A PIECE OF ADVICE ON A COMMON OPINION TOPIC, or:
WHY WE SHOULD ALL ASK BOB MAHER IF HIS WIFE’S PREGNANT YET
We’ll get to the winners of the Break this Card: Guided Passage contest in a moment. But first, this short word on the latest iteration of the casual vs. pro”debate,” which washes over the Magic community every few months like dirty, tepid seawater. I’ve seen the topic come up again in a couple of other featured writers’ articles on this and other sites, and I can’t resist offering my own take any more.
Are you eager to hear what side of the argument I come down on? Can you feel the tension in the air?
Well, you shouldn’t.
It is a false choice. The entire argument is a waste of everyone’s time. Really, that is a professional opinion from an analyst in the employ of The Indominable Jesse Ventura, so you can bank it.
The professional Magic community today is less than five years old — really about two or three, when you consider Wizards’ set development, DCI infrastructure, and player informational networks. This is not a mature community. (I mean that collectively, not individually.)
While I don’t have access to the tournament databases, along with birthdays and all, it’s safe to assume that most pros five years ago were between eighteen and twenty-five. It’s also a good bet that most pros today are between eighteen and thirty — the initial players have grown older, and have been joined by fresh faces behind them. So the average pro is probably getting older… And probably getting closer to the point where he considers building a family.
Here’s something to ponder: The first”family men” regularly on the Pro Tour are less likely to evolve from current fathers (as my team and I are trying to do), and more likely to evolve from already proven Magic talent. After all, these guys are already on the Pro Tour gravy train. All they need to do is find a woman who’ll carry their child and raise it with them. Easy as pie! Bob Maher’s already halfway there.
So the real question is, where will today’s 25-to-30-year-olds be five to ten years from now? At that time, one of two things could be true:
- The older pros stay in and continue to excel at the game, despite the pressures of having a baby grow inside of them for nine months and the excrutiating pain of childbirth.
- The older pros drift away from the game, citing family as the reason why they just can’t keep pace with the newer players.
If this happens, a lot of players my age and older are going to have to put up or shut up. And really, it will be about time. We all lead busy lives, but some of us are bound to have an extra activity or two that’s eating away at time we could be spending practicing Magic, whether it’s watching the co-eds drift by our dorm window or watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond.
So we’ll have to reverse-engineer the success that current pros have as they become parents, and become parents who can also be pros. Or we’ll have to sell our”I’d qualify but I’ve got this wife, you see, and two great kids, and my dog needs to be fed, and my boss is always on my ass about work…” schtick a bit more quietly. (Have you considered joining Team AWWAJALOOM? — The Ferrett, former member but still a shill)
I imagine that families keep a few of us players who are”on the margin” from devoting that extra night or two a week to the possibility that we might make it to a pro tour, or even become a regular gravy trainer. But I also imagine that there are many of us who are”on the margin” for whom an extra night or two a week wouldn’t make a whit of difference. (I haven’t figured out which camp I’m in yet. I’d like more encouraging signals than last week’s qualifier.) These players, like it or not, are glued to the margin. They’re simply not as good as they think they are.
And if more existing pros start to have families and stay pros, then we’ll have to admit that. Just like we all have to admit, at some point, that we’re not as good at basketball as Allen Iverson, nor nearly as good at bedding interns as Bill Clinton. Hey, they both have families, with tons of media attention and pressure on them every day they were doing their jobs. But they put in the extra time and effort to excel at something else.
I have to admit I’ll be rather surprised, and certainly disappointed, if this happens. And I’m sure there will be a few who do this in any case. But if in five years, we can’t name at least three regular pros with full family obligations, then I fear we’re going to hear all this casual vs. pro garbage in perpetuity.
Of course, this would also mean that younger, professional players may have to concede that those of us who have been through college, and recognize how busy we were back then, have a basis for comparison with our lives now. A basis which, incidentally, biology and basic space-time theory prevent even really smart college students from having. Frankly, I’d rather the college kids were right, because I remember my own college days, and in particular this co-ed who had piercing blue eyes and really nice-smelling, reddish-brown hair… Ahem. So like I said, I hope they’re right.
What I sincerely expect to see a few years from now are Pro Tours still featuring a large majority of young, single college men. Heck, they’ll probably always be the majority. But in my vision, they’ll be battling it out with a significant minority of older men who managed to wrangle enough money to bring the wife and kids to New York with them for a week. And, if we’re really lucky, there will be a noticeable corps of women as well, both co-eds and mothers. (Maybe even my wife…hmmm, no, that takes too much imagination.)
That would be a professional gaming community at full maturity. An evolution like that would put into question Wizards’ current worldview of players (they generally market to three different”archetypes”: the serious college-aged pro, the older casual player, and the younger kid who could evolve into either of the first two). That’s good for the company; it would keep them on their toes and make them reassess their customers, and therefore their product, on a regular basis. On the other hand, if the Pro Tour continues to be nothing but the unmarried 18-to-25 crowd, that could contribute to long-term stagnation. I’m not saying the game WOULD stagnate. I’m saying that it would increase the risk.
So, it all comes back to Bob Maher (and presumably his wife). When do we learn if a top-notch pro player can stick with the game at a high level through parenthood? Will he, and others like him, become the Founding Fathers of Magic? More to the point, how thrilled must Bob be to have an Internet article asking the same basic question his parents and in-laws are doubtless asking?
Until players like Bob evolve into parents — and really, as wonderful as the entire experience is, it’s an exercise in patience and I don’t recommend any of you rush to do it — may I gently recommend in the meantime that we all stay quiet about this whole, ridiculous casual/pro back-and-forth? I write Casual Fridays. I report on the Pro Tour. I am not a freak for blending the two experiences. Neither are those pros who write regularly to tell me how they’ve rediscovered casual play. Adrian Sullivan taught me two new casual formats a couple of Saturdays ago — is he a freak? (Okay, bad example. But you get my point. And thanks for the games, Adrian. It was great seeing you again!)
WHO SHALL GUIDE US THROUGH THE PASSAGE?
Guided Passage drew about 65 entries as a card. That means we’ll be giving out an extra prize this time around, as promised.
There was great variety, from combo to smashmouth to control. Here are a few of the categories that were well-defined by clever decks:
THE COALITION BUILDERS. Joe Reeves, with one of the first entries in, got things started with Cromat, Dragon Arch, Planar Portal, and Coalition Victory as the only four non-land cards in his deck. Kirsin Koch started with essentially the same deck but added Sliver Queen and Natural Selection. Nathan Long brought on a great deal more, being the first entry in to include such clever choices as Manipulate Fate and Mana Severance. The whole point of these decks was to force opponents to pick Coalition Victory and a five-color creature (or the search elements that could get them), since Coalition Victory is just as much a win in multiplayer as it is in duel.
My fundamental problem with these decks (along with some of the other combo decks below) is that, as a sorcery, Guided Passage offers the combo player very little in terms of multiplayer. You spend a turn broadcasting your intention to win next turn to six people, and if there’s nothing in your deck to back up your threat…
CONTROLLING THE PASSAGE: One solution to broadcasting your deck’s intent is to demonstrate the number of counterspells you have. David Wiggins showed a bunch (including Ice Cave, in his five-color build) and offered Nether Spirit as the lone path to victory. (Speaking of Nether Spirit: Noah Weil, my pal from Minnesota who is unofficially the player with the most DCI-sanctioned events under his belt, also sent me a Nether Spirit deck that included such bombs as Mulch and Mystic Compass. He admitted that it might not do well in multiplayer, but I would hate to discourage his honest effort; after all, he did include Legacy Weapon. Thanks for the gung-ho effort, Noah! No one’s a loser in this contest. Well, okay, YOU are, technically; but everyone else is a winner.)
Back to counter-based decks, D.J. Flees proposed a deck that used Force of Will, Forbid, and Suffocating Blast until a Guided Passage could generate a Morphling/Quicksilver Dagger combo. He had nice touches like a single Glacial Wall, so that the first Guided Passage would find early, playable defense.
Carl Winter came up with a deck with a great creature choice: Mystic Snake. He did, however, run into the problem that Passage decks will face if they try to hit tourneys: Green-blue decks almost require Birds of Paradise, and the Passage is more often than not going to get you land, Bird, another Passage. With smart additions like Sunken Hope and Shivan Wurm, Carl’s opponents will certainly be looking for those Birds as often as they can!
TURBOLAND, AND OTHER FAMILIAR VARIANTS. I got in several variants; my favorite was from Kasperi Koiviola, who used Horn of Greed and Exploration as the familiar engine, along with Mystic Snake and Morphling as creature choices and powerful red spells like Obliterate and Urza’s Rage to swing the game.
In another tourney-deck-turned-multiplayer, fellow Star City writer Jon Chabot sported a single Guided Passage and Survival of the Fittest — and the enchantment was the only non-creature spell in the deck. (Thus, it’s essentially five copies of Survival.) All other creatures are utility creatures that are likely to accomplish something… And if they don’t, they can just get discarded to Survival for something else. I got very few Survival-based decks, which doesn’t bother me one whit since the continual searching can be rather boring in group play; but I was surprised I didn’t get more submissions like this, because the combination is rather powerful.
Another fellow writer, Bennie Smith, was the first to suggest four copies of Squee as a primary strategy (though Jon had one in the Survival deck). His Squee-Storm deck used Probe and Brainstorm as additional deck searchers, and Ensnaring Bridge as a counter-intuitive (given Squee) but still powerful control element. Michael Oates also provided a Squee-Storm deck; Michael’s ditched the control and card-drawing for more red damage like Pyroclasm.
One more luminary I owe mention to. Tobey Tamber, who due to an email mishap and my horrible long-term memory is still waiting very patiently for his Coalition Victory prize, sent in an entry using the ever-popular Slivers, an excellent choice for forcing your opponents to choose what ability they want to give your entire army. Tobey’s non-creature choices boil down to Eladamri’s Call and Coat of Arms, neither of which is particularly appetizing for whoever’s choosing.
BOSIUM STRIP. Only one deck to my memory thought to use this terrific card in conjunction with Guided Passage… But it gets a category all of its own. Tommy Ashton’s deck goes for recursive Passages with Bosium Strip, which cuts down to the elements you need even more reliably. He also made the good call of using Terminal Moraines instead of artifact mana as a color fixer, since you don’t necessarily want a Fire Diamond off a turn 15 Guided Passage. Every time I rate the entries, a deck gets left”out of the money” that I hate to leave out. Tommy’s was that deck this time around.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES. Two very different approaches in this category, but each helps define the other. David Zadok Stroud was the first one in with the”good friends” approach, suggesting creatures such as Noble Benefactor and Peacemaker, and spells such as Earthquake and Hurricane. David’s writing always catches my eye, and this deck was no exception. I liked this approach. A lot.
At the other end of the”friends” spectrum was Jay Strode, using Pyromancy and beasts like Draco, Searing Winds, Shivan Phoenix, and Furnace of Rath as unpleasant options for the poor soul who has to select the”right” three cards.
In the same”heavy hitter” category, one of the best”creature dilemmas” I received came from Adam Mauss, who complemented effective red- and black-based removal with two choices for your creature: Spiritmonger, which is not too surprising…And the wonderfully unconventional Thicket Elemental. I love the question this poses:”so, shall I have Spiritmonger…or shall I have Spiritmonger and a 4/4?” Very few creatures give you the”Oath” ability; any Guided Passage deck using enough green must consider the Elemental.
WHIRLPOOLERS. There were a daring few entrants who actually took me up on my challenge to combine whirlpool creatures and Guided Passage. Honestly, the results are not that awful! With a whirlpool creature in hand, even a”bad” Guided Passage can get you three new cards for the ones you’re given. Sam Johnson’s entry used the whirlpool to get a fattie like Mahamohti Djinn, and/or Guided Passage, and/or Show and Tell.
Joshua Sharp, whose email signature let me in on the fact that he’s designing multiplayer decks while supposedly working on the human genome at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (NOW who’s worried about cloning?!?!), came up with the whirlpool combo I should have thought of three weeks ago: Land Tax. Here is his runner-up deck, which will win him a scribbled Guided Passage:
3x Guided Passage
1x Ancestral Recall
3x Whirlpool Rider
3x Whirlpool Warrior
4x Land Tax
3x Scroll Rack
4x Phyrexian War Beast
1x Enlightened Tutor
4x Land Grant
4x Fertile Ground
1x Mox Emerald
1x Mox Pearl
1x Mox Sapphire
1x Sol Ring
4x Tropical Island
Joshua explains that the Mox jewelry isn’t really necessary, and I agree: Why give your opponent the option of giving you land, Mox, Whirlpool Rider? I’d replace them, along with the Fertile Grounds, with more land. But the central engine of the deck is a great deal of fun: Guided Passage for whatever, and then trade in using Scroll Rack and Whirlpool Creatures. The creatures are cheap and easy to cast so that Land Tax will be most effective; Phyrexian War Beast and Masticore also offer great synergy. The reset (Balance) I think would look even better if you included a Whirlpool Drake or two. (How many times are you going to see someone write THAT and mean it?)
The winning deck comes out of the”friends” category. What I really like about this approach is that a deck like this, which looks so darn political, is actually all about threat assessment. Guided Passage is a great card for a group to learn to be quiet as it resolves, an opponent chooses…And then after resolution, talk calmly afterward about the choice. How many cards give you the chance to analyze a deck like that?
Here’s Morgan Stern’s deck:
2x Noble Benefactor
2x Crater Hellion
2x Ivory Tower
1x Elephant Grass
1x Nevinyrral’s Disk
1x Tranquil Grove
1x Cursed Totem
1x Thieves’ Auction
2x Gaea’s Blessing
4x Guided Passage
4x Manipulate Fate
1x Savage Twister
1x Time Spiral
1x Crystal Spray
1x Yavimaya Hollow
1x The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
2x Rainbow Vale
1x Maze of Ith
2x Lotus Vale
1x Glacial Chasm
2x Ghitu Encampment
3x Gemstone Mine
1x Faerie Conclave
4x Smoldering Crater
1x Shivan Gorge
4x Slippery Karst
2x Treetop Village
4x Remote Isle
3x Undiscovered Paradise
A few thoughts about this deck: It needs to be tightened. I don’t typically choose winning decks that feature 75 cards. And here, every first Guided Passage will likely get a Benefactor, Rainbow Vale, and Crystal Spray.
But what makes the deck win is three things: First, it uses a strategy that I really like – maximizing the chances that someone will pick something OTHER than chaff. Second, it limits at least one of the three options (creatures) to force an opponent’s hand in some way. And third, it provides such an amazing and creative array of options in both lands and noncreatures, every game will play Passage differently. All three of these factors lead to a deck where Guided Passage is the”key” to influencing (and, one hopes, winning) the game.
As for what I’d do: Well, I’d either go the Morgan Stern route, but pull all of the color hosers, Crystal Spray, and a few other trinkets that I think clutter a work of art; or I’d blend several of the themes above and generate something that might start like this:
4x Guided Passage
1x Mind over Matter
4x Suffocating Blast
2x Bosium Strip
3x Mystic Snake
4x Noble Benefactor
4x Terminal Moraine
2x Smoldering Crater
2x Slippery Karst
4x Tropical Island
I won’t lie to you. Essentially, what I’m after here is an opportunity to Polymorph a Noble Benefactor. But I’m also trying to build a deck that can control in the short game and win in the long game, as Guided Passage provides a continual impact on the game’s overall shape. The creatures I provide don’t give a lot of wiggle room to opponents: More often than not, I’ll get the Benefactor and a Polymorph. And that’s fine!
But I’ll also be ready to discard Passage-derived cards like I don’t need for useful effects like Masticore and Mind Over Matter. I’ll have lands that cycle or search, sorceries and instants that generate additional card advantage, and Bosium Strips to replay the effects I like best.
The deck is a bit thin on creatures, which will hurt in the late game; but I try to make up for it in quality. If someone actually tries this deck and has trouble with matching up creatures, I’d add a Crater Hellion, or a Bloodfire Colossus (or Kavu, if you’re feeling less dramatic) and pull out the Pyroclasms and/or Earthquakes.
Thanks to all who entered — this was a nice variety of decks to read, and no real bombs. (Again, except Noah’s.) Joshua and Morgan, please email me with a mailing address. Morgan, go ahead and name an Apocalypse rare; it’s yours.
Next week, the Hall starts. I do honestly appreciate the last-minute suggestions I’ve received. We’ll see how many make it in!