Genius Is Overrated

Tuesday, September 14th – Bad beats and good flavor text! Geordie staggers back into Magic with an M11 Sealed event gone awry, then discusses why Wurm’s Tooth is the most flavorful card in M11!

Dear Readers:


I won’t be writing in-depth about the Great Designer Search this week — there’s just not enough space in this article. There’s still time to get my thoughts out there before the contest begins, so I’ll try to do it next week.

Aaron Forsythe once wrote that Mark Rosewater articles allow other game companies to “netdeck their jobs.” Mark’s articles will also allow people to “netdeck” this contest — at least as far as jargon and the rules of Magic design are concerned. The rhetoric will probably be a cut-and-paste. Only the designs will be pure.

My recommendation is to not to let the contestants talk unless it’s basic autobiographical information. Long spiels about “how much I want to win” (a feeling that will be absolutely universal, and as such not worth talking about) should be kept in the holster. Furthermore, the reasoning behind a given design probably should be kept to a minimum so we can stay away from the Rosewater Regurgitations.

Genius is overrated. Especially when you’re just spouting someone else’s.

Next week: I actually write about what I said I was going to write about.

Let’s move on to some beats.


Sometimes it seems like life takes pleasure in giving you the opposite of what you want. You want to go left, but the rat race keeps you moving right. You want to sleep, circumstances wake you up. You don’t want to be a coke mule, but fate arranges that your best friend should be Paris Hilton.

It was about 7 p.m. one evening when I lurched into a 4-3-2-2 and put together a stinky R/G special with some acceleration, a couple of Chandra’s Outrages, Crystal Ball, and Duskdale Wurm and Ancient Hellkite to finish. It was a clunky deck that didn’t have much chance against W/x with a fast draw or blue tempo, but it had some late-game.

Luckily, players in 4-3-2-2 queues often don’t have the goods, and I was able to overcome a couple of weak decks in the first two rounds, ensuring that at the very least I’d be able to break even.

I was tired, as I’d started the draft a

too late (you know how it can be), and it was also time to watch Top Chef with the fiancée and make jokes about Angelo’s dubious heterosexuality. As the other second-round matchup dragged on, the feminine foot-tapping from the TV area was growing dangerously insistent. With my own match long-finished, all I could do was apologize and wonder aloud what the other two players were doing.

What’s usually going on in these situations is a couple of bad G/W players are triggering their Ajani’s Mantras and repeatedly leaving themselves dead on the board so the other guy can miss it. Occasionally, though, it’s something more nefarious. That was certainly the case here.

All I wanted from this final round was three things:

a) To get it started quickly and end it quickly so I could switch gears, take off the robe and wizard hat, and eat dinner with the missus.
b) To play against a deck that was mid-range, without explosive nut draws or insane bombs.
c) A final round opponent who was nice in a non-threatening way, and a poor player.

Here’s what life gave me:

a) A second round that went one hour and fifteen minutes.
b) Mono-blue with Crystal Ball, Mind Control, multiple Mana Leaks, Cancel, Redirect, high-toughness defenders, and Elixir of Immortality.
c) Jon Becker.

During the first game, Redirect was like Val Kilmer in “Tombstone,” in that it’ll never be that good again. It got both of my copies of Chandra’s Outrage (the second time after an Elixir shuffle-in), killing one of my key guys each time. Becker plopped down an Armored Cancrix and basically countered everything I did for the rest of the game until he cast Mind Control on my Duskdale Wurm. The whole time, he was talking amiably to me, maybe hoping I was as entertaining while playing Magic as some people mistakenly think I am in these articles.

He was quickly disappointed, as I can’t talk and play Magic at the same time unless my opponent is eleven years old and playing Dark Ritual as a land — and I told him so. The number of witty things I’ve said during close Magic games is zero, and probably will always be zero.

“We’ll talk after,” he gregariously said.
That’s what you think

, I silently added.
If the second game is anything like the first, I’m going to petulantly log off to eat burritos


I sided in Demolish for game 2. Turn 3-4 he obviously had his scry engine, so I Demolished it. The next turn, he slid a second copy of the three-mana artifact onto the table just as slick as warm owl manure, and I was soon subject to more Ball activations than George Takei.

Desperate for some action and pressure, I sheepishly offered up Chandra’s Outrage like someone had mistakenly typed a question mark on my teleprompter. Becker cast Redirect on it for the third time in two games, once again killing a guy. The last card in my hand was a random 3/2. He coughed and Cancrix and Azure Drake fall onto the table.

I petulantly logged off to eat burritos.

Public Service Announcement:

Jon Becker writes entertaining articles that you should read.

Now, what about that Friday night M11 Sealed Premier I promised? I’d been looking forward to it all week and was excited until I cracked the following:

Now, fellas, I

been away for a long time…but I know a stinker when I see one.

After reading many articles by French people, I was all stoked to get some blue cards. What I found was zero Preordain, zero Scroll Thief, zero Mana Leak, zero Aether Adept, zero…everything. Basically, just Conundrum Sphinx and a big stack of poo. Sure, Diminish and Harbor Serpent will make your deck, but they’re definitely the Tom Sizemore and Andy Dick of what I was hoping would be an A-List event.

The other colors weren’t much better.

The green had some fixing, a really nice rare in Mitotic Slime, and a clunky land dragon in Duskdale Wurm. White and black had their high points — but there’s no way a deck with double Black Knight and double White Knight could be good, right?

I settled on the following B/G/r deck with some graveyard synergy (lots of creatures with triggered abilities, plus Gravedigger and Disentomb), but I knew it wasn’t exactly going to blow anyone’s doors off:

Barony Vampire
2 Black Knight
Doom Blade
2 Quag Sickness

Brindle Boar
Duskdale Wurm
Giant Spider
Mitotic Slime
Runeclaw Bear
Sylvan Ranger

Manic Vandal
Prodigal Pyromancer

2 Juggernaut

8 Swamp
6 Forest
2 Mountain
Terramorphic Expanse

Despite playing green, I couldn’t bring myself to include Garruk’s Companion since I knew that every time I drew it in an opening hand with Black Knight, I’d feel like Lawrence Fishburne after he finished Googling his daughter.

Anyway, I know this isn’t the best build in the world, but other builds (like aggro W/R/x, using Act of Treason) didn’t seem to have enough cards. Maybe that deck would have been better just because of Inspired Charge blowouts, I don’t know.

Here’s how I fared:

Round 1 vs. FearFreak13

Game 1, I curve out with Runeclaw Bear, Pyromancer, Juggernaut, Mitotic Slime. His first play is a turn 4 Howling Banshee, then a turn 5 Foresee. He skins that smokewagon by Fireballing my Slime. Next turn, he sees what happens.

Side in two Mind Rots for Runeclaw Bears and Deathmark.

Game 2, I curve out again. He Gravediggers a Barony Vampire and then sits there like a dingleberry the next turn with three mana open after a Sign In Blood. I don’t have to be one of the Hardy Boys to see where this is going. Holding Mitotic Slime with five mana, I obediently trot Brindle Boar into his Flash Freeze. A funny moment occurs — he finds the Boar to be so awful and unworthy of his attention that he almost decides to just accept that he double Stone Rained himself on his turn, and allow it. In the end, he counters it.

The next turn he just chills again after casting the Barony Vampire, this time after repeatedly tapping and untapping five mana. Out of land and with no other play except for the Slime, I march my next decoy, Cultivate, into his Mana Leak.

Turn 7 he casts Platinum Angel, I Doom Blade it end of turn, and then smugly trot out the Slime with a “I knew you had those counters” look on my E-Face. From there it’s an easy win.

Don’t worry — the smug look will get E-Wiped from my E-Face in future rounds.

Record: 1-0

Round 2 vs. Spike777

Game 1: His Garruk’s Companion faces down my Black Knight. He waits until I attack to block and use Giant Growth, losing himself four damage. Like a vaginal cleaning product, I mentally pencil in a 2-0. He then stalls on land and doesn’t do much else while I run him over.

Game 2: I stabilize the board with Fireball when I have three creatures, seven land in play, and three more land in hand. He casts Wurm into Wurm while I blank, blank, and blank again.

Side in an Act of Treason for his giant monsters.

Game 3: I again land flood badly and have next to nothing. He gets out some fat and begins the dreaded
Attacks Of A Man Whose Opponents Always Have Fog And Giant Growth

. I draw Duskdale Wurm and he draws Sleep, which depresses me so much that I miss a point of Pyromancer damage.

Doesn’t matter, as he ends the game at nine life. I end it with fourteen lands in play.

For a couple of turns he has me nearly dead on the board, but gives me two extra topdecks just because he prefers the death of a thousand cuts. He finally kills me when I have three land and fourteen spells left in my deck.

After losing the following round I watch this opponent’s replay, just so I see how a player attacks when he knows his opponent always has the Odds/Ends. He shows me Primeval Titan, thus proving he’s enough of a moneybags to attack whenever the hell he likes.

Record: 1-1

Round 3 vs. _hamsterlord

Game 1: Not really a real game, as I mulligan to six and don’t draw a third land until turn 5, when he has Mana Leak up for my Cultivate as well as Scroll Thief and Water Servant. At least I’m not that infant that Lindsay Lohan sideswiped with her car.

Game 2: I choose to play first, but probably could have drawn. Even if he has Blinding Mage into Scroll Thief, my deck has two Black Knights and plenty of removal.

I mulligan to six again, and it’s a bad enough six carder that I should have just gone to five. Two Forests, Black Knight, Deathmark, Juggernaut, and Plummet. Do you keep that, or go to five on the play? I’m 99% sure keeping is wrong.

I draw non-lands while he hits me twice with Scroll Thief and plays Temple Bell. I’m resigned to a loss… but the game then gets weird. He has no action and starts using the Temple Bell, so I’m able to draw into land. The contest goes for ages, since he can’t tap my Black Knights and I have removal for his Serpent and Serra Angel.

Just when I think I have a shot at winning a game where he was beating down with Scroll Thief vs. a screw, he Human-Centipedes me with Day of Judgment.

With nine cards in his library he drops Blinding Mage after the Wrath, and I skillfully peel land from both my draw and from Temple Bell. Hey, deck — Pyroclasm or Doom Blade would have been fine, honest.

He plays Water Servant, I draw Duskdale Wurm, he goes Augury Owl and puts an Excommunicate on top, then draws it with Temple Bell for the win. Again I draw land off the Bell.

Record: 1-2

Round 4 vs. Kizyrix

Game 1: I play terribly, throwing away an eighth card during my color screw for no reason, when I

have just dropped a -3/-3 Quag Sickness on his Rotting Legion. Yikes.

I win anyway, since his draw is pretty terrible and I draw Mitotic Slime, a second Quag Sickness, Plummet, Fireball and Deathmark.

Game 2: I mulligan to six and keep a four-lander, then immediately draw land #5 like I was born to do it. Pitch one such land to his Liliana’s Specter — which ends up being the game, since I can’t cast Duskdale Wurm and he stabilizes the board and beats down with fliers.

Pyroclasm would have ended the game in my favor at any point, but…yeah. I also want a large-screen television, and that ain’t here either.

Game 3: He two for one’s me with Liliana’s Specter twice, has Roc Egg for my Juggernaut, and I stall on land, rendering Fireball basically useless. It isn’t close.

Record: 1-3

I drop and petulantly eat burritos.

Not the greatest return to Magic events, but these things happen when you’re just getting back into the game and/or stink. Quick note for Olivier Ruel: in the future, it would help me greatly if you would put such tips in your M11 articles as “If you are exactly Geordie Tait, do X” and then go on to explain exactly what it is I’m supposed to do in every possible case.

Genius can be hard to apply. Especially when it’s someone else’s.

Next week: Another premier event, hopefully with less of me getting blown out and more of me doing the blowing.

Let’s move on to something more fun!

Flavor of the Week

As promised, this week we’re going to take a look at great flavor texts from M11, as well as texts that didn’t quite get there. (In some cases, they were nowhere near there.) I had originally decided to do five cards — but after reviewing the M11 cards, I actually decided to expand things a little because some cards deserve a mention, for good or ill.

Category #1: Flavor Triumphs

Canyon Minotaur

“We’ll scale these cliffs, traverse Brittle Bridge, and then fight our way down the volcanic slopes on the other side.”

“Isn’t the shortest route through the canyon?”


“So shouldn’t we—”


When you’re on a flavor assignment and one of those cards with no rules text shows up, your first inclination may be to groan and check the database to see if one of the other sourcebook-fondling misanthropes nailed it already so you can phone in some garbage and move on to the next asinine discard one-liner. Hold on, got one brewing.

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Done. Print it. Give me my money.

Anyway, these “empty” cards present both great challenges and great opportunity. They’re empty canvasses, and when you sit down to write these sorts of texts it’s possible to feel for all the world like Michelangelo staring up at an unpainted cathedral ceiling.

Or, sometimes you just feel bloated and surly, write something dull about necromancers, and call it a day.

This particular text is masterfully done, using a rare “back and forth” construction. It may have required multiple passes and input from a couple of different people, plus additional polish before press time. Or hell, maybe the guy/gal just nailed it the first time. Either way, look how well the peril of the alternative trip is brought across in just one sentence in that first line. It has humor, it evokes fantasy imagery, and it sells for the Minotaur like it was vintage Ric Flair.


The shapeshifter mimics with a twin’s esteem and a mirror’s cruelty.

Any flavor text that makes you think a little bit is a good text. That’s what this one does, bringing across the point that all you get with clone is exactly what you target — no less, no more. The idea of coldly perfect mimicry, neither enhancing abilities nor covering faults, makes the card feel very analytical and “Blue” — but it doesn’t hit you over the head with it.

This flavor text could

have been “Two minds are better than one,” or something equally awful. They pull no punches in the base sets when it comes to ramming a color’s flavor links down your throat.


Regardless of the century, plane, or species, developing artificers never fail to invent the ornithopter.

Flavor text writers have a ton of referents they can use, and precious little space to use them in. To help them out, Wizards actually literally

them that certain mechanics are almost totally flavorless, like Cycling. If you try to reference the wrong stuff in the text, or do it in a ham-fisted way, it can be butchery.

This text seamlessly references the fact that Ornithopter costs zero and has been repeatedly reprinted, in one sentence. Throw in a little humor and you have an “A+” text.

Sacred Wolf

“I raised my bow, and the wolf stared at me. Under its gaze, my finger would not release the string.”

—Aref the Hunter

Sometimes the idea doesn’t blow your mind, but the vivid description makes up for the lack of complexity. Yeah, you can’t target him, we get it. That isn’t all, though. We can see that moment in time, and the hunter’s haunted voice as he tells it to a fellow ranger back at the camp, later that evening. Maybe afterward they toss back a few brews and then accidentally stumble into the same tent. We don’t know.

Seriously, though. Can’t you see that moment when the arrow is ready to fly and the eyes of the hunter meet those of the wolf? It’s clear as crystal in my mind.

Silvercoat Lion

“In the wild, white fur like mine is an aberration. We lack natural camouflage, but the inability to hide encourages other strengths.”

—Ajani Goldmane

It isn’t great in a vacuum — but it’s great for a planeswalker quote, where the bar is set so low that those trapped Chilean miners are using it as a makeshift support beam.

Planeswalker flavor in the base set is miserable, because flavor-wise the planeswalkers are little more than mascots for their respective colors. In most cases, this means that their contributions to flavor text are expressions of generic color concepts you could find in any design article.

This text is good because Ajani actually says something. He references himself, for one thing, and that makes him seem like an actual person and not a big amalgam of white’s most compelling talking points. The text also doesn’t hit you over the head with some obvious white theme, but talks more subtly and seems to reference issues and events relevant to Ajani himself.

Viscera Seer

“In matters of life and death, he trusts his gut.”

You might think this is a bad joke — but I like “groaners” in flavor text, because they provoke a reaction. The best cards of all time in this category are Goblin Offensive and Werebear. Every time I do a set, I try to get a new Werebear variant in there. Last time I saw a Kezzerdrix, I typed “He exercises his right to hare arms” in about 0.05 seconds.

Werebear’s text is a great text (in the Dariani “I’m made of sand!” vein) because it raises the middle finger to any sort of dry exposition, eschews a smug quote from some badass, doesn’t bore you to death with the details of Werebear’s place in the Odyssey storyline. It just makes an awful joke right out of the gate with no apologies.

Tome Scour

“Genius is overrated, especially when it’s someone else’s.”

Man, no kidding. The only thing that would make this better is a huge set of quotation marks around the word “genius.”

Wurm’s Tooth

“The great wurm bit down on me. Instead of being crunched bloody, I slid into the space where its tooth was missing. One tooth—a boon most potent, indeed.”
—The Tall Tales of Oleander

Finally, my favorite flavor text in the set — Wurm’s Tooth.

As with the Sacred Wolf text already discussed, you can actually imagine all of this happening — the adventurer barely escaping with his life as the jaws close over him, surviving by tucking himself into the fetal position in an empty tooth-socket, then tumbling free.

This flavor text also repeats the noun “tooth.” 99% of the time, word repetition is just a mistake and makes the text sound awkward — in every case, the writer should have just chosen a synonym instead of saying the same word a second time. I’ll highlight some instances of it later, but my point is that in this case it works.

The writer has managed to make Oleander sound astounded that he survived, and as he repeats the words “One tooth…” you can hear his wonderment, his incredulity at his own survival. By repeating his own words, it’s almost as if he’s confirming to himself that it actually happened.

Of course, other aspects of the text might make us question whether it did actually happen. This text just has a lot going on, and it makes you believe that the Wurm’s Tooth you have in play has a history and significance. That way, you can get some enjoyment out of it while you’re 0-4ing that Daily.

CATEGORY 2: Turd Burglesons

Chandra’s Spitfire

“I’ve lit most everything on fire—trees, rocks, even the water. Now it’s time to burn the clouds.”


“Who’d want to ignite things one at a time?”

—Chandra Nalaar

I’m not sure which Planeswalker makes the worst contribution to flavor text, but Chandra and Jace are both up there. With Chandra, I think somebody just slapped some jahoobies on Donald Sutherland’s character from “Backdraft” and called it a day.

If Chandra has said something interesting in a novel somewhere, that’s where they should be getting her quotes. Right now she sounds like the Trashcan Man from Stephen King’s “The Stand,” getting ready to light some old lady’s pension check on fire.


All seeds share a common bond, calling to each other across infinity.

I call these “Nothing” texts because the flavor text writer is just making stuff up and there’s nothing there that would qualify as insight. I mean…just look at the statement made in this text. You could say the same thing about basically anything in Magic: The Gathering and, with a few mental gymnastics, make it true.

That’s a bad text.

  • All warriors share a common bond, calling to each other across infinity.

  • All souls share a common bond, calling to each other across infinity.

  • Gary Krakower and “five-land hands with two seven-mana spells on the play” share a common bond, calling to each other across infinity.

I actually think what happened here is that the flavor text writer was trying to explain the card mechanic, saying your existing land cards are calling to the others across the cosmos like Alicia Keys searching for her estranged father. This text shouldn’t have been accepted. How hard is it to get some bearded druid to say something clever about crops? You’ve done it hundreds of times before, guys.

Goblin Chieftain

“We are goblinkind, heirs to the mountain empires of chieftains past. Rest is death to us, and arson is our call to war.”

The word arson is negatively-connotated phrase, created by a society that condemns arson. It’s also very legal-sounding. I’m fine with Goblin Chieftains not being total idiots, but Goblins have been the comic relief for so long that the details of their “serious” behavior are vague and basically amount to “they’re primitive savages.” As such, this text doesn’t sound like a Goblin pep talk to me.

Put more succinctly: if this text is a Goblin talking to other Goblins, it’s awful.

This text is 100% better if the Goblin is talking to emissaries of other races, throwing humanity’s own contemptuous terms back into their faces. But it’s not. Look at the art — it’s some dude dancing around in a tunnel. You’re forced to imagine him pumping up his Warren Instigator buddies like Morpheus at that garbage rave in the first Matrix sequel.

So what’s the solution?

Take away the quotes around it and just make it a narrator’s perspective on Goblins. Then the words “arson” and the phrase “rest is death” make more sense.

The fixed text:

They are goblinkind, heirs to the mountain empires of chieftains past. Rest is death to them, and arson is their call to war.

Perhaps even better would be to just attribute it to some sort of human anthropologist or sociologist.

“Goblinkind. Heirs to the mountain empires of chieftains past. Rest is death to them, and arson is their call to war.” —Dinkleballs the Human Historian

This text might have a new problem, though — in switching voices, it may lose too much focus on the Goblin Chieftain himself. All texts go through these sorts of growing pains. I won’t waste any more space on fixing this here, but I do know it shouldn’t have been left as it was.

Hunters’ Feast

Those who kill a jawspur rhino must prepare spells to lift the carcass—even a dozen hunters can’t lift its bulk.

It takes zero effort to change one instance of the word “lift” to “carry” or “move” and make the text 100% better. When I see texts like this, I just wonder if people actually read these before sending them out.

Maybe stop using guys who did the 11

Edition of the Newspeak dictionary. Why use “lift” and “carry” when you can use “lift” and then “lift” again, amirite?

This flavor text is ungood.

Mind Rot

“Not every thought is a good one.”

Easy, Oscar Wilde — don’t challenge me so much. An even more egregious “Nothing” text than Cultivate, someone got paid $25 for this.

It occurs to me that maybe they were linking “rot of ideas” to “rot of perishable food items,” the way one apple in a bunch might be bad. If that’s the case, they still failed to use the proper adjectives to bring that link across. The fix:

“Not every thought is a ripe one.”

This conjures the image of a putrid, flyblown stink inside a guy’s very skull — and presto. The link between rotten fruit and rotten ideas is made, and you get there.

Okay, that’s all for this week. Until next week, don’t put too much stock in genius — it’s overrated. Meanwhile, qualities like humility, straightforwardness and “not being a bag” are worth their weight in gold.

Next week: Gender roles in flavor, and the Wizards of the Coast policy that has saved them a lot of headaches.