From Right Field: Oh, Geez. Not Another Elf Deck.

Elves needed a better way to get reusable growth effects.
Enter Isochron Scepter. We all know the tricks that this cheap, uncommon artifact can do. We all dream of the draw where we get a Chrome Mox and an Island on the first turn so that we can drop the Scepter, imprinting Boomerang. Of course, some of us just dream of having four Chrome Mox. But that’s a different story.

The Scepter hasn’t been looked at through the minty fresh glasses of the Green mage, though…

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, although even those with more money and expertise might – I said”might” – still find something useful here. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain few rares, if any. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Wrath of God or the Onslaught fetch Lands for the colors they play. The decks are also tested in tournaments by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. In other words, he puts his money where his mouth is. He will never claim that a deck has a 65% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the deck is just plain lousy.}

I haven’t played in a tournament in the last few weeks. This saga is well-documented by now. Since one of our editorial edicts is that we must demonstrate some sort of play-testing for decks that we right about, I wasn’t sure what I’d do. My play-testing is almost exclusively done at local, Saturday tournaments. So, I called Ted Knutson, our esteemed editor.

(Digression: Why are editor’s always”esteemed”? I don’t know why, either. That’s why I asked. They always are, though. I guess that being esteemed is a requirement for being an editor.) [I have my certificate of estimation right here. You wouldn’t believe how expensive I am to fix. – Knut, a-steamed]

OPERATOR: Collect call for Mr. Knutson from Mr. Romeo. Will you accept the charges?

T-KNUT: Romeo? Yeah. Sure. (mutters) Cheap basket. {That’s what it sounded like, anyway. – Chris}

CBR: Ted, it’s Chris. Um, look, I don’t think I can write any more articles about these wacky, cheap, rogue decks that I build.

TK: (with obvious fear and sadness in his voice) Are you kidding? Why not?

CBR: Well, I just don’t feel like playing in the local, Saturday tourneys right now. Since that’s the only place that I actually do any testing, I can’t fulfill the requirements of the job. I’m . . . I’m sorry, Ted. Truly.

TK: (with tears in his voice) Chris, you can’t do this to us. StarCityGames.com will shut down without you. Who else does anyone want to read? Do they want to read the writings of Pro Tour players with nineteen-hundred-plus ratings like Mike Flores? No. They want you and blisterguy and Bennie Smith. You can’t leave us. . . . Wait. I know. We’ll raise your rate. We’ll pay you $15,000 per column. How’s that?

CBR: Ted, it’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money. If all I cared about was money, I’d have never quite writing for Roseanne Barr. No, I just can’t fulfill the job requirements.

TK: Okay, how about we send Adriana Lima down to play-test with you?

CBR: (happily surprised) She plays Magic?

TK: Yeah, she came in like fifth or sixth at the Brazil Nationals in 2001. And she hadn’t even practiced because she was doing the Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot the weeks before. She’s good.

CBR: Okay. But only because I’m required to test my decks first. I want – scratch that – I need to make sure I’m following the rules. I don’t want to let you guys down.

TK: Super! What’s a good day to get her there for testing?

{NOTE: This conversation didn’t actually take place. However, had I called Ted, I’m almost certain that this is pretty much how it would have gone. – Chris}

Sadly, no Victoria’s Secret models showed up to test Magic decks this week. However, I did get to test decks with a couple of my friends who like to look at the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Their names are . . . being withheld for the modest sum of ten dollars each.

“The Color Wheel Keeps on Turnin'”

Someone had pointed out that, since my return, I have written about decks that include every color except Green. Hmmmm. Sounded like a challenge to me.

A big challenge, actually, because, as They will tell you (and They always know best, don’t They?) Green just sucks right now. Doesn’t it? Sure, it works well with Red in land destruction decks that use Creeping Mold and Plow Under. It just doesn’t look like there are any Stompy decks running amok right now. And, for some reason, Elves, which made a brief, bright showing during Onslaught Block season, just dropped out of sight. I say”for some reason,” but we all know that reason was Goblin decks packing the Goblin Sharpshooter.

Every deck has a hole, though. Unfortunately, when that hole is one of the most prevalent decks around, the deck tends to get shelved faster than a reality show that promises”No Sex! No Cussing! And Ted McGinley!” The good thing is that Elves was the hole that the Blue-Green Madness decks had. They had no removal other than countermagic. If Elves could get Wellwisher or Timberwatch Elf going, it was bad for Blue-Green Madness. If both got active, it was pretty much lights out. While Blue-Green Madness no longer exists in Standard, Affinity does. Just like Blue-Green Madness, Affinity tends to ignore the other deck in favor of casting under-costed fliers and ground pounders. Short of countermagic, Wellwisher and Timberwatch Elf are as bad for Affinity as Lenny Kravitz was for Nicole Kidman. (In case you haven’t heard, it looks like Nicole and Lenny are finis since he seems to be steppin’ out on her.) (Which is good for Ted.) [I’m waiting for Romeo to publish his freebie list, but I’m guessing he’ll wait until he’s married first. – Knut]

Historically, Green in general and Elves in particular have notoriously had no control elements. Sure, there’s now Naturalize. That ends up being a superb control spell now only because of Affinity. Typically, though, Green’s best”control” spells are always growth spells like Giant Growth and Predator’s Strike, that essentially serve as counterspells for direct damage. The problem has been when those spells run out.

Timberwatch Elf did provide a much-needed reusable growth effect. That guy, however, has a bull’s eye painted on him as big as the one that appears on the only good looking woman at a continuing education seminar for electrical engineers. Timberwatch Elf was usually dead by the end of the turn it was cast unless its controller was holding a growth spell. Even then, that just meant that it died on the next turn.

Still, you can’t deny its power once it gets going. Even so, Elves needed a better way to get reusable growth effects.

Enter Isochron Scepter.

We all know the tricks that this cheap, uncommon artifact can do. We all dream of the draw where we get a Chrome Mox and an Island on the first turn so that we can drop the Scepter, imprinting Boomerang. Of course, some of us just dream of having four Chrome Mox. But that’s a different story.

The Scepter hasn’t been looked at through the minty fresh glasses of the Green mage, though. There are a bunch of one- and two-mana spells that Green can throw on the thing. Spells like:

• Giant Growth

• Naturalize

• Predator’s Strike

• Battlegrowth

• Wirewood Pride

• Vitality Charm

• Turn to Dust

Okay, so the likes of Battlegrowth and Turn to Dust don’t make many decks quake in their Lightning Greaves. Those others, though, look to have a home in any Elf deck.

Of course, you can’t have too many growth effects, or you push out the Elves. Growth effects are no good without creatures. (“And the award for Most Obvious Statement of the Year, Magic: The Gathering Division goes to . . . .”) The optimal number of one- and two-mana spells, according to players better than I am, is ten in a deck. Any more, and you run the risk of having a hand full of spells with no targets. Any less, and you run the risk of having a Scepter with nothing to Imprint. (This number may not be correct. I read it somewhere when the Mirrodin spoiler was just hitting the ‘net. I haven’t crunched any numbers on it. If you think the number is different, let me know. If you have a statistics or engineering background and can back up why the number should be different, please, post it on the forums for everyone to see. For now, we’re going with ten.)

The first spell had to be Predator’s Strike. The +3/+3 is a great trick. There’s nothing like seeing an Elvish Warrior block and kill a Goblin Piledriver while the Warrior lives. That trample, though, is what puts it over the top. Getting damage through to your opponent while killing his creature and keeping yours alive is the kind of advantage that makes Magic theorists drool like newborn babies at a breast enlargement clinic.

Reflexively, I went for Giant Growth next. It’s the grand daddy of all growth effects. It’s been around since Alpha was released over ten years ago. It gives +3/+3 for one, single, lonely Green mana.

I bounced the idea off of Karl Allen. He said,”ow.” Followed by,”I have another idea. Don’t laugh. It’s Vitality Charm.”

All I could do was think of those cutout brewmasters from the Guinness ads and scream,”Brilliant!” Vitality Charm does three things. The useless one in this deck has something to do with Beasts. The other two, though, are beautiful. You can give a creature +1/+1 and trample or creature, with instant timing, a 1/1 Insect token. In other words, with Vitality Charm in the deck, you have eight ways to give a creature trample.

The part that I really thought was brilliant, though, was the creation of the Insect. With the Charm imprinted on a Scepter, you have a never-ending stream of 1/1 blockers, or you might have that last attacker you need to win the game.

“So, then our last two will be Giant Growth, right?”

“Wrong. We have enough growth spells. We’ll be using Naturalize.”

“Because, even disregarding Affinity, so many decks are running artifacts and enchantments! Brilliant!”

“Yes, brilliant!”

I started the deck with those fourteen spells, twenty-one lands, and twenty-five creatures. Believe it or not, I kept getting mana flooded. So, I went to twenty lands. Then nineteen. Then eighteen. It feels like the deck could even go down to seventeen, but I’m too much of a fraidy cat to go that low. That allowed us to use twenty-eight creatures.

The problem, as anyone knows, is which twenty-six do you choose? To be honest, there were too many to get into the deck as four-ofs. The Good Elves include:

• Birchlore Rangers – Needed for silly mana tricks.

• Norwood Ranger – A 1/2 Elf for G. Not the best, but better than a lot.

• Elvish Warrior – Laugh all you want. He’s a 2/3 for two mana that blocks and kills a lot of nasty critters.

• Wirewood Herald – The Elf tutor. Gotta have him.

• Wirewood Symbiote – Not an Elf. However, the synergy is so apparent that even I can see it.

• Viridian Shaman – Mix with the Symbiote and, bang, Affinity’s dead.

• Wellwisher – Sometimes you gain so much life that you can kill your opponent with nothing but insect tokens made by . . .

• Wirewood Hivemaster – Would you like four or five creatures on turn 2? This guy can make that happen.

• Timberwatch Elf – Wow, look at that 13/13 Insect token . . . with trample.

• Caller of the Claw – Think about the silly tricks you can do with this guy and the Symbiote.

If we use four of each of these nine, that would be forty creatures. Somehow, twelve creatures had to go. I felt like Skip in Bull Durham.

SKIP: (to Norwood Ranger) Come on in, Norrie. Have a seat.

NORWOOD RANGER: (looking worried) What’s up, Skip?

SKIP: Norrie, this is the hardest part of a manager’s job. But the organization has decided to go in a different direction. I have to let you go.

NR: But, Skip, I’m just in a slump. A couple of Predator’s Strikes, and I’m back in the game.

SKIP: I’m sorry.

To be honest, it was a tough decision. The Norwood Ranger is a nice speed bump. But, it was the smallest of the vanilla creatures. With no ability, it was expendable. I was left with another eight cards to cut.

The next thought was that Elvish Warrior was also expendable since it was vanilla. The thing is the Elvish Warrior isn’t bland, store-brand vanilla. It’s more like real vanilla-bean vanilla, the kind that costs $6.99 per half-gallon. It packs a punch. Imagine this scenario. You drop a Forest and pass the turn. Your opponent gets that ridiculous Chrome Mox, Mountain, Slith Firewalker,”wipe that idiotic smile off your face, you little punk” first turn. The Firewalker’s a 2/2 before you get your second turn starts. On your second turn, though, you drop a Forest and an Elvish Warrior.”Screech,” goes your opponent’s game.

Great. Now, I was stuck with not wanting to cut any of the ones that were left. I got some help from an unexpected source. Another writer (who wanted to remain nameless, presumably because he doesn’t want his reputation sullied by being associated with one of my columns) suggested that I only put in four of the ones that I absolutely had to have. Then, use the Wirewood Herald as a tutor. After a few rounds of testing opening hands and the first few draws, it was obvious that there were five creatures that had to appear as sets of four. Birchlore Rangers is important for explosive second turns. Wirewood Hivemaster makes those annoying Insect tokens. Wirewood Herald essentially gives you four more chances to get whatever else you need. The Wirewood Symbiote saves a lot of Elves’ bacon and also facilitates some Silly Elf Tricks. Finally, you want Timberwatch Elf. If you could, you’d play eight of them.

That left me with eight creatures to add. Wellwisher and Viridian Shaman were fine as two-ofs. If you needed more in games two and three, you can bring them in from the sideboard. I knew that the final four would be some combination of Elvish Warrior and Caller of the Claw. After some quick run-throughs, I came up with one Caller and three Warriors. Again, you can get more from the sideboard. As usual, the deck and sideboard combined have only eight rares.

After all that, plus some sideboard theorizing, I had this:

De-Scept-ive Elves

18 Lands

16 Forest

2 Wirewood Lodge

28 Creatures

4 Birchlore Rangers

4 Wirewood Symbiote

3 Elvish Warrior

4 Wirewood Herald

4 Wirewood Hivemaster

2 Wellwisher

4 Timberwatch Elf

2 Viridian Shaman

1 Caller of the Claw

14 Other Spells

4 Isochron Scepter

4 Predator’s Strike

4 Vitality Charm

2 Naturalize

15 Sideboard

3 Caller of the Claw

4 Steely Resolve

2 Naturalize

1 Viridian Shaman

2 Wellwisher

1 Elvish Warrior

1 Viridian Shaman

1 Wing Snare

Normally, I don’t include a sideboard with my decks. Sideboards are a reaction to the decks that you expect to see. However, we all expect to see Goblins, Affinity, Blue-White Control, mono-White Control, and Black-based decks.

“Let’s toss it to Jim and Terry back in the studio.”

Okay, the bad news first.

Goblins – No Sulfuric Vortex in from the sideboard

Goblins will eat this deck up before sideboarding. You are almost certain to lose game one. If you’re lucky enough to get a growth effect on a Scepter, you’ll spend all of your resources using it to keep a couple of blockers alive. This is nothing new for Elves. Just bring in four Steely Resolves from the sideboard. Obviously, you’ll call”Elves.” Which means that you can’t target your Elves with growth effects. You can, however, target your Insect tokens. You’ll also want your other two Wellwishers to keep the direct damage from being pointed directly at your head.

To fit those six in, first drop your two Naturalizes and your two Viridian Shamen. The Caller of the Claw can go, too, since we aren’t typically going to see a mass of non-token creatures killed in a single turn. Since you’re reduced to targeting Insects, drop one Predator’s Strike.

Goblins – The Good Version (i.e. Sulfuric Vortex in from the sideboard)

If you’re playing against a smart opponent, however, expect to see Sulfuric Vortex. In that case, sideboarding is completely different. You’ll not only leave in the Naturalizes, but you’ll bring in the other two because you have to be able gain life to win this matchup. That means that you’ll also bring in the other two Wellwishers. Finally, the four Steely Resolves still come in. To fit in those eight, you’ll drop the Caller, the two Shamen, the four Predator’s Strikes, and one Timberwatch Elf.

I know that that seems like a lot of cards to take out, and it is. However, you win this matchup by being able to gain more life than they can handle with direct damage. So, you can’t let the Vortex neutralize your Wellwishers. Remember, you won’t be able to do Silly Timberwatch Tricks with the Lodge or Symbiote once the Steely Resolve hits. So, why does the Symbiote stay? To provide a way to protect your Elves until the Resolve shows up and to help make even more Insect tokens. Three Timberwatch Elves and the Vitality Charms should provide the punch needed to, at some point, make a disgustingly large Insect with trample. In fact, at times, you will be so far ahead of life that you’ll be able to utter a phrase rarely heard by Goblin players.”No blocks.”


Interestingly, you can win this first game. You wouldn’t think so. But you have four maindeck ways to kill artifacts. Given the right conditions (Scepter or Symbiote), all four are reusable. After sideboarding, it’s even worse for them. Yes, this deck was designed to beat Affinity, and it does so quite handily unless they can counter every major spell you have.

Obviously, an 11/11 Broodstar can be, to put it lightly, a problem. When I say it can be a problem, I mean like Louie Anderson visiting your kids the day after Halloween. It’s not a pretty sight. After sideboarding, you can do two things. You can gain even more life, and you can blow up even more artifacts.

You need to bring in the other two Naturalizes and the other two Viridian Shamen. You will also want the fourth Elvish Warrior. Remember, a Warrior kills a Frogmite. Two of them block and kill a Myr Enforcer while you only lose one Warrior. A nice one-for-one trade. Bring in the other two Wellwishers, too. Often, you can gain so much life that the Broodstar is meaningless. Finally, the Wing Snare comes in just in case you get it.

The first thing that gets taken out in this matchup is Caller of the Claw. Affinity doesn’t pack mass removal. In fact, except for some rogue versions that pack Pyrite Spellbomb (a great idea, by the way), they pack no removal at all. Affinity decks plan on running over or by your inferior creatures. You want to kill any artifact you see. Size won’t matter after a while because there will be no Frogmites or Myr Enforcers on the board. You’re going to cast a Viridian Shaman, killing some artifact. Then, you’re going to return it to your hand via the Symbiote’s ability. Then, you’re going to recast it. You’re going to kill every artifact you can. The Broodstar, if it hits, will be a 1/1 or 2/2 if you play this right.

Since the size of your creatures doesn’t really matter, you make room for the other seven cards by taking out three of Timberwatch Elves and the Predator’s Strikes. You’re leaving in one Timberwatch because you might just be able to win by creating a huge monster with trample rather than just having more Insects than they have artifact creatures. Usually, though, you win this simply by having many more creatures than they do while gaining so much life that you can effectively ignore their creatures. Kinda out-Affinity-ing Affinity, as it were.

Blue-White Control and Mono-White Control

This is where the Caller of the Claw shines. Both of these decks run about eighty-gazillion pieces of mass removal. In addition, they typically don’t run any artifacts or enchantments. So, you can drop the Naturalizes and the Shamen. Bring in the three Callers and a Wellwisher. This is another matchup where lifegaining will be important. In addition, if you think that they run Silver Knight, bring in the fourth Elvish Warrior for a Hivemaster. Remember, the Warrior beats a Silver Knight. Finally, drop another Hivemaster for that Wing Snare. If you get the Snare, you’ll be happy you did.

Of course, now you’re thinking,”What if they bring in Circle of Protection: Green?” The answer is”You’re kidding, right?”

Mono-Black Control and Mono-Black Clerics

Both of these work essentially the same way. They suck your life one way or another. So, you want the other two Wellwishers. You also want the Steely Resolves, so that they can’t Smother or Dark Banishing your Elves. There’s also going to be some mass removal. That means you add the Callers. Finally, you’re likely to see Visara. So, bring in that Wing Snare.

The first four to drop are easy. Take out Naturalize and Viridian Shaman. The last six are Predator’s Strike and two Timberwatch Elf. As with Goblins, since Steely Resolve will be set to Elf, you’ll be reduced to pumping up Insect tokens.

Of course, the Cleric version might be running Oversold Cemetery. In that case, the Naturalizes stay and are joined by the other two out of the sideboard. The sideboarding for this version looks just like it does when the Goblins use the Vortex.

Rogue Cards / Decks to Watch Out For (i.e. stuff that we didn’t have time to test)

Chalice of the Void – Do you fully comprehend how bad this card is for this deck if it’s set on two? No Wellwishers. No Hivemasters. No Heralds. No Naturalizes. Ugh. So, if you suspect that Chalice is in the deck or coming in from the sideboard, make sure that you have all of your Shamans in there along with all of your Naturalizes. And then, hold them. If they cast Chalice for two, follow with the Shaman. If they cast the Chalice for three, hit it with Naturalize.

Red-Green Land Destruction – You don’t need much land to run this. In fact, with a Birchlore out, you often don’t need any. However, R/G LD often packs mass removal. Make sure that the Callers come in.

Beasts – There’s a very cool Steely Resolve trick you can do against this deck. Take a look at Contested Cliffs. Notice how they have to target both a Beast they control and one of your creatures. Don’t set the Resolve to”Elf.” You want to be able to pump your guys up. Set the Resolve to”Beast.” That neutralizes the Cliffs. I don’t think that they run any artifacts or enchantments in that deck or from the sideboard. So, I’d drop the Naturalizes and the Shaman for the four Steely Resolves.

White Weenie – Um, I dunno. Gain a bunch of life, and have the Callers ready in case of Wrath?

Have fun playing such an unexpected deck. It really will be a blast. The key will be your Insect tokens. Don’t go with boring dice (which are bad anyway since you can’t tell if they’re tapped or not). Get creative. Maybe even buy StarCity’s own Insect tokens. (We do make Insect tokens, don’t we, Ted?) [Yes, Bleiweiss and his elf helped bake them fresh daily in the StarCityGames.com basement. – Knut]

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Hey, Justin! Can you help my friend here with her blouse? It seems to be stuck on something.

Epilogue – More on Luck / Moron Luck

One thing that’s been different about being back on StarCity is that I’m participating on the message boards. Ted has encouraged me to do it. I’d never done that before. It’s a blast, really. There are a lot of passionate people. Passion means people care. There aren’t enough people in the world who care about more than just themselves.

Last week, people cared a lot about the fact that I don’t believe in”luck.” (I would have thought they would care more about my use of Dispersal Shield in an Affinity deck, which, as Ted pointed out, turns out to be sub-optimal. Use Override.) Their problem seemed to turn on semantics.

If you’ve never studied semantics, it’s very intriguing, especially if you like trivia as much as I do. Semantics often gets a bad rap, though, usually because people don’t really know what semantics is. The cliché is that someone will wave off a discussion of something by saying,”Now, you’re just arguing semantics,” like it’s a bad thing. Sometimes, you have to discuss semantics because it’s incredibly important. It’s not murder, for example, if the victim isn’t dead. So, we need to know what”dead” actually means in the jurisdiction in question.

For those who don’t follow more esoteric fields of study, semantics is the study of the meanings of words, especially their connotative meanings. A great number of words have both denotative meanings and connotative meanings. The denotative meaning of a word is its strict dictionary definition. For example, a guy might say that he thinks a woman is”gorgeous.” Obviously, then, he finds her”pleasing to behold,” the strict, denotative meaning of”gorgeous.” There is a connotation, though, that he not only finds her”pleasing to behold,” but also that he is very physically attracted to her. We know that, when a guy says a woman is”gorgeous,” he wants her. He wants her bad.

A discussion of semantics seems to be necessary for me to fully explain why I don’t believe in”luck” and especially why I don’t like to bring”luck” into discussions about Magic.

Several folks posted notes or e-mailed me that”luck” is simply random events happening. If you like what they are, you call them”good luck.” If not, they’re called”bad luck.”

Well, randomness or chance is one denotative meaning of”luck.” The Cambridge Dictionary of American English defines”luck” as”chance, or that which happens to you as the result of chance.” That’s the cold, strict, denotative meaning.

The problem is that people don’t hear the denotative meaning when someone mentions”luck.” They hear the connotative meaning. Merriam-Webter’s connotative definition of”luck” is”a force that brings good fortune or adversity.”

Read that again.

“Luck” is”a force that brings good fortune or adversity.”

The connotation is that there is something changing probabilities. Folks, that ain’t just randomness. When you start saying that someone is”lucky” or that something happened due to”luck,” most listeners or readers don’t think,”Oh, he means it was due to random chance.” The discussion becomes loaded with ideas and issues that don’t belong anywhere near it, especially when the discussion is about a game such as Magic that has a string and well-designed mathematical foundation and is based on randomness and trying to minimize the effects of that randomness.

Some, though, said,”Hey, it’s the same thing. When I say someone’s ‘lucky,’ I just mean that something random and good happened to that person.”

That’s simply bad communication for several reasons. First, people hear the connotative meaning of”lucky” when you use it to describe someone’s playing of Magic. If that person is a good player, you’ve just discounted their ability. Whether you mean for it to happen or not, people will hear,”S/he’s not good. S/he’s just lucky.” How disrespectful.

Of course, the”lucky” person could be cheating. Cheaters love to be thought of as”lucky.” It keeps people from delving deeper into their successes.

“Wow, another unlikely win. How do you do it?”

“I’m lucky.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Thus, the thief gets to play again. Because s/he’s gotten enough people to believe that s/he’s”lucky,” no one questions all of those unlikely successes.

There is no outside force that rewards us or punishes us by putting certain cards on the tops of our decks. It’s randomness. There are a lot of game theories that apply to Magic. Given that our hands are usually hidden from our opponents and that neither of us usually knows what card is where in our decks, it’s a game of limited information. It’s also a game of resource management. How we use our resources like our life total, permanents, cards in hand, and the rest, determines the outcome of the game.

At its heart, though, Magic is a game of randomness. The best players do what they can to minimize the effects of randomness. Card drawing is one way to do that. If you can draw more cards than your opponent, you have a better chance of getting the answers you need. Tutor effects also do that by getting a particular card. Another is redundancy in deck design. We try to play four copies of the best cards in our decks. When they’re so good that we wish we could play more than four (e.g. Wrath of God), we look for cards with similar abilities (e.g. Akroma’s Vengeance).

There’s another thing that some players do to minimize the effects of randomness. It’s called cheating. They palm cards. They draw extra cards. They”draw” from their graveyard or sideboard. They even use Lin Sivvi to put a Parallax Wave in their hand.

In none of these cases is there some outside force determining the next card that gets put into that player’s hand. The player is doing something to minimize randomness. In the case of the good player who has lots of card drawing and redundancy, s/he’s more likely to get a certain card than if s/he just took the single card per turn that the rules allow. If s/he gets a particular card that s/he needs, it’s not due to”good luck.” It’s still randomness. However, by drawing more cards than usual, s/he’s minimized the effects of randomness by raising the probability of getting what she needs. In other words, s/he’s playing well. The cheater has also minimized the effects of randomness. S/he’s just done it illegally.

You can say it out loud, write it, and mutter to yourself as often as you want that”luck” just means”random chance.” To you, it very well could. But”luck” signifies much more than simple randomness to most people. When you’re talking about a game that’s as steeped in probabilities and math as Magic is, you should be careful not to cloud the issue by bringing something like”luck” into it.

That’s why I don’t want to refer to”luck” when talking about Magic.

Chris Romeo

[email protected]