Free Tech Is Like Free Beer

You’ll find precious little of either, especially if you value quality…

I started to write an article like this one a couple of times – about internet writing and the division between pros and non-pros. In the end, I didn’t want to write it since I’ve made my point on much of it before…But since Aaron Forsythe gave a picture of what he saw in regards to the differences between writers and players, including an event that included me, I now feel obliged to give my point of view in print. Aaron’s description of events was accurate, although there was something missing that I’d like to fill in…

Here’s the beginning of an article that I had scrapped…

Free Tech = Free Beer*

You’ll find precious little of either, especially if you value quality…

Remember this?

"Hello, my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal…" Michigan J. Frog

Working cartoon stiff finds crazy singing frog. Seeking to end his working stiff status, cartoon dude seeks to capitalize on said frog’s talent. Now since generic cartoon folk are rather skeptical, working stiff has to lure them to see his singing frog with "Free Beer." In the end, though, working stiff finds that said frog won’t sing for anyone but him, and he’s now out the money for free beer and his working stiff job, he’s in a bad spot.

"Free Tech" is dead. By this I mean the sort for anyone who’d be looking to get a leg up on a pro tour event, i.e. Pros.

Pros want as much – if not more – free tech than the next guy. I’m a card-carrying member of good buddy Greg Smith’s mailing list that includes, at times, folks like Seth Burn, David Suttcliffe, Sean McKeown, Nate Heiss, Matt Vienneau, Jeff Glaze, Skye Thomson, and others. Now for the IBC season, I’ve been several times "challenged" by a pro to show a decklist through that mailing list. For my part I had been talking about certain cards or ideas in a general way. How the untargetability of Blurred Mongoose presented a problem for mid-game control decks with a lot of targeted spells. Or perhaps how aggro U/W might be – MIGHT be – an interesting metagame call.


Now I want to address some things: First, the Pro Tour isn’t offering much of a profession for most folks. If you have any dreams of singularly becoming a Pro Tour player and making money to live on, that isn’t really happening right now. Forsythe tells us that of all the loot he made last year, he had just a few thousand left over – which he used to pay off a credit card bill. He has a very real job folks and mails us from there every day. Now he did make almost as much money playing Magic as he did working last year, but he had to spend almost all of it on travel and expenses to get to the events to make that money. Or here’s another story:

We got mail that stated how cool it was to watch Kurtis Hahn play in GP: Boston and how much fun he seemed to be having… Yet while this story is true, we were also related how it was overheard that he was worried about the money he had invested in traveling to Boston and wanted as much as the next guy to get in the money at the tourney. Or how about this one?

Kyle Rose comes into a local shop and sits down. He looks tired. He stares vacuously around for some time with a deck sitting in front of him. A local kid comes up and wants to play a friendly game, to which Rose reply’s something akin to, "This deck isn’t any fun, kid…It just wins." Or this?

Well-known top Magic player quits his day job to be a real pro only he hits a streak of bad luck. Now without a day job, he’d churns (my word) out articles to help make ends meet. Or this?

Seth Burn had a conversation with Zvi Mowshowitz on the quality of ‘My Fires’. While the outcome was they both thought the pieces was less than fulfilling, Mowshowitz said this was at least in part because this was the sort of piece that the Sideboard and its editor wanted and that he was willing to providing that sort of piece for them. It was compensated, of course…Or this?

Our team Binary 21 has little to show yet for wins. Scott placed 4th at the Normal PTQ, which was a nice showing, and they have been tearing up the local drafts, but that’s about it. We are debating where to go to play Regionals, as we are going to have to travel some. The choices are Milwaukee or Lincoln, NE. I put forth that if we are going to "have fun," then we should go to Milwaukee as it would offer more things to do aside from the tournament – but that if we want to try and win, then we might think about Lincoln, which generally has the smallest field of Midwest Regionals. I get this reply:

"I haven’t gone to a tournament for ‘fun’ in a long time. I mean, I enjoy myself and I enjoy the competition, and I have a lot of fun… But I go to the tourneys to win, and if a smaller field makes that easier I’m all for it."

Myself, I had options. I really like my mates and I’m going to have fun either way. I’ve been to Lincoln for wrestling camp ::shudder:: and would prefer to see Milwaukee…But I’m going on this trip to have fun AND try and win. That’s why I gave out a choice. Like a lot of folks, I am going to probably dump a decent amount of cash into the trip.

All the pros really want to do is make these pilgrimages for free. I think most of them would be happy with that. It’s like most uneasy marriages, since most marital problems and divorces really come about because of money problems. The love of the game, the pilgrimage, and the cost all come together in a way that can quickly suck the fun right out of things.

Of course, this is not limited to Magic: the Gathering. I had friends in different areas of the music biz that fought all the same issues. Guys on the A&R side talking about kids that were all about "just give us the money." I don’t know if you know this but that’s almost always an advance against sales and can lead to real debts. I love using Tool’s "Hooker with a Penis" from Aenima to illustrate the art versus money idea. As a synopsis of the song, as the band is walking by a guy at a show he says that he was into them "before you sold out." This leads to a rather typical tirade from Maynard, who tells the guy that yes, we sold out to sell you a record. We did that long before you ever heard about us and we did it knowingly – so screw you and buy our record. This is the way we get by.

The Meta Meta Game:

This is the money, folks. This is the Pro Tour, the top circle. This is the "secret" tech and all that jazz. To me, it’s just another game on top of the game. The pros are good at it – at least the ones that make any money. It’s the teams, super-teams, and subsequent breakups. Not a lot get to play this game, and fewer talk about it. Of course it’s not that hard, really, except that it’s just full of frail humanity. This is the "nuts," as it were. You play by playing all the humanity that you’ve got. I’d call it cunning. It goes something like this: Remember that pros, at least some of them, want free tech as much – if not more – than you…

There are two kinds of pros. Some are pretty cool. Cool not in a "neat to hang with" cool, although that can be true as well, but cool in the unflappable way. Having witnessed a lot of communications with Aaron Forsythe, this seems to be his category, and I can say the same for Seth Burn since I’ve had a few deck and card debates with him. These players have their cold guns and stick to them. Burn is unswayed by almost anything I can say. He is not heatedly searching for tech, but has a heads-up to what is going on. He has his ideas and his decks and he sticks with them…

But there is this other type of pro, who is the one is really dying for free tech… And a lot of these guys are wound up tight. I’m going to have examples of this tightness, and that, along with some "Chinese telephone," created a rumor that was quite ugly really and was a terrible disservice to the Aaron Forsythe I know. It’s all fun and games till someone gets their eye poked out.

I’m not real sure how I got drawn into a lot of IBC "work." Greg Smith was working on it, in part because Brian David Marshall was promoting the game with weekly tournaments with good prizes at Neutral Ground. It came up some on the Star City list, and as a new team Binary 21 wanted to work on some open territory. We did so. I threw together a deck based on some things I’d read about good draft plays and so forth – namely, Armadillo Cloak on a Glimmering Angel wrapped around a Counter Rout deck. There was a problem with how to win the mirror match against any similar control deck, and that was solved by Vasco da Gama with Elfhame Sanctuary, which I stole cheerfully. The deck worked well in testing – and we found that while there was nothing special about it, it was probably the most "stable" deck we had. Mason rolled out Aguilera.dec on day one with a lot of tough plays for U/B/R. While I had David Sutcliffe’s near-creatureless deck in those colors, I didn’t pursue U/B/R much because that deck type, which I knew a lot of pros were slathering over, would roll over to Mike’s Mongoose and pro-Blue and -Black guys. I brought this up to Sutcliffe and the others, and they all thought Mongoose was terrible (some of them still do).

This lead to some near-heated discussions about these general ideas. I was talking in a general way about what the problems there would or could be for near-creatureless U/B/R builds with Mongoose as an example. (Later in testing, Sutcliffe’s deck would beat about anything we had – except for Aguilera, as I had thought.)

As this was going on, I finally was challenged to show a decklist.

Now I knew the game. I could and would show a list, but I knew nothing would be forthcoming from most of them other than Sutcliffe and McKeown. It was all for them to win and nothing for them to lose from issuing such a challenge. I did produce the list for Aguilera… And Burn blew it off. Sutcliffe admitted that it would be trouble for his build, but that he could adapt to beat it. I agreed but made it clear that that need for adaptation to meet this idea indeed WAS the whole point, and not particularly that I had a deck that was "the nuts."

Things went on. There was some talk about certain cards and Meddling Mage was brought up. I made this post:

"I ran what I thought was a really really horrible aggro U/W deck that I threw together very quickly the other night. It went 8-0 in games without a SB vs. 3 different decks. It won because white-only creatures are, for the most part, generally really horrible. They do however make Wash Out ‘some good.’ Could be strictly a meta game call in a creature heavy environment but I found the results interesting to say the least. U/W aggro is at least underdeveloped…"

This was the response. I’ll note that the author was quite careful to point out that the post was made in good humor. Needless, this is how it read:

"Nobody likes a Deck Tease



(hopefully the smiley face will dull the pain of my harsh capitalized comments)"

I want to analyze famed Internet writer Will Rieffer "Deck Tease" email….

"(You gave) No hint as to what’s in the deck, no hint as to what it played against – nothing! It had blue and white cards, and presumably they were fast blue and white cards – and it was a reply to Meddling Mage, so I’m guessing there were 4 Meddling Mages. But I’m sure there are many variant builds on aggro U/W, at least give a hint! Grizzly bears? Creature Enchantments? (wings of hope anyone?) What was special about the
deck, what made it so good? Why was it janky looking? What cards were a surprise?

"Even if you don’t want to give out decklists (very understandable), at least give a hint. I didn’t want to post my fast R/G deck but I can say it’s 30 grizzly bears and burn and you at least have a hint.

"I’m even more confused. (You say) It won BECAUSE white creatures suck? But it’s U/W! Is it because the three opponent’s decks all had white creatures, or did it somehow win because it was full of sucky creatures? Or because white creatures suck, does that mean the deck only did well because it had blue creatures?

"The next line – Washout is some good? Is Washout good AGAINST the deck? Is it good IN the deck because the deck is using these crappy white creatures and no one else is?

"And then it’s a good metagame call in a creature heavy environment? That hints that there’s some sort of creature interaction or card economy or advantage. So that indicates Repulse and Exclude? I’ve found Scorching Lava to be aggressive, Repulse and Exclude are not, but I may have a different metagame (you can Exclude all you want once I have two grizzly bears in play!)

"Now I’m not picking on Will, but I got so darn excited when he started his message with ‘my crappy deck unexpectedly went 8-0’. I was thinking ‘woohoo – a good deck in an archetype (U/W Aggro) that isn’t working for me, that will really help testing’ only to get Magic blue balls when after a bit of teasing, there was no action. When mixed with Other Guy’s ‘I’ll send a Meddling Mage deck soon’ tease a couple of days ago, I’m in agony over here! Hence the violent outburst… 🙂

"If this keeps up I’ll start sending cryptic messages myself – ‘my U/W/B control deck has a bunch of cards that no one else is using and they’re FANTASTIC – I’m 15-0 playing against major archetypes’, ‘My Coalition Victory deck is really rocking, it’s getting turn 4 wins!’, ‘My combo deck went off 75% of the time in 12 games, dealing the full 24 damage each time, it’s incredible!’.

"Heck, I got more information from the ‘Forsythe has a U/B/R creatureless rare deck that’s rockin’ message and I’m not sure I even believe that one!

Magic Player
(All in good humor, of course)"

Here is my reply.


Let me get to something else first. Sutty and I (and actually McKeown) are the only ones who’ve posted ANY sort of decklist here. I keep getting challenged to show lists. I have no problem showing them. I have nothing to lose… But I daresay that if I did the same sort of thing, I’d get chirping crickets in response…

I didn’t say I had anything near (an) excellent (deck). Actually, after I got done building it I thought it would be horrible. I think the problem that this group has with me is that I am often talking in a very general way and this group would all like specifics… Like specific decks. The point I was trying to make, I guess, is that U/W aggro may have something to offer and it’s underdeveloped. My "bad" deck won so perhaps some better version could do better…

However, I may sound in response to this I’m not upset at all. I can’t send Forsythe’s deck through for sure. He just told me they dropped Eric Taylor from their list because he’s also talking with another group. You pros can look for the Ferrett to scathe you publicly for this kind of stuff, which is basically that you bunch of clams will "challenge" me for my decklists but won’t show yours, and that you’ll lambaste the state of internet writing in general because no one will openly write about tech till after the fact. (In point of fact, I did write said article about a week later – The Ferrett) This may not include anyone here, I don’t know, but this warped sense of nostalgia for the old days when abstract theory was being formed, and thus the net had good writing is just a lot of crap in my opinion. Really. We know there is a hypocritical front that on the one side wants to see free tech and on the other side won’t provide that which is theirs to give…

I played against Mason’s, R/G/w beats, an interesting R/W deck from Jon Chabot, and a U/B deck with Zombies. Nothing too great there… But again, I’ve NEVER claimed that I had some world beating, kick ass decks. You guys all just wanted to read that somehow I envisioned them that way. I used Blurred Mongoose to say that untargetability is a problem for mid-game control decks running stuff like Repulse, Rage, Terminate, Recoil, whatever. In this post the biggest thing I said was that "U/W aggro is at least underdeveloped". In your case, Magic Player, I had thought that would be an opinion that would back you in your quest to break Meddling Mage.

In the end, I’ll have to just guess that you all are just wrapped a little tight on the subject at the moment…


I got an interesting reply…

"Will is Right

"I’ve tried writing this three times now, and each time I’ve deleted it because I can’t think of a way of saying it without sounding incredibly arrogant. So
forgive my arrogance ahead of time if it sounds that way still (I’m sure it does).

"Essentially Will, you’re absolutely right. The people going to Tokyo have no incentive to share tech since their teammates may kill them for it, and there’s no guarantee that a) they’ll get something equally useful in return; and b) that they won’t benefit some other group of players a huge amount when the information gets to them.

"So Tokyo invitees are left working with themselves (which often results in inbreeding of deck ideas, or a shortage of deck ideas) and scanning the net for the information that people are willing to post.

"But the only people who are willing to talk are the people who don’t have the $1,000 vested interest in a trip to Tokyo. So the situation ends up as you
described, "pros" who are more than willing to listen to anything and everything that people may say, but are totally unwilling to give anything back. But that doesn’t mean they don’t read everything they can for ideas and suggestions.

"But is this wrong? Should the players with the really good decks (not saying I’m one of them!) share them with the players not going to Tokyo?

"Trust me, I’d LOVE to find a dozen people and chat with them endlessly on the format. I enjoy the exchange of ideas and the deck development process
(for the first time in a while). But a forum like this list (or mindripper or the sideboard) is too public for a frank discussion. And other groups of players have to think I’ve got something to offer them before they’ll talk. Having played a deck that "leaked" (the Chicago 99 Tinker deck) I know what
happens when you get too talkative so I understand.

"Do I like it? Not really, but I don’t see how else it can be. If people are willing to talk about IBC and share their deck ideas, I’m more than willing to
listen and even offer suggestions or ideas where I can. Heck, I’ve already gotten a half dozen valuable tidbits from the conversations that are going back and forth here on the list. But I can’t give out decklists and groundbreaking decks.

"But if I ever win a Constructed PT (or even do well, quite frankly) I’ll be more than willing to publicly thank the list! 🙂

"Magic Player
"(Deckbuilding Scrub)"

Now this went on even beyond this idea. Someone at Boston either said, or heard, or misheard and wrongly repeated, an idea that Aaron Forsythe was either testing Binary 21 with bad decks or using us as some sort of false mouthpiece to spread bad ideas about CMU’s ideas on the format. I have no idea what happened. But since I was playing the meta meta game with no vested interest, I was risking nothing. Those that were wound up tight didn’t really need to listen to anything that I had to say, vague as it was- but they did, and in their state they read from it what they wanted rather than what was said. Could they have not known that I was being vague in response to the rules of the more vested crowd? That I was playing, too? Well, I guess so. Still, it came down to a situation where I had to go to Forsythe as quickly as possible, since there was no reason for this sort of rumor to go around the whole Magic community – when, knowing him, I never once thought that it was true. I hope I was rewarded in that.

Aaron finally felt obliged to give up the decklist as between the lot of us that he had shared with and the ensuing articles and things that he felt the contents were rather known. I don’t know that this, in fact, needed to be done. Prior to getting the Domain list from Aaron, Greg Smith rattled off about half the deck in a rambling mail of different ideas Team Hacked was working on. Aaron also noted that CMU knew of several other pros that were working on Domain decks, one in particular that had as least three variations. One can only guess that these decks had, for the most part, the commonality of ideas that Jon Chabot posted in his IBC analysis. Jon in fact stated that he’d seen the Domain idea in at least a couple of northeast hotspots. The only thing hurting the CMU domain deck, it seemed, was that someone might sniff out what it was specifically that they were planning on playing and have an edge there in specific matchups. Still, that does not make a metagame.

To finish, there are a whole heck of a lot of casual players, newbies, and scrubs that buy the cards and pay the bills. Kinda like "A Bug’s Life," the pros need us more than we probably need them. Without a lot of sales to us, there is no Pro Tour, no gravy train, and no jetting around to play a darn fun game and hang out in cool places with cool people. But remember: They are just folks that run around and mostly wear pants just like you. Know the game and don’t be intimidated. Yes we love the game… And much as we love to play it, we love to talk about it. Let’s talk about it. That’s what the sites are about…

Will Rieffer

* – This title bears nothing to Eric Taylor’s Dojo Feature Column.