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Gen Con: The Days Are Too Short

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The letter H!i there, everybody! It's me, Nate Price: part-time coverage reporter for magicthegathering.com, full-time gamer. If you regularly check the Pro Tour and Grand Prix coverage here on the site, it's possible you've seen my name before. If not (which is far more likely), let me introduce myself.

I've been playing Magic since about Beta. In these past 16 years or so, the only real break I've ever taken from the game was during Urza Block, but I've been told I didn't miss anything exciting. For some reason, be it the addictive chemical additives in the ink, the hypnotic suggestion embedded in every booster wrapper, or my compulsion for emptying my bank account, I've never strayed far from the game.

I live in Indianapolis, Indiana, which I'm sure you all recognize as a hotbed of Magic talent. We've contributed more Pro Magic players to the Pro Tour than any other state starting with "I" except Iowa and Illinois. Gabe Walls? Yeah, he's from here. Neil Reeves? He lived here. For a year or so. After he'd established himself. Um ... Cedric Phillips? No, he just went to school here.

At least we beat Idaho. I think.

In my introduction, you may have noticed that I refer to myself as a gamer, not just a Magic player. My love for games extends far beyond the multiverse. I run a weekly Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I have more than a few avatars on more than a few MMORPGs (and I am eagerly awaiting Star Wars: The Old Republic!). In short, if it's a game, I'll probably love it. Unless it sucks, in which case I will just like it.

Every year, about mid-August, close to 30,000 people who share the same passion for gaming as me descend on my hometown in a swarm of backpacks, dice, and foam weapons. For four straight days, morning and night, the clack of dice echoes off of downtown alleys, but instead of wanting a seven to scoop up a pile of money, the players throwing the dice needs it to hit the young black dragon their party just stumbled upon. Then they can scoop up the pile of money.

After this year, I will have attended eight Gen Cons, each one a little better than the last. Last year marked my first time covering the event (you can read about it here). I had an absolute blast last year and chose to do some things that, under normal circumstances, I might not have. But this is not the time to retell last year's stories .... Let's get on to Gen Con 2009!

Gen Con is virtually 96 straight hours of gaming, and I still leave every year wishing I'd had more time. I'm sure my bank account heaves a heavy sigh of relief, but its emptiness is surpassed by the one that settles in after the final spell is cast on Sunday. The doors close and everyone shuffles back off to a life filled with uniforms instead of costumes, work instead of games, and food court food instead of ... well, I guess that stays the same. But before that happens, everyone has created a new set of amazing memories to remind them of the fun they had and to give them something to look forward to next year.

These are mine.

Thursday – The Hunt for Gemstones, and the First Champion is Crowned

Gemstone_Array

Of all the thousands of things Gen Con has to offer, one thing attracts me more than any other: the Puzzle Hunt. Spread throughout the nooks and crannies of the Indianapolis Convention Center, close to thirty placards have been placed, each bearing another piece of the grand puzzle, yet each a puzzle in its own right. In years past, this massive puzzle hunt has been something of a speed competition. The first team to solve the final puzzle won. Last year, that happened to be my friends and me. This year, Mike Selinker and the crew at Lone Shark Games had something different in store for us. Rather than a race format, this puzzle was an optimization puzzle. The ultimate goal was to find as many gemstones as we could given 50 starting gold. Solving the puzzles on the placards gave us things we could use to help us find the gemstones—things like usable objects, companions, and special abilities, the most useful of which happened to be the ability to anagram words.

To illustrate how we used these things to find gemstones, one placard gave us a companion named Daniel. Daniel was a squire. Using another companion, an executioner who is able to "behead" words (for a fee, of course), we beheaded our new squire, leaving us with a quire, which is a collection of papers. Luckily for us, there was an important document offered to us in The Library puzzle in exchange for some paper. We traded our quire of paper for the document, which happened to be a crossword puzzle. After solving it, and the clever puzzle on its lower half, we were told to check for an unused clue, the answer to which happened to be peridot. This peridot was the first of the twelve gemstones we were able to find using all the tools at our disposal. Unlike the race style of puzzle, we won't be sure if we won or not for a while, so here's to hoping!

All in all, it took us about six hours to solve all the placards and do an initial poring-over of our resources. After contributing all I thought I could to our solution, and chowing down on a delicious burger, I left my team to fiddle around with the answers to see if they could come up with anything more. I would have loved to stay and help, but my brain was hurting, and I had a job to do.

Wizards of the Coast had a few hundred events on the docket at this year's Gen Con, about half of which were Magic—and that's just the scheduled events. Every fifteen minutes or so, the TCG hall would echo with the rumble of players being called to start their draft. It was like watching Magic Online, but with people sitting at the tables instead of Flametongue Kavus and Tradewind Riders. As soon as a queue filled, it popped. Buried near the back of this dance of barely contained chaos was the first of the weekend's championship events: the Block Championship.

This year, the format was Shards of Alara Block Constructed. Walking through the tables showed me pretty much what I expected to see making the rounds. Bant and Jund showed up in force. There were a smattering of Green-White Aggro decks thrown in for good measure. The real stars of the tournament, though, were the multitude of variations on multi-color Cascade decks. The best win percentage of these decks came from a Patrick Chapin–innovated control deck featuring Wall of Denial, Traumatic Visions, and topping out at Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Cruel Ultimatum, in addition to the cascade engine. Gerry Thompson, Nick Becvar, and Brian Kibler all made Top 8 with the deck, with Kibler making it to the finals. Wen Tsun Chuan made Top 8 with a similar deck, though he took his cascade chain all the way up to Enlisted Wurm and Enigma Sphinx.

Despite the fact that Wall of Denial was in half of the decks in Top 8, it was a traditional, aggressive version of the deck that took home the title. Brian Kowal, known for his innovative deck design, took a fairly safe route in this tournament, packing the standard Enlisted Wurm through Bloodbraid Elf cascade chain backed up with a bevy of aggressive cards to knock the opponent out before they could get their chains going. I figured things were going to go well for him as I watched his match in the third round. In a must-win game, he tapped out for Enlisted Wurm.

"You know, I've seen on TV where they cascade into Bituminous Blast, then Bloodbraid Elf, then, like, Blightning," he said to his opponent as he reached for his deck to begin the cascade. "But I've never had it happen to me."

A few cards flip off the deck before hitting a Bituminous Blast. This got a shocked little gasp from Kowal as he aimed it at one of his opponent's creatures. The next cascade started, and he began to peel the cards off one-by-one, peeking at each one before flipping it up. His neighbors had stopped playing their matches just to watch. All of a sudden, his chair went screeching back as he windmilled a Bloodbraid Elf into play, to shouts of incredulity from his railbirds. He was a little short of breath as he resolved his last spell, the Blightning to cap off one of the most impressive called shots I've ever seen! A 5/5, a 3/2 with haste, a dead creature, 3 damage, and his opponent discarded two cards. The cost? Four colorless, a green, and a white. Seems fair.

Brian Kowal's Cascade Aggro
Winner – 2009 Block Constructed Championship


You can see the full Top 8 deck lists here. After watching Kowal get his Block Championship title, I headed back to my hotel for some much-needed rest.

Friday – Kicking it Old School and Messing with the Zohar

Saturday saw the start of a hardcore stint in the TCG Hall. After a morning spent talking with Dungeons & Dragons R&D Director Bill Slavicsek and developer Stephen Schubert, I headed over and settled in for the long haul. By this point, there were so many Magic players in the event hall that the Pastimes Events crew was bleeding into other areas in an attempt to accommodate everyone.

At right around eleven o'clock, the starting bell sounded for the Vintage Championship. I will be the first to admit that Vintage is a foreign beast to me. I try my hardest to keep up with Standard, Block Constructed, and Extended as the Pro Tour seasons revolve. I even manage to keep on top of Legacy when the Grand Prix start rolling around. But Vintage is a different animal. The most valuable Magic cards I own are a few beaten up dual lands in my Elder Dragon Highlander deck. Despite seeing them with my own eyes, I still think the Power Nine are a myth. Going into this event, I felt that Vintage was a format that was closed off to me.

As far as I am from being able to field a full-Powered Vintage deck, I can still appreciate how much fun the format can be. I got to see plays that don't exist in the outside world. Unlimited turns with Voltaic Key and Time Vault? Misdirectioning an Ancestral Recall? Casting Yawgmoth's Will in a format with Black Lotus? I was like a diabetic in a candy store: I couldn't have any myself, but it sure looked tasty!

As I watched a few rounds, I came to realize that the power decks from last year were still in force. Stax, a perennial favorite, uses Mishra's Workshop to speed out artifacts like Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst, which slow the opponent down, as well as the deck's namesake, Smokestack, which punishes opponents after they've fallen behind. Storm decks have been around for the past few years as well, taking advantage of free artifacts, like the Moxen, and Hurkyl's Recall to fuel the spell count for a lightning-fast, huge Storm count on either Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens,. As of the printing of Painter's Servant, the Servant / Grindstone decks have been a factor designers need to keep in mind as they build.

Psychatog has, for the most part, been replaced by Tarmogoyf in Vintage. With all of the cards that made Psychatog so deadly in Vintage either banned or restricted (I'm looking at you, Gush), the aggressive creature of choice is the 'Goyf, which often hits for 5 as early as the second or third turn. Backed up with either a light amount of permission or disruption, the 'Goyf can go the distance quickly. Dredge can also be scary, though it's a bit easier to stop after sideboarding than most of the other decks in the format.

With the recent rules changes in Magic, this event was a renaissance of sorts for an old Vintage staple. Under the old rules, Mana Drain could leave a player with an excess of mana in their pool, which often resulted in a free Lightning Bolt for their opponent. Now, without mana burn, Mana Drain has become nothing but upside (because you really had your fingers crossed for Mana Drain to get better, I know).

One card I didn't think I'd see play a major part in Vintage was Inkwell Leviathan, but there were a few copies of the massive artifact creature running around Top 8. In fact, as I watched Brandon Jones play Itou Hiromichi, I saw the Leviathan almost become a liability. Hiromichi was at fifteen, and Jones was on the ropes. Hiromichi had a Dark Confidant in play, and it looked like he had the game locked up. Jones stared at the top of Hiromichi's deck and called for an Inkwell Leviathan. As Hiromichi turned the nine-drop over, the crowd surrounding Jones howled. Jones was speechless. All he could muster was to call Force of Will for Hiromichi's next upkeep. Once again, the best card possible sprung to the top of Hiromichi's deck, dropping him to 1. Jones had gone from unwinnable to winning if Hiromichi didn't hit a zero on his next, and last, upkeep. Unfortunately for Jones, as storybook as his two called shots had been, the Underground Sea that Hiromichi had on top next turn allowed him to live long enough to attack for the win. Still, it was an electric atmosphere thanks to that surprising card.

After seven rounds of Swiss, the Top 8 for the Vintage Championships looked like a perfect cross section of the format. There was a Goblin Welder-based Stax deck, a Painter's Servant deck, a Blue-Black-Green Aggro deck, a "mono-brown" Stax deck, two control decks featuring Time Vault and Voltaic Key, a Storm deck, and a Green-White Aggro deck. After two elimination rounds, the Finals saw Itou Hiromichi's Tezzeret deck face off against Colin Wu's Storm deck.

The first game came down to one turn. With the game fairly stable in the early turns, Hiromichi tried to Ancestral Recall at the end of Wu's turn. In response, Wu tried one of his own. Hiromichi had the devastating Misdirection for it, as well as the Force of Will for Wu's Mana Drain. At this point, Wu was spent and Hiromich drew six cards. For those of you unacquainted with Magic math, that equals game.

The second game saw Colin Wu go off on turn three, netting himself four extra copies of Empty the Warrens. Hiromichi decided to Mana Drain one of the copies, giving himself one more turn than he would have had otherwise. Wu tried to Force of Will the drain, removing his last card in hand, but Hiromichi had a Force of his own. On his turn, all Hiromichi could do was Demonic Tutor for Ancestral Recall and pray. It revealed nothing of value, and neither did the last of his turns.

Rashad and Ray might have made the best tokens ever.

The final game gave Hiromichi a first-turn Library of Alexandria, which can be incredibly backbreaking. Wu had only a single Mox and a Rebuild for an early engine, which wasn't nearly enough to stave off the card advantage engine of Library of Alexandria and Dark Confidant. An Intuition from Wu found a Darkblast to deal with Hiromichi's Confidant, but it cost him an Ancestral Recall and a Confidant of his own. By this point, Hiromichi had drawn a ridiculous number of cards more than Wu and was in complete control. Within a turn or two, Hiromichi used a Yawgmoth's Will to help him piece together his Time Vault / Voltaic Key combo, locking Wu out of the game and sealing the Championship.

Itou Hiromichi, from Hiroshima, Japan, is a ten-year veteran of Magic. He made the trip across the ocean to Gen Con by himself, just to play Vintage. It's the only format he plays. In fact, before the Finals match started, I asked him and Colin Wu whether or not they were planning on playing in the Legacy Champs on Saturday. After Wu gave the affirmative, Hiromich said, "No! Vintage for Power!" I've always been a big believer in specialization breeding skill, and Hiromichi gave me one more case to prove that point. He may only play Vintage, but he plays it better than anyone else—good enough to be the 2009 Vintage Champion.

Itou Hiromichi, the 2009 Vintage Champion.


You can see all the Vintage Championship Top 8 deck lists here.

A short while after 2 p.m., well into the second round of the Vintage tournament, my eyes were drawn across the room to the beginning of the first round of the first of two PTQs for Pro Tour–Austin. A group of 171 players signed up for the qualifier, which is a pretty big number for a PTQ. That many players meant eight rounds of Swiss before the cut to Top 8. This was going to be a long night.

Splitting my attention between the Vintage and Standard formats was like jumping in a pool after spending some time in the hot tub. It was shockingly different, but oddly soothing. The most recent shifts in the metagame brought a spike in the prominence of the Five-Color Control decks in Standard. The usual suspects were still present, but new cards like Great Sable Stag had put even more pressure on Faeries, while bolstering already waxing powers like Jund Aggro. Kithkin has seen a drop-off in popularity since earlier in the spring, but you can never count out a deck with Spectral Procession and Windbrisk Heights.

After the dust settled on the tournament, I was amazed by the collection of decks that had lasted through to the elimination rounds. Joining the usual suspects on the podium were a Merfolk deck, a Red-Green Aggro deck, and, my personal favorite, an Elementals deck a la Manuel Bucher's deck from Grand Prix–Sao Paulo. It was a motley crew of decks, and a noticeably even field. There were only two repeated decks, and even they differed from one another. Peter Tragos's Jund Aggro deck dipped into blue for a single copy of Cruel Ultimatum, unlike Andy Roman's. Matthieu Tremblay had a fairly standard Faeries build, while Marsh Usary played more of an Esper Control deck that casually featured the Faeries engine.

In the end, little white men returned from obscurity, along with some green friends, to defeat Andy Roman's Aggro Jund deck, though it took three games to do it. Zohar Bhagat, a longtime East Coast Magic player, won a fairly long Game 1 on the backs of a couple of Cloudgoat Rangers. The second game took very little time, and Bhagat was on the back foot the entire game. Every time he found a way to stabilize, Roman had the perfect answer. Spectral Procession? Have a Jund Charm. Wilt-Leaf Liege? Roman used a Deathmark, deciding to save his Bituminous Blast for later. Before long, Roman's Boggart Ram-Gang pushed the match to Game 3. The final game was a massive land battle. Unfortunately for Roman, Bhagat had the ideal card for the stalemate: Overrun. When Bhagat was finally able to cast it, he had 29 damage going over only 8 toughness worth of creatures. Needless to say, Roman was at considerably less than 21, and he was forced to settle for the silver.

Zohar Bhagat's White-Green Overrun
Standard – Winner, PTQ for PT-Austin


Saturday – Leaving a Legacy and Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Ed Roman Over!

Saturday began like every other day had so far this convention. It was early, I was tired, and I had a lot of work to do. My first stop on the agenda was catching up with Magic's "Man behind the Curtain," Mark Gottlieb. As the Rules Manager for Magic, Gottlieb was one of the driving forces behind the rules alterations made for Magic 2010.

Change is scary. Just like when the rules changed before Sixth Edition a decade ago, the announcement of Magic's recent overhaul was met with its fair share of trepidation. After all, the rules had been this way, with minor tweaks, for close to seven years now. There is an entire generation of Magic players that would laugh if you told them that a tapped creature dealt no combat damage or stare at you dumbfounded if you asked them if they had any interrupts. The Sixth Edition rules changes made things more elegant and intuitive. But as Magic got older, it became clear that they still left tons of room for confusion.

Everything is unfolding according to Gottlieb's plan.

Enter Gottlieb and the 2010 rules changes. Now, Gottlieb is one smart cookie. He knows that change is scary. The first thing he set out to do was to allay fears. "We knew that any kind of change would throw people out of balance. So we warned players early. We also had to explain that the changes were going to happen. Once we announced this, the chatter started. We certainly got people's attention."

Once the cat was out of the bag, it became time to deal with the inevitable question: why?

"In most cases, they make the game simpler to understand," Gottlieb said. "Most of the new terms, like exile, are almost straight terminology switches. The terminology changes are also more visceral. Terms like 'remove from game' are flavorless. It's very evident that you're playing a game. The new terms ground you much more in fantasy."

One of my favorite changes was the reintroduction of the term cast. "'Cast' was a part of the game years ago but was removed," said Gottlieb. "Despite that, people kept saying it. Players were tied to the word, and it better represents what you're actually doing."

After discussing the 2010 changes for a little while, I decided to switch gears. I was always intrigued by the contentious relationship between Mark Gottlieb and his archnemesis Mark Rosewater. Rosewater is constantly stating that it's a designer's job to constantly push and prod the boundaries of what the rules allow someone to do. Without this, you run out of innovative space fairly quickly. The man responsible for holding the rules together under the strain of the designers' constant probing is none other than the Rules Manager, Mark Gottlieb. What makes this incredibly interesting is the fact that Gottlieb has been designing recently, as well as managing the rules.

"A designer's job is to torture the Rules Manager," explains Gottlieb. "It gets really hard when it's my job to torture myself. I've killed mechanics I've designed. I really have to wear two hats. When I'm in a design meeting, I have to turn off the rules portion of my mind. A number of the cards we design never even make it to my rules desk. I card is useless if it doesn't work within the rules. Knowing the rules as intimately as I do makes design a little easier for me."

"To be honest," he continued, "I really have two jobs. One is to protect the integrity of the rules (and I'm the only one doing that). Every card has to work. I also have to enable card designs. Occasionally, the rules need to adapt to find a way the enable whatever the newest crazy thing R&D has come up with. Rules change all the time in situations like this, although not always in ways people see. The monocolor hybrid cards like Tower Above are a perfect example. When we printed those cards, the inherently changed the way hybrid worked in relation to cost reduction."

Getting to talk to Gottlieb was a great way to start my Saturday. Sharing ideas and time with the people who make the games I love always interest me. One of the nice things about Gen Con is that you don't need to be a coverage writer to have access to them. The massive Wizards display in the Expo Hall was literally crawling with people integral to the design and production of the game all weekend long. Their presence and willingness to talk to people are yet more reasons why you should seriously consider checking Gen Con out if you haven't already.

Now, back to the games.

After searching for about an hour to help a friend of mine scrounge up a Standard deck for the 2 p.m. PTQ on Saturday, we arrived at the TCG Hall to discover that the tournament was, in fact, at 1 p.m. Bad beat. After looking like a lost puppy for a few minutes, my friend decided to keep the deck together and run in a few Standard-for-a-box tourneys later on. Meanwhile, I had to see what I was missing.

Earlier in the morning, The Legacy Championship had started, and by this point, it was in full swing. Expecting to see a field filled with Counterbalance / Sensei's Divining Top decks, Threshold variants, Goblins, and a smattering of other decks, I was wholly unsurprised by the field's make up. The Top 8 did manage to surprise me, yet again, for a few reasons.

While I'll admit I'm a little out of the loop as far as Legacy goes, I fell immediately in love with Owen Turtenwald's Land deck. Life from the Loam and Manabond combo well together, especially when virtually all of the important cards in the deck are lands. It has Maze of Ith and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale for the Aggro decks. The man-lands slip under the radar of the control decks. Barbarian Ring provides some recursive removal, as well as Nomad Stadium if you need some extra life. The deck seems like a good foil to the CounterTop decks that have been running rampant over the format this past year.

Another take on a land-based deck is Jacob Schnieders's Reliquary Stax deck. Crucible of Worlds is the key to this deck, providing recursive Wastelands to lock a player down, as well as providing constant Smokestack fodder. The big finisher in this deck is Knight of the Reliquary, which can grow to obscene levels, especially if Schnieders gets to lock things down with Armageddon.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was actually the deck that won the tournament. Dredge is often overlooked as a potential deck choice in Legacy because it's incredibly easy to hate against, and most people do slot a few spots in the sideboard to deal with it. With the shift in the metagame favoring CounterTop, though, many players decided to prepare additionally for that deck, often by freeing up the sideboard slots used previously to combat Dredge.

Ernest Turck must have realized this, because he took his Lion's Eye Diamond–powered Dredge deck all the way to the Finals. The last player standing in his way was Ben Wienburg and his Canadian-style Threshold deck. After a grueling day of play, the trophy—and title—went to Ernest Turck.

Ernest Turck, 2009 Legacy Champion.

Ernest Turck's Dredge
Winner – 2009 Legacy Championships


Ben Wienburg's Threshold
Finalist – 2009 Legacy Championship

Main Deck

60 cards

Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Tropical Island
Volcanic Island
Wasteland

18 lands

Nimble Mongoose
Tarmogoyf
Vendilion Clique

10 creatures

Brainstorm
Daze
Fire // Ice
Force of Will
Lightning Bolt
Ponder
Spell Snare
Stifle

32 other spells

Sideboard
Krosan Grip
Pyroblast
Pyroclasm
Submerge
Trygon Predator

15 sideboard cards



You can see all the Top 8 deck lists from the Legacy Championship here.

I suppose I'm omitting a fairly important detail here. The conclusion of both the Legacy Championships and PTQ were slightly delayed BY A FIRE! No joke, I was in the process of showing a couple of friends around their first Gen Con when, all of a sudden, the fire alarm starts blaring. Naturally, the herd of gamers occupying the room simply stared in stunned silence for solid thirty seconds before reluctantly heading to the exits. I think Brian David-Marshall put it best when he told me his story. He had just cracked open the second pack in a draft when the alarm started going off. He glanced around the table, saw that no one was really making a strong move to leave, and then offered a solution. "Do we all agree that we would rather burn to death than have to put this on hold and come back to it?" When everyone else nodded, he just laughed and went back to making his pick.

I, on the other hand, had the safety of my friends to think about, plus I still wasn't really too sure what was going on. So, like a pig to the slaughterhouse, I joined the great gamer exodus. Upon getting outside and watching fire engine after fire engine race down the street to the Convention Center, I realized there was a growing congregation of people at one of the entrances. On the stairs, a group of guys were giving a faux sermon about the virtues and evils of Dungeons & Dragons' switch to 4th Edition. It was actually pretty funny. But nothing they did could prepare me for what happened next.

After milling about for a bit, I heard some veiled whispering coming from behind me. All of a sudden, there was a gasp of air, like an airlock shooting open, followed by the bellowing voices of well over a hundred gamers.

"RED ROVER, RED ROVER, SEND TOP-HAT GUY OVER," came the cry!

The people on the other side of the street looked confused. That is, until a guy with savage muttonchops and a dashing top hat went sprinting across a four-lane street to join our side. A massive cheer erupted. After about thirty seconds without another response, the chorus yelled, "YOUR TURN, YOUR TURN!"

Silence.

Unwilling to let the game die, the crowd turned once more and screamed, "RED ROVER, RED ROVER, SEND STEAMPUNK GIRL OVER!"

Within ten seconds, we had a cute little steampunk girl dodging traffic on the way to our side. Apparently shaken by the loss of their steampunk girl, the north side of the street erupted with rage, set on taking one of our most precious resources: Tie-Died Shirt Guy. For three or four more rotations, the epic game of Red Rover across Maryland Street raged on. Eventually, we were given the all clear to reenter. With one more guttural bellow, our newly bolstered forces called out for the end: "RED ROVER, RED ROVER, SEND EVERYONE OVER!" And with that sign of truce, the Great Red Rover Standoff came to a peaceful resolution. And best of all, no one got hurt.

Back inside, the PTQ was coming to a close. The Finals featured Ed Roman and his Merfolk deck against Michael Belfatto's Five-Color Control deck. Roman's deck worked exactly as planned, and his fish swam to an easy 2-0 victory over Belefatto.

At this point, I'd had about all the fun I could stand for one night and chose to retire.

Sunday – Small-Town Heroes, Exiled, and Big Cards

Ridiculously early on Sunday, an invitation-only tournament began. Earlier in the year, Wizards of the Coast had organized fifty tournaments at stores across Indiana. The winners of these tourneys would be given invitations to a special event being held the last day of Gen Con. It was named, cleverly enough, "Magic at Gen Con." For the players lucky enough to make the Finals of the tournament, they would be rewarded with an uncut foil sheet of the From the Vault: Exiled set, as well as one for their local store.

A quick aside on the latest From the Vault set: It looks simply stunning. For the uninformed, it's a set featuring cards that have been banned at some point in Magic's history. Half of them have recommissioned artwork. And they're really, really shiny. The only way to get them this early was to stand in line near the Serra Angel statue at Gen Con starting no earlier than 9:00 a.m. A hundred specially marked cards were placed there at the start of each day of Gen Con. Those marked cards had to then be taken to the Wizards booth and redeemed, along with $34.99, for your copy of the set. I stopped by one morning to see if maybe I could get a card, only to find a veritable shantytown pitching tents in the Serra foothills. People reeeeally wanted to get their hands on them, and I don't blame them. They are visually stunning, and insanely collectible. I'm just sad I never got the chance to get some for myself. For more about the set, see Tom LaPille's article that introduced its contents.

Chaz Estall and Charles Morrison take home the goods.

Anyhoo, after six rounds of Swiss and two elimination rounds, Chaz Estall of Muncie, IN, and Charles Morrison of Bloomington, IN, finally got to see their gleaming prize. And if I thought the cards were impressive in their cut and boxed form, I wasn't prepared for the foil, uncut sheet. Words fail me. Hell, my camera failed me. I snapped the best picture I could, but you really had to be there to fully appreciate it.

A few hours after the "Magic at Gen Con" event started, I had to be back in the TCG Hall for the Magic Online Live Series Championship. During the course of the weekend, Wizards held eight qualifying tournaments, each providing one entry into the Championship. They had a nifty setup near the entrance to the TCG hall, complete with giant computers and dividers to prevent players from seeing each others' screens. While the players were drafting their decks, I decided to catch one more event that I'd been itching to see all weekend.

You know the saying "bigger is better?" Well, when it comes to Magic cards, that appears to be true. I dropped in on one of the last games of the Planeswalker Challenge, a series of games that pitted a ragtag crew of challengers against the unassailable R&D team of Ken Nagle, Mark Gottlieb, and their handpicked minions. To ensure fairness, Level-One-Billion judge Sheldon Menery was on hand to keep things under control, while Brian David-Marshall was there to emcee and make sure things got out of control.

The game features two decks. One is a red-green monstrosity that is, and this is a direct quote, "Raging Goblin good. At least, one Raging Goblin good." The opposing deck is a spicy little blue-black number affectionately known as "the blue-black deck."

The players shuffled (I suppose you'd call it that) up and the game began.

I told you they were ragtag.

BDM does a quick deck check to make sure no one is running big cheats.

Conference time.

Somehow, I don't think that Looming Shade belongs in this deck.

Crouching Nagle, Hidden Zombie.

BDM plays Long Term Plans hiding himself three from the top.

Ken Nagle plays a Cemetery Reaper with emphasis.

DOOOOM BLAAADE!

Best. Zombie tokens. Ever.

In the end, the might of Cemetery Reaper was too much for the challengers to handle, and they fell beneath the crushing hordes of people pretending to be Zombie tokens. I love big Magic!

Back to the Magic Online Live Series Championship already in progress ....

By this point, we were down to the Finals in the Live Series Championship. Preston Cordy, a.k.a. kidicarus812, had drafted a very solid Naya deck without the support of any bombs to speak of. His opponent, Noah Swartz, a.k.a. CrovaxtheCrazy, had a nice Grixis number featuring some hand disruption and splashing a touch of green for a Dragon Broodmother. In the end, it was his little creatures that did him the most good. His Zombie Outlanders and Goblin Outlanders were nearly unblockable, as well as excellent defenders against Cordy's Naya behemoths. Eventually, one of his unblockable dorks picked up an Unscythe, Killer of Kings, and King Preston fell.

You can see deck lists and a complete Top 8 draft viewer of the Gen Con Live Series here.

With the passing of the massive trophy into Noah Swartz's hands, my work at Gen Con had come to an end. In case you hadn't figured it out, there was almost too much Magic going on for me to handle. I mean, I barely got my fair share of it in between covering events and interviews. Every year, the number of events goes up and up, and the time frame stays the same. I'm going to need some help next year, guys. I was literally drowning in events, prizes, great people, and good times. I suppose there are worse ways to die. Like from exhaustion, which I fully expect to happen soon.

Next year, if you've never been to Gen Con, ask yourself why not. I mean, there was a player from Japan who flew all the way over to Indiana just to play Vintage. He can make it, why can't you? There will be free demos, giveaways, incredibly fun side games, and more Magic than you can handle. And that's just the Magic part. Add in the fact that Magic is just one subsection of all the gaming that goes on, and it's entirely feasible to spend 96 straight hours gaming. It's well worth the trip—take it from me.

And I could use the help.


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