Grand Prix Orlando

I’m a terrible person. I ruined Florida.

While that’s an exaggeration, the facts are as follows:

  • I was looking forward to traveling to Florida in the grip of a northern winter.
  • While I was looking forward to wearing shorts, I was wishing that it wouldn’t be too warm.
  • The temperature was 40 degrees went I woke up.

If you need further proof, a local friend called me to discuss dinner plans and remarked how I brought the cold down from Washington, DC with me. Like I said, I ruined Florida.

My wife was quite pleased with the turn of weather. She wasn’t along for the ride.

Saturday Morning (No Cartoons)

Fortunately, actual time spent outside in the daylight was at a minimum . Grands Prix are like that: between the massive crowd, matches to watch, events to join, dealers to scout, traders to test, artists to visit, gunslingers to combat, and general good times to be had with friends, you usually find something interesting.

Yeah. Well here’s a meme. These guys are interesting, no doubts there. Englishman and Magic commentator extraordinaire Rich Hagon, left, workedwith Rashad Miller, one of the men behind the Magic streaming coverage crew of Good Games Live. What they do, however, is bring you interesting matches straight though the tubes. To borrow from Xzibit, these guys are giving you something interesting while they’re giving you something interesting, so you can enjoy the broadcast as you enjoy the broadcast, dawg.

And co-commentator and Judge Emeritus Sheldon Menery? He was all about too. I just don’t have anything clever to say about The Sherriff, other than he has a real command on Magic.

A few more interesting fellows are the team to beat these days: Channel Fireball. There are quite a few members not pictured here, but you’ll spot a formidable series of names nonetheless:

  • Martin Juza, winner of multiple Grands Prix and competitor in two Pro Tour Top 8’s
  • Conley Woods, who ran the headlines of leaderboard of Worlds 2011
  • Shuhei Nakamura, recent Pro Tour Hall of Fame inductee
  • Owen Turtenwald, reigning Player of the Year and
  • Josh Utter-Leyton, semifinalist of Pro Tour Philadelphia and former US National Champion

And not only are there missing members from the shot, I could go on in more detail about the accomplishments of the pictured gentlemen. There’s a reason these guys are in spotlights and cross-hairs.

Dealers, of course, are interesting in different ways. While the stock that dealers bring varies dramatically, you can always count on the cards you need most to be sold out.

You read that right.

I checked in with all-round good guys, and Gathering Magic supporters, CoolStuffInc.com to see what the scoop on day-of sales was. The following cards were absolutely nowhere to be found (even among other dealers):

The blue and white decks were not only what seemed to be the most popular option coming in, but also the most targeted deck to beat. It makes sense. The most recent, and biggest, Standard event going into the weekend was StarCityGames Open Series visit to Atlanta:

First and second, respectively, makes the usually powerful color combination even more usually desirable. There are certainly “other decks” but it was going to take several rounds of battle to prove that out, if could even have been proved. (Although of note, four-out-of-five winning grinder deck lists were not packing blue and white.)

Midday Madness (No Asylum)

Anyone reading my work regularly knows that I don’t play competitive formats competitively. I enjoy Limited in all forms, will gladly play a Standard deck when handed one. But given a choice I find something else, usually esoteric, and always fascinating to play.

Art. Mike Linnemann himself would be impressed to see the bevy of signed cards and artist proofs (with sketches, well-deservedly tipped too) I’ve managed to acquire in just a few years. When I saw that Northeast resident Matt Stewart was going to be featured in Orlando I got a little excited.

Matt’s not just a fantastic artist but a super nice guy. He signs cards with a little thought behind the signature color, his most prominent trademark a matching green and red John Hancock laid on Rootbound Crag. He was set up sharing his time and craft Friday evening while the grinders were firing. He collected playmats, proofs, and other objects to be sketched upon so that he could finish them all during the night, after his time in the booth concluded.

He wants everyone to get what they want and have a great time. Maybe that’s why he agreed to an email interview when I discovered my puny Flip had been left on my desk at home. Look for that on a future Vorthos Wednesday.

Zac Hill is interesting incarnate. That sentence was probably the most redundant thing I’ve written in a long time.

Former columnist and global learner turned newfound columnist and R&D member (with a Pro Tour stint in the mix as well), Zac’s the kind of guy that doesn’t bring just a smile to your face: it’s an ear-to-ear grin you can’t wear out. Sitting down to battle found him handing me one Standard deck, a fairly stock build of the Geist of Saint Traft-Invisible Stalker-Runechanter’s Pike deck. Zac wielded an unknown–or off-the-radar, depending upon how you look at it–deck that featured Splinterfright, Primeval Titan, Nephalia Drownyard, and other ramp/graveyard goodies. Despite setting up a race that my deck, and Ponder decisions, could have won, Zac’s monsters ate me alive.

But it was the conversation that evolved around Zac that’s always so interested. When he was asked about how it felt to visit Florida again, his quip was amusingly self-depreciating. “I come back and all my friends have gotten better at Magic than me. It’s embarrassing.”

I’m pretty sure there’s nothing embarrassing about being good enough to have been hired on for creating the greatest game in the world, rusty play skill be damned.

Late Night Comedy (No Jokes)

I didn’t snap any pictures of it, but running Brazilian Barbeque for dinner sounds like the usual braggart Magical meal fare you encounter everywhere. I accidentally fell into it when I met up with my aforementioned Floridian buddy, and former nuclear sub officer, grabbed me for catching up over a bite.

What made this funny was that I had just enjoyed unbelievably fantastic Morton’s the night before. Sick life, sick brags. Not much more I need to say about that. (Though I certainly could mouthwateringly prattle on.)

What makes the night at a Grand Prix interesting is that side events roll on until unbelievably late time. While Day 1 finished up around 9 or so, it was quarter to midnight when fantastic judge John Alderfer finished strongly advising the last players to leave the venue. Really.

What makes the graveyard shift of judging interesting are the end-of-day-frazzled-brain discussions that come up. The following topics were all broached:

  • The expanding age range of Magic players
  • The increasing overlap of Magic players and “Foodie” culture
  • The variety and quality of various places to eat throughout the major tournament sites in the US
  • Judge culture and the written content created by and for them
  • Home life and building a family through the grind of the near-constant weekend events

There were other topics hit but that should give you a pretty clear idea of the types. Judges are awesome, and I’ll repeat that until it sticks in players’ minds twice over.

What strikes me most about judges isn’t anything mundane. Rules and card trivia, appreciation for artists, professionalism, and the ability to deal with stress are all hallmarks of the black uniform. But the truth is that the judges and staff have so much investment in the quality of things they are often willing go the extra step. Those extra steps, taken across every event, add up to an incredibly enriched experience for players.

Think about that the next time you see several hundred players showing up alongside you at an event.

Total Recall (That’s Wizards Coverage!)

Given the decided blue and white approach to the day may players brought, and counted on, I was predicting those colors to comprise the top tables and take the event. The result, like so many of these things go, was that decks designed to eat these blue-white decks struck the hardest.

Patrick Chapin and Conley Woods had a wonderful showdown, each revealing new depth to the format.

After watching Conley play several feature matches I felt at ease. Seeing another format filled by mirror matches of cards that are all incremental advantage or attrition winning grinders would be a loss for the game. The Top 8 being packed with decks from all angles of attack was the most interesting thing of all.

While I wish I could have been there to see the end in person, I have to hand it to Good Games Live, again, for such a great show. The interesting part of that is the next GP broadcast will be from Baltimore or, as I call it, “Grand Prix Stybs’s Backyard.” Essentially, I won’t be watching it the whole time because I’ll actually be there the whole time.

I can think of far worse things. I hope that you’ll find the next GP something interesting.