Chatter of the Squirrel – The Problem With Ideas

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Wednesday, March 19th – In Magic, as in life, everybody has ideas. As a member of the writing world I always furrow my brow and narrow my eyes whenever anyone talks about an “idea” they have for a story, or a screenplay, or a poem, or a novel, or whatever. “Can I read what you’ve got so far,” I’ll ask, and they’ll eye the ground sheepishly like a late-eighties shoegazer.

“Richard, I might actually be able to PTQ this weekend!”

Those words rang through the corridors of Washington International Airport with the jubilance of a thousand Easter-egg hunting children salivating at the opportunity to devour their chocolate bunnies. I was getting back to Memphis a day earlier than expected, and was furiously wracking my brain for a deck to play.

Alas, like the Easter Bunny himself, my dreams of re-entry into the stuffed and smelly PTQ rank-and-file were nothing but all-too-charming fancy, but the conversation I had with my favorite Premium-author lumberjack proved illuminating all the same.

“People are doing all these awful things like trying to beat Tron by hating out its graveyard. What happens if you just drop a Sundering Titan or cast a Decree? Nice Leyline.”

“Yeah, and why make their dumb strategy valid with Gifts? Why not just cast Fact or Fiction and skilltest people on things they haven’t practiced in eight years? It’s not like you don’t have the mana.”

“Sure. If we really want to tutor we can just bin cards with FoF and play a bunch of Tolaria Wests to get our Ruins. What do we do about Teeg, though?”

“Well, like, can’t we just Repulse it or Oblivion Ring it or something? People play Vindicate all over the place, and we’re a control deck so we don’t care all that much about blowing up lands. Plus that can take care of Destructive Flow if people ever start listening to Sully again*.”

It seemed like we were well on the way to crafting ourselves a pretty techy Tron deck. But I missed the PTQ, dismissed our chat as nothing more than an idle brainstorm, and spent no more time working on the deck. Then lo and behold the Baron of Button-ups, the Umpire of Unpaid Dinner-tabs, the co-regent (along with yours truly) of Team Schwab, one of my hands-down favorite Magicians Adam Yurchick decides to make the finals with a remarkably similar list.

“Well, congrats Chatter,” you might be thinking. “You brainstormed a list, and it was good, and yay look how smart you are. We’re all real impressed. Can we click the back button now?”


I mean, “no, that’s not what I’m trying to do.” I think. You’re more than free to click the back button. My ethereal minions aren’t that pervasive, so I might not even be able to tell, and I only hold grudges for a decade or so. My point is this:

You know what the fundamental difference between myself and Adam Yurchick is, besides the extra $2300 that’s now sitting in his account?** I had an idea, and I said, “hmm, that’s a cool idea.” I didn’t write about the deck, I didn’t let anybody know about it, I didn’t talk to anyone and try to generate feedback, and I certainly didn’t play it in a tournament. Adam came to a similar set of conclusions, decided to gamble on his well-reasoned intuition, and nabbed himself a healthy chunk of Pro Points for his efforts.

In Magic, as in life, everybody has ideas. As a member of the writing world I always furrow my brow and narrow my eyes whenever anyone talks about an “idea” they have for a story, or a screenplay, or a poem, or a novel, or whatever. “Can I read what you’ve got so far,” I’ll ask, and they’ll eye the ground sheepishly like a late-eighties shoegazer. “Well, here’s what I’ve been thinking about…” they’ll say, or, “I haven’t really gotten around to working on it yet.” That’s just not good enough. The way you differentiate yourself from the crowd is by sitting down, putting in the hours, and coming up with a product. Barring that, find somebody who can make use of your resources and potentially benefit from them – tell your friend about a deck, or become a Magic writer and live vicariously through other people’s successes***.

I remember a long time ago I was visiting my family in Southern Florida. My grandfather owned a fair-sized boat and we decided it’d be fun to spend a couple of days on the water. We were piddling around this small group of islands before you hit the Keys when we came upon this enormous house. Apparently it belonged to the guy who invented Post-it notes – who’dathunk – and immediately I was hit with an onslaught of what must have passed for the fortysomething equivalent of the Magic-ese “Must Be Nice:”

“We’d have never believed that you could’a gotten rich by putting some glue on the back of a piece of paper.”
Mama Chambers-Hill

“Now, see, I thought of that idea fifty years ago but people told me I was crazy.”

“I think the whole thing is overrated, myself.”

And a litany of similar sentiments. It’s the same way with a lot of inventions, I think. Nothing that bearded guy sells on late-night infomercials is a startling achievement of engineering, and I bet if you paid me $100 to think up a device that would hang pictures or re-attach buttons or portably and handily steam-vacuum carpets I could come up with something similar. But I’m not the guy raking in the dollars because I conjured up some kind of maximally-efficient vinyl tubing. That guy is sipping margaritas on the beach, and I’m in a gray office writing about a card game.

Everyone’s a genius until it comes time to deliver.

The lesson is clear:

If it’s Extended season and you think you’ve solved the format, proxy up a deck and test it. Make changes. Load up some Magic Workstation. My roommate Miguel has achieved remarkable success with a R/U Trash-for-Treasure Cloudpost creation that I’d never have been able to cobble together in a million years. He had an idea, and he’s been backing it up. At the very first PTQ of the season, I told everyone I knew to play Dredge. Sure enough it won a bunch of blue envelopes – but I wasn’t reaping any of the rewards, because I was sitting on the sidelines. I bemoaned my fate to anyone who would listen, but was very justifiably met with dismissal: “well, I guess you should have played.”

It’s not enough to be a member of the forum-chorus when Patrick or Mike post a Martyr-Proclamation deck: “Oh yeah, I had that idea. It’s really good right now!” When Lenny B and the other Zac(k) H pulled Top 8s with Tron, it doesn’t do anyone any good to say that they just knew that Tron had been the trump card all along. When Patrick and others were experimenting with 62-plus-card Teachings decklists, you’re not impressing anybody when you reveal that you too wanted simply to add that Temporal Isolation to the maindeck without making any cuts.

“Oh yeah? How’d that work for you in a tournament?”

If the answer is, “well, I didn’t exactly wind up doing it,” then sorry. You’re not earning bandwagon points. If, on the other hand, you played things that way and it was savage, then congrats! You’re ahead of the curve.

At Valencia, Sadin and I scribbled a Dredge variant on a deck box that we swore would be savage across the GP circuit. In exchange for a less-explosive maindeck, it could sideboard into a serviceable aggro-rock game 2 that — crucially – didn’t have to make any awkward concessions. It featured removal, hand disruption, and clocks. I didn’t take it any further. I sent an e-mail to Adrian, Rich, and Steve about a month ago with a similar concept, hybridizing old Ichorid lists and Craig Jones‘ Troll-a-Tog from a few years back to create a Dredge list with maybe only 60-ish% game 1 against the field, but a much greater ability to actually play Magic for game 2. I said I’d mold the concepts into a list once I’d thought about it more. That never happened. As a result, I’m sitting here at my deck without having played in a single PTQ for Hollywood, having to burn my free invite early in the season to go all-in on my worst format, Standard.

Don’t let this happen. At a certain point you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and believe in your ideas enough to do something with them.

Not-So-Bonus-Section: A Look at Yurch-a-Tron

I think Adam just hit the nail on the head with this list, and there’s several things I want to talk about:

The manabase
This is just one of the tightest Tron manabases ever. A key advantage of U/W over U/G Tron are the amazing (in this deck) Odyssey lands, which mitigate to a large extend your overabundance of colorless mana. 25 lands, 4 Tolaria Wests, 2 Chrome Moxen, and 4 Azorius Signets. This deck will assemble the Tron early, will make its land drops, and will force you to deal with a billion Angel tokens, a 7/10 Geddon-on-a-stick, or a stolen turn. Moreover, it understands that it doesn’t need to dilute its manabase with basic lands in a futile effort to overpower nonbasic land hate. Having 1 island in the face of a Destructive Flow just isn’t going to get you there regardless, so the deck is able to save on the damage from Onslaught sac-lands and just run the full count of Hallowed Fountains. It’s a brilliant, straightforward achievement.

Oblivion Ring: I covered this earlier, but the card actually solves every single one of this deck’s problems. Repeal is nice, but it’s archaic. O-Ring takes out Magi of the Moon, Blastminers, and Flows, while serving at least some kind of useful role against every non-TEPS deck in the format. Running this card is an example of the type of open-mindedness required to take full advantage of the resources a new set provides.

Exalted Angel: For some reason, the prevailing wisdom is that it’s smart to board in artifact destruction against Tron decks. You don’t need to hear yet again why Richard and I didn’t think that accomplished much against last year’s Tron, but this deck goes even further. It can eschew the Crucibles and Chalices necessary for a more combo-oriented lockdown kill, and instead can run its full-on bearl mode and flap this hottie’s wings in your face until you die. If only there were Solemn Simulacra, Shaheen would be proud.

Meddling Mage: It seems that Chris Pikula will never go away. Just when the numbers on this guy start to wane, he re-emerges and makes life miserable for everyone who’s not used to playing around him.

Thanks y’all!


* For the record: Sully called Miser Rock and Spirit Stompy, arguably two of the most dominant decks on the Midwestern PTQ circuit this season. When the man tries, the man succeeds. He also is like the best phone-chatter ever.

** Post your real answers to this question in the forums.

*** The glam’rous life of our StarCity staff.