Welcome to another regular edition of my weekly column here on StarCityGames.com. I say “regular” because it seems like every other week I do a “special edition” these days, what with Two-Headed Giant PTQs, Future Sight, and everything else that has been going on. This means that sometimes your questions will appear a little later than usual, but I plan on answering as many as possible anyway, so please keep sending questions to [email protected]. I’ll be sure to answer them.
This week I find myself a little under the weather, what with my hay fever and a streak of close to a month and a half with no rain and hot spring weather. This mean pollen is flying everywhere, and my numerous allergies are kicking my butt. Luckily it started raining today, and I hope I’ll start feeling better soon enough! On the plus side, today I got to watch the latest and greatest Heroes episode. Oh my, are we coming to quite the climax here! For those of you who don’t know what to watch (or what to get on DVD) in the near future, Heroes is the best thing I have seen on TV. Ever.
I feel the reason this show is so good is because it wasn’t written by TV writers, but by a bunch of comic book writers. Comic book writers know how to craft a good story from beginning to end, and it shows. I applaud the initiative, and I can only imagine what will happen once the actual good ones start moving to TV more and more.
Okay, enough geek stuff… on to Magic!
Scott Marshall fields this week’s first question:
First, thanks for writing – it seems you don’t get nearly enough e-mail, which means you don’t get nearly enough thanks. So that part just has to be first.
Second, thanks specifically for writing about Two-Headed Giant. I’m trying to absorb as much "wisdom" as people are willing to offer, slice it & dice it & cook it up, see if I can’t get my own "blue envelope."
Now, I’ve gotta take exception to "fine pool, but nothing too great." I counted at least 20 cards in your decks that would have improved the decks we just played last weekend. It almost scares me to think what would impress you as a "great" pool!
I’m surprised the Stormfront Riders and Magus weren’t bigger players – did they just not show up, or were they just too situational?
My favorite comments – "Dorks that don’t do anything … because they don’t do anything" and "Tempo is a lot more important than I thought." I keep coming to the conclusion that a smooth, consistent curve with some evasion and plenty of answers should be sufficient. Seeing you play so many mana sources has me more determined than ever to look at tempo first & foremost.
Do you agree with the already well-worn adage "don’t cut bombs"? I’m guessing not, since you didn’t play either Conflagrate, and those seem to beg to be played.
Last, yet certainly not least – in your Top 4 draft, where was the sliver deck, and what happened to it? Or did slivers get split and thus fail?
Thanks for your praise, but really this article is not a one-man product… it’s created by the readers and people that ask the questions, so thanks should go out to you guys.
For those of you who aren’t sure of what Scott is referencing, he is talking about this article I wrote a while ago.
There is no real central question, so I’ll just try and comment on the points you bring up in your e-mail.
Once again as far as the pool goes, it really wasn’t that great. It featured a whole lot of cards that are awesome in single play, but are a little overrated in Two-Headed Giant (like the Chronozoa), or cards that are overrated in general (like the Stormfront Riders). It also had very little removal, which is the most important thing in the format. Sure, the commons were good, but I really didn’t think it was that good… but oh well.
Stormfront Riders is one of the most overrated cards I have ever seen, and it really is very expensive in a tempo-based game (which a lot of the games tend to be these days). The times that it is good it is very good, which is what excites a lot of people, but that really only happens about 10% of the time, if that. In draft I’d always take Sunlance over it.
Magus is obviously still very good, but we hardly ever drew it early enough for us to base our game-plan around it, and at that point you are already very board-committed most of the time. To me it seems like a card that can be passable as a topdeck, but really shines when you have it in your opening hand.
Aside on game-plans: One of the things we tend to do with every game of Two-Headed Giant we play is to formulate a game-plan based on both players’ opening hands. I see very few people do this, but to me it is one of the most important things you can do. If you cannot find a plan on how to win the game based on your opening hands, you should always ship it back. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be prepared to change the plan if your draws dictate, but most of the time you should stick with it.
I agree with the “don’t cut bombs” maxim, as you may have noticed, and I’d go as far as to play two four-color decks if that is what you need to maximize your bombiness, but I disagree with you saying that Conflagrate is a bomb. As a matter of fact, while it is removal, it is very mediocre. It’s slow, and limited at what it does. Even if you get a two-for-one, you are behind on mana most of the time, since one-toughness guys generally cost less than three mana. I like it fine in single player, just because it can help finish off your opponent, but in Two-Headed Giant, with all the life and double the creatures in play, it seems bad so often.
In our Top 4 there were two sliver decks – one with more of a sliver sub-theme – and we beat the dedicated sliver deck in the semis. I hate drafting slivers, because if they kill your good ones you are left with a bunch of horrible creatures. I know the gamble can work if you are the only sliver drafter at the table and millions of good slivers are opened, but much like any format, I’d rather opt for consistency than a golden ticket.
The next question is by Benjamin Jones:
1. If your Regionals were tomorrow, what deck would you play?
2. Dragonstorm is stupid good and doing very well on MTGO. Can you give what you feel are the best sideboarding strategies to combat Dragonstorm? For example, what should G/x, Tron, and other top tier decks bring in?
I have to be honest here… right now, I am not into Standard. I don’t have to play Regionals since I am already qualified for Nationals, and as such have been playing other formats like Block and Draft. If I had to pick a deck right now though, I would go for Dralnu du Louvre, or another control deck like it, as that seems to be the best deck out there. I tend to play beatdown or creature decks if and when I can, but these decks just don’t seem to measure up to the Big Two right now (Dralnu and Dragonstorm), and that means that I’d cave and join the Dark Side.
As for the Dragonstorm question, there has been a lot of tech against it, and it has been around for a long while, so there is nothing new I can tell you here. I do feel that the active solutions – like discard and resource denial – tend to work a lot better then the reactive cards – like Trickbind and Shadow of Doubt. Looking at the GP: Kyoto coverage from a month or so ago, you can see that the decks that were packing Castigate and Annex were doing a lot better than the others.
Timothy Piskowski has a very specific question:
Very particular question here. In a recent draft I had a G/W deck, with a land breakdown of 10 Forests, 7 Plains to show how the card’s colors worked out. Game 2 round 1, I mulligan to 6 and keep a hand with one of each land, a Search for Tomorrow, a Shade of Trokair, and 2 other cards. Turn 1 I draw a spell, drop my Forest and suspend the Search. Turn 2, still no land, and I suspend the Shade.
On turn 3 I grab a Forest off the Search because the deck has five cards that need double Green, mostly two- and three-drops, while no cards require double White. Of course, I draw a Forest that turn and hit my second Plains many turns later, after the Shade is long dead. Was grabbing the Forest the right call? I had a better chance of topdecking a Forest and the Plains would have helped the Shade… however, about 1/3rd of the spells left in my deck needed GG to cast. In Limited, when do you go for the land that helps you right now, and when do you go for the land you might need?
I find this question very interesting, because it tends to come up a lot, but you also seem to not focus at all on the fact that you made the wrong turn 1 play!
Your deck cannot function on three land, so you want to draw one before you resolve the Search to make sure you know what to get. This means that you would really like to resolve that Search for Tomorrow a turn later, to make sure you get what you really need. I would have suspended the Shade turn 1, and gone for the Search turn 2 to maximize my chances at drawing lands, as well as making sure that I got the right colors.
Other than that, given that you made the playa s you did, I am 100% sure that getting the Forest was the right call. Like you said your deck did not require WW, and you already had a Plains out. After a mulligan you cannot get greedy and try and mise a huge Shade when you really just want to be able to cast the spells you draw.
In general, I feel that in Limited you have to usually focus on getting the lands that you need right now, as tempo is important and you cannot afford to be hosed for a couple of turns because you got greedy and went for the splash color. Of course, this all depends on what is in your deck, but getting the lands for cards that are in your hand now, as opposed to getting lands for cards you might draw later, is usually better. In this scenario though, the only thing that Plains will do is pump a Shade that might die anyway, and you risk not being able to cast spells you draw off the top after a mulligan. You just cannot do that.
Francisco Barciella is up next:
My name is Francisco and I have played for a long time. My problem is that I usually speed up in my decisions if I am in a good board situation, usually using the plan I thought in my opponent’s turn and not considering the implications of the card I drew.
How do I train myself to make the most of the situations by playing at a more reasonable pace? Very good players usually do this without thinking. What is the knack to it? What should I be thinking while playing to get to this kind of level?
You admit to having a problem, not thinking too much during games that you seem to be winning, and you also admit to being aware of this. The only advice I can give you is to make sure that you slow down if you are winning, so you can change the way you play to tackle any problems, should they arise. There really is nothing else to say or do – there’s no special “knack to it,” as it were.
I used to have the same problem, and I know a lot of people that do the same thing. They stop thinking when they are ahead, and start playing sloppily, because that’s the easiest time to do so. When you are behind, you usually tend to concentrate a lot to find a way out of the situation.
The best way to train yourself to get better at this? Play a whole lot. The more you play, the more you will experience the same situations, and the more you will recognize them when they show up. Because you have already made the mistake of not thinking enough, the next time you will slow down, and then you will think everything through. The reason exceptional players do this without thinking is because they have played a whole lot and don’t have to think anymore, because they already know what they did the past 100 times, and they will not screw it up. If you do not have that experience, you have to slow down your game and think about everything you do more carefully.
Question: What Do You Really Think of Future Sight?
I promise I won’t make fun of you if you hate it.
Second Question: What Makes A Bad Set?
I plan on doing a show on this myself, but wanted your take on exactly what makes sets crap. Constructed rares / playables (Saviors)? Limited awfulness (Coldsnap)? "Unoriginality" (Planar Chaos)? What makes Jeroen Remie hate a product?
Third Question: How Do You Treat Bad Sets?
Each set has playables, each set has a draft format, each set tries to stir things up. Even the most awful of sets has SOMETHING to offer a Spike. Do you buy singles of essentials (Scrying Sheets, Pithing Needle) and move on, or do you still buy the set to test for Limited formats?
I am sorry to disappoint you buddy, but I really like Future Sight as a set. It has everything I like in a set right there. Strong Limited cards that raise the strength of each color, few broken rares to screw up the Limited format, and a ton of interesting playable Constructed cards. It also features scry, which is one of the (if not the) all-time most skill intensive abilities ever made. I didn’t like the first two sets because they looked stale and lazy, with nothing new, but this set is anything but that.
As for what makes a bad set, there is a lot of ways to do this. You can make it unbalanced for Constructed, either by introducing something broken like Affinity, or creating cards like Umezawa’s Jitte in a format. I also feel that unoriginal sets are pretty bad, as they don’t really give you that New Set feeling. As for Limited, the strength of the draft format declares if it’s a bad set or not. Coldsnap obviously was horrible, and Ravnica block was great in that regard. Basically, what I do is make a list of pros and cons, and if the cons outweigh the pros then it’s a bad set.
The annoying thing about this is that there can be anything wrong with a set – any of the three problems you mentioned, or more – and it will leave you with a bad taste in your mouth about the set as a whole. This probably leads directly to my perceived negativity, and thus makes it seem like I hate every set. I am just hard to please and high maintenance, man… I can’t help it if takes a set like Future Sight to really please me.
As for how to treat a set, as far as Spikes go, I am the Spikiest of them all. I do what I have to do. I don’t really play Casual Magic, though I do have a lot of fun these days playing the game. I don’t pick the formats I play, as I just do what is asked of me. Even though I hated Coldsnap draft, we ended up drafting it at Nationals, and I did a lot of practice drafts in order to improve my game. I may not have enjoyed it a whole lot, but it was still Magic so it wasn’t that bad. I did what I had to do. It’s the same with singles. I buy them if I need them… and not if I don’t. Simple. I am not the guy that buys infinite boxes.
The only difference between good sets and bad sets, in regards to how I treat them, is the amount of time I spend whining about it… Heh.
That’s it for this week! Keep those questions coming at [email protected], because we are starting to run low again. If you keep sending them, I’ll keep answering them!