Down And Dirty – For The Times, They Are A Changin’

SCG 10K Philadelphia... the first major event featuring Zendikar!
Friday, September 25th – Kyle Sanchez is angry. The Magic Online PTQ announcements have made his blood boil, and he outlines his strong opinions here. He also shares a few more theories on the strengths of some of Zendikar’s forgotten gems…

Standing six foot tall with grey spiked hair and a grizzled appearance, old man Mr. Greenwood was frequently the butt of many senile jokes. His emaciated frame didn’t help the matter, and rumors around the 8th grade class at Jackson Middle School was that he would sleep in the classroom on the giant bean bag he had in the center of the room. This rumor was supported since he had a closet full of clothes, a microwave in which he prepared countless bean burritos, and several bottles of Listerine mouthwash. Creepy? Yes. Senile? Perhaps… But there’s one lasting impression of him that I’ll never forget.

His wit was at its best in the early mornings, before he took his afternoon nap and woke up dreary for the later periods, and at least once a week he would blast Bob Dylan on his old portable stereo, only to suddenly pause it to recite whatever famous line he wanted us to take in. I’m not sure if his memory was burnt, but I remember him using this quote the most…

For a while, I just thought this was his way of trying to reach a younger generation the history he loved, but thinking back on it, he instilled a much more profound life lesson that laid locked inside my subconscious. There’s really no better way to sum life up than Mr. Greenwood’s favorite quote that he commonly wrote on the chalkboard:

“For the times, they are a changin’.”

Nowadays, that crazy old man – who forced us to embrace Smart Notes, writing papers in colored pencil, and played nature tracks of lemurs screeching in the jungle – doesn’t look so foolish…

Flash forward eight years to September 17th 2009, around 2pm.

I had just finished lunch with my niece Angie at Hooters where I ran into a bartender I knew about a year ago, so she hooked us up with a few shots while I chased them with Shiner and a Turkey Sandwich. The cat was out of the bag on Lotus Cobra, and twitter was abuzz all morning with Michaelj, BDM, Conely Woods, Sam Stoddard, Patrick Chapin, Evan Erwin, and tons of other Magic enthusiasts hyping the snake and providing a plethora of nut-high situations that we’ll probably never see come to fruition.

My honest first reaction of the card was “THAT wittle snake is what the hoopla was about? Card blows.” BDM thought I was being sarcastic, but I came up a bit on it after trying to figure out why this card is better than Devoted Druid. I was positive there had to be some kind of land combo deck out there in Extended (Scapeshift Tron?), but this card clearly wasn’t the Mind’s Desire I was anticipating. The snake IS the most efficient thing you can do in Standard on turns 1-4 providing you hit fetchland drops; however, how is it supposed to retain its value after that? If you overload on clunkers that win the game outright when you cast them, the deck will become waterlogged when the Cobra isn’t around.

Chapin made the comparison to Rofellos, but Rofellos had Masticore as a mana dump, and Gaea’s Cradle to ensure things got nutty with Deranged Hermit. There’s really nothing like that in Standard right now, but I’m sure 1.x has some surprises for us come Austin.

After a morning of heated debate on Twitter, I came back to my office, refreshed all the new @’s and posts from my friends, I think it was BDM or Evan who linked me to the Online PTQ schedule.

My initial reaction was “it’s about time the dedicated online players got their chance,” but as I started reading, I became horrified when I learned there would be a whopping SIXTEEN qualifiers in a short three-month period. I couldn’t believe it, and am still flabbergasted right now reading over the schedule here.

To me, MTGO represents everything that is awful about gaming. First and foremost, I’m not playing against anyone. I’m sitting in front of a computer monitor in my undies with my legs draped out of the desk in front of me, unshaven, unshowered, hair nappy and awkwardly shaped from the pillow that was supporting my head just moments before I logged on. The interface is shoddy, with misclicks aplenty, and the cherished gaming environment that I grew up in is replaced with stupid over-bossed graphics and a mechanical box that determines my fate.

More so than MTGO, I’m pro life, and I figured out a few years ago that I’d rather be out of the house doing something than idling away my time in false light with the world at my fingertips. I understand what a great tool the Internet is, and certainly MTGO within it, but such lifestyles would be the end of me if I embraced them again, and I’d go down that dark road of bad hygiene, lower back strains from sitting in a chair too long, and lacking that all important hand to hold and body to cuddle.

Magic to me is meant to be played at a game shop. It’s meant to be played with friends and fellow magicians, and most importantly supporting the stores that introduced us to this great spectacle. It’s about actually owning the cards in which I invest my money, rather than being a glitch away from losing thousands of dollars in digital cards that are MTGO can freeze at any moment.

Just ask my friend Zesty234 from the MTGSalvation forums what he thinks of digital gaming. He is the infamous player that used to do those clever riddle spoilers. After they found out it who he was in real life, they banned him two years from the DCI and later that day froze his Online account containing thousands of dollars of cards. Banning from the DCI aside, if Wizards ever tries to come and steal my Blue foil binder or Sol Ring collection, I’m going to throw down like Garruk Wildspeaker in a beasty brawl.

So now we have sixteen PTQs available to us online. This is horrible for the real life game, the game we all love. It’s astonishing that those sixteen Q’s represent a quarter of the PTQs available to those located in the U.S. It’s astonishing that Wizards would opt to put such a high value prize in a format that is so easily abusable. Magic was meant to be played one on one, my intellect opposite yours, my deck configuration against yours. With online gaming involved, there is nothing stopping the savvy professional players already qualified from taking over someone’s account and maneuvering around a field of average players with ease. There’s also no safeguard for a team of players to sit around a computer to provide more minds, therefore making less mistakes. I know of several pros that have already been paid to play in the October 8th qualifier, and of several joes that are grouping together to get their team qualified one by one.

The Online Worlds qualifiers were a great idea to both promote online gaming while providing a huge prize for the person lucky enough to win. That happened once per year, and now that we can expect 16 qualifiers for each Pro Tour online, those long-gone days lose their luster in my eyes. But it’s not only the luster of the rare MTGO qualifiers that lose their luster… the PT itself is harmed by this.

The Magic Pro Tour is the culmination of every player’s ambition and desire to be something more at this game. Many have striven for years on end to succeed and claim their right to play amongst the best in the world. You get to travel to a far-off destination that you’ve only seen in postcards or on the travel channel. You get to dine on unheard-of dishes and open yourself up to a culture that you wouldn’t have been able to see first-hand if it hadn’t been for those seven cards you hold in your opening grip. And how did you get here?

“I paid some dude $100 to win nine rounds for me on my account. Man, that guy is such a master…”


“No, it actually only ran me twenty bucks and the cost of the tournament…”

And this guy gets to hop into the most prestigious tournament in Magic, for which we’ve driven millions of miles, woke up untold hours early, and invested our hearts, souls, and blood to succeed? All for $20! And with sixteen PTQs, there could be SIXTEEN of these $20 pro players!

I’m also not sure what to think of the inevitable shift towards online gaming. In a world where everything is having to embrace Internet avenues to keep up with those around them, I felt Magic was unique because to be a top level player you were forced to compete face to face with spells in hand. The age in Magic where actually casting spells, rather than clicking a mouse, to win tournaments and advance to the next level is behind us. Now, instead of an earnest handshake, we have the ever irritating “GG” to signal a champion.

I went on an inebriated tirade on Twitter that fateful 17th of September. Many called me crazy and claimed I was blowing up over nothing, but the more I think about it the more heated I get, and I’m completely sober right now. I feel like every PTQ grinder that has ever played the game has been slapped in the face for trying so hard to achieve something we once thought was special and a rite of passage. I just want you guys to realize the things I say about the game come from a true unyielding passion for Magic that has been there since I picked up my Urza’s Destiny “Assassin” theme deck.

My good professional poker friend Jeff Meyerson said: “You are like the old poker players that scoffed at Internet kids at first, until the Internet kids came off line and crushed them.” There is a very thick line between MTGO and online poker. One is protected with numerous safeguards because of the high volume of money that it processes each day, and one is a game that previously had very little EV to try and cheat the system. Both, however, are cheap fleeting imitations of card games we grew to cherish on late night tables, where we played until we passed out only to wake up the next morning with the play on our mind.

I’ve got a lot of love for the online players in remote areas that don’t have a place to game, or those that can only reasonably attend a couple of PTQs a year. That lifestyle is a tough spot tough to develop much of a Magic game, and MTGO has been a salvation to those who can’t put together a play group or find an outlet for their Magical minds. I’m all for the idea of having a couple of online PTQs per season, but sixteen is just too much, and I feel it is a greedy sticky-finger plot to blow up the MTGO scene, which it undoubtedly will. I mean, there’s SIXTEEN freaking PTQs online, and now I’m going to have to resurrect MTGO v3 from my trashcan, where it has sat for nearly a year!

We are also in the position where our opinion and reaction on the subject doesn’t matter in the slightest. If we feel wronged and abused by Wizards financial ploys, are we supposed to go on strike like the NBA referees, only to have a new crew of officials to take our place? We’ve got to realize that the people making the game only care about money, and leave it at that. As dedicated Magicians, we have to embrace whatever decision they spit at us, since in the end they don’t listen, and they never have to. The tournament player market might be the reason everything clicks and may draw a massive amount of appeal to the game, but in the end we’re all playing for the casual players’ bucks at GPs and PTs. We were lucky to get States back, but the falling of JSS/MSS and Invitational is a prime example of WotC cutting overhead at our expense, which is unfortunately what our economy has come to.

I’ve stated my opinion, and why my opinion doesn’t matter, and now all that I ask is that everyone remember the seventeenth of September…

For the times, they are a changin’…


Bonus Card Review Section

Bloodchief Ascension
At the beginning of each player’s end step, if an opponent lost 2 or more life this turn, you may put a quest counter on Bloodchief Ascension.
Whenever a card is put into an opponent’s graveyard from anywhere, if Bloodchief Ascension has three or more quest counters on it, you may have that player lose 2 life. If you do, you gain 2 life.

I was extremely excited about being able to play with Quest for the Gravelord already, but this one mana Black Enchantment is just as saucy, if not more picante. It’s pretty freaking easy to set up, and unlike other “burn oriented” combos, this one really gives you the opportunity to race the creature decks with JUST spells.

Blightning: take seven, I gain four!

Mind Sludge: discard your four cards, take eight, I gain eight.

Traumatize: GG!

Being proactive with it is clearly the way to go. However, it’s also a pretty vicious answer to Life from the Loam in Extended, if you can set it up within the first few turns. Dredge it back? Take six!

This is one of the most powerful cards in Zendikar by a freaking mile, and I can’t believe how easy it is to “Ascend” compared to the others in the Ascension cycle.

Malakir Bloodwitch
Creature — Vampire Shaman
Flying, protection from white
When Malakir Bloodwitch enters the battlefield, each opponent loses life equal to the number of Vampires you control. You gain life equal to the life lost this way.

This card is so sweet! Black finally has a hardcore dude to compare to Baneslayer Angel, and it fits in absurdly well with the Vampire decks everyone has been ga-ga for. This card is really stupendous, and forces us to take the blood-sucking tribe seriously. We can’t just kill their bad early dooders then follow up with a Baneslayer anymore! They have us completely trumped with this card, and how are we supposed to get rid of it? Path, O-Ring, Journey to Nowhere, and Lightning Bolt sure aren’t going to work. Good thing we have Day of Judgment or else we’d be up the creek once this guy hits play.

Summoner’s Bane
Counter target creature spell. Put a 2/2 blue Illusion creature token onto the battlefield under your control.

Creature — Jellyfish
Kicker — 1U
When Gomazoa enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, return target creature to its owner’s hand.

Into the Roil
Kicker – 1U
Return target nonland permanent to its owner’s hand. If Into the Roil was kicked, draw a card.

Cosi’s Trickster
Creature – Merfolk
Whenever an opponent shuffles his or her library, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Cosi’s Trickster.

Sphinx of Jwar Isle
Creature — Sphinx
Flying, shroud
You may look at the top card of your library.(You may do this at any time)

So this is what Blue has to be excited about?! Red gets Blistering Firecat and Goblin Guide. White gets Wrath back. Black gets the biggest boost it’s had since Torment. Green gets badass Snakes and Beasts, and this is the best Blue can muster?

The Sphinx could have at least been a 5/6 like Mahamoti right? Shroud is cool and all, but I want to block an Angel for once in my life!

Summoner’s Bane is really neat, but a 2/2 doesn’t have any kind of board presence these days and is a weak replacement to Cryptic Command.

Cosi’s Trickster is neat, but I doubt it will be a very popular main deck card. I could see sideboarding him since he’s pretty vicious on the play against certain decks, but on the surface I’m not sure he’s good enough to include in even a Merfolk deck.

Finally, Gomazoa and Into the Roil are awesome. I love love love me a Man-o-War, but I think they could have pushed Blue’s power level a little an made him a 1/3. Into the Roil is great also, but is another card I think they could have had a bit more power. Maybe an additional kicker for 2U to bounce another permanent, then we have an expensive Blue spell with lots of options, which is all Blue needs to succeed: options.

I just wish they’d reprint Remand like AJ Sacher suggested. It would really go a long way to stabilize the Constructed formats and Blue is so damn awful right now… Which is exactly where Blue likes to be, in the shadows so it can creep up on a tournament to snatch the title. When people stop worrying about countermagic is when it is most potent.

Conley Woods mentioned on Twitter how there are so many “build around me” cards in this set, and I completely agree. It’s awesome to see a set with such depth and complexity and synergistic themes of Enchantments and Lands interacting together. The guys at R&D continue to put out monumental sets that expand our imagination and we really shouldn’t take them for granted because they make the game what it is today. Thanks guys, you are the saving grace behind Wizards horrid business moves.