A Magical Smorgasbord

Bennie clears house on his past articles, discussing why he really loves control (just not the hard counterspelly kind), goes back to see whether he’s been able to beat the notorious Chuck, and airs his views on Magic writing – and tells you why his viewpoint is valid even if he has no pro points, dangit!

I was going to call this my”Everything but the Kitchen Sink” article, since I had a variety of smaller topics I wanted to touch on, each not really enough material for a full article. But then I realized how overused and boring the term was, so my mind started thumbing through my cerebral thesaurus for a word more catchy and fun.

And I came up with”Smorgasbord!” I love that word; it looks cool and sounds cool. On a whim, I went to www.dictionary.com to see exactly what the word means (for fun, and also just to make sure it was indeed an appropriate alternative). The common definition of”a varied collection” most certainly fit the bill, but then I scrolled down a little further. The word is Scandinavian, and its original definition is quite the eye-popper:

n: an assortment of foods starting with herring or smoked eel or salmon etc with bread and butter; then cheeses and eggs and pickled vegetables and aspics; finally hot foods; served as a buffet meal.

Er… Smoked eel? Pickled vegetables and aspics? And what the heck is an aspic anyway?

n: A clear jelly typically made of stock and gelatin and used as a glaze or garnish or to make a mold of meat, fish, or vegetables.

Hmm. To each their own, I guess! Hopefully, you’ll find this smorgasbord a bit more appetizing.

Communication Breakdown

My last article, The End Of Lazy Control, didn’t come across the way I’d intended and downright aggravated many readers. For those of you who may not have read the forum thread, here are a few spicy highlights:

From FieryBalrog:“You try to claim monoblue takes no skill at all, yet claim that Sligh is skill-intensive?”

From Efertik:“Frankly, Bennie, this article sounds like it was written by an eleven-year old kid whose Dragon deck just got crushed by a deck that had some counters in it.”

From Majinblade:“I think it boils down to this: Bad players can’t play around countermagic and whine all ####ing day about it. Truly, in most general situations it’s not too difficult to do, it’s a sign of your weakness as a player if you do not know how to prioritize your spells…”

From forum pitbull Taeme:“First off, this article is utterly hypocritical and written in a very irritating style. It comes off as either antagonizing to people who like control or very self-promoting. I’m glad you feel better, Bennie, but you don’t have to come off like a bit of a troll.”

From podog:“Just because Bennie can’t beat Control, does that mean he needs to whine about it? The fact is, Bennie, you need to recognize your metagame, take Control into account when building a deck, and become a better player because of it.”

In one fell swoop of 1,000 words or so, I’ve become an eleven year-old whiny, hypocritical, and bad player in the mind of some folks. Ouch! That certainly wasn’t my intention.

I’ve got a Bachelors in Mass Communication and have been trained as a police dispatcher, and if I’ve learned anything it’s this: Job #1 of a Communicator is to make sure his message is received clearly and accurately. A breakdown in the communication process is ultimately the fault of the initiator, so let me apologize for what was evidently a flawed presentation of my opinion. At the time I was working on some content for my gigs at Scrye and Magicthegathering.com under deadline, but the issue of”lazy” vs.”tough” control had been in the forefront of my mind. I wanted to get it written and sent in to The Ferrett ASAP. I didn’t take the time I should have to make sure my point was clearly articulated.

Basically, what I was trying to express was this: While I’ve always felt control decks that relied heavily on tons of permission were cheesy, the modern day control decks impress me with the skill it takes to win with them because there are fewer and fewer answers as near-to-perfect as cheap hard counterspells. I’m impressed with Wake, Control Black, Slide and R/W Maher Control: These decks are tough to build correctly for the metagame and tougher still to win with. People mistook my disdain for permission spells and assumed I loathed all control decks, inferring that I held up aggro decks as better or more complex – and that’s simply not true. I took a slightly confrontational tone in the hopes of sparking some debate amongst players on whether building permission-style control decks was easier or harder than more modern-style control… But the tone just seemed to distract many from the main point. Ah well – lesson learned!

I wrap this issue up with a big thanks to those of you who did actually catch my drift and took the time to post in the forums amidst the general outrage. I appreciate it!

The Legend of Chuck Revisited

I was pleasantly surprised at just how many of you read my article The Legend Of Chuck and responded in the forums. It even spawned a couple of follow-up articles from some other writers! I guess there really are a ton of players who like to walk on the casual side of the fence, so I will an effort to touch upon my group game experiences more often. We had a spontaneous group game gathering last Saturday when our Onslaught Block Constructed tournament failed to find more than three players. Chuck, Jay, and I decided to throw down in a group game, with one of the kids hanging at the shop joining in the fray.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t had a chance to retool my group game deck into a much more aggressive machine bent on Chuck’s destruction, but I still managed to knock him out with a trampling, hasty Multani, Maro-Sorceror (thanks to a couple of incarnations in the graveyard). After the game was over, Chuck and Jay went out for a smoke and another kid came up and asked if he could play.”Do you have a group game deck?” I asked.

“No – but I have this really cool Goblin deck!” He proudly started showing off his goblin hordes, and then showed me one of his prize Lava Axes.

I broke out in a grin.”Look, do me a favor – if you draw a Lava Axe, cast it at Chuck. Everyone will laugh about it, including Chuck. Trust me.”


The reason for this little bit of behind-the-back deal-making is because Chuck loves to tell a Rough Beats story from Regionals two years back: We had all worked diligently in tuning some solid decks to take with us that year, making the long early drive to Maryland, suffering through ridiculous lines and massive crowds for the pleasure of competing for a miniscule chance at qualifying for Nationals. Chuck lost the first round and was banished to the bottom tables for round 2.

After round 2, some of us were hanging outside for some fresh air. Chuck comes stalking out of the arena and immediately digs for his cigarettes. His eyes are wild and his lips twisted somewhere between a grin and a grimace.

“Did you win, Chuck?”

“Man, if there’s anything I hate, it’s losing the first round and having to slog through the catacombs of a tournament playing against random bad decks that can just flat-out kill you. My opponent threw every bad burn spell in the format at my head! He must have had eight or ten Lava Axes in that frickin’ deck!”

“So you lost again?”

“No, I won – but it was close. Too damn close.” Holy Pikula!

He took a long drag from the cigarette to calm his nerves.

Heh; we’ve called the loser’s bracket”The Catacombs” ever since, and any time we run across Lava Axe we always have a good chuckle with Chuck.

Flash forward to turn 6 in the group game. Goblin-boy has predictably gone buck wild with his Goblin deck, but has luckily kept his aggression pointed at the other kid playing. He draws his card for his turn and immediately grins at me. I try and hide a little smile as he taps five mana and says”Lava Axe at you, Chuck!”

“Whaaaat?” Chuck asks incredulously. Jay busts out laughing, as do I, and Chuck shakes his head.”Damn Lava Axe!”

He taps 3U into his mana pool.”Deflect it to Bennie.”

I guess I deserved that. Next turn, though, the kid taps five more mana and throws another Lava Axe at Chuck.”Good grief, kid. I feel like I’m in the Catacombs again.”

We all have another good laugh. I kill Chuck a few turns later. He shakes his head, looks at me wryly, and I just grin. He knows it’s just paybacks for last time. Both games I get killed by one of the little kids, but I made sure to take down Chuck first. Maybe I’m starting to knock the tarnish off my own legend a little?

The Write Stuff

There seems to be a flareup periodically of people grousing and complaining about”bad” articles, written by bad players, scrubs, and barnacles, and if these guys can’t win their local PTQ and aren’t on the gravy train then what right do they have to say anything?

Brainburst firebrand Charles Mousseau often has his arguments”invalidated” in the forums by someone saying the equivalent of”if you can’t win, whine.” As if only people who win tournaments have the right to address issues they are concerned about?

Over at Londes.com, Bill Stark writes in his column In the Middle: Bennie Smith, Please Sit Down:”Mr. Smith has been a long time Featured Writer for StarCityGames, though his Magic resume consists of little outside weekend competitor and he has fewer pro points than words in this sentence.” The inference here is that, because I may not be in the upper tiers of the competitive circuit, I should just shut up and sit down and certainly not enjoy a Featured Writer status here at StarCityGames.

Now to be fair, Bill wrote me an email saying that he generally likes my stuff, but this sentence was rather harsh and representative of the attitude that I have an issue with. As if only the very best writers with the most rock-solid resume have a right to write, and if a certain article doesn’t have enough meat to satisfy you it’s a waste of everyone’s time.

In Ted Knutson otherwise-excellent rant, Mixed kNuts: Pretty Little Hate Machine he states:”I hate the fact that ninety percent of Rob Dougherty decks come to you untested.” Sure, it would be nice if RobD gave us exhaustively researched and documented deck technology, since he’s recognized as a great deck innovator. But I view those articles in another light – these are seeds of potential that he may not have the time to fully explore. Why not share them with the world in the hopes that the idea might take hold in someone else’s imagination, someone who might take the idea and run with it? I don’t blame Ted for wanting more out of articles, but at the same time I can see value in Rob’s”drive-by decklists.”

Some of Starcitygames’s own submission guidelines are rather harsh if you’ve ever actually read them:”If you’re making a Standard deck, then at least test it against the three most popular decks in Standard – and preferably the top five – before and after sideboarding. If you’re discussing an Extended deck, do the same. If an expansion’s just come out and it is all partially theory, then test it against what were the most popular decks in the last season. Do the research. Discuss what matchups are good and what matchups are nightmares – and don’t theorize there, either.”

I’d hazard to guess there are decent players with ideas they’d like to share with the Magic community who may not have the time or the resources to exhaustively test a theory to these standards. I can’t help but wonder what interesting ideas may have never been aired, simply because the theorist read these guidelines and just didn’t say anything because he couldn’t meet these standards. I’m a big fan of theorizing, so long as it’s acknowledged as such. Claiming that a decklist is”the best” and that it crushes everything based on a few test games is just foolish and is certainly worthy of editorial scorn… But I have no problem with someone saying something like”I’ve been wondering about how Card X might help shore up this deck’s weaknesses, but I haven’t had the chance to fully test it.” There can be value gained from pure theory, and if it seems obvious to you it just may be a revelation to more novice players.

The internet is a wonderful information-gathering tool. You can find stuff to read about anything your mind can cook up. When I pore over the daily content of Magic articles across numerous websites, it warms my heart to know there’s so much of it out there even though most people in this world have never even heard of our hobby. I love the fact that, no matter what type of player you are, there’s something out there to read about Magic that likely appeals to you. Just try and keep in mind that, even if something doesn’t particularly float your boat, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value and doesn’t have a place on someone’s website.