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75% in the Wild

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If you were looking for a new article from me or a Brainstorm Brewery episode last week, you may have been disappointed to see that it just didn’t come together. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but I flew into Las Vegas days before the event to get some much-needed R&R and because it would take more than three days to meet up with all of the people I wanted to meet up with. Grand Prix Las Vegas was bound to be the social event of the season, and that was especially attractive to someone who’s like I am, who is all about a social game variant. With ten thousand people on site at the Las Vegas convention center, I had no shortage of opportunities to jam games against old friends and new friends.

I made it into Las Vegas on Monday afternoon, and I immediately had a chance to get my Commander on. After a late dinner at Lotus of Siam, three quarters of Brainstorm Brewery retired to our first and only hotel of the weekend and had time to kill. Commander decks were busted out by all. In the games were Brainstorm Brewery cohost Corbin Hosler, New Zealand resident and podcast listener @mildy_vein, and Ryan Bushard, who has a deck you might recognize.

Ryan Bushard (@crypplecommand)

Where’s He From? Ryan is a Gathering Magic writer and Brainstorm Brewery podcast member.

Signature Deck: Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice

75%? I’ll say!

The games were all pretty casual, and no one did anything too overpowered. I jammed my Vorel of the Hull Clade deck in roughly half the matches I played this weekend, hoping for a win. I want the deck to be better, and it just isn’t getting there. I need to play enough games to figure out why the deck only feels 75%—it has some games in which it does less than a precon would and games in which I have a turn-two Kalonian Hydra and proceed to tune the whole table up. Corbin jammed his Mayael the Anima deck one game and a silly, combotastic Karador, Ghost Chieftain reanimator deck the other. After two somewhat long games, we were ready to call it a night. After all, we had to be up pretty early to move into the house we rented for the occasion. And what a house it was!

Staying in a hotel is for suckers, especially when you can turn an empty kitchen and living room into a real event center. Wednesday night was the first opportunity.

With barbeque aficionados Marcel (@marcelmtg) and Tyrone (@mtgbrainstorm) from the Smooth Brothas podcast (and Brainstorm Brewery in Marcel’s case) working the grill, no one went hungry that night.

After the food fracas and a Chaos Draft with packs furnished by The Command Zone podcast hosts Jimmy Wong (@jfwong) and Josh Lee Kwai (@JoshLeeKwai), Corbin, Josh, Jimmy, and I headed out to meet The Masters of Modern podcast host Alex Kessler (@kesswylie) at a casino to play some craps, a game I had no interest in before Las Vegas but that I enjoyed playing thoroughly. Craps is very much a team game that sees players share in group triumphs, group defeats, and a sense of camaraderie that rivals traditional games. Alex likened craps to Settlers of Catan, and the parallels became obvious. You can increase your odds slightly to the same odds the casino has, but no one wanted to be that guy and bet against the table. Wednesday night became Thursday morning, and we left the casino but made a note of the location of The Plaza Hotel—we’d be back soon enough.

Thursday saw me spend some time on site and grab a few games of Commander at a table next to a group that included Gathering Magic founder Trick Jarrett (@trickmtg), Community Manager Heather Lafferty (@revisedangel), and Gathering Magic article taskmaster Adam Styborksi (@the_stybs). People came and went from the pod, but MTG Price writer and Brainstorm Brewery team member Douglas Johnson stuck around the whole time.

Douglas Johnson @rose0fthorns)

Where’s He From? Mtgprice.com and BrainstormBrewery.com. He won the first Gamers Helping Gamers scholarship.

Signature Deck: Glissa, the Traitor, complete with nasty tricks like looping Executioner's Capsules

75%? Yes, I think so. Not all of his decks would qualify though . . . anyone remember his Marchesa list?

I also met in person the first time someone the reddit EDH community has referred to as the “EDH Darwin,” Unified Theory of Commander writer Jason Rice.

Jason Rice (@Jasonthinks)

Where’s He From? The Unified Theory of Commander series on Brainstorm Brewery, which—even though I’m biased—I consider essential reading.

Signature Deck: I like his Dragonstorm Deck a lot.

75%? Indubitably! Dragonstorm isn’t even really always an auto-win, and the storm count is usually lowish. It’s more for tutoring and value, which are both okay choices given the face-up and narrow utility of Dragonstorm.

After we had jammed a few games, made some new friends, and had a few laughs, it was time to head to Fogo De Chao with Ryan, Corbin, Douglas, Jimmy Wong, Josh Lee Kwai, and another invitee whom we met just as our last game was wrapping up: YouTube sensation Tolarian Community College (@TolarianCollege), one of my opponents in one of the many Commander games I would jam that night.

Douglas was the honorary fourth Brainstorm Brewery member here for the purposes of settling any outstanding “Fogo bets” (bets in which the loser has to buy dinner at Fogo De Chao for the winner). So many of these have occurred in the two years since we were all in Vegas last. Most of them were a wash, and everyone paid for their own—except for me since I turned thirty-one last weekend, and who buys his or her own birthday dinner? Oh, right. Most people. Thanks for dinner, Josh! Buying Fogo for the birthday boy was merely the beginning of the hookups Josh and Jimmy had planned for the Commander community that night. After dinner, we headed over to the plaza hotel.

The Command Zone meetup was perhaps the worst-kept secret of the entire week. With enough food and beverages planned for sixty and roughly one hundred sixty people in attendance, the event quickly filled the large ballroom rented for the event. The combined generosity of The Command Zone podcast and Wizards of the Coast made sure there was no shortage of raffle prizes and sealed product to fire a dozen or so Draft pods after we tired of jamming Commander games. The meetup lasted from 7:00 P.M. to 2:00 A.M., and I was there every second, playing a Conspiracy Draft and jamming lots and lots of Commander.

The first thing I did when I arrived at the party was get a game of Commander going, and one of the pod members was none other than the aforementioned Tolarian Community College.

Tolarian Community College (@TolarianCollege)

Where’s He From? Silly question

Signature Deck: I only saw a Teysa, Orzhov Scion deck, but it looked like fun.

75%? Yes: powerful, but not degenerate. As a Vorel player, I was the only one not playing black and therefore not in danger of dying to my Bitterblossom.

It was a productive game, with T.C.C. (who introduced himself to me as “Brian” and can probably be referred to by his human name now that I’ve made it clear which brand he represents) realizing he doesn’t like Dark Prophecy in his deck after all. Any time you discover something like that, it is a very productive game. I don’t even remember who won the pod, but I do remember having a great time.

Before I decided I didn’t want to play any Commander ever again and opted to do some booster drafting before Josh, Jimmy, Corbin, and I joined a few others to try to win some more money at craps, I played a very memorable game that made me rethink five-person pods. Joining Douglas and me in that pod was someone you may recognize.

Christine Sprankle (@cspranklerun)

Where’s She From? Christine is possibly the best-known MTG cosplayer in the community. Enough people call her “That Elspeth chick” to her face that she wrote it on her name tag.

Signature Deck: Kaalia of the Vast!

75% Mostly. There are some tutors, but maybe if it had been less 75% . . .

This game took forever. No one could really muster anything, and I don’t run many tutors in my Prossh deck, so it was a while before I managed to assemble the cards I needed to win. Purphoros, God of the Forge stuck, and when I drew Pattern of Rebirth, my only tutor, I decided I’d had enough and opted to fetch a lethal Avenger of Zendikar when the enchanted creature died.

I wasn’t done with Magic for the night, but with that pod going for nearly an hour and a half, I needed a break from Commander. Luckily, it didn’t stick, and I was back at it the next day. The party went until they kicked us out of the ballroom and we ended up crapsing until the wee hours of the morning. “I’ll sleep when I’m in Michigan!” I said, vowing to order a vodka Red Bull, hold the vodka, the first second I made it into a casino. Did you stop reading because you had to Google to see if “crapsing” was a verb? I won’t type that into Google because I don’t want to see what comes up. Here’s G-rated eye bleach for you. What did you learn? Here’s some Magic eye bleach—it’s from Josh’s Twitter.

That’s what I call packing the essentials.

All of this stuff ended up leaving the room in the possession of The Command Zone listeners—very, very generous.

I played a lot of Commander on site the rest of the week and finally had a chance to jam against someone who has been building 75% all along even before I gave the concept a name: A.E. Marling.

We all know who’d win in a fight between A.E.’s Stitcher Geralf deck and Christine’s Kaalia deck, but how about his Sea Monsters deck against my Vorel deck? Throw a few other blue players into the mix—such as MTG Price’s Sigmund Ausfresser (@sigfig) running Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Brainstorm Brewery’s Jim (@_phrost), and you have a recipe for a very long game. Ever a trooper, Marling spent the whole game in costume, although he took off the gloves at least.

A.E. Marling (@AEMarling)

Where’s He From? He writes a popular column I hope you’ve read in addition to fantasy novels.

Signature Deck: SEEEA MONSTARRRS

75%? The literal 75%iest. This deck was flavor incarnate with the opportunity to steal games and build up a huge board presence. Using Thada Adel, Acquisitor as a commander seemed to be an excellent choice, and I quickly changed my view.

With everyone at the table playing blue, Thada Adel from Corbin and from A.E. created some very annoying, long turns, and this was easily one of the longest games of Commander I’ve ever played. It was still fun and swingy with counterspell wars being fought over spells like Whelming Wave. In the end, exhaustion claimed our enthusiasm. A.E. and I recorded a segment for the latest episode of The Command Zone podcast together, and Corbin and Christine were recorded separately. All in all, I had fun but was ultimately ready to take a break from Commander for a while.

 


 

Did I leave anything out? Yes. A lot. I played quite a few more games than I have recounted here, and I saw a lot of cool decks, not the least of which was a five-color pillow-fort monstrosity piloted by Josh Lee Kwai that threw down a Nekusar, the Mindrazer and a Phyrexian Tyranny and suddenly reminded everyone we should attack or block or do something. Losing to this clock was perhaps my punishment for declining to attack anyone with a Xenagos-boosted Prossh, Skyraider of Kher the turn I summoned Prossh. Maybe Xenagod needs to come out of that deck. Maybe I should have put some pressure on people to have something. Josh probably would have cast Cyclonic Rift on the lethal Prossh no matter whom I elected to attack because Commander is a political game like that.

Grand Prix Las Vegas was exhausting, but ultimately one of the best weeks of my life. I met so many people in this community who told me they were fans of Brainstorm Brewery, Money Draught, my Mtg Price writing, or the 75% method for Commander deck-building. I played countless games of unsanctioned Commander and fun Drafts and made a ton of new friends. Grand Prix are quickly becoming Magic conventions, and when one comes to your area, go. When people ask you what format the main event is going to be, just do what I do: Look at them, shrug, and ask, “Does it matter? I know the format I want to play.” You can have the time of your life and never play a sanctioned game of Magic. I’ll be back next week with a new deck or two next week. Until then, make plans for the next GP, come find me for a battle, and keep your decks tight, streamlined, and 75%. Until next time!


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