Feature Article – Sadin’s Mailbag

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Newly promoted Level 3 player Steve Sadin takes a break from his Premier routine to bring us a taste of mailbag action. He answers an intriguing question regarding the playability of symmetrical effects before moving onto the intricacies of the Red/Green Aggro deck he knows and loves…

I’ve received a few interesting emails over the last couple of weeks… and today, I’d like to share them with you.

The following is a letter that I received from a guy called Guy:


In your personal opinion, is it wise to play a symmetrical effect (an effect that affects both players equally) that doesn’t cost you anything other than thought, such as Jace’s “all players draw a card” ability?

I know people play cards like Howling Mine which are abstractly symmetrical, but such effects that let your opponent go first aren’t usually very good, unless you get more of an effect out of it than your opponent, or you can prevent them from using it. There are also cards that are symmetrical in effect but not in cost, meaning they cost you mana to bring both players an effect. Again, this isn’t necessarily a good thing unless you’ll win the game because you cast it.

Also, do you believe Clash’s benefits (such as gaining an improved effect for an identical mana cost, and move a possible bad card off the top of your library) outweigh its disadvantages (your opponent gets to fix their next draw, at least partially)?

Hi Guy. You raise a very interesting question.

In my opinion, symmetrical effects are rarely actually symmetrical. Usually, one player is getting a clear advantage out of the deal.

Wrath of God/Armageddon/Timetwister style cards are good examples of cards that appear symmetrical but are actually very easily abusable. While yes, they technically offer a symmetrical effect, if you are playing it in your deck then you can probably get a big edge out of it, even if your deck is similar to your opponent’s build, simply by crafting your game around the card.

Howling Mine style cards are much harder to abuse because you are investing a card and mana, and your opponent gets the first use out of it. The Owling Mine decks from PT: Honolulu are one of the few examples of decks that are actually capable of breaking the pseudo-symmetry that Howling Mine provides (they want their opponents to draw more cards!).

I think that Words of Wisdom is one of the very few examples of a truly symmetrical card. It is a reasonable inclusion in a deck if you feel that the cards mean more to you than they will to your opponent (or if you need to deck someone after Brain Freeze), but otherwise it is probably best to stay away from it because just as often as the extra card will help you, the extra card will help them.

Mikokoro and Jace, however, are very abusable symmetrical effects, because you get to decide when to use them at basically no cost. Mikokoro is a land which is an easy addition to decks that can support a couple of colorless sources, and Jace’s “both players draw a card” ability is tacked onto a card that would still be quite good without that ability (and, obviously, the symmetrical ability charges Jace up, allowing you to get more non-symmetrical uses out of it).

So, if you get the chance to use symmetrical effects when they will benefit you more than they will benefit your opponent then, assuming your other options aren’t more attractive, it is right to do so.

As for Clash, the “drawback” is basically symmetrical, as often as the scry will help your opponent more than it will help you. The advantage of an improved effect, one that will occur a little bit more than 50% of the time (boosted because you can do things like set up two Clashes in a row), are just gravy.

This is a letter I received from Bartholemew:

I am currently running a R/G Aggro deck for Standard, but I decided to go into a more Green-based build. I was wondering what made you decide to stay with “Red plus Goyfs” instead of adding more Green. I run R/G w/ Llanowar Elves, Troll Ascetics, Garruk Wildspeakers, and two Loxodon Warhammers. Our sideboards are also different, but I was mainly curious about your maindeck choice. I know there is definite reason behind your choice of direction… I just wanted to know how you’re thinking, so I can figure out if the deck I am running isn’t a good choice.

Hi Bartholemew. The deck you are describing to me is a mid-range Red/Green deck, whereas the R/g deck that I am currently advocating is a more aggressive deck with a lower curve. The version that Asher played at States is capable of pressing an early advantage and dealing exactly enough damage to win the game before the opponent can get their strategy online (though Tarmogoyf and Greater Gargadon give the deck a lot of staying power, in addition to the traditional burn-based endgame.) Whereas a deck like yours is looking to make better plays than your opponent during the first few stages of the game: make a better play on turn 1 (Elf or Fanatic), a better play on turn 2 (Tarmogoyf or Troll), and a better play on turn 3 (Troll or Garruk), and press that advantage for a quick victory. If your opponent is able to get through the first few stages of the game relatively unscathed, then a midrange deck is likely to be in a better position than a more aggressive deck.

Historically, both aggressive Red decks and midrange Red/Green decks have performed very well. From your description, it sounds like your deck is probably pretty good, and capable of being competitive in most settings. Whether or not it is “the best deck” is another question entirely, one that relies on a lot of complicated factors, but your deck is almost definitely good.

For reference, this is the R/g deck I am currently advocating:

I received another email that I accidentally deleted (sorry!), asking me for some of my considerations when building a manabase. Specifically, why did the R/g deck that I am advocating run 21 lands, instead of the 20 that my version from last season played?

The main reason why this version of R/g has 21 lands is to support the re-buy ability on Thunderblade Charge. Because the deck really only needs 19-20 lands to function, it can afford to run one or two copies of Keldon Megaliths, as the “comes-into-play-tapped” drawback will very rarely set the deck back – the Megaliths are supplementary lands. One way that I like to look at it is that, in this deck, the Megaliths function more as a spell that can also be tapped for mana, rather than as a land that also has an ability.

A lot of other R/G decks choose to play 23-24 lands, including 3-4 Treetop Villages. This decision follows much of the same logic, with the non-“comes-into-play-tapped” lands being able to support most of your deck, with the Villages acting both as core threats and supplementary lands.

Though of course, if you are running 23-24 lands you can afford to run some more powerful options, such as Garruk Wildspeaker main or Manabarbs in the board…

Take care,

Steve Sadin

PS: Wizards is doing a really good job of creating new events to make tournament attendance more exciting.

The “Win a Car” tournament at Worlds is an awesome idea. The tournament offers almost as much prize money as a GP (though no invites or Pro Points), making the trip to Worlds a reasonable investment for a lot of people who might otherwise not be able to justify the expense.

I have never been to Worlds before, because I’ve never been qualified for it, and it didn’t make sense for me to take the trip to “just play in a couple of PTQs.” If the “Win a Car” tournament had been around in years past, I definitely would have made the trip to US-held Worlds at the very least. Being able to attend Worlds and have a great tournament to play is just too good a deal to pass up.

The “Generic” Grand Prix Trials are a great idea, and I hope they will soon be employed for all Trials, and not just Trials at premier events and conventions.
I remember a few times early in my career when I would win byes for a GP that I would end up not attending, only to play in a GP later that season with 1 or 2 byes. If I’d won a three-bye voucher that I could use any time during the year, I would have been far more excited, and attended more GPs.

So please Wizards, make all Trials “Generic” Trials.

Also, City Champs season just started up again. I think that having weekly or bi-weekly Standard tournaments are one of the best ways to become more engaged with Magic. I practically grew up on the Neutral Ground/Your Move Games Grudge Match Qualifiers. A weekly Standard tournament that qualified you for the Grudge Match finals.

I absolutely loved the Grudge Match (may it rest in peace), and I hope that the City Champs can fill the role of the Grudge Match for players all across the country.