Constructed Criticism – Nothing Personal, Just Business

Todd Anderson loves Geist of Saint Traft and Mentor of the Meek in a Puresteel Paladin deck for Standard. If you want to start testing Puresteel for States or the Indianapolis Open, here’s a good starting point.

For those of you just tuning in, this week’s article is not going to be a response article to Geordie Tait, which can be found here.

For starters, I just want to say that I really liked Geordie’s article. His message was one of great importance for our community and is definitely something we should all be talking about in one way or another. His thoughts on the subject were enlightening to a great extent, and his points were definitely eye-opening, but his delivery of a lot of them felt like low-blows. But his points got us talking.

And talking is never a bad thing.

I want to clear up a few things, since people seem to have an absurdly negative opinion of me after my article a few weeks ago about “going pro.” For those interested, it can be found here. I feel like a lot of people took that article in a way that was not intended, but I didn’t really understand why until I read Geordie’s article. When I write about my life, I tend to leave out some of the minute details and especially so when I don’t necessarily think that they add to the story. My biggest mistake was not looking at my article out of context. I was too close to it, and that was my biggest problem. While Geordie’s assessment of my article may have been off the mark, he drew his conclusions from what I presented everyone, and that fault lies with me.

Well then, let’s clear the air a bit.

For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’m a “country boy” from Alabama, but I’ve always prided myself in being of moderately high intelligence. I was always a straight-A student in school but definitely felt like I was too smart for most of the classes. I would often skip classes, sleep through others, yet still I maintained a 4.0 GPA through most of it. I was offered a full scholarship to Auburn, and I attended for a year, but I threw it all away because I wasn’t mature enough to handle living on my own. I partied. I gambled. I skipped class. The problem was that it was much harder to make “A’s” in college without actually attending the classes.

Growing up, I’ve always had family problems, and they’ve come to define a big part of who I am, but not in a negative way. My parents are good people, but like everyone, they’ve made some bad decisions in their life, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from their mistakes. I’ve grown into a man that one could hardly say is “normal,” but who gets to define the word “normal” anyway? I’ve taken what life has given me and tried to make the best of it. And, like everyone, I’ve made my own mistakes.

Recently, my wife and I moved to Roanoke, VA, so that she could work for this fine company, StarCityGames.com, as an events specialist. We packed everything up, left our friends and family behind, and are trying to make a new life for ourselves here in this little town. At first, things between us were a little rocky, but denial kept me from seeing why. I didn’t want to come between Kali and her dream job, but I was feeling homesick and very depressed, with few outlets. I buried myself in Magic and George R. R. Martin and often stayed home when others went out for “game night” or dinner. Things weren’t going too well, but I couldn’t help but feel like my unhappiness was entirely my fault.

Upon our arrival in Roanoke, I set out to find a job. I applied at a lot of nearby restaurants because that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last few years of my life: serving. What some of you don’t know is that serving is a sh*tty job, but I’ve done it for a long time, and I’m pretty good at it. The thing about restaurant jobs is that they give you a lot freedom with your work schedule. At any point, almost any serving job will allow someone else to cover your shift, which makes serving a great part-time job if you’re trying to become a professional Magic player (laughing encouraged).

The first problem came a few weeks after working at my new job, when my boss told me that I could have off as much time as I needed, as long as I requested off in advance. What he didn’t tell me was that he completely changes this view without warning whenever supply of servers gets low. In a nutshell, my boss told me I couldn’t take off work for Grand Prix Pittsburgh or Pro Tour Philadelphia, both of which were very important to me. I tried to tell him how much the time off meant to me, and I was going to be taking hardly any time off for a while after that, but he basically wrote my plea off and told me to get over it. So I did get over it.

I quit.

I’m sure most of you are crying out loud at your computer right now, calling me an idiot or a child. Maybe you’re right. I’m not a mature individual on a lot of levels, which is mostly evident by the fact that I have a weekly column writing about Magic: The Gathering. After I quit my job, I had planned on immediately getting another job in the fascinating world of Pizza Delivery, but then my wife and I had a very interesting conversation. The one mentioned in my previous article that is under so much scrutiny.

She knew that I wasn’t happy in our current situation, for a lot of reasons. She felt like I resented her for moving us to Virginia and forcing me to work a crappy job, but the logical side of me thought she was just wrong. It wasn’t her fault that I was unhappy; it was all mine. I was the one being antisocial. I was the one walking out on jobs over a card game.

But she knew that, for the longest time, I had wanted nothing more than to make the train for the Magic Pro Tour. A paltry dream, but a dream nonetheless. And a dream she had never let me try to achieve. With our recent $20K windfall, there would never be a better time for me to try.

She gave me a chance. It was her decision to let me chase my dream.

After all was said and done, we love each other, for better or for worse. That’s what marriage is really all about. We talked about our situation at great length that night and came up with a lot of interesting compromises. I didn’t feel like some of these compromises were a “good read” and painted me as being a bit whipped, but what can you do?

Kali brings home the bacon, and I’m the househusband.

She’s a strong woman, and our situation is actually the antithesis of the traditional American household and definitely not something you can argue is sexist. What you should realize is that the entirety of my article on the subject, in all its “fancy schmancy-ness,” was supposed to be an inspirational story that ends with someone doing what he loves and with his significant other supporting him in his decisions.

I don’t have illusions of making it big. Hell, most people who play Magic “for a living” just scrape by as it is. The game is a great environment for friendship and fun, but grinding out a living is not something I really want to be doing in the long term.

I plan on getting back into school, possibly as early as next spring. I plan on getting a real job after graduation. Not a part-time job, but a real job. My goal for as long as I can remember has been to be a teacher. If you couldn’t tell, it is a passion of mine to “teach the masses,” if you will. What do you think I’ve been trying to do with you fine people for these past few years?

If you take anything away from this entire ordeal, just take away that Geordie is a smart man with a lot of good things to say about what we can do to clean up ourselves and our community. Women are rarely treated equally with men, in almost every aspect of life, but that is something we can change. If we can do it, maybe that means there’s hope for the rest of humanity. I love Kali more than anything in the world, and if my article caused anyone to doubt it, then it is because I failed as a writer, and I’ll work harder to keep that from happening in the future.

At times, it is difficult to look at your work from an outsider’s perspective. In my mind, I could see all the minute details that were left out, and in hindsight there were plenty I should have incorporated. I’ll try to deal with my shortcomings as a writer the same way I deal with them as a player: through practice and constructive criticism by my peers.

It’s Just Business

There are two very important subjects to be discussed this week: the complete Innistrad spoiler has been released, and a lot of cards were banned across multiple formats. I’m going to refrain from commenting on Legacy and Modern and instead focus mostly on Standard. With so many new toys to play with, Innistrad is already looking like a lot of fun.

While a lot of discussion has popped up lately about the lower power level of Innistrad, I can safely say that it looks like we’re getting a bit of a breather. With Zendikar leaving, a ton of “broken” cards are rotating out with it. While some may argue that this may end up being bad for Constructed in the long term, I think a lot of decks will be given a chance to shine now that they aren’t being pounded out of existence by Caw-Blade, Valakut, and Mono Red.

There are a lot of cards from Innistrad that I’m excited about, but few as much as this guy:

Since when did Wizards think it was okay to give white and blue a Hell’s Thunder variant? Additionally, his hexproof ability makes him a prime candidate to hold any Sword, or possibly even Angelic Destiny. With Invisible Stalker as another hexproof creature, Equipment-based decks (or Aura-based decks) are going to have some new creatures to play with.

Geist of Saint Traft can fit into a variety of decks. He can act as a sole finisher for a U/W Control deck or as an additional beater for a U/W Aggro deck. I could even see him being brought back from the graveyard with Sun Titan on plenty of occasions. He’s a huge threat when he’s in play and very hard to deal with outside of a clone effect or sweeper.

As for incorporating him in existing strategies, I have found nothing but love for him in a Puresteel Paladin deck. I, for one, have been brewing a lot lately with Puresteel Paladin, and the results definitely look promising. Ever since I saw the “Equipster” deck created by Caleb Durward, I knew he was just as insane in Standard as he was in Block Constructed.

The problem was finding him a supporting cast of characters. Mirran Crusader is fine but still dies to every burn spell. Kor Firewalker was seeing some maindeck play, but that’s no longer relevant since he’s rotating out. So what creatures can we replace them with?

Enter Mentor of the Meek.

While Mentor is quite the interesting card, I’m not sure we have the tools in Standard to break him. I just think he’s going to be very good. In Modern, he could be the next Glimpse of Nature for Elves, but he’ll have to settle for “just awesome” in white-based Standard decks for the time being. My favorite part about Mentor of the Meek is that he plays well with most living weapons. Sure, Bonehoard and Batterskull make Germ tokens just a smidge too big to get any value out of him, but Flayer Husk and Mortarpod work just fine.

What’s that? Mortarpod and Flayer Husk are already good with Puresteel Paladin?

What’s that? All of these cards can be played in the same deck, you say?

Hrm, we might have something going here.

Puresteel Paladin is really awesome on his own, but the problem he has is that you can only play four of them. While Mentor of the Meek is no Puresteel Paladin, he does function similarly, albeit for an increase in mana expenditure. Frankly, I don’t see a problem in playing both, since they both combo well with similar cards. The major difference is that Mentor of the Meek doesn’t draw you cards when casting Sword of Feast and Famine or Sword of War and Peace, but that is mitigated by the fact that he draws cards off the rest of the creatures you cast.

Puresteel has the downside of not triggering off the rest of your creatures, but his ability to move Equipment around for free can become bonkers really fast. I’ve been messing around with various configurations over the last few days, but I’ve decided on the one that I’d like to start testing right away.

Without further ado: Puresteel

This list is a bit rough, and the sideboard is purely speculative, but I think it is definitely a great starting point. Without Celestial Colonnade, the mana base feels a little rough, and it may be correct to abandon blue altogether, but I think Geist of Saint Traft is an awesome addition for the deck and singlehandedly justifies the splash. There are a few interesting cards from Innistrad that I’m sure I’m overlooking for the sideboard, but this is where I’m currently at.

Let’s start from the top. The synergy between a lot of the card choices is easy to recognize. Hexproof creatures work really well with Equipment, but on an even greater scale when that creature has evasion. Invisible Stalker is not a great threat on his own, hence cutting the number down to three, but his utility with Equipment cannot be ignored. I feel the same way about Geist of Saint Traft, but he is much better at closing the game on his own. I left him as a three-of simply due to his legendary status, but that could change depending on the metagame. If everyone plays it, then it will be likely that you could be using them as a way to kill your opponent’s copies.

Mentor of the Meek triggers off of every creature in the deck, including the eight living weapons. With Mentor of the Meek and Puresteel Paladin both drawing you cards, you’ll rarely be flooded. At some point, I might even recommend increasing the land count, if only to smooth out your draws with Mentor, but 23 lands with a pair of Mox Opals feel like plenty. The older versions play the same configuration, but also had access to Preordain. However, I feel like having access to Preordain was mostly to limit flooding in the mid and late game, as opposed to helping you dig out of being short on mana in the early game. There were far too few blue sources in the older version to effectively cast Preordain on the first turn.

Vault Skirge seems to stick out like a sore thumb on paper, but I think he deserves to be here. Not only is he insane at racing with a Sword on him, but he’s essentially a one-drop artifact creature with no mana requirements. This allows you to turn on Puresteel Paladin, Dispatch, and Mox Opal much more easily. Without him, your artifact count would become dangerously low. If you playtest a lot and find yourself short on artifacts, I might recommend cutting Invisible Stalker for another good artifact creature, but I’m just not sure what deserves to fit in that slot at the moment. Spellskite would be my first choice because it does a great job at protecting your other creatures from removal. However, it would be just another mediocre creature when it isn’t equipped with a Sword.

The removal package of Dispatch and Oblivion Ring seems decent enough. I left out one of the Dispatches for a few reasons, but mostly due to the fact that you can often get awkward hands where Dispatch does virtually nothing. On the other hand, you don’t have to pay four life like you do with Dismember, so it has a bit of an upside going for it. Dismember also fails to kill Consecrated Sphinx or any of the Titans, which is the reason why I put it in the sideboard. With Mortarpod, Dispatch, and Oblivion Ring, you should have enough ways to kill annoying creatures.

As I said before, the sideboard is speculative and always a work in progress. I think Purify the Grave will end up being a solid card, since a lot of the cooler cards from Innistrad have graveyard abilities. I don’t know how important it will end up being, and those slots may be needed for more hate against planeswalkers or aggressive decks, but I’m currently happy with the configuration. Revoke Existence is primarily for Tempered Steel, which should see a resurgence in popularity once Innistrad is legal. Ancient Grudge may do a lot to keep it in check, but don’t expect a singleton Ancient Grudge to beat them.

Negate will be your primary answer to a lot of the threats that give you the biggest problems. Gideon Jura, as well as every other planeswalker, can put a beating on you if you aren’t careful. Liliana of the Veil could end up being an incredible nuisance, but you have a lot of Germ tokens to throw under the bus early in the game. Hopefully she won’t end up being too much of an issue, but perhaps that’s asking a bit too much. She’s an aggressively costed planeswalker with a lot going for her. Expect people to be playing her a lot, whether or not they utilize her to the best of her abilities.

Well, that’s pretty much all I’ve got for this week. The Prerelease is this weekend, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on some of the new cards. There is a lot that I like about the new set, but I can definitely hear a lot of people grumbling about some of the new mechanics and flavor. At times, it feels as if WotC is just trying to push some things down our throat, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They’ve given us some powerful tools to work with in the past, like Jace and Stoneforge, and we broke the format in half. Now they’re giving us Vampires and Werewolves to play with, which could be a lot of fun in the long term.

My biggest problem with the flavor of the set is that it seems to me like they’re trying really hard to draw in the fan-crowd for Twilight, but I can hardly blame them. A large audience that is desperate for more of the same genre will likely wander towards our camp, ultimately ending in a growing consumer base and growth for the company as a whole.

I know that I come off as a bit of a dick from time to time, but I’ve found that more people take you seriously when you’re straightforward with them. I don’t sugarcoat the truth. I tell you like it is because people don’t listen to you otherwise. If I think you’re doing something wrong, then I’m going to tell you to your face that you’re doing it wrong and how you can improve. That’s just who I am, and I know a lot of people dislike me for it. I also know that my personality and writing style can be a bit off-putting at times, but there is a reason that almost everyone who knows me, who really knows me, considers me a good friend. I show them enough respect to be completely honest with them, even if it hurts their feelings, because we all need a wake-up call from time to time. Sources of criticism aren’t always endeared, but they’re always endured, and usually for the better.

Thanks for reading.


strong sad on MOL