CASUAL FRIDAYS #91: Why Must You Play With My Narrow Scope Of Reality?

Apocalypse tells us a great deal about our shortcomings as casual deckbuilders. Also, Anthony lays to rest the great politics debate with his promised SIX-WORD CONSENSUS!

First Things First

Okay, after months of careful negotiations, tense cease-fires, and relentless parrying, I hereby present the six-word statement that summarizes The Ferrett take on multiplayer politics AND my own. Ready? Here it is:

“There are no politics in multiplayer!”

Okay, that might not be it. Let’s try this instead:

The Ferrett mother smells of elderberries!”

Nah, probably not very helpful. (Disturbing, however, that I happened to watch that movie the very day before The Ferrett posted his own reference in this week’s interview.)

Okay, how about this:

“Assess opponents’ threats; support your own.”

The lack of nuance may drive our fine editor nuts; but that’s all I’m offering. (Actually, I think Anthony’s just trying to write half a haikuThe Ferrett) Let’s move on.


Apocalypse And Our Shortcomings

In putting together actual decks post-Apocalypse – with the actual cards now, not just on paper – there are several things I am learning about myself. I am already hearing others in our group start to echo some of the same sentiments; and I’ve heard from enough readers to suspect that many of you may be sharing some of these experiences.

Here’s the question for us all, pro or casual, duel or group player: Are we good enough to play with Apocalypse?

I don’t mean the question in the sense of whether we”deserve” to be playing this game. (I doubt Wizards will check our qualifications at the cash register.) What I mean is, is the Magic community as a whole able to change and think through all of the implications of the dynamics from this set?

Here’s a few observations for folks to chew on. I’m talking mainly about multiplayer decks, here, but I’m splashing in some thoughts about what I’ve seen written about tournament environments as well.

All of the observations are made in accusatory capital letters. Don’t take the criticism so personally. We all fall prey to these traps, to some extent. Apocalypse is a good opportunity to start overcoming them.

1. WE MAKE TOO MANY HALF-BAKED ARGUMENTS ABOUT WIZARDS”BUILDING DECKS” FOR US. Yes, Pernicious Deed and Spiritmonger are both excellent rares. And so are Death Grasp and Vindicate. But if you think every winning deck out there, in any format, is going to be black/green/white, you’re nuts.

Let’s look at group play first. A black/green/white deck featuring those cards will do just fine (or at least I hope so – I just built one). But no color scheme is EVER a lock in group play. From Swords to Plowshares to Living Death to Misdirection, the answers are crawling all over your opponent’s decks. Misdirection is absolute tech in multiplayer, now more than ever. Captain’s Maneuver is in the same league, and those nice boys in R&D were nice enough to print it in the same expansion as Death Grasp. Question asked, question answered.

Personally, I think red-blue or red-white expendable-creature decks are going to make an awesome splash in multiplayer for a while. When you look at some of the older cards we used to play – Pyroclasm, Wrath of God, Fireball – and then look at some of the newer offerings – the bloodfire brood, Desolation Giant, and Illuminate – you can see some startling similarities. Add in some cards many of us have probably already forgotten – Shock Troops, Expendable Troops – and a few other new ones like Minotaur Illusionist, and you’ll be giving many, many”conventional” decks a really hard time.

As for the tournament scene, yes, I imagine green-black will be a much-coveted axis for Type II. So was red-green in Invasion block, at Pro Tour Tokyo. Four decks in the top eight! Wow, and one of them even one the whole thing…Oh, wait, it didn’t. Instead, Zvi Mowshowitz won with a deck specifically designed to hose red-based strategies. His team called it The Solution, but they could have been less kind and more accurate in calling it the Lemming Slayer.

Does anyone out there honestly believe that Zvi, Ben Ronaldson, and the others on that team, when their attention turns to the next Pro Tour season this autumn, will work really hard on a green-black Invasion block deck, and nothing else?

Didn’t think so.

2. WE UNDERVALUE SUBTLE MECHANICS. Even bad mechanics might be good. A couple hours after I clicked”send” on my submission to The Ferrett last week, where I explored the Whirlpool dynamic in multiplayer, I had a sudden epiphany: Land Tax.

It was too late for me to bother sending a revision to the Ferrett. While no readers called me on my oversight, I still felt a bit stupid. Whirlpool creatures are quite GOOD with Land Tax! You don’t even have to tweak the initial design of the classic Land Tax/Land’s Edge deck that much. (But since the last four expansions, especially Prophecy, all have such excellent cards for that kind of deck, you may want to update anyway.)

So two nights later, I’m playing at a local store (Outpost 2000 in Brooklyn Park, a bit of a drive for me but it has excellent ownership and nice events on days that Dreamers doesn’t…I like the way most of the Twin Cities area stores stay out of each other’s way when scheduling events!) and Theo comes up and mentions Land Tax as good synergy with Whirlpool creatures. This is what I call unhelpful – where were these fine observations earlier in the week, when I needed them? Sure, you can all defend him and remind me that he had no idea what my topic would be that week; but that’s just rationalizing.

So now I’m looking again at Envoy creatures, which I hate even more. Is it possible that the one Apocalypse mechanic that I felt was absolutely irredeemable in any format does in fact work, under the right circumstances?

Hmmm. I’m not putting money on it; but I’m not putting money against it, either. Envoys will never see the Constructed tournament light of day; but the Kavu is a 4/5 house in Limited. As for group play, who doesn’t love zombies, elves, goblins…?

The best I can think of right now is the Goblin Ringleader in a deck PACKED with goblins and little else, except four Kyren Negotiations. (Bill in our group has a deck that may be able to take advantage of this idea.) Or that good ol’ elf deck with Priest of Titania and Fireball. Or a zombie deck with Vampiric Tutor and Demonic Tutor, so you can go get that Corrupt that went screaming to the bottom of your deck. Geez, I dunno…Maybe envoys suck, after all. (Yep — The Ferrett)

I mean, even an apocalypse has to leave SOME of the landscape unchanged, right? So some bad cards would have to stay bad cards.

3. TOO OFTEN, WE RECYCLE OLD DECKS WITH JUST A COUPLE NEW CARDS. We all like rebuilding decks that used to work really well for us. And Pernicious Deed, Powerstone Minefield, the bloodfire brood, and even Dragon Arch are all cousins of varying closeness to past cards (Nevinyrral’s Disk/Powder Keg, Caltrops, Tremor/Pyroclasm/Inferno, Elvish Piper/Sneak Attack/Belbe’s Portal). But you have to be careful, as you reconstruct your masterpieces of old, that you do not miss out on completely new synergies. Since the Minefield also penalizes blockers, might a new”Caltrops” deck have more creatures and take a more aggressive stance (think creatures with 3+-toughness and first strike, like Talruum Champion)? Since Bloodfire Colossus should be able to swing once or twice before it does its Inferno impersonation, do you want to pull your Repercussions out of that deck? Since the Dragon Arch specializes in gold creatures, MIGHT YOU ACTUALLY PLAY URZA’S FILTER?!?!

Sorry. I’m afraid I got too excited, there.

4. WE ARE ALL TOO DEPENDENT ON NON-BASIC LANDS. Whether your group depends on these reincarnation of old (read: painless) enemy dual lands, or has enough of the old-style dual lands that you simply create Apocalypse-filled decks with the familiar veterans, the fact is you will be opening yourself up to some clever metagaming.

Who among you will be brave enough, now, to run a red-blue deck with Price of Progress, Back to Basics, and Ruination? Who will be subtle enough to simply add Skyshroud Elite to your elf deck? Who will be crafty enough to put Dust Bowl and Yawgmoth’s Agenda together as a winning strategy?

With all of those people out there riding the wave, don’t we need a few sharks floating just under the surface, ready to yank out a surfboard or two?

5. WE ALL THINK FIVE-COLOR IS THE WAY TO GO, NOW. Whether in discussions on Rochester drafting, constructed Invasion block, or emperor decks, all I’m hearing now is how good five-color strategies are.

Of course, five-color is better – and more viable – than it ever has been. And none of these people are wrong in pointing out its power.

But to me, it’s like the non-basic land thing. So many people are doing it…Might there not be a way to take advantage of that?

One strategy might be color play: Dust off the old Darkest Hour/CoP:Black decks, now that you can put Obsidian Acolyte in there as well. Another strategy might be mana disruption: Tectonic Break and Wildfire should do far more damage now than they ever have on a multiplayer table. A third strategy might be a mono-blue deck with creature stealing (Reins of Power), minor color fixing in response before you lose your own creatures (Reef Shaman and Dream Thrush)…And Coalition Victory!

Okay, I’m getting too excited again. But those first two ideas should work just fine.

In tournament play, the stock of Frenzied Tilling, Dwarven Landslide, and Implode keeps going up. I don’t know if it ever gets high enough for Constructed; but I might do some exploring in Limited… (I’ve actually counterdrafted land destruction cards as thirteenth or fourteenth picks just because I do fear them — The Ferrett)

6. WE THINK ANY THREE- OR FOUR-COLOR COMBINATION IS AS GOOD AS THE NEXT. And it’s not. Red-black-white is a mana disaster waiting to happen. Even if you use great dual lands and splash blue (for Reef Shaman et. al.), you are asking for trouble. While I’m a big fan of embracing change, it may help most players to keep exploring two-color combinations as Apocalypse rolls out; then moving to three colors, based in either green or blue; and then moving to more daring combinations.

This is a solid strategy, particularly for those who are in groups of younger and newer players. As you take a more reasoned approach to the set, you will give yourself the chance to pull out games against more spectacular, but less consistent, decks. That will do at least two things: First, it will improve your confidence; and second, as your group adjusts to your two- or three-color powerhouse with decks in colors that may hose you, you will be a more Apocalypse-experienced player as you shift into your own four- or five-color deck a few weeks later and show them how to REALLY do it.

COMING SOON: This is one of those weeks when I have no idea what will be coming at you next time. Revel in the uncertainty of it all!

A reminder that Break this Card: Guided Passage is still in full swing! I have received many entries (no counting yet, but I think I’m at around thirty or forty), and multiple prizes are within EASY reach for you all! Keep them coming! The June 28 deadline is closer than you think – and even if you do the accurate math and realize it’s exactly thirteen days away, there’s no accounting for the variance in time perception, the occasional insomniac night that contributes to”lost time,” and forgetfulness around zone differences that will inevitably place that deadline, like I said, closer than you think, dammit.


Anthony Alongi

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