Four days after staring longingly out the back of a cab towards the slowly-vanishing Indianapolis Convention Center, headed towards flights to points East (and, as it turns out, a really unfortunate layover in Newark…), I find myself still exhausted and trying to mentally unpack the whole experience that was GenCon 2013. It really was an incredible time, start to finish. (Well, except for Newark.) There’s a ton to report on, a truckload of things I want to talk about.
I think the only way to keep it all straight in my head is to start at the beginning. Let’s go with this picture:
That’s the GDC crew (Mr. P and I on the left, good friend Chad on the right) with Dr. Richard Garfield in between. Starting at the beginning of the game seems as good as anything. (Thanks for the picture and the game, Mr. Garfield. We’re forever indebted to you.)
From there, let’s start with what you really all want to hear about – the EDH events.
It turns out that things flip-flopped a bit from initial expectations. Originally, there were supposed to be four-man “sit-and-go” events that were single elimination and used a “points” system to determine winners and supposedly promote a less-competitive environment. The other events, the multi-round Swiss events, were supposed to be wide-open, no holds barred events that offered up a box to the winner and scaled prizes from there.
As it was, it played out just the opposite; the multi-round events ended up getting the points achievements lists, and the four-mans were the open events. As near as I can tell, the multi-round events paid out nine packs to the person with the most points, six for second, and on down, while the four-mans payed out a flat three packs per person eliminated.
This could possibly be why those events were reportedly the cutthroat combo-fests (Mr. P witnessed a table with something like four different combo decks, two of which were racing to Temple Bell/Mind Over Matter each other out), and the multi-rounders were nearly totally devoid of anything but reasonable decks designed to play fair “battlecruiser” EDH.
The real question is why I didn’t manage to put two and two together and take my Prime Speaker Zegana “GenCon Metagame Breaker” deck into the four-mans. For some reason, I kept to the multi-rounders and didn’t event think to go where my deck was designed to go until I was getting on the damn plane home. No idea where my head was. (I blame the Long Island Iced Teas.).
In any case, it wasn’t a total bust. It turns out the first multi-round event on Thursday had a few people looking to run out busted combo decks, so I got some solid proof-of-concept nonetheless. I learned that no deck can handle everything all at once (which might tell you where this is headed), but I’m happy to say that Prime Speaker got to stretch her combo-hating legs for a few games before I moved on to other things.
I was seated for the first round of three at a table with a Zur the Enchanter player, a Scion of the Ur-Dragon player, and a Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice deck. If your alarm bells are going off, you’re right on the money. (Also, the Trostani deck seemed to be following me around all weekend, but that’s neither here nor there…at least until next round.)
Here was the points list for this event:
For those of you looking for an explanation on the points, they were randomly generated from a large master sheet to vary the play experience from game to game. The points for eliminating a player and being the last man standing, as well as deductions for mass land destruction, multiple extra turns, and infinite combos were standardized for every game. Everything else changed up round to round.
We got going quickly, with some basic land drops all around. On turn two, the Scion player followed up a Plains with an Island and played Flash; he found Academy Rector, which was promptly binned when he couldn’t pay for the extra cost, and off he went to grab Omniscience and dump it into play. He had the Enter the Infinite in hand, which was met promptly with a Force of Will from me.
Trostani made some tokens. Zur found some enchantments. (I should have noticed that Zur was finding things that were helping him to advance his board state, not protect his general or set up with prison elements. This is usually a good sign that a combo is on the way soon in my experience. For some reason, by brain did not register this at the time. Go me.)
On my turn, I played Tormod’s Crypt and got rid of Enter the Infinite permanently.
A few turns later, Scion had his general in play and started drawing his deck with Rush of Knowledge and some recursion loop. Spell Crumple put the brakes on that angle, and he did not have the counter for it.
Trostani made more tokens. He could have been putting some serious hurt on all of us at this point, but instead did not attack and kept amassing tokens. No clue. Zur…yeah.
On my turn, My Academy Ruins brought back Tormod’s Crypt to get rid of the shenanigans again. Sure enough, Scion untapped and played Laboratory Maniac. With no extra gas in hand, he was forced to pass the turn, and after Trostani made more tokens, Zur finally found some removal and popped the Maniac off. Another recurred Crypt, and the Scion player laughed.
“Heh…I think that’s it. I don’t think I can win anymore.”
Mission somewhat accomplished!
The game continued on a bit longer without incident. I eventually had to go find a Cyclonic Rift to handle the imminent avalanche of tokens from Trostani, which also helped to keep Zur in check (although he had now added Attunement to the board, which is a great sign that things are about to get out of control. I was paying attention now.)
At some point, things finally got weird. I dug up Oblivion Stone, waited until I could recur and draw Crypt from my Ruins on the same turn I popped the Stone off, and let fly.
Zur responded by casting Gifts Ungiven. Right in front of the judge…
…Who started to promptly wander off?!?!?
Yes, folks, I officially called a judge during a game of EDH.
After deliberation, the judge ruled that the Zur player would need to remove the Gifts from the stack, pull it out of his deck, and replace it with a basic Island, and continue the game with a warning. I was initially shocked, but it turns out that I don’t play competitive REL events enough, and this is exactly the correct call. Go figure.
I should have maintained my composure, but I got a little fired up, and immediately went for the Crypt to remove what turns out to be a little less than half of the Zur player’s library on my following turn.
Which of course means that he untaps, plays Mind Over Matter, Mana Vault, Future Sight, Palinchron, and Sensei’s Divining Top to draw his entire deck several times over, generate infinite mana and mill the table with Oona, Queen of the Fae. I had Rhystic Study in play, and he was even letting me draw off of it inexplicably; still, I couldn’t find enough answers to deal wit his counter wall, and fell to Oona first. As I was packing my deck, he was consulting with the judge to determine if he could shortcut the list by demonstrating that the deck had the capability to earn every point on the achievements list.
Yeah…that worked well, Pastimes…
I wish I could tell you that I found some retribution in the next rounds, but round two saw me sit totally unable to find a green source of mana for just long enough that my buddy with the Trostani deck made about twelve-thousand tokens and swung them at my defenseless head. I signed the match slip, checked the ‘drop’ box, and headed out to have some dinner. In liquid form.
LESSONS LEARNED SO FAR
This is a bad report to explain why, but Prime Speaker was the wrong deck to play in these events. While I was able to successfully stave off and close the door on a few combo instances, these two decks (Scion and Zur) literally represent the only combo decks I saw all weekend in the multi-round events. I quite literally brought an answer to a question that by and large was not being asked.
The other thing that became very apparent is that no matter how well you build a deck, it can’t handle three other decks at the same time. While Trostani was not applying much pressure, it was still a “threats” deck in the same vein as the other two, and I had to expend resources to find that Cyclonic Rift that I would have otherwise used to handle Zur with. This is a whole other article in the works (Mr. P and I have been discussing “reactive versus proactive Metagames” for a while now), but the main point is that you can’t be the only reactive deck at the table and still manage to win out while dealing with everyone else at the same time. Resources are stretched way too thin. This is a critical lesson.
…Now, it is important to note that I still dove into the shopping to continue my quest to foil this deck out fully, and I was able to play it to a second-place finish on an event the following day, which included some lessons on how to leverage a deck like this to handle aggro, and also that Vow of Malice is apparently not terrible. Or at least that boatloads of foils and Mana Drains don’t mean a thing if you can’t answer the Hamletback Goliath across the table from you that suddenly has protection from your deck and can’t attack the kid who just played the Vow.
But that’s another story for next time…