lmost sixteen years ago, while being violently shaken by a would-be Magic consumer, I had no idea that encounter would lead me to circle the globe a couple times over, writing about, talking about, and playing Magic. It was 1994 and I was working for a chain of Comic stores in New York. Superman had recently passed away (and returned fourfold), Batman was using a walker, and Image comics was carving out territory previously occupied by only Marvel and DC. I was organizing in-store events for a wide range of comic book creators, and it was my first experience managing big crowds—little did I know I would soon be putting that experience to good and frequent use. That summer people began drifting over to the store, which carried a narrow line of gaming merchandise, after disappointing trips to other local stores. They were looking for Magic cards—Beta had just sold out apparently—and there were none to be found. I had no idea what people were looking for at first but when one crazed customer grabbed my by the shoulders, literally shaking me, mad with what I have come to know as Magic withdrawal.
I made a point to investigate a product that could inspire the same kind of frenzy as the death of the last son of Krypton, and when Unlimited was released my friends and I soon owned a couple of Starter decks—I opened an Ancestral Recall and a Mox Pearl in my early purchases—and were playing the game casually and completely incorrectly. But that was fine. We were having fun, although we quickly learned to play by the rules as well. It was not long before tournaments started to wind their way into the Magic culture and I, another employee at the store I worked for, and our local rules guru began to toy with the idea of running a big tournament in New York City. We picked up a set of Arabian Nights to give away as the prize and rented the ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel. Over 200 people showed up to play, and the tournament was won by a mono-red burn deck. Our second tournament, which was for a complete set of Legends, had over 700 players show up and was for a long time the largest tournament I could recall.
The event—like all of our tournaments back then—was single-elimination and there was no tournament software at that point. While the DCI existed in some form, it was not at all what it is today, and it worked off of a completely different rating system than the one it currently implements. I would like to say that our tournaments were sanctioned, but I honestly don't remember if they were or not. What I do remember was that our events were single-elimination and players eliminated in the first round were automatically put into a consolation tournament for a box of The Dark. I also remember having a paper system that turned around the rounds in less than 5 minutes by assigning a player their next seat—randomly—as soon as they reported their result. Even later when we started running Swiss tournaments we were able to modify the system based on knowing approximately how many people should have a given record each round. When tournament software became widely available we were reluctant to use it because it significantly slowed down our turnaround time on rounds.
We also ran abundant side events that culminated in a Grand Melee that at times featured over 100 participants. Within two tournaments I noticed a trend. Even as people were eliminated from event after event, and right up to that last Melee of the month they stubbornly refused to leave—often putting us at odds with the event managers from the hotels. There were not a lot of large tournaments at this point (in very early 1995), and we would have players from up and down the Eastern seaboard, even from all over the country, come to these events not just to play Magic but to spend time with other people who shared their passion for the game and the competition surrounding it. People did not want to leave because they did not get to spend enough time with these other Magic players in a Magic-specific environment. They would often congregate at comic shops that slapped a board across some back issue boxes, at a local sandwich shop, the food court of a mall, but there was no place in New York that catered to gamers who wanted to play Magic more than once a month on a Saturday.
By Spring of 1995 some of the same people that started running the New York Magic conventions (that company still exists to this day as Gray Matter Conventions and is still run by my old partner Glen Friedman) opened Neutral Ground with the slogan, "Finally ... a place to game in New York." We ran a Magic tournament every day of the week, sold singles as well as booster packs, and charged an admission fee for entry into the 3,000 square foot play space. Players could play a daily entrance fee, weekly, monthly, or annually. Customers who spent $20 on merchandise or paid to play in a tournament were granted a free admission for that day. I was not completely sure it would work, but somehow we were able to pull it off, and while there were always stores that sold games and had some space for people to play I am fairly certain we created the concept of the Tournament Center—we even called it the Neutral Ground Tournament Center—a place you go to play games that also happens to sell them there.
Between the two organizations we had a hand in many Magic firsts which included providing abundant judge and tournament staff for the first Pro Tour, hosting the first ever PTQ—which was won by former Building on a Budget author Ben Bleiweiss—inventing Reject Rare Draft, and hosting the first North American Grand Prix. In late 2001 I was looking to make a change in my life and had sold my interest in both companies to try my hand at writing comic books. Just as I was out the proverbial door I was offered an opportunity to write for this very site by Aaron Forsythe and began writing sporadic columns for magicthegathering.com and Sideboard.com. I was also playing Magic and had qualified for the team PTQ in Boston. When we bombed out of that event I was asked if I wanted to help out on the coverage side. With the exception of Pro Tour–Kuala Lumpur, which I missed due to illness, I have been to every Pro Tour in some coverage capacity or another ever since. Which has brought me half away around the world to a hotel room in Honolulu thinking about origin stories.
There Will Be Bloodbraids
Mike Flores showed you the Top 8 from the Magic Online Championship Series Season 2 Championship, which featured an amazing 32 out of 32 possible copies of Bloodbraid Elf. The format for the tournament was Shards of Alara Block Constructed—the same format that will be utilized in the Constructed portion of this coming weekend's Pro Tour–Honolulu. The Bloodbraids run much deeper than that. If you look at the next 24 deck lists you find only a small handful that are not sporting the cascade Elf, and there aren't any before 14th place. You can look at all the lists from the tournament here:
9th – 100th
101st – 246th
You may remember that leading up to Pro Tour–Yokohama, a couple of seasons back, the Time Spiral Block Constructed format was dominated by highly aggressive white weenie decks in the weekends immediately before the event, but in the end the format was dominated my Mystical Teachings–fueled control decks. It also recalls the lead-up to Pro Tour–Tokyo when the absolute best deck in the Invasion Block Constructed format was the hyper-aggressive red-green deck dubbed Rocket Shoes. It opened the door for Zvi Mowshowitz, Ben Ronaldson, Scott Johns, and a handful of other to craft the perfect foil deck, known aptly as The Solution.
Is there a solution for this format? There are certainly plenty of control elements, creatures with protection from any color you might deem necessary, and more board sweepers than I can recall in any one Block Constructed format. Make sure to check in on the Tournament Center all weekend for updates.
WPN Spotlight: Magic in Paradise
One of the stories that will undoubtedly be told this weekend is of the countless Beach Houses that have sprung up this week as Hawaii has been invaded by hordes of Magic players in anticipation of this weekend's Pro Tour. By the time this column goes live the Last Chance Qualifier will have already taken place and which should have easily broken whatever the previous LCQ attendance records for LCQs was. When I was coming out here from Grand Prix–Seattle/Tacoma I ran into a group of five players making a similar migration—and only one of them was qualified for the Pro Tour. The rest of them were planning to play in the LCQ, take part in other Public Events, and possibly pick up a nifty FNM Mulldrifter, this month's FNM promo that will be available at the Super Friday Night Magic event being run at the tournament site.
Paula Nakata is the owner and tournament organizer for Paula's Sports Cards who will be one of the two WPN affiliates sponsoring the Super Friday Night Magic, and who has been playing host to visiting Magic players all week as they came by to do some last-minute shopping. Paula was invited to join the Wizards Play Network due to the large number of events she has been running, which started as a sideline for her back in 1997.
"I will be the first to admit that I have a sports card store that does gaming on the side," said Paula when asked about how she came to join the WPN. "I have been selling Magic since Revised Edition and running various Magic tournaments since 1997. I think I started running FNM in 2004 or 2005, at the request of then Roosevelt high school graduates Michael Ching and Jeffrey Lee. Both of them have been very loyal customers and I figured that I could run FNM until they graduate from the University of Hawaii. Mike has graduated with degrees in Economics and Japanese this past December 2008 and Jeff will graduate with a Business degree in December 2009. The practice must have paid off as both have been Hawaii State Champions. In fact, I believe Jeff is the reigning champ."
It would seem that Magic would be competing against a stacked deck with all the other opportunities to distract oneself in Hawaii, but Paula disagreed.
"I do not think Magic events compete with the sun and surf, as most events are on Friday and Saturdays, which leaves 5 other days to go to the beach," she said.
Sean Pottenger, Phillipe Martin, Reid Sano, and James Kuwata at Paula's Sports Cards.
"I run different types of events for various types of players. I have different entry fees for various events and prizes will be awarded differently too," said Paula when asked about how she goes about growing her player base. "I try to pay out prizes as far down the ranks as I can. I always explain that you will never get rich playing at my events. It keeps the events friendlier and gives an incentive to the less experienced player to want to come out to play. A player that goes 2-2 will usually get a DCI promo and or a pack in our usual events. We also run events that have larger payouts but the entry fee is higher, and I state that prizing will be stacked toward the top so they know what they are getting into."
"The Pro Tour coming to Hawaii is cool!" said Paula, who has seen a number of established Pros drifting through her store in recent days. "The last time the event was in Hawaii, it was pouring rain until Sunday, and I heard that the players still had a great time. The weather is supposed to be beautiful and I think the event will be a huge success. There is a definite buzz in the air with the players. Many of them have planned their vacations around the Pro Tour."
QT winner James Kuwata and PTQ Honolulu winner Dane Young.
Paula also gave us the rundown on the local talent to keep an eye on in the main event: "Jeffrey Lee, Michael Ching, Dane Young, Keoni Davey, Sean Pottinger, Charles Sonido, and my favorite, Kris Lohman. Kris came out of retirement (you know how priorities change—Work, wife, and child can get in the way) to play in the Pro Tour. Like the good gamer that he is, Kris has already started to teach his son to play, and that is why Magic will always be around."
Paula, who had just returned from a trip to Las Vegas, was surprised to see World Series of Poker main event finalist and bracelet winner David Williams wander into her store with Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Rubin, and documentarian Dan Burdick to purchase sleeves and see if they could purchase basic lands for their draft. From her trip to Vegas she knew that the WSOP was in full swing, and she fully expected the poker pro to be plying his trade in the desert.
I Came to Game documentarian Dan Burdick, Hall of Famer Ben Rubin, and World Series of Poker bracelet winner David Williams anxious to draft.
"I had told him that I was just at the WSOP and really surprised he was not there," said Paula. "He explained that the other year he was at the WSOP and while playing poker he wished he was playing Magic at the Pro Tour event that was running at the same time."
Firestarter: I'd Rather Be Playing Magic
David Williams would rather be playing Magic this weekend than playing in WSOP events. What is the most interesting thing you have ever passed up on to play some Magic? Head to the forums and share your story.