Flow of Ideas - Can't Sleep, Wizards Will Eat Me: The Community Cup
From couch to champion. From PJ’s to prize. That’s how my week has been.
It started on Monday. I was lying on my couch slowly working through my essay due the middle of next day. With this the last assignment before summer I was more or less free of concern. I had no other engagements. My feet were kicked up my pajamas were still on despite being four in the afternoon and my face was scraggily and unkempt. I heard wind begin to kick up outside my door. It began to combine and swirl together with the tapping on my keyboard. Tap rustle tap tap rustle.
That’s when a third sound chimed in: buzz buzz buzz. My cell phone. Unlisted number.
"Hello is this Gavin?"
"Yes it is. Who is this?"
"Hi Gavin this is Chris Kiritz from Magic Online. Do you know what the Magic Online Community Cup is?"
"We had someone drop out at the last minute. You were recommended to us as a local replacement."
The blood rushed through my veins and my pallid skin began to shine with excitement. I couldn’t remember the last time something this incredible and unexpected had been thrust toward me
"Can you meet for dinner in three hours?"
I shut my laptop ran into the shower and turned the key in the ignition of my adventure.
The schedule for my week turned into something like this.
Monday welcome dinner and introductions.
Tuesday touring around Seattle followed by some gaming at a local store in the evening.
Wednesday a tour of Wizards headquarters then the tournament kicks off with MD5 draft.
Thursday things heat up with 2v2 unified Commanded followed by Rise of the Eldrazi sealed.
Friday closes things out with unified Standard.
For people who are still unclear on what the Community Cup is you play in all of these events against Wizards employees. Winning matches nets your team points. If the community team wins everyone who posted on a particular thread in the Magic Online forums receives a free MD5 draft. If the Wizards people take it down though then everyone would be given a foil Sorrow’s Path.
Letting the Wizards team win wasn’t an option.
Now when you’re told all of this you begin to form of an idea of what it might be like of what to expect. Let me tell you the entire experience was nothing like that. It was better.
I have been to a lot of tournaments and I’m used to the lifestyle. This was by far the most fun five-day blocks of Magic I can remember. It’s simply due to the variation. This is nothing like any other tournament. You are playing weird formats against WoTC employees in WoTC’s headquarters. You are working together every round focusing not only on your game but your teammates’ as well. You are pooling as many resources as possible to be successful. Simply put you are eating living and breathing Magic.
It was amazing.
Furthermore representing the community is a gigantic honor for me. As someone who has risen up through the community ranks and couldn’t be in the same position without the constant support of the community it was a pleasure to give back. I was going to stay up as late as I needed use as many resources and otherwise do everything I could to make sure that the community won free Mirrodin block drafts. It was the least I could do.
I arrived to dinner on Monday night and met my fellow teammates. You might recognize some of them. Brad Nelson Evan Erwin and Bill Stark plus me were the major tournament contingent. The other five though you might not know as well. They were no less integral in our success. The community cup is supposed to represent all aspects of the community so it draws on people you may not have heard as much from. Callum Milne Marin Baraba Joseph Hill Victor Bloodgood and Ed Grabianowski were five people from around the Magic Online scene who have helped the community thrive. It was a fun mix of people to work with and with our skills combined I was confident in our chances.
Dinner was great and more importantly on Wizards’ dime. This is a lifestyle I could get used to.
After dinner Lee Sharpe brought me back home. Walking in at midnight my paper still loomed heavy. I had to finish it tonight so I could spend Tuesday unworried.
Before tuning back into school though I quickly sent out messages regarding MD5 draft to several players whose opinions I thought would be valuable. Everybody on the team needed to be up to speed on how to draft the format. With that out of the way I opened up my word document and began writing on the merits of particular pieces of poetry.
By 5:30 in the morning I had it done. Yes!
Total sleep for the week: thirty minutes
I felt okay though. My body could handle this.
After navigating the bus system to get to Wizards’ headquarters I began a fun bonding day with the rest of the group. I won’t go into excruciating detail but for living in Seattle for more or less my entire life I certainly haven’t seen very much. Sure we did Pike Place which I have been to several times. But the Experience Music Project and the Science Fiction Museum were places I had never been but were very cool and highly recommended to anybody traipsing through Seattle.
I also met coverage reporter Nate Price for the first time who covered the event all week. I am convinced he is Bill Stark’s Magic twin. They both have amazing stories a wide range of Magic knowledge similar styles of speaking and are generally fun to hang out with. Definitely spend some time with Nate if you ever have the chance.
At night we headed over to Uncle’s Games to show off Archenemy and mingle with everyone there. Archenemy turned out well and it definitely creates a fantastic struggle of group versus one that I could tell it intended to. Some of the cards felt really swingy but it’s important to make sure the format can have different speeds time and time again.
Afterward we retreated back to the hotel. I tried to finagle a ride home and after the last two days it became apparent to me that I really needed to be staying at the hotel especially with two nights of constructed formats we needed to work on coming up. When I got home I packed some clothes my laptop and a toothbrush before going to bed so I could stay overnight the next couple of days. I looked over all of the MD5 draft information I had been sent compiled it and sent it out to everyone on the team. I finally wormed my way into bed and picked up about five and a half hours of sleep.
Total sleep in two days: Six hours
Wednesday was where everything really began.
Seeing the inside operation of Wizards was incredible. I’ve been inside the building before but only for website testing or similar small endeavors. To see the whole thing – R&D included – was something that only a very small segment of people have ever done. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. To be able to put places in my head to all of the areas that are talked about and see how everything is set up was something I’ve always wanted to do – and here was my chance. My dream has always been to work for Wizards and getting this close just makes me want it even more. I have seen it. Now it’s only a matter of achieving it.
After that we had a quick interview with the web team of Worth Wolpert and Gordon Culp about Magic Online. I let a few people who are really into the intricacies of Magic Online dominate the conversation but there was one topic I wanted to get to: replays. For anyone who plays Magic Online perhaps you know about how frustrating being able to watch replays of a tournament during that tournament are. They totally ruin a lot of the experience for me. Being able to know what is in your opponents deck – ESPECIALLY in Limited – before the match even begins is very frustrating and totally changes the game. First of all it is not how real life tournaments work. In constructed you can scout to some extent but not every single player by round two. In limited there’s no way you should be able to know every single trick each of your opponents has.
Second of all it significantly hampers the chances of rogue decks online. When you can know the rogue combo or strategy your opponent is playing it takes away a lot of the value they have in choosing a deck like that. Playing rogue decks should give you an advantage online but currently it does not.
I’m all for replays. I love watching them. But turn them off while the tournament is still ongoing please!
Fortunately Worth and Gordon seemed pretty receptive to our dislike of replays during events. We discussed some other options and hopefully a fix – most likely disabling replays until an event is over –will be implemented soon.
After that it was time to begin.
We took a few minutes as the community team to discuss the draft tips Brian Wong Ricky Boyes Charles DuPont and Dom Camus had sent us. Then it was time to begin.
The layout of the event had three rooms. One big room with eight computers – enough for four people from each team – and two smaller rooms with four computers each. For the first event I was in one of the smaller rooms seated next to Victor.
I told him to just ask if he needed any help with picks. He retorted by telling me his Magic Online limited rating was in the mid-1400’s.
I spent more time on his screen than mine.
What you have to realize is that the Cup was very much a team event. Every round there would be three or four people gathered around a monitor helping the person playing the last match. Our ninth man always floated around providing advice to the eight playing. If you wanted advice you just tapped the person next to you and asked. This was possibly one of the most team tournaments of all time.
Fortunately I was able to draft both Victor and I two pretty good decks. We were conveniently also seated next to each other in the draft so I was able to set up some good picks for both of us. I ended up mono-artifacts with a few strong colored spells. You can follow my draft right here.
I ended up a very disappointing 1-2 when several people experienced in the format thought my deck was insane. I might have kicked away my second match but I just flooded horribly in games two and three of the third.
Fortunately we still dominated and ended pretty far ahead. At the end of day one we were at almost double their score. One event down three to go!
We headed out to dinner at this Texas Hoadhouse-esque place called Jimmy Mac’s. Then we retreated back to the hotel where they were offering unlimited free drafts. Better yet each match both players randomly chose a card from a foil set of rise. The winner picked one and the loser received the other. Several foil mythics were handed out this way including Vengevine. It was all good fun but I did one draft them retreated back. I had been told we still had a little work to do tweaking our commander decks and I wanted to get working on that.
I was sorely sorely mistaken.
For those who don’t know commander is just what Elder Dragon Highlander is called online. We each had to have a deck – so eight decks in total. To complicate matters it was unified commander meaning no non-basic card could be repeated between any of the eight decks.
To complicate matters further 2v2 isn’t programmed into Magic Online. So the way it works is your teammate is considered an opponent. That creates a cast of broken situations. Fact or Fiction being a draw five is just the beginning. The Judgment Advocate cycle becomes free Regrowths every turn with an upside. Trade Secrets is you and your teammate each draw your entire deck. The number of cards broken in this way is incredible.
I headed to Brad Nelson’s room as everyone else was still drafting. Despite the team’s weeks and weeks of preparation time we had almost nothing in the way of commander decks. Brad had a mono green Azuza deck he wanted to play and a mono blue Azami deck I quickly took. He also informed me that Joe had a Uril the Miststalker deck which he thought was pretty good. We were still five decks short.
Building five good commander decks in a week might be possible. But in less than twelve hours? Good luck.
Brad was getting fed up with everyone else out drafting. When they finally showed up around midnight he said he wanted to go to bed. The five of us who had enough willpower to continue went to Victor’s room and began working.
I quickly established my theory. I felt we needed to play quicker broken decks to have a chance at beating the Wizards people. This was the one format they were good at; the one format I knew they would have insane decks for. Furthermore the points for the tournament were heavily weighted toward this event. 2/5 of the points in whole event were going to be awarded in Commander. Doing poorly would mean even our Standard decks couldn’t save us. I encountered a lot of resistance but eventually converted people to my way of thinking. Then I locked in eight decks. The three we had – Azuza Azami and Uril – alongside Adamaro Zo-Zu Jhoira Gaddock Teeg and Phelddagrif. Oddly enough this left us without a black deck. Though I wanted to try a Jund deck having an Adamaro and Teeg deck won out in the end.
I assigned each person a deck and we began to build them. I just had to trust my team with theirs. There was no time for testing them out.
To be honest I thought we were dead in Commander.
Eventually we finished. The time? 5:30 AM.
Total sleep in three days: Seven hours and thirty minutes.
We woke up expecting commander but the schedule was reversed and we ended up playing Rise sealed first instead. It was supposed to be 30-pack card deck sealed but Lee Sharpe couldn’t get it to work so we just ended up with normal sealed. We managed to dominate this format too ending with 125 points to their 69. Highlights include Ed opening a Gideon Jura in his 30 card sealed deck then having to receive a new sealed pool to build his 40 card deck just to open Gideon again and somehow defeating Mike Turian in both matches. For "technical reasons" (suuuuuure) they lopped the last round of our Rise event off to start Commander. Gulp.
To be honest I’m surprised we weren’t massacred. I think every one of their decks was better than ours. They had a lot of experience in the format and ton of broken synergies. Basically we drew well lucked out at almost every turn and somehow managed to hold ground against them.
We only played two rounds and we split the first then 1-3’d the second. Highlights include my teammate playing Hunted Troll giving me four 1/1’s with its ability then having Spellstutter Sprite in my hand and Aaron Forsythe locking me out of the game on turn three with Intuition for Iona Animate Dead and Deep Analysis. His teammate gave him the Animate Dead. Finally Ed went 2-0 with our Goblins deck being our saving grace from sure defeat.
Despite the fact we only dropped one more match then them they gained a ton of points and ended just ten points behind us. If they had won one more the results would have been disastrous.
But that wasn’t all.
Not only had they lopped a round off of Rise Sealed but they had added a third one to Commander! Those vile fiends! The good news is that this last round wasn’t worth any points right away. The bad news is that it was for the multiball.
It worked like this. If a team 3-1’d each point they earned in Standard the next day would be multiplied by 1.5. If a team 4-0’d their points would be doubled. If we could manage a 2-2 split nothing would happen.
We needed to cut them off here.
We quickly fell behind 2-0. Then Ed picked up his match. It was down to Marin and Me.
As were the standard only ways we could win we managed a busted draw. I was mana screwed as usual (six of our eight decks had around 10 few too lands) but Marin had a sick Jhoria draw and suspended two fatties on turn four. We had Jokulhaups – but not before our opponents played Lurking Predators. Marin untapped and cast Jokulhaups with his fatties set to come in just two turns. But then with just one card in hand Larabee drew a card… and played forest Essence Warden triggering Lurking Predators. The card they flipped? Charnelhoard Wurm!!!
Fortunately our suspended cards came off just in time and we barely managed to stabilize at about 8 life each. We killed off the Charnelhoard Wurm player with some careful attacking and a Rite of Replication and made sure the multiball didn’t come into play.
Phew. I don’t know how we survived that one. Now all we had to do was maintain a positive record in Standard which I was pretty sure we could do.
I asked everyone what the plan was for unified Standard.
The answer? We didn’t have one. It was ten PM and we didn’t have a Standard plan at all.
Dot dot dot.
Everyone else headed out. Free all-foil drafts were being offered cubing was to be had and Brad and Evan wanted to go out to karaoke the night away. If I didn’t do this nobody was going to do it right.
I wanted to win. I wanted the community to win. I wouldn’t take this for an answer.
I would build all eight decks myself.
I went back to the hotel room and theorized then began to build decks. 8 person unified Standard is actually one of the most interesting formats I’ve played in a long time. It really requires you to spread your resources and diversify your options. Furthermore if you have one bad matchup or sideboard cards that are great against you that’s okay because you can only face that matchup or those sideboard cards (probably) once. I quickly pinpointed that you could really only build one control deck because you needed your Paths Wall of Omens and Spreading Seas. I even messaged Conley Woods to see if he had any ideas for another control deck and while we brainstormed a Grixis deck with four Contaminated Grounds (no really) I played some games and it wasn’t quite good enough. We just had to break even no reason to take such risks. This is what I was pretty sure their team would look like:
UW or UWr
A Time Warp combo deck
Mythic or Next Level Bant
Four other beatdown decks
With all of that in mind I made decks I thought could handle beatdown which were going to be the majority of the field. Furthermore I made sure to have five easy decks to pilot since some of the people on the team weren’t familiar with standard.
I ended up with Jund UW U/G turboland Next Level Bant Mono Red Vampires Naya Allies and Eldrazi Monument Green. I wanted to cut either the Vampires or Monument deck but I just couldn’t come up with many better options. I played a bunch of games with each deck tweaked the maindeck and sideboards for the creature rush unified the decks figured how to build manabases with the fetchlands we had split up Jaces figured out how to sideboard with each deck played more games then went to bed.
For an hour and a half.
Total sleep in five days: nine hours.
I woke up and waited for people to come down to the lobby so we could divvy up decks. Brad and Evan were totally dead from drinking last night with Evan not making an appearance until five minutes before we had to leave. At one point I thought Bill Stark was going to have to tag in for him. Fortunately everybody showed up and Bill Stark could still keep his slot as floating person who helped provide advice.
I divvyed up the decks and we began.
We took it down 5-3 4-4 then 5-3. The Victor with Allies Brad with UW and me with Jund didn’t drop a match.
I was ecstatic.
For all of my hard work to pay off in Standard meant a lot. To represent the community and the community’s will to win then executing on it meant a lot. To keep the cup in the community’s hands meant a lot.
Being here meant a lot.
Afterwards when we were taking pictures with the trophy I realized how great this all really was. Not just because I got to hold a trophy – though now I want to hold a trophy again– but because of how much fun it all was. The camaraderie was incredible. In five days I went from working with several strangers to developing bonds with them. I went from knowing very few of Wizards’ staff members to interacting with a wide range of them. There was competition but it was fun competition.
That’s when it hit me. Ever since I started Magic I have wanted to go to the invitational. This felt like the invitational. I had accomplished something I had always wanted to do.
And I couldn’t have done it without you.
You made me who I am today. You made me well-known enough to be a last minute pick by Wizards. You brought me here. You supported all of us. Every e-mail you send me every comment you make on one of my articles every time you come up to say hi at an event – this is for you.
These free Mirrodin draft sets? You more than deserve them.
Those five days were some of the craziest days of my life. But they’re also some of the best and I wouldn’t change any of it. I look forward to following the Community Cup next year as either a participant or a viewer.
If you want to try and play next year go into the Magic Online community and be a part of it! Make a difference. The people invited out are no different than you. This is Wizards’ way of rewarding you for all of your hard work. You don’t have to have been to a Pro Tour to make it here. You just have to be part of the wonderful supportive energetic community that surrounds Magic Online.
Hopefully I’ll be reading about you this time next year.
If you have any questions or comments post in the forums or e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. I’ll see you next week.
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online Lesurgo everywhere else