Last weekend, over 1800 people made their way to the Sacramento Convention Center for a Magic Grand Prix event. I was one of them! This was the largest event in California history, and I had a great time. This time, it was Theros limited (so, Sealed on Day One, Draft on Day Two). It marks my second ever GP (the first having come last summer in Oakland for M13 limited), and my best finish yet (6-3, missed out on Day Two by 1 match)!
There was another whole half!
I took the day off on Friday so that I could drive up to Sacramento early and participate in some of the side events going on. The thing to know about these events is that, while there is a two-day 18-round main event, there are other sanctioned events constantly going. Drafts, Sealed events, Standard/Modern/Commander tournaments, some 2-Headed Giant stuff, etc. Plus, there are countless pick-up games and tons of trading.
With that being said, I arrived relatively early on Friday and jumped into the queue for one of the Last-Chance GP Qualifiers. I ended up picking Sealed, mostly because I wanted to get in a little more limited practice, and it seemed like a lot more people were signing up for Sealed than Draft. This ended up being a great decision for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that there were something like twelve Sealed events launched, while only one or two Drafts ever fired.
The other reason, of course, is that I ended up winning my 32-person Sealed pod! After five rounds of single-elimination play, I ended up winning quite a few prizes – a box of Theros (second place got one, too), an upgrade to the VIP package for the weekend (including a playmat, a fancy pin, and a ticket for another event), and two byes for the Main Event. Awesome! It’s definitely true that I got a bit lucky and ended up with a really strong pool, but I also felt like I managed to play well – and I felt like that is what carried me through to the end. Here’s a look at the deck (the two empty sleeves were a Temple of Abandon and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion):
The unsleeved cards on the right were my most-used sideboard cards (particularly the top set). The rest of the pool looked like this:
Last-Chance Rest of Pool
In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have played the Nylea’s Presence main-board. I was thinking about the possibility of Scholar of Athreos activations, but that seems a bit greedy (and never really came up). I suppose it was useful given the fact that I had two different cards that both wanted three mana symbols (Arbor Colossus and Hundred-Handed One), but I still think one of the removal spells or even the Chosen by Heliod would have been a better choice for consistency. That said, it was clearly very good!
So that sets the stage for Saturday. I’d already gone 5-0 in sanctioned events, and my byes had pushed me to 2-0 in the Main Event before I even opened up my pool! As a player with byes and the VIP package, I got to show up a bit later, and build my deck while the first round of the event was being played. I never feel like I have enough time for deck-construction, and this weekend was no different. I ended up torn between two options, and I think I ended up choosing the relatively weaker one. Here’s what I came up with:
Main Event Deck
Again, the three cards on the right were primary sideboard cards (and the Ember Swallower was just a mistake to leave out – it came in for a Cyclops every time). I know in my heart of hearts that playing an aggressive deck in Sealed is really hard and generally a no-no, but I had so many one- and two-drops! Turns out I also had a lot of 4-drops, which is why it often ends up falling short. But, honestly, I ran fairly well. I think, ideally, I might have used my third Traveling Philosopher and cut yet another of the 4-drops, but it’s hard to say. If I’d had an Ordeal or a Gods Willing, I think those would also have helped. But I did not.
The other deck option swapped out the White for a pretty strong set of Blue cards. It would have looked something like this:
Main Event Deck v2
I even sleeved these all up and got the mana prepared so that I could do a heavy sideboard into it (and I probably should have against at least one Green-based heroic opponent), but I never actually deployed it in the heat of battle. The top end on this deck is stronger, I think. There are 5-6 (depending on whether I kept the Divine Verdict) removal/bounce cards, more high-impact creatures, and some evasion. It’s light on early plays, though, so I may have always just been struggling to stabilize. Hard to say.
Here is the remaining pool:
Main Event Rest of Pool
Any thoughts? Should I have played the shallow black or the mediocre green?
Overall, I was pretty happy with how things went, even if I know that, looking back, I might have built things slightly differently. I ended up making it to 6-3 in the main event, which is a pretty strong finish. I was playing in the last round, trying to get in to Day Two, and I ended up with an overall 11-3 match record for the weekend (including my 2 byes). So, that’s good! But it would also have been nice to do even better. I definitely made some play mistakes (including missing an active Purphoros for a couple of turns, and mis-sequencing my plays on several occasions), but I’m bound to do that when I’m not used to playing competitive matches for 18 hours out of 36.
As for the rest of the weekend, it really was a great time. In general, the atmosphere is very welcoming – most people are willing to chat with you in between games (or even, to some extent, during them), and everyone is really just there because they enjoy the game, which is great! I got to watch Brian Kibler play a few games (and the speed of his shuffling feels even faster in person), and I was seated next to Josh Utter-Leyton – who seemed perfectly nice, if definitely focused – in the final round at 6-2 playing to get in. There are folks from Wizards wandering around and playing pickup games with people. A bunch of artists come to each of these – yes, I did get my Revised Brass Man and 4th Edition Leviathan signed – and will do sketches or sign prints or whatever. It’s very cool to see the full frame versions of some of the art that makes its way on to cards.
And, if you happen to be in Sacramento, I can definitely recommend Burgers & Brew. I had a chorizo burger that was incredible, half a bottle of Saison Dupont and some Duchesse de Bourgogne on tap. Yum!
All-in-all, I heartily recommend making it to one of these events if you can. Even if you don’t end up playing in the Main Event, there is plenty to do, and being part of the atmosphere is great fun.
I’m going to try and keep this relatively quick this morning, since I’m getting ready for a weekend playing Magic in Sacramento. It’s another GP, like the one that I went to in Oakland over the summer. We will once again be playing Limited (Sealed on Saturday, Draft on Sunday), and this time it is Theros! That means Gods and Enchantments and everything else. This time around, we are also much deeper into the format, so that should be interesting. I will take some pictures and report back next week!
In other news, I am sure most people have heard by now, but part of this week’s Wildstar Beta patch was a reduction in bust size for three of the eight races (sepcifically, both Human races and the Aurin). I’m sure that it has caused great sperging about the downfall of society in some corners of the internet, but honestly, I think it’s a good thing! If nothing else, it shows that Carbine is willing to respond to reasonable criticisms, which is a good precedent to set. They’ve even hinted at the possibility of adding more in-depth body sliders at some point after release, but given that we are probably only a few months out, it’s possible that this is all they felt they had time for.
Character creation still isn’t perfect. One of my biggest issues is that the poses in the character creation screens are still very much “break my back showing off my glorious chest and booty assets”. Which is unfortunate, because as soon as you see those models in-game (and with some armor), things start to get somewhat better. There is still a lot of stupid running, but one thing at a time, I guess.
In any event, I’m hoping that this is a good omen for the future. And I’m also hoping that the more of these sorts of dust-ups that occur with new games, the more likely it is that developers will start to actively think about it before having to be yelled at by the public. Seems like a long-shot, I know, but a person can dream.
So I’m a couple days behind on getting this out, but over the weekend, I went to my first Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix! It was a lot of fun. 1600+ people filled up the Oakland Convention Center on Saturday morning to play M14 Sealed.
That’s a lot of people!
There were events all weekend long, and while I couldn’t hang out during the day on Friday, in the evening, I hooked up with my friend and guildmate Kinch to attend a cool seminar on the format with Ben Stark and Luis Scott-Vargas (look, these are MTG Hall of Famers, okay?!) and play in a “practice” event in the same format. Theoretically, you could come up against people from Channel Fireball, who were hosting the event, and win some extra prizes. Instead, I just went 2-1 and won some extra foil prize cards. Mostly, though, I was just there to have fun. Which I did!
Also, I asked LSV if he had given away any prizes (by losing) midway through the rounds. That was kind of awesome. Especially since he had.
After getting stuck in a 12:30 AM traffic jam on the way home, I came back Saturday morning for the Main Event. This time, I took the train – suck it, Oakland road work! They sat us down at tables, and we started – very methodically – opening packs, sorting them, and writing down what was in them. I’ve never had to do a “real” deck registration before, but the idea is that you open packs, write down what’s in them, pass them around the table, someone else verifies it, and then pass them again. At that point, you have the pool you’ll be playing with. I guess this is a good way to verify that people aren’t dropping in extra Kalonian Hydras into their decks (even though the pack being registered next to me had two of them in it…).
In the end, I played a red/green deck that had a lot of face-bashing potential. What it didn’t have much of was removal spells. This is a problem (especially in sealed), because when everyone opens 6 packs of cards, they have a lot of chance to open removal, and a lot of chance to open big fat dudes that smash you. So, while I had the possibility to just win some games before my opponent could react, I got into a lot of trouble once the board stabilized a bit. I still tended to have the bigger creatures, but it just wasn’t consistently enough.
I think that I also ended up playing too few creatures for the style of deck I was trying to build. I only had 12 creatures (out of 23 spells), which just isn’t that many. I probably should have tried to push it to 16 or so. Maybe not, since I had to dedicate 3 cards just for the Doom Blade. It’s hard to say. Here’s what I ran:
Main deck + sideboard
Rest of the pool
In the end, I went 3-3, at which point I dropped (basically, if you don’t go 7-2 on the first day, you are highly unlikely to make the second day). The friend that went the farthest got to 5-3 with what appeared to me to be a slightly weaker deck. It’s possible that I was mistaken – especially after he started switching colors in between rounds (which is where his winning percentage changed).
So yeah, that’s basically it. Going to a Grand Prix is definitely something I’d do again, and I’d highly recommend it to someone who enjoys playing competitive Magic. Even if you don’t think you will make it very far, the atmosphere is just really cool. There’s tons of people around who just want to play and have a good time. There are artists that show up and will sit at a booth and sign cards/playmats/whatever for hours all day. You can even buy some original card art – several of the artists I talked to did their originals in oil on canvas, and were at least selling prints.
Also, if you have watched any coverage or listened to podcasts (Limited Resources and Drive to Work are my current go-to Magic podcasts), then you will recognize a ton of Magic celebrities – all of whom seemed reasonably willing to just chat with people from the community. That, or you could spend 10 grand on a full playset of Beta moxes…
I’ve mentioned it a few times before, but one of my non-video gaming hobbies is Magic: The Gathering. It’s a game that I picked up from a couple friends during high school (towards the tail end of Revised) and played fairly consistently for a couple of years, before sticking all my cards in a box and moving on to other adventures for a while. I think I played a couple of games during college, but didn’t buy any cards – or really think about Magic at all – between a pack or two of Alliances (in 1996) and a Deck Builder’s Kit sometime in 2011 (I think. I somehow have one or two cards from the 2009-2010 Zendikar block, but I’m not sure where they came from.)
At that point, a few of the folks in my D&D group started playing casually before our games, as a way to kill some time and expand our gaming. And that was pretty fun. I broke out my cobbled-together-from-booster-packs deck from 1996 and joined in with my horribly-outclassed Sengir Vampire and Norritt, and it was pretty enjoyable. I started looking at ways to modernize that deck, since all the cards that I used to think were good had strictly-improved replacements that had been printed over the last 15 years. I started messing around with printing out proxy cards, in the hopes that I could have a chance to play casually with my friends while not going down the black hole of wallet doom that Magic can be. It worked out because my friends were doing similar things – I bought a few cards here and there to at least make myself feel like I was vaguely supporting Wizards of the Coast – and everything was fine.
Except, the problem was, I’d gotten myself hooked again. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s true. See, Magic is one of those games where you can spend far more time theorizing about the game than actually playing it. It’s vastly complex and, depending on the format that you choose, essentially impossible to understand all the angles. You not only have to consider the tactics that your deck is built around, but you have to understand the strategy of each of opponents’ decks (or, at least, some general approaches for various styles), so that you can be ready to deal with them. It’s really cool, and there are a ton of moving parts.
The problem, then, comes back to that black hole money pit I mentioned. At its heart, Magic is really the quintessential model for a microtransaction-based game. You build a ruleset (in this case, a good one, even!), get people hooked with introductory offers (Starter Decks, Intro Packs, etc) that have enough to be able to participate, but not enough to really be competitive, and then sell them incremental upgrades that constantly leave them wanting more. Magic is particularly insidious in that they sell randomized booster packs – a set of 15 cards, with an random selection from several rarity pools (1 super-common land, 10 “common”, 3 “uncommon” and 1 “rare”). A typically “good” deck, has a large number of the rare and uncommon cards, so in order to actually build one of the better decks, you are going to need to open a large number of booster packs. Or go to the secondary market, which is thriving – some cards from the newest set are going $20-30.
This can all add up really quickly. And new sets of cards come out every 3-4 months, that change strategy (or push other, older cards, out of the Standard format), so there’s a strong incentive to buy early, buy often, and continue buying. If you want to build a specific deck (and there are tons of tools to help you build them without having physical cards, like Tapped Out), it’s probably better to just buy the singles. But when you see deck lists that consistently have a price tag of $300+, that seems… ridiculous. On the other hand, if you just buy a few more packs, well, maybe you’ll get something good! Or maybe you’ll get something that your friend wants – and maybe that friend has some cards that you want! And then the whole thing devolves into “Holy shit, my wallet is empty and I’m still missing these 5 cards!”
And all that is if you only want to build one deck and maintain it as new cards come out, which can get really boring.
I don’t know where I’m going with this, but it’s incredibly difficult to find a good line between having fun on a hobby that I like and not letting it take over my world – both mentally and monetarily. I know that the best thing to do is to just buy some extra printer toner for my casual games, keep playing in the occasional Draft (a format where you buy a few cards that you then use in the games and potentially win some prizes out of), and ignore the draw of a “real” deck. But my lord is it enticing to just buy that one next pack, and hope I get what I need…