Ask Ken, 05/07/2004

It’s 1st pick 1st pack, and I’m staring down at least three potential first picks in a pack of: Myr Adapter, Shatter, Leonin Elder, Bonesplitter, Vulshok Gauntlets, Pewter Golem, Fangren Hunter, Krark-Clan Shaman, Terror, Tel-Jilad Exile, Somber Hoverguard, Granite Shard, Ornithopter, Stalking Stones and Fatespinner.

I’m back! I know you are all hoping that one day one of my fabulous guest stars will take over Ask Ken, but let’s face it… I am the only pro, active or retired, currently close enough to rock bottom that would be so shameless as run a column that does nothing but draw attention to myself. Who am I? Why I’m your host, Ken Krouner.

You know, as this column wears on I have noticed a significant drop in incoming letters, yet I know people are reading my column. I encourage those who have written before to write again. Just because I didn’t use an older question of yours doesn’t meant I won’t use a new one. You can ask me absolutely anything. I know more than you think I do. This overwhelming sense of duty I feel can mean one of only two things. Either it is time for me to enlist in the armed forces and defend our country, or it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey! Good, because I don’t think I was put on this Earth to fight wars.

Today’s question comes to us from Ian Ballard of New Jersey. Ian writes:

Hey Kartin Ken,

I have a very difficult draft situation.  It’s 1st pick 1st pack and I’m staring down at least 3 potential first picks in a pack of: Myr Adapter, Shatter, Leonin Elder, Bonesplitter, Vulshok Gauntlets, Pewter Golem, Fangren Hunter, Krark-Clan Shaman, Terror, Tel-Jilad Exile, Somber Hoverguard, Granite Shard, Ornithopter, Stalking Stones and Fatespinner.  I narrowed it down to Fangren Hunter, Somber Hoverguard, and Bonesplitter, but I am really torn.  I picked Hunter just because it was easier to cut off green than to worry about signals, but I think I was wrong.  What would you have picked, o great limited master?


Ian Ballard, NJ

Wow this is no easy pack. You have no less than six cards that are approximately equal in power level and four different colors. There is good news, however. Since the top five cards are all in different colors, you don’t have to worry much about signaling. Odds are the person to your left won’t be taking a card from your color.

I think you broke down some fine picks, but the three you left out were Granite Shard, Shatter, and Terror. These cards are right up there with the cards you selected. While I refuse to go into Green unless I have a Fangren Hunter or something comparable, I don’t know that in a pack like this it makes sense to go into Green for it.

5) We all know how much I hate Equipment. Bonesplitter isn’t nearly as exciting as I thought it was in the early going, so I would eliminate that next.

4) Shatter is just a better Red card than the Shard even if the Shard is slightly easier to splash.

3) I don’t like jumping into Black on the first pick, as it is important for Black to be open on your right. I like to wait for signals to go into Black. Bye Bye, Terror.

2) Now we get to the heart of the matter. Shatter versus Somber Hoverguard is the real dilemma here. Blue is drafted less than Red, and even though you are passing a Fatespinner, you should be able to effectively cut off Blue.

1) Somber Hoverguard is my pick. At this point you want to make sure that you cut off blue and keep an Affinity deck in mind. If you would hard at developing this strategy you will be rewarded by having the Quicksilver Behemoth in Darksteel go from playable to awesome.

So that is what goes through my feeble mind when looking at a pack like that.

The source for all things draft-picks,


Yawn! I love my draft picks, but come on people, I know there is intelligent life out there, just look at the forums… okay okay, bad example, but I see the questions Ask Wizards gets and I am at least as knowledgeable as those jokers. I hope to see more questions and more interesting questions in particular over the weekend. Give me something juicy to send onto next week’s guest columnist! G’night Everybody!

[email protected]


Yo dudes, kart? This is your pal Ben Farkas. Kartin Ken thought it would be a savage gassy ting if I filled in for him for today, so I…

Okay, fine fine. This is obviously not Ben Farkas. He may in fact be”kold,” as it were. It’s Geordie Tait, and in the next fifty-seven pages I will be telling you about why Blinding Beam is the best first-pick this side of Alpha Centauri (commonly mistaken for psamms lolz).

Right, I’m not Geordie either. Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s just Tim here. Huh? Tim Aten, you cretin. Yeesh. That little lame intro was probably par for the course for someone who has seven Magic Online accounts (allegedly) for no good reason whatsoever; I may have some sort of personality disorder. You have to admit, though: the Ben Farkas impression was on the money. If You Even Know Who That Is. You People Make Me Sick.

I would like to congratulate Floridian plumber Ryan Golden for putting down the caulk in favor of the wand and top 8ing Regionals. Good luck at Nationals Ryan!

Well Kartin Ken is leering at me like you wouldn’t believe. That either means that he’s mistaken me for a delicious doughnut or that it’s time for a little reader mail! Hey!

Today’s letter comes from”Rob from Cali,” not to be confused with”Ali from Cairo” or”Britney from Louisiana.” Mmm, Britney from Louisiana. Rob writes:

Hey Ken,

I first want to say that you are my favorite pro magic player ever (besides from PTR–hometown hero type thing). I started to cheer for you ever since you made top 8 at Worlds. Anyway, I have this problem: I am a pretty good player, top8-ing a few PTQs and winning Friday Night Magic nearly every week, but the problem is at my store i cannot beat this one guy named Jeff Tutholo. What can i do? I’m like 0-14 vs. him no matter what the format is. When he shows up fo Friday Night Magic, I know the best I can come is second. I even played him at regionalls in the 3-0 bracket and he smashed my face! Did you ever have a problem like this? Is there any pro that you have never beaten ? If so, what did you do, and what can i do? And the funny thing is jeff is a real good friend of mine too so i dont want to get mad!

Thank you, Ken.

P.S. Someone said you top-8ed regionals, is this true?

Well anyway, peace out.

Rob from Cali

Oh, where to begin? I guess I should start by saying that I used a great deal of editorial license in cleaning this letter up. I’m surprised I was able to decipher Rob’s strange but beautiful language to the point where a question of some sort emerged from the scribbling, but then again, I am a professional. Regardless, I don’t envy Ken. He has to do this daily. Plus he’s friends with Lee Churchill; that can’t help matters.

First, I have to question your decision of Ken Krouner as your favorite”pro.” That’s like calling Scott Baio your favorite celebrity. Not only is it a poor choice for obvious reasons, I don’t see the need to have a”favorite” pro to begin with. The whole thing smacks of”barn.” Kartin Ken will not respect you no matter how many sodas you fetch him. For this I am sorry.

As for your problem with Jeff, I, possessing a degree in Psychology (and Sociology), feel well-equipped to provide you counsel. The solution is simple: quit Magic. You’re clearly an ineffective human being, and if you can’t beat this buffoon in Magic, how can you hope to ever make anything of yourself. In fact, I wouldn’t stop at quitting Magic. I’d probably also drop out of Middle School, buy a brand new wardrobe at Hot Topic, and start hanging out with the kids who, to quote the Simpsons,”smell like my art teacher’s room.” They’ll straighten you right out.

All jokes aside – and when I say”jokes” I really mean”grains of actual wisdom,” but you’re probably looking for a more optimistic sort of answer, so I’ll placate you – your problem is that you have a mental block. Attitude actually is an integral part of the game, and people tend to play better and seemingly even get luckier when they’re confident. If you never beat Jeff, it’s quite possible that he’s (no offense), a lot better than you are. If this is not the case, you may be subconsciously sabotaging yourself every time you play him. You may make poor plays on the assumption that”he always has it,” you may keep questionable hands that you should probably be mulliganing, or you may just be falling for some sort of mind games. When you sit down across from Jeff, just remind yourself that he’s a buffoon like any other buffoon. Don’t be afraid, and play your best, and once you beat him the first time, your problem may well go away.

While you probably don’t care what I have to say, since I’m at best your third-favorite”pro,” I’m going to mention a few of my nemeses. First, there’s Tom Pergola. Tom will readily admit that he’s much worse than I am, and yet his record against me the last twenty times we’ve played is something like 18-2. I’m sure I tossed one or two of those, but the other times he simply outdrew me. I’m not sure how much of this is my subconscious willing my deck to yield poor draws and how much is just dumb luck – if you’re an 1800 player, say, and there’s a 1900 player you beat every time you play, then (and this is a gross oversimplification) there should be a 1700 player that inexplicably beats you every time you play. There are a select few people who can never beat me, including one Dave Williams. At this point, he probably sits down against me expecting to lose, and he gets his wish literally every time. As soon as he gets over his mental block and beats me the first time, it will be a lot less fun to play him.

Other adversaries I have include Peter Rollenhagen (who is mediocre but thinks he’s better than I am, so even if he’s not a worthy adversary, I still take exception to him and his arrogance on principle) and Greg Lowe, who not only bashed my rating to a point where it no longer qualifies me for Nationals, but also lost to a person vying for a ratings invite at Regionals, further putting a damper on any hope I had.

I hope my psychobabble was of some help. Sometimes I know what I want to say, but have a difficult time translating it into words.

The foremost author of Stuff No One Ever Reads,


Oh, and you think KK top 8ed Regionals? Hah! If he had played in Regionals, which he didn’t, he probably would have gone 1-2. Because he is kuts. Kartin Ken Krouner is inkredible kuts. Try saying that five times fast! G’night everybody!


It’s Wednesday and you know what that means. That’s right, it’s time for Ask Ken. I’m your host Ken Krouner. You may notice me re-using people who write in from time to time. I don’t do this because I play favorites, but it seems that these are the people who have the widest variety of questions. The best way to see your question in print is to come up with something unique. If I answer a question about why I would first pick Myr Enforcer over Platinum Angel, I wouldn’t try writing in and asking me what I would take between Myr Enforcer and Altar of Shadows. Keep this page spicy.

Speaking of spicy that burning sensation on my posterior can mean one of only two things. Either those hot wings last night went way overboard, or it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey! Excellent, now I can continue chomping on those spicy pieces of heaven.

Today’s letter comes to us from the halls of Vanderbilt University. Andrew Earl Pate asks:


Some of us are going to play in a bring-your-own-pack booster draft pretty soon, and I’m wondering what set you think would be best to get. I know that Tempest and Urza’s Saga and sets like that have some very powerful cards in limited, but having first pick of the Thalakos Drifters doesn’t really do much good if all the Soltari Foot Soldiers are making it around anyway. It seems to me like a set with abundant bomb rares but poor overall card quality would be best. What do you think?

This is truly my area of expertise. I am not only a huge fan of random pack draft, but I have thought a long time about its strategies. I am sorry that I waited so long to answer, as I am sure this event has passed for you, but it’s particularly timely, since one of the formats for the Invitational is similar to this. The strategies outlined here won’t apply directly to Invitational, as I will be considering all sets and they only have access to Invasion forward.

The Crosby Strategy

This is a strategy that many people have developed, but Crosby was the first to discuss it with me, so I name it after him. In the history of Magic the color that has historically been the most powerful in Limited is Black. If you look at the sets in which black the was best color it was overwhelmingly so. These sets are Urza’s Saga, Torment, Scourge, and Darksteel. These were the sets that Joe chose when entering the Southeast Invitational. The strength of this strategy is that you are sending a signal before you even start and you get some extremely powerful cards to work with. The drawback of this strategy is that you are putting all your eggs in one basket and while Black is deep in these sets, you could be in trouble it the person to your right opens a Nekrataal or a Tsabo’s Assassin.

The Bomb Strategy

This strategy involves choosing sets with many bomb rares. Sets like Exodus, Urza’s Saga, and Onslaught. You increase your chances of getting really powerful cards while allowing yourself to not color commit. These sets have bomb rares that span several colors and artifacts. I am a big fan of this strategy. When employing this strategy, you may want to look at sets like Tempest, Planeshift, and Torment for bomb commons. They may not be quite as swingy as the rares, but you are more likely to get them.

The Greedy Strategy

This strategy involves taking sets that are very shallow and hoping to open a pack with one spectacular card and a bunch of weak ones. Sets like Mercadian Masques, Prophecy, Legends, and Ice Age. This strategy is a very risky one, as you could wind up opening a pack with zero cards worth first picking. However when it does work you wind up with a great card giving your opponents nothing.

The Green Strategy

Historically the worst color in draft is Green. So you can pick up sets where green is abnormally strong and hope it is under-drafted. These sets include Urza’s Legacy, Odyssey, and Urza’s Saga.

The Shadow Strategy

This, obviously, involves taking all Tempest block packs and trying to get as many Shadow creatures as possible. The problem with this strategy being that the Shadow creatures often won’t be the strongest cards in the pack, and you will likely only get one crack at them.

I hope this helps and I hope it gives the Invitational competitors something to look at.

The source on all things Magic, casual and competitive,


Brace yourself for an exciting guest star tomorrow. He is a fan favorite and is guaranteed to please. G’night Everybody!

[email protected]


Welcome to the latest installment of Ask Ken. I’m your host, Kartin’ Ken. I am sure you are all still recovering from the marathon that was Regionals. Sit down. Take a breath. Inane double-digit round tournaments only come around once a year. That sense of impending doom can mean one of only two things. Either George W. Bush pulled ahead in the polls again, or it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey! Good, because I want as much false hope as possible until they”find” Osama Bin Laden sometime in October.

Today’s letter comes to us from one of my most faithful authors. Ian Mac writes:


Are you not winning as much because you are taking a less competitive approach to magic or is it the other way around?

How much is your attitude toward the game dictated by the twists and turns within the game and how much are the twists and turns dictated by your attitude?

I am curious to hear a pro’s perspective on this issue.


Well Ian, to answer your first question, the events were unrelated. I stopped winning when I moved from Rochester, NY to Albany, NY. When I lived in Rochester, I played the game almost daily. Since my return to Albany nearly a year ago, I have only cashed in one event. It was simply my lack of practice that caused me to lose, I believe.

My casual approach to the game started when I became close to Alex Melnikow, Aaron Lipczinski, and Jill Costigan. Ironically, these are three of the best players in the Northeast. There are plenty of others in this group, but those are the mainstays. I had never in my life had as much fun playing Magic as I did with them, and it was this that caused my more casual approach.

In general, my winning and losing streaks affect my view of the game greatly. I don’t even like to blame luck for my losses. When I lose, it means I played badly. When I play badly, it makes me want to stop playing. Having top 8’d Worlds and top 4’d a Grand Prix, it is very embarrassing to throw away matches in Friday Night Magic.

But as my last article indicated, I love this game. So I am here to stay.

The source of everything about KK,


Hope you all are ready for Cinco de Mayo. Party time is almost upon us. G’night Everybody!


Welcome back to a brand new month of Ask Ken. I’m your host, Ken Krouner. You know, when I think of May, I can’t help but think about the coming summer. There are few other seasons in the year that can cause me to sweat sitting in one place… three, tops. That wave of depression I feel can mean one of only two things. Either my gross obesity has finally gotten the better of me, or it’s time for a little Reader Mail! Hey! That’s great – I was afraid I was going to have to stop eating myself into an early grave.

Today’s question comes to us from Max from Pittsburgh, PA. Max writes:

I’m kind of just getting started in the whole magic scene… going to regionals (failing miserably), prereleases, and drafting with friends. I was just wondering if there was any were to play Type II in or around Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is one of the most historically significant areas of the country for Magic. While you are starting playing the glory days are over with Randy Buehler and Paul Sottosanti working for Wizards, Mike Turian retiring, Eugene Harvey moving to New Jersey, Nate Heiss moving to DC, and Erik Lauer leaving to start a farming community made up of Swedish bikini models, there isn’t much left in terms of top level competition.

There are, however, several solid players remaining there. Nick Eisel, while not as active as he once was, will likely be leading the next wave of Pitt players despite his current DCI status. There are several lesser-known players at or near his level. Aaron van der Beek, Jeremy Darling, Carlos Chada, and Nick Lynn are some of the players to keep your eye on in the area. On again, off again pro Andrew Cuneo still lives there, but with the exodus of Pros from the area, expect his participation to drop off as well.

The regular place these and other players assemble is the O at CMU. This is a dining area that has great food and great Magic players. They assemble there on Tuesday nights.

The source on competitive Magic the world over,


Well that’s all the juice I got for today. If you are wondering how I did in Regionals, I made out better than all the 581 players in the tournament. I opted not to play. Eleven rounds is suicide. I love Magic, but lets be reasonable here. Hope y’all enjoyed the weekend. G’night Everybody!

[email protected]