And for the Rest of Us Drafters
by Marc Calderaro
- 4:53 p.m. – Anatomy of a Day
by Rich Hagon
- 3:09 p.m. – Deck-Defining Two-Card Combos in Extended
by Josh Bennett
- 2:45 p.m. – One Up, Two Down
by Richard Hagon
- 2:08 p.m. – Tern, About
by Richard Hagon
- 1:55 p.m. – Champions in Pod 2
by Josh Bennett
- 1:19 p.m. – Undefeated Limited Decklists
by Bill Stark
- 12:36 p.m. – Public Eventing Day 2
by Bill Stark
- 11:45 a.m. – Mom, He Really CAN Call You
by Richard Hagon
- 10:35 a.m. – Not All Drafts Are Created Equal
by Marc Calderaro
- 9:52 a.m. – Drafting with Raphael Levy
by Bill Stark
- Day 1 Blog – Catch up on yesterday's blog entries!
by Event Coverage Staff
Saturday, October 17, 9:52 a.m. – Drafting with Raphael Levy
Raphael Levy is just one of the big names drafting at Table 1.
Levy seemed to eschew that conventional wisdom almost immediately, starting down the path of white with a first-pick Kazandu Blademaster. He would remain white throughout the first pack and received a generous hookup in the second. What he didn't know was that Martin Juza, to his right, had gone red-white and would be cutting from him in the third pack. For some reason, however, Juza allowed a number of cards through that would be powerful in Levy's deck, and Raphael wound up with what looked to be a very solid mono-white deck.
He moved to deck building and revealed a host of powerful themes. He had seven Allies with two Kazandu Blademaster, three Makindi Shieldmate, and two Ondu Cleric. The Blademasters could allow him to beat down hard with few creatures in the format able to block meaningfully early allowing him a solid lead, particularly if he followed up with a second Ally. His Makindi Shieldmates and Ondu Clerics could help him hold the fort and keep his life cushioned as the game went long. Shoring up his aggressive Allies were a Kor subtheme featuring ten of the tribe members including an Armament Master that had two Adventuring Gears to suit up with in an effort to make Levy's small team large.
The downside to drafting a monocolored deck can sometimes be a lack of removal, but even there Levy had managed to come out swimmingly: two Journey to Nowhere, a Pitfall Trap, and two Arrow Volley Traps had made their way to his stack. The Arrow Volley Traps would prove particularly useful in racing situations, allowing him to decimate an opponent's board position while sending his own team sideways. When I spoke with Levy after he had finished his deck, he seemed genuinely upbeat about his fortunes. "I like," he said of his deck. "I'm not sure it's very, very good, but it will be good enough."
Asked about what he felt the players to his right and left, Martin Juza and Samuele Estratti respectively, were drafting, Levy put Juza on red-black and Estratti on blue.
"Martin is probably red-black. I was 1,000% sure he was going to try to draft red-black. It's probably the best color combination in the format, and I didn't see any black or red cards. I also passed a lot of good blue cards early [to Samuele Estratti], like two Whiplash Trap, so I think he's blue."
Knowing his analysis was off slightly, with Juza on white-red instead of red-black, I pressed Levy on the rest of the table. How many white drafters did he feel were there? "There was probably only one other white drafter."
How much experience had Levy had with the Zendikar draft environment prior to showing up in Texas?
"More than average. Between ten and twenty drafts," he replied. "I've seen mono-white drafted before, and I've done it once. It was okay. I've also drafted mono-red and mono-black and both were really good."
What were his thoughts for strategies on the format overall?
"Aggressive strategies are best. Curve and aggression are what I think are key."
Three more rounds of Draft play will determine whether the Hall of Famer's analysis is correct.
Saturday, October 17, 10:35 a.m. – Not All Drafts Are Created Equal
We'll see if he can live up to those 1-2 dreams. He's got the non-creature spells to 3-0—three Hideous End, two Mind Sludge, Burst Lightning, Inferno Trap, Mark of Mutiny, and two Unstable Footing—but his creatures that might have issues closing the game. He's got the requisite shoddy-to-mediocre red and black creatures (he drafted three, count 'em, three Mindless Nulls), but none of the mediocre-to-good ones to back them up. One Heartstabber Mosquito, one Goblin Guide, and one Bladetusk Boar hardly constitute an all-out aggro assault.
He told me that after first- and second-picking Burst Lightning and Spire Barrage, mono-red was his goal. Not hard to believe from the man who, yesterday, had been gliding on wings of the Demigod of Revenge. But the red had all but dried up by pick 4. So after vacillating between a secondary color, opening up two Hideous Ends in pack 2 and 3 finally solidified him into the now-two-color red deck.
It's clear Estratti feels comfortable in his aggro skin. So he wears it with pride; his red scarf is proof. Triple Zendikar has proved to be an aggro-friendly format and has proved fruitful for him in the past. We'll see if the Italian can keep up his red pressure in the rounds to come. With a 7-1 record, and feeling at home with his Extended deck, he just needs to eke out a few more burns spells before he's back in familiar territory, playing for a coveted Sunday slot.
Saturday, October 17, 11:45 a.m. – Mom, He Really CAN Call You
"No, it's 04401555369564."
"I don't think that's true. You need the 0044, then miss out the first number, so it's 0044155369564. Probably."
"And anyway, my cell doesn't work here, and even if it did, I can't afford to call home."
"When did you last actually speak to your family?"
"You mean since I left the country for the first time ever last Friday?"
Children, it's time to think about your poor mothers back at home. They worry about you, and not just because you're potentially going to get your Dredge deck beaten by Ravenous Trap. No, parents worry about less important things like:
Are you washing regularly?
Cleaning your teeth?
Changing clothes at least once a week?
They also tend, strangely, to have one other question on their minds:
ARE YOU STILL ALIVE?!?!?
Yes, despite what you may think, parents have this irritating tendency to care about you and what you're doing, and here at the Pro Tour, Aaron Booker—responsible for onsite technical support and the live webcast—knows this only too well. Thankfully, there's a neat solution that won't cost you a penny, cent, pfennig, or florin. Yep, Wizards of the Coast provides a courtesy service to all players at every Pro Tour, allowing them to keep in contact with friends and family back at home, wherever home may be.
"We start off with your basic internet connection" explains Booker, as we weave our way through a veritable forest of cabling. "Then it's on to PhoneLANd, which is our Local Area Network."
He starts talking a totally foreign language, which involves very strange words like "Ooma" and "VoIP," which it turns out stands for "Voice over Internet Protocol." Just like Mother Superior, I'm still Nun the Wiser, but the good bit is just around the corner.
"What this means is that any player from any part of the world can contact home completely free," continues Aaron. "We understand how important it is to keep in touch, whether you're winning or losing, and it's a service we're glad to provide."
Booker started working on the Pro Tour at the Berlin World Championships six years ago. What excites him about the game?
"Community. I get really fired up when we get the chance to help people connect with others through the game they love. I look around the tournament hall, and see people playing Magic Online, but this time they're playing it side by side, in real life."
What about future plans, marrying Magic and technology?
"I can see a time when we could offer people an absolutely killer stream of the live webcast for them to use at Pro Tour Sunday parties around the world. Get in the pizza, pull up a chair, and share all the fun of the Top 8."
It's quickly apparent that Booker understands more about all those wires and protocols and acronyms than most of us ever will, but he's clear where all that knowledge leads: bringing people together.
"Community is what makes this game great."
Saturday, October 17, 12:36 p.m. – Public Eventing Day 2
Osyp Lebedowicz: Drafting and going to the Texas versus Oklahoma game.
Antii Malin: I just played the Magic Online Challenge and lost. Now I'm drafting, then maybe a random Grand Prix Trial.
Robert Van Medevoort: Drafting!
Bram Snepvangers: Drafting!
Jan Doise and Pascal Vieren: Two-Headed Giant teammates!
Aaron Nicastri: Trying to get into the Magic Online Draft Challenge and side drafting.
Luis Scott-Vargas: I'm going to play in the Vintage, do some side drafts, and play the Magic Online thing.
Saturday, October 17, 1:19 p.m. – Undefeated Limited Decklists
Zendikar is a tough Limited nut to crack, but three players here at Pro Tour–Austin have managed to navigate the six rounds of Booster Draft with unblemished 6-0 records. They are American Jason Imperiale, Japanese standout Kazuya Hirabayashi, and Czech standout Martin Juza. They had a little help from the pack (Juza had triple Burst Lightning and double Ob Nixilis in one draft, while Imperiale had four Gatekeeper of Malakir in another), but you don't get to where they're at on luck alone!
Saturday, October 17, 1:55 p.m. – Champions in Pod 2
Some of Japan's biggest names crowded the top of the standings after eight rounds of play. Yuuya Watanabe, who seems indomitable lately (FOUR GP Top 8s in a ROW?), led the pack at 7-0-1. Hot on his heels were three former champions, all battling in Pod 2.
Sporting his now-trademark mesh cowboy hat and cavalier attitude, the GP–Niigata Champion started off his draft with black and moved into wide-open blue, but by pack 2 realised he was being cut off from black on both sides. Forced into a corner, he made a late switch to green. The result, in his words, was "not good." He had to stretch to make it to enough playables, putting in Merfolk Wayfinder and Shoal Serpent.
His prediction: 1-2
Result: 2-1, and laughing out loud when he said it.
2006 Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka weathered the black squeeze better than Ikeda. After first-picking a Gatekeeper of Malakir and following up with Blood Seeker, then Sky Ruin Drake, he abandoned that plan and shifted into base green. The hose was on full-blast, and by the end of pack three he had a fine array of monsters and a pair of Harrows that even let him keep the Gatekeeper in, though during construction he moved it from his three-slot to five, then six.
His prediction: 2-1
Result: 2-1, smiling and eager to get back to Constructed.
After teaming with Yasooka to win Pro Tour–Charleston in 2006, Tomoharu Saito followed in his footsteps and became the 2007 Player of the Year, and hasn't slowed down since. He's currently neck-and-neck with Watanabe in the running for the 2009 title. For Saito, green is unplayable, but after his draft opened with Inferno Trap and Kor Skyfisher he got shipped a Territorial Baloth and hedged his bets. He was happy to find it was an anomaly, and white and red were available. His deck wound up heavy white, topping out at Iona, Shield of Emeria. And that isn't just wishful thinking. He has three Kor Cartographers and two Kor Skyfishers to reuse them.
His Prediction: 2-1, maybe 3-0
Result: 0-3! Quietly resigned.
Saturday, October 17, 2:08 p.m. – Tern, About by Rich Hagon
It's not often that we get the opportunity to chat face-to-face and man-to-bird with a hot new card, but that's the interview we've managed to secure here at Pro Tour Austin. Our People talked with his Flock, and now you get to perch alongside us, as we branch out into unreported areas in the life of ....
RH: Mr. T, thanks for joining us on the show, and letting us into your fabulous home.
WT: You're welcome.
RH: I guess a lot of the readers won't know a lot about the day-to-day business at Chez Tern. Talk us through it.
WT: I'm a pretty ordinary bird, really. Obviously, Magic is the main thing in my life right now. I know that you can't expect your MTG career to last forever, so I want to grab every opportunity while I can. Just to be on the Pro Tour is very exciting.
RH: How does it feel, knowing that so many people want you dead?
WT: Well, you're right that people are always waiting for the end of Tern, but I like to think it balances out, because things like Bold Defense keep going until end of Tern, and that means players want me to hang around as long as possible.
RH: I understand you're a pretty religious species, right?
WT: That's true, Rich. Our spiritual leader—Lan, Tern of Insight — teaches us that we will all leave Zendikar in a virtual spaceship, the E-Ternity Vessel. In a few years, we will re-Tern to the game, still as a 2/1 flyer for two mana, but probably with a different name, and no memory of our former lives.
RH: Doesn't that seem strange to you?
WT: (He shrugs.) It's just the Pat-Tern of Rebirth. Eventually, we will Tern down the opportunity to come back to the game, and be sent to the Spring of E-Ternal Peace.
RH: Bringing things back to Earth, or at least Zendikar, tell us a bit about your justice system. There are rumors of rivalry between the leaders of the East and West Coast factions.
WT: It's true that the Eas-Tern and Wes-Tern Paladins don't get on, but we have a system to deal with that. First, there'S Tern Proctor, who makes the rules. Then there'S Tern Marshall, in case force is needed. And, if it comes to court, there'S Tern Judge to pass senTernce.
RH: Let's move to lighter matters. You have a great nest here.
WT: Thanks. We have pretty low-key lighting provided by Lan-Tern. I'm especially proud of my bathroom, where I have mirrors all around me. Every morning, I get up and see infinite Terns.
RH: Tell us about your life away from the game.
WT: If I'm at leisure, I might take a Tern around the garden with my beautiful wife. Of course, it won't be forever, and I'll definitely take an extra Tern after this one. I'm a big fan of talk radio, people like Rush Limbaugh and of course Howard STern.
RH: What about music?
WT: We love to sing. Gloria Estefan is a favorite, stuff like "Tern the Beat Around." At weddings we tend to go for The Bangles and "E-Ternal Flame," but our unofficial anthem is undoubtedly "Tern Tern Tern" by The Birds. Listen:
To everything (Tern,Tern, Tern)
There is a season (Tern, Tern, Tern)
RH: That was great. Now, there are rumors you're involved in a movie project?
WT: Yep, it Terns out that I'm going to star in the remake of the soap opera "As the World Terns", which was most unexpected—a real Tern-up for the books.
RH: Well, the round is almost over, and we've reached five extra Terns. Any last words for the fans out there?
WT: We have a saying that one good Tern deserves another, and if you pick me in Draft, I'll be your Tern—Tern after Tern after Tern.
RH: Welkin Tern, many thanks. This has been Tern, About for magicthegathering.com.
Saturday, October 17, 2:45 p.m. – One Up, Two Down
I spend a lot of time looking at standings, searching out the patterns, like the Extended winners who drop like a stone through the Drafts, or the critical mass of players from a previously-unheralded country, clearly making a statement about the growth of the game. Of course, as the rounds go on, the big question becomes the quest for Day Two, or the Top 8, and that starts to get complicated.
Even before you get to the mind-bending bits of the tiebreaks that mere mortals cannot comprehend, you have the almost equally taxing business of working out just how many Points might be necessary to make it to Sunday action.
And that's where a certain aspect of the standings starts to resemble an M.C.Esher painting or other strange optical illusion. Depending on how you "tilt" the page, this part of the standings starts to look very different. And what is this crucial aspect?
Let me show you what I mean.
As things stand, five Rounds of Extended remain. We're not in the prediction business here at magicthegathering.com, but let's suppose, just for argument's sake, that twelve wins, or 36 points, was the bare minimum to be in Top 8 contention after the full sixteen rounds. In 95th place, Jari Inkinen of Finland, plus five more that include Conley Woods and Axel Martinez, all sit on 19 points. With five wins, they would end up on 34 points. In our scenario, they would be out of the running. The fact that they had a draw that keeps them a point clear of almost thirty players on 6-5 and 18 points doesn't come into it. The way the draw "tilts," they're very definitely not "one up" but "two down."
Let's go a bit higher in the standings. In 51st place, Italian Samuele Estratti has 21 points. So do 43 others. Looking at that huge scrum of players who can get to 36 points exactly by going undefeated in the second set of Extended matches, you'd have to feel pretty good about being on 22 points, with seven wins, only three losses, and that precious draw. Players here include Chikara Nakajima of Japan, Robert Jurkovic of Slovakia and Americans Jonathan Pearlman and Mat Marr. Of course, they could look upwards to the players on 24, and bemoan their draw earlier in the tournament. But, for the most part, they can look down and know that as long as they keep winning, that huge group behind just can't catch them. This group, then, is clearly "one up."
On 25 points, Shouta Yasooka, Yuutarou Hirashima, and Sebastian Thaler are among the elite. They go back to Extended in 13th, 14th, and 15th place respectively, well within touching distance of Sunday. Trouble is, though, while they may be a point ahead of almost 25 rivals who are back in the pack on 24, they're not in the Top 8 positions yet, and to get there, they're going to have to get past at least some of the 11 players who managed to avoid the draw, and sit on 27 points. If you're interested in finishing in the Top 32, then this group are probably "one up." From the point of view of winning the thing, they're definitely "two down."
The group on nine wins stretches from Raphael Levy in 4th down to Kuan Tian in 13th. All of them will likely feel that they have a great chance of seeing Sunday action. Above them, the highest-placed player with a draw, the leader in the Player of the Year Race Yuuya Watanabe. He's in 3rd place, and must look down at his rivals on 27 and feel that his draw was immeasurably good news. Definitely "one up."
As each round goes by, the value of their draws will change. For some, the draw will mean elimination from contention, continuing to be two points below where they need. For others, that fight to the finish earlier in the event could be their ticket to the Top 8. One up? Two down? You never know until the finish.
Saturday, October 17, 3:09 p.m. – Deck-Defining Two-Card Combos in Extended
Extended is no stranger to combo decks. From Dragonstorm to Elves, Enduring Ideal to Second Sunrise, the synergies that build up from having a huge card pool have led to some finely-tuned victory machines. What's interesting about this Pro Tour is that while the format is as fast as ever, with variants on old stand-bys like Zoo and Dredge, there are a number of two-card combos that act as a strategic lynchpin. Here's a quick rundown.
Vampire Hexmage + Dark Depths
Called "The Worst-Kept Secret" at this Pro Tour by Randy Buehler, this instant 20/20 is the backbone of the deck that could define this weekend. Just like Elves before it, the actual configuration is a point of contention. There are many different versions in the house. For the most part, players are just using their foil Treva, the Renewers—free with attendance—as Marit Lage tokens, but some players (Brad Nelson included) are attacking with the real deal.
Hypergenesis + Violent Outburst
Leading up to the event, public opinion of this deck was split. Some thought it was an easily-disrupted gimmick, others insisted that the right build could steamroll the Pro Tour. The proof is in attendance, however, with very few people willing to cascade into big monsters. They seem to prefer Dread Return.
Scapeshift + Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
That's a lot of damage out of nowhere. Ben Stark was seen piloting this combo, including Zendikar acceleration from Khalni Heart Expedition. It can also fit sleekly in an otherwise ordinary Zoo deck.
Grove of the Burnwillows + Punishing Fire
Pity the aggro player who winds up on the wrong side of this equation. With multiple Groves out, it's hard to stick ANY threat. It also handily dodges graveyard hate if you're not too greedy, and it can even be your victory condition if you're patient.
Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek
Call it the rich man's Sacred Mesa. With both in play, you can pay one mana for a flyer and a life and watch the Sword bounce back and forth from the graveyard while you're doing it. Whether as a resilient control finisher or the heart of a dedicated plan, this one can end games in a hurry.
Martyr of Sands + Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Why waste valuable deck space on Proclamation of Rebirth when you can get it for free from a land? This do-it-all land even dodges troublesome Thoughtseizes. Provided you can last to your seventh plains, locking out the late game was never so easy.
Saturday, October 17, 4:53 p.m. – Anatomy of a Day
It would be nice to be everywhere at once—that way, we’d never miss a story. I can’t promise that, but I can promise you a quirky, irreverent, intriguing insight into the world of the Pro Tour. Earlier today, I gave out thirty sealed envelopes to various people around the venue, and asked them to open it at some random point during their Pro Tour Saturday. The instructions? To write down what they were doing "Right Now." Here are their responses:
9:15 a.m. Craig Gibson, Pro Tour Photographer
Watching Ben Rubin draft a mono-red deck.Craig Gibson, Pro Tour Photographer. (Do you know how hard it is to get a picture of your own photographer?)
9:20 a.m. Witney Williams, Pro Tour Manager
Setting up graphics and supplies for Ari Marmell’s [Agents of Artifice author] booth.
9:30 a.m. Deb Slater, Production Assistant, Tournament Center
Recording and uploading Brian Kibler’s Draft Tech in the Tournament Center. This guy is pumped up!Deb Slater wrestles with the video equipment, sometimes literally.
9:57 a.m. Brian David-Marshall, Pro Tour Historian and Video Commentator
Selecting a mix of players for a Quick Questions video segment and coming up with questions to ask. Also wondering how Eldrazi Monument goes 7th pick in a Draft.
10:29 a.m. Marijn Lybaert, Belgian Pro and Future Engineer
Teasing Coverage Writer Bill Stark.
10:51 a.m. Toby Elliott, Level 5 Judge
Being briefed and going over review history in preparation for Julien Winter’s Level 3 interview.
10:55 a.m. Greg Collins, Event Coverage Coordinator
Posting the first podcast of Saturday to the Pro Tour iTunes RSS feed and setting up the second Draft Viewer.
10:58 a.m. Riccardo Tessitori, Pro Tour Head Judge
Waiting for all the competitors to sit before announcing the start of Round 10, so that I’m sure nobody is late. (And I’m missing my wife, who stayed home this time.)The only time all weekend we’ve caught Head Judge Riccardo Tessitori standing still.
11:10 a.m. Michael Gills, Digital Games Program Manager
Running the 3rd set of 8-player Zendikar Draft qualifiers for Magic Online. Brad Nelson and Noah Weil are amongst the participants.
11:24 a.m. Trick Jarrett, host of Mana Nation
Interviewing Level 5 Judge Sheldon Menery and looking to sit down with Mark Rosewater and Mark Globus, plus pro players and artists.
12:01 p.m. Laura Kilgore, Retail Manager for the Pro Tour
Putting wrist bands on players and answering a question for Mark Rosewater so he can start his day of fun.Laura Kilgore waves at the camera. If this web site were 3-D, this picture would be AWESOME.
12:10 p.m. Adam B. Colby, Associate Brand Manager
Helping people edit video clips, and doing signups for the DCI so they can enter the video competition.
12:45 p.m. Marc Calderaro, Coverage Writer
Sorting through the draft archetypes, and hoping that Samuele Estratti makes Top 8 with All-In Red.
1:15 p.m. Renee Roub, Backup Pro Tour Show Manager
Planning Staff dinner for Sunday night.
1:27 p.m. Nick Fang, Pro Tour Scorekeeper
Printing Level 2 Judge tests, looking for the Head Judge to handle an appeal, entering results and penalties, and talking about cookware with the Public Events Manager.
1:45 p.m. Nick Hable, Public Events Scorekeeper
Entering penalties and results for Pro Tour Qualifier: San Juan.
2:17 p.m. Lindsey Port, Public Events Manager
Finally sitting down to eat lunch for about three minutes, then jumping over to register players in 8-player drafts.
2:30 p.m. Mark Globus, Senior Producer, Magic R&D
Eating lunch at PF Chang’s between Champion Challenge and demoing Duels of the Planeswalkers.
2:35 p.m. Aaron Booker, Onsite Technical Support and live Webcast
Setting webcast computers up. Quicktime encoding, Windows Media encoding, Flash encoding. If you’d like to see our beta test, email email@example.com.
2:57 p.m. Chris Lachmann, Pro Tour–San Diego Champion
Making 20/20 flying, indestructible tokens on turn two!
3:05 p.m. Randy Buehler, Hall of Famer and Tournament Center Host
In the webcast meeting with 13 others planning tomorrow’s broadcast. Just finished watching Juza beat Paulo Vitor 2-1: So much fun watching those two play Magic.
3:18 p.m. Rob Alexander, Artist
Signing cards and chatting to players, doing drawings, and falling behind on the sketches.
3:25 p.m. Michelle Cove, Vice President, "Gaming, etc." – Card Trader
Eating for the first time today, while buying Magic cards. I managed to eat three entire French fries in a row.
3:45 p.m. Helene Bergeot, Senior Manager, Organized Play Programs
Discussing Learning to Play area to make it better, and planning a meeting about the Hall of Fame Ceremony at Worlds in Rome.
3:50 p.m. Bruce Towne, Webcast Director / AV Supervisor
Overseeing setup of the video production system for Pro Tour–Austin webcast.
3:55 p.m. Scott Larabee, Pro Tour Tournament Manager
Sorting a Magic Online account for the spotter in time for the Magic Online Live Series final tomorrow.
And finally ....
4:00 p.m. Rich Hagon, Coverage
Compiling results from a ton of very talented people who make the Pro Tour happen.
Saturday, October 17, 5:01 p.m. – ...And for the Rest of Us Drafters
It’s easy to peruse the 6-0 draft decks and say, "Wow, that’s an insane deck; that dude must be great at drafting." And it’s true, that was an insane deck and yes, that dude is great at drafting. But sometimes we ignore those just below that cusp, the 5-1 finishers. And the 5-1s are great at drafting as well, they just ended up with good decks instead of insane ones. We can’t always draft four Gatekeeper of Malakir, can we? We can’t always get two Ob Nixilis, the Fallen either. So for the rest of us drafters, I tracked down some of those great drafters who built solid decks and kept themselves in contention with strong 5-1 finishes and asked them about the format and how they got themselves where they are.
The consensus is a bit obvious, but powerful nonetheless: aggressive strategies are rewarded. That doesn’t mean control isn’t viable, but if you want to attack early and often, the cards certainly are there. Hall-of-Famer, and aggro-extraordinaire, Rob Dougherty can’t seem to get enough of the decks that start attacking turn one. As he told me about how happy the Zendikar format makes him, he spread out three Steppe Lynx, three Kor Duelist, two Adventuring Gear, and a Trusty Machete and just smiled. Though Dougherty prefers black or white for a beatdown deck (but not really together, as they’re greedy colors), he’s quite at home drafting anything that gets in the red zone early and often.
That greedy black-white combination is exactly what Switzerland’s Tommi Lindgren prefers. Loving the aggressive white commons and the black removal to back it up, Lindgren cleaned up during the six rounds of draft this weekend. However, he freely admitted that after rare-drafting a fetch land first pick, he probably shouldn’t be giving draft advice to anyone.
Tour newcomer Blaine Hatab also sides with aggression. His quadruple Plated Geopede and double Trusty Machete helped him breeze through the first pod. Hatab often matches red with anything else that can complement its aggressive tastes, though it’s often green, as he feels the color of big monsters is a little under-drafted. Though he sees the monored deck as the only clear front-running archetype, unless there are no other drafters vying for it good luck getting anything close to just red. American Chris Ladd, though also admitting to the best combo in the format being "Spire Barrage + 14-18 Mountains", finds blue the easiest for being aggressive. Take Welkin Tern, Windrider Eel, and Living Tsunami, then never look back.
On the other side of the debate, Czech drafter Tomasz Dudziec is a little more reactive, and eschews the aggression for tempo. Dudziec told me that though Vampires are easily the strongest set of forty, a well-placed Seismic Shudder or a Narrow Escape can ruin their day. So instead of Doughtery’s 7-10 one-drops, Dudziec prefers to scale up. "Eighteen land and a curve," is Dudziec’s plan – though I think that plan already existed a few years ago; it was called the Onslaught block. Dudziec feels aggro-based strategies are too easy to disrupt with a few simple commons. Going for a solid mid-range strategy, so that every turn your creatures are just a little bit better than your opponent’s, is the way to go. And, oh yeah, Grazing Gladeheart; get a lot of those!
Not one of the drafters said they really hoped to open a specific card or force a specific color. Each one professed that every color is playable and every color is deep enough to be supported as a main color. And they all loved it. That’s very encouraging to drafters like me; go with your gut – as long as your gut’s pretty smart.
So what palpable tips can you gleam from all this drafting information? Here’s what I got: Unlike Magic 2010, you don’t need some bomb rare or four Gatekeepers of Malakir to win (though if you got four Gatekeepers in a Magic 2010 draft, please let me know). And you don’t need to avoid any color like the plague. It’s one of those rare draft formats where you can open a pack, take the best card, and go from there. Ah, it’s a Magical world ... let’s go exploring!
Saturday, October 17, 5:22 p.m. – Talking with Erik Friborg and PureMTGO.com
If you’re reading this blog entry, you’re familiar with the coverage team that brings you the latest updates from Pro Tours, Nationals, Grand Prix, and all the premier events from around the world. At Pro Tour–Austin, one coverage reporter was attending of his own volition and covering the events near and dear to his heart: the world of Magic Online. His name is Erik Friborg, but you might know him better from the Wizards of the Coast forums as "Hamtastic."
A Minnesota resident, Erik is a Magic Online devotee who spends a large portion of his week reporting the goings-on in the digital world of Magic for PureMTGO.com. We sat down to see what he had been up to over the weekend and to find out more about the intrepid forum poster.
"I’m from Minnesota, and I started playing the game about six years ago with Mirrodin," Erik explained.
Erik ‘Hamtastic’ Friborg is all about MTGO. And does he consider himself a competitive or casual player?
"I almost exclusively play online, and I’m borderline competitive." If success has eluded him in that realm, it certainly hasn’t been for lack of want. "Playing competitively takes a lot of time, and that can be tough with a family."
So what were the coolest stories on the weekend from the huge pit of computers dedicated to Magic Online at Pro Tour–Austin? "I’ve been surprised at the amount of pros who come over to play after their rounds. It’s cool to see so many players I’ve watched on coverage come over to play. It’s also cool to see that they’re not the ones winning! Luis Scott-Vargas and Olivier Ruel were just eliminated from an event by the same player."
So what type of Magic Online events happen at the Pro Tour?
"The Magic Online Draft Challenge. There are four qualifiers, each consisting of two eight-person drafts. The winner qualifies for the main event, where prizes range from $2,000-$250. You simply sign up in the Public Events area. If there are more than 16 players signed up, there’s a raffle and the winners get to play the qualifier."
What types of things was Erik covering during the rounds he had been watching in the Challenge?
"I’m mostly covering the matches, who played what and how they did. Also I’ve been documenting strategies. Signaling is way more important in Zendikar drafting than it has been in previous sets."
The conversation shifted from what Erik was doing at Pro Tour-Austin to what he does for his weekly duties on PureMTGO.com. "I cover MOL news mostly. I got started in the Wizards of the Coast forums. I was looking for a place that listed all the announcements about Magic Online, but didn’t find one. So I started compiling the ‘News of the Week.’ I cover discussion items and news."
How much time does he spend on information gathering?
"At least six hours each week, minimum. I track the discussion as a community lead, and compile data from MTGOTraders.com. It takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it."
In discussing his presence on the Wizards of the Coast forums, I couldn’t help but ask where the name ‘Hamtastic’ came from.
"That’s from my old day job at IBM," Erik responded with a big smile. "My managers brought in 10 pounds of ham one day. When we were done eating there was about five pounds left. They placed it on my desk and dared me to eat as much of it as I could. After the first half was finished they cut me off, and I picked up the nickname ‘Hammy.’ Hamtastic was a take on that when I needed a nick for Magic Online."
Finally what were his closing thoughts on Pro Tour–Austin?
"This has been fantastic. I’ve seen the coverage of events from home before, but there’s so much going on and so much to see. I got to meet Mark Rosewater which is something I never thought I’d get to do. It’s been a blast."
To read more from Erik in Austin, check out his coverage at PureMTGO.com.
Saturday, October 17, 5:55 p.m. – Agents of Ari
We’re used to seeing some of the leading Magic artists in attendance at the Pro Tours, but the arrival of Ari Marmell, author of the Planeswalker novel Agents of Artifice starring Jace Beleren, has certainly caused quite a stir here in Austin. We had the chance to sit with Ari as he chatted with a stream of fans.
When did he decide that a career in writing was a real possibility?
"I was in college, and started out as a psychology major. Within a year, I had switched to a creative writing course. I was lucky in that I realized that writing was something I really wanted to do professionally and also that I couldn’t think of anything else that would make me nearly as happy. I suppose I had always been a storyteller, playing Dungeons and Dragons from the age of nine and making up stories at school."
Ari Marmell poses with Agents of Artifice (and Jace Beleren) Getting your foot in the door is a tricky proposition for any writer. How did he end up with the Agents gig?
"I’ve been doing writing work for Wizards of the Coast for a long time now. I’ve done a lot of work on the Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, and I’d written various fictions for the company over the years. When the opportunity came to work on the start of a new ‘franchise’, that sounded like a project I really wanted to be involved in."
It’s notoriously hard to flesh out characters in the space of just a few cards that are already packed with rules and game text. How much leeway did he have in creating the story, and the direction the characters took?
"I guess the parameters were very broad, but there were definitely limits. In particular, it was important for me to make sure that the rules of magic (small ‘m’) worked appropriately within the rules of Magic (the game worlds, capital ‘M’). I was given a few detailed paragraphs about each of the main characters in the book, but as long as I stayed broadly true to those outlines, I could take them where I wanted."
Ravnica was a fantastically popular setting when the City of Guilds was the center of attention in the Magic Multiverse a few years ago, but were there other reasons for setting a lot of the action there?
"Over the last few years, I’ve come to really enjoy urban fantasy. Ravnica had so much already in place, and I loved the idea that it was possible to move the culture of the city forward in some way, taking the best of what was already there and adding in extra details. Of course, knowing that the fans loved Ravnica didn’t hurt!"
There’s clearly a difference in tone between this new Planeswalker series and the Magic novels of the past. How do he see that difference?
"I guess what we were looking to do was to broaden the appeal of the Magic novels. I know that the company was looking for someone who wasn’t too wedded to what had gone before, and was almost ‘semi-detached’ from the game. Perhaps there was a bit more emphasis in Agents of Artifice of it being a fantasy novel first and a Magic novel second, rather than the emphasis being the other way round."
Was putting together the novel a tedious and lengthy process?
"It was pretty quick. I was in Seattle for meetings at the end of January, and had handed off the first draft within 2-3 months. As we refined it, the word count settled at round about the 120,000 mark."
Ari still works on the Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, and has a new novel out, The Conqueror’s Shadow, which is his first standalone novel that isn’t based on a shared world. So what did he like best about working on the Planeswalker project?
"Playing in the Magic sandbox. I love the settings, and I’m a big fan of taking an existing property and expanding on it. As long as I like the setting, it’s a process I enjoy. With Jace, Ravnica, and the whole Agents of Artifice setting, it was the perfect mix of carte blanche and playing with what came before."
Saturday, October 17, 6:33 p.m. – MTGO Meets Real Life
It’s no secret that some of the game’s best players spend a lot of time on Magic Online. However, success in the digital arena is rarely celebrated outside of the Magic Online community. In an effort to raise the profile of Magic Online and its top players, Wizards is bringing Magic Online to the Pro Tour.
One one side of this push is the [http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/other/031...Magic Online Championship Series. The premise is simple: Play in tournaments, and receive points depending on your finish. Winning an eight-person draft gets you one, Top 8s in larger tournaments give out more depending on their size. Get more than 15 points in a given "season" (seven in the year) and qualify for that season’s Championship. Those with 10 or more can also get a spot in one of four Last Chance Qualifiers.
Each Championship is a big online tournament with an even bigger prize: The winner of each gets an invitation to the Magic World Championships (this year in Rome) as well as one of eight slots to play in the 2009 Magic Online Championship held live that weekend, to play for their share of $50,000.
That event is spread across three days. The eight competitors will face three rounds in each of Classic Constructed, Standard Constructed, and Zendikar Booster Draft. The least they can win is $4,000. Not bad just for showing up.
Of course, that only explains seven entrants.
Quite a setup. After the end of the seventh season, all the points will be counted. The players who got the most points in each individual format will be awarded an invitation to one of next year’s seven MOCS events. The player who got the most overall is the Magic Online Player of the Year, and takes the eighth spot at Rome.
This year, that player’s identity is shrouded in mystery. Known as "yaya3," he—or she?—was said to have made Day 2 here at Pro Tour–Austin. He might even be a big star, but as of yet no-one is talking. He’ll be joined by tomy_vercety, Christian FÈvrier, Orgg Ascetic, Anathik, jurda, CharToYourFace, and Ivan_Kulbich_aka_Striped, all of whom are actually real people.
You can see all the results and decklists here.
The other side of the equation is the MTGO Live Series. At each Pro Tour you’ll find an area with sixteen computers with big screens, dedicated to Magic Online. Anyone can sign up to enter the eight Live Series Qualifiers held Friday and Saturday. These are eight-person drafts, and the winner of each secures a spot at the Live Series Finals, one more eight-person with a lot on the line.
Not only is there a $5,000 prize purse, but the Top 2 will play their decisive match on Sunday under the cameras just before the Pro Tour Top 8 begins.
And for those of you who are hoping to make the same leap from digital superstardom to Pro Tour Player, there are now Pro Tour Qualifiers held on Magic Online.
So it’s all there, gold and glory, online and off. Step right up and claim your share.
Saturday, October 17, 7:10 p.m. – Questioning Mark
There are few people attached to the game of Magic whose resume is as varied as Mark Rosewater’s. A judge, player, member of Wizards R&D, and even a one-time Magic artist, Mark has moved up the ranks to the head designer for the game. In town for Pro Tour–Austin, he took a break from the Champion Challenge to speak with the coverage team.
The most pressing question: What was his impression of Pro Tour–Austin?
"Um ... I don’t do impressions," the former comedy writer deadpanned with a smile before continuing: "I haven’t been able to do as many Pro Tours of late. I’ve done Worlds every year, and there was a time where attending these events was an opportunity for the public to share their concerns with me. This weekend, however, I’ve gotten mostly positive comments. Magic is at an all-time high!"
Mark Rosewater sits down for a chat. One of the large reasons for its success has been the very well-received Zendikar set. How did Mark feel about Zendikar during design, and how did he feel about the public’s reception of it?
"Zendikar is funny. One of my jobs as head designer is to venture out into new territory. Sometimes we return to things people have liked in the past, usually with new twists, but you have to venture out. The problem is, new places are scary! It’s the rest of R&D’s job to be skeptical."
What did he mean by that?
"When I proposed the set I said, ‘Okay guys, it’s going to be a block based around land,’ to which they responded, ‘Yeah .... What else have you got?’"
So how did we wind up with a land-based Zendikar set with so many skeptics?
"They let me try it. There was very little confidence going in, but slowly we got people on board. The designers got onboard, then developers and R&D, then finally the rest of the company. Once people played it, they enjoyed it. It’s fun to see something I fought hard for do so well."
With a Worlds attendance streak nearly two decades long, Mark will miss the event for the first time this season, due to a scheduling conflict. How did he feel about seeing that streak come to an end?
"My role in the Pro Tour has changed over the years. I started as a judge and running events, so I asked to be the R&D liaison to the Pro Tour. Our big worry back then was that it wouldn’t be exciting enough; one of my creations was the feature match. But there’s a parallel between my starting a family and the decrease in my Pro Tour attendance. This year I’m in Austin because I can’t go to Worlds. I have a lot of fond memories from the Pro Tour."
After the success of Magic 2010, Duels of the Planeswalkers, and now Zendikar, Magic is riding high. Is there any concern that so much success will jade players in the future?
"I’ve always tried to be an optimist. If you live in a world believing the worst will happen, you’re not disappointed as much, but life is boring. I’m just trying to make great sets. I’m really excited about "Lights" [the codename of the first set in the block following Zendikar]. It’s the culmination of a lot of things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I just don’t worry about the things I can’t control."
Finally, the topic turned to an event that is truly Rosewaterian: Question Mark. The trivia show has been hosted at numerous Pro Tours and Worlds throughout the years, and made its return in Austin. What did Mark have in store for attendees?
"Magic is more than just playing the game. Question Mark demonstrates that; it’s for teams of three players, it’s free, and everyone can win a prize. I’ll be asking Magic trivia and players will compete Swiss-style with a Top 8. The idea is always ‘do better than the team you’re playing against,’ not that you have to know the answer to every question perfectly. I ask a lot of questions where if players were given an hour they could recall the answer, but instead I give them two minutes. It will be fun."
Saturday, October 17, 8:28 p.m. – Player of the Year Post-Swiss Update
The Swiss rounds are done and the Top 8 is set, which means that the 2009 Player of the Year Race is coming into greater focus.
Three of the Top 8 of the Player of the Year Race made the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Austin, which means they’re each guaranteed at least 12 points and possibly as much as 25 if they win. The other five have their results locked in. Here’s the situation:
|Name||Current Points||Finish||Added points||Post-Austin Total|
|Yuuya Watanabe||50||Top 8||12+||62+|
|Martin Juza||42||Top 8||12+||54+|
|Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa||33||Top 8||12+||45|
Anyone who loses in the Quarterfinals will get a total of 12 pro points. Anyone who loses in the semifinals (thus finishing third or fourth) will get 16. The finalist will receive 20, and the champion will receive 25. So if Yuuya Watanabe loses in the Quarterfinals, Martin Juza could guarantee a tie by reaching the Finals, and would take the lead by winning it all. If Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wins the tournament and Juza and Watanabe both lose in the Quarterfinals, the three of them would be clustered at the top of the race with 62 (Watanabe), 58 (Damo da Rosa), and 54 points (Juza). Obviously, if Juza does well on Sunday, he could build a dominating lead.