ver the course of the previous year this column paid a lot of attention to the efforts of a handful of North American Tournament Organizers to create new gaming opportunities for the customers. This week we are going to check back in with two of them and see how those events panned out and what the future holds for them. This column can be a little North American–centric, but that is purely a matter of access. I would love to hear from any non–North American TOs who are undertaking similar events, have exciting stories from their tournaments, or just want to shine the spotlight on their local stars.
I can assure that there is no North American bias at work when paying attention to the efforts of Legion Events and their Mana Overboard event that took place this past February. How can you not be excited about a Magic cruise to Mexico chock full of gaming celebrities, Conflux release events, and an exclusive Pro Tour Qualifier? You can read all about the event from a player perspective here in Bill Stark's first-hand account of the event. For a behind-the-scenes look at the event I caught up with Legion Events Cruise Director, Lindsey Kary.
Lindsey, who knows a thing or two about being in a relationship with a Magic player, was looking to create a more inclusive Magic experience for players, their families, and significant others. By all accounts the event exceeded their goals.
"The reaction from the players and families was more than we could have hoped for," said Lindsey of the first Magic cruise. "All the kids on the cruise had a great time. We had a family with a nine-year-old girl and a dad that both played. She played most of the tournaments and loved 2HG. By the end of the tournament she was trash-talking Patrick Chapin."
Lindsey described the average cruise participant—and this is shocking, I know—as a 25-year-old male, but pointed out that the range went from the aforementioned nine-year-old to guys in their 40s with families.
"About 85% brought someone with them," said Lindsey of significant others. "A few girlfriends played in some of the events, some just hung out with the other Magic girlfriends. We had two engagements on the cruise. Some brought whole families, others came with friends. It was a really good mix of people."
Like any new venture there were some unanticipated glitches that had to be dealt with. Their travel agent did not make arrangements for them to use the event space on the boat until the afternoon each day, which lead to a tight schedule of events that extended into the evenings. Another potential glitch was the inability for Legion Events to sell any singles at all on the boat—especially with a PTQ and multiple other Constructed events to deal with.
"The impact on the metagame of no singles sales was actually very small—smaller than anticipated," Lindsey explained. "It was amazing and surprising how great people were about lending cards to each other, and even with asking people if they needed anything. There were no singles sales because Carnival does not allow ANY selling or taking money of any kind on board. So we had to pre-sell everything prior to getting on board. I really don't think that anyone went without cards they needed, and if no one had what they wanted, people were banding together to help figure out what would go best in their deck instead."
Legion Events is currently pulling together their second cruise, and Lindsey was looking to replicate what worked and make adjustments where necessary.
"The biggest adjustment for the second cruise is that Legion Events will be handling everything ourselves," she said. "I will be handling all the reservations and questions people have. We already have the play room reserved for much better tournament hours. We'll have some nights where there aren't any tournaments scheduled so that people can enjoy the cruise entertainment together. I'll be organizing group shore excursions for those who want to venture out together. Also, this cruise is an additional day and our group rate is still the same price as last year's cruise! We are also really happy to announce that Evan Erwin will be back again filming the fun for the Magic Show. Also, Luis Scott-Vargas just confirmed that he will be coming on as a VIP."
While players can book a trip on the Magic cruise, they can also win one at a handful of Cruise Qualifiers around the country—what could be better than winning a cruise while playing Magic ... so you can play more Magic?
Lindsey expects this to be an annual occurrence but is currently considering an additional port of call: "We are absolutely planning on doing this at least once a year. We're talking about adding a second cruise, maybe even trying out a European version on the Mediterranean."
Earlier this year I interviewed Star City Games' Pete Hoefling about his $50,000 Standard stimulus package—a series of ten $5K Standard Opens taking place across the country in 2009—and with two events in the bag I wanted to check in and see what the reaction has been like so far.
"So far this year, we've had 326 players at SCG 5K Richmond—almost 100 players more than Richmond's previous high—and 432 players at SCG 5K Indianapolis," said Pete, adding that the Indy number was the best-attended $5K thus far. "The 2009 series is off to a great start, and I'm extremely grateful to the community for supporting our efforts."
Pete was excited to talk about an upcoming weekend in June that will offer double the prizes available while going into a new market.
"On Saturday, June 20th, we will be running our first SCG 5K Standard Open in the Boston area. However, today I'm proud to announce that on Sunday, June 21st, the same site will host the first-ever SCG 5K Legacy Open; effectively making it an SCG 10K Boston weekend!" he said, no doubt thinking of the more than 1000 players who showed up in Chicago to play Legacy recently.
Not that Pete has done badly in the attendance department. Robert Graves emerged the winner of the Indianapolis $5K two weeks ago from a 432-person scrum with his Obelisk of Alara–powered 5Color Control deck. (You may remember Robert as the Winter King winner with Sunburst Gifts from the end of last year.)
Robert Graves's Obelisk Control
Winner, SCG $5K Standard Open Indianapolis
"The excitement surrounding the entire SCG 5K Standard Open Series appears to steadily increasing across the board," replied Pete when asked about the surge in attendance at Indy. "As long as we continue providing quality events worthy of that excitement, I believe we'll continue seeing large turnouts everywhere."
Despite the big numbers on Saturday for the main event, the PTQ on Sunday dropped pretty steeply, which did not come as a big surprise to the industry veteran.
"To me, it says that lots of players who play Standard simply don't play Extended, which is not exactly an earth-shattering revelation," he explained. "Had the Sunday PTQ been Standard or Limited, I believe many more players would have stayed for the Sunday PTQ, and I think that's exactly what we'll see happen at both SCG 5K Atlanta and SCG 5K Minneapolis."
The next three stops on the $5K Open tour will all be in June on consecutive weekends in three different cities; Atlanta, Boston and Minneapolis. You can find all the details of these events—including information about guest artists, gunslingers, and side event schedules—here.
Pete will be attending all of the June events himself and will be looking forward to seeing which players make a name for themselves as Standards big stars.
"Two who immediately come to mind are Chris Woltereck, who has won two SCG 5Ks, and Alex Bertoncini, who won an SCG 5K, then won a smaller SCG 2K the next day playing the same deck," said Pete when asked who the stars have been since the inception of these events. "As the SCG 5K Series continues to expand, I believe we're going to see many "stars" emerge from its ranks."
Picking an Ace: Five Questions (give or take a couple) with Billy Moreno
If you go through the PTQ Top 8 deck list page you will notice a trend of big-name players, who had fallen off the PT gravy train, nabbing an invite and airfare to Hawaii from the PTQ ranks. Osyp Lebedowicz, Chris Lachmann, Brian Kibler, and Tiago Chan all grabbed blue envelopes. They were joined this past weekend by two of my favorite Magic players, Ben Stark and Billy Moreno. Interestingly, Ben Stark is the point of origin for the name of Billy's Fecundity Goblins deck that very nearly earned Osyp a Top 8 at Worlds in Paris.
Stark was playing the complicated deck after picking it up at the last minute and without a lot of preparation for the event. Scott Johns watched Stark try to "feel" his way through a series of plays and likened it to watching a monkey washing a cat, instantly earning the deck the name Dirty Kitty.
Fast forward back to present day and Billy was looking to get back to the Pro Tour and had only one PTQ to work with. He sent a message to his friends in the Magic community asking for help with a rogue Mono-Blue Control deck that he was considering. Despite last week's column advocating rogue decks, and Billy's tremendous success with innovation, I urged him to not risk his one chance on an unproven deck and pointed him to some of the more powerful strategies in the format—including Johan Sadeghpour's Top 16 in Berlin with an updated Dirty Kitty—that would benefit from his tinkering.
Billy ended up playing a modified build of Elves and will now be bringing his formidable deck-building skills to bear on the Shards of Alara Block Constructed format for Hawaii. He agreed to take part in Five Questions for this week, but we may have run a tad over the recommended daily allowance of queries.
BDM: What was your motivation for going to this weekend's PTQ? It was your only chance of the season, right?
Billy: Basically, I'm in an awkward place right now when it comes to Magic. I still crave the competition and the company that comes with the game, and wish I could play all the time. But I moved back to Texas to finish up school and there's just not much of a community in San Marcos, surprising for a college as big as this one. So I get little fixes when I have to have one. For instance, for my birthday, my mom paid for my trip to Nats—the last major event I was Qed for—and I took a spur of the moment trip up to GP–KC. But mostly it's just easier to not worry about it too much, so I haven't been paying much attention to PTQing. Plus, the other two I've played in didn't go so well, and I felt way too rusty. Luckily, this last PTQ came right around one of those times where I was really itching to play.
PT–Honolulu 2006 was actually your best finish after Pro Tour–LA. People always talk about MadDog 2020 from LA but I think your deck from that event was one of your best. Can you describe it?
Billy: I played Zoo at Honolulu. Basically, you had twelve 2-powered one drops and one of the best selections of burn Standard has ever had. There was a lot of wiggle room in building the deck. I played the mirror in one of the earlier rounds and my opponent, Luca Chiera, mentioned that during the Italians' testing they found that whoever drew less land won. On the other hand, a lot of players were siding in 4-drops and more Equipment for the mirror. The night before the event I figured out the trump for everything by transforming post-board in to a Glare of Subdual deck. That let me beat the fatties-with-Jittes plan in the mirror without having to waste spots on my own Jittes just to kill theirs. It also gave me cards like Selesnya Guildmage and City-Tree, which were awesome going long against the Firemane control decks and 'Tron decks people were playing. Kamiel even gained 30-50 life one game, but I still got there.
Billy Moreno's Burning Zoo
11th Place, Pro Tour–Honolulu
BDM: You were originally talking on Facebook about playing a rogue build of Mono-Blue Control. What made you think that was the deck you should play for your only shot at getting to Honolulu?
Billy: I mentioned I haven't been playing much, didn't I? Actually, two forces were at work. First, I tried shoehorning a Vedalken Æthermage package into Faeries, discovering that it wasn't strong enough (though not an unreasonable replacement for Thirst for Knowledge) and I didn't like playing Faeries. Second, I'm pretty sure in every format I can, I try building a mono-blue deck .... Even before I settled on Flash for Legacy in Columbus, I was trying it. I always wanna make it work. I feel like I end up with something pretty reasonable, and always end up switching to something completely unreasonable. It was the same this time with Elves!
Billy Moreno's Ranger Elves
Extended – Winner, PTQ-Honolulu, Houston TX
BDM: Why did you decide to switch to Elves, and what can you say about playing a powerful known deck vs. playing a rogue one in general?
Billy: After you pointed me at Elves and I got cold feet with the final touches of the blue deck, I actually played some games with it—the Weird Harvest version LSV won the PT with. Harvest felt really awkward and I never wanted to cast it; I actually felt the same way about Summoner's Pact, though not nearly as often. But I could tell the deck was pretty broken, and I knew I'd be playing the Chord of Calling build. I knew there was a Wirewood Hivemaster build, but I tried Chording without it for some reason.
Then Kyle [Sanchez] showed me the list from GP–Hanover and everything clicked. Just going over the list, I could tell that I wouldn't really need to worry about hate too much. First, the deck seemed underplayed, especially for its power level, so people couldn't really commit too much to it. And second, with the Hivemaster setup, Engineered Explosives and Crime // Punishment didn't worry me much. I figured out pretty quickly that if I balanced all the game plans of the deck correctly, people just wouldn't be able to fight on enough angles. And then I'd board in Proclamation of Rebirth. As far as the debate between known power and rogue surprise, it really just depends on how powerful the deck is. Also, the two ideas are far from antithetical; in fact, there's so much inertia to known deck ideas that you can surprise people on much more subtle levels based on their expectations. On top of that, sometimes you can figure out how to turn Zoo into Glare, or Flash into a Counterbalance-backed aggro-control deck.
The Proclamations in the board just seemed insane. The only change I made, and one which I've since learned is pretty standard, was to cut the Regal Force main for a Ranger of Eos and to fit one more Ranger into the board.
BDM: What was the field like, and how did your tournament go match-up wise?
Billy: During the Swiss I played against Cry of Contrition, two Reliquary Rock decks, Burn, Faeries, Bant, and Affinity. In the Top 8 I went 2-0 and 2-1 against Ranger Zoo and then 2-1 against Affinity in the Finals. Kyle Sanchez was on the other side of the bracket in the Semis, and we were both disappointed not to get to battle for it all. It's been about five years since we played each other in a PTQ. I will admit though, I was pretty excited to find out that Affinity would be the last thing standing between me and my plane ticket. I've only played ten matches with the deck, so I don't know what the match-ups are supposed to be like against everything, but I have trouble seeing where the bad ones are and I can't recommend the deck more. If you do pick it up, be prepared for grueling amounts of math and trigger tracking; I honestly could not remember my phone number and address when the judge asked me at the end of the day.
BDM: How excited are you for Block? Any cards you are excited about tinkering with early on?
Billy: I'm playing it cool. I'm not geeking at all to be playing in another Constructed PT. And I'm not the least bit annoyed that I have to wait two weeks before I can really start concocting. As far as tinkering though, Tezzeret the Seeker seems cool, especially when cards like Dispeller's Capsule are actually playable in Block. I keep trying to figure out how to beat down, because I don't think people will be able to adjust their plans for a good beatdown deck given the shape of the metagame I expect, but White Weenie is something I swore I'd never touch and there's just this horrible lack of one-drops. But even more than that, the burn spells suck. Sure, Banefire can't be stopped, and Resounding Thunder is great late and fine early. But there's nothing neat and efficient. And definitely nothing like Char or Flames of the Blood Hand.
Time is Running Out
I have gotten several emails from players looking for info about the Last Chance Qualifier in Honolulu. Good news! The fact sheet for Honolulu went up this week, including full LCQ info on the Public Events page. The LCQ is Standard and starts at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 4 at a location about a quarter-mile from the Hawaii Convention Center. Good luck to everyone this weekend looking to pull from the rapidly dwindling supply of blue envelopes.
Firestarter: Visually Spoiled
If you have not already checked out the Visual Spoiler in the Alara Reborn product section you should do so now. As cards are revealed here on the web site or in other publications it will be updated. Previews start next week, so the cards should start flying fast and furious. Which card has you the most excited from this page so far? For me it is clearly Jund Hackblade, but it sounds like Thought Hemorrhage has been getting people whipped into a frenzy. Share your thoughts on the forums and don't forget to bookmark the spoiler to keep up with the regular updates.