Play doesn't start at the Invitational until the morning of Thursday here in Essen, Germany, but there was one big event for the Wednesday night that caused quite a bit of discussion amongst the pros. The Auction of the People is not some sort of pre-Civil War throwback where pros can acquire lackeys to do their bidding, but the event where they each get to bid on decks designed by the readers of Magicthegathering.com to play against each other in the competition.
Class is in session.
Getting a good deck at a good price is a great way to put yourself in strong position for the three rounds of Auction of the People, and this year's decks contained both some very strong submissions and some slightly weaker ones. The important thing for the players was the 'price' at which they could nab them. The theme for this year's decks was that they had to contain 24 land and a card name starting with each letter of the alphabet excluding basic land, adhering to the Legacy banned list. For all the details of the decklists, go here
The bidding system entailed a pro nominating a deck, and then declaring that they would play this deck with a starting hand size of 8 cards, and 25 life. Sounds pretty nifty, no? At this point each pro in turn would get the chance to bid lower on either cards or life. A bid of 7 cards in hand and 25 life would be considered 'lower' than 8 cards in hand at a single life point—it would be up to the players to decide on the value in life of each of their cards. Historically, having more cards in hand is very good, especially if decks have shaky mana bases, but it is still better to have a good deck than a bad one and sometimes this would mean pushing it a little on hand size.
This would be a format that rewards preparation, and there were few more prepared than Stephen Menendian going into the auction. He'd played more or less all the decks against more or less all the others, and had clear ideas on what he liked, and at what price. There had been quite a lot of attention to a few decks, with the Illusions/Donate deck, the Fattie/Geddon deck and Reanimator all being popular, while the much-maligned Minotaurs and Transformers decks looked likely to be the last ones fought over.
It truly was a fight as well. Things kicked off fast with Raphael Levy nominating the Mizzium Transreliquat/Time Vault deck at a straight 7 cards and 20 life. This was enough to scare off Stephen Menendian immediately, in spite of how much he loves Time Vault, but there were plenty who were happy to keep bidding on it. Bids on life went down incrementally until Shuehei Nakamura jumped in at 6 cards and 19 life, to put the squeeze on things. By the time the bidding came around to Kenji Tsumura, the last to act, Antoine Ruel was in charge of things with a bid of 6 cards and 14 life. When Kenji went down to 5 cards and 25 life, it seemed that the lucky master must surely have secured the deck that looks to take infinite turns. Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa had other ideas though, taking the bidding to 5 cards and 24 life. Kenji struck back hard with a bid of just 5 cards and 19 life. That was enough for PV, and Kenji looked a little dumbstruck as he sat down. He'd won a deck he wanted, but at what cost?
There was something of a trend of very aggressive bidding between the players, with many quite happy to throw caution to the wind with their bids. When Menendian proffered the 'Ode to Jamie' big green deck, again Shuehei Nakamura was the one to take the jump to 7 cards. While the life dripped down, it was Rich Hoaen who then took the leap to 6 cards. It seemed that sneaking one life point down on bids wasn't enough to shake many pros, so Antoine Ruel jumped in with a bid of 6 cards and 14 life, a full 8 life points lower than Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's bid. Willy Edel went one life point lower, but Antoine clinched it at 6 cards in hand and 12 life.
Today in Magic Theory 401: Life or Cards?
At this point, Craig Jones was looking pretty worried. Going into the auction, he had already decided that he didn't like dropping to 6 cards with pretty much any deck, and the bidding was fast and furious. The dregs of the auction are named with good reason. He'd have to get bidding soon.
Evan Erwin's nomination was Reanimator, a deck that could potentially do absurd plays very early, even off a low hand size. By the fourth bid (from Shuhei), this deck was at 6 cards in hand and 16 life, which was enough to scare off some, but not all, with PV, Wafo-Tapa and Jones all bidding lower life. Shuhei, who had been making scary bids based on hand size, went down to 5 cards and 24 life, locking it up. The rest of the room breathed a sigh of relief... the PT-Valencia Top 8er had been making all sorts of decks look a little pricy.
At this point the Illusion/Donate deck came up. Jelger Wiegersma offered an optimistic 8 cards and 25 life, only to be trumped by his neighbor Gabriel Nassif by a single life point. PV took the deck down to 7 cards and 20 life (an altogether fair amount to start a game with), and it just kept going down. By the time things had gotten back to Jelger, the deck was at 6 cards and 20 life, with plenty of players still in, and Levy holding the bid. Jelger offered 6 cards and 19 life. Gab quickly countered with 6 cards and 18 life. By this point they were the only 2 left. A playful Menendian started singing to Jelger that he could easily lose that life, as he was gaining 20 with Illusions of Grandeur anyway. There was a small cheer when Wiegersma took the bait. Nassif struck back immediately with a bid of 6 cards and 16 life though to take it.
When the nomination came to Shota Yasooka, he didn't hold back, selecting the 'Ernham/Geddon' deck which took the basic idea that worked for Betrand Lestree at Pro Tour 1, and updated it with a few nifty additions like Terravore, and Natural Order to fetch such fatties as Phantom Nishoba and Kodama of the North Tree. Ernham Djinn had been subbed out for an Elfhame Palace. Nice choice.
The bidding on this deck began at 7 cards and 20 life, and moved at a frantic pace, with virtually every pro without a deck showing that they like the look of it. Bids came thick and fast, with it being down to 5 cards and 20 life by the time Shota next got the option on it. He wasn't afraid of Menendian's bid though, and kept on going until the only obstacle was Hoaen, who fought for every life point, forcing Shota to go down to a scary 5 cards and 13 life to get the deck he wanted.
Willy Edel was bullish in picking to start Suicide Black at 7 cards and 18 life, but soon saw it go down to 6, then 5 cards in a bidding frenzy. While the deck does have a lot of early beaters and disruption (including the devastating Hymn to Tourach, which can decimate decks with low starting hand sizes), its mana base is actually a little shaky on black sources with so many non-basics. This was enough to keep some out, but not all, as Jelger and Evan got in a battle at the 5-card bracket. Jelger offered 5 cards and 23 life. Evan struck back at 22... keeping his camera on the Dutchie the whole time. Jelger went to 20. Evan pushed again. At 5 cards and 18 life Jelger got it, but he would have to hope that he got there with the black mana at so few cards in hand.
Players remained standing if they still wanted to make a bid on a deck.
PV nominated ChiaPet, the deck that keeps on growing, at 7 cards and 17 life. Both the Brazilians seemed aggressive about getting the bidding going, but then hesitant to finally commit—possibly trying to eke out some extra points of damage before ever sitting down to play. This deck was not quite so popular, but still saw Levy on the hook for a few rounds of bidding. He eventually scored the deck at 6 cards and 14 life, but not before both PV and Willy had got their bids in to take it down a notch or two.
Rich Hoaen started the bidding on the Elves deck at 7 cards and 18 life, and Tiago Chan was quick to jump in and make it 6 cards and 20. Things got pretty heated, with the life totals dwindling before Steve Menendian jumped in with a bid of 5 cards and 25 life. He had really wanted the Armageddon deck, but was happy with any of the aggressive green decks. When he got there, there was a pump of the fist as he happily stepped out of the bidding circle.
Tiago Chan started the bidding on the Legendary Puppets deck, which can do silly things with Mereike Ri Berit and Puppet Strings at the bidding maximum. This was a deck that looked a little tricksy, but the bidding on it was a little staid. It was Craig Jones that took it down to 7 cards and 20 life, and Willy ultimately had to bid just 7 cards and 17 life to take it.
At this point Frank Karsten started the bidding on the Red-green Hate deck, which sports plenty of ways of making people feel foolish for using their plethora of non-basic lands. If ever there was a deck for Craig Jones, this looked likely to be the deck. The first round of bidding saw quite a few players still in, and it was Prof himself who took things to 6 cards and 25 life. At this point people started dropping, but Karsten wasn't one of them. He fired things down to 6 cards and 18 life, leaving just himself and the Englishman left. Craig quickly went to 17. Frank shot back at 16 life. Craig, in something of a surprise move, sat down. Karsten slumped. "I didn't even want this deck! I thought you'd keep bidding on it!" It seemed that the Fanatic had been a little too eager on playing the game with Craig, and would now have to see how he could do with the aggressive red-green deck.
Guillaume Wafo-Tapa started the bidding on the 42 land deck, and ultimately ended it soon after. The deck could set up some very powerful Wasteland / Life from the Loam lock, but didn't look super exciting to many players. The bidding got back to Wafo-Tapa at 7 cards and 19 life, and he took it from Rich Hoaen at 7 cards and 18.
Craig Jones then started the bidding on the Test of Endurance deck. This was one that Evan Erwin had been making no huge secret of liking the look of, and it duly appeared that he was keen to get it at almost any cost. At his first swing, he offered 7 cards and 20 life. Soon he had to make a second—6 cards and 25 life. It was the third—5 cards and 25 life—that finally got it there.
From here there weren't many players left. Just PV, Rich Hoaen, Tiago Chan and Craig Jones still had to get a deck. At this point a few card wordings had to be checked—the choice decks had gone, and everyone wanted to get something before the final fight. PV started things on the Sanctuary deck, which used all 5 colours of Apocalypse sanctuaries to good effect, and ultimately got there, though not without a fight, as he had to go down to 6 cards and 14 life, after having had to fight Rich Hoaen on life all the way from 7 cards and 18 life.
Rich then suggested Choose Destiny, the deck that looks to make the most of low life totals by using the punisher mechanic heavily. Here Craig Jones finally dived in, and secured his deck at 7 cards and 24 life.
Finally Tiago and Rich Hoaen each got decks for a full 25 life and 8 cards, as Chan elected to take the Transformers deck without a fight, and Rich took Cultural Exchange. The minotaurs would be staying on the bench for this Invitational.