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GP: SeaTac, Parts XIII–XVI


Part XIII – The Social Pyramid

At my fourth high school, one of the more popular young men in my year went by Than (short for Nathanial). He wasn’t popular in the sense that he was in the high-school-movie-style popular clique; rather, he was a chameleon athletic enough to hang around jocks (and discuss sports with them), creative enough to get along with theater and music types, smart enough to do extremely well in debate (my main focus), and nerdy enough to talk about the relative innovations of Starcraft versus Warcraft II. I will leave it to the reader to conclude how he did with the opposite sex. While he certainly was far more skillful at socialization than I’ll ever be, his ability to be well liked despite being extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful certainly gave me hope.

This sort of person doesn’t exist in Magic because the Magic community’s divided tiers of socialization make colonial India look like a hippie commune from 1968. At the top tier is the ChannelFireball team,1 which contains most of the best players in the world (including the probable numbers one and two, LSV and Paulo), and with some exceptions, they spend most of their time around each other, talking to each other, and playing Magic with each other.

Below them on the social tier are the fairly successful (over the long term) players whom people who follow competitive Magic have probably heard of; they’re either consistent players on the Pro Tour or they were recently. Below them are the dying breed of grinder—mostly a holdover from the short-lived StarCityGames Open era.2 These players are mostly not Pro Tour–qualified, but they travel to plenty of Grands Prix (and do reasonably well at a reasonable number) with the hope of playing on the Tour in the near future.

Below these groups is the base of the pyramid: the tables upon tables of players from various areas who hang out almost exclusively with people from that area. Cross-socialization/miscegenation between groups is acceptable to some extent, but rarely beyond one level on the pyramid.

A quick pre-rebuttal to an obvious objection: Yes, you can walk up to a high-profile pro player, get him or her to sign your cards, tell the pro how great he or she is, and engage that person in brief conversation. Plenty of people do, and the pro player is almost invariably approachable and friendly. This doesn’t change the fact that he or she is still not your friend.

Trinket Mage
One conceptualization of the nerd archetype is that of some dweeby-looking guy sitting by himself all day, enhancing his knowledge of some arcane subject and editing the Wikipedia article about it. While this is certainly one segment of Magic’s player base, it’s much smaller than non-Magic players would imagine, and the aforementioned group mostly plays Magic Online. Magic-playing nerds, to the great surprise and occasional revulsion of the non-Magic-affiliated people unfortunate enough to be sitting within earshot of their Commander games, are far more likely than not to be extroverted, getting their energy from being around their Magic-playing friends on a near-constant basis, and enjoying their company more than the actual games of Magic. We’ve all seen this with local casual players, but it doesn’t just apply to them. It’s nearly impossible to become a high-level tournament player without long hours play-testing matches repeatedly, and this requires a disposition not entirely opposed to the idea of sitting in a basement accompanied by a fair number of people and their corresponding bags of Cool Ranch Doritos.

This tournament report covers much different material than it set out to (before it existed/before I went to the tournament) due to never preparing for the slight possibility I would do this well. If I had wanted a decent chance at making Top 64, I would have played a hell of a lot more Drafts, and I might have even pushed aside the Thai food while playing out those practice rounds. Also, I would have thought of them as practice rounds or serious play-testing or as improving my technical play instead of just as dicking around at the card shop on another Tuesday night.

So, in the future, I don’t expect many more reports on GP Top 64 finishes or PTQ Top 8s because (aside from the obvious correlation of opening the greatest Sealed pool and making Day 2) I have no interest in spending that amount of time around people without some sort of reasonable weeklong break between such meetings.

The rise of a Magic player’s career is best tracked not by a spreadsheet of their top finishes, but by whom they’re hanging out with.

Part XIV – Mailbag

You seem to hate everything related to Magic. Why do you even play?

I don’t hate Magic. I’ve spent a lot of time building decks, talking about the game, reading about it, looking over spoilers, being engaged in the community, and so on.

What’s up with the footnotes, anyway?

Important things are in the articles. Unimportant things are in footnotes.

How do I find out what level of the social pyramid I’m on?

That’s easy: Walk up to an acquaintance (not a close friend) during the tournament and ask him how he’s doing. Wait patiently while he answers. Does he ask how you’re doing once his monologue is over? If so, he is at the same tier or below you.

Why do you hate casual players so much?

Plow Under
Because a game that requires all its participants to enter into a gentlemen’s agreement to not try to win too terribly much in order to have fun is a terribly designed game. The more people genuinely try to win a game, the higher the emotional investment, and the higher their emotional investment, the greater rush possible in eventual triumph (and surprisingly, people feel a similar rush even when they lose if they were extremely invested in it).

Ever played Mario Kart? People aren’t screwing around on that, doing things in races for fun. They’re trying to beat the pants off each other, and the fact that they want to throw the controller in frustration when they’re hit by a blue shell only makes it that much sweeter when they come back at the last second to triumph (because new Mario Kart games do basically nothing other than make last-second comebacks mandatory because of the game-changing weapons that are constantly assaulting the player in the lead).

What’s your favorite card?

Llanowar Elves . . . because two of them let me cast Plow Under on the third turn, and then we’re playing some real Magic.

Why are you still writing this tournament report a month after the tournament happened?

Well, it didn’t stop you from reading this, did it, so why does it matter? Tournament reports are the next things up from set reviews in terms of knee-jerk reactions without stopping and thinking about the long-term impacts of things happening. Some people play some games; let’s summarize the games! They rarely provide strategic advice and are even more rarely entertaining, so they’ll be mediocre whether read the day after the tournament or a month later.

Part XV – Tacoma

I’m not intimately familiar with the history of this suburb, but I’d assume it goes something like this:

1492-1963: People live here and are mostly pretty boring and Not-Quite-Seattle.

1964-1966: The Sonics—who by all recorded evidence are some sort of divine creation stolen by Prometheus and given to humanity—record two classic albums (in Seattle) after forming in Tacoma.

1967-20XX: Realizing that the entire purpose of the city has been served, the residents of Tacoma collectively decide to abandon the area entirely, leaving it to sink into the mush that the Pacific Northwest region is built on.

2012: There’s a Magic tournament or something.

Walking around looking for breakfast the morning before Day 1, this place creeped me the hell out. It was overcast (obviously), and not only was nothing open, there were no pedestrians. There were no cars other than an occasional odormobile carrying more people to the Grand Prix. It was like the Twilight Zone episode in which the guy walks around the empty Americana town until he goes insane from living entirely inside his own head. Tacoma is a location, and it’s nothing aside from that.

Part XVI – GP: SeaTac, Day 2

– night before: can figure out who I’ll be drafting w/. will have ben stark at table. slightly scared.

– at site: tables announced. pairing thing says which table to sit but not where. not sure which seat. don't want to ask, will look silly/scrubbo. other players looking at scrap of paper w/ number. number corresponds to some other thing that describes seat placement. idea: descr scrap of paper as corresponding to "secret decoder ring"??? not sure if people know what that is. most have prbly seen "christmas story." don't care about people that haven't.

– ben s is to L. hopefully he will not audibly snort (scoff? guffaw? remember to check thsrs later. not sure if this is necessary, possibly too obvious w/r/t "assuming top player will look down on new drafter.") when i pass him unpassable cards.

Lingering Souls
– packs held together w/ thin paper bands. not sure whether or not to keep these (pro: possibly cool memory of tournament? con: anyone can print them if they have inkjet and scissors; will seem dweebish for caring about trash). HJ is "calling" draft. possible 1984 comparison? 1984 had telescreens but not really in-person overlord. peanuts teacher? he is perfectly audible; that joke is made near-daily (by me) & will seem overdone by ppl reading.

– trying to count pack (as instr by HJ) w/o flipping over non-DFCs. not doing well. flip over bottom card then count? count w/o caring about face-up? possible DQ. go w/ flipping over face-down. what if it's top one should be flipped instead? 50/50. guessed wrong this time. redoing.

(prev section too much? very specific. dives deeper into extant themes in earlier chunks. is it showing or telling? will consider.)

– p1p1 lingering souls(!) means i will make 1+ correct picks in this draft. p1p2 lingering souls = 2 correct. FOOTNOTE IDEA: discussion of overusage of "correct" as jargon for pref/better than/etc? check FN lengths before doing so (is this section going as FN or main article?).

– judge announces to pass: other drafters laying out in neat piles. shaking too much (re: possible S not T issues: cut "shaking," invent non-plausible excuse for not counting out. is this narr reliable/un? unre would subvert happy ending but most readers will assume reliable. subversion good/bad? will write both). plop in pile of cards instead. ben s does not comment. later go to messy-but-counted then figure out how to slide in neat rows. feel pretty good.

– draft itself: pack two has nothing. not sure what i passed that led to drafters to L using strategy of "taking every playable card." possible joke about replacing good cards w/ bad? prob overdone, might be able to slide something better in. pack three has more cards; end up w/ 3x intangible virtue.

– deck-building: can i play intangible virtue? no. 2 LS + GtTF + DT not enough. will look silly. final deck: boring two-drops, boring three-drops, 16 land, unburial rites + delver in SB. feeling mature (ie made TIGHT choices CORRECTLY instead of playing LOOSE).

– post-deck-building: consult pikula + lee separately. name them specifically or avoid? pro: accuracy (hahaha), subtle brag, reinf prev themes. con: possible depth w/r/t revealing later on? too much work by a lot. will name. will incrprt their advice post-sb games.

r1g1: keep two land + think twice on draw. no third ever. mill two land w/ tome scour. is this game interesting enough? possible whining-type vibe; replace w/ monumental screwup (too repetitive)? he kills w/ hellrider.

r1g2: lingering souls!!!! (exclamation point per token) hellrider not enough for him.

r1g3: have opponent basically dead. him in play: hellrider (w/ bonds), vamp interloper, hrtc's punish. me in play: silverchase fox, 2 token. nb: he played hrtc's off the top into on-table fox. my life 6, him 4. turn mine, post-combat. DECISION: play chap geist, block vamp, go to 5, take hrtc's activ OR destroy hrtc's & play skirs flayer from hand? would go to 3. report will have unnec line breaks to allow reader to decide. i do latter, he activs hrtc's after untap, hits geistcatcher's. pikula claims decision was "close." was not close. he had almost no outs to destroying hrtc's.

r2g1: win @ 13

r2g2: win @ 12. opp confused as to this deck in 0-1.

r3: don't remember (invent smthng for report). change opp to female? can write around misogyny/flirtation/etc issues (tho already covered by "one game" a bit but this would be new perspective w/r/t chapin's article brand new at the time of tourn (old now howev)). real name: ~SERGIO~ he was canadian and real real sad b/c he just found out his grandmother died. asked if close. was close. win in two. wish all best etc.

Skirsdag Flayer
– draft 2: this deck sweet!!! footnote decklist. talk about INCORRECT decision p1p6 to take skirs flay > vault arch (already have 1x flay & vault arch will put someone else in BW 100%). foreshadow r5 w/ discussion of stable Bw mana base due to lack of third/solid dominant color.

r4g1: opp is playing some sort of sealed deck?? has plague wind dragon and nothing else.

r4g2: liliana and plague wind dragon. almost win vs liliana ult! he draws slip, kills token to hit w/ dragon.

r4g3: should change g1 to ramp up to eventual impact (shift worse cards to g1, g3 more exciting, etc). my life: 20, 21, 19, win.

r5g1: opp t2 shriekgeist. is ++ embarrassed. i miss land drop 3. shriekgeist mills 2 land. draw spell. repeat last three sentences 3 more times. (possibly undersell this for bigger impact? esp w/ r1g1 already bitching, will come across like That Guy At The Draft. could just say what actually happened. latter option never good idea tho.)

r5g2: i have lands! no spells. opp increasing confusion.

r6: DEVIN LOW!!! say that i recognized him on scoresheet? or stick w/ real and play terribly, have takeback declined etc, only told by verhey who it was after? not sure why he's playing. he declines monetary split so rule one of magic online i definitely get all the cards against him and win.

r6g1 & r6g3: get all cards & win

– over! immediately congratulated. try to sit alone but people talk. i'm smiling a lot. people want to talk to me even more.

– potential OVERHEARD section: "i'm not angry i'm just infuriated."

– go to dinner: talk for hours about design/wizards/basketball/etc. this is why i came here really.

– TO DO: check craigslist for seattle job & apartment


1 A note for those who don’t follow the pro scene obsessively: ChannelFireball the team is different than ChannelFireball the site—not all of the site’s writers are on team ChannelFireball, and not all of the team write on a consistent basis. While one would think that the CF apparel would be a dead giveaway, Brian Kibler (a member of the team) wears the unfortunately designed StarCityGames shirt, and plenty of non-team-CF players wear the shirt with the logo or whatnot.


2 Similar note: SCG Open tournaments still exist, obviously, but around the same time as Planeswalker Points were first unveiled and every article writer used weekly column space to rant so furiously against them that the words practically spat at the eyeballs they passed in front of, StarCityGames brilliantly decided that if people were going to play their tournaments regardless of prizes just because big tournaments are fun and they throw around Planeswalker Points like confetti after the NBA Finals, they didn’t have to bother with their system of paying people entrance fees based on how well they did in the season’s tournaments to date.

The main result of this was, obviously, that it’s no longer profitable to travel from city to city playing Standard and Legacy every weekend, so those players are going to Grands Prix instead; the secondary result is that, without the huge amount of brainpower being devoted to perfecting decks and tuning them to beat last week’s versions, the quality of both players and decklists have gone down dramatically at these tournaments.

People blame Caw-Blade for making that Standard season boring and samey, but it never would have made it to that level of tediousness without SCG Open players doing the grunt work of smashing the metagame repeatedly and making the deck from the leftover dust. It’s entirely possible that this Standard format (often hailed as diverse, exciting, and ever-shifting) is just as breakable and simple as Caw-Blade Standard . . . but no one has enough incentive to break it to that degree.


3Because it’s taken me so long to write this, I’ve actually played a PTQ in the time after the last chunk of the report went up on this fine web site. I scrubbed out pretty hard, but with some work put into the sideboard, I think the deck could be a real contender next season:

Similar decks have seen some play on Magic Online Daily Events, but those had some pretty big issues with speed and consistency (and if I’m playing some screwy aggro-combo deck, I’d better be able to mash opponents’ faces in fairly quickly when all goes according to plan).

The difference with this is that it cuts nearly all the actual dredge cards, replacing them with more creatures: Noble Hierarch, Tombstalker, and a couple Phantasmal Images. Hierarch is needed because four Birds just aren’t enough to guarantee a fast start (and the deck plays pretty pitifully without turn-one action), and how Tombstalker wasn’t a mainstay in this archetype is completely beyond me.

Hedron Crab
Watery Grave, Hedron Crab, and any fetch land put seven cards in the graveyard (usually eight—turn one was almost certainly another fetch) and bb on the second turn. Sure, opponents can have a removal spell for it, but that’s a lot of pressure . . . and that’s not even the deck’s nut draw, which has to be among the best possible draws in the format, involving a Vengevine or two attacking on the second turn along with an otherwise clogged board.

The deck has weaknesses, obviously. Starting at 14 life is definitely one of them, and while it’s shockingly consistent due to the fact that Faithless Looting is so incredible that any seven-card hand with it and a red-producing land is keepable, it still has to mulligan hands with no way to get graveyard action going. Or hands that aren’t fast enough. Or hands that have duals, but not ones that make the right colors. You get the idea.

So, if the deck’s so great, why’d I scrub out so hard, huh? Well, first of all, from now on, whenever someone asks me how I did in a tournament (and it’s regarding a tournament I completely sucked at), I’ll just mumble something about sample size and then make some non sequitur segue into basketball. Did you see that Lin is injured? Haha, the Knicks suck so bad!

While I never had the opportunity to test this deck against the cool new kid who just smirked and rode up in a cloud of dust on his completely badass motorcycle into the parking lot that is the Modern metagame (i.e. R/G Tron), looking at the decklists with four Pyroclasm and four Relic of Progenitus maindeck made me less than optimistic about my chances.

So, what did I try to do at the last minute? Throw a four-of sideboard card at the problem, of course. To wit: Fulminator Mage! It didn’t interfere with the concurrent anti-Tron plan of throwing a Thalia out there and hoping it annoys the opponent into conceding, and maybe I would blow up his only source of colored mana here and there. Unfortunately, Modern PTQs were held neither in a wondrous landscape of perfect card availability, nor in, like, anywhere other than a card shop where the only place to buy cards is from (wait for it) said card shop. Since this was a last-minute addition, I didn’t have the opportunity to buy them before the trip, so I checked with the card store I attended the night before. And with Jon Corpora and everyone he knew. And with the more reputable binder grinders. And with the less reputable ones. No one had a single Fulminator Mage—other than the copies that were being played in that tournament—for sale or trade at any price. Not one.

So, I played Stone Rain instead, since that’s almost as good, right? Haha! No, I did not. I played Leyline of the Void instead. Then, I lost to R/G Tron in the second round. Then, next match, I screwed up with a Darkblast in my hand turn one versus a Steppe Lynx. Normally, this is not exactly a fair fight, but I thought to myself that I would make the technically correct play by responding to the landfall trigger with the Darkblast! Then, I basically can’t lose.

Yes, I really thought that.

Yes, he had the fetch land.

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