Entries from August 2010 ↓

Super Secret Felidar Sovereign

Concerning:

Felidar Sovereign :: Soul Sisters ::Super Secret Felidar Sovereign Mirror Match Tech
Teenage Heartthrobs :: Losing at Magic: The Gathering :: … and Felidar Sovereign

Yesterday we chatted a bit about my post-Nationals enthusiasm RE: Utter-Leyton’s Mythic Conscription deck. However I was very excited and showed interest in three different decks that came out of that tournament. I felt Mythic Conscription was the strongest (especially after playing all of them), but it wasn’t the first I tried.

Teen Heartthrob Gavin Verhey (and my co-conspirator at new project http://FloresRewards.com) sent me his Soul Sisters deck list. As you probably know, Gavin finished Top 32 at US Nationals with Soul Sisters elevating his life total turn after turn… Better yet, he had some sideboard tech for the inevitable, impending, “shiny new deck” mirror matches: Felidar Sovereign.

Shhh… Don’t tell anyone about Felidar Sovereign

“I think you just want to get into the position where you play Sovereign and hold two Brave the Elements. I don’t think you will be able to race very often… but we never tested it.” -Gavin

This is the deck I tested:

Soul Sisters – Gavin Verhey

4 Ajani’s Pridemate
4 Brave the Elements
3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Kor Firewalker
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Ranger of Eos
4 Serra Ascendant
4 Soul Warden
4 Soul’s Attendant
4 Survival Cache

4 Kabira Crossroads
15 Plains
4 Tectonic Edge

Sideboard:
1 Celestial Purge
3 Felidar Sovereign
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
4 Luminarch Ascension
2 Oblivion Ring
3 Path to Exile

I cut one Celestial Purge, the Sun Titan, and the War Priest of Thune from Gavin’s original deck list. My reasons were basically that the deck is already hard against Red Deck and Jund (ergo less necessity for Celestial Purge, even if it is better than Oblivion Ring against Pyromancer Ascension); Sun Titan is whatever… I don’t know when I would play it, really; and War Priest of Thune — while a beating in decks that can actually clock Pyromancer — primarily gains value only against monkeybrains when you are presenting a sad 10+ turn clock.

So how did I run?

I played Soul Sisters in eight tournaments over about two days. These were the results:

  • Jund – Won flip, won match; +10 points
  • Mythic Conscription – Lost flip, lost match; -8 points
  • Mythic Conscription (same guy) – lost flip, won match; +8 points
  • G/R – lost flip, lost match; -10 points
  • Naya Fauna Shaman – lost flip, lost match; -8 points
  • RDW – lost flip, won match; +6 points
  • Four-color Ramp – won match; +6 points
  • Jund -lost flip, lost match; -10 points

Basically I ended up dead even, and down a couple of points. I know that MTGO points are not really indicative of anything (heck, they aren’t even public) but I have a personal goal of attaining and maintaining a 1900+ rating on MTGO. I have read this is the rough equivalent of Pro-level execution, and that seems as fine a goal as any… But of course experimentation with decks rather than a single-minded focus to maximize points is at odds with that goal. Clearly my performance with Gavin’s Soul Sisters is nowhere near my post-Nationals performance with Mythic Conscription (or, for that matter, my performance levels with Mono-White Eldrazi, Esper, or Pyromancer Ascension… the decks I liked coming into Nationals).

So what happened?

My opening match with Soul Sisters was a classic case of Exhaustion and profitable trading. My Jund opponent was able to deal with most everything, but I always netted something along the way. Game Two I lost to three Jund Charms (basically a Wrath of God for your guys but not his Putrid Leeches)… but the match in three more or less went according to book.

I split matches with Mythic Conscription (same guy). My only notes for this one are “same guy” in the second row; ha. I remember the second match just trying to Overwhelm him with the grind. Everything I did was more value (generally life) and he had to respect my little Ajani’s Pridemate. Calls could be close but I remained outside of Sovereigns of Lost Alara range… at least most of the time.

The first time around I remember being completely out-classed. Soul Sisters is best of breed when everything is going according to the Cliff’s Notes… Serra Ascendant is Baneslayer Angel; Ajani’s Pridemate is Tarmogoyf; so on, so forth. But when you are one square peg out of a round hole  you can be completely dominated by the Mythic Rares in a Conscription deck. All of his cards represent so much mana, so much incremental cardboard, it can he hard for the little White men to compete.

The G/R deck I wasn’t pleased to lose to; not at all. I was basically manascrewed both games, and he got two if not three Cunning Sparkmages; it’s not like I was planning to roll over to a Nest Invader.

The Naya Fauna Shaman matchup was extremely frustrating. I was again dominated by Cunning Sparkmages in the first game but had Linvala in the subsequent ones. Linvala is a house against a deck that relies heavily on Knight of the Reliquary, Noble Hierarch, &c… Or at least it is supposed to be. In the third game he just had some Knights and drew a ton of dual lands to make them big. The problem was that even though he was locked out of Cunning Sparkmage, he had Basilisk Collar and Knight of the Reliquary was so big he could keep pace with my lifegain. Late in the game he got the Stoneforge Mystic and applied a second Basilisk Collar to a second Knight of the Reliquary and eventually bowled over the so-called “race” we were in, eventually going completely over the top. I don’t know what I could really have done better… My deck was executing, I got my sideboard card, and he still beat me, and with his third-string plan.

The RDW match was probably my favorite of the set. He revealed a Kor Firewalker with Goblin Guide on the second turn and packed on the spot. Moral victory!

No clue how I beat the four-color Ramp deck. His crushed me Game One and also had everything… which is unsurprising four a four-color deck that can cast every super expensive (as in secondary market value) spell. But what can I say? Sometimes Ajani’s Pridemate is just bigger than Primeval Titan. Too bad.

Unfortunately we finished the set with a loss to Jund. This was another case of just being out-classed on power level and card versatility.

Post Script

One of the reasons I was interested in this deck at this stage is that I was looking ahead to the TCGPlayer.com $5K tournaments here in New York City come October. Mythic Conscription is obviously going to lose its current flair with the disappearance of Sovereigns of Lost Alara (though it is possible that a Planeswalker-heavy classic Baneslayer Angel build might be just fine); I was just looking for a way to get a jump on the playtest process.

I failed to win all my good matchups, and even if I stole the Ramp match, I don’t think that I was really well positioned in the queues. For example, I was all excited to run out Felidar Sovereign tech, and… No mirror matches.

If there is one thing that I would note it is that I never felt like I had enough land. Gavin’s deck plays only 23 lands, but when I played against Tom Ross’s build at US Nationals, it always seemed like it had an unending amount of land for a deck so deep in one-drops. Just something to think about: Remember, Conrad Kolos’s deck from the all-Jund Pro Tour had about a billion lands, and still mono-one-drops.

Good luck to my peeps in Amsterdamn; bad luck to not my peeps.

LOVE
MIKE

Sovereigns of Lost Alara Update

Concerning:

Sovereigns of Lost Alara :: Keeping Track of the Numbers :: Soul Sisters (kinda)
Mono-Green Ramp (even less) :: #FloresRewards :: … And Sovereigns of Lost Alara

You might not know this about me, but I keep fastidious records on my MTGO tournament play statistics.

That is how I know what decks are good!

So after coming back from US Nationals last week, I was very excited to try out some of the breakout decks from that tournament.

Specifically, I looked at three decks:

  1. Mono-G Ramp, a la new TCGPlayer columnist Conrad Kolos
  2. Soul Sisters – in particular because teen heartthrob Gavin Verhey clued me in on the mirror match sideboarding tech
  3. Mythic Conscription because Utter-Leyton’s deck looked so sick I had to take a personal day at the mere prospect of playing it.

Overall, the most impressive deck of the three was Mythic Conscription. I will detail the other two (less exciting) decks [or my experiences with them, anyway] in blog posts later in the week (probably), but for now I wanted to talk about Utter-Leyton’s Conscription deck.


Sovereigns of Lost Alara is a centerpiece of the Mythic Conscription deck.

Mythic Conscription

2 Eldrazi Conscription

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Mana Leak

4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Sovereigns of Lost Alara

4 Birds of Paradise
2 Explore
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Noble Hierarch

3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

4 Celestial Colonnade
5 Forest
2 Island
1 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Plains
1 Sejiri Steppe
3 Stirring Wildwood
3 Verdant Catacombs

sb:
2 Jace’s Ingenuity
2 Spell Pierce
2 Obstinate Baloth
4 Celestial Purge
4 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Bojuka Bog

Some Notes:

I wrote a lot of my ideas about this deck in last week’s edition of Top Decks. Those didn’t really change based on my playing the deck. In fact my respect for the version just increased.

Overall I was enchanted my the success of such a no-frills deck. I had been mesmerized by all these Fauna Shamans and Squadron Hawk engines and only one copy of Eldrazi Conscription, loading up on Primeval Titans, and so on. But Utter-Leyton’s deck bucked recent trends, uncompromising in its refusal to, you know, compromise. Great deck, and worthy of the very deserving champion.

The card a lot of people have pointed out in this deck is Explore.

I didn’t really know what to make of it. Yes, there were times when I had a Lotus Cobra followed by a third turn Explore and things went absolutely bananas… But when I was reaching for sideboard slots, this was also always the first card I considered cutting (and to be honest, I won an awful lot of matches with one Explore in my deck!) Sorry, ffej :(

Match rundown:

  • Soul Sisters – Won flip, lost match; -9 points
  • R/G Valakut – Won flip, won match; +10 points
  • White Weene (regular, not Soul Sisters) – Won flip, won match +7 points
  • B/G Ramp – Lost flip, won match; +9 points
  • B/G Ramp (same deck) – Lost flip, won match; +8 points
  • Mono-Green Valakut Ramp – Won match; +6 points
  • Mythic Conscription – Won match; +7 points

Overall, 6-1; +38 points

I try to keep track of whether or not I win the flip but I only remember about 2/3 of the time; I don’t know if it is useful to keep track of this if you don’t remember 100% of the time. As you can see over the first seven matches I played with Utter-Leyton’s Mythic Conscription deck I only remembered to record this 5/7 times.

Regardless, the performance was pretty wicked — 6-1 — and the points more than made up for my performance with Soul Sisters, Mono-Green Ramp, et and cetera.

At this point Utter-Leyton’s Mythic Conscription is my best win percentage of any deck over the 166 lines of my spreadsheet for the current Standard format! Huzzah!

A few months ago I wrote about the so-called Danger of Eldazi Conscription. Some paps on Twitter pointed out that the approach I suggested in this blog post might not be optimal for fighting Mythic Conscription decks. For example, given all the Lotus Cobra mana-making gas in a Mythic Conscription deck, it is possible that the opponent might just play an Eldrazi Conscription that he draws.

It has been said that sans Eldrazi Conscription, a Mythic Conscription deck is just a clunky Mythic deck with Sovereigns of Lost Alara instead of more efficient threats like Baneslayer Angel (or Rampaging Baloths).

But when you do get the Conscription combo… it is, as they said back in the 1990s, some good.

I don’t remember how I lost the Soul Sisters matchup… As a Soul Sisters player in different points in the post-Nationals testing process, I did a fair amount of losing to decks with Forest / Noble Hierarch.

Most of the other matchups I won with a combination of card quality, tactically devastating Mana Leaks, Planeswalkers, Sovereigns of Lost Alara, and math.

To wit:

  • Card quality – Have youseen the awesome sauce of cards in this deck? The moron threat is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A lot of games your opponent is playing clunky style and you are doing three or four different insane things. For example you play out a turn one Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch, a second turn Lotus Cobra, and like 100 things on turn three thanks to Explore and two copies of Misty Rainforest or Verdant Catacombs.
  • Tactically devastati Mana Leaks – I am the kind of magician who runs out a Mana Leak basically whenever I have two mana, but some Mana Leaks are made differently from others. For example you Crash with a small animal after powering out Sovereigns of Lost Alara, but seem otherwise tapped out. Your opponent goes for his Big Play (™) in response and you pop off your Knight of the Reliquary with the best two drop ever printed in play. Oh no, you hear the opponent mouth. That’s right, buddy; you’ve been swindled. Mana Leak.
  • Planeswalkers – I initially found it weird that so many of the threats in this deck are Planeswalkers (I originally considered Jace a non-strategic card that wes mostly good at suppressing opposing copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor), but they were okay. Soldier production on the part of Elspeth, Knight-Errant is a little odd against Soul Sisters, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. That said, it was pretty fun to make my Soul Sisters opponent pick up Ajani’s Pridemate on six consecutive turns, especially as it was always bigger than a 3/3 :)
  • Sovereigns of Lost Alara – Playing this version of this deck I often felt like Diamond Dallas Page in the late 1990s… Biding my time, looking for my spot, trying to stick my Diamond Cutter. In this deck, your Diamond Cutter is actually connecting with Eldrazi Conscription twice. Like sometimes one big hit will not be enough because you don’t get the Annihilator benefit and they will attack you to death on the bounce back. Or you might think you have an open but you can smell the Path to Exile a mile away. That is when you have to be clever.
  • Math – I found Mythic Conscription to be surprisingly cerebral to play. Yes, there are games when it is reminiscent of Critical Mass. Namely you play the “U/W Control” game of Jace, the Mind Sculptor + Counterspells even better than U/W does because you can get your mainline plan online a turn faster with Birds of Paradise, Lotus Cobra, or Noble Hierarch; that’s kind of fun. But the really rewarding games are the multi-turn offenses, I think. Turbo out Elspeth, Knight-Errant, go to the air for about 4-5 points, set up Sovereigns of Lost Alara + Exalted + Elspeth evasion for a lethal strike the next turn. You know, math.

Approach:

Mythic Conscription exemplifies the decks of the Tier One metagame. Basically this is all really good cards laced together by some mana acceleration (and some of those cards are themselves really good cards) and Mana Leaks. Therefore who’s the beatdown equations occur a little bit differently than they do in traditional Magic. Whether you are the beatdown or the control is less a matter of what deck you are playing against than the circumstances surrounding the cards you draw. So if you draw Birds of Paradise, Knight of the Reliquary, Lotus Cobra, and Sovereigns of Lost Alara… All things held equal you are probably going to try to cram Sovereigns of Lost Alara down the opponent’s throat, possibly defending with the Knight. If you draw Birds of Paradise, Jace the Mind Sculptor, and Mana Leak, you are probably going to play a “U/W Control” type game… and it doesn’t matter than you were paired against what should nominally be the “control” deck in both cases.

I played against a mess of decks with Primeval Titans. My approach there was largely borrowed from Zvi Mowshowitz. Basically he has a six and I have a six. I can disrupt his ability to accelerate to six… It is a lot harder for him to do the same. If his six hits, I might be annoyed. If my six hits, he gets crushed for 11+ damage in a single turn. If that damage is coming from a Birds of Paradise, it might be tantamount to dying on the spot. Good matchup, as far as I can tell.

The one thing I never got was when to play Jace’s Ingenuity.

As you can see from the tournament statistics, I played against ramp decks a couple of times; I often found myself siding Jace’s Ingenuity in against those, especially when I was going to drop a copy or two of my Planeswalkers. I often felt I’d rather have a 3/2/2 split of Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Jace’s Ingenuity; and Elspeth, Knight-Errant against decks that couldn’t deuce my Planeswalkers with their own copies, but no idea if that plan would be co-signed by the man who took all the names with this deck.

I held back on writing this blog post (my Mythic Conscription matches all took place around 8/26) because of my article on TCGPlayer today. I wrote about how Pyromancer Ascension was the best deck — and gave a lot of really good reasons that I certainly believed in at the time — and didn’t want to conflict with that article before it came out. I still think my Pyromancer Ascension choice was fine (and would probably play my same 75 again), but the solid results from even seven matches with Utter-Leyton’s Mythic Conscription certainly impressed me.

LOVE
MIKE

PS – In the unlikely case that you haven’t seen or heard about Flores Rewards, check out this video. I think you will like it :)

You can also check out the new Flores Rewards blog at — you guessed it — http://FloresRewards.com!

Restaurant Kryptonite

A little over a year ago I was very involved in a local chapter of Toastmasters.

Toastmasters is an organization that helps people of all walks of life with their oral verbal communication skills. For example our chapter had a couple of life coaches, some moms, immigrants who needed to improve their confidence with English, an iPhone app developer, a highly successful CEO entrepeneur, and the CFO of a large public company… all sponsored by some huge engineering firm.

Anyway, one of the activities at Toastmasters involves pulling quotes out of a box and spontaneously jawing about whatever is on a card for about three minutes. I volunteered to moderate this activity one week, and because I can’t do anything the regular way, instead of using the proscribed plastic box with the canned — literally canned (“boxed” really) — cards, I made my own… entirely from headlines from America’s Finest News Source.

I also hand-wrote the headlines on the backs of my business cards, so that whenever someone pulled one, they were forced to topdeck one of michaelj’s cards (that’s how I roll).


Because that’s how I roll.

People didn’t get what America’s Finest News Source was / is from the outset, and were reading the headlines straight (maybe they were just not as madly creative as I was / am). Anyway, this is one of the headlines I used:


You can click the above image if you actually want to jump over to The Onion.

“Area Woman Will Eat Anything With Tuscan in Name”

Come on!

That’s a softball!

Anyway, I was thinking about this… Of course it’s hilarious to wag your finger at / turn your nose up to birds who order things with “Tuscan” in the name, but aren’t we vulnerable to the exact same kinds of behavior? I know I am.

Here is a list of five ingredients that I absolutely fall over backward for every time I see them in a menu.

#5 Pepper / Chiles / Chipotle

Peppers — and extensions and / or specific iterations of peppers — are like the Made to Stick of food preparation. If you staple a pepper onto something where it doesn’t seem like it belongs… Bingo, ya got me.

For example, chile rubbed… anything.

Or Jacques Torres Wicked line (hot chocolate and / or dark chocolate solitaires and / or candy bars) that have ancho and chipotle peppers in them. “Are you ready to be naughty?”

I once ordered a Wicked Peanut Butter* Mocha at Jacques Torres and every man in the line immediately changed his order to match.

“Is that good?”

“Only if you like flavors.”

I think my attraction to peppers stems from some desire for my food to have taste. I mean if you take a perfectly good whatever and then kick it up a notch… You grok, no?

#4 Bacon

In this case I am basically a one-man extension of the Top Chef judging panel. Add bacon, win.

I mean I love bacon so much — probably not a surprise.

I will often switch my order preference from something on the menu to something else simply because the something else comes with bacon automatically; conversely, if you can add bacon for $1.00 or whatever, I am running sick ads. Admit it, you would too.

#3 Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is my literal restaurant kryptonite. If there is something peanut butter on the menu, I just immediately order / add that thing. Part of my obsession with Tasti** the past couple of months comes from frequenting specific branches that have peanut butter sauces and / or sundaes on the menu. This is kind of weird insofar that I love nuts and peanuts are not even close to the top of my list of nuts; but add peanut butter to an otherwise reasonable menu option, and I will usually topdeck that.

#2 Garlic

Garlic is a transformational ingredient.

Like I was walking down the street in Minneapolis last week and overheard two kids talking about the steal they got on French Fries. They were $9 … but for a “big plate” of garlic French Fries. Do you know how much a potato costs? I don’t know if $9 is a reasonable price for a sliced up, deep fried, potato even in a top flight steak house… But add the word “garlic” to the name? All of a sudden you dress it up like a big blue ribbon on gigantic, recently hosed-off town sow.

Ta-da!

#1 Rib-eye

These six letters, lined up in this particular order, are a combination of yellow, wood, kryptonite, lead, and mercy. Basically any weakness any superhero can have, that is what rib-eye is to me.

I was recently at an awesome restaurant with my wife, and she took recommendations from the waiter. He suggested some kind of curry fish (typically curry would fall under the “pepper” category, and get a certain amount of extra ups from YT in terms of predilection to order). However there was rib-eye on the menu.

This was not a restaurant known for steaks. They were known for their insane view of the city (and it was in fact superb), but according to my wife, the curry whatever kind of fish was one of the best meals she had ever eaten. I, on the other hand, got a thoroughly mediocre steak (probably not even prime).

I would order the rib-eye again; every time. That is because rib-eye is a combination of yellow, wood, kryptonite, lead, and mercy; any weakness any superhero has, that is what rib-eye is to me.

Can you imagine what would happen if there were, say, a garlic rib-eye on the menu? They actually have that at Plataforma.

* Jacques Torres peanut butter is actually “European” and full of hazlenuts. Mise.

** Speaking of Tasti, we are about to bust out some great content for Flores Rewards. Go check out the still in utero http://FloresRewards.com now!

LOVE
MIKE

My Top 10 Television Shows of All Time… in This Top 10 List

This blog post has basically nothing to do with Magic: The Gathering. To find out why you can skip way ahead to the “Irony” section (ctrl+f “irony”). But it should still be a super cool blog post simply because — let’s be honest — your old pal michaelj penned (and by “penned” I mean “typed”) it.

Part I: Laying the Blame

Blame Brian David-Marshall.

One of my best friends.

My podcast teammate over at Top 8 Magic (buy Deckade at Top 8 Magic!)

This is a man with 13-17 favorite movies in his top 3 favorite movies. So as embarrassing as it may be to have started plotting out this blog having forgotten completely about The Wire ain’t gonna stop me. Yes, The Wire is probably better than most of the television shows outlined below, but like I said, blame Brian David-Marshall.

Part II: My Top 10 Television Shows of All Time… In This Top 10 List

People are always asking me “what to watch next” so I put together this blog post. This Top 10 list is going to focus more on shows that aren’t on the air any more. For the most part you can get them all on DVD or in some cases you can watch all the eps online via Hulu, YouTube, or the WB (or in the middle of the night on the Disney Channel).

Number Ten – Robotech

Robotech was the first cartoon I ever saw that, despite being a cartoon, dealt with adult themes and more complicated storylines. Characters — even majort characters — died, people’s houses got thrashed when there was a battle, women got pregnant. I watched Robotech largely around age 9, but when I moved to the Cleveland area from western Pennsylvania it played at a terrible time slot relative to when I could, you know, watch tv / cartoons / etc.

Adult themes, and the trials and consequences of war were not the initial hook, of course.

Robotech was about transforming robots blowing up aliens. The main character of the first 1/3 — Rick Hunter — was the quintessential candidate for the Level Up. He went from stunt plane pilot to admiral over the course of a couple of years, and not only got the girl but had every looker from the naive pop star to the jaded older woman fawning all over him.

I was completely obsessed with Robotech for years. Keep in mind this was during a time period when there was no public adoption of the Internet, but involved really cool foreign transforming robots and interesting characters. I bought tons of art books as a kid and consumed every possible Robotech-related tech I possibly could until my sister bought me the complete saga on DVD around 2001 or 2002.

Luckily for you (if you haven’t watched it), all three arcs of the initial Robotech saga are available on Hulu!

I am including a relatively accessible ep; the saga as a whole is an involved, multi-generational, one with plots rebuilt from multiple different Japanese sources. The first part has a brief space battle and some story advancement, but the reason I chose the ep is the last part. The beautiful (and green haired) alien infiltrator Mirya is sent to the good guy space ship to learn more about us earthlings, and mistakes a video arcade for a training ground.

Young hero Max Sterling battles Mirya in a video game (Mirya is the best pilot the bad guys have) and… You’ll have to watch the ep to see what happens next. Rest assured that if all gamers had Max’s skills, we’d all be a lot happier. The internal monologues are priceless.

Number Nine – The Tomorrow People

The Tomorrow People is basically the opposite of Robotech. Rather than a cartoon that dealt with more serious themes, The Tomorrow People was basically the first show I was ever interested in that had actual humans / actors / etc. rather than cartoon characters. The tragedy of The Tomorrow People was that it came on on Nickelodeon about 6pm, i.e. when my Dad was trying to watch the news. So I basically never got to watch my favorite show circa 1984.

To be honest The Tomorrow People — being British — just reminded me of my favorite tv show circa 1980, Dr Who. The fact is that it was just a more terrible version of Dr Who, with worse special effects.


The Tomorrow People was about the next step in human evolution… back in 1974

Number Eight – Disney’s Gargoyles

Gargoyles is basically the best cartoon of all time.

It blends everything from Shakespeare to Iron Man-type concepts with power sources as disparate as magic and science to plain old money. There has really never been anything else like Gargoyles on television, ever, as far as I can recall.

And then it got cancelled.

What happened?

Gargoyles was re-launched as The Goliath Chronicles for a third season of sorts, but it wasn’t the same at all (Saturday morning cartoon rather than daily cartoon with incredible long term plot development and more twists and turns than the letter S). What was the problem?

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Sadly around 1995 or so I was part of the problem, tuning in for Tommy Oliver and his Drgonzord rather than Disney’s Gargoyles. Unfortunately, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was more or less the most popular television program of all time, so it wasn’t just me… But it was enough.

Gargoyles has had new life breathed into it in graphic novel form, under the direction of the original creator, so that’s something. You can watch it at 4am on Disney XD every night. In fact, tonight’s ep is the first ep ever. I mean if you’re going to be up anyway…

Number Seven – Battlestar Galactica

Yes, the re-imagined mid-2000s series!

I watched the one from 30 or however many years ago as a kid, but who are we kidding?

Battlestar Galactica starts off at the worst possible position — essentially the genocide of the human race — and just gets worse from there. The heroes are outnumbered, out-gunned, and actually infiltrated by the villains from day one. Heck, the heroes are the villains half the time. Battlestar is thought to be a commentary on the War on Terror, and you can see the themes quite clearly if you are looking. The writing is unbelievable. The good guys are in so deep in the first couple of eps of season three, even as an educated Western-raised lad from the U S of A, you may find suicide bombing a completely defensible activity when used against superior forces.

Number Six – Angel

I love Angel.

I like it better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When I want to get pumped up, I watch the last two episodes of Angel, in particular “Not Fade Away” (the last one).

I actually watched those live when the show was first going off the air, right before the birth of my daughter and didn’t like them at the time. When I watched them with director’s commentary, I appreciated what Whedon was trying to do much more. Like I said, I watch these eps to get pumped up… I am pretty sure Sadin and I watched them the night before a PTQ we made the finals of (sorry for punting Steve and Paul).

Number Five – Malcolm in the Middle

Before Arrested Development, there was Malcolm.

Malcolm in the Middle is the story of a boy genius born to a lower middle-class family, and constantly dropped into difficult situations because of the brash natures of his troublemaking older brothers, or sometimes the soul crushing love of his well-meaning but overbearing mother.

Malcolm in the Middle is like The Wonder Years, but without any of the sentimentality. At one point I think it was probably the best comedy on television, but suffered with the emergence of Arrested Development, at which point it got shuffled around a bit in terms of time slot and even night of the week.

The first two seasons are works of inspiration, and the season two ep “Bowling” is probably the best half hour of television you will ever see. I remember watching it with John Shuler at Grand Prix Detroit back in 2001 before we went to dinner… and we just stared at each other after staring at the television screen. What did we just watch? “Bowling” is a work of staggering on-screen choreography, hilarious, and incredibly accessible.

I don’t normally talk things up this much, but I know how good “Bowling” is. It’s not too hard to find online, but I couldn’t find a link from a real / official / well-known site so I elected not to embed it this time around.

Number Four – Rome

Rome transports you to another world.

Actually it is our world, but 2,000 years ago.

All our understanding of the universe as seen through a Judeo-Christian lens is blanked. Our notions of the body, propriety, and so on go out the window.

You want to have an affair? Your body slave is there fanning you.

You step out of line? Your commanding officer threatens to crucify you… and means it.

I think there are only 24 episodes; I heartily recommend tracking them down on DVD or HBO On Demand.

Number Three – Babylon 5

Babylon 5 was my [at least nominal] favorite show until I fell in love with this list’s #1 show. It is without exaggeration the most complicated and layered drama in the history of television.

Babylon 5 was kind of like Lost before there was Lost. The setting — a space station — was one of the main characters. None of the players was 100% what he or she seemed. There were several interplanetary wars, several opportunities to get pumped up or recoil in horror.

Amazingly, the entire saga is available on TheWB.com!

So if you want to explore more, you can do so there.

Just a warning: The entire first season is kind of terrible. The exception would be Signs and Portents (embedded below). The problem is that you can’t not watch the first season because, again, this might be the most complicated and layered show in the history of television; you can’t just skip the entire first season just because it is nowhere near as good as, say, the third or fourth seasons, or the latter part of the fifth.

Just be forewarned: “Signs and Portents” was an awards magnet and hands-down the best episode of the first season, but it is far from the best ep in the series.

Number Two – The Simpsons

Apparently my favorite show on television circa 1997 is still on television!

You go Bart!

Number One – Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is my all-time favorite television show.

I became acquainted with it via old Top 8 Magic listener Pselus, who recommended it to me just as I am recommending all these ten to you.

Veronica Mars is the kind of show writers love. Obviously the writing is there (including dialogue), but more than that, the story is layered and engaging — and constantly re-engaging — as it explores themes of class, resources, violence, and high school

For those of you who are not familiar with it, Veronica Mars details the adventures of a Nancy Drew-type girl detective (Veronica, obviously)… But imagine this Nancy Drew as a ruthless anti-hero with absolutely no qualms about using her detective skills to destroy her enemies, whether in terms of reputation (it is high school), resources, or literally. Veronica — lovable as she might be — has no qualms about setting her pet biker gang against rivals… and that darker tone is part of what makes her such an amazing character.

I would have just run the first episode ever as an embed, but it wasn’t available on Hulu or the WB. Instead I chose this one “The Rapes of Graff” which is about a rape investigation while Veronica tours a potential college. I ultimately picked it because it is a self-contained episode that guest stars George Michael and Maeby from Arrested Development.

Part II: Oh, the Irony

I actually played a bunch of relevant MTGO since coming back from US Nationals.

I am not going to report on any of that until my most recent article goes up on TCGPlayer (probably Monday), as I don’t want to report any conflicting deck choice data. Suffice it to say that I tried a bunch of the breakout archetypes and there is definitely another deck besides Pyromancer worth sleeving up.

I am probably not going to play much MTGO the next couple of days… Too busy working on this:

Flores Rewards*

Be there.

LOVE
MIKE

* I don’t even know where that email address goes :)

Spreading Seas and My Imaginary Superpower

Concerning:

Spreading Seas [being awesome] :: My Imaginary Superpower (i.e. the lack thereof) :: Changes to my Hall of Fame Ballot ::
Thinking About Stuff :: also Spreading Seas :: also, My Imaginary Superpower

I finished Nationals this year with five losses.

One match — the first match of the tournament — I punted. I was up a game against Jund after the habitual multiple Spreading Seas opener, plus in the second game my opponent stalled on three for a couple of turns. For some reason I Mana Leaked his second Putrid Leech, but whatever.


Spreading Seas

He stalled on Forest, Swamp, and Dragonskull Summit. I drew Spreading Seas and plopped both it, and my Pyromancer Ascension onto the ‘field (it’s not like I had a Mana Leak to defend the Ascension any longer).

The problem?

I put the Spreading Seas on his Dragonskull Summit.

Ooh, that’s a nonbasic! Ooh!

As soon as I did it — playing too quickly, per usual — I realized I had lost the game. If I had simply played the Spreading Seas on his Forest, I would have been able to power up my Ascension and win over the next two turns. Instead, dead.

So I had five losses at the end of the tournament. That first round was a punt if ever there was one.

The disappointing part of the tournament was going 2-1 / 2-1 in my two M11 drafts. I put in the work on MTGO and simply expected to win both of my drafts. My first draft was a bit soft, but I played my heart out, winning with a mulligan to four against an opponent with five Lightning Bolts in his deck. Unfortunately I lost consecutive games to Overwhelming Stampede in a different pairing (after winning the first, per usual).

My second draft was the worst. I drafted literally the best M11 deck I had ever drafted… Birds, Elves, Merfolk Sovereign, three Scroll Thieves (that is a combo by the way), a ton of Foresees (eight-see you might even say), a ton of Counterspells, great curve, great high end starting with Obstinate Baloth. So playing for the 3-0 I won the first game (see any pattern here?), I kept Island, Forest, Birds of Paradise, and Crystal Ball. I mean who loses to stalling with a second turn Crystal Ball?

I in fact stalled on two until turn five. My opponent’s draw was just too fast. His deck was much weaker than mine (save a lone Mind Control), but he got out his small White creatures and had at least a pair of Pacifisms. He beat me in the third game with a topdecked Pacifism, allowing him to force in the last point when I was drawing 2+ a turn with Scroll Thief, again with Crystal Ball online.

I lost a Constructed match on Day Two, so it’s not like winning that second draft would have guaranteed me Top 8… But I know that at the time, drafting as well as I did, that it felt pretty terrible to lose to stalling on mana with a second turn Crystal Ball.

How many [more] Top 8s might you have if you could finish this sentence… “I would have made Top 8 if…”

How about “if I hit my third land drop”?

I can point to countless tournaments over the course of my life where I would have made Top 8 if I just hit my third land drop.

Can you imagine having a superpower of always hitting your third land drop? Wouldn’t you win so much more? It’s almost obvious that you would.

I never thought about it like this before.

I think that’s why we can’t vote for cheaters.

Imagine some cheater with a ton of Pro Tour Top 8s. A ton of Grand Prix Top 8s. How many of them might he not have if he didn’t have the superpower of hitting his third land drop 100% of the time [or you can replace this with whatever superpower he has]?

What if his opponents are just a tiny bit development shy, like Ryan Fuller always bragged his opponents would be?

What if his opponents don’t have quite enough time to finish a round, due to clock management shenanigans?

Do you think his number of Top 8s might be a hair inflated? Isn’t it willful ignorance, then, to vote for him?

I am not one, usually, to succumb to peer pressure in any context. Advertising, yes (“anything sexy, glossy, well designed, or yummy” according to my wife); but peer pressure, no.

But in this case I decided to fold.

A good number of good men have all pushed the same way, and I decided to revise my 2010 Hall of Fame ballot. I am going to fall back on the Brian David-Marshall rule of not voting for a player with a superpower (aka “a suspension”), at least not first class. While I still admire Saito as a deck designer, to be honest, I was only aware of the [stupid] bribery offense and not his savage attempt to get another player a cheap game loss, even if it was the better part of a decade ago.

Anyway, like Tom Martell says (“Hi Mrs Martell!”)… “Columbus wasn’t nine years ago.”

My pulling my one vote probably won’t affect the outcome of whether or not Saito gets into the Hall of Fame or not this year… And like I said the first time around, he has — resurgently shady reputation or no — proved himself more-or-less both the best player and the best deck designer the past couple of years; but I am still moving my last vote to Anton Jonsson.

Officially revised ballot:

    Anton Jonsson
    Brian Kibler
    Gabriel Nassif
    Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz
    Chris Pikula

LOVE
MIKE

PS: You know you want it –

“I can’t believe that is the real cover.”
–Chris Pikula

Stuff to Watch Summer Edition

So I was just watching this week’s episode of Top Chef and I was shocked at who got booted. If you don’t know who had to pack his [or her, but not really] knives and go, ctrl+f “Sunday” and skip the rest of this section.

Anyway, it was ridiculous. Alex, the bald dude whom no one on the show loves (who probably stole Ed’s pea puree and won the motherloving challenge with it two weeks ago) did basically nothing [his teammates didn’t trust him to cook] and instead Kenny — probably the 2d strongest chef on the season — went home on account of being executive chef on the losing team.

At least my girl Kelly is still on the show. Obviously Angelo is the strongest chef this season but I can’t think of a time that the strongest chef won.

Come on Kelly!

Only thing I’m worried about is that Kelly’s palette has been called into question for over-salting a steak, and the fact is that she is a smoker and that is basically like rubbing your tongue against burning leaves while licking a cancer-coated ashtray for fun.

Whatever.

Top Chef inspired me to do another tv-centric blog post. Enjoy!

Sunday

Sunday is the most ridiculous tv night of the week, once again. There are basically a bazillion great shows to watch on Sunday, and I watch them all on account of staying up all night writing for TCGPlayer (I usually turn in my TCGPlayer column on Monday morning).

If you haven’t been reading my column over there, here is the best one:
The Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Magic

Big Brother
Big Brother is actually on three times a week. I am probably a more engaged fan of Big Brother than I am of Survivor, to be honest. The concept if you have never seen it is like The Real World, but with a more diverse cast typically (the age cutoff on The Real World is 25 or so), and instead of just sticking them into a house in a posh city, they isolate them and people get voted off every week.

The baseline uniform on Big Brother is a bikini for, say, half the house but unfortunately they have already voted off a couple of the lookers this year.

True Blood
True Blood is a fantastic television show to watch. I have battled my sister over this a couple of times and I think True Blood imagines Sookie Stackhouse’s universe better than the original Southern Vampire Mysteries. Sookie’s universe is reminiscent of Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books but I think that the similar themes are handled more deftly on account of Sookie’s books have not de-volved into 100 page long passages of extremely boring porn. I mean there is a fair amount of smut in the books, but Anita Blake went from celibate to nonstop meat hole about 8 years ago and the books have become unreadable since.

The characterization on the tv show is superior in my opinion. The addition of legitimate visuals makes the shocking more shocking given the supernatural elements. For example this season a vampire is compelled to make sweet vampire love to his former master (mistress, actually) and he doesn’t at all want to / like her despite the fact that she is quite the undead looker. So while being compelled to go to vampire nether-town he breaks her neck and 180s her head… Lethal for a human woman, but just — you know — hot vampire monkey love for the pointy-toothed crowd.

This year it’s mostly werewolves drinking vampire blood. Also, a decent number of decent boobs.

Mad Men
As a marketing director who works on Madison Avenue possessed of truly great hair and undeniable charisma… well… I might have a slightly different perspective than you. I — like the Emmy panel — feel like Mad Men is more-or-less the best show on television.

Hung
Hung
is pretty good. It is about a high school teacher (and the Punisher before Titus Pullo, but after He-Man) who makes extra bank by working as a male prostitute. Also, boobs; plus the occasional short and curlies.

Entourage
Adrian Grenier plays a Marky Mark-type character surrounded by his high school buddies as he navigates success, riches, and a neverending river of beautiful concubines. This season (the last?) had my second favorite episode of the show’s storied run, so I am mad digging it. Also Sasha Grey plays, um, herself this season… so boobs.

Rubicon
I haven’t watched this yet but given how awesome Breaking Bad and Mad Men are, I assume this is like the third best show on television (care of AMC, of course).

Monday

I usually just catch up on USA tv shows that I DVR’d other times during the week while I work on my DailyMTG column. No idea what actually plays on Monday.

However Weeds is coming back next week! Weeds jumped the shark long ago but it is still fun to watch. Weeds is in fact the perfect implementation of “the breakout novel” … Basically you put your characters in “the shit” and then put them deeper and deeper into it.

You’d think that a such a MILF-focused show would have more boobs, but nope. Still, great fun.

Tuesday

I used to watch Breakthrough With Tony Robbins, but apparently I was the only one.

Actually I don’t know how that is possible. In the first episode Tony threw a quadriplegic out of an airplane in like the first 15 minutes. Shrug.

I think White Collar comes on on Tuesdays but like I said I only watch USA stuff on DVR so it doesn’t really matter. I was surprised how much I liked White Collar, but probably shouldn’t have been because I absolutely adore Psych; I can only assume Covert Affairs is awesome (it’s basically a sluttier version of Alias, which was in its first 1-3 seasons one of the best shows on television before the creator got bored and accidentally invented Lost), plus I like all the USA stuff apparently.

Wednesday

Wednesday is a strange tv night for me because I am literally never home. Wednesday night a bunch of us attend Movie Klub — transplanted to New York by Lan D. Ho — at Jon Finkel’s house. So I watch whatever we are watching at Movie Klub and then have Shake Shack for dinner. In fact, my love of Shake Shack comes directly from Movie Klub. Believe it or not, I had never gone to Shake Shack before last summer, at the behest of Jonny and Lan.

That said, Wednesday is pregnant with fine tv.

At eight we have another ep of Big Brother (typically the coverage of the weekly veto competition), but also Top Chef and Psych.

Psych is, given the current available shows to choose from, probably the show I look forward to the most every week. It is lighthearted and decidedly not-deep, but on balance Psych has literally the best dialogue on tv. Bar none. The situations are ludicrous and the talkie talkie matches that quite well. I always laugh and I always want more. Plus the co-star is Dule Hill, who played my favorite character on The West Wing.

Thursday

Who knows what is on tv on Thursday? Sometimes I check out a 30 Rock re-run but mostly it is just Big Brother and watching whatever else I missed Wednesday night.

Friday

Friday is basically Date Night in the Flores household. We catch up on whatever we missed during the week (together) or catch a movie.

Saturday

Here is another night with nothing in particular right this second.

However even though it is cheating (Dr. Who ended two or three weeks ago) I just wanted to throw another shout out to my favorite tv show from age five. This past season with Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor has been one of the best seasons ever. In particular the last three eps were pure music.

I would particularly like to call attention to episode 11, “The Lodger”. Last time I did one of these posts I was able to share “Blink” — the consensus all-time best episode of Dr. Who. “The Lodger” is a close second… and much different. “Blink” is a horror episode that barely features the Doctor. In “The Lodger” the Doctor moves into a bachelor’s spare room while he investigates an alien upstairs. It is basically The Odd Couple — hilarious and uncomfortable — with the Doctor playing soccer, filling in for his hapless roommate at work, and engineering a sappy and predictable romance.

Even my wife — who typical for a beautiful and educated woman — does not typically go for the SF loved it.

No embedding this time; I couldn’t find “The Lodger” on YouTube, but it is still playing on BBC America On Demand. I recommend you go there immediately and spend 40 minutes on some charming comedy / SF.

Anyway, that’s it.

For the die-hards out there, I will probably get to updating more regularly after Nationals (or even early next week as I am taking a couple of days off before I fly out to Minneapolis). I have been spending the time I usually blog on actually playing Magic.

Crazy, I know.

LOVE
MIKE

One Man’s Ballot, again

So I got my 2010 Magic Pro Tour Selection Committee Hall of Fame ballot today.

In case you guys haven’t been reading for that long, the first ever post on this blog was my 2008 Hall of Fame ballot; way back on October 6, 2008. You can check that action out here (and by “here” I mean, like, this awesome blog).

Anyway there are a bunch of people eligible for Hall of Fame this year; I am not going to list them all. Instead I am just going to run out my gut-pulls:

Marco Blume
William Jensen
Scott Johns
Anton Jonsson
Brian Kibler
Katsuhiro Mori
Gabriel Nassif
Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz
Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz
Chris Pikula
Carlos Romao
Tomoharu Saito

I have voted for more than one of these players in the past.

They are all deserving misers but a man gets only five Hall of Fame ballot votes. Briefly…

Marco Blume
I always chuckle when I read Marco’s name. I wrote an article on Ponza ~11 years ago which was viciously plagiarized by The Pojo. You can still read “their” article, which has “Maro” Blume credited with a German Ponza deck, a misspelling I made all those many years ago, surviving still on “theirs”.

[LOL! I hadn't read the 2008 ballot before writing this, and didn't realize that I had just re-bought my own line from two years ago.]

William Jensen
Billy “Baby Huey” Jensen has a better resume than a fair number of the people already in the Hall of Fame. It’s basically silly he hasn’t been inducted yet. I’ve learned a lot from him.

Scott Johns
Ditto on William Jensen. Scott is a Pro Tour winner with five Top 8s and years of service to the community.

Anton Jonsson
To be honest I didn’t have the Limited master on my original short list but when i sorted the 2010 candidate pool and saw how many Top 8s he had, it seemed negligent not to consider him. Unfortunately I have little frame of reference on Anton’s game, but he comes very highly recommended by friends like Brian David-Marshall and Teddy Card Game.

Brian Kibler
I had already decided to vote for my old Underground and Team Red Bull teammate the Dragonmaster last year. Then he went and won a Pro Tour and Grand Prix and so on. Kibs is going to be a landslide this year and I plan to jump on.

Katsuhiro Mori
A few weeks ago I had this conversation with Zvi Mowshowitz:

Me: What are the chances someone other than Katsuhiro Mori has the MTGO nickname “Katsuhiro Mori”?
Zvi: Pretty low, why?
Me: Because I just bashed him in a queue, but I kind of don’t believe it was really him.
Zvi: No?
Me: He was playing Mono-Red.
Zvi: What were you playing?
Me: Eldrazi of course. Can’t lose; I mulled to five Game One and 2-0′d him anyway.
Zvi: Nah couldn’t have been him, but weird MTGO name.

Mono-Red? Nah, couldn’t have been him.

Katsu is super fun to play against, for fun at least (I have never played him in a tournament). He once beat me in same-deck of Pierre Canali’s U/R Wafo-Tapa deck. He was super tricky, which is about par for the course for him.

Gabriel Nassif
Hat is basically everyone’s hero (mine included). Neither Jon nor Kai (nor Bob, nor Dirk) got unanimous inductions, so I greatly doubt Nassif will. But he’s certainly got This Girl’s vote.

Daniel O’Mahoney-Schwartz
It was just Danny OMS’s birthday! Happy birthday Danny OMS! Katherine and the kids and I are going to Shake Shack with him this weekend. Dan is a good friend and I hang out with him pretty much every week. However My annual OMS brother vote is going to…

Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz
Should have voted him in first class. My bad.

Chris Pikula
Ditto on Chris.

Carlos Romao
There are few Constructed players I admire as much as Carlos. The Psychatog master just added a notch to his already much-perforated belt with a Planeswalker Top 8 that helped cement little Jace as a pre-emptive Staple in Standard.

Tomoharu Saito
Not only did his just win another big tournament, but he’s basically the best deck designer in the world.

This year I decided to do something different moving from the short list to the shorter list. I am just going to run all the automatic votes and see how many slots I have left over.

As I am not a buffoon I am obviously voting for Nassif, Saito, and Kibler; master, master, and DragonMaster. I think Nassif is as worthy a unanimous ballot-gatherer as ever drew breath. Saito has been around the best player in the world for some years if not the clear best. I wouldn’t have half so much glory as a deck designer if he hadn’t helped Andre Coimbra in the Extended portion of Worlds; so mise! Like I said, I was going to vote for Kibler even before he won that Pro Tour and Grand Prix because in order for the American block to start getting our O’Mahoney-Schwartz brothers and Pikulas into the Hall of Fame we have to stop fracturing our votes. That means getting our deserving boys off the ballot and into the Hall of Fame so that we can make more room for our, you know, additional deserving boys. That starts with Kibler. Congratulations old friend. The enemy’s gate is down!

With two votes left, that makes for a wonderfully convenient number of openings for SteveO and Chris.

Final ballot:

Brian Kibler
Gabriel Nassif
Steve O’Mahoney-Schwartz
Chris Pikula
Tomoharu Saito

Much love, all around.

LOVE
MIKE