You’ve probably read it already. Like I said on a recent Top 8 Magic Podcast, I was pretty nervous putting this one up; it was a stark left-turn for Top Decks, but my Twitter audience demanded it. So mise.
I said in the article…
One last thing before we begin … I’ve written, read, re-read, and re-written this article four times at this point. Only now do I realize—though, I knew at all times, that I wasn’t using all of my notes—that I was only submitting a portion of the totality of how I think about Magic. I didn’t put in all the stuff about how the line between my “Magic” friends and “friends” blurred as I reached adulthood, about how giving and giving leads to more getting. Nor did I write about never settling, constantly striving for self-improvement, or how each of us is, at least partially, driven by a need for significance (and how all those things intersect and even direct my relationship to Magic). Instead, I guess this stuff is mostly about how I think about strategy, card selection, making decks, choosing decks, and advising my bullets and apprentices. Just so you know, while you’re reading.
So I thought it might be interesting to share some of the notes and concepts that I didn’t use (you know, like the ongoing traits of the best deck we look at on this blog); here — in case you were wondering — are all my notes for the article:
It’s fairly likely you can’t read those — and even if they were hella big you wouldn’t be able to read them — so I’ll help you out:
Signif –> Naya mana base
Don’t Major in Minor Things
Get by GIVING
Don’t take yourself too seriously
No allegiances – LIMITING
DO EVERYTHING RIGHT IN YOUR POWER
Ask the best questions
Nobody remembers #2
We build for one goal
If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist
All players run in the same –> direction
All meaning –> difference
Anyway, here is a section that I wrote — and was originally the second bullet — but I chose to cut before sending to the Wizards of the Coast editors. I generally stand behind it, but I try to stay positive, and I felt like the segment came off a little too “Tony Robbins” while at the same time overtly negative (which to be fair is the opposite of Robbins), if that makes sense.
Today I was very glad for my policy of not interacting on Internet forums.
If you haven’t read my article TurboLand Again at TCGPlayer yet… I thought it was pretty good. But apparently the forums didn’t? I tested the deck a fair amount and it seemed stupidly powerful to me. However the forums over at TCGPlayer… Oh well. I don’t want to paint all the responders with the same brush (because tydobbs in particular had some productive technology to share)… But for the most part I feel like today’s responders were shall we say less than logical. For example there were several who said my deck would lose to Memoricide; when I beat Memoricide and even Sadistic Glee 2-3 times in the matches outlined; in addition I talked about how you would approach those cards and beat them in Attrition fights (which I did).
I also said that I wasn’t sure the deck was the best implementation, but that I thought it was about the best idea. Which means its Stage Three in particular can be improved (I even posed some ways that it might). Well, whatever. No reason to dwell on the point. I decided at age 11 that I didn’t care what other people think, and — as much as I relish attention — I’m not really going to start now. Here’s the never-was excerpt:
2. Significance is a Fundamental Human Need
Why do I write Magic: The Gathering articles?
There are lots of reasons, actually.
One of them is that they pay me.
It’s great! I get to do this great thing that touches hundreds of thousands of lives — some lives quite significantly — and they actually pay me to do it! It’s basically the life.
Well, they can pay you to do lots of different things.
What makes writing Magic: The Gathering articles special?
Of course I love Magic. As Aaron Forsythe once said, you can track the course of my entire adult life by watching the Internet sites various I have written for over the years… Usenet, The Dojo, Star City Games, The Sideboard, Neutral Ground, Brainburst, Star City Games again, TCGPlayer.com (formerly Brainburst [again]), Five With Flores, Top 8 Magic, Flores Rewards; even Twitter!
Of course I love Magic!
It is a privilege to be able to write Magic articles, to touch hundreds of thousands of lives, to do so in an intersecting fashion. It is much less commercial than it is an exercise in significance.
Everyone wants to feel significant. You can fill this need with the attention of a lover, a parent, a child; you can get a pat on the head at work; you can change the course of mighty rivers, or murder a president.
Or, you can write articles about something that you love, share the almost tactile love for something that you love with other people who also love it; share your years of experience, spirit of innovation, and copious mistakes.
Or, you can be a gigantic raging butthole.
Bullies, nitpickers, etc. gain a feeling of significance by poking at little things, trying to pull down popular public figures, etc.
Earlier in my writing career I engaged a lot on forums. As I wrote, above, I actually cut my Magic writing teeth on Usenet. However I have actively avoided forums for about the past two years. I still read them for the most part, but I no longer spend my life getting in fights on them.
Most of the nitpickers, complainers, detractors, and so on have nothing productive to say. They are limited in their experience or scope, and have nothing to contribute to the conversation. They, however, still feel a burning need for significance; they fill that need by holding up a gigantic neon sign that says:
“Hey! I’m a raging butthole!”
But you have to hand it to them, somebody paid attention.
Well; that’s it… Kimono open.
Ask about other notes and points I didn’t use in the comments below.
Anyway, I just got finished with my first run of testing the new TurboLand deck (coming to TCGPlayer tomorrow!) and wanted to go back to Mono-Blue Control. If you asked me pre-TurboLand I would have for sure told you to play Mono-Blue Control as my main Standard recommendation (though, to be fair, it might not be dramatically stronger than Nick’s proven B/U deck)… I remembered not being hugely satisfied with my sideboard.
I wouldn’t want to side out all my Frost Titans, but I would be fine siding out two. Volition Reins is actually fine (Ascension answer)… I named the sixes in general because of cost; you don’t necessarily want to be messing with sixes when the opponent can kill you on the spot.
Ramp Decks: Mono-Blue is a bit weaker than B/U because I don’t have Memoricide main (or at all). Counterspells can be dicey against them because of Summoning Trap. I usually try to either Counterspell their mana acceleration and / or to lock down their awesome guys with Frost Titans or Jace after the worst has already happened. Tectonic Edge is actually really important for Eye of Ugin and / or Valakut suppression.
Ratchet Bomb is not the worst. Sometimes you need it against cards like Avenger of Zendikar; it is also serviceable against certain draws (say they have a bunch of one or two drop mana accelerators). It’s never horrendous… Just not great or consistently great. I can see siding two-ish.
Into the Roil has a lot of play; but it isn’t consistent. Like you don’t necessarily want to be pointing it at Primeval Titan a bunch of times. I would side out all four without looking back, especially with Jace in the lineup.
Red Decks: Red Decks are gaining in popularity. Their existence is the kind of thing that makes U/W arguably stronger than Mono-Blue (I don’t have Kor Firewalker and / or Wall of Omens). Ratchet Bomb actually makes up a lot in that department, but you need it in a hurry. I think it is about not dying, trading Mana Leak with whatever you can, and then stabilizing with Trinket Mage. You can cut most of the Frost Titans because they are expensive and therefore inconsistent early… But you still need a way to win.
Brittle Effigy might save you, but it is a lot of mana to compete with some probably bad creatures that cost ~1 mana.
Treasure Hunt is not great, but it’s not terrible. You might need the re-load.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is pretty bad, actually. You can feel free to cut most of them, or replace with smaller Jaces. The problem is that they cost a lot of mana but are basically dead. Boomerangs are kind of terrible because their cards are cheap and largely terrible.
Frost Titan is a good man… But six. Unlike some matchups you don’t actually want to have 100 Frost Titans in your hand. I can see cutting 2 or even 3.
Potentially ~8 or even more
Other Blue Decks: There are lots of other Blue decks, meaning U/W Control, B/U Elixir, U/R Destructive Force, etc. However I think you sideboard basically the same against most of them. The goal here should be to either force down a threat and protect it more quickly than the bad people or to set up a position of inevitability (or both).
I would not side out all the Ratchet Bombs, but I would be fine siding out 2 or 3 of them. Treasure Hunt I can see siding out specifically if I am replacing them with Jaces 🙂
White Weenie / Argentum Armor This deck can only win games where you are furious and want to tear your hair — or his hair — out. If you draw an Into the Roil or a Ratchet Bomb [early enough] you will win by huge margin. I wish I could just play eight of each 🙂
Treasure Hunt just isn’t fast; you don’t want to be playing it blind when you are about to be under massive pressure. Brittle Effigy and Volition Reins both actually have a lot of play, but it’s a question of how much time / mana you have versus how good the opponent’s cards are. Yes, sometimes Brittle Effigy is going to destroy them; but other times you won’t have the time for it.
Black Decks / Vampires Vampires differs from other little beaters decks with its heavy disruptive elements and creature removal. It is also a highly synergistic linear. The way I like Vampires is loaded with Sorin Markov, but I don’t know if everyone rolls that way.
All your cards are pretty good, actually. I actually think the main thing will be about managing their board versus your cards in hand. I can see moving around Treasure Hunt for Jace, but I think Treasure Hunt is actually pretty good here because they are not lightning quick beatdown and they have Vampire Hexmage and sufficient attackers to hassle your Planeswalkers. This is a matchup where I think it might not be just about mediocre / bad cards and you just want to bring in All Is Dust because it’s awesome if you can play it.
Elves / other little beaters Elves is just some deck with Overrun and Eldrazi Monument. I don’t know if the deck can even win games against a real deck without Eldrazi Monument in play. So focus on answering or trumping that card (while not accidentally dying along the way, of course).
I can see cutting most or all of the Mana Leaks if there is sufficient creature removal to be had. Their cards are mostly worse than Mana Leak and they have lots of Arbor Elf action mid-game to pay for your Mana Leak anyway.
Jace is fine; just not necessarily the best; I love Jace Beleren against these quick decks.
Frost Titan is a curve Liability. You of course need about ~2 in your deck to close out (especially with Elixir of Immortality working), but you don’t want a ton of them in your opener. Like against U/W it is fine to have a bunch and plan around them or set up to win an Attrition fight or whatever… Against decks that are much less powerful than you, you just need to make sure you can live and crush them with card advantage.
1 or more Jace Beleren, Unsummon… You can go up to 13, per the earlier discussion.
As you can see I chose to jot down two different relatively unusual cards: Aether Adept and Unsummon. Aether Adept is the better card as it can not only slow down a Goblin Guide but block one later. Unsummon is weaker but is highly effective against Argentum Armorthe card. I didn’t want to play all Unsummons because as good as they are against White Weenie about to go off with Iron Man Vindicates or whatever, I didn’t want to give away all the card advantage; hence splitting some 187 action. I think there will probably be at present unanticipated matchups where one is better than the other.
I hope you enjoyed walking through this thinking with me. No idea if this sideboard is optimal, yet; but it seems like an improvement over my experience so far, with too many Counterspells and somewhat wanting in terms of battlefield control.
So last month on Twitter, William Bloodworth asked…
This got me thinking… What the!?! Is this possibly a real strategy? I would certainly strangle anyone who killed me with Poison on the third turn!
Let’s look at it simple math style. You play a second turn Kiln Fiend. I am known to love a Kiln Fiend; I played it in my sideboard at US Nationals as insurance against Relic of Progenitus (and a threat in the mirror should be opponent sideboard the opposite direction that I did). Anyway, you play a second turn Kiln Fiend. He is 1/2 to start.
The Kiln Fiend gets big[ger] when you play this Black instant. Kiln Fiend‘s stats jump up to 4/2, and with the Tainted Strike, you are up to 5/2 Infect. Is that worth half the opponent’s “life”? The answer is, more or less.
I think William’s theory is that with a little more Kiln Fiend nudging you can get the full on “kill ya” … I did in the neighborhood of 10 damage with my Kiln Fiends multiple times at US Nationals. If you accomplish the same on the third turn in Standard — while the Kiln Fiend has Infect — then the opponent should be dead on the spot.
My gut reaction is that while this might be cool, I wouldn’t build in this direction.
That is not to say that I don’t at least somewhat respect a Poison kill, just that I don’t think that this is the best way to either kill someone with Poison or break a Kiln Fiend on the third turn. Just as a very simple counter-example, consider Gerry Thompson’s “All-in On Assault Strobe” Red Deck (this is a build that Brian Siu used to mise the New Hampshire State Championships this year… congrats Brian):
It should be fairly obvious at this point that the Assault Strobe route is better than the Tainted Strike route for purposes of consistency. Tainted Strike might be almost as nice, but — besides being in a second color (which Assault Strobe is not) — you have the issue of splitting damage v. Infect / Poison. The last thing you want to be doing when you are playing an aggressive strategy with no real way to regulate your early game draws is to split your attack orientation. Half 20/20 lands and half Thopter / Sword combo is fine for a Blue deck with a ton of libray manipulation, but a Red Deck subject to its opening seven (with no Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the squad)? Tained Strike is just less desirable here.
No, I don’t know that Tainted Strike is necessarily the route you want to take to turn three Kiln Fiend kill-ville. But the card itself is actually fairly interesting. For one thing, it costs only one mana, yet has a potentially profound effect on the game. For another, it’s in Black. You might expect Blue to do something clever and potential frustrating or confusing for one mana… But Black?
What happens when your opponent’s big burly Green creature is cruising in for the kill? Tainted Strike, of course!
You can point Tainted Strike at your opponent’s Big Bad, save essentially all that damage (just convert it to poison… probably not lethal), and maybe cruise back with a lethal Alpha Strike. Might not be front line material, but it will probably be the kind of thing that is situationally rewarding. Like “It’s a good thing I read that Five With Flores blog post on Tainted Strike… Otherwise I wouldn’t have realized my ‘Giant Growth‘ was capable of saving the draft!” You know, something like that.
Overall, I don’t think Tainted Strike is a Constructed-caliber card. Even as a Limited card it may be niche (and possibly for similar reasons); the idea that you need a card to switch the offensive power of a creature to conform to a sub-theme… Let’s just say it is probably the sign of a designer at odds with himself, and his cards.
The last time Memoricide was legal for the State Championships we called it Cranial Extraction; you may recall a certain b/U Control deck that did well at New York States that year… But enough about me 🙂
This is a short post about Nick Spagnolo’s more modern B/U Elixir deck… And as I intimated in this week’s TCGPlayer column, I lost to Nick in the second round of the New York State Championship this year.
Anyway, I didn’t know it at the time that I filmed this, but Nick would go on to win States himself. This is a video that I will have in Top Decks this Thursday; but as these things go, I have to have them up ahead of time to, you know, embed them in ye olde articles… So here’s a sneak Peek. Enjoy!
So a bunch of people were asking about how I played a second turn Iona, Shield of Emeria last weekend. The answer was pretty simple, and many of you have probably already figured it out!
Day One of the TCGPlayer $5,000 was disappointing, though arguably less disappointing than Day Two, where I started off 4-0, finished 6-2, and ended the tournament with EXACTLY THE SAME NUMBER OF POINTS AND INCREMENTAL DOLLARS THAT I DID AT THE END OF DAY ONE.
I lost first round to an eventual Top 8 player (G/R Valakut); Josh Ravitz and I were paired in the second round and I offered a draw (which Josh accepted)… and then I hit a U/W deck.
This was the first time in a long time that my opponent refused to shake my hand. He had Jace, the Mind Sculptor but his fourth land came into play tapped. I had double Tectonic Edges and showed him that even if we pretended that we lived in a universe where he had five lands, that I would have demolished him with Primeval Titans. But still, no shakes.
Before you ask, I no longer recommend this deck for Standard. I was going to play it at States despite not doing well in the $5K… But testing versus Pedro Quintero’s version of U/W was enough. Prior to Scars of Mirrodin, G/W absolutely demolished U/W… But the Ratchet Bombs in the new build really punish the accelerator creatures in this one. You have Have HAVE to commit guys in order to cast the bigger guys, and therefore the G/W deck has lost a lot of its attraction. Additionally, G/W is the worst of the Titan Ramp decks. And anyway, I made up Pyromancer Ascension 🙂
The G/W is not “the worst” in the sense of being “bad” (for instance, the G/W has strong positive expectation in against a Goblin Guide deck whereas a Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp deck doesn’t) but it has the least expectation when facing off against other Titan decks. In my experience:
G/R Valakut > Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp > G/W Trap
The issue is that Mono-Green Eldrazi Ramp can “catch up” with All Is Dust. G/W Trap can get ahead, but if All Is Dust goes off, the only gas left will be on the Mono-Green side. Part of that is the dynamic that the G/W deck has all creatures for acceleration whereas Eldrazi Ramp has predominantly extra lands. When a sweeper occurs, one side still has permanents. Et cetera.
Valakut covers Mono-Green in than its Primeval Titans are somewhat more powerful. That is the G/R deck’s Primeval Titan can kill the Mono-Green deck’s Primeval Titan with Valakut activations. With the right setup, the G/R deck can therefore win when playing the second Primeval Titan (though the Mono-Green version will usually win playing the first Primeval Titan).
Regardless, even with the potential holes that the G/W version might have, it still has the ability to present multiple essentially unbeatable hands (especially in-matchup). For example, the deck will present hands that a typical U/W deck can’t beat, but might be beatable by a Red Deck.
Right now this is one of the most important things to me in terms of picking a deck list.
When I qualified for US Nationals with Grixis Hits, I won all great matchups leading into the win-and-in round. In that round, I was paired against Jund, and I knew that I could present an unbeatable opening hand. I imagined having a ton of Spreading Seas in my opening hand… and I had them. Between Nationals Qualifiers and US Nationals, I would walk from my office on 42d & Madison to Columbus Circle all summer, imagining hands with tons and tons of Spreading Seas.
Here is my main reason for so emphasizing decks that can present an unbeatable opening hand: Even when your unconditional “I win” hand comes relatively infrequently (for example Pyromancer Ascension can win on turn two in the single digits), that still changes the number of games that the opponent has share to win. So instead of having X% of 100%, they get to jockey for X% of some smaller sum.
It’s almost like the game is rigged.
Pretty profound when you think about it like that, right?
This week on TCGPlayer I presented Seven Traits of The Best Deck. If you haven’t read it, you should. I know I have a tendency to toot my own horn at times, but I quite liked this one: Seven Traits of The Best Deck
Per usual (for me lately… apparently I am getting old), I have more and more to say about even the topics that spawn 3,000+ word full-length articles.
Luckily I have a highly trafficked and much-beloved blog with which I can expand and expound (as opposed to my not-yet-highly-trafficked, if even more beloved blog http://FloresRewards.com).
Today I am going to talk a bit [more] about point 3, “They Get the Most Out of Their Mana”.
One thing to remember when working on a mana base is that lands are a double-edged sword. Yes, you ultimately want consistent lands that come into play untapped and produce the colors you need to, you know, help you present that unbeatable opening hand. But in addition, lands can be a very low-cost source of additional value, particularly in one-color decks.
Back at the end of the 1990s, at the World Championships, seemingly all the successful decks were one color. Why? They let us play Wasteland. And the next year, they let us play Rishadan Port! All these lands are good examples of:
How one-color decks could be successful by playing such “colorless” lands (you could add a tool to manascrew your opponent without overly disrupting your own mana base), and
Why one-color decks did so much better than multicolor decks (the multicolored decks were getting their splashes, off-colors, and even first big plays pre-empted and screwed by the damn Wastelands and Rishadan Ports!)
I am a big believer in maximizing the consistency of the mana base in terms of performing what I want, when I want… With “when I want” defined as “immediately.” To with, when Kamigawa Block was legal, like all my decks that were two or more colors played four copies of Tendo Ice Bridge. If you needed a color — any color — and you needed it now, there was no better land than Tendo Ice Bridge (especially since so many of my teams were built with four copies of Meloku the Clouded Mirror).
Here are some then-and-now examples of how some of the best decks (though in these cases, the second best decks, both times) made subtle changes to existing mana bases to gain value:
That sideboard of course had elements of one of the best sideboards of all time, but was not the true work of poetry that Josh used to eventually battle to the Top 8 of US Nationals.
I am just going to pause for a second to think about how great Josh’s sideboard was. It was clearly one of the best sidebaords I ever built, but more than that, was probably one of the best sideboards of all time.
I mean we were able to fit both a full transformation and a solid repositioning in those fifteen cards!
For those of you who want me to use more recent deck lists, here is one from just last weekend.
The one thing I was really impressed with talking to Tim at the $5K was his use of two Mystifying Mazes. Some mono-Green players didn’t use it at all!
Tim talked about how it was good quite often and they added a second copy because it was so low cost (there is that “one color deck” bonus again)… He recounted that even with his Eye of Ugin stripped, he was able to win a race with a single Primeval Titan purely because he played two copies of the mighty Eye.
Tim’s mana in general was extremely impressive, though. One thing that struck me was his play of Growth Spasm, cutting darling Cultivate (he said he might cut them all if he had it over again). Growth Spasm gets you to a faster Primeval Titan than Cultivate, and he focused getting the most out of his mana on getting the most powerful card, most quickly.
Like I said, impressive.
You’ve probably already seen this, but here is a video that I (with BDM) did with Tim a couple of days ago. If you haven’t already seen it, it was at least nominally done for Top Decks, but I have to have all these ducks lined up ahead of time in order to submit them to the mother ship. Enjoy!
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…