I just got back from a week-long family vacation in Orlando, Florida!
Here is a preview of tomorrow’s TCGPlayer.com article:
Optimize well, am I right?
I just got back from a week-long family vacation in Orlando, Florida!
Here is a preview of tomorrow’s TCGPlayer.com article:
These videos are a preview of a new deck (Mythic) I will be talking about in the TCGPlayer column this week.
I actually have a third (versus an interesting Eldrazi Green Ramp with Mimic Vat) exporting right now… But I am going to bed.
Mythic v. Pyromancer Ascension:
Mythic v. B/U Control:
November 18th, 2010 — Comics
A few years ago Brian Vaughan told me he thought Garth Ennis was the best writer in comics. The reason was that only Ennis could write a tearjerking scene about the loyalty between a boy and his dog, or the connection of true love… and then follow it up with a page of a one-eyed yokel being accidentally peed on just prior to being brutally murdered for witnessing the wrong chickenfucking.
… with essentially no warning.
Despite being a fan of Ennis’s work since the first Preacher recommendation I ever got from — admittedly — Vaughan, I have always been an Alan Moore zombie (that is, since being turned on to Watchmen by, um, Vaughan). But like anyone with even an ounce of taste, I have appreciated Ennis at his best.
The problem is, Ennis hasn’t been on Preacher for like ten years.
Where has that utterly versatile / heartwarming / ultra-violent writer been hiding?
I read the first two runs on Punisher. I liked Garth’s Punisher, but Punisher — even with Steve Dillion on the art chores — is no Preacher. I’ve followed most of his work, including the first six editions of The Boys.
But not until this edition have we seen a glimmer of Ennis at his best (at least not on The Boys).
Maybe I should take a step back. What is The Boys?
The Boys is kind of a twisted Dark Mirror of Astro City (did I mention “twisted”?) … Super heroes are real and regular people see and interact with them. But unlike Astro City, for the most part, they only look super heroic. Super heroes in the world of The Boys are mostly corporate puppets who get paid millions of dollars to make appearance fees and sell product.
You know, how the world would probably be if it were ruled by mega corporations (with super heroes).
And for the most part, the super heroes are worthless at actual heroics. They go to Rescue someone, mis-judge the level of their super speed… Tear her arms off. They have all the physical super powers but none of the discipline. They all have vast wealth… Do the math. Most of the so-called super heroes are super hedonists, indulging in a nonstop roller coaster of drug use and sexual acrobatics with essentially no consequences.
Enter The Boys.
The Boys are a group of CIA-backed black jackets who observe — and oppose — the so-called super heroes (and the corporations that back them). Now don’t get me wrong… The Boys can be petty and cruel – and certainly violent — but at least they are not the undisciplined and omni-destructive bastards in the four-color flapping capes.
So what about number seven?
Unbeknownst to everyone, the most innocent and green member of The Boys has been seeing the youngest and (at least previously) most innocent member of essentially the Justice League of Ennis’s The Boys universe. Somehow, neither one of them knows who the other is.
At least until this volume.
The Boys has been entertaining for the entirety of its run. But “entertaining” in this context has mostly been the gratuitous boob shot, laughing at a supernatural level of frat boy-ness, harsh language, and watching the bad guys run in Terror of The Boys.
But volume seven — as much as it has the same Ennis edge — reminds us of the incredible emotional arsenal that this writer can bring to bear if he wants to. Like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell *, this book will break your heart.
I’ve probably already said enough. I don’t actually want to spoil it!
* To Joey Pasco – On or around Page 633
Last week I wrote very briefly about Kurt Spiess’s U/W Proliferate deck.
And I mean very briefly.
Main deck Luminarch Ascension is quite powerful against other control decks.
It turns out that that is true as you will see below (spoilers!)… But Kurt’s deck deserved more attention than the one line I gave it, probably. I actually caught more better notice of the deck listening to the Yo MTG Taps podcast care of Joey and Joe last week… and even though I noticed the main deck Luminarch Ascension, I managed to miss the entire Proliferate sub-theme provided by Contagion Clasp.
I don’t want to do a lot of hardcore analysis of Kurt’s deck, as that is actually the topic of my Top Decks article this week (spoilers!), but I do want to say a bit about Contagion Clasp.
In addition to facilitating the Proliferate mechanic and potentially improving the performance of the deck’s many Planeswalkers, Contagion Clasp is actually an all right card on its own. It kind of fills the same purpose as Oust against creatures like Lotus Cobra or Plated Geopede (or if you’re really lucky, Top 10 card Joraga Treespeaker).
That’s not its job in this deck, not really… But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Contagion Clasp does have some value as a monster fighter. Little monsters anyway.
Now of course there is the topic of that Luminarch Ascension. If you can get one counter on a Luminarch Ascension, Contagion Clasp can ramp it up to four counters even if you are getting attacked… That really helps to justify the card’s inclusion as a main deck threat, unusual for the often aggressive Standard meta.
Anyway, Kurt’s deck:
U/W Proliferate – Kurt Spiess
Anyway — more spoilers for things to come — you can nab a sneak Peek at this week’s Top Decks, which includes the following videos, both starring Kurt’s U/W deck.
U/W Proliferate v. B/U Conley Style:
U/W Proliferate v. Genesis Wave:
Special Guest Star: Pelakka Wurm!
I got a chance to game with my good friend Brian David-Marshall tonight. We elected to do a 10-game set: me playing Daniel Jordan’s U/R/G control/TurboLand deck (you know the same seventy-five I tested here) versus Brian playing a stock Kuldotha Rebirth Red Deck.
#FloresRewards savant Thea Steele asked for more Constructed reporting so I thought I would recount this particular playtest set.
BDM and I played all Game Ones (no sideboards). I have played U/R/G against Kuldotha Red more than once and won each time; I was therefore surprised at how our games played out.
This seemed like a very strong hand but Brian had first turn Kuldotha Rebirth on the play, as well as a Memnite; he also followed up with gas. I lost a close one to I believe the first of a long line of “my last card is the second or third Lightning Bolt”… I think I would have won if he had a different play on turn one (even a Goblin Guide), or if he were playing another deck. I had to push decent spells more than once with Preordain to try to get a hold of the battlefield.
Brian was meant to go first the first five games, so this was a “going second” hand; Explore lets me break serve, of course, and the deck has two different lines it can take even just from the opening hand. The Ruinblaster is usually a 2/1 non-Stone Rain in this matchup, but Brian’s deck does have a couple of targets… He drew one this game 🙂
Brian was stuck most of the game and I had a third turn kicked Goblin Ruinblaster. My turns went like this:
Brian complained about a bad mulligan, to which I replied “that’s because your cards all stink.”
And yes, most of his cards do, in fact stink.
I went first this game, by accident.
It took a minute but I won from there.
I drew a lot of Lightning Bolts, but didn’t have time to play them all. I got a Red source, but only one, despite some freebies from Goblin Guide. Also all of his cards pretty much suck, and you don’t want to be trading 1-for-1 with them if you can help it, or you will fall behind.
I tried to spend my time on Jace and Frost Titan but it didn’t quite work out that way.
I was supposed to go first this game, but I accidentally stole serve in Game Four.
Brian got another super aggressive draw and Bolted me out.
This time I shipped to five cards. Brian claimed he would “un-mulligan” me, but the Goblin Guide was of minimal benefit (relative to, you know, taking a bundle of damage.
Game Ten really highlighted the central argument of this matchup, especially Game One.
Meanwhile, in Game Ten — as I always did — I was playing Oracle of Mul Daya. Now Oracle of Mul Daya plays like Jace, the Mind Sculptor against other Blue decks, but against a legitimate Red Deck, it is basically a four mana Grey Ogre. That is awful!
So the turn I played my 2/2 for four, Brian already had eight or so attackers. It didn’t matter if I would eat one, I was going to lose a huge chunk of life total.
As you know from reading my DailyMTG report with this deck, I often sided out the Oracles for Pyroclasm. Brian claimed he wouldn’t play the same way in a sideboarded game… But he really wouldn’t be able to.
I didn’t realize before how reliant on Pyroclasm the U/R/G deck must be to beat Goblins. I had beaten it multiple times, but now that I reflect on the wins, I think I played a sideboarded Pyroclasm once if not twice most of the matches.
That said, it might also be possible that my opponents held back in Game One.
I don’t know about you, but one of my main guiding principles of play (regardless of deck type) I try to play as deceptively as possible. So if I am not going to play a Green card until turn four or five I will often pretend to be a U/R deck for as long as I can. Against a Goblins deck in Game One, maybe they will hold back for fear of U/R’s main deck Pyroclasms.
Brian, of course, knew better.
Now when Brian approached me for some testo, I was in the middle of testing my U/G TurboLand deck (up 2-1 on the night and 4-2 overall with the current build). I asked Brian to let me play him a real match with the U/G deck; we ran.
This is the current build of U/G:
The second game I made theses switches…
I know, I know… Genesis Wave is what the deck is all about!
Brian stopped attacking so much which gave me a an open for Into the Roil and engough time to take it!
The Wurm hit, then Primeval Titan, then it was a victory lap! (not really)
Thanks BDM 🙂
November 9th, 2010 — Magic
One thing that I am always highly concerned with is what the best card in Standard is.
I love talking about this!
I know! I know! ... Arc-Slogger! Why? Because if you untap with it in play, you almost always win.
See how that goes?
So anyway, over Twitter, I proposed a potential Top 10 list for the current Standard (in no particular order):
Input from ye olde invincible Twitter army raised some points…
What about Pyromancer Ascension? When is that going to start making these lists?
I enlisted the help of Patrick Chapin and Zvi Mowshowitz to revise my list (Zvi hasn’t responded yet).
It took some haggling, but Patrick and I got to 8, and then 9 cards the same.
Patrick’s Top 9:
Patrick originally had Mimic Vat and Doom Blade as the last two in the Top 10. I objected on the grounds that as good as Mimic Vat might someday prove itself to be, as a deck defining card, it ain’t Pyromancer Acension… At least not yet. When are we going to start giving Pyromancer Ascension the credit it deserves? The damn thing is more-or-less the best threat in the format!
I had the nine in a slightly different order:
While I agree Jace, the Mind Sculptor probably gets the nod over Jace Beleren because it is generally speaking the more ubiquitous main deck Jace, I don’t think it is a runaway win; so if you put Jace, the Mind Sculptor as #1 (predictable for Patrick), I think you have to put Jace Beleren right behind. Jace Beleren is the more appropriate card a fair amount of the time (Pyromancer Ascension deck, Sun Titan compliment), and it is like the Manu Ginobli of awesome Planeswalkers. It comes off the bench, but wins a lot of games.
As such my Primeval Titan position is in essentially the same spot… “Just after Jace”; I just respected the second Jace more 🙂
Hands down Primeval Titan is the most important creature in the format.
Next up are Mana Leak and Preordain (or as I have them, Preordain and Mana Leak). These two are very close in power. I can see rating Mana Leak higher (as Patrick did), but I have played a lot of long game Magic lately, and Mana Leak loses a lot of value as the game progresses; whereas in a long game situation, Preordain gains a lot of value. You can basically cast Preordain and win in a late game topdeck scenario. Both cards are just under “ubiquitous” for Blue in Standard. Both are super good… Just a question of how and when you want to rate them. Preordain is still super good on turn one in a deck like Pyromancer Ascension, and it holds its value better than Mana Leak, which is why I gave it the — very slight — nod.
Patrick had Lightning Bolt way higher than I did. I will admit Lightning Bolt is one of the most tedious cards to see the opponent draw three of. Don’t get me wrong it is an awesome card, but I didn’t want to put it higher than the Green mana bombs as it is rarely a decider on its own. Top 10 worthy, sure… Honestly I could be persuaded.
Both of them are explosive.
Both of them are hella powerful.
I gave Joraga Treespeaker the nod because in recent play (i.e. the TurboLand deck), if I stuck a turn one Treespeaker and got it online, I would almost always win. Lotus Cobra — awesome as it is — sometimes gets stranded with no Misty Rainforest backup… Just less consistently awesome. Patrick agreed the two are very close; this is not at all clear, and my opinion of Treespeaker is likely colored by my recent deck choices.
We both had Pyromancer Ascension at #9, which has been discussed.
So what is the last card?
Patrick has Explore as a prime candidate.
I am pretty unwavering on Frost Titan here. This is my reasoning: It is the big finisher hero in all the most powerful decks right now. Certainly we have to give it the nod, right? I don’t know how many games I have played recently that have come down to either 1) first Frost Titan wins or 2) Frost Titan locking down Frost Titan shenanigans.
My opponent just hard cast Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre; what am I supposed to do? Unsummon it with the Jace I don’t have any more? A cool and collected Frost Titan [from the grip] is the perfect solution.
Into the Roil is awesome… Just not better than any of those nine. Same is true for most of the rest.
Just something to think about, and to help you frame your own deck selection decisions… Play the best spells!
P.S. Any candidates for #10?
I am writing this due to a request by my man Joey “hot sisters” Pasco, star of the Yo MTG Taps podcast.
Joey asked me to do a list of book recommendations, kind of like I have done for television shows on this blog in the past. In case you didn’t know, I am a very avid reader and always have been. I spend a lot of time (over two hours per day) on public transportation, so I certainly have time for the reading 🙂
Even though I am characterizing this as a “top 10 list” sorta thing, it isn’t really my top 10 books or whatever… More ten awesome books comprising a wide array of different genres and authors; the box of chocolate of book overviews.
If people like this (and, you know, say so in the comments or whatever), I can do more genre-specific stuff, or probably a more graphic novels-centric version. But for now, here goes!
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell
The Sparrow is maybe my favorite novel of all time (there are maybe three or so novels I say that about and they are all on this list). It is about the discovery of extraterrestrials, how humanity goes about contacting them, and what happens next. The interesting twist is that while other people are figuring out what to do, the Jesuits go make themselves a rocket ship out of an asteroid and just take the bull by its horns. I shared this book with Shark right after I read it, and — without any desire to spoil it, mind you — he had a very different reading than I did.
The Sparrow is barely science fiction. Yes, there are space ships and aliens but the story is quite serious and it is the kind of book a middle-aged professional woman would not be embarrassed to be reading on the subway. If that matters to you.
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Hands-down the high point in comic book storytelling. Alan Moore is the consensus best comics author of all time, and Watchmen is generally considered to be his best work. It is the story of a group of aging — largely retired — superheroes living under the shadow of the cold war, and how they have acclimated themselves to society… As a “mask-killer” hunts them down one by one.
Watchmen is not the most inventive story of all time. It is, however, the best told story in the history of comics. Moore essentially defined and redefined visual storytelling techniques with Watchmen, with Gibbons as an able cinematographer. What makes this book so special is how perfectly the panel-to-panel transitions were executed, more than anything else.
For something completely different — that is, Moore’s attempts to push superhero comics to the limit of the genre — I would suggest his work on Supreme. Supreme, while not as groundbreaking as Miracleman, and not as perfect as earlier work like Watchmen or later work like Top 10, really opened the door to the brilliant and serious superhero deconstruction we see from Moore later at America’s Best Comics, with its influence everywhere at DC, Wildstorm, and other publishers.
The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
This one is a stone kold cheatyface.
The Subtle Knife is actually the second book in the His Dark Materials trilogy (sandwiched between the excellent The Golden Compass and concluded in The Amber Spyglass). It is the best of the three, and the ending is unbelievably chilling… Especially for a kiddie book. Pullman is essentially the anti-C.S. Lewis, railing against religion, God, and so forth rather than pushing his young heroes closer and closer to Aslan. The universe of His Dark Materials is unusual and specific (for example everyone is running around with their souls manifested as literal animals) and you can’t read The Subtle Knife and make much sense of it without first visiting The Golden Compass-land. But it’s worth it. Hella worth it.
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
This was actually the second Neal Stephenson book I read before becoming a total Stephenson zombie. Make no mistake, I am certain that right now, as I write this, Neal Stephenson is the greatest current writer of fiction to use the English language. I could write more than one highly detailed blog post about how great his books are; for example I think The Confusion (second book of The Baroque Cycle) is the most ambitious thing ever written; and I don’t think that book scratches the surface of his most beloved stuff.
That would belong to Snow Crash.
So what is Snow Crash about?
It is a heady combination of computer hacking, fundamentalist Christianity, la cosa nostra, samurai swordsmanship… and pizza delivery. All at superhuman magnification… So super computer hacking, super samurai swordsmanship, super pizza delivery, etc. Stephenson shows his utter prophetic genius in Snow Crash… He basically imagines h0w we will — and today do — use the Internet, but did so years before its main line public consumption. It’s eerie how well he has things laid out in Snow Crash; let’s hope not all his predictions come to light! (Super fundamentalist Christianity, etc.)
Stephenson is a peerless master of English prose. He is unbelievably good, unbelievably often. However in terms of sustained, dizzying, awesome writing, there is no better book than this one.
The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis
Think Canadian prince + Mr. Ed against Islamic fundamentalist super terrorists… But on another planet. With God on your side. Literally.
Basically the greatest boy’s adventure story ever. It is probably helpful if you are familiar with Lewis’s Narnia books, but The Horse and His Boy is — of all the books — the least world-building, and the most “boy and his horse against the bad guys” standalone rip-roaring romp. So even though it is nominally book 6 of 7 (or maybe 2 or 3 in the new numbering), you don’t really need the rest of the Narnia context the way you do with Pullman (above).
The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
The Shipping News is a Pulitzer Prize winner by the author of Brokeback Mountain. It is a legitimately challenging read, but the prose is superb; I’d try to tell you what it is about, but what sold me on it (a girl I was interested in… Her dad bought it for me in a bookstore in 2000) was “it isn’t about anything.” I mean there is a plot, but the book is about fishing knots and boat types as much as it is about fidelity and newspaper publishing.
I’ll give it this – The Shipping News has a great ending; and that, I think, is one of the hardest things for an otherwise great book to accomplish. Sits alongside The Sirens of Titan and The Sparrow as basically my favorite book.
The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
Science Fiction (kind of)
This book is kind of like the anti-LOST.
LOST was a television series that pretended to be a mystery, or in other terms, a show a middle-aged non-geek professional woman would not be embarrassed to follow for several seasons. However LOST was — was always — a goofball science fiction show. It was always about time travel or whatever, and the great thing was that they tricked all these old ladies into loving a show about, you know, time travel. It was a “serious, character-driven drama” that could, you know, solve a problem by throwing a dying character into a glowing pool of magic water to bring him back from the brink.
The Sirens of Titan is the opposite of that. It is over-the-top in its science fiction-ness. We are at war with Mars. There is a magic system of reading the Bible to become a billionaire, a time traveling dog appears at a particular place at appointed times. Aliens, etc.
But that’s half the fun – It’s not a science fiction story at all, no matter how hard it pretends to be one! The Sirens of Titan is about love, making choices, intelligence tests, cigarette smoking… It’s just too good. Becker hates it, but as much as we love Becker, he also hates holding himself to 40/60 (rather than 41/61) cards, as well.
Full disclosure – Becker hates the ending, and the first time I read The Sirens of Titan back in 1993 or so, I must have missed one sentence or paragraph that completely changes the end of the book. But I still love it, anyway.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon
I think this is the second time I’ve used the term “literary fiction” on this list. My understanding of literary fiction actually comes from a book forward by Chabon himself, and since it’s been a few years since I’ve read either The Shipping News or The Mysteries of Pittsburgh I would fall back on my partial-Chabon definition… of what part of the bookstore they are in. For example, Chabon’s work is littered with comic book references. Not just The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (his 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner), which was overtly about comic books… Chabon’s books are aout Richardses leaving the Baxter Building, stuffed with Easter Eggs for geeks like me (that middle-aged professional women never get).
Anyway, I’ve read most of Chabon’s novels and enjoyed them all. I think I like this one best, but The Yiddish Policemen’s Union was also fantastic. Unique pros for each:
Outliers, Malcom Gladwell
Outliers is Gladwell’s work most embraced by the online marketing community. It has all kinds of stuff about how to be — or more precisely how generations of other people have become — rich and successful.
Outliers studies and suggests on education, cultural norms, sports performance, and the Beatles. It is the home of the now-famous 10,000 hour rule for mastery. It is one of the few books that has ever wanted me to make myself better; not in the context of self-improvement, but to help the rest of the world be better.
Made to Stick, Chip Heath & Dan Heath
I got this book as a freebie at Search Engine Strategies – San Jose in 2008. I started to read it while I was there, and of all the keynotes, it was the Heath speech was the only one I actually wanted to attend… but I missed it on account of going out the night before (it was my co-worker’s birthday and we partied while watching Misty May and Kerry Walsh win their second Beach Volleyball Gold Medal [was playing on the screen in the bar, live from China]).
Anyway, Made to Stick is a legitimately life-changing book. It teaches you how to make ideas that are sticky. Why are there these great ideas that die before anyone ever hears them… But other ideas which are just lies or completely inaccurate that everyone “knows” (has heard) / never forgets? The Heath brothers study stuff like staples in Halloween candy (never happened) or organ thieves (everyone knows the story)… Why does EVERYONE KNOW THE STORY?
Read this book and you will learn the six principles for crafting better — that is more memorable — messages. Like I said, a truly life-changing book.
My copy is sitting, unopened, on Jon Finkel’s shelf :/
Anyway, those are ten awesome books!
I once put Frost Titan on a sub-Sphinx of Jwar Isle level of playability. Oops.
We now join the continuing adventures of TurboLand, already in progress…
Most of you saw my article RE: TurboLand on TCGPlayer last week. And with it, the most heinous excuse for forum replies… well… ever basically (Patrick Chapin is convinced it is one troll with 76 accounts).
Anyway, despite what the trolls say, I think TurboLand is one of the best decks in Standard, and it has been brilliantly +EV for me in the tournament queues. Fair’s fair: I did make some changes to the deck partly based on the comments from the forums on TCGPlayer, so we have this beauty (for your 5K consideration):
Main deck the main swap is:
It is important to note that I added sixes and not sevens. Yes, yes – I considered Avenger of Zendikar but that big seven is not as good as a six in this deck. Why? Consistency, predictability, and curve.
See where this is going?
Nine mana is GGG + 6 for a Genesis Wave follow up. Every non-Genesis Wave card in this deck is eligible for such an on-curve Wave. As good as Avenger of Zendikar might be… It isn’t that 100% of the time, so in the “explosive Landfall token creatures fatties” category, Rampaging Baloths gets the nod.
It is possible it is just right to play more Frost Titans, though. This deck is an “over the top” aspiring enigma, and doesn’t have an excess of battlefield control. Frost Titan is a Genesis Wave-friendly finisher that does just the right thing.
Two notes before we move on to movies:
Anyway, the games:
This first set is semi-not exciting.
Anyway, we are hella thankful to KYT for recording and editing these.
This one is not unexciting… It is in fact quite exciting. And embarassing. We both basically play awful, awful Magic. But you can at least see the TurboLand deck do some interesting stuff this time around.
Thanks to KYT, again, for his help and testing these!