Double or Nothing: Happy New Year!

The new title has been chosen – and it’s”Double or Nothing!” Jim complains about the Masters coverage and discusses matchups.

Holidays are a good thing. Time to sit back and sip fine wines or – in my case – play plenty of Magical cards. Christmas and New Year gave me time to relax, think about how things were going and I think another year of playing Magic is justified. I still love the game, I’m still doing well, and I got to head judge my first tournament last week. Life is good.

Competition Winner:

At the end of last year I ran a small competition to find a new name for 1800 or Bust! After all, a year was up and my chase for an 1800 composite ranking failed – even if my Standard play got better. After deciding to stop worrying about rankings, points, and to whom I lost, many readers wrote to me suggesting I change the column name.

After receiving mailboxes full of entries, I narrowed the field down and asked some advice from the wise Ferretty one – after all, if you’re going to change the name of a column, it’s only polite to ask your editor. After careful deliberation,”Double or Nothing” won. It has the gambling feel to it that”1800 or Bust!” had but isn’t ranking-based, reflecting my change in attitudes over the year.

So, congratulations to Russel Lunt, who suggested the name. I’ll be emailing you shortly to find out your postal address to send our your prizes. Thanks to everyone else who sent in names in too, some of them made me laugh and some made me wonder what goes on in the rest of the world! An honourable mention also goes to Karl Rookey for sending in the most suggestions by far – I’ll be emailing you for your postal address too, Karl, since there’s a foil Invasion rare coming your way.

This column will continue to concentrate on Standard, but a few Five, Extended and Limited reports might squeeze their way in. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

San Diego Masters and Gateway:

I was really looking forward to the Gateway and Masters. Lets face it, seven rounds of high-quality Standard, followed by six rounds of direct elimination. Apart from watching how the players were doing, and rooting for my favourites, it would give us a great insight into how the match-ups worked. Would anyone play Tings? Would Snaketongue still be popular and how will it perform against the rest of the field?

Mind you, it only works if you get to see who won and who lost to whom. Maybe it’s not important to some people, but the Masters itself gives only the briefest insight into the metagame and matchups – you really need the results from the Gateway to make any significant findings. I really missed the round-by-round feeling of seeing the standings and pairings going on-line, too. I know time is short and there’s a lot going on, but surely someone could have taken the time to post the standings and pairings each round?

On the other hand, the Feature Matches posted were excellent and some gave a great insight into playing some of the decks there. Posting all the decks to the Gateway and Masters is quite a feat too, and will make the hoard of net deck players very happy for the next month until Torment rocks our world.

What we can learn from the Gateway and Masters is what the players, who are amongst the best in the world, think the best decks are. The decks in the Gateway broke down as follows:



The deck seems to have two main versions: Those with Finkel and those without. More often than not, the Finkel decks play Nightscape Familiar as well.



Although this deck has changed a lot – Repulses replacing Aether Bursts, some people bringing more aggro creatures in – SnakeTongue continues to turn up everywhere, and its key elements of burn, counters, and Call of the Herd are always present.



Very similar to the old Nether-Go decks of old, these decks persist because the U/B/W mana base gives you access to the best counter spells and some fine removal and card drawing… Never mind a 6/6 flying dragon that can solve your creature worries in one attack!

R/G Beats


Still going strong, the pure speed of R/G Beats can beat most things. Darwin Kastle’s deck from the Masters itself can kill on turn four – I know, I built it up and played it last night!

Balancing Tings


The new deck from the JSS has a strong following, and after playing it I can tell you why: Sometimes it just wins. More than any other deck, this one can top-deck for the win. Obliterate is some good, I hear.

The other decks played were as follows:

U/G Threshold 6

R/W/U Control 5

Zombie Upheaval 4

R/G/B Beats 4

Domain 4

The rest of the decks were spread over another ten distinct types, ranging from Kibler’s Opposition deck to Arena, Battle of Wits, and Enforcer decks. When was the last time you saw such variety in a top-level event? Maybe the DCI and Wizards know what they’re doing after all…

The Masters itself had a much more defined metagame, as follows:

Psychatog 17

R/G Beats 5

Enforcer 5

Others 5

Again, there was a clear distinction in the Psychatog decks, twelve playing with only Psychatog (as Kai and Patrick Mello did) and five with Finkel. The Enforcer decks were mainly U/G/W – but one played red and black, too!

The matchups for these decks break down as follows:

Psychatog vs. R/G Beats 3-6

Psychatog vs. Enforcer 3-1

Psychatog vs. Others 2-3

R/G Beats vs. Enforcer 0-1

R/G Beats vs. Others 1-0

Enforcer vs. Others 2-1

The list above gives the two deck types and how many of each match each decktype won. So Psychatog won three against R/G Beats, while R/G Beats won six matches against Psychatog. As you can see, there is very little information – and the only matchup we can really guess at is that R/G Beats looks to beat Psychatog. This is why the Gateway standings are so important: Seven more rounds of information could make our understanding of the matchups much more precise. Now we have to playtest them ourselves!

Of course, even with the information you have to playtest. The Pros will have, and so will understand when to let a Flametongue come into play, when to Memory Lapse a spell, and when to cast Probe with kicker Without that crucial understanding and experience, it doesn’t matter if you take the best deck on the day – you won’t be able to play it.

All of this will change on the first of March. You have just over a month to play these excellent decks – and most of them are just that – before the world changes yet again. If I was going to play a deck, I’d make sure it could beat Psychatog, R/G Beats, and the many control variants that are out there. It’d also have to have a very good plan against Tings (and I’ve seen Dodecapod work wonders against them).

That doesn’t mean all of these decks will become obsolete, the first thing most players will do is look to see if any Torment cards fit into these decks, what effect Madness will have on the world, and whether any really good cards standout for sideboards. You can bet that they will change – but they’ll still be there, waiting to pounce.

Death of a Magazine:

Sadly I’ve also to announce that a fledgling CCG magazine, Deckmaster, has died a death here in the UK. Star City writer Bennie Smith and Peasant Magic inventor Rob Baranowski have both appeared in the mag, and I was lucky enough to write for all four issues. Unfortunately, the magazine market isn’t doing too well at the moment and it’s been killed, the time judged not right for such a magazine at this time.

So – 2002. What surprises and Magical stories await us? Only time will tell, but here’s hoping it’s one hell of a year.

Cheers, Jim.

Team PhatBeats.