Compulsive Research – A States (Non)-Report


Grind, grind, grind.

PTQ grinder. It’s an appropriate label. You’re probably one. I’m definitely one. Getting up at wee hours of the morning when you’re not used to getting up [1]. Driving long hours to get to the next PTQ destination, nerves possibly getting frayed from the over-exuberant and over-talkative car mate who means well, but after about five hours you want to set him on fire. Going all that way and losing in the “win and in” round to miss Top Eight. Getting to Top Eight, only to lose in the finals. Losing in the finals and realizing you don’t even have the comfort of being in an awesome city; you’re in some awful place like Rawlins, Wyoming, where it’s -10 degrees with windchill and the only place to eat is some horrible McDonald’s [2].

Have you ever stopped to think about why you do it? Do you do it because you love it? Because at the end of the day, you’re still playing Magic and the very act of it makes you happy? Perhaps you enjoy the company of your friends. If so, keep grinding away.

But there’s another side of things. Sometimes we do it out of a sense of obligation. We feel like we have to go, because it’s a large event and hey that PTQ is only a few hours away and we’ve made that drive a dozen times already, plus maybe this is the one. This is the shot we needed to break through. Or even a tournament like States, surrounded with the fanfare and the hype, would be criminal to miss.

States is Standard? I despise Standard.

I actively dislike playing it. That’s not to say that I dislike playing games of Magic; there’s intrinsic awesomeness in playing any type of Magic, so any game is going to be fairly enjoyable, but relative to other formats, Standard is something I truly don’t like. And I knew this.

So what did I do in the week leading up to States?

Play Standard. Non-stop. For ten hours a day.

It’s not even that I was burnt out on Magic. Jonathon Loucks was offering to test Extended that week. I love Extended. But I kept turning him down to play Standard, because States was this weekend. And I hadn’t broken the format. I spent hours and hours making decks and trying out different decks, throwing them against the field, growing more and more unhappy. Eventually I settled on just playing Jund, then played a bunch of Jund mirrors, and became unhappier still. Even when I was winning, I wasn’t having fun.

But States. I had to play in States. I had to have a handle on the format. And I was dreading it.

Jon’s article this week explains what happened; Gavin had the idea of doing coverage, and I jumped over it. It was an out! Also, randomly Max McCall is some bizarre human who actually seemed to enjoy this format, so if I just handed him my Jund deck, he wouldn’t have to track down cards. Max was happy and I didn’t have to play Standard. I made a pair of phone calls to the Event Coordinator and Head Judge of the PTQ, and we had everything set up.

Palpable relief.

If you don’t want to play in a tournament, don’t play! Nobody’s forcing you. We play the game ostensibly for fun. It’s easy to forget that. I didn’t play, and I had a great time doing coverage instead. If your reaction to not playing in a tournament is a giant sigh of relief, then you shouldn’t have been playing it in the first place. The world will not end if you don’t show up.

You are not obligated to play.

Lessons from Coverage, or Why I Admire Bill Stark

After the coverage of the tournament went up, a couple of you have expressed interest in doing something similar. It was fun, but learn from my mistakes.

Two Feature Matches a round is way too much.
Covering the tournament proved to be trickier than I thought. I did Top 8 coverage for three Grands Prix [3], but had not done anything beyond writing up a few Feature Match reports. This was a different animal. Between me, Gavin Verhey, and Jonathon Loucks, we figured that we could cover every Feature Match.

Wizards has an entire freaking team of people doing coverage and they don’t even try to do every Feature Match. The reason being is that it’s an insane amount of work. Writing everything real-time means that you have to get all the details down of the game, but it doesn’t lend itself to elegant prose. You have to clean all that up later. That takes time. And when a match runs long and your goal is to cover every single match, the work starts to pile up and there’s a lot of catch-up that needs to happen. When are you going to catch up? You’re doing live coverage, after all. Covering every match in the Top 8 is one thing, but two matches each Swiss round? Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

We pulled it off (mostly), but even after the tournament was over, there was another dozen hours or so of work that went into it. Overall it was close to thirty man-hours of work, and I could have easily spent another five or six on the editing alone, but after the dozen hours or so of my Sunday being spent on doing coverage cleanup, I had hit a saturation point.

If you want to do this, make sure the workload is appropriate to the number of people you have. Our workload would have been more appropriate for six or seven people, not three. We recruited Max McCall and Andy Wilson to do some work later on in the day, but it was still not enough.

If you’re going to do live coverage, make sure it’s actually, you know, live.
I was doing updates to the site before the Internet connection at the venue died completely and I was unable to connect to the website anymore, which was a shame when you have the headline being “LIVE Coverage of the Washington 2009s! “It’s LIVE”until it’s dead. Awkward. Which is why people following got the first four rounds, and then got nothing until some time the next day. I feel particularly badly about this, since I promised something and then was unable to deliver. Sure there were circumstances beyond my control, but it’s not good form.

Eat something!
I hadn’t had much to eat all day. When things were starting up, Joe Bono, the guy who eventually won the tournament, offered us a pair of blueberry muffins, which we happily accepted and devoured. (Karma, perhaps?) Beyond that, I hadn’t had a bite to eat until some time around round five or six, which is way too late. Bring food. Snacks. Something. Unlike a tournament where if you finish early, you can get something to eat, this particular coverage model gave you no time. Cover Feature Match. Edit Feature Match. Edit previous Feature Matches you didn’t get to edit before. Upload. Look at pairings. Select more Feature Matches. Keep going. Chug chug chug chug chug.

As the day wore on, I was getting irritable as my blood sugar was dropping, and the experience was getting to be quite tiring. I should have brought some snacks. Were it not for Joe’s muffins [4], I would have been finished.

Overall, I loved doing coverage. I loved doing it for WotC, and I loved doing it for Channelfireball. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but with a better idea of the workload it takes to do it right.

And now, the long-term view

Since heavily getting invested in Magic Online, I’ve had to pay attention to economics and had to speculate a bit. Standard cards are dropping in price, so if you want to sell your Standard stuff, get it now. And Extended cards are still relatively cheap.

There are now Magic Online PTQs, so if you want to PTQ it up for San Juan next year, now is the time to get your Extended cards. Tarmogoyfs may seem steep at 30 tickets, but when you need a set come February to play Zoo, they’ll be 40-50 tickets apiece. Cards like Cryptic Commands are 2.5 tickets apiece (that’s 10 for a playset!), so you can get some good bargains. I know that it can be expensive and not everyone has the means to sink 400-500 tickets into an Extended collection, but if you can, you can turn around and sell that same collection for 700-900 tickets in the winter during the height of PTQ season.

(At which point, buying into Standard is the way to go, since the following season is Standard. Maelstrom Pulse is around 20 tickets right now, but in February it may be under 10, and will be back in the twenties by the time next summer rolls around. Wait until Standard is dead to buy back in.)

Speaking of Standard, perhaps we’ll have the tools to fight back against Jund.



This is unconfirmed, so I’m putting this in the “plausible but with some skepticism” category, but man alive do I want this card to be real:

1U Instant
Counter target spell unless its controller pays 1.
Multikick U: Counter target spell unless its controller pays 2.

As LSV would say, “That’s quite good.”

You can target more than one spell on the stack. If they play Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning on turn four, you can counter both spells for the same cost to play Cancel. For 1UUU, it’s essentially a hard counter. And it fills the much-needed two-mana soft counterspell slot (Mana Leak, Rune Snag, Remand, even Broken Ambitions).

Mutikick is kind of like replicate, but if you counter the multikick card, then nothing happens. If you played something like Shattering Spree with three copies, even if you countered the original, three of them would go on the stack. (And even nicer, the copies don’t get played; they just get put directly on the stack. So if someone has a Chalice of the Void set to 1 and you Shattering Spree it, the replicate copies don’t get countered, since Chalice of the Void only counters the spells when they get played.)

But wait! There’s more!

Confirmed card:

Celestial Colonnade
Celestial Colonnade enters the battlefield tapped.
T: Add W or U to your mana pool.
3WU: Until end of turn, Celestial Colonnade becomes a 4/4 white and blue Elemental creature with flying and vigilance. It’s still a land.

A color-fixing manland? Yes please! Control players rejoice. It can still be Terminated, but not Bolted or Maelstrom Pulsed. What it can be is Smothered, which is reportedly back in Worldwake.

Only a handful of cards have been spoiled so far, but I’m already looking forward to it.

One note on Extended: Test this format. Seriously. The Tezzeret deck is very good, but it’s also a very skill-intensive deck. When Ochoa and LSV say they are making mistakes with the deck, don’t think you can pick it up cold and do well at a PTQ with it. There are a lot of decision points and you have a limited amount of resources you need to manage well. You need to get a lot of reps with it so you can play it quickly, because you will draw matches unless you play at a pretty brisk pace, especially in the mirror.

Even if you have no plans to play the deck, you should test against it. And if you test against it, that means that the first handful of games can be a little rough, since the Tezzeret pilot is invariably going to make mistakes as they become familiar with the deck. Take caution.

Yours warningly,
zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on twitter

[1] I’m much more likely to be going to sleep at 7:00 A.M., not waking up at 7:00 A.M.

[2] Okay, I’m exaggerating. They don’t actually have PTQs in Rawlins. Or people. And the McDonald’s there is quite nice, as far as McDonald’s restaurants go. But it really is -10 right now with wind chill.

[3] That’s the plural of “Grand Prix.” I swear.

[4] Hey, that’s a good name for a bakery!


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