Bucking tradition, I have actually been writing about Magical strategy the last few weeks, and because of that there are a few things I wanted to talk about that have been kicked, at least momentarily, to the curb. I’m about to embark on what amounts to 4 weeks of travel over six weeks, so this is one of the last times to like collect my thoughts and cover a broad variety of topics. I’ll end with a brief discussion of Extended, and as a minor bonus, some Standard “technology” that will hopefully improve your matchups across the board.
Some of this isn’t going to be terribly “current,” I realize, but should still be relevant enough to warrant discussion.
New Prerelease Structure
I want every American reading this to know, on the front end, how lucky you are that the prize support is what it is at most local tournaments. You win a Malaysian Shards prerelease, you get six booster packs. This is not like a unique trait of the “new” structure. Win a draft, four packs, win an FNM, two packs and a foil. So all of the sudden the fact that I used to complain to my local shop constantly about six-pack first-prizes in drafts makes me feel very awkward. Apparently this prize distribution is not peculiar to Malaysia, either. We are just very fortunate, in the States, when it comes to tournament winnings. I say this just to inform of my perspective, because I have to say it rang really false to me when cries across the internet, some on this very site, started to pop up declaring their refusal to attend any other prereleases of this type – how they weren’t nearly as fun, poorly-organized, missing the “magic” of older-school prereleases, and so forth.
I mean, really?
Don’t get me wrong. I am a proponent of the old-old-old-school releases, without the need for so-called “flights,” where three-hundred-odd people would congregate to a convention center for a day of Grand Prix-like mayhem, and the Top 8 would earn several boxes of product apiece. My very first â€˜major’ tournament performance was a Nemesis prerelease Top 8 featuring myself, Doug Tice, Tillman Bragg, and Neil Reeves, and it truly felt like a big deal. But that’s not to be, and I’m still having fun. They moved to flights and it was no longer possible to go infinite the day a set was released – but I’m still having fun. Now it’s just like an FNM, maybe slightly larger – but, guess what, I’m still having fun. Am I having as much fun? No, I’m not. But these descriptions of like globe-spanning catastrophe seemed really fake to me, as if authors were trying to front to Wizards like they were going to lose business under the present model, trying to make the echo of the howl greater than the sound itself. Come on. Are people really seriously saying they are not going to play at prereleases, that they’re going to pass on the opportunity to crack packs and battle and win enough to draft with the new set and they are just going to sit back at home and sip tea in little porcelain cups and – these are Magic players, now – wait patiently for the set to be released a week later? I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. I’m not saying that it’s not true, or even that the people saying these things aren’t genuine when they say them. I could be proven wrong. But right now, I am calling.
Shards of Alara
Other writers have tackled this, of course, but when Shards came out, everyone over here was just shouting Hail Marys about its lack of playables. I, on the other hand, found one of the highest playable-densities in recent memory. My Extended deck right now, for Pro Tour: Berlin, maindecks eleven copies of Shards spells, and may or may not sideboard another one for value. Broodmate Dragon is one of my favorite finishers ever printed, Ad Nauseam is currently the spell I most enjoy resolving, and Tezzeret just is, so it’s not like it’s just the commons of the world that are getting some action. And Hissing Iguanar is one of the best Limited creatures in recent memory; however high you are taking this guy, you should definitely be taking him higher.
Flavor-wise, too, wow what a slam out of the ballpark. Probably the least interesting Shard is Grixis, but even its absolute-Capitalist-paradise ultimate survival-of-the-fittest dystopia probably has its proponents. The atmospheres of Bant, Naya, and Esper encapsulate their colors’ philosophies just perfectly, though I think the “artifact-creature” thing is good mechanically but a tad weak flavor-wise – because, I mean, Mirrodin had even more metal and its guys were normal everyday Creature Dash Whatevers. Then again, I suppose the filigree in Esper is more appropriately “artifice,” so it makes a degree of sense. Jund is a little “meh” to me, but is brilliant marketing-wise because you just get to throw Dragons at people left and right until the ensuing lakes of saliva mandate the re-drawing of topographical charts and sea-level graphs worldwide. Sarkhan Vol: a prime example. Here is easily the most mediocre of the Planeswalkers by a mile* – though still a fine card – and yet people see “five 4/4 dragons??!” and start running around hysterically like eschatologically-enthused cultists.
Finally, the draft environment is just incredibly interesting. People keep telling me I am overrating the speed of the format, and I keep bashing them with Cylian Elves and Iguanars, but it’s clear that archetypes spanning the gamut of greediness are at least viable, as the recent Grand Prix results demonstrate. We have been drafting this set almost daily and show no signs of slowing down, which is very refreshing; too often, the enthusiasm peaks high and peters out drastically a month or so after a set is released. Even now, there are things I want to try out that I haven’t had the opportunities for – very artifact heavy Glaze Fiend/Etherium Sculptor U/b/w; Good Stuff Obelisks; go-large Green, etc. The set seems incredibly deep, and I’m already excited about Conflux.
Suiting Up for Berlin
My first regret when I heard about Levy’s Berlin push was that “suited” is no longer a fashionable Magic term, and I wouldn’t be able to use the pun in an article.
I think, though, that this is related to Magic’s public image more generally, and it’s something I’ve wanted to talk about for awhile. Some of it is related to issues of marketability, some of it the internal players’ attitude toward the game and our part within it, but in general I think it’s an incredibly good idea.
It’s not, of course, about the suits specifically. While I plan on full-on dressing up for at least the first day, I might just rock a shirt/sport-coat or a belted-jeans/coat/button-up on Day 2 (regardless of whether or not I’m playing – fingers crossed!). There’s only so much I can pack, etc. And there are some people for whom pulling off a suit is probably going to be more “strip-club bouncer” than “legitimate professional” in its effect, anyway. It’s awesome, though, that a player, entirely independent of Wizards’ institutional structure, is taking this kind of initiative.
The thing is, between the Magic Show and increased international coverage efforts and a more streamlined website**, we players need to realize that, especially among those of us with some kind of “profile,” it’s rather likely that we’re going to get photographed. These photos are going up on the internet, viewed in all likelihood by our friends and family who are following the coverage, and remaining there to stay for who knows how long. So if you’re sitting there sporting your Sephiroth shirt coated in at least two layers of cheeto-dust, you’re communicating something that you probably don’t want to be communicating. And, truly, a Pro Tour is a special thing. Berlin will be my twelfth Pro Tour, and the fourteenth for which I have been qualified, but each one stands out uniquely in my mind and each one holds a special place in my memory that it’ll be a long time before I forget. Dressing appropriately, treating each event as, well, an event, exhibits a profound respect for the game that I think, frankly, it deserves – especially as the truly international collective it has become. Plus there could be the possibility for more Tsuyoshi Fujita in a kimono, which, awesome.
I’m really enjoying this format, actually. There’s only so much I can talk about, of course, but in general there are so many different angles of attack, and each one has some very specific strengths and weaknesses. This sounds like one of those general statements carrying very little truth-value – “Wow, Zac, different decks do different things???” – but it’s important to understand because it means that it’s very hard to build a control deck that can deal with all the different things that might get thrown at it game 1. What our group has found, at least, is that you typically put together a deck that has six or seven cards geared at one matchup, six or seven for another, and very little card filtration to tie it all together, reason being you can only afford a couple Thirsts for Knowledge, and Ancestral Vision takes awhile to come online. So you run into the “Rock Problem,” where you win if you draw the right cards in the right matchups but have very little control over whether that actually happens. Furthermore, so many of the powerful game 1 strategies are so linear that it’s very easy to attack them games 2 and 3. Storm you have Stifle and Teeg and Canonist; Affinity you have Kataki; Hulk you have Stifle or Heap Doll or Extirpate etc. That’s one of the reasons I’m gravitating towards Zoo or Swans; while powerful weapons exist against each (Threads, Shackles, etc.) none are so crippling that the game is just over right there. Furthermore, both of those decks possess different methods of dealing with the hate that don’t disrupt what they’re already trying to do very much. With something like Desire, it’s easy to combat Teeg and easy to combat Stifle but difficult to accomplish both at once.
Alrighty. I’m not going to burden everyone with decklists because I don’t have anything revolutionary. But, for lack of a better term, some bullet points of goodness:
– Sean LaFaber and Mohd “Icky” Ikmal have introduced me to the “Punish Ignorance” technology, in place of Scion in Faeries. You usually just want to cast Scion to protect a guy, which Punish Ignorance does pretty well since you don’t cast Scion on turn 3 that often, anyway, and Punish both pushes through damage and gives you, in effect, three faeries. I don’t know that I’d run the full four, but it’s something to consider
– Jace is insane right now just categorically.
– I think that Resounding Discard Two At Random is really good mirror technology for Five-Color Control. You get in all these situations where whoever bites first will just lose, because frequently the only things that matter are Cryptic Commands and cards that deal with Cryptic Commands. This card puts you up +3, and there’s absolutely nothing at all they can do about it.
– Other technology in that matchup: Shelldock Isle
– Tidehollow Sculler is actually good at everything
– Reveillark and Five-Color Control don’t have to be two distinct decks. You can play Cryptic Commands and Remove Souls and not play â€˜Lark as a tap-out deck. Just run Sculler and Mulldrifter and three or so â€˜Larks. Maybe Fulminator if you want it, but whatever. It’s really not all that important. You have to be willing to think outside the existing framework.
– If your daddy in the pen’, ha-ha, you Swerve on â€˜em.
– It’s probably time for our friend Gaddock Teeg to show his face again.
Alright, take it easy y’all. Next time you hear from me will be the day I leave for Berlin, so until then, good luck in your PTQs and FNMs, and I’ll see you next week!
* People keep maligning Elspeth, but do you understand how good an Angelic Blessing every turn is? Sure the Ajani “-1” ability is better sometimes, but once your guys get Wrathed away Ajani sits there and looks stupid, whereas with Elspeth you’re attacking with an Air Elemental in a turn and she’s just building up and up and up to become harder and harder and harder to deal with.
** I don’t mean “the new magicthegathering.com,” though if I hear one more person complain about the endless flash intros I am going to scream; seriously, just go to dailymtg.com and it’ll all be okay, I promise. I mean the difference between the “tournament center” of the last 3-4 years versus the old sideboard.com and its “oh how lucky there’s a picture in there somewhere” more-or-less-haphazardly-arranged format.