Brad Answers Your Questions!

You asked and Brad Nelson has answered! He’s serving up a dozen delightful discussions, from his favorite common of all time to how Wizards could improve players’ lives across the board! See if your question was one of the lucky selections!

Grand Prix Orlando March 24-26!

Every once in a while, you just want to answer some questions, and that’s what I’m doing today. Recently I asked my Twitter followers to send my way any questions they may have. The range of questions I received was so wide that it wasn’t even possible to compartmentalize them into sections. Nope, instead you have to bounce back and forth as I answer questions ranging from my favorite moments in time to how I like my steak done. Oh, and a few interesting lessons on how to get better, if you’re into that sort of thing. Today we follow in my father’s footsteps, and open the mailbag!

He’s a postman, if I didn’t make that clear.

On to the questions!

Excellent question, Pat! After doing some digging, it’s become sadly apparent that neither you nor your teammates have had much success in the format. It’s a tough format to just get into and be successful, so I will do my best to get you up to speed! Luckily, Paul Cheon did finish 7-3 at #PTOGW with Affinity, so at least you’ve got an anchor!

The first question you’ll have to ask yourself is whether or not someone on the team can competently play Jund Death’s Shadow or not. I’ll be presumptuous and say “maybe”. That bill of confidence leads me to believe you’ll be the best pilot of this deck. It might not have Wild Nacatl, but the beats are there in spirit.

I know that interacting with your opponents is a lot different from attacking with Goblin Guides, but I swear it’s not as difficult as it looks. Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek go a long way in helping you sequence your turns properly.

It’s going to be difficult for most teams to include a graveyard-based strategy, making Surgical Extraction a risky inclusion that’s normally found in this deck’s sideboard. I’d suggest changing them to Nihil Spellbomb, which can be a great card in the mirror. I also like a high number of Abrupt Decays to fight hateful cards and also free up Ancient Grudge for other decks.

Now on to your weakest link, Tom Martell. He’s pretty removed from Magic at the moment, but back in his heyday he may have even been your second-strongest player. Huge ceiling. Very, very tall. Just huge! I’d suggest he play with Eldrazi. They are powerful but high-variance, which is something you should be looking towards for such an unpredictable companion.

You might notice there’s not Rest in Peace in the sideboard. No, I didn’t exclude it to sabotage your results. It’s actually in Paul Cheon’s deck! Now, Rest in Peace isn’t normally an Affinity card, but right now it’s the strongest sideboard card to fight Jund Death’s Shadow. Affinity is normally the deck trying to dodge sideboard hate, but right now it needs to fight fire with fire.

It will all come down to Paul. Paul will have to do Paul things, but, knowing Paul, it would be appalling to hear he isn’t up for the challenge. This is the list I suggest he plays.

The sideboard is very permanent-based, but that’s kind of how you have to do it without access to a catch-all like Thoughtseize. That said, it’s not even a bad time to be playing many of these permanents.

I hope this helps you on your quest for making Day 2, Pat! I hope you and your friends do well at #GPSA, and make sure to come say hi. I’m always willing to sign playmats, or a copy of my book if you have one lying around. Cheers!

The answer’s yes, for many reasons. For starters, you can’t expect to win because you won. That’s the easiest way to turn a sense of complacency into conceitedness. Without the never-ending need for improvement, your game will slip. Magic is like riding a bike in the sense that you’ll always remember “lands before spells”, but it’s such a complex game that your ability to sequence, sideboard, and strategize will become almost nonexistent.

This is one of the main reasons why you see some of the game’s best go from Platinum to Silver and back again to Platinum. For whatever reason, they let their game slip for some period of time but worked hard to find it again.

It’s not, and it’s not. That’s not the popular opinion, but it’s at least factual. Look, Magic is golf, and right now Wizards is trying to turn it into baseball. The problem with that is golf will always be golf and never become baseball. Magic is a game better played than watched, has an absurdly high barrier to entry, and doesn’t look pretty enough to be considered great entertainment. Even the majority of players would rather play the game than watch it.

Coverage of a format helps stimulate growth by casting a wider net for players to become interesting in participating in it. Video coverage helps play a role in that department but isn’t the only way to do this. For example, well-produced content on archetypes can also stimulate this by explaining the ins-and-outs of any given deck. That’s just one example, though. There are countless ways to excite people to play the game.

I’m all for Wizards trying to market the game as best as they can, but putting too many eggs in the broadcast basket is not going to have the results they are looking for. Let’s say, hypothetically, Wizards finds a way to make broadcasted Magic the best thing since sliced bread. It’s so great that even we as the players of the game would rather stay home and watch instead of playing in a local tournament. They also make Magic Online so great that we get to play the game while we sit at home watching coverage. Viewership skyrockets, and the digital world makes so much money that the CEO of Hasbro, Brian Goldner, installs a Scrooge McDuck money vault on his secret island.

That’s when I would say the game is dying.

The reason this game is so great is that we created a community around it. Our metagame is so rich that there’s something for everyone. Digitizing it would only shake the foundation our community has been building for twenty-some years now. If everyone stays home and plays on their tablets, no one will be promoting local game stores. It might be more convenient in the short-term but will have major consequences down the road.

Without a community driving the game, there is no accountability for participation. Now, I don’t mean Wizards forcing people to play, but players encouraging their friends to show up again after sabbaticals. Without that interconnectivity, players will shut off their iPads without anything forcing them to open them again. We would begin to see a more normalized retention rate, which is something our game has magically dodged since its creation.

Sadly, it’s not replicable. You see, as part of my contract to begin producing content for StarCityGames.com, the owner Pete Hoefling allowed me to use his time machine. Nothing fancy, but just your run-of-the-mill “glimpse into the future” time machine. I foolishly didn’t ask beforehand if this was a Back to the Future or Terminator time machine, so I didn’t know the rules of bringing things back.

I didn’t have much time once there, so I sought out a copy of Next Next Next Level Deckbuilding and began reading as much as I could. The only portion I got through before my time was up was Patrick Chapin’s segment on previous metagames. I got through a few years of information before I was transported back to the present. The information I was able to obtain got me through the past three years or so, but now I’m back to playing fair.

It’s my job, and yours as well if you want to be your best. Not every aspect of Magic at a competitive level is fun, but that doesn’t mean it’s not rewarding. Sometimes you have to test undesirable matchups, or give in and test out the “Tier 1” deck you don’t think you’ll like. Sometimes you have to play as the “opponent” instead of playing more sets with the deck you like the most. All of this boils down into a deeper understanding, and those lessons can be the difference between a good finish or just another missed opportunity. In the end this question should be asked inward, but reworded to read, “Is it worth it to me”?

You know, I don’t even know. Honestly, I always thought I got lucky to win with those “bad” decks. Looking back, I can’t even believe I would play them over just playing with the best cards. My best guess is I played decks like that thinking I was worse than I actually was and needed a “deck edge” to beat the best in the world. As of late, that opinion has faded, and I’ve become more comfortable playing against the best with the best decks. 2012 Brad might hate what I’ve become, but I do believe playing the most powerful cards is the best way to go. At least with how Wizards has been making the sets as of late. Have you seen some of these cards? They’re unbeatable!

FFfreak, for reference, was my very first username for a game called Starcraft. It was to convey my love for the Final Fantasy series of video games. At the time I thought I was a pretty hardcore nerd when comparing myself to my social circles. It wasn’t until I began playing Magic professionally that I came to realize I was a fraud. Almost everyone I’ve met from our community that played RPG’s was more invested than I ever was, and in fact I’ve now come to believe I was a pretty terrible gamer. I didn’t know any of the “secret” things about the games I played and couldn’t even hold a conversation about the finer points. In all honesty, I’ve been quite the letdown to those who ever wanted to talk some hardcore reminiscent strategy with me.

I also sucked at Starcraft, if you were wondering. Good thing I read Next Next Next Level Deckbuilding!

For me, it’s not the best format. In fact, it’s my least favorite competitive format. Too many threats without enough good answers leaves you at the mercy of your top ten to twelve cards too often for me to enjoy the format in large doses. I also dislike how important sideboards are, but never in a flowing way like I enjoy abusing them in Standard. Instead they are rigid and filled with hateful cards for certain matchups and answers for their hateful cards in others. Why, yes, I am biased towards my win percentage!

I do think Modern is a great format for those who enjoy it, and the data point towards that group being the majority. Modern regularly has the highest numbers when looking towards the #SCGTOUR, and even locally, the Invitational Qualifiers constantly have more attendance when Modern’s the name of the game. It truly is a great format for a plethora of reasons; it’s just that none of them appeal to me on a professional scale. Maybe once I take a step back from competitive play will I realize just how much fun the format is. Until then, I spit in your general direction, Tron players!

You know, I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about this theory. The best one I came up with involved a monthly secret vote open to the public where the top three cards chosen would be banned for the next month. They would then come off the “banned list” when three other cards would be added. Obviously the dials could be changed here or there, but that was the general idea. This would keep things spicy for those of us who tend to get bored halfway through a format, but also let us as a collective explore space that’s normally unqualified.

It took me a while to realize how bad that would be. Clearly there have been some issues with Standard for the past couple years, but a “solution” of this magnitude would leave many players upset for the same reasons we saw Wizards go back on their eighteen-month Standard rotation. Some would show up for FNM realizing their deck is illegal and thus not able to play that evening. Others would just be upset they have to invest into something else for the next month. Whatever the reason, the end result would always be the same: people wouldn’t want to invest in more cards. No one has ever said Magic was a cheap hobby, but that doesn’t mean we have to pay WotC’s negligence tax either.

1. Realize that mistakes happen even when you win.

One of the best lessons to internalize is that finding your mistakes is more important than winning itself. Those who think in the short-term are just happy they won and will justify that win however they please. Those dedicated to perfecting their game the best they can will always be focused on the long-term, which involves correcting any mistakes they can find. After all, you can’t fix a car without popping the hood.

2. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Do you think you are going to win every match in your next serious event? Of course not, so don’t let one loss send you spiraling! Losing is a part of the game, and you can’t be afraid of it. Not only can it make you play worse in games, but it can mess with your mental game in between matches.

3. Play more sideboarded games.

I’m clearly making a bold assumption here, but I’m under the impression that most players trying to make this specific jump all have the same issue. They don’t know how to sideboard that well, nor do they fully understand their roles when it comes to post-sideboarding games. It really doesn’t matter which sets have been legal; Standard is always more complex after sideboard. The games play out completely different, and I see the better players exploit this over and over again at the LGS level. Good thing there’s an easy fix! Stop being lazy and just practicing with maindecks in your free time, and play more sideboarded games.

You couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no solution we as the players could find to fix this format. Standard’s stale thanks to Wizards not doing what they need to and banning Felidar Guardian. This absurdly powerful combo has spread through Standard, functioning similarly to a disease from the first moment we put it together up until the last round of Grand Prix. It’s completely taken over how we write, talk, play, and even think about Standard. Many even think Mardu Vehicles is the problem, but it’s mainly just a symptom. The only reason it can compete is thanks to the absurdity that is Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but we don’t have enough time to talk to rant about why that card needed to exist.

Artifact sets have tended to make Magic staler than not. I’m looking forward to another tricolor set to shake things up, since they historically spice up our lives. In my perfect world, every set would be Sharded.

Well, those are all the questions I deemed important enough to answer this week. I hope you enjoyed my latest installment of “I hope there are more interesting things to write about next week,” er, I mean “Magic Mailbag!” If you sent a question in and I didn’t answer it, just assume you’re a dull person not worthy of my time. On second thought, maybe I just missed it in the fray. One or the other, I guess.

Hey, at least I didn’t write an entire article about Death’s Shadow! I’ve got that going for me at least!

Grand Prix Orlando March 24-26!