Hello reader! What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. The goal is to take some of the events and articles polluting the Magic world, strip out the chaff (tournament reports, game theory, economics) and give you our superior opinion. Complaints are encouraged.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, to be honest. It had been three months since I had last played Magic, and nearly six since I had played competitively, though I wouldn’t call the midnight pre-release a competitive event. I had adjusted nicely to the life of a former Magic player (as you’ve surely noted if you’ve been reading along for the past few months) but I decided that the exciting atmosphere around the release of an expansion was just too good to give up. It wasn’t a return to playing Magic so much as it would just be participation in a large-scale community event.

That’s what the pre-release is meant to be and Dragon’s Maze delivered. Running the Maze was an exciting addition to the experience and Wizards (and the Twenty Sided Crew) delivered. At the end of round one everyone was looking at the maze board to see where their guild stood in the race. Golgari and Gruul took a quick lead, but it would be Rakdos that completed the Maze first, at the end of round two.

Playing Magic is apparently a lot like riding a bicycle. The way my mind values cards internally and then builds a deck and augments that deck with a mana-base is, at this point, instinctive and almost involuntary. Traditionally I have been among the first to finish deck construction at events like this, and part of me wondered if I would still be able to process information that quickly. I was especially curious if this would hold true because I had not read through the set spoiler, and only saw a handful of the highly touted rares and mythics that had been spoiled earlier.

My fears were unjustified and I finished deck construction in roughly 10 minutes, only needing to make one change to the deck in-between rounds one and two. Of course, this isn’t to say that my decisions were correct, just that I came to the conclusion that I had built a deck that I could play with and win with as quickly as I normally would when I was still playing regularly. I ended up with a four-color deck (dropping blue) running most of the bombs in my pool. This has always seemed like an effective way to win at pre-releases.

I think I played slower than I used to. I was more methodical in my decision making at critical moments. So, in a sense, my break from Magic may have actually made me a better Magic player. Then again, it was a pre-release and I went 3-1, losing the first round to a very quick Gruul deck (and keeping a two-lander and never drawing a third land). In the x-1 bracket I faced average to below-average competition, which may be inflating my opinion of how well I can still play Magic.

Regardless, playing as if I didn’t know what I was doing anymore, without the arrogance and confidence that I built up over a decade-long amateur career, was probably more productive than any other adjustments I had made in the last few years I was playing competitively. It was an interesting observation and one I never would have made if I had not taken this reprieve.

In the end though I did not miss it enough to feel like playing more. I almost dropped after losing the first round but Lauren and Giaco convinced me to stay. Just before six in the morning the event wrapped up and I gave Giaco a ride home before heading back to Bushwick and picking up the laundry (thankful for a laundromat that opens at 6AM on weekends) and passing out in bed. The experience was worthwhile and I will definitely attend the Magic 2014 pre-release. After that, who knows?

The Quick Hits

  • I don’t often comment on competitive Magic in this column, but I wanted to let you all know that Regrowth will still be mostly unplayable. [B&R Announcement]
  • Roberto Gonzales goes over the psychology of cheating and puts the responsibility on the community to root out cheating. [Channel Fireball]
  • Tyler Premier thinks he understands how spoilers work, but has no idea that spoilers don’t have to be constructed playable. [LegitMTG]
  • This is a great look back at the life of Quinton Hoover by Glenn Godard. Check it out now. [Gatheirng Magic]
  • The new build of the MTGO Beta will better support multiple cards in the battlefield and will have better graphics on foils. I’m glad they’re catering to the annoying combo and exceptionally wealthy player demographics. [MTGO]
  • John Dale Beety looks at the etymology of Planeswalker names, if you’re into that kind of thing. [Star City Games]
  • Lauren Lee nicely wraps up the changes to Organized Play. Later today I will be posting a guide for New York Planeswalkers on these changes. [Mulldrifting]
  • More people than anticipated have been attending Grand Prix events and Wizards is out of Prime Time promos, so All Is Dust is premiering a month early! [Arcana]
  • John Krause gets all the good artist inteviews. This week it’s John Avon’s turn. [Star City Games]
  • I could read Matt Sperling’s rants all day, no matter how big a jerk he is. [Sick of It]
  • According to my RSS feed, the official MTG Toolbox app was announced as released. Sounds like someone pulled the trigger too soon though.

Wallpaper of the Week

I think my grade for this week’s wallpaper is a bit influenced by how my desktop is setup. I’m running Windows 7 and have my start menu on the right-hand-side of the screen going vertically, and all my icons on the left-hand-side of the screen. So Vorel of the Hull Clade is standing off-center, but is between my icons and my task bar which is very visually appealing. If my start menu was anywhere else I think this wouldn’t look as good.

Grade: B+

The Week Ahead

The weather is finally warming up so do yourself a favor and spend some time outside. Play some Magic in the park or something. Just don’t spend the whole week in your apartment playing Magic Online or you’ll miss out on the first full week of Spring!

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