ast Thursday through Sunday was Gen Con, the largest gaming convention in the United States. Probably. (Hey, I don't have a fact checker. I've gotta hedge my bets.) Over the course of those four days, a whopping seventy-nine thousand Magic tournaments were held. (Scott! Fact checker! Seriously!) Besides the Type 1 Championships, there were PTQs, Extended tourneys, Standard tourneys, and more booster drafts than you could shake a stick at. (See, a fact checker could be shaking a stick at some large number of tournaments to test the validity of that statement, but nope—here I am with my stick-shaking credibility dangling over the ledge of lies.) I didn't pay any attention to those. Instead, I checked out the tournaments that really matter—the unsanctioned bizarro formats!
There were a few unsanctioned events that I didn't get to cover. I know there were some Five Color (also known as 5-Color, also known as 250, also known as Nebraska Weasel Slap) tournaments, but they were apparently listed in the wrong place in the program book. On Saturday night at about 9:30, the tournament organizers announced an unsanctioned Italian Legends draft queue, but it hadn't gone off by 12:30 and I don't know what happened to it. The events that I popped my head into were the two Peasant Magic tourneys, the two Creature Feature tourneys, and the Unglued-Mirrodin Sealed Deck tourney.
Peasant Magic is a format for the common man. Wait, did I say “man”? I meant “player.” Wait, did I say “common”? I meant “poor.” Yes, in this format, every rare that hasn't ever been printed as a common or uncommon card is banned. That means Hurricane is in but Mudhole is out. Each deck and sideboard combined may have up to five uncommons total and no rares at all; the rest of the cards must be common. A card is counted at its most favorable rarity, so River Boa is a common (as it was in Visions), not uncommon (as it was in Sixth Edition). There are no other restrictions—not only are Alpha cards legal, so are Portal and Unglued cards. And thus, the format is balanced, affordable, and leisurely.
If you consider Chaos Confetti or Lightning Bolt balanced.
If you consider Skullclamp or Demonic Tutor affordable.
If you consider first-turn Dark Ritual-Hypnotic Specter or second-turn Channel-Fireball leisurely.
Defenestrate your expectations, because this format has teeth. Three years ago at the first Gen Con Peasant Magic tourney, a brash whippersnapper by the name of Mark Gottlieb finished second with a balls-to-the-wall (I'm sorry, can we say “wall” here?) monogreen Stompy deck that plowed through a sea of monored Sligh decks before losing to a monowhite deck that was teched out to hate red (but, ironically, not green). I'd estimate that more than 80% of that field was GobliBurn (OK, Sligh), and blue was so scarce that I maindecked four Mtenda Lions. The format has matured, and the two tournaments at Gen Con this year featured such stunning breakthroughs as two-color decks and blue cards. Ah, science.
So what did I see? A very diverse field. Sligh was still there of course (people are going to ignore Lightning Bolt?!), but its numbers are down to a reasonable level for a crazy good deck. Affinity (though not Ravager Affinity) has broken onto the scene in a big way, and those two decks split in the finals of the first tournament. Some of the other archetypes are just what you'd expect: Stompy, White Weenie, Necro-less Necro, Draw-Go. Others are more interesting. There is room for creativity here, as seen in Glenn McDonald's Phantom deck that made use of Spidersilk Armor and Armadillo Cloak.
It's fair to say that the format is shaped by the uncommons, since that's where a deck can dip into power. If you could only have five uncommons from throughout the history of Magic, what would you pick? I've already mentioned old favorites Demonic Tutor, Channel, and Hypnotic Specter. Fact or Fiction shows up. In 2001, I hitched my wagon to Treetop Village and wasn't disappointed. Some new entries popped up this year: Skullclamp, naturally, and the Mirrodin-block artifact it was outshone by: Isochron Scepter. The Scepter was everywhere—it's good with counters, it's good with burn, and it's good with counter-burn. Jon Anderson splashed Mystic Zealots and Life Bursts in his otherwise monoblue counter-bounce deck—a Life Burst in the Scepter could spell trouble for red decks.
Here are a few of the decks that I found interesting.
Rob is the creator of Peasant Magic
, and he played in both Gen Con tournaments this year. He noted on this decklist, next to his sideboard, that he had a “special reserve” of 14 Chaos Confetti
s (for the obvious reasons). Rob did pull off ye olde Channel
win on turn 2 with an assist from Orcish Lumberjack
, and the judges implemented a “game range” of 1 to accommodate his Chaos Confetti
(and inconvenience his neighbors). Rob's deck for the other Peasant Magic
event was much the same as this one, but he maindecked a Shatterstorm
(for affinity), a couple of Red Elemental Blast
s (for permission), and a Marhault Elsdragon
(for… um… I love this guy.)
I didn't get to witness too much of the Unglued-Mirrodin Sealed Deck event, but the few minutes I was there was plenty. The judges had donned appropriately silly hats. The game range of 1 was back. And tomfoolery and hogwash filled the air. I heard singing and loud chickenesque clucking. I saw Knight of the Hokey Pokey imprinted on a Soul Foundry, and I heard about Goblin Bookie being in there earlier. I saw Fiery Gambit being played without a Goblin Bookie on the table. I was told the tale of a player, confused about the game range of 1, asking a judge about whether his neighbors would have to say “Sorry” since he had a Sorry on the board—and being told no, but that he had just taken 4 damage. I saw a guy remove his pants while his opponent was already pantsless. I got the hell out of there.
The other wacky constructed format I followed at Gen Con was Creature Feature. Wait, did I say “followed”? I meant “broke.” In Creature Feature, decks and sideboards can have two things: creatures and basic lands. That's it. This makes for a fun format that's surprisingly robust. Well, it was robust until I broke it. You see, this was the one Magic tournament during the convention that I could play in. (I was allowed to play in the other unsanctioned events but I was committed to working a booth until 6 PM; this was the only event that started late enough.) I rarely get to compete in Magic tournaments—if I'm lucky, I'll find two a year—and I was jonesing hard. So I went Spike bigtime. Oh, there was still some Johnny there. My deck has some neat comboesque synergies, and I was jazzed by the puzzle of how to beat the format. So let's start with what that format is.
I was expecting Goblins. More specifically, I was expecting all Goblins all the time. Influenced by memories of my last Gen Con tournament (that red-bathed Peasant tourney from 2001) and knowledge of how good Goblins have been in recent Standard and Extended, I figured that everyone would be running them—and if I could beat Goblins, I could beat the field. So I started tinkering with a red-blue control concoction that had pingers and bouncers and sweepers and bolters. It didn't feel right.
Discussing the conundrum with my cubicle neighbor Devin Low, he suggested that the way to beat Goblins was with monowhite control. Load my deck with Auriok Champions and other pro-red creatures and Goblins would have a problem. He also suggested that if I was looking for sweepers, False Prophet was the way to go. Yup. Out went the blue and in went the white. I wanted the cornerstone of my deck to be Shard Phoenix (this was about a week before it went up on the Selecting Ninth Edition vote, and I'm thrilled that it won). Its recursive nature means it's one of the few ways to generate card advantage in an all-creature format, it has evasion, and it can wipe out hordes of Goblins and Elves. When I thought about pairing it with pro-red creatures, I did a jig. A silent jig. In my head. No one noticed. Shard Phoenix-False Prophet seemed like a fantastic combo. I could sac the Phoenix to set off my Prophet, and by the time the Prophet took everyone else on the Escalator to Nowhere, my Phoenix would be nesting safely in my graveyard. Red-white also gave me Desolation Giant. Tuning my deck to be anti-creature seemed like a good plan for the metagame. Fear of green led me to include Beloved Chaplain among my white cards (protection from creatures seems strong here), and Eternal Dragon upped my graveyard recursion and mana fixing (always staples of red and white).
How did I do? Twelve people played in the tournament, which meant it went four rounds. Over those four rounds, I got as low as 9 life twice. Most games played out the same: Take some early hits, let my opponent overcommit, Wrath, and establish control. The only variation was that sometimes I wouldn't take early hits. In the first couple of rounds I knocked out Masticores and Spiritmongers. In the last two rounds I got my wish—Goblins. When I have enough mana to regrow and play a Shard Phoenix every turn and no creature in your deck has more than 2 toughness, you're in trouble. I sided in my Goblin Pyromancers both matches, but I never got to use them.
The field was much more diverse than I anticipated. The two Goblin decks I played were the only ones in my tourney. The other Creature Feature tournament had just one. The most popular decks were monoblack control and green mana acceleration. An MBC deck is listed below. The green decks took different forms; Llanowar Elves, Priest of Titania, and Rofellos would power out a range of gigantic monsters, from Darksteel Colossus to Masticore to Rushwood Elemental to Thorn Elemental. Slivers appeared, as did green-black Beasts, green-red beats, Rebels (with Morphling), and monowhite super protection (also sampled below). Triskelion-Mephidross Vampire made an appearance. Voice of All is nuts here. StarCity writer Peter Jahn, who was judging one of the events, tipped me off to one of the most powerful cards in the format—and it wasn't something I would have guessed. Mirror Golem is a colorless 3/4 creature with protection from creatures that happens to be one of the few ways to permanently get rid of a Genesis, Ashen Ghoul, Eternal Dragon, or Shard Phoenix. If Mirror Golem is a powerhouse, this must be a great format.
Andrew finished first in the Creature Feature event I wasn't in. He expected my deck to show up, so most of his sideboard (the Acolytes, Guides, and Avengers) are there to beat it. We weren't matched up, however, so it remains to be seen if the countermeasures are enough.
And that's my tour of the unsanctioned Gen Con formats. I believe there were more such events this year than last, and I can only hope for more diversity and interest in the future. I need more tournaments to win, people! Each Peasant Magic tournament drew at least 30 peasants, so I'm willing to bet it'll be back next year. One important note: I'd like to thank judges Andrew Valkanas (aka certifiable lackey) and Barry Steiglitz (aka deputy chef lackey, esq.) for their immense help and enthusiasm, as well as the entire Pastimes event staff.
Until next week, have fun with wacky formats.