For episode 46, Geoff Moes (@ThallidTosser on Twitter), Nat Moes (@GrandpaBelcher), and Josh Chapple (@joshchapple) talk with Rajah James (@rykerwilliams). Rajah is a Team Serious member and friend who organized the online Team Serious League and played in the recent Team Serious Invitational: Virtual Realm, so we’re talking to him about getting your Magic fix while dealing with physical distancing.
Here’s the timestamped table of contents for your listening ease and enjoyment:
01:17 – Team Serious Leagues
24:10 – Enter the Virtual Realm
37:47 – The Cat’s in the Vintage
55:28 – Food & Drink: MTG Pub Quiz
1:16:49 – Outro
Total runtime – 1:17:51
Missing: The Gathering
These are weird times we’re living in. The coronavirus, as well as thoughtful public health officials and good sense, has relegated most of humanity to stay physically apart from one another to prevent the spread of a particularly virulent disease. I was thinking about it and realized I haven’t been in a building other than my own house in seven weeks. Distancing is the norm now, and that’s a problem for a tabletop card game where players square off in intimate distance, talking, and often interacting with one another’s cards.
Wizards of the Coast provided the first solutions to playing Magic under quarantine with, of course, Magic Online (MTGO) and Arena. But these services might leave something to be desired for some players. Arena’s available collection won’t allow players to play Vintage (or Legacy, Old School, Modern, and so on), and while MTGO offers most of the cards, there’s still a barrier to human interaction. You can’t fully engage with your opponent: introduce yourselves when you sit down, congratulate them on a good play, or see their reaction when you have the answer or drop your big threat. It can feel sterile, like you’re one person against a machine.
To overcome that, Rajah organized the Team Serious Leagues (TSL) within our group. As he describes, it’s similar to the Vintage Super League: round-robin games are played in batches over multiple weeks, and players are allowed to change decks or strategies between batches. Eventually records are compared and winners are declared. The TSL allows games to be played over any reasonable medium: webcam, MTGO, Cockatrice, even in person since it was organized before social distancing protocols were in effect. It was meant as a way to get Team Serious members to play games against one another despite there being sometimes long distances between players.
Since quarantine, it’s been a relief not only for the players, who get to continue playing games and talking to people, but for other Team Serious members, who often get to watch the streamed matches and even interact with the players over the team’s chat and Discord.
You can follow along too if you like. The results and decklists from the first Vintage batch are on Rajah’s website, and here are the decklists from the second batch. When the three batches are complete, someone will win these keen lands altered by Daniel Anschutz, or this “Wild Thing” Force of Will altered by Bobby Lupo.
Welcome to the Machine
Inspired by the TSL and compelled by the coronavirus quarantine, Andy “The Brass Man” Probasco and I started talking about hosting a virtual Team Serious Invitational (TSI). We wanted an opportunity to get people together where they could hang out online, play some Vintage, and perhaps consume some frosty cool alcoholic beverages. Just like a real TSI!
The tournament itself, held Saturday May 9 in a Discord server, went surprisingly well! We had 24 players and did six rounds of Swiss plus a top-eight elimination. Vintage luminaries like Kevin Cron and Greg Hughes (Zias) showed up, and six countries were represented in almost as many time zones. There was a minor disaster at the beginning as the Discord server failed to allow video connections, but everyone moved quickly and acutely to get matches played in other formats: Zoom, Cockatrice, Whereby, and Discord DMs. It was a remarkable show of ingenuity and determination!
Brass Man did some lovely, fun, insightful commentary throughout the event, adjusting on the fly to be able to show the variety of media players were using to play. Here’s what Zoom versus Cockatrice looks like, for example, as well as Brassy, keepin’ it classy.
For a sense of the current Vintage environment, the Top 8 ended up with seven companions in the decklists, including two of them in one deck, played by Jimmy McCarthy. Zias won without a companion, playing Shops Vines. The full results are available on The Mana Drain, with some additional commentary and hot links. For example, for full TSI effect, Steve McGrew opted to drink a shot of Malört, as is tradition upon making Top 8. Congratulations and regrets to Steve, and congratulations to the rest of the Top 8.
How Companionable Is Companion?
Of course, the event was played under predictably lame-duck conditions. On May 11, Wizards of the Coast announced that in a week’s time there would be a change to the Banned & Restricted List that would include Vintage.
As I mentioned, six of the Top 8 decks at the TSI:VR, and indeed many of the top-performing decks in recent Vintage Challenges online have included creatures with the companion ability, recently printed in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Lurrus of the Dream-Den is the main culprit, being a long-game advantage engine that happens to combo with Black Lotus very well, so it works even in a faster combo shell.
The problem is that the nature of companion means that restricting Lurrus will do nothing to prevent its being a problem. A player needs only one copy, which is safely stored in their deck’s sideboard until needed.
What to do? What will Wizards do to Vintage on May 18? Will the format get what will essentially be its first banning for power-level considerations? (There are other banned cards: ante cards, conspiracies, dexterity cards, and Shahrazad, all of which are banned categorically.) Will there be an effective power-level errata to make companion not work as written, or perhaps not work at all? Will all the companions be hit or just Lurrus? Could something instead be unrestricted to combat the cat menace? Will there be any consideration to Lurrus’s being used in multiple different archetypes or bringing unexpected cards into the format, like Seal of Fire and Dead Weight? If banning or errata eliminates Lurrus, will another companion follow the same path of degeneracy?
We talk about the implications of these questions and why any plan might be preferable over another. It’s a complex issue surrounding complex cards. And the whole situation is exacerbated by the current global pandemic as the cards have only been released in paper in some Asian markets and online. Many players haven’t even touched a paper Lurrus! They showed up at TSI:VR and in the TSL only because these are playtest events that allow proxies. It’s such a weird conflux of situations!
Anyway, we do a lot of discussing but come to no conclusions.
Food & Drink: MTG Pub Quiz
Part of the goal Brass Man and I put together for the TSI:VR was to have it feel like a real TSI. Part of that was making it two days, so people could start the festivities early on Friday. Encouraging people to just hang out in the chatrooms we always hang out in didn’t seem like enough, so I had the idea to put together a pub-quiz-style trivia game that would encourage both hanging out and drinking. There would be some fun questions and activities to encourage interaction, and with Discord we could do some proper trash talking.
So I put together a few rounds of themed questions, designed to pass a few hours pleasantly. People drifted in and out, but we ended up with four teams of three to four players, which was perfect. I asked questions over video and was even able to put a few visual questions on screen, like the Movie Magic posters with blanked out titles that were also Magic card names (see below), or Nam Quiz Tran that was Nam’s 2018 Vintage Champs finals list with blanked out cards. And teams were able to retreat to separate Discord rooms to collaborate on answers. It worked great!
We did six rounds, which I preview on the show. There was Magic trivia new and old, the movie posters and Nam’s deck, a retrospective of 1993 in honor of Magic’s birth, a lightning round where each team got to pick its own yes-or-no category, and “Drinking With Team Serious,” which we run through in its entirety on the show. I really didn’t think anyone would be able to identify one of Jaco’s custom-built cocktails by name, but here we are: the Charcnado. That’s your important food and drink lesson for this episode.
Congratulations to Fernando Aguiano, Jon Hammack, and Kaleb Woodward on their dominant victory!
I think the only questions for discussion are going to surface around the Banned & Restricted List change on Monday. What’s going to happen there, and what will be the long-term impact?
But we are planning future online Magic event since the coronavirus quarantine seems unlikely to be meaningfully lifted any time in the near future. And even if it is, we can still get together online to play Magic!
June 5 there will be another MTG Pub Quiz, and June 6 will be a Middle School MTG tournament, both again held online using the Team Serious: Virtual Realm Discord server. We learned a lot about both processes last time, so I expect this to go even better. There’s no entry, and we’ll have some nice donated prizes for winners.
This June event is open to all, so if you’re interested, let us know, and we’ll be planning more events in different formats in the future.
Thanks so much for listening! And thanks to Rajah for helping us talk about some positive Magic experiences in these weird dark times. We hope you enjoyed it and found it uplifting, and that you’re being safe and remaining healthy. We’ll look forward to any questions or comments here or The Mana Drain or on Twitter. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don’t forget to let us know if you want to play some Middle School and be part of other online Team Serious events!