Ask the Pro: August

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Wizards of the Coast welcomes Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy as the featured player here at "Ask the Pro." A fixture on the Pro Tour for the last eight years, Raphaël is uniquely positioned to answer your questions about the life of a professional Magic player, give a historical perspective on the game and high-level tournament scene, share stories about travelling the world, and talk about the role Magic plays in his life.

Fifth on the lifetime Pro Points list, Raphaël began his Pro Tour career back at Pro Tour-Paris in 1997. He became a regular on the tour starting at the 1998 World Championships. Since then he hasn't missed a Pro Tour, an astounding streak cresting 50 consecutive events. He was recently honored as a member of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame's 2006 class and was inducted at the 2006 World Championships in Paris. He was recently named the 2007 Road Warrior by a vote of Magicthegathering.com readers, earning a spot at the 2007 Magic Invitational in October.

Send your question, along with your name and location, via this email form. Answers will be posted every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

Note: This feature isn't intended for rules-related questions. For those questions, try our Saturday School archive, the Rules Q&A message board, or visit irc.efnet #mtgjudge.

August 30, 2007

Q: What do you think of Evan Erwin attending the Invitational? Is it good for a "non-pro" player to come?
-Scott Fitterer

A: Hi Scott,

The Storyteller ballot brought a lot of controversy on Magic message boards. I have not made any comment on the issue there, but will share my point of view here instead.

The Invitational has always been an "all-star" tournament. And that meant that to be allowed to play, you needed to be considered a star. Playing in the tournament is a goal itself, something that the best players, and in particular the ones not shining bright enough to attract all the attention, try to reach. I have been very close to play the Invitational many times, but there was always a "better" pick, so I had to wait my time, or shine "brighter." I am also thinking about Jelger Wiegersma who, despite having been one of the best European players for years, is going to play his first Invitational. That is to say that some of us have been fighting for years to play there.

I do not know Evan Erwin. I do not think I ever met him in person, and have rarely watched his Magic Show. The thing is, three months ago, before the nature of the ballots were announced, he would never dreamt of playing there. So, I understand some people feel it is unfair to give him a "wild card" when others have fought so hard and end up not being in this all-star game. I also understand that it is Wizards of the Coast's wish to change the Invitational into something different from an "all-star" event.

I have nothing against Evan, but I would have prefered to see the more deserving Shuhei Nakamura or Olivier Ruel using this slot.


August 28, 2007

Q: When it comes to booking your trips to the Grand Prix and Pro Tours, do you plan them with other pros so you can all travel together?
-Eugene

A: Hi Eugene,

As you may know, most of us have been travelling for a while and know how to book flights and trips on our own. The way we plan our trips depends on the destination, the price and what every one wants. For example, when we travelled to Grand Prix–Montréal and Pro Tour–San Diego, one of us (hint: you're reading his writings at the moment) found cheap flights and shared the information with everyone who wanted to tag along. In the end, 10 of us flew from Toulouse to Canada and then to California as we all wanted to stay some time in San Diego before the PT to playtest together.

For last weekend's Grand Prix in San Francisco (actually in San Jose), only Olivier and I travelled from France. We had different plans (mentioned in last week's ATP), so we basically decided that it would be better to plan our trips separately.

In general, and especially when we want to prepare for an upcoming tournament or if the destination is interesting enough so that we want to stay there a bit more, we try to plan all together.


August 25, 2007

Q: Will we be expecting you in San Francisco this weekend?
-Mike

A: Hello Mike,

Depending on the time you are reading this, I am either sleeping somewhere in San Francisco, or playing the Grand Prix! Lately, there has usually been a bunch of Frenchies traveling to U.S. Grand Prix. This time, only Olivier and I made the trip. Olivier and I are chasing Pro Points and don't want to miss an opportunity to score some. I am not particularly excited to play another Block Constructed GP, especially when Grand Prix-Florence is still to come in September in the same format.

We have both different schedules: I left Toulouse on Wednesday for New York (where I spent two days), and Oli planned to stay an extra week in San Francisco, so we don't fly from Europe to the U.S. and the West Coast exclusively for the GP.

Our preparation is mostly theoretical. I have been reading reports of PTQs online and mostly know what the format is about, but haven't actually played many games in block since Grand Prix–Montreal. I did play a couple of games in the local store to give a hand to PTQ players here, but I can count my games on my two hands.

Preparation is important, but we have seen much of the format already, and I'm not sure we can build decks better than the ones we can find online. Of course, depending on what we think is going to be played, we will tune the main decks and the sideboards to have something adapted to the metagame.

See you there!


August 23, 2007

Q: It has been announced that there will be two blocks of two sets, a big one and a smaller one, out next season. What is your take on that? Drafting with only two sets and playing Block Constructed with four?
-Richard

A: Hello Richard,

I will be honest with you, I love it! One thing I don't like about how the seasons work is that summers are usually... a bit boring. From a pro's perspective, core set releases are rarely exciting. Last year we had Coldsnap, which I liked; but having to wait five months between the release of Future Sight and Lorwyn, to see new cards and therefore have a new format to draft competitively with, is very long.

That means that Limited will require a lot more training next season than usual: more cards to try, more combinations; and probably more fun!

I don't know how the PTs and PTQs are scheduled next year, but Block Constructed will constantly evolve over the season. With four sets, each coming out three months after the other, not only will the metagame change, but there will be new cards. It feels that the TSP block format has been out forever, and that we still have to play it for a month. From Montreal to Florence, June to September, the metagame sure has evolved, but we have seen the same cards again and again...

Not drafting with three sets is not a real problem. We draft with two sets at some point during the year, and this has never been an issue. Furthermore, if as announced the sets from the two mini-blocks are connected, it opens a lot of possibilities for fun drafts with combinations of the four.


August 21, 2007

Q: Why do you always see guy pros and never girl pros?
-Jessie Hutchinson

A: Hello Jessie,

Magic is not exactly as popular as poker among girls. I'm not a sociologist, but I suppose the environment in which evolve Magic players is not very "girl friendly". The fact that you don't see female pros sounds quite normal; not because they can't play or anything, but because they are so few in numbers.

In tournaments, there is maybe one girl for 300 players (these are no official numbers), and the girls you will find there are usually playing with their boyfriends, who are themselves more dedicated to the game. Why aren't girls more attracted to the game? It's hard to say. It probably has to do with the fact that girls have less competitive spirit than guys.

However there have been girls playing at top level in the past. A few names come to mind:

  • Michelle Bush made the finals of Grand Prix¬–New Orleans back in 2001, also known to have contributed to the creation of one of the most infamous combo deck "Trix".
  • Marie-Laure Saulnier top 4'ed in Team Limited Grand Prix–Cannes in the 1999-2000 season, along with Manuel Bevand and future father of her daughter, Nicolas Labarre.
  • Kate Stavola played a few Pro Tours and Top 8'ed a Limited Grand Prix in Columbus in 2004.
  • Among those who contributed to the game and/or are still playing at a more than reasonable –level: Kim Eikefet, Analynn Bustamante, Claudia Loroff...

    I am not writing for a tabloid, so that is why I won't mention too many names, but most of the female players I mentioned above were having/still have affairs with pro players...maybe that is the reason why they are among the exceptions...


    August 18, 2007

    Q: Always before a tournament like a PTQ or a Grand Prix or JSS qualifier, I stay up drafting on Magic Online, and it has worked once, as I won a JSS after only getting two hours of sleep. How do you prepare for a tournament like Pro Tour, or a Grand Prix?
    -Michael

    A: Hello Michael,

    When you are about to play a Pro Tour or a Grand Prix (or any other important tournament), you should be ready to face at least seven different opponents and play your best Magic for at least eight hours. Sleep is one of the most common reasons players make mistakes. Staying focused for so long is tough, especially when it is so hard to fuel your brain with proper food.

    The best way to prepare for a tournament is to have everything ready before going to bed. If it is a Constructed event, have your deck sleeved and listed even if you think you may have to change a couple of cards on the next morning. You will have a "default deck" ready for action and will be able to extend your night a little bit. If it is a Limited event, try not to draft before going to bed. If you have drafted the format enough already, the last draft might mislead you. Sometimes you draft a deck you have never drafted before, try it once, win out, and think it is good. Unfortunately, this is not proper testing. Testing an archetype once is not enough, and the thing is that you might want to try the same archetype in the next draft...which would be the one that really counts.

    Don't spend the whole day before the tournament playing Magic. Try to read a book, watch a movie, think about something else. This way, information you have learned about matchups, plays, and so on will be easier for you to retrieve; just like it is better not to study before an important exam.


    August 16, 2007

    Q: This question is in regard to discussions that players have been having during our FNM games. We have a few certain players that only bring decks that are from the Internet and have won major tournaments, and after wining a FNM tournament proclaim how great they truly are. While brushing aside their tactless behaviour, it is still annoying to have to sit through this every Friday. So my question is do you believe that this practice of doing this does harm to the local tournament scene? It does seem to discourage players (especially newer ones) from wanting to continue playing competitively.
    -Graham Warne

    A: Hello Graham,

    I have discussed about the way to handle the people you describe in a previous ATP from June 14. Your approach of the problem is a bit different, though.

    I believe this behavior does harm local tournament scenes. As you mention, the young players tend to consider those players to be the only "tournament players." At that point, they either quit playing tournaments, or they try harder.

    It then depends on what young players, and players annoyed by this kind of behaviour, really want. If they want to become tournament players themselves, they need to match "annoying players" and reach their level at some point. If they just want to have fun in a K value 8 tournament (which does not mean anything to them at all), then you should ask the tournament organizer to split the tournament into two: competitive and fun. The competitive part would gather all the netdeckers and the ones who want to challenge them. There will be more "legitimacy" in their victories and more motivation for the others to beat them. The fun part would gather young players and the ones there with their wacky creations. And if one day they want to go up one level, they can play in the competitive portion.

    Don't forget that not only netdecks win tournaments, and that they may have been wacky decks played in a small tournament in the beginning. Isn't it what "Poison Slivers" was in the first place?


    August 14, 2007

    Q: Theft is constantly a problem at the lower levels of Magic, whether it's someone swiping a deck off a table, or (as I've experienced) someone stealing a card out of your graveyard while you're playing a match. And many of us remember poor Roland Chang leaving his table only to have a powered type 1 deck stolen. Is theft as big of a problem on the upper level of play? I heard there were some incidences at Nationals, but is theft a constant threat at the Pro Tour? Have people dropped out due to a deck being stolen between rounds? Are there additional security measures?
    -Brandon

    A: Hello Brandon,

    I also hear and read a lot about this problem, and unfortunately, it happens everywhere. This is however not an issue you will hear a lot about in Pro Tour reports. Players on the Pro Tour don't really have time to trade cards between the rounds, nor do they bring their binders (if they have any) to the site. So except for their decks, they don't have any valuable cards in their possession. Pro Tour playing tables are separated from the public with pipe-and-drape barriers, so unless someone very sneaky and ill-intentioned wants to give it a try, the decks should be safe.

    Game losses have been given to players because they actually lost their decks—I'd definitely say there are a lot more careless and sloppy players than thieves on the Pro Tour itself.

    Note: Olivier (Ruel) is probably the best example of that type of player (the careless type!). To his resumé, and only in a year's time: He forgot to add lands to his Limited deck in a Grand Prix Top 8 (and therefore played a 24 card-deck), and lost his deck during Grand Prix–Amsterdam but managed to collect copies of the cards from every French dealer's binder, therefore playing an Invasion Verdeloth in his Time Spiral 2HG draft deck. That doesn't even mention how he has forgotten his passport on the plane (countless times, but especially from Paris to Doha on the way to Singapore).

    Of course there are also stories of traders' binders being stolen at events, but one should be careful the whole time, and the Pro Tour is no exception.


    August 11, 2007

    Q: About team drafting ... I know that it's a popular format with pros, and it's popular where I play as well. Personally, I have concerns about where to draw the line between teamwork and coaching, specifically when it comes to revealing tricks and bombs that your opponents have. I'm not talking about asking your teammates what they passed and trying do deduce information from that, I'm talking about calling out tricks as your opponent plays them or writing down the relevant contents of your opponent's deck and giving it to your teammates before the next round. My question is this: do the pros share information to this degree during team drafts? Is it encouraged, accepted-but-frowned-upon, or considered cheating?
    -Etched Oracle

    A: Hello Etched,

    I explained on Tuesday why "team draft" was popular, on Thursday how it worked. To close the "team draft" week, I think it's right to clarify what's allowed and what's tolerated.

    What's allowed:

    Before the draft

  • You are allowed to set a strategy. Let's say: A, B and C are teaming together, A can tell his teammates to stay away from white as he will force the color whatever happens. It is however a bad idea to do so before the draft as it closes a lot of options to each other players, especially if A ends up not drafting white (because he is cut off, or for any other reason).
  • During the games

  • You can ask your teammates at any time if they saw a particular card.
  • You can write down all of your opponents' cards so your teammates know exactly what's in their opponents' decks (even though it is not a frequent habit, as it slows down the games).
  • You can warn your teammate about a particular card you can see coming. For example, A (your teammate) is playing against Z (one of your opponents). Z passed the turn with six lands open. A is about to cast his big spell. You are allowed to stop him to remind (or tell) him that his opponent Z has a Draining Whelk in his deck.
  • What's tolerated:

    During the draft

  • It is tolerated to jump around when you open a bomb, or call your pack "the best of all time" or the worst.
  • During the games

  • You can ask for advice to your teammates. The amount of help you can ask for during a game is determined by how serious the match is. In a competitive match, players are usually forbidden to help their teammates. In a very friendly match, teammates can play the games together. Where to draw the line is up to both teams. In most cases, it's tolerated to ask for the opinion of your teammates for a specific play, in which they have more chances to know better about the situation than you. For example, ask about if you should keep your removal for a creature more important than the one you are about to kill.
  • Also depending on how serious the draft is, take-backs can be allowed. Making mistakes happens a lot more when you are playing for fun, and stupid ones can occur because of the lack of concentration. Taping the wrong lands, for example, or committing a totally stupid chump attack come to mind. Except for crucial mistakes (and if noticed soon enough), most mistakes can be undone. Try not to abuse take-backs.

  • August 9, 2007

    Q: You mentioned "team drafting" a couple of times in Ask The Pro, and I'd like to know exactly how it works. Can you please explain?
    -Many readers

    A: Hello everyone,

    Six-man team drafts became a popular format, and not only on the Pro Tour. There are no official rules, as it is not a sanctioned format. I'll try to explain here, how it works:

    1. Gather your team and find opponents.
    Each team should feature three players (four-man teams is an option, but the whole thing is considerably longer if all the games are played—if every one plays each of his opponents. The match being played in an even number of games, it's also possible that it ends up in a draw).

    Players can play for a stake. The winning team usually (at least) ends up collecting the cards that were opened during the draft. Keep in mind that it's not allowed to play for money (or any stakes at all) in most countries and tournament sites.

    2. Everyone sits down.
    Choosing at random, decide who sits where. Each player should be sitting between two of his opponents.

    3. Open the packs and draft.
    At this point, there should be no talking about the cards themselves, or any information about the cards drafted or the colors you are picking. Draft just like in a regular Booster Draft: pass the boosters to your left for the first and third packs, and to your right for the second.

    4. Build your decks.
    Each team gathers away from their opponents and builds their decks. At that point, you can share everything that you've seen during the draft. Team drafts often draw crowds of spectators, who want to see what everyone has drafted. To keep things fair, they should not tell the players in the draft what they saw in their opponents' decks. If someone saw, by mistake, the first pick of his neighbour, it is also fairer that he keeps it for himself and doesn't reveal it to his teammates.

    When building your deck, you should tell your teammates the relevant cards you passed (avoid mentioning random cards as you will lose their attention). The most important part is to mention tricks (such as removal spells and pump spells) and bombs.

    Playing the matches
    Each player plays each of his opponents until the match score reaches five for one of the teams. The team with five or more victories wins the draft!


    August 7, 2007

    Q: Why do you think so many Magic players have become so degenerate/hardcore about drafting? Seemingly every tournament I go to, there's at least one "team draft" going on at any given time.
    -Sam

    A: Hello Sam,

    "Team drafting" has always been very popular on the Pro Tour. It is, according to me and most of my peers, the funniest and most friendly format there is out there. Not all the players make it to Day Two or Three of Pro Tours, and this is the best opportunity to play a friendly and high-level draft with fellow pros.

    The trend evolved as many players who had been to a Pro Tour brought "team drafting" back home. In the first place, I believe it was an attempt to copy pros, but soon enough, everyone realized that it was the best way to crack boosters and have fun playing Magic. It is also a fine way to practise draft, as your teammates will have to give you their opinion about your deck, your plays and therefore help you to improve your game.

    But in general, why is everyone so crazy about drafting? Unlike Constructed, there's always something new in draft (which is a totally personal point of view, I agree)... which is what makes it so much fun. Hardcore Magic players also like to have fun, so they like to draft! It's as simple as that.

    More about team draft coming this week in ATP!


    August 4, 2007

    Q: First of all why did they make slivers so strong? And are they legal in tournaments? Is there a counter for slivers, please tell me the name of the deck.
    –BorosAngel

    A: Hello there!

    Slivers have been out since Tempest, and have known a very limited success. I receive a lot of questions about Slivers in general, and I thought I could give you a little history class about Slivers on the competitive scene, from what I remember!

    PT LA '98, Tempest Block Constructed (only Tempest at that time)

    Ben Rubin piloted a Living Death deck featuring Mindwhip Sliver and Mnemonic Sliver to the finals of the tournament, eventually losing to David Price. During that tournament, I remember that Team CMU was playing a monogreen deck that included Metallic Slivers, Muscle Slivers and Horned Slivers along with Land Destruction This was the first opportunity Slivers could be played, and they haven't really shone much. Here's the list, courtesy of Randy's article "The Elephant and the Armodon".

    Buehler/Schneider's Iron City Beatdown

    PTLA3

    PT Chicago '99, Extended

    Christian Luhrs took his Counter Sliver deck to the Top 8. Crystalline, Hibernation, Muscle, Winged and Acidic Slivers could be played on a Sunday, while I was myself bringing the Sliver Queen to the mix on another table on the same day.

    Christian Lührs's DD-Sliver

    PT Chicago Top 8 - Extended Deck circa 1999

    GP Montréal '07, Time Spiral Block Constructed

    Guillaume Wafo Tapa brought the Slivers back to the top tables along with Wild Pair, a deck that had been played with less success during PT Yokohama a few months prior that tournament. Dormant, Frenetic, Reflex, Harmonic, Might, Darkheart, Gemhide, Telekinetic Slivers added their name to the "not so succesful in high level tournament" sliver family. (Necrotic Sliver is featuring in some versions of the deck as well.)

    Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's Sliver Pair

    2007 GP Montreal Top 8

    Other notable appearences:

    French Nationals '98

    Fabien Demazeau, an unknown player back then, who later became Worlds Team Finalist alongside Pierre Malherbaud, Marc Hernandez and Manuel Bevand, played an innovative 5 color sliver deck that took him to the top. He won Nationals with a deck packing only slivers and 3 Living Death (and very few other spells). Manuel, runner up of that tournament, lost a decisive game to Clot Sliver, which was able to save its brothers from a Nevinyral's Disk activation. Heart Sliver was there to support the champ too. At that time a counter sliver deck was also working quite fine, but here's the deck Fabien ran.

    Fabien Demazeau's 5C Slivers

    Pro Tour Rome '99

    A couple of french players showed up with a Necro Sliver deck (Necropotence and Slivers). No unknown slivers made it to the PT, but they saw play in a new setup.

    Block Constructed PTQs '07

    Poison Slivers became a popular deck lately in Block Constructed. Frank Karsten wrote a whole article about it last week so you might as well check that one. This one brings a bunch of new slivers to the top: Screeching, Virulent, Firewake and Homing slivers.

    To actually answer the question: Slivers are not unfairly strong. With the bunch of them, we could have expected a lot more succesful decks. They are tournament legal, depending on when they have been printed. They obey to the same rules all the other cards do. There's no deck made to beat slivers in general, a finely tuned deck should beat your friend's sliver deck (that reminds me of a not so popular answer I gave some time ago!

    I may miss a few sliver decks that appeared in GP Top 8s in Tempest Block Constructed back in '98, or in extended in '99. Decklists from back then are hard to retrieve! But I don't think I am making a major omission.

    For another read about Slivers, check BDM's article from March '04!


    August 2, 2007

    Q: I had a problem during a game in a Pro Tour Qualifier last week: I highly suspected my opponent to be cheating, but had no way to prove it (topdecks are part of the game after all). Is there a way to prove it or at least prevent it?

    - Jeremy

    A: Hello Jeremy,

    I'll give you a couple of tips to avoid this kind of problem in the future.

    Shuffling manipulations, when they are completed skillfully, are hard to catch for common players. It's also hard to know if your opponent is shuffling legaly or is doing something fishy. In the case you're suspecting something, you should always call the judge right away. He can check the deck being shuffled and see if there's a pattern in the way the cards are ordered. That also means the player in question can be watched going forward, if the judges feel that's necessary.

    Another important point: the best way you can prevent card manipulation is to shuffle your opponent's deck everytime he touches it. He is then allowed to cut his deck, and this is sometimes when the cheaters strike. Make sure the cut is random. The option to give the final cut to your deck after your opponent has shuffled it is in the rules but everytime someone cuts his deck after I shuffled, that raises my suspicion. So, if you notice something shady, like a careful look at the deck before cutting, call the judge immediately.

    Make sure your opponent does not see your cards when he shuffles your deck, for obvious reasons (the deck can then be stacked, or reveal information your opponent was not supposed to know). The cards should always be facing you or the table.

    When you shuffle your opponent's deck, at the beginning of each game use at least one pile shuffle in addition to your riffle shuffles, for two reasons:

    • to know how many cards he's playing
    • to make sure the sleeves aren't marked.

    Most of the tips above are habits to take. Cheaters don't act every game. They usually take advantage of less attentive players. As soon as you know how you can be cheated, there is less chance that you will be.


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