A Little About A Lot

The most recent Pro Tour winner has something to say about everything including what deck you should play for Regionals, what deck you should not play for Block season, what colors are good in Saviors of Kamigawa Limited, and who should get into the Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since Mirrodin Mirrodin Darksteel booster draft was a relevant format. This might not mean much to you readers, but to me it pretty much means that I’m not an expert at any relevant format in the magical trading card game at this time. However, since I probably know more than most of you about… all the formats right now… I just thought I’d share my thoughts about… all of them… just not as in-depth as I would if I was covering only one topic at a time. These include gems like why you shouldn’t play Gifts in your PTQ, why you should play Tooth at Regionals, some basic ideas and thoughts about Saviors in Limited, and I’ll even inform you about who should be the first five picks to the Hall of Fame, the first to be my predecessors in the line until my induction in 2013.

When I was just an innocent boy of about thirteen, I made a Magic Online account and named it Gadiel. Being that that was my name, I thought it made sense, and I didn’t feel like thinking up an actual screen name. Besides, I didn’t want to come up with another monstrosity like my idiotic aim name. When I named my account Gadiel, I did not take into account that in the somewhat near future I would, you know, win stuff, and begin to feel the repercussions of naming my account my name. I won’t even dare to guess how many thousands of messages I’ve gotten in the last month asking about Gifts, Gifts with Saviors, Standard, MODO Vanguard formats (not kidding), and even things like “Do you want to play a game of open Extended, no land destruction, no counters?” or “Do I have to win a Pro Tour to join Taking Back Sunday?” Even though these all occur (and frequently), the most common question by far is what their Gifts PTQ list should look like. Every time I answered that they should not, in fact, play Gifts at all, they showed feelings of surprise, disappointment, and, at times, even anger. Well, anger is a bit of an exaggeration, but they were truly disappointed. Of course, they ask me why every time and I never really give the whole explanation as it would take too long. Instead, I just give a part or none or act like I am not there or have to go away now. If they want to know, I suppose they will just have to read the following few paragraphs.

The first reason why Gifts is not a good deck for PTQs is a very simple one. PTQs feature fifty-minute rounds. Pro Tour Philadelphia had seventy-five-minute rounds. Twenty-five minutes is a big difference. I am pretty sure that the majority of my rounds ended within the “extra” twenty-five minutes and two of my rounds went to time of seventy-five. Sure, you can afford to draw once in a PTQ, even twice at times, but it is never really favorable. Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if a player ended a PTQ with three or even four draws piloting the Gifts deck. This is not me underestimating the ability of a player to finish on time; the deck simply is not built to win most matches in the given amount of time. It would be hard for me to Top 8 a PTQ with the deck I won the Pro Tour with because of this reason.

The part where I underestimate the average PTQ player comes here instead. Numerous messages that people sent me were along the lines of “Hi, congratulations and I love your deck. But I’m having a rough time with White Weenie, Snakes, and the mirror. What do you suggest I do?” Frankly, if you are having a rough time White Weenie, Snakes, and the mirror, it’s because you are probably doing something wrong. These people who message keep telling me how they are just bad matchups and different sideboarding options are necessary, but they are wrong. The matchups are good, or 50-50 in the case of the mirror.

However, Gifts is a deck that punishes mistakes more than others. The one game where I made a clear-cut mistake in the Pro Tour, I lost. It’s very possible that in some games I lost in which I felt I hadn’t made mistakes, I actually had made one/some and lost because of it/them. If you want a deck that doesn’t punish mistakes nearly as much, which is what players should run in PTQs, play White Weenie. Look at Ryan Cimera. I watched him mana burn to death multiple times from extra Heartbeat of Spring mana with Eight-And-A-Half-Tails in play, but he still Top 8’d the event. After all, if you are reading this and getting ready to PTQ, there’s a good chance that you are playing in PTQs and not the Pro Tour for a reason. Instead of trying to deny the fact that you are probably going to throw games if you play Gifts, play White Weenie and exploit the players who will throw games with Gifts.

The third reason you should not play Gifts is the metagame. The Pro Tour had quite a defined metagame of White Weenie, Snakes, and control decks. It lacked random aggro decks, and by random I mean non-White Weenie non-Snakes. The nature of the Gifts deck is that it is set up well against random control decks, random meaning non-Gifts pretty much, but it is not set up well against random aggro decks. For example, I played the deck a bit on MODO after the Pro Tour and ran into a fair amount of Mono Red and Mono Black. Neither is a good matchup, and PTQs are where random aggro decks thrive, mostly because they are good against the players who think they can play control but can’t. Even if you are one of the few who can play Gifts correctly and consistently, these aren’t great matchups, and the best way to avoid this problem is avoiding Gifts.

Now that you know what you shouldn’t play in the PTQs that start in a million years (or rather next weekend), I’ll give you a little insight on what you should play for the tournament in about a day from now. My little gem of advice is simple: Play Tooth and Nail. Why? To begin with, it’s just the most powerful deck. For big tournaments like Regionals, it’s been proven that its better to go with the powerful deck (Affinity, Tog, Blue/Green Madness) than the answer to the powerful deck (many examples of failed attempts.) I’ve played with Tooth on MODO a fair amount and I’ve been pretty successful. The most played decks seem to be Tooth itself and Red land destruction decks. The land destruction decks are a pretty good matchup because they don’t have a great deal of pressure. Since you have a great number of cards that either are land or get land or make mana, you should be able to keep playing a land every turn and I find that usually I am well in time to get off a Tooth and Nail before they can kill me. Unless they get the Chrome Mox, turn 2 and 3 Stone Rain, turn 4 Arc-Slogger draw, I win most of the games.

In the mirror, what I’ve been doing is boarding out the combo for more land destruction and guys, namely Troll Ascetics and Iwamori of the Open Fist. After board I’ve been having four Reap And Sow, four Plow Under, and four Creeping Molds for land destruction. Since it’s a mirror match, other than having a good list, it will also come down to who’s playtested the matchup more and who’s luckier. A card many people online are running for the mirror is Mindslaver, but I’ve found that since both players have a lot of land destruction after sideboarding, their Mindslavers are not very effective and I very rarely have ten mana that would allow me to play and use one of my own if I was playing it.

I’ve already explained why Tooth has a fairly favorable matchup with Mono Red, arguably the most popular deck in the format and definitely the most popular non-Tooth deck. However, I can’t overstate that the main reason to play Tooth is because it’s the most powerful deck in the format and you’d rather be playing it as opposed to looking for answers to it. One of the most overused and generally wrong clichés in Magic is that “there are no wrong threats, only wrong answers.” While that’s a blatant lie, it is true that at a tournament like Regionals you do want to be playing threats because your subpar opponents are likely to apply their answers incorrectly. Additionally, playing a fairly mindless deck like Tooth is nice because over literally infinite rounds it’s easy to wear out and start making mistakes near the end of the tournament with a tough deck.

Luckily, I won’t have the chance to put my money where my mouth is this weekend, since I don’t have to play in Regionals myself. [And if you did play in Regionals and the DCI found out about it, they’d ban you from Nationals like certain Players of the Year. – Knut] But as of late, I think it’s fair to say I’ve done okay in Constructed tournaments. Just, you know, barely well enough that you might want to at least think about my opinions on Constructed, if only for a second. So if you want to, listen to me and play Tooth and Nail. Good luck and I’ll see you at Nationals. If not, maybe I’ll be watching a friend bash you in the grinders.

The last strategic portion of this article regards a format that isn’t very important yet, but will be. What I have to say here are only first impressions. I want to explain before I even begin that they could easily be wrong. Just because most of my first impressions at, well… everything… turn out to be right does not mean this is always the case, and it is important that you keep that in mind when you read this. The format at hand is Limited with Saviors of Kamigawa. Even if you won’t be playing at Pro Tour: London, soon every time you enter your customary 4322 you will be playing this format and if you manage to qualify for Nationals or Worlds, the same will be true.

The first thing that’s important to know about a new set in Limited is what colors are the most powerful, the least powerful, the deepest, and the shallowest. The cards that must be kept in mind the most are the commons, because they are what really matter in a format. I quickly realized that Red was the best color in the set and Blue was the worst. Red has seven playable commons including two that can be very high picks. Black is close behind – it also has seven playables and two high picks, but the overall quality is just slightly worse than Red’s. White is third. While having no first-pickable commons, White does have six playable commons. Green and Blue are both very shallow, sporting only four playable commons each. At least Green has the best common in the set, Elder Pine Of Jukai. Blue has Shinen of Flight’s Wings, which is also a high pick, but not enough to raise the color from being the worst in the set.

You might ask what sets Black and Red so far apart from the other colors. The answer is premium removal spells. Red has Spiraling Embers, which is nice because it can go to the dome as well, and Barrel-Down Sokenzan, excellent because it can take down a creature of any size. Black has Kagemaro’s Clutch, essentially a non-Arcane non-doming Spiraling Embers, and Kiku’s Shadow, which is pretty comparable to Barrel-Down Sokenzan. Past that is where Red comes out a little bit ahead, with slightly superior creatures, but those removal spells are what set these two colors ahead of the pack. Come pack three, it seems like you definitely want to be drafting one of these two colors in order to get your hands on these common goodies.

For earlier packs, this just means that you need to keep in mind what you will be able to pick up in the third pack. The other great thing about being Red or Black is that despite the creatures being only decent, they both have two and three-drops in the third pack allowing you to fill out your curve if it is slightly lacking in those areas. White can do this for you as well. Blue and Green, on the other hand, don’t have many of these. In fact, there’s a notable lack of two-drops in these colors. If for some reason you find yourself in Blue and Green, make sure to have as many two-drops as you are going to need (usually four or five) before the third pack. Take them over three-drops in the first two packs as you will have Elder Pine Of Jukais and Moonbow Illusionists to help you out in that area. After writing all that, I don’t even know why I’m wasting any time addressing Blue/Green, but what’s written is written and if the situation does come up, these things are actually important.

The only other thing to say, really, is just to reemphasize the fact that you really want to be drafting either Red or Black (but not necessarily both), in the first two packs because of their card quality and depth in the third pack. After the Pro Tour, I may be able to write something more in depth if I feel like it would be helpful and not just a repetition of something that has already been said.

Hall of Fame

It seems that lately a lot has been made of the new Magic Hall of Fame. While I feel it is rather irrelevant, I still feel like the correct choices should be made since lots of people do care. I asked several pillars of the Magic community how they felt about it and who should be inducted, then combined that with what I had read and some previous thoughts to reach my final unofficial votes. The first player I asked was one Mike Linn. His claims to fame are that he’s Captainwacky on MODO and the fact that he is related to Barry Greenstein. When I asked him who thought should be inducted into the Hall of Fame, his response was “Huh?” I was forced to quickly explain what the deal was and I linked him to the article that explained it better than I could.

After reading it, Mike was aghast and offended. According to the current rules, the fact that he is Captainwacky on MODO will not be enough to make him eligible for the Hall. Coupled with his awe-inspiring 190th at Pro Tour: San Diego last year, Mike at first assumed he was a lock, but when he realized he wasn’t he just started typing incoherent phrases revealing how angry he really was. I reminded him that my question was who should be inducted and he said he guessed that Finkel, Dougherty, Humpherys, Long, and Pustilnik were closest to matching his status as 2031-rated MODO master and therefore they should get the nod. If you see Mike on the street, give him a hug, tell him not to kill himself over this, and remind him to return to me the fifty-five tickets he owes me.

The next person I asked was my friend and collaborator on the Gifts deck Rasmus Sibast a.k.a. Big Oots. For a while now, Rasmus has maintained that his countryman Svend Geertsen is pretty much the best player ever to sling spells, so he was his first pick. The obligatory Finkel pick followed, and then “the Japanese guy because a Japanese guy is needed.” This was, of course, referring to Satoshi Nakamura. Last he picked Olle Rade and Tommi Hovi because, put simply, Rasmus has to pick the Scandinavian players to represent his ‘hood.

The last person I asked about the Hall of Fame was friend, teammate, and Bearl John Pelcak. The first thing he said was “all but Mike Long.” Unfortunately, infinite other people needed to be cut as well. In the end, Cak decided that Finkel, Humphreys, Comer, Justice, and Rade had the integrity and sportsmanship that is key to be a member of the Hall, something Mike Long of course lacks. You should know that John Pelcak happens to be the one of the most sporting players of our era. Before every game, he says good luck and have fun, and he sincerely means it. In addition, he would never bribe on MODO, or trade people out, or disconnect after an unlucky loss only after informing them of their sheer idiocy. While these acts may be commonplace for some, I doubt that even the thought of them has ever even crossed the mind of John Pelcak and if they have, I’m sure all he felt was disgust for Mike Long and his ilk. If only all players were as sporting and nice to everyone as the Cak, I think we would enjoy a tournament atmosphere enjoyable for all, including Charles Mousseau. Charles, where’d you go braaaaah?

With all these opinions in mind, the time came for me to decide who was really worth my unofficial vote. I think it is more fair to call it an endorsement, since it is really not a vote by any means. As I mentioned above, the importance of the members enshrined in the Hall of Fame from now until 2013 is that they will be my predecessors for when I am eligible in that year. When I become one in their ranks, of course I need to be in good company. Granted, it is doubtful that many will be deserving of my company, but we will have to make due.

Before everyone goes crazy about how ridiculously arrogant I am as always, I’m kidding. To me, this is a very obvious thing. Sure I won a Pro Tour but it hasn’t quite gotten to my head that much. Unfortunately, since some readers of this site interpret what they read like Clarence Thomas interprets the Constitution or how Fundamentalist Christians interpret the Bible, I thought it would be necessary to flat out explain that I was kidding.

Back to somewhat of a serious note, what does a person need to do be in the Hall of Fame? To begin with, I need to at least know who they are. I’ve been playing this game since about 1999. Unfortunately, I have to admit that for a while, when I was about eleven and twelve, I was quite the Sideboard coverage barn. Therefore, I know most of these names and if I don’t know them, their contributions to the game cannot have been significant enough for an induction into the Hall. This quickly eliminates some players from contention including David Bachmann, Kurt Burgner, and Peter Leiher. Peer Kroger lucks out on the fact that he randomly Top 8’d Worlds recently or I wouldn’t have known who he was either. This still leaves us with, literally, DI choices.

As several people have said before me, at this point it is not really a matter of who deserves to be inducted, but rather how soon they deserve to be inducted. I think the players who deserve to be inducted first are the ones with the most sheer skill. Players like Darwin Kastle and Rob Dougherty will and should get there eventually (despite my dislike for them), but the ones with the raw playskill should be in the first generation. The four players who stand out immediately as having the most playskill are Finkel (obv), Long (not getting caught at cheating is playskill right? Kidding. But seriously, he used to be good.), Hovi (first to multiple wins is the key here), and Rade (five Top 8s out of only eighteen tries, so the actual nuts). The fifth slot is a lot tougher for me to decide on. After some thought, I settled on the very unorthodox pick of Gab Tsang. On one hand, I am kind of flip-flopping on the raw skill requirement I had set for my other four picks. On the other, I have a good reason for my endorsement of Gab. To begin with, he was an early powerhouse of the game just like the others. What pushes him over the top, in my opinion, is that after all these years he was able to do what others weren’t: come back and be successful again. After several years of semi-retirement, Gab showed up in Atlanta this year and left a winner. First place winner. The fact that he had arguably the best current player on his team is irrelevant; what matters is he came back and won a Pro Tour. That is what puts him above many other candidates who are otherwise evenly or more qualified. That’s my five.

Questions or comments or if you want me to explain some detail about something in here a little more, email me at [email protected] or message me on MODO (Gadiel.) Next time tune in for down and dirty details about Pro Tour: London and maybe even the first revelation of my quotes document.

Gadiel Szleifer

Hall of Fame Inductee 2013

wishes he was BigRedBearl on Partypoker (Dealer: BigRedBear1 posts big blind [].)