Last month, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) graciously invited me to participate in a Magic: The Gathering tournament with an intriguing premise — pit eight bloggers and members of the Magic forums against eight Wizards staffers, with the victors getting a big shiny silver cup and bragging rights. The arena: Wizards’ Magic: The Gathering Online.
The Thursday the tournament began, I arrived at WotC headquarters, situated in a short office tower in the Seattle suburb of Renton. It was around 6pm, after the office’s closing time, so Mike Gills, the coordinator of the tournament, had to ride down the elevator to collect me. When I got to company’s lobby, it hit me: I was at the mothership, home of D&D, MtG and a bunch of other awesome brands.
The centerpiece of the lobby is a magnificent statue of a dragon, maybe 10′ high and wider than that across. The lobby and offices were full of art related to either D&D or Magic: The Gathering, the company’s core products. And speaking of products, a gigantic display of WotC’s best offerings covered one wall. Of course, a Hasbro logo was dutifully posted next to the front desk, but it seemed overwhelmed by all the magnificent art and cool stuff.
I missed the first day due to flying in Thursday rather than Wednesday, so when I arrived, the “Community” team (the good guys; us!) were fairly wiped out from a long day of Magic. The two Thursday tournaments were a Zendikar Draft and a 100-Card Singleton Unified Constructed. The latter is a particularly fascinating format with eight 100-card decks and 15-card sideboards. You’re allowed of only one of each classic-legal card available on MTGO. Each of the four tournaments consisted of multiple best-of-three matches against a rotating series of opponents.
Unfortunately, the news wasn’t good: we’d received a fairly ferocious drubbing at the hands of the WotC team. They played well and their deck creation was coordinated by Aaron Forsythe, who oversees the creation of all MtG cards and sets. As such, they were fairly awesome decks — they had a distinct edge over us. But would we let that stop us? Hecks no!
The next morning I met the Community team for breakfast at the hotel, and we trooped over to WotC HQ to get set up for Rounds 3 and 4. On tap, a Standard Unified Constructed tournament in the morning and an Invasion Block Draft in the afternoon.
The first one, for noobs, means we had 60-card decks and 15-card sideboards we could swap in, with no more than 4 of any non-land card. I had never played MTGO before, though I had played plenty of paper Magic. One of the other participants thoughtfully designed me a deck and before I knew it we were playing the first game. My lack of MTGO skills didn’t hamper me much. There was a tiny learning curve but by the third game I was used to the interface. A couple times I made a mistake by clicking through my turn or playing the wrong card, but mainly things went well.
Even if you haven’t played Magic at all, MTGO’s interface is quite easy to understand. The screen is split into two main panes, the top shows your opponent’s cards and the bottom your own. The left hand side of the screen is devoted to showing close-ups of the cards so you can read the details, and along the bottom is your hand, those cards not yet in play. The system doesn’t let you do anything illegal, so if you know the basic rules of Magic, you’re in business.
Despite the ease in learning the MTGO interface, the morning session didn’t go well — I won only one of nine games; I never really got a hang of my loaner deck, though I’m sure it would have been perfectly awesome in more experienced hands. But more importantly, I had a great time battling it out with the other guys.
After lunch, we started the draft for the afternoon session. One of the WotC employees helped me with the draft (it was a friendly tournament so a lot of helping went on!) and together we put together a killer white-black-green deck that I was really happy with. After a shaky first series, losing 1-2, I rocked my next two opponents with four straight wins to help the Community team take the day!
We won a giant silver cup, had lots of fun, and those MTGO forum participants who followed the tournament got a free Momir Vig avatar, so everyone came out ahead. Thanks to WotC for throwing such an amazing event!