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Rogue Report – PAX Tournament Report

It wasn’t my intention heading in to last weekend to write a tournament report. Sometimes I go into a PTQ planning to turn in an article the next day about how I won, only to go 1-2 drop and have nothing to report. Other times I stumble onto a win and can’t not write a report. This last weekend, while I certainly didn’t go hugs-and-kisses (a phrase I recently realized the Magic community absolutely has to adopt for an X-0 record) I won the rounds that mattered, learned from my bad beats, and had a great time doing it. If that’s not deserving of a tournament report, then what is?

Last weekend was PAX, the Penny-Arcade Expo. I had done a decent amount playtesting leading up to the event, but I also had real-world experience from the Origins and GenCon conventions weeks before. Playtesting is great, but I find actual event experience to be very valuable, so I felt more prepared than I usually do. (You can’t prepare for everything, however, as I soon found out.) Luckily PAX was right in my backyard, just a short bus ride away, though that means I don’t have the usually funny travel story that tournament reports so often open with. Instead, we might as well just get started.

Round One: Thursday Setup

I planned on spending most of my weekend inside the Arcane Legions booth teaching people how to play and making sure that everything ran smoothly. Since it’s a miniatures game, there is some setup involved with getting the figures and bases correctly assembled and arranged for the next day, and that was a lot of my job on Thursday. There was general booth setup with tables, banners, product, etc., but the actual game setup was where the real work was at.

Luckily this is the matchup I have a lot of experience with and I know it inside and out. This match hinges on speed and efficiency, as winning depends almost entirely on how much sleep you can get afterwards. Origins was my first experience with this pairing, and it was pretty brutal. It was a long drawn-out match where the eight of us running the booth had to stay up until 2am assembling figures. I’d call that a loss. GenCon was a little better; we were done by midnight roughly, but I’d still call that a draw. All this practice, and the fact that the event was in Seattle, meant that when it came time for PAX we knew exactly what needed to be done. It looked like things were going to be a little rough in the early game, we only had about half the people we normally did for setup, but the PAX enforcers came in and did a great job helping us finish in time for dinner – a definite win.

1-0

Round Two: Friday Demo

I arrived at our booth around 9:30. The hall didn’t open for the masses until 10:00, but the press has been wandering the hall for the last hour. There are some cameras around our booth, which is pretty cool anyway, but who is that they are filming”¦oh wow it’s Jerry and Mike, the Penny-Arcade guys themselves! They were actually playing our game, and liking it, which is pretty cool. I was really happy with how the game was received this weekend, and it made me happy when Zac Hill liked the game and said “I was worried that I would have to pretend your game wasn’t awful.” Yay!

2-0

Round Three: Friday Night

I never made my land drops, was mana screwed, showed up late for my round, forgot to sideboard and was given a game loss, etc. Nothing happened on Friday Night, though I guess I only have myself to blame for the misplay. I should have just called Bill Stark and it would have all worked out. Instead I sat at home and played Pokemon.

Ok, maybe not a total loss.

2-1

Round Four: Saturday Afternoon

The second day is always the hardest because you know what’s coming, and you know there is still a third day ahead of you. This was worse than the control mirror, standing there all day on feet that still hurt from the day before, giving demo to wave after wave of curious gamers. It’s good to see that the game is well-received, but it makes for a very long day. A lot of Magic and WoW TCG players came up to me throughout the day, which helped pass the time, and it sounded like the Seattle players were winning everything. That just made me want to battle along with them, but there I was stuck in the booth. Luckily I had an awesome party to look forward to that night.

2-2

Round Five: The Magic Party

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from Jessica at Wizards of the Coast, asking me if I wanted to go to this party on Saturday night. Apparently WOTC was renting the club Trinity for the night and throwing a Zendikar-themed party, and I was invited! Score!

I ran in to Bill Stark, Zac Hill, and Tom LaPille amid a similarly-dressed mob of people as I was entering the building on Saturday. They were all wearing the same black and white shirt with Chandra on the front and some sort of Magic tag on the back. I planned to meet up with the three of them that night to head to the Magic party, and then made my way to the booth. Apparently that mob took over the PAX elevators.

So we met up under the giant Platinum Angel statue (naturally) after the hall closed around 6:00, picking up Joe Timidaiski and Eric Reasoner on the way. From there we were bussed over to Trinity (abandoning a bewildered Zac, who was forced to take the next bus) and began waiting in line. Who should be right behind us, but the legendary Zaiem Beg and his wife, Hollie. There we talked about random Magic-related things, and were eventually handed some awesome new full-art basics from Zendikar. Zaiem played a few of these in his Five Color Control deck at the Brian Baker Memorial Tournament last Saturday and was constantly being asked where he got them.

 

We finally got inside the club and quickly picked up some Magic-themed drinks (mmm Beast Brew). We were each given a pencil and a sheet of paper with a puzzle on it. There were about 20 little images on the paper, each with a line next to them. We were supposed to wander around the club (which had a bunch of different rooms in it) and find what bigger pictures these images were taken from. These images happened to be a part of big Zendikar cards, so we got to see new ones like Scythe Tiger, Emeria, the Sky Ruin, and oh yeah, the enemy sac-land Arid Mesa.

 

Zaiem and I immediately launched into a discussion of what this could mean for extended – more specifically what it means for our BWR Martyr of Sands deck from last season. I have no real feelings on the sac lands in Extended; in fact I find myself liking the idea. People say it’s unfortunate because now Extended is going to be last season all over again, and that is definitely not true. The two best engines are leaving: Life from the Loam targeting the cycling lands (like Tranquil Thicket), and Riptide Laboratory. I’m really glad the second one is gone, because now the Faerie decks feel beatable, where before they just had too much inevitability to ever get there. It was impossible to grind that deck out when they could lock you with a Spellstutter Sprite.

Hold up – why are Zaiem and I talking about Extended? There is partying to be done!

So throughout the evening we picked up all the card names and filled out our sheet, seeing some cool cards in the meantime. I also ran in to a lot of familiar faces, like Aaron Forsythe who saw me and yelled “Hey, it’s the Time Sieve guy!” I’m just surprised he knew who I was – bonus!

 

Then it was time for the finale. Armed with a completed sheet, five puzzles were being read to us one-by-one, and the first person to answer a question would move on to the next round. Unfortunately the questions were written by Mark Gottlieb, so you know they were going to be very difficult. I was miles from solving any of the questions in time, stumped by questions using lines like “..now between those two words take the sixth letter of each line and arrange those to form a word I’ve used in another clue,” and “take the last letters of two consecutive lines and insert them in succession into the last word of the next line to make a new word that means”¦” Ok Mark, you got me!

James Dykes (Catch Phrase ringer and a friend of mine who once fell victim to Mishra, only to go on to win the PTQ with White Weenie) made it to the final five, but was unable to clench the win. The winner cracked the large Zendikon that was floating in the center of the room and emerged with a $1000 Black Lotus made out of $20 bills. Grats!

This party was the clearest victory of the weekend.

3-2

Round Six: Eating

Eventually it was time to leave, and we were huuungry. We took the bus back to the convention center, then found our way into the Cheesecake Factory. There were around fifteen of us there, so our party was split in two (misplay for sure) but I got to sit next to Zac, so everything was ok. I could listen to that guy talk forever and he could keep talking forever if left alone so it was a good mix. I was also in the same group as Bill Stark, who is probably the best person to have dinner with. I hadn’t been to the Cheesecake Factor in a long time, but they have a huge menu with food of all kinds. I finally settled on a Thai-themed pasta dish, and I wasn’t disappointed. Lemon-something cheesecake joined the mix, and all ways good.

4-2

Round Seven: The Sickness

I went to bed at 12:30 Saturday Night, and woke up at 8:30 Sunday morning so I could make my way back to the booth for work. Like a responsible little employee I was trying to get enough sleep for the day ahead. Unfortunately when I woke up I felt awful. My whole body hurt, more than the normal con-aches, and my throat was ravaged, more than the normal con-throat-ravaging. My head was pounding, and my stomach wrecked. I was still completely exhausted. I called in to work and told them I was going to sleep more, and then see how I felt when I woke up. I then went back to bed, waking up every once in a while to moan, and didn’t emerge from this sick haze until 2:30 in the afternoon. I had been in bed for 14 hours, and I still felt awful.

My work had called me and said they still needed help, so I drug myself down to the convention center. I worked until about 7 helping us take down our booth, but I couldn’t stay out any longer. My body was rebelling my terrible decision to get out of bed, so I bussed it back home pronto. Brian had some Nyquil for me, so I chugged that and passed out.

4-3

Round Eight: Cube!

I woke up an Sunday night around midnight to the obvious sound of Catch Phrase being played. I came out of my room to find seven people around my kitchen table passing the beeping device around. A cube was starting, so I managed to join. I was feeling human again, and while still sick, I could function. I had slept for around 18 hours that day, and just couldn’t sleep anymore.

I’ve fallen in love with cube all over again. At first I didn’t like it because I didn’t understand it. Eventually I saw a deck that roommate Brian Wong drafted by taking either a land or an awesome two-or-more-for-one. He ended up with a five color deck that played ridiculous spell after ridiculous spell. I started to mimic him in my drafts, and it’s changed the way I draft even triple core set. Cubing was fun and trying to feel out the archetype made for a good experience.

Then I started to lose to Brian and his combo-centered decks. He has a pile of random combo-oriented cards like Rituals, regrowths, and storm cards, and crushes me every time. Each game he wins is different, and each hand comes with it’s own unique decisions.

Not to fall behind in the Wong technology, I tried to draft a deck like this on Sunday night, just picking cards that I had seen Brian play with before, or that seemed like pretty straightforward combo cards. A new deck type that was hard to play didn’t combo well with being sick, but I still had fun (seems like the Wong move to me – LSV).

I’ve drafted this deck pretty much every time since I’ve started trying it. I’ve found it extremely hard to play, and that what keeps me coming back. I specifically remember this one version I had that felt really really good. It had all the pieces it needed, but I had no idea what I was doing with it. There was one game where I pretty much had to win on this one turn. I kept trying to go through all the different actions I could take, and at the end of each decision tree I hit a wall that I had created myself. One wall was exiling my Rude Awakening (my best win condition) with Shelldock Isle, which I later had to Upheaval. I then exiled my Hunting Pack (my second best win condition) with Shelldock Isle, which didn’t work very well when I had to Regrowth my Upheaval and cast it again. Things like this were happening the whole game on every turn. I kept shooting myself in the foot, but my deck was good enough that I eventually found some backdoor way to win.

The combo cube deck as presented a challenge, and I’m forcing myself to draft it so that I can get better at playing it. There are a lot of decisions to make every game, different every time, and I know that if I get better at making those kinds of decisions I will certainly be a better Magic player. Just look at the card Insidious Dreams – there are so many important choices. Like any spell, when to cast it is important. You’ve also got to decide how many cards you want to search for, and weigh that against how many cards you want to discard, and weigh that against which cards you want to discard, and weigh that against the most important decision of which cards you’re searching for, and weigh that against which order you’re going to put those cards in. That card is incredible hard to play with. It’s a lot like [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] in the way that it’s a lot easier in a Constructed deck. I played Gifts Ungiven in Kiki-Jiki, and while the choices were hard, I had played the deck enough, and knew what the general plan was, that searching was doable. In a cube combo deck, however, you are winning the game a different way every time, and each matchup is very different, so knowing what to Gifts Ungiven for is incredibly difficult. I’m forcing myself to draft these decks (which also means I’m forcing myself to lose a little more often) so that I can get better at making “next-level” decisions that aren’t reinforced by play testing, that come down to making the right play for that exact situation that you’ve never seen before.

While I may have lost in the cube, the experience was win for sure.

5-3

Round Nine: Possible Swine Flu

Monday was the worst day of my sickness. I guess my body was deceiving me the night before by letting me cube, and then punished me for it afterwards. I had to cancel a dinner I was invited to with Bill and Zac, so you know I must have been really sick. I didn’t leave my bed except for a drink of water or to use the bathroom all of Monday until around 11pm, refueling on Nyquil throughout the day. Waking up that night was like coming out of a deep fog, and I finally felt like a human. Zaiem had contacted me sounding bored, and I was hungry, so we swung up to a Sherry’s and had some breakfast food (or at least a side of hashbrowns with cheese on them for me).

I woke up on Tuesday morning to reports of Swine Flu at PAX. Eek! I was feeling ok so I wasn’t worried, but I figured I’d swing by the doctor and see what they say. The doctor wasn’t too concerned, checked me out, and said that if I was starting to feel better, I should be fine. She said to stay home from work until my symptoms go away (which they are finally now going away – just gotta kick this cough) which is kind of a bummer when you actually like your job.

5-4

Cut to Top 8

I would normally be pretty disappointed with a 5-4 performance, but there was some bad luck that kept me from a top 16, so I’ll take it. The rounds I did win were very fulfilling, and sometimes that’s all that matters.

Meanwhile I had a weird experience last Saturday when on a whim I judged my first event, the Brian Baker Memorial tournament. I may talk about that in my next article, kind of the alternate-reality version of Riki’s judge-to-player adventure. Here’s hoping you didn’t get the swine flu.

Thanks for reading,

Jonathon Loucks

Loucksj @ gmail

JonLoucks on twitter

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