From Right Field: Quick Hits, Volume VI – Every Day Will be Boxing Day

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It’s the 26th of December… Boxing Day. Chris celebrates this marginal and obtuse holiday by returning to his much-loved Quick Hits article format. He opens the boxes on a number of topics today, including Battle Royale, deck names, Mishra, and College Football (*shudder* – football is played with the feet, damnit!). All this, plus a decklist too! Happy Holidays!

{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, twelve non-land 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, Birds of Paradise, or Wrath of God. 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.}

As far as my research has indicated, no one really knows why we — and by “we” I mean “some of you” – celebrate Boxing Day. Because of that, I like to give my man Elvis Costello credit for helping bring this holiday to the forefront even though it was around for several centuries before he was born. Hey, if Elvis wrote a song with your holiday in its title, by golly, it’s his.

What does this have to do with today’s column? Not a whit. I just get tickled when my columns hit on a holiday, even if it isn’t a holiday celebrated in my home country. This here site here has a couple of readers in Canada (their motto: “We’re Not Just the U.S.A. North Anymore!”) and New Zealand (their motto: “Sure, We’ll Take Credit for Any Famous Australian. Except for Talen Lee.”), and I like to throw them a bone. If it gets more eyeballs on the site, that’s good for me.

* More than one person pointed out that the “cheap” U/R Snow deck that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago wasn’t actually all that cheap since Remands cost five dollars each on this here site here. I know. That’s why I always suggest to budget players that they make sure to get a deckbuilder’s set of four of each common and uncommon when a set comes out. Nearly every set has some uncommon that goes for two or three or five bucks each very quickly. Remember Eternal Witness? How about Skullclamp? Ravnica had several of those, including Putrefy and Lightning Helix along with the aforementioned Remand. There’s just no need to try to pick these cards off later since you’ll end up spending more money than you would if you’d gotten everything up front. It’s also too time consuming. Okay, sure, you also get stuck with Drift of Phantasms… Oh, wait, that “crap” common ended up making its way into a pretty big deck called Heartbeat, didn’t it? Imagine how the people felt who ended up spending fifty cents each on Drift of Phantasms or who had to trade good commons, uncommons, or even rares to get four Drifts to complete a deck. The bottom line is that you won’t really know which cards will break out, even if you have an inkling. So, save yourself some money, time, and aggravation, and get them up front. Then, you won’t have to pony up twenty bucks for a set of four uncommon counterspells or four bucks for four common Snakes.

* No, I don’t know when I’ll be back on Battle Royale. Stop asking. And, no, I won’t use your deck. I’m gonna win with my own, daggummit!

* As much as I’d like to, I can’t take credit for the success of the Scryb Sprite / Spectral Force decks at Worlds. Those decks were completely different from mine. Mine was Green and White. The ones that did well at Worlds were Green and Blue. Still, it does show that Spectral Force is one heck of a creature. Dismiss it at your own peril.

* Dryad Sophisticate! Where have you gone? Aren’t people playing non-basic lands anymore?

* Ohio State should be playing Michigan for the National Championship. (For those of you in other countries or those who don’t care about college football, I’m talking about the U.S. Division I college football championship.) I don’t care that Michigan already lost to Ohio State this year. Look at the top teams with one loss. Michigan’s was the “best” of those. Who did they lose to? Ohio State, the number one team. They lost at Ohio State. By only one field goal. I don’t care if they played once before this season. They should play again. And this is coming from a huge Ohio State fan. I was even born right on Ohio State’s campus. How deep does Buckeye football run in me? If you cut me, I bleed scarlet. Really.

* You’ll just have to believe me when I say that I hadn’t seen Frank Karsten’s piece that included an Empty the Warrens deck with Mishra’s Bauble in it when I wrote my piece for last week. Craig will vouch that my column had already been delivered the day before. Of course, it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to think of adding the Bauble to a Storm deck. I’m even surprised that Ornithopter hasn’t shown up in those decks yet.

* To answer the question on many minds regarding my version of Empty the Warrens: I didn’t use Ignite Memories because I didn’t find it to be all that useful. If an opponent had an empty hand or only had lands and small spells, feh. Give me Grapeshot instead. However, against control decks that want to hold a lot of cards, use Ignite Memories from the sideboard. You’ll be glad you did.

* Several readers, in a sort of defiant rebuttal to my new dual lands philosophy, pointed out that Tony Sears won Illinois State Champs with a B/W deck that contained only one rare dual land. This, they said, proved that you don’t need a lot of expensive dual lands to make a great two-colored deck. I disagree. What Tony Sears proved is that his particular deck piloted by Tony Sears didn’t need more than one rare dual land.

Frankly, I’m stunned that the deck did that well. Why? The deck’s colored mana requirements are so stringent. Mr. Sears runs a full set of Castigates, a spell that you definitely want to play on turn 2. That spell requires one Black and one White mana. However, unless he draws his lone Godless Shrine or gets lucky enough to have a Swamp and a Plains as soon as possible, he’s not getting a turn 2 Castigate. Moreover, there are tons of spells in each color that require double mana (e.g. Wrath of God, Dread Return, Phyrexian Arena). Yet, he’s only got a single Godless Shrine, two Orzhov Basilicas, and a mere two Orzhov Signets to help smooth out that mana. I’ve used the hand generator on that deck (that’s the little icon with the hand of cards in the upper right corner of his decklist when you go through the “official” site), and I have consistently been throwing back hands and going down to five cards just so I can feel comfortable with what I keep. God bless him, but I don’t see how he did it.

In other words, kids, Mr. Sears’ deck is an extreme exception. If you’re going to play a two-colored deck and hope to do well, use as many dual lands as you can afford. (Hmmmmm… maybe he couldn’t afford the other three Shrines or any Caves of Koilos.)

* Three readers wanted to know if I’d done anything with Mishra yet since I seemed so high on him just a couple of months ago. The answer is a wishy-washy “yes and no.” While I’ve been working on a Mishra deck, the fact that he’s three colors is just killing me. I keep starting the deck with about eight Signets and six of the common Ravnica Guild (a.k.a. Karoo) lands. Then, I ask myself “What is this deck going to do?” Casting a Signet and getting another into play is all fine and dandy, but what’s that do for me? Do I just sell out to Demonfire like pretty much any deck running Red? Do I try to do something tricky? Am I even able to do something tricky with all of those artifacts? And what if I don’t get Mishra? I’m just stumped. If you have a Mishra deck, I’d love to see it. Just post it in the forum for this column. We need to discuss it. Mine, so far, looks like this:

I’ve gone with the good ol’ Ninth Edition pain lands instead of the Ravnica block “Shock” lands because you may — may — end up taking less damage over the course of a game with the pain lands. Often, your spells can be cast by using Signets without really needing colored mana from lands.

Demonfire might still be outside of many budgets. Just the two in here will set you back about twenty-five dollars. If you can’t afford them, use Blaze. On the flip side, if you have four Demonfires, use those over the other two Blazes. The reasons for the other support spells should be obvious. Pyroclasm wipes out weenies. Confiscate takes what you can’t wipe out. I started running Plague Wind as a one-of because sometimes I just got overwhelmed, and a fourth Confiscate wasn’t doing a whole lot of good in those cases. Plague Wind doesn’t come up much, but the Signets make it easy to cast when it does.

One of my favorite plays with this deck is to get an early (i.e. turn 3) Mishra, cast an Assembly-Worker on the next turn, getting a second one for free, and then cast Pyroclasm on the fifth turn. You see, active Assembly-Workers can save themselves from Pyroclasm! Okay, maybe that doesn’t deserve an exclamation point since it’s not a tricky or elegant play. It does get the job done, though. Besides, I have some exclamation points left from my 2006 allotment, and, like vacation days, they don’t care over. I have to use ‘em or lose ‘em.

Academy Ruins was obviously designed for this very deck. You can essentially get infinite plays out of the Baubles because of that card. (If you need / want to know how, I’ll tell you in the forums.) With the extra card drawing, well, wow.

As you can see, there’s a bit of card drawing with the Baubles and the Stars and other card advantage with the Pyroclasms and the Plague Wind. Other than that, though, I ended up going down the same cast-a-Red-X-spell road to victory. That’s so boring. Also, the deck mostly sucks. One Mortify or Putrefy or Chill to the Bone pointed at Mishra, and the day gets really long… or short. Help me!

(One other crazy Mishra idea that I had was to use him with Booby Trap and Teferi’s Puzzle Box. With Mishra out, casting one Booby Trap means getting two while dropping one Puzzle Box means having two of those. With two Puzzle Boxes to trigger each turn, well, your opponent is going to die very, very soon. Still, how janky is that? Like I said, cray-zay.)

* Speaking of decks, I’ve also had queries on where my Time Spiral Precon-Decon had gone. To be honest, none of the Time Spiral preconstructed decks really tickled my fancy, at least not more than the ideas that I’ve had floating around about other cards. I might get into one or two in the next couple of months, but I’m not feeling it now. Reality Fracture is essentially a U/R version of the Empty the Warrens deck. I like the consistency of a mono-Red version. Hopes Crusaders is just an all-over-the-map White Weenie deck. Fun with Fungus and Sliver Evolution have the most promise. I like the three-colored Slivers because White brings some nice stuff to the table, including a one-casting-cost Sliver. Three colors is just too much for that deck, though, at least in my opinion. Red and Green would be a nice focus. Then again, I’m not the fist one to notice that, either.

* 2006 was a great year for deck names, whether they were top-tier, Pro-Tour-winning decks or ones that the non-pros wrote about on this here site here. No one, of course, will forget the deck named inspired by the movie that was a cult classic before it was even released. I’m speaking, obviously, about Snakes on a Plane. Then, there was Talen Lee initial Battle Royale offering with Skeletal Vampire (a.k.a. Murray) and Moroii called Murray and Moroii Go to the Beach. The Rizzo-inspired Extended deck with Ichorid had the wonderfully profane name of Friggorid. We also had a deck named after a movie that was so bad that I’m willing to bet that more people saw the deck being played than ever saw the movie. Oh, yes, I did go there. I refer you to Ghost Dad. I don’t know where Solar Flare or Sea Stompy came from, but I love those names. My favorite, though, goes to ed_ification and his Aurochs deck that he calls Steaks on a Plane. That one actually made me laugh out loud. (Significantly absent from this list is KarstenBot_Babykiller simply because it disturbs me so much. Great name, but disturbing.)

* If there’s one thing I hope you’ve learned from Battle Royale, it’s that Pro Tour Players are pretty nice guys. Where this group got stereotyped as all being dicks and *ssholes, I’ll never know. Is it because when many of them play, they’re very focused on the game and don’t engage in small talk with onlookers? Guess what, neither does Tiger Woods when he’s in the middle of a putt. I have my theories on where this came from. Every store has that one guy (sometimes two) who wins all the time, who at some point played on the Pro Tour, and who is an *sshole. That guy gives all the pros a bad name. There’s two things wrong with generalizing from this one guy. First, he only bothers you because he wins all of the time. I promise that there are several *sswipes who play at your place. You just beat most of them. You laugh when they throw their deck after a loss. They don’t bother you. The other guy, he bothers you because he wins all of the time. The second thing wrong with that is, well, you’re generalizing. Sure, most knowledge starts with generalizations. In general, water is wet. In general. Sometimes, though, it’s hard. We call that ice, but it’s still water. Just try not to let your generalizations be bad ones and be willing to change your mind. As one politician told the other, it doesn’t matter how strongly you believe something if you’re wrong.

A lot of the people who write for this site and work on it are pros, if not Pro Tour Players. Heck, our current editor is the last English National Champion. (I haven’t listened to NPR lately, but apparently this has something to do with the U.S. annexing England to become the fifty-first state. Or something.) While I haven’t actually met any of them, I correspond with them a lot. They seem to be genuinely nice folks. Let’s be honest with ourselves. If there was anyone to whom a pro might want to be a dick, I’ve got to be at the top of the list. And yet, they aren’t.

Oh, I’ve had my experiences with the local gunslinger. He’s the guy who played in a couple of Pro Tours, couldn’t win a match, but reminds all of the new guys that he played in a Pro Tour. I guess he hopes that it scares them. Like some sort of weak-ass Jedi mind trick. I also know a local guy who is very highly rated in Limited. He was good enough to draft with Kai Budde at Pro Tour: Nice. If he’s not busy (which he often is since he’s a judge now — Level 3, I think), he’ll help you deconstruct your deck. I also know three or four other local pros that are helpful and approachable.

So, if you take nothing else away from Battle Royale, take this. Most of the people you will play against, pro or not, are good people. They may get a little intense during the heat of a match (don’t we all, sometimes?), but the jerks are actually few in number. They just stick out like sore thumbs.

* Speaking of the Battle Royale, where have the beatdown decks gone? I think the last time we had good beatdown was when Eli played Bennie. Even before that, it was sporadic. We’ve had all sorts of combo and control decks in the fifteen-plus rounds we’ve had. Gimme the beats!

* Holy gridiron grittiness, Batman! LaDanian Tomlinson just scored two more touchdowns.

* Have you noticed in the past few years how many sets share names with cards? It never used to be like that. In fact, it almost seemed as if Wizards had an unwritten rule that sets could not share names with cards. I believe that Prophecy was the first card to break that rule. Then Apocalypse. We’ve also had Torment, Onslaught, and Time Spiral. Soon we’ll have Planar Chaos. Come on, guys. I know you can come up with new names. After all, you gave us Hundroog. Hundroooooooooooooog!

* Yeah, about that U/B deck that I hinted at a few weeks ago, I kinda lost the decklist. I remember that it had Islands, Swamps, and Remands, but I can’t remember what else was in it. My cat ate it. Bad kitty.

* A player on MTGO a few nights ago, apparently bothered by many things his opponents did, posted for a game with this line: “No quiters, no whinners, and no one who can’t spell really simple words.” At first, I thought he was trying to be funny since “whiners” has only one N while “quitters” has two T’s. His defensiveness indicated that he wasn’t attempting humor, though, and that made it even funnier.

* I hope you appreciate how hard the writers on this site work for your entertainment. While the “official” site is taking a two-week Christmahanukwanzikah break with no new material, we’re still cranking it out over here. All because we love you. You’re welcome.

* I had a great Christmas, thanks for asking. Okay, so I’m writing this a few days before Christmas, but I’m pretty sure that it’s going to be a good one. I’m the kind of guy who gets much more enjoyment out of what I give than what I get, and I picked out some great ones this year. On the greedy tip, though, I do believe that I’m getting one humdinger of a digital camera, my first, from the thoughtful and beautiful Luanne. Hopefully, this will allow me to add more pix to my articles in the coming year, presuming you like pictures of crazy cats. If not, you’re gonna be s.o.l., aren’t you?

* Craig came up with an idea that I wanted to run by you guys, too. He wants to put up a poll at the end of one of my pieces, heck, maybe even this one, with a list of five or six under-appreciated (a.k.a. crap) rares and have you vote on which ones I would be forced to build decks around. Personally, I love that idea. What I’d do is take the top two and write about the decks and the tuning of them on alternate weeks (yes, like Ben is doing with his “Building on a Budget” decks) so that I could get feedback and ideas in between. What do you think?

* I also found out that this is Festivus week. (“Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us.”) In one of that holiday’s best traditions, I will now air my grievances. First, I am extremely annoyed with Wizards for foisting a fourth set of almost entirely new and tournament-legal cards on us. Three sets a year is normal, and even that’s almost too much. Coldsnap was completely unnecessary. Were people really clamoring for the “final” set of Ice Age block nine years on? Really? Don’t give me that “there’s always four sets a year” bullship, either. That fourth set is either a Core set (e.g. Ninth Edition), which means that many players have nearly all the cards that they need or want from that set, or a non-tourney-legal set like Unhinged.

I’m also upset with some of the cards that Wizards decided to reprint in the Timeshifted set. I’m not upset for me. Most of the expensive Timeshifted card (e.g. Akroma, Call of the Herd), I still had from the originals. Psionic Blast is the exception, but I’ve gotten very, very, very lucky on getting those in packs. I am, however, upset for my peeps on budgets that haven’t been playing as long as I have. Valor and Verdeloth? Sure, why not. Akroma and Call of the Herd? That’s over the top. Moreover, Wizards had to know that those cards were still going to be very powerful in today’s Standard environment. In essence, then, they created a wonderful new set in Time Spiral and immediately overshadowed it with the reprinted cards. Bad, bad Wizards. No soup for you.

You’ll probably be surprised that I’m not going to complain about the prices of packs going up. The retail increase was about eight per cent. Given how long it’s been since Wizards last upped the price of packs plus how costs have probably increased for them, that didn’t bug me. I know that it should have. I should stand up for all of the budget-challenged players out there, but I can’t pull the trigger on this one. If we see another increase in the next year or two, then, yeah, I’ll scream.

I will, however, complain about server stability on Magic Online. I don’t know if their data will show that the server is more stable, less stable, or the same over the past year, but I have experienced crashes with increasing frequency while lag is simply horrendous. That’s even when there isn’t a new set or Nix Tix event. I could be wrong about how this all works — and if I am, please, feel free to educate me on the matter — but I just can’t figure out what’s loading down these servers down and why Wizards can’t just add more servers to handle the load. Now, I’m not an IT guy. I have my li’l electrical engineering degree, and I feel like I know more than the average bear. These issues, though, I have to ask an expert about. Luckily, I know one. A very good friend of mine (who asked that I not identify him or his employer) is one of the two IT managers for a large, well-known entertainment company. I asked him what the deal was with MTGO. I explained the game, showed it to him, and was told “I dunno why they have so many problems.” As he explained it, MTGO isn’t moving a whole lot of data at any one time. The game mechanics only send very small packets of info about the game state or cursor moves and cards. There does seem to be a lot of real-time data capture / movement regarding cards that you have for trade. (Whenever you tell the system that a card is for trade or not, that is saved immediately on the server. Every change you make sends data. What it sends isn’t a whole lot of data, though.) Still, he says, all of that plus chatting should not be such a drag on the system. It may be a huge number of little transactions, but they don’t add up to a lot of data. It’s not like MTGO is streaming videos or anything. He suggests that they spend a few grand on a couple of new servers, build in some redundancy, and be done with it.

And now, for the Feats of Strength. I will attempt to lift a complete playset of four of each Magic card released in 2006. Here I go. *unh* *grrr* *Guh!* Oh, geez, my back. Help. My back.

* Finally, back to our Magic card budget. As I mentioned last week, I shot my wad on four sets of each common and uncommon from Planar Chaos. It actually cost me $48 with shipping and insurance. So, I have two dollars left over from last week. With the ten from this week, I have twelve dollars to save towards those Planar Chaos rares that I want. Or, I could save for my fourth Breeding Pool. Luanne got me my third one for Christmas. Yes, it was a very good year.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, have a Happy & Safe New Year.

Chris Romeo