Gen Con 2008

Posted in Feature on August 26, 2008

By Nate Price

A longtime member of the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage staff, Nate Price now works making beautiful words for all of you lovely people as the community manager for organized play. When not covering events, he lords over the @MagicProTour Twitter account, ruling with an iron fist.

The story of Gen Con is a tale straight out of a comic book. From humble beginnings, a phenomenon erupts that soon becomes a beacon for an entire subculture of people. It's hard to imagine that the largest annual gaming convention in the world got its start as a small gathering of friends at Gary Gygax's Lake Geneva home. But here it stands, tens of thousands of members strong, as a testament to his legacy and vision.

This year marks the 41st year for gamers the world over to congregate and share their passion for the games that make life so much fun. Sadly, Gary Gygax passed away earlier this year, giving the usually jubilant air at Gen Con a slight whiff of the somber. It's hard to walk by the giant Gygax Memorial D20 without feeling a twinge of sadness at the passing of a man who spent his life creating fun and happiness for so many people.

The game must go on, though, and, despite Gygax's passing, Gen Con continues strong as a reminder of the power of games to uplift and console. The entire convention center buzzes with the constant din of werewolves trying to sway the mob, foam swords thumping against each other in heated combat, and vendors demoing the latest games to hit the market. It's literally gamer heaven on Earth.

Getting There

First off, let me say welcome to Indianapolis, my hometown. When most people think of Indianapolis, they think of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Colts, and our abundance of sweet, delicious corn. Indy is a pretty nice place to live. We've got a nice, growing metropolitan area, two professional sports franchises, an international airport, and a whole lot more. There's a good night life, good music, and always something fun to do.

And we've got the best four days in gaming!

I absolutely love this time of year. My Colts are going through training camp and their preseason games. The weather has reached the perfect mix of sun and temperature. And Gen Con comes to town. My first Gen Con was its last year in Milwaukee. Imagine my surprise when I found out that it would be moving to my hometown. I was ecstatic! I think Indianapolis is a great venue. It's centrally located to pretty much everywhere in the country, which gives everyone an equal opportunity chance to make the trip. The huge attendance at Grand Prix–Indianapolis last month just proves how important location is to the draw of an event.

Gen Con crams enough activity to fill a couple of weeks into the space of four days. It's near impossible to experience everything in the allotted time. Most gamers, though, have preferences towards a few specific types of games, which provides a little focus to the miasma of events. It lets them schedule their weekend. I came into Gen Con knowing what I wanted to do, and knowing that I had to do some coverage on Magic events made my decisions a little easier.

Thursday – Let the Games Begin!

The TCG hall is crammed to the brim with players, even overnight.

Thursday, the first day of Gen Con, was the day I looked forward to the most. It can be incredibly difficult to get around during the first few hours of the day, especially near the Exhibition Hall. Gamers of all shapes, sizes, color, and costume pile in the corridors near the soon-to-open doors. I had to go get my badge from Wizards of the Coast around 9:45 Thursday morning, and fighting my way through that crowd was the stuff of nightmares. It was like drowning in a sea of people. I think I might have had an easier time if I had just jumped from the balcony and tried to crowd-surf to my destination, though I would have run the risk of impaling myself on someone's replica sword. (I don't really feel like dying with Connor MacLeod's sword stuck between my ribs. If there can be only one, I want it to be me.)

Eventually, after braving my trip into the jungle, I managed to meet up with my party at the entrance to begin our day. Every year, a wonderful group of people, including Magic's own Mark Gottlieb, host a puzzle competition at Gen Con. Every year, my friends and I show up at ten o'clock on Thursday and try to get it completed on the first day. And every year, we are fairly successful. We always have a ton of fun, and the puzzles provide a nice challenge to the competitive puzzlers while still being easy enough that casual puzzlers can pound away at them throughout the weekend and ultimately solve the puzzle.

These folks made my Thursday possible.

The competition is comprised of several smaller puzzles that, when solved, eventually provide a final metapuzzle. This metapuzzle usually requires a bit of collection and assembly to complete. One example of the metapuzzle solutions we have seen comes from a few years ago. The solutions to the smaller puzzles, when properly aligned, gave us a list of components for a doomsday device. We had to collect the pieces of the device and present our creation to the judges. Being the consummate dorks we are, we decided that it would be fun to try and create our doomsday device using only Magic cards. Hence, the clock we brought was an Armageddon Clock, our big red button was a Heart of Ramos, and we used a Tangle Wire for the wiring. Part of the fun of the puzzle was trying to come up with Magic cards that fit the ingredients we needed, and then running through the Exhibit hall trying to find dealers with the cards we needed. You'd be surprised how few dealers come to Gen Con prepared to sell Armageddon Clocks!

Look, kids, Magic cards!

Anyway, puzzling ate up my entire Thursday. We started at ten o'clock and finished right about six o'clock—a nice eight hours of gaming. We ended up being the first group to complete the Hunt, and were rewarded as Medalists for the Olympic-themed puzzle. You can mark down one more gold for the U.S. team. After puzzling was finished, my team and I took the puzzlemasters out for a nice gourmet pizza dinner at a local restaurant. We had a good time exchanging stories and swapping feedback about this year's hunt. After dinner, they all headed off to one of my teammate's houses for a nice night of party games. I, on the other hand, had been sent to Gen Con with a mission, and the TCG hall was calling my name.

The Gold Medal-Winning U.S. Gen Con Olympic Puzzle Team.

Thurday night at six o'clock, the Magic: the Gathering Block Constructed Championship got underway. With Grand Prix–Denver recently in the books, the format for Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block Constructed had been pretty well fleshed out. Faeries and Kithkin were still expected to be major players in the format. However, as tends to happen after a deck does particularly well at a tournament, more people seemed to be leaning towards the five-color Toast variant used by Gerry Thompson to win the tournament in Denver.

Same to you, pal.

Ultimately, though, despite Thompson's appearance in the Top 8, it was a brilliantly metagamed deck piloted by US National team member Sam Black that took home the top prize. Sam piloted a blue-black River Kelpie deck to his second consecutive Block Constructed Championship title. The deck, which was featured in the coverage at Grand Prix- Denver, features early control through cards like Raven's Crime and Shriekmaw, and then uses River Kelpie combined with cards like Puppeteer Clique, Makeshift Mannequin, and the aforementioned Crime to take an overwhelming advantage in the mid to late game.

Black originally chose the deck because he hadn't played it before and was trying to learn how to play it come PTQ time. He ran into a bunch of Five-Color Control and Elementals decks during his run to the finals, which he considers good matchups. "If you play River Kelpie, their [Makeshift] Mannequins are bad for them, and yours are insane. Puppeteer Clique is very, very good too. Basically, their whole deck turns off if you get a River Kelpie into play...If you're expecting a lot of Five-Color Control, I'm pretty sure it's the best deck in the format." So take note, all you potential PTQers out there; in the wake of Gerry Thompson's win in Denver, and the general shift in the metagame towards Five-Color Control, it might be worth it to pick this deck up and learn it. But beware! Black does warn that you should familiarize yourself with the deck's intricate card interactions, as well as the most efficient ways to use your cards before striding into a PTQ and trying to take it over.

Sam Black


Friday – Leaving a Legacy, Showing Qualifications, and Getting Mega with FNM

With my first sixteen hour day out of the way, I got as much sleep as I could before waking up at 9:30 to be prepped to begin checking in on the Legacy Championship that started at ten. I will be the first to admit that I know somewhere between little and nothing about the Legacy format. For me, Legacy exists solely as a format to use for Mental Magic that doesn't allow the broken Vintage cards. Outside of that, the last Legacy tournament I have any real recollection of featured one Chris "Have I got a story for you" Pikula in, like, 2005.

The Legacy Championship participants were a little more up to date than I was though. The players came into the day expecting the traditional field of Threshold, which is the consensus best deck in the format, Aggro-Loam, Dragon Stompy, and Goblins. The format panned out pretty much as expected, though there was a little more representation from the little red men than originally thought. In addition, the Threshold deck that had the biggest impact on the tournament wasn't the traditional blue-green version but a three-color monstrosity that dipped into red for Lightning Bolt and Fire//Ice. It's a little more aggressive than the two-color version and can go to the face with the burn to finish an opponent off.

After a long (read fourteen hour) day of battling, the Legacy Championship went home in the hands of Blake Patraw. Patraw sported a four-color Countersliver deck that he felt was a perfect call for the metagame. "[Counterslivers] runs too many threats to control, and it runs the same control elements that Threshold runs, just with more bodies and more pressure. It can outrace Goblins, and it has the control for burn. In the trials, I didn't see a lot of Loam being played, so I didn't expect a lot here. There's a lot more Goblins than I expected, but it can outrace Goblins [because] it has bigger bodies. It's just the fact that it runs the control elements with the creatures that get exponentially bigger that's the real thing." He came prepared for anything, and even planned a contingency plan for his most feared cards. "I splash black for Hibernation Sliver...The deck's worst cards are Pernicious Deed and Engineered Explosives. Hibernation Sliver lets you return Slivers to your hand by paying two life, which lets you keep your field." Apparently his strategy paid off, because he breezed his way to the final round and pulled off a stunning victory to take his place atop the throne of the Legacy kingdom.

Patraw leaves a Legacy with Counterslivers.

For Blake and the rest of the Top 8 decklists for the Legacy Championships, visit this link.

In addition to the continuation of the Legacy Championships, Friday evening sported a tandem of big, nay, mega events. The first was the first of two Pro Tour Qualifiers for Berlin being held during Gen Con. The Qualifier was the second high-profile event being held at Gen Con to use the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block Constructed format. Based on the field from the previous day, it seemed safe to say that the major players in the field would be Five-Color Control and Faeries. Seeing as how many of the players in this tournament were dozing away while Sam Black was decimating the same metagame with his River Kelpie deck, it seemed unlikely that many players would get a chance to pick up the deck and give it a whirl before playing in the PTQ.

I decided to give the Five-Color Control deck a shot and play in the PTQ. I've been fortunate enough to have watched the deck in action since it debuted in the Standard format in Pro Tour–Hollywood. I also got front row seats to its victory in Denver. It also doesn't hurt that I had a chance to discuss the deck with Gerry Thompson and Brandon Scheel before starting the tournament. I was happy running the deck into a field of mirror matches since I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the theory behind the mirror, providing me with an edge.

My predictions were pretty accurate, as I played four mirror matches, only losing one. During that set I drew enough cards with my Oona's Grace and Mulldrifters that my opponent was able to start sending his Oona's Graces at me before I could get a Runed Halo into play naming the Grace. Sadly, I picked up a second loss in the next to last round of Swiss to Stu Parnes running what I thought was a mirror match. What it ended up being was a similar style of deck that ran Nucklavee, Heat Shimmer, and Torrent of Souls. Those powers combined, I got smashed by Captain Planet. He had too many spells that I needed to stop and had the same counterspells I had to force his spells through. In addition, if he ever resolved a Nucklavee or got to Heat Shimmer one in play, I was pretty much done for. During our second game, he was able to play the same Cryptic Command four or five times thanks to Nucklavee and his many heated copies.

When I got to the final round of the tournament, I found that I was paired up against a player who stood a reasonable chance of making it into the Top 8 if he beat me. I, on the other hand, was completely out of the running. After deciding that I was conceding, I jokingly decided to put Tyler Hegy's fate in the hands of the most just, discerning person I could think of: Gabe Walls. Perched behind me and studying Tyler with a quiet intensity, Gabe began to drill Tyler with important fact-seeking questions. "Hi, Tyler. How are you? How's your Gen Con been? What's your favorite milkshake flavor?" Mind you these questions came out so rapid-fire that Tyler didn't have a single chance to respond. Only after Gabe had finished verbally assaulting him was he able to manage a response. "Do I know you?" Gabe stared in shock and gave the Commodus thumbs-down from Gladiator and told me assuringly to "get him, Nate." Sigh. I was kind of hoping for some sleep.

This is what our Gladiator weapons would look like.

After Tyler and I had finished shuffling and presented our decks, Gabe finally relented, and laughed, "I'm just kidding; you can concede now." I promptly extended my hand and congratulated Tyler on his hard fought win. As luck would have it, my concession put Tyler square into 8th place, giving him a chance at qualification. He ended up losing in a first round mirror match to eventual winner Mike Bernat, but it was still kind of cool to have been able to give him his first shot at a Top 8.

Where does a player go when they want to play Magic on a Friday night? Why, to Friday Night Magic of course! In the tradition of Magic Weekend, home of Super FNM, Gen Con ups the ante one more with Mega FNM! It's an entire order of magnitude larger than Super FNM. If Super FNM were a mountain, Mega FNM would be the range it's a part of. It's huge, colossal, well...it's mega. Starting at eight o'clock, Mega FNM pitted players against each other in three rounds of Standard. After those three rounds, prizes were given out based on record. There were all kinds of cool promotional cards, as well as a plethora of booster packs given away as prizes. You didn't have to win the whole tournament to get top prize, you just had to go undefeated through three rounds. The best part about FNM is that even if you don't win, you still get something. You play and you win.

And you can even build some modern architecture with your winnings!

Saturday – So You Think You Can Draft, Berlin Redux, Dressing the Part, and Going Infinite

I absolutely love to draft. If Magic had no Constructed formats and was just purely a game of drafting, I might explode from the aftershocks of awesomeness. There are times I don't really feel like playing the decks I've drafted, but I'm always up for drafting again. It's my Magic addiction.

I've drafted a lot of Shadowmoor recently, and so was feeling pretty strong about my chances in the tournament. I even primed myself with two eight-person side drafts (which run 24 hours a day at Gen Con, by the way!). I was 6-0 only dropping two games in both drafts, further increasing my confidence. So imagine my surprise when I got to my first booster of Time Spiral.

I hope this is the right attack!

Wow. It seems like I've been stuck in a time rift and decades have passed since I last drafted Time Spiral Block. All I really remembered was that I liked Red-Green Storm and Blue-White Aggro. That's all I could figure out. As I passed the packs around, I fell solidly into red-green, but without the storm. I'm not a super big fan of the color combination if you're missing cards like Empty the Warrens and Search for Tomorrow, which I was. It's just a bad mid-range beatdown deck in most cases. With each pack I passed, I realized another deck that I used to like in the format. The most memorable were the back-to-back Watcher Slivers I passed. Those critters get really sexy when combined with Quilled and Synchronous Sliver. Toss in a Screeching Sliver as a secondary win condition, and I think I'm in love all over again.

Eventually, my deck ended up being incredibly removal heavy, and pretty light on the win conditions. I opened a Damnation in the second pack that put me into black, if only for a splash. As I got passed two Ichor Slicks and a Death Rattle in the final pack, my splash grew a little bit. I ended up having to cut borderline removal spells, like Orcish Cannonade, for borderline threats, like Blazing Blade Askari. Sadly, I never really got to test the deck in a full pod. I played the first two rounds, going 1-1, before I decided I had too much work to do and dropped from the tournament. Frowntown. I love to draft, but I came to Gen Con with a mission and a job, and I had some coverage to do.

A little after three o'clock, the second PTQ of the weekend began. Friday night's had been won by Faeries, and the Championship on Thursday had been beaten by River Kelpie. This tournament, though, would belong to the tiny Kithkin. Three Kithkin decks made the Top 8, and the finals played out with Mark Conkle's Kithkin deck trumping Ross Burns'. The Five-Color Control deck that had been the rage of the weekend didn't manage to crack the Top 8, just going to show how quickly the metagame can change if people have a chance to adjust.

I missed much of the PTQ, sadly, because I decided to take in one of the oldest and most recognizable of all events at Gen Con: the great costume contest! It was one of the first times I've found a chance to tell someone I'm a journalist and get a little extra love from them. I got near front row seats to the event, although no flash photography was allowed during the competition itself. The competition is broken down into many categories, including Superheroes/Sci-fi, Anime, Game/Media Characters, and Golden Needle, in which contestants are judged purely by the skill required to construct their costume. Most of the contestants in the other categories are in full character the entire time they're on stage, and many have even prepared skits to go along with their characters.

Watching the costume contest was a phenomenally good time. The room was packed, and there were over fifty contestants, each in full regalia and doing their best to become their characters. Some of my favorite moments were the Crab Clan Samurai rallying the troops in the room to his cause, the incredibly funny performance by Faust and his "shoulder consciences," and putting on the Ritz with Young Frankenstein (that's Fronkensteen!). The performances were delightful, and I'm kind of sad that I hadn't made the time to get over and check it out in years past. But you can be certain that I'll be in the crowd in the future!

Time for a costume photo break...

I hope no one tells him that Sephiroth entered the contest, too.
Walk softly and carry a big tetsubo.
This was one of the Golden Needle entries, and her dedication showed.
The other Golden Needle entry was ready to take the title by force if necessary.
Mul-ti-pass!
This guy definitely needs more cowbell.
This isn't the droid you're looking for.
Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?
He may walk like a man, but he's a vicious, mindless monster.
Yes, I'm here to collect my sixty billion double dollars, please.

The last major event to start on Saturday was the Magic Grand Melee. The Grand Melee is a massive multiplayer game of Magic with very specific rules. Players have to attack the player directly to their left, leaving them to defend against attacks coming from their right. Most decks have some element in them to prevent decking, such as Wheel of Sun and Moon or Legacy Weapon, which keep the library stocked. They also tend to have some ridiculously cool combos built into them.

This is GEN CON!

After the Grand Melee's dust settled, Dylan Austin from Ann Arbor, Michigan took home the trophy and the title of Grand Melee champion, but it took him a few turns to get it done. Most of them were taken in succession. Dylan was playing an infinite turn deck that used Crucible of Worlds and Rites of Flourishing to return multiple Islands to play each turn, allowing him to infinitely cycle Walk the Aeons. The Rites also served as a kill when combined with his Howling Mines. The Abundance he was running allowed him to replace his draw step every turn so he could name land if there were no more lands in his deck, preventing him from ever decking himself. Pretty nifty, huh!

Austin still has four turns in the bank.

Dylan Austin


Almost as awesome as the story of Dylan's win, though, is the story of Ray D'Arcy's 9th place deck. The other players vying for Top 8 were so afraid of him that six of them had to sacrifice themselves in order to stop him from taking them all out. His deck was a redundant infinite combo deck. He could make infinite mana with Scuttlemutt (to make a permanent all five colors), Bloom Tender, and Umbral Mantle. This also got him infinite untaps for a creature. He could also infinitely untap his Morselhoarders using Sinking Feeling. With the infinite mana, he could kill them outright with Helix Pinnacle. With the infinite untaps, he could kill them using Power of Fire. Should he need to find a kill condition, he could use his infinite mana to get infinite untaps for his Merfolk Looter. His deck had so many modes to go into, it was no wonder it took so many people to beat him. If they blocked one avenue, he could just switch gears until the path was clear. I love his decklist.

These guys had to team up to take D'Arcy out.

Ray D’Arcy


About three in the morning, the first event of the day, the Draft Championship had come to a close. Fifteen hours of drafting, playing, and battling was enough to leave the competitors exhausted and ready for bed. They had proven their skill in Time Spiral, Lorwyn, and Shadowmoor drafts, and one man stood alone atop the standings. Michael Jures had fought through seven rounds and three different draft formats before finally taking his trophy and going to bed. It had been a long day, but one I'm sure he'll not soon forget.

Sunday – Winding Down

In contrast to the excitement of the night before, Sunday was a chance to pick up some much needed rest. Many players had geared themselves up for a run at Pro Tour-Berlin by playing in the Block Championships and two PTQs on successive nights. That is three long days of gaming. Other players had come to prepare themselves for the Draft Championship by taking advantage of the 24-hour drafting going on in the TCG hall. Still others just came to have a good time with their friends and play some Magic against the thousands of other Magic players that had made the trip to Indianapolis. With all that Wizards offered at Gen Con, everyone had the opportunity to customize their play schedule to accomplish everything they wanted.

And this is just the events with a pre-planned start time.

Sunday lacked the high profile events of the previous three days, but it did provide a chance to get together and draft with friends and enjoy a little more of the casual side of Magic. There was an Urza's Saga Sealed Deck tournament that started at ten o'clock on Sunday. As I've stated before, I was on hiatus from the game during Saga block, so the only opportunity I've had to build a 40-card deck with Urza's Saga cards was at the Chaos Draft during Grand Prix- Denver. If I hadn't been so keen on trying to start putting my adventures on paper, I would have loved to fork over some event tickets to try to open a Pestilence. Or a Masticore. Or a Yawgmoth's Bargain. So sick!

Sadly, even the best times have to come to an end. It was an incredibly busy week for me, but I still managed to find time to enjoy the game I love so much. I got to experience everything from the more casual Shadowmoor eight-person drafts to the more competitive PTQ and draft Championship. I even got to get out and explore the Exhibit hall, check out the costume contest, and enjoy an opportunity to experience Gen Con for more than just the multitude of Magic events going on.

Gen Con is an experience unlike anything else you will ever have the pleasure of enjoying in your entire life. Anyone who is reading this is clearly someone who loves games, unless the "I'm feeling lucky" button on Google failed you. If you enjoy games that much and haven't planned a trip to Gen Con, I highly recommend finding the time to do so before too long. The longer you wait, the more disappointed you'll be when you finally go and realize how much time you've wasted. Come play Magic for eighty straight hours. Come demo the hundreds of games on display in the Exhibit hall. Learn about the new Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. But mostly have fun. The best four days in gaming only come once a year. Don't miss them.

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