Monday, August 29, 2011

Chicken Little has his Day (and Night)

Innistrad's transform mechanic, aka Day/Night, has people up in arms, ready to quit the game and call for Mark Rosewater's head on a platter. So just another new set, huh? I'll admit that when my coworker Ben Bleiweiss posited the possibility of Double-Faced Cards (DFCs) I said "No way. No how." Right now, I am very happy that I did make any kind of dinner wager on this topic. Now that transform is official, I am fairly "meh" on it. Once the initial surprise factor wore off, it is just another mechanic to learn the rules for, some more foils to collect (and yes, the foils are double-sided, which is the most exciting part about all of this for me), and a mass of people complaining. Here are my thoughts on some of the most common complaints.
"This could have been done with the flip mechanic from Kamigawa!"
MaRo explained it in his article introducing transform. The flip mechanic was terrible. Most people agree on this. From my perspective, it was mostly the art issue. I do not want to own a single piece of flip card art. The transform mechanic gives me two opportunities for awesome art. Win.
"Drafts are ruined!"
And you know this because you've drafted with Innistrad? I think it's actually interesting that there is a legal "peek" now. Look around the table, but especially your neighbors and check out if they have any DFCs in their pile and what color they are. It is legal to hide them amongst your picks, but if its P1P1, how do you hide it? Under your token? Heck, do you even want to hide it? People have been writing about the art of signaling for years now. Isn't this just the beginner's course?
"There won't be enough checklists!"
As a judge, I am always picking up the draft leavings from tables: tokens, rules cards, basic lands. Now 3/4 of those lands will be checklists. If you want a checklist, just pick it up off the table after the draft. 3/4 of the packs seems like a good ratio for this thing. Not everyone will want to or be able to play with the transform cards they get (which is confirmed as one per pack replacing a common. Yes, that means we are back in potential double-rare pack territory, or triple-rare with a foil. Heck, double-foil rare and regular rare. Wow!) Worst case scenario: the very first draft at your store, everyone plays all their transformers and you don't have enough checklists. Well, then someone can play with sleeves.
"The rules are too complicated. What do you mean I can't Ixidron these things?"
Honestly, I like complex rules. That's why I'm a judge. So do you, even if you aren't a judge. How do I know this? Because you're the same person who complains about how boring Core Sets are. If we got 4 Core Sets a year, then I would quit Magic.
"The game is becoming Yugioh!"
Actually it's becoming Duel Masters, which is where they ripped this DFC thing from. And what's wrong with that? Apparently it is a very popular mechanic in Duel Masters. And despite the "Magic players are more mature than those other people who sit around and play with cards" I'm pretty sure that there's enough demographic consistency to see this through. Again, if Magic just stuck to the same tropes and mechanics that were safe and popular, things would get boring quickly. Slivers are one of the most popular gimmicks of all time, but they only do them once every five years or so because we don't need this to become Slivers: the Gathering. Diversity and change is what keeps the game fun.
"Sooooo gimmicky!"
Yeah, it is gimmicky. But I'll reiterate the Core Set argument. Most expansions have a gimmick. Scars block was a bunch of artifacts. That is a gimmick. Alara Reborn's all gold set was a gimmick (and one that I did not like very much). Gimmick's have a high risk/reward rate. Sometimes they work real well (Memento) and sometimes they are kind of blah (Clear Coke). But I would rather see gimmicks that fail rather than same old boring. Will this one fail? Unclear. It's going to lead to a lot of changes to the CR, MTR, and how we do things at tournaments. Then, a year will pass, and we will return to a safer gimmick... or not. Maybe they will finally get those 4-D time traveling cards to work because suspend was such a lame attempt at that gimmick.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Never Gave up; I Never Surrendered (or the tale of my own GP rejection)

Another day, another Grand Prix staff selection e-mail, right? Well, maybe next year it will be like that, but for now GPs are still rare enough that the staff selection e-mail sends a nice stir throughout the community. Who made it? Who didn't? The selection for GP San Diego also held the extra nugget of possible hints to who might be selected for Worlds in San Francisco the week after, especially for the international judges.
I was selected to be on staff for GP San Diego. It might seem like a no-brainer for an L3 to be chosen, but that certainly hasn't been the case this year, and especially for an event leading into Worlds where multiple L3s will be flying in from around the globe. There certainly was a point in time when I took it for granted that I would get on any GP staff I wanted onto, but with the program growing at the pace it is, that's a dangerous assumption to make, and seeing the multiple messages across the Internetsphere from people who didn't make it on reminds me of when I started to travel to events.
I made it onto the staff of the very first GP I applied to. Of course, things were different back then. There were a lot fewer judges vying for those slots. It also helped that it was the local GP in San Francisco and I had a very good working relationship with the TO, Conan. I had recently come back to judging (and live Magic events in general) after a brief hiatus and had set my sights on getting to L2 in the near future. Again, this was 2007 and L2 was a completely different animal back then. It could be roughly defined as "good L1" rather than all the stuff about being a mentor and certifying people. Conan was on board with this plan, and that meant I was on board the GP.
GP SF (in San Jose) was a truly eye-opening experience for me that taught me how much I had to learn. It was my first exposure to non-Toby Elliott/Don Barkauskas L3+s, including John Carter, Seamus Campbell, and Adam Shaw, three people that went on to become very good friends of mine and also greatly influenced my path as a judge.
My next GP was Daytona Beach. That's on the opposite side of the country. My decision to go to this event was influenced by a couple of factors. First, I had just failed my L2 exam and I was itching to get back on the horse. Unfortunately, this was a time when OP was messing around with PTQ distributions or something and we only had 1 in Northern California (and the State Championship). In my insatiable thirst to judge more, I not only flew all the way to Florida for a GP but also drove to Seattle for a PTQ (about an 11-hour drive). For Midwest and East Coast folks, an 11-hour drive might seem like a normal day on the road to a tournament, or at the very least, the top end of the curve for a long drive. For a Californian, 11 hours was unheard of, as we didn't event make the 5-hour drive to LA for events at that time. Since then, many more players do make this drive, but few make that Seattle run.
Daytona Beach was another great event where I met some very important people in my life, Jared Sylva, fellow globetrotter Carlos Ho, David Vogin, and nonjudge Megan Holland among others. I came back home from Daytona with a much broader understanding of judging and my own strengths and weaknesses. I felt like I was improving, and it was with the intention of improving even more that I applied for GP Vancouver.
I didn't get selected for that GP. It was chock full of a lot of high level judges, and I was still an L1. I guess it stung a little to not get chosen, but I was still nobody, and a bunch of somebodies were on that staff. Still, I had already made my plans to go to this event, including a stopover the week preceding in Seattle to judge another PTQ (this time I flew there) and hang out with good friends Jon Loucks and Zaiem Beg. It was fun times at that PTQ. In the Top 8, I shifted gears and did event coverage style match reporting for my TCGplayer column, along with a metagame breakdown of the PTQ decklists. You can read that article here. It's amazing to read that article today because look who is in that Top 8: Gavin Verhey, Travis Woo, and Alexander West. Yikes. They've all gone to have some modest amounts of success in various avenues of this game.
Doing match coverage at that PTQ helped me get ready for GP Vancouver. After being denied as a judge, I decided that the best use of my time there would not be to play, but to do event coverage for TCGplayer. Unfortunately, the coverage I wrote was via some experimental blog entry thing and I can't seem to find it anymore, but I assure you that I did a bunch of feature matches, interviews, and other assorted "from the tournament floor" reporting. One piece of reporting that did survive from that weekend: quarterfinals and semifinals match coverage on the mothership. I got this great opportunity because I was already there with a laptop typing furiously next to every feature match, plus I had a proven background as a regular columnist and had introduced myself to Brian David-Marshall at GP Daytona.
Oh, earlier I mentioned a couple of factors in wanting to travel for events like Daytona and Vancouver and never made it to the second factor. How about traveling with close friends and watching them succeed. My good buddies Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon were just starting to hit their strides as big-time players, and I just didn't have the playing chops to keep up with them, so I found the next best way to be right there in the thick of the action.
About a month after Vancouver, I retested for L2, passed, and went to GP Philadelphia. I guess this is the point where I can say that the rest is history because another 2 months after that I went to my first Pro Tour, Hollywood, and started my column on StarCityGames (The Riki Rules). The next few years of my judging career are well-documented in those articles, for better or for worse.
What I wanted to illustrate is that I came from somewhere. I wasn't just an overnight judging sensation. It took me 4 years to go from L1 to L2, 4 years that were fraught with a lot of trying to be a competitive player, uncertainty, more uncertainty, and almost quitting it all for good (and only managing to quit for 6 months). Even when I set myself on my rampaging course at GP SF, it took a long time for me to get to a point where I was anywhere close to the road warrior I am today.
I wrote this because a lot of people have been hurt and downtrodden about not being selected for GP San Diego.
You know what I would do if I were in your shoes? Go anyway. Talk to people. Look at all the random names that are littered throughout this tale, and remember that this all before I became some kind of nerd world celebrity. Make an impression, and it doesn't have to be just with other judges. Maybe if you make a connection with a Rashad Miller, you can find yourself in the GGSlive commentating booth. Remember how I said I met Megan Holland? That was because I judged a side event that was lovingly called "the Girlfriend event." And yet we made a connection, became friends, and my connection to the MtgMom had enabled me to further my deep connections within the community.
I know that I've gotten pretty lucky throughout my career, but I've also been persistent as heck. I have always believed that anyone can be "the next Riki Hayashi" because that fundamental skill of mine is something that anyone can have. Beyond that, all I really have is some modicum of writing talent and my dashing good looks. Ignore those parts and you can join me on my cloud.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Updates in August

It's been a while since my last update. This is the point where people usually start promising more updates, and I suppose that's what I'm doing now. This isn't just an empty promise though. A bunch of stuff has happened recently that I feel is conducive to more writing, primarily a move to Blacksburg, Virginia. That's 40 minutes away from Roanoke, so I'm a commuter now. This might not sound like it bodes well for me getting stuff done because it's essentially 2 hours every day that I am additionally stuck in a car, but I've always gotten a lot of quality thinking done while driving. Plus I'll be downloading a bunch of MTG podcasts to listen to. Maybe I'll even listen to some Judgecasts... ok probably not. I still think everything I say is silly banter, and there's no reason to listen to yourself talk about the movies you saw last week.

The casts I am downloading for this week are In Contention; Yo! MTG Taps!; Avant Card Show; and The Mana Pool.

I've also started running seriously again. The goal is to get ready for a 10-mile race at the end of September. With a few weekends off between that span and a really nice trail a little over a mile away from my home, I should be able to get some quality runs in like yesterday when I went 7.1 miles after work.

WotC released the first quarter GP/PT schedule for 2012 and it is a doozy. PT Honolulu is sweet and worth about 10,000 miles r/t (round trip). That's a good way to keep up the pace for 1K (100,000 miles) next year. GP Seattle is about 5,000 r/t, the next best domestic trip. The international GPs are obviously good mileage, but they are all paired up against domestic GPs, and that doesn't event take into consideration what StarCityGames will be doing next year.

All in all, truly a tournament every weekend type of stuff for 2012, which makes it that much more important to be able to run consistently on the weekdays, something I'm hoping to do before work. Getting in 3-4 miles should be possible with the key being getting to bed early the night before. I'll have more in depth stuff on all of this and the release of Korean Magic cards this week.