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Careful Consideration – Midrange Melange

This is such an awkward period in Magic.

Everyone is all a-twitter about Zendikards that are on their way, but we don’t have enough cards to really know how it’s going to affect Standard. Sealed is the upcoming PTQ season, but again, without seeing the commons or the spoiler, there’s no value in writing about that. Lorwyn Standard PTQs are over, so any thoughts and ideas (of which I have a few) on that format are largely irrelevant.

We’re caught between a lame-duck format and the anticipation of a new one that’s not out yet. Talking about Magic right now is kind of what it’s like to be playing a mid-range deck.

Even speculating about a format like Extended has its perils, as evidenced by my quickly-invalidated article last week. Well, it’s not completely invalidated.

Here’s an update:

Zoo

Sulfuric Vortex is still gone, the mana’s better, the deck is still tier one. Tarmogoyf is awesome again and not an expensive Kird Ape. I’m no longer skeptical about enemy fetchlands. Probably gets a little worse since they could run out a Woolly Thoctar and safely have it not die to Engineered Explosives, but the deck still does unfair things. The five-color variant with Tribal Flames is still viable, although it fell out of favor at the end of last season.

Faeries

Can more easily splash for Engineered Explosives and Ancient Grudge to deal with Affinity, but still loses the powerful Riptide Laboratory late game. Recurring Spellstutter Sprite to counter your spells every turn was a pretty awesome way to lock someone out. Tier one probably, although a control deck needs a strong late game, so the deck will have to adapt. Maybe Tarmogoyf is enough. Maybe Bitterblossom is the way to go, but taking out the Riptide Labs and hoping the deck is the same is probably not going to cut it.

Death Cloud/Life from the Loamy Decks

Probably gains more than any other deck from the inclusion of fetchlands. Death Cloud is a perfectly fine late game, and it can now play the same mana it played before. Still no [card Tranquil Thicket]cycling lands[/card], but it can play the non-cycling land/Life from the Loam version that was running around at the beginning of the season.

Affinity

As Starwarer in the comments pointed out, it does lose combat damage being on the stack, making creature combat matches (mostly Zoo) a little more awkward. Rockish decks can splash red for Ancient Grudge, as can Faeries. Not as strong as previously thought.

Mono-Red Burn

It’s stronger against decks like Faeries that would have played a more stable, fetchland-free mana base, a little weaker against Zoo, but that’s already a reasonable matchup. It still misses Sulfuric Vortex, which pushes the deck too far into a linear direction. (Watch – two days after this article goes up, Wizards is going to spoil the reprint of Sulfuric Vortex.) I still wouldn’t play it because it’s so easy to disrupt. I don’t think Flames of the Blood Hand is enough, and I don’t think this deck is strong enough to win a large tournament without Vortex, but we’ll see how the format shakes out as we continue to wait on the rest of the Zendikards.

Penny Arcade Expo (PAX)

As many of you know, this last weekend was the Penny Arcade Expo, a huge video game convention that happens every year in Seattle. With E3, the previous “huge video game convention,” closing its doors to fans and being open only to companies, PAX exploded. And part of that explosion included the diversification of the convention, being friendly to gamers of all types, not just video gamers. And of course, one of those games is Magic.

First of all – if you can swing the trip to Seattle (and get a pass to PAX; tickets sold out quickly and three-day passes which have a face value of $50 were selling for $300 on eBay) and get in, the Magic tournaments are absolutely fantastic. The prizes this year were very very good, and the field was populated with people who don’t play Magic a lot.

There was a minimaster tournament on Friday with the winner getting a foil set of M10. Each player gets a booster pack of M10 and must build a 25-card deck. If a player loses his or her match, they are eliminated from the tournament. The winner gets a booster pack, and may add those cards to their pool. After round three (I believe), they are required to play a minimum of 40 cards in their deck, and play continues, single-elimination style, until one player is left. The runner-up got a non-foil set of M10 as consolation.

The tournament organizer expected around 32 players. The actual number of participants? 144. PTQ numbers for a casual event? PAX is big, folks.

There were Magic Online live tournaments (with some number of thousands of dollars going to the winner), a couple of generic Grand Prix Trials (I won the first one, picking up three byes to a Grand Prix of my choice and a foil set of Darksteel for my troubles), tournaments for Xbox 360s, iPods, more foil sets of M10, and foils of all the sets in Mirrodin and Kamigawa blocks as prizes. It was faaaantastic.

But the best part of PAX was the Magic party.

Wizards of the Coast had a set of challenges that you had to complete in order to get invited to this party, and although the challenges were not particularly hard (or so I’m told – I was lucky enough to not have to go through the process), some were a little on the tedious side and they were time-consuming and involved running around the large Seattle convention center looking for the five mana symbols and completing a challenge at each of them. If you did so, you got to go to the Zendiparty at Seattle’s Trinity nightclub.

I took some grainy pictures which did not come out, but Bill Stark’s blog, thestarkingtonpost.com, has higher quality shots from the party here and here.

The highlight of the party (aside from the giant spoiled cards – Aaron Forsythe was hanging around the fetchland watching people’s reactions as they walked by) was a puzzle that everyone had an opportunity to solve. Each person got a sheet with portions of art on them and you had to go around looking at the spoiled cards and figure out which cards corresponded to the art portions. At the end of the night, the DJ had people do ridiculous things like:

“Take the fourth letter of each line. That makes an anagram of something that is synonymous with ‘finding’. Now take that word and take the fourth letter of that word and anagram that with the last letter of each of the black cards you found which makes an anagram of a food, and text that word to XYZ number.”

And if you got all of that, then you were put into a pool of people who had to figure out more challenges. The person standing at the end got $1000. In $20 bills. Origami-style.

in the shape of a Black Lotus.

(Bill Stark pointed out the irony that the cash Lotus is worth less than an actual Black Lotus.)

Each participant also got a Magic-themed adult drink and full-art Zendibasics, which was a really nice and awesome touch.

All in all, the party was an amazing, amazing effort by Wizards of the Coast. Everyone I talked to said they had a great time, there was a distinct buzz around Zendikar (or maybe that was the result of having too many “Beast Brews” at the bar) afterwards, and Wizards of the Coast found a great way to show off what appears to be a very good set so far. Everything from the giant obelisk in the middle of the room to the basic lands to the Magic-themed drinks contributed to the atmosphere, and the effort was pulled off very well.

If you can make PAX next year, I urge you to do so. There’s a ridiculous amount of stuff going on even if you aren’t playing Magic, and there’s Magic going on every day. In addition, Seattle’s a beautiful city and worth a visit.

The only downside to PAX was the confirmed cases of swine flu, which definitely got a couple of people I know. I think I dodged it, although I’m still hacking up a lung while I write this. Even so, a little H1N1 isn’t enough to offset an awesome weekend.

Brian Baker Memorial Tournament
This Saturday we’re having a Standard tournament to remember a member of the community who passed away a couple of months ago. Brian Baker, a judge in the Seattle area, died June 6th of this year and the community has rallied to put together a tournament in his memory. Proceeds go to the Epilepsy Foundation of America.

If you’re in the area, it’s worth stopping by. The prize donations keep piling on, and so far the prize pool includes:
Full sets of every set since Mirrodin.
An Unlimited Black Lotus.
A Nintendo DS console, a Nintendo wii, DCI foil promos, sets of Tarmogoyfs and Force of Will, and quite a bit more (I know a lot of people are planning on donating prizes when they get to the tournament).

I don’t know how the prize payout is going to go, but it’s worth your time to at least stop by and see what’s going on and maybe make a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation. And any Wizards employees who may be reading this: The event is unsanctioned, so you are free to stop by and play as well. More information can be found here.

Magic is a social game, and with it is a sense of community. This is a good example of that community sense, as people are pulling together to remember a fellow Magic player and judge. I think this is a very important tournament and it provides a way for someone to do something that’s about more than just winning or prizes or taking down a PTQ slot.

I hope to see you there if you can at all make it for this charitable cause.

Yours,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com

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