Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thoughts on Coverage, part 2

After I finished my last piece, I realized that something else was not sitting right (and I still don't fully understand why): Butler's emphasis on fans.
Fans are important and vital to the success of sport. This is not because if teams do not attract fans they will fold (see the Florida Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the Jacksonville Tebows Jaguars and others). Fans are catered to because they come to games and spend money. They are courted because they watch games and generate money via advertising. It is disingenuous on some level to discuss cultivating a fan base without admitting that the end result of fans, largely (in American sport) is the financial benefits of that population. 
So how does this translate to Magic coverage? Coverage (and ancillaries like Walk the Planes) are supposed to make going to Magic events sound awesome. Attending events and spending money on cards is one way Wizards makes money. However, they do not sell advertising in the same volume that televised sports do. Instead, recently, they have increasingly advertised a life style.
I think that to cultivate a population of fans, they need to do more in this area.
Caveat once more of "we have enough money to do this."
Forget about "event hotel." Wizards should strive to have a standing partnership with a hotel chain so that while advertising next month's Grand Prix, the hotel information can be there. Hotels want to make money also, so become the "hotel of gamers" and have tables ready for drafts. We will love you.
Similarly, have an official airlines that gets advertised similarly (one with Wi-Fi please). Advertising these in tandem with the GP provides an important link - I want to go there and now I have a way to do just that!
Big dreams, I know.
Wizards should also make efforts to advertise their events (Grand Prix, Pro Tours, and others) on sites like Kotaku, io9, and other "geek" sites. These pages are starting to get preview cards and have a wide audience- it makes sense to advertise the broadcasts there as well to try and cultivate the fan base more.

These are just some more free floating thoughts that came to me, so I wanted to put them out there for consumption. Again, big dreams, but this could be the big leap from "viewer" to "gamer" and translate fan into player.

My take on Magic Coverage

"Why do you watch that stuff?"
This was the one of the first things my SO said to me when she found me watching coverage of some Magic Grand Prix or Pro Tour (I can't remember which). While fully supportive of my hobby, she does not understand why I, as a fan of the game and a player, would want to watch.
In the wake of John Butler's series on improving Magic coverage, I have been thinking more and more about this simple question, both as it applies to me and the Magic audience at large. I wanted to hold off on voicing my opinions until after all four pieces had been published, but sometimes words just need to come out. 
First off, I am no expert when it comes to marketing or branding. I do not work as a data analyst. My job in higher education is to provide co-curricular experiences that help to develop a student in a non-academic manner. We do assessments, we revise plans, and we tinker with what we have until it works. I am coming at this not from an expert perspective, but rather someone who plays Magic, watches Magic, is a fan boy of high level play and a student of the history of the game, and a Magic writer.

Why I follow coverage
I'm a fan. I have been a baseball fan as long as I can remember and enjoy watching the nuances of the game. Once I started understanding the subtleties of hockey and American football, my enjoyment of those sports increased dramatically. My knowledge of Magic is deeper than any of those sports so watching players who are better than me play is a chance for me to better understand the game. Watching Magic allows me (and I imagine others) to play the game without actually playing. When the sequence goes differently from the one in my head I have to ask myself "why did s/he do that?" and it prompts me to get better.
I follow Magic because I like the story lines. I've seen many of the current crop of "best players" rise through the ranks and recognize names from events gone by. I also like watching these players compete on a level I believe I could achieve (if I gave up many other things in my life) but am not willing to do so. Watching people I have invested fandom in win is rewarding, much as watching the Mets eke out a victory is rewarding. It is much easier for me to be a fan of high level Magic play because there are no teams (in the major league sports sense), just great players.
I watch because I want to see what other deck builders put together. I watch to be inspired to brew new decks and write new articles. I consume media because I produce it. One of my more successful and well received articles this year is a direct result of me following the coverage of Pro Tour: Gatecrash.
And these are just some of the reasons I watch coverage. What are the reasons you watch it? Once we all understand why the community watches Magic coverage, we can have a better idea of the directions coverage needs to go.

Who coverage is for
How did you get into Magic? I saw friends playing the game on the ground at recess during fourth grade. If I had the ability to just tune in to the internet back then and watch Magic, I don't know if I would care. 
Watching my friends, I saw the cards and the art, and I saw they were having fun. Do you know how rare it is to turn on high level coverage and see people having fun? Sure, to an invested person, it might be apparent, but the emotions I most witness on coverage are stress and relief. 
I am not saying things cannot be done to coverage to cultivate fans, but without setting it up so people are actually playing the game and wanting to come back and play again, it is hard to create a fan, in my opinion.
GPs and PTs should be broadcast, but these should not be the only tools used to cultivate brand new fans. There needs to be more. Much like baseball coverage does not divulge the rules constantly (only in complex situations) neither should Magic coverage. Explaining what a 1-4-3 double play is every time gets old- people pick it up or will research what it means on their own.
I know this is not the best comparison since it is much easier to understand the base concept of a sport ingrained in culture than Magic. It is not perfect, and I recognize that.

My ideas for coverage
Can we all just agree to pretend we will have enough money to do all these things? Good!
Pro Tour/Grand Prix/high level event coverage should resemble coverage of the NCAA Final Four. To me, CBS Sports has it right. There is a home page with important statistics (which could include standings, pairings, list of Hall of Famers playing, format rules, match scores, etc.) with links to all the current games. Every feature match (4 for PTs, 2 for GPs) would have their own feed and their own duo of commentators. This would cut down on the awkward back-and-forth and pauses for camera set up and allow the booths to focus on one match at a time. It also allows a feature match to be used for something other than matches amongst the top players. Table four could be the Rogue Table (aka the Conley Woods VIP seat) or the table tracking a player in his/her quest to make Gold/Platinum for the next year. Or maybe one table could be for someone who got here via a PTQ. Having multiple tables  opens up the possibilities on what could be shown and does not make viewers a slave to a bad match.
Post-Match interviews. I do not mean right after the match, although that is fine, and I do not mean with just winners. If one of the reasons people watch coverage is to get inside the mind of the competitors, have and area off to the side where players have to answer questions (either from coverage people on site or cultivated/screened from twitter) about the match. Yes, it might create some awkward Greg Popovich, Bill Belichik, or John Tortorella moments, but it helps to create a connection between player and viewer. 
More Pros in the booth. This is obvious, but is hard to achieve. If a high level players is not qualified and has shown a deep level of understanding, fly them out and have them be the "coverage pro" for the event. It requires a cultivation of talent, but we cannot rely on having LSV miss top 8s.
Pre-record vignettes. Between matches and rounds there is often a large amount of time when there is just talking. Sometimes there will be a segment done in front of the screen that feels thrown together/ Recording some of these in advance would allow for some of the "ums" and "ahs" to be edited out and give the hard working coverage people a much needed break.  This can't replace everything (like Zac Hill's awesome play analysis), but it could help to fill up a long day. 
Turn into a channel, not coverage exclusive. This is the most ambitious part of my ideas. Rather than only have the channel on during events, have it on constantly. Have a regularly airing highlight show (a la Sports Center) recorded once a week that goes over the big events in Magic for the past week. Have Tuesday (for example) be Learn to Play day, where instructional videos are shown all day.  Air Walk the Planes and Friday Night's marathons. Have retrospective shows with commentary like NFL Films where you can recount the ten greatest top decks or all time or the greatest matches. Have Hall of Fame day where you just air the greatest matches on camera from the careers of different Hall of Famers. By turning the channel into something constant (and using old content) you can constantly expose people to the history oft he game and help them get up to speed as to why, say, Jon Finkel, is the greatest of all time or why they should care about PVDDR. Fewer talking heads, more replays, like mid-90s ESPN.

These are just my ideas, from my perspective. They are not perfect- they do not take into account the fact that Magic is a global game with non-English appeal and coverage is not confined just to my time zone. It does not deal with player/fan acquisition directly. Mr. Butler has some good ideas (although I wish his articles were shorter) and some not as good ideas. I also fully believe that the people who manage coverage at Wizards of the Coast know the direction coverage will take and are constantly working to make it better. The speed of criticism is faster than the speed of action, sadly. 
I 100% believe coverage will get better. These are just the ways I would like to see it go. Let me know what you think, because I am not every Magic player.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Unintended Consequences

Since I've started riding my bike to work, I am happier, I sleep better, and I make better time in the mornings and evenings.
But my consumption of media for pleasure has significantly diminished. I no longer am able to listen to podcasts or read on my commute. And that sucks, because I really enjoy doing those things. 
Yes, I now carve out time from my day to consume, but the 40 minutes or so I used to get to and from work was a perfect time to burn through some pages or listen to the dulcet tones of Marshall Sutcliffe et al..
For those of you asking "why don't you just listen to the podcasts while you ride?" - do you think I have a death wish?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Level Up!

You have gained the feat Urban Cyclist!
+1 to Reflex saving throws while riding a bicycle
+1 to Fortitude saving throws
Base speed while riding a bicycle is 15
+2 to all checks made to avoid traffic
You may switch speeds as a free action

Note: you lose all bonuses if you ever extol biking above all other forms of transportation

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Faith and Chance

Not everyone deserves an opportunity. It is a fallacy of the current generation that everyone has the inherent right to a chance. I am 5'4" and that is as tall as I will ever be. When I was a child I was shorter (a Small Child, even). I played in one youth basketball season and scored one basket (the only game my dad missed in my hideous Cavalier colored jersey). I had no business playing youth basketball, but my parents forked over hard earned money to give me the chance to do something.
Truth be told, I just wanted to be better than my sister who was/is a jock. Lettered in two sports- basketball and soccer-in high school and currently a tri-athlete. In med-school.
I do not know why Joshua gave me the opportunity he did. At the time I submitted my first article to PureMTGO I was largely a forum troll stumping for Pauper Magic on Magic: Online. My forum posts were largely puff pieces designed me make me seem smarter and better than I actually was. He was an editor on a start up site. I was in a bad place, isolated from all my friends and still finding my footing in grad school. Writing about Magic was my outlet, my way to feel good.
And my early writing was bad.
Not bad as in full of typos and grammatical errors, but bad as in I had a false sense of entitlement. I felt I deserved the chance to write and dammit, people should read the words I spent so much time writing. Josh saw past the bluster and encouraged me to keep writing. All throughout graduate school and for a large portion of the next years he let me write when I felt like it and never demanded me to give him more content. He understood what my strengths were and encouraged them. Slowly, with his help, I toned down the wind and focused on the words.
Then I stopped writing. Work was too hectic. The job hunt was too much. I turned down an offer from another friend and repeatedly denied Josh, encouraging him to find other writers. I couldn't be bothered.
Of course, that all changed when I got a message from Star City Games asking me to join their roster. Suddenly, I was writing again. I don't know if I deserved that chance.
For the past year (and really more of the past two months) I have been focusing on improving my craft. I've also been chatting with Josh again as he documents his grind for QPs. We talk Pauper even though he is not as immersed as I am. Today, I talked to him about my writing. I asked him which pieces of mine he liked and he pointed out one he loved and one he was less fond of. He casually threw this my way at some point:
"But mostly I read you because you're a good writer"
Josh never lost faith in me, even though over the past 6 years of writing I've certainly wavered. I still don't know if I deserved the chance I was given (call it impostor syndrome), but I know I am going to make damn sure I take advantage of it.
Thanks Josh.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Grand Prix: Las Vegas is this weekend. I decided against attending for many reasons. While personal finances played a part, a desire to spend more time with the Significant Other was a bigger piece of the pie (she just got back from a trip to Europe), and seeing as how  I was supposed to go out to Providence, I felt I would have wanted a break from slinging cardboard.
Well, I didn't make it to Providence. While discussing GP: Vegas with SO, and how all my friends would be gone, she said "Well why didn't you go?"
I gave her the reasons above. She replies: "It would have been okay. I would have hung out at the pool all day."

I learned two things from this conversation. First- I'm incredibly lucky. Second- I'll have to discuss any resort based GPs with her in the future.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My Pauper Cube

In my faux report on Providence I made mention of my Pauper Cube. I realized I have not discussed it in depth recently and decided, oh well, what the hell.
That is not to say my Cube has not been discussed. The awesome Adam Styborksi has featured me and the Pauper Cube not once, but twice in his various publications. While The Stybs and I might disagree about certain inclusions, I am ever thankful for the ability to just talk shop with the man. 
As with any story, the best place the start is the beginning. I was living in Westchester and had just started playing paper Magic on the regular again. I frequented a local hobby shop that sponsored Magic tournaments and I quickly established myself as one of the better players. This was not hard, as I also raised the average age quite a bit - most of the clientele at the time were too young to get married in the Song of Ice and Fire series. These kids were nice and eager enough, so I decided to put together a Pauper Cube (since I was/am the Pauper guy) to help teach the store how to draft. This quickly fell apart but the owner was happy to have me take some commons off his hands. So happy he gave me a case of awful sleeves so my cube of commons could be protected. I still use those sleeves, and they're still terrible.
At this time I start harassing anyone who will listen to me on twitter about cube. It is how I make friends with Adam and start whittling and shaping the Cube into something that is in line with other Pauper stacks, but something wholly my own. I tried to seed my favorite pieces of limited into my cube, from Tribal to Multicolor. I work with other online Paupers and figure out a way to draft it on MTO and get some games in. I was ignorant of the problems with power balance and was just having fun.
Fast forward a few months and I become friends with another old fogey at this store: Seth Burn. I recognize Seth from the Stupid Green Deck and articles on websites gone by. This feeds his ego and is the start of our friendship. When I mention my Cube, we start doing regular one on one drafts, where he smashes me over and over. He was drafting slow, three color decks and I would try to blitz him out. It did not work. Seth found out the Cube was broken in favor of blue. After a significant amount of massaging, the Cube reached a balanced power level. Seth and I drafted, one on one, countless times. He developed ways to get more games in and keep it challenging (I'll get to these later).
I eventually moved to Brooklyn and my grudge match style games with Seth grew less frequent. However, with the advent of the 20 Sided Store, the number of actual drafts I have been able to do has gone up. It was one night drafting with Seth that led my Cube down a path I have not seen others take.
Color balance is a problem in Pauper Cubes. There are tons of sweet gold/hybrid/off color kicker & flashback cards, but the allied colors have the lions share. This creates a significant limitation on the number of gold cards any Pauper Cube can have. On top of that, hybrid cards are actively easier to cast (aside from Unmake), so placing Rendclaw Trow in Golgari, when in fact it is only non-Azorius, non-Izzet, non-Boros is a fallacy. This would put a limit on the number of Sweet Cards I would be able to play. A Cube is nothing if you can't play sweet cards, and as more multicolor comes out, it would create moments of constantly cutting good cards instead of adding. Again, Seth to the rescue.
What my curmudgeonly cube compatriot devised was a scheme so devious, only he could divine it. Rather than going by number of cards in each color and color pair, Seth devised a formula that counts the number of cards in each color pair. This means each guild has access to the same number of cards, but some cards are concentrated in gold and others are mono-color. The exception is Unmake, which unlike the aforementioned Tro, only counts as white, black, and Orzhov due to the triple hybrid cost. 
The results have been awesome. My Cube still gets to run all the awesome cards and when a new one comes along, I can add it and massage the numbers to keep the balance. This necessitates having a sideboard of almost cards (I affectionately call mine the Bench or the Triple A Squad), but drafting has actually gotten better with this system. 
As I draft more, I am going to start keeping more statistics on what is working and what is not, but first, I want to describe my favorite ways to test out my cube. When I started one on one, I would always Winston, but this would take up quite a bit of time. When I learned about Winchester , Seth and I quickly took to the format as our preferred way to draft. Seth then decided it would be better to Winchester 168 cards and build three decks each, then play three matches, best of five. This would allow us to see more cards per session and see how they were working, while more closely mimicking a 6 or 8 person draft.
Seth was right; Winchester 168 is awesome.
Of course, then I found out about Grid Draft. Even faster than Winchester, this format led to stronger decks. Of course when Seth got wind of this, he decided that one deck per draft was not enough. 
I think you know where this is going. Seth declared we would Grid a stack of 252 cards and build three decks each. 
Seth was right; Grid 252 is awesome.
I love Grid 252 because it gives stronger decks overall while also letting me see what cards are consistently going unplayed. I also love how much playing it actually allows me to do. With a little more time for drafting, I can be challenged in new ways with deckbuilding decisions and then get to play three matches of Magic. This is awesome, because I am a degenerate.
So this was my first attempt in discussing my Cube in  over two years. Take a look at my list and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Just Like Riding a Bike

Today, I joined the masses. I ran the two miles to my parents house (making up for the run I missed this morning, in my mind at least) and as per an arrangement I made with my dad early this week, took his old road bike off his hands.
The goal: bike the two miles to work when the weather allows it, helping to save some money on the recently raised cost of the monthly Metro-Card.
But here's the thing - I rarely rode a bike as a child. Growing up when I did, Brooklyn was not as bike friendly as it is today. I had a bike and I learned how to ride. Once I outgrew it, however, I never acquired a new one.
Until today.
My dad, who grew up in the suburbs, showed me up with his ease and grace getting on and off the red piece of metal. It's hard for him to look graceful doing anything, being all of 5'3" of stocky former high-school wrestler. The look on his face was terrified as I took off, much as I imagine he looked when he took the training wheels off my first bike. I called out to him: "If I don't call you in 20 minutes I'm dead. Come look for me."
My dad and I, we have an interesting relationship.
I tried riding the two miles home. Aside from slamming my crotch on the dismount a few times, I have to say, I'm looking forward to my new commute.
I do have to work on the dismount. A lot.

And yes, I called my dad.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Brooklyn Sunshine

I've lived in Brooklyn for most of my life. Aside from a break for college, grad school, and my first job, Brooklyn has been my home. Thanks to my life away, I no longer take the ease of access New York City provides for granted. I relish in walking and coffee around the corner. I am thrilled that I do not need my car every time I want to do something but rather it is a means to a getaway. Before, it was a means to groceries.
Today I got breakfast with a good friend who just moved to Brooklyn. Afterwards, I was pointing out the places to go (and to avoid) in my neighborhood. She stopped and said:

"It's so nice to see tree lined blocks."

As I looked and saw the yellow light bouncing off the underside of the green leaves that shaded the brownstone buildings, I couldn't help but smile and agree silently.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

My Grand Prix: Providence

My Grand Prix: Providence began a long time ago. When team events were reintroduced I contacted my friend Seth, quite the Magical talent and noted curmudgeon and implored him to team with me for all future events. The first such event took place on the West Coast, so I bid my time until an East Coast event appeared in the queue. A year later, Providence was put on the calendar and I reached out to the person I believed would anchor my team.
He could not confirm that he could play.
Understandable- we're both adults and have other responsibilities. I set out to find another team and thankfully was able to find two players from Twenty Sided Store to take their seats next to mine. 
Until one player had to drop out. The two remaining members scrambled for a third, but as the event approached, one could not be secured. 
Two weeks before the event, and after receiving a rather large set of bills for the month, I bowed out of attending Grand Prix: Providence. The stress of finding a team and practicing and traveling and paying for everything was just too much. 
Well, not really. Because Magic is the greatest game I decided I was going to play it anyway. It might not have been team sealed, but it would be with friends.
I arrived at the Twenty Sided store a little after Noon and promptly signed up for a Return to Ravnica block draft. I have not had the chance to draft this format at all, but I have played some sealed events with the set, so I settled in for my first crack while my friends were sitting down for their Modern Masters draft. I opened a mediocre pack and started by picking mono-color cards. After a steady flow of green cards and some poorly read signals on my part, I settled into Selesnya and had a decidedly mediocre deck at the end of my three packs.
Did I say mediocre? I meant bad. I promptly went 0-2 drop and did a one-on-one cube with my friend Li.
My cube list can be found here. It is a Pauper cube (shocker). While I like the various one-on-one draft formats (Winston, Winchester, Grid), my favorite thing to do (spurred on by Seth, of course) is drafting enough to build three decks each. The order of the decks is randomized on each side and three matches are played. I prefer best of five but since Li had a mid-afternoon Modern Masters draft to make we did best of three.
Today it was 252 card Grid Draft. Our decks were quite good (of course). In round one Li's Azorius Skies took down my Izzet tempo deck in three games. Round two my Orzhov deck (with a decent amount of lifegain) trumped Li's Red deck. There was a moment where I got to seven mana, cast Syndic of Tithes and Seraph of Dawn, while triggering Extrot. The look on Li's face was priceless and would make Vraska blush.
It all came down to the final match with my Golgari against Li's Golgari. Game one an early Putrid Leech did me in. Game two my sideboard Aramdillo Cloak won when I put the fancy pants on a shadow creature. In the final match, there was a ton of back and forth but I managed to stick a Siege Wurm and trample over for victory.
After that I packed up and went home and flipped on the Mets game. It was in some absurd inning. I eventually left for dinner and the Mets did what the Mets do this season and lost. In the twentieth inning. 
I got home and put together a sweet White Weenie list from this Pauper daily that I'm calling Cyborgs.
My night is ending with watching Providence coverage.
Magic is the greatest game, because even when I don't get to play it how I wanted, I still get to play it. And even when I lose, I win.

Friday, June 7, 2013

For this still recovering from the Red Wedding

I feel like this song about recovering from a break up applies to people getting over the previous episode of Game of Thrones as well.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Menzingers - "Are You There Margaret? It's me, God (The Lawrence Arms cover)"

Okay, so I love the Menzingers - amazing live show and totally cool dudes as well.
And I love the Lawrence Arms, and cannot wait for their new album to come out.

So I mean, to me, this video is just tops.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Anger Management

I can be a very angry person.
I have a lot of time and quite a bit of energy over the years in trying to understand why I get angry and upset, why sometimes the littlest things can set me off.
When I was younger, I was just angry all the time. Maybe it was because I was teased and bullied (nothing like the bullying that makes the news today), maybe it was because I was really bad at Using Words to convey how I was actually feeling. Time, energy, and work has made this less of an issue.
Yet sometimes, it still comes out.
It is a monster. It is competitive and surly. It yells and deflects and cries "this is not fair." Worst of all, it hurts people.
I may never fully understand what it is that sets me off and turns me, for all intents and purposes, into a petulant child. What I can do is learn how to channel the energy off, release it out.
So that is something to work on.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Getting into a Co-Worker's Pants

"Do you want my pants?"

I have been at my current job for just under two years. At some point in my first year (sadly, I cannot remember when) a coworker called me and said he needed to speak with me about something. Seeing as how he works in Housing and I work in Student Involvement, I was perplexed. Tuan deals almost exclusively in the operations and housing side of the house and most of my interactions were with the staff who directly interacted with students.
So one day I make my way over to Tuan's office for another item and casually bring up the fact that he wanted to speak with me about something. He said he couldn't talk about it at the moment, but later (when both our supervisors left the room) he sprung it on me.
I had been at this job less than 12 months at this time. My job prior was at a place where no good conversations ever happened in private. Even though I barely knew this man, I was nervous.
My fears were woefully inaccurate.
Tuan goes off on a tale, talking about how he went to get pants shortened and taken in, but the tailors had made them too short. Rather than trash the pants, he wanted to offer them to me, as a member of the Short Svelte Brotherhood. 
I smiled, then chuckled, then basically laughed in his face and told him sure. I was so prepared for something terrible that something as benign and hilarious as pants never entered my mind.
It is nigh impossible for me to find pants that fit. I am 5'4" and weight maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. It most cuts, I am a 27x27, and most pants do not come in sizes below 28, so I have to jump on anything that resembles "fitting." This has led to some awkward choices, and much consternation from the Significant Other.
A few weeks later Tuan brought over a bag with two pairs of Banana Republic khakis, which have sat in my desk ever since.
Until today. The brief downpour this morning soaked the pants I had decided to wear. Rather than trudge through the morning in wet, mud-flecked garb, I decided to finally put on Tuan's pants.

And they fit wonderfully.