Monday, June 3, 2013

Our Magic Gathering: Dragon's Maze Edition!

by Angie

I’m a lucky lady in that my birthday corresponds with the spring Magic: The Gathering set release. This year, the prerelease parties for Dragon's Maze, the third set in the Return to Ravnica block, looked to be a really exciting format. I was really bummed that I wasn’t able to make the Dragon’s Maze prerelease because I was in the hospital, so my wonderful husband Randy got the idea to throw our own Dragon's Maze release party for my birthday! 

For the first two sets of the block (Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash), players would choose one of the 5 guilds in the set and receive a special guild booster pack that contained only cards affiliated with the chosen guild, and combine those with cards from booster packs from that set. Randy and I were lucky enough to be able to play in a midnight prerelease for Gatecrash and has a blast playing as agents of the secretive House Dimir. Interestingly, we both pulled a copy of the Dimir Guild Leader, Lazav, which was super fun to play with!

Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, guild leader of House Dimir. (Card art by David Rapoza)

For the Dragon's Maze prereleases, player were able to chose their favorite guild to champion, and then would get a special booster pack of cards tailored to that guild. Each guild was paired with a secret ally that shared a color, and players would receive a guild booster for their secondary guild as well. So if you picked Selesnya from the return to Ravnica set, you could be paired with Gruul, Simic, Orzhov, or Boros from Gatecrash. After receiving two guild affiliated packs, each player would then get 4 Dragon's Maze boosters, which contained cards from all 10 guilds, and then combine all those cards together and build a 40-card deck to play.

Here's a step-by-step rundown of how we attempted to recreate that experience in our own game room!

40 packs of Dragon's Maze!

Step 1:Get supplies

First off Randy preordered a box of Dragon’s Maze at our local card shop, to be picked on release day. A bunch of my friends and family chipped in on this as a joint birthday present, which was an amazing surprise.  I’d like to give out a special thanks to a great local game shop, Addictive Behaviors  because not only did they send Randy home with a free birthday pack for me, when they found out what we were planning to do with our 40 packs of Dragons Maze, they gave him 10 copies each of the foil Maze’s End promo card and the foil promo Plains from the prerelease to give to all our friends that were coming to play!  (Thanks guys! You’re awesome!!!!)

10 each of foil promo Plains and Maze's End!

 Step 2: Invite friends

We ended up with a really diverse set of players, which made the experience that much more fun. I hadn’t planned on letting my 7 year old daughter play (despite her pleas to join in) because it was going to be a late night event and I didn’t think she was ready to play Magic all night with the grown-ups, but when there ended up being 1 spot available she lucked out and leaped at the chance to champion Rakdos! (Spoiler alert: she did fantastic!) Everyone had some level of experience playing Magic; but it ranged from Katie, who hadn’t played with anyone but her parents, to a friend who hadn’t played the game since Alpha, to a couple guys who came to the event straight from Friday Night Magic. Most of us are casual players, some who play once every few years, to some who play Commander as often as possible. In total we had 5 male and 5 female players, ages ranging from 7 to 37 years old, and Randy and I were the only couple. I’m saying this just to point out that it wasn’t a bunch of women dragged along to play by their boyfriends, as is often implied. These were awesome Magic playing women who were excited to sling some spells! Several of the players left their husbands/wives/partner home with the kids to come play into the wee hours of the night. 

Here's the remaining players at about 3am, from left (back row) JT, me (Angie), Ty, Julian (front row) Katie, Unna, Tim. Not pictured is Jess, Sara-Jessyca, and Randy.

 Step 3: Make a plan

Before the party I did a lot of prep work to get things just right. First of all I searched online to find out what the contents of the Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash guild pack were. I figured the collective fan base of Magic players online would have complied a list somewhere, and I was happy to find this spreadsheet from a reddit post. I decided to use that list and make a primary and secondary pack for each guild using the cards I had available. Since we had so much fun championing Dimir at the Gatecrash prerelease and actually fielding the guild leader in our matches, we decided to make sure our Dragon's Maze event offered every player the chance to have their chosen guild leader make an appearance. From opening packs, I owned copies of 6 of the guild leaders already, so we went out and purchased the remaining 4 (Obzedat, Aurelia, Borborygmos, and Rakdos). 
Ok, maybe I just REALLY wanted to play with Obzedat, Ghost Council. They're here, they're gone. It's just so... haunting!

Step 4: Build Primary Guild Packs

 Using the spreadsheet of pack contents, I spent a few days sorting cards and put together the packs containing each guild leader. In order to really theme up the guild packs we decided to include the guild charm and keyrune into each pack as part of a special "bonus pack". Then, to aid along some of the less experienced players with easy mana fixing and really make sure everyone could play their chosen guild, I added the bounceland and signet for each guild from the original Ravnica block to the bonus packs. We waivered about including out of block cards, but in the end decided to go with thematic and fun. So in addition to the guild leader, guildgate, and 13 other guild affiliated cards, each payer also got a charm, keyrune, signet, and bounceland for their chosen guild, for a total of 19 cards.

Which of these powerful creatures would you align yourself with??

Step 5: Build Secondary Guild Pack. 

For the secret ally packs, I went down the same guild pack list for each guild and selected the first pack that met the following criteria: I owned the rares and all three uncommon for, and didn’t contain a keyrune. I did this because I didn’t want to buy any more cards and I didn’t want to introduce personal bias into the packs (by picking rares I especially liked, etc). The reason I excluded lists with keyrunes is because I also made a special “bonus pack” for the secret ally packs. These bonus packs contained the keyrune, bounceland, and signet, but not the charms this time. Again, I was looking to make a smooth playing experience for players of all skill level, enable good three color decks, and incentivize people to play their chosen guild and ally. You’ll see why when we get to scoring! Secondary guild packs had 14 guild affiliated cards, a guildgate, Keyrune, Signet, and Bounceland for a total of 18 cards.

 Step 6: Decide on "Secret Allies"

We used a simple randomizer app.... scraps of paper :)

 So, with primary and secondary guild packs made up, I set about matching up guilds. For the pairings, we mostly did them randomly (following the “shares a color, not from the same set” guidelines from the official prerelease) but did make a couple alterations to balance out the color pairings so it wasn’t the same guilds matched twice, ie Selesnya-Orzhov and Orzhov-Selesnya. I also made one switch which eliminated the two Naya (Red, Green, White) pairings and turned them into two other 3 color pairings. I did this because I had read a lot of comments about how Naya-Aggro was a dominant strategy at some of the preleases, and I was looking to make as fair a playing field as possible for maximum fun across skill levels. There was nothing stopping folks from playing that build, I just didn’t want to intentionally push a couple players into what was *possibly* the strongest pairing. 

An example spread of primary and secondary guild packs and bonus cards (Golgari-Orzhov)

Step 7:  Make Deck Boxes

Just to make it extra cool, I made deck boxes for each pairing using boxes from previous fatpacks and stickers from Return to Ravnica Holiday Gift Box. I  put stickers for the primary and secondary guild, plus the symbol for the third guild that was formed from the 3 color pair. I  wanted each player to be able to quickly identify their primary guild, secondary ally, and the third guild made up in the three color pairings, which we’re dubbing the “support guild”. The support guild didn’t get any Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash cards, or any special bonus keyrunes, guildgates, signets and bouncelands, but it was a color pair that a player could easily add Dragons Maze cards (which contained all ten guilds) without needing any other colors. Also, the support guild came up in our scoring system, so it was useful to be able to easily identify. Once the boxes were stickered up, we put the primary and secondary guild packs inside, and put 4 Dragon's Maze booster packs with each box.

Deck boxes loaded up with guild packs!

 Step 8: Pick Tournament Structure

 We wanted to have some kind of fun tournament feel to the event, but didn't want to make it too competitive since the point of the party was just to have some fun playing Magic. We decided our scoring would be based on the guilds each player was championing, The system we came up with was simple and fun:  Each time a player wins a match they earn 3 points for their primary guild, 2 for their secondary guild, and 1 for the support guild. It didn't matter what colors the players actually ended up playing, just the guild they chose to champion. We wanted a fun“competition” of sorts (like the Implicit Maze from the official prerelease) where players could work to champion their guilds, rather than a tournament to decide who was the best player or who made the best deck. With this scoring method decided on, we made a scoreboard for the tournament, listing each guild down the left and rounds across the top.

The Guilds listed on our handy-dandy hanging gameroom scoreboard
Step 9: Chose Your Guild

We left guild selection up to a first come-first serve method, where each player got to chose from the remaining guilds as they arrived. Each player only chose a primary guild, the secondary guild was a surprise (except for me because I had to make the packs). It worked out where everyone was happy with their choice and eager to champion their chosen guild!

Jess and Sara-Jessyca choosing their guilds!
Here's the guild pairings and their champions:

Angie: Orzhov-Selesnya
Randy: Dimir- Golgari
Katie: Rakdos-Boros
Julian: Izzet-Gruul
Unna: Golgari-Orzhov
Jess: Selesnya-Simic
Sara-Jessyca: Simic-Azorius
JT: Azorius-Dimir
Ty: Gruul-Rakdos
Tim: Boros-Izzet

 Step 10: Crack Packs and Build Decks

Next up it was time to get down to business. We passed out supplies and everyone got to work cracking packs and building decks.

The central land pool and lots of card sorting!

We made it clear that no one was constrained to their chosen guild colors, no matter what they chose to play they would be earning points for the guild they chose. But with the guild packs loaded up with fun extras and guild leaders, most players used their primary guild colors as the basis for their decks.

More cracking packs and making tough decisions!

Some of the more experienced deckbuilders (Ty, Tim, and Julian) we super helpful in making sure everyone was able to get a fun deck put together. It was a friendly atmosphere, with everyone excitedly showing their awesome pulls and sharing advice on deckbuilding.

Ty was more familiar with the set and helped several of us finish up our builds!

Step 11: Play Magic!

Decks were built and it was time to play! We used slips of paper to randomly pair up players by their guilds. Each round was a single game because of time issues and folks wanting to play as many different people as possible. After each round, we would do a group tally of guild points. It was sometimes fun to see your guild get points even if you lost a match, and we all had a good time watching how the points tallied up each round.

Julian and Randy square off, Izzet vs Dimir.... Randy looks a little concerned for his guild's secret plans!

Step 12: Cake Break!

"So I'll cast stab wound on your creature, extorting for 3..."

At one point during the night,  I was serious about my game, championing the Orzhov guild, slowly extrorting my opponent to death (as we Orzhov are prone to doing) when I realized we were the only ones still playing in the round, and more importantly there were a bunch of people standing behind me. I turned around and was suddenly surprised with an amazing coconut orange cake and a lovely rendition of "happy birthday!"
Yep, I'm 34. Also, it's hard to play Magic with people singing at you!!! But, cake!

At this point we all took a cake break and enjoyed some delicious cake, chatted about our matches, and got ready for some more spell slinging. Even planeswalkers gotta power up!

Step 13: Checking in on the little one!

This was the first time my 7 year old had played a bunch of games of Magic in a row, so I went to check in on her progress. It was late, she was playing with a bunch of new cards and paired against skilled experienced players, and I wanted to see how her morale was holding up.

Turns out she was doing pretty well, rocking her Rakdos-Boros deck with style!

Not only did she play well and have a good attitude throughout, she even won a few games! We talked a lot beforehand about the fact that she was a less experienced player than most and that she may have a tough time winning matches, but she was stoked for the challenge and didn't want any grown-ups "pulling punches". This kid has big dreams, wanting to practice and starting playing at Friday Night Magic Events, and maybe even a Grand Prix someday! I'm happy to say she has yet to go on tilt over a losing streak, remaining ever-optimistic and playing for the love of the game!

Moments like this really fuel her inner fire! Fiero!
I was so proud of little Katie holding her own, demonstrating awesome sportsmanship, and having an amazing time even though it was waaaay past her bedtime. She played all 5 rounds and hung in there until about 3:30AM, the latest she's ever stayed up, and after a long school day! That's determination! 

She also made it a point to high five or handshake each opponent, and I want to give a big thanks to all my awesome friends who helped Katie learn and be a part of this event. I can't think of a better birthday present than playing Magic with some awesome folks and watching my daughter loving playing my favorite game!
Oh yeah! Good Game!

Step 14: Results!

We played 3 rounds with everyone participating before people had to start heading home (it was around midnight when round 3 wrapped up). We decided the standings after 3rd round were the “official” rankings since that's what included all players.

Tournament board after 3 rounds

The totals were:
Selesnya: 15
Orzhov and Golgari: 14
Gruul: 11
Rakdos and Simic: 9
Izzet, Azorius, and Boros: 5
Dimir: 3

Tight race there, but the Selesnya Conclave pulled ahead by a fraction, crowning its champion Jess as the winner!
Selesnya's Champion Jess, with her shiny Maze's End Promo card!

As a side note, I'd like to point out that ALL three of my guilds were the at the top of the rankings! After a few players headed out, the hardcore late-nighters played two more additional rounds... taking us until 3:30 in the morning! Here's a snapshot of the final rankings, but these are a bit skewed since the Selesnya and Simic champions had left!

Final standing with all rounds tallied!

So the end of the night rankings had Golgari, Gruul, and Orzhov taking the top three slots, with Dimir coming in last. Sometimes secret plans and devious plots don't play out the way you hope!
Awesome night of playing Magic with my friends = best birthday present :)
Even though I wasn't the official winner, my sweet Katie made me a special trophy as a birthday present to commemorate the event, and I got to keep all the cards so I feel like I scored a treasure trove of awesome new cards to play with. All in all my Dragon's Maze treasures included 7 of the maze runners, (with three copies of Emmara Tandris... well, at least the card is pretty) I also got a Voice of Resurgence, Progenitor Mimic, Deathbridge Chant, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Legion's Initiaitve, a regular Maze's End, two shocklands, plus lots of fun fuse cards and new guild toys to build commander decks with!

Step 15: Share!

So, that's how we came together and enjoyed some awesome games of Magic and the conclusion of the Return to Ravnica block. Please leave us a comment, we'd love to hear from you!

  • How did you celebrate the release of Dragon's Maze? 
  • What do you think of our wacky casual scoring system? 
  • Which Guild came out on top in your tournaments or prereleases?

In a couple weeks we're hosting a Modern Masters Draft and I'll post a rundown of that event, including what kind of draft archetypes we discover and any awesome storm-dredge-fairie-giant-suspend-splice-evoke-artifact shenanigans we manage to pull off!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. Love the pictures and so happy you all had a great time! Happy Birthday to you... Would love to play sometime too.