A Boy and His Cube (Not the Tom LaPille Version)

Posted in Serious Fun on June 1, 2010

    Day 1: A Super Friday Night

After a bit of readying and packing I headed off to the western side of the greater DC metropolitan area. Since it was a normal workday for most of the world I counted on traffic to be awkward (it was) and got a jump on an early start. At eight sharp I hit the door to the Dulles Expo Center North (as opposed to South, as I discovered the hard way) and found several judges, volunteers, and the Tournament Organizer's staff just meeting and greeting.

With formalities out of the way there were only a scant few hours to get everything set up. While the formal Grand Prix itself wasn't going to start until Saturday, there were hundreds of players planning to pull through on Friday—Super FNM, artists, and Grand Prix grinders for byes, each being different and varied draws for players—so I was quickly tasked to the most immediate issue: placing table cloths over the hundreds of barren tables.

With more than a little help from my newfound acquaintances the convention space was filled by a sea of black and green cloth. As the finishing touches were being laid out the trickling few Magic players who were braving an earlier time, began to grow. It wasn't long before the clock struck eleven and the brave few had become the vast, dominant majority.

It was an opportune moment to snap a photo. Of course, this required that I had remembered to bring my camera, something I discovered, much to my dismay (which became a recurring theme for the entire weekend). I made a quick mental note to grab the camera tomorrow and set about the one task that absolutely had to be done before the day began to draw longer: finalizing a swath of updates to my cube.

After being graciously allotted a spot with a power source I set about my business:

  • Pulling cards to be changed
  • Swapping the cards
  • Sufficiently randomizing into packs

While knowing which cards I was after was easy, and randomizing everything afterwards is a standard process, I discovered that, like my camera, I did not have the cards I desired to swap in. Despite my best attempts to foil myself, I was in luck as one vendor had conveniently brought stocked binders of every Magic set. When you're looking for Hymn to Tourach, Death Denied, Nessian Courser, Goblin Patrol, and other cards, spread across everything outside of Standard, it's never an easy task.

Immediately after I hammered the 'Save' button in genuine excitement, it was time to move as my space was no longer available for me. Fortunately, I had a chance to start meeting people. Trick Jarrett, the man behind ManaNation.com, was kind enough start my actual Magic playing off with my perennial favorite: EDH.

Trick, a man of his word, brought both Uril, the Miststalker and Kiki-Jiki decks. Uril was, as Uril often is, a fearsome source of combat damage. After winning a game with Rhys the Redeemed and some well-placed disruption, then losing a game by taking to the face a Uril suited up with Runes of the Deus after I switched to Kresh the Bloodbraided, Trick jumped over to his very Goblin tribal Kiki-Jiki deck. Kiki-Jiki wasn't the driving force, I saw, as various Goblin lords from across the eras of Magic made appearances: it was all thanks to an early Goblin Recruiter. This came after a Quest for the Goblin Lord had appeared—quite apropos indeed.

For the record, I didn't win that game against the little green men.

It wasn't much longer after that, and a break for dinner, I ran into soon-to-be-GP-competitor Evan Erwin, the man behind The Magic Show. I also rubbed elbows with the awesome Yo! MTG TAPS! (iwantmymtg.com)fellows. And Rich Hagon of the Event Coverage Team for the GP. And queued through the lines for artists Daarken, Dan Scott, and Matt Stewart. While that may sound like simple name-dropping, these guys were all wandering around and it was pretty easy to say hello to the faces and voices that resonate in the Magic world. It really was an afternoon into early evening filled with faces, smiles, and someone new to meet all around.

While I opted to play some more EDH with friends instead of jumping into the Super FNM it didn't stop some of my other friends from trying their hand at some Rise of the Eldrazi sealed. My buddy Dan ran a great 3-1 showing, in a pool of over 400 players, with a deck featuring Vengevine and Aura Gnarlid pairing up with Bear Umbra and Eldrazi Conscription. It may just have been my imagination but seeing his deck reminded me more of EDH than Sealed. Either way, just to be safe, I gave a local judge a lift home to get a little rest.

    Day 2: Holy $%#amp; There's a Lot of Players

If you're not aware of the volumes involved, there were almost 2,000 players who came to enjoy the fine competitive atmosphere of the GP. Now factor in judge and tournament staff. And dealers and artists. And those who came for casual events, to visit the artists, and to see their friends get their Magic on. And parents, significant others, curious bystanders, and anyone else who wanted to see what it was all about.

2,000 is an understatement to the true answer of "How many players came to Grand Prix–DC?" Virtually every table available in the entire facility was needed after seating was changed from six to eight players per table going into the day. With a hearty breakfast under my belt I had to wait to see side events start. There were simply too many players for the main event to spare any space!

With a little time to kill I reached for my camera (Rats! No dice.) and made the second mental note to absolutely grab it the next day instead. After ensuring my cube was really, really random I met up with the "Casual Guys"—the group of casual players from my local card shop—to see them work their magic for the first event in the Showcase of Casual Magic: an EDH tournament.

Casual Format Rules

Note: Running a tournament for a casual format is a very tricky proposition. The following changes were made to help accommodate a tournament format and timing, as well as the social feel of playing EDH:

1. Life totals started at 30 instead of 40.
2. Rounds would last 75 minutes, after which the Armageddon Clock kicked in:
2a. The Armageddon Clock is as follows:
"At the beginning of each player's upkeep add one time counter to the Armageddon Clock.
At the end of each player's draw step, each player loses life equal to the number of time counters on Armageddon Clock.
{4}: Remove a counter from Armageddon Clock."
3. Diplomatic Victory: Each player, upon being knocked out or winning the game, votes for a fellow player. Each vote counts as three points.

There is more going on here than I have room to discuss this week—look for a follow up down the road!

After discussing formalities and reiterating both the prize structure and slight rules adjustments the pods were seated and started. The "metagame" breakdown was as follows:

4Uril, the Miststalker
2Sharuum the Hegemon
2Omnath, Locus of Mana
2Wort, Boggart Auntie
2Momir, Simic Visionary
2Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2Scion or the Ur-Dragon
20Other various and assorted General

More than half the tournament brought a unique twist to the table—nice! It didn't take long for the first player to get knocked out either. Ira P. took a brutal beating from an Uril suited up with Runes of the Deus. His General? Kresh the Bloodbraided. It was quite a poetic moment for me.

Ira's Kresh deck was a pretty standard recursion type deck filled to the brim with goodies like Genesis, Phyrexian Plaguelord, and a bunch of other "enters the battlefield" and "sacrifice this creature" critters to work into games. Naturally I really liked what he was planning to do. Some of the other interesting sights I saw while watching over the rounds were:

  • Two players sat facing each other, one with an Aura Gnarlid and the other with a Vampire Nighthawk. With the piles of basic lands it looked like some sort of weird Zendikar block draft.
  • I spoke with one of the Teferi deck pilots and he shared that he ran only two counter spells—just enough to provide emergency protection. Obviously none of the other players believed him. Teferi is Teferi, after all.
  • Someone dropped a Numot, the Devastator and yelled "AMERICA!" and pumped his fist. Memorial Day came a little early.
  • With the Armageddon Clock chewing up life a player used General Jaya Ballard with a freshly drawn Basilisk Collar to play her Inferno ability to wipe the board and jump up to 42 life. Winning the game and all the victory points possible was a fairly epic feat.

All said it was an incredible event. The winners got to pull from a copy of From the Vault: Exiled, an artist signed Grand Prix—DC playmat (courtesy of the Tournament Organizer), an artist signed print of Vampire Nighthawk, and a yellow "Lord of Casual Magic" shirt with an awesome dragon drawn on the back courtesy of artist Matt Stewart. For Kyle D., Nick W., Chris S., Dick B. (the Top 4 in no particular order) and all of the other players who came to play let me tell you again: I truly felt the distinct pain of my failure to bring a camera.

    Day Three: Judgment Day

With a slightly slower start than the previous two days, (running light on sleep generally leads to this) I took the trek to the site with a mission on my mind: to show my cube to the world. While I've posted the list, and the associated updates, I've never had a real opportunity to show my love to those beyond my circle of acquaintances at the local shop. To say I was excited is to grossly understate my emotional level. It wasn't friends checking it over but the random and varied world of Magic players.

There was a little hiccup with getting a space set up (which was resolved timely) and a lack of interest to get the Peasant Standard tournament fired off. Not the most optimal start to Sunday, but the growing mass of players hungry for side events rocked the staff—they ran out of product early even after buying some back from what would normally be distributed to the judges.

It was difficult to stay focused as I cubed next to Chris, the man who first introduced me to a more formalized Stack. Chris was able to share some of the awesome experiences he encountered running his multiple, different Stacks:

Stack, in the words of Chris, is all about "projecting what's important to you in Magic." He encouraged me to continue to draw upon the entire history of Magic as experiencing "old" cards in new interactions seems to trigger nostalgia, and happiness. I know it did for a lot of players.

To show the cube, I kept with a very straightforward approach—providing pools of five "boosters" and letting players build a sealed deck. Players could jump in and out, building new decks as I changed "packs" up randomly, yet feel the power and personalized touch I had put into it. Some of the best responses were:

  • A gentleman, who was very confused why the deck size was 40 instead of 60, had some trouble cutting it all down.
  • The newly added Deprive was used to shoot down a big creature while bouncing Halimar Depths. In a completely different deck it bounced a Khalni Garden to net another Plant token. Nothing to see here, move along.
  • I discovered that the Eldrazi Spawn tokens that Nest Invader and Kozilek's Predator made are great when you have Ashes to Ashes but your opponent only has one creature.

Between the meticulous "pimping" of cards (foil, artist signed, and promotional versions of card abounded) and the diversity of options (everything from Rancor and Daze to Land Aid '04 and Fowl Play) everyone has something they found surprising, interesting, and uniquely exciting.

And while I was cubing the hours away, and kicking myself even harder for somehow punting bringing a camera all three days, the casual Magic team was hard at work running a Group Game Draft tournament. Sixteen eager players plopped down into four man pods with the winner of each pod moving to the winner-take-all finale. I missed out on writing down the information myself (and a thorough search of the piles of scorekeeping paperwork yielded nothing) but JD, one of the finalists and originating members of the brain trust behind Group Game Draft, recalled two pretty awesome plays:

It was quite an epic day.

    Day 4: Mission – Recovery

While I'd love to wax poetic further I must take pause: I haven't really mentioned anything about the Grand Prix itself. I don't mean to take anything away from the high level competition—quite the contrary. I spent an entire weekend playing Magic, meeting new people, and enjoying everything that is social around the game without actually joining the main event, any side events, or even one of the casual events. I strictly played by the house rules of any card shop: play nice and have fun.

Magic comes in all shapes and sizes and while it may be intimidating to approach a large event (or, in this case, a record-shattering sized event) I can say with certainty that the bigger the event the better the odds you're going to find someone who likes Magic the same way you do. I had an absolute blast running myself into the ground grinding out as much time as possible at the Grand Prix and given the chance to do it again, I will.

And when I take the opportunity I sincerely hope to see you there. Join me next week when I dig into an aura of mystique.

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