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Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events. Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.

 

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This Space For Rent

The Southwestern Paladin
Wrong-Headed Giant
The Fun Format That Shouldn’t Be Sanctioned

by Jeff Zandi
March 24, 2006

The State Championships of Two-Headed Giant took America by storm last weekend. Literally. Like the largest of dangerous storms, we were warned ahead of time that these new state championship tournaments were coming. As Saturday’s tournaments arrived, many players were excited about the new limited format, while others ran away as quickly as their legs could take them. Those who endured the storm were trapped inside buildings for many, many hours as the laborious format plodded along slowly. The tournament took twelve hours to run even though it served only around fifty players. At the end of the day in Wichita, Kansas, a lot of us were left feeling that Two-Headed Giant might be a fun format that shouldn’t be sanctioned for actual tournament play.

I don’t know if Two-Headed Giant is fun to play. To be fair, I think I need to say that up front. I was the head judge at the Kansas edition of this new annual state championship format. As a judge, I hated it. This was not the first time that I had run a Two-Headed Giant tournament. Last year, at the Wizard’s World convention in Arlington, Texas, I had the opportunity to run a Two-Headed Giant tournament, along with a Duel Masters tournament. I really hate to say bad things about Two-Headed Giant, because, again, I have not tried playing the format. I have nothing to say about how fun this format is to play. However, I can tell you how the fifty people playing in my tournament felt about the format after struggling with its slow play and with its extremely problematic rules.

PECULIAR RULES HARD TO UNDERSTAND

There were a lot of questions about the rules of Two-Headed Giant throughout the day, understandably. (2HG for the rest of this article) Unfortunately, a lot of the rules for 2HG are not intuitive, and some rules have simply been tied into a knot in order to accommodate 2HG tournament play. For example, the two players on a 2HG team are considered, for most things, to be a kind of single entity. Each team has ONE upkeep step, ONE draw step where each player on that team each draws a card and ONE attack step where each player on the team announces which of the creatures he controls will attack.

Players share a life total, which begins at 40 points. Each player acts almost completely independently, however, when it comes to permanents. Each player on a team plays land that only he can use for his own spells and effects. Each player plays his own creatures that only he can sacrifice to his own spells and effects. You can play a creature enchantment (known as ‘auras’ these days) on one of your teammate’s creatures, but you are still the controller of that enchantment. Effects like Glorious Anthem, which gives all creatures you control +1/+1, would affect only your creatures and not your teammates. Imagine all the questions and confusion at Saturday’s 2HG state championships regarding the Magemark creature enchantments from Guildpact. You and your teammate can each have Magemark enchantments on creatures you control, these enchantments DO NOT see the enchanted creatures that your teammate controls.

ONE GAME MATCHES

Matches consist of only one game in 2HG. This feature of 2HG has been explained by WOTC as necessary since 2HG games tend to take much longer than regular Magic games. This might be a bit of an understatement. Not only does it take longer to play a one game match in 2HG than it is to play a 2-3 game match in regular Magic, but the players in 2HG tournaments Saturday were given MORE TIME in order to play their longer games. The normal round length for tournament rounds is 50 minutes. 50 minutes for constructed matches. 50 minutes for booster draft matches. 50 minutes for sealed deck matches. Here comes Two-Headed Giants, the tubby new kid on the sanctioned tournament block, with a fat 60 minute round length. The fact that matches are only one game and the 60 minute round length are both clues that Wizards of the Coast knew how ponderous this format was long before they decided that every state in the Union needed to have an annual championship for this fat-laden format.

The sixty minute round length added fuel to an already slow-burning fire on Saturday. Just as in other team events, the normal number of Swiss rounds needed for the tournament is INCREASED by one in order to allow the tournament to be cut to a top four (four teams) instead of the top eight used in events featuring individual play. In Kansas, we had a mere 24 teams consisting of 48 players. The number of Swiss rounds needed for this relatively small number of Magic players is six with the additional round needed to cut to a four team playoff bracket. The combination of 60 minute rounds and an additional round of Swiss play resulted in an additional two hours of running time for the tournament. At LEAST two hours.

A less obvious problem with playing a one game match is the challenge of adjudicating penalties to players. Penalties that call for a game loss penalty in normal Magic essentially become match losses in 2HG. The bar for penalties was set a little lower for Saturday’s state championships than they would be for a Pro Tour qualifier, requiring Rules Enforcement Level 2 instead of the more rigorous Level 3. However, the ability for a game-loss penalty to automatically lose TWO players on a team their entire match is, to say the least, very problematic. The penalties for tournament Magic have been very carefully put together and have been worked on and changed in a solid decade of Pro Tour tournament play. The point of a game loss penalty is to give a player a serious penalty that seriously endangers that player’s ability to win his current match, but not to be so serious that (in most cases) the match will be automatically lost to that player. These battle-tested penalty guidelines don’t apply very well to 2HG. A special set of penalty guidelines was added for 2HG, but the problem of the game loss being the same as a match loss in this format is a major rules hurdle that has not yet been solved.

TOO MUCH JIBBER-JABBER

The biggest problem with having two heads is that inevitably, the two heads are going to start talking to each other. In tournament play, it’s usually pretty important for players to work out problems in the game by themselves.

In 2HG, you can throw all that out the window. Players on a 2HG team are allowed to talk to each other continuously throughout the game. This is probably a necessary evil in a format where you and a teammate are sharing a single turn, but it certainly does not help get matches finished in a timely manner. In the final match in Kansas, when each team had taken five turns, a full thirty minutes had expired. I would have to say that about twice as many matches as normal required the extra turns after time in the round expired (and this is with a 60 minute round instead of a 50 minute round).

Normally, players can easily be penalized for talking inappropriately in a match. In 2HG, it is a lot harder to figure out how much talk is sufficient.

It is just as difficult to control slow play or even stalling. The rules of this innovative format simply do not engender the kinds of efficient play that makes it possible for a high percentage of matches to be finished in a reasonable amount of time.

HE’S SCHIZOPHRENIC, BUT HE’S GOOD PEOPLE

Players in 2HG not only discuss what plays they should make, but they also argue loudly at times when one player is about to make a play his teammate disagrees with. I found that it was often difficult to know when a player had actually made a play, and when he was simply considering a play. As a judge, I generally let players take back plays (especially at the 2HG state championship mandated REL2) that they would have been allowed to take back on Magic Online. If a player has tapped mana and was about to spend that mana on a card or effect, that player can change his mind basically right up to the moment he has played the card or effect. We used to call this “keeping your hand on the piece” the same way that in chess you haven’t been considered to have made a move until your hand leaves the chess piece. The constant communication between players on a 2HG team makes it much more difficult to know when a player has completed his play, making it much more difficult to hold a player to his intended action. In a lot of ways, this format plays like an individual tournament in which every player suffers from a multiple personality disorder.

FIXING THE MONSTER

I believe that Wizards of the Coast created a monster when they decided that Two-Headed Giant was not only a sanctioned format, but that an annual championship in every state and province was needed to support it. This year, Wizards has added two state championships to the schedule, 2HG and sealed deck. Also added to the tournament schedule this year is the release of an extra expansion set, the enigmatic Coldsnap arriving this Summer. Is this the most exciting year for Magic lovers ever, or just the result of a very greedy WOTC? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Can this monster be fixed? I like to think that I’m more of a problem solver and less of a whiney complainer. My first instinct may be to FIX 2HG the same way that I FIXED my male Shetland Sheepdog, but I’ll take a deep breath and try to say something more constructive about the two-headed format. One thing that could be done that would give back an hour to most of the players in a 2HG tournament would be to play the normal number of Swiss rounds, cutting to a top eight teams that then play their quarter final single elimination round with the same decks they built at the beginning of the day. Then, the four teams in the semi finals would build new decks just as the top four teams built new decks in last weekend’s state championships.

The next thing I would do is tighten up the play of each team so that their matches could be played in the standard 50 minute round time used in most tournaments. If necessary, team life totals could start at 30 life instead of 40.

It’s even possible that the real problem with this format is simply that it doesn’t work well with too many players. Maybe 2HG tournaments could be limited to 8 or 16 teams, or maybe as a *gasp* single elimination tournament.

I can’t say that I’m confident any of these changes will be made by WOTC to improve 2HG. Even with changes like the ones I have described, 2HG would still have some serious problems, chiefly the continuous chat between the players.

SOME FORMATS AREN’T SERIOUS FORMATS

In the end, I just have to say that Two-Headed Giant might just be one of those really fun to play formats that don’t need to be used for serious tournaments. I know that last week’s state championships were intended to be fun. I think I mean 2HG is better off as a casual variant format for casual players who strongly desire more exciting ways to play with their Magic cards. If 2HG returns for another round of state championships in 2007, I hope some significant changes are made to make the event more playable.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
jeffzandi@hotmail.com

 







 

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