Last weekend was the inaugural Escapist Expo at the Durham Convention center and the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, North Carolina. Any of you who were able to make it to the Expo can hardly have missed the huge turnout we had for the Magic-dedicated Ballroom A. If you didn't make it, it was a sight to behold. We had hundreds of players sitting down playing games, the Learn to Play area was always occupied, and the Hexproof Charity Open on Saturday saw 71 players lined up for their chance to win a Mox Sapphire, all benefiting the Gamers Helping Gamers charity. Even Jon Finkel, Bob Maher, and Tim McKenna from Gamers Helping Gamers came out to hang out and play magic with fans.
Though the weekend was very busy, I made sure to schedule some time to go see Jon and Bob speak on their panel, "Best. Magic. Players. Ever." moderated by our own s0osleepie. Here they spoke fondly of their earliest days of Magic, how they broke into the professional scene at an early age, and what sets a pro-player apart from the rest. The answer to the last question was, of course, 'passion.' Without a love for the game, you're not going to be able to dedicate the full-time equivalent number of hours each week to honing your skills, tinkering with decks, and building a team of reliable players to help you achieve success. They even discussed the cards that they got to design, Jon Finkel's Shadowmage Infiltrator, and Bob Maher's Dark Confidant, and how they fare compared to the current power level of cards in the game. If you're at all familiar with Modern, you'll know that Bob's Dark Confidant, affectionately known simply as 'Bob' is still a staple in formats where it is legal. It was intriguing to hear how he pushed through such a powerhouse in a time where the latest player-built card, Tiago Chan's Snapcaster Mage might never have been accepted.
While I didn't play in the tournament myself, I helped a friend construct a Zombie Pod deck and shadowed him through the day to keep an eye on how he fared. With a field of 71 players, there were seven rounds of swiss before the cut to the top-8, so we had a long day ahead of us. His first match was against the Spiraling Doom event deck, right out of the box. It was a newer player, so he offered some advice as they played and just had a good time with the match. Zombie Pod came out ahead here, naturally, since the Event Decks aren't exactly streamlined for tournament play.
Between rounds we were discussing the weaknesses of the deck, and a recurring theme was that swarm decks were going to be a problem, given the lack of mass removal included in our Zombie Pod. Token decks, specifically, where each card represents two or more creatures, are problematic, since they make one-for-one removal really poor. As you might expect, for round two he was paired up against a BW Tokens deck, his expected bane. At one point in the match I saw two Intangible Virtues come down and thought that it was going to be game over for Zombie Pod, but he managed to eke out a 2-1 victory over the tokens deck and went into round three undefeated.
Round three saw an interesting Blue/Black artifact life gain brew, which doesn't fit well into any given archetype. They may have been playing Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, but I didn't see him come down during the match. There was at one point a Mimic Vat with a Wurmcoil Engine under it, which closed out that game pretty quickly, but the other two games went to Zombie Pod, making it undefeated once more heading into round four.
In round four, Zombie Pod was matched up against a predominantly Black control deck, splashing Blue for counterspells. There were some ramp elements to the deck as well, like Solemn Simulacrum and Sphere of the Suns which eventually brought them up to Griselbrand. With Curse of Death's Hold coming in from the sideboard, however, Zombie Pod didn't fare too well in this match. Given that the curse completely shuts down Blood Artist and Gravecrawler, which are two fairly essential cards for the build, once Curse came down it was pretty much the end of Zombie Pod. It was the first loss of the day, and brought us into round five 3-1.
Things didn't go any better in round five, with Zombie Pod facing off against another Black White deck. This time they used artifact ramp to get up to Massacre Wurm, which did a number on the poor little zombies every time it came down. With Oblivion Rings to take care of his Birthing Pods, and Sun Titans to boot, the match just didn't go in favor of Zombies, and ultimately he ended up dropping at 3-2 for some well-deserved respite and a bite to eat.
All told, the field was hugely diverse, which was very exciting to see. I was super pleased to see the Top-8 Decklists after the fact, and see just how varied the tournament truly was. Only a single Delver deck showed up in the top spots, and the only similar decks were the two RB Zombies, which I'm okay with because I do love some zombies. First place went to a Mono-Black Infect deck, which took down Solar Flare in the finals, and brought home the prized Mox. The winner even got the chance to participate in a panel on Sunday to talk about his experience, which I'm hoping we'll have up on site in the near future.
Were you at Expo? Did you play in the tournament? What deck did you play and how did you fare?