Welcome to Pro Tour–Berlin! The crack reporting squad of Bill Stark, Rich Hagon, Tim Willoughby, Dave Guskin, Monty Ashley, and Craig Gibson are combing the halls of The Station for all the inside information.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- 10:04 a.m. - Roomies
by Bill Stark
- 10:42 a.m. - Anything Can Happen, and Probably Will
by Rich Hagon
- 11:35 a.m. - Fecundity Fun
by Tim Willoughby
- 12:15 p.m. - Suiting Up!
by Tim Willoughby
- 1:12 p.m. - Not an Everyday Occurrence
by Rich Hagon
- 1:49 p.m. - It's Great to Catch Up With, Um, You
by Rich Hagon
- 2:20 p.m. - Foiled Again
by Rich Hagon
- 2:51 p.m. - It's Just Not Fair
by Rich Hagon
- 3:28 p.m. - The Planeswalker's Journey
by Monty Ashley
- 4:05 p.m. - Photo Essay
by Craig Gibson and Josh Bennett
- 4:14 p.m. - Hot, Hot, Hot
by Rich Hagon
- 4:28 p.m. - Gamer Grub
by Rich Hagon
- 4:45 p.m. - Into the Darkness
by Bill Stark
- 5:08 p.m. - Let's Make a Deal
by Dave Guskin
- 6:10 p.m. - Duels of the Planeswalkers
by Tim Willoughby
- 7:19 p.m. - The Play's the Thing
by Bill Stark
Friday, October 31: 10:04 a.m. - Roomies
It seems like it happens every Pro Tour. Two players work together for the event, play PTQ after PTQ to make sure they can compete alongside one another, travel together, split a hotel... and get paired against each other after their 3,000-mile journey in the very first round of the big event. This weekend's sob story, however, had a special twist: none other than Luis Scott-Vargas was stuck in that position.
Luis, a top-level American and former U.S. National Champion, has established himself as a household name. His Round 1 opponent, Matt Benjamin, hasn't quite gotten there yet. What they do have in common is the fact that they've been roommates for the past three years.Matt Benjamin, left, and roommate Luis Scott-Vargas
"Yeah, we tested together for the event, even though we're playing different decks," Matt explained.
On top of playing his friend and former roommate, the Apple Computers employee had a rough first round anyway. "We both mulliganed to five in one game, but Luis beat me before my Lotus Blooms came into play. I lost on turn three both games!" Still, the quick loss hadn't dampened Benjamin's spirits.
Luis explained how they'd met. "We've both been PTQing for five years, and met at the local card shop. We both started playing around Revised."
When asked what it's been like watching his friend Luis rise to success on the Pro Tour stage, Matt quickly exclaimed "It's awesome!" before adding, "I actually conceded to Luis into the Top 8 of the PTQ where he qualified for his first Pro Tour!"
Looking sheepish after thrashing Benjamin in the first round, Luis shuffled his feet and laughed. "Yeah, I still owe him one for that..."
It may happen every Pro Tour, but Luis Scott-Vargas and Matt Benjamin are keeping their spirits up!
Friday, October 31: 10.42 a.m. – Anything Can Happen, and Probably Will
It's no secret that I love Extended. To me, it's the perfect blend of savage speed, awesome Combo, killer strategies, monstrous sideboards, nostalgia, and everything that's great about Magic. As the weekend progresses, we'll see the cream of the crop rise to the top, despite the fact that neither Cream of the Crop nor Sensei's Divining Top are likely to see play (and in the case of the Top, it really, really better not be here!) Meanwhile, some of the best fun can be had by wandering the tables right at the start of proceedings, when anyone can win, and anything can happen. Here's a couple to get the (Elf) ball rolling.
It's always a mixture of excitement and nervousness when you look at your Round 1 pairing. A teammate? Compatriot? Level 8 Pro? Or complete unknown? Thomas Holzinger faced quite a nasty matchup to start here. His Elf deck went into battle against Willy Edel, Jan-Moritz Merkel (who was looking alarmingly like Gerry Thompson), Bram Snepvangers, Sebastian Thaler, Kenji Tsumura, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Takuya Osawa, Frank Karsten, Osyp Lebedowicz, and Mike Hron. Oh wait, almost forgot, and Tomaharu Saito. Thankfully, all but Saito were in cardboard form, with the reigning Player of the Year using Pro Player cards to fuel a gigantic Predator Dragon. Turned out just the one real-life pro was enough, with a little help from his token friends...
Steve Sadin is known for attention to detail, and is a true devotee of the process that goes into formulating decks with a legitimate shot at shaping the metagame. Since it's still early, I won't reveal too much of the Sadin / Van Lunen / Mowshowitz / Carleton-Barnes plan. However, in one respect Steve is a step behind at least one of his teammates. One thing their deck does do is use a lot of different mana, and over the years I've seen players use a bunch of ways to keep track of their complicated operations. Colored beads, colored pens, five denominations of coin, even (gasp) pen and paper. The American plan this time involved using mana symbols purged from basic lands. Sitting almost back-to-back against their respective opponents, Sadin and Gabe Carleton-Barnes presented two subtly different approaches. Sadin had clearly been tearing apart basic land to use as his markers about three seconds before the round began, judging by their shredded and ripped appearance. Carleton-Barnes, meanwhile, had obviously been prepared, with immaculately scissored mana markers, and you know what they say about a tidy mind (no Rich, what do they say about a tidy mind?)...
The supposition coming into Round 1 was that this would be a very fast format. Anecdotal evidence of watching the tables empty as the round progressed suggested this was more true than even seasoned watchers were expecting. As time was called, head scorekeeper Federico Calo was waiting for just 14 results out of a field of 454. That's 272 matches total, with only around 1 in 20 still trying to find the win. Among those going deep into the round, it was no surprise to find Pro Tour–Yokohama champion Guillaume Wafo-Tapa battling it out against another quality player, Gerry Thompson, the winner of Grand Prix–Denver earlier this year. Given the matchup, featuring plenty of blue mana, the surprise was that they managed to get a result, the Frenchman narrowly taking the decider.
Friday, October 31: 11:35 a.m. – Fecundity Fun
Walking around the hall here at Pro Tour–Berlin, one of the surprise breakout decks seems to be Elves, a blisteringly fast aggro/combo deck that pretty much, well, plays a lot of Elves. One of its notable sideboard cards is Fecundity, that classic combo engine card which typically gives a creature deck a great line of defense against mass removal.
Against one Zoo deck, though, things didn't quite go to plan for the Elf player. When the Zoo player played Isamaru, Hound of Konda #2 into the face of a pair of copies of Fecundity, he got to draw four cards for just one white mana. This found him Pyroclasm to wipe his opponent's board. While the 14 or so cards that his opponent drew made for a pretty scary hand across the table, it didn't matter, as Kird Apes and Wild Nacatls were able to handily finish things off from there.
Friday, October 31: 12:15 p.m. – Suiting Up!
It started with a group on Facebook, the brainchild of one Raphael Levy, and now that we hit Pro Tour–Berlin, a congregation of Magic players have joined the ranks of the dapper, playing the event in full suits.Around 80 players, plus some coverage reporters and Wizards of the Coast staffers, came to Day One of the Pro Tour dressed to the nines.
All in all, of the 454 players qualified for the Pro Tour, around 80 players donned shirts and jackets for what has to be the smartest ever Pro Tour, as well as the largest individual Pro Tour ever. Raph himself seemed pretty pleased with the turnout, but was not surprised that it was a success.
"I had spoken with a few people at Grand Prix about showing up to the Pro Tour in suits. Once everyone got over the fear that they would be the only one, I kind of knew it would work."
The variety of looks created from the simple phrase 'suit up' is pretty impressive also. Some players chose to hedge their bets a little, going with a shirt, and sports jacket. Some went with the full suit, but chose not to wear a tie. Still more contentious was the issue of shoes, with the 'Doctor Who' look of suits and trainers proving popular with many.
If Quentin Martin had had a little more baggage room, he'd have brought a white suit, while BDM is rocking the autumnal colours in a brown suit on all of the video coverage. It turns out that Olivier Ruel is better suited for Magic than his brother Antoine this weekend, as Antoine doesn't have a suit at all. Perhaps he'll get that sorted by Worlds 2009, when he has a shot at being in the Hall of Fame. Gerry Thompson might look like a businessman, but is keen to get the message across that he's not a 9-5er just yet.
Last, and not least, we are very happy to announce that not one player decided to go with either the 'Tuxedo T-shirt' or the 'Birthday Suit' options. Whether or not the suits plan proves to be a fixture on the Pro Tour, or just a special little moment in Berlin, it has been a lot of fun.
Friday, October 31: 1:12 p.m. – Not an Everyday Occurrence
Depending on the format, games of tournament Magic can last anywhere from less than one turn, to a whole hour, grinding to a desperate draw as time runs out. On average, in any given year you'd expect Extended to be quicker than more recent formats, since so many more ferocious cards are lying around, waiting to be discovered and made famous by players looking to use and abuse perfectly innocuous little beasties in the pursuit of Pro Tour glory. Witness the following: In round two, Marshall Lane, hailing from Arkansas in the United States, faced a man who, had history gone a little differently, could have been a compatriot, Marco Orsini-Jones from Great Britain. (I know, U.S. readers, I know, you'll just have to make the best of it.) Lane opened up Game 2 1-0 down, so knew what he was facing. He began with Island and a suspended Ancestral Vision. Orsini-Jones replied with a Forest into Llanowar Elves.
Lane added a second land, passed the turn, and asked, "So am I dead?"
What?!?!? You mean that could be the game right there? He had good reason to be afraid, since O-J was running the big noise deck of this event, Elves (or Elfball). I'm sure my colleagues will be covering this deck in exquisite detail for you later in the weekend, but suffice to say it's an extremely potent combo deck that can win in myriad ways. On this occasion however, the combo failed to fire at top speed, and the game became long and drawn out, with the American eventually taking it with a Sower of Temptation rather tastily attached to an Umezawa's Jitte. Still, just like history, the Brits always come out on top in the end, and Orsini-Jones sped through the decider, moving to a 2-0 match record....
Friday, October 31: 1:49 p.m. – It's Great to Catch Up With, Um, You
How many Pro players could you reliably identify in a lineup? Thing is, that's kind of my job here, but sometimes that becomes a problem. Take the player party last night for instance. Held in a fabulous nightclub setting, complete with resident DJ and pulsing lightshow, it became almost a total lottery in the near-darkness to work out who was who.
"Hey Rich, how you doing?" was greeted with increasingly noncommittal responses utilizing words like, "chum," "fella," and "matey" as I vainly struggled to peer through the neon-saturated gloom at my conversational companions. Throughout a succession of socially awkward encounters, I found myself in a loop of, "I know that you know me, and I know that I know you, and that you know that I know you, but I don't know if you know that the you that I know isn't necessarily the you that you think you know that I know I'm talking to." Or something.
Three cheers this morning then, when I stopped dead in my tracks passing a player who I knew I....etc, and finally worked out who he was. Not, it turned out, Paolo Carvalho, nor Marcio Carvalho (who incidentally are almost certainly different people), but none other than reigning World Champion Uri Peleg from Israel. Since taking the title in New York last December, Peleg has rarely been able to show off his title, so it was great to catch up here in Berlin. A busy life won't stop him returning to the country of his triumph for Worlds in Memphis, so yet another storyline gets added to the list. How deep can he go to defend his title?...
Friday, October 31: 2:20 p.m. – Foiled Again
There's always a way to make your deck stand out from the crowd. Maybe you go with unusual sleeves, and there's plenty to choose from. Maybe you get your cards signed by the artists or other pro players. One of the more popular ways to showcase your 75 is to populate the deck with foils, something competitor Massimo Machella really took to heart. His Zoo deck contains exactly 75 foils, which is quite an achievement when you consider some of the cards in the deck: Tarmogoyf, Umezawa's Jitte, Dark Confidant and many, many more. So how do you go about putting together such a special deck? Nigel Rowledge of Troll and Toad Europe has been a card dealer for many years. What was his advice?
"Your best way to pick up foils is to trade on the floor of the event. Most players carry rare foils in their trade folder, and as long as you're willing to trade at less than one-for-one, you can gradually build your foil collection. Occasionally players will trade one-for-one with dealers, because the player has only one foil in his deck and wants a regular version."
How about just opening boosters? "Not a good idea," replied big Nigel.
So what are the tough cards to get hold of? "By and large the lands are relatively easy to find. Traders naturally have well-stocked folders of the better rares, so although you might not find a play set at a single event, over time you would certainly be able to find cards like Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Figure of Destiny. The hard cards are the non-rares, because players almost never bring them to events in their trade folders."
And presumably finding cards from Shards of Alara can be tricky, since it's a newish set, with relatively few foils opened so far? "Definitely. Wild Nacatl and Ethersworn Canonist, Bant Charm.... You'll really struggle to get a play set straight away."
But then, taking your time and trading your way to a very special deck is half the fun. Win, lose, or draw, Machella has the prettiest deck in the room....
Friday, October 31: 2:51 p.m. – It's Just Not Fair
One of the strange features coming out of the largest Grand Prix in Magic history, which took place at Disneyland Paris earlier this month, was the dearth of pro-on-pro feature matches. Whilst the quality of play was high, surfing through the gargantuan pairings documents each round rarely brought up a marquee matchup that screamed for the full-on treatment. That isn't a problem that we have at any point in the Pro Tour, and, if proof were needed, here's a selection of highlights from Round 4.Pro Tour–Hollywood finalist Jan Reuss
We begin in the cellar, with players still searching for their first points of the day. That includes Jan Ruess, the Pro Tour–Hollywood runner-up, who has to get past Italian Patrizio Golia. Once we reach the 1-2 bracket, our options open up considerably. Pro Tour–London winner Geoffrey Siron faces Geneva Top 8 man Jim Herold of Germany. Olivier Ruel would have wanted an easier opponent than Alex Majlaton of the U.S. Swede Mattias Kettil faces 2006 Player of the Year Shouta Yasooka. Finn Antti Malin has to combat the combative Klaus Joens. Former World Champion Makahito Mihara plays John Sittner of the U.S., while Osamu Fujita must get by Andre Mueller, the runner-up from Pro Tour–Valencia last year.
Upward we go. Tasty matchups in the 2-1 crowd include Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur runner-up Mario Pascoli up against Pierre Malherbaud of France, Masaya Kitayama facing American Jason Imperiale, a mouthwatering contest between Stuart Wright and Patrick Chapin, both deckbuilders par excellence, and Team World Champion Christoph Huber facing another former World Champion in Brazil's Carlos Romao. That doesn't even mention Australian National Champion Aaron Nicastri facing Japan's Masahiko Morita, or an all-European clash between Bram Snepvangers and Guillaume Wafo-Tapa.
It's getting kind of tough now to choose the best three matches to feature here in the building, but it's about to get a lot tougher. Here come the best of the perfect records going head to head:
Mateusz Kopec, Grand Prix–Vienna winner, faces Belgian Jan Doise.
Pro Tour–Philadelphia winner Gadiel Szleifer faces the Swiss Tommi Lindgren.
Another Swiss, Matthias Kunzler, opposes Portugal's Paulo Carvalho.
Kazuya Mitamura plays Christophe Gregoir of Belgium.
Player of the Year Tomaharu Saito takes on Russian Sergey Egorov.
Fried Meulders plays Ruud Warmenhoven.
So there you go, armchair quarterbacks. Nineteen matches. Only three can make it to the feature match area under the lights. Which would you choose?...
Friday, October 31: 3:28 p.m. – The Planeswalker's Journey
Pro Tour–Berlin has introduced the concept of The Planeswalker's Journey (explained in more detail here), which allows players in public events to collect stamps for achievements. Did you play in a Legacy event? You get a stamp. Deal 10 points of damage in a turn? That's a stamp. Defeat a gunslinger? Stamp.
Of course, not all of the stamps are equally easy to get. Pretty much anyone can get a signature from John Avon or Zoltan Boros and Gabor Sziksai (if those hypothetical persons were here, that is), but the twentieth stamp seems particularly difficult. It goes to the one person who wins the Pro Tour.
Friday, October 31: 4:05 p.m. – Photo Essay
Under no circumstances should you refer to these players as an Oom-Pah Band.
Rich Hagon, about to send back his drink for "not being ridiculous enough."
Spoiler Alert: You are not, in fact, here.
Steve Sadin, understudy for the role of James Bond, wishes Q had included instructions for his new brolly.
Head Judge Shelden Menery commands attention, and gets it.
Pierre Malherbaud, newly-minted Death Metal frontman, and a wary trio of Siron, Ruel, and Ruel.
Bienvenue! Welcome! To Cabaret! Au Cabaret! Zu Cabaret!
The artists who make the game come alive.
Want meat? We're here to help.
Home game: What one question elicits these four reactions?
Your diligent Judges. They keep it fair. Also Sheldon Menery has the cold, dead eyes of a killer. He keeps them in his pocket as a warning to would-be troublemakers.
Friday, October 31: 4:14 p.m. – Hot, Hot, Hot
We've reached the halfway point on Day One, and if we were to cut to the Top 8 right now, the Sunday showdown would be far from shabby, comprising Dutchies Frank Karsten and Ruud Warmenhoven, together with fellow Europeans Gabriel Nassif, Helmut Summersberger, Marco Orsini-Jones, Kenny Oberg, and Martin Juza, plus lone American Gadiel Szleifer. Now to put it mildly, things can and will change between here and the actual Top 8 in twelve rounds time. What chances of still no Japanese in the Top 8? Still only one American? European dominance to this extent seems unlikely to continue.
Of course, these eight are there by the vagaries of tiebreaks. In total, 27 players have perfect records at the halfway point of Day One. Well-known names lurking in the wings include Sebastian Thaler, Kazuya Mitamura, Tomaharu Saito, Luis Scott-Vargas, and Mateusz Kopec. With Swiss pairings guaranteeing the undefeated players face each other round by round, come 8 o'clock tonight we're looking at just three players with perfect records. Thing is, that's no guarantee of anything much (other than starting Day Two with the same perfect record you ended Day One!). Looking at the last five individual Pro Tours, the attrition rate is startling. Whilst exacting scientific precision can't be given, since Draft Pro Tours end Day One slightly before the halfway mark, and Pro Tour–Valencia crammed 10 rounds into the first day of two, the overall effect is startling: just 2 in 9 of the undefeated players at halfway made it to the final table. Perhaps four more wins today for our pace-setting 27 isn't such a good idea after all...
In a footnote for those of you who have yet to discover the joy of the standings pages, Player of the Year leader Shuhei Nakamura is at a comfortable 3-1, Raphael Levy sits at 2-2, and Olivier Ruel sits in the last-chance saloon (never a comfortable location) on 1-3...
Friday, October 31: 4:28 p.m. – Gamer Grub
Gerard Fabiano grabs a bite.
Talking of hot hot hot, generally Magic players require few necessities of life. A comfy chair, a decent table, and a deck of choice are pretty much the top and bottom of it. But few things outside mana issues get a player grumpier than when they're hungry and there's nothing good on the menu. When I say "nothing good," I'm not necessarily talking about health and all-round wellbeing. It turns out that the dietary needs of gamers don't always match those outside the venue.
Two people who understand this better than most are Pro Tour Manager Witney Williams, and Lee Singleton, Managing Director of Gamerzevents.com, an event management company dedicated to the needs of games and gamers.
"The big secret," says Lee, "is to give players hot, tasty food that they can eat on the move between rounds, and feel that they've had a decent top-up at a fair price." While Brit Singleton often describes his on-the-spot fare for gamers as "Matchday Grub," American Williams calls it "Stadium Food." For the most part, this is terminology that catering managers understand at venues around the world. Sometimes though, things can get lost in translation. Take Pro Tour–London in 2005 for instance, when the host British were surprised to find hundreds of flapjacks arriving. Now in England, flapjacks means rolled oats, mashed together with maple syrup and then baked. We'd call it something between a cake and a biscuit. That wasn't what our American friends were expecting, however. In the States, flapjacks are hot pancakes, just the thing to start off a Pro Tour Sunday. Ah well....
Here in Berlin, the players are well served by a filling selection of typical red-hot German sausage action, featuring bratwurst, frankfurters, chips (both of the French fried and the "crisps" variety) and assorted other burgery goodness. Plentiful, hot, tasty, gamer food is good in any language...
Friday, October 31: 4:45 p.m. – Into the Darkness
One of the great things about Pro Tours held around the globe is being provided an opportunity to enjoy the fine restaurants of whatever locale you happen to be visiting for the event. For Pro Tour–Berlin, a few members of your intrepid coverage team decided to try something interesting: unsicht-Bar. But what makes unsicht-Bar different from your average Berlin restaurant? It could be the manner in which customers are served...
You see, at unsicht-Bar, you eat in total darkness. As in, can't tell if your eyes are closed or open it's so dark. No, not "poorly lit" dark; darker than that. Like, "starring Vin Diesel" dark. But why serve food under such conditions? The idea is that not having the usual visual cues to guide you while eating forces other senses to kick in to make up the difference. Scent, taste, and feel all shift into high gear to inform you of the things you're eating. And to keep things running smoothly under these unusual conditions, all of the waitstaff at unischt-Bar is visually impaired, ranging from the totally blind to the partially, and are used to operating without being able to see.
Unsure of what to expect, a nervous crew of writers, gunslingers, and coverage experts made their way to unsicht-Bar, expectations high. Here we are prior to eating.From left to right: Bill Stark, Greg Collins, Craig Gibson, Mike Turian, Monty Ashley, and Dave Guskin come together to brave the darkness of unsicht-Bar.
Led by our plucky waitress Sandy, we formed a conga line with hands on each other's shoulders and were led to our table. Here's what our table looked like:
The menu, from which you order off of in a slightly lit lobby before being led to the dark section of the restaurant, was encoded. Instead of simply telling you what you would consume in total darkness, you were teased with poetic descriptions that offered up little actual help in describing your food. Instead, your best hope was to select "beef dish" or "poultry dish" based on your preferences. Pro Tour Hall of Famer Mike Turian and coverage head Greg Collins took a braver path, ordering the "surprise dish" instead. Here's what that looked like.Does anyone else taste polar bear?
Because of the total darkness in the restaurant, tables, chairs, and the usual obstacles in a dining establishment are spread out more spaciously then what you'd find with the status quo. Here's a panoramic view of where we were seated.
Of course, eating in the dark does have its fair share of challenges.Mike Turian: 'I don't know about you guys, but I have dropped a TON of napkins.'
And here's me, beating a dead horse.I still think this is hilarious!
After concluding the meal with a delicious dessert, we bade Sandy farewell, took care of our bill, and headed back to the hotel full of food, good times, and a great experience. So what could possibly top eating in total darkness in the center of Berlin? I guess we'll have to wait until the World Championships in Memphis this December to find out!The team narrowly survived unsicht-Bar.
Friday Blog: 5:08 p.m. – Let's Make a Deal
You know the feeling. You get up, get ready for the tournament, pack up your deck and trade binder, and head over to the event site, only to realize with horror that you are unprepared for the metagame presented to you. Well, maybe you wouldn't be unprepared, but there were plenty of players at PT–Berlin who seemed to be caught offguard and found themselves in need of cards from the dealers onsite.
"Ethersworn Canonist has been a big seller for us," said Babak, representative from JK Entertainment. "Also the two charms from Shards of Alara, Bant and Jund." Plenty of players also needed a set of Tidehollow Scullers, the neo-Mesmeric Fiend artifact Zombie that plays a great disruption role for Zoo decks as part of their blisteringly fast starts.
In addition to those Shards of Alara cards, players came seeking Glimpse of Nature, the Champions of Kamigawa rare central to the new breed of Elves! combo deck at the top tables today, along with mana producer Birchwood Ranger and token maker Wirewood Hivemaster.
These new cards joined oldies but goodies Choke and Fecundity, helpful sideboard cards for the Elf deck against Wrath of Gods and mean blue decks, which dealers quickly sold out of given their limited quantities. One dealer traded for 80 Glimpse of Natures last week in Essen and sold out entirely by the beginning of the event today.
Chris and John from Strike Zone commented that Shatterstorm was also a very popular purchase, as a solid combination Wrath of God and Armageddon against Affinity. They also mentioned a series of customers who came by, all with the same seemingly odd request.
When players found dealers out of stock, some went to great and imaginative lengths to find the cards they needed. Grgur Petric and Shuhei Nakamura both went the route of buying and busting booster packs for the commons they needed. Grgur needed a playset of Essence Wardens, but spent a full 24 euros on Planar Chaos booster packs before finding them!
Friday, October 31: 6:10 p.m. – Duels of the Planeswalkers
BDM? You've got a Tournament Center video to shoot. BDM? BDM!
Here in Berlin there are a lot of attractions, but there is only one that has consistently caused me to fail in my quest to make it out of the building and find food. Right by the main entrance of Pro Tour–Berlin is the Magic Living Room, where there sit a couple of comfy sofas and demos are running of the new Duels of the Planeswalkers game for X-Box Live.
In essence, Duels of the Planeswalkers is the first chance we've had to play Magic: The Gathering itself as a computer game, since Shandalar, which came out while Fourth Edition was still legal. Suffice to say, back then there weren't the enticing prospects of high-definition artwork and console controllers to contend with. Players get the chance to play as a planeswalker with one of a variety of decks against an array of planeswalkers, some of whom will be familiar to players, and some of whom are new faces. When they win, they can customize their decks with new cards and keep on battling.
There are various modes to choose from, including Two-Headed Giant, and most excitingly an online mode, allowing armchair battling over the XBox Live system. Now, knowing how much I have played Shandalar, I think it very likely that I will find myself spending no small amount of time working my way through this one.
The game itself looks beautiful, and has the easy fluidity that makes picking it up simple for anyone who already plays and relatively intuitive for those who don't. For those of you who want to see more, Randy and BDM caught up with the developers so you can get a demo via the wonders of video. Check it out in the Tournament Center!
Duels of the Planeswalkers is out in Spring 2009, and looks like one worth saving your pennies for.
Friday, October 31: 7:19 p.m. – The Play's the Thing
The best players in the world are recognized for flawless play in the face of stiff competition. What we sometimes forget is that before they could play 20 rounds in a weekend without making a mistake, they had to make some real blunders. Naturally, keeping a good sense of humor about things goes a long way towards learning from said mistakes.
This weekend it was writer and professional Zac Hill who had to learn one of the Elves! deck's lessons the hard way. He squared off in Round 4 against Belgian player Pascal Vieren in an almost identical mirror match. Because Hill is close with Belgian mascot Marijn Lybaert, the two players were using almost identical Elves! lists. Zac was the first to be able to go off and started the combo. He landed a Wirewood Symbiote, Heritage Druid, Nettle Sentinel, and Mirror Entity.
By activating the Entity and turning his team into all creature types, including Elves, Hill could repeatedly bounce his Symbiote after making three mana. That in turn untapped his Sentinel, and over time he could create a loop that netted him one mana after each cycle. On top of that, he would be able to amass an arbitrarily large number of creatures in the form of Insect tokens from Wirewood Hivemaster, and gain an arbitrarily large amount of life from Essence Warden. Seems pretty good, no?
When Zac began going through the motions, Pascal simply nodded, having designed the combo himself and providing the Belgians with it. Seemingly resigned to his fate, Vieren shrugged and asked, "So, how many times?" When Hill responded with a ridiculously large number, Pascal scooped up his cards, adding, "Okay, you're dead."
It turns out Hill had forgotten he had resolved a Glimpse of Nature in order to get to the point in the game in which he had amassed enough creatures to combo his opponent. Awkward. Zac and Pascal left the round with a crazy story, but things were about to get crazier. Enter Grgur Petric, a respected up-and-coming pro from Croatia. He had gotten his copy of the Elves! deck from Zac, and found himself squaring off against Pascal in Round 5, just a match removed from Zac's ignominious fate. So how did the match turn out?
Would you believe Grgur also forgot about his Glimpse? Unbelievably, Pascal was the lucky recipient of back-to-back game wins as a result of his opponents' rare but careless play. When asked about the situation Pascal replied, "I knew about the play. In testing, Marijn [Lybaert] would always say 'Go infinite,' and I always said, 'Don't or you'll deck yourself!'"
Laughing at the situation, Grgur added, "Yeah, I only lose to the mirror today!"
Despite the errors, all three were happy to mug for the camera. After all, had they not worked together cooperatively, none of them might have the deck to begin with, and they certainly wouldn't have such a great story. Plus, it seems unlikely anyone from the group will be losing any more games this weekend to forgetting about Glimpse of Nature.Grgur Petric, left, and Zac Hill, right, pose with Pascal Vieren, who taught them the dangers of their combo deck the hard way.