Ted Knutson recently sparked a pretty robust debate on the”best” writers in Magic’s brief history with his article Love’s Labour Found. While I, like everyone else, have my own opinions on the matter, one thing that struck me while reading the forum chat on this was that a lot of the newer players – or at least those who have not been around since the ice age or, as the case may be, Ice Age – have not been exposed to a lot of the historical pieces upon which Flores and others base their conclusion. Many people have never read a Wakefield article, and are familiar with Flores’ offerings only from the Sideboard. Now, many of the more famous pieces have been made available through references and links, and thus are at least peripherally in the public’s consciousness (e.g., Flores'”Who’s the Beatdown?” and Shuler’s Fake Mid-Atlantic Regionals Report). But there is a lot of really good stuff out there that many people will never get to read.
Well, maybe they will get to read a little bit.
Back in The Dojo days, there was a periodic feature called Editor’s Choice. Originally conceived of by Rob Hahn and Dave Price, Editor’s Choice was a feature from the Psylum-era Dojo where Mike Flores selected a group of related articles that were interesting, funny, significant, or simply well-written. These were linked up with some commentary or backstory and were remarkably popular. Readers who had never heard of Jeff Donais prior to his stint as the head of the DCI got to read about his beating up a player at a Magic tournament for stealing his brother’s Lightning Bolt collection or got a chance to see edt’s hand as a humor, rather than Free Tech strategy writer. I thought that this was a neat idea then, and I still like it today. As such, I went diving into the depths of the magic internet and came up with a few articles that I liked and that I thought you all might also like (though neither the Donais or EDT bits referenced above are included this time).
Now, I picked some of these (like EDT’s article on Mulligans) because they are really great from a practical strategy standpoint, I picked one (the Redemption Report) because I think that it is just wicked funny, and the others are informative, interesting, and/or motivational to the relatively new player trying to make their chops. I am not saying these are the best, or that they are the most important – just that I liked them. And unlike a lot of the seminal material, like Rob Hahn’s Schools of Magic (which you can easily find) , these are a lot harder to find, and odds are that you might otherwise never see them, even though (hopefully) after reading them, you will be glad to have had such an opportunity. If the response to this is positive, I will try to periodically link up some older, somewhat difficult to find, probably less heralded but still high-quality bits for you to read. Without further delay, here are my initial offerings:
1. Flores – The Rogue Strategy.
This is a Michael J. bit about rogue decks from, I believe, early 2000, that for almost any other writer would be one of his best received-pieces… But because Mike writes so much great stuff, this is probably generally considered to be in the middle of Mike’s pack. I think it was pretty solid and interesting, and I am sure that if you like Flores’ work generally, you will like this one too.
2. Wakefield – Technically Perfect Play.
An obligatory Wakefield offering from 1998, unlike his issues bits or tournament reports, in this article Jamie talks about the pursuit of perfection. This sentiment has been rehashed in a lot of articles, which all basically say that if you lose, it was probably your fault. Unlike these articles, Jamie doesn’t say there is no luck, or that you aren’t ever allowed to complain about being mana screwed or flooded, but rather encourages you to really, really think about your play and notice what you could have done differently or better. This is the”Mistake Die” article, and is a must-read for every aspiring tournament player. (Tru dat – The Ferrett, who cut his teeth on the mistake die.) Jamie probably conveys the relevant ideas more effectively that any of the other people I have seen take a crack at it.
3. MarchHare – the Redemption Report
**Caution – a little strong language in this one**
Redemption was a short-lived, biblically-based card game where the goal was to save the most souls. Cards representing Good and Evil squared off, with one player using their”good” cards to try to save souls, and the other player using their”evil” cards to impede the saving. Both players used”good” and”evil” cards… But since the only way to”win” was to save the most souls, and even if your”evil” cards did their jobs, the end result was that you could save soul X rather than your opponent – so all available souls were ultimately saved, and”good” always won. It was just a question of which of the players was more successful at saving souls.
In any event, as you might predict, the game was designed horribly, and the only way it was palatable was to make the”souls” you were saving shots of Yukon Jack or some such. The relevant potion of this long-winded explanation for this”tournament” report, is that it is a bible-based game. The report uses this platform to poke fun at Magic players and tournaments alike in what I find to be a tremendously clever parallel to a lot of reports. I always laugh at this one, and I have probably read it twenty times. Any article that can glibly work in the line”[who plays] Saul of Tarsus maindeck without Road to Damascus?” is a winner in my book.
4. EDT – The Mulligan
From 1998, this is arguably the most famous and almost assuredly the most important (in terms of strategy content) of the five articles here. Almost everyone mulligans a one-land hand, but far fewer mulligan a six-lander. EDT discusses and backs up with some statistics (supported by Zvi) in a more in-depth analysis of when should you mulligan – and, more importantly, why or why not. This is fairly short, but really very good stuff. Don’t be scared off by the equations. Even if you pretend they aren’t there, this is pretty good stuff.
5. Forsythe – Stop Being So Casual!
This is another semi-motivational piece, in which Aaron talks about why and how he moved from a casual player to a tournament player, and why maybe you should too. At the time, a lot of casual players were put off by this suggestion, but I think Aaron’s explanations are compelling. While it is fine to be a casual player, and many honest-to-goodness, happy-to-be-casual casual players exist, for some segment of the casual population, claiming that they are a”casual” player is a defense mechanism for allowing them to avoid being embarrassed by messing up, a way to duck what might be a scary first”real, competitive” tournament effort, or otherwise excuse themselves from taking a risk and diving into the competitive arena. Casual play is fine, and if it’s your bag more power to ya – but for those of you who are”casual” at the moment, but want to make the jump, or think you might want to make the jump, this article is for you.
(I should also note that this”classic” article was written more or less in response to many of my embarrassing early-day anti-pro ravings, though Aaron doesn’t mention me by name. It’s, um, good to have a place in history – The Ferrett)
Well, I hope you like these, and you that you get to see a little more of what internet writing by some of the best was like back in the day. Please let me know if you would like a little more of this, or if I should just crawl back into my cave for a while.
As Ali G might say, Respect.