Adventures in Game Day

Posted in The Week That Was on March 12, 2010

By Brian David-Marshall

Last weekend was Worldwake Game Day, and more than 15,000 players came together at over 800 locations all around the world to play Standard, get a cool promo card for participating, win even cooler promo cards in the Top 8, and, for one player at each location, earn the title of Game Day Champion. I caught up with some tournament organizers from all over the world to see how their events went.

Venue:Kaissa Amarousiou
Location: Athens, Greece
Tournament Organizer: Nikos Skarentzos
Winner: Vasilis Karatrasoglou playing Jund

Vasilis Karatrasoglou

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Kaissa Amarousiou owner and Tournament Organizer Nikos Skarentzos has been selling games since 1996 and running sanctioned Magic events since March 9th, 1998. This season's Game Day came a couple days after he had been running events for a dozen years. In addition to Friday Night Magic they run regular events on Mondays and Thursdays and host Game Days, Prereleases, Launch Parties, and Grand Prix Trials.

"I feel like it was just two years ago," said Nikos of opening his store 14 years ago. "We sell only games that can be played on a table—board games, card games, miniatures games, and chess—along with comics and books related to the games."

Nikos relied on two methods to promote the tournament beforehand.

"We try to announce all the events we run to the community forums, but we believe that the word of mouth is the best marketing and we try to inform every player individually," said Nikos, who was expecting between 30 and 40 players for the event. His store can accommodate well above 50 if they utilize their outdoor play space. He explained that the weekend of the tournament it was very windy out and the goal was to keep the players inside if possible.

"The event attendance was very close to our prediction," Nikos explained. "37 players is ideal for the 18 tables that we have inside the store, and it is a normal number for a Game Day."

Nikos went through all the normal pregame rituals, from preparing deck lists, checking table numbers, tidying up the play area, and making sure he had singles on hand for players looking to tune up their deck lists. He estimated that two-thirds of the field played decks based off of the most succesful archetypes from Pro Tour–San Diego, including the mighty Jund, Zvi's Mythic, and the Boss Naya deck that allowed Luis Scott-Vargas to sweep the Swiss rounds in San Diego.

"The most wanted cards the week before the event were Raging Ravine, Kor Firewalker, and Basilisk Collar," he said but it was Jund that dominated, with players cascading cards off the top of their decks starting as high as Bituminous Blast—although not in the winner's deck list.

"Our Game Day Champion was playing exactly the deck that won Pro-Tour San Diego, which proved to be the right thing as his deck had all the great cards of the archetype plus it was almost immune to Jund's main problem which is its mana base. He played it really well and made the right calls when needed. I also noticed that he didn't miss a turn-two Putrid Leech in a single game, and that is crucial in many match ups."

Location: Lódz, Poland
Tournament Organizer: Andrzej Cieslak
Winner: Tomasz Musial playing Eldrazi Green

Tomasz Musial

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Store owner and Tournament Organizer Andrzej Cieslak has a similar story to Nikos in that his store has been in business since 1996 and has been running Magic events for close to a dozen years. He signed on with the Wizards Play Network at the very first opportunity and has been running FNM even longer than that. Like Nikos, he is a dedicated hobby game store and has a very specific guideline for the products he carries.

"I sell all kind of games that do not require electric current," laughed Andrzej. He went on to explain that the game that is most important to his store, and him personally, is Magic.

"The First FNM I organized was November 3rd, 2000. And since then I organized it every week, thus in this year I will celebrate my 10th anniversary," he said proudly. "In my shop I have prepared of 60 seats for players. If necessary I can create an additional 50. This gives me the possibility of organizing every kind of tournament."

GameLord has had record attendances in Poland for FNM, PTQs, National Qualifiers, and Prereleases. He has even organized his own city championship. GameLord goes the extra mile when it comes to reporting on their events, which includes video coverage of event finals, music videos, and even a web comic called "Your Turn."

"Magic is my life," said Andrzej. "I have tried many ways to popularize this game."

While Jund was the most played archetype in the event it was not the winner at GameLord. Eldrazi Green took the title in the hands of Tomasz Musial. Tomasz is currently a student and has played Magic at GameLord for as long as Andrzej can recall. As the Top 8 was playing out Andrzej believed that the winning deck would have been an even more unexpected archetype, but some bad luck derailed that from coming to be. Semifinalist Michael Kepinski had multiple Summoning Traps result in nothing more than a Noble Hierarch.

"That situation is almost impossible in his deck," said Andrzej who broke down the field by archetype.

Andrzej said that most of the usual suspects from Worldwake were selling well, but added: "If you had Jace, the Mind Sculptor, you ruled!"

Venue:Pat's Games
Location: Austin, Texas
Tournament Organizer: Patricia Johnson
Winner: Woodrow Bogucki playing Jund

Woodrow Bogucki

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I love the story behind Pat's Games, which began a dozen years ago as a store selling Beanie Babies. In 1997 store owner Patricia Johnson was in a toy store with her son, and he asked her to buy a Portal starter deck for him and his sister.

"I assumed it was magic tricks, you know the sleight of hand rabbit in the hat type magic," recalled Pat. "I purchased two of these kits. When we got home the kids asked me if I wanted to play. I was surprised it was a card game!"

She became very aware of the game when she became the unofficial chauffeur for eight kids to attend Friday Night Magic. She even started to play the game herself, and her vehicle in the parking lot of a store meant that an event would automatically cross the attendance threshold for sanctioning.

"The local store owner and I had become friends. I would get calls on Friday from him to see if my kids were coming to FNM. If we were coming, he could tell anyone else that called that they would definitely have enough players to make sanctioning. After about a year, the judges at the store we were playing moved out of town. The owner of the store told me I should have the tournaments at my store since I brought most of the players," recalled Pat. And that's just what she ended up doing.

"He told me where to purchase product and he helped me get started. I called Wizards because I wanted to purchase product directly from them. The name of my store was Pat's Beanies and More. Wizards told me I did not qualify to become a Premier store or to buy product from them. I asked, 'What do I have to do to become a Premier store?' I was told hold Magic tournaments. I started with FNM, then added tournaments on Saturdays and Sundays. Later I added Tuesday nights."

Back then running sanctioned tournaments was not as easy as it is now through the WPN and required lots of paperwork and arcane knowledge.

"No other store in Austin was doing sanctioned events," Pat continued. "My store grew and grew, and I eventually had to rent a second store. I got the floral shop next to me to let me use their space on Friday nights, which by now was getting 48 players. We had players playing on the sidewalk by street light."

Pat's Beanies and More was becoming increasingly about the "more" in its name and outgrew any space Pat could find to rent.

"I found a lot with an old house (built in 1945) and a neighboring lot with a falling down six-car garage," she continued. "I bought the properties, had Habitat for Humanity tear down the old garage. I hired an architect and a builder, found a picture of a castle in England and had my Magic castle built. The picture of the building is seen by everyone on my website"

"The beanies went away in 2000 and we changed our name to Pat's Games. We only do Magic tournaments and sell Magic singles and accessories. My daughter became one of the top players in Austin. My son played in Nationals in San Diego for the super scholarship series. This year I Top 4ed in a Sealed event in PT–San Diego. I guess my kids really did teach me Magic tricks. They taught me a game that has become a successful business and one of the joys of my life."

Her attendance for this season's Game Day was impacted by a PTQ in Houston that syphoned off many of her players but she still had a hearty turnout. Stoneforge Mystic, Maelstrom Pulse, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Basilisk Collar, and Raging Ravine were the hot singles leading up to the event, with Jund taking the title—no suprise considering her champion Woodrow Bogucki.

"He is a very strong Constructed player and has been playing Jund at all of our events," she said of the winner. "He changes it up a little each time, but it is the basic Jund build. He is a regular at Pat's."

Venue:Games of Berkeley
Location: Berkeley, California
Tournament Organizer: Ralph Colby
Winner: Victor Matienzo playing Jund

Victor Matienzo

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Games of Berkeley is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary as a game store. Their focus is on popular board games like Apples to Apples and Scrabble, but they also carry roleplaying games like the Dungeons and Dragons line, miniatures games, and—of course—Magic: The Gathering.

"I've been running sanctioned Magic tournaments at Games of Berkeley for the past 7 years," said Tournament Organizer Ralph Colby. "Before I worked there, they had unsanctioned tournaments. We became WPN as soon as Wizards started the WPN program and we've been a Wizards Premier Store ever since. We run drafts 3 days a week. FNM at 5pm on Fridays, Saturday Morning Magic at 11am on Saturdays and often again at 3pm, and Monday Night Magic at 5 on Mondays. On Sundays one of our players, Freddy Hsu, runs Standard at 1pm."

While they often have drafts with as many as three pods of players, the store gets a modest attendance for Standard events—usually right around the 8-person threshold for sanctioning. They more than doubled that for this past weekend's Game Day festivities. While the store does not sell singles, they have been known to lend some cards to regulars from time to time.

"I lent out some cards," said Ralph. "Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Abyssal Persecutor; Ranger of Eos; some commons and uncommons; and an entire Vampire deck which Jacob Bishop piloted to the Top 8."

According to Ralph there were a number of people playing White Weenie and White-Blue Control as well as a couple of Vampire decks that made the Top 8.

"Obviously Jund was played and two Jund decks made it to the Top 3," said Ralph of the black, red, and green elephant sitting in the middle of the metagame. "I was glad to see Paul Lerner make it to the Top 8 with Filigree Angel. Against Le Lin in the Quarterfinals Paul was at over 100 life, but Le decked him with Jace, the Mind Sculptor."

"Victor Matienzo has only been playing Magic since Shadowmoor," Ralph said of the tournament winner. "He's always been good for a casual player. If he put his mind to it I could see him winning a PTQ or a Grand Prix. He said he played Jund because it "seems lke the most powerful deck right now" it's "versatile" and "not too narrow." When I asked him what his favorite card was he said he likes the Ravnica dual land cycle."

"Sadly, said Ralph, "I didn't take any photos of the event. Here's a picture of our store though:"

Venue:Guardian Games
Location: Portland, Oregon
Tournament Organizer: Angel May
Winner: Dwight Eubanks playing White-Blue Control

Dwight Eubanks

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Compared to other stores we have featured so far, Guardian Games is a babe in the woods, opening in 2005. They sell just about every kind of game you can imagine, from vintage video games to everyone's favorite card games. A big feature of their store is an event space that can accomodate up to 100 players, and they have made sanctioned Magic events a big part of their business since day one of operations.

"We run casual Constructed on Tuesdays. EDH on Thursdays. Drafts/Sealed for FNM. Draft Saturday nights. Standard on Sundays. Occasionally we do a chaos draft, or mini-masters for fun," said Tournament Organizer Angel May.

I asked Angel how a tournament organizer goes about marketing an event like FNM or Game Day.

"I post art of the promo cards on Facebook via our fan and business pages," said Angel. "I use Twitter to inform players about their deck lists being published. All of this info also makes it to our front page on our website. We also take advantage of getting the promo cards a couple of weeks early, by putting them in our singles case next to an ad flyer for Game Day with a note about how to get the promo cards. As far as the event goes, we keep the entry fee low, and therefore get to see some of our casual players enter the mix. I would say they see it as a special event."

"Jace, the Mind Sculptor has sold well, despite its steep price," said Angel of the cards that were moving in advance of the tournament. "Other utility cards were in demand: Day of Judgment, Bloodbraid Elf, Path to Exile, Lightning Bolt. Some good sideboard cards saw a little extra bump in demand: Flashfreeze, Deathmark, White Knight, etc."

There were 27 players in attendance, which was above average according to Angel.

"The fact we have our Top 8 Game Day deck lists published really helps us get a few more players than the other stores in our region. The players can't resist a couple seconds of fame."

The field was largely Jund, Vampires, and Jace Control, and in the end it was the white-blue deck that was brought to prominence by Patrick Chapin during Pro Tour–San Diego that took down the Championship.

"Dwight Eubanks practices Magic a lot," Angel said of the Game Day winner. "We see him for every Standard event we host. When he isn't playing in a tournament, he is at a local restaurant testing and building. Always trying to improve his game. And in general he is a really easy-going, nice guy to be around. Every now and again, you can see Dwight helping a newer player tweak their deck and make it better. I think he realizes this helps him as much as it helps the new player."

    Grand Prix Adventures

The Grand Prix schedule kicks into high gear over the next four weeks, including back-to-back weekends in Kuala Lumpur and Yokohama. Expect many of the top Pros chasing Pro Points to hit both events as they spend an extended vacation adventuring around the Far East. After those it's on to Brussels (March 27-28) and Houston (April 3-4) before taking a break in April. Tune in this weekend for Grand Prix–Kuala Lumpur coverage from Ray "blisterguy" Walkinshaw as he gets to the bottom of Standard following Worldwake Game Day.

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