Monday, June 11, 2012

To Alaska and Back Again

It's nice to be back home from the longest and busiest vacation I've ever taken. I visited family, hiked the Alaskan tundra, ate way too much steak and dessert, played tons of Magic, interviewed at Wizards, debuted our M13 set and schmoozed with awesome people. I'm exhausted, but very pleased. It's hard to write Memento, so here are the highlights chronologically.

Wednesday, the 30th — Seattle and Renton
Having spent most of the night prior printing off the last of the 760 M13 cards needed for eight-man sealed and scrounging together a Modern deck, my wife Brenda and I got just a couple hours of sleep before our early flight. Apart from just barely making the plane thanks to PHL security, the flight was fine and we arrived with time to replace my imploded cell battery, explore a park with wild cotton, get lunch at The Cheesecake Factory and explore Renton before my interview at Wizards. I'd heard mixed reviews of the city and I can say I'm firmly in the love-it camp: The terrain is all hills, trees and water while every neighborhood is decorated by endless flowers, colorful moss or amazingly ubiquitous 20'+ azalea monsters. Freaking gorgeous.

It was a great feeling to finally enter the great glass block that houses our favorite game company. I was interviewing for the Kaijudo design position with Ryan Miller who, like so many wizards, is as tall as he is awesome. I didn't get to see anything but the lobby, elevators and the very first meeting room in Wizards' space. It's an interesting experience interviewing with four people whose names you already know and it made me realize just how good WotC is about marketing its staff. The questions were aimed to cut right to my design sensibilities and my ability to reason and argue under pressure. I think I did well on all but one, but there wasn't much feedback so I can't be sure.

The wife and I did some more exploring (I highly recommend Seward park just North of Renton) before returning to meet Ethan, Shawn, Dan and Ken for dinner after work. It was a real pleasure to finally meet these guys, enjoy some delicious Famous Dave's barbecue and talk about life in Renton. If you don't know Ethan, Shawn or Ken, check out the GDS2 and GDS1 articles on dailymtg immediately. Dan is a friend from the Magic Twitter community who helped a lot of the contestants out during GDS2. He got a job in customer service at Wizards last year, has already done some design work and is already transitioning to The Pit. If that's not an encouraging success story, I don't know what is. Ethan generously sprung to buy Brenda and me dinner, so I promised to buy him double dinner once we're co-workers (optimism is a powerful thing). Cool guys, fun times.

Thursday, the 31st — Tacoma
We drove down to Tacoma to visit my cousin Mia, her husband Tim and their two beautiful children. We slept in (not really, if you account for the time difference), lunched at the Spaghetti Factory and then picked up the kids from kindergarten. I had a blast hanging out with my newest cousins (first-removed? I don't know how that works) who are smart and sweet and entirely magical. They introduced me to Avatar, the Last Airbender which is quite good, and I recommended Samurai Jack in return. Megamind was followed by a homecooked Mexican meal and then I read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus to put the little ones to bed. Brenda and I visited Titlow Park (huhuh) to watch the sun set over Puget Sound.

Friday, the 1st — Boarding
Fortified with a hearty homecooked breakfast, Mia took us to Seattle to drop off our rental car and explore downtown Seattle. The Space Needle's nice, but Pike Place market is where the real action is. We got authentic turkish delight, flaky peroshkis, cheesecake pops and a gorgeous $10 bouquet all within 100 yards of each other. We went up a hill with an amazing view of the city before boarding the Rhapsody of the Seas.

We mustered for roll call, next to several couples who would later turn out to be Magic players. They're not all identifiable by sight, after all! Those of us lucky enough to get the message met in the Schooner Lounge before dinner where it was revealed that the conference room we had booked was renovated out of existence. Royal Caribbean was great in a lot of ways, but screwing the group out of the room we paid extra for and not telling us was terrible. They eventually found time and space for us in a pair of dining halls, but it was far from ideal. The worst part was communicating the updates since we lost cell communication immediately. Dave sacrificed more time, money and peace-of-mind than I care to imagine organizing the trip and was a real hero, ensuring that all the events planned still happened and helping us all maximize our fun. Great guy.

The group was seated together for dinner and we were each assigned specific tables. Brenda and I were seated with Patrick and Amanda, Luis and Geneva, & Martha and Chuck. There were two empty seats that would be filled by visitors on other nights, but I'm not sure who was supposed to fill them. The food was good (though consensus suggested not quite as good as Princess or Carnival) and it didn't take us long to adopt Patrick's initiative to order two meals and/or two desserts. The company was great and the conversation, though often divided because of the size of the table, was usually fascinating.

That night we played Planechase with the brand new decks, which was a blast. If you thought the game was chaotic before, just wait until you try out the new Phenomenon cards. Ridiculous and awesome. I'm really happy Wizards has committed to supporting the casual and multiplayer crowd(s) and I love that they're appeasing multiple markets simultaneously by making new legends for Commander in a product not explicitly made for that game.

Saturday, the 2nd — At Sea
The second day was at sea and was a little rough. Nothing a little dramamine couldn't handle. We played Sealed during the day as the first leg of the Magic Cruise Championships. I 3-0'd, which is nice since Limited is my strongest format. It was a solid start, but I was wishing it had come last since it set me up to face stiffer competition in the two upcoming Constructed formats for which I knew I was woefully under-prepared. This was the second time I tried to play Killing Wave and probably the last. What a trap of a card. It looks so good, but is rarely helpful since it's hard to be ahead on life when you're behind on creatures.

Turns out Patrick, Matt and Lee share my love of Werewolf so we recruited a dozen others and had some great fun lying and playing mind games with each other. Patrick introduced us to a variant I've not played before in which players are allowed and even encouraged to talk with each other privately. It plays so differently that way, I'll need to do it several more times before I can claim to grasp it. If you don't know Werewolf/Mafia, look it up, gather a dozen or so friends and try it out as soon as you can. Arguably the best party game ever.

To be continued...
It was a long trip and I've got a lot more to tell you, Magic and otherwise. Tune in later this week for the rest.


  1. Really looking forward to hearing what people thought of M13!

    Best of luck with the Kaijudo position - let us know how it turns out.

  2. Awesome! So exciting! I second AlexC's comment on looking forward to the report on the fan-made M13 set aboard the ship. =)

  3. Good luck with Kaijudo!

  4. Thanks for the well-wishes, guys. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. Maybe next time.