Thursday, January 31, 2013


I do not have a problem with the Pauper bans. I think in the end they will be good for the format.
I do not take umbrage with how the bans were communicated.
However, the weeks leading up to the bans implied a level of thought and consideration from the people at Wizards, and the announcement on January 28th gave no detail to the bans in Pauper, but gave a short essay on the updates to Modern.
This felt like a slap in the face.
Before going further, I want to make some things clear. I understand Pauper is a niche format, only played on Magic Online. I know Modern has a wider player base and is mirrored in paper play. From a pure monetary perspective, it makes sense to focus on Modern over Pauper.
However, Wizards prides itself on the ability to connect with its player base. They don't just make cards for the tournament player, but for everyone who plays the game. The wonderful people who make Magic (and they are all exceptional people) reach out to the community, understanding our world is larger than the card table. I've managed to have conversations with people via e-mail, twitter, facebook, and many other avenues on Magic. I was lucky enough to sit down with members of R & D at the first Community Cup and share my insight, and see those changes implemented. When Pauper made the migration from a player-run format to a fully supported option, Wizards got the banned list wrong. When the Pauper community told them, they made the fix almost immediately. Wizards clearly cares.
In the weeks leading up to January 28th, two different members of Wizards discussed Pauper via social media. They asked for feedback and the community responded. I wrote two personal e-mails, largely containing the same message. This gave me, in hindsight, an expectation of an explanation.
On January 28th, after the out reach from Wizards, after having them ask for input and act on it in the past, to be given nothing, it felt like an insult. 
I do not think this was intentional. I think everyone (including myself) did not realize how much the people who played Pauper cared about the format. I've been involved in a number of conversations on twitter and message boards about the bans. For or against, people are passionate about the format.
Do I think Wizards will provide an explanation? Absolutely. My only hope is that in the future, the people who play Pauper are given the same consideration as any other niche of the community. And knowing how awesome the people at Wizards are, they will provide one.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Initial reaction to Pauper bans

Here's my initial reaction to the banned list updates for Pauper.
Disclaimer: I wrote two letters, one to Mark Rosewater, one to Lee Sharpe, in the past month about Pauper. In it, I advocated making no changes. In both those letters, however, I made a statement to the effect of "Storm is a mechanic with no potential answer at common."
On each card
Invigorate: No real loss. Yes, it removes Infect as a combo-kill deck, and largely kills the deck (Stompy is now a more reliable Rancor deck). While Infect will likely continue to exist, it will be far slower and less "combo." I fully expect to see some people try Simic Infect once Gatecrash comes online (with heavier control elements).
Grapeshot: The biggest problem card. Let's be real - there was no real answer to this card aside from racing. It made mulligans very important, and kept deck discovery space finite.
Empty the Warrens: This card probably didn't need to be banned. Every color had an answer that was on curve with this spell, and this helped keep Goblinstorm in check. However, I can understand removing it since again, there is no common answer to Storm.

So what does this mean for the format? Every deck, aside from Storm and Infect comes out okay (if not better, as some terrible matchups were removed). Temporal Storm likely becomes the default combo deck, and Cloudpost also sees a rise in play. But both of these strategies are susceptible to Stone Rain (and its ilk), meaning that while these decks aren't going away, they aren't likely to be long term issues.

Other decks that were packing "answers" to ETW main now have that space back. Electrickery and Echoing Truth will see play, but not nearly as much. Sideboard slots will open, and deck discovery space grows. The format has gotten a lot slower with one banning, which opens up chances for Guildgates and two color decks.

Please stay tuned to Star City for more in depth analysis in the coming weeks

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gatecrashing in Brooklyn

I am a morning person to a fault. Waking up after 8am is considered "sleeping in" for this guy. The 9am prerelease doesn't scare me; if anything, I have an edge over those who are used to waking up...somewhat later. Today was no different. I set my alarm for 7am and woke up with twenty minutes to spare. After a quick breakfast at one of the local diners and acquiring a cup of coffee, it was off the the Twenty Sided Store.
Well, not exactly. First I had to brush the snow off my car. After regretting my decision to not take out my real gloves, my finger tips thawed out on the twenty minute drive. While I love living in Brooklyn, needing the G train to get around the weekend can be a real pain. I arrive a full thirty minutes before the event starts, which means I get to stand out front and play greeter to the other people stuck in the cold. Friends trickle in and chats begin. We're all excited and not at all upset to be standing in sub-freezing temperatures. 
The doors open 15 minutes before the event and we rush in, grabbing out boxes and seats. I went Simic this time, because it is, after all,  my second favorite color combination.
After what seems like forever, we get to open our packs. After oohing and aahing over what I opened, this is the build I settled on (with a little nudging from friends):

8 Forest
7 Island
1 Mountain
1 Simic Guildgate
1 Cloudfin Raptor
2 Frilled Oculus
1 Simic Fluxmage
2 Adaptive Snapjaw
1 Crocanura
1 Crowned Ceratok
2 Ivy Lane Denizen
1 Rust Scarab
1 Scab-Clan Charger
1 Slaughterhorn
1 Elusive Krasis
1 Fathom Mage
1 Shamble Shark
1 Rubblebelt Raiders
1 Aetherize
1 Totally Lost
1 Domri Rade
1 Pit Fight
1 Simic Charm
1 Prophetic Prism

I was very pleased with my deck, and look forward to the battles.
Round 1 I am up against Ted, also with Simic. Game one he never gets off the ground and I crush him pretty easily. Game two I stall and he is able to draw into his red splash with Gruull Ragebeast and his own Domri Rade. Game three he mulligans twice and I am able to win in short order.

Round 2 I am paired with Matt, who is wielding Orzhov (splashing red). Game one I am unable to draw a third land until late in the game and I can't come back once I do. In the second I draw Domri and steamroll him. In game three I have an army out alongside my Planeswalker and he casts Merciless Eviction, leaving me with Domri, who eventually draws me into more gas.

I face a store regular and strong player, Jason, in round three. Jason is on Gruul and gets me in a close game one. He attacks with three creatures and I respond with Aetherize. He sets up the next turn with a Cinder Elemental, so if he rips a land he can kill me, which is exactly what he does. Game two is much closer. He gets a very good aggressive start and attempts to Bloodrush his Skarrg Goliath on to his Rubblehulk after I block it with my 7/3 Adaptive Snapjaw. Thankfully, I have the Pit Fight, and he can't recover.
Between games two and three, Jason remarks how I tricked him. I don't quite understand, and he starts saying how I was able to trick him because English is not his first language. He then gives us all the line of the tournament:

"I have hexproof from English."

Nothing could ever top that. Game three I get a strong curve draw and crush Jason.

In the fourth round I'm paired against Niv (how apt), but he's hungry, so we split. While he waits for friends to come pick him up for lunch, we play for fun. His Orzhov splash red deck crushes me quickly, and I am glad I took the draw.

I make some trades, collect the commons I need for my cube, and pick up my prize packs. Twenty Sided Store continues to put on quality events, in one of the best environments possible. Luis and Lauren have a great store, and if you are ever in Brooklyn, stop by. I promise, we're friendly.
And I am so looking forward to drafting the hell out of this set.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Growing up Magic

I started playing Magic when I was 10.
I went to my first tournament when I was 12.
I remember, very clearly, the moment I learned about personal space.
Pro Tour Champion Mike Pustilnik was showing off some custom art tokens he had (Wizards was not printing tokens for mass consumption back then) and he passed them around. As I remember the story, it was okay that I was looking at them (this was 14 or 15 years ago, so I might be wrong).
But then I went to take one out of the sleeve and look at the back. Mike, protective of these custom works, asked me what I was doing. 
He had every right to do so- they were his and I was a child. I remember him snapping, but not in a mean way - just a quick reaction. 
That moment taught me a lot.

At the Grand Prix: Atlantic City this weekend, I was involved in a game of Commander (the second game detailed in my last post). At some point, a Little Kid came up and started in a Golden Ratio spiral, closer and closer until he was right on top of us. At some point, a Fork was cast, and the kid picked it up to read the card that was older than him.

We were silent.

Then someone cast Bribery, and started looking through the target's deck. The kid then picked up the other half and started making suggestions.

We were dumbfounded. I lost it and started laughing to myself.

Eventually the spell was resolved, the kid walked away, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

If I could go back, I would have said something to the kid. Magic is an awesome game and there is so much discovery. Commander is full of cards that people have never seen. Heck, I've been playing this game for almost 20 years and there are still cards I need to triple check.

This kid could not have been more than 13. Even if he learned the game at 5, that's 14 years of cards that is older than his experience. We were flustered, but we could have done more to help teach this kid how to respect people and still love Magic.

We didn't hurt him, but we didn't help him either.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

My Grand Prix: Atlantic City

Mark Rosewater is fond of saying that Magic is not one game, but several games under one umbrella. 

My trip to Atlantic City started Friday night. I was playing a game of "how late can I stay up and still function in the morning?" I had zero intention of playing in the event. I wanted to go down to cheer of other players from the Twenty Sided Store and just be part of the event. After too little sleep (but somehow still enough) I stumbled out of my apartment, bag filled to the brim on my first quest: coffee.
I live in Park Slope, a neighborhood in Brooklyn known for a sense of elitism. While I can deal without that, it does mean I have some fantastic places to get coffee within walking distance. Sadly, none of them were open when I was getting on the road, which meant I had to settle for Dunkin' Donuts.


The ride down was uneventful until I reached Atlantic City. At that point, my GPS decided to play the game of not catching up to where I actually was. This in turn led me to getting back on the highway and having to pay the toll two extra times - once leaving, and once coming back.

So far, that's two games I lost.

I finally park and make my way into the convention center. The first thing I notice is how nice the staff are. This makes all the difference in the world. I've been to many events where the event site staff are unhappy and mean to the patrons. That was not the case at Atlantic City. Being kind matters.

I quickly ran into the Twenty Sided Crew, testing during their byes. I said my hellos and watched a few games before continuing my trek through the hall. I eventually came to my friend and Pauper Cube compatriot Adam Styborksi, writer for the Mothership and editor-in-chief at Gathering Magic.
Adam is a machine. Writing every two weeks is hard - he writes every week on top of managing a website, holding a full time job, having a newborn at home, and traveling multiple weekends to events. The man is made of energy, and his love of the game shines through. We catch up and he comments on my Twenty Sided shirt, saying he's heard only good things about the store. On our walk, of course we run into Luis (the owner of said store) and I promptly make the introduction. I hope The Stybs will be swinging by Brooklyn soon (fingers crossed).

Eventually, the subject turns to my Pauper Cube. Adam played a huge role in helping me get the Cube started, writing about his own. Adam's feature on my stack of commons at was a high light of my weekend. It is still cool when other people are interested in what I have to say. I hope that never changes.

In the time it took for Adam to take the pictures, a number of his acquaintances sat down at our table and started up a game of Commander. So of course Adam and I joined. Going around the table, in turn order (forgive me if I get the names wrong) was Dave with Gisela, Andrew with Skullbriar, Adam with new Isperia, my Lyzoda, Sida's Kami of the Crescent Moon, and Rob with Orzhov Ghost Council. The game moved at a crisp pace, with Sida applying early pressure with group hug card draw and Iron Maiden. Eventually he was neutralized and Dave started applying pressure. He was able to get his general into play and swung at me. Thankfully, I was able to Corpse Dance a Shriekmaw into play and survive. Dave then promptly died. All this time, Sida was quietly building up his little Jace and won from no where thanks to the combination of Laboratory Maniac and Leveler. 

I then went to catch a quick lunch with my friend Andrew. After Andrew led us off into the wilds of Atlantic City, his friend (whose name escapes me) and I overruled him in favor of Applebee's, simply due to proximity to the convention center. Seeing as it was the first real thing I had eaten all day I was not thrilled with the choice, but my stomach won over and food was consumed.

I made my way back to the site and caught up with Nate (of Walk the Planes fame). We chatted about, of all things, sports (and my poor choice in teams). Nate is one of the genuinely great guys in Magic and it's always awesome to see what content he and Shawn put out after events. After a quick chat with Steve Sadin, the man responsible for hiring me at Star City, it was off to play some more. On my way to game, I got approached by multiple Twenty Siders who were bemoaning their fate, including some needing a ride home. Before long, my empty car had two passengers.

I got wrangled into another game of Commander with the same crew as before (less Adam, who was doing written coverage). In turn order, it was  Rob with new Niv-Mizzet, Dave with Karador, Sida with his Kami deck again, me with Bruna, and Andrew with Nin, the Pain Artist. This game was epic. We remembered our death by Jace and Sida was an early target. Of course, I became the next biggest target thanks to Bruna wearing Eldrazi style pants. At some point, feature matches were announced and the table contemplated stopping to game to watch. Andrew and I pulled out our phones to try and use the app to watch. Alas, we were not in a good coverage area.
At some point, Zac from Hipsters of the Coast came looking for me for a ride home, but didn't know I was the Alex he was looking for. The look on his face when he realized it was classic. Lirek also came looking for a ride and Obi-Wan, once empty, was now full.
The game continued, with multiple huge swings, including an Omniscience fueled counter war between Rob (who owned the enchantment) and Andrew. Eventually, After three hours, Andrew realized he could do nothing and gracefully bowed out. Dave cast Living Death and ending up sacrificing a Lord of Extinction to Disciple of Bolas, drawing his library and losing. I was able to cast Bruna again and swung at Rob for the win.

This write up does not do the game justice.

I made my way back to the Twenty Sided Crew and chatted with Luis and others, mostly about how awesome the store is. Eventually, my crew assembled and we made our way through the foggy land of New Jersey back to Brooklyn. The car ride back was full of life lessons, mostly for Lirek (who will be off to college in the fall) and of course, Magic.

I did not play one game of tournament Magic this weeken. My official record in games played was 1-1, and that was against a combined eleven opponents. I might have lost the games of Coffee, Directions, and Food, but I won so much more. I won the games of Chats, Friends, and Memories. I won at Growing my Brand and Networking. MaRo is right- Magic is way more than one game. I wonder if he knows how many of those games aren't played with cards.