1800 or Bust!: What Do I Want?

This is NOT an article about quitting Magic. But I’m asking why I continue to play.

Before I start, this is NOT an article about quitting Magic. A few thoughts on the state of the game, sure, and a few thoughts (once again) about Good Spells – but I’m not leaving.

A number of things over the last few weeks have got me thinking quite hard about Magic. What do I want from Magic? Is what I’m doing right now going to give me what I want?

I was looking forward to the prerelease a lot. A whole bunch of new cards, a load of new interactions to look out for and try to break. I deliberately didn’t read the spoiler so that I could go along and have fun opening packs of cards.

What happened instead was that I had thirty minutes to check that someone else had registered their deck correctly and open the packs and read the cards. There was me thinking that a prerelease was fun! Absolutely not: I was informed by a member of WOTC UK that a prerelease is run under exactly the same rules as any other premiere event.

Now, I’ve heard about a lot of other prereleases people have attended, I have attended quite a few myself… And I’ve NEVER seen a pre-release run like this. (Nor have I, but other reports have mentioned a more formal setting — The Ferrett) They’re supposed to be fun events, maybe I’ve just been lucky enough to attend events run by slack TOs in the past, but then again I think not. I’d like to hear from people who attended other prereleases, I really would.

I chose to not bother checking whether the deck was registered correctly and start reading the cards. When I was done, I had ten minutes left to build my deck. Understandably, I went 3-3.

I was rather upset at this, as I consider myself to be quite good at Magic…But I guess I can’t complain. I went along to have fun. If I had gone along to do well, I should have read the spoilers like everyone else who wanted to do well. Maybe I should even have got a hold of some judges’ product the day before and opened that, too… Then again I don’t think that that’s allowed, is it? One thing is for certain: I’ll be reading the spoilers next time round so that I have some idea of what’s going on before I get there.

That’s not as much fun, is it?

On the other hand I opened three boxes of Planeshift and had a great time looking at all the cards I hadn’t seen at the pre-release. I had a great time piling them all up and working out which ones I had and which I was missing. I have four Meddling Mages, four Scutas, and four Questing Pheldagriffs. I only have two Zombie Masters and two Deadapults, but who cares? I had a great time opening shiny packs of cards! (You sure you’re not channelling Deranged Dad? — The Ferrett)

The next tourney I went to, I took Good Spells and lost to three Fires decks pretty much in a row. Fires is one of the only decks that seems to beat Good Spells all the time – I’m working on it, believe me, and adding one Lawbringer to the sideboard seems to have helped a lot. When Fires has a good hand, I’m on the back foot all the time – and then, when I finally gain control, they just burn me out as their burn turns up. Again, I went 3-3 and dropped, believing I was jinxed and would face (and lose to) another Fires deck.

I’ve put a lot of work into Good Spells and went home wondering what the point was. After all I could just take Blue Skies, Rebels, Fires or U/W control along and concentrate on playing instead of spending my time working on decks.

On the other hand, I had a great time at lunch with my teammates and we had a great time playtesting on Wednesday last week, in a relaxed atmosphere trying out lots of new cards with no prizes, rankings or money at stake… Bliss.

The last thing that got me thinking was that one of my teammates is giving me all of their cards on the condition that I build them decks to play in tourneys. Now, we’re talking about quite a lot of cards here; his collection is probably about the same size as mine (if a lot more unorganised), but he doesn’t want to spend money on Magic any more. He doesn’t want to have to think about building decks. He wants to practice a little and turn up to a tourney and have fun – any prizes he wins goes into my card pool to help build us both more decks.

What really got me about this was that I’ve considered stopping playing myself – not for good, but for a year or so. I’m pretty snowed under at work now that I’ve gone up in the world, I don’t have a car so it’s more difficult to travel, and most of the rest of the team have put Magic on the back burner as there are more important things to do (work, move house, sort life out, eat, sleep, things like that).

My quest for an 1800 composite ranking seems to be going well (as far as my Type II ranking is concerned, anyway) but sometimes I really need a break. If I take Tarik’s cards off him, I can’t give up; it wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t seem fair to me anyway.

So how do I balance my quest to get better at Magic with my wish to have fun? The best part of Magic for me is opening up packs with new cards in. I love collecting sets of cards and I love building new decks. I often dislike tourneys and in the last few have developed a headache by the last round (tourney headache, I call it; it starts around the end of the fifth or the start of the sixth round, culminating in my need to have as much water as possible before the final round – if anyone knows a non-drug way of stopping this, please let me know).

I can still do all the things I’d like without competing in tourneys, but that won’t help my quest. It is "1800 or bust," after all, not "1800 or a cup of tea." If I don’t get 1800 by one year from the day I started trying, I will stop playing tourneys; I’ll still build decks, though. I’ll still buy new cards. I’ll just stop playing competitively.

To finish I thought I’d give you the latest thoughts on Good Spells.

Good Spells has three problems that I can see:

1. If someone casts Wrath of God, Good Spells doesn’t like it. It hurts the multi-coloured mana-producing creatures, kills the card advantage engine, and generally messes me around.
2. The deck always takes a lot of damage before it gains control. That means that any deck with burn in can win by topdecking, even if I have control of the board position.
3. The deck can’t deal with big fliers very well, especially a Two-Headed dragon.

The third problem is one that a single Lawbringer may help. The deck is designed to put rebels into play and so Lawbringer should remove Two-headed Dragons, Rith, and quite a few other bad boys. It also kills Ancient Hydras, Flametongue Kavu (which you’re going to see a lot of) and a few other things.

Wrath of God is more of a problem. One solution is to stop the opponent getting four mana by judicious use of Armageddon; another is to make Wrath less effective by use of Parallax Wave. Parallax Wave can also slow down Fires (and control Bursts when a Wane isn’t around) enough that you don’t take nearly as much damage.

I’m trying Wave both in the sideboard and the main deck. In the sideboard because it’s not in the main deck yet, and maindecked because when it’s in the sideboard I seem to be planning to bring it in against six out of eight decks I’m planning sideboarding against!

The last thing I’m doing is working on the Rebel engine quite a lot. I’m trying to get a set of rebels that will generate a reasonable card advantage, allow me to control the creatures on the board and enable to put threats on the table when I’m in control. I’m looking at a number of configurations at the moment. Here is the first:

4x Ramosian Sergeants
2x Defiant Falcons
1x Ramosian Lieutenant
3x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguards
1x Thermal Glider
1x Ramosian Skycaptain
1x Steadfast Guard/Fresh Volunteers

This bunch is aimed at putting Lin on the table and using the Vanguards, Sergeants, and the one Guard as chump blockers and the fliers as the attacking force. Against some other decks, the cheap rebels become a five- or six-turn clock, whilst Lin and other searchers are kept in hand, ready to cast after a Wrath resets the board.

The second configuration is as follows:

3x Ramosian Sergeant
1x Defiant Falcon
1x Ramosian Lieutenant
2x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
3x Defiant Vanguards
1x Thermal Glider
3x Steadfast Guard/Fresh Volunteers

This version has only fourteen rebels (giving me a little more room for spells) and concentrates on a cheap ground attack. A number of one-power creatures have been dropped for more Guards or Volunteers. Against Fires it gives a lot more chump blockers and a chance to kill some of their creatures, whilst against control decks you can quite happily churn out three 2/2 guys to make them cast Wrath, then easily pile the pressure back on straight away.

The last groups is slightly odder:

4x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguards
4x Steadfast Guard/Fresh Volunteers
1x Ramosian Skycaptain
1x Thermal Glider

This collection emphasizes the most important card: Lin Sivvi. You can’t search her out underneath counterspells, but there are enough of her that you should be able to keep one in play once one has made it onto the board. This set is also much smaller (at only twelve rebels), giving you much more space for spells (namely, extra Parallax Waves main deck). I would advise you add at least one Eladamri’s Call to this – otherwise, there is a very real danger you’ll never see Lin at all (with only seven searchers compared to thirteen in the first selection). This option still has a lot of ground-based blockers, but they can’t really be searched out as quickly.

I’m very wary of the last of these three, as I don’t like the idea of having to hard-cast Lin all the time – I’d much rather there were at least a few 2cc searchers, but the idea is to try to keep as much of the functionality of the rebel engine without a large number of rebels. I don’t think you can get it much smaller than this and still have it work at all – mind you, I’m not even sure this DOES work, so there you go.

The current sideboard for the deck from the last article is as follows:

4x Armageddon
3x Parallax Wave
3x Simoon
2x Disenchant
2x Rebel Informers
1x Lawbringer

The Armageddons come in against any deck that needs a lot of land: Counter Rebel, Nether-Go, B/R control, U/W control, or pretty much anything. The Waves come in against Fires to slow them down and against U/W control and Counter Rebel. They could come in against Nether-Go, too. Simoon comes in against Fires and Blue Skies; you might want to consider it against Rebel decks, too. The Disenchants come in against Rebel decks (their Waves and Crusades are too much for our four Wanes to cope with) and the rash of Ankh/Tide/Waters/Blue Skies decks that seem to have appeared near me. Lawbringer currently comes in against B/R control and Fires. Rebel Informer comes in against Rebels and Counter Rebels.

These have only been tested a little so far, and I haven’t correctly identified the best cards to take out for them either. Although the Defiant Vanguards aren’t so hot against the control decks (ever in they are a 2/2 beat down creature) and some Wax/Wane can often come out if you’re not expecting an enchantment to be brought in against you (NEVER take them out against fires). You may also consider taking out some Assault/Batteries if they don’t have many small creatures, although it is important to realise that Tsabo’s Decree generally isn’t for "Battery Tokens" against Good Spells.

Next week, something a little different.

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.