Commander games promise all levels of insanity. In fact, it is something most of us are looking for when playing Commander. So if you get that level of crazy in your Commander games, how crazy is an entire Launch Party?
To those of you who have read my Tournament Organizer reports, welcome to the next installment. For those of you who haven’t, I am the TO for a mid-sized group of boys aged 8 to 15. They play every week at our local community library. I try to host a prerelease for them whenever possible. Many of them are simply too young to be attending a regional prerelease (RIP) or a store prerelease alone for the hours required to finish a tournament. This way, they all get to play with their friends and have a great time.
As soon as I heard about the Commander decks I was contacting the library to set aside time for a Commander Launch Party. Soon after the New Phyrexia prerelease, I sent out emails to the parents and my son brought flyers to the weekly games to let everyone else know about the Commander Launch Party. This is when things started to come undone.
Some of the boys had never played multiplayer, and were reluctant to play in a format that was completely foreign to them. I was asking them to buy into a tournament with unknown cards that played a game that was barely even Magic to them.
All the advertising had to start after the prerelease. At the time of the prerelease, I had no idea how many of the decks I ordered were actually coming. I’d heard rumors of shorted orders, so if my order was too small, there wouldn’t be a tournament. I couldn’t very well advertise for a tournament that might happen.
Once I knew what I was getting, I had a second timing problem: the parents had just paid for the last tournament. It is one thing for parents to spend money on their child’s card game every few months, it is quite another to do it the next month, practically right after the prerelease.
This is also a poor time of year to try and get children to play Magic. The weather is beautiful so many children aren’t interested in spending the day indoors. Many sports have started for the summer, so a Saturday Magic tournament conflicts with soccer or baseball games. On top of this, there is only one week left in the school year. Some children’s parents have opted to get the jump on summer vacation and pulled their child out of school early in the hopes of avoiding the crowds.
There were two other timing issues specific to our area. The first was something called Rove the Cove. Our community hosts a 5K run every year, and it landed on the same day as the Commander Launch Party. I did move the start time of the tournament back to avoid a direct conflict, but I did see several of the regular Magic players at Rove the Cove.* The second was the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup parade. The day of the parade was announced only days before the tournament, but I expected that at least one of my participants would drop out to go to the parade.
T.O. Lesson: Pay attention to the dates! In the future I will avoid holding events in the summer, or ensure that everyone who will likely be involved won’t have something else crowding their calendar.
Not surprisingly, the signups beforehand were slow in coming. I usually get a smaller allotment, so I rarely have more than 16 people in the tournament. I was forced to turn away several boys from the New Phyrexia prerelease so I was hoping to have several people sign up early. I had only four people sign up right away, then no one for almost the full month. Had it been a regular prerelease, I likely would have canceled the whole thing, but with four players I could at least have them all play in a single game, so I left it open.
In the two days before the tournament, I had four more sign up, letting me breathe much easier about my attendance. Eight players would make a far better experience than four!
I arrived at the library and started to set up a couple of tables and chairs for everyone. Once we had everyone seated, I explained how our “tournament” would be set up. Rather than requiring wins to get prizes (which is what the players were used to from previous tournaments), I explained that this Launch Party was going to be about fun. I wasn’t concerned with who won or lost, I simply wanted everyone to have a good time. Rather than winning a game to get prizes, I explained that they would need to get ten checkmarks on the Achievement card I was passing out to win a prize. There would be more prizes for 11 checkmarks and more for 12 checkmarks.
The Achievement card I was using was the card Wizards had included in their TO pack for the Commander Launch Party. The achievements were not particularly difficult (cast your general three times, make a sound effect when playing a creature, spend five mana on a Join Forces card, etc.) and I expected everyone to win the prizes.
It was at this point when I realized that I had just assumed everyone knew how to play Commander. While this might be a safe assumption at a regular Launch Party, with younger players, it is not always the case. At my prereleases, I usually found myself helping out the little guys who had never built a deck on a deadline. Luckily for me, only one player didn’t know how to play. I gave him a basic tutorial which was easier than I expected. When you don’t have to build a deck, and the player is already familiar with regular Magic, Commander rules are very straightforward.
T.O. Lesson: We waited for ten minutes for the final two players to arrive. During that time I could have asked if anyone had questions about Commander. This would have been far more efficient and likely far more helpful for Ben.
I was fearful about determining who got what deck. I expected that everyone would want one or two different decks, but there wasn’t more than two people who wanted any one deck, so everyone either got the deck they wanted, or chose a deck at random. I picked last and ended up with Heavenly Inferno. The idea that this was the last one available made me smile, since I was hoping for a chance to bash heads with Kaalia.
The Launch Party
With the eight boys there, my friend Harry who came to help, and myself, we organized into two tables of five, with each deck represented at each table! Just as we were about to start, Peter (that’s him above, determining his next move) showed up with his mother and asked to join in. With 11 people I was picturing three tables with four, four and three people at one table, or six and five people at two tables. Neither option seemed all that good to me, so I stepped away and put Peter into my place. I had already shuffled and was ready to play, so he just stepped into my spot and my role returned to be completely Organizer.
T.O. Lesson: The tournament needs come ahead of your wants. Any option that involved me playing would have made the Launch Party far less fun. It was better to step aside and ensure everything ran smoothly.
The Launch Party was a total of four games. As you can see, the tables were right next to each other, so supervising the event was fairly easy for me. The first two games ended at 12:30 without a winner when I called the games for lunch.** The afternoon games ended with Noah as a winner and only three players left from a 5-player game. Cool plays included:
Noah casting Congregate with 60 plus creatures in play (Alliance at Arms makes Congregate even more annoying!).
Conrad, aka the Smiling Assassin, attacking one player for 18 points of damage with various creatures, and a second player with a 0/1 Eldrazi token, just to get a checkmark for attacking two players.
Jack, the resident necromancer, spending five turns exiling creature cards out of opponents’ graveyards to cast Living Death. He ended up with 12 creatures in play to none for anyone else. Unfortunately for Jack, mana was not an issue at this point and everyone was able to build up their defenses before he could take anyone out.
Peter had a Diabolic Tutor in hand and Kaalia on the board. He was searching through his deck for an Angel, Demon, or Dragon to put in his hand that he could put into play attacking with Kaalia. I admit to helping him to choose Malfegor. He sacrificed his four cards in hand and took out every other creature on the board. He earned five checkmarks just from that combat phase.
My son Spencer (an award winner at the Rove the Cove 5K earlier that day!) had Vish-Kal and Karador out at the same time. He cast Hornet Queen, putting several flying deathtouch insects on the field, then sacrificed the Queen to Vish-Kal, then used Karador to play the Hornet Queen out again, with more insects. This continued for three consecutive turns. Jack is not the only necromancer in this group!
Jacob understood the fun focus of the games more than anyone else. Towards the end of his second game, Jacob killed off his own general on consecutive turns, just to be able to play it out again. This gave him the all-important tenth checkmark.
These were only the plays that I saw. I don’t know about the all the ones I missed.
When the tournament ended, it was time for prizes! I take any profit from the previous tournament and use it to buy prizes for the next tournament. For every tournament I do for the boys, I try to come up with some cool prizes, beyond just the foil promotional cards. I’ve done deckboxes, and dice and the occasional pack of cards, I but I wanted this to be something special, since the Commander Launch Party was going to be different. I wanted to give out playmats.
This is a tough one, since playmats are generally beyond my budget for prizes. I found some playmats at StarCity, but I wasn’t going to be able to pay the full price. I emailed Pete Hoefling, explaining that I was looking for eight playmats that would go to the winners of various Commander games and to the most sportsmanlike players in each game. Pete forwarded my email to Ben Bleiweiss. I explained to Ben what I had planned and StarCity was happy to help out with the playmats. My thanks again to everyone at SCG. I had several happy kids.
The danger when your players are younger is that a loss can be a crushing defeat. When the tournament started, I briefly considered telling Peter that he could not play, but how do you tell a young boy that he can’t play a fun game that he loves to play? This hit hard after the Launch Party was ended. With only eight boys at the start of the Launch Party, I had decided to give everyone playmats. With Peter being added in, I now had nine players and only eight playmats. Two boys did not reach the ten point plateau I’d set, but I had no intentions of leaving anyone without a playmat. I knew I had another one at home, and I would get it to the unlucky boy next week.
Getting a playmat next week is small consolation, and the player involved was in tears. I also had some Scars of Mirrodin packs to give out as prizes, so everyone got at least one, while the boy without the playmat got a second one. Apparently, extra cards don’t help either and there wasn’t anything I could do.
At this point, my son Spencer came up to me and gave me his playmat. He had been angling to get the Act of Treason playmat since the box from StarCity had arrived at our house. He loved the art, and he managed to get far more points than he needed to make that happen. He had seen what was happening and gave up his playmat to the other boy. My daughter may have given me chocolates for Father’s Day on Sunday, but seeing my 12-year-old son do this selfless act for someone else was the best gift.
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* I ran the 5K right before the Launch Party. I brought a change of clothes and deodorant, so things went pretty well!
** I learned from an earlier tournament that not stopping for lunch with smaller children can wreck your tournament. Players will just forfeit games and leave to eat. Setting a break in the tournament for lunch has been the best idea.