From Right Field: Quick Hits, Volume Three

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Chris returns to his popular “Quick Hits” article format, chewing the fat on all things related to Magic: The Gathering. The Hall of Fame, tiebreakers, Battle Royale, Tenth Edition… Chris discusses it all!

{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.}

* Did I miss a secret Magic Hall-of-Fame class or something? Kai Budde was not in the inaugural class. He’s also not on the ballot for the second class. What does the guy need to do? Hasn’t he won Pro Tours in every format including 5-Color Singleton and Pokemon? Or, am I overestimating his impact and success because it coincides with my introduction to tournament Magic?

* Congrats to Talen Lee for becoming the first person to repeat in the SCG Writers’ MTGO Battle Royale. I know that the thing was only four matches old at that point, but first is still first. No one else will ever be the first person to set foot on the Moon. No one else will ever be the first person to swim the English Channel. And no one else will ever be the first person to win back-to-back matches in the SCG Writers’ MTGO Battle Royale. I once again missed the live play, this time because I was at the Miami Vice movie with my family and some friends. It was in honor of my 40th birthday, which was three days before that. Best and longest birthday week ever, stretching from Saturday to Saturday with something fun going on almost every day. The movie and time spent with family and friends was worth it, but I still wish I could have seen the fireworks.

* Yes, as you can tell from this and my last couple of columns, I have given up on working on Ravnica Block Constructed decks. Mostly, it was because I had no place to play them competitively. I thought there would be some place around here that would hold Ravnica Block tourneys on Saturdays, but no. Once again, I was wrong. It’s what I get for thinking. There were some tourneys on Magic Online, but that seems a bit inbred. Any format that you can only play online doesn’t feel like a real format. (I’m not saying it wasn’t fun. Just not “real.” Sorry, Tribal and Singleton fans.) The other reason was that I was heavily testing Coldsnap. Don’t get me wrong. I still wish Coldsnap wasn’t Standard legal. I’m afraid that it’s going to cost casual, budget-restricted players too much to stay in the game, tournament-wise. However, it is Standard legal, and we have to deal with it.

* Having said that, I have come to the conclusion that the designers and developers did a bang up job on this set. I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been to keep the feel of Ice Age while making sure that the cards were good enough for the current Standard environment but not too good.

* Which reminds me of Dark Depths. From the boards, esternaefil submits this Legacy/Vintage play: Turn 1, drop Dark Depths. Turn 2, Swamp, double Dark Ritual, Aether Snap for a second-turn 20/20 Indestructible token. Looks like there’s also a Vintage play for that involving Lotuses and Moxes and stuff. I can’t afford that.

* Speaking of Dark Depths, John Friggin’ Rizzo would like to remind you that he beat Randy Buehler with Dark Depths two games in a row.

* More than you ever thought about thinking about Dark Depths, really. After my last Quick Hits, Dark Depths was the biggest topic of discussion, followed closely by precon decks. I still had people saying how easily the token was dealt with. “It could be Condemned.” “What if they cast Devouring Light?” “Repeal says ‘U: Ruin Romeo’s day. Draw a card.’” “Boomerang kills the token, you know.” I guess I wasn’t clear enough. Lemme check. Nope. Perfectly clear. You don’t spend all of the time, energy, and resources getting that token only to lose it to a card in hand or a topdecked answer.

* Dark Depths’ biggest drawback is that it’s a land. Sure, it’s uncounterable. If you drop it on turn five, however, you still only have access to four mana. Build your deck accordingly.

* I know that I picked “wrong” on both the Forgotten Ancient/Crucible of Worlds and the Time Stop/Spelljack Tenth Edition vote. It wasn’t a prediction, folks. I said what I’d like to see in 10E, fully aware, as I stated, that the ones I didn’t pick (i.e. the eventual winners) were the more tourney-worthy cards. I didn’t care. I wanted the more fun cards. As Crash Davis would say, “This is a game. It’s supposed to be fun. Have fun, dammit.”

* As for the Dragon vote, I didn’t really care. All forty-seven Dragons in the vote had their plusses and minuses. Hunted Dragon hits hardest the quickest. Two-Headed Dragon is hard to stop in combat. Shivan Dragon’s a classic. I’m good with Shivan Hellkite, though. I like the reusable pinging ability. A lot of other folks did, too. Obviously. Now, to dig through my meager Urza’s Block collection and see if I have any…

* Next, I have to choose between Fallen Angel and Nantuko Husk. Ugh. I don’t like this choice. I love them both. The Husk comes out earlier but sits on the ground. The Angel costs more but flies. The Husk gets a tad bigger than the Angel when it eats a bug (+2/+2 versus +2/+1). The Husk was an uncommon in Ninth Edition, and was originally a common in Onslaught. The Angel was originally an uncommon but has been reprinted as a rare the last few times it’s been in the Core set. I choose… both. Which means, I abstain from voting since I can’t vote twice. Okay, I’m leaning a little toward the Angel. I like flying.

* It’s funny. Since the first week of Selecting Tenth Edition, I haven’t heard much talk about the fact that Lord of the Pit and Incinerate will be in 10E. Is it because it’s so far away, or have people just forgotten that Wizards slipped in that announcement?

* I’m pretty sure that Volcanic Hammer is a lame duck. As much as I’d like to think that Red would get two two-mana, three-damage spells in the Core set, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Which is both fine and understandable. Like Heather Graham. Incinerate is only about sixteen ways better than the Hammer. It’s an Instant where the Hammer’s a Sorcery. Creatures damaged by Incinerate can’t be regenerated, but they can if they’re hit by the Hammer… Okay, Incinerate’s better than the Hammer in two ways, but they’re huge ways that are worth eight points each.

* After the previous edition of Quick Hits, several folks asked how I could get Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, into my graveyard in a draft. “Am I missing something?” wrote one interested reader. Nope. I just had a wicked good U/B draft deck, complete with four (yes, really) Surging Dementias, Vexing Sphinx, Haakon, the Stromgald Crusader, and the Tresserhorn Knight (times two!). In the first game, I got Haakon into the ‘yard by aiming Surging Dementia at myself. That also Rippled up a second one that I aimed at my opponent. During game 3, I got a third-turn Sphinx and pitched Haakon to it on my first upkeep after that. In the second round, just to see what would happen, I stunted myself on the draw, played nothing, and pitched Haakon (a la Nether Spirit) when my turn ended with me holding eight cards. FYI, not a good idea. I was way behind, although I did get to play Haakon from my ‘yard on my fourth turn. Yes, I lost that game and that round.

* Here’s a reason that I stink at this game: sometimes I can’t figure out how a deck works. For example, look at the Solar Flare deck in Sean’s article here. I don’t get all of those one-ofs. There isn’t a Tutor of any sort, no Transmuting or anything like that. Sure, there’s some card drawing, but how does it get you the one copy of Ink-Eyes or Kokusho or Meloku? Sean did a bang-up job explaining how this deck works. I’m not talking about his explanation. What I’m asking is: who thinks up this kind of stuff? In my decks, when I play Compulsive Research on turn 3, I get mauled by some sort of ridiculous turn 4 play by my opponent. “You tapped out?” “Yeah, from the Research.” “Cool. Let me cast all of this stuff, and do the last fifteen points of damage.” “Huh?” I understand the play of turn-3-Research-pitching-a-fattie-into-a-turn-4-Zombify, but the deck only has eight fatties. One in every 7.5 cards is a fattie. With Research turning over three cards, you have a less-than-fifty-per-cent chance of dumping a fattie you’re your ‘yard (barring one in your hand).

Yet the deck is really, really good. Regardless of all of the other theories underlying “why,” I see two overriding reasons. First, it runs some of the very best cards in three colors (Blue, White, and Black). Essentially, this is a U/W/B Good Stuff deck. Second, it does so on the back of a very expensive manabase. If, on turn 3, you choose to whether to cast Wrath of God or Zombify or Compulsive Research, you’re in great shape.

* That manabase, though. Whoa. Mondo expensive. Not as expensive as some, but still pretty pricey. Ben even mentioned it as the third reason that contributed to lower-than-expected Regionals turnouts. There have always been expensive decks in Magic, and manabases have often contributed to them. Until recently, though, the best decks usually focused on two colors, and a Blue-Green deck could count on Yavimaya Coast but not much else. However, people could still play competitive decks in just one color. The main price barrier in those decks was just the expensive spells. What we have now are decks chock full of wallet-busting spells and bank-breaking lands. Moreover, many players don’t see any way around this. With Ravnica pushing the multi-color limit, how can one feel that he can make and play a two-color deck? Even if you did decide on, say, a Black-Red deck, don’t you pretty much have to run four Sulfurous Springs and four Blood Crypts to be competitive? No, but to be the most competitive you can be, you want as many lands as possible to produce all colors of mana that you need. Thus, if you go to three colors – and why not, if you have the lands? – and none of them are Green, you’re gonna need the hundred-fifty-dollar manabase.

This is what kept a lot of folks away and will continue to keep them away. “I can’t compete without a three-color deck. I need too many Ravnica dual lands to make that deck. I don’t want to play if I can’t win. I won’t play.”

(I also agree with Ben on two other points rolled into one: timing. With May 20th being the date of a lot of graduations and so soon after Dissension’s release – it was the first day that Dissension was Constructed legal – a lot of players were simply unable to attend or overwhelmed by the prospect of being unable to compete against new cards.)

Of course, no one has to play multiple colors. However, we all know that, with Ravnica in the mix, the best cards in almost every color are really multi-colored cards. For example, Two of White’s best spells right now are Lightning Helix and Mortify.

* On the flip side, it’s a great time for deckbuilders. Heck, look at Solar Flare again. “Hmmm, lemme see. I’d like to use Wrath of God and, I dunno, Meloku. Ooooo, Zombify would be a cool way to get a quick Angel of Despair into play if I could get her into the ‘yard…” I’m thinking you could pretty much do that with any three colors as long as (a) one of them was White so you could play Wrath of God (and Debtors’ Knell!) and (b) you had enough money for the Ravnica dual lands.

* “Money, its a gas. / Grab that cash with both hands, and make a stash.” Thanks for that tip, Mr. Floyd. “By the way, which one’s Pink?”

* A belated and hugely groveling “Huzzah!” to our Esteemed Editor, Craig Stevenson, for winning English Nationals. You know, writing for this site has become quite intimidating over the past few years. My current editor is now a National Champion. The person for whom he took over, Ted Knutson, is currently the Esteemed Editor of the Official Magic the Gathering site and Da Man as far as the world is concerned for predicting what you’ll see at your upcoming tourney. Before that, there was my main mammal, The Ferrett, who turned this site into the strategery stomping ground that it is. At this rate, the next editor will be The World Champion – and, if Craig stays hot, it could very well be – followed by William Safire of the New York Times. Me? I struggle to string together two sentences that don’t include links to cheesecake or bad metaphors. Paranoid much? Yes, please, two scoops.

* Nantuko Husk wins a slot in Tenth Edition by a nose. Actually, it wasn’t close. At least I don’t need to go digging through any boxes for them since they’re in Ninth Edition right now. The next vote is a weird one: Mind Stone versus Guardian Idol. I wonder what the thought process was in pitting these two against each other. Each is a two-mana artifact that produces one generic mana. So, the choice really comes down to the desire to draw a card and the desire to have a Wrath-proof creature. Or, in my case, the fact that I know where my Guardian Idols are versus a pretty good idea that I own zero Mind Stones. This probably isn’t the best way to vote for 10E, is it?

* “Narf!”

* Some folks thought that my Coldsnap review was too “crotchety” and contained too many references to bodily functions. Hey, I turned 40 the week I wrote that. I’m old. It’s what old people do. We talk about that stuff, and we’re crotchety. You kids today wouldn’t understand with your high-top sneakers and your Dan Fogelberg music.

* Speaking of my Coldsnap review, Chris Ingersoll took exception to my essentially bad review of Wall of Shards. Turns out that it’s awesome in a Millstone deck. Chris even forwarded a list that I’m trying out. How cool is it? It uses Tunnel Vision, too.

* Zac Orangio has challenged me to use Counterbalance in a deck before Kamigawa Block rotates out of Standard. I sound both foolhardy and boastful saying this, but that just seems too easy. Before Kamigawa Block leaves Standard, we still have Sensei’s Divining Top and Sakura-Tribe Elder. Throw in some Mana Leaks and Hinders, some card drawing, and some win conditions that give you a nice spread up and down the mana curve from two to five, and you should be good. For the stuff higher than five that you need to counter, you save those Leaks and Hinders. I could be wrong. I probably am. It’s just that Counterbalance seems like a more challenging deck after Kamigawa rotates out of Standard.

* Talen Lee versus 2006 English National Champ Craig Stevenson in the SCG Writers’ MTGO Battle Royale?!? “No Way!” “Way!” Sweet! It seemed that at least a few folks thought that Craig had cheesed out by adapting the Glare deck to the budgetary constraints of the Battle Royale. I, of course, am not one of them. And I’m not just saying that because Craig decides if my stuff gets posted on this here site here. It’s more like what ChocoCid said in the forum. "This is what budget/casual should be – building the best deck you can with the money you have, not going out of your way to build awful decks with awful cards." I agree foolhardily wholeheartedly. I like how Craig took a very expensive deck and rejiggered it to be cheap. Having said all of that, though, I feel that Craig will lose since he used Talen’s name in the deck name. (That strategy is oh-for-all-of-Battle Royale so far. Which means 0-2. Still…) [Sorry to burst that particular bubble, but… I won. – Craig]

* Something needs to be done about the tiebreakers during a tournament. Just as an example, at GenCon, my friends Karl and Stacey Allen beat out Raphael Levy and his teammate as the winners of a Two-Headed Giant Ravnica Sealed tourney. There was no Top 8; just winners after six rounds. Karl and Stacey were 5-1, as was Team Levy. Due to tiebreakers, the Allens were the winners. This, of course, tickles me to no end, since their success was due almost entirely to the advice I had given them from my experiences in March at the 2HG State Champs. (“Don’t lose to Hex!”)

What bothers me is that the Allens’ lone loss was to – you guessed it – Raphael Levy team.

Look folks, here’s how tiebreakers work in pretty much every other competitive part of life. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head competition. If we played once, and you beat me, you finish ahead of me. Period. End of story. It’s that simple. It should work that way in Magic, too.

Imagine if the Magic way was the system used in another walk of life, say football or “football.” The last play-off spot comes down to two teams that played once during the season. One lost the game, and one won it. If the team that lost that single head-to-head match-up made the play-offs while the winner didn’t, there would be lawsuits as far as the eye could see. That’s one reason (the other being that it’s simply not fair) that tiebreakers aren’t managed in sports the way that they’re done in Magic.

Another reason is to make it easy for players to understand why they didn’t make the Top 8. Three or four summers ago, I went an entire month where I was the ninth seed in our Saturday 25- to 40-person tourneys. Four weeks. Ninth all four times. Three of those times, the number eight person was someone I had beat during the Swiss rounds. Every time I asked the tournament organizer (who is no longer doing tourneys) how it could be that someone that I beat was the eighth seed even though we had identical records, I got the answer “tiebreakers.” Looking at the arcane (not Arcane) printouts, I had no idea what information I was supposed to see that would explain this to me. The paranoid part of me said that the TO was rigging it. I couldn’t tell from the printout what was going on. I just knew that someone with whom I had an identical Swiss record and whom I had beaten in the Swiss was playing for prizes, while I wasn’t.

You think the Magic system makes sense? Try explaining it to someone who doesn’t play Magic but understands sports tiebreakers. I tried this with Luanne.

Luanne: “So Karl and Stacey finished ahead of the guys who beat them?”
Me: “Yup.”
Luanne: “And they finished with identical records?”
Me: “Yup. Both were five wins, one loss.”
Luanne: “Well, I’m glad Karl and Stacey won, but that’s just stupid. Can you imagine if the Yankees made the play-offs with the same record as the Red Sox but the Red Sox won the season series?”
Me: “I’m pretty sure Yankee stadium would be a smoldering crater.”

Please, stop the madness.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Discuss amongst yourselves. I’ll be along shortly.

Chris Romeo