an Diego Comic-Con is a magical weekend that has grown from its humble beginnings as a comic book convention at the San Diego Concourse to a sprawling pop-culture spectacular that cannot be contained by the shiny San Diego Convention Center. Parking lots become South Park Town Square, the Gaslamp District is besieged by the Lord of the Rings, and 50-foot Spider-man banners drape the sides of hotels. The otherwise fairly conservative town is terraformed into a one-week-only nerdscape that has to be experienced to be believed.
With so many brands, creators, and personalities vying for attention it is hard to be heard above the din, but when the gang from Wizards was brainstorming for this year's Magic panel at the convention, that was exactly what they set out to do. Not that they had to do anything special for a standing-room-only hall when Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater, Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe, DCI Program Manager Scott Larabee, Art Director Matt Cavotta, and Senior Brand Manager Mark Purvis sat down to face their fans for a look at the upcoming set and a rare question-and-answer session. For most fans of the game the opportunity to get answers about the game they love directly from these luminaries would be special enough, but something extra special was hidden from view behind each panel participant's seat for a few lucky inquisitors.
First up was a peek at Innistrad with a guided tour by Mark Rosewater, who moderated the panel. Rosewater explained that the new set would have a horror theme, and he stressed that he was talking about gothic horror films rather than slasher horror films. He also promised that it was the most flavorful set he had ever worked on, with classic monsters like werewolves, zombies, and vampires doing exactly the kind of things that you would expect of them.
He also promised more classic monster types would be revealed as the set gets unveiled—or should that be unshrouded? Mark went on to describe the challenges of making a horror set and assigning classic horror creature types to colors other than black. Zombies and vampires have traditionally been black cards, but Rosewater explained that there would be two types of Zombies. The typical risen-from-the-grave Zombie will be black, but the dug up and reassembled kind of Zombie—think Frankenstein's monster here—will be blue.
Art by Kopinski
It has not exactly been a secret—at least not to anyone looking at the promo artwork—that Liliana was going to be in the set and Mark confirmed that she is in the set and hinted that her new incarnation is going to be considerably more powerful in Constructed than her first appearance. Sorin was featured on a subsequent slide that revealed the second expansion in the block is called Dark Ascension, which will be released on February 3, 2012.
Art by Michael Komarck
From there attendees were encouraged to line up to ask questions of the panel, with no sense that anything special awaited them for doing so. Needless to say there was a pleasant murmur from those lined up when the Wizards person in front of the line was handing out promo foil Squadron Hawks to each person who got to ask something of the panel...
...Until about three questions in when Aaron Forsythe broke from the mold and called someone who asked him a question to come up and get something special—a pack of R&D Black Lotus sleeves that are not, and are not planned to be, available for retail. He said that the panel had a couple of special surprises in store for other people who asked questions that caught the panel's fancy—an understatement to be sure.
One such question for Aaron was about the Modern format that was introduced during the Community Cup and whether or not it was going to be coming to sanctioned play anytime soon. Aaron shrugged and went on the record and say that Modern would be a sanctioned format in the very near future—something that sent a ripple through the Magic social network and would have been one of the highlights of the panel if not for the next person to get a bonus gift from the panel.
Matthew Muñoz is a California native who has been coming to Comic-Con for the past three years with his wife Jennifer. He was also a returning Magic Panel attendee, although he did not get up and ask a question at last year's panel—something that had nagged at him. He had felt that last year's attendees had squandered a precious opportunity, choosing to grouse about cards and card power rather than trying to ask something outside of the box.
"When we came here this year we talked about what question we would ask," explained Muñoz, who solved that problem by approaching it from his perspective as a slightly older, more event-challenged segment of the playing population—the married Magic player. "I wanted to ask something that applies to more than just the game. It is a social game. How can we make it better?"
He asked Organized Play Manager Scott Larabee about what it would take to get daycare and event scheduling for spouses who don't play added as features at events ranging from PTQs to the Pro Tour.
"I don't play Magic, but I want to support my husband at the tournament," explained Jennifer Muñoz, who has often been to events and found herself not even having a place to camp out while cheering Matthew on.
Larabee sat back in his chair and, after thinking about it for a few seconds, declared that he had never been asked that question before. He explained that at the PTQ level—and even the Grand Prix level—the events are run by independent tournament organizers, but he would address the topic back at the office. Then Scott leaned forward and asked a question of Muñoz: "Do you play in a lot of PTQs?"
"Yes," laughed Muñoz.
"Have you ever played on the Pro Tour?"
"Nope," said Muñoz with a shake of his head.
Scott reached below the table, pulled out an envelope, and offered it to Muñoz: "Here. Open this."
Muñoz opened the envelope and read the paper that was inside it with his jaw hanging wide open while the crowd murmured with speculation.
"Read it out loud," urged Larabee.
"You are invited to play in the 2011 Magic World Championships," read Muñoz, as the crowd gasped and burst into applause. No one clapped louder than Jennifer. She had just been happy for her husband when Scott Larabee admitted that no one had ever asked him about daycare or spouse areas at PTQs and GPs before.
"Then he opened it up and I knew something was up," she said after the panel. "Then when he read it, my jaw just dropped. I was all giddy and clapping, because I know how much this means to him. I was cussing—good cussing—in my head. It was a huge shock. I told him he was going to have to be like our students and study."
Muñoz had no idea what was in store for him especially given the previous giveaway.
"Okay, this is an envelope..." he remembered thinking. "The first person who got something got a pack of card sleeves. I thought maybe it was coupon for a side event or something—something small." He laughed about his low expectations when Scott handed him the fateful envelope. "Then I had to read it again. I read it out loud and then I started thinking about what this means: Oh my god, I really have to start practicing."
Muñoz has been playing the game since he was a teenager and could play whenever he wanted, without the schedule pressure of a marriage and full time job.
"The first set I ever bought was Revised. I even have the two original rares I got—Vesuvan Doppelganger and Volcanic Island," he recalled. "I started collecting more because I liked the artwork. I only knew one other player who even had cards and it was the usual 'I think this is how you play' kind of situation."
Once he got to college he did not play for three years until a new roommate pulled out some cards and reintroduced him to the game and to the increased power level of the new Tempest-era cards compared to Matthew's The Dark and Fallen Empires roots. He bought more and more cards to catch up until he had to start over in a new town after college.
"I graduated and moved to Colorado," he explained. "I was back to being by myself and the first friends I made were at my Friday Night Magic shop. After a couple of weeks people started recognizing me and calling me over to play with them. They were players who had played on the Pro Tour and went to PTQs. I started playing drafts and was playing all the time. I started to get better—because I was playing with people better than me—and started playing in PTQs, Regionals, State Championships. I was playing at that level for two and half years until I left Colorado and came back home to California."
He met Jennifer there and they have been together ever since, including a couple of trips to teach English in China and Japan. It was while packing up for the first trip that Jennifer found out how much of a role Magic played in her future husband's life.
That aspect of his life trickled out over six to eight months, starting with a binder that contained his collection of every nonbasic land in the game, but then the boxes came out—and even more boxes. When they went to put his collection at her mother's house it turned out that the binder collection was dwarfed by eight 3,000-count boxes of cards.
"My wife is great—she is very supportive," said Matthew of his Magic revelation. "She will surprise me with packs when she comes back from Target or something."
They came home from China to get married before heading out to Japan. Two days before that trip came to an end, Matthew got his first taste of high-level competition by trying his hand at Grand Prix Kobe. Since returning he has been playing in Prereleases and looking for the right weekend to make that leap from the PTQ to the Pro Tour itself. That weekend, as it turns out, will be in November for Worlds.
The invite to Worlds was not the only amazing thing given away by the panelists. As it turned out, each panelist had something pretty special awaiting someone who asked them a question that caught their fancy. Aaron had more than just a pack of sleeves to give away and presented one attendee with a sealed box of Italian Legends. Brand Manager Mark Purvis gave away a pack of Arabian Nights—which was opened in front of the crowd, to a joyous response when a Library of Alexandria was lurking at the back of the pack. Mark Rosewater gave away a Beta booster pack that also yielded a land in the rare slot—though sadly, in this case it was a basic Island.
Finally, someone asked Matt Cavotta about the process of illustrating a Magic card and was rewarded with a piece of framed original artwork from an upcoming Innistrad card called Creepy Doll to wrap up an all-around magical Magic panel.
Creepy Doll | Illustration by Matt Stewart