Even a foot of snow couldn't put a damper in SCGCon Winter 2018. While the venue was closed down on Sunday, the lobby of the staff hotel (with a fair number of players staying there as well) was bustling, continuing on the path we had started walking on Friday and Saturday toward days of epic games of Commander. In fact, the games on Sunday may have been the most fun of all, even with some outlandish occurrences the prior two days. All in all, it was a weekend of meeting friends-some old, some new-and just having a grand time with our hobby of choice.
While this report is coming a few weeks later than it otherwise might have due to the holidays, I'm offering it because I think that some of ideas and attitudes I encountered along the way are important to the bigger picture of the format. I won't get into any individual game breakdowns, but I'll list the commanders folks played to give you an idea of what was running around our tables.
The only significant event on Thursday was getting checked in and having dinner at Lucky's, one of Roanoke's cool restaurant/bars, with friend, fellow foodie, and WotC R&D member (not to mention Commander 2018 Lead Developer) Gavin Verhey, Star City Games® Vice President Crystal Van Hise, and her friend Josh. We drafted-appetizers. I highly recommend the practice. Gavin and I talked a little about the future of Commander before Crystal and Josh arrived, but that was about the extent of the Magic talk for the evening. Even in a setting with other Magic people, I have a (not particularly hard-and-fast, but still somewhat firm) rule that Magic talk cease during dinner. I'll do my best to steer conversations in other directions. Many of the people who engage in this hobby are fascinating; I want to discover the things about them I might not be able to guess due to our one shared passion.
One of the things I did over the weekend was ask players a simple question: if you could ban a card, what would it be? I made the question a little more thought-provoking by adding the caveat that this would be the last card you could ever ban. The breadth of answers surprised me. I suspected a narrow band of the usual suspects, such as Cyclonic Rift, Deadeye Navigator, Iona, Shield of Emeria, and Sol Ring. There were multiple instances of all of but Sol Ring (obviously, our sample size was small), but the following also got mentioned:
Cabal Coffers; Consecrated Sphinx; Craterhoof Behemoth; Derevi, Empyrial Tactician; Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite; Flash, Humility; Inalla, Archmage Ritualist; Laboratory Maniac; Mana Crypt; Palinchron; Oloro, Ageless Ascetic; Privileged Position; Prossh, Skyraider of Kher; Rhystic Study; Seedborn Muse; Stasis; Sunder; Tooth and Nail. Also mentioned during this discussion was "unban Primeval Titan and Balance while you're at it," but that's a road we're not ready to go down. I've frequently said in the past that if we were to Survivor-style the banned list one at a time, Balance would be the last card standing. Now I'm actually curious about a "come off the banned list" bracket. Might have to run one in the near future...
The number of different responses indicates something we already know: that there's a rather wide swath of perceptions and experiences in Commander. The format means radically different things to different people; I just figured there would be a few universally hated cards that would keep coming up. It also leads me to the conclusion that there are quite a few "feel bad" cards running loose in the format. Players seem to have the expectation-which is in line with the Rules Committee's ideals-that taking the game away from them isn't all that much fun. While we don't want confirmation bias to happen, it's nice to have things reinforced.
Friday I got in five games:
Game 3: Jon (Tuvasa the Sunlit), Chris Shipper, who has been kind enough to record play-by-plays for me in the past at both GP Atlanta 2015 and this past summer's SCG Con (Ghave, Guru of Spores), and Daniel (Ravos, the Soultender and Tana, the Bloodsower)
Game 5: Ed (Jodah again), David (Ezuri, Renegade Leader), and Brandon (Meren of Clan Nel Toth)
Easily the most epic of the games was number three in which there was an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite on the battlefield and I decided that it would be good idea to play Endless Whispers from my Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper and Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix deck. It was about to get thoroughly silly after I played River Kelpie; Chris rightfully exiled it to prevent me from drawing a jillion cards with its' first triggered ability, since River Kelpie doesn't care whose permanents are put onto the battlefield from the graveyard. The game descended further into madness when a second and later a third Elesh Norn (although the last one was a Clone) made appearances.
About half the players I played with on Friday had also been at the previous SCG Con. I had even tweeted about one of them, Game 4's Phil, who had hit me with a Mind Twist in one of those previous games. Phil helped me overcome-or at least address-one of my prejudices. Here's the thing: Phil is a genuinely nice person. I mean for real nice. He's reserved but friendly. There's nothing mean or dishonest about him. In fact, I asked him if my assessment that he was honest to a fault were accurate; I told him I couldn't imagine him cheating in any way, shape, or form (at Magic or on his significant other). I get the impression that he's good company. But then he plays decks with Winter Orb and Stax cards in them. Here's where my prejudice comes in (and I'm not being sarcastic in the slightest here): it's difficult for me to process that a kind, friendly person can play the kind of decks that take away the game from opponents (in Commander; on the other hand, some very, very good people have played prison decks in competitive events, which I can wrap my brain around pretty easily). I have to confront my own judgmental nature about players based on the kind of deck they're playing. I want to reinforce to myself that not everyone who plays Stax is also the kid who burned ants with a magnifying glass or delights in the misery of others. Some of them are fine human beings, just like Phil. I'd be faced with that same sort of self-evaluation on Saturday. Before that would happen, however, I'd have a great dinner at Frankie Rowland's Steakhouse with Gavin, Magic Hall of Famer and R&D member Mike Turian, and the president of this very outfit, Pete Hoefling. I turned them onto Super Tuscans, one of my favorite types of wine, in this case an Antinori Tignanello.
I got in seven games on Day 2, although due to time constraints and people waiting to play, I only noted the commanders on the first three:
Game 3: Zack (? but had black), Eric (Estrid, the Masked), and Nicholas (Zacama, Primal Calamity).
The most Commander-esque moment of the day came from this game. Playing my Ruhan of the Fomori deck, I had a face down morph creature (which is always Willbender, right?) Zack, sitting to my left, cast Emrakul, the Promised End. Its cast trigger went off, targeting Eric, then I turned the card face up: it was Kheru Spellsnatcher. The trigger still resolved, but the spell was countered. Then on my turn, I got to cast Emrakul, of course targeting Zack. When it came to his turn, he gave me his hand, which consisted of Sower of Discord and Hatred. Without prompting, he said some variation of "I did this to myself" and was bravely hoisted on his own petard.
In one of the later games, I was once again confronted with my bias. We, which included Dan, who I had played with in the summer, and Mike Turian, were waiting for a fourth, when a player who said we could call him "Costas" asked if he could take the seat. In jest, I said "I dunno; are you the kind of person we want to play a game with?" He shrugged and said "Yeah, why not?" He was quite friendly and engaging. He ran some early infinite turn combo with Wanderwine Prophets. We shuffled up and played another; he played Jhoira of the Ghitu. He suspended some things and then cast Apocalypse. I asked him if he was aware that these were not the kinds of things that made friendly games. He seemed genuinely surprised that anyone-let alone a majority of Commander players-would consider them unfriendly. Again, I was faced with a person who was pleasant and affable, but he was playing the kinds of decks that I believe are bad for the format and certainly not anywhere near what anyone, even the most diehard competitive player, would recognize as friendly. I once more had to remind myself that people see and get different things from the format; for some, if it's legal, anything goes, and it's not done with negative intent. People that play antisocial decks aren't inherently antisocial themselves.
One of the issues of managing a social format that wants to have the tightest possible banned list is not just that some people didn't get the memo, as it were, but that some folks don't see what the majority would call unfriendly as anti-social in any way to begin with. Our edges are fuzzier than any other format. One of the recurrent criticisms we hear is that some people don't want the socially-engineered version, they want the hard-and-fast rule version. They don't like that there are legal cards which many still consider off-limits. I get that criticism; it's not likely to change how the Commander Rules Committee approaches things, but I understand what those people are getting at. We've have tremendous success with Commander by doing it the blurrier way, and we'll continue on that path.
Saturday evening's dinner was at Fortunato, with the previous evening's three plus Kenji Egashira ( @NumotTheNummy on Twitter) and our own Ari Lax. The discussion turned again to Super Tuscans. The waiter turned us onto one that wasn't on the list but was a great blend of Sangiovese (the grape that goes into Chianti) and Cabernet Franc. Big thanks to Pete for treating us all to a great meal.
Sunday, of course, was snowed out. We didn't get to run the Commander panel, but that was about the only thing I missed out on. Fortunately, there was enough table space in the lobby of the hotel for a bunch of us to play. It wasn't just Commander; there was at least one cube that got drafted more than once. I believe that I played as many games on Sunday as I did the previous two days combined, even turning a few folks onto the format who hadn't played it. Many of those games were with fellow Commander writer Bennie Smith, who showed us the glory of Grothama, All-Devouring. I was skeptical about the deck working at all (save for the obvious value of its mono-greenness); I am a doubter no more. Kudos to the staff of the Courtyard for going the extra mile to make us feel welcome, and especially for keeping the bistro open extra hours so that folks didn't have to risk heading out into a foot of snow.
Many thanks to Pete and the SCG team, especially Chris McCurry, who took even better care of me over the weekend than he had in the summer. Still recovering from surgery (but determined it wasn't going to make me miss the show), I wasn't moving all that fast and I couldn't lift anything over ten pounds (which included my own bag), and Chris made sure that things went seamlessly for me. He was also kind enough to bring lunch to me in the hall so that I could continue playing with folks. The Command Zone at SCG Con has become one of my favorite destinations for playing Commander. I can only hope that this one won't be the last.
Lavinia Blinks ; Obzedat, Ghost Killer ; Aurelia Goes to War ; Trostani and Her Angels ; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind ; Zegana and a Dice Bag ; Rakdos Reimagined ; Glissa, Glissa ; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club ; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever .
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox ; Angry, Angry Dinos ; Animar's Swarm ; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point ; Ikra and Kydele ; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky ; Demons of Kaalia ; Merieke's Esper Dragons ; Nath of the Value Leaf ; Queen Marchesa, Long May She Reign ; Queen Marchesa's Knights ; Rith's Tokens ; The Mill-Meoplasm ; The Altar of Thraximundar ; The Threat of Yasova ; Zombies of Tresserhorn .
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over ; Animar Do-Over ; Glissa Do-Over ; Karador Do-Over ; Karador Version 3 ; Karrthus Do-Over ; Kresh Do-Over ; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over ; Mimeoplasm Do-Over ; Phelddagrif Do-Over ; Rith Do-Over ; Ruhan Do-Over.
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."