While exhausting it's also quite fun to work commentating an SCG Open Series weekend. I always have fun things to bring back I get to see people I no longer see so often (i.e. this past weekend I hung out with the great Baby Huey) and on the best of weekends I learn something. Here are four things I learned in DC:
4. The Fours Are All Bricks
This might seem surprising to hear so conditioned we are—already—to accommodating the power girth and cost of Restoration Angel in our Delver decks. The conversation is no longer around the justification of a four but which four caster is going to make our list.
Am I the only one who remembers—not so long ago—when the top of the Delver curve was one Midnight Haunting? I think of those Delver decks as quite a bit more strategiclike a poker game: a race to make the other fella blink. Where—and when—is the Runechanter's Pike going to strike? We had Benny Beatdowns every round then and now have as few as zero Ancient Grudge in Gruul and Ceta sideboards today. Kinda makes you think no?
To Gerry's point none of the typical fours (Restoration Angel Talrand Sky Summoner or now Hero of Bladehold) give you any hexproof protection. They are one and all painted bullseyes for Snapcaster Mage. Yes Talrand has "haste" and is the strongest heads-up but unless (like Shaheen Soorani) you are willing to sandbag every Phyrexian dollars to donuts he has more "suspend" then celerity. If you want to go Splicers and Resto... Well... Early indicators are that the jump of Birds of Paradise and Avacyn's Pilgrim have Naya doing the same thing better. Hero is a Titan; a Vapor Snag target in the mirror maybe but the most unbeatable for green given a turn. In a "best of the worst" situation...there is no arguing with success I guess.
3. Every Little Thing He Does Is Magic
If you want a treat—and a master class in the little difference-makers—go back and watch Ben Lundquist versus Reid Duke from the SCG Standard Open in Washington DC Top 4.
It was a rematch from the Swiss where Beatdown Benny was initially successful. It seemed on the table that Reid was getting to play the game he wanted but Ben put it all together made a Moorland Haunt token and got some power from a Snapcaster Mage dropped Runechanter's Pike on his turn and did Reid for exactsies...right down to the Vapor Snag he couldn't pay for on a Frost Titan. No bounce no point Ben just wanted to get one more instant into the graveyard for the exactly lethal Pike.
Ben again was on his heels. He fought and Fought and FOUGHT just to keep breathing. I can't imagine he was very happy with his Snag situation given the army coming at him included both some multiple of creatures costed well above Zvi Mowshowitz's "must be able to win the game by itself" line and a Beast token—the lasting detritus of a Thragtusk that had gotten his mo-nay. Ben's Insectile Aberration was tapped (previous booty to the snowman) but presumably as this would be Reid's final attack Reid tapped down some other potential blocker instead.
But Ben wouldn't die. Snapcaster Mage a desperate chump block to Frosty Vapor Snag now waiting. Tiago was going to go splat. Reid no longer had natural lethal. Of his remaining attackers there was no ambiguity that Ben would just rather deal with the Beast token permanently.
Reid still needed to make a token Wolf Run activation to threaten lethal and force Ben's hand on the Snag.
Perhaps if I had been in Reid's chair tanking I could have come to the same conclusion eventually... But I certainly didn't from where I was sitting. What are the big problems? You know Ben is going to Snag you; if he Snags you you aren't going to win this turn. Check and check. You don't particularly want to get your Beast bounced (as that is a permanent solution using what is meant to be a temporary problem solver); Snapcaster is about to go splat.
As not considered—I didn't really think it mattered remember—as my non-imaginings for Reid were I was painting an increasingly vivid reality-to-be for Ben. In my mind Beatdown Benny was already Dallas Page in the La Parka mask gobbling up the Monday Night TV victory still talked about over high-fives more than a decade later.
Ben had a Pike—maybe Pikes plural—and they were going to find their way on to the this-turn-ignored 3/2 flyer. Both guys are awesome and awesome players; sure I wanted a Wolf Run Blue final more than a Delver mirror from a commentator's perspective but I wanted to see some memorable Magic even more. It was going to be great!
And it was.
After a moment's consideration Reid targeted his Frost Titan.
Which now had trample.
Cursory "Snag this or you're dead" check.
I don't know what bin-filling instants were left in Benny's hand but it wouldn't matter. He had to tap out to pay up for the Titan-Snag.
Sure Ben had the other 2/3 of his plan left—Pike Pikes and bodies (heck the now-not dead Snapcaster Mage was a body)—but Reid could block whatever Ben gave the Pike to now. All the excitement (in my head) was contingent on a flyer going over the top.
Could Ben even have won? I don't know. I didn't have a perfect view of his graveyard. I don't know how many Pikes would have happened and I can't recall Reid's life total as I write this. But I know that given a similar situation over and over and over again it would behoove Mr. Duke to cut off Benny's way to win especially after the masterful exactsies of their Swiss duel that went the other way.
In Magic there are often plays that look functionally identical. We use mental shortcuts and lump them in with one another. It turns out that where there is difference there can be value even if we don't see it immediately.
Orrin Beasley ultimately made Top 8 of the Legacy Open with G/W Maverick but it's arguable he should have been eliminated in round 6.
Beasley's opponent Eric Brown was playing a Mono-White Trading Post / Stax deck. He had Beasley "locked" under Humility. By the way Brown's deck is super cool and you should check out this video he did with Reuben Bresler.
Anyway Orrin was doing the only thing he could do...attacking with all his now 1/1 guys; if memory serves Orrin had one card left in hand.
Brown did what he was supposed to do too and blocked three of them with his three 1/1 creatures. He blocked the three that might have if there weren't a Humility in play been the most impressive of a large lot: Knight of the Reliquary Knight of the Reliquary and Thalia Guardian of Thraben.
Brown should have blocked anything but that Thalia.
Beasley's last card in hand was—you guessed it—Thalia Guardian of Thraben.
Had Brown blocked anything else Orrin would not have been able to play his last [now] 1/1 creature.
That 1/1 gave Orrin a lethal attack the next turn.
With Crucible of Worlds on the table and a turn to play Trading Post it seems inevitable that given just one life point Brown would have been able to grind out Orrin with a life point buffer and eventually some Mishra's Factory a topdecked Timely Reinforcements or Wrath of God. But like Beatdown Benny in his Swiss match with Reid Duke the previous day Orrin got Eric with exactsies in a situation where the game very likely would have gone the other way given another turn.
Pro tip for those of you who weren't playing during Kamigawa Block: all other things held equal if you are going to make a trade leave the legend. Legends might seem scarier in your imagination but if the situation really is "equal" the drawback of not being able to play the other copy rotting in the opponent's hand can be a difference-maker.
2. Grim Lavamancer Is "The Little Wizard Who Could"
I am by no means the biggest Legacy enthusiast but even I know that the current incarnation of Legacy rests on the triumvirate / trinity / trilogy— tripod really—of "fair" decks that is Esper Stoneblade Maverick and RUG Delver. None of these decks is particularly powerful or particularly fast but together they form a loose confederation of fairness hateful sideboard cards and interactivity that has for the most part kept down the kinds of decks you would think should be dominating Legacy.
Depending on who you ask and which deck that particular person is invested in Esper Stoneblade is either a slight dog to everything or slightly advantaged against everything. The interplay between Nimble Mongoose Scavenging Ooze and Tarmogoyf between the two green decks has been interesting to watch. Today the "creature" deck Maverick doesn't even play Tarmogoyf...whereas RUG Delver the "aggro-control" deck does.
Now if you were to take a very superficial look at the finals of the SCG Legacy Open in Washington DC you might see "RUG Delver over Maverick"... A potentially surprising outcome (again depending on your allegiance) but not surprising pair of participants.
I am from the school that RUG Delver has few permanent solutions. Great efficiency surely but few permanent solutions. You can't really Lightning Bolt a Knight of the Reliquary to death and Scavenging Ooze's resume reads "shrinks Tarmogizzle tiny" across the headline. Even Thalia—unimpressive in battle considering the combatants—severely taxes RUG Delver's devotion to one CMC spells and ten or so lands that actually tap for mana (four of which are Wastelands which barely cast Tarmogoyf but now I suppose can pay the Thalia tax).
Anyway I have always thought of Maverick as the favorite; "always" being based largely on watching Gerry Brad and Todd play among themselves a couple of times.
In DC celebrated sci-fi author William Gibson really turned expectations on their ears with his inclusion of Grim Lavamancer!
Gibson's Lavamancers tore Chas Hinkle's little Selesnya squad to pieces in the finals. Originally there to give RUG Delver an advantage against Merfolk Grim Lavamancer made it look easy.
If you're like me you think of Grim Lavamancer as a card you play in Mono Red. It is the tool of Tsuyoshi Fujita and Patrick Sullivan... You use it to clear the path for your Firecat or to finish off an exhausted mage. But Gibson seemed to take a full-on control role against Maverick.
This piece of technology is now known: little creatures you now have to watch your back against RUG Delver. Further you had best kill this rather than other options (when given the option).
In the games I saw I would have to concede "no" with the quick caveat that it hardly seemed to matter.
1. Pete Hoefling's Private Army Really Really Loves StarCityGames.com
For those of you who simply sit back and spend the weekend consuming the SCG Open Series every weekend it may not occur to you that @SCGLive is actually quite a lot of work. It is essentially 38 hours of work crammed into 48 hours (give or take a day or two if you count travel). @SCGLive is a week's worth of work for some (lucky) people...but dramatically accelerated.
All I do is talk—I don't have to juggle between sets figure out feature matches confer with judges make sure the WiFi and other electronics work or even lug around heavy equipment—certainly there are break opportunities but it is about a sixteen-hour day start to finish for a commentator (the SCG Standard Open Top 4 on Sunday starts at 8 AM and you can easily go past midnight).
I am setting this up so that you realize if you haven't thought about it before that to bring you all that free video content two days a week costs Pete tons of man-hours and actual money ("all this free content isn't cheap!").
When I got to the booth in DC I was greeted by Daniel Schoenbach (Shoebox) who was the director for the weekend albeit a director I had never worked with. What makes this interesting is that BOTH OF THE OTHER DIRECTORS WERE THERE.
Jeremy Noell and Jesse Snyder the guys you never see on camera but keep @SCGLive going just came like to play.
Lauren Lee my intrepid boss-lady as a columnist here was also there. She wasn't even playing! Just hanging out!
Now some of you might not understand what I am getting at here so I will make it explicit.
12-13 years ago my day job was the archetypical destination job: Editor-in-Chief of The Dojo (also my first "real" job and the job that first brought me to New York City so literally "destination"). I pretty much lived The Dojo. I was in meetings most days and working on the site; in order to actually get any writing done I'd often start circa 7 AM. Anyone who has worked at an Internet startup knows you don't stop when the bell dings at five. Pro Tours— which I had put my focus into qualifying for season after season—became (rather than something I looked forward to) exhausting even to anticipate. While I would be allowed to play for as long as I was still in I'd swap hats immediately and start covering not much after. Doing that I was more-or-less burned out on Magic twelve years ago. Ultimately it was only the not doing that job any more that allowed me to rediscover what I liked about it in the first place.
Apparently Pete Hoefling has for want of a better term put something in the water. For guys like Noell Jesse and Glenn more than Evan or Lauren their job is to travel. Having seen the zipper they should no longer be mesmerized with fear of the monster; heck it is their job to produce zippers! They put in almost a full workweek every weekend... But there they were traveling to "work" to have fun slinging spells (or again just hanging out) just because.
Because they love it one assumes.
Of all the things that I learned at the SCG Open Series in Washington DC this was the biggest.
Of the many things I study and obsess over companies and company structures are among the things I find most interesting. How someone talks about their job is telling. If you asked me I would say "I manage arbitrage and apply game theory principles for a private equity company" (which tells you next to nothing about my day-to-day); I mostly write ads. One of my good friends who runs a very prominent game division at a prominent destination company would tell you "I do business. I work on a platform and control the release of feature sets to large populations... I don't make games." He makes games.
I have been impressed by Pete in the past. Unlike you (probably) I've seen the zipper; lived even the zipper. I like my job plenty fine—especially on good days—and I ain't taking the PATH to Hoboken NJ on a random Sunday just so I can log in and look at some graphs.
Conclusion: yeah you should go ahead and be jelly of Pete and his squad.