Wednesday, 10:50 a.m.: Duplicate Deck Dilemmas
by Zvi Mowshowitz
What do you do when you’re given a bizarre alternate card pool, more quality card drawing in two colors than you can hope to play, the Magic Online deck builder and a one-hour time limit? You do whatever you can, attempting to figure out as much as possible as fast as you can.
The first few minutes many players had to struggle against the interface to figure out how to manipulate the card pool and see what was in their power to do, but those problems were soon overcome. Most players next looked at the colors one at a time, trying to get a quick look at all the cards and get a view of the landscape, although some skipped that step and dove right in. What to do next?
The players gathered to start the day with a challenge.
Different players took different approaches. The most popular one was to start looking at potential builds to see how they curved out and what they had to offer. For a lot of players the instinctive deck was blue-black. You got what looked like a smooth curve, excellent card advantage and the ability to control the game. However, one by one the players became unhappy with this approach or found something better. With so much card drawing and so many ways to punish it, did you want to be on the wrong side of that battle? Why play a deck when you could play the deck designed to take it down? A lot of players started to see the appeal of blue-red and other combinations that punished those too focused on keeping a full hand of cards. Other builds started getting looked at while players furiously sorted cards, put them in and out of decks and rebuilt as fast as their mice could click. Twenty-five minutes in, Antoine Ruel and Frank Karsten had builds they were ready to try out, followed soon by Gabriel Nassif. Mike Flores continued looking down the list of cards in silence, refusing to use the pictures favored by so many.
By the half-hour mark, most players seemed to have a handle on which direction they wanted to lean but there was still plenty of time to experiment. Osyp became the first player to start looking seriously at a green build, followed shortly after that by several others. It was clear that blue, black and red were the colors seen as the most powerful, with a few players looking at white and only a little interest in green. Those who did look at white seemed to see it as fitting well with black. They also seemed to be anticipating playing mirror matchups, with the decks shifting towards cards that punished their opponents for the very cards they were trying to use – and even some that sought to protect them against their own weapons. About half the players started taking test draws while the others continued to look at builds.
But as the players entered the home stretch they started to broaden their perspectives and see other possibilities. Blue-white showed up, then green-white, green-red-black and other configurations that no one had tried yet. The players were finally starting to see what the format could do. Those who were happy with or willing to accept their first instincts, like Antonino De Rosa, were refining their builds and trying to figure out their last few cards. Others like the Ruel brothers kept trying different ideas in the hopes of finding a better way.
That seems to be the dynamic operating in duplicate sealed as the players have divided into camps despite not interacting with each other. There is an ‘old school,’ where old is a whole 20 minutes older, that is trying to use hand punishing cards like Adamaro and even a few players looking at their original blue-black builds. Those who have these builds came to them early and stuck with them. Then there are the players who continued to try new permutations, many of whom are moving towards running white, green or even both.
Could it be that in a world with this much card drawing card drawing is no longer what matters? Is this the time to put tempo to the test and see if it can finally take card advantage’s thrown? Or would those decks that gave up card engines for powerful men and removal going to overrun those who focused on more esoteric battlefields? It’s hard to even tell what the players are thinking as they study their monitors. One thing is for sure: These players may have decks built, but no one knows how this is going to play out.
Wednesday, 11:59 a.m.: Making Connections
by Zvi Mowshowitz
What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to a new computer in a grand convention hall, ready to play in Magic’s All-Star game?
Talk to your friends online, of course!
For many top players, one of the best parts of Magic is the people – and if you have an internet connection, those people are always at your fingertips. If the needed programs were missing, soon they were installed. It didn’t take long for many of the players to be happily chatting away not only with each other but also on AIM and MSN, just as they do when playing Magic Online at home. Sure, it’s great to have fifteen people to chat with, but why stop there? Don’t worry, they weren’t asking for strategy advice, just sharing the experience with the people who help make this game so enjoyable. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Wednesday, 1:25 p.m.: Duplicate Sealed, or “The Forsythe Trap”
by Mike Turian
When first looking at the card pool, Osyp Lebedowicz exclaimed, “Maybe this is a trap, a Forsythe trap!”
If a trap was being set, the players had little say over it. These were the 105 cards they could use, and each had the same cards. Olivier Ruel and Gabriel Nassif have been superstars the past few years. How would they approach this duplicate sealed environment?
Ruel started out looking at white but dismissed it fairly quickly. The allure of Akroma’s Vengeance brought him into white but he shifted away as he felt that the card quality wasn’t particularly deep.
Nassif went right for blue-black. The card advantage cards and tempo advantage appealed to the seasoned pro. Of course with an hour to build, there would be many configurations.
Olivier Ruel discovered the gold cards sitting in the pile and also started looking at blue-black. Then he tried white-black but then back to blue-black. He was turned off by red initially because of the lack of creatures.
Nassif was trying to take advantage of the lack of red creatures. The next build he tried was a red-blue deck with no creatures at all! He felt it was a few cards short of being a great deck, however, and went back to the drawing board.
The whole time the two players were building their decks, the advantages of using Magic Online were obvious. On top of being able to move cards quickly into and out of their decks, the ability to look at mana, mana curves and color balance were all being taken advantage of. Nassif would often save his current deck and play a solitaire game or two to see how he felt it was turning out.
Nassif tried out black-blue-red for a time, noting how powerful Underworld Dreams was with Teferi’s Puzzle Box. He also tried to fit Phyrexian Tyranny into every deck he built. He was hoping the format was slow enough to fill his three color strategy.
When I returned to Ruel, blue black was out and a four-color white green deck had taken its place. Splashing for Ribbons of Night and Compulsive Research, Ruel traded the powerful removal of other colors for the quick consistency of white and green. Ruel was drawn into green by Words of Wilding, a card that R&D member Paul Sottosanti was hoping would be discovered. Ruel said that looking through the pool made him realize that this deck would take down red-blue, an archetype that he felt would be popular.
Ruel ended with the four-color build while Nassif thought a straight blue-red strategy would be the best. As it turns out, duplicate sealed has as much diversity of normal sealed, but when you lose you can’t blame it on the other player's rares!
Wednesday, 2:39 p.m.: History Lesson
by Mike Turian
The Magic Invitational: Where every match is a feature match!
With the Pro Tour in its 10th year and this being the 10th Invitational, it seemed like a history lesson was in order. Before the event kicked off I spoke with the man behind the Invitational, Mark Rosewater. He started off with a brief look at the event's history.
The Magic Invitational started life as the Duelist Invitational. Mark was looking for something special to do for the Duelist magazine. One thing that he had felt the Pro Tour was missing was an All-Star game – while it was great that anyone could qualify for a Pro Tour, Mark wanted to find a special way to celebrate the game's stars.
One of his key goals for the Invitational was to make it entertaining for the fans. He wanted to make sure that it was a complete spectator event. That is why he has always tried to make sure that there were wacky fun formats. He knew he had accomplished this goal early on.
The event in Rio illustrated just how far the Invitational's success had reached. The temperature outside was hot and dry but fortunately for the Invitationalists, they were in the one air-conditioned spot in the building, a glass-incased room. As the Invitational was going on, people were pressed up against the glass nonstop. Mark described as being surrounded by a sea of faces at all times.
The irony, of course, is that the Duelist Invitational ended up outlasting the Duelist. Part of the reason (beyond its popularity) was how far Mark stretched the Invitational's budget. Mark worked his magic. He took the fact that the Invitational didn't have the money to compete with Pro Tour-style money prizes and turned the achievement of winning into one of the Invitational's biggest features. The winner of the Invitational gets to make his own Magic card.
When Chris Pikula won the Invitational, he made the Meddling Mage. Mark described the finals in which Chris beat Jon Finkel as one of his favorite Invitational memories. The story behind the dream spoke about what the Invitational meant. Chris was an underdog, a big underdog. He was up against a Finkel when Finkel was Finkeltron. Chris has always been a fine player, but no Jon Finkel. On top of that, Chris wasn't favored in any of the matchups in the best-of-five finals. Somehow though, Chris lived the dream and made one of the most classic Magic cards with the win.
This year Mark was excited to be bringing back Duplicate Sealed. He had run the format every year up until the Invitational went to Magic Online. Through some creative thinkin, Duplicate Sealed has returned this year, with card pools brought to you by R&D's Aaron Forsythe. Mark really enjoyed how Duplicate Sealed challenged the players to a new format where all information was known. On top of this, the traditional complaint about Sealed Deck is the luck involved in opening the packs. Duplicate Sealed removes this luck and lets the best players in the world shine.
In closing the interview, Mark revealed how he was a proud papa at heart. He reminisced about the honor associated with the Invitational. Although he couldn't attribute the quote to a specific player, he remembered an Invitationalist once saying, "Twenty years from now I won't remember what I did with the money I have won playing Magic, but I'll remember the card I have created. That card makes me a part of Magic and its history."
Wednesday, 2:55 p.m.: Williams Stirring the Pot
by Zvi Mowshowitz
If there were a star of last night's auction draft, it was David Williams. Watching his masterful performance left little doubt that he had heeded well the advice of his good friend Bob Maher, whose Invitational victory led to the creation of Dark Confidant. Bob's philosophy was to avoid bidding too low, holding out for a bargain while encouraging others to bid as low as possible. Thus did he seek to accomplish the goals of an auction: Get the best deck you can at a price you can afford, and get everyone else to pay as much as possible.
Williams counsels De Rosa during Tuesday's auction.
Dave executed all the pieces of this plan to perfection. Armed with both this strategic approach and extensive playtesting, he knew what the decks were worth and he wasn't about to let anyone else forget it more than once (once would let him get his deck, so one would be enough). Early on, the decks were strong but the bidding was fierce and Williams knew he wasn't about to pay the price he'd need to win one of the top decks. Historically five-card decks do very poorly, and he wasn't about to fall into that trap especially with some decks relying on their hand size or life total to execute their strategies, and not just for normal Magic purposes.
When Rizzo's Fallen Angel deck came up for bid, Williams knew it was a solid deck that he had a shot at winning. Everyone other than Jeff Cunningham dropped out quickly, and when Williams decided that this auction was aggressive enough that it was worth dropping below seven cards, he drove Cunningham out with his bid of 6 cards, 20 life. It was a lot of life and for this auction it was a lot of cards. He had his deck.
The task was now to make sure that no one else had any life or cards to spare. When a deck looked like it might go for too many life points or especially too many cards, Dave made sure that everyone knew about the highway robbery that was about to occur. He'd point out strengths of each deck in turn, doing what he needed to do. That's the law of the auction, and it paid off as one deck after another went for a premium price.
In the end, only a few players left with a full hand of cards. Julien Nuijten picked up Millar's deck for 7/19, which could prove to be one of the best deals, but even the last three players ended up bidding against each other. Williams jokingly announced he was Gabriel Nassif's "agent" during the brief attempt by Osyp to negotiate for the last three decks, but the three players could not reach an agreement.
Was the bidding too aggressive? That depends on what you think of the worst decks. If you think that Antonino and the others at the end of the auction have the tools to win, then the players who bid lots of cards and life were being too aggressive. You always have the option to take the 16th-best deck for full price. If however there were only 13 or 14 decks capable of winning, and that is certainly a theory among players (although many think Adrian Sullivan's Birds of Paradise deck is not one of the 13 or 14, as it can't deal with Avatar abilities or certain deadly one-drops), then those decks could easily prove to have been worth every penny. The later players certainly didn't conspire to punish the early ones. Each auction is unique, and relative value is what counts. My guess is that some of the low bids will be punished, but that some of those decks were worth the price.
Was Mike Flores's deck one of them? Mike had a unique perspective on the format. Realizing how crazy the format was and how powerful the avatar he had chosen to use could be, Mike knew he wasn't going to get his deck at seven cards or even at six cards. He tested exclusively at five cards, knowing that was what the deck would go for at the auction. With extensive testing he set his limit at 10 life and five cards and he was nearly pushed to his limit. Afterwards he seemed to have strong opinions on each of his matchups, knowing which decks he could beat and which ones he could not. There's little doubt he built a good deck, but is it good enough to justify the price?
The best deck in the format is probably Steve Menendian's Tendrils of Agony deck, and he doesn't need to cast that many spells to take down many of his opponents. The problem is that Tendrils is very much about critical mass. You need each of your pieces and you need to do everything in one turn. You even have Inner Fire in your deck, which relies on your hand size. Olivier Ruel paid a huge price for an avatar that would normally start at nine cards. With nine cards he can get reliable turn-two kills. Will those three missing cards turn that into turn four or five, will that be enough? It's almost time to find out.
Wednesday, 3:57 p.m.: Secrets from Duplicate Sealed
by Mike Turian
The Duplicate Sealed has finished and three players went 3-0. Pierre Canali, Jose Barbero, and Jeff Cunningham each went undefeated to start the tournament off on the right foot. On the other side of the coin, Osyp Lebedowicz started off 0-3 for the second year in a row. Joining him was last year's runner-up Tsuyoshi Fujita. Neither are eliminated from finals contention yet, but both will need a great comeback in order to give them a chance.
I spoke with the 3-0's to see what strategy they used to gain an edge on the competition. Barbero and Cunningham both played blue and red but they opted for very different builds. Cunningham opted for many of the tempo cards along with one drops like Obstinate Familiar. He felt that he would always have cards available to him in longer games (often thanks to his opponent) while being able to beat down his opponent in the shorter games.
Barbero felt he made a mistake playing Arcanis the Omnipotent in his main deck. While Arcanis was amazing in his own format, when every card draws you more cards, Arcanis suddenly becomes an over-costed Legend. Barbero fought a tough match versus Julien Nuijten and encourages everyone online to go watch for an exciting game. Against Tsuyoshi Fujita he got out the powerful Dragon Mage/Niv-Mizzet combo but Fujita dropped a Niv-Mizzet of his own to break up the combo before he was annihilated by it.
The final 3-0 was Pierre Canali. He considered red-blue but instead decided to go with a very controlling white-blue deck splashing black. Canali felt he would be able to deck people with Compulsive Research and Allied Strategies. He would wait for the right moment and finish his opponent with these cards. Even if he had it in his opening hand, he would wait and not cast it on himself. He sideboarded in Gilded Light and said it won him two games versus Gaze of Adamaro. Apparently, Aaron Forsythe was onto something when he recommended Gilded Light as the surprise hit of the format.
Jeff Cunningham - 3-0
2006 Invitational Duplicate Sealed Deck
Jose Barbero - 3-0
2006 Invitational Duplicate Sealed Deck
Pierre Canali - 3-0
2006 Invitational Duplicate Sealed Deck
Wednesday, 4:39 p.m.: Thumb's the Word
by Zvi Mowshowitz
Geoffrey Siron's Vanguard deck gets to flip a coin at the end of every turn to see if he gets another. When you pass the turn to him, you never know if you'll get another. He's tried just about everything to win the flips. He's asked for advice, he's hid under the table with his hands over his eyes.
But he also has Krark's Thumb.
Siron took his chances with multiple coin flips.
With the Thumb you have a three in four chance to win each flip, so he has a three in four chance to take another turn... and then another three in four chance to take another, and another, and another! There's just one problem there, which is that all your permanents have phasing (thanks to his Avatar). In his latest game, he got a Thumb out to win a flip, then after that phased out, he played another Thumb to have a Thumb all the time.
Siron stopped hiding his eyes and started watching the flips with confidence. It wouldn't be long now, and then the third Thumb showed up! If two Thumbs were good, why not three? So he played the third and his opponent cheered as it headed into the graveyard.
"It's a Legendary artifact?" muttered Siron.
I guess that's the danger of too many opposable thumbs.
Wednesday, 5:45 p.m.: A Photo Tour of E3
by Mike Turian
A look at V3 before I head off into the vast space of E3.
The Playstation Booth is right by Wizards. If PSP stands for Playstation Portable, then we have different ideas on what is 'portable'.
There are a 'few' people here this week.
We all know that Dave Williams could take these guys.
The Rusalkas from Guildpact were named after Xiaolin Showdown characters in playtesting.
Kenji Tsumura, the 2005 Pro Tour Playa of the Year.
Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.: Highlights of the Geniuses
by Mike Turian
As Day One of the 10th Magic Invitational winds down, here's a look back at some of the cool events that occurred during the Auction of the Geniuses. If you have a spare moment or six, take the time to watch replays of these matches in Magic Online.
Round 4 saw Osyp Lebedowicz beating down Jose Barbero with classic Wakefield beats. Before the event people were talking about how all of Wakefield's green decks were designed to beat Goblins. With Barbero playing a deck built by Dan Paskins, Osyp took his little green men, who with Akroma's help occasionally got protection from red, and finally won a match.
Gabriel Nassif was using his mono-blue deck with Meloku to show off how powerful the Meloku/Maro combination could be.
Terry Soh was seen going crazy with Sensei's Divining Top and Serra Angel for tons of life.
While Geoffrey Siron complained that even though he was winning flips left and right with Frenetic Efreet, that he couldn't possibly beat Cunningham and more importantly Teysa. The Ichirods would just provide Cunningham a 1/1 token each time they died.
A few players were seen misjudging the avatars or opponent's decks. Mike Flores told Dave Williams that he couldn't be attacked. Williams scoffed because he had out Tombstone Stairwell with the Fallen Angel Avatar.
Osyp tried not to cringe every time he drew a Seedtime considering he didn't play versus a single blue opponent.
While Nuijten was seen triple-blocking a Jorael's Centaur with three 1/1 Insects afterwards he said, "I thought it was Bushido!"
Four players went 3-0 in the format. Antoine Ruel took the first deck won in the auction and went undefeated with it. De Rosa took the last deck in the auction and also went undefeated. Technically, this made Olivier Ruel undefeated as well since it was his deck.
Overall, two players tied for the lead at perfect records – Pierre Canali and Jeff Cunningham. Cunningham said that he got the three ideal matchups that were so awesome because of his avatar. Canali played control this morning in duplicate sealed and continued his winning streak with another control deck in the afternoon.
See you bright and early Thursday!