Never play defensive. Always attack. Even when you retreat, you attack. You understand? … There you go. Now you’re playing chess.
Lawrence Fishburne in Searching for Bobby Fischer
In 1999, I watched my best friend altran botch a match for Top 8 of a Washington D.C. area PTQ. He made a series of plays, borne of what we would eventually call the misassignment of role, that while bad for altran, were ultimately great for Magic. You see, his decision to hold the Swords to Plowshares and wait to Lightning Bolt that first turn Jackal Pup became Who’s the Beatdown.
Recently I got a chance to watch Evan Erwin Top 8 match against U/R Tron-Wildfire from the quarterfinals of the 2006 Tenessee State Championship. If you haven’t been watching Evan, you are missing out on some of the best content being produced for Magic – especially free Magic – today. I don’t often agree with misterorange’s process or conclusions, but to deny his effort and passion would be a greater error than he has ever made on camera. You can watch that States Top 8 match here.
That second game really is painful, isn’t it? This match is about chafing, and trying to fit something somewhere that is too big or too small. A great theologian once said that when you apply the wrong tool to a job, you not only fail in completing the task, you foul the tool. Our misterorange never had a shot, it seems. The captions of the video indicate that he should have sideboarded in Sacred Ground, which, I think, got me thinking in the direction that culminated in this article. Clearly there was something wrong with Evan’s sideboarding process, I felt. I went to his deck list and… and… No Cap’n Tickles? Every week he’s ranting about Cap’n Tickles this and Cap’n Tickles that and signing Cap’n Tickles and where are your motherloving Giant Solifuges, Evan!?!
Clearly there was something wrong with Evan’s sideboarding process; misterorange never had a shot.
I went back and scoured the archives for Richard Feldman PT: Honolulu deck.
Richard had qualified with one of the best-built PTQ decks in recent memory. He took Antoine Ruel LA winner and somehow made it one million times better without disrupting the core incentives to the deck. He just plugged up those few holes that can murder a control player under pressure, the ones that create error where there should be victory, and sent them far away… and while drawing extra cards. I was dying to see what this bold new deck designer was going to bring to Standard… and Richard will tell you that when we met, I was disappointed.
- 1 Genju of the Realm
- 4 Wrath of God
- 4 Fellwar Stone
- 4 Peer Through Depths
- 2 Form of the Dragon
- 1 Ivory Mask
- 2 Seething Song
- 1 Zur's Weirding
- 1 Confiscate
- 4 Enduring Ideal
- 3 Faith's Fetters
- 4 Telling Time
- 4 Izzet Signet
I was willing to buy his maindeck changes to Akira Asahara’s Worlds Top 8 deck. Fine. People test their main decks. The thing that killed me was his sideboard. When I saw all those reactive cards I told Feldman “The Japanese would have boarded into a whole new deck with those [seven] slots.” I’m pretty sure they would have.
You see, Richard had what I can only assume was an unanticipated problem. He was playing a hybrid combo-control deck that was really good at controlling certain aspects of the game against one segment of the population (let’s say stock Boros, and probably bad Gruul decks), and could ace many (but not all) control decks with Boseiju. He could accelerate to the endgame and at least theoretically win and big when his Enduring Ideal went Epic.
The problem was that the mode deck of Honolulu was a B/W mid-range deck. This deck could attack his endgame plan in much the same way an Innocent Blood will sometimes the all-in Psychatog (which, post-Upheaval, is supposed to be winner winner) like a cockroach. These pathetic, underpowered, B/W decks could just point a Mortify at whatever enchantment, and Richard would have nothing – literally nothing – to say about it, save to find some hopefully complimentary enchantment, which could be translated in the chafing idiom as “drawing one card per turn”… just like the other guy. Some of the B/W decks – and this is where it gets really bad, as some of the Boros and Gruul-hybrid Zoo decks joined in – could even blow down his house of cards with their proto-Ronom Unicorn two drops. The misery didn’t end – or even begin – there. Many decks, including more mid-range B/W or Beach House decks – and certainly the B/W creature decks sideboarded – could fight Enduring Ideal with Cranial Extraction. This was a four-to-seven fight on the mana, which under pressure is more like one-to-eight… that is, quite miserable if you are the guy who has to protect a seven while getting beat down. There were a million and one bullets pointed at the S-shield on Richard’s chest. He was dead sure that some of them were kryptonite-tipped.
I just hated those counterspells. It’s probably not fair, but I was disappointed in Richard. He had really impressed me when he qualified and… and… I just hated those counterspells.
They were wrong for so many reasons. He wouldn’t have them consistently enough to protect against Cranial Extraction, not if it were being set up with Castigate, or if his mana were tight, and post-Epic, they weren’t protecting his enchantments anyway. Even if he was the favorite in the first game in the abstract – and it’s not clear that he would be, though his deck was certainly capable of some power – it seemed like he had no real vision as to how he was going to win while the opponent knew exactly where his beams were going. I just hated those counterspells.
Most recently, Anton Goldblatt, whom you may remember as the Master of the Masterpiece (whom I had actually just met at Connecticut Regionals last Spring) was dead set on playing Kobe Glare at States. This made no sense to me. I figured the most popular deck of States was going to be Solar something (it didn’t really matter which, especially with two of them), which meant that even if Anton made Top 8, he’d need a lucky path, and then need to dodge the numerous Compulsive Research-driven Mortifies in the Top 8 to win (before you hit “Talk about this article in our forums!” please keep in mind that despite G/W Glare’s popularity in Top 8s, there is not even one reported event on magicthegathering.com where a first place Glare deck beat “the Estonian colors” in the finals, whereas there are multiple Top 8s where Solar Flare or Solar Pox took out Glare in the finals).
Despite his success with G/W Glare on Magic Workstation, Anton realized – perhaps too late – he was a dog to B/U/W mid-range control decks and made kind of an odd decision (to my mind): He decided to sideboard Return to Dust.
Return to Dust? Really, Anton?
The theory was that he had lost to it online. He figured that sometimes Solar X players would bring in Faith’s Fetters for his Glare of Subdual, and worst case, he could two-for-one Peace of Mind plus a Signet (or a pair of the same).
Evan’s two Sacred Grounds… Never play defensive. Richard’s seven counterspells… Never play defensive. Anton’s Flare-fighting plan of Return to Dust… Never play defensive. They all had one thing in common: They gave up the single most important element of winning a game of Magic.
When the pullquote on the front page said “This article contains the single most important lesson you can possibly learn in terms of skilfully playing Magic: The Gathering,” it wasn’t kidding. This is something that Zvi kind of figured out during the Grand Unified Theory at Brainburst, and I am only really learning and utilizing today: The force of our personalities shapes reality. In the context of a Magic game, whichever player’s reality is more powerful will dictate the pace, and many times the result, of the game. The interplay between opponents is usually unspoken. The vast majority of the time, one player will never even be aware of what is important in a game. That doesn’t change that single most important element to the outcome of the game: somebody will determine the course of events; you’d best hope that somebody is you.
Remember the old Polin and Finkel quotes about focusing only on what matters? You can’t even make the right plays, concentrate on those few things “that matter,” if you don’t know what they are. A sad majority of the time, you can even dictate what those things are but choose not to!
When I won New York States two weeks ago, I came armed with a solid if not unbeatable deck and a reasonable understanding of the game plans I needed to beat the various sorts of opponents… but also a quiver of trick arrows that would make Ollie Queen blush. I had my boxing glove arrow, magnet arrow, blunt-headed arrow, and a stack of armor-piercing motherlovers that always aimed for the heart.
All war is deception.
The trick of the best endgame decks – and This Girl certainly qualified the week of Champs – is that they play for a specific finale (usually Hellbent Demonfire) but scatter the opponent’s attention in a hundred different directions on the way. When I was innovating KarstenBot BabyKiller, I actually took copious notes and even dozens of screen shots of my Magic Online games. I wanted to record specifically when my opponents were wasting mana and cards on my middle turn Ohran Vipers and Stalking Yetis, or how often Wreak Havoc was better than any other land destruction spell (which was “usually” by the way) versus the last turns, the turns after I had been dominating with six or seven 1/1 Elves in the Red Zone, when it came to Angels and Dragon Legends and tapping out or allocating big turn sorceries and I’d flip over Demonfire.
The prestidigitation of KarstenBot was that the opponent thought he was playing against “a land destruction deck” or “a Snow deck” or “some stupid G/R deck” and never really understanding how and why it was he was losing. The Scrying Sheets would keep me in the game against Blue, and the Elves would allow me to distribute threats – even little ones – at a pace that would keep my opponent’s mana tapped so that he couldn’t just blow me out with his cards, invariably more powerful in the short term. I was knocking over liquor stores and leaving cars full of empty cardboard boxes on bridges and in tunnels. I was jumping the turnstile in the subway and running past security at the check-in counter. I was throwing red paint on granite lions and drawing my fingers through wet cement. I was stealing the glasses off the faces of local librarians and pouring water in the sixth grade teacher’s potato chips. I was doing anything — anything – that I possibly could, making noise and exaggerating every motion, to distract the authority figures from what was really going on. I needed time, and for me to get that time, I needed them to not kill me. Sure, theoretically someone will be blown out by an unchecked Ohran Viper. Sure, it is convenient when you can burn the wings off an Angel of Despair and send her bald head plummeting to the snowcaps with a single Red mana. But at the end of the day, all those plays, even managing the opponent’s Court Hussars with relentless Stalking Yetis or resolving some clever instant while the Sensei’s Divining Top flip is on the stack, were just about buying time, flipping over more and more Snow-Covered Mountains with Scrying Sheets, until I could “point and click” with no cards in hand.
The beauty of KarstenBot was that I knew what was going on and played for a very specific endgame maybe ten turns out, and had the tools to distract a hundred Solar Flare players from what really mattered, long enough to get my endgame online. This was possible, only possible, because I knew what I wanted to happen and had those tools to facilitate that game plan, in this case via trickery. With other decks, you might use different tools. In other matchups, you might just want to trade as long as you can trade with value. Presumably if you Trish on every exchange, you get to go home with one of sixteen available prom queens at the end of the school dance. This Girl fought a very similar middle-to-endgame sequence to KarstenBot. With This Girl, we would let the opponent have his Circle of Protection: Red, let him think the match was about defending his life total, and then Blaze for fifteen right through the key enchantment.
Turnabout is of course fair play.
In the G/W Glare matchup, I have / had no idea what the pre-Champs opponents thought the matchup was about. I’d let them do whatever they wanted, content in the knowledge that if they played their baseline plan, I basically had the better version of every card. They’d have a 1/1… Okay, you got me, I wouldn’t care. They’d have a 3/3 for two mana; I’d have a Lightning Helix for it. They’d have a 3/3 or two, I’d have a 3/4 that attacked and scared those 3/3s off. They’d have a 4/4 that gained life, I’d have a 4/3 that gained life… with First Strike! The problem that most Glare players had was that by going through the motions on their cards, playing what they drew without direction, they were playing, essentially, to lose. Sure, they might win sometimes, but only if I were equally Hamlet in my game play, in which case they’d just trump in whatever percentage of games they’d have a vastly better draw. Sure, they had an ace with Glare of Subdual, but honestly, that was it. Even so, I’d have Wrath of God, which with the right combination of cards, was like a spicy little joker.
In the sideboarded games, they’d either offer more of the same or focus on that ace. The beauty? “All war” hasn’t ceased being deception or anything. Let them think the matchup is about their Glare. Let them fight for it. Let them play around Mana Leak. Go along with it when they slump at your Lightning Helix. Let them try to get a creature advantage and then at least try to stick the four.
Then show them Fortune Thief.
In this case, in most cases, Fortune Thief becomes the trump. It goes beyond the cards, beyond being the best card or more relevant card. Fortune Thief is the game. The opponent, who has either gone through the motions the entire time or tried to stick what he assumed would be a lethal Glare of Subdual has (or “had” at Champs), in most cases, no outs. He played the wrong game. You dictated terms. He never got the memo. But you know what?
Turnabout is fair play.
“Let’s make this about Fortune Thief,” you might say (or keep to yourself, right before playing Fortune Thief).
“Okay,” he says. “Let’s.”
Don’t be surprised when the now-armed Glare player is splashing one Stomping Ground, or a Mountain off his Terramorphic Expanse. Don’t be surprised when the informed Glare player at least has Serrated Arrows in. Maintaining relevance and dictating the course of events is not a back-seat process. It demands constant innovation. It demands attack, even if it is not always conventional attack. Even when you seem like you are retreating by playing an ostensibly defensive card, it is about -attack-. You are attacking his resources, ideally invalidating his path to victory.
Okay, back to the action.
In the case of Richard’s deck, I really respected his core game plan, but I just hated the “solution” he took with his sideboard. In my mind, he was letting the opponent dictate the course of events, and then hoping that he would draw incrementally better (he really didn’t have a better possible path, by the way… He just had to draw his counters before they drew their Cranials, and late game hope that his enchantments would stick). To me, in Honolulu, this was like the opposite of what we were trying to do. Osyp was riding Day 1 like a perfect wave on Waikiki. Clearly he had the second best starting 60 of the tournament behind Heezy, and that sideboard was just gravy. In Honolulu, Osyp’s philosophy was that no one was doing anything comparable to Keiga and Meloku, so he might as well tap out. He had a degenerate manabase and the most powerful cards in the tournament. For those few decks that had scary game plans, the ones that could disrupt his manabase before his endgame was online, or could kill him with a single sequence, he was like some kind of atomic ninja. Joe Black had a blazing wakazishi that could light up all of Tokyo, but come at an angle in the dead of night so that no one would see it until the city was engulfed. Remember that in March players were salty that Giant Solifuge was not 4/3, and certainly didn’t expect it from the “Tinker” deck of the format. He was crashing through the Red Zone on turn 4, when the other guy was tapped for a Kodama’s Reach, and would run it like CounterSliver, never in control, but behind those Remands and Leaks, also never losing. In the mirrors he was burgling and completing his Tron while the other sap was stuck on Dimir Signet, and dropping his bombs, and spreading his manabase like dem legs.
For a deck with Izzet Signet, seven random counterspells just weren’t doing it for me.
Yet I respected Richard’s game plan. I respected his core competence against Boros, especially when we proved that deck the best beatdown deck in Standard through the last half of the Team PTQ season and into the Championship season. I respected his array of creature elimination and life gain, and decided those Boseijus probably had something productive to do. The main problem was that his endgame was so one-dimensional that even if he got to it, the right bullet would tear a hole in his armor and send his heart into a thousand pieces.
Our solution was to attack. We were a defensive deck that attacked. Wrath of God is good against B/W. Faith’s Fetters is passable. What about Loxodon Hierarch? Richard’s endgame was aces. Great. The problem was that under pressure he’d sometimes have nothing but mana acceleration and essentially no choice but to try to win. Sometimes aces get cracked, especially when you leave them cards to play. What if we moved forward, attacked and Attacked and ATTACKED with Hierarchs, and Dragons, and presented threats, resolved Gifts Ungiven, basically made life hell for the other guy’s defenses and then, only then, after we had spent his hand and flung it like a sopping tissue into the dirty sock pile, would we spring the Enduring Ideal?
We ended up with a pretty awesome multi-dimensional deck that was as strong – or even stronger – against the aggro decks, basically the best deck against true control, surprisingly effective against Vore and Tron-Wildfire, admittedly a dog to Heartbeat and Annex (neither of which were being played)… and utterly dismal against Solar Flare. Unfortunately we kept it under our hats exactly long enough to coincide with the one week paramount of Solar Flare’s paper popularity… But damn if that deck wouldn’t have murdered in Honolulu.
- 4 Sensei's Divining Top
- 4 Wrath of God
- 4 Kodama's Reach
- 3 Gifts Ungiven
- 1 Form of the Dragon
- 1 Zur's Weirding
- 1 Confiscate
- 3 Enduring Ideal
- 3 Faith's Fetters
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Debtors' Knell
The difference between our game plan when B/W went to its places of power and Richard’s blueprint was that we never let them dictate the pace of the game. They had cards – what should have been good cards – and they had a plan, what would have been a great plan in Game 1. We let them have these things. They had all their Mortifies and Kamis in a row. They had their Cranials in their sixties and their bullets in every chamber. Fire, we’d say. Go ahead and fire. We dare you. Half the time (and that’s being generous) they’d name a card that wasn’t even in the deck. Enduring Ideal? Please. That’s so last game. There was no way to cut all the enchantments, but – and assuming our few remaining enchantments would be removed – only left in the ones that traded for value. Sure, you can Mortify my Faith’s Fetters (because that’s all you’re going to get), but how many points did I stave off first? And I’m up four either way, now! Wrath of God, by the way. Wrath of God. Like This Girl against a Zoo deck, we’d accelerate some early, and match them drop for drop. Nice Nantuko Husk. How much will it cost you to get through my Loxodon Hierarch? Ghost Council? Ouch. Meet Simic Sky Swallower.
I don’t think I would have been clever enough to save Anton’s Glare deck from the Solar / Solar twins by Champs. I had a Stomping Ground in my deck for one Thornscape Battlemage main (no interest in losing to Fortune Thief), but I didn’t have Demonfire… I’m not even sure if Demonfire is enough from Glare. Solar Flare is just such a monster against Glare. Glare has all these little guys and no defined endgame. Solar Flare has half a dozen ways to remove Glare’s only ace, and can race with 5/5 and 6/6 flyers almost effortlessly. Solar Pox is even worse. We were high on G/W the week of Champs, but it only takes one “Smallpox your Watchwolf and Selesnya Sanctuary, sacrificing Flagstones of Trokair and discarding Haakon, Stromgald Scourge” to teach a reformed PT Junk player his lesson. I wasn’t even winning the games where I drew Stonewood Invocation.
Regardless, Return to Dust was no answer. The Glare-on-Flare games really only go one of two ways. Either Glare has early action and puts Flare low, and puts Flare away, before the Estonian Colors can punish poor Glare for having no reach; or as in the vast majority of games, Flare trades with value on every play and laughs off the puny Green creatures. Skeletal Vampire or Angel of Despair, or Akroma, rule the sky and keep attackers at home. Racing is virtually impossible unless Solar X is completely land flooded. Return to Dust simply doesn’t save G/W in the majority of games it will lose. In the first case, Glare needs a fast early game, and Return to Dust ain’t fast. Return to Dust is this horrible, brutally seductive trick, like the beautiful girl you pick up in the wrong San Diego night spot who ends up having an adam’s apple underneath her choker. You look at your hand all excited at drawing your sideboard card, and the turn you are supposed to press the attack with another beater you go for the two-for-one (or one-for-one, which is even more embarrassing). Sure, you might win, but there is no percentage to it and you probably would have been better off with some kind of Giant Solifuge. When you do win, it’s just a happy accident of your aggressive draw fitting together with his slow draw like Legos (or Jon Finkel and Jason Zila); your will didn’t impose a damn thing, or if you did, it’s like “dictating” that you will flop a full house when you keep two seven off: there’s just no math. At best you are agreeing to play the other guy’s game in the hope that you can better exploit an inefficient mana draw… And if his draw were so bad, wouldn’t you rather just have a better offense? On balance you have these games where Solar X is going to beat you in the late game. What you need is a Sqall Line to clear the path and show your awareness of his long game plan, set up one alpha for your landlocked babies, perhaps a Demonfire to finish it, and instead you have this horrendous Rack and Ruin analogue that is like a conditional Stone Rain pointed at a man up a hundred cards, sitting behind an inch-thick stack of Karoos.
This brings us back to misterorange and his difficult Game 2 against Tron-Wildfire.
- 4 Wrath of God
- 2 Persecute
- 4 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Boros Signet
- 4 Lightning Helix
- 3 Castigate
- 1 Debtors' Knell
- 3 Mortify
- 2 Orzhov Signet
- 3 Condemn
- 3 Demonfire
- 1 Evangelize
1 Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
1 Debtors’ Knell
1 Wrath of God
In favor of:
2 Faith’s Fetters
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Moratorium Stone
2 Hide and Seek
Evan noted that he should have taken out two more Wraths for his Sacred Grounds.
Evan’s opponent controlled the tempo from the onset, sending Spell Snare at a Signet and Mana Leak at the next one; he clearly wanted to control both mana and cards in hand. Evan had no good solution to Spell Burst with Buyback, so by controlling his mana acceleration, the opponent was able to jump to the endgame, leaving misterorange in the dust.
In the end, Evan’s big problem was that he could not produce enough mana to play multiple threats and overwhelm the Spell Burst. Because he controlled so many aspects of the game – mana and cards – the opponent deflected Evan’s attention to, apparently, Triskelavus and Academy Ruins. Evan even got off a Hide / Seek but lost to some other artifacts (Jester’s Cap).
The problem is that misterorange had no way to dictate the terms of the game. I’m sure that he commanded the beatdown decks he faced throughout the day quite effectively. However, the Tron-Wildfire opponent would not stand in line. Evan lacked the tools to force him to do so. A card like Giant Solifuge, which would have lowered his curve, might have been a good addition (and he loves Giant Solifuge). Another card I have been pondering in B/R/W Firemane Control is Nightmare Void. There are a host of decks that just pack to a Nightmare Void going long, and applied relentlessly, this card could set up Firemane Angels as well as pre-empt Wildfire or get rid of Spell Burst before Buyback mana. Many players don’t realize this, but Nightmare Void eats an Academy Ruins, too. It’s quite possible that we can chalk this loss up to the sideboard, one of those situations where Maher asks you how he should board, presenting a stack of extra lands and Dragon Masks… You just can’t win some matches if you don’t have the tools.
Now clearly misterorange was bound by his actual sideboard options, and if he had anticipated the Tron-Wildfire matchup, it’s possible he would never have made it to Top 8. I think that given his sideboarding, Evan gave up before the deciding duel began. Let’s face the realities of the matchup:
1. It’s not fast. This matchup is going to go long because Evan doesn’t have the tools to win quickly.
2. The opponent is trump in both the early game (can counter Signets) and the late game (has more powerful Demonfires and can “go off” with recursive elements).
Given this structure, what does it say about Evan’s sideboarding?
Faith’s Fetters is a lame one-for-one in this matchup. Evan can point it at an Academy Ruins or something, but that doesn’t actually eliminate the Academy Ruins’s core functionality, that of tapping for mana.
I think Ghost Quarter is a fine addition, but probably not for the same reason Evan brought it in. Because the game will go long, the idea that he can turn off the UrzaTron indefinitely is essentially a pipe dream. I guess that winding back Academy Ruins is a reasonable goal, but at the end of the day, it’s good in this matchup to just have more lands. That means not siding out Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace. Notice how in the video, Evan’s opponent gets off Careful Consideration and contains his Phyrexian Arena. Think about that: He can say “no.” It is actually likely that Evan will be behind in cards over the course of the game. Moreover, his opponent’s cards are in the abstract “better.” Evan can clear his hand of Lightning Helixes if he wants to.
These – as well as just wanting to have more lands against a deck with Wildfire – are reasons to keep Rix-Maadi in the deck. Rix Maadi, despite giving the opponent the opportunity to pick and choose, actually affords misterorange a measure of control, or in our language this week at least, the ability to actualize his will onto the game.
Because the opponent owns both the early and late games, and because the matchup is not fast, it is my opinion that Evan has to fight for some middle point in the game, and concentrate on an element of the game he voluntarily gave up: threats and damage. I don’t actually know if this is a winning proposition… but consider the alternative and what actually happened. Fighting for the midgame at least gives Evan the chance to dictate some terms of engagement, rather than hoping each turn that he will have the proper, many times out-classed, answer card. In any case, the opponent only has seven-drop creatures, and might be subject to misterorange’s copious discard. As such, removing Demonfire, and to a lesser extent Debtors’ Knell, seems inadvisable. The presence of a card like Moratorium Stone where it can’t, say, dominate an opposing suite of Firemane Angels is at least arguably questionable. The card is bad in the early game where the opponent has the initiative, doesn’t contribute to damage or threats in the middle turns when Evan might be able to best harass, and can be played around late… I don’t actually know if Tron-Wildfire needs the Academy Ruins online to win a long game given the combination of UrzaTron (trump mana), potentially more powerful threats, and the insurmountable vigor of Spell Burst with Buyback. Running some kind of an answer-answer faux control role in the face of such superior resources seems to me like trying to beat Silver Knight and Lightning Helix with Ironclaw Orcs and Volcanic Hammer. Sure you can do it, but it might not be the role you are looking to take.
In case it was not clear over the course of this article, the players I discussed – Evan, Richard, and Anton – have my respect or admiration, and pointing out any of their potential shortcomings was in no way intended to vilify or marginalize them, any more than I am trying to damage my own reputation when I point out the mistakes that I make in tournaments. I am a firm believer in the idea that we learn best from mistakes (especially so that we don’t make the same ones repeatedly), and I think that the sideboards discussed here together served as a good backdrop for the idea this article was trying to communicate: The ability to command the path that a game will take, to dictate the terms of battle, is ultimately the most important – and one of the least discussed – branches of Magic theory. We need only to look at the offensive transformations of Mori’s Ghazi-Glare deck, Kenji’s U/R/W Lightning Angel Reanimator, or the Tokyo Lightning Axe / Dragonstorm swap to see how the surging Japanese have run with deception, dictation, and ultimately domination, hand-in-hand.
May your opponents consistently side out creature removal against your Prison decks…