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Gatecrash: Bad Habits and Urban Evolution

Earlier this week my old Apprentice Will Price aka WillPop aka SloppyStack lobbed this tweet at YT:

This is the Gatecrash card to which beloved WillPop was referring:

Urban Evolution

I must admit my snap judgment on the card is favorable. Is it really “bad” of me though? I thought I’d compare Urban Evolution to some other cards and think about how it stacks up.

Jace’s Ingenuity
When Jace’s Ingenuity first came out, I called it overrated. My system doesn’t really care if you are an instant or a sorcery in terms of CMC, and Jace’s Ingenuity was therefore just one more than Concentrate. Of course the first time I played Jace’s Ingenuity I ended up spiking a $5K. Jace’s Ingenuity was great!

Now had Jace’s Ingenuity been Concentrate, it probably wouldn’t have single-handedly crushed my combo-Exarch Twin opponent, so perhaps I was wrong on my orignal assessment of that card. From a pure effect standpoint, Urban Evolution is more effective than Jace’s Ingenuity. You get to draw the same three cards, but seeing as you will often draw an incremental land, you get a solid option tacked on. Of course, if you don’t draw another land (but you already had one), Urban Evolution is still fine with that.

Three cards against four. Four is bigger than three… But putting a permanent mana source into play is worth something. Lay of the Land and Rampant Growth have both been playable cards, and there is a reason that the extra mana is justifiable on a Rampant Growth.

One mana is about the value of a card… The two cards are therefore relatively equal in power.

Cosmetically, the first difference we see is 3UU versus 3GU; 3GU = 1G + 2U. Urban Evolution is actually exactly Explore + Counsel of the Soratami. Explore and Counsel of the Soratami (or Divination) are both / all playable cards. Putting them together like this, compacting multiple reasonable effects into a single card, actually increases its economy.


My guess is that the Explore-ness of Urban Evolution will be an incidental source of additional utility, rather than being particularly strategic to a deck’s focus. I do think it is a potentially strong basket of effects, so the real question is where Urban Evolution might see play.

Urban Evolution just seems like a better card than Amass the Components to me. The sole known Amass the Components deck already plays Farseek… The existing Bant shell can certainly accomodate Urban Evolution already.

It is probably also the kind of card we might see in a potential Enter the Infinite deck. Such a deck would have a strong interest in not just digging to Omniscience but to have lands in play to cast it. Again, I can see some hand-in-hand there.

Bad habits? I don’t know.

But sure, I’ll buy that R&D is doing all kinds of stuff to tug at ye olde heartstrings.


Me and Charlie Tuna

“Here is a picture of Tuna basking in the bright sun, carrying little Bella Flores on his great shoulders. He may have been pretending to be Hodor. God, I hope he was.” -Lan D. Ho

I first met Charles “Tuna” Hwa at an unsanctioned Sealed Deck Mirage tournament in Philadelphia, PA in 1996.

In those years — believe it or not — I had a high opinion of myself, and always felt like I should be doing better in whatever tournament I was in than maybe I was actually  doing in reality. I came up to the judge / scorekeeper in-between rounds maybe three or four rounds in and asked him who was doing better than me at that point.

He rattled off some names of people I probably knew then but don’t recall today, blah, Blah, and BLAH… and “Charlie”.

“Who’s Charlie?” I asked.

A boy I didn’t know — the tall, athletic, man who would be Tuna — was standing next to him, actually, smiled. He beamed at me, introduced himself, and gave me a wave.

I looked him up and down, replied:

“That’s not ‘Charlie’ … That’s Tuna.”

“You know,” I explained… “Like ‘Charlie Tuna.’ Like the fish.”

Charlie Tuna

And the name stuck.

From then on — to all our friends in Philadelphia and New York, the entire Magic universe (for Tuna would over the next few years become an important member of that cadre) — he was Tuna.

He was always a cad.

His last name was Hwa.

At some point he decided to adopt the gigantic phasing blue dude Taniwha as his personal avatar. “You know,” he’d say. “Taniwha… TunaHwa…” And then he’d smile… “I’m a 7/7 phasing fish!”


Tuna became one of my best friends.

He was the first one excitedly jumping up and down when I won my first PTQ a few months later. We formed Team Armageddon, and later Team Discovery Channel with Al Tran and Jeff Wu, plus loads of other names you may or may not recognize… Young Lee, Dan Holzer, Dan Bridy, Patrick Lennon Johnson. For a minute, road tripping one summer, we almost stole Brian Schneider from Team CMU!

“Can you imagine Erik Lauer telling half the anal sex jokes to Randy Buehler that you two have exchanged in the last half hour?” bschneid once asked. “But you guys are a lot more fun.”

It is hard to crystalize the experiences we shared in college for the next 2-3 years so I won’t bother to try. It was college, we screwed around playing Magic and video games and getting recruited to do WCW house shows at the height of Nitro and the Monday Night Wars and were overall terrible at girls… and he was one of my best friends. 

A legit HB10 once asked me out for dinner my senior year of college. Stricken with one-itis, I had been pining after her for months actually, but SHE actually asked ME out. I wanted to play it cool (plus there was a sanctioned tournament that night). I told her some other time. 

I went 0-3, trashing the best rating in the city at the time.

Tuna wrote a poem to commemorate the occasion. Then put it up on the Internet.

You can still read it on Google if you want, followed by a response by Tuna’s longtime roommate Al Tran [THE BALLAD OF MIGHTY FLORES]

A few years later, Tuna dropped out of Penn (for at least a little while) to join Psylum, Inc. the company that had bought The Magic Dojo from Frank Kusumoto. I was the Editor-in-Chief and later Editorial Director; Tuna was… I dunno. I think he was the Director of Business Development or something, but at some point our CEO had the bright idea to stick him in a van with our resident comics reviewer and in-house counsel (hi Brook!) and send them across the country on a comics-and-Magic-evangelism road trip called Asphalt Action. Tuna had convinced small companies like Astronauts in Trouble and big companies like DC Comics to donate literally thousands of dollars in graphic novels to us and our trip; WotC gave them Portal or Starter or whatever it is called to popularize Magic. They toured these United States handing comics and Magic cards out at comics and hobby shops, spreading and building up a culture that we all today love fiercely.

They totaled circa three vans along the way.

When he got back to New York, Tuna had two cell phones (one was on Sprint and one was on some better company… They wanted to have mobile phone redundancy seeing as they were going to be spending weeks and months in the corn fields of flyover states). Making fun of me because I had to wait around the office for a girl I had met the night before to call me back before squiring her off to one of the famous Matt Wang birthday parties at Citrus… Tuna tricked me into buying that Sprint phone off of him. Fucker. I still have the same phone number 12 years later.

Tuna (far right) at one of Matt Wang’s Citrus birthday parties along with Don Lim, Jeff Wu, Brook North, Wang, and Al Tran

When The Dojo went belly-up in 2000, Tuna stepped in as the interim Editor-in-Chief, and held the place together in-between my departure and the company’s re-launch under The Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy). Yeah, that’s who bought us.

Tuna was my roommate for a few months before having the good sense to go back to Penn and finish his degree; a Wharton undergraduate being more-or-less the most valuable kind of undergraduate degree you can have. He would later show me, first hand, just how valuable.

A couple of years later I got married. And again.

Tuna was a groomsman of mine at both the wedding I had in my apartment, and the lavish one my parents threw for me and Katherine (our “real wedding” -my parents) (“NOT our real wedding” – my wife) a few months later. Tuna was funny and brilliant and a devoted and loyal confidant. Tuna would go on to form Team Filipino Dress Shirt with John Shuler, Jeff Wu, and Jonathan Becker in the summer of 2002.

I got a job at an international public company in about 2003, and we had an opening in marketing about a year in; I had Tuna apply. That got him back in New York from Philly. Yay! About a year later, he was promoted to… you  know… being my boss. I am a marketing genius but he ran circles around me. He was that kind of miser.

It was while we were working there that Tuna — the Wharton-trained Marketing Director — taught me SWOT analysis and systematic thinking, incredibly powerful ways to organize my mind that have served me over and over since. He broke down Steve Nash’s second MVP season step-by-step and compared it to LeBron James’s same year. We pulled up their stats on ESPN. “They have about the same offensive output,” he taught me… “But Nash does it using half the possessions.”

I never looked at basketball the same way again.

Basketball is one of the things I am most passionate about, as a fan. He taught me to love it in a smarter way… a better way for me, and a better way period. Thank you Charles Hwa.

He was very good, very apt, a natural leader, and like I said a zillion times, one of my best friends.

After work one night in 2006, he graced the Top 8 Magic Podcast, reminisced a bit with me and BDM; talked about ye olde Ballad of Mighty Flores. Thank God for the Google! You can listen to his voice here.

Tuna was a huge sports fan. He taught me why people in South America and Europe love soccer, even though it makes no sense to an American. He loved sports themselves more than particular teams, and had an amazing eye for how to appreciate them… He had the enthusiasm of a fanboy, but the sober mind of an… I don’t know… statistical genius. He was occupying the next chair in that sports bar during Daniel Gibson’s epic game over the Detroit Pistons in 2007… The one that sent LeBron and my Cleveland Cavaliers into the NBA Finals. “That kid has ice water in his veins,” he nudged me as Boobie drilled a pair of free throws. “… Don’t know what the Spurs are going to do about him.”

He was a founding member of the New York Movie Klub, recruited by Lan D. Ho himself when he moved into Jon Finkel’s apartment back in 2008.

Tuna showed Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and The Wrestler before flying back to China, ostensibly to watch the Olympics first-hand. Though Tuna’s Movie Klub career was short, he is considered to have one of our group’s highest batting averages.

He decided to plant a flag in Beijing, and ended up earning an international MBA at Tsinghua University; where he met the love of his life, Valeria (herself an international traveler and South American transplant).

Tuna never stopped being dear to me — or any of us here in New York and Philadelphia — though we have seen him precious little in the last three or four years, while he studied and fell in love. He was back in the States last month; I chided him for skipping over New York during his visit. I did nothing but give my former roommate and boss good-natured beats from the moment I met him and stapled to him that fishy nickname that simply never went away.

What was the harm?

I always assumed he would move back to New York. I don’t know what he and Valeria ever speculated about their future, but to me it was always some scheme to get him back where he belonged. I got him back here the last time; and he was a Movie Klubber and everything.

Charles “Tuna” Hwa died last Sunday, doing what he loved most — playing basketball with his friends — via sudden heart attack. He was one of the most fun, most caring, most intelligent, and quickest to smile people I will ever meet. (Also an atrocious Magic player.) I look back on my life at this point, and I am pretty sure he was there every time something awesome happened to me. He was there the first time I won a PTQ. He was there the first time I got paid to write a Magic article; embarrassed, I tried to refuse (that’s not why I did these things!). Tuna thanked the nice man for me and put the boxes in my duffel bag. He was literally waiting for me, smiling in the doorway, as I walked into my first job. In New York City! At Origins that year, he — along with Pat Chapin — got on the ground, kowtowing the Wayne & Garth “we’re not worthy” routine, waiting for my name to be called for my first US Nationals Top 8 (though history remembers me being out at 9th place on breakers). Tuna LITERALLY WALKED INTO THE ROOM as I was getting to third base with a girl for the first time; obliviously he fell asleep in the other bed, ruining a perfectly good story. He was standing next to me when I got married to my actual best match, Katherine. And the second time (still Katherine). He was pumping the fist over a basket of fucking onion rings when my team locked the NBA East over the favored former champs. In six! He was reading a Wildstorm graphic novel during the commercials. It’s been a few years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he helped me soberly into a cab, the first time I got drunk.

If you are a younger player, you might not know how important Charles Hwa was to our culture, and the development of our online community in its formative years. He was not only one of my best friends, but whether you know it or not, he was your grandpappy — your sensei — at least for a little while.

I love you, Charles Hwa.

Tuna would have been 34 this Saturday.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Day 2 – Shark Teeth

I am going to go back and write about the buried treasure (aka thirteen copies of Force of Will) I found on my summer vacation (Day 1), but I decided it would be more fun to do this one, first.

So my sister was reading this (presumably) worthwhile book by Bill Bryson called At Home. I have no opinion on this book (having not read it yet) other than to give a big thumbs up around a list of causes of death in London in 1758.

“Most deaths, as might be expected, were from smallpox, fever, consumption or old age, but among the more miscellaneous causes listed (with original spellings) were:

  • choaked with fat – 1
  • itch – 2
  • froze to death – 2
  • St Anthony’s fire – 4
  • lethargy – 4
  • sore throat – 5
  • worms – 6
  • killed themselves – 30
  • French pox – 46
  • lunatick – 72
  • drowned – 109
  • mortification – 154
  • teeth – 644″

I was planning on sharing this list regardless because I thought it was hilarious. However the hundreds of death by “teeth” really struck home yesterday, when I went to the dentist.

I have had some inflammation / sensitivity around my bottom wisdom teeth… forever. Since my wisdom teeth came in a dozen years ago or whatever they never felt particularly comfy; but a few weeks ago I sliced open my bottom gums flossing, and they kind of never got better. At least three weeks went by and my gums just weren’t healing.

That’s weird, I thought. Well, at least I have a dentist appointment coming up when I am home for summer vacation.

At first my dentist said that “I definitely had a canker sore back there,” but I was like, “If it is a canker sore, it is the most invincible canker sore of all time because it hasn’t gotten better in weeks; also there are two of them.”

Wasn’t a canker sore.

Turns out I had little bits of sharp bone / bony structures / bone spurs jutting out from under each of my bottom wisdom teeth!

The only thing he could imagine is that they were vestiges of my baby teeth that had never come up (I have never had any kind of dental issues as an adult… No cavities, no teeth-pulling, nothing beyond a little nighttime grinding and bonding once).

Then I imagined all those X-Men, X-Files, and / or House episodes where they find teeth in a kid’s brain or something.

“Actually we found incisors in your brain.”

“How did teeth get in my brain?”

“They were your twin brother’s.”

“I don’t have a twin brother.”

“No, now you don’t… It’s because you ate him in utero.”


Professor X, you cad.

Anyway the left-hand side he just broke off with that scraper-looking thing, but the right hand side wouldn’t break, so he had to slice open the gum and sand off the point.

I didn’t feel a thing!

Not until the Novocaine wore off anyway 🙂

Today, we are off to the roller coaster capitol of the world!

Check Twitter.


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?


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

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

Part I: Laying the Blame

Blame Brian David-Marshall.

One of my best friends.

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

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

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

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

Number Ten – Robotech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number Nine – The Tomorrow People

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

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

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

Number Eight – Disney’s Gargoyles

Gargoyles is basically the best cartoon of all time.

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

And then it got cancelled.

What happened?

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

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

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

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

Number Seven – Battlestar Galactica

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

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

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

Number Six – Angel

I love Angel.

I like it better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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

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

Number Five – Malcolm in the Middle

Before Arrested Development, there was Malcolm.

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

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

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

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

Number Four – Rome

Rome transports you to another world.

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

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

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

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

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

Number Three – Babylon 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number Two – The Simpsons

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

You go Bart!

Number One – Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is my all-time favorite television show.

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

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

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

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

Part II: Oh, the Irony

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

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

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

Flores Rewards*

Be there.


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

Building a Better Basilisk Collar

Just a short one.

Basilisk Collar: Pretty Awesome

I actually wrote a long-ish article for TCGPlayer on how I rebuilt the sideboard for Vengevine Monster Truck; it will be up later today.

But for those of you who just want the deck list for the Grand Prix this weekend, this is what I came up with:

Vengevine Monster Truck version 1.2

2 Malakir Bloodwitch

4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Putrid Leech
4 Sarkhan the Mad
4 Sprouting Thrinax

4 Borderland Ranger
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Vengevine

4 Cunning Sparkmage

3 Ancient Ziggaraut
3 Forest
3 Mountain
4 Raging Ravine
4 Savage Lands
2 Scalding Tarn
3 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs

3 Basilisk Collar
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Sedraxis Specter
1 Master of the Wild Hunt
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Island

Thanks to everyone — in particular Brightbo and GerryT — for advice on the deck. Basilisk Collar was exactly what the sideaboard needed… Even gassier than Vampire Nighthawk (in fact makes everyone into a Vampire Nighthawk).

Thanks for reading, and good luck this weekend.


The Danger of Eldrazi Conscription


The Danger of Cool Things ∙ Chad Ellis ∙ Eldrazi Conscription
Sovereigns of Lost Alara ∙ “the stack” ∙ … and Eldrazi Conscription

Eldrazi Conscription

A new version of the Mythic deck centers around Sovereigns of Lost Alara setting up Eldrazi Conscription. You attack, the Sovereigns of Lost Alara goes and finds that normally cost prohibitive enchantment, sticks it on your guy, and all of a sudden you have a gigantic monster that should kill the opponent in just 1-2 blows. The second time you attack with such an Eldrazi-proxy, you probably get to set up Annihilator 2 as well, which is just cool (on top of being wicked deadly).

Recently my new protege Kar Yung Tom stated that the only way that King Hulk / Raka XXX can possibly lose to Mythic is to be smashed by this Eldrazi Conscription combination… So plan for it, anticipate, prevent, etc. For King Hulk — a deck with precious few ways to interact with the Sovereigns of Lost Alara combination itself — must use mass removal or Planeswalkers on its own turn to prevent getting smashed. But what about decks with actual instant speed removal, viz. Doom Blade or Path to Exile? How should they play against Eldrazi Conscription?

This is how the combination works.

The opponent attacks.

Any of the “attacks alone” text abilities go on the stack; these include both Exalted and the Eldrazi Conscription-finding ability on Sovereigns of Lost Alara. Let’s table Exalted for the moment. How do you deal with the second ability?

I think most players — acting “automatically” — will be tempted to let the ability resolve, let the opponent attach Eldrazi Conscription to the attacking creature, and then point the Doom Blade at the attacking bugger. After all this is “cool”. This is “card advantage”.

Or is it?

True, if you point a removal spell at an Aura’d-up Eldrazi wannabe, you are technically destroying two cards — both the creature and the creature enchantment. Is this card advantage? At that instant, the answer is yes. You are using one resource to remove two resources. But for practical purposes it isn’t. The Eldrazi Conscription in this case is “extra” … The opponent went and got it for free. Your “card advantage” play — your “cool” card advantage play — is really just a break even, despite the fact that at that instant, the exchange itself is card advantageous.

Let me propose a counter-automatic play:

What if we respond to all that jazz, and kill the creature before the Eldrazi Conscription hits the battlefield? Or even in response to all of it, before in many cases the Exalted triggers hit (when our removal spell is Lightning Bolt and the Eldrazi-to-be is a Noble Hierarch, this may actually be a necessity)?

I would argue that leaving the Eldrazi Conscription in the opponent’s deck is actually desirable.

First of all, if we prevent the ability from resolving, we are preventing the opponent from getting an extra card; we don’t have to make up the card on the two-for-one… because the opponent never got the Eldrazi Conscription for us to two-for-one. Grok? Good.

The reason this might be subtly better is that now the opponent can accidentally draw Eldrazi Conscription. Awesome, right? That is a card he never wants to draw. Not only is it essentially dead in hand, drawing both basically turns off Sovereigns of Lost Alara.

Now of course if the opponent has an army of little guys, and the ability to reload next turn and the turn after, you might want to pull out his Sovereigns’ teeth (especially if you have, say, two copies of Terminate). But if he isn’t long on threats on the battlefield already — as will often be the case — I think giving him the opportunity to get unlucky can be desirable.

Neither play is right all the time… But I figured presenting the opposite as a viable option might be a useful suggestion to many of you with automatic — but not necessarily automatically better — MO’s lined up.


P.S. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, I heartily recommend The Danger of Cool Things by my friend Chad Ellis. Chad was a former columnist at Star City and the mother ship, a Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, and a hell of a strategy writer. The Danger of Cool Things is his best work, and kind of a companion to Who’s the Beatdown if that makes any sense.

Back to Countersquall


Beloved Lightning ∙ Bolt Beloved Spreading ∙ Seas Beloved Countersquall
Beloved Blightning ∙ The Ever-Dangerous Malakir Bloodwitch ∙ … and Cruel Ultimatum


So sparked somewhat by the win by Tom Ma (@TomMaMTG on Twitter), but mostly via chats with my boys @amistod and @sloppystack I have decided to come back to the full on hits of this metagame, the guys we call Grixis.

At some point I am going to do a full format evaluation of playable cards by mana cost, but suffice it to say, Grixis is stacked with card quality.


1 mana:
Lightning Bolt

2 mana:
Spreading Seas, Countersquall

3 mana:

4 mana:
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

5 mana:
Malakir Bloodwitch (or Siege-Gang Commander)

7 mana:
Cruel Ultimatum

One mana is actually quite competitive in Standard with Path to Exile, Noble Hierarch, and Birds of Paradise, but I think Lightning Bolt holds its own; certainly a Top 10 card.

At two, though… I think Grixis might be the king of the format with Spreading Seas (best two mana spell) and Countersquall (best Counterspell). Similar to what Tom Ma did, I decided to go for more creatures and play with Gatekeeper of Malakir on two. However rather than playing Siege-Gang Commander, I opted for Malakir Bloodwitch, which is sometimes just game over for decks like U/W Control, White Weenie, and Mythic.

Tom told me via Twitter that he also started on Malakir Bloodwitch, but switched to Siege-Gang Commander because of its increased efficacy against Jund + “just dumb” synergies with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Cruel Ultimatum.

For reference:

Denver PTQ Winner, by Tom Ma

4 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Crumbling Necropolis
2 Lavaclaw Reaches
3 Drowned Catacomb
3 Dragonskull Summit
3 Scalding Tarn
4 Swamp
2 Island
2 Mountain

4 Sedraxis Specter
3 Gatekeeper of Malakir
3 Siege-Gang Commander

4 Blightning
4 Spreading Seas
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Terminate
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Staggershock

1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
2 Consuming Vapors
2 Thought Hemorrhage
3 Countersquall
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
4 Goblin Ruinblaster

Here is YT’s preliminary deck list:

Grixis Hits Version 1.1

4 Gatekeeper of Malakir
2 Malakir Bloodwitch

2 Divination
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Spreading Seas

4 Blightning
2 Countersquall
4 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Sedraxis Specter
1 Terminate

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Dragonskull Summit
2 Drowned Catacomb
4 Island
4 Lavaclaw Reaches
2 Mountain
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Swamp

2 Duress
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
1 Sorin Markov
4 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Countersquall
3 Terminate

My first version had 4 Countersqualls main, with one Gatekeeper of Malakir and one Terminate switching places with the now 2 + 2 permission package. I lost a Game One to Jund with three Countersqualls in my hand (believe it or not the first Countersquall stopped his third turn Blightning). I lost a super close one after resolving two Cruel Ultimatums. Basically everything had to go wrong for me; he had to hit Bloodbraid Elf on turn four and he had to play Blightning off of it (which cost me two lands that stalled my Cruel Ultimatum for three turns off-curve); after I killed his guys, he had to topdeck Broodmate Dragon. Basically everything had to go wrong for me to lose, but if I had had a 2 + 2 split with one more fast creature removal spell, I would have won fairly easily; unfortunately we didn’t finish the match.

I won I think every other match I played tonight, toggling between the 4 Countersquall and 2 + 2 versions; I think I like this one best, though it is possible that a 3 + 1 version with the Terminate in the main (for Putrid Leech) is the right way to go.

The mana in this deck is not as good as the mana in Grixis Burn. Grixis Burn had the Brian David-Marshall seal of approval for most beautiful mana base… With Worldwake duals we have to change a lot around, including playing many more lands that hit the battlefield tapped. While Gatekeeper of Malakir is quite playable, the mana in this version works very hard, especially when you are trying to hit your BBB on turn three for a Putrid Leech… That is why I think a 3 + 1 Gatekeeper / Terminate split might be the way to go.

Obviously there are no Rise of the Eldrazi spells in this deck yet; who knows if we will even play any?

Some notes from the testing:

Bring creatures in against the U/W or U/r/W Planeswalker decks. I played against Telemin Performance. If I didn’t’ have 6-8 creatures in my deck, I would have been forced to Duress Telemin Performance instead of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. As it was, I just let him play the performance against me, met Bloodwitch with Bloodwitch, and easily burned him out.

Provided there are no huge hiccups in the metagame, I think this sort of a deck might be perfectly positioned to take Nationals Qualifiers. U/W decks — permission poor as they are right now — are basically meat to a Cruel Ultimatum (sorry beloved Raka XXX… it’s true); the choice for me is between this and Vampires (right now, that is)… but thanks to Spreading Seas, I think Grixis has a better match against Jund.

That’s all I got.


PS: I lied. Just want to shout out to Blair Simpson. A month or so ago I was making fun of Blair (@Rakalite on Twitter) because he sideboarded Trace of Abundance in his four-color Bloodbraid Elf deck. I said Trace of Abundance was not strong enough for a sideboard card… and then yesterday I went and did a whole post on how strong I think it is [as a sideboard card, too]; so much to the point that I would consider — perish the thought — of playing Jund myself.

So this is a shout out to @Rakalite 🙂

In my own defense, there was no Raging Ravine to make unbeatable with Trace of Abundance back when Blair made Top 8 of Alabama States.

For Reference:

4 Baneslayer Angel

4 Bloodbraid Elf

4 Borderland Ranger

2 Master of the Wild Hunt

2 Ajani Vengeant

2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

2 Trace of Abundance

4 Blightning

3 Bituminous Blast

3 Maelstrom Pulse

4 Lightning Bolt

2 Path to Exile

4 Jungle Shrine

4 Savage Lands

3 Arid Mesa

2 Marsh Flats

2 Verdant Catacombs

3 Plains

2 Forest

2 Mountain

2 Swamp

3 Jund Charm

2 Trace of Abundance

3 Fleshbag Marauder

2 Thought Hemorrhage

1 Ajani Vengeant

4 Goblin Ruinblaster

More and More Kabira Crossroads

So I didn’t go to the Philly 5K yesterday.

I had an open from Mrs. MichaelJ, but I opted out of playing Magic on consecutive weekends (speaking of which, I will probably update on the New York State Championships… not that there was much of a story there). I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to spend a lot of time with my daughter the past couple of months. She is up and out the door to school (you know… showing no mercy at chess and all that) before I am even up, and I am typically home after she goes to sleep. So it felt kind of going in different directions to bitch about not being able to see my daughter and then opt out of one of the two days per week I can actually see her.

As correct as I feel like that decision was, I still would have liked to have played in the Philly 5K. I put a decent amount of work into Standard even after States, and I think that I had the right deck to play.

For anyone who has any kind of Standard action going on, I heartily recommend this Shaheen Redux:


4 Fieldmist Borderpost

3 Essence Scatter
4 Flashfreeze
3 Jace Beleren
2 Mind Spring
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths

4 Baneslayer Angel
4 Day of Judgment
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Knight of the White Orchid
2 Martial Coup
4 Path to Exile

4 Glacial Fortress
4 Island
2 Kabira Crossroads
8 Plains
4 Sejiri Refuge

4 Cancel
3 Sphinx of Lost Truths
2 Quest for Ancient Secrets
4 Celestial Purge
2 Kabira Crossroads

My man GRat (friend who I ironically met at the Philly 5K last year) pointed out that the last post was missing three cards… He wasn’t sure if they were Jace Beleren or Oblivion Ring! Obviously they were — and remain — Jace.

This deck is quite good even against other control decks.

At first I was having problems with Grixis-style control decks. However those get easier if you play according to the old Carlos Romao rules. If you concentrate on fighting their Sphinxes with your Essence Scatters and their Cruel Ultimatums with your Flashfreezes, you will be ahead of the game; there is some issue about a four color version presenting also Ajani Vengeants… Probably you have to fight those with Flashfreeze early, and then hope to draw into more Flashfreezes… Otherwise you’ll probably get pinned by the Cruel Ultimatum anyway (but see below about trying to overload back).

However your early game card advantage is just so much better than theirs… Knight of the White Orchid hitting is just so spectacular! For sure you have too much creature kill, but you can get value against a Sphinx with a Martial Coup, say… and you can run the bonus on Path to Exile on ye olde Baneslayer Angel if that is going to come up.

The tough version of Grixis control to beat is the one with main deck Sedraxis Specter; dunno what to say about that noise… I certainly haven’t figured out how to beat it! Chalk it up to a bad matchup.

Jacerator is basically impossible in game one. I think you should concede on the spot in order to preserve time to win the sideboarded games; speaking of which, I was able to win handily with just three Cancels and one Quest for Ancient Secrets (took the four spots held by Luminarch Ascension in the previous version). However you still have a super awkward deck against them. Basically I was siding in Wall of Reverence to potentially block Baneslayer Angel… not that that ever came up.

With three Cancels and a Quest, I was pretty capable of fighting potentially lethal Archive Traps, protecting my Jace from his Jace, and sometimes even getting the lockdown with Iona (typically name White to prevent Fog effects and Wrath). Again, not a hard matchup after sideboarded (at least not relative to Game One, which is nigh-unwinnable). The present version of the sideboard reflects the fact that there are just so many dead cards… I tried to build with an eye to flexibility across other matchups.

Which brings us to the bonus Kabira Crossroads.

This land card is positively spell-like.

When I was playing Barely Boros and thereabouts, I absolutely hated seeing that card come up. My rationale with it now is that it is a smasher against beatdown decks, but also useful against other control. Really against another control deck you just want to hit land drops, and this is — hey — two more lands.

As to fighting other control decks, this is what I’ve found:

You don’t have a Cruel Ultimatum. That is pretty obvious by looking at the deck list. However between Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Mind Spring, you play like you have a relatively effective threat tandem. I have even found that Flashfreeze can be pretty good as a Force of Will. It’s generally most useful for fighting Ajani Vengeant and / or Cruel Ultimatum depending on which control version they are. However since many of these decks rely on Double Negative as a defensive card, you can sometimes Counterspell their Counterspell with Flashfreeze… Double Negative is Red!

I still don’t like the other version of the Sphinx.

I may be a bit too greedy with Sphinx of Lost Truths, but I just can’t cotton to playing the six mana Keiga wannabe in this deck. I have just faced off against too many six mana Sphinxes with my five mana Baneslayer Angel and come out on top. I understand that it is relatively monolithic against Jund, but drawing three extra cards while containing their treats can be pretty goood, too! Jund is obviously the soft matchup… Not bad, but not spectacular like Red Deck Wins or the G/W-based decks (which in my experience, are not difficult), nor extremely challenging like Jacerator. Jund can go either way, but Shaheen thought enough of the matchup to remove Spreading Seas. I think that success is probably best ensured by staying out of the way of Blightning as best you can (go figure).

The other thing is, this Shaheen deck is super fun to play!

I have played Shaheen-esque U/W decks across the different formats that he has been able to successfully brew (even Extended), and even with cumbersome cards like Mind Spring, this one is my favorite of the lot. Its ragged curve makes for interesting games with a lot of interactivity. I have really enjoyed setting up games to resolve multiple copies of Knight of the White Orchid [with value]. This is also basically the only deck I have played where I am perfectly comfortable playing Jace as a base -1 Planeswalker rather than a +2 to start (even against Red Decks). The ability to refill with Mind Spring, especially after getting value with Jace gives you enough card advantage redundancy that you have the rare liberty to expose your Planeswalker to more direct interaction.

So for what it’s worth… That’s what I would have run.


Currently Reading: Battle Royale

Focus on Sphinx of Lost Truths

Basically Shaheen Soorani’s deck… But with more Sphinx of Lost Truths 🙂

Just another super quick post for now.

Though I will get up a report — such that it is / will be — on States (probably later in the week).

I was working on Top Decks tonight, which features the Shaheen Soorani U/W deck (U/W from Shaheen… go figure). Evan Erwin shipped the deck to me before States but I kind of dismissed it due to hating Islands in this format. However in order to write a halfway intelligible article I played Shaheen’s deck about five matches in the Tournament Practice Room… won them all easily (though for some reason no one gamed with Jund).

Does anyone know the Jund matchup for this deck?

I am considering playing it at the Philly 5K this weekend.

Anyway, here is “my” version… With Sphinx of Lost Truths. I generally dislike Sphinx of Jwar Isle due to its being expensive and crappy. The other Sphinx is more mana efficient and also fits better in the theme of progressive card advantage. I also cut the Cancels from the sideboard due to their, you know, also being crappy.


4 Fieldmist Borderpost

3 Essence Scatter
4 Flashfreeze
2 Mind Spring
1 Sphinx of Lost Truths

4 Baneslayer Angel
4 Day of Judgment
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
4 Knight of the White Orchid
2 Martial Coup
4 Path to Exile

4 Glacial Fortress
4 Island
2 Kabira Crossroads
8 Plains
4 Sejiri Refuge

3 Sphinx of Lost Truths
4 Celestial Purge
4 Luminarch Ascension
4 Wall of Resistance

Still Reading: THE HOBBIT (The Lord of the Rings)