Quite a sobering time, and it feels more than a little stupid to focus on Magic. Then again, I’ve found my interest in the game somewhat rekindled. Playing Magic is not for me an escape from what is happening — I find it important to keep up on the news and in touch with my Manhattan friends constantly. These days Magic is more of a friggin’ break from it all.
So here is a Magic article to take your mind off of world events – at least momentarily. I virtually finished writing it when I heard the news start blaring Tuesday morning. The article makes little mention of Tuesday’s tragedy other than this introduction. I try lamely at humor throughout. I try even more lamely at strategy. It was written at a time when I thought the United States was at a time of relative peace.
Now, I’ve struggled whether to send this to Ferrett or not. The tone feels so discordant with everything else around me. In fact, it feels like another me wrote it – which is true, I suppose.
Eventually I decided to let the editor decide. If you are reading this, it is because he decided you could use a distraction. That is what the article tries to do; it is meant to provide you with the same distraction Magic has brought me this week.
No editorials here, and only a grim plea at the end. Time to put on your Hat of Distraction. Ready? Me too.
I Am Not Michael Jordan
The article begins with a realization. The realization: I’m not Michael Jordan.
Really. I’m not. My hair is thinning, which is an interesting similarity, but really the comparisons stop about there.
People around the San Francisco Bay Area got me very excited to”pull an MJ” and start playing in qualifiers again. Real live face-to-face Magic. And it almost worked, too. I made myself a rogue deck, playtested the living crap out of it, borrowed the cards, borrowed sleeves, borrowed a deck box, found dice, found funny Saproling and Reflection tokens and then…
…well, and then I realized a few things:
* Michael Jordan was the best player in basketball when he retired. As far as I can tell, I wasn’t the best player in Magic when I sold my collection of cards after the Nemesis release. I am a fair player, but really that’s about it.
* Michael Jordan left a pro and would return as a pro. I left a decided amateur and would be returning as an amateur trying to qualify into the professional ranks.
* Michael Jordan is a naturally gifted athlete. I am, while a reasonably sharp fellow, not a natural at Magic. I like board and card games, but in all of them I frequently make mistakes and get distracted.
* Michael Jordan is currently training his butt off to be ready for his comeback, and I would be dedicating a few hours a week to mine.
I am not Michael Jordan. I will not be making a”comeback” into competitive Magic.
There was one positive realization, by the way: I also realized that I could beat most Magic players in basketball.
Why I Love Magic
No, face-to-face Magic probably isn’t for me. Suddenly an entire weekend day in a dark room with smelly teenagers felt like – n fact, it felt EXACTLY like – an entire weekend day in a dark room with smelly teenagers. I started thinking it would be nicer to hang out with my wife, or to run, or to hang out with friends, or to write or to read. Heck, or even to play basketball.
That’s two paragraphs in a row ending in”basketball.” Three if I didn’t write this sentence.
Why would I return to competitive Magic? Competition is in my blood, but I can find it in other, more lucrative, places. Indeed, competition in Magic is one of the least interesting parts of the game for me.
And I don’t need the social scene. The friends I made through Magic have all left the game. I still see them without us focusing on Magic. In fact, I don’t really have room for more friends in my life, since I borderline neglect the ones I already have.
I like the creativity — the artistry, I might even say — of deckbuilding. That’s why I stay involved with the game. I like taking the template of deck design and plugging different cards together to see how they interact. I like themes. For me, online Magic gives me access to unlimited cards and possibilities. As long as Binary21 keeps giving me formats on which to focus and continues to play/chat with me online… I’m happy.
So okay, I like to make decks. I submitted somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty to the People’s Auction. Fifty. Does this give you an idea about what I like about the game? The favorite of Binary21 seems to be the Clams deck. Just so you get the idea of my severe ridiculousness, here it is:
4 Chambered Nautilus
4 Clam Session
4 Giant Oyster
4 Coral Reef
4 Sunken City
3 High Tide
1 Mox Pearl
2 Coral Atoll
Something about hearing Zvi sing during his upkeep for Clam Session makes me giggle. That, and him yelling”Snap!”
For me, the ideal situation would be to build decks that other people play. It’s the only problem with having Mike, Will, Scott and Carl as teammates: They’re all damn fine deckbuilders in their own right. They build things like God, or Indian Summer, or what-is-now-known-as-Dark Solution. They really only need me as a playtester and opponent, and even then they have each other. They never play my decks. Theirs are too good.
Rizzo played a deck of mine once and wrote what I think is the longest tournament report in history with it. That was cool. Sometimes people take my decks to Friday Night Magic and tell me what happened. I love that. I don’t think people realize how much I enjoy hearing about them playing my decks. Sometimes I read those e-mails a dozen times, wishing the person had given me a lot more detail like the Friggin’ One. If you ever want someone to listen to every choice you made in a tournament or to read your fifty-page report, take a deck of mine and I’m all ears.
September 15th will roll around (or has rolled around) with me outside, frolicking in the lilacs (or, more likely, I will be yet again glued to the television waiting for news… whatever).
I have, quite unexpectedly, taken the time to re-evaluate what I love about Magic and feel fairly comfortable in my choice. We all make choices. My choice is to continue in my role as Magic Aberrant: The guy on the good team with no cards who likes to make decks.
I am disappointed. But not in myself. I feel bad for my cool deck.
The Birth of the Green Ghost
No comeback, you see, means that I yet again have a deck unlike anything out there that will never get played in real life. And this time I feel like I let the deck down. This thing was charged and ready to make an entrance, and I had played it online so much it felt like a part of me.
Although IBC offered perhaps the widest variety of viable decks of any legal constructed environment in Magic’s short history, I decided after the release of Apocalypse that I would make one deck and one deck only for the season. Moreover, I would make this deck GOOD (those capitals mean I’m yelling, unless it’s the name of a deck… Why would I yell the deck name?).
I wanted to take an idea I was reasonably sure other deckbuilders would avoid and I wanted to pound it with my deckbuilding hammer until it started to take an edge. Focusing on one deck had always been hard for me because too many other deck ideas were crowding to the front of the line. I already knew I could come up with a lot of creative ideas… that part is easy for me. If”Thirty Decks in Ten Days” didn’t prove it, the Auction probably did. Quantity is not my problem.
This time, though, I wondered what it would be like to tune a deck beyond any point I had reached before. Could I make a qualifying deck — a deck that stood up to all of the other suitors — based on my and my teammates’ understanding of IBC? In other words, could I make a GOOD deck?
Of course I’ll never know, which is the rub. Is this a qualifying deck? I think so, but I haven’t quite put my money where my mouth is. And if I had gone 2-3 with it in a PTQ, could I still stand up and say”Piloted by a very good player, this thing would have…”? Probably not.
The idea for the deck arose from a conversation Binary21 had about mono-colored decks. At some point, and I’m fairly sure a lot of people had this discussion, we questioned whether mono-colored decks were viable in IBC. Scott Forster’s comments settled the debate.
He said:”I think there are ten ‘mono’ decks in IBC: The ten two-color pairs. Those would be the basic ‘learn the format’ decks.”
Once he said it, I saw it. IBC just didn’t have enough cards to support a mono-colored strategy. Even red burn and blue control, two of the most basic deck-types, needed to dip into other colors to work. Two colors was as elementary as you could get, and three colors was the rule.
I got intrigued by the ten two-color combinations, tinkering a bit to see which was being most ignored by the environment. It was my logic that people would start with a certain number of the two-color decks early in the format, then polish and mutate those into the defining decks later in the format. I think I’m right, by the way. Even some of the decks that started as three-color have their roots in what are essentially two-color strategies. But which were the color combinations being ignored? Which ones didn’t jump out at you? That was where I wanted to start.
I don’t remember how G/W became the color combo on which I focused… But somewhere about three months ago, I decided I was going to make a G/W deck for IBC. Oh, and I was going to make it GOOD.
The Green Ghost
All along, I figured the deck would speak for itself in my tournament report(s), and so I did a horrible job tracking how the deck transformed over time. Suffice it to say, here is where I started:
THE GREEN GHOST v.1.0
4 Blurred Mongoose
4 Standard Bearer
4 Llanowar Knight
4 Penumbra Bobcat
4 Noble Panther
4 Voice of All
4 Lay of the Land
4 Armadillo Cloak
And after what I estimate to be about eighty to a hundred playtesting games, here is where I ended up:
THE GREEN GHOST v.4.3
4 Blurred Mongoose
4 Kavu Titan
4 Spectral Lynx
4 Fleetfoot Panther
4 Voice of All
1 Angel of Mercy
1 Kavu Chameleon
1 Sabertooth Nishoba
4 Lay of the Land
3 Aura Mutation
3 Pure Reflection
2 Eladamri’s Call
4 Armadillo Cloak
3 Crimson Acolyte
3 Obsidian Acolyte
3 Pincer Spider
1 Benalish Emissary
Semi-serious deck analysis: ON.
The deck is a beatdown deck – not a pure beatdown deck, but pretty darned close. The idea is to drop early threats and do damage while your opponent is forced to answer more quickly than he or she would like, taking more damage from their painlands.
At some point, you have either won or there is a stall on the ground. It is then that the deck tries many different strategies to get those last points in, including:
- Attacking with an unblockable, regenerating Lynx
- Attacking with an untargetable flier
- Attacking with trampling or non-trampling fat
- Swarming all blockers
Yes, these late-game strategies all involve an attack phase. Turbo-Chant does not exist in IBC and I have Aura Mutation.
I will comment just briefly on some of the”card blocks” above so you understand some of my choices:
Most of the creatures — Mongoose, Titan, Lynx and Voice — can win games all by themselves. These are four creatures each deck must find a way to stop, and every deck in the format does so with varying degrees of success. Having them all in one place, though, means that spot removal is almost sure to not be enough.
Fleetfoot Panther saves those killer creatures, while also making Pure Reflection almost exclusively to your advantage. Panther + Reflection is some fun stuff. Oh, and the Panther kills a lot of bears.
The one-ofs are less silver bullets than an assortment of pseudo-fatties. By the time you have the mana, you probably have one in your hand… And to a lot of decks, one is the same as the other. Sometimes one is a silver bullet, and in that case you can Call for it. Recently, for example, Sabertooth Nishoba can cause an opponent to concede. Kavu Chameleon gives the deck an uncounterable 4/4 (plus an additional uncounterable 5/5 with Pure Reflection out). Dodecapod blocks all bears except Skyfolk (most importantly, Spectral Lynx) and can be game over in some B/W matchups. Angel of Mercy falls in there because 1) the ground game often stalls with the use of Hobble, and 2) sometimes a three-point life swing means the world.
The non-creature spells look funny, I admit. Lay of the Land and Eladamri’s Call don’t… You would expect those from a G/W deck. I avoid using four copies of Call because of the time it takes to use it. The idea for the deck is not a silver bullet strategy. Instead, the Calls supplement the beatdown to be sure I am always giving my opponent a very difficult”question” to”answer.”
Pure Reflection is a reaction to the fact that most IBC decks run fewer creatures than me and can dominate the game by about Turn 6 through card advantage. With Reflection, suddenly they have twice the beatdown coming at them, and Panther messes up every bit of combat math an opponent might be able to muster. Besides, you can always Aura Mutate it if Pure Reflection has overstayed its welcome. Aura Mutation is also a big fan of Phyrexian Arena, Collective Restraint, Goblin Trenches, and the Sanctuaries.
Then there is Hobble. I have been told that Hobble is a”homo” card (ah, another reason to avoid tournaments… the rampant homophobia and sexism). Opponents have cancelled games mid-play when Hobble appears because I am obviously a scrub. And it’s true: Hobble is not terrific removal. But what Hobble does is to drop that Spiritmonger, Spectral Lynx, Nishoba, Phelddagrif, Volver, etc. in its tracks while my Voice of All or Lynx or some other unblockable, unkillable creature dinks away for the win. Oh, and it’s never a dead card while I am packing Mutation. I am not sure how many times I have heard Mike Mason say”You won only because of Hobble,” but he has said it often.
The land is all basic, which somehow makes me happy. When I am racing another deck it is an incredible luxury to not have painlands. Also, because it is a rare two-color deck, the Green Ghost manages to avoid mana screw an impressive amount of the time. The one Swamp only gets searched for when there is already a Forest and Plains either in my hand or on the board. It is there to make Lynxes more annoying. And no, I can’t wait the turn for Elfhame Palace. I tried it… It didn’t work.
The sideboard is fairly versatile. Since the deck has a hard time vs. R/G in Game 1 because of the Reflections, Armadillo Cloak makes Game 2 and 3 not very close at all. The Cloak is also very useful for decks who aim to burn or Undermine me to death. The Acolytes are obvious. Pincer Spider not only blocks bears but — and this is extremely important — it blocks pro: white Voices. Dodecapod comes in against anything with Gerrard’s Verdict or Probe or Ravenous Rats. And Benalish Emissary? He blocks Spectral Lynx and is my cute answer to Domain (he loves getting bounced with a Panther).
Semi-serious deck analysis: OFF.
So why on Earth would I believe the Green Ghost to be a qualifying-caliber deck? Good question. Here are my answers:
- It is a rogue deck. This is important when in Games 2 and 3, but also when an opponent is making play timing decisions and decisions such as when casting Meddling Mage or Voice of All. Every single opponent I have faced has called”green” with their Voice, when the better answer is”white.”
- It is versatile, able to play a different game in different matchups (although one important rule I have learned: The losing hand with Green Ghost is the slow hand).
- The deck becomes far, far better after sideboarding in every single matchup.
- In a nine-round tournament, the deck will experience far less mana screw than a three-color deck.
- The deck contains 24 creatures, not counting tokens. This means it can out-threat most decks. And as I already mentioned, its threats are significant.
- In playtesting, I usually won matches against teammates who knew every card of the deck. In playtesting against random opponents, I always won.
On the other hand, here is why it is NOT a qualifying deck:
- It is far too late in the qualifying season for anyone to take a chance on an unproven deck concept.
- It is a good deck, but not a dominant one.
- Binary21 has their own damn good decks.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (News)
I don’t exactly know what to think about yet another deck I believe in and that will never see play. I suppose it isn’t overly frustrating, or I would have entered a tournament. But it is sad. For me.
I’ll get over it. Who do you think I am, Michael Jordan?
My wife and I are expecting our first child next month. It is both an exciting and scary time for us. We are both only children, and we have no idea what to do with a baby logistically. We are taking a class on baby care… We are that clueless.
I don’t know what having a child will do to my online Magic playing. Maybe it will kill it. Maybe I will play more in the evenings as a nice respite. Maybe to my teammates there will no change whatsoever except my constant complaint of sleep deprivation. Stay tuned.
I do know this: It has suddenly become less exciting to think of bringing a child into this world. Pray, if that is your inclination, and help wherever you can.
“doctorjay” on IRC
Proud member of Binary21