Ask Ken, 03/05/2004

Why do you think that, given the fact that Americans don’t seem to have any sort of monopoly on Magic skill (recent PT Top 8s haven’t seen more than one or two Americans, as opposed to large success from, for example, Italians at Kobe), Team USA continues to be so dominant?

Well week one has come to an end and I have to say I am very happy with the volume and variety of e-mails. Keep them coming though, I could always use more, and just because your e-mail isn’t up today doesn’t mean it won’t show up soon. I save all your e-mails that don’t go up here, so keep the faith.

Today’s e-mail comes to us from Andrew Earl Pate. Andrew asks a question I think about quite often:


Why do you think that, given the fact that Americans don’t seem to

have any sort of monopoly on Magic skill (recent PT Top 8s haven’t

seen more than one or two Americans, as opposed to large success

from, for example, Italians at Kobe), Team USA continues to be so

dominant? Is our average skill still the highest, so that the

fickle team selection process still favors us? I mean, last year’s

Worlds team, although it won, would have had a lot more trouble if

the German national team had been Phoenix Foundation. Does this

suggest that there is some sort of flaw with how these teams are

chosen? What do you think?


Pate, Andrew Earl

Vanderbilt University

[email protected]

Great question Andrew,

Let me start off by saying that there is going to be an element of luck in any game that involves drawing cards from a deck. There is simply no way to eliminate it. Therefore, any system used to determine a team to represent an entire country will not be fail safe. That said, why is it that the US continues to dominate?

You asked if the U.S. has the average skill. I think that at a given national championship this is true. As we have shown year after year, any three (four in the past) from the US can beat any team that comes along.

In 2001, the U.S. team was labeled the one of the worst in history. The team was called Trevor and two guys. Well those two guys turned out to be Eugene Harvey and Brian Hegstad and they took the title despite an abysmal day 1. In 2002, the team was Eugene Harvey and two guys. Those two guys turned out to be… well… two guys. But they still pulled off a very impressive come back to face the German team in the finals. Had the German team not opened far superior cards in the draft, this team could well have taken the title. 2003 we had Justin Gary and two guys. They took the title handily and Gabe Walls has emerged as a force on the Pro Tour with Josh Wagener far from falling off the radar.

National Championships are far from a perfect process, but when you figure that were you to take our three best players, (Finkel, Huey, and Harvey [Maher as the alternate]), this team will demolish any other team with the possible exception of a German team consisting of Kai, Dirk and X. And taking a random selection of Pros from the US, I think the competition is even more lop-sided.

Plus, We Rock! Yeah!

Write back some time,


What a great question. An interesting topic and a chance to shamelessly plug the power of U.S. Magic.

Good Man of the Week

Well Friday seems like as good a day as any to declare a good many of the week. This week the honor goes to Ted Knutson. Now I know what you are saying”way to suck up to the editor, KK.” Hell yeah! Why shouldn’t I kiss up to one of my bosses?

But Ted stands on his own. He deserves this honor above and beyond the sucking up I will accomplish. Ted took over one of the biggest projects on the internet when he decided to come here. StarCity gets tons of submissions every day, and let’s face it, most people can’t write their way out of a paper bag. Ted slogs through these and finds you the cream of the crop.

As if this weren’t bad enough he has to deal with delinquent, deadline-ignoring, on-their-high-horse pro players who think they are better than everyone out there such as myself.

Cap it off with having to edit novels written seeming daily by the likes of Geordie Tait and Oscar Tan, you have a tough task to say the least.

So for informing the world through less than ideal circumstances, Ted, I award you Good Man of the Week!

[Hey, wait a sec. That wasn’t funny, that was… sincere or something. There clearly weren’t enough beats in there. He didn’t even mention my huge drug problem. I demand a recount! That’s it Krouner, this is war! – Knut, shocked and appalled.]

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I’m really digging this daily feature thing. I get my mug on the front page everyday and I get to talk about what you want to hear. I still intend to write articles from time to time, but this way, five days a week, I get to go elbow deep into issues you all care about. But enough of my rambling about loving my job, it’s time for some Reader Mail! Hey!

Today’s letter comes to us from Casey Cannon. Casey writes:

Okay Ken, here is a casual question for you.

Large to medium group games can take forever. In one group game tournament, we held we tried to limit time in the following ways:

1) An indestructible, untouchable, Armageddon Clock came into play after 1 hour

2) A likewise indestructible, untouchable Howling Mine came into play with the errata: You may draw a card. After an hour.

We found neither to be satisfactory as the clock gave an advantage to life gain decks and the mine didn’t really speed up the game. What do you suggest?



Well Casey, thanks for the letter. I suggest not doing it in groups. It really tends to hurt the primary relationship, and someone always feels ignored. One on one is a far better and healthier interaction. [Ken’s channeling George Michael, circa 1986. – Knut]

However, it seems to me you really dig the group activities so let me throw a suggestion your way.

First let me suggest a bounty. You start the game by placing a bounty on one player. This can either be at random or on the best player in the game. You award extra points for killing this player and when he is killed the person who killed him gets to place the bounty on a player of his choice. Should the player with the bounty on his head take out someone before he is taken out then he gets to move the bounty. This will reduce some of the politics of the game and encourage players to actively attack each other. The larger the game, the more players with bounties. You give out points like one point for a kill, three points for a bounty kill, two points when someone with a bounty on them makes a kill and two extra points for being the last man standing. Bounties and kill points really reduce politics, since riding coattails won’t win it for you. This will discourage life gain decks as well.

I hope this system encourages aggressive tactics, making the game go quicker.

Fight the Power,


Always nice to flex my casual muscles as I play casual magic as much as competitive these days, maybe even more. That’s all for today, tune in tomorrow when I tackle another of your hard-hitting questions, and give away our Good Man of the Week! G’night everybody!

[email protected]


So far so good with this Ask Ken thing. I was a little worried initially about the amount of responses I would get. Happily, that fear was assuaged rather quickly. The other fear, however, seemed to be coming true. I didn’t want all the questions to be about Limited, specifically draft picks. Well that topic did constitute the bulk of the letters I received. However, Nate Dyer of the Boston area took a load off my mind when he wrote me a very deep, involved, and personal e-mail. So with that it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey, alright!

Nate writes:

Are you just trying to follow in Osyp Lebowdizcabitsditswytz'”Ask Joe Black” footsteps?

Nate Dyer

Boston Area

Dear Nate,

Thanks for your letter. I realize this must have taken a great deal of thought and consideration on your part. Also, kudos on spelling Osyp’s last name correctly, that is a daunting task indeed. [And here I thought it was Oshyt Lubovitcher, the mad Ukrainian Jew. Learn something new every day… – Knut]

I could never follow Osyp, he is a much funnier guy than me, plus he smells, and I wouldn’t want to be downwind.

Osyp’s column was a fabrication. The letters and answers were made up for humor value. While I will try to place a modicum of humor in these articles, all the letters are real, and the answers will be accurate to the best of my knowledge.

The other difference is that Osyp’s answers were generally related only loosely to Magic at best. Mine will be directly related to either the game or the community.

Love Always,

Ken Krouner

So there you have it folks. Proof positive that you can ask me about absolutely anything. While I will be happy to answer your questions regarding limited, there is a wealth of other knowledge in my head.

And remember, there are no stupid questions, only stupid people. G’night everybody!

[email protected]


I realize I have developed a reputation as a Limited specialist. I an indeed honored to wear that mantle, but this column should not be restricted to”What should I pick?” or”How would you build this draft deck?” I have a vast amount of knowledge about this game and its famous players and history swimming in my head. Feel free to tap any portion of that to answer your burning questions. I am not kidding when I say I would be glad to answer any question you have that is even loosely related to this game and its community.

That being said, I received a letter from Denmark today that really piqued my interest. It is a multifaceted letter and it lets me address many issues I find important. This letter is from No Netterstrom. No writes:

Hi Ken

In a recent MMD booster draft I first picked a Myr Incubator from an otherwise mediocre pack (Tel-Jilad Archers being the second best card in my opinion). For my second pick there was another Incubator staring at me, but this time there was also a Looming Hoverguard which I have learned to value quite highly. Normally I would pick Looming Hoverguard over Myr Incubator, but it seemed to me that having two Incubators at the start of the draft would really allow me to build my deck to optimize them. Then again the Incubator seems to be best in a blue based deck and sending a third pick Looming Hoverguard would probably make my left hand neighbor go for that color. I ended up picking the Looming Hoverguard, but wondered if you would consider that a mistake?

Anyway the drafter on my left snatched up the Incubator, and we eventually met in the final where I won the Incubator”mirror” thanks to my Thunderstaff.


No Netterstrøm

Danish Limited Enthusiast

Thanks for the question No. If you don’t mind, I am gonna go ahead and have a field day with this letter.

In MMM I was about as big a fan as you could find of the Myr Incubator. Times they are a-changin’. This card has plummeted in value with the release of Darksteel. Three of the”Echoing” cards absolutely destroy you, two of which are instants. Also the realization of the power of the aggressive Affinity deck has lowered the value of the six-mana bombs.

The next issue I want to address is that the value of Green has also plummeted. While Tel-Jilad Archers have moved up to number one in my Green common list, I do everything in my power to not draft this color. So while you say it was the second-best card in the pack, I am guessing that neither of these cards was the correct first pick. I would take a mana-myr over either of these cards even first pick, first pack.

Now assuming you did take the Incubator, I think I would actually opt for the second Incubator here. You are 100% correct that you can design you deck to really abuse it, and you can still draft Blue without much worry as you are sharing on your right and not your left. If the person on your left passed a Hoverguard and an Incubator, odds are he took Lightning Greaves (on a run with the Hoverguard) and hasn’t committed to a color yet. You will get first crack at the blue in pack three where you can get the Vedalken Engineers to power your Incubators. Just remember, synergy is very important in a Limited deck.

I’d like to end this letter with something witty, but I am having trouble channeling Tim Aten at the moment. Perhaps if he crawled out from under his rock and wrote something, I could do a bit better. Perhaps I should just draw on Gabriel Nassif. He may not be that funny, but he has top 8’d every event in the last year. He almost got his big win, but alas, he is still just known for his nose. Don’t fear it. As long as you weigh over 100 pounds, he can’t inhale you.



So that will close my bag for another day. Remember write early, write often, and write about more than limited ideas. G’day folks!

[email protected]


I am glad to see that so many of you have written me to get answers to all those burning questions. When it comes to Magic, I like to consider myself sort of a renaissance man, so the variety in your questions also pleases me. I will be answering one question a day, so keep them coming. Just because your question doesn’t make it to the next”Ask Ken” column doesn’t mean that it won’t get answered eventually.

Today’s question comes to us from Ben Wagner. Ben’s questions concerns a dilemma he encountered in an MMM draft.


In a recent MTGO booster draft I was faced with the following 1st-pick 1st-pack dilemma: Mindslaver or Grab the Reins? A tough choice that I would like to be faced with every draft! I haven’t had much experience playing Mindslaver, and I chose the Grab based on its versatility and my fondness for red in MMM. There wasn’t much else of interest in the pack to base a decision on. So, in your opinion, what’s the correct pick?


Ben Wagner

Nightmare78 on MTGO

Thanks for the question, Ben. There are a lot of factors that go into a question like this. When I first saw the set, I figured Mindslaver to be a clear bomb. The possibilities of what that card can do seem to be endless. As with every new format, it took a long time for the beatdown deck to emerge as dominant. Considering the initial slow pace of the format, Mindslaver seemed ever better. When facing this pick, Mindslaver is also tempting as you don’t have to commit to a color.

The problem is, as always, a beatdown deck did emerge, and it is the best deck to draft if you can get your hands on the tools. Mindslaver is just too slow to be as bomb-tastic as it looked on paper. Even with everything that Mindslaver does and the lack of commitment to a color, Grab the Reins is just too good. It can end the game as Threaten, Ray of Command, Fling, or an improved Reckless Spite. It is also splashable.

All this factored in, you should draft the Mindslaver because it is rare and rares are cool. Also the Picture is far better, and you can make your opponent get up and switch sides of the table.

Just kidding. Grab the Reigns is the pick here, as it almost always is. There is a very short list of cards you take over it.

Very Truly Yours,

Kartin’ Ken

MMM is a format that will be gone from our culture completely in a matter of days when Darksteel goes live on Magic Online. However this change is format does nothing to change this answer. Both cards end the game, Grab just ends it quicker and more reliably.

Keep the questions coming. Tap my brain with any Magic related questions you may have.


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