Innovations - The GenCon Article
I am sitting here at GenCon, in the middle of a room twice the size of an airport hanger. There are gamers stretching as far as the eye can see in several directions. And this is only one of the rooms. This place is so big, it is hard to comprehend the size. There is something like 25,000 or 30,000 con-goers, making for a veritable metropolis of card players, role-players, board gamers, and more.
I could go on about all that I have seen this weekend, but alas, 2,000(ish) words does not grant me such liberties. Instead, I will start at the beginning, talk about some stuff, and when I get to the end, I will stop. Sounds like a plan.
Our adventure begins Wednesday evening in Livonia, Michigan. I was playing basketball with the guys from Team RIW. We had been enjoying playing in a church parking lot two miles from the RIW store, but apparently the church no longer enjoyed us playing there. They decided to start parking a giant van right under the hoop every day and night. Nice church, B.
We decide to ball at a local park, which is pretty good although very dark. In addition, the fact that the rim was eleven-and-a-half feet tall put a new twist on things. Normally I am prone to flying through the air and grabbing the rim, even dunking once in a while. However, eleven-and-a-half feet is a little ambitious.
As interested as I am sure you are in my basketball exploits, I will go ahead and skip to the trip. Suffice to say, we balled for a few hours in the middle of the night then went our separate ways to prepare for the Con. Four in the morning rolls around, and we are off.
I drive down to Indy with Brian Demars Mark Biller, and Phil Cape. We are in a hurry because Brian needs to be at the Con early to get into Five-Color Worlds. We are pretty sure Brian is busted in this format. When most people are playing all their favorite cards from over the years, Brian is just taking control of the game and comboing people out on turn 6 by looping Time Stretch, or some other Wish craziness (in Five-Color, your sideboard is your collection).
I end up driving so that people who had events to play in could actually sleep a little. Biller is a trooper and keeps me company for a large chunk of the trip, before I eventually am forced to resort to playing my entire collection of Justin Timberlake, N’Sync, Fergie, and Pink.
Five hours later, we arrive and get in line to register for the Con. Cedar Point and Disney World have nothing on these people when it comes to the lines. The queue to get a badge wrapped all the way around the block. A couple of hours later, and we are in. I wander around for a while, and end up crashing in a hotel room and taking a two-hour nap. However, I didn’t want to be up all night, so I got a wake up call and returned to the site.
I meet up with fellow Mean Decker Steve Menendian and we go out to eat. Eventually we end up back in our hotel room for some Vintage testing. I try out my Flash Dreadnaught deck that can Flash-Hulk out four Dreadnaughts (two die) and a Dark Confidant. In addition, it features Counterbalance, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Illusionary Mask. Steve is playing his Gat deck.
Eventually, Steve comes out ahead 5-3, and I have seen enough. Flash with Slivers pwns Gat, so there is no way I am playing a Flash deck with a worse Gat match-up and less brokenness against a random field.
We go back to the site and I assemble my decks for Vintage and Legacy with the help of several friends, including Jeff Anand, Stasch, and Menendian. I finalize my build of Sliver Flash and play a set against Steve while he is waiting for the Top 8 of his Vintage preliminary tournament. He had maintained at this point that Gat was a 60-40 favorite over Flash. I maintained the opposite. However, I had thought my Dreadnaught deck would fare better, so I wanted to see if the same was true for Slivers.
I end up winning 7-3, including one game with turn 1 kill, with triple Pact of Negation backup. Steve finally comes to agree that Flash has a clear advantage, game 1. The discrepancy between his article here and the results from testing to me had to do with the fact that I mulligan very little when playing against Gat. This is intentional. The key to winning the Flash-Gat match-up for Flash is to keep any remotely mediocre hand and just get there eventually. You are usually not going all in turn 1 anyway, so sit, chill, and build up. If you don’t mulligan, you will have more cards to Brainstorm away. I usually only mulligan hands with no action (usually no land) when playing against Gat. Steve was actually mulliganing very aggressively to try to assemble the combo quickly. The key is to build up and have as many cards as possible to sculpt the perfect hand. Eventually you can bottleneck them on mana and go off with double Pact back up. Also, beating down with Slivers is very respectable.
I go to sleep and get a paltry three hours of slumber. The next day, I play in the Legacy Championship, running Aluren. You can read about the deck here. I tested quite a lot before Grand Prix: Columbus, but haven’t played Legacy since. I was more interested in the Vintage tournament, but figured I might as well play in the Legacy event. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t, if only because I was so tired that I felt ill and played actively terrible in every single game.
Here is what I played.
- 1 Etched Oracle
- 1 Cavern Harpy
- 1 Dream Stalker
- 2 Eternal Witness
- 1 Ghitu Slinger
- 4 Imperial Recruiter
- 1 Man-o'-War
- 1 Spike Feeder
- 4 Wall of Roots
Round 1, I play against someone playing Mono-Red Burn. Game 1, he gets a very aggressive Fireblast draw and kills me quickly. I win game 2 easily, comboing off turn 4 or something. Game 3, I Duress him and take Pyrostatic Pillar, and see Price of Progress. I then fetch a non-basic land without needing to, thinking that I needed three different colors of land for my Engineered Explosives. The thing is, I am only going to play it for one. You get it, right? It costs three to use and has Sunburst. Why wouldn’t I need three different colors of land? Eventually, I am going to go off, despite a Pyrostatic Pillar. Unfortunately, a topdecked Fireblast does exactly enough to kill me.
Round 2, I play against Goblins. This should be an easy matchup, but I go to time in game 3 and can’t win in extra turns. I think if I had been better rested I could have played faster and brought the game to a conclusion.
Round 3, I play against a U/W Fish player.
Game 1, I combo off very quickly. Game 2, I lose to a combination of Meddling Mages, Stifles, Force of Wills, and Dazes. I definitely sideboarded wrong, actually sideboarding out the combo. Game 3, I bring the combo back in, and Cabal Therapy my opponent. He draws 3 Relevant disruption spells straight and I drop from the tournament.
Overall, a bit of a humbling experience. It is hard to tell if my deck is just not cut out for this format, when I played so badly, but we will see when Worlds rolls around. I am not even as excited about Aluren as I once was, because of the printing of Tarmogoyf. Check back with me next month. That evening I test some Vintage and get ready for the next day, as well as just hanging out and kicking it with friends. I end up getting 4-5 hours of sleep and am feeling better for the Vintage tournament, although far from good.
Here is what I end up running.
Game 2, she starts with Leyline of Singularity in play, which stops my turn 1 kill. Eventually I bounce her Leyline and Duress her Red Blast, but have to wait a turn before going off. She draws and passes. I try to go off, but she topdecked Pyrokinesis. How embarrassing.
I start beating down with my one remaining Sliver, but a Simian Spirit Guide hits and holds me off. Eventually, I get all my land in play and Lotus out a Protean Hulk. I start serving the beats, but an Empty the Warrens slows me down. Blue Elemental Blast buys me time, but a topdecked Magus of the Moon and Elvish Spirit Guide Finally provide enough defense to kill my Hulk, I get an Elvish Spirit Guide and cast another Hulk and continue the Beats. Tinder Walls slow me down, but her Mana Crypt ends up killing her.
Round 3, I play against a player playing an extremely hateful Oath deck featuring Chalice of the Void, Trinisphere, Leyline of the Void, Mana Drain, Force of Will, and more. Game 1, I eventually Flash Hulk and go get my Slivers. I attack, and he says, "Wait, I Wipe Away your Heart Sliver."
"When?" I ask.
"So it can’t attack," he replies.
"So, when? Before I attack, after we are in my attack phase? When?"
"You know what I am trying to do?"
"I am not even sure if you do. Just tell me what you are doing."
"I am just going to call a judge," he says.
"That is a good idea."
We call the judge.
The long and short of it is that the judge refuses to answer strategy questions, and it is clear that the player does not know how the attack phase works. I am in no way interested in deceiving him, but I am going to make him make his own decision, whatever it is. He asks me how to do what he is trying to do, but I answer with, "I am your opponent. I am definitely not the person to answer your strategy questions."
Finally, I say, "How about this. I will walk through every step and announce everything that is happening. You tell me what you want to do, and when, as well as let me know when I am allowed to advance each step."
The turn progresses like this:
"May I enter my attack phase?"
"Yes." (I have a Lotus in play and could simply replay the Sliver.)
"May I declare my attackers?"
"I attack with all of my creatures. Do you have any effects?"
I pick it up and look at him. He looks at me. I look at him. He looks at me. I look at the judge. I ask him, "So... damage on the stack?"
"Your guys aren’t attacking," he responds
"Yes, they are. You told me to declare attackers."
He turns to the judge. The judge puts his head in his hands and nods this is true. He is obviously very upset about this, and goes on tilt. He obviously loses this game, but figured he was going to win by Stripping my land so I couldn’t pay for my Pact. The thing was, I had a Summoner’s Pact to get Elvish Spirit Guide to pay anyway... I still would have won, but right is right.
After the match, we talked it over and everything was cool. He apologized for not knowing the rules, and said that in Vintage, people normally don’t make you walk through things like a stack. His deck was actually interesting too, because it was insanely pimp in terms of crimped cards and misprints and Asian foils.
Game 2 he has two pieces of hate on turn 1, and drops another on turn 2. Some Force of Willing later and I eventually die to a Mishra’s Workshop.
Game 3, we are short on time and I go for it in extra turns, though if we had more time, I would have tutored for Duress to strip his hand first. Finally, I Rebuild his Chalice and Engineered Explosives. I untap and Reverent Silence his Leyline. Then I Flash a Hulk with Force of Will, Blue Card, and Pact backup. He Trickbinds. Awkward.
Round 4, I win the die roll and kill turn 1, never seeing a card from my opponent. However, he has a reputation for always playing Stax, so I board accordingly.
Game 2, he has a strong Workshop draw and disrupts me enough with Chalice and Sphere of Resistance to get out a Triskelion and take control.
Game 3, I tutor for the combo and pass. I Force his Trinisphere, untap and kill him.
Round 5, I am on the draw and take a double mulligan. My opponent plays an Underground Sea and passes.
I Flash. He Ancestrals in response. I decide to let it resolve. He then Forces my Flash. I Pact his Force. He Forces back. I Pact again. He just smiles and shuffles up his cards. It turns out if I had Forced his Ancestral, I would have lost to double Force of Will.
I figured he was playing Gat, as he is a well-known player and pitched an Opt to Force. Game 2, I mulligan again. I Duress him and take Gush. He Brainstorms into Mystical Tutor, Black Lotus, and Red Elemental Blast. He Tutors for Will and goes off, partially, ending up with forty Goblins, but having to pass the turn. I untap and Echoing Truth him, but unfortunately am Red Blasted right out.
Game 3, I mulligan yet again. Remember how I said the key to the Flash Gat matchup was to not mulligan? These four hands had one land between the 27 cards. I try to go off with Pact backup, but lose to Force plus Misdirection. I had a Force of Will and Summoner’s Pact in my hand. If I had played a Trygon Predator, I could have won by Pacting to a Predator to pitch to Force.
Round 6, I play against a U/R Standstill deck with tons of hate including Stifles, Red Blasts, Chalices, Forces, and Misdirections. Game 1 I kill him on turn 1. Game 2 goes a long time and I eventually lose to Crucible / Strip Mine with Chalice in play. Game 3, he plays Volcanic on turn 1. Turn 2 he drops a Faire Conclave. This is my chance. So I crack a fetch land and remark how I hope doesn’t have Stifle. He has it, so he taps out to Stifle my fetchland. I untap and kill him with Pact backup. If he had just had an Island instead, he would have even been able to Stifle with it, and keep the Volcanic in his hand for his REB. Personally, I think it was a little greedy to Stifle the Fetchland anyway.
Round 7, I face another U/R Standstill deck. This guy’s draw is far better. He shuts me down with a Null Rod when I have three pieces of jewelry in hand. I get mana locked before I can get anywhere. Game 2, I try to kill him on turn 1, but he has Force of Will, Misdirection, and two Blue cards, so I die to my Pact.
Round 8, my opponent plays a turn 1 Mox Sapphire, Ancestral Recall, then Mox Ruby, Goblin Welder and passes. On my turn he dies. Game 2, he plays turn 1 Wasteland, Ruby, Sol Ring, Tinker, and starts looking through his library. I stop him, pointing out that he has no Blue. He is furious with himself and was about to scoop on the spot, but I told him this probably wasn’t a game loss kind of situation. I didn’t want his tournament to end this way. We called a judge, and they untapped his mana and put Tinker back in his hand.
On my turn, I’m now faced with a difficult position, as I have no way to stop the Tinker next turn (he had already shown me the City of Brass in his hand that he meant to play). I can either play out my jewelry then hope he Tinkers to something that gets hosed by my Hurkyl’s Recall, or I can "go off."
He Tinkers up a Sundering Titan and passes.
I am now in a bad spot and can’t race. If I attack, he can take it. He is at 19. He will win the race. I also have no lands, so I pass.
He drops Karn, Silver Golem and remarks that he is glad to have drawn him. I mention that he will win the race for sure now. He agrees and attacks with the Titan. I decide to block. It turns out, I win the race, now that I have five Slivers in play. He realized as soon as I declared the block what he had done, but had no choice but to laugh about it.
We end up playing many games for fun afterwards, and I am pretty sure it is a hard matchup for Stax anyway, especially considering he has no Leylines.
I end up finishing seventeenth on tie-breakers. Good beats, I guess. Brian Demars finished a heartbreaking ninth, despite some phenomenal play. He did not hose one of his opponents who was making rules violations against him. If he had called a judge immediately, the player surely would have received a game loss by the third violation, rather than just the warning he received for trying to attack with a summoning sick creature twice in one turn. In addition, he accidentally said he had more mana in his pool than he really did, and he untapped an Underground Sea during Brian’s end step to start his turn and said, "Wait, I Vampiric Tutor." Brian realized that was his only Black and called him on it. Let this be a lesson. If your opponent makes a rules infraction, you may think you are not hurting yourself by not saying anything, but sometimes you will hit the guy that continually misplays, or worse, intentionally violates.
Steve Menendian was the big winner, totally destroying the field with his version of Gat, which I am sure you will hear about Wednesday. Congratulations Steve! He played fantastic all day and poured his heart into preparing for this event. There is no question, this event was his to take. He was the best-prepared and played on top of his game.
This article has already gone over my word count and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet, the Grand Melee. The Grand Melee was a 112-player multiplayer game that was without a doubt, the greatest game of Magic ever played. I could not possibly do it justice with just a few words, so I will recount how it went down, briefly, another time. Trust me, it was a sight to see, going from 6pm to 6am. I, and many other players, actually wished we had played in it, rather than the Championship. It was so insane.
Some of the highlights include three people taking infinite turns; over 25 infinite combos; someone Storming for seventeen with Grinning Ignus and actually getting seventeen Dragons and sixteen Slivers (he also had Wild Pair in play); a player with 47 Stuffy Dolls in play; a player with Doubling Seasons that set up a scenario where every turn he multiplied his board and life by five; A player gaining over 100 million life, by Beaconing himself every turn, starting at fifteen without taking a single extra turn; a player that skipped eleven turns with Chronosavant because he had Chromatic Escape and went from 11pm until 4:45am without taking a turn; and so much more.
GenCon was off the hook. What a great time and place to be a gamer. Talk to you guys next week, when I am joined by some "special guests."