Just a Game?

Posted in Serious Fun on December 22, 2015

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

With the end of the year nearly upon us, we're taking two weeks to revisit the best articles from DailyMTG in 2015. If you didn't catch some of these the first time around, do yourself a favor and read on. Then, join us back on December 28 as Oath of the Gatewatch previews get underway in earnest!

Happy Holidays!

On March 6–8, I attended PAX East. It is a gaming convention that has reached behemoth proportions. Sneak peeks at all sorts of electronic games, devices related to gaming, and pretty much anything else that could be considered gaming. As someone who just doesn't play a lot of video games, PAX East still appeals to me; there are board games all over the place to try out and buy, along with plenty of Magic. Actually, there is so much Magic you could play in one event after another all the way through PAX and still not play in every event. Every year there is a Magic panel, where the good folks at Wizards of the Coast share a few of their closely guarded secrets with the rest of us.

PAX East is gamer Nirvana. How else would you get 50,000 people to pose in line while waiting for the doors to open on Saturday?

With three days of insanity, what were my highlights? Let me walk you through the highlights of my PAX experience. I think you might be a little surprised.


A highlight of my PAX experience was leaving PAX to watch the hated Bruins defeat a weaker Red Wings hockey team? TD Garden is on the other side of Boston from PAX and the Convention Center. It was less about the game and more about getting to spend some time with Adam.

Stybs took my offer to stay at my place during the Grand Prix in Worcester last year, and everything went so well it just made sense to have him stay with me again for PAX. We played some Cube with my regular play group on Thursday night before PAX, then played Commander, Sealed, Winston Draft, Conspiracy Draft, and more Commander all the way through PAX. Stybs is a personable guy and a no-nonsense straight-talker. I'm happy to call him a friend and was excited for the chance to get to spend PAX with him. That he came a day earlier due to a snow storm was an added benefit. We played a lot of Magic, ate a lot of great food, and cemented a friendship that will last a long time. My PAX was immeasurably better with Stybs around.

We commented toward the end of PAX that we had a serious case of "run goods" for the entire event. I attribute that less to good luck and more to good company. We get along well and met a lot of great people through the weekend. We would have had a hard time "running bad."

The Cluyzes

Aaron is a Level 2 judge with a distinctive bowtie style, whose distinctive voice can be heard on both the Monday Night Magic podcast and the Card Advantage podcast. While he is usually found judging events at Atomic Empire,[1] I had the pleasure of meeting the good doctor and his wonderful wife Jenny at a Magic panel during a previous PAX. We didn't get a chance then to exchange more than a few words, so when he responded to a tweet looking for Commander players I was thrilled to get the chance to sit down for a bit.

The game itself was a little anticlimactic. Everyone developed their board positions, until Cluyze managed to get his commander, Avacyn, on the battlefield. A quick Wrath, and in spite of Adam digging deep into his library, the game eventually ended in Aaron's favor.

In spite of what could be considered a bit of a dud of a game, I really enjoyed the chance to share some banter with two great people. Jenny was running a Rat deck that set off a stream of puns that I will not torture all of you with, but they were amazing in every way.

This Magic-playing couple was a delight to get to know. When you get up from a game where you just didn't really get started, and still feel like you had a lot of fun, it says something about the people you played. I hope we'll get a chance to break bread in the future!

Dinner with Yolanda and Stybs

My wife Yolanda rarely features in my articles, mostly because she doesn't play Magic. She is a saint for tolerating the invasion of Magic players into our home every Thursday night. She is wonderful about giving me time to write Magic articles. She understands that Magic is one of my passions and she respects that. However, she doesn't play.

Stybs is completely immersed in Magic, the community, and all things related. He writes about Magic, plays Magic, runs a Magic website, maintains a Cube and a website related to that, is up to date on the Commander and tournament scenes. Stybs is Magic. When he visits, and when I talk to him, we are pretty much just Magic all the time. It is a chance for me to share thoughts and ideas about Magic. Regaling my wife with an amazing series of plays means very little to my wife, but Adam understands just how impressive the game really was.

So when the three of us went out for dinner on Friday night, I got to hear about my friend's life beyond just Magic. Instead of considering the finer points of a Pharika deck, we talked about our growing children, LEGO obsessions, and the commute of a teacher. We talked about wine preferences and whiskey sours. We talked about wonderful, yet crazy, families and the perfection that is your favorite piece of perfectly done steak. We talked about ourselves and our lives. It was wonderful.

Conspiracy Draft

When Conspiracy was announced, I almost cheered. This was a product that was practically made for my play group. While we primarily play multiplayer Constructed, on the last Thursday of the month, we choose some type of Limited format to play. Josh has a couple of Cubes, so that is our default. Conspiracy would let us combine our love of multiplayer games and Draft into one package of goodness. Peanut butter and chocolate were never this good!

Our group bought a lot of Conspiracy. I mean a LOT of Conspiracy. I believe the final count was over twelve boxes. We upped our Draft nights to practically every second week—with someone offering their packs up each week, there was no rare drafting or any consideration of how much the cards were, we just played and gave all the cards to the owner at the end of the night. This went on for months through the summer, to the point where I believe I may have played more Conspiracy than almost anyone else. We eventually started to get sick of it and opted for a break. Unfortunately for me, we got sick of it before even a single pack of my three boxes were ever opened!

That problem was solved this weekend. We were playing a game of Commander when Glenn Godard spotted us. We set up a five-player draft of Conspiracy and started drafting as soon as the Commander game wrapped up.

I hadn't met Glenn before, other than a few chats on Twitter. Glenn is well-known as a great TO for big events all over the Southeast. Getting his perspective on the ever-increasing size of Grand Prix events and the difficulties this brings for TOs was really interesting. Glenn drafted an interesting deck that just wouldn't cooperate. He was attacked until he was all but out of the game, so we never really got to see what his deck could do. He paid us back with a beating in the next Commander game that I hope to never endure again.

Ant Tessitore was our third for Saturday. Stybs, Ant, and I spent the entire day together, playing plenty of Commander, and getting into this great Conspiracy game. Ant earned the win with consecutive Wrap in Flames, followed up with a 9/9 Lurking Automaton. Ant writes regularly at GatheringMagic.com; co-hosts and produces a weekly podcast, Snack Time; and writes flavor text on Magic cards! Spending the day with Ant gave me the chance to get to know him beyond just the snacks and love of Magic flavor.

Wil Blanks was part of our Commander/Conspiracy afternoon. His enthusiasm for Magic and all things related to it was infectious. He was good enough to spend a little time with us and built a Conspiracy deck that came out of the blocks and caused all sorts of problems. The Level 1 judge also managed to open a foil Marchesa for me, and I can really appreciate that too! Unfortunately, I didn't really get to talk with Wil beyond Magic, and I'll have to rectify that in the future. His decks and whole attitude just oozed fun.

Dinner with Wizards

The original plan for Saturday evening was dinner with Ant, Stybs, and Magic designer Ethan Fleischer at a nearby place; then a conversation on Friday night and a change to our reservation turned into dinner for nine, with several people from Wizards of the Coast joining the four of us. It was great to meet and chat with the people behind this game we love. I'd love to tell you the dinner was full of spoilers for the next set when [DELETED] and [DELETED] [CENSORED] but it wasn't like that. We talked about processes and favorite cards.[2] We talked about a deck that only includes images of bears.[3] When you realize that these people talk about Magic all day long, and have to be careful to never reveal anything that is still to come, and they recently traveled across the country, everyone was unfailingly happy and excited to be there, talking about Magic.

Dragonlord's Servant | Art by Steve Prescott

The moments that I remember involved Alison Luhrs's story about her grandmother and a leopard (perhaps I'm remembering the wrong wild feline with big claws and teeth) she raised, and a discussion with Ethan about his child's coming driving lessons. It can be easy to forget that the people who are making Magic are more than just images that spout Magic all the time. These are people with real lives beyond the game we love. Dinner was a chance to eat some excellent food with some wonderful people who happen to make Magic.

The Novice

The real highlight of the entire PAX weekend happened on Friday, right before PAX even started. Stybs and I were setting up to play a Commander game when a couple of people came up to watch. Stybs invited both to play and even offered up decks for them to play. Liam was a regular player and reader (hi Liam!) who was thrilled to start his PAX weekend with a Commander game with people he had never expected to meet. Liam took a strong lead in the game with careful play and some excellent draws. He eliminated me, then succumbed to the combined efforts of Stybs and Jessica.

Jessica was a novice player. She had played Magic before, but never Commander. She caught on quickly with a straightforward Commander deck that asked you to play creatures and smash face.

The highlight was watching Stybs help her along. He sat next to her and explained the board situations to her, realizing that it can be very overwhelming to a new player. He wasn't playing her deck or telling her what to do. He was simply distilling the board to its relevant threats and listing her options, leaving the plan of attack to Jessica. Seeing the sparks of understanding in a newer player as the game progressed was my highlight. Her gaming experience at PAX started off well, and I hope Jessica will play Magic a little more often. My experience was made better to think another player made a jump in understanding the game.

With these highlights, the reason I love to go to PAX East is fairly obvious: the people. Major conventions give me a chance to meet so many Magic players and aspiring Magic players that I just wouldn't meet otherwise. Getting a chance to play some games, eat some food, and check out everything at the Convention Center is fun. But getting to know the people and make some new friends is the real reason to go.

Bruce Richard




[1] Atomic Empire in Durham, North Carolina. It’s a great shop. You should check it out!

[2] Someone really loves Cocoon.

[3] Have you seen Venarian Gold?

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