What We Can Learn from the World Championship

Greetings WILLing readers (hehe). Previously, I had planned on writing about new decks and cards and synergies and all around newness, but then something…happened…this past weekend. Something too juicy to NOT write about. That something, was the FORCE OF WILL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!!!

So yea, for all of you unaware (likely no one), the Force of Will World Championship happened this weekend and Riccardo Castagnola of Italy is the official new World Champion. Now we will eventually get to the controversy surrounding this particular result, but I don’t intend to take too much away from Riccardo here. He is our champion, and will reign for at least as long as it takes for us to get to the next World Championship.

But before we get to how the World Champs ended, I’d like to spend some of this article focusing on what we can learn from the event as it progressed and where I find the most room for improvement can be made. I will also say the following: I was not at the event, and did not encounter these things first hand. I have watched nearly all the available footage, read many posts regarding the event, and conversed with participants at the event. This was something I deeply cared about (and still care a ton for).

Alrighty then! The coverage for the World Championship began at just about 10pm EST. I tuned in and saw the set up. It looked great! They had these hand displays set up so that the viewers could see the cards in each player’s hand, something similar to the wooden trays that hold your letters in Scrabble. The screen display was such that you could see each player, their hands, the coverage crew, and the play area. This was a lot of information to be seeing all at once. I’m not really sure of the benefit of showing the coverage crew as well as the players and the game. It would probably be most beneficial to see the player’s hands and have the play area as large and as clear as possible. Then maybe when there is a pause in the game, or between sideboarding, we could switch over to the coverage crew as they talk about the match or other interesting musings. I will say that during all my time playing in and watching featured matches, I had never seen the “hand tray” which was a nice, clear way to tell exactly what the player had available to them.

Now, unfortunately the venue they were streaming from didn’t have the best internet available. I am unsure of whether or not the stream was tested beforehand, but the coverage was so choppy that we were forced to watch the plays crawl across the screen. I can’t say how this should have been remedied, but maybe streaming with a lower quality so that the stream is still fluid. It was unfortunate that the most hyped event of the year had to streamed with such subpar quality, but this was possibly unavoidable. More on this later.

Blazer Gill RabusAs the event progressed, we learned some interesting news. First was the Ruler breakdown, something like 47 players played Blazer Gill Rabus, with only a handful of Rulers to choose from and almost no color-fixing to speak of, this kind of makes sense. It was really just a result of the format chosen for Worlds, which was only A0 and A1 cards to build decks from giving players a total card pool of approximately 150. It stands to reason that the best players on Earth would likely be able to find the best configuration, or at least the best strategy to take advantage of such small build space. And that is exactly what happened. A brave few players tried to do their thing, but in the end it was the relentless Fire/Light Blazer decks that were being played.
This brings us to one of our lone non-Blazer players. One brave soul decided he would champion Faria, the Sacred Queen, Ruler of the God Sword! Why is this interesting, you ask? Well, during one of the matches this player had, there was a judge call. During this judge call it was learned that Americans, and all of the rest of the non-Japan world hadn’t been taking full advantage of Faria and her God-piece Excalibur, the God’s Sword. The discrepancy involves what happens when you have the following situation.

Faria, the Sacred Queen, Ruler of the God SwordFaria is in Ruler mode.
You use Excalibur’s rest ability.
You J-Activate Faria.

If you had done this before Worlds, you would assume that Faria gained the +200/+200 bonus, but since you did not control Faria, the Ruler of God Sword at the time you activated Excalibur, she would not have Imperishable and the God’s Art ability would not be reduced in cost. The ruling at Worlds blew all our minds, when the judge said that she indeed would be granted all the abilities regardless of whether Faria was J-Activated or not! Apparently, there is a subtle difference in the way the card was translated, causing the wording on the English version of the card to imply this not be the case. So, yea, this could possibly have changed how many people would have played Faria or possibly Melgis, since him and Laevateinn work the same way. Anyway, this is just another in the reasonably long line of mistranslations we are slowly expecting with each set release.

Fast forward to the second day of the event. Only the top 8 was to be held on the second day of the tournament with the players being allowed to play completely different decks if they chose. As I tuned in for what would be the top 8, I noticed the stream was much more fluid. I am not sure how they got the FPS increased, but it was much better and I was glad the coverage crew was doing their best to make sure the event was being displayed to the best of their abilities.

As the first match began, I noticed that each player in the top 8 had a female representative bearing a sash displaying their country name. This female was essentially by that player’s side during their entire match. Just sitting there, looking relatively miserable, watching what I assume they can only guess is actual sorcery. I sincerely hope that these are people that are invested in the game, and enjoyed being so close to such high stakes, competitive, intense card playing action. But by the looks on their faces, this was not the case. In a game like Magic: the Gathering, at an event with stakes this high, those seats next to the players would be occupied by coverage people or table judges, which will very soon become a point of much disdain.

The top 8 goes smoothly, with lots of excellent play, skill being displayed, most of the things you could want out of the elimination rounds of an event of this caliber. I noticed at some point that the players were asked to remove their cards from the “hand trays”, which made me sad but I assume was for the integrity of the players playing the game, so I was all for it.

Flame King’s ShoutWe make it to the final game of the final match. Adam Reiser versus Riccardo Castagnola. The United States of America versus Italy. Riccardo is on the play, which as we all know is a pretty significant advantage in our beloved card game. While Riccardo starts out with the advantage, an early Flame King’s Shout shifts the game in Adam’s favor. But Riccardo was able to gain enough resources through multiple Guinevere activations, and his follow up was relentless. Both players traded resource after resource, blow after blow. We get to a seemingly insurmountable board state where Riccardo has double Gawain, Percival, Hector, Gwiber, Gareth, and Bedivere all starting down Adam’s measly board of double Gawain and a single Guinevere.

Adam is working with five cards in hand with seven available stones while Riccardo only has a single card left in hand. Life totals are also 4000 to 3000 in Adam’s favor. Adam’s hand of five cards contains Lancelot, double Guinevere, Hector and Rukh Egg. Seeing almost no help from his hand, Adam decides to lead on Rukh Egg, using Guinevere to banish it to tutor for a second Lancelot and draw two extra cards, discarding Hector. The cards Adam finds are none other than Flame King’s Shout and Demonflame. Resting three of his six stones left, Adam fires off the Shout. Riccardo lets it resolve, as it actually kills none of his Resonators. As part of the resolution of the Shout, Adam puts one of his Lancelots into play. Adam then uses his Demonflame on one of Riccardo’s damaged Gawains, destroying it completely. Riccardo puts his Gawain in his graveyard. After this Adam uses his last two will to cast his second Lancelot.

Perceval, the Seeker of Holy GrailIt is at this very moment that the most grievous error of the entire event occurs. If you’ve been keeping track of what’s been happening on this turn, you would notice that there is a 400/400 Percival in play on Riccardo’s side with 400 damage on it from Adam’s Flame King Shout. As soon as Riccardo put his Gawain in his graveyard, this Percival should have followed right behind according to how state based effects work. Well, the very observant judge standing behind Riccardo points this out. Riccardo then attempts to use this Percival’s banish ability on the still living Gawain. Adam points out calmly that Riccardo already let the Demonflame resolve, which would in turn kill the Percival before Riccardo had a chance to use its ability. The judge stood firm and said that Riccardo would be able to use it, that Riccardo had priority to do so. Adam accepted the judge’s ruling and decided to pass the turn. During Riccardo’s next turn, he almost entirely wipes Adam’s side of the board and the game is essentially over.

After review the situation, had Adam still pressed attacks even the face of the bad ruling, things would have went much better for him. Had the incorrect ruling been reversed Adam would have almost certainly been victorious. But that didn’t happen. The head judge was notified of the incident just a bit too late. The coverage team watched the wrong ruling happen AND since previously while I was watching the stream earlier in the tournament, one of the coverage crew noticed what they thought was a mistake in a feature match and went to go check it out, leaving the booth and appearing where the players were playing. So there was indeed precedence to do this sort thing, it had even occurred earlier in this very event!

A lot of things could have indeed gone different, Adam could have tried harder to get the ruling overturned, Riccardo could have accepted his mistake and not tried to get use out of his clearly dead Percival, the coverage team could have intervened, the head judge or any second judge could have been watching the FINALS OF THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP…

While I am certainly optimistic that this bitter ending to the WGP season won’t negatively affect the game in the long run, it will be leaving a bad taste in many a player’s mouth for the months to come. I really tried in this article to highlight some of the things that we did well during the event, and some of the shortcomings that we as a community can hopefully improve upon. I want coverage and high level events to be awesome and I want Force of Will to grow and become the best game I know it can be.

Thanks for reading,
Dan Musser