Liveblog of Pro Tour Gatecrash
It should go without saying that any kind of gaming coverage is totally subjective; five people could watch the same broadcast and see five totally different things. However, I’m confident that we all want the same thing here, and that’s for Magic coverage, which is constantly growing better all the time, to keep pushing and striving for expanding viewership.
This was my experience last weekend. All times are EST.
Friday, February 15, 2013
9:08 A.M.: And we’re live! Brian David-Marshall and Rich Hagon open things up by discussing the new setup of Pro Tour Gatecrash—the Drafts come first now, before the five rounds of Constructed. Hagon notes that one person in each pod is guaranteed to go into the Standard portion at 0–3. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but my gut tells me that I kinda like it. My gut also really likes mayonnaise, so, y’know, grain of salt.
9:11 A.M.: Underneath their blazers, Rich and BDM are wearing t-shirts with their guild affiliation, and there are pins, too. Rich is Boros, BDM Simic.
9:13 A.M.: The Draft pod we’re following is Patrick Chapin, Reid Duke, Andreas Nordahl, Olivier Ruel, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Ben Stark, and two European Pro Tour Qualifier winners—the dreamiest Draft pod ever. This is The Love Boat of Draft pods.
9:16 A.M.: Apparently, players aren’t ready to draft right away, so other pods are being discussed, and every time a member of team ChannelFireball is mentioned, Rich invokes hushed tones, as if they’re mystical creatures that don’t actually exist. Perhaps this is how we’re supposed to know that they’re good.
9:21 A.M.: BenS takes Smite over a bunch of Dimir cards, maybe. He makes it impossible to tell what’s happening. I did three Magic Online Drafts during prerelease weekend, but I still have no idea what the card names are, so when Marshall says something like, “He takes a Killing Glare over an Angelic Edict for his second pick,” it takes a bit longer than usual for me to register what’s just happened. Meanwhile, Ben Stark is just zipping through at light speed. I know I’m trying to write at the same time I’m watching, but I can’t be the only one who feels a little left in the dust here.
9:46 A.M.: Draft’s over, and we’re back in the booth, discussing the merits of playing eighteen lands in Gatecrash Limited. Is this really how Gatecrash is? I need a drink.
9:47 A.M.: Today’s game day brew: Olvia Abbey Dubbel. I am a sucker for Belgian beer, and while grocery shopping last night, I saw a four-pack of this stuff. Each twelve-ounce bottle has a cork in it for optimum classiness.
9:52 A.M.: That goddamn cork was impossible to take out. As Tobias Funke would say, you’d have to be some sort of she-hulk to get it open. Do not buy this beer. It’s not worth it.
9:53 A.M.: Took my first sip, and I take it all back. It was a thousand percent worth it. This beer is delicious. On the back, it says “a portion of all proceeds goes towards the restoration of the historic Oliva chapter house on the grounds of the Abbey of New Clairvoux.” So I’ve got that good karma goin’ for me. Which is nice.
9:56 A.M.: I was supposed to be watching this on Adam Barnello’s TV at his house, but he cancelled via text at 7:30 A.M. this morning, citing “reasons.” Which is basically a version of a parent telling their kid, “Because I said so.” I can’t wait to become a grown-up.
9:58 A.M.: This beer is quite boozy. I might be in trouble here.
9:59 A.M.: Dimir being showcased now—no misspellings! Interesting note that is never touched on: Both Boros and Dimir cite Gruul as their worst matchup.
10:02 A.M.: “Plan A: AARARARARARAGAHGGARAAGHAGH. Plan B: ARARARARAGAHGAHGARGH. Plan C: [sound of a dog having its tail stepped on]" – Rich Hagon, on Gruul
10:04 A.M.: “What are you people doing?” – BDM, upon discovering that Gruul is the number-five drafted guild by volume.
10:05 A.M.: Rich and BDM discuss the trap aspect of bloodrush, which makes me happy. I can’t tell you how many Gruul decks I beat last weekend after they used their 5/4s as one-for-one removal.
10:09 A.M.: I know a lot of people complain about dead air in the broadcast, but right now, I’m begging for it. Can someone tweet BDM and tell him that I have a free Subway sub on my card? Getting pretty hungry over here.
10:12 A.M.: Maybe my mom’s free for lunch. She works right across from the best Mexican restaurant in the city. I could crush a burrito right now.
10:14 A.M.: Round 1 feature of Ben Stark versus Reid Duke: Dreamiest feature match ever. WHY AREN’T YOU PUSHING THE DREAMINESS, WOTC?
10:15 A.M.: “I think Reid’s got a clear edge in dreaminess here, BDM.” “That’s funny; I’ve got Ben Stark as the obvious dreamiest, Rich.” “Should be a good match.”
10:16 A.M.: This beer is very good.
10:21 A.M.: Surreal Moment In Magic Slash Life: If I’ve got some free time on a weekend a Grand Prix is streaming, usually I’ll watch it. A while ago, during some GP, I was watching and Marshall was on coverage and struggling mightily, so I did what any idiot asshole would do, and I shit all over him on Twitter. A few weeks back, Marshall liked an article I wrote and tweeted at me to tell me so. Marshall, if you’re reading this, you are a way better person than I. But I’m sure you already knew that.
10:22 A.M.: Stream is down—YAY!
10:23 A.M.: Refreshed my browser; stream is still down. MagicProTour has joined the plebians in the Twitch chat to let everyone know: “We’re looking into network problem at the venue.” Maybe I have time to grab that sub after all.
10:25 A.M.: And we’re back up!
10:26 A.M.: Zac Hill pronounces Orzhov weird. He does it like “orSHov.” Call me old-fashioned, but I grew up in an America where a Z was a Z.
10:36 A.M.: Ben Stark takes Game 1. I have no idea what half the cards in play do. I have done a non-zero number of Gatecrash Drafts. The hand-viewer graphic, while nice, offers no help in this department.
10:43 A.M.: Stream’s down again, and then it comes back up.
10:49 A.M.: We cut to the Nass–Finkel feature after Ben sweeps Reid—Matt Nass has a billion creatures in play. He kills Finkel and ends the match in about three minutes of real time after we cut in.
11:02 A.M.: “Few people understand the game like Shouta Yasooka.” – Zac Hill, when Yasooka casts Voidwalk
11:04 A.M.: So, the point of this whole thing was to analyze the entire broadcast, including (especially) what they decided to do with the time between rounds. This isn’t a slight against Zac and Marshall, but . . . I just don’t want to watch them in the booth talking. I’m gonna go grab some Subway. I know Subway is gross, but for some reason, I love it.
11:05 A.M.: “Remember when Zac Hill talked about that guy having Angel of Jubilation in his hand? I do.” – Text from my friend Ryan. Okay, I’m leaving now.
11:26 A.M.: Back from Subway, Round 2 still hasn’t started. Might throw some lasagna in the microwave.
11:29 A.M.: The Round 2 feature is a battle of the 0–1 decks, piloted by Luis Scott-Vargas and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. LSV, a man who clearly knows how to play on camera, attacks into PV’s board confidently. His hand? Three lands.
11:31 A.M.: LSV is not sporting the ChannelFireball sleeves or any card sleeves at all, presumably because he figures if the people watching don’t know he’s associated with CFB by now, they probably don’t know how to read.
Marshall: “Oh man, and Paulo just has a Gate. Or is that a Stomping Ground?”
Me: “IT’S A GATE.”
It’s times like this when I catch myself flying off the handle over little shit and think, hey, I might be the worst person ever.
11:38 A.M.: We’re at nine thousand viewers, so, equivalent to a lower-tier League of Legends streamer.
11:49 A.M.: We’re in Game 3 already, and Marshall is clearly in his element here; he’s moving at a perfect pace with the game. I think he (and everyone watching) benefits when the games aren’t played at a glacial pace, and these two players are doing a great job at keeping the pace brisk.
12:03 A.M.: Ben Friedman is onscreen with no flat-rimmed hat on. Go tell that to those people who say there are no second acts in life.
12:05 P.M.: Life total discrepancy, drink.
12:11 P.M.: Spark Trooper, drink.
12:23 P.M.: I really do hate criticizing stuff, but that's kinda what this is all about, so here goes: Right now, BDM is chatting with Gaudenis Vidugiris on how his Draft went. Behind them is a screen with the packs on it. The screen looks absolutely terrible. Just the worst-looking thing I've ever seen. Did they not test this before doing it? The colors are all shitty-looking and out of focus . . . just fixing something like this, or even putting a graphic of the pack onscreen while they discuss would be better than this. I mean, I can barely tell what the cards are. Just looks awful.
12:28 P.M.: And then BDM wants to cut to the next pick, and instead, we cut to pack two, pick one. He is justifiably taken aback by this, but he recovers quickly. The stuff BDM, Rich, and everyone else in the booth are asked to do on the fly is inexcusable. They like Magic and can discuss it well. Their background is not in improvisation and ad-libbing. I find it very hard to believe the producers can't simply prepare better and make it easier on their talent. The format's been like this for about two years now. If you keep thinking of good ideas, like this BDM–Gau segment I'm watching, that's great, but if you can't execute, FUCKING FIGURE IT OUT; don't just throw some half-baked plan to Rich and BDM and totally rely on them to bail you out every time things go awry.
12:32 P.M.: Gathering Magic infographic sighting, drink.
12:35 P.M.: "Someone is reading a different Bible than I'm reading" – BDM, on the comparison of Souta Yasooka to the biblical David
12:36 P.M.: Call me biased, but I like this little segment they're doing here: BDM and Rich discussing the infographics. They're nice to look at, and BDM and Rich get to do what they do best, with BDM adding interesting historical tidbits here and there.
12:39 P.M.: Zac and Marshall look a bit scrunched. I'm feeling claustrophobic just looking at them.
12:44 P.M.: Matt Sperling and Gabriel Nassif square off in the Top Two Guys You’d Want to Skype in to Your Stream feature match.
12:45 P.M.: In sporting fashion, Gab mulls to three. This game should be interesting.
12:51 P.M.: Marshall says that Sperling’s got a two-lander and that Nassif just has a lone Forest. Neither statement is correct.
12:52 P.M.: Nassif misses his third and fourth land drops. I wish we knew what their records were going into this round. Can we start putting that kind of information on that FOX News ticker? While I’m typing this, Gab has scooped.
12:54 P.M.: Cut to Zvi and Rob Dougherty. In his Team SCG profile, Zvi describes Rochester Draft as “eight-dimensional chess,” which makes no sense to me but sounds absolutely masterful and is probably right.
12:58 P.M.: This would be a good time to interject some tidbits about these guys. It seems criminal to me that we don’t really know anything about too many Hall of Famers other than their raw stats. Didn’t Zvi do something for Pinnacle sports books? And Rob Dougherty has an Ascension shirt on; is he on the Stone Blade Entertainment payroll? This is potentially interesting stuff, all passed up on because WotC has always had this weird hang-up about Magic players doing anything but playing Magic. I do not get it.
1:00 P.M.: The spotters on the floor ask the two players to see their hands, assuming mulligans have resolved. This takes about fifteen seconds. Then both Zvi and Rob mulligan. This pisses me off an inordinate amount. Maybe I’m the wrong guy for this.
1:19 P.M.: Hagon's interviewing Stanislav Cifka right now, and I just can't watch. Maybe I'm a weirdo for feeling uncomfortable when watching people whose first language isn't English speak English. I dunno. This piece on Michael Jordan I just read was pretty good, though.
1:44 P.M.: I've long since traded in my beer for a glass of fruit juice. Can't drink during the first two days of a PT. Gotta pace yourself during the Swiss rounds.
1:46 P.M.: @BGannicott on Twitter informs me we've cleared ten thousand viewers.
1:51 P.M.: Video of Rich Hagon talking to a dragon statue, drink.
2:08 P.M.: Girlfriend just got home from work; we’re going to go to lunch and maybe to catch a movie.
5:08 P.M.: Back just in time to see sixteen thousand viewers and a Kibler/Martell feature match.
5:11 P.M.: Is it impossible for them to show us both players' hands simultaneously with this cards-in-hand graphic? I feel that’s what we should be looking at. The cards-in-hand graphic also has a weird tendency to show the nonactive player’s hand regardless of the type of deck he’s playing, but I trust they’ll work out the flaws the next time around. Still a very, very helpful feature; it can only be improved on.
5:15 P.M.: Martell attacks with a Boros Reckoner that has an exalted trigger and doesn't announce it. Kibler doesn’t block. BDM and Rashad Miller are actively unsure of whether or not Kibler takes 4. I do not fault them for this. Maybe we'll someday have a six-month period during which the trigger rules in Competitive REL aren't tinkered with.
5:20 P.M.: Kibler and Martell discuss Kibler's opener (Restoration Angel, two Arbor Elf, Boros Reckoner, two Clifftop Retreat) after the match (Martell, 2–0), and then we're treated to a full minute and a half of dead air while we switch over to a table with Josh Utter-Leyton at it, then to a Conley Woods–Guillaume Wafo-Tapa match. Concurrent viewers at a little over fifteen thousand, down five hundred viewers from just fifteen minutes before.
5:22 P.M.: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa's name is spelled wrong on the screen. We can audibly hear someone unknown on camera murmuring to himself about lands.
5:24 P.M.: Unknown off-camera guy can still be heard mumbling. Some slight camera movement reveals that it’s one of the table judges, just hanging out in the feature match area, talking to another judge about God-knows-what.
5:28 P.M.: Conley Woods names Sphinx's Revelation and hits three of them, which prompts Rashad Miller (Golgari) to ramble about How Slaughter Games Usually Doesn't Get Countered, Ha Ha Ha. Conley makes a completely debilitating play, and its effect just is completely flushed for the sake of a joke that may or may not have been funny.
5:40 P.M.: Wafo-Tapa takes down the game anyway when Conley misses a bunch of land drops despite Underworld Connections, doing so on the back of Jace, Memory Adept. Conley also ends the game at 2 life with a Griselbrand in play. Quite an exciting Game 3.
5:44 P.M.: The cut away from Rashad and BDM from the itty-bitty booth takes a full five seconds too long, which feels like an eternity. If WotC is run anything like the Buffalo Bills, the director of this broadcast will be handed a max-cash six-year contract.
5:54 P.M.: Concurrent viewers is down to fourteen thousand five hundred during David Sharfman’s deck tech. Zac's trying to speed him along, and it is just not happening. It’s quite hard to watch. It's tough to bring in someone who just isn't camera-ready and have him talk; you tend to go either over or under time by quite a bit. It's never very clean. Does anyone like those live deck techs anyway? I always prefer mine written.
5:58 P.M.: We're cutting away from cards being discussed way too quickly in order to just watch Zac Hill talking. I'd wager that the director of this broadcast doesn't play Magic.
6:03 P.M.: Tim Willoughby (Izzet) is now in the booth with BDM now. I now realize why women dig the British accent so much.
6:26 P.M.: I like the idea of this Restoration Angel rap sheet we’re seeing (especially the development notes—I’m a sucker for that stuff), but there needs to be better tidbits about it than the first bullet point, which basically equates to, "Hey, this is what the card says on it, idiot."
6:31 P.M.: Have been enjoying this Shenhar–Levy feature match. Digging the BDM–Willoughby booth quite a bit.
6:43 P.M.: "We're going to do a cool new feature with Zac called Game Time; so, Zac, take it away!" Insert one minute of dead air.
6:45 P.M.: Zac’s handling this Game Time thing very well, though.
6:51 P.M.: Zvi's play isn't really that inspired here, but Zac is selling the shit out of it, and I’m totally onboard. He's doing an excellent job with this feature. Being able to use hindsight is great. It's definitely conceivable that every top player could and should have a highlights reel of subtle plays like the one that Zac has put together here.
8:11 P.M.: Ben Stark says the word “shit” live on the broadcast while mic’d up. Perfect way to end the day. Don't think I'll be back tomorrow (it's Saturday, people, come on), but I will definitely be live-blogging the Top 8. See you then!
I watched the Top 8 at Adam Barnello’s house on his forty-inch TV with two other friends. Here are quick dossiers on each of them:
Bret Weed – Unhappy-go-unlucky. Shameless. Prideless. Hilarious. Straight-edge. Vegetarian. Endearing. Better at Magic than I am.
Adam Barnello – Unhappy-go-lucky. Bearded. Entitled. Successful. Self-important. Writes for ChannelFireball. Will make it impossible for you to forget it. Better at Magic than I am.
Al French – Happy-go-lucky. Recently “broke edge” so he could drink. Thoughtful. Vegan (and won’t buy you meat). Former front man of the band If Hope Dies. Relaxed. Has very long hair. Better at Magic than I am.
Me – Happy-go-unlucky. Cynical. Forgetful. Charming. Fat. The only person in the room still in his twenties (and the youngest by seven years). Handsome. Reckless. Lazy. Charismatic. Enigmatic. Wonderful.
Here we go.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
11:00 A.M.: I know the Top 8 isn't Draft, but I just thought of something—if they've got that cards-in-hand graphic, and they know the contents of the packs before they're drafted—why aren't they using this during the Draft? Couldn't they use this to show the whole pack instead of relying on people wholly uninterested on showing their packs to the camera?
Me: Can we watch the stream?
Adam: Why? It's just gonna be Rich Hagon talking anyway.
I do not think this is uncommon. I do not know a good way for the coverage to circumvent this.
11:05 A.M.: It's worth noting that this Top 8 is stacked. Maybe that's just because I'm American, but yeah, this Top 8 seems really crazy.
11:06 A.M.: Adam hands me a beer: Magic Hat's summer seasonal. Adam's good for having weird seasonal beers at his house at all times of the year. Pretty handy!
11:10 A.M.: None of us is paying attention to what's going on onscreen; we just talking amongst ourselves. While this fact seems relevant to the discussion I’m hoping to foster, I don’t know how the coverage can get past a bunch of guys watching the broadcast in the same room, or if they even want to do that at all. What's going on onscreen (Sutcliffe, Hill, Willoughby) is just not compelling to a room full of friends who could just be talking to one another instead. I do not think it's the fault of the three guys on camera.
11:11 A.M.: I have no idea why we're not watching a match right now, come to think of it. What the hell?
11:12 A.M.: "When are they gonna, like, start showing the thing?" – Al
11:13 A.M.: LSV is a very welcome addition in the booth, but he looks quite nervous. "WE JUST WANT YOU TO MAKE PUNS; THAT'S ALL WE WANT." – Bret
11:14 A.M.: “That booth is so awkwardly little.” – Al
11:20 A.M.: At this point, we’re all talking about the plays amongst ourselves, which makes it impossible to hear the commentary. I should’ve anticipated this. I’m just going to assume LSV’s doing a great job in the booth because I’ve watched enough of his Magic Online videos to not be able to imagine otherwise.
11:32 A.M.: "I wish they did this like NFL RedZone where when something interesting happened, they'd switch." – Al
11:39 A.M.: Nate Holt’s really throwing his weight around, wandering around the Top 8 stage while matches are being played. YOU BE CAREFUL WITH THAT PRIVILEGE, YOUNG MAN.
11:57 A.M.: The more drinks I have, the more animated my reactions to plays become. I have been reduced to yelling, "CHEATER!" at Adam's TV when I realize that Swedish Kibler's sleeves aren't all facing the same direction.
11:58 A.M.: Pro tip: To get drunk quick, don't eat any breakfast, and don’t eat dinner the night before. I gamed this pretty good, I must say.
Me: What is Joel’s ring on his finger?
Adam: Something Swedish.
BDM: Reckoner? I hardly knew her!
Adam: YOU FUCKING BASTARD.
12:07 P.M.: I've come to the conclusion that three drunk friends and I should be doing coverage for every PT Top 8. The roar in the room when Joel Larsson drew the Negate was deafening. We were all pulling for Gerry Thompson, so yeah, we took that one pretty hard.
12:11 P.M.: We should probably mic up the people we interview; having Rashad Miller shove a mic in someone's face is strange.
12:25 P.M.: LSV is doing an excellent job of not being biased during his turn on the coverage when covering ChannelFireballers.
12:57 P.M.: This DeTora–Martell game is insane. The room has been very loud, and when DeTora drew the Detention Sphere, it was deafening. Maybe the guys in the booth should be drinking.
1:00 P.M.: And the room is now yelling full-volume at Thomas Martell.
1:03 P.M.: “I wish they had this shit every weekend like football.” – Al
1:04 P.M.: “Look at Rashad just punching him in the face with the microphone.” – Adam
1:39 P.M.: Bret graciously drove our drunk asses to Subway for some eats, and we returned in time for the Top 8 profiles, which are great. Tom Martell went 6–0 in Draft, and since Zac sat in on some SCG testing session, he can tell us how Martell’s deck evolved—totally cool and interesting. Probably a good idea to start getting moles into the testing of both major U.S. teams: CFB and SCG. I don’t think I’m the only one who finds that stuff—testing sessions, the evolution of a deck during testing—fascinating.
2:14 P.M.: "LSV's a good commentator" – Al
LSV: Thiiiiiiis is not what I expected.
The room erupts in laughter.
2:44 P.M.: “How can you not love Luis Scott-Vargas?” – Adam
2:54 P.M.: I’m noticing that the stream looks very good, even on a forty-inch TV.
3:08 P.M.: “This is the nerdiest shit ever. I love it.” – Al, who is quite drunk
4:01 P.M.: Joel’s sideboard is up on the screen, and above the Pillar of Flame is “1374.” No idea what it means.
4:16 P.M.: LSV with a nice anecdote about Conley Woods's thought process going into the last round of the tournament:
Conley: "I'm just gonna play."
LSV: "Mmmmmmaybe you should rethink that."
4:29 P.M.: How come U.S.A. gets its own performance graphic alongside Europe??? U.S.A. is not a continent!
4:30 P.M.: And then, the graphic for Europe is followed by one for . . . the rest of the world. So, to sum up: U.S.A. → Europe → everybody else. Got it!
From there, Tom Martell is slow-rolled out of the first game en route to winning the title. Al listens to the game from Adam’s bathroom; it was a little touch-and-go there for him at the end. He had a lot to drink.
The assertion I made with last week’s article was that it makes no sense to compare the coverage and viewer turnout of League of Legends to Magic’s, but it’s hard not to be depressed when they pull down such staggering numbers while Magic coverage, again and again, fails to relate to an actual living human. But last weekend’s broadcast gives me a lot of hope that we’ve got a plan—that we’re building toward something. Live-blogging almost an entire day of Swiss rounds was totally draining; that’s nothing compared to being on a coverage team. I understand that. The reason I get so pushy, and, frankly, a little weird, about this stuff is for the same reason Cedric Phillips and anyone else that criticizes coverages do: It’s that Magic is the greatest goddamn game that earth has ever seen, and it should be a towering behemoth over everything else.
I just want it to be clear that I criticize because I love.