Entries Tagged 'Writing' ↓

Giant Solifuge and Stuff I Wish I Did Better

I wrote another article on sideboarding this week, over at TCGPlayer.com

The article was generally well-received but per usual with these kinds of examples-laden, detail-oriented articles I always end up with things that I wish I had added but forgot to, or didn’t think of until after I had submitted, or whatever.

Luckily I have a highly trafficked blog where I can add the odd DVD Extras (P.S. you’re reading it).

Osyp pointed out on Twitter…

Aside on Osyp on Twitter.

Basically I have been stealing everything worthwhile — ultimately including this blog post — from things Osyp said on Twitter. Examples include #FloresRewards (if you haven’t signed up for #FloresRewards yet… you should), and my most recent #FloresRewards video / Feat of Strength [chocolate peanut butter buckeyes]. By the way these went over quite well at Jonny Magic’s tonight.

If you’re not following Osyp on Twitter yet… you should.


End aside.

Anyway, what my man Osyp said was that I should have called out the URzaTron sideboard as a good example of what we were talking about in the sideboarding article. In case you don’t know, URzaTron was a deck that Osyp used to make Top 8 of Pro Tour Honolulu (Heezy’s). The main deck was mostly designed by me, with Osyp, Andrew Cuneo, Josh Ravitz, and Chris Pikula on the team. But the important part — the Giant Solifuges — were Osyp’s doing.

This is the deck list:

URzaTron – Osyp Lebedowicz

4 Izzet Signet

4 Compulsive Research
2 Confiscate
4 Keiga, the Tide Star
4 Mana Leak
4 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
4 Remand
2 Telling Time
1 Tidings

4 Electrolyze
1 Invoke the Firemind

1 Blaze
2 Pyroclasm

1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

4 Shivan Reef
4 Steam Vents
2 Tendo Ice Bridge
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower

4 Annex
4 Giant Solifuge
2 Pyroclasm
2 Repeal
1 Ryusei, the Falling Star
2 Smash

The cool thing about the  main deck (in case you didn’t notice) is that there were no double mana requirements… Just the one Invoke the Firemind. The Giant Solifuge sideboarding swap actually broke that rule (but like I said, Osyp made that part… which was in all honesty the best part of the deck).

The philosophy of this deck was that it went Over The Top relative to the rest of the metagame. You play Keiga or Meloku… What is the other guy supposed to do, even?

The deck was typically the beatdown, even if it looks like a control deck. It used the Counterspells (as Eugene Harvey explained) simply for time management, but it was all about setting the tempo of the game with its superior threats. The Giant Solifuges allowed the deck to obtain greater speed when faced with decks that had comparable or more powerful end games. Really inspired, not-obvious work by Osyp.

The part of the article I wanted to address myself (that is, without Osyp’s prompting) was around enhancing the practicals section at the bottom. I’ll do so now.

Rebels – A modern example might be Pyromancer Ascension. People who are not really intimate with the deck might only think of it as a Pyromancer Ascension + Time Warp [functionally] infinite combo deck. LSV recently talked about siding out Time Warps in some matches. We have seen transformational decks around Polymorph (JVL actually had that in the very first version he showed me, before we even had Call to Mind). Even semi-transformation around Kiln Fiend might count here, but in any case we have examples where one or both of the core “combo pieces” (one of which is the namesake) might be removed in order to reposition the deck while sideboarding. While it is not purely a sideboarding execution, the genius of Gerry Thompson’s hybrid Thopter Foundry / Dark Depths deck was rooted very much in the flavor of this philosophy. His deck, while on its face was much more like a Vampire Hexmage / Dark Depths deck, exhibited exactly the flexibility of “I guess I can side out all my Rebels if you are just going to aim at them”, which allowed for the equally powerful Sword of the Meek combo to kill them to death while they stared at a hand full of Repeals and Ghost Quarters.

G/W – Something interesting here is the ability to create a corner case. Something that I have always been cognizant of when designing rogue decks is how to produce a corner case, push the opponent into it, and then win 100% of the time that this comes up. Most of these examples work around decking, actually, and the G/W one is no different. Despite the presence of extraordinarily card advantageous threats like Decree of Justice and Eternal Dragon, it is theoretically possible to deck the G/W deck. The deck did a lot of cycling, and the Eternal Dragons could be overcome by a combination of Pulse of the Fields and maybe Scrabbling Claws. In addition to facilitating the semi-transformation, Darksteel Colossus makes it almost impossible to deck the G/W deck… In fact, the G/W deck can play to deck the opponent, if it came down to it; but a more realistic position would probably be having tons of mana and playing and re-playing Darksteel Colossus over and over again.

Kuroda-style Red – Something to be wary of with these fancy sideboarding switches is the control of information. For example, in real life, we were out-thunk by Heezy and Neil. They had a different sideboard than the then-default, and moreover, Heezy was aware of our sideboarding strategy, which in turn, allowed them to apply a sweep-capable sidebaord switch in the face of our supposedly unbeatable anti-Blue sideboarding strategy. A recent example might be Little D over Ma in the Top 8 of Amsterdam. Ma theoretically had a 90% matchup v. Little D, but Little D executed the sweep with his Relic of Progenitus switch-in, which impaired the effectiveness of Ma’s Tarmogoyf and Kitchen Finks. In theory had Conley been looking over Ma’s shoulder, they could have executed a couner-Nassif sideboarding strategy that would have blunted the effectiveness of the Relic plan… But insted, Little D was in a position of liking the Relic so much he kept a mana light hand just because there were Relics present.

Critical Mass – The holy grail of Constructed Magic is to be the beatdown and the control simultaneously. That makes it impossible for the opponent to Execute on a Who’s the Beatdown equation. Generally speaking the optimal sideboarding strategy is to position yourself as both the beatdown and the control if possible. Both Brian Kibler’s Rubin Zoo deck and the Mythic Conscription deck exhibit qualities of seizing both beatdown and control capabilities. Talk to Kibler about Rubin Zoo. If you draw Wild Nacatl, you win on speed; if you don’t, you slow play and win on power. Play the Mythic Conscription deck. It is just like Critical Mass against control… It does the same thing they do, but faster due to Lotus Cobra and so on. Meanwhile, it is also the fastest, most powerful, attack deck thanks to the speed of Sovereigns of Lost Alara. While neither the Naya or the Bant decks discussed in this subsection rely on sideboarding, you can see how they can play either role, fluidly, and in some cases both simultaneously. For example against another Zoo deck, Kibler could go first, play a 3/3 on the first turn (beatdown), trumping a Goblin Guide or Kird Ape, attack the face, and then play lockdown with the Grove of the Burnwillows combo (control), until locking down the game entirely with Baneslayer Angel (a really controlling beatdown). Poor beatdown.

Well, that’s most of what I wanted to say about that.


Mana Leak, Jace’s Ingenuity, and “Stuff”

Yesterday I posted what I thought was a pretty good article on TCGPlayer.com.

If you want to read it (and you should, as it is pretty good), click here.

Jace’s Ingenuity (overrated)

Inspired by Mana Leak — or more precisely, Jace’s Ingenuity — the article was primarily about beating Counterspells and Blue players who are not as good as they think they are.

Oftentimes with these kinds of articles I have more ideas than I can remember to get down on paper before I hit the “Send” button to my editor. In this case I think that a number of cases would be supported by more / more concrete examples.


It is pretty imperative that the Counterspells played in the Draw-Go deck are mana efficient. You will see in an example later in this blog post that Sigurd Eskeland is able to compete with the speed of Jon Finkel’s Deadguy Red deck only due to the speed of Force Spike.

Part of the reason for this is that the Draw-Go deck must be able to not only answer threats at commensurate speed, but at some point, must be able to play at least one reactive card per turn while drawing additional cards, even if only by Impulse or the equivalent.

Force with Force

A super iconic example of this would be with literal Force of Will.

That is not to say that you have to use Force of Will. The modern “I win in the context of a tight mana situation” today might be Pact of Negation (though I suppose that will not last much longer, even in Extended).

Play Cards That Can’t Be Countered

Someone in the forums suggested Gaea’s Revenge.

I don’t know if I actually buy that.

I mean 10 years ago, if there were a card like Gaea’s Revenge and the default Blue deck was pure permission… I might see it. In 2010 (that is, the only context in which we can actually consider a Gaea’s Revenge), I would have been very happy to play against Gaea’s Revenge with my Nationals deck, which was a 4x Mana Leak deck that actually sided in Spell Pierce against Gaea’s Revenge decks with Rampant Growth, et al.

The problem is that while that card can’t be countered, it is super slow and the pieces that get you there can all be countered. Realistically Gaea’s Revenge can’t kill you until like turn eight, and you can actually just get raced.

Am I being unfair here? I liked Banefire quite a bit against Blue last year… Is there a huge difference?

Tempo Attack

I was doing some research to help AJ Sacher tonight and came upon a segment from a Jon Finkel — yes Jon em offing Finkel — tournament report from like 1998. Consider:

I played Sigurd Eskeland, as we were the only two 7-0s. He won the coin flip, and we prepared to play the first game, in which I felt I had a huge advantage. I played a first turn Pup, and it got Force Spiked. I was now in a bad position, because I hate to let Draw-Go use their counters. I’d rather just keep hitting them for one or two points per turn. Because I had no threats I was forced to try for a second turn Orc, which got countered, and then I had to cast a Hammer, in the hope that he didn’t have a Dissipate.

(some edits; emphasis mine)

This actually intersects with Do Nothing as well. See how Jon’s plan is to get a small advantage and then have his opponent drown in Counterspells? He will not start playing must-counter threats until it becomes annoying for Sigurd to use his mana in a non-advantageous way.

Just some thoughts.

I hope you like the article over there (if you haven’t already read it) 🙂


Five [Reasons to be Grateful] (with Flores)

I recently did an interview. Don’t worry! I’ll link to that when it goes live. But anyway, one of the questions in the interview got me thinking, and I have been thinking about this thing very intently for the past couple of days; that is, the prevailing, motivating, emotion that I have when I think about Magic. Once upon a time I mostly cared about winning; so I would say that my prevailing emotion was drive. Today, I am just very grateful to have had Magic touch me. Following are five reasons why…

  1. New York. I love New York. Which is strange because one of the most horrifying ideas to me is that LeBron James might leave the Cavaliers to come play up here. My wife sometimes asks me what I would do. The answer is that I would probably hole up and not watch basketball for a few years; she was equally horrified that I would not take the kids to see LeBron play at the Garden (both kids love LeBron James). So of course the first and greatest thing I am grateful for is being in New York.

    For those of you who don’t know, I moved to New York in 1999 — ten years ago now — to hang out and work at The Dojo for a summer. I was on scholarship in law school at the time. But I ended up liking New York, and I stayed on to become the Editor-in-Chief of The Dojo, then Editorial Director at Psylum, Inc. (the company that owned The Dojo and that was eventually bought by USA Networks). Being in New York was the springboard to my career, where otherwise I would probably have ended up being some Cleveland-based attorney, and I wasn’t really built for that life. But more importantly, I met my wife here in New York, and I have two wonderful children by her, whom, again, I would not have met had I not been in New York… And I only live in New York because of Magic.

    In a not-that-indirect way, I owe my family to Magic; my family, one of the only things I love more than Magic. So thanks.

  2. Notoriety. I enjoy a level of notoriety that probably would never have come to me but for Magic. When I last interviewed for a job, my eventual employers were tickled at the fact that I have my own Wikipedia entry. I have been lucky enough to receive a platform — series of platforms, actually, which includes this blog — that have given me the opportunity to express myself, and to express myself to a great many people. I have lived this way for so many years that I almost don’t know any other way to live my life but out in the open, warts and all, for the most part.

    Not everyone has that chance — that freedom — to connect with the rest of the world, especially at scale, and I owe that in large part to Magic. Would I have been able to generate a similar following, or become some kind of expert, publisher, or media figure somewhere else? The answer is probably. I am actually much better at marketing strategy than I am at Magic strategy and I am co-writing a book on advertising and marketing for a major nonfiction publisher right now… But the fact that I might have been able to do something somewhere else does not in any way, shape, or form detract from the fact that the notoriety I do have, I got thanks to Magic. And for that I am incredibly grateful.

  3. Friends. It was Dave Price (Pro Tour Champion and King of Beatdown Dave Price) who, about ten years ago, first introduced me to the idea that the line was blurring between my “Magic friends” and my “friends” … At some point that line evaporated completely. Every man who stood next to me at my wedding, including Jeff Wu (my oldest and dearest friend), John Shuler, and Tuna Hwa, is or was a Magic friend. None of them really play that much any more, but with the exception of Jeff (who was instrumental in getting me into Magic), I knew them from Magic. Ditto with Jon Becker, the godfather (that is, my son’s godfather), who read at my wedding. Ditto to Matt Wang and Brian David-Marshall, who published my first book, Deckade (buy Deckade at Top 8 Magic!). “Magic” friends any and all. I would hazard that most of my friends are Magic friends, which is largely a function of spending so much time with specific people for specific reasons. For example riding up and down the East Coast with Paul Jordan (I was Paul’s best man at his wedding) and Josh Ravitz (Josh has been one of the most influential people, ever, in my life… I only listen to Rilo Kiley — today my favorite band — because of Josh). I have so many dear Magic friends I don’t mean to exclude any of them by not talking about them in this section. Instead, I just want to reiterate how grateful I am to have them.
  4. Career. Many people assume I do Magic professionally. I’d say “I wish” … but I don’t really wish that. There are many days that I would rather just do my job than play Magic, which is a rare and wonderful thing that I think most people never get to say (you can substitute their job for my job and whatever they like to do for example sitting around watching teevee and drinking cheap beer for playing Magic). Today I am a Vice President at a great marketing and media company in New York. I think of myself as really good at what I do, and I often get asked to speak about what I do, which I do quite well; I may have already mentioned that I am co-writing another book, this time on advertsing. In a way I feel much more “lucky” than I do grateful, at least with regards to the intersection of my career and Magic. But like just being in New York, I don’t think that I would have been put on the path that I eventually was, you know, put on but for the game.

    So instead, I will just rattle off the names of a bunch of my friends, and how Magic may have influenced their careers…

    Like Worth Wollpert, my first Pro Tour roommate, now boss daddy of Magic Online. To Worth I say two words: Well, duh.

    Or Matt Wang, who used to be one of those buttoned up investment banker / MBA types. Now he basically rocks and rolls with Brian David-Marshall, doing incredibly interesting and impressive things (such as publishing Deckade, which you should buy from Top 8 Magic to show your gratitude)… Matt and Brian met via Magic, honed their eventual professional skills playing Magic, and have a staff of mostly all Magic players!

    Or Dave Williams, millionaire poker superstar… Where do you think Dave learned how to play cards?

    Or Jon Finkel, now the supreme overlord of a hedge fund. Jon was an English major. Where do you think he got his head for numbers and trading for value?

    I can’t be the only one who is this grateful that Magic touched my life and had a hand in my career path.

  5. Helping Others. I often get asked the same question. A lot. If you’re so good at thinking about Magic, why is it that Jon Finkel can win with your deck and you have never made a Pro Tour Top 8?

    Yes, as you can imagine, it can get old, that question (or variations thereof).

    Today the prevailing emotion I feel about Magic is gratitude. But once upon a time it was purely compeition, and the idea that I had to prove myself (to whom I am not sure). I was obsessed with “being good” and being clever and being qualified for the Pro Tour.

    Somewhere along the line, I think due to my relationships with players like Josh Ravitz, Julian Levin, Matt Boccio, Steve Sadin, Asher Hecht, and Will Price that I simply developed a different criteria for success. It was no longer about my individual performance, but about how I could influence and improve “the world” … even if the world manifested itself most directly through my Apprentice program. I think that some people probably misunderstand what this was or is about… At some point it was definitely about me just being the best deck designer on the planet, and that I could point at Apprentices’ success to prove that. But eventually it became about collaboration, seeing multiple viewpoints and really just making the best decisions for the collective.

    Maybe it was about the time I started to become more active with Top 8 Magic. Brian often talks about how the audio format softened a lot of my critics, because that richer format — especially when you have the ability to hear someone’s tone and how they articulate themselves — can help clue a reader or listener in on the intent, or lack thereof… Something that is impossible in print (even when the writer is the world’s most talented deck designer / blogger / video producer / marketer / et cetera). But I realized through collaborations that came out of Top 8 Magic that I could be of more help — more value really — when helping a friend to develop his ideas than simply by hammering my own idea down someone else’s throat (even if it was good). That’s something that manifested most concretely working with Andre Coimbra, but overall it was something that came about over the years thanks to being with everyone from Apprentices long past to Will today.

    It’s cool to write “helping others” as a bullet, in italics, but what I am really trying to get at, I think, is that I am grateful for personal change and growth, going beyond the idea that I am the center of the universe, to really serve by delivering good content however I can, whether that is by personal interaction, rich media that mimics that interaction, awesome deck design, collaboration, or the ongoing life storytelling that began over ten years ago and continues on Top 8 Magic and Five With Flores today. Obviously grateful. Again.

Amazingly I have gotten through five reasons to be grateful for Magic… without even once talking about playing Magic. Amazingly!

The fact is, Magic is about the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

I would never have had any deck design success or Apprentice program if I didn’t love playing Magic, even for hours on end. I would never have become a prolific writer if I didn’t have a passion for Magic that I could exercise with words. And I would never have moved to New York — even for a summer — if I didn’t like Magic enough that I wanted to surround myself with a bunch of gamer nerds so I could play it 24/7 (which, incidentally didn’t occur). Magic is such a fun, enriching, way to spend your time that it is almost too obvious to be grateful for that. Anyway, we pay the manufacturers for the fun, along the way.


Currently Outrageously Grateful for: Fables Covers: The Art of James Jean Vol. 1

Cut and Paste

From ye olde Facebook account:

The two posts he is referring to are of course:

  1. How to Cheat, and
  2. Statistics for Dummies

It’s like I said on Twitter today… any excuse to pat myself on the back 🙂

Sorry for the short / lame update today… Kind of behind in my other writing (but I have it on good authority that the last two posts were very good). More later this week.


Currently Reading: Secret Six: Six Degrees of Devastation

Deckade Proofs Have Been Approved!

… Apparently.

It was news to me!

For those of you who didn’t know we have been sold out of Michael J. Flores: Deckade for a little while now but Matt and Brian have apparently completed the next order (at least according to this blog post over at our best friend blog Top 8 Magic).

… And you know what that means!

That’s right: Clear and unrelenting hard-sells from YT post-in and post-out 🙂

Speaking of posts, I have a nifty two- or three-parter coming up starting, um, tonight I think.

It’s about how card advantage works (and here you thought you knew).

More later.