Usually, when Wizards makes any sort of larger change, I’m able to step back and remove myself from the situation. I note the advantages and disadvantages for the various types of players and settle back, taking the good with the bad. I am, for the most part, a strategy writer, though I make an exception when I’m placed in a unique situation. Recently, one such situation came up.
Starting with Pro Tour Avacyn Restored, Wizards announced that it’ll be giving out something new, “Sponsor’s Exemption invitations and airfare to players who showed excellence in play and positive community activity during the qualifying season.” The sponsored invites impact five people directly, including myself, and a number of people indirectly. Let’s start with the latter.
1-People who lose to, or beat us, on the pro tour. If a player on the pro tour has a positive expectancy versus someone on the sponsored invite list, then he or she should be happy there’s dead money being added to the pool. If someone has a negative expectancy, he or she should be less happy, but also should realize the person in question deserves to be on the pro tour. The idea is to showcase the best, after all. If I were invited to the pro tour via different means, this conflicting reasoning, this ambivalence of values, would probably ensure that I didn’t feel strongly about the extra five slots one way or the other. Fortunately, I don’t have that luxury.
2-People the invites inspire. During the past season, I heard from a number of competitive types that were disheartened by my (and other) stories of repeated near-success. By enacting sponsor invites, Wizards showed their commitment to those of us that devote ourselves to the game. This is a good thing.
As for the five of us directly impacted, I have no doubt we deserve to go to Barcelona. This isn’t from some arrogance, some sense of entitlement, but because people smarter and more knowledgeable than myself have told me this again and again. After my second Grand Prix quarterfinal exit, Martin Juza patted me on the back and told me they should have a special invite for cases like mine. Later, he tweeted about it. I don’t know if the folks at Wizards were listening, or if they reached the same conclusion independently, but it doesn’t matter. I have confidence that those in charge of the invites know who should be there (or at least that they know better than me).
My invite doesn’t stem from the fact that I would’ve been invited through the Elo, planeswalker points, or the old GP system, but rather all three. Both me and Pascal had a PTQ top eight on top of our multiple GP top eights, and Ben Friedman had multiple top sixteens alongside his top eight. Till Riffert’s invite, based on a string of PTQ near-misses, gives me hope because, even if you don’t have a Grand Prix in your area, you can still catch the eye of the people in charge.
As with all Wizards updates, this one had a bit of controversy associated with it.
Change Brings Discomfort
In college, my History professor told me that, throughout time, the human race has consistently reacted negatively to change. Not bad change exclusively, as even oppressed people are known to reject improvements.
That was years ago, and I don’t remember what study he was talking about, but I’m reminded of his lecture every time Wizards announces any alteration to their card game, be it a shift in fundamental rules or tournament play. Without fail, some segment of the community bemoans each adjustment, yet the game is increasingly successful. I’m including myself, here. I remember how, at the time, I thought removing damage from the stack would be bad for Magic (it wasn’t).
While the community seemed receptive to the new Invites, the natural human reaction to change was still present. One player mentioned that he didn’t think PTQ finishes should matter, only larger tournaments like Grands Prix and Pro Tours. This doesn’t make sense to me, since PTQs are, after all, the circuit best known for qualifying for the Pro Tour. Without factoring them in, we would just be recirculating old names which, while important for promoting the game, isn’t the express goal of the sponsored invites.
Another qualm I heard was that current level sixes don’t get plane tickets, but those with sponsored invites do. However, planeswalker point rating invites set some precedent for these tickets. Besides, how awkward would it be to create an addendum to the invite policy, inviting a scant five players, only to have a few of them not be able to go due to financial constraints? This would defy the notion of the Pro Tour as a promotional tool for the game.
One of my close friends, recent gravy trainer David Gleicher, raised the point that this is a non-systematic answer to a systematic problem, and before the invites I agreed with him. Either I’ve become biased, or had more time to think, but in reflection it seems like Wizards tried a variety of systematic answers, and were still having problems trying to fit invites with our value systems. As a community, we value strong finishes more than devotion to the game (planeswalker points) or consistent high-level play in relation to the strength of the opponent (Elo). These, and other difficulties, led to the previous rating systems getting scrapped, which many thought was for the best. Now, only the highest of finishes are rewarded.
However, when several of us were putting up strong finishes without snagging an invite, it became a matter of justice. When justice is concerned, it makes sense to have some measure of subjective oversight, as some cases are going to be unique. As such, I’m likely to agree with Tom Martell, who tweeted that he not only finds the new sponsor invites good for the game, but that he’d like to see them expanded. In turn, Brian Kibler also agreed with the change, tweeting that he liked both rewarding strong finishes and the caveat about being a good person.
Naturally, many had questions about the shift in policy. On April 10, Aaron Forsythe tweeted the following clarification:
“The qualification to get a Sponsor’s Exemption can be summarized as ‘Have a season that impresses the decision-makers.’”
This statement brought me some relief. Not because it answered any specific qualm of mine, but a whole lot of vague concerns. With one concise statement, Aaron preemptively answered a lot of questions.
If you’re a player capable of a succession of strong finishes, there are a few things to consider:
-Modo results matter. If you make the finals of Modo PTQs, Wizards will consider that in combination with real life tournament results.
-Aaron repeated, over and over, that this is not a matter of rallying support from the community or any other form of self-promotion. These invites are based on an examination of data. Again, impress the decision makers (with a strong season), get the invite.
-Five is the tentative number of sponsored invites for Pro Tours. This is fewer than the number of people that used to get there on rating invites, but it’s something (which is a much less frustrating quantity than nothing). Most people with a good enough record to achieve a sponsored invite will probably get there another way, and thus it’s not worth chasing, but will catch some people with strong performances that would’ve fallen through the cracks. This is similar to how the Elo invites functioned, but without the downside of preventing people from FNMing, which was the goal in leaving the Elo system in the first place.
I realize how rare it is for someone, anyone, to be handed a great thing and be told, “You deserve this,” and I’m grateful. Magic is a game of bad beats, and it rewards the ability to shrug it off, hunker down, and prepare for the next tournament. Usually, burying ourselves in preparation is the only consolation we have, but now that’s changed. The alchemists of long ago should be jealous in their graves, because every season, for a few of us, the silver lining will be turned to gold.
Thanks to Aaron Forsythe, Scott Larabee, and anyone else involved for making this happen, and thanks to the hundreds of people who’ve gone out of their way to show me support, both before and after the announcement. I value your good will more than every trophy I’ve ever bricked on.
Miracle (the Mechanic)
Here we are in spoiler season! The buzz right now is about the new Miracle mechanic and how to break it for constructed play.
At first, I misunderstood Miracle and thought it’d be a nightmare with cards like [card]Sylvan Library[/card], but as it actually works it should be fine. While I dislike high-variance cards on principle, I also enjoy playing with powerful cards, and figuring out new ways to mitigate the astronomical starting costs of these cards should be a lot of fun. In Standard, I imagine a blue ramp deck could simply cast the new [card]Time Walk[/card], for example, which gets away from the brewing constraint of needing to run [card]Faithless Looting[/card] or [card]Desperate Ravings[/card] to get rid of extra Miracle cards.
In case you’ve been living under a rock this spoiler season:
Legacy has a slew of exciting enablers. So far, I’ve heard of:
[card]Brainstorm[/card] (and to a much lesser extent, other cantrips)
Of the above, [card]Personal Tutor[/card] is the most overly hyped. Spending a turn to gain a turn is not exactly ideal. I am, however, suddenly glad that [card]Mystical Tutor[/card] is banned (as Mystical + Time Walk is quite good in Magic’s most powered format).
[card]Brainstorm[/card] is the most intuitive enabler, as it’s the most powerful card in Legacy. As of yet, I don’t see this as a threat to [card]Brainstorm[/card]’s legality. Yes, the card works well with spells, just like [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] works well with green creatures, and [card]Wasteland[/card] benefits from greedy manabases. I’ve been wrong before, however, so we’ll see how things pan out.
[card]Doomsday[/card] is interesting, and comboing into a pile of [card]Time Walk[/card]s could end games. The interaction works particularly well with a difficult to answer threat like [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card], suspend cards, or a planeswalker ultimate. Taking four turns with a Liliana in play before dropping a [card]Shared Fate[/card] seems like some good.
[card]Doomsday[/card] gets cast much sooner than [card]Insidious Dreams[/card], since it doesn’t require cards in hand and can be ramped into. On the flip side, Insidious could make for a sweet [card]Cunning Wish[/card] target for some midrange decks, or decks that want to discard anyway, to close out games. Fortunately, Temporal Mastery exiles itself, or a stack of quad Masterys followed by a second [card]Doomsday[/card] could get degenerate.
I like how getting rid of excess Miracles in Legacy is much less work than in Standard, as we want to run cards like [card]Chrome Mox[/card] and [card]Force of Will[/card] anyway.
I know Adrian Sullivan has been working on a [card]Spellweaver Helix[/card] + [card]Life from the Loam[/card] deck in Legacy for some time. The new [card]Time Walk[/card] seems like an awesome card for this engine, since it can help take infinite turns when dredged off of Loam or enable extra land drops when naturally drawn. Perhaps [card]Insidious Dreams[/card] could also fit this shell, and be powered out on turn three via [card]Mox Diamond[/card]. Stacking Insidious Dreams with a Bob in play sounds like a ton of fun!
Where’s the List?
As the spoiler season has just started, I don’t have a list with Avacyn Restored yet, though I should have plenty of that next week. For now, console yourself with this list of Guided Passage RUG, piloted by Enric on Modo.
[deck]3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Wooded Foothills
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Bloodbraid Elf
3 Lightning Bolt
3 Guided Passage
4 Punishing Fire
4 Force of Will
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Vendilion Clique
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Damping Matrix[/deck]
While this deck should fair poorly in the RUG mirror, I don’t see it losing to a fellow Jace deck ever. Also, the [card]Punishing Fire[/card] engine should give it a better matchup against Maverick than most RUG decks. I like how the deck is mana hungry enough to take advantage of the extra land as well as powerful enough to not have any mediocre late game spells or creatures, like [card]Daze[/card] or [card]Delver of Secrets[/card].
Going forward, I’d look to shave at least one [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] for a [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], since that card is particularly well positioned at the moment. Running a sideboard plan for the RUG Mirror, like CounterTop, isn’t a bad idea either.