Yorke on Games #36 – Rivals of Ixalan League: Tournament as Community

Q: What do actors on a stage, farmers in a field, and players in a Magic tournament all have in common?

A: They are all working together to create a product. The actors produce a performance, the farmers produce potatoes, and the tournament players produce a set of results. And while the end products of all of these processes are wildly different, the processes themselves are remarkably similar: people coming together over an extended period of time, for a common purpose or interest, to realize a shared goal.

In other words, everyone in a tournament has in interest in producing a set of results. They will, of course, differ in the specific results they intend to produce—Player A wants Player A to take first place, while Player B would rather that Player B take the trophy, and the slightly warped Player C wants Player D to achieve ultimate victory—but all players implicitly agree, by cooperating in playing the tournament, that having someone (as opposed to no one) take first place would be a Good Thing, all other things considered. Thus the players of a tournament that takes over a month or more to conclude—like league—in this sense constitutes a kind of community.

In practice, we sometimes read or hear of something called ‘the Magic community’. But it’s unclear what that term refers to. Is everyone who owns cards part of that community? Do you have to actively play? Or is it enough to belong to this community that one simply talk, or make posts about, Magic without collecting or playing?

Today, I’m going to try to answer some of these questions, while introducing the upcoming Rivals of Ixalan sealed league.

What Is a Tournament?

Lots of people play in lots of tournaments each and every week [like the upcoming Rivals of Ixalan sealed league, which launches at 11am Friday January 19th at Face to Face Games Montreal]. But very few players have asked themselves the question: ‘What is a tournament?’

I’m going to put forward the following provisional definition: tournaments are organizational schemas for producing results for clusters of competitive game events that occur within a designated period of time.

For instance, an 8-person draft is a tournament that is typically completed within a few hours. Its organizational schema includes elements such as player pairings, tie-breaking mechanisms, and so forth. The relevant cluster of competitive game events are the individuals match results. The designated period of time is however long it takes to draft packs, build decks, and play out the rounds. The result is a list of final player rankings, and the awarding of prizes.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider a draft pod to be a community in a robust sense: it’s not part of the definition of a tournament that it is a community. Joining a draft is something closer to signing a contract, ceding ownership of a certain number of cards in your pack in exchange for an equivalent number of cards from other peoples’ packs. But a tournament may become a community, over time. How, you ask? Well, first we need to look at what a community is.

What Is a Community?

A community does not necessarily imply physical proximity or cohabitation. It does imply common interests (which can arise from living in the same neighborhood, or belonging to the same family), and common interest is what allows us to vaguely yet meaningfully refer to a ‘Magic community’. However, there are attenuated forms of community (like nationality), and strong forms of community (like cult membership). What kind of community does Magic provide?

Let’s go back to my example of the troupe of actors. In an attenuated sense, they are part of a ‘thespian community’, but in a strong sense they are part of ‘the cast of Macbeth’. When their fellow actors annoy them, they might gravitate more toward their profession abstractly than the concrete production they’re working on; and when their work is interesting and engaging, they forget that abstract stuff and just enjoy acting out Macbeth. Without thespians we can’t have a performance of Macbeth, but thespians are only thespians so that they can perform Macbeth (and plays like it). Specific commitments usually take precedence over more general ones.

So it goes with Magic players. When there is a month-long epic tournament to play—like league—they’ll fully get into it, and thus it will command more attention from them than is normally demanded of a Magic player in the abstract sense. This is why I now view myself as a League player first, and as a general Magic player second. As my favorite format to play, League became the relevant community in terms of self-identification (just like a Modern player will often identify themselves by that nomenclature). If I had to put a rough formula down for determining the overall strength of a given community, it would be something like this: depth of shared interest + amount of communal time invested = strength of community. And league is by far the strongest form of Magic community I’ve found.

Why Join League?

Here’s the pitch line. I find league to be more intense and satisfying than any other kind of tournament. Anything longer would be too much of a commitment for me. Anything shorter wouldn’t give me the same quality of intellectual workout. It scratches an itch that no other gaming experience can, and makes me do and think about things I normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to.

And I’m not alone in this. Players in past leagues have done some amazing things, requiring lots of effort and thoughtfulness on their parts that they would never be called upon to exhibit in the run of your average Grand Prix. For instance, one player produced a visual spoiler of each players’ league pools, so that we could all have perfect information of the tournament (the same player, in fact, made the cool League Trophy card pictured above). One player produced a Google map so that players could find each other more easily to play out their matches outside the store. Players often give each other in-depth advice in building and rebuilding their decks. They reserve matches for people they know need them most. They have passionate exchanges about rules revisions on the group chat. They drink and eat together, tease each other ruthlessly, and talk smack.

When you join league, you’re not just joining a tournament: you’re joining a living community. You’ll have unique duties toward other players, and in return you’ll have access to a host of goods that would normally be unavailable to you. If that appeals to you, hop aboard! The RIX league full ruleset is posted below, followed by a brief recap of Ixalan league (in case you’re curious how that turned out).

Rivals of Ixalan Sealed League Full Ruleset

  • Player registration. The start date for the Rivals of Ixalan sealed league is 11am Friday, January 19th 2018, at Face to Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $30, which includes prizes and the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until 9pm Friday, January 26th (outstanding matches must be played by 9pm Friday, February 2nd).
  • Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Rivals of Ixalan in the presence of another league player or F2F counter staff to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. No trading of league cards is allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. There is a maximum number of 4 copies of any given card in a league deck (not including basic lands). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed in person by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face to Face Games.
  • Playing matches. Players are required to play a minimum of 3 matches per week, and are allowed a maximum of 3 additional matches above that number, but may never play more matches than the maximum allowed. All matches must actually be played out; intentional concessions are not permitted. This means that in Week 1 (ending 9pm Friday Jan. 26th), players must play between 3-6 matches; in Week 2 (ending 9pm Friday Feb. 2nd), 6-9 matches; Week 3 (ending 9pm Friday Feb. 9th), 9-12 matches, and so on. The loser of each match may add a ‘punishment pack’ to their league card pool: that is, the loser may open an unopened booster pack in the presence of the winner, which the winner records on a match report slip, and add those cards to the loser’s league pool. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10. Any standard-legal Magic expansion pack can be added. Further: players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per league week (even in multiplayer matches). Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with automatic match losses for inactivity resulting in missing matches (without punishment packs), starting at the end of Week 2.
  • Reporting matches. Winners must complete match report slips (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the punishment pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Match report slips must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 9pm deadline on the Friday of each week to count toward the current week’s play: if the slip is not there, it will not be counted for that week. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published after via Facebook, along with current player standings.
  • Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination) and can play no further matches.
  • If a player is disqualified for any reason, that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Depending on intent and severity of effect, the following in-league activities will result in warnings, game losses, match losses, or player disqualifications:

  1. Presenting a deck with cards from outside the league pool
  2. Presenting a deck with fewer than 60 cards
  3. Presenting a deck with more than 4 copies of a given card (excepting basic lands)
  4. Playing in excess of the maximum number of matches per week
  5. Playing against the same opponent more than once in any given week of play
  6. Filling out match slips with incorrect information, or without opponent present
  7. Losing match slips
  8. Offering or requesting match concessions (with or without expectation of reward)
  9. Bad sportspersonship or abusive play
  • Optional formats. Optional formats (such as ‘Planechase’, ‘Two-Headed Giant’, ‘Star Format’, ‘Best-of-Five Games’, and more) are supported for league matches, if agreed upon by all players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decide to play an optional format. Multiplayer matches require multiple slips because they result in multiple losses and thus multiple punishment packs being opened: a 5-player ‘Star’ game, for example, would count as 4 matches being played (the winning player would claim 4 match wins, and the other players would take 1 loss each).
  • Top 8. League winners are determined by elimination. If, at the end of any week of league play, eight or fewer players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals. In the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week, resulting in less than 8 total players remaining, tie-breakers for Top 8 positions among players eliminated that week will be decided first by [A] total # of matches won, then in case of a tie, [B] total # of perfect 2-0 wins, then [C] total # of matches played, then [D] play a further deciding match. The finals are typically on the Sunday morning following the last week of league play, unless an alternate date is arranged by the TO. In the finals, the Top 8 players will retire their league decks and receive a free 6-pack MegaDraft. No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 60-card deck from their draft pool and play 3 best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Each league finals match win will count for 3 points, and each pre-finals match win will count as 1 point towards determining final rankings for league players. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their finals matches.
  • Final prizes. The Rivals of Ixalan sealed league sponsor, Face to Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x boosters for each player + 24 packs towards the league finals MegaDraft. These will be distributed among the Top 8 players based on performance.

Ixalan League Postmortem

Pride cometh before the fall. And sure enough, just after I had written Yorke on Games #33, “How to Evolve a Winning Deck in Ixalan League”, I went ahead and put in my worst ever league performance. Complacency kills!


Throughout the league, I just couldn’t seem to get my deck in the right shape, and none of my punishment pack opens seemed to gel with my initial pool. Yes, I love league enough to write all of the preceding article in good faith, but I had to fight hard even to stay in the race as long as I did (this was the longest league on record, as I wasn’t eliminated until Week 8). In the end, I landed just outside the Top 8 in 9th place, with a deck that I’ve come to call “Not Quite Good Enough GB Good Stuff”. I include the decklist here for your amusement:

12 Forest
11 Swamp
1 Ifnir Deadlands

1 Ambuscade
1 Arborback Stomper
1 Bitterblade Warrior
1 Bitterbow Sharpshooters
1 Champion of Rhonas
2 Deeproot Warrior
1 Defiant Greatmaw
1 Druid of the Cowl
1 Hope Tender
1 Ixalli’s Diviner
1 Lifecraft Cavalry
1 Quarry Hauler
1 Tishana’s Wayfinder
1 Unbridled Growth

1 Aetherborn Marauder
1 Banewhip Punisher
1 Dire Fleet Interloper
1 Queen’s Agent
1 Rush of Vitality
1 Scrounger of Souls
1 Seekers’ Squire
2 Skittering Heartstopper
1 Thriving Rats
1 Vanquish the Weak
1 Vengeful Rebel
2 Vraska’s Contempt
1 Wasteland Scorpion

1 Honed Khopesh
1 Implement of Ferocity
1 Lifecrafter’s Bestiary
1 Scrapheap Scrounger

1 Decimator Beetle
1 Vraska, Relic Seeker

Finally, it was Michel Jutras who sprang ahead in the MegaDraft finals event with a strong Boros build to take down his second league win (his first being Amonkhet). This makes Michel only the second league player to achieve this feat (the first was Phil Martin, with his back-to-back wins in the Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch leagues). We shall see if he’s able to make league history by taking the Rivals of Ixalan trophy to become the first league player to win three leagues, or if someone is able to interrupt his current reign of dominance… Until then, hearty congratulations to Michel!