World Magic Cup: In Front Of The Camera
Simply put it might have been the best Magic broadcast ever not to mention one of the best Magic tournaments ever. Since I spent most of my time over the Gen Con weekend broadcasting from the WMC (you can check out all the coverage on the mothership) I thought I'd give you a peek into what goes on behind the scenes and what I actually did over the course of my event.
Wednesday was travel day. As I checked into the hotel around 3 PM I started playing in my head the "who is the first person that I know that I'm going to see?" game. Turns out it was Brian David-Marshall and Steve Sadin who had just come from lunch at Harry & Izzy's (more on H & I's in a minute). I pinged a few people that I had arrived and ended up hanging in the lobby a little with Brian and Steve and then watching Adam Styborski and Eric Klug Winston Draft from Klug's Pauper Cube. I then got a text from poker star David Williams about playing some Commander. He mentioned that he was hungry and since I hadn't yet eaten I suggested that we hit Harry & Izzy's for the "Gen Con combo."
It was early like 5 PM or so and the restaurant was pretty empty. We sat at the bar I ordered a glass of MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir and Dave followed suit. I have a general rule about not drinking wines with celebrities' names on them but I make the occasional exception with this one. It's a light bodied and inexpensive Pinot from California's Russian River Valley tasty enough and price appropriate. It's owned by the daughter of actor Fred MacMurray star of My Three Sons. I figure a generation removed is far enough to not violate the "no celebs" thing.
The "Gen Con combo" that I'm talking about is the now-legendary World's Spiciest Shrimp Cocktail and the Prime Rib sandwich. Next time you see him ask L5 and World Magic Cup Head Judge Riccardo Tessitori about his first experience with the shrimp cocktail. It was an eye-opener. The Prime Rib sandwich is perfect on each level—great bread great meat great cheese and great horseradish cream sauce. At $14 it's also a steal.
Dave and I ate quickly enough to get back to the hotel to get into a five-player game with Klug Trick Jarrett and BDM. I suggested we play the star variant where the two folks next to you are allies and the folks across are enemies. You win when both your enemies are eliminated. You can see the additional strategic layer as you have to worry about keeping your allies around to help you with the common enemy.
BDM was playing Momir Vig Trick had Kiki-Jiki Dave Grimgrin Klug Heartless Hidetsugu and I played Ruhan. The moment of the game came early once Klug sitting to my left had HH online. At the end of my turn he activated it. I softly said in the voice a father uses the morning of his teenager's first hangover "Eric you did this to yourself." I played Reflect Damage. Phones came out to get pictures. Note that later in that blog you'll see pictures of the shrimp cocktail and prime rib sandwich.
There were a few more games with various folks and a late night Pauper Cube Draft. I completely punted a game against Blake Rasmussen of the text coverage team when I forgot that I could still attack with a creature despite it being enchanted with Temporal Isolation—and I had a Ninja in my hand. Rashad Miller was only too happy to mention it to me afterward. Repeatedly.
Thursday was the only sleep-late day of the weekend. Rashad and I had planned on going to Le Peep for breakfast (it means "The Peep") but laziness got the better of us and we decided to just grab something quick and head over to the site. Early in the afternoon the two of us along with Marshall Sutcliffe and Zac Hill had the pleasure of shopping for on-air wardrobe with jack-of-many-trades Deb Slater who kept us corralled and kept Zac from picking out too many things with plaid in them.
After shopping it was back to the site for a production meeting. Video and text teams sat down to discuss the basic tenor of the coverage and overarching voice and then we broke into separate teams. Rich Hagon took the lead on the video team as we discussed how we were going to handle each segment when we'd do Deck Tech and interview features and generally how the on-air portion would run.
Along with Rashad BDM Scott Larabee and Pro Tour Scorekeeper Nick Fang I met my old friend Pete Miller at St. Elmo's for dinner. Pete and I served together at the Pentagon back in the early 90's and we gamed together until I left for a new assignment. He was one of those RPGers who had the skill of simply making everyone in the group better the type of player who you look forward to gaming with every week. I mean no slight to the Monday Night Gamers when I say that I miss gaming with Pete. Predictably we had spicy shrimp cocktails and steaks great wine (2009 Two Hands Lily's Garden for those of you keeping score at home) and great chats. Since there was an early call we didn't stay out too late.
For the draft plus seven rounds I had three different jobs. The first was easy: record the draft. The text coverage team led by Trick Jarrett selected a table. He picked a pretty good one with Pro Tour Philadelphia champ Samuele Estratti Pro Tour Avacyn Restored winner Alexander Hayne and Hall of Famer Jelger Wiegersma. A coverage person stood behind each of the eight players with a clipboard and a sheet. We simply wrote down which cards our player picked and at the end wrote up his list. The results ended up in the Draft Viewer. Simple as that.
Job number two which I did for the first three rounds was Sideline Reporter. The Sideline Reporter is the person who feeds data from the off-camera Feature Matches to the booth briefs instructs the players and interfaces with the producer. When you hear the play-by-play guy say something like "Update from one of the back tables Raph Levy has taken Game 1 from Juliano Souza" that's info that's been fed to him by the Sideline Reporter. The Sideline guy also tells the on-camera match when to begin. Each round began with me telling the players "Please draw your opening hands and resolve mulligans but don't begin until I ask you to."
Sideline Reporting is difficult in that you have to keep a good deal of information flowing in two directions not get distracted by enjoying a good game and the fact that you're on feet for several hours at a time. You can't get confused by hearing both the audio feed and the producer talking at the same time. If the on-camera match ends early enough the Sideline Reporter helps get one of the back tables on camera. With the team setup the other job of the Sideline Reporter is to help keep team members who have finished their matches out of the way of the cameramen which was a little more work than I had expected (although players were always really cooperative—it was just that they got so engrossed in the games that they didn't realize there was a moving camera behind them).
The third job of the day was doing play-by-play in the booth. I did that for four rounds two with BDM and two with Zac Hill. The PbP guy is the one who guides the activity of the booth. He calls the action reads the ads provides all the lead-ins and manages the transitions coordinating with the producer. When there's action in the match he's the one that describes the what of the action. "Estratti lays a Plains and casts Ajani's Sunstriker." It's then up to the color person to talk about what that means the how and why of it. "Sunstriker having lifelink means that it's going to be difficult for Hayne to race in this situation."
Sometimes it's the PbP's responsibility to set up discussions for the color chair. It can be as simple as "So Zac what do you think the Delver deck's sideboard options are for game 2?" or as complex as suggesting a line of play for the color commentator to either break down in greater detail or disagree with and suggest one of his own.
One thing I realized while doing PbP at one of the GPs was that there are folks who have the broadcast up on their computers but aren't actually watching; they're just listening. That means they don't have the visuals so in the booth we have to describe it more like it's a radio broadcast than TV. It means talking in a greater depth of detail making a difficult job even a little trickier. Nonetheless it's still my favorite role. Unlike Sideline Reporter the feedback loop is constant. The adrenaline is higher because there is far less margin for error and you're constantly exposed. Whatever mistakes you make even the smallest get amplified due to the size of the audience. It's nowhere near the pressure of Head Judging a Pro Tour but it's still quite significant. I love it.
The day ran late so our 10 PM Harry & Izzy's reservation was perfect. We had a couple of new faces in the group who hadn't yet had the Prime Rib sandwich so of course they all ordered it. Scott pointed out a Prime Rib flatbread new to the menu so we ordered that. The server came back and told us there were only two orders of prime rib left so we had to make choices. The new folks got the prime rib and we ordered other stuff. They told us the burger was a local award winner so I ordered it. It wasn't great but it was acceptable. They also didn't have the Penner-Ash Pinot Noir that we ordered but there was a nice Siduri to replace it. Thing is these guys have been through Gen Con for years now. Don't they stock up before the event?
I spent the first three rounds of team day as the Sideline Reporter had the "float" assignment in round 4 and then headed off to the News Desk for rounds 5 and 6. Floating just means being available to Greg Collins who is responsible for the entirety of the coverage for anything he might need. After the round got underway he told me that I could take a short break so I headed over into the dealer's hall which is always the main attraction of the Gen Con experience.
I only had about 20 minutes so I mostly hit the artists' area and then ogled the Dragon Forge stuff. I'm planning a huge diorama as a long-term project so I checked out their awesome pieces. There's another company (sorry but I'm blanking on the name) which has molds so you can cast your own. That has some coolness although I ran the numbers in my head and the work to cost savings ratio didn't really do it for me. I think I'll stick with the already-made things and then if need be have one of the artists that hangs out at the shop modify them.
Teamwork was the watchword of the weekend and observing the National Teams build their decks reinforced that. It was pretty cool to see them enjoying themselves (no one more than the Scottish team I think) while staying serious and focused the entire time.
Saturday evening Scott and I resolved to have a quick bite (we ate at the hotel bar) and then head back into the hall for some Commander action. One minute it looked like we were going to have trouble getting a fourth to play with and the next we had four tables running. I finally got some mileage out of Leyline of Sanctity in Karador when Pro Tour photographer Craig Gibson playing Scott's Olivia Voldaren deck kept Blood Artist alive for quite some time while other creatures were dying meaning he had to point it at other folks. It just occurred to me that if you have hexproof and your only remaining opponent has Blood Artist you've also shut off the life gain for him since he has to target himself (it's not a "may" ability).
Some part of me wishes that I had Fabiano- and De Rosa-esque tales of ribaldry for you but the truth is that we had another 8 AM call so I was asleep early.
I was at the News Desk with Marshall and Zac all day Sunday as Rich and BDM were in the booth and Rashad was running the Sideline. We did a Top 8 Preview and then ran out to the floor to watch matches. We did a quick Semifinals Preview then a long halftime show between semifinal matches. We did a slightly longer Finals Preview then afterward I did a brief interview with the winning team. Brian and Rich did a wrap-up and we were done at around 3 PM which was good because the TCG Hall was scheduled to close at 4 PM. Right on time the crews came in and started breaking down stuff.
After we were finished our friends over at CMDR Decks asked if I'd do a Deck Tech with them to which I readily agreed (with Karador) but camera battery problems kept us from getting it finished. We'll get it done eventually.
Knowing that the staff dinner was at 8 PM I had plenty of time to play. After playing one with Adam Styborski and friends in the walkway between the hotel and the convention center I got a text from David Williams that he and Bob Maher were on their way over. I met them and a crowd of other folks down in the Hyatt bar. Dave Scott Trick and I started a game. About 10 minutes in BDM showed up with new friend Brandon Sanderson author of the critically acclaimed Mistborn series who you may also know has written the last three books in the Wheel of Time series. It turns out that Brandon is also a huge Commander fan having just taken the plunge into modifying one of the pre-cons into his own concoction.
I loaned Rich a deck and he Brian and Brandon sat down to play one. After they got started Brandon mentioned that he'd really like to play one with me but I had that dinner commitment (not to mention being pretty hungry). Rich (always a good egg) told me that I should sit in his seat and Bob took over my Ruhan deck in the other game. I played with Brandon and Brian for about 45 minutes until we absolutely had to take off for dinner at which point Rich took back over. There was quite a bit of socializing as we played and I look forward future opportunities to hang with Brandon.
It wasn't lost on me that I went from a game with a world-famous card player to one with a world-famous author. Although I felt for the most part that I was at the WMC all weekend (as opposed to Gen Con which I didn't see much of) this was definitely and definitively the Gen Con experience.
As you're reading this we're just about to get under way with the Magic Players Championship so tune in as I join BDM Rich Marshall Rashad and Zac for all 15 rounds of coverage of another first-of-its kind event starting at 11:45 AM local time in Seattle!