Posts concerning MTG

PTQ at Worlds 2011

23:52 20 Nov 2011. Updated: 22:08 26 Jun 2013

The last time the Magic: The Gathering World Championships were in San Francisco was September 2004. 2004 might have been the high water mark of my MTG career, and at one of the side events for that Worlds I racked up probably my best win, a two–one victory over Tsuyoshi Fujita with my Black/Red Death Cloud deck[*]. A month later I picked up my first (and, it seems, only) PTQ top eight result[†].

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23:51 04 Sep 2011. Updated: 18:19 17 Sep 2011

Last week there was a significant amount of internet outcry over a post by Alyssa Bereznak about two dates she went on with Jon Finkel, a former Magic: The Gathering world champion. Bereznak called him out by name, and made clear that she had no interest in dating him because he was a former MTG world champion who still played the game. She also did more than that, and it’s the more that I’m looking at in this post—that, and how a defense of Bereznak by Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown misses the point and perpetuates the core problem with the original post.

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sfmagic.org: Stepping Away

22:48 10 Feb 2011

I hate giving up on projects. Especially projects that I’ve spent a lot of time on, that have had some success, and that have come close to being finished without making it the final, crucial steps. I really wanted to get a new version of sfmagic.org written, in Python, with good web development practices from top to bottom, but it’s far past time to let that go.

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2010 Goals Review

11:51 31 Dec 2010

I once again had eight goals for 2010, and it’s not too likely that any more of them will be accomplished before the end of the year.

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Against the Wall at GP Portland 2010

23:54 12 Sep 2010

One more loss would end my tournament. I had won the first game in this match, a long and drawn-out battle, and now in the second game I had reduced my opponent from 20 to six life and had six power on the board. I had more threats in my hand, and was sure he had only one card that would save him. I just had to hope he wouldn’t draw it.

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Marginal Advantage in Game Design

18:39 04 Jun 2010

I was impressed by this article on marginal advantage by Sean Plott, who among other things is a high-level competitive Starcraft player. It discusses some more general points, suggesting that “a good competitive game should test a player’s skills and minimize the element of chance”, which I agree with, despite my long interest in Magic: The Gathering.

I also agree with his corollary that in a good competitive game, “the probability of a weak player defeating a good player should be as close to zero as possible”. Notions of “weak” and “good” players here should be as diverse as possible.

I’m not sure how this applies to tennis, the game I’m currently most interested in, but the winner of the match is often not the player with superior strokes.

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2010 Goals: First Quarter Review

11:12 30 Mar 2010

Yes, clearly my progress (or lack thereof) needs quarterly reports. And here’s the first one for this year.

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2010 Goals

08:53 01 Jan 2010

Happy New Year!

Once again, my goals for the coming year.

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Solo Set and Mental Exercise

22:35 14 May 2009

I recently started playing the daily Set puzzle again, and was thinking about other ways to play the game without other players.

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Alara Reborn Prerelease

23:45 26 Apr 2009

I went to Eudemonia yesterday for the Alara Reborn prerelease. Despite my stated preference for the old-style larger prereleases, in truth I doubt I would have gone yesterday if the prerelease had been a large one, because it would have been in the South Bay and would have been harder to get to and generally eaten up more of the day.

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AI and Games

18:14 26 Feb 2009

I recently came across this article about an AI program winning two Traveller competitions in the early 80s. (This was naval space combat simulation with Traveller rules, “Trillion Credit Squadron”, not roleplaying.)

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Bye-Bye Tournament Packs

23:58 09 Jan 2009. Updated: 16:50 28 Jan 2009

It looks like Wizards of the Coast are going to stop printing tournament packs, the 45-cards-plus-land boxes of MTG cards, and leave only booster packs as the way to buy cards.

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Shards of Alara Prerelease Impressions

20:38 28 Sep 2008. Updated: 16:34 26 Apr 2009

I played at Eudemonia‘s Shards prerelease yesterday. It’s the first of the “new-style” prereleases; Wizards has turned them into small store-based events rather than region-wide ones.

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Smaller Prereleases

05:30 03 Jul 2008. Updated: 18:16 28 Jan 2009

Apparently when I considered the announcement regarding MTG changes coming with the release of Shards of Alara, I overlooked a major point: Prereleases as we know them are disappearing.

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MTG Publishing Changes

05:24 03 Jun 2008

Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary who produce Magic: The Gathering, announced on Monday that they’re making some significant changes to the way they publish the game. I’m indifferent to some of these, strongly dislike others, and absolutely despise the way in which the changes were presented.

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Leaving Milano’s

04:22 25 May 2008

The sfmagic MTG draft group is moving again, after about a year at Milano’s on 9th Avenue.

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Shadowmoor First Impressions

18:48 20 Apr 2008

I went to the Shadowmoor prerelease yesterday, and quite enjoyed it. It was a lot more fun than the last prerelease for me. Partly because I went on a Saturday, and because most of the usual crew were there.

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On ‘Finkel on Finkel’

22:03 21 Feb 2008

Brian David-Marshall interviewed Jon Finkel about his recent Pro Tour win, and I found some things Finkel said fairly interesting.

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The Return of Jonny Magic

18:59 18 Feb 2008. Updated: 23:43 18 Feb 2008

Jon Finkel, one of two candidates for the title “best MTG player in the history of the game”, won his third Pro Tour title (in Kuala Lumpur) over the weekend—seven-and-a-half years after his last PT win. He’d been away from high-level play for quite some time, but came back last year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame (Hall-of-Famers get automatic entries into Pro Tours).

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Lorwyn First Impressions

23:07 02 Oct 2007. Updated: 14:11 27 Jun 2013

I went to the Lorwyn Prerelease on Sunday, down in Santa Clara. I don’t think it was as much fun as other Prereleases I’ve been to, but I’m not sure that’s down to the set itself.

I went on Day Two, which I don’t normally do, and the atmosphere is always different on the second day. Many of the players there have already played with the cards, having been there on Day One, and that sharply reduces the sense of anticipation.

I only played in one flight, the first individual flight of the day. I normally play both individual and team, and that also made a difference to how much I got into it. That, and the fact that Seth was out of town, and we usually go to these events together. Again, because I went on Day Two, fewer of the sfmagic crew were there, another negative.

So I should have gone on Saturday like usual, I suppose.

The set itself is heavily “tribal”, with the tribes being Merfolk, Faeries, Elves, Treefolk, Elementals, Goblins, Kithkin, and (kind of) Changelings. With new rules meaning that non-creature cards can also be tribal, card interactions have another bit of complexity. It also means that there’s another axis besides color that determines the best makeup of decks.

The last major tribal block was Onslaught, from 2002. That was just before I started played seriously again, so I don’t have much experience with that kind of block. Kamigawa block had a number of tribal interactions (Samurai, Spirits, Ninjas, etc.) but that was a subtheme in comparison to how important tribal is in Lorwyn.

My card pool didn’t seem fantastic to me, and I don’t think any of my rares were really amazing. I ended up playing Blue/White, with splashes for removal in Red and Black, with Merfolk being my major Tribe. I had some good interactions there, for example Summon the School, a sorcery that puts 2 Merfolk tokens into play and can be returned from graveyard to hand by tapping 4 untapped Merfolk—plus a lot of Merfolk creatures, including one that draws you a card every time it’s tapped. That was probably the best combo my deck had. I had some good small flying creatures, giving me one of my two win conditions. The other win condition was the quite strange Forced Fruition—a 6-mana Blue Enchantment that reads “Whenever an opponent plays a spell, that player draws seven cards.” I’m not at all convinced by it, but in a stable board position, it’s definitely a shot at winning. The problem is that if your opponent has bombs, or answers to whatever is holding off their creatures, they will draw them, and kill you well before they have zero cards left in their library.

My first match in the format was a terrible, terrible beating. I really had no chance against the deck I played. In both games, I played a few small creatures while my opponent played a couple of small creatures, a card that lets him take the best card in my hand, a bunch of removal to eliminate my creatures, and then a 6/6 monstrosity that I couldn’t block at all. He did that in both games, and later revealed that he had two copies of that monstrosity. Except for the small creatures he played early, which weren’t that good, I felt like I was playing against a highly consistent Constructed deck—not a good feeling when you’re playing Limited.

My next two matches were better. In round two, I got the Merfolk combo going, and overwhelmed my opponent in one game, and then he got horribly mana-screwed. In round three, I had board parity when I played Forced Fruition, and my opponent just couldn’t kill me before running out of cards, in either game.

In round four, my opponent and I drew to guarantee ourselves 2-1-1 records and three packs of Lorwyn. We then played out the match, and he had the better deck. He overwhelmed me with removal and fat creatures in game one, although it was really Final Revels, which lets him kill all creatures with 2 or lower toughness, that did it—hardly any of my creatures had more than 2 toughness, and I think he killed something like five of them with it in game one. Hard to come back from that.

Game two was more interesting, and highlighted how both tribal interactions and paying close attention to the cards are critically important. I had a creature that tapped to either remove all creature types or add all creature types to a creature for a turn. He had a small Elemental that was attacking me, and had fetched a much larger Elemental (10/2 trample…) that used the new “Champion” ability—when you play it, you have to remove an Elemental from the game (or your new Elemental goes bye-bye). I thought he was playing around the trap, but he didn’t see it, and when he eventually tried to add pressure by playing the 10/2 Trampler, I tapped my creature to remove all creature types from the lone Elemental he had in play… bye-bye 10/2 creature. That was good. Then I played Forced Fruition, and things were looking reasonable except for the fact that I was on nine life and all of his creatures appeared to be quite large. Then I missed a chance to win. He still had that small Elemental out, and had the Equipment Deathrender on it. The key here is that if the creature equipped with Deathrender dies, he can put whatever creature he wants from his hand into play. I tried to bounce that creature to his hand (to force him to play it again and draw another seven cards), and in response he targeted it with an instant that kills target non-Elf creature. Really, the play should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t, and he kills his creature, puts a huge Treefolk into play for free, uses Final Revels again to wipe my board, and kills me with very few cards left in his library. The right play? I still had my creature that manipulated creature types. All I had to do was give his Elemental all creature types in response to his “kill non-elf” card, and it would have been countered, his creature would have been bounced, and he would have had to play a bunch more spells to win—spells that would have decked him due to Forced Fruition. But I missed that interaction, even though it was extremely similar to the play that killed the 10/2 Trampler.

We’d already agreed to draw, but it’s just another reminder that paying attention to all the details is critical in MTG, and that the little things can matter a lot.

I’m not sure how I feel about the set yet. I like the intricacy exemplified by my last game, and I feel as if that kind of thing will be important. On the other hand, I’m not sure how balanced the set is for Sealed, because bomb rares really seemed to matter a lot, in the games I played and the games around me. That does tend to be the impression people have early in a set’s lifespan, though, and perhaps in a few months it will be clear that many solid builds are possible even without bomb rares. Another friend suggested that the imbalance in this set is not the bomb rares, it’s the runs of tribal cards that work together—it’s very hard to control print runs for that, and people who get pools with tons of synergy are going to have considerable advantages.

Then again, that might make it great to draft. Our first draft is tomorrow night, and hopefully we’ll manage to draft both this week and next, as we usually do (but we didn’t do quite as well as usual as a group this time, so it might be a struggle to do both weeks). In any case, a new draft format is always fun—I’ll be sad to see Time Spiral go, since it was an excellent block in just about every way, but that’s how the MTG commercial juggernaut rolls…

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Skipping the upcoming Grand Prix

19:25 16 Aug 2007

Earlier this week I decided not to play in the major MTG event Grand Prix “San Francisco”. A Grand Prix is a two-day mixed professional/amateur tournament, open to all attendees (unlike the invitation-only Pro Tour events). I put the location in quotation marks because the GP is actually in San Jose—something that is a factor in my skipping it, and it annoys me quite a lot that Wizards of the Coast wouldn’t either put up the money to host the event in San Francisco or honestly admit that it wasn’t in San Francisco.

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Tenth Edition Release Tournament

23:55 14 Jul 2007. Updated: 16:28 27 Jun 2013

I attended a release tournament today for the Tenth Edition of MTG’s core set. It was a lot of fun, for a number of unexpected reasons.

I intended to play, with friends, at Berkeley’s Eudemonia, where I used to play MTG relatively often. It’s a nice space and usually a pleasant enough store to play at. However, when our group of several people arrived, we discovered that the store didn’t have enough Tenth Edition to support any more players than those that had already shown up. This was rather disappointing, and in my opinion was a poor showing on their part—first, because the event had gotten tons of publicity from the manufacturer and hence they should have been prepared for large numbers; second, because (unlike in the case of prerelease tournaments) the release events take place on the day the product is available for general sale, and hence as an MTG store they should simply have a lot of Tenth Edition that they’re going to sell to customers in the future, so it was just weird that they didn’t have it. We joked about the fact that, had we realized that this might be a problem, we probably could have accessed the sfmagic group’s order of Tenth Edition and supplied enough product for rather more players.

At any rate, this turned out well, because we had time to get some food, enjoy it outside in the beautiful weather, and end up at a new games store in the neighborhood, Green Griffon Games. While smaller than Eudemonia, Green Griffon was an even more pleasant space, with plenty of natural light and a very light, relaxed feel to it. We made up most of the group ourselves, which was fine, and the tournament ended up quite small, which was fine with all of us as well. The owner of Green Griffon, Joe, was extremely friendly and helpful, and all of us would like to go back there.

Lev, Seth and I browsed the AD&D products and were all taken by a certain nostalgia, and talked again about the possibility of setting up a group to play, which is still something I’d like to do, although finding the time is of course quite difficult. Something to keep an eye on, though…

The tournament itself went well for me, I opened some excellent cards. Highlights included double Incinerate, a Platinum Angel, Chimeric Staff, Kamahl, Pit Fighter, Lavaborn Muse, and Merfolk Looter. On top of those, I had reasonably good support cards. I played Blue/Red/White, and decided to go to 18 lands for this deck despite usually hating that. But with the strong late-game cards I had, I thought that being flooded would still lead to victory more often than being short.

Naturally, in the first round I was paired against Seth. And that was quite a match indeed. In the first game, his deck came out of the gates very quickly, all tempo, including his using cards like Fists of the Anvil to shorten my clock considerably. My first chance to stabilize didn’t work out as he got rid of Kamahl, but in the nick of time I played Platinum Angel, which keeps me alive no matter what as long as it remains in play. So Seth got me to negative life the next turn, but it didn’t matter. In the meantime, my Lavaborn Muse was hitting him for quite a bit of damage, and he only had one turn to get rid of the Angel. If he could, he won, otherwise I won. He didn’t. His answer to it was the next card in his deck…

He pushed through for the win in game two, a crazy see-saw battle that saw both sides of the board cleared many times, and in the end was as simple as his drawing evasive creatures while I didn’t have enough blockers.

In game three, it came down to the wire again, but I had enough to kill him (just…) the turn before I would have died, and that was that. Quite a match, razor-close and very fun while also rather tense. We played a fourth game for fun and he won it (barely). Our fifth game didn’t finish but it looked like I had an unopposed Kamahl going in it, which probably meant I would have taken it. Clearly a very close matchup that I was lucky to sneak out of.

None of the rest of my matches were as close, and I didn’t drop another game as I played Karen, JC, and Lev (all people I know). JC’s deck had serious mana problems in both games against me, so that was probably a lucky escape as well.

I seem to be good with the core set release tournaments—while this was a very small and casual one, I also won the last one I played in, for Eighth Edition, which was a larger affair with a cut to Top 8 draft. I played Red/White in both Sealed and Draft for that, getting ridiculously lucky cards in both sections (Two-Headed Dragon in Sealed, Shivan Dragon in Draft). So I guess this means I should really play in the Eleventh Edition release event two years from now…

After that, a bunch of us went back to Lev’s place, where he provided excellent food and hospitality as always. En route we searched for and found the Phoenix Pastificio, which I highly recommend to anyone who appreciates high-quality pasta. After that, great food and conversation, and the opportunity to meet the rest of JC’s family (I’d only met his son Cameron before this), which made for an excellent evening (and not at all the evening I expected when I set out to play MTG that morning).

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2HG PTQ Impressions

23:48 19 May 2007. Updated: 22:21 06 Jul 2007

I played in a Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour Qualifier today, teaming up with my friend Lev. It didn’t go very well, but was nevertheless enjoyable.

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