Back to School

Posted in The Week That Was on August 29, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

We are heading into the unofficial last weekend of summer and Magic players everywhere are packing up their backpacks, getting to know their new dormmates, and preparing for a fall of dreaming up Shards of Alara Block Constructed decks in class.

It is also the last weekend of the Lowryn/Shadowmoor Block Constructed PTQ season. Good luck to everyone trying to close the summer out on a high note. It has been a long time since I road tripped up and down the seaboard to attend PTQs but it is not so long ago that I don't recall the fervor of that final weekend. I have to tip my metaphorical hat to anyone attempting the final weekend run between two PTQs, which here on the East Coast of the U.S. means a long overnight haul to Rochester, N.Y.

Rob Dougherty's seen a few tournaments in his long career.

For those of you not quite ready to lay down your weapons from this season there will be a huge tournament with $5,000 in prizes hosted by Pro Tour Hall of Famer Rob Dougherty in Boxborough, Mass., next weekend. Rob is attempting to create "a great day of Magic fun for casual and competitive players alike!", and in addition to the $5,000 tournament he has created a schedule of events that includes door prizes, a free Booster Draft with event entry for players not taking part in the main tournament, and question and answer sessions throughout the day. Q&A sessions include Dougherty discussing the art of sideboarding, Darwin Kastle talking about his illustrious career, Magic artist Lars Grant-West tackling the subject of creating Magic cards, and me talking about my role as a coverage reporter, columnist, and Pro Tour Historian.

It is definitely not your everyday tournament schedule, in terms of both the large prize being offered in the main event and the ambitious schedule of seminars and side events.

"I feel it is critically important to the success of Magic for there to be large events where the entire Magic community—competitive and casual players alike—get together," explained Dougherty when asked about his decision to host this tournament. "It's great for players to meet and play against new opponents, not just the friends they see every week in their local shop. It's important for judges to get together and share their knowledge, teach new judges, and experience a large event."

Rob explained that recent changes in Organized Play also led to his decision. The changes to the Prerelease program mean that while there will be more events in more areas, there will be fewer large events for players and judges to garner the experience Rob mentioned above.

"I've created the $5K Magic day to fill the void and give the Northeast a regular big event," said Rob. "It is really two events rolled into one. There is the $5K Block Constructed tournament for the competitive power gamers, and there is the Magic Day for the casual love-of-the-game Magic players. Competitive players pay $30 to play in the $5K, and casual players pay a $15 entry fee for the Magic Day, which includes a free Booster Draft. Magic Day activities include a signing with Magic artist Lars Grant-West, Booster Drafts, Gunslinging with Hall of Fame Magic players, raffles, Magic seminars, eight-player Block Constructed side events, and dealers buying and selling cards."

Hall of Famer Darwin Kastle will gunsling."Wizards really did a great job of making this Block format fun, and being Block Constructed, the cards are relatively easy for players to get," Rob said as he explained his decision for the format of the main event. "That combination has made this block format the most popular Constructed format I've ever seen. My PTQ attendance has gone through the roof. Given all that, it was an easy choice to make my first Boston $5K a Block tournament."

It has been well more than a decade since Dougherty ran his first Magic tournament and just about the full 15 years possible since he first started playing the game. I asked him to describe the changes he has seen in the game over the years.

"Wow have they changed," laughed Dougherty when asked how tournaments and tournament players have evolved over the last decade plus. "I started running Magic tournaments before there was a DCI. There were no DCI numbers, no ranking system, no tournament software. We put people's names on index cards and recorded their wins/losses and opponents on the back. Organized play has come a long way since the Alpha and Beta days of Magic."

"Like the competitors of any sport, tournament Magic payers have gotten much better with time," Dougherty continued. "Players' understanding of the basics like card advantage, tempo, mana ratios and the like are far better now then in the early days of Magic. The explosion of the Internet and coverage of Magic has greatly increased the power level of the average Constructed deck while Magic Online has increased the skill of the average Booster Draft player by an order of magnitude."

Hall of Fame Ballot

Of all my Hall of Fame ballots, this year's has been the most agonizing for me and I am turning it in at close to the last minute. The heart of the conflict for me has been how to approach Olivier Ruel, who was suspended once at the start of his career (which I could easily see my way past) and again more recently, which is much more problematic when figuring out my ballot.

I am not a black-and-white kind of guy and would never paint someone's whole career with an early indiscretion. Bob Maher is a perfect example. He was suspended early in his career and was quite forthcoming and contrite about the whole situation. He then spent the rest of his career with nary a blemish to his reputation. If Olivier's only mark was that early suspension way back in 2000, it might give me pause but I would likely have voted for him.

Like I said, I am not a black-and-white guy and I can easily see myself voting—or not voting—for Olivier in the future but it just feels like it is too soon after his last suspension for me to feel right about voting for him this year. I really like Olivier. I look forward to seeing him at tournaments and hope my open ballot does not change that experience, but I can't advocate someone being suspended and then being inducted into the Hall of Fame just a couple years later. It was a very tough decision for me and I am sure it will continue to be a tough decision each year that Olivier—who sits second all-time in lifetime Pro Points—remains on the ballot.

Here is who I did vote for:

Ben Rubin, aka 'Superman'Ben Rubin and Mike Turian: Turian and Rubin were the last two candidates standing when the music stopped last year. The third class of the Hall of Fame was one of the most hotly debated ballots in the short history of the Pro Tour Hall of Fame, with seven players vying for five spots. There is no way these two players should be standing anywhere but on the stage at Worlds during this year's induction ceremony when all the ballots are tallied.

Rubin is one of the most fiercely intelligent people you could ever meet inside or outside of a Magic tournament. He stormed onto the Pro Tour while still in his teens and quickly racked up a pair of Finals finishes. He ended up with four Top 8 appearances overall but the title he came so close to those first two times out continued to elude him on the Pro Tour. He did win a pair of Grand Prixs and was the first player to twice win a Master Series—arguably one of the toughest tournaments in the history of premier events. To make those wins even more impressive: Ben had to defeat none other than Jon Finkel in the semis of one of those Masters and in the finals of the other.

Turian's first of five Pro Tour Top 8s was as a member of the Pro Tour-winning team Potato Nation. While teammates Gary Wise and Scott Johns were both more well-known than him at the time, it was Turian's nickname that became part of the team's name. By the time Turian's career ended to take a job at Wizards in 2004 (while he was still at the top of his game) he was known as one of the game's greatest Limited players and most likeable dream crushers.

Baberowski owns one individual title and two team titles.Dirk Baberowski is a slam dunk Hall of Famer with five Pro Tour Top 8 finishes. He has more Pro Tour wins than anyone else on this year's ballot with a whopping three—tied for second all-time. Two of those wins came as a member of the fearsome Phoenix Foundation and the third came in Chicago during the 1998-99 season. When my team was paired against the Phoenix Foundation at Pro Tour New York I was wary of Kai but I was downright terrified of Dirk. Baberowski also had a Masters win on his resume and finished second at a star-studded European Championship that included three other Hall of Fame players in the Top 8.

From there, Jelger Wiegersma was an easy choice for me. He is one of the most consistent players in the history of the Pro Tour with three Pro Tour Top 8s, including one win as a member of Von Dutch at Pro Tour–Seattle. It is easy to overlook the soft-spoken Dutch player but not if you are looking near the top of the final standings of just about any event he plays in. I suspect that when the player ballots are tallied, Jelger will be one of the highest finishers in that category—you would be hard pressed to find a player on the Pro Tour who questions Jelger's game in any way.

My last vote was a tough one. Masashiro Kuroda, Chris Pikula, Dave Price, Justin Gary, William Jensen, and a handful of others were all considerations for me but in the end I voted for Steven O'Mahoney-Schwartz. Steve is one of the cornerstones in the construction of the New York Magic scene. He began playing in—and dominating—tournaments before Glen Friedman and I ran our first tournament (which he attended), and was the first player through the door when we opened Neutral Ground in 1995. When I was drawing up the business plan to open the store, Steve—then just a teenager—was the first person I consulted.

Steve OMS is one of New York's finest.Steve also made the players around him better and was a boon to the NY community. I always recall him working with players to discuss how they could have built their Friday Night Sealed Deck differently or debating the final choice for a sideboard, all the while being one of the best players in the world—and possibly the best Limited player of all time. He has three Pro Tour Top 8s with finishes of first, second, and third that includes a semifinals finish at the first team Pro Tour alongside his brother Dan O'Mahoney-Schwartz (who is also eligible for the Hall this year) and Jon Finkel.

Nationals Round-up

Thanks to Tournament Organizer Gustavo Fischer for providing me with the decklists and metagame breakdown from the recently completed Uruguay National Championship. National Champion Jorge Sierra's Italian Nationals-inspired Torrent of Souls deck was undefeated in the Constructed rounds and in the Top 8 and looks to be a meaningful Standard deck right now. It marks the second time that Jorge has won his National title. He last won it in 2002.

Jorge Sierra's Torrent Red-Black Tokens

Download Arena Decklist

Joaquin "Pancho" Walter's Reveillark

Download Arena Decklist

Daniel Merlinski's Elfos

Download Arena Decklist

Leandro Cabrera's Reveillark

Download Arena Decklist

Alejandro Betschart's Swath Storm aka The Red Deck That Wins

Download Arena Decklist

Guillermo Gruszka's Faeries

Download Arena Decklist

Joaquín Larrosa's Merfolk (Yes, the Flashfreezes were maindecked!)

Download Arena Decklist

Rafael Peralta's Mana Ramp/QnT Hybrid

Download Arena Decklist

Here's how the Standard metagame shaped up:

Merfolk 4
Mono-red 4
Reveillark 3
Black-green Elves 3
Mana Ramp 3
Red-green Aggro 3
Faeries 2
Swath Storm 2
Black-red Tokens/Torrent 2
Quick 'n' Toast 2
White-green Elves 1
Mono-green Elves 1
Mono-green Warriors 1
Zur the Enchanter 1
Mono-white Martyr 1

By deck style:

Red Aggro (Mono-red, Red-green, Red-black): 9
Board Control (Reveillark, QnT, Mana Ramp): 8
Aggro/Control Blue/x (Faeries and Merfolk): 6
Green/x Aggro (Elves, Warriors): 6
Combo (Swath, Swans): 2
Other (Zur, Martyr): 2

We hope to bring you more Nationals updates in the coming weeks as the national championship season winds down.

Firestarter: Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Finals

Are you playing in a PTQ this weekend? Better yet, are you playing in two? What deck are you taking and why? Head to the forums and let me know what your Magic plans for the last weekend of the summer are!

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