Making History at Grand Prix Minneapolis

Posted in Play Design on August 18, 2017

By Melissa DeTora

Melissa is a former Magic pro player and strategy writer who is now working in R&D on the Play Design team.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Grand Prix Minneapolis to do live coverage. While I have been to many GPs in the past as either a player or a coverage writer, this was my first time attending as a color commentator. Our live coverage team is split into two components. One is the play-by-play commentator, who calls the action as it occurs. The second is the color commentator (me!), who fills in time when the action is low and explains the player's motivations. The color commentator is expected to know the format inside-and-out so that they can share insight about what could happen throughout the game.

When a new challenge presents itself, I want to prepare in any way I can. Unfortunately, some problems presented themselves. The two play-by play commentators that I would be working with, Marshall Sutcliffe and Maria Bartholdi, were both leaving for Japan the week prior for Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, so preparing with them wasn't an option. Luckily, I did manage to get in a practice match with both Marshall and Maria about three weeks before the Grand Prix, but I still wasn't feeling well prepared!

On the flip side, I prepared in the manner I had control over—getting in a lot of practice matches on Magic Online. I ran the Pro Tour gauntlet through some Leagues and even did a little brewing. Since I was already familiar with the cards and decks, it didn't take long for me to learn the format and develop my own predictions of what I thought would perform well in Minneapolis that weekend.

While I've technically played a lot of this format in our Future Future League, that was about a year ago and in a much different environment. An aspect of FFL is that we are going to be slightly off what the real world ultimately plays. This is due to cards changing constantly, meaning we can't iterate on decks in the same way that the real world can. It's almost like living in an alternate timeline.

As a hypothetical example, if our FFL gauntlet shows that our strongest decks are Temur Energy and Grixis Control, then in our "week two," the metagame will adjust accordingly. Perhaps aggression will perform, punishing the slower decks and their greedy mana. Then during "week three," the metagame will adjust even further to compensate.

Now let's say that during the Pro Tour, the best-performing deck is Mono-Red Aggro (spoiler: it was!). During week two, players will adapt and attempt to beat those aggro decks. Maybe they will main-deck Sweltering Suns in their red decks or play anti-aggro strategies like White-Blue Approach of the Second Sun. As the weeks go on, the metagame will be completely different than the one from our FFL, our alternate timeline. The point is, even if our decks are only slightly off, it can cause huge ripple effects in the metagame as weeks pass.

I had an even stranger experience playing this Standard format internally with Hour of Devastation, as we had not yet made the Standard rotation change. We were testing the format of Shadows over Innistrad through Hour of Devastation, and things were entirely different. While we did have a few weeks to test the new format and make necessary changes, we didn't have as much information as we would have liked and iterated on our decks even less than we would have typically.

Going back to my original point, while we had several awesome decks similar to ones that did well at Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, they were still a bit off from what the pros played. For example, our Zombies deck splashed white for Wayward Servant and Cast Out. Due to the white splash, we couldn't support cards like Relentless Dead and Grasp of Darkness. We also played a lower land count, more two-drops, and fewer copies of Liliana's Mastery.

Our red decks were similarly different from the Pro Tour decks. They were not as low to the ground and focused on more heavy-hitters like Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. We also had a spicy one, Hazoret's Monument, in most of our lists. While the Monument may not affect the battlefield immediately, the card quality you can gain with it is massive. There's no better feeling than casting a turn-four Glorybringer, discarding an Earthshaker Khenra, and then eternalizing the Khenra on turn six. Getting rid of excess lands when you're flooding doesn't hurt either!

When we are playing so many different types of cards that are constantly in flux, some crazy interactions tend to come up. Insult // Injury was a great perpetrator of this that we often played as a "fun of" in red decks. Sometimes you'll cast Insult and win the game if you have a large battlefield presence, and other times it'll get discarded to Hazoret's Monument and Hazoret herself to be cast later with aftermath. Fiery Temper similarly has great synergy with the aforementioned discard outlets, while also just being another face-burn spell that red aggro decks are happy to play. Ramunap Red decks from Pro Tour Hour of Devastation are far more tuned than our decks were, but we wanted plenty of options available for players who might take the deck in many directions.

Entering the tournament hall, I was a little nervous. Not only was it my first time doing something like this, but it would be live in front of anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people. No pressure, right? Thankfully, when we actually started, it was smooth sailing. I just treated the situation like I was sitting at home in front of a stream and chatting with my friend about the matches. Marshall and Maria were great people to work with, and their professionalism made my day very easy!

A standout moment of the experience was a round where my FFL experience helped me prepare to provide commentary. Our FFL gauntlet had a sweet Reanimator deck that featured cards like Ever After; Liliana, Death's Majesty; and some spicy creatures to reanimate like Razaketh, the Foulblooded. When Maria and I commentated on a reanimator match during Day Two, I was already familiar with the deck and could provide insight that someone outside of R&D would not have been able to!

History Was Made!

On Sunday of the Grand Prix, Maria and I hopped in the booth together and for the first time ever, professional Magic had women in both commentator roles. I've been playing Magic since the '90s and have frequently been the only woman in the game store, the only woman at PTQs, and the only woman at the Pro Tour. As the years go on, the number of women continues to grow, but not by enough. Representation really matters, and seeing two women commentate on matches is a groundbreaking moment for our game that I hope inspires more women to play competitively.

Thanks for reading and until next time,

Melissa DeTora

Play Design Story of the Week

This week's story was written by Bryan Hawley.

Good news: we have a new sticker printer, so we can print playtest cards again!

Here's why it's good news.

About a month ago, our trusty sticker printer, named Tordeck, started having a bit of an existential crisis. It wasn't sure whether it wanted to be a printer or a petulant diva, so it started getting very picky about the way paper was presented to it. First it started rejecting paper from the second tray as being beneath it, and quickly the third tray followed. We developed a series of notes about the behavior that Tordeck appreciated—namely having paper in the first tray (the bypass tray), and only face-up paper would do. Soon, even this was not enough to appease Tordeck, and we had to press "OK" between each printed page.

Andrew Brown (left) and Dan Burdick struggle to contain their rage as Tordeck (center) willfully ignores them.
Andrew Brown (left) and Dan Burdick struggle to contain their rage as Tordeck (center) willfully ignores them.

This list of strictures imposed by the increasingly dainty Tordeck caused us to seek more amenable printers, and we went to the mighty Tam. Tam was willing to aid us, but to avoid the ire of other departments we had to walk across the building twice to load sticker paper and then replace it with normal paper when we were done. Even this avenue was soon closed after Play Design Manager Dan Burdick printed out—and I am not exaggerating—3,000 playtest cards and we ran out of Tam-acceptable sticker paper. Dan immediately fled to Japan, and Tam broke shortly thereafter. Suspicions continue to this day.

Once we got a new printer, there was a great search for a new name. We eventually settled on Lorthos, but below is the list of names also in consideration. (Most were suggested by Andrew Brown.)

  • Jorubai
  • Pearl Lake
  • Thought-Knot Printer
  • Phyrexian Funlife
  • Serum Printer
  • Boomshakalaka
Andrew Brown celebrates the arrival of Lorthos and the promise of stress-free playtest printing.
Andrew Brown celebrates the arrival of Lorthos and the promise of stress-free playtest printing.

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