This one is going to be more or less a mail bag related to my Naya Burn deck. I will be repeating some stuff from the comments for those of you who don’t follow those closely and answer new reader questions as well.
DavePetterson thinks it’s okay that I didn’t qualify because then you guys get to read posts like Kind of a PTQ Report. To this I say… Greedy!
wills wonders — if “Lash Out is the best burn spell in this deck after Tarfire and Seal of Fire. Yes, better in most cases than Lightning Helix” why we don’t run it main. The answer here is that Lash Out is so effective because it is only featured in games where it will matter. Sure in the PTQ I played in that was all eight rounds, but it would be silly to play main deck in a Red Deck with so many options… Path to Exile might make the cut in Naya Burn but I wouldn’t play it main under any forseeable circumstances.
schwarzott ran this version of Naya Burn to a 5-2 finish in Detroit. He has been having problems with Bant Aggro-Control.4 Lightning Helix
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Kird Ape
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Puncture Blast
4 Seal of Fire
2 Sulfuric Vortex
Only two Sulfurous Vortex in the main. I have found that Bant Aggro-Control is pretty easy to beat as long as they are not blowing you out with defensive Jitte counters and Spirit Linked Rhinos. Sulfurous Vortex is very effective against them, especially since they have to deal a little damage to themselves with lands.
When I beat Bant Aggro-Control, I used two two damage spells to take out Rhox War Monk in all the games I won. This deck only has “one set” of Seal of Fire (no Tarfires). While you can theoretically play Incinerate + Seal of Fire or even just a Puncture Blast to hold down the War Monk, the subtle issue is that especially on turn two (or turn three or four for a deck with only 22 lands) you can find yourself with insufficient mana to respond.
Subtly, the sideboard is an issue. Bant Aggro-Control really needs to beat you with equipment (other than games where you get blown out by Troll + Worship… No outs against that presently). The schwarzott version simply has the wrong reactive cards. Shattering Spree is sometimes more devastating against Affinity (and sometimes not), but Ancient Grudge is so much better than equipment-reliant Blue decks like Fae or Bant Aggro-Control because most of the time Shattering Spree will not give you any card advantage. When the card you are advantaging is as vital to the opponent’s strategy as Umezawa’s Jitte… etc. etc. I have won a fair amount of the time by letting the opponent commit 4-5 lands only to use instant speed artifact hate mid-combat to fart in their direction. In fact most of my wins have been based on Vortex, killing their Jitte, or good old Jitte advantage… and this version has no Jitte of its own! (Jitte has been pretty good in a lot of matchups, including Bant).
DAisaka09 makes a good point about 8 “Shocks” and the mirror which is full of three toughness creatures. I have been lucky to have won most or all of my mirror matches, and for sure I have drawn the three damage creature kill spells to deal with Apes and Nacatls. I can see maybe 1-2 Rift Bolt being better than the main deck Jittes I proposed in the previous post, or Incinerate again, as a two-of.I don’t think I would consider Puncture Blast, but I have heard good things about it from various directions, actually.
Dear zsievers,Pyrostatic Pillar is quite good against Storm.
When you are ahead, it basically makes “every matchup into the Zoo matchup” … That is, a matchup where the opponent is taking lots of collateral damage and therefore falls into burn range.
I have come around due to my loss in the second Faeries bout that maybe main deck Pyrostatic Pillar is not optimal… Overvaluing it probably cost me the match.
TheAmericanNightmare doesn’t like Keldon Marauders very much.Personally, I thought it was good. I sided it out against decks like Faerie Wizards, but I like the card very much when the opponent is the beatdown. It does a lot of damage in a hurry against a Storm, and I love the card against opposing attack decks. I was pretty sure Luis Neiman (Luis Not Vargas) had Blistering Firecat in our match and tapped for the Marauders anyway, and just soaked up three while he committed four mana (I already had Tarmogoyf on board as well as another Marauders in hand). At this stage I would not cut it.
I think the mana base is pretty good. I like the Mountains because this deck is not Zoo. I don’t particularly like taking 100 damage from my lands. I would consider adding more Plains in order to run Duergar Hedge-Mage… lots of decent players are suggesting I add that card.
thewachman wanted to hear about Osyp’s Slide deck… We already covered that here.
ReAnimator wanted to know why I didn’t run Magma Jet (long time readers know I love a Magma Jet and even played it in Legacy). I wanted a card that could deal three damage in Lash Out is the simple answer, Magma Jet being not really good enough for the main here.
mpace started reading Dune thanks to one of my previous articles. This is inspiring for me! Thanks! I think I am going to spend more time on book and comics recommendations (especially as Osyp has no knowledge of obscure graphic novels).
Hello, my name is Osyp and Mike asked me to guest host his blog.
One of the more awkward requests I’ve gotten, but Mike’s a friend so I was more than happy to oblige.
I suppose the only relevant thing to this blog I can write about, since I don’t like Liz Phair or obscure graphic novels, is my recent PTQ win.
I played GWR Slide at the PTQ in Edison this past weekend and went 7-1 in the swiss. I actually build Slide every season and hope that it’s good; thankfully this time around it’s actually quite good in this current environment.
3 Engineered Explosives
4 Spark Spray
3 Path to Exile
3 Life from the Loam
3 Edge of Autumn
3 Lightning Rift
3 Astral Slide
2 Wrath of God
The best deck in the format is Faeries, and Slide just happens to be very good against it. This was the matchup I tested the most prior to the PTQ and as long as you’re patient and play correctly it’s difficult to lose. They really don’t have an effective way to beat you, and you have several threats that they can’t really answer. That being said, Faeries can be difficult depending on what build they’re playing. If they’re playing Herbey’s deck from the GP (main deck Trinket mage package and Shackles) than the matchup can actually be difficult, as you have no main deck answer to shackles and they can tutor a relic to break up your loam engine. However that version is surprisingly unpopular and most either play Owen’s UB build or a more standard Mono U version with Glen Elendra and Sowers and no Shackles!
You’re also very good against the best aggressive deck in the format, Affinity, and have a very strong matchup against GB Loam. Game 1 they can’t answer your enchantments, and after board any plan they may have against you (Extirpate, Krosan Grip) can just get trumped by Ajani Vengeant, which will always win the game.
Red decks are also favorable for you, although Vortex gives them a good shot game 1 of stealing a win. However I still feel like your favorable against any red deck as in testing I very rarely lost a best of 3.
Then there’s combo. Elves is a reasonable matchup because unless they draw multiple Glimpse they can’t keep up with your removal and you’ll eventually wear them down. TEPS on the other hand is unwinnable. I knew this going in and didn’t even bother with any sideboard slots as it won’t make any difference, you cannot win. This did not scare me away mainly because I don’t think TEPS is a very consistent deck, it’s probably the least consistent in the entire field (including All-in Red). I don’t think the deck has a real shot of winning a PTQ and I stand by that comment. If you also look at the PTQ results, it rarely makes T8 and even scanning the room at a PTQ, you won’t see many at the top tables. That being said, that doesn’t mean people won’t play it, but the odds are you will only have to play it once, and you can afford to take a loss given your strength against the rest of the field.
With all that said, I don’t think that Slide is the most powerful deck in the format, however the main reason I played it was that I knew I could play it well and wouldn’t make many mistakes. That’s really all you can ask when you’re deciding what to play. If you’re not planning on playing Faeries, you need to ask yourself “Can I play this deck well enough to give myself an edge over less prepared opponents?” Because the truth is 90% of the people you play at a PTQ are not well prepared, and the other 10% is where the luck factor is going to need to come in.
In the T8 I actually lost to my good friend Gerard playing Herbey’s version of Fae which I mentioned earlier, however he was already qualified and conceded. I then beat Kithkin 2-0 in T4 and Josh Ravitz playing UB Faeries in the finals 2-0.
I think the deck is a real contender and would recommend it if you expect a lot of Faeries and Affinity at your PTQ. Just don’t be scared off by TEPS and practice a lot, because there are a handful of decisions you need to make each turn (particularly turn 1-3) and the wrong one will drastically change the outcome.
For instance, against Fae post board you need to be careful with your cycling lands and loam. Let’s say your opening hand is a Windswept Heath, Ghost Quarter, Tranquil Thicket and Life from the Loam. Game 1 you would probably sacrifice the heath for a stomping ground, cycle the thicket and untap and play loam. However after board Fae is likely to bring in Relic, therefore that sequence would be terrible for you if they Spell Snare’d your Loam and then played a Relic. A smart Fae player would never play turn 1 Relic for that reason alone. If they do they give you too much information and allow you to make the correct play which is to play the Thicket turn 1. Post board the best way to play around Relic is to just make your land drops and not worry about it until later in the game when you draw an Ancient Grudge. The game will go long, so don’t feel rushed to cycle and dig for cards because there’s no need.
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Ancient Grudge
3 Lash Out
2 Pyrostatic Pillar
3 Kataki, War’s Wage
This is essentially what I posted at the end of last week. The only difference is a swap of two Incinerates for two Tarfires. I told Osyp I wanted to play like one Tarfire and he said that he thought that Incinerate was the weakest card in my deck. If I had to do it over again, I would have played all four Tarfires and no Incinerates; moreover I would have done something with those Pyrostatic Pillars. There is a longer winded way of putting this, but they under-performed.
Part 2: Anticlimax
I went 6-2.
Osyp beat Josh in the finals, Slide over Faeries. Josh went 9-1-1 with his only loss being to Osyp.
My favorite Josh moment was in the quarterfinals. Josh came back to win Game One. He was absolutely demolished in the Faeries mirror. Stuck on three lands. Down zero Riptide Laboratories to two, lands down three to seven or thereabouts. Pulled it out.
“At what point would you would you have given up?” he asked me between games.
So Game Two. He has three mana untapped and a bunch of lands. End of his turn. There is a relevant Spellstutter Sprite on the board, but backed up by no mana.
Josh Mana Leaks it rather than spending his Spell Snare (leaving up the one for the Snare). The implications of this decision were many but I only thought one thing, almost fatherly: At what point did you get so much better than me?
So of course this was followed by untap, Future Sight (tapping out), and the concession from Ravitz 🙂
Osyp played brilliantly against Josh in what was not only a lopsided matchup (in Osyp’s favor) but where Josh mulliganed several times, and both games.
Osyp’s facility with Ghost Quarter and Astral Slide to resolve spells was the kind of stuff that they write textbooks about. They were the kind of plays that seem absolutely correct when you see them going onto the stack, but that 80% of players will never see… The same players will complain about bad draws or being mana shy when they explain why they lost.
As for my tournament, I beat Tezzerator, Faerie Wizards, the Adrian Sullivan Ponza deck, Zoo, Bant Aggro-Control, and the Lightning Bolt Deck; I lost to Faeries and All-in Red. Notably I never played Affinity.
The only interesting matchup of the day was my second bout against Faeries. I have won literally every Game One I have ever played with Naya Burn against Faeries; that said, I have lost a fair number of sideboarded games, so it was obvious to me that I was doing something wrong at some point.
The problem was at least in part that I was winning all of those Game Ones (win the flip or no), meaning that I was always on the draw in Game Two. My model included valuing Pyrostatic Pillar, so I was forcing myself to make room for more Pillars… but they are not particularly good going second in sideboarded games. I was usually cutting two Lightning Helixes to fit my three Lash Outs (though this is something I am comfortable doing in many matchups, including Zoo-ish matchups… Lash Out is almost always better since you have to invest three life to make three life under pressure); and that was sub-optimal.
So Game One I won in a hurry. Concession on turn four, I believe.
Game Two I went to Paris, took some damage from lands, and foud myself with a pair of Lash Outs and a pair of Ancient Grudges in hand (I sided in two for this game). My board was a Wild Nacatl and a Mogg Fanatic.
He was doing not so much, played Thirst for Knowledge for no bonus, untapped, and played Threads of Disloyalty on my Nacatl (1/1 on his side, I believe). I ran Lash Out for value and got in with Mogg.
He played Sower of Temptation #1; I got him with the Mogg and got more value with the Lash Out, but nothing still.
He played a naked Sower.
I finally ripped a Tarmogoyf.
He ripped yet another Sower and killed me in basically one swing.
So I was on the play in the third game. I thought quite a bit about this and decided that I was going to morph into a 100% burn / anti-Jitte deck, taking out all my Nacatls, Apes, and ‘Goyfs. The reason is that even though I “shouldn’t” lose to Sower of Temptation very often, I was not likely to beat a Threads of Disloyalty on Tarmogoyf… and this game he showed me Firespout, Sower, Threads, and Chrome Mox… and since he played Thirst for Knowledge, I felt it safe to assume he was packing Vedalken Shackles, too.
Therefore he was an anti-creature Faeries deck, and if I made myself a creature-poor burn deck, I might be able to ride the repositioning. As it turns out, he out-sideboarded me and presented two Glen Elendra Archmages. I drew two Ancient Grudges and all three Jittes but he still out-Jitte’d me thanks to Academy Ruins. The sheet said “4” at the end of the game, but he had an active Jitte, so who knows what his true life total was? That said, it was probably closer than it should have been.
My other loss was to All-in Red in two non-competitive games where he mised on the first turn. In either game if he didn’t follow up with Blood Moon I think I could have won. Nothing to say here… That deck shouldn’t do well, but you can’t complain about those kinds of matchups in the loser’s bracket.
Of the rest of my matches the most interesting was v. Luis Neiman (aka Luis not Vargas) right after I had dropped. He convinced me to un-drop and then we were paired! Pulled it out after getting face planted by Blistering Firecat in Game One (actually tagged all three games by that guy to one degree or another). Luis Molten Rained me to a Mutavault in Game Two and drew nothing, so I came back to force the third.
Part 3: What If… ?
I have to think on the new version of the deck list for a while, but I think I would play this again. Probably look something like this main:
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Lightning Helix
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Kird Ape
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Seal of Fire
4 Sulfuric Vortex
The Jitte’s a little out of place… Maybe Lash Out or Incinerate? Lash Out is the best burn spell in this deck after Tarfire and Seal of Fire. Yes, better in most cases than Lightning Helix. For example against one of the burn decks There was a Sulfurous Vortex in play before I even had the White for Helix! (Though admittedly it saved me from Zoo with a little careful damage stacking). In general you have to invest a couple of life to get back a couple of life… Still a great card, just not as good as Lash Out in a strategy that wants to hurt the opponent.
[Phase] III is a special point that exists for some decks where that deck is actively dictating the field of battle and only a small subset of the opponent’s cards still matter. For those decks, getting to Phase III is really what they are all about; if left unchecked for a turn or so (again, varies format-to-format… some decks will continue to dictate the field of battle for seven to ten turns after establishing Phase III), they basically win.
I was thinking about Sulfuric Vortex this week.
Isn’t Sulfuric Vortex the secret Stage Three? Isn’t it at least rubbing up against Stage Three?
Let’s examine Sulfuric Vortex, at least some of the time…
Are you actively dictating the field of battle when you run this card out there? The answer is often. Not always, maybe, but often enough.
Do only a small subset of the opponent’s cards still matter? The answer is sometimes. Not always, but when you are actively dictating the field of battle and Sulfuric Vortex is relevant, it will many times be the case that the opponent will “lose on the spot.” And by “one the spot” I don’t mean immediately, but the writing will be on the wall [provided he doesn’t dig his way out]. And how many ways will he be able to dig his way out? A small subset.
Sulfuric Vortex is the secret Stage Three because it’s not obviously a Stage Three strategy. It is not obvious because it doesn’t always operate Stage Three-ish (I play online a lot and in Red Deck mirrors it often feels like you are gambling a bit… and you can certainly be raced). But that is true for the Loop Junktion combo, too. Infinite life gain can be trumped by infinite damage… it’s Stage Three-ness is invalidated Life v. Aluren, therefore.
Just to be clear, I understand that calling Sulfuric Vortex Stage Three is a little bit of a stretch… but only a little, I think. Anyway, it makes me feel better.
The concluding paragraph of The Breakdown of Theory:
All that said, I decided to re-think some of the broad strategies that I have embraced over the past couple of years. Most of my Green Extended decks have something in common: Even when they have solid Phase III suppression, basically none of them have real Phase III power (unless you count Eternal Dragon trumping Aggro-Flow, which happened basically every time). By contrast, when I was one of the more successful Standard deck designers, my decks had both rich Defensive Deck Speed and legitimate Phase III play. Threads of Disloyalty and Remand were supplemented by tapping out for Keiga. Lightning Helix and Firemane Angel bought time for Hellbent Demonfire.
There is still a balance to be hand, but this last part is homework for me.
I feel like I’ve plugged up some nagging problems I’ve had with my game over the past two years. I plan to win tomorrow.
PS So this is what I am thinking about before going to bed.
I decided earlier this week that I am going to play Naya Burn on Saturday.
It was really down to Naya Burn or the Lightning Bolt Deck and I was actually on the Lightning Bolt Deck for a few hours before talking to Red Deck master Patrick Sullivan. If there is one player in the multiverse who you want to listen to when trying to win a PTQ with little Red men, it’s Patrick Sullivan.
PSulli instructed me to not play the Lightning Bolt Deck (despite his solid performance with the archetype at Grand Prix Los Angeles) and to play Naya Burn in the alternative.
So why play only one of these two decks?
I noticed that I have been collapsing late in tournaments. I am old now, see. Even tournaments where I make a run for the Top 8 I am typically winded by round six or seven. And win it all? I haven’t won a PTQ in three years.
But with long years come long teeth and a long view. Among the weapons at my disposal is an understanding of the physical realities of playing with Magic cards. We are playing with real cards, remember. We live in a real universe with real interactions with not just our opponents but our own bodies. I have made some improvements to mine recently but I decided that I want to try to give myself a little more breathing room if possible.
Look at it like this: I am likely to win in the early rounds not matter which reasonable deck I choose. However consider I play MWC… If I play MWC even against a helpless and incompetent opponent I am consigning myself to playing about sixty turns, just to get out of the first round! Now multiply that by the eleven or so rounds required to win a PTQ. Can it be done? Of course! But the fact of the matter is that — for me Me ME — and the fact that I have been gassing late in tournaments, I just wanted to try to preserve as much psychic energy as possible.
In the same situation with Naya Burn (that is, an incompetent and helpless opponent) I could win the same match in ten total turns.
Plus, Naya Burn (and the Lightning Bolt Deck for that matter) has a secret Stage Three (kind of) but can get there without having a million mana in play. One of the things that has bothered me about my game for about the last five years is that I have relied over much on having a lot of lands in play; I was once able to play to Top 8 caliber in premiere events stuck on one land.
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Ancient Grudge
3 Lash Out
2 Pyrostatic Pillar
3 Kataki, War’s Wage
(my likely PTQ list)
1) Pyrostatic Pillar is there to turn “every matchup in to the Zoo matchup” … It has been working out pretty well as a two-of in the main. You’ll notice this is the only two-of (and I hate two-ofs in general) in a deck full of four-ofs. Well, that’s what happens when you play 22 lands.
2) I like Lash Out quite a bit. If Incinerate is good enough for Extended, surely the same is true for Lash Out.
Congratulations and condolences to Bill Stark who lost in the Top 8 (finals I think?) of the Magic Cruise PTQ.
Bill played an Affinity deck with four main deck Delay!
Delay is a particularly good card in Affinity due to that deck’s sometimes vulnerability to Ancient Grudge. One Delay should give most Affinity draws more than enough time to just kill the Ancient Grudge packing opponent before the original Grudge resolves, let alone rebuy shenanigans.
This video is a short showcase of Kenneth Ellis’s PTQ-winning Bant Aggro-Control deck. The Bant deck has numerous angles of attack and paths to victory (as well as opportunities to disrupt the opponent’s forward momentum). I would definitely consider playing it.
Consider this a sneak preview of this week’s Top Decks 🙂
Kenneth’s deck, which won the San Diego area PTQ the last week of January:
Now when I say that I would consider playing this deck, I am of course lumping it in a general sense with “Critical Mass” per the previous post “What Would MichaelJ Do?”. I think that either strategy could potentially gain from Noble Hierarch, particularly on the Tarmogoyf fight (Tarmogoyf race)-winning side(s).
Kenneth’s deck also plays Gaddock Teeg, which was so troublesome for me when I was playing ponderous control strategies earlier in the season; I don’t know how that would intersect with Path to Exile at this point, other than the fact that Kenneth’s deck has some basics to find and could itself benefit from some Path to Exile attention.
As you will see in an upcoming video, while Red is nice in the Critcal Mass-style sideboards, White is just a hammer. Poor Affinity.
I was talking to Mrs. MichaelJ today — not that she remotely understands or for that matter cares about Magic: The Gathering — and told her that I have been doing commentary on this game for going on 15 years and I still don’t understand what motivates people to make the deck decisions that they do. The most popular decks (at least until the onset of Faeries in Standard and Extended) are for the most part so uniformly unplayable that they only win because so many people play them that one of those buggers mathematically has to win (U/G Madness in Block and Standard are good examples, later Tooth and Nail, then White Weenie…).
Today in Extended Faerie Wizards and Affinity seem to be the most popular decks. For once I would consider playing the most popular deck. Faeries is pretty good and exciting! It crept into the metagame because Spellstutter Sprite is so good against Glimpse of Nature and stayed because people noticed that end of turn guys wearing the best equipment, covered by Counterspell, is good in basically every matchup.
Affinity I would not consider despite the fact that I have always respected it. You just can’t beat someone who really really wants to beat you. It’s really just a question of definition. Some people think that sideboarding Ancient Grudge means you beat Affinity. I am the kind of person who would play all the Shattering Sprees and Smash to Smithereens, or not just Ancient Grudge but Kataki, War’s Wage if the mana held it (or Kataki, War’s Wage with Akroma’s Vengeance and Path to Exile starting).
Which leads me to the conclusion of this short post.
My first PTQ is coming up this weekend. This is a short list of decks that I would consider playing:
Critical Mass (considering switching to U/G/W configuration for Kataki, War’s Wage over the Red Ancient Grudge setup, combined with a possible move to Noble Hierarch over Birds of Paradise)
Mono-White Control (I am just not sure if I am considering this because I am fundamentally contrary or because I actually think it is [still] good)… Bill Stark recently said he thought the Faeries matchup is receding, but there is something to be said for a deck that is good to great against Faeries, Affinity, and Red Decks
The Lightning Bolt Deck or Naya Burn (I just like Naya Burn)… I feel like with my new mindset and calmer mulligan model I would benefit from playing a deck like The Lightning Bolt Deck at this point in the season with this amount of practice underneath my belt (that is, a lot in terms of hours… but unfocused for the most part in terms of specific deck)
I just don’t have the patience to play Storm; I tried to play a Storm combo deck last season and I became frustrated and refused to do the math… It is strange because I am very good at burn / beatdown math but I just lose interest in combo math and just “go for it” too often. I know this is a limitation on my part, but it is obviously a good reason to shy away from that kind of a deck. Faeries I respect but I have no model for how to win the mirror and no interest in learning in the next four days. Ergo, one of the above four is the girl for me.
My general impression is that there isn’t really anything wrong with Zac’s theory… only that it isn’t new.
A lot of you probably didn’t have Brainburst Premium when I was writing for that site (which was around the heyday of Who’s the Beatdown II: Multitasking and some other fine articles from Zvi), but to me, this is fairly settled stuff.
Hill attempts in his Interaction Advantage to “reconcile the competing existing concepts of Card Advantage and Card Quality with one another in a coherent fashion, while incorporating the reality that certain effects have an impact on the board that far exceeds the expected interaction value of your average ‘card,’ but aren’t easily measured by the other ‘cards’ they destroy, negate, or generate.” This is in large part a reaction to Stephen Menendian’s claim that “In fact, within the game of Magic, there are only interactions. There is no such thing as a ‘Magic card’. This is a difficult ontological reality for many Magic players to accept.”
I suppose in order to properly address Zac’s article I will have to get Stephen’s statement out of the way first.
Okay, that’s probably a little harsh.
There are obviouslycards. In fact, the cards say “cards” all over them (look at any “discard” card). There have to be cards. It’s silly to pretend that there aren’t cards, because even if you agree with Stephen’s ultimate claim, the physical cards themselves have tremendous value “within [a] game of Magic.” If nothing else, cards give you something to bluff with. They give you something to look at when assessing if your opponent “has it” or not. They give you something to draw extra of if you are a cheater, or to watch that your opponent isn’t drawing extra of if you suspect him of being a cheater. They give you something to draw extra of if you are not a cheater but don’t know what else to do with the five Blue mana staring at you. The physicality, the reality, of the cards is essential to interactive Magic and to pretend that they don’t exist is to remove from the game that single solitary thing that differentiates the very good players from the absolute masters of the game. I can tell you that Jon Finkel walked by a playtest session once and ordered us to stop. We were playing poker deck with a Survival of the Fittest list. Jon insisted that what we were doing was actually hurtingus, and that there was no reason to test a Survival deck with proxies. “You just don’t have the right feel for the cards, and never will.”
Jon at the time had numerous Grand Prix wins and Pro Tour Top 8s on the back of his unparalleled skill with Survival of the Fittest, and to this day claims the absolute mastery of Survival of the Fittest among his proudest capabilities as the game’s greatest technician. If there was any one person’s opinion that absolutely mattered on this topic, it was his, irrevocably.
And he believed in cards.
But that probably wasn’t what Stephen was about in his statement.
He was really just being over dramatic about card counting, and I suppose that is forgivable insofar as what he was “getting at” (I assume) is essentially true from a pure counting perspective. It was true the last time I said it, and when edt told it to me, too. Just not new. I stress that this is accurate only from a counting perspective, that is, the recording of exchanges, and not true in any other sense.
In the early to mid 2000s I was obsessed with counting and argued that all card advantage is ultimately virtual. From the perspective of instantaneous utility there is no difference between playing Keiga, the Tide Star scaring off three attackers and playing Wrath of God to kill three attackers. You might be shaking your head at this because in one case there are still potential attackers on the board and in the latter case there aren’t. It is ultimately futile to argue the point because I can just pretend they will never attack and therefore never have utility (what if I play Windborn Muse and the opponent chooses never to attack with them due to mana constraints?) … Or what if the opponent plays Living Death and gets them all back? We can really only look at things at a given instant because the idea of long-term card counting really comes down to where you stick the words THE END … It’s the difference between comedy and tragedy and all the difference in a game of Magic.
Have you ever played ninety-nine one hundredths of a perfect game of Magic? Your back to the wall the whole time, mana flooded, desperately chump blocking, holding on until you weasel into a topdeck, then still have to juke it perfectly for three turns, pray he doesn’t realize you’re bluffing (there are those cards again) until you pull again… Only to mis-click on the last turn (real-life mis-click counts too)? Congratulations. Ninety-nine out of one hundred. Wasn’t good enough.
Okay, back to Zac…
Not a bad set of articles. I’m sure many readers benefitted from reading these, and that is all we can ask of ourselves as writers. Not bad; simply not new.
In my mind Card Advantage and this nebulous idea of “Card Quality” don’t have to be reconciled.
Correctly counted, all card advantage is virtual, cardboard or no.
The easiest way to describe it is this:
Turn one of a Standard game, summer of 1999.
Your opponent plays Swamp, Blood Pet. The table popped up before he even played his Swamp, and he can’t possibly contain his excitement or disguise his grin.
Okay, you think.
Seven cards, not one of them a Mogg Fanatic. For the sake of this example, you have four Mogg Fanatics in your deck, but anything else, you’re dead.
You have 53 cards in the stack in front of you, or put more simply, a 75% chance of losing on the spot.
You pull “a card” … that is, a piece of cardboard (it exists). It is not, however, a Mogg Fanatic.
For sake of counting — real honest to goodness counting — you pulled nothing. You pulled a blank. It’s as if you didn’t draw at all.
If your are reading my blog, I am fairly sure you understand this example. Now I am going to make you a better Magic player. For reals.
EVERY SINGLE PULL YOU MAKE OPERATES THE EXACT SAME WAY.
All the counting in Magic is instantaneous. There is no difference between being too scared to set off a Veiled Serpent and simply not having any hand at all from being Mind Sludged beyond the option of someday NOT being too scared of setting off a Veiled Serpent and manning up (or bluffing that you might someday similarly man up). Player behavior dictates everything. It always has.
Here is the important reiteration: EVERY SINGLE PULL YOU MAKE OPERATES THE EXACT SAME WAY.
You understood the summer of 1999 example because of the virtual boner the opponent showed you, your knowledge of your four Mogg Fanatic deck (probably Counter-Phoenix), and the fact that you realized that you were staring at a textbook Hatred kill. Now even with these parameters filled, it would have been up to player behavior. Maybe you could bluff a Shock or a Force Spike. Maybe the opponent doesn’t know that you have no out there. But you, the guy reading this blog, understood from the example that the in-game utility you got from a non-Mogg Fanatic pull was zero.
The difference between you before you read this post and you after reading the next paragraph is that you will understand that the lesson of Bob Maher is that you should always assess your cards as if you are under the exact same kind of pressure.
The value of card drawing is tied directly to probability. More cards give you more chances at relevant pulls. Playing “as if you are under pressure” leads to crafting a strategy that will necessarily conform to the threats and interactions that your opponent can present within the appropriate time frame. This is actually quite simple if you think about it.
We often go back to the timeless Finkel message “Focus only on what matters.” Certain pundits have complained on occasion that they don’t know what matters. It may be simpler to think of the relevant interactions. You all understood the relevance of the Mogg Fanatic versus Blood Pet scenario. Every Magic interaction making up every Magic game can be broken down into similar buckets of relevance and probability, which in turn fit into larger buckets that make up the Stage superstructure that describes every Magic game.
For example take MWC v. Zoo in Extended:
MWC will win essentially every game that is allowed to go to Stage Three. How MWC wins is more-or-less irrelevant because there is almost no play that is bad enough that Zoo would be able to come back and win if it gets that far (I like making the opponent die to his stupid Dark Confidant, personally).
MWC has a suprising Stage One. Not good, but surprising (you are surprised when you lose to Mana Tithe, and also surprised when you lose to Lightning Helix).
Zoo crosses Stage One superbly, and acheives Stage Two within two turns most games. Zoo has to try to win in Stage Two. This statement is the entire framework of the strategy that guides both decks.
When players say they don’t know what is relevant — at least if they were playing one of the two decks described here — it is possible they are failing in the basic identification of strategy.
Zoo can only win one way: Kill the opponent before he acheives Stage Three, likely with a combination of beatdown and burn spells. One of my favorite things when I was actively playing the MWC deck was when my Zoo opponent would play Umezawa’s Jitte, typically in an attempt to not play into a big old Wrath of God. I liked this because I never lost a game when the opponent went Jitte. He would cede time by not killing me. I would react with Lightning Helix or Unmake (or sometimes Condemn) and buy a precious turn that brought me closer to Stage Three.
There are two cards that are sometimes played in Zoo that could complicate issues for MWC. Both Tidehollow Sculler and Gaddock Teeg could remove MWC’s ability to interact in Stage Two (typically pre-empting or removing Wrath of God); without such ability to interact, MWC would die before Stage Three (obviously losing in the process).
Naya Burn and the Lightning Bolt Deck have different ways of interacting with MWC than Zoo.
Naya Burn can play Molten Rain — especially on a Mistveil Plains or Temple of the False God — which restricts MWC in Stage Two (or even shanks MWC back to a manascrewed Stage One in some cases); either deck can play Sulfurous Vortex, which can not only kill MWC when MWC should be trumping in Stage Three (and certainly Stage Two), but can undermine the active dictation of Stage Three (whereas Zoo would always lose in Stage Three).
You will notice that the evaluation statement that describes both decks’ strategies differs when MWC is playing against Naya Burn (which looks like Zoo). If the MWC player assumes “[this deck] has to try to win in Stage Two” MWC may fail. MWC may in fact inevitably fail. In fact, this may be tantamount to a mis-assignment of role! What does it mean if Naya Burn can violate Stage Three airspace? We are in a very different world than “MWC will win essentially every game that is allowed to go to Stage Three,” aren’t we? It sounds almost like racing (God forbid) could be a relevant if not necessary option in our bundle of sticks, an arrow in our quiver we just might have to string up.
Think about what is necessary to identify the necessity of racing in the MWC v. Naya Burn fight. At the micro level, you have to figure out which if any of your cards is appropriate for racing and how and when to play them. At a slightly wider level you have to identify how to either find cards to race or how to prevent Naya Burn from racing you (or perhaps if you are very spoiled) how to make the game no longer about racing. But at an even wider level, you have to have correctly assessed that the paradigm of the game is a little bit different than playing against Zoo. When you are very good, the appearance of a Sulfurous Vortex will begin a domino cascade in your mind that will inform your next five turns’ of tactics. A lesser player will simply lose and not realize how he lost, having drawn all his best cards “against Zoo.”
Those of you who followed me on MTGO when I was actively playing MWC know that I was sideboarding as many as four copies of Kataki, War’s Wage, not for Affinity, but primarily for the Lightning Bolt Deck. Kataki did several things in the Lightning Bolt matchup, over and over, even when it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Kataki was always a lightning rod. Or when he wasn’t, the opponent didn’t realize what was going on. Often, he would buy Shrapnel Blast! You see, the Lightning Bolt deck is full of Darksteel Citadels and Great Furnaces and really doesn’t have enough operating mana to let you run all over them with Kataki forever. Secondly, Kataki almost guaranteed that Mana Tithe was good. Especially once I had removed Oblivion Ring from my deck (Unmake was basically always better), I actually had to gamble on Mana Tithe being able to stop Sulfuric Vortex. Finally, Kataki gave me a little racing game. You’d be surprised! He’d get in for six or eight. He never killed the other guy, but the other guy was often so cavalier about his life total he didn’t realize he was in a race. Therefore he would have fewer turns than expected to draw his 20th point of burn and I could shave a turn or two off of my normally glacial Decree kill.
Last thing. This is super important!
Zac — we have to get back to Zac, Zac inspired this post — says in the second of his two referenced articles that he is not trying to describe a kind of “option advantage” with his theory. That is fine; what he is describing is his to describe. However remember that good Magic play is about the preservation of options. When you are presented with two similar plays, typically the one that leaves you more options is superior. This is the root of our theories on mana efficient play, card advantage, life total preservation… everything we think of as “clean” technical play is actually about generating and preserving our options.
And because bluffing is an option… You already knew there was such a thing as a card so I won’t bother repeating that.
P.S. I realize there are infinite difficult concepts in this post, and I will be happy to follow up more specifically on any topic any of you want me to in the comments.
Culmination of a lot of the tech I have been working on for Standard. No Sylvan Caryatids is a nod to Patrick Chapin. Nothing but two-for-ones. Wish I could have gotten this in the hands of a good pilot for the GP but just finished it.
I had a day off this weekend from shooting Supernatural, and I was walking around downtown Vancouver on Saturday, sampling all the artisan coffee I could get my throat around. At one point I saw a pair of guys walking towards me wearing gamer shirts. Black short-sleeved, one Halo and one Call of…