Feature Article – From The Field: Sneaking Into The Sixteen

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Craig “The Professor” Jones was almost one of the Nearly Men at this year’s Magic Invitational. He nearly made it in via the Storyteller ballot. Then he nearly made it in via the Fan Favorite. To cap it all, he even nearly made it in as the R&D choice. After missing out three times, it seems that certain absentees have paved the way for his inclusion in the hallowed sixteen! Today, he shares a few Invitational card ideas… and asks for our help in honing the finished version.

Late August.
Location unknown.

A figure sits tied to a chair, his face obscured by a black bag. Around him stand four elite goblin operatives. Giggling, they occasionally prod him with short daggers.

“We got him boss.”


The Professor strides into the room and surveys his captive. He motions for one of the goblins to take the bag off the captive’s head.

“Now Mihara, I know you were planning to be in Germany next month, but…”

The hood is removed, revealing a trembling Japanese man.

Sighing, the Professor pulls out a gun and shoots one of the goblin operatives.

“Uh, something wrong boss.”

“Just a little. I ask you to bring me current Magic: the Gathering world champion Makihito Mihara and instead you bring me Shingou Kurihara.”

“You sure boss? I mean, they all look —”


“Yes, quite sure.”

Two trolls walk out of the gloom.

“Take that one and feed him to the lions. You, assemble a new team and this time pay closer attention to the photograph.”

“Goblins, sigh. Why couldn’t they have made orcs the major R ed race?”

Some time before.
A secret laboratory.


Erwin? No, his army is too strong.

PV? Reports indicate he has gone to ground in the middle of the Amazon. Would take too long to find.

Ah, there is another option. If any of the automatic invites can’t attend, then the slots go to the runners up in the Fan Favourite category.

Makihito Mihara…

Moo Ha Ha!

An unknown island in the Caribbean.

“So Olivier, how are you finding the Island? I trust everything is to your liking, aside from the gag I mean”

Strokes pet iguana.

“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of fun here for October. I’ve even flown in some tenth edition boosters for you to draft with Mihara during your stay.”


“Oh yes, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of fun. Why go to Germany when you can spend the month on a tropical island…”


Ha, university death robots. You can’t keep me down that easily.

I know technically I’m supposed to be on study hiatus, but some things just take precedence, and sneaking into the Invitational is something that warrants an article.

Yes, the StarCityGames.com dominance of the Invitational continues as another writer steals a slot.

Uh, Prof… how? You were only in two ballots and didn’t come higher than third. That needs more than a few unmarked graves and handy swipes of a shovel.

Well, uh…

This is probably the point where all the flames come rushing in.

“OMG, first that donk Evan Erwin, then that guy who only plays Vintage and now that lucksack Craig Jones?! Man, the Invitational is really going to the dogs this year! Whatever happened to the all-star game?

I’m not going to lie. My star credentials would have looked a lot better had the Invitational been held at the same time as it was last year. Honolulu would have been more than rotten carrion, and I could still point back to a year with actual money finishes. As many people have so graciously reminded me (I know who you are… nanobot explosive diarrhoea inducers are already in the mail), this year has not exactly gone to plan (I’m guessing the $4,000 I got for winning the UK nationals presumably, like Honolulu, doesn’t count), and the star has not so much winked out as turned into a gaping black hole.

Still, I had some pedigree at one point (Honolulu was the third in a string of consecutive Top 32’s at Constructed PTs, and I followed it with a money finish at a Limited PT), so I could argue to have paid some of the “professional finish dues” towards an invite.

As an aside, these dues are tricky things. I was fortunate enough to only need to pay the bargain basement rate. I dread to think what the hell they are for Shuhei Nakamura or even Rich Hoaen. (Although thankfully they now appear to have paid them.)

Writing about the game helps though, and that’s definitely one area where I’ve paid my dues. Only come onto the scene recently as a writer, pshaw! Who do you think was covering most of the European Grand Prix tournaments for the last five years?

I’ll also go out on a limb and say that what I did for the UK Nationals this year (which technically don’t count), which was a (near) live coverage blog of a major tournament from the perspective of a player who goes on to win the whole thing, will not happen again, ever.

(This is what we like to call, in old-fashioned parlance, a gauntlet. The great thing about throwing down a gauntlet is that someone always comes along to pick it up and prove you wrong.

Which is of course exactly what you wanted in the first place.

Although back in more brutal times this was to give you the excuse to run a bloody great stick straight through their heart.

Which I promise isn’t quite my intention.

Although you should bear in mind that beneath this smiling exterior beats a heart as black and shrivelled as a petrified scorpion.)

I could stand here blowing my trumpet until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t make too much difference. There will be people who are happy to hear I’m going as they like what I write (live blogging the Invitational, yay baby), and there will be people gnashing their teeth because I’m going and somebody infinitely more deserving isn’t (and of course both will be vastly outnumbered by the people who couldn’t give two figs and will you damn well get to the Invitational cards right now!).

I’ll be honest and say I don’t think I deserve to go to either, but my reasoning is brutally simple. I wasn’t in the original sixteen, so therefore there were sixteen people more deserving than me.

Fortunately one of them couldn’t make it, and the person who would have replaced them can’t go either, and so that leaves lucky me.

So I guess that satanic ceremony I took part in back in 2004 was more than just a bunch of hocus pocus. And to think I only went because it seemed like a good excuse for an orgy (I only throw paragraphs like this in to keep Craig on his toes). [Toes that are currently curling as I try to cleanse my brain of the hideous “Prof Orgy” montage that’s currently melting my brain — Craig.]

Obviously I’m overjoyed. Anybody who tells you the Invitational isn’t a big thing, that there’s no prize money involved, etc, is either hopelessly jaded or cares nothing for competitive Magic. So a big “thank you” to everyone who voted for me. I hope to be able to keep you all entertained as I bring a player’s eye perspective to the weekend.

My original plan was to have this article up last week, but then instructions came down from the Mothership to hang fire until everything was official. You may have guessed from the defensive tone I expected more than a few “Why the hell are you going and Shuhei isn’t?” comments. But now BDM’s column has come out and, just like last year, everything seems to have resolved happily for all concerned, as Shuhei Nakamura and Richie Hoaen join me in sneaking through the back door.

But anyway, that’s enough backstory, and it probably doesn’t interest people much in any case. So let’s get to what people are really interested in: the cards!

Apparently this is the most interesting facet of the Invitational according to the last poll Aaron Forsythe ran. Everyone wants to see what crazy new cards the players come up with…

… until they realise that good players don’t necessarily come up with good cards. Nine poison counters to the dome anyone?

For me, the high watermark of Invitational cards is this baby:

Meddling Mage has a very interesting effect on the game in that it forces other decks to play balanced Magic.

Hey Mr Combo Deck. You might want to be all smug and ignore creatures completely, but guess what, you can’t do squat until you get rid of me first.

He’s also attached to a fairly efficient body.

The goal of all Invitational winners is to see their mug plastered on a card like Meddling Mage. Some get there (Bob Maher with Dark Confidant) and some don’t (Terry Soh with Rakdos Augermage — nice ability, but how exactly do we cast you again?). Obviously the final cards usually end up different to how they were submitted, but something like Meddling Mage is a good target to aim for.

I’m not going to run a full “you select” the card thing, as Evan’s is already running along nicely. However, I do have some ideas and would welcome some suggestions, especially from people who have a better idea of what the correct templating should be.

Ideally I want something that echoes the things I’m famous for. The most obvious would be the last gasp Helix from Honolulu. If I base a card on that tournament then I want something along one or some of these themes.

1) Burn. (I’m hardly going to come up with a counterspell, let’s face it!).
2) Zoo. Lots of efficiently costed critters.
3) Grabbing victory in the face of imminent death.

Or alternatively we can go with something that more accurately reflects my playing career: i.e. starts off impressively and then goes careering off the tracks in a big blazing fireball of doom.

Anyway, let’s start with the obvious.

How about:

Lightning Helix
Lightning Helix deals 3 damage to target creature or player and you gain 3 life.


Char deals 4 damage to target creature or player and 2 damage to you.

Uh Prof, you’re supposed to submit new cards.

Aaw, but I want them back in Standard.

In case you’re unaware, Lightning Helix is the unholy union of two of the original Alpha cycle of cards that did 3 of something for 1 mana. They would be Lightning Bolt and Healing Salve.

I suppose we could always extend the cycle.

Growth Bolt
Target creature gets +3/+3, Growth Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

Now that’s what I call a combat blowout.

But it’s also six to the head for two mana. i.e. BAH-roken even if you word it so it fizzles if they kill the growth target in response.

Maybe if you dropped the 3 to 2 and possibly made the casting cost 1GR. But then the magic is gone.


Lightning Recall
Deal 3 damage to target creature or player. Draw 3 cards.



Moving along…

Actually, this is the card idea I had for a Helix variant:

Lightning Anti-Helix
Deal 3 damage to target creature or player. If the target is a creature, that creature’s controller loses 3 life. If the target is a player, another target player loses 3 life.

The card templating is a bit messy (you’re going to find that a lot I’m afraid, as I’m not exactly the best when it comes to the nitty-gritty of intimate rules knowledge). If your opponent has a creature, then it’s great. You nail both that and him for three. If they don’t have a creature then you can still go direct to the face, but someone else still has to lose that life and that’s probably going to be you (unless you’re playing 2HG, in which case the card is all gravy).

Another wording could be:

Deal 3 damage to target creature and target player loses 3 life.

Great if your opponent has a creature… if they don’t, you can always shoot your own to make them lose the life. And it’s horrible if no creatures are handy.

Onto the small animals, and we have the obvious Zoo connection:

Jonas Grice, Master Zoo-Keeper
Legendary Human Zoo-Keeper
* is the number of different creature types amongst creatures you control or in your graveyard.

All those cats, apes and hounds make Jonas a big man. Obviously he starts as a 1/1 on his own for being a human, and also obviously I don’t want to count classes like Wizards, Assassins etc. Unfortunately this will probably require a change in the rules to formally differentiate between creature type and class… not a bad thing, in my opinion.

The wording again is probably lousy. I want to count each creature type once regardless of whether it’s in play or in the graveyard. So if you have Jonas Grice in play and a Savannah Lions (cat) and have another Savannah Lions in the graveyard along with a Kird Ape (ape) then Jonas Grice is a 3/3 (human, cat, ape).

An alternate way of fulfilling the same theme is:

Jonas Grice, Master Zoo-Keeper
Legendary Human Zoo-Keeper
All of your other creatures get +*/+* where * is equal to the number of creature types you control minus 1.

Either way I can see it being fun to try and construct decks around this guy.

The theme I’m having most problems with is trying to distil that spirit of topdecking the Helix in the face of certain death. If anyone has suggestions on how to correctly template a “if you would die, do this first trigger” I’d really appreciate it.

And the reasons being:

Bolt from the Black
If you are about to die then search your library for Bolt from the Black and play it as if it were in your hand.
Bolt from the Black deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

I have no idea how to word the exact rules text, or even if there is a correct way to word it. The idea is simple. Your opponent has just put lethal damage on the stack (or something along the same lines). Before that resolves you get to play Bolt from the Black from your library first. You still need the mana to play it, but if you have six mana open and two copies left in your library, then that’s six to your opponent.

Originally I was thinking it could be played without the mana cost and you could only search for one copy, but that didn’t feel very interesting as it effectively means your opponent just starts the game on seventeen life. Not very exciting. At least this way you need to have the mana open. Another possibility is to give the card different casting costs for both casting normally and for the about-to-die trigger.

Still, it doesn’t feel that interesting to play.

How about this:

Lucky Wabbit
Goblin Were-Rabbit
If you are about to die, flip over the top card of your library. You may play this card without playing its casting cost.

I think this card kind of gets across that top-decked Helix feeling. In a close-run race between two burn decks this could generate a bit of excitement at the end. The effect is quite narrow though, so the card probably needs another ability.

Going a little off track, I’m going to indulge a little bit of nostalgia. When I first started playing, my favorite card was without a doubt this one:

Rock Hydra was one of the rares in the very first starter pack I opened, and turned out to be a lot of fun in our multi-player games. It also turned out to be quite good because I didn’t understand exactly what it did. Back then I thought destroy effects equated to the creature taking lethal damage.

Destroy my 10/10 Rock Hydra? I’ll pay RR and keep two heads alive.

Nope, obviously that’s not how it works, but even after that I built many a deck with the aim of trying to get out the most ginormous Hydra imaginable. Obviously they were rubbish, especially when I started to run into dirty spoilsports playing Control Magic.

So for the nostalgia factor I’m tempted to submit something in the spirit of the old Rock Hydra, but with an edge.

Krasjonian Hydra
Krasjonian Hydra comes into play with X +1/+1 counters on it.
RRR: put a +1/+1 counter on Krasjonian Hydra. This ability may only be played during your upkeep.
Krasjonian Hydra may not be controlled by anyone other than its owner.
If Krasjonian Hydra would go to a graveyard or be removed from game you may remove a +1/+1 counter instead. Krasjonian Hydra stays in play.

More lousy wording. Basically, if I’ve invested a bazillion mana in this thing, I don’t want some clever clogs stealing it or smirking as they down it with a single Terror. You want to take this baby out you’re going to have to do it head by head.

The return from the graveyard thing might be too powerful, although I suspect it’s too mana intensive to be a tournament worthy card. The other option is to go back to something like the updated wording of Rock Hydra. Then it would be something like you pay R to prevent heads being killed. Destroying or removing Hydra from the game is treated as destroying all the heads. That’s the nostalgia edge of how I used to play Rock Hydra, but probably much harder to template.

Any suggestions on how to template that “kill me head-by-head” clause, or any other interesting variants on Hydras gratefully accepted.

Now let’s get back to Spike territory.

Blue and White mages might want to look away now, because things aren’t going to be pretty. It’s time to roll up the sleeves and get nasty.

One of the reasons Blue has always been the powerhouse of Magic is because its cards are functionally the most versatile. Counterspell is never ever a dead card. Run Terror against a deck with no creatures and you’ve got a dead draw, and the same is true for Disenchant against a deck with no targets. Blue never has that problem. They can sit behind a wall of counter-magic and stop you doing fun stuff all day long.

It always used to bug me that players never got punished (in my eyes) for running a single-minded counter-magic strategy. Make a lot of little critters and there’s always some wag running Wrath of God to make you sad. Play a lot of burn spells and people can always drop Circle of Protection: Red to laugh at you. Play a lot of counterspells and well… who cares, you just counter it.

To be fair, R & D have got much better at preventing the “24 counterspells and one effing hard critter to kill” strategy from becoming dominant. But this has mainly been through dialling back the power of countermagic.

Still, I harbor grudges for a long time.

Goblin Nullifier
Split Second
Protection from Instants.
Spells and abilities on the stack may not be countered.

Nice hand full of counterspells. Time to look up the definition of variety in the dictionary.

Or there’s always the no nonsense approach.

Eviscerator of Minds
Beast Horror
Eviscerator of Minds may not be countered
When Eviscerator of Minds comes into play look at target players hand. You may remove all instants in that player’s hand from the game.

Try and be all tricksy now, punk!

I like variety, and I like it when people have to jump through hoops. I want Counterspell decks to have the same fear Red decks used to have of Circle of Protection: Red.

The other hoop I’d like to throw out is something that punished mass-removal (although I think I’ve already been beaten to the punch by this guy).

Originally I was thinking of something like this:

[Mass removal spiter]
If a spell or effect controlled by your opponent would put [mass removal spiter] into the graveyard at the same time as other creatures, put [mass removal spiter] and those creatures back into play at end of turn.

Lousy templating again I know, but I thought it was a simple solution. If the guy is killed with point removal he stays dead, but if they try to sweep him away with mass removal along with all your other guys, then they’re going to come right back at you. (Hmm, there probably needs to be a “not in combat” clause in there as well).

This is the hoop. If they want to sweep all your guys, then they have to kill this guy first.

There is a big problem, though. I wanted to make sure your opponent had to be responsible so wasn’t nabbed by Johnny-Spike’s latest combo deck. When I first saw the preview of Yosei I remember wailing “Why didn’t they add the ‘by a spell or effect controlled by your opponent’ clause?” because obviously more times than not you wanted to sacrifice your own Yosei yourself.

Well, there’s actually a good reason, as Devin Low patiently explained to me in San Diego.

You have a 2/2 and your opponent Terrors it. Fairly straightforward, a spell controlled by your opponent sends your critter to the graveyard.

You have a 2/2 and your opponent Shocks it. Fairly straightforward, a spell controlled by your opponent sends your critter to the graveyard.

Bzzt! Wrong. Shock just deals two damage to the critter. The state-based effect of being a critter with lethal damage on it sends critter to the graveyard, which won’t trigger any “by a spell or ability controlled by opponent” triggers.

Obviously this isn’t intuitive, so the nice folks at R&D try to avoid the situation coming up to prevent Spike and Timmy bashing each other’s brains out over a rules dispute.

So I’m not sure where I am with my mass removal hoser. I should probably just accept Gaddock Teeg does exactly what I was trying to do in any case.

Changing the subject again, here’s a straight beatdown card:

Metal Blood
Enchantment — Aura
Enchant creature.
Enchanted creature gets +2/+2.
Discard a card from your hand: Return Metal Blood to hand. Use this ability only if Metal Blood is in your graveyard.
If Metal Blood would go to the graveyard without attaching to anything, deal 2 damage to target creature or player.

Nostalgia again. I played Maniacal Rage in the deck with which I won GP: Birmingham in 1998.

This is nice and straightforward. In the mid game it gives you something to do with the excess lands you’ve drawn and gives your efficient, but small, beaters a bit of oomph. The last clause is to try and overcome the card disadvantage problem of Auras by making it do something even if your opponent nails your creature in response. Yes, it probably needs better templating.

Finally, I want a Planeswalker option.


Planeswalkers capture the flavor of an Invitationalist’s card better than anything. If Planeswalkers are to become a permanent feature of Magic it wouldn’t surprise me if all of the Invitationalists are encouraged to submit Planeswalkers.

Unfortunately, I’m a bit stumped as to what I could make one do.

The Professor
Planeswalker — The Professor
-2: Deal 3 damage to target creature or player. Gain 3 life.
-2: Search your library for a Red instant card, then shuffle your library and put that card on top.
-8: Remove all creatures, lands, planeswalkers and artifacts in play from the game.
Whenever a spell you control deals damage to a player, put a loyalty counter on The Professor.
Whenever a creature your opponent controls goes to the graveyard, put a loyalty counter on The Professor.

The abilities feel a bit obvious but I like the only way you can gain loyalty is by burning your opponent or killing their critters. Maybe that could allow The Professor to be given stronger abilities.

Anyway, there’s some suggestion for possible cards. Please feel free to make suggestions (and more importantly fix my lousy templating!) in the forums.

Clank. Clank.


Clank. Clank. Nrr-whirrrrrrrr. Click.


Uh, yes. See you all soon.

Thanks for reading,