Jeff Zandi is a four 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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Playing Ball in the Winter Leagues
Fun With Champions of Kamigawa on Magic Online
by Jeff Zandi
December 17, 2004

Things have been slow around my neck of the woods lately, Magic-wise.
However, if we’ve learned nothing else from our time together, it’s that if you try hard enough, you can always find a way to have fun with Magic. Last week, I joined a Champions of Kamigawa league on Magic Online. Over the months of November and December, Magic has slowed down to almost a halt here in my home town of Dallas, Texas. Attendance at the weekly team meetings has fallen dramatically. Attendance the past three weeks has been particularly pitiful. Nobody seems to want to play Magic. The thing is, we don’t play that much purely casual Magic. We like Pro Tours, Grand Prix events and Pro Tour qualifiers. Unfortunately, the Pro Tour schedule has been very quiet the past two months. My guys are starting to find other things to do with their Magic time. I’m no exception, finding myself in poker clubs more often than in game stores, dropping my weekly allowance at the tables on Party Poker instead of Magic Online. Signing up last week for a Magic Online league, I felt like a baseball player heading down to Mexico to play in the winter leagues.

Is Zandi really planning to lay his Champions of Kamigawa sealed deck on us and talk about Magic Online leagues as though they mattered? Yes, yes I am.
But more than that, I also want to talk about this most frigid of Magic seasons, why the action in the game has been slow lately and how this pause in Pro Tour action has affected my team.


October was a great month for competitive Magic. Each of the five Saturdays in October held an important event that mattered to a lot of people including, in order, PTQ-Nagoya in Houston, Grand Prix Austin, PTQ-Nagoya in Oklahoma City, State Championships (they don’t matter much but tend to be interesting to a lot of the tournament crowd anyway) and finally, Pro Tour Columbus. November followed with three more PTQs for Nagoya, in Dallas on the 6th, San Antonio on the 13th and your choice of New Orleans or Wichita, Kansas on the 20th. The last weekend in November, nothing. The entire month of December…nothing. Things promise to pick up rapidly in January with Team PTQs for Pro Tour Atlanta the first two weekends followed by Pre Releases on the third weekend in January.

Team practices have been very negatively affected. Last year, weekly practices from November 18th to December 16th (we meet on Tuesday nights) brought in 9, 7, 6, 8 and 8 attendees. This year, practices held from November 16th to December 14th have yielded 6, 4, 4, 7 and 2 players. Very bad, very bad. I have wondered lately if, along with the month-wide hole in the Pro Tour calendar, there was a lower level of interest in the game in general. There’s no way to answer this difficult question at this point, we can only learn the real answer in the weeks and months ahead. Even though I think the team has really enjoyed Champions of Kamigawa as a drafting set, I think there has been some tired-head associated with booster drafting Champions week after week with nothing else on the agenda. Obviously, there is an Extended Constructed season coming soon. A REALLY MOTIVATED Magic team would have all kinds of plans for new Extended decks and would be excited about practicing for the Extended Constructed season. Well, that’s not really happening right now. At any rate, after the tournaments of November wound up, there just hasn’t been that much interest in playing Magic.

Even Magic Online, normally a fun fall-back position for many of the players on the team, has been largely empty of the local Magic player. Whenever I get comfortable behind the keyboard of my computer here at home, one of the first things I do is log onto Magic Online. I log onto to Magic Online regardless of whether or not I plan on doing any playing, I simply want to check the buddy list and see WHO ELSE is online. In this way, Magic Online has been the preferred method of messaging other Magic players for a long time. Lately, the buddy list has been very quiet.


Last Tuesday, with hardly anyone showing up at my place to play Magic, I decided to join a Champions of Kamigawa league online. For those of you not in the know, here’s how the league thing shakes out on Magic Online. Each league is four weeks long and contains up to 256 players. Each week, the first five matches you play count towards your primary league points. A win in one of those five matches is worth two points, a loss is worth one point.
Awarding a point for a match loss encourages players to do their best to play at least five matches each week. After your first five matches each week, any additional matches you play and win add one point to your tie-breaker score. Losing a match after the first five in a week deducts a point from your tie-breaker score. Your tie-breaker score never goes below zero. You start the first week of the league with one Champions starter deck (tournament pack) and two Champions booster packs from which to build a sealed deck. When the league is one week old, each player is able to add another Champions booster pack to his When the league begins its third week, you get to add another booster pack. When the league enters its fourth and final week, you get to add one more booster pack to your deck. By the end of a four week league season, the best decks can look a lot less like sealed decks and a lot more like the best draft deck in the world (bordering on constructed quality!). You win prizes by having a high score at the end of the four week league. You can win A LOT of booster packs if you can go undefeated through the twenty matches that count toward your primary score.
However, there are prizes for all players that finish, basically, in the top half of the league. You can score some amount of prizes by winning at least half your matches.

Below are the cards that I opened initially. Even though the white is playable, I thought the red was very important because of the presence of TWO Glacial Rays. I wouldn’t ordinarily try to splash a double mana intensity spell like Hideous Laughter, but I do have a red/black dual land (Lantern-Lit Graveyard) and two Sakura-Tribe Elders to smooth out the mana.
Just as importantly, all three of the black spells included are Arcane and are therefore good Splice Onto Arcane targets for Glacial Ray.

Commune with Nature
Kodama's Might x2
Budoka Gardener
Dripping-Tongue Zubera
Kami of the Hunt
Order of the Sacred Bell
Orochi Ranger
Sakura-Tribe Elder x2
Seshiro the Annointed
Sosuke, Son of Seshiro
Glacial Ray x2
Brothers Yamazaki
Ember-Fist Zubera
Kami of Fire's Roar
Sokenzan Bruiser
Hideous Laughter
Pull Under
Soulless Revival
Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang
Lantern-Lit Graveyard
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
Forest x7
Mountan x5
Swamp x3

Terashi's Cry
Call to Glory
Otherworldly Journey
Quiet Purity
Hondend of Cleansing Fire
Cage of Hands
Devoted Retainer x2
Kami of the Painted Road
Kami of the Palace Field
Kitsune Diviner
Samurai of the Pale Curtain
Silent-Chant Zubera
Counsel of the Soratami
Cut the Tethers
Eerie Procession
Eye of Nowhere
Hisoka's Defiance x2
Lifted by Clouds
Callous Deceiver x2
Soratami Mirror-Guard
Soratami Rainshaper
Teller of Tales
Distress x2
Walking Nightmare
Midnight Covenant
Ragged Veins
Deathcurse Ogre
Gibbering Kami
Kami of the Waning Moon x2
Nezumi Cutthroat
Numai Outcast
Yamabushi's Storm
Desperate Ritual
Devouring Rage
Unnatural Speed
Akki Avalanchers x2
Ore Gorger
Jukai Messenger
Thousand-legged Kami
Vine Kami
Jade Idol
Cloudcrest Lake

After building the deck, I was ready to play, but I immediately broke one of the first unwritten rules about online league play. Regardless of your own skill level, the simple fact of the matter is that you would like to have the opportunity to play as many of your important league matches against as…wide a possible group of players in your league as possible. That’s a nice way of saying that you want to play as many of your league matches against the easiest possible competition. This is NOT the best strategy for becoming a better Magic player, but it IS the best strategy for finishing high in the prizes at the end of the league. The way you give yourself the greatest possibility for getting an “easier” opponent is to wait to play your league matches until there are A LOT of league players in the league room playing league matches. How many should be there for you to feel really good about your odds? I would say at least fifty or more players need to be in the league room. This kind of number really helps maximize your chances for success. I did not do this, I immediately played two matches with less than ten players in the league room. I won the first match but lost my second match. I feel like my deck is pretty strong. When you have a strong deck, you really want to try and start out the league with an undefeated week. I have already lost one match. A couple of days later, I felt like playing more Magic, so I broke my own rule again, playing two more matches with less than ten league players in the league room. Again, I won the first match and lost the second. I am now 2-2 in the first week of the league, making it very difficult to finish among the highest prize winners at the end of this league. I know people who, with a 2-2 week one record, would quit playing in this league and not waste any more time or booster packs on it.

I decided to wait at least until the second week of the league to see what this deck could evolve into. Here are the cards that I opened in week two…

Gibbering Kami, Kami of the Painted Field, Akki Avalanchers, Hisoka's Defiance, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Distress, Battle-Mad Ronin, Psychic Puppetry, Joyous Respite, Kitsune Blademaster, Ronin Houndmaster, Cut the Tethers, Hideous Laughter, Kami of the Palace Fields and Myonin of Cleansing Fire.

This group of cards did not really help my deck much. The white cards make me want to try a white version of this deck, but I feel slightly more strongly about adding the Hideous Laughter, the Ronin Houndmaster and the Sakura-Tribe Elder (now the third in my deck) to the cards I was already playing with, removing the red and green Zuberas and the Commune with Nature card. Additionally, I switched a Mountain out for a fourth Swamp. The deck now has a mana base containing eight green sources, five red and five black sources.

I haven’t played any matches with this new configuration, but obviously, I can’t say that it is much stronger than the week one configuration.
Meanwhile, other players may have been able to use their booster pack to turn average decks into very good decks, and some have turned very good decks into MONSTER DECKS.

The only chance I have in this league, as far as prizes are concerned, is to maximize my play as much as possible this week, and try to pick up six wins.
In case you are inexperienced in Magic Online leagues, the next SIX matches for me will count toward my primary league score since I only played four matches in the first week of the league. Ultimately, only twenty matches for each player, basically the first five matches played each week, will count for the final score.

If I don’t do well enough to win prizes, or at least, to win more than minmal prizes, I believe I will stick with this league to the end anyway.
For me, these are the Mexican Winter Leagues, and I need a LOT of batting practice.

As always, I’d love to know what YOU think.

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


Copyright 2001-2004


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