Betrayers, Ink-Eyes, and wotc_elf

Posted in Feature on February 22, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Release events, Vanguard, and lots more

Greetings! I am back from my week-long In-N-Out Burger binge, ready to talk Betrayers of Kamigawa. That's right, while I wasn't looking, the new set snuck up and prepared itself for Release Events this weekend. Soon those new flip cards, Genju, Shoals, Ninja, Patrons, and legendary permanents will be in our greedy, grubby hands! Rejoice!

In fact, I can think of five distinct reasons to be excited about the weekend's events...

5. Premiere Events... Lots and Lots of Premiere Events

Everyone knows by now that the only thing better than getting to play new cards is an endless opportunity to play in low-key tournaments with new cards. Any time of day, from the morning of March 3rd until the morning of March 8th, you can sign on and find a Betrayers-related tournament starting up, filled with people of all skill levels and familiarity with the new set. Personally, my longest marathons of online play happen during Release Events for precisely this reason. It's about the only time my Limited rating moves up or down, too.

There are essentially four different ways to get involved in the Release Events. First, you can join a week-long, 2x prizes Sealed League using a Champions of Kamigawa tournament pack and three Betrayers boosters.

Second, you can draft with either three Betrayers boosters (watch the Ninjas flow!) or two Champions boosters and one Betrayers booster. Draft queues will be constantly running, filling up as quickly as they start.

Third, for those of you who like the short, sweet Premiere Events, you can enter a 32-person Sealed Deck tournament, paying out 2x prizes. As soon as thirty-two people show up, a tournament starts and a new queue begins.

Finally, for those of you like the longer, more rigorous Premiere Events, you can enter the 128-person Sealed Deck tournaments. These are harder to win, but the prizes are bigger, paying out at a 4x prize payout (that's almost fifty Betrayers boosters for winning!).

Check here for all of the information on the Release Events and their schedule. I can't wait!

4. Championship Event

The prize payout, Higure avatars, friendly competition, and new cards are probably enough reasons to enter the Premiere Events. There's another one, though. If you win a 2x Event or place in the Top 4 of a 4x event, you qualify for the Championship Event, to be held on March 19th. Admission to the Championship is free to those who qualify, and you're looking at not only a whopping 6x prize payout, but the adoration of your fellow online players.

We called the winner of the Champions of Kamigawa Championship the Champion of Kamigawa, so what is she this time? I guess you get to be The Ultimate Betrayer or something.

Oh, there's a grand prize, too, but keep reading for that one.

3. Unhinged Lands

Remember those spiffily-cool Unhinged lands that paper-playing Americans waved in your face? Well, thanks to the great job the beta testers did, there was time to test Unhinged lands as well. I'm not going to tell you how or when you can win them, but I will say that Unhinged lands (both regular and premium versions) will be distributed as prizes for select events after the Release week. Play early, play often, and play well and I guarantee that at least a few will make their way to you.

2. Ink-Eyes Avatar & The Approach of Vanguard

I slightly mispoke last week when I hyped the Higure avatar and the coming of Vanguard. I had thought Vanguard would be available this weekend, but I was wrong. Apparently Vanguard is almost all ready to go and needs a few minor tweaks before it arrives. The current plan, as I understand it, is to debut Vanguard sometime before the Magic Invitational. Stay tuned. I know you have lots of Vanguard-related questions, and they'll all be answered soon.

Still, that doesn't mean we can't get excited about both the new avatars and their upcoming Vanguard abilities. As I said last week, enter any Release event and you get a Higure avatar. Cruise to a 5-0 Sealed League record, or place in the top 2 of a small Premiere Event, or place in the top 8 of a 4x prize Event, and you add this bad rat to your collection...

When Vanguard debuts, what will Ink-Eyes do? Well, her stats are as follows:

Starting and maximum hand-size: 6
Starting life: 17
“At the beginning of the game, look at target opponent's hand and discard a non-land card from it.
, pay X life: Return target creature from an opponent's graveyard to play under your control, where X is that creature's converted mana cost.”

The deckbuilding mind just spins, doesn't it?

1. Original Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni Artwork

VaiN (aka Mats Neumann from Sweden) won the last Championship Event and took home the original artwork for Time Stop. That worked so well that the Magic Online folks have decided to try it again. Win the Betrayers Championship Event, and you receive the framed, original artwork of Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni by artist Wayne Reynolds!

Now, as someone who feels a particular connection with Ink-Eyes, I have to say that I'm a wee bit jealous. I'll try my darndest to qualify for the Championship myself, but if I don't win the grand prize, don't be surprised if someone mugs your mail carrier.

I really can't wait! Remember, you can go here to learn everything you need about the upcoming events and their prizes.

Introducing elf

Way back in October I introduced you to Rachel Reynolds, one of the Magic Online programmers. There's since been a new face added to the Magic Online team, a fellow many people know simply as “elf.” Here's everything I could drag out of him, by way of introduction...

Name: Michael Feuell, aka "elf"

Job title and duties: Junior Software Developer. I work on the card and games rules. I do some work on the live client. And since I've been here I've worked on a few special projects as well.

Age: 36

Education: I did 7 years at UMass Amherst doing computer science. I was doing 20-30 credits a semester taking undergraduate classes, graduate classes, post doc coursework in machine learning and artificial intelligence. I taught lectures on using graphics to improve user interfaces. My favorite class was a game playing theory class where each student wrote a computer program to play the game Attaxx and then we played them against each other. The games were timed too, so you would sneak in innovations like running searches during your opponent's clock. We'd spit out random insults when the opponent made a bad move. It was fun.

Began working at Wizards: November 2004 as a developer. I've been a level 3 judge since 1996. I was also previously the DCIjudge-L Netrep for a year.

Previous job: Senior Engineer, JPMorgan Chase. I worked on their online financial site, which basically plots out where to invest your money so you could buy a yacht next year. It was targeted towards JPMorgan Chase's millionaire clients and cost $10k per year just to use. Quite a change coming from that environment to Magic programming. Prior to that I was doing ecommerce for Cendant (parent company to Century21, Ramada, Howard Johnson, Avis, and a ton of other well known names).

How you got your job here: People had been bugging me to come work here for years but I'd always been too busy with something else and they never really had a computer programming job for me. I had been working for major corporations (I did the century21 website,, jp morgan chase, cendant, and lots of others) and needed a break. When I left my last job I had taken some time off to do contracts and small projects and work on things I thought I'd enjoy. At US Nationals I bumped into Alan Comer who was lamenting about how hard it was to find a solid computer programmer that intimately understood Magic rules. I was complaining back at him about how hard it was to find a "fun" job in the programming industry. Somewhere between us a light bulb went off and Wizards soon had my resume in their hands.

Magic playing accomplishments: I've played Magic since Legends and been a judge almost as long. I worked as a judge in the New England area and for many years was pretty prominent. Out of Boston came many innovations that these days are taken for granted. No top8's at prereleases, then running multiple events, and lastly flights. I was heavily involved in starting a players association in the early days called the MPA (aka mtgpa and mtpa). Our goal was to have a unified voice that could bring player concerns to Wizards. We had strict guidelines, and an ethics committee. I recall pro tour legend Tom Guevin referring to me back then as "the most influential man in Magic." I hardly think that assessment was fair, but it spoke to the growing influence of the MPA at the time. Magic was still in its infancy back then; now players have the DCI, which serves those roles.

elf and daughter Kayleigh

I've been a level 3 judge since about the start of the pro tour and for a long period was probably the most frequently seen (non-WOTC) judge at a pro tour. Some of you might also know me for the ratings website I used to maintain. When the DCI & PT first started doing ratings-based invites they were based on this rating called composite which wasn't published. But your ratings in everything else was, so I made a website that showed players' composite ratings. Later I started listing pro tour performances and pro tour points as well. Lastly I wrote an online client and server which let people play Magic online versus other people, this was years ago before Magic Online, before Apprentice. It was pretty minimal, it maintained your deck for you, but you had to keep track of everything else.

I'm also an active member and op of the popular #mtgjudge irc channel for judges on efnet. People probably know me from there as "mjf", where I'm reasonably active.

Favorite part of your job: The people! Granted, from my judging experience I knew most of R&D and Organized Play, but everyone else I've met here has been really fantastic too. It's a gamer's paradise here, drafting Tuesday nights, board gaming Wednesdays, Starcraft 4v4s! Gaming weaves its way into everything, even dinners where we roll for who has to pay (haven't paid yet!). There are lots of internal leagues and scheduled prerelease events. Just this year we've started tracking internal player ratings; I'm currently the highest rated Duel Masters player here at Wizards, courtesy of an undefeated record in sanctioned play.

Least favorite part of your job: Not being able to tell anyone about all the new stuff that's coming out! I was at this local Magic shop just before the Betrayers prerelease and someone asked if I'd play a game with them, and I couldn't! The only deck I had on me was filled with Betrayers cards, which of course hadn't been released to the public yet. Oh, and the company sponsored jujitsu class I go to. I didn't realize how out of shape I was until I started getting back into shape. =) Please, no more 50 pushups at the end of class. That's so not a burn down.

Other games you currently enjoy playing: D&D Minis! I'd never seen it until I came here but I picked it up fast, winning the prerelease event we had here for the most recent set, and then making top 8 at our internal league. I like Duel Masters a lot too. Online I like World of Warcraft and Starcraft. I've been lucky enough to play in every Blizzard beta test since Starcraft and was first on their friends list with my account Krikkit. I love all sorts of games though, from board games, card games, videogames, to anything.

Favorite Magic card(s): I'm not sure. Dual lands? Probably Thran Tome is one of my favorites. It was underrated by people because you got the two worst of three cards. But that's still two cards! It's a mini Fact or Fiction every turn. Combine it with Scroll Rack (another favorite) and you're in good shape. I'm a huge fan of Prismatic and 5color Magic. In both I play a legend-themed deck built around Captain Sisay.

Also, just as with Rachel I had a chance to ask a few more questions...

IntoTheAether: What's your MTGO username?

elf: "wotc_elf", I tried contacting the guy that has the username "elf" now, but got no reply from him so I'm wotc_elf.

IntoTheAether: How often you play Magic these days? Magic Online?

elf: I find myself playing a LOT. Between local drafts, testing future formats, internal leagues and prereleases I get a lot of play in. I'm also fairly active online.

IntoTheAether: What kind of cards/decks/formats do you most like to play?

elf: I really like drawing cards and playing them. =) Prismatic tends to lend itself to decks like that where card advantage is very important. My Prismatic deck is very similar in theme to my 5color magic deck. No dual lands though. But lots of card drawing and cards that do 2 for 1 (or more) trades.

IntoTheAether: Any insights for the layperson about what coding a set like Betrayers of Kamigawa is like?

elf: You can think of coding card sets as a two-part process. On one hand we have to have a reliable way of parsing the card text and determining what the card is supposed to do. Once we know that we have to do the second part, which is writing the code to handle any new functionality. Some cards we get for free. For example, a card that says "deal some amount of damage to a target" is easy as we have that done already. A card that says "deals to each player damage equal to half that player's life total" isn't that far off. Once you can recognize the text it's pretty easy.

An ability like Ninjutsu on the other hand is something totally different. Being a level 3 judge I tend to get a lot of the oddball cards and bugfixes, ones where you have to stop and wonder if it is a bug or not. For example, I had a bug about the intervening “if” clause on Gutwrencher Oni. The bug report was written up well, and he quoted all the appropriate parts of the comprehensive rules. The only problem being that Gutwrencher Oni doesn't have an "intervening if clause" on it and so was acting correctly; the whole bug was invalid. It has an if clause, it's just not intervening - Mark of the Oni for instance has an intervening if clause.

IntoTheAether: How many times a week do you read "Into The Aether"? Ten? Twenty? A hundred?

elf: Is that an article online somewhere? The name sounds vaguely familiar. All kidding aside, I read it every week as it's posted. I also keep up with the online forums for Magic Online as well.

IntoTheAether: Anything else you'd like readers to know?

elf: Whenever I play Magic Online, I always seem to attract a crowd of spectators in my games. Not because I'm a level 3 judge, not because I have the Wizards logo next to my name, not because I'm one of the game developers. No, I get all these people popping in to ask me about my avatar. When I got online I scrolled through the list of all the avatars available and just really liked the toothy guy. My avatar is the Lithatog. To the best of my knowledge I'm the only person online that uses that avatar other than Scott Johns, though technically any of the other Wizards staff could as well.

IntoTheAether: As someone who has drawn a crowd with his Birds of Paradise and Bloodshot Cyclops avatars, I completely understand. One last thing, though... Um, why “elf”?

elf: elf is from my email address that I've been using for years. It's a nickname I picked up via the Internet. I would meet people in real life and they would introduce me as elf. "Hey, do you know Michael?" "Oh, you mean elf?" One guy just started calling me elf in person and pretty soon everyone else was too. It's followed me around from school to job to job and hobbies. It's fine by me, in any room full of gamers there could be a half-dozen people named Mike or Michael, someone yells for elf, though, it's probably me.

News From Foriys

I'm thrilled that I have effectively addicted Anthony to Magic Online. Go check out his article today to see what I'm talking about. Check it out to get some really keen insights on Two-Headed Giant, too. I agree with everything he says today, actually, and have been fortunate enough to play a 2HG game with SeriousFun several times in recent weeks.

As Anthony says, rules guru John Carter has asked for some information from you all. In case you haven't read Anthony's article yet, here's the message we got from Magic Rules Manager John Carter.

Dear readers,

Several months ago my predecessor, Paul Barclay, announced a plan for a new section of rules-- the [O]fficial Multiplayer Rules. Magic R&D is getting closer to reaching that goal. One such goal involves Two-Headed Giant (2HG)-- a team format with two-player teams sharing one life total. Most often flavor bends to the rules, but in 2HG, the rules are being written with flavor in mind.

The testing that R&D is doing is developing a "simultaneous" system of Two-Headed Giant. Playing Magic Online currently, players take turns one after another-- call this "sequential". Simultaneous turns means the two heads will be taking their turn at the same time. Hands, mana, and permanents remain separate, but combat is on one shared battlefield: all of your team's creatures against the other team's creatures. You decide with your teammate what to attack or block with using creatures from either player. Using a simultaneous system you can even have one head focus on all combat while the other "head" recovers from mana problems and/or develops other aspects of the game, e.g. enchantments and artifacts.

R&D has found that simultaneous 2HG makes the games feel more like you're both deciding your fate. This puts you directly in the game together rather than just playing side-by-side duels. One of the added benefits is faster game play – a key component for any sanctioned format.

Since this is the first time Magic would let players take turns at the same time, we'd like to hear your impressions of this new approach. Use the poll below and provide comments in the forums. R&D and I will be listening while we tighten up the last few nuts and bolts on Multiplayer Magic.

What do you think of simultaneous turns for two-headed giant?I have played 2HG this way before and liked itI have played 2HG this way before and didn't like itI haven't tried 2HG like this, but I willI haven't tried 2HG like this and don't want to

Some other tidbits in the Multiplayer Rules:

  • Players can communicate with their teammates (including talking and showing hands)
  • The decks on a given team (2HG or Emperor) must be legal when stacked together-- no more than 4 copies of a card except basic lands, and all applicable Banned and Restricted lists apply
  • Yes, the Multiplayer Rules are being written to accommodate sanctioned play at all levels

John Carter

Okay, Betrayer of Kamigawa, a man named “elf” and a poll on Two-Headed Giant. I think my job here is done.

See you online this weekend!


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