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!
Because you demanded it (and by “you” demanding it, I mean because I felt like writing it), my nightly television schedule!
I watch maybe six hours of television per day; probably more on the weekends. People are sometimes surprised to hear that, and there are other grownups / parents who seem horrified to hear that. However the fact is I stay up working most nights… Either working on my blog or other Magic-related projects (or just playing Magic Online); and of course I wrote a real live book last year.
My wife is much more reasonable than I am and goes to bed at a halfway reasonable time. But for me? I just like having the television on while I am up.
Anyway, I was inspired by Facebook posts by Ken Krouner and then Osyp Lebedowicz recently and decided to do something that Zvi Mowshowitz does on an (at least) annual basis; and post my general tv schedule. Of course I am not 100% married to any given time of day (thanks to DVR), but for the most part, this schedule will adhere to the regular times or nights that these shows appear.
DVR and On Demand:
There are some shows that I never watch live; I just watch them on Prime Time On Demand; these shows include veteran comedy Parks and Recreation and Justified. Who even knows when they are on?
In other circumstances I would list shows like Entourage (incidentally coming off a blah season but absolutely five star season finale) or Dexter (ditto to the season finale; was not blah), but I wanted to concentrate on what I am watching right now.
I don’t watch 60 Minutes slavishly, but I enjoy it and watch it most Sundays; partly based on the fact that it comes on right before…
The Amazing Race
Another show I don’t watch slavishly; back in the day I was an immovable fan of Fox’s Sunday night lineup (The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, Arrested Development, etc.); now we watch The Amazing Race partly as compromise, having moved over the years between Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Alias and the various masterful HBO Sunday lineups including The Sopranos, Deadwood, Rome, and so on. Katherine got me into Survivor and Big Brother very early in our relationship but it took years for us to tag onto The Amazing Race, which is (critically at least) considered the best of the competition reality lot. I would rate it as pretty gripping / pretty good; but if there were a strong HBO option at this time of the year, I would probably be taking it.
The amazing thing about Cranston is that he was on what was on (pre-Arrested Development) the best comedy on Fox [and probably on television] but never really got the attention for his comedic or physical work (largely overshadowed by Jane Kaczmarek who was of course fabulous); but now that he is playing the exact opposite character on the exact opposite show, he’s rocked the back-to-back Emmy Awards. I know that Breaking Bad is generally marketed as “the best show on television”. I don’t know I would rate it there; it is very good, though. It is like Weeds in that it follows the formula of The Breakout Novel (starting the characters in the shit, then putting them increasingly deeper in it), which ensures its gripping-ness. Gripping it is, and challenging like nothing else on television.
Monday is a heavy television night for me. Because I watch two “simultaneous” teevee shows on Monday, it is consequently a heavy DVR night. Here goes:
How I Met Your Mother
Zvi rates this as the best comedy on television. I don’t know that I would have it as top 3 even, but I love How I Met Your Mother anyway.
Like much of the initial audience, I started watching because of the Doogie Howser, M.D.-meets-Willow Rosenberg casting… and never stopped. They aren’t even the main characters!
I adore this show (which most of you remember was initially just drafting on American Idol‘s popularity); it has sustained a strong level of quality for years. It somehow features not just great writing but the hottest woman on earth (which is a not uncommon joke on the show), and a cast of truly lovable misfits and geniuses.
Longtime Top 8 Magic podcast listeners know that I long called Blake Lively as “the next it girl” two years before the premiere of Gossip Girl. That’s how good michaelj is at calling an it girl 🙂
Gossip Girl is a lot less interesting than it was in, say, the first two seasons when we were still trying to figure out who Gossip Girl was / is; I must admit that despite the acquisition of Kristen Bell (who is the voice of Gossip Girl), I was initially embittered at the fact that Gossip Girl supplanted my all-time favorite television show Veronica Mars on the CW. What, they couldn’t have two shows set in an environment of mystery and rich teenagers? I still like Gossip Girl enough to follow it closely, based on an adoration of Blake Lively (versus Serena) and Chuck Bass, though I am kind of annoyed by every other character but Nate Archibald (who is the unsung baller of the show, having tagged basically every major character-ette despite being poor for about half a season) and Little J (us something-Js have to stick together).
This last season is easily the worst season ever. However the show has not gotten less gripping, and being the worst season of one of the best shows of all time does not remove it from the must-view list. The way they are scripting 24 right now, I am tired just watching. Poor Renee. Poor Jack.
They had me with the pilot-closer “Don’t Stop” and haven’t let go. This show features so many people I love (Kristen Chenoweth being the best example) and such great performances of such great music… If you don’t watch Glee (and twice-plus), you’re dumb basically.
Is the final one the best season ever of one of the best shows ever (like a mirror to 24, kind of)? I don’t know. But I can’t look away. If you aren’t deeply into Lost yet, you are in for a treat. I am going to re-watch my DVDs from season one starting this summer. There are so many details that even though I know the macro story, I bet I will love making small connections for myself all along the way; I can’t imagine how great it will be for first time viewers.
A lot of the criticism of Lost comes from a position of ignorance. Zvi actually makes the best analogy when he talks about the complexity of Magic (you know, the best game of all time); yes, it’s complex. Lost is a complex show. Both are necessarily complex and difficult for new devotees. But if they weren’t so complex, they wouldn’t be so unassailable. And they both are. When was the last time a president moved the State of the Union for a television show. TDG.
It took me a while to get into V because it was originally on Wednesday nights, when I have Movie Klub… But it ended up being the first show I bought to watch on my iPod. V is so surprising and scary it made me jump while watching it on a little three inch screen.
I am not unique but probably still a little bit unusual in that I am a current fan who was also an original 1980s V fan. However I have some additional crossover in that Elizabeth Mitchell’s character Juliet was my favorite character on Lost, and she is the lead on V now. Anyway, a very watchable show that I don’t like to miss. Full of alums from Firefly and other SF geek stuff you might like.
Earlier this week, KK was lamenting the lack of good television on Wednesday nights. Wednesdays are actually a special case for me; I have Movie Klub, hosted by the incomparable Lan D. Ho at casa Jon Finkel and try to hit that every week. I don’t have any real / regular Wednesday night viewing, but I really should catch up with Top Chef Masters and possibly The Ultimate Fighter. But right now, I am behind on both.
Arguably the first great competition reality show, Survivor is now in its 20th (?) season… and this is probably the best season ever. Survivor: Heroes v. Villains is an All-Star season that brought back all of my favorite players (Tom, Boston Rob, and Russell H.) along with a host of other popular players (Rupert, JT). The game play has been amazing. The best players have been putting on a clinic and the players who were supposed to be some of the best are all gone now. Russell made a move that looked to me like the best move ever on his way to ousting the dominant Boston Rob (early favorite for “best ever”) and just last week Parvati (Russell’s chief ally) made a move that required a truly inspired read on the enemy — the perfect marriage of information and opportunity.
Like much of the Survivor audience I fell in love with Russell’s hardcore game play last year, and he took the #1 spot in my opinion from Tom, despite finishing only second. This year I was afraid that Russell might not have been able to play his balls-out swing-for-the-fences style, but he has been as aggressive as ever, and a dominating player from the social side, making plays that cracked Boston Rob’s numbers advantage and eliminating JT (with JT never seeing the blindside coming). However it might be Parvati (seductive winner of the last All-Star season) who emerges as the best player of all time. KK (Survivor superfan) and I are separately rooting for our favorites between these two allies, against one another.
By the second season, I had The Office as the funniest show of all time. While I think that it has dipped in quality somewhat, I still have it as the #2 comedy on television.
Arguably the best show on television, probably the best written, and certainly the best comedy.
So obviously it will lose its Emmy lock to Glee later in the year (but I’d be fine with that). One half an hour I try to hit every week, and without fail.
Ben 10 Alien Force / Ben 10 Ultimate Alien, Batman the Brave and the Bold, Star Wars – The Clone Wars
These are all Bella’s shows; we watch them on Saturday morning before the rest of the family gets up, typically; however they all get DVR’d on Friday night.
Batman the Brave and the Bold is charming; it has more of a reverence — even fanboy quality — for the superhero mythos than any Batman cartoon in recent memory. I will not soon forget the Christmas episode when [robot] Red Tornado gets Batman a mug that reads “World’s Greatest Detective” for a gift. It is probably not a better show overall than the early 1990s Bruce Timm / Paul Dini Batman: The Animated Series that spawned the Superman and Justice League franchises, but I like Batman the Brave and the Bold more than the 2000s The Batman.
Star Wars – The Clone Wars really hit its stride this season; much better than the first. I love a lightsaber fight.
Without a doubt the high point of my television week is my favorite show, Doctor Who.
Back when Battlestar Galactica was on Friday nights on The SciFi Channel, I secretly looked forward to Doctor Who even more.
I have been a Doctor Who fan since the age of four. I used to dream about his companions as a kindergartner and after a fair sized gap based on living in the wilds of western Pennsylvania (I don’t think our PBS affiliate had Doctor Who), I came back to Cleveland, eyes stuck on Peter, Colin, and Sylvester (Doctors five, six, and seven) until the show’s cancellation at the end of — if I recall — my Seventh Grade year. I saw the made for tv movie as a freshman in college, but like everyone else I didn’t like it. Today, Doctor Who I find better than ever.
Peter Davidson was “my” Doctor growing up (Doctor #10 David Tennant has said the same thing), but Tennant ended up my favorite Doctor of all time. He wound up his run just earlier this year.
The show has re-started a bit with Matt Smith as the eleventh man [in continuity] to play The Doctor, with Stephen Moffat taking over as head writer with this season. My sister and I have been positively giddy, because Moffat wrote all the best eps the past several seasons anyway (typically creepy one-ofs).
If you don’t know what I am talking about, here are the basics:
The Doctor is / started out basically the smartest man in the universe. He is a Time Lord, a member of a race who can travel through all space and time. In fact he was chief among the Time Lords. In the early 1960s he quit his job as Lord President of the Time Lords to run around all of time and space adventuring. Yes, he is a bit mad.
The original actor who played the Doctor was quite old but the show had to go on; the writers conceived of an idea where — by nature of their immortal alien backgrounds — Time Lords can change their faces and regenerate bodies that have been ravaged by age or ravaged by bullets (as in the case of #7)… Really just opening the show up to a separate actor. The Doctor is in a sense the same person (same genius, same madness, same sense of justice), but each actor puts a very different personality on that framework. They are all different men as well, act differently, and so on.
In the current continuity, The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords and has basically declared himself God. While 99% of the time he exudes a foppish, fun-loving, outward persona, he harbors a darkness that did not exist before the 2005 reboot. You see it was the Doctor who was responsible for the destruction of all his own people — and these are a people who could theoretically travel through time and space — in order to end a great war. My favorite element of the current series (that was not really present when I was a kid) is when the Doctor goes all Alpha Male on the enemy. He can beat a conquering alien in a swordfight, stop an entire invasioni single-handedly with no weapons, or get really nasty; for example a family of aliens who tried to steal the Doctor’s immortality… he made them immortal, but basically locked them in unending hell-like punishments for crossing him.
The Doctor has always travelled in his adventures with designated Companions (usually beautiful British women), though apparently there is no sex. My favorite companion was Dr. Martha Jones (an actual medical doctor); my second favorite Companion is Matt Smith’s current one, Amy Pool, a scottish redhead who was the victim of the Doctor’s absent minded time meddling starting at the age of seven. She is also a superbabe in that pasty redheaded Scottish way that we Americans only see on foreign television shows.
If that seems SF-nerdy, oh well. Doctor Who is the epitome of SF nerd television. Doesn’t matter. Favorite show. Et cetera.
As with Figure of Destiny, I am embedding a YouTube video of my favorite Doctor Who episode of all time, “Blink” at the end of this blog post. “Blink” won the short form Hugo Award in 2008 (Moffat’s third consecutive win for a Doctor Who episode, beating out Battlestar Galactica‘s best ever episode, “Pegasus” in 2006). The Companion is Martha Jones (my favorite), and the Doctor is David Tennant (my favorite); however most of the screen time goes to Carey Mulligan, who in the last two years has become an international celebrity via her roles in Public Enemies, An Education, and the upcoming Wall Street sequel.
I hope you like “Blink” … As I said it’s my favorite ep ever, and I find it genuinely creeptacular; if you do, there is hope you might like the rest of the show, and thereby adopt it as your favorite as well.
I am going to be getting on a plane in about two days and going down to relatively sunny Orlando, Florida for almost two weeks. I am taking the kiddies to Disney World and also visiting with family over the Christmas holiday.
Chances of playing much Magic while I am gone are next to nada, but there is something I have been wanting to post for a couple of weeks.
Sharp readers probably recall I posted a few weeks back that I was re-reading The Hobbit. Boy is that book superb!
If you buy The Hobbit now from Amazon.com, I will make millions and never return from vacation.
I had read The Hobbit previously, of course, but I remember not liking it that much (I liked The Lord of the Rings on first read, but The Silmarillion I actively disliked on first reading but loved on subsequent reading). Anyway, for some reason if you re-read The Hobbit at 33 it goes very quickly… I read it in a matter of hours and loved every second.
Now the reason I got back into all the JRR stuff is that I was actually telling Bella the story of The Lord of the Rings on a train ride home one day and she was completely captivated. This got Katherine and me to pull out the Peter Jackson DVDs and start the reels turning, but of course Bella (at five) is too young for the good stuff.
But what about the also-good stuff?
While I didn’t have a really solid memory of The Hobbit the book before re-reading this time around, I have had for as long as I can remember (before kindergarten, certainly) a very specific memory of The Hobbit the story. And that picture comes from the Rankin/Bass version from my childhood.
If you haven’t seen the Rankin/Bass version, you’re in for a treat! My mom still sings me songs from it, and it has been about 30 years since we first saw it together, when I was younger than Bella.
Because this is 2009 — almost 2010 — you can find basically anything on YouTube… Including the entire Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit… I’m embedding all of it below. If you have about 90 minutes and a hankering for a pocket full of joy, I suggest you bust out some microwave popcorn and enjoy the show.
I was medium terrified of the villainst in this version when I was in the single digits, and thirty-ish years later, I still find even Elrond creepy. The animation doesn’t look “modern” but it is still quite nice to look at… I still enjoy it, and I think they did a great job with the characters; in particular Gandalf, who is played distinctively by John Huston.
It seemed like it was time! All four qualifying players from last week’s LCQ * were playing B/G Elves variants, so it seems like the deck is the real deal [again].
At first I didn’t believe that Gabe Carlton-Barnes played Elves (if you know Gabe he is much more likely to play Faeries, Fog, or even Wizards)… I haven’t talked to Gabe yet but his blood runs Blue. So if he qualified with Elves, it is probably worth the look-see.
This is the deck Gabe used to qualify (and the deck we featured in this video):
I played five or six matches with Gabe’s Elves deck and was relatively impressed.
I taped a great matchup against B/R where I got Fulminated down to two lands, then exposed my Mutavault with him having only one card in hand. Obviously it was a Shock and I was in the Stone Age.
I topdecked out of it and pulled it out!
The deck is relatively fast and was superb at beating random garbage decks.
However it seems atrocious against any kind of Reflecing Pool Control-type deck. I got devastated by a variety of Cruel Ultimatum and Broodmate Dragon combinations.
Anyway, the vid:
* I will talk about these Blue Envelope-grabbers in greater detail in this week’s Top Decks but I just wanted to congratulate Brett Blackman as well. Brett is a friend, reigning Pennsylvania State Champion, and a Top 8 Magic intern! Good job Brett 🙂
For you, a YouTube video about new It Deck Cascade Swans. Not just a Regional Top 4 deck anymore, Cascade Swans has just taken a Grand Prix title!
I used Parth Modi’s version of Cascade Swans, as (as I mentioned in the previous blog post) I used to make this video before the deck went and won a Grand Prix. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, here is ye olde deck list:
So a lot of people have been asking why I haven’t made a video in forever.
It is actually a different answer than why I didn’t update this blog for like half a month.
Basically remember when MTGO was super slow and it was un-possible to get a game? That short spell kind of got me in the habit of not playing MTGO for a while, and then every format got super boring due to not being in step with the actual Constructed formats due to set differences. I’d say that all of that is behind us… but instead I just hope that you like this video.
This video observes the U/W ‘Tron deck disrupting the opponents’ strategies with key sideboard cards like Chalice of the Void, Tormod’s Crypt, and Vendilion Clique. While not one of these cards will win against a top deck all by its lonesome, as part of a cohesive strategy and backed by the power of the UrzaTron, these cards can reduce some of the most dangerous decks in the metagame into jelly.
U/W ‘Tron – Nicholas Gulledge
4 Azorius Signet
2 Chalice of the Void
3 Chrome Mox
1 Crucible of Worlds
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Sundering Titan
2 Decree of Justice
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Wrath of God
1 Academy Ruins
2 Flooded Strand
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Mystic Gate
2 Tolaria West
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
1 Chalice of the Void
4 Circle of Protection: Red
3 Kitchen Finks
3 Sower of Temptation
1 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Vendilion Clique
I liked testing this deck.
I would consider playing a deck like this — especially for post-Conflux with Path to Exile and Martial Coup — but with Remand. Remand and Condescend help set up the ‘Tron and protect any lead the deck can generate. But hey! I’m the kind of person willing to play a Solemn Simulacrum in Extended.
Since Luis Scott-Vargas won Grand Prix Los Angeles (and Asher did pretty well on top), Storm has become one of if not the most popular deck in Extended. Following is a two-game match exploring the Storm mirror.
For this video I used Luis Scott-Vargas’s version of Storm, which is:
4 Lotus Bloom
2 Tendrils of Agony
4 Mind’s Desire
4 Peer Through Depths
2 Sleight of Hand
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Rite of Flame
4 Seething Song
2 Ad Nauseam
3 Brain Freeze
3 Echoing Truth
3 Pact of Negation
2 Shattering Spree
Here are some things you will notice about this deck…
Luis played main deck Electrolyze. This could theoretically have been Magma Jet (which is cheaper but less versatile against the one toughness creatures in Faeries), or nothing at all (as in Asher’s deck); the Grapeshot version can just Grapeshot Gaddock Teeg to death (though not Ethersworn Canonist).
Luis killed with Tendrils of Agony. It’s tricky, but you can Remand your own Tendrils and re-play it to create a lethal out of smoke, provided you have enough Lotuses and Manamorphoses to produce sufficient Black to play and re-play the Storm sorcery.
The big one is Shattering Spree in the sideboard. One of the cards I was using to beat Storm “back in the day” (at least before the Grand Prix) with the MWC deck was Chalice of the Void. That probably isn’t going to be a solution moving forward. The White deck is probably not fast enough to kill the Storm deck before a solution to Chalice of the Void can be found, especially when the best ineractive card has Replicate.
Storm is a deck that you will want to know; it is very popular (meaning you probably have to know how to beat it at least once or twice to win a PTQ) and an elite deck against Faerie Wizards (another pretty popular deck).
Storm is a powerhouse, and as you can see in the video (if you don’t have a lot of first hand experience with the deck) it is like a bulldozer stapled to a mongoose… nigh-inexorable kryptonite-locked to fast.
The video is pretty funny, especially the Game Three situation where I have double Tendrils, Brain Freeze-Remand-Brain Freeze with the second-to-lethal Tendrils on the stack. It can play tight margin mana with Tendrils and just enough Storm copies, or with sufficient momentum will do a thousand or so damage while decking the other guy the same turn.
1 Pithing Needle
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Ravenous Baloth
2 Seal of Primordium
This deck more or less exchanges the usually defining Death Cloud set from the Life from the Loam versions of The Rock for Tarmogoyf, Bitterblossom, and Umezawa’s Jitte, repositioning the deck from board control to beatdown… while maintaining the card advantage capabilities of the [previously] more common deck.
The biggest take away I have from trying Jacob’s deck is how much better it is against Burn than the Death Cloud version I was on early in this season’s testing. Beating Burn was simply not difficult nor in any way stressful wheresas with Death Cloud, even when you won, you were on the edge of your seat the whole time.
An inability to win by Death Cloud is counterbalanced a little bit by the fact that this deck can still potentially lock the opponent down with Raven’s Crime. Even against Burn this can be useful because even if they are still clocking you for two or more damage you can end up shaving off their options and preventing them from planning — and playing — optimally.
All in all a very solid deck, well worth the try if you are considering B/G.
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…