Entries from October 2010 ↓

Pulling Open the Kimono


Basically some DVD Extras to “How to Think About Magic

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:

First Page

  • Drill
  • Signif –> Naya mana base
  • Sieze opportunity
  • Don’t Major in Minor Things
  • Relentless Self-Improvement
  • Logic >
  • Get by GIVING

Second Page

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously
  • No allegiances – LIMITING
  • Basic #s
  • Long view
  • Friends blur

Third Page

  • Ask the best questions
  • Nobody remembers #2
  • We build for one goal
  • Results-oriented
  • If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist
  • All players run in the same –> direction

Fourth Page

  • 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.


The Role of Aether Adept – Rebuilding the Mono-Blue Sideboard


Aether Adept :: My old, thrown-together Mono-Blue sideboard :: How we got there
Where we’re going :: The 2-2 Split with Unsummon :: … and Aether Adept

Aether Adept

Current Mono-Blue Configuration:

1 Brittle Effigy
1 Elixir of Immorrality
2 Everflowing Chalice
4 Ratchet Bomb

4 Frost Titan
4 Into the Roil
1 Jace Beleren
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Mana Leak
4 Preordain
3 Trinket Mage
2 Treasure Hunt
1 Volition Reins

4 Halimar Depths
17 Island
4 Tectonic Edge

The sideboard I had been playing with as a mix of cards that I just threw in because I wanted to cover broad areas of functionality.

This is what I had been working with…

4 All Is Dust
1 Elixir of Immortality
2 Flashfreeze
2 Jace Beleren
2 Negate
4 Spell Pierce

This deck differs from the version I published on TCGPlayer.com a bit back in that I moved Ratchet Bomb to the main deck; it is my deck’s “Pyroclasm” … But I mostly just moved stuff around. With Ratchet Bomb in the main deck I need some other stuff differently / less.

I wanted All Is Dust for stupid Eldrazi Monument decks and tokens / Planeswalkers various. Between the Ratchet Bombs and Into the Roils main, I didn’t have a lot of anti-beatdown. The only match I can remember losing, you know, memorably lately was to the stupid Argentum Armor deck. Why can’t I play 8 Ratchet Bombs and 8 Into the Roils? I would gladly do that 🙂

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.

How do we fix this?

What can I sideboard out against…

Pyromancer Ascension?
Ramp decks?
Red decks?
Other Blue decks?
White Weenie Argentum Armor?
Black decks / Vampires?
Elves / other little beaters?

Pyromancer Ascension:
Pyromancer Ascension (aka my baby) is a combo deck. At present it is actually more counter-heavy than my deck and has a faster threat (you can play turn two Pyromancer Ascension… especially on the play). So far Mono-Blue has had dominating percentage v. Pyromancer Ascension largely on having actual outs (Into the Roil especially before I moved Ratchet Bomb to the main… But having all eight main deck along with Counterspells and potentially Elixir of Immortality has made life relatively easy).

Bad cards:

Mediocre cards:

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.


  • 1
  • Potentially 5-6

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.

Bad cards:

  • None.

Mediocre cards:

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.


  • 0
  • Potentially 6

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.

Bad cards:

Mediocre cards:

There is a lot of potential inefficiency here.

Volition Reins is bad in that they have nothing you really want to steal (Big Red does, with Molten-Tail Masticore, potentially, but not the common Red Deck).

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.


  • 1
  • 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).

Bad cards:

  • None

Mediocre cards:

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 🙂


  • 0
  • Potentially 5

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 🙂

Bad cards:

  • None

Mediocre cards:

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.


  • 0
  • Potentially 4

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.

Bad cards:

  • None

Mediocre cards:

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).

Bad cards:

  • None

Mediocre cards:

Volition Reins is almost a bad card because there is not much worth stealing in their deck. However they do have Planeswalkers, and Volition Reins is an answer to Eldrazi Monument.

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.

Treasure Hunt is about time. They can just kill you with an Overrun effect while you are messing around with Treasure Hunt.

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.


  • 0
  • Potentially 9-13

Let’s Simplify rodeo these numbers back up…

Here is a maybe sideboard based on these numbers:

4 All Is Dust
2 Aether Adept
2 Flashfreeze
2 Jace Beleren
1 Negate
2 Spell Pierce
2 Unsummon

Pyromancer Ascension options:

Ramp Deck options:

Red Deck options:

Other Blue decks options:

White Weenie Argentum Armor options:

Black decks / Vampires options:

Probably figure out how to bring in Jace Beleren and All Is Dust. Mise.

Elves / other little beaters options:

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 Armor the 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.

Enjoy battling Mono-Blue!


All About Tainted Strike


Tainted Strike :: Kiln Fiend :: Fog
Consistency :: Making People Hate You :: … and Tainted Strike

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.

Then on your third turn, you play this:

Tainted Strike

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):

3 Panic Spellbomb

4 Assault Strobe
2 Burst Lightning
4 Goblin Guide
2 Kargan Dragonlord
4 Kiln Fiend
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Mark of Mutiny
4 Plated Geopede
3 Searing Blaze
4 Zektar Shrine Expedition

4 Arid Mesa
10 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Smoldering Spires
2 Teetering Peaks

2 Brittle Effigy
3 Arc Trail
2 Kargan Dragonlord
4 Koth of the Hammer
2 Mark of Mutiny
1 Searing Blaze
1 Teetering Peaks

This deck has a similar opening with Kiln Fiend (or for that matter, Plated Geopede).

Turn two Kiln Fiend.

Turn three Assault Strobe; Kiln Fiend goes up to 4/2… Deals 8 damage in combat. Of course Assault Strobe only costs one mana, so you can presumably load up a Burst Lightning and a Lightning Bolt (five damage) to bring Kiln Fiend‘s stats up to the full lethal.

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.

This isn’t to say we are going to stop talking about Tainted Strike.

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?

Think about Tainted Strike in Limited, defensively.

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.


Memoricide for the Win! (literally)

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.

I probably screwed up all different ways in Game One (for example I could have played my Archive Traps in response to his Trinket Mage instead of giggling like a school girl, prompting Nick to get his main-deck Elixir of Immortality)… But his win over my It! Girl! Pyromancer Ascension was more than legitimate.

Not settling for just grabbing that main deck Elixir of Immortality with So Big Trinks, Nick also had main deck Memoricide.

Despite screwing around and being out-classed by Nick’s main deck one mana artifact in the first few turns, I was able to set up Pyromancer Ascension and defend it from his Into the Roil. This put me in a good card advantage situation, and I was drawing 2-3 cards per turn for the next several. The Elixir of Immortality re-bought Nick’s Memoricide, and he pointed it at Call to Mind. Either Call to Mind or Lightning Bolt was fine. I lost with essentially no ways left to win.

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!

Nick’s B/U Elixir deck:

1 Brittle Effigy
1 Elixir of Immortality
2 Everflowing Chalice

1 Consuming Vapors
1 Disfigure
3 Doom Blade
1 Grave Titan
1 Memoricide

3 Frost Titan
2 Into the Roil
2 Jace Beleren
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Mana Leak
1 Negate
4 Preordain
1 Stoic Rebuttal
3 Trinket Mage

4 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
6 Island
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Swamp
3 Tectonic Edge
1 Verdant Catacombs

1 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Disfigure
1 Doom Blade
2 Memoricide
1 Dispel
3 Flashfreeze
1 Jace Beleren
2 Negate
2 Spell Pierce

Great job, Nick! Hope you guys like this Peek into the near future.


How to Play a Second Turn Iona, Shield of Emeria


Iona, Shield of Emeria :: Seven Traits of The Best Deck :: Presenting the Unbeatable Hand
Lotus Cobra :: Flashfreeze :: … and Iona, Shield of Emeria

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.

In the first game I played a grinding game and eventually killed him with Tectonic Edges and Stirring Wildwoods. The second game I played a second turn Lotus Cobra.

“Mana Leak?” I asked.


I moved to pass the turn, but he showed me Flashfreeze.

I showed him Summoning Trap and the result was a certain 7/7 Mythic Angel.

Iona, Shield of Emeria

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.

The deck list:

4 Birds of Paradise
2 Explore
4 Joraga Treespeaker
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Primeval Titan
2 Rampaging Baloths
4 Summoning Trap

4 Baneslayer Angel
3 Iona, Shield of Emeria

1 Arid Mesa
4 Forest
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
3 Plains
1 Razorverge Thicket
4 Stirring Wildwood2 Sunpetal Grove
4 Tectonic Edge
3 Verdant Catacombs

4 Nature’s Claim
2 Obstinate Baloth
3 Celestial Purge
4 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Revoke Existence

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.

Is it any surprise that I chose a deck that not only played four Spreading Seas but Ponders and Preordains for more and more of the above?

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?


Getting the Most Out of Mystifying Maze

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

Tim Landale recently got the most out of Mystifying Maze

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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:

Kuroda-style Red, Josh Ravitz

1 Swamp
15 Mountain
4 Tendo Ice Bridge
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Pulse of the Forge
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Magma Jet
3 Beacon of Destruction
4 Wayfarer’s Bauble
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Arc-Slogger
4 Molten Rain
1 Sowing Salt

3 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
3 Cranial Extraction
4 Culling Scales
4 Fireball
1 Sowing Salt

… There’s that Tendo Ice Bridge again!

Tendo Ice Bridge was an addition over the straight Red version we played at Regionals (where my sideboard was:

4 Culling Scales
3 Fireball
1 Hidetsugu’s Second Rite
2 Sowing Salt
4 Unforge
1 Stalking Stones

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 purposes of this blog post, the etra value came from just running Tendo Ice Bridge. In a de facto one color deck, Tendo Ice Bridge was free. It came into play untapped, it tapped for Red if you needed it to… But along with the one Swamp (and eight artifact searchers), Tendo Ice Bridge allowed Kuroda-style Red to flatten Tooth and Nail with Cranial Extraction.

Any guesses on what we would name?

Eldrazi Ramp, Tim Landale

2 Cultivate
4 Eldrazi Temple
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
2 Everflowing Chalice
4 Explore
1 Eye of Ugin
11 Forest
4 Growth Spasm
4 Joraga Treespeaker
4 Khalni Garden
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
2 Mystifying Maze
4 Overgrown Battlement
4 Primeval Titan
4 Summoning Trap
4 Tectonic Edge
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
3 Wurmcoil Engine
2 All Is Dust
1 Eye of Ugin
2 Nature’s Claim
3 Obstinate Baloth
2 Pelakka Wurm
4 Terastodon
1 Wurmcoil Engine

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!