From Right Field: Quick Hits, Vol. V

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Chris returns to his popular “Quick Hits” article format. Today he talks about some of the more impressive cards from Time Spiral, points out a few articles you may have missed, and answers criticism regarding his comments on cheerleaders…

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. 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 Dark Confidant, Sacred Foundry, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks "set in stone" or "done." If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

* Suq-Ata Lancer is not Ronin Houndmaster; it’s much better. I’ve read at least two Time Spiral reviews that poo-poohed the Lancer because it’s just Ronin Houndmaster, and, gosh, nobody played that card. Flanking makes the Lancer better than the Houndmaster. Look at this situation. The opponent has two Grizzly Bears back to block. She has no other tricks up her sleeve, i.e. no cards in hand or abilities to play. Just two Grizzly Bears. You topdeck and cast a Ronin Houndmaster. Like your opponent, no tricks or spells. This is a simple battle in the squared circle, creature versus creatures. You send the Houndmaster into the Red Zone. Your opponent double-blocks. The Houndmaster becomes a 3/3, taking out one Grizzly Bears. It’s a one-for-one trade. Now, same scenario, but you topdeck the Lancer. Both Grizzly Bears become 1/1 Bears when they block. Your Lancer takes out both Bears. It’s a two-for-one trade. Flanking is much, much better than Bushido… or Bushido 1, anyway.

* I know this may shock some folks, but I’m not very excited about Angel’s Grace. “But, it’s a White rare. How can Romeo not like it?” I would rather have a card that can win the game than one that keeps me from losing it. Typically, I see this card working like Holy Day. “Ha ha! You thought you were Alpha Striking me for fifteen points, but, instead, my life is at one! Ha ha!” Or you could just play Holy Day, and stay at fifteen life. Yes, I know that there are other times it could be useful. In fact, I see it as a great White sideboard card against a huge, Hellbent Demonfire. What I’d rather have is a card that helps my guys win the game for me, not one that just keeps me from losing the game.

* Yes, that was really me who wrote that last line. Look, I know how to play the game. I just don’t always almost never do it very well.

* If you didn’t read Kelly DiggesTime Spiral “review,” you really missed something. Go ahead. Read it. I’ll be here when you get back. It has three of the best lines I’ve read in a long, long time, lines that actually made me laugh out loud. While reviewing Sage of Epityr, he said “Look for ‘randomfolk’ as a creature type in Planar Chaos.” Regarding Call to the Netherworld, he said “New from Sprint! The charges are a bitch, though.” Finally, for Skulking Knight, Kelly warned us that “Coming in Planar Chaos: Lurking Samurai, Whooping Ninja, and Jumbo Dwarf.” Seriously, read this. You’ll laugh ‘til you pee. When Craig asks for my vote for best articles of the year, that will be number one.

* It seems that there were some issues with the White Weenie deck I threw out there last week. One of the issues was Glorious Anthem. Really. Read the boards. People don’t like Glorious Anthem in the White Weenie deck. More than one suggested that I splash Blue (not Red) so that I could have Mana Leak and Remand. Others pointed out no one-mana creatures – my, bad; the budget version could have had Suntail Hawk – and suggested Savannah Lions, Weathered Wayfarer, or both.

By my count – and I could be wrong – between Adarkar Wastes and Hallowed Fountain to support the Blue and White, the Flagstones of Trokair, the Savannah Lions, Weathered Wayfarers, Paladin En-Vecs, Serra Avengers, Glorious Anthems (or not), and Soltari Priests, I count thirty-two rares, presuming you consider the new Soltari Priests to be rares (and they’re actually printed at a lower rate than the regular Time Spiral rares, so, yes, I do). Um, that’s just a tad over the limit for From Right Field. I get the point, though. Add a one-drop: Suntail Hawk, for those on a budget; Savannah Lions and/or Weathered Wayfarer for those who have more money or already have the cards.

Drop Glorious Anthem, however, at your own risk. This is, after all, a White Weenie deck.

Taking all of these suggestions into account (including dropping Glorious Anthem and Gift of Estates) and presuming you have an extra few hundred dollars that you must spend on Magic and nothing else like rent or electricity or pregnancy tests (Hey, Josh!), you could build this:

Man, that deck looks good. I wish I had the money to buy the cards that I need to build it. *sigh*

* I promised myself that I wasn’t going to complain about distribution in Time Spiral because it upsets Geordie Tait so much, but, dagummit! I finally opened my box, and I didn’t get a single Squire or Norin the Wary. Not one. Instead, I got two copies each of Nicol Bolas, Magus of the Disk, and Psionic Blast. When will this madness end for me?!? (I also didn’t get any Magus of the Scroll or Jaya Ballard, but I choose not to complain about that since, as I mentioned before, I didn’t get any Squires or Norin the Wary, either.)

* Speaking of Norin the Wary, there is a deck that wants to use him. It’s called a Pandemonium deck. The problem is getting such a deck to work without it also allowing your opponent to kill you. Maybe with Shard Phoenix. Also, pack lots of Instants so that you can actually cast a second Norin. Remember, his ability will trigger on casting the second one. So, there won’t be two in play at the same time (he’s a Legend) until they both come back into play. When that happens, let one come into play, then play an Instant or Flash creature. That will trigger the ability for the one in play, making it leave play before the other one comes back, thus, avoiding The Legend Rule. I have no idea how the deck would win or stay in the game, though. Somewhere, somebody’s got this tight Red/X deck with Norin and Pandemonium ready to wreck you at States. I’d call it Pande-Norin-um.

* Why isn’t anyone talking about the Green-Black deck that used Birds of Paradise to get a second-turn Hypnotic Specter? Is the deck no good after Time Spiral rotates in? Does losing Umezawa’s Jitte hurt that much? I think not. Why? That phrase “second-turn Hypnotic Specter” is why not. No one wants to see that coming at them.

* Speaking of Black decks, there’s some st00pid good discard in post-Time Spiral Standard. Do you know how your deck will play against a mono-Black control strategy that runs Funeral Charm, Stupor, Smallpox, and The Rack? While it doesn’t have many two- or more-for-one strategies (Stupor and Persecute being the only maindeck ones) that power your typical Mono-Black Control deck, the card-drawing will be advantage enough. Moreover, all it has to do is kill you before the few creatures that live can kill it. You are testing against this, too, right?

* Does anyone else remember Nate Heiss‘ Suffer! deck? Well, I for one do. I took a modified version of it and won my last tournament that Summer before Standard rotated again. If you don’t remember, the deck name was based on the original wording of Hurricane, which said that “All players and flying creatures suffer X damage.” Regardless of the other ways the deck could win, it could also win by simply using Hurricane as a finisher. You just needed to be one life ahead of your opponent. I know that Hurricane is back in Tenth Edition, but that’s next Summer. Doesn’t anyone see Squall Line and wonder, as I do “Is there a new Suffer! out there?” I don’t care if Squall Line costs one more mana, it’s an Instant. Given how rampant fliers look to be in the upcoming Standard, I think you need to at least invest in four Squall Lines even if you don’t develop the next Suffer! The ability to cast this at the end of the other guy’s turn could draw out the counterspell that frees up your next turn. Oh, how I wish I had Xantid Swarm back.

* No, I don’t know what I’ll be playing at States yet, thank you so very much for asking. In our testing group, I’ve essentially been The Opponent. I’ve handled the role of playing The Other Deck. While you can argue the intelligence (or lack thereof) of such a scheme, the fact is that I’ve been doing work on three or four decks that I like. First, there’s Satanic Sligh Redux. I promised Charles not to post our version of the deck until after States since he will most likely play it, and we have made some interesting changes for Time Spiral Standard. We’ve got a Mono-Black Weenie deck that’s been performing quite well. It’s also been fun to play what with the return of Dauthi Slayer and the incredibly hot Smallpox. You can probably figure out what else goes in there. We haven’t tried Dragonstorm Combo yet for two reasons. First, we won’t have the cards in time for States. (Unless you want to send me four Bogardan Hellkites.) Second, we have decided that we just don’t see it showing up a lot. An untested combo deck like that just won’t see play at a tournament like States.

Will it?

Of course, I’ll probably end up playing Zombies! 2k6. It’s been resilient and fun to play. Those are two big keys for me when I know I’ll be playing all day long. Also, maindeck Withered Wretch is pretty good.

* What about the return of Miss America (a.k.a. Lightning Angel)? Isn’t there a deck we should try in those three colors? Of course, there is. Red, White, and Blue could potentially be the best three-color combination right now. Other than Miss America herself, you get Wrath of God, Adarkar Valkyrie, Magus of the Disk, and Resurrection to bring your stuff back, and that’s just the White cards. You gotta love being able to run a bunch of creatures along with Wrath. Blue, of course, has Remand, Mana Leak, and so much card drawing that I’m bound to pick the wrong ones. Red gives you mass removals for weenies, pinpoint damage, and Browbeat. In the multi-colored cards, Lightning Helix is a must, and I’d also try to get Electrolyze in there. Desolation Giant probably goes in, too, as Wrath of God numbers five through eight.

The problem is that $400 manabase of Sacred Foundries, Hallowed Fountains, Shivan Reefs, etc. Since I can’t afford that, no need to try to make it work… yet.

* There are a couple of people on the message boards that don’t quite get the purpose of Snow-Covered Lands in some StarCityGames writers’ decks. One poster, for example, said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “I don’t get the mini Snow theme. It’s pointless in this deck.” Um, it’s not a theme, folks. When you can run all of your basic lands as Snow-Covered while also running four Scrying Sheets, it’s called “card advantage.” Even if you have no other Snow-related cards in the deck, that’s some powerful stuff. If you’re running Red, it also allows you to make very big Skreds.

* Beware of Spell Snare at States. This is not a sideboard card. Being able to stop a key spell even when it’s on the play is huge for a Blue deck. Look at what it can stop even though its controller has only one land in play. Note, too, that I’m not stretching here. These are cards you should expect to see in Tier 1 decks:

Dark Confidant
Dauthi Slayer
Bad Moon
Soltari Priest
Dryad Sophisticate
Scab-Clan Mauler
Looter il-Kor
Many Slivers
Silhana Ledgewalker

And those are just some of spells it can stop that you’d actually want to play on the second turn. This isn’t even counting all of the other two-mana spells that it can stop that aren’t the kind you’d play as soon as you could. I’m talking about Pyroclasm, Serra Avenger, Sudden Shock (just seeing if you’re paying attention), Rune Snag, Mana Leak, Resize, and many, many more. In fact, it’s such a tempo-nutbuster that we’re actually thinking of dropping Scab-Clan Mauler in our R/G deck. The problem with that strategy, of course, is that it means you’re relying on Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves to not die ASAP so that you can get a three-mana spell such as Ohran Viper out on turn 2. Still, it may be the way to go.

* Okay. I’ve decided. I’m playing Zombies! 2k6 at States. What pushed me off of the fence? Sudden Spoiling out of the sideboard. The ability to render Simic Sky Swallower and Paladin En-Vec useless makes me giggle. Also, I got a foil Sudden Spoiling in my Time Spiral box.

Did I mention that it was a very good box?

* The last installment of Quick Hits, specifically the part about cheerleaders, prompted some very intense debate about a certain issue. I’m not going to go into specifics about that discussion since you can read it in the forums. However, one thing was written that I want to deal with here instead of in the forum. I want to address it in this more visible place because I think it’s extremely important, not just for playing Magic but for living a well-rounded life. (I’ve chosen not to use this person’s forum ID because I’m not doing this to single this person out. Rather, I’m addressing the idea he or she expressed, an idea, that, unfortunately, many people in the world share.) One poster wrote "it is a writer’s duty to think about how his words and ideas might be interpreted." I couldn’t disagree more. Asking someone to think about all of the way that his ideas might be interpreted (or, more precisely, misinterpreted) is like asking how many ways there are to misspell a word. There are infinite possibilities, and what you’re asking is unreasonable.

In truth, a writer’s duty is actually a lot easier than thinking about all of the possible ways his or her words can be misinterpreted. A writer’s duty is to say exactly what he or she means to say. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

The stating of a task and the doing of a task are two entirely different things, though. All that a baseball player at the plate has to do is hit a ball with a bat. Of course, the bat’s round, the ball is round, the guy throwing the ball is trying to put it in a place that the batter can’t get the bat on it, and everyone in the crowd is screaming that he’s a bum. And all that the batter has to do is hit the ball.

This isn’t to say that a writer should just throw anything on a page and stand by it. The writer’s duty, which is “just” to say exactly what he or she means to say, is still to say exactly what he or she means to say. The writer has to make sure that his words aren’t ambiguous. The classic example of ambiguity is the sentence “she likes me more than you.” Does that mean that she likes me more than she likes you? Does it mean that she likes me more than you like me? When a writer isn’t clear, then the writer hasn’t done his or her job properly. That’s when a writer should worry about people misinterpreting him or her. He should worry because he hasn’t been clear. However, if he said what he meant, he shouldn’t worry. Truthfully, he can’t worry. There are an infinite number of ways that a careless (or, worse, purposely confrontational) reader could get her words wrong. A writer can’t worry about each of those ways. There’s not enough time left until the end of the universe.

I’m not saying that I always do that job as well as I could. I’m not perfect. Personally, I don’t even think I’m very good. Believe it or not, I labored over that particular section of Quick Hits, Vol. 4, longer than any other in that piece. Yes, I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Because I specifically didn’t want anyone to misinterpret what I was asking or read anything into it that wasn’t there, I worked on that section a lot, revising it at least five times. Because I didn’t address athletic ability, by definition, I couldn’t have disparaged anyone’s athletic ability. Yet, I was told that I had demeaned people. Because I didn’t address skills of any sort, by definition, I couldn’t have denigrated anyone’s skill. Yet, I was told that I had criticized college cheerleaders. (In point of fact, the only person who actually belittled anyone’s abilities, talents, or skills was the forum poster, who did so regarding professional cheerleaders.) In the column, I said exactly what I meant to say. Unfortunately, other people decided that the issue I was really talking about was something else. Sorry. Nope.

The reason that this bothers me so much is that I’m hearing this sort of off-the-mark debating/discussing/arguing way too much in the past few years. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to it now. Maybe it’s the socio-political climate. Whatever the reason is that I’m noticing it, it’s happening, and I don’t like it one bit. I can’t turn on the television, I can’t listen to the radio, and I can’t read a magazine or newspaper without seeing or hearing someone going completely off track about what someone else “meant.”

Let me put it a different way. Democrats do not want terrorists invading their homes. Republicans do not want to drain all of the oceans and pave over every last piece of green land. In Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood was not saying that all crippled people should be killed.

If we want the world to be a better place tomorrow than it is today, we need to actually listen to and understand what others are saying. This trend toward one person telling another “so, what you’re really saying is this” is a step backward, and, frankly, I’m sick of it.

A writer’s duty is to say exactly what he or she means to say. I said exactly what I meant to say. Both times.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Make your hotel reservations for States right now.

Chris Romeo