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An Open Letter to Pro Tour Coverage

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Matteo Orsini Jones
Matteo Orsini Jones

About Matteo Orsini Jones

Matteo is a Magic player from the UK who has a number of high-profile finishes under his belt:

  • Top 8 Pro Tour Kyoto 2009
  • Top 4 Grand Prix Bangkok 2009
  • 51 Lifetime Pro Points
  • Top 8 Great Britain Nationals 2008

An Open Letter to Pro Tour Coverage

Pro Tour coverage is something I’ve been vocal about in the past because, being a cynic, I’ll gladly point out all of the faults with something before I start on the positives.  With the move to the “new Pro Tour format”, we were promised bigger and better coverage than before, and Pro Tour: Honolulu, or Pro Tour Dark Ascension as it’s now known as, was to be the first one where they really showed us what they’ve had hiding up their sleeve all these years.  As far as I can tell, the only real difference is the fact that we now have live video streaming from start to finish rather than just the 3rd day of competition. Not that I’m complaining though, as that was basically the one thing that every single person asking for change wanted, and they’ve finally given it to us only 2 years after ggslive showed us it was possible (despite WotC claiming “the size of the arena just wouldn’t be big enough to allow video streaming throughout”. Seriously.).

Buuut like I said, I’m not one to give out compliments willy nilly, and despite the fact that I very much appreciate the addition of continuous live streaming to Pro Tours, there were enough things about the weekend that annoyed me about the coverage that I felt the need to write an article asking for them to change. You can treat this as an open letter to the organizers, and though the people who matter probably won’t ever know this article exists, hopefully those of you that agree with me can start being vocal enough that they might even consider the notion of possibly changing something. After all, it worked for the OP changes, right? The one standout thing that reduces both the credibility and the enjoyment of the coverage is the one thing they seem to have never been able to understand, and the one thing that pretty much everyone with an opinion has ever criticized or mocked because of the way it reduces the credibility of the stream to absolute zero.

The commentary needs at least 1 good player.

And by good player, I don’t mean Kai or Finkel or Nassif - just somebody who actually has a clue of what’s going on. Somebody with a good analytical mind and who plays enough Magic to be familiar with the cards, the rules and the common lines of play. Is somebody like that who also has enough charisma to talk down a mic confidently really that hard to find? It seems like their experience with Osyp from PT Columbus has just put them off competent players for life. Hagon and BDM can talk, there’s no doubting that, and people love them, there’s no doubting that either (well, some people seem to hate Hagon, but they’re in the small minority). Sheldon Menery is a pretty big part of the community, and being a judge he also has the gift of the gab, so being behind the mic seems like a place where he might shine. But they just don’t have the technical ability and know-how to commentate on a match of Magic between two amazing players and actually do them justice. I didn’t actually get to watch the streaming live on Friday (what with my packed schedule and hectic social life, obvvvv), but there was talk on Twitter of Martell getting leveled by Estratti. I consider Estratti a friend, and watching people who think they’re amazing getting leveled is one of the great joys in life, so this seemed like something I wanted to watch. I found the recording, and got to watching. The brief mention of it on Twitter didn’t do it justice – it was beautiful. The concept of the bluff was genius, and the way Estratti acted it out flawlessly goes to show that his win last year wasn’t just a fluke. Naturally, having just caught what was easily one of the most impressive “jedi”s of all time on camera, you’d expect the commentators to make a pretty big deal out of it, right? Well, not so much. If you want to watch it yourself, the video is here, and the action starts around 7 hours and 35 minutes – you might want to start watching a little earlier though to know what’s happening (and I’ll place a walkthrough at the bottom of the article if you can’t be bothered / can’t work it out).

What actually happens: BDM and Sheldon, completely oblivious to what just happened, say he goes to one and start saying Tom bought himself an extra turn (by doing nothing, somehow). They eventually realize he actually blocked, after the initial moment of confusion (I can see how a creature disappearing off the board mid-combat can cause confusion – maybe it spontaneously combusted; maybe it warped to another dimension; maybe it got abducted by aliens; maybe it blocked). At this point the conversation turns to Tom Martell and how amazing his block was. That’s what separates good players from bad ones you know – the ability to make plays most people wouldn’t and block with a guy “you’re never going to use”. Tom starts tilting and saying how Estratti is playing horribly (which is almost understandable, considering he, unlike BDM and Sheldon, can’t see Estratti’s hand), and the rest of the match and post-match interview is just a constant repetition of “he might not have played well, but he won anyway!”. Basically, the motto of the day is that Estratti just won a match despite making some suboptimal plays. What actually happened is that he won because of that one play, that 99% of players wouldn’t even consider, and 0.9% of the rest of players wouldn’t be able to pull of successfully. Meanwhile, the commentators are blissfully unaware of what’s happening and talk about how well Tom is playing vs. the random Italian donk for the next 15 minutes.

Heavy Mattock
Versions:
Dark Ascension (Foil)

Ok, maybe the fact that I know Estratti makes my viewpoint on the whole situation a little biased, but, outside of missing such amazing plays, their blissful ignorance can make keeping track of the situation difficult. In the next match I watched, Finkel has a Galvanic Juggernaut equipped with something that we can’t quite see because of camera glare, but thankfully the commentators verify for us that it’s a Heavy Mattock. Finkel then attacks and his opponent takes 10, which to me immediately started ringing alarm bells – it’s obviously not a Heavy Mattock. Not to our good friends in the booth though, who even made a big deal out of him taking 10 without a moment of consideration – it was still a Heavy Mattock to them, even when he later equipped it to a 2/2 zombie, turning it into (as BDM claimed) a 3/3. Having been unable to attend the prerelease, I have no idea what cards are in this set, so I had to bring up the spoiler, but none of the equipments (Cost 2 to equip and) pump a creature by 5. I eventually worked out that it wasn’t actually a card from Dark Ascension, but instead the mostly unplayed Inquisitor's Flail. At least it didn’t take me 5 minutes to work out what was going on just because neither commentator had the sense to question why a +1/+1 equipment was giving +5 power. Oh, no wait. It actually did. Meanwhile, in the other match I watched that day, Tom Martell bounces his own Delver for no apparent gain (oh, wait, it was actually a Snapcaster, but thanks for not pointing that out), and Rashad Miller is contacted from the floor to find out exactly who won that game (the whole attacking with creatures and opponent not being able to block enough to stay alive didn’t quite give it away).

I tweeted BDM about the Estratti thing in the hope that he’d at least do the guy some justice and mention it somewhere in the day 2 stream, and the reply I got was this: “There were some monitor issues and we could not see overhead shot at the time. It was not clear as it happened sadly.” Aside from the fact that this is clearly not true (you can just tell by the way they’re talking that they can see as much of the game as the viewer can), it brings me onto my next point:

Enough with the gratuitous face shots.

I don’t know what it is with Pro Tour cameramen, but they seem to have a penchant for switching the shot from the board to one of the player’s faces midway through a really tense and crucial line of play. Magic players, on the whole, are not the most attractive bunch, and yet they insist every single tournament on switching to a close up shot of one of the players’ nose hairs every minute, on the minute. You’re trying to be artsy, I get it. You’re trying to prove that, in fact, a monkey *couldn’t* do your job, I get it. You’re trying to show us that your film and media studies degree didn’t go to waste, I get it. But WHY their faces? If you’re going to zoom in on something, show us the Blightning that he just flipped off Bloodbraid Elf to kill Jace and strip his opponent’s hand. Hell, you could even show us a close-up of that half-naked angel in the background and we might have more of an idea of why the blue player just went from being miles ahead to dead on board (actually that’s a lie, you do that already, and it’s just as annoying as face shots). Periodic face shots combined with 2 utterly clueless commentators actually makes the tense matches impossible to follow, and it’s always at the times where you really want to know what’s happening. Wait, why did PV just scoop? What did his opponent draw? Or was it just the close-up on his face that he couldn’t handle? Please, just let us watch the match.

Try and keep the conversation on track, please.

Clueless commentary, combined with gratuitous face shots, isn’t quite enough, because now they want to challenge us to follow the match while they talk about whether or not Kobe is in the top 3 Lakers of all time. Or, maybe, they could talk for 5 minutes about a player getting a gameloss for misregging their deck, only to then get judge emeritus Sheldon Menery’s advice on the issue: don’t misregister your deck and you won’t get game losses. Brilliant advice, thanks for that buddy. Next up on tonight’s schedule Sheldon tries (and fails) to pronounce all the European player names in their local accent while asking a somewhat confused Samuele Estratti whether or not his team was wearing Azorious at the last Worlds. I realize they’re probably quite busy, but could they not just have a list of “things to talk about if the conversation turns stale”? Having a pro player turn up in the booth with an interesting-looking homebrew in their deckbox only to be asked how many Mountain Dews they’ve drunk this morning and what color their underpants are is just, well, a waste of everyone’s time.

In the interest of being fair and keeping criticism constructive, I guess I’ll mention the things I did like:

  • Constant livestreaming. Thank you so much for this, it’s been a few years coming.
  • Facts about player history. If there’s one thing BDM and Hagon *do* know, it’s their Magic history, and it’s really great to have all of a player’s top 8s, their breakout performance and their current PT level whenever they appear on camera. There’s nothing more annoying that having a player’s name at the back of your mind but not quite remembering why it’s there.
  • Card images of the card they’re talking about. Like I said, I don’t know any cards from the new set, and so it’s super useful when the card that’s just been played, or that’s being spoken about appears to the side of the video player.
  • Deck techs. They sort of drag on a bit, and they sometimes feel a bit underprepared (the interviewer just points at cards and says “why this?”), but overall they’re a nice feature, and it was a good mix of pro players and interesting brews this weekend (in some cases, both of these things).

Thanks for reading,

Matteo

@Matteooj on Twitter

The Estratti bluff:  Tom Martell has a Beguiler of Wills in play with 3 creatures total, and a creature in hand, against Estratti’s 5 power guy and a hand full of creatures that would just get stolen if he played them. If there’s a creature on top of Tom’s deck, he’s in trouble – he has a Moment of Heroism in hand to fizzle Beguiler for a turn, but then any other creature from Tom is basically game over. This is where the fun starts. Tom passes with a hexproof Beguiler as his only creature, and Estratti sees an opportunity for something special. He untaps, crashes in with a 5 power creature to Tom’s 8 life, slams down a Moment of Heroism, taps another 2 mana, then suddenly lurches in his chair as though he’s realized something terrible. Tom hasn’t declared blockers yet. Dejected, Estratti asks if his first Moment Resolves, then allows Tom to block with Beguiler and thus not just die to the second Moment that Estratti DIDN’T EVEN HAVE. Now the unbeatable Beguiler is off the table, and Estratti can start playing cleanup.

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