Magic at PAX East

Posted in The Week That Was on March 18, 2011

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.

I have only been playing Commander for about two years. Prior to Grand Prix Kobe in 2009 I was extremely resistant to the multiplayer format that I had seen my friends playing for the past few years at just about every event. Ron Foster convinced me to give it a try using his Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck. I have always been Simic at heart, before it even had a name, and the presence—and absence—of some of my favorite green and/or blue staples had me hooked before my life total dipped below 30. (Mostly it was casting Spitting Image on my Yavimaya Elder over and over again until I had everything I needed to win the game.)

On the plane ride home I began drafting up a list of cards that I thought should have been in Ron's deck to send him an email when I landed but by the time I had landed it had morphed into a blue(green)print for a deck list. I don't know that a day has gone by since then when I have not thought about Commander. I got to participate in the Commander video that was produced in San Juan and just this past weekend I was invited to PAX East. It turns out that Wizards was putting on a Commander panel and I was asked to take part in it along with Paul Levy, Mark Gottlieb, and Toby Elliott.

PAX East is the Atlantic spin-off of Penny Arcade's famed Penny Arcade Expo, now known by the retronym PAX Prime. Described as a "three-day game festival for tabletop, videogame, and PC gamers," it has quickly become the East Coast gaming convention of the year, and it rivals the hype and excitement levels of San Diego Comic Con. Needless to say, I accepted the invitation.

On Friday morning I got to the main hall and made a beeline for the Wizards of the Coast booth. The focus of the space was Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, and it was festooned with larger-than-life cutouts of the five colors of Planeswalkers: Jace Beleren, Garruk Wildspeaker, Chandra Nalaar... and... wait, what...? Sorin Markov and Gideon Jura? In between each of the Planeswalkers was a monitor showing a looped video featuring the five Planewalkers in action.

There were already long lines snaking from the demo areas for Duels early on Friday with groups of players trying to take on Koth, who was augmenting his own chances with the help of an Archenemy deck—a new feature of the upcoming release. I had a chance to talk to some of the behind-the-scenes people on Duels about some of the card choices that appeared in the demo, and it was explained to me that the game was chock full of cards that will be coming out throughout the remainder of the year. The challenge was to show off all the exciting new multiplayer functionality without giving away cards that players won't get to see for months and months.

Brand Manager Paul Levy was like a rock star, with cameras and microphones shoved in his face from all directions throughout the morning, including an interview for G4. Magic has had a pretty exciting year (again), and it was great to see it getting treated with the same enthusiasm as major video game releases. And that was nothing compared to the enthusiastic support the game was getting over in the tabletop gaming area.

We had the Commander panel coming up in the afternoon which left me just enough time for a quick Booster Draft before the pregame meeting. The format for the draft was Besieged / Scars / Scars and I decided to make a conscious effort to not draft infect for this event. I had first picked a Blightwidow in most of my drafts over the past week and I was pretty bored with that strategy. I opened up Black Sun's Zenith, and when I was passed Slagstorm—over what I believe had to be a foil rare—I decided to give black-red control a whirl.

Black Sun's Zenith

Brian David-Marshall's Black-Red Control

Download Arena Decklist

As you might expect, the deck was able to kill pretty much anything that needed to be dead and eventually mop up with a dragon, Flamefiend, or whatever happened to be red-zone ready when the dust settled. My favorite play with the deck came when I used Liquimetal Coating to make a Kuldotha Flamefiend an artifact with its "enters the battlefield" ability still on the stack. I sacrificed the Flamefiend to itself and then used Morbid Plunder to return it and a Perilous Myr to my hand. Fun stuff. I wrapped up my draft and headed over to the Commander Panel.

Liquimetal Coating
Kuldotha Flamefiend

Even after making our way past a long and snaking line waiting to get into the panel I was skeptical that we would be able to fill the 500 empty seats that stared at us as we prepped for the panel. Empty, the room seemed cavernous, but once the room was filled with roughly 500 people it seemed much smaller and more intimate.

Commander panel: Toby Elliott, Brian David-Marshall, Mark Gottlieb, and Paul Levy.

We talked a bit about the format, winding our way from the format's early days in Alaska with Sheldon Menery and five of his closest Elder Dragons to the modern Magic Commander decks that will be coming out this summer from Wizards of the Coast: five preconstructed Commander decks with 51 new cards created specifically for those decks.

There was a lot of murmur around the new cards both from Commander aficionados—looking forward to brand new "wedge"-colored and enemy-colored legendary creatures—and from Magic fans of older formats. While the new cards in Magic Commander will not be legal in Standard or Extended, they will be legal in the Legacy and Vintage formats. When we opened the floor for questions, that Eternal format legality was on the mind of at least one audience member who grilled Mark Gottlieb about the impact these new cards would have.

Mark Gottlieb: "Are you asking me if we extensively playtested each and every one of these card in a Legacy/Vintage Future League?"

Audience Member: "Yes."

Mark Gottlieb: "Nope."

Mark went on to explain that the new cards were created specifically for the Commander format and the nature of the designs was such that he did not expect most of the cards to have a huge impact on Eternal formats.

After that, we got a first look at some of the new cards—one already known, and two exclusive to PAX East. They drew an excited response from the crowd, which was mostly made up of people with hundred-card decks in tow.

Karador, Ghost Chieftain was already known to some, having been revealed on the forums when the new decks were first announced.

Nin, the Pain Artist had people trying to remember exactly where they filed their Stuffy Dolls and Mogg Maniacs and was an example of one of the five enemy-colored legends that were created for this product.

Angel of Strife drew a rousing round of applause from the audience, although it was not clear if they were made up mostly of hawks or of doves.

I ended up lining up a handful of games for Saturday with groups of players and was very pleased with how things played out. I take a lot of grief about my Commander deck from Sheldon Menery, who hates that I play with Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter, but it is impossible for me to cut those cards from my deck as they are relics of one of my favorite Constructed decks, Pickles. I also play with some less broken—but no less beloved—combinations like Groundskeeper and Trade Routes. One card I may be cutting from the deck based on its capacity for filthiness is Equilibrium.

I had one four player game with Equilibrium, Trade Routes, Gaea's Cradle, and Oracle of Mul Daya on the battlefield where I was able to pick up my entire deck, return every permanent that another player controlled to their hands, and attack—or Blue Sun's Zenith—them to death at my leisure. With a Cradle that was making nine mana every time I tapped it I was able to loop my Elvish Visionary and Oracle of Mul Daya—which then let me return my Cradle (with Trade Routes) and replay it (thanks to a new extra land drop from my "new" Oracle) each time—until things got out of hand with a Tidespout Tyrant. I had three straight games with Equilibrium that made me a little queasy about the card with any combination of cards.

Trade Routes

Here is the deck I was playing with throughout the weekend:

Brian David Marshall's Momir Vig, Simic Visionary

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (2)
1 Jace Beleren 1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
99 Cards

The format I was most excited about playing during the weekend was MiniMaster. This is a single elimination tournament that starts with each player getting one booster pack of Scars of Mirrodin and as many lands as they need to build a 30-card deck. If they win a round they get another pack—this time of Mirrodin Besieged—and get to build a 40-card deck. Another win equals another booster pack of Scars. Here is an example of a deck from the three-round, eight-person MiniMaster event.

MiniMaster (Round 3)

Download Arena Decklist

I had a great time this weekend meeting players, talking about and playing Magic, and soaking up the sights and sounds of PAX East.

Grand Prix Kobe Postponed

Originally this coming weekend was supposed to see Grand Prix Kobe take place, but in light of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last week it has been postponed until the weekend of April 23. The official announcement has more information.

Please join me in sending your best wishes—and some Red Cross donations could not hurt either—to our friends in Japan as they struggle through this national tragedy.

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