For those of you wondering where I’ve been, I’ve just returned from balmy Calgary, AB. It feels like I’ve been gone for months, even though it was really only about a week. You can read all about how I prepared my game and my decks for this trip here.
I have to tell you, I had such a great time that I feel compelled to write about it. Today’s article is going to read a little more like a blog post than what I usually write, but we’ll be right back to my series on New Year’s Resolutions and a Rivals of Ixalan set review in a few short days.
In the comments on my last article, people recommended Phoenix Comics NW and Sentry Box Games, so I fired off a couple messages to their Facebook groups:
I’m generally not in for league play, especially as a drop-in, so Friday was a little more my speed. I had Sentry Box penciled in for Friday to check out the store at the very least, and see if I could get paired up with another solo player. Unfortunately Friday was extremely busy at work and I ended up having to stay late, so I never actually got a chance to go check them out. You’re on my list for next time, Sentry Box!
I also reached out to the Calgary cEDH Facebook group to see if there was any action on the week I was visiting. Seems like a lot of them swing by Phoenix Comics on Wednesday nights, and they play some additional games on weekends. My schedule was pretty jam-packed on the weekends, so unfortunately that wasn’t a possibility.
This actually piqued my interest a little bit. As I mentioned above, I don’t generally find points-based leagues fun. In my experience, people tend to focus more on the objectives than the games. Some people enjoy that, and more power to them, but my preference is just regular ol’ EDH. What Phoenix Games does is a little different than most points-based systems in a couple ways:
- Objectives are not communicated to the players before they sit down to play.
- Completing objectives earns prizes, not points.
I see these as being very positive, because they have the effect of influencing player behaviour during gameplay but not deck construction. Rather than racing to win, players are encouraged to enjoy the ride and get a little creative to incorporate the objectives into their regular gameplay. Without prior knowledge of the objectives, though, players are unable to build meta decks that are designed to farm objectives. I think this strikes a really nice balance, and it allows the store to essentially implement a roughly flat prize structure without explicitly saying “everyone gets a pack for playing”.
The second point is what I really like about this event structure. In other leagues I’ve played in, completing objectives earns a player a certain number of points, and points determine prizing at the end of the night/month/season/whatever. This, in my mind, is really what encourages objective farming. If you’ve got one big prize at the end of your league period, anyone that pays attention to EV and cares enough about the prize is going to build meta decks designed to maximize point totals, rather than actually win. We all know how I feel about stax without a win condition, and in my mind these meta decks aren’t super far off.
This seemed like a neat thing to try, and I had some spare time on Wednesday night so I hopped in an Uber and made the trek to 16th Ave NW.
EDH Night at Phoenix Comics
It was pretty tough to miss this place. They’ve got a big neon Batman symbol over the front door. I walked in and was greeted by 3 friendly faces behind a display counter of singles.
I told them I was there to play some Commander, and they asked if it was my first time there. I told them I was from out of town and heard some pretty good things about their shop. Two of them gave me a quick rundown of the buy-in price, the prize structure, and what I could expect upstairs, then asked me for one of my cards.
I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t know what they were going to do with it, but they reassured me it was just for table pairings once the event was underway. I happened to have my Commander handy, because it’s quite a bit thicker than a regular card and doesn’t fit in my deckbox, so I handed it over.
My laser-engraved Nin, the Pain Artist is usually a pretty good conversation starter at EDH tables, so I figured it would be as good a card as any to hand over. They ushered me upstairs to the play area where two tables were already locked into what looked like pretty good games.
At 6:30, when there were about 20 people milling around, one of the employees came upstairs with a stack of cards they’d collected from the people there and a stack of game objectives in oversized toploaders. He grabbed half a dozen and put them up on the wall in the centre of the play area as everyone crowded around to snap pictures with their phones. These were the objectives that were shared by all tables.
After the shared objectives were up on the wall, he assigned everyone to pods and people took their seats. I sat down with two Liams and a Charlie, who also recognized that I’d never played EDH at that shop before, and they answered a few questions I had about their event format. I told them I’d heard there was a pretty good competitive scene, and they said they play a lot of competitive EDH on the weekends at a local Denny’s. I asked them what power level they’d like to play this game at, noting that if they wanted to play competitive EDH I’d brought a couple options. Everyone seemed very excited to play competitive decks, so I pulled out my Nin deck, and my opponents revealed Tazri, Glissa, and Yisan.
Charlie and the Liams requested that we be allowed to select our own table-specific objectives to make sure they were more attainable by competitive decks. We left in a couple things like having 10 or more devotion to one colour and casting a spell with X >= 10, but got rid of things like casting 5 unique legendary creatures over the course of the game.
I liked my odds in this pod. My home meta is creature-heavy, so I pack Anger of the Gods and Kozilek’s Return as boardwipes for mana dorks, and nonbasic land hate for Liam, the Tazri player. Right from the get-go, Charlie made me nervous. He was piloting Glissa, and although I run a decent amount of hate against graveyard-centric strategies, things like Grafdigger’s Cage don’t prevent him from returning cards to his hand.
I kept a relatively fast opener with a lot of cheap counterspells, thinking that – at the very least – I’d get a pack for casting a turn 1 Ponder, because one of our table objectives was to cast a card that’s banned in Modern.
We played poker dice to go first, and I ended up playing last. Charlie snaked the Banned in Modern achievement from me with a turn 1 Deathrite Shaman, but I was pretty content to make my land drops and hold up countermagic while I got a better feel for how the game was going to play out.
Yisan dropped an ill-advised turn 2 Winter Orb that slowed the game down to a slog, and I played draw-go for about 12 turns while I drew my entire suite of disruption, and no tutors, fast mana, or combo pieces. To make matters worse, my turn-2 Mana Crypt bolted me on 9 of those 12 turns, and I found myself sitting at less than 10 life. I tapped out to stop one of the Liams from casting Food Chain, and shortly thereafter Charlie ended the game by assembling a Basalt Monolith / Rings of Brighthearth combo and pumping the mana into a Walking Ballista that he’d been recurring for the last 8 turns or so.
After the game ended, Charlie explained that if people don’t end up with any of the regular (Rivals of Ixalan) prize packs, the person who got the most packs out of the game usually gives them one each. He handed each of the Liams a pack, and we all opened hot garbage.
It was at that point that I saw that there was a Modern Masters 2017 pack in our prize pool as well! Apparently this was supposed to be given to the person who completed a specific shared objective first, but since none of us had done it we decided to play another game, with the pack going to the winner.
We kept our same decks, and I had a much better opener. I was pretty satisfied that—at a table full of stax that generally favoured my deck—I would be pretty clear to go for the combo with only a single piece of countermagic backup. I had Dramatic Reversal in my opening hand and Copy Artifacted Glissa’s Basalt Monolith. Shortly after that I topdecked Tezzeret the Seeker for a relatively early X=2 win off of Isochron Scepter, and took the last pack from the prize pool. The social interaction was great in this game like it was in the previous game, with everyone cracking jokes and arguing over which Liam was better.
We ended the night off with a casual game. I pulled out Anax and Cymede against the Liams playing Uril and “friendly stax” Bruna, the Fading Light, and Charlie playing Omnath, Locus of Rage. Liam outpaced my damage output with some pretty absurd life gain from a totem’d up Uril. Charlie managed to stave off a very hungry looking Uril by sacrificing a good chunk of his lands to Constant Mists, and I finished him off with Commander damage. Shortly after I knocked the second Liam out of the game, Charlie pulled off a Blasphemous Act to clear out my board of weenies for the win.
Would I Visit Again?
In a heartbeat. The atmosphere created by the employees and players in the store was welcoming and friendly, the structure of the event was logical and promoted interesting gameplay, and everyone had a healthy attitude with respect to competitive gameplay. If I’m ever back in Calgary, I’m still going to make an attempt to head over to Sentry Box to see what their community is like, but Phoenix Comics will be at the top of my list. If any of you Phoenix regulars are reading this, please accept my appreciation for an extremely fun night that broke up an otherwise stressful week of working in an unfamiliar city.
Have you ever traveled to play Magic in another city? What was it like? Do you have any awesome LGSes you want to call out for their community, event structure, or anything else they’re doing right? Feel free to do so in the comments!