PAX East 2011: Sunday

By Shamus
on Mar 14, 2011
Filed under:
Nerd Culture

The final day of PAX East. The strange day where you can’t wait to get home but you don’t want it to end. Also the day right after the clocks jumped forward as part of the grand conspiracy to annoy the everloving crap out of everyone on the planet.

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We began the day with the panel “When I Grow Up: It’s Never Too Late to Try Something Crazy”.

I really don’t feel right about laughing at a man who has brain damage, but that was his goal.
I really don’t feel right about laughing at a man who has brain damage, but that was his goal.

Sean Baptiste underwent a dozen surgeries for a brain tumor that was eventually called inoperable. The surgeries (or the tumor) left him with damage that impaired his ability to remember things. So he decided to go into stand-up comedy. No, really. Sean spoke a bit about his condition, then screened an episode of a video series detailing his journey. It was painful, illuminating, and humorous.

What I found crazy? The guy can remember his material, but then forgets PERFORMING it. The brain is a funny thing.

We had many more panels we wanted to attend, but after three days of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and junk food, I was just too footsore, glassy-eyed, and mentally inept to put the hours into proper use. What I really wanted was a place to rest. There are benches scattered around the convention hall, about one bench for every two thousand people. To keep people from knifing each other over places to sit, the benches are slabs of depleted uranium that afforded no hope of comfort or rest. Sitting on them is so painful that your leg pain seems tame by comparison, which is sort of like resting them.

We wound up walking the show floor again.

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Wizards of the Coast had a really cool booth that looked like a castle. A castle make of plastic and filled with expensive merchandise. Above is my princess, although she didn’t need rescuing.

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Finally I gave up and wobbled to the food court, where the Loading Ready Run folks were playing Magic: The Gathering. Also, there were chairs. Sweet, sweet unoccupied chairs. I had to kill very few people to acquire one, which was a nice change of pace.

OH MY GOSH! JOLLY RANCHERS! WOOOO! Oh yeah.  Graham and Paul were here too.
OH MY GOSH! JOLLY RANCHERS! WOOOO! Oh yeah. Graham and Paul were here too.

My spectating enjoyment was slightly diminished by the fact that I had no flaming idea what in the name of Gary Gygax was going on. Graham did his best to explain the rules while he played. It was like learning how to set the clock on your VCR from a guy who is in the middle of defusing a bomb.

The crew actually made this handy instructional video after Pax Prime last year:

As far as I was able to tell, the game works like this:

1) Before starting, make sure you have the following equipment: A pair of twenty sided dice, some sort of chips or markers, an iPhone, and about $5,000 worth of cards. A table and a couple of chairs would be nice if you have any money left over.
2) Your opponent may have arranged his deck in a way that will make his cards useful. To thwart this, cut his deck, just once, more or less in the middle. Note that if he’s a total jackass he might do the same to you.
3) Draw several cards, look at them, say “mulligan”, and then discard them and draw some more. There is a provision in the rules that allows you to play with the first set of cards you draw, but nobody ever does this.
4) When it’s your turn, take a random number of your cards and put them on the table sideways so that neither player can read them.
5) The players take turns putting cards on the table. When putting a card into play, the owner should tell a story about how the card was acquired, a previous game in which the card was used, or how much they paid for it. The longer the story or the higher the cost, the more damage they deal to the opponent.
6) Sometimes you will need to place markers on cards. These should be edible. Other people will come along periodically and devour these markers, knocking the cards around in the process. This protects you from having to know or understand what positions the cards are supposed to be in.
7) Eventually the player who spent the least money on cards will lose all their hit points, thus winning the game. It’s generally considered sportsmanlike to pretend the other person won, though, because it’s not nice to laugh at poor people.

Kathleen De Vere is using her famed Angry Kitties deck.
Kathleen De Vere is using her famed Angry Kitties deck.

We wrapped it up and said goodbye.

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My gaming buddies Bogan & Eric left that night. It’s a ten to twelve hour drive to get home, depending on traffic. I guess they got in around 6am. Heather and I were planning on trying the same thing, but on Saturday night we came to our senses, remembered we were no longer in our twenties, and booked another night at the hotel.

Thanks to everyone who hit the donate button. Aside from keeping my book project rolling, your generosity basically funded this trip.

CORRECTION: Kathleen’s deck was NOT Angry Kitties. That deck was auctioned off. This is some other feline-based deck of abuse and humiliation. Surprise your friends!

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202020202There are now 82 comments. Almost a hundred!

From the Archives:

  1. Chris B Chikin says:

    I briefly played Magic: The Gathering after some friends got me into it. The experience is pretty much exactly as Shamus describes.

    • Jekyll says:

      Thank goodness I actually was taught how to play from someone else, its mind boggling looking at the big book ‘o rules and trying to devine its anchient nerd secrets. Although my games usually consist of trolling the guys with the best deck before he can actually get anything going.

      • Moriarty says:

        the Duels of the Planeswalkers game has a nice tutorial on magic, and it’s even on the demo!

        • Chargone says:

          too bad the game itself does stupid things with land that screw you over randomly and doesn’t let you actually build your deck…

          • Zukhramm says:

            This is the problem, not the lands thing, because I have no idea what that is, since I don’t play it. But I saw the game on a Steam sale and thought I’d give it a try, luckily I read up on it and found out you couldn’t make your own decks before I got it. If that’s the case, then no thanks. What’s the point if I can’t do that? Might as well play with ordinary cards instead then.

            • Raygereio says:

              The land thing is that the game decides what lands will be tapped when you play something. Which can be an issue in multi-coloured decks.

              Duels of the Planeswalkers also has the honour of having the stupidest DLC yet (yes, it beat Oblivion). Why on earth would anyone pay even just one dollar to unlock something which you can also unlock by just playing the game?

      • Chris B Chikin says:

        I got an Eventide deck, I think. I basically spent the entire time getting ass-whupped by every other player in my gaming group. I understood enough to see how said ass-whupping occurred, but not enough to replicate it on others. The concept of “Combos” was entirely alien to me.

        • Jekyll says:

          ya, “my” deck was always borrowed from my friends who actually play it and it was stacked in the sense that it was a garbage disposal for their worthless cards. So, i got into the habit of unleashing my motley crew of 1/1 shin-kickers on whichever player wasn’t actually ready….before promptly getting smashed and eliminated.

    • Nyaz says:

      I remember playing Magic: The Gathering when I was like… thirteen? I think my brother fooled me into playing it occasionally, and I remember knowing how everything worked.

      Looking back at it now, it plays out exactly like Shamus described it. A confusing mess of flipping cards, bragging about how you spent years getting them, and the owning your opponent in a flurry of tossing cards randomly into piles.

    • Ringwraith says:

      I’m not big on the buying cards thing.
      I just try to do hilarious things with old cards that I have lying around.

      I once killed and then stole someone’s Akroma and beat them to death with it.
      That was a fun deck. Probably more fun considering that it beat a deck which was probably worth much much more than mine.

      I’ve even built a deck that designed to lose in the most ridiculous way possible, yet has somehow won a few times, and also made someone completely paranoid in the process.

    • Robyrt says:

      So true – Magic is all but incomprehensible to watch or learn, because so much of the relevant mechanics and game state information is unspoken or assumed between the two players, and the game involves a lot of turning cards sideways and putting things on them so you can’t read the text anymore.

      Why do Magic players always seem to know a million little rules and card details? Spending $1000 on cards does tend to concentrate the mind a bit!

  2. Kavonde says:

    Four of the six people in my D&D group are avid Magic players, and will break out one of their dozen or so decks at any opportunity. They’ve tried to explain it to me a few times, and I’ve actually played a few games, and…yeah, Shamus, you’re basically spot on. The guy who always wins is the one who spends thousands of dollars a year buying new cards.

    More alarmingly, as experienced Magic players, all four of them are absolutely dedicated to the art of min-maxing. I’ve basically given up hope of ever winning a battle against them. (Or even just having my monsters put up a challenging fight.) My only hope has been looking into more roleplaying-centric systems like FATE, but, of course, they don’t want to spend the money on new books.

    Sigh.

    • McNutcase says:

      If you’re playing a FATE-based game, they don’t need books. They need a sheet of paper each, and enough wit to be able to write. Oh, and some candy. You could use poker chips, but if you use candy they’ll screw themselves over by forgetting that it’s important, and eating it. It’s HILARIOUS when that happens.

      I’m currently GMing a FATE-based game. It’s one of the most fun games my group has running, and between the completely insane Mage game, the even more insane Cthulhu-versus-the-giant-mecha game, and the Star Wars game with the psychotic ewok Jedi, that’s saying a lot. It seems to be a rule that at least one PC in any of our games must be both a) insane and b) highly skilled with explosives…

      • Kavonde says:

        Well, I haven’t actually broached the subject of FATE, as I just sort of found out about it via the Dresden Files. However, previous suggestions at other systems or just getting the group to RP more have been met with resistance.

        For example, on the subject of Star Wars games, I convinced the group to play an Imperial-era sandbox-style campaign where they’d start out on a small planet to sort of learn the ropes, with the promise of eventually getting a ship and being free to pursue whatever course they wished. Four sessions later, the Neimodian businessman had earned a reputation for headbutting stormtroopers, the Jedi was flash-frying unconscious children with Force Lightning, the Mandalorian wannabe was just there for the paycheck, the Jawa mechanic had found a flamethrower and a pack full of thermal detonators, and the guy playing a reactivated HK-50 was probably the sanest of the bunch. They ended up basically recreating Inglorious Basterds Star Wars-style, hijacking AT-STs, trying to blow up Darth Vader, and generally just causing absolute chaos before they even got off the starting planet.

        It was by far the most fun I’ve ever had as a DM, but roleplaying, it was not. And even though they had fun with it, too, they really just wanted to get back to their minmaxed 4E characters.

        But hey, I know I sound like I’m complaining, but I do like my group. And even if I didn’t, there’s not a huge pool of other players ’round here.

        • McNutcase says:

          I submit that there’s a maximum of half a session in any Star Wars game before things go completely insane. By the end of our first session, the ewok was force choking two bouncers at once…

          • Kavonde says:

            Yeah, half a session’s all it really takes. Ours started off bad when the Jedi, rather than trying to hide from a patrol of stormtroopers, decided to break out the lightsaber and Force Throw in the middle of a crowded market. It got really bad when the Neimodian noble, with his maxed Diplomacy and Bluff skills, decided to attack the troopers interrogating him with his bare hands. But when they blew up an Imperial outpost with grenades, thermal detonators, and an overloaded generator and killed the only sane PC in the process? I think that was the moment I realized this wasn’t going to go as expected.

        • Hal says:

          I’m running a Dresden Files campaign now. I love the system, though it’s such a departure from D&D that I think my group is going to swallow their eyeballs trying to wrap their heads around it.

          Shameless plug: I’ll be keeping a log of the campaign on a wiki, in case anyone cares to see how it goes.

          http://www.obsidianportal.com/campaigns/gateway-to-darkness

          Hey, I got into RPGs by reading Shamus’s campaign.

          • McNutcase says:

            Mine is Diaspora, and while it claims to be hard science fiction, that got broken in session ZERO, when one player invented explodium. Since then, we’ve had two sessions of gradually increasing insanity, and I haven’t even gotten out of sandbox mode yet. Last time, one PC was almost arrested for smuggling skin flicks, while the very obviously laser-scarred hulk he sold off attracted no comments at all…

          • Kavonde says:

            I will absolutely read this. I’ve been reading up on the Dresden Files RPG, and would love to see a log of how it plays in practice.

            Great plug, man. Great plug.

            ADDING: Ooh, St. Louis! Nice. So much potential for the Arch.

            And if your group finds a couple of hubcaps for a 2002 Mitsubishi Gallant, I’d like those back, please.

    • Mr. Wizard says:

      I too have noticed a correlation between Min-maxers and Magic the Gathering players as well. I don’t invite them into my games very often. >_>

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        But having min-maxers in your group is so much fun.The rage in their eyes when they realize your house rule just made their uber character useless is priceless.After all,no one can dispute the universal rpg rule:game master is god.

        As for the card game,luckily the only guys I know who pay tons of money on expensive hobbies are warhammer fans,and that one can at least be used during a combat.

        • Vegedus says:

          That seems like a recipe for nothing but angry players.

          Playing with munchkins is no excuse for deliberately screwing players over. If it’s not deliberate, it’s a sign of lack of communication.

      • RichVR says:

        This is why I play MTG: Duels of the Planeswalkers on my PC exclusively. There I am the munchkin min/maxer. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    • Maldeus says:

      Try inventing new monsters with new abilities that they haven’t seen before and haven’t had time to plan for. Err on the side of monster-victory instead of PC-victory. If there’s any particular Munchkin strategy they’re reliant on, have the world at large take notice and adopt a defense against it.

  3. Amarsir says:

    I agree. I first picked up Magic in 1995 and that’s as good a description as I’ve ever heard. Incidentally, the LRR guys really are bitten, aren’t they? Makes me wonder if we’ll see any of them assaulting the Pro Tour soon.

  4. Obai says:

    Shamus, you seem like a nice person. I’m sorry I trolled you.

  5. Cybron says:

    “the higher the cost, the more damage they deal to the opponent”

    Far, far too true.

  6. ccesarano says:

    Don’t have much to say for this post, but I figured I’d share the photo taken with you, me and MovieBob.

    EDIT: Apparently posting images in here doesn’t work, therefore, linky dink.

    Usually I try to make faces that are silly, but that really does accurately describe how I was feeling that very moment.

  7. Mari says:

    Money well spent in my book. Glad you had fun at PAX and thanks for sharing it with the demophobic among your readers like myself :-)

  8. Chakan says:

    My friends and I play magic, it’s less complex to learn, though there’s naturally a great bit of added complexity when rules interact. I spend maybe 20$ a month at most, the majority of which is on cards that have a great deal of flexibility (read: usability in multiple decks.) While there are a number of cards that can cost more than a car, they’re few and far between, blatantly more powerful and banned (or restricted in one case) in sanctioned formats. I’ve met a few folks who have decks that are substantially better than anything I can throw together, but the vast majority of players aren’t so focused on winning that they’ll put even one gaea’s cradle in their elf deck, much less four.
    So, I guess it’s right that if you spend substantially more than your opponents, you’ll have a better deck, the difference between a 10$ deck and a 100 dollar deck isn’t massive, splitting the odds to 60/40 in the high payers favor typically. It isn’t nearly as bad a yu-gi-oh from what I hear.

  9. Sean Riley says:

    Technically, that would be the Burly Kitties deck. The Angry Kitties deck was auctioned off during Desert Bus 4.

    Yes, I am an annoying pedant.

  10. Adalore says:

    I have played a couple times, it seems I can learn new games fast enough to start doing the nasty tactics fairly quickly. :)

    Though using someone’s unfinished green deck when you originally don’t understand the rules is difficult. I ALMOST won in the couple games I did.

  11. Old_Geek says:

    I agree! I absolutely hate turning the clocks ahead. I do, however, love turning them back. It’s a shame that only happens once a year. We should just do it randomly throughout the year. Sure that will eventually turn daytime into night, making all humans nocturnal and probably drive us insane, but we’d get some extra sleep!

    • Amarsir says:

      Hey that’s an idea. Instead of going 1 hour back in the fall and 1 hour forward in the spring, we can go 24 hours back spread throughout the year. Every 2 weeks you get an extra hour!

    • Hitch says:

      My own proposal which is usually met with anything from utter confusion to accusations of mental deficiency is that we adjust the clock by 10 minutes each month and reverse directions every 6 months. this has basically the same effect as the current system, just more gradual. That way it’s easier to remember when the change is coming and you’re never more than 20 minutes out of sync.

      • McNutcase says:

        My car clock would never be right. It has a clever self-regulating mechanism: when you adjust it forwards, it runs a little faster, and when you adjust it back, it runs a little slower. It takes a couple of months to settle down again after the time changes now… I say we just quit messing with the clocks. Pick a time and stick with it.

    • Andrew B says:

      Daylight savings is more useful the further North (or South) you go from the equator. In Scotland (roughly the same latitude as the mid point of Canada), during winter it’s not uncommon for it to get light at 8:30 and dark again at 4:00, and that’s with daylight savings. Without it, we’d be only seeing the sun at 9:30 in the morning. (In contrast, of course, in summer it’s light by 4:00 and doesn’t get dark until 11:00.) For us, it’s useful to shift the time a little. For those of you closer to the equator with commensurately less variable day lengths it’s less useful.

      • Sumanai says:

        It’s also less useful the close you get to the poles, since it’s bright outside at almost any hour.

        However, in all areas there’s a psychological harm in DST to some, since their internal clocks can take months to readjust. (Heard from a psychiatrist who was on radio, so no linky I’m afraid.)

  12. Amstrad says:

    That table of people looks like my kinda table of people. I really need to make a point of getting out to PAX East next year.

  13. Avpix says:

    I’ve been an avid Magic player for a couple years now. While I usually don’t spend that much money, I’ve had my moments (namely spending $70 to build a deck full of elves that either can create more elves or make elves stronger). Given the amount of enjoyable time Magic has given me, I’d say it can be worth the cost.

  14. Halceon says:

    The worst part about DST is that doesn’t happen at the same time in the whole world. THANK YOU, BEN FRANKLIN, YOU ARE AN ASS.

    • Falcon_47 says:

      Exactly, i was reading that first line in the post and went ahead to check my calender XD. I didn’t knew that DST was different for different countries, i always imagined everyone changed their clocks on the same day at the same time (stupid i know). For me its a full hour switch at the end of the month, but yeah Shamus i totally understand you…

    • krellen says:

      In defence of my favourite founding father, when he thought up the system, artificial lighting was far more expensive and far less common.

      The system really doesn’t have that much use nowadays.

  15. orangeban says:

    Your friend has easily the greatest beard in the history of mankind. It must of been painful for you in your days of not being able to grow a beard Shamus.

  16. karln says:

    I’ve long felt it’s a shame about the CCG aspect of M:tG, because the actual rules and gameplay are very interesting. The avid-collector advantage can be neutralised by playing a draft format, in which each player receives a random set of cards (when I played, no rare cards would be included in these sets) and builds their deck from those, immediately prior to playing. Usually this is done with freshly-bought packs of cards, but for fun home games you can just use whatever cards you have lying around.

    This is for more experienced players, admittedly. I think a fairer way to introduce beginners to the game is to lend them decks built by experts, and which have a clear strategy associated with them, like ‘get lots of squirrels into play then use this card to make them huge’.

    • Volatar says:

      Yeah, the “borrow someone elses deck” method is what I always went with. I still use it to this day actually. I have lots of fun playing with a lot of different decks, and never have to spend a cent on the game ;)

  17. Jjkaybomb says:

    You make it sound like a bad thing that you reacted to the jolly ranchers before you did the famous and cool people in front of them. I mean, thats what I did. Jolly ranchers are freaking awesome.

  18. The_Unforgiven says:

    I think I should get thanks for /wanting/ to donate. But I can’t, because I’m in college and therefore only a step above dirt poor.

    It’s the thought that counts though, right?

  19. For what it is worth, I used to natively min-max while role playing. It is what got me into test playing Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu, among other things, so I could break the rules for the test group before some players did it with the final version.

  20. Jennifer Snow says:

    Hey, Shamus, I sent you an email, but I’m not sure whether your spam filter might have eaten it or something. You’re probably still getting settled back in at home, but if you could check when you get a chance, I’d appreciate it.

  21. Nathaniel says:

    I never can resist the urge to argue against the idea that More Money = More Success at Magic: The Gathering, mostly because I used to have the same idea stuck in my head. The real advantage is that of card quality/variety. Admittedly, the easiest way to achieve this advantage is through large sums of money, but that is by no means the only way.

    You could trade aggressively and often, or focus on specific, commonly cheap archetypes, such as some sort of low mana-costing Red or occasionally Black aggro strategy. Just stay away from Goblin Guide, that guy’s a doozy. As someone suggested above, you could also play a Limited format, typically either Draft or Sealed, but my group has had some success recently with League events (the League starts off with a large Sealed game, then each week each player can buy another booster pack to add to the pool of cards they can use to build League decks) but Limited doesn’t so much alleviated the cost of playing Magic as it does keep everyone on a fairly-even level.

    But yeah, at a certain point, cost of entry becomes a barrier from participating competitively at Magic. I’m kind of at the point right not, and am consciously re-evaluating my financial situation as it relates to having a hobby I would like to spend more money on. The most often cited comparison in this discussion is golf: sure you could just go out every so often and hit some balls, but if you want to be good at golf and beat other golfers, then you’re going to have to shell out money for a good set of clubs. And make no mistake, Magic is a competitive hobby just like any other, just with its own idiosyncrasies.

    tl;dr: yeah, if you want to win often at Magic, you will have to spend some money, but it’s more than likely you’re blowing it way out of proportion, though it definitely is easy to spend a ton. That said, far and away the best way to have an even playing field is to play any multiplayer format with more than two teams. Commander, 5-points, 13-player free-for-alls, whatever. It’s awesome and fun.

  22. Deoxy says:

    DST = teh stupid.

    Seriously – the official reason for it is to save energy, but actual studies on it (using that one state that allows its counties to decide individually whether to do DST or not – yes, it’s completely insane) show that energy usage actually goes up very slightly.

    In short, it works as well as most government things.

    And that WotC booth pic was just cruel to those of us who used to work the booth as our only way of getting to cons, but then changed jobs and don’t have enough vacation time for such things anymore… Yes, I’m sure that’s a very large class of people.

    And the Magic thing… heh, that was a really funny description, especially the VCR comment. But seriously, the basic rules really are quite simple. But yes, it requires money. Otherwise, I might play from time to time (who am I kidding… I never have time to play games with other human beings anymore).

  23. psivamp says:

    I started my one and only day at PAX with When I Grow Up because it looked cool and the director is the brother of a friend.
    It was the highlight of the day.

  24. SuperKP says:

    A quote that I hear every year around DST, from some old indian chief: “only a white man would think that cutting off a foot’s worth of a blanket, and sewing it on to the bottom would let him end up with a longer blanket”

    Also: Did anyone else think about making a CCG that is mostly blank cards, and ACTUALLY following the rules that Shamus posted? Blank because you need to write down how you got them, how much it cost, and so forth. Or perhaps simply just the number of owners it has gone through.

    More ‘value’ if you use more than one color of ink, the closer to ‘mint’ condition it is (i.e. how gently it has been treated) the more people that it has gone through, the current ranking of the first and last (other than current) owners have on the leaderboards, which are updated daily…

    maybe not entirely blank, like it has a random number on it, and time of printing, to have some initial value against other cards….if no one else thought of this, and I can actually make it work, I call dibs on copyright (I suppose with shamus partial). please shamus, do not let your server die.

    Dibs works for copyright, right? isn’t that all that copyright is?

    Maybe call it “trade me arbitrarily” or “entropy” or something.

  25. Jack V. says:

    Your description of magic was utterly hilarious, thank you. (That’s from someone who for a long time played magic by occasionally borrowing a deck, and the last few years have got into it enough to collect, but not to play competitively.)

    I always feel a little defensive about it, because I think that:

    (1) if you’re going to play competitively with decks you constructed to be the best in a given format, then in most formats, you will have to pay decent money (or equivalently time or something). You can often make a good deck with not-the-most-expensive-cards, but often the only decks (that you know of) that will beat the best decks in the format need cards which are expensive. (Of contemporary cards. Excluding cards that cost >£1000 because they were ridiculously overpowered and only in the first printing).

    (2) There’s a certain barrier to learning from a crowd of people without them drowning each other out with too much detail. Some groups are much better at this, others worse.

    (3) However, I’ve read your articles about what makes a game fun, and I agree, and yet, I think a lot about magic is fun.

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