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Star Wars: Unlimited Shadows of the Galaxy

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Reporting from PAX - Day 1

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It’s finally here!

Ever since September of last year, when I learned that PAX was on a new weekend which didn’t conflict with Dragon*Con in Atlanta, I knew I was going to be attending this year’s event.

11 months is a long time to wait for a good time.

But oh has it been worth it so far.


I had gotten into Seattle a few days early to allow me to get acclimated to the time difference. So when my cell phone rang at 5:30am PST, I was grumpy to say the least. After informing the Orlando based wrong-number that they had dialed a 9 instead of a 4, I crawled back into bed and promptly slept another four hours. Once I woke up, I hopped in the shower eager to head out and get to the Seattle Convention Center.

I had underestimated the distance from my hotel, so when I asked one of the bellhops he recommended I make use of Seattle’s bus system rather than trek 20 blocks up hill. Turns out that during non-peak hours the public transportation system is free to use. Win! In fact, major Kudos to Seattle for their public transportation system. The buses ran on time and it was fairly trivial to get from my location to the Convention Center. The stations were all clean and empty of bums. Normally I avoid public transit with my camera gear, but I never had an issue on Seattle's system.

As I arrived at PAX I saw a massive line of people waiting to get into the main theater. It was the line you might dread at a convention, but everyone was smiling and happy. Sure it was outside, but being outside in Seattle is better than being indoors just about anyplace else. Seriously, today's weather was gorgeous.

I realized I was in for a good PAX when, on my way in, I passed a giant friggin’ tank. Yes, a tank. Apparently there’s a game called ‘World of Tanks’. And yes, if you bring a tank to a convention, then I will plug your game too.

So, first job - acquire badge. I had gotten confirmed for a press badge, so I can’t relate any story about waiting hours for a badge. I spent more time looking for the place to get my badge than I did waiting in line to get it. My only annoyance is that the badge didn’t come with any sort of lanyard. To get one of those, you had to go up four floors to main exhibit hall area to where they give out their swag bags (which did have a giant line that I deigned not to wait in.)

With badge and lanyard acquired, I was ready to drown in a sea of gaming.

The hallway and convention area are crowded, but the Exhibitors hall is something else. Flashing lights, colored lights, booth babes, loud music, and big convention setups from gaming companies, games, computer hardware companies, and more.

I see games like EVE Online, RIFT, Super Mario Brothers, Kirby, and other big name titles with massive displays, one company which was visibly absent was Blizzard - no Starcraft 2 and no World of Warcraft. There are row after row of computers or consoles. Along with them are big name computer brands or console brands, XBox, Playstation, Alienware, Razer. Past that are companies that sell computer parts like NewEgg.com, and a number of performance computer hardware companies. And of course there are Wizards of the Coast and other tabletop game companies like, Cryptozoic, Fantasy Flight Games, Mayfair and even Chessex.

All of this means that this is the place to be if you’re into gaming. Whatever type of game it is. This isn't like the laid back table top atmosphere of GenCon. This is the energy drink inspired, high octane, rock music, lifestyle of the computer gaming generation. We're rockstars if only in our own mind.

I make a circuit of the exhibition halls about three times, just getting the lay of the land and seeing what is around. There are a lot of people, and the walkways are half occupied by people standing in this line or that. Lots of lines. Lines everywhere. Lines to get into lines!

Lines to play a video game like, say, Star Wars: The Old Republic. Or even to get on stage and dance in one of the two dancing game booths at PAX.

Lines to sign up for a give away like the four around the NewEgg booth.

Lines to roll a giant d20 for the Neverwinter gaming scenario by Wizards of the Coast.

Lines everywhere.

And in every line, a smiling happy nerd. Seriously. I don’t know how Penny Arcade does it, but it seemed like I never saw an unhappy attendee at the Con today. I can only wonder what tomorrow will look like with even more people ready to wait hours in line, whatever it may be for.

I spent a fair amount of time around Wizards’ booths, watching and talking to people. I talked to one guy who had just finished the puzzle quest to get the invitation to the Saturday night party that Wizards hosts. He was upbeat and excited, looking forward to what Innistrad held. As he put it He's “ready for the rotation.” His is just one story I got from today, I talked to dozens of players, some who knew GatheringMagic, some who knew who I was, and some who had no idea who I was or what site I was talking about. But I enjoyed every conversation, PAX has lived up to its hype so far.

My day continued with me playing a few non-Magic games. I think my favorite was the Cryptozoic deck-building game built on the Penny Arcade brand. Penny Arcade: Gamers vs Evil (still only for pre-order.) It’s a deck-building game like Dominion or Ascension, but it has a few unique twists which made it a new game and an interesting one to play.

Humorously, another game which got my attention is one called ‘Achron.’ The game doesn’t have a booth at PAX. The game launches this coming week, and I know that because a guy randomly struck up a conversation with me after seeing my yellow Press pass. The interesting mechanic about Achron is that it has an element of time travel in the RTS, meaning that you are able to go back in time and change orders or build decisions. I have to give the game a shoutout because the guy looked crestfallen when I told him I was here for Magic and not just random games like Achron.

I eventually made my way down to ‘The Annex’ where the Magic: The Gathering was being played. The hall seats roughly 200 people, and was beginning to fill up. I signed up for a ‘Go-Infinite 8-man draft.’ What this means is that the winner of the draft gets 2 booster packs and free entry into another event that weekend, second gets 4 packs, 3rd and 4th get 2 packs, and 5th-8th get 1 pack. I drafted a pretty strong ru deck built on triple Shock and triple Ice Cage.

I’m not a big fan of ru, I wanted to go rw but I got chopped hard and my White just was not good enough to be worth more than Blue.

I managed to make it to the finals of the draft, winning the semi-finals only after my opponent made a colossal blunder in his attacks. Had he just taken time and been patient he had me dead on board with only one out in my deck. I lost in the finals in a very close three games.

After the draft I hung around and kept running into people I knew.

I sat down and chatted with Scott Larabee, Manager of Organized Play for Wizards. We talked about Modern at PT Philly, thoughts on the next year schedule, and more. He’s a great guy and a big fan of Commander, including being on the Rules Committee which oversees the format. He was very impressed by my Guru-fied Kiki-Jiki, even going so far as to say it was one of the best alters he’s ever seen!

Soon after talking with Scott I also had the pleasure to meet Nathan Weizenbaum, our puzzle master, in person for the first time. He and I have of course emailed, and we did a Google+ Hangout a few weeks ago. But it was great to meet him in person and shake his hand. He shared with me a fantastic solution someone submitted for this week’s Puzzling Magic, can’t wait to see the responses once he reveals it in next week’s article.

I was tempted to stay for the FNM at the gaming hall but I felt the need for food, having not really eaten since breakfast. So I begged off and headed back to the hotel. I decided to get dinner in the hotel restaurant / bar.

There’s something interesting about a bar. Granted the bar I’m talking about was the posh, well-lit, bar at the hotel. I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me about the over the top news coverage of Hurricane Irene.

Florida natives have a keen understanding of hurricanes and how much coverage they ought to be getting as compared to their power level. The quiet news cycle means Irene has reporters in their cars on North Carolina beaches reporting as if the storm has hit and they’re in the middle of the eye. (The storm was schedule to make landfall Saturday morning...) Which is to say, the media are a little excessive with Irene.

Turns out the guy I was talking to was also a Florida native and, it turns out, a poker player (though not professionally.) Poker had lead to him having a passing knowledge of Magic, and gave me the opportunity to explain more deeply what I do and how the game’s competitive structure works. It was a fantastic conversation and I walked him through my recommendation on how to get into the game with his sons, and hopefully begin competing down the road. Mike, looking forward to hearing from you!

After dinner I came up to the hotel room and settled in to do some writing, as well as work on a few miscellaneous projects. I have to pace myself, tomorrow is when it gets crazy with the Innistrad party (can’t wait!) and then Sunday is when I’m going to be busiest with press meetings and getting to interview some of the Wizards' employees.

I need your help! I have two options for panels to cover on Sunday. They overlap in time so I can only record one of them. Would you rather I record:

World Building with Mark Purvis (Brand Manager), Brady Dommermuth (Creative Team Manager) and Jeremy Jarvis (Art Director) - Estimated run time: 1 hour

Intro to Deckbuilding Workshop led by Zac Hill (R&D member and ex-Pro writer) - Estimated run time: 2 hour

Cast your vote below on which you want to see!

And now, I’m off to bed to prepare for another day here at PAX. Can’t wait!

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