Sunday, January 18, 2009

Friday Night Magic and me (warning - a long one this time!)

A day earlier than promised...

So, last Friday (Jan 16 for those keeping score) my wife made sure to be home on time from work so that I could make it to Dream Wizards in Rockville by 6:30 for the beginning of my very first tournament. So, off I went, armed with pen, score pad (that I had obtained as part of someones collection - "Lot 42", I believe), life counter, small glass beads for counters and several Shards of Alara token Creature cards that I believe may come in useful.

SIDE NOTE: I decided I could "pimp" Dream Wizards even though we are (strictly speaking) competitors because they don't do a whole lot of selling online, and that's all I do - so most reading this are unlikely to go to them instead of me. And, also, they seem like very nice folk.

Anyway, I arrived about 5 minutes early and after a little confusion over where to go finally found out I needed to register at the register (cash, that is). So, I signed up, got my DCI card filled out, and paid my $21.20 (it's $20 + 6% MD sales tax). Then I proceeded to the back 40% or so of the store which is dedicated to playing tables.

The geek factor was pretty high. Being a geek myself, I can say this. Lots of long hair, unwashed bodies, pale skin, and (to put it kindly) nonathletic physiques. But, really, this is to be expected - many stereotypes exist for a reason. And, being bald, I'm probably just jealous of the long hair.

Anyway, many people there knew each other (or so it seemed). There was showing off of Magic collections, trading of Magic cards, and playing of Magic games all going on. At about 6:45 or so the 2 judges (one "in training" and running parts of the tourney for the first time) really started getting the ball rolling. The participants were shown to a select set of tables and given our "product" - one unopened Tournament Deck and 2 unopened Booster Packs of Shards of Alara (the latest expansion). We tore open our packs and took a look at what we had available to arm ourselves with for the coming battles.

In a deck you get three rares. In a booster you get 2. So, total, I had five rares to work with. Two were copies of the same card, Hell's Thunder:

Not a bad card to have in a deck, because it's quick (it has Haste so it can attack the turn it's summoned) and it has Flying - a very useful ability. At 4/4, it's fairly powerful. And, while it is sacrificed at end of turn, it also has Unearth, so you can pull it back from your graveyard for a second attack before it leaves the game. And having two in your deck means that you can, potentially, get four 4-point sneak attacks in against your opponent.

Rare #3 was Sigil of Distinction, a sneaky card that gives a nice +X/+X bonus to the Creature it Equips, and I planned to use it on the Hell's Thunder if I got a chance.

Rare #4 was Vicious Shadows, a nasty card that deals damage to your opponent whenever a Creature goes to the graveyard. Like, say, when your Hell's Thunder is sacrificed at end of turn.

Rare #5 was Invincible Hymn, a card that can potentially boost your life total if you play it early enough in the game. But as this was a sealed-deck tournament, with a minimum deck size of 40 cards, this card didn't have as much potential as it could have.

So, 3/5 of my Rares were Red cards, making me lean towards a chiefly Red deck. Also, I had more Red cards in the Uncommons & Commons than any other color, so that clinched it. I considered playing the Shard called "Jund", centered on Red, with Black and Green assisting. While I had a fair amount of Black cards, I had very little Green from Jund (I had a fair number from other shards that would have required White, and I didn't have enough White to justify that). So, instead, I decided to go "Grixis", the shard centered on Black with Blue and Red assisting. And since I had more Blue and Black than Green and White, it all made sense.

I pulled out all my Red, Black and Blue that didn't depend on White or Green (some Blue Creatures have abilities that require White mana, for example), I found I had ~34 cards. I decided to drop one, and add 17 basic Lands, for a total of 50 cards, with ~1/3 being basic land mana. I also had some non-basic Lands and artifacts that could produce mana, so I wasn't too worried about getting the dreaded "mana screw".

For the folks who REALLY want to know, here's deck configuration I entered into Round 1 with:

I was pleased with some of the possible combinations in this deck. I REALLY hoped that I would get a chance to bring in a Hell's Thunder, equip it with Sigil of Distinction to boost it up, then cast Soul's Fire on it after attacking with it. Thus doing 2x its pumped-up power in damage to my opponent in a single turn. If the Sigial had 6 counters on it, that's 20 damage, and bye-bye opponent!

A nice gentleman who was sitting next to me during deck building asked if I wanted to play a practice game before the rounds started (we were both done before time was called) so we started off. I relearned some stuff (and learned new other stuff) just in that practice, so I'm grateful to him for suggesting it.

In Round 1 I faced off against someone who hadn't played for quite some time (although not as long as me!). He came with a friend that he had, judging by their discussions, only just recently taught the game (or refreshed his memory). Said friend drew an Ajani Vengeant, one of the most popular cards in the Set - a Mythic Rare Planeswalker - then asked "what's a Planeswalker?" Oh, boy.

Anyway, my opponent and I had a die roll, which he won. He chose to play first (the first player to have a turn does not draw a card that turn, so a decision is made as to who will "play first" and who will "draw first"). He was not happy with his initial hand, and declared a "mulligan", allowing him to shuffle his deck and draw 1 less card than he had to start. Again not happy, he mulliganed. And again. Finally, with only four cards in his hand, he decided to play with what he had. He couldn't really recover from this set-back, and I was able to win - although the game did take a while. Somehow the second game went MUCH faster, as he had really bad luck with his draws, and I won that one in short order. At this point he thought we were playing best 2-of-3, and I thought we played three games, so we decided to go ahead and play a third. I won this one as well, and he took the report slip up to the judges. Whereupon it was brought back to us for correction, as my opponent had been correct and we were only supposed to play best 2-of-3. Whoops!

Round two: I noticed that I was now pitted up against another player who had 3 points (you get 3 points for a win). He was a friendly and cheerful sort (he actually reminded me quite a bit of my friend Alan - the gent who sold me "Lot 4" oh so long ago). He was also a fan of the mulligan, and started all three of our games at a deficit. I won the first game, and barely lost the second. I should have won, as I had a Fire-Field Ogre in my graveyard that had Unearth, and I forgot about it and didn't bring it into play when I could have (and should have) which would have allowed me to bash him for his last remaining 6 life (I had the Sigil in play and could have Equipped the Ogre with it). I think I was still in awe of his extremely well-played prior turn, where he zapped the two weenie 1/1 Creatures I had in play, then cast a Fleshbag Marauder that forced me to sacrifice my Ogre - which is how the Ogre got into the graveyard in the first place. The third game, however, I was able to pull out a win on, so 6 points total, and off to Round 3...

At the beginning of Round 1 there were ~33 people competing. By the beginning of Round 3 there were 22 left (you have the option to drop out, of course, which I guess if you lost two rounds in a row you may want to do). 6 of us had 6 points - and we were paired off against each other at tables 1-3. My opponent I had noticed earlier - he has a spectacular British accent. He is also, I believe, one of (if not THE) best player at the event. Not so lucky for me. He beat me soundly in two games (although, to be fair to myself, I had LOUSY luck in my draws). I had him initially in game 1, but after a shaky start he stepped up and finished me off.

I had thought that there was to be a Round 4, but at this point the tournament was called and the prizes announced. The top three people (9 points each) each got one of the fancy Foil FNM prize cards and several booster packs of Shards of Alara. Those of us in the next tier (6 point, I guess) got a single booster pack each. One random person (not me) was drawn to receive the fourth FNM foil.

So, all in all, I think it went far better than it had any right to go, given how long I've been "out of the game" as it were. Handling & selling these cards just isn't the same thing as playing the game. I had a blast though, and I'm looking forward to going back. I need to experience a "booster draft" tournament, which I think the run on FNM the first Friday of the month. Also, at the end of January is the big Pre-Release party for Conflux, which I would like to go to. There they have booster draft tournaments with packs from the new set the week before it's released, and participants get the cool foil Pre-Release card for the set.

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