Deconstructing Constructed – Grinding My Gears: Sealed, Block, Vintage, and Web Design Musings

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Tuesday, September 2nd – This week will be a bit different to the average week, as there’s no Constructed on the horizon. We don’t flex our muscles for Extended season until January. This column will be temporarily focusing on general issues, Vintage stuff, and maybe even a blurb on Limited now and again.

This week will be a bit different to the average week, as there’s no Constructed on the horizon. We don’t flex our muscles for Extended season until January. Instead, I have to suffer through the travesty known as Sealed Deck and all that entails, with nary a States to prepare for, or at least test for and then miss out on borrowing cards to play in. So instead this column will be temporarily focusing on general issues, Vintage stuff, and maybe even a blurb on Limited now and again. We’ll see how long that lasts before I go insane.

Sealed Deck… oh how I hate thee. Yes, I’ve been told there’s actual skill involved, but I just can’t get over the feeling of being completely overmatched in some cases and there is nothing you could’ve done about it. At least in Constructed if you trace your steps far enough back, you can say you could have changed your deck to some degree to have a better shot. Or even concede that perhaps a different deck would’ve led to a different result. In Sealed this isn’t the case; you have a limited amount of resources to work with, and no control over the quality of such. Sure, there are usually build decisions, and some of those can be incredibly difficult, but I’m saying that even ideally built and skillfully played, a pile is still a pile and your chances of making Top 8 are in the dumper. Whatever, enough negativity on a format I barely play anyway… let’s move onto a format that just finished up that really shouldn’t come back.

Just get rid of Block Constructed already.

It seems like three out of every four blocks always has one super dominant deck, and then the secondary deck still manages to outnumber the next five decks in the room anyway. For this format, it was simple: Faeries was the best deck, always was… the addition of Eventide just gave other decks a bit more of a shot. Although the second best deck is arguable, I’d say at a PTQ or GP level that Kithkin was the best deck. It had draws that were pretty much unstoppable and wouldn’t really be considered ‘god draws’ either, simply good ones gave the Kithkin deck a large amount of pressure throughout the entire game. There were a few advancements that would’ve borne the Kithkin deck out to be more of a threat pre-Eventide, but the big thing was ultimately Figure of Destiny and Unmake pushing along an already solid deck.

It is possible that Reflecting Pool Control, either of the Toast or Five-Color Merfolk variety, would’ve been the best given enough time, but with the sheer numbers of Kithkin and ensuing victory at Grand Prix: Manila, it becomes theorycraft. Ultimately a year from now, all anyone will remember about the format is that Faeries and Kithkin were dominant. Just like all I remember about Time Spiral Block was that Teachings was the best the whole way through, and Champions Block was Jitteland and Gifts. The last really good Block season I remember for PTQ play was Invasion Block.

I understand that this is a cute way to show off the block mechanics and synergies and shine a brighter spotlight on individual sets than in Standard, but it makes for some awfully boring or unbalanced formats. I’d much rather see Team Anything for the summer series of qualifiers than yet another snooze-fest of Block Constructed. I notice this year it’ll thankfully be replaced by Standard, but really, should that even be a PTQ format considering it’s ultimately the default format for local tournaments and FNM throughout the year?

Speaking of Standard, the formatting of the Pro Tour system has been changed. I have mixed feelings about this change. In one sense it’s kind of cool that the well-rounded players get an edge versus the people who purely focus on one type of format. It also gives them a chance to claim “bestest ever” titles for the people that win, despite the fact that the new format actually would showcase less skill on the whole depending on how you define it. Also, it totally kills the interest of some of the specialists and people who just plain don’t like one or the other. I really like the current PTQ set-up with Extended and then Standard, but because the Pro Tours are now split I have to actively ask myself how much interest / effort I really want to invest. I’m nowhere near good enough to stand with even a good MTGO drafter, and I don’t play nearly enough Limited to improve by a significant portion. So that basically just leaves people like me desperately trying to luck-sack their way through. At least Limited specialists can just be handed a deck.

That’s the big issue for me: how many people just won’t want to try? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I mean, I’ll obviously assume the latter, but who knows, maybe it’s a minority of a minority and it really won’t be a big deal.

Moving onward… the new Wizards site is hideous.

It breaks so many cardinal rules of design that I don’t even know where to begin. The first time I ever went to the site, I honestly couldn’t figure out how to get to the ‘front page’ for a good 15 seconds. That’s awful. Who the hell puts a main page button below the screen of 1100 height resolutions? I know I’m not a professional, but I’m reasonably sure I could make a mock-up that doesn’t involve flash, loading times, and has all the buttons in easy to see in the first 3 seconds of you visiting the page. I’m Mr. Negative, I realize that, but it honestly seems like anyone involved in any sort of digital projects over at Wizards are too busy taking turns screwing the pooch to read through a book on design.

Step 1: Take out anything advanced like Flash, rotating anything, and sounds.
Step 2: Make easy-to-see buttons with clear titles, which are viewable without scrolling.
Step 3: Dedicate a portion of the page to draw new players in, but leave the rest so the people who already buy your stuff don’t get annoyed rolling through an unintuitive pile of garbage.
Step 4: Test said changes on a couple of 10-12 year olds that don’t know what Magic is, and then on some people who read the old site, and see how it goes.

The B/R list, on the other hand, was a pleasant change of pace… cards came off that should’ve come off and with the re-errata of Time Vault, which was a fine restriction to make. I have absolutely nothing to complain about with it, and I doubt any other Vintage player does either. Actually, Time Vault plus Voltaic Key becomes a very interesting concept to explore at this point, considering the low cost and huge number of tutors available still. Even something as simple as adding it to Painter is well worth the time in testing; two mana less than the normal Painter plus Grindstone combo win and not negated by random things like Gaea’s Blessing or Darksteel Colossus. Even Key isn’t really useless, with Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Sensei’s Divining Top all being fueled by extra untaps.

Or, on the other hand, you could dump the Painter kill entirely and focus entirely around Time Vault and Voltaic Key along with ways to find them. Trinket Mage easily solves the second card problem, and the first can be found with any host of Black tutors, and even fun end-step Intuitions, which can lead to piles like TV, Argivian Find, Reconstruction, which will usually mean a kill the following untap phase if Key is out. And, of course, the other two one-of artifact return spells are still perfectly fine in the face of artifact destruction or Black Lotus. Of course, that could be getting too cute for your own good… the basic point remains is that Time Vault leads to more cheap and easy wins. Even something like Transmute Artifact becomes interesting because of the amount of cheap colorless mana you can produce in many cases.

Dream Halls doesn’t provide much in the way of brokenness compared to most decks, but you can still pull off one of the most amusing kills in all of Vintage. Lay Dream Halls, play Grozoth, fetch 4 Searing Wind, GG the opponent. The silliest part is this means you really only have to defend Dream Halls, and after that point you should just be able to win from there. Of course, it’s still a billion mana to get Halls down, but this kill is far simpler than anything else I’ve seen for the deck.

Both Moxen are non-starters for me, but who knows, maybe somebody can make 4 Chrome Mox Goblins work, since that obviously benefits most from that unrestriction, and Mox Diamond brings more Parfait suggestions to Steve’s next article.

Time Spiral, on the other hand, I’m a little excited about, if only because I can build a functional High Tide deck. Think about it… you get to run something like 20ish land and 12-14 counters, so mana denial and the traditional “overwhelm you with random spells” approach doesn’t even work that well. And you’ll obviously win when you resolve a High Tide into Time Spiral, unless you get the dreaded “five mana sources and two counters” type of draw off it. That’s always the danger of Draw-7 spells, but despite that you can win a lot off them, moreso than the old combo where people fondly remember casting Wheel of Fortune or Timetwister and crying about losing because they couldn’t make enough colored mana to win. At least that part is gone. I’m not saying that such a deck would necessarily be better than TPS or Long or any other kind of storm combo, but the shell of the deck lends itself to quite a bit more protection than the average combo and even some control-combo hybrid decks.

Plus you can run stuff like Turnabout and have it be totally fine, since you actually run a lot of lands, High Tide, and Fastbond. I’d prefer the deck with 4 Gifts, or Brainstorm, or something along those lines, but considering how redundant the deck can be it isn’t so bad. I got to finally use Demonic Consultation again, and boy did I forget how good a one mana instant speed “put a card into your hand” tutor could be. It really is one of – if not the – most ridiculous tutors ever printed.

Seriously though, High Tide with Mana Drain… who wants some?

For Extended, the brutal slaying of Sensei’s Divining Top was well deserved. Not only is it an absurdly strong effect in a format with Fetchlands, but it rewards a lot of bad players by making every game go 5-15 minutes longer than it actually should. It sounds mean, but it’s true in my experience, and the couple of PTQs I attended bore that out in extra round time and people using Top multiple times in a turn because they couldn’t remember three cards for a turn. All and all, I like the change… I just don’t know if it would’ve been needed if people could play responsibly.

That’s it for now, next week…. There will be things.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: [email protected]