Auction of the People: Behind the Scenes

Posted in Event Coverage on September 2, 2015

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Next to my desk is a file of folders two feet high. This mound of paper represents 3732 entries in the very first (yes, implying it might not be the last) Auction of the People. I was expecting a healthy response to the contest, but I was not prepared for the outpouring of responses we received.

My first inkling of the success of the auction was an e-mail from Kevin Endo, the Sideboard's technical supporter, telling me that we had over 500 submissions in the first eight hours. As the entries kept pouring in, I knew I had a problem. I had two weeks to select the final seventeen deck lists. This was to allow me time to get the actual cards (the event is being sponsored by Star City - starcitygames.com ) and time for the invitees to look over the deck lists. How was I going to judge almost four thousand deck lists in under two weeks?

Kevin helped me by putting all the entries into categories. He then printed up each deck list and I put them into folders (thus the two foot pile next to my desk). When the dust settled, here's what we had:

Angel - 64
Ape/Gorilla/Monkey - 71
Artifact/Golem/Chimera - 120
Assassin - 10
Atog - 22
Avatar - 13
Barbarian - 13
Bear - 16
Beast - 50
Bird/Albatross/Falcon - 71
Brownie/Dryad/Faerie/Sprite - 48
Carrier - 11
Cat - 49
Centaur - 7
Chicken - 49
Clab/Crab/Fish/Homarid/Shellfish - 31
Cleric - 69
Demon/Imp/Minion - 46
Djinn/Efreet - 56
Dragon/Drake - 66
Druid - 20
Dwarf - 24
Elemental - 45
Elephant/Rhino/Hippo - 61
Elf - 108
Enchantress/Sorceress/Wizard - 104
Fungus/Saproling/Thallid - 96
Ghost/Horror/Illusion/Phantasm/Shade/Spirit - 147
Giant - 10
Gnome - 16
Goblin - 138
Griffin/Pegasus/Unicorn - 50
Hound/Wolf - 40
Insect/Ant/Bee/Cockroach/Spider/Scorpion - 52
Kavu - 41
Knight - 66
Kobold - 70
Land - 29
Leech - 6
Legend - 70
Licid - 13
Lizard/Viashino - 29
Lord - 10
Mercenary - 11
Merfolk - 50
Minotaur - 55
Nightstalker - 16
Ogre/Orc - 21
Phoenix - 10
Pirate - 42
Rat - 61
Rebel - 26
Shapeshifter - 44
Ship - 15
Skeleton/Zombie - 43
Sliver - 33
Snake/Serpent/Wurm - 114
Soldier - 35
Specter - 47
Spellshaper - 18
Spike - 39
Squirrel - 26
Thrull - 56
Townsfolk - 18
Treefolk - 19
Troll - 11
Vampire - 22
Volver - 6
Wall - 130

Misc - 136
Multi - 22
Not a creature type - 112
Unsorted - 367

Total Entries - 3732

Once I had all the folders, I started doling them out to different members of R&D and Organized Play. Each person was instructed to pick the top two or three decks from their assigned folder. Even with all the help I received, I ended up looking through half of the folders myself. The unsorted lists, by the way, were lists that came in on the last day. I personally went through that folder to make sure we didn't miss any cool decks.

It became quickly apparent that a lot of you had spent a lot of time making these decks. The creativity and inventiveness shown was astounding. After the first pass on all the folders, we ended up with a pile of over 200 deck lists. I then made successive passes where I kept whittling the folder down. Finally, I had 32 decks that I brought to the selection committee.

Picking the final seventeen decks was very difficult as we had many issues to balance. As this is an auction, we needed to make sure that we had a wide range of decks based on power. The players have to be willing to aggressively bid down the powerful decks to avoid ending up with the weak decks.

Next we wanted to make sure we had a mix in flavor and style. We wanted to have an eclectic mix of creature types. We wanted to have all the colors represented. The selection of each deck pushed us in certain directions to pick other decks.

Let me talk a bit about each of the seventeen decks we picked. (Click here to see the deck lists.)

"Winnie the Pooh" [Bears] by Ralf Penke

We liked the fact that Ralf went beyond simply a bear theme. Often in selecting decks, we found that little details made the difference. In this deck, I think the Drops of Honey got brownie points for both being an interesting theme choice and having a strong interaction in a creature themed environment. As an archetype, the deck allowed us to have a beatdown deck, which we felt was important.

"Chicken Deck of the People" [Chicken] by Bruce Richard

I kept the chicken folder for myself. While there were many chicken decks submitted, Bruce's deck went the extra length putting in the Zodiac Rooster as well as a number of farmers and farms. I was aware that Richard had built his deck with help from his contest on Star City but I felt that it was unfair to grade against him for being smart enough to run his own mini-contest. And, in my opinion, it was the best submitted chicken deck.

That said, Richard's deck almost didn't make the cut. It was competing against Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar's Clam deck (see honorable mentions here). Jay, by the way, wins the title of most eager submitter. He submitted decks (and good ones) for almost every single creature type. He didn't make the final cut but numerous of his decks are in the honorable mention section.

The selection committee felt there was only room for one Unglued centered creature deck meaning it was the chickens versus the clams. After some discussion the team decided that the chicken deck seemed like it would play better and it was chosen.

"Fake Chimeras Dancing in the Abyss" [Chimeras] by Jorge Alejandro Gonzalez Martin

This deck was one of the first decks chosen by the committee. The deck bolstered a weak creature type with power cards. But not just any power cards. These were powerful cards that seemed tailor made to work with Chimeras: Mishra's Workshop, The Abyss, Corpse Dance, Copy Artifact. This deck was buff and looked quite fun. Besides what could be more fun than having one of the defining decks be Chimeras? Look for this deck to go quickly and for a low starting hand size and life total.

"Dragon!" [Dragons] by Gianluca Bevere

This deck was actually picked very late. The team really wanted a dragon deck and this one was brimming with flavor. Giancula took great care to use a wide variety of dragons and it was this flavorful selection that gave this deck a leg up on the other dragon decks.

"Battling of the Beards" aka "The Dwarf Dwarf Deck" [Dwarves] by Oliver Mayes

We knew going in that we wanted one conceptual deck. That is, we wanted a deck that was about the entirety instead of individual card choices. For those of you that are still scratching your head over this deck, let me explain. It's a dwarf deck with 40 cards. See, it's a dwarf deck with dwarves. We found this clever and quite funny. This is one of the decks that's received the most criticism. I'm not sure if the critics don't get the joke or just don't like the joke. Either way, I think it added a nice flavor to the deck pool.

"Fun with The Fan" [Fungus/Saprolings] by Christian Seidel

Ever since I made the Giant Fan in Unglued I have always wanted to see what it could do in the hands of an inventive deck builder. This deck combines the power of saprolings with the power of the Fan. What results is one of the funnest decks we selected. Whether its moving -0/-1 counters from your Wall of Roots to your Saproling Burst (where it becomes a fading counter) or mining counters from your Gemstone Mine to your Elvish Farmer, this deck has all sorts of cool plays.

"Chaos of the Goblins" [Goblins] by MÎrten Jonsson

Goblins received the most entries for any one creature type. We were eager to find a good goblin deck. We looked at a lot of Goblin King decks but in the end decided to go with a wackier Goblin Bomb/Goblin Bookie deck. This deck can be easily underrated, but it packs a lot of punch for a bunch of tiny creatures. Also, this deck has four Chaos Confettis that could prove very valuable. (Once activated and destroyed, Chaos Confetti is permanently removed from the deck.)

"Go Go Homarids" [Homarids] by Eric Taylor

This deck has received the most criticism of any deck we picked. First, many have complained about the small number of homarids. This was the biggest negative of the deck. In the end, we felt that it was okay to have one deck that was light on creature theme but heavy on interesting play. This deck plays very strangely and should prove very interesting in the auction itself as the players have to deduce just how good the deck is.

The second complaint was that this deck was designed by a name player. Four of the seventeen decks selected were designed by name players. Three of these players (Taylor, Cuneo and Omerod) are mainly name players known for their deck building skills. This contest was the Auction of the People which includes all Magic players, even famous ones. The committee selected deck lists based on their own merit. The familiarity (or lack thereof) of the deck builder was not a factor.

"IMPartial IMPressions" [Imps] by Micah Wilson

This deck fulfilled our "extra clever" spot. The team wanted one deck that just showed off the cleverness of its creator. What tipped this deck in favor of some of our honorable mentions is that its also plays pretty well. Please take time to look at our honorable mentions as they show off much of the creative expression of the Magic community.

"Sir Shandlar Visits His Friends for Tea" [Knights] by Andrew D Corney Esq

We knew going into the final selection that we wanted a few decks heavy on flavor at the expense of playability. While this deck is far from helpless, it's obvious that Andrew came to many forks in the designing road where he chose fun and theme over power. The selection of this deck lists was our way of rewarding those choices in our deck builders.

An interesting point to note is that this deck includes a card never played before in the real world. Knight of Rainbow Vale (WW, 2/1, random protection, activated first strike and random power pumping) is a virtual card from the Astral set of the Microprose game. This tournament will be the first time ever the card is played with a physical version.

This deck was just one of many to use untraditional cards. Among decks we received were the following cards: 1996 World Champion (the card embedded in Tom Chanpheng's world championship trophy), numerous other Astral cards, and cards, such as Hippo Compatriot, made especially for previous Invitationals.

Lastly, this deck includes Knight of the Hokey Pokey, from Unglued, which requires its controller to dance the hokey pokey to activate its damage prevention effect.

"Mother Earth is Pissed" [Lands] by Michiel Hagen

This deck caused quite a discussion among the committee. At issue was the fact that land did not technically fit the creature type requirements of the contest. The team went back and forth but finally decied that the deck was so clever and cool that it deserved a solt, creature type be damned.

"The Crew!" [Legends] by Shotaro Mori

This is another deck selected for flavor over power (Four Mirri instead of four Sisay?) This deck does have the distinction of playing all five Moxes alongside two copies of Sword of the Chosen. This deck is at risk of being the unlucky seventeenth deck, but then how bad could a deck with five Mox be?

"The Lord" [Lords] by Daniele Rosso

As a general rule, we tried to avoid decks that included cards which had wide sweeping effects on creature type (Coat of Arms, Tsabo's Decree, Extinction, etc.) This deck was almost eliminated for its Unnatural Selection, but the cards fit so brilliantly into this decks Lord theme that we let them slide.

"4UGW" [Minotaurs] by Edward Brown

This is another very flavorful deck. I think the Mana Maze, Maze of Ith and Maze of Shadows was a brilliant touch. In particular we liked that this deck was oozing with flavor yet still a very playable deck.

"Jeff Donais Is Going to Love Me" [Rats] by Gary Wise

This seems to be another controversial deck choice. Partly for its theme and partly because it was designed by one of the invitees. The title of this deck refers to the fact that this is one of the first Magic deck Gary Wise ever played against. The deck was played by DCI Tournament Manager Jeff Donais, then just a very eager Canadian player.

We selected this deck because it seemed like a very interesting deck for the auction. The deck is powerful but how far down can you bid on it? Also, the whole idea of the deck tapped into something very primal about the game. We all remember our Plague Rat decks we built we first started playing (although most of them didn't have Lotuses in them). We wanted to have one deck that surprised people when they read through the selections. I know it sure as hell surprised Gary as this submission was meant mostly as a joke.

I should also point out that the rules for the contest never limited people to four copies of a card. Most deck builders did so out of habit but this deck was a legal submission. Finally, we did get a number of plague rat decks. Gary's was the only one to use Black Lotuses. To be interesting, this particular deck had to be powerful so we went with the powered up version. Pete at Star City, our sponsor for the event (starcitygames.com), actually wrote to me to make sure the deck list wasn't a joke. "You really want eight Lotuses?", he wrote back, "Okay, but it'll take me a day or two to get them all."

"I Spy" [Spies] by John Ormerod

This deck was both flavorful and cleverly designed. Not too many decks can take advantage of Goblin Spy. How good is it? I guess we'll see.

"When Walls Fight" [Walls] by Andrew Cuneo

This deck was picked for one reason. It was a wall deck that didn't attack to win. Walls were the second most popular creature type, falling only behind goblins, in submissions. In all the decks submitted, I believe this was the only one not to play Rolling Stones or Animate Wall and not to have walls that could activate to attack. Also, the deck was very cleverly designed. See if you can deduce how it wins.

I should also point out that Andrew Cuneo would have had two decks in the final seventeen if we didn't specifically have a rule saying that he wasn't allowed to do that. His other deck, a demon deck, can be seen in the honorable mentions.

Cuneo was one of our most creative submitters. See the honorable mentions for some of his quite unorthodox submissions. Speaking of originality, John "Friggin" Rizzo of Star City fame, submitted a deck whose titles all used dirty three letter words. While quite clever, it was a bit off theme and a little too adult for our PG site.

Honorable Mentions

Well, there you have, a full run-down on the seventeen selected decks. Below is the twenty two decks picked as honorable mentions. The decks made the list for one of several reasons. Either they were close to making the cut or they were so cool (even if off theme) that we felt they deserved to be seen.

Andrew Cuneo

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Scott Forster

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Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

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Creature (8)
4 Chambered Nautilus 4 Giant Oyster
Instant (7)
4 Snap 3 High Tide
Artifact (1)
1 Mox Pearl
Enchantment (10)
4 Coral Reef 4 Sunken City 2 Disappear
Land (22)
2 Coral Atoll 20 Island
60 Cards

Frank T. Gilson

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Sorcery (3)
3 Misfortune
Artifact (3)
3 Dragon Blood
Other (1)
1 Squee Goblin Nabob
Summon (1)
1 Gus
60 Cards

Aaron Forsythe

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Tony DiVincenzo

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Tim DeDoncker

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Other (20)
1 Empress Galina (1) 1 Lord of Atlantis (1) 1 Rootwater Matriarch (3) 1 Merfolk of the Pearl 1 Trident (4) 1 Seasinger (3) 1 Vodalian Mage (2) 1 Vodalian Knights (3) 1 Tidal Warrior (3) 1 Rootwater Shaman (3) 1 Rootwater Thief (2) 1 Reef Shaman (3) 1 Flight (4) 1 Awesome Presence (4) 1 False Demise (4) 1 Counterspell (4) 1 Spell Blast (4) 1 Teferi's Isle (1) 1 Rishadan Port (4) 1 Island (24)
20 Cards

Eric Bess

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Other (67)
2 xArmy Ants 2 xFire Ants 2 xSaber Ants 2 xYavimaya Ants 2 xCarrion Ants 2 xFog of Gnats 2 xYavimaya Gnats 2 xKiller Bees 2 xBrood of Cockroaches 2 xCarrion Beetles 2 xLucust Swarm 2 xFlow of Maggots 2 xMind Maggots 4 xBee Sting 1 (or Unyaro Bee Sting) 1 xOverrun 2 xTakklemaggot 1 xThe Hive 2 xCocoon 1 (optional card - 1 Chaos Confetti - 1 it fits the theme 1 as a swarm of paper ;) 4 xBadlands 4 xBayou 2 xDust Bowl 4 xSpawning Pool 2 xSwamp 2 xMountain 6 xForest 1 (Taiga didn't 1 fit the theme)
67 Cards

Carson Forter

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Sorcery (3)
3 Fireball
Instant (7)
4 Lightning Bolt 3 Fireblast
Artifact (7)
4 Gauntlet of Might 3 Coat of Arms
Enchantment (4)
4 Maniacal Rage
Land (19)
17 Mountain 2 Gaea's Cradle
Other (4)
4 Kobolds of Kher Deep
60 Cards

James Klein

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David Welsh

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Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

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Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

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Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

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Corey Stout

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Michael Nurse

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Artifact (1)
1 Meekstone
Other (11)
1 (Finkel) 1 (Long) 4 Avalanche Rider 1 (Kastle) 1 (Buehler) 1 (Pikula) 1 (Rosewater) 1 (Garfield, PhD)
69 Cards