Innovations – Pro Tour: Honolulu Part 2, and M10 Rules Changes

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Wednesday, June 17th – Earlier this week, Patrick Chapin shared his thoughts on the coming M10 changes to our wonderful game. To celebrate the release of his Next Level Magic eBook, we’ve opened his article for all to see… Enjoy!

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First off, Next Level Magic is finally available. My extensive strategy guide, available as an eBook here on StarCityGames.com. It covers hundreds of pages of Magic strategy as well countless stories from my 15 year Magic career. Check out the main page for more info on this exciting new chapter of Magic theory and literature.

As you know, Pro Tour: Honolulu was just a little over a week ago. I played Five-Color Control with Cruel Ultimatum and cascade. Zack Hill managed to 9-1 with the same deck, catapulting him into a Top 8 finish.

I only went 5-4-1 in Constructed, defeating a 4 Jund decks and a Five-Color deck, losing to Esper, G/W and two Cascade Mirrors. For what it is worth, I am pretty sure the deck we played is and was a good choice, although if I were to do it again, I would play more Qasali Pridemages and one more victory condition (Zac and Juza played Nicol Bolas in addition, which may be a good option, though it is annoying that it is vulnerable to Celestial Purge).

Here is what I played:

There is not too much to add strategy to add, beyond what was in my article last week. Obviously this is just a Five-Color Control deck that cascades up control cards and card draw every turn. The slightly more interesting (in my opinion) strategic content is my draft strategy, though I am aware that draft strategy is rarely a popular topic.

I play five-color control in Alara Block draft, every time. I wouldn’t say that I force it, I would say that the deck I draft, I couldn’t not get it. I place extra emphasis on mana fixing and cards that defend me from quick assaults by players with a lot of Blades. I know I am not the best drafter in the world, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had a lot of success with the particular brand of five-color that I play.

Usually I am based in Esper or Naya, but in reality, it is generally that I am actually five-color/two-color, based in B/U or R/G, but splashing all five. I like some unusual cards like Suicidal Charge, and follow a different draft strategy from most. For instance:

1) I draft mana fixing particularly high in Shards because Conflux mana fixing isnt that good, outside of Armillary Sphere and Rupture Spire and Alara Reborn is so powerful of a set, that I don’t want to have to draft mana fixing over powerful spells. I usually like to have at least 7-9 mana fixers in my deck, and I start early. Just about the only cards I end up with in Shards are generally Mana Fixing, Removal, and busted cards like Dragons or Necrogenesis.
2) Never pass Armillary Sphere (other than like Martial Coup, Sphinx Summoner, etc)
3) Draft your deck in such a way so that Branching Bolt never gets a two-for-one against you. The only primary exception to this is the Dragonsoul Knight type creatures. For the most part, I tend to pick some fliers that have 3 toughness or less, so I don’t pick ground creatures that do too, other than the Dragonsoul types, unless they produce additional value like Elvish Visionary.
4) Green fatties are very nice to have. I particularly like the 5/5 for 3RG that has Devour 1 (Gorger Wurm) and the 4/4 for 2RG (Rhox Brute).
5) The cards that do something when you cycle them are great. The order for my decks is generally Zap, Jolt, Battlegrowth, Pyknite, Cremate, but I like them all. [A fun little sub-game there… Craig, amused]
6) However good you think removal is, it is probably a little better than that.
7) Infest type cards are amazing. If I can’t get one, I place a premium on Suicidal Charge, as I think that this type of effect is vital.
8) I generally play land plus Borderposts, plus an Obelisk (or two), plus a few land cyclers and cards like Armillary Sphere and Shard Convergence. If you add artifacts, land, and land cyclers, and the like, my decks are generally at least 21 cards that can access mana.
9) I like to have at least three legitimate roads to victory in my deck. For instance two broken rares, a Rockcaster Platoon, and a Vagrant Plowbeast.

Five-Color works much better if you just draft from the mentality that you are five-color the whole time. If you switch into it, you always just end up wishing you had played it the whole time.

I went 5-1 in the Limited portion of the PT, and am looking forward to a year of Limited events (or at least partially Limited events). I know five-color is not for everyone, and Esper is probably the best in a vacuum, but if you are like Randy Buehler and think five-color is dead, think again.

For those of you wondering about the “beer pong” going on at the Nassif-Herberholz-Parke-Williams household, you have to remember, this is not just frat boy beer pong. There were a lot of women at this particular beach house, and boys were against girls at times. Let’s just say the women were determined to beat the men, even if it meant “distracting” them when they tried to throw the ball. Nassif went from being a stone cold killer and sinking 3 shots in a row, to missing 21 shots in a row. Personally, I think the “distractions” were fair game, but that is just me. Dancing in speedos? Not so much.

We briefly discussed the logistics involved in jumping off the roof into the swimming pool, but on account of it only being 5 feet deep and on account of the guy who put down the security deposit not being around, we opted against that. Paul Rietzel cut himself in 84 places and was leaving a trail of blood while he tried to swim through the coral reef and to another island, despite it being 3am and him black out drunk. This was impossible; we didn’t want any fatalities.

Since my articles are supposed to be roughly pg-13 or more mild, I suppose the beach house adventures are off limits. Suffice it to say, the stories are true, and what happens in Honolulu stays in Honolulu. How about we instead switch to the topic of the M10 rules changes?

First off, I think that the rules changes are a good thing, and not just for acquiring new players or making the game somewhat more intuitive to people (though I think it does accomplish these things).

A lot of people are quick to bash Wizards for this move, like every other, but this is most definitely a change like 10th Edition being black-bordered more than a “cutting a Pro Tour” type of change. It is not popular to suggest patience and trying the new rules before judging them, but I am of the opinion that Wizards R&D is full of really smart people who have spent a lot of time and energy determining what they think is in the best interest of the game, both in the short term and the long term. I am not saying that we should blindly agree with everything they do, but it would do us good to remember that they have dedicated their lives to making this game the best game it can be, and have a vested interest in seeing the game succeed. It may be easy to sit back and talk about Hasbro demanding profits and ordering Wizards to sell out Magic or some such nonsense, but I assure you, Hasbro wants the game to live and to thrive. In addition, making the “corporate boogeyman” the bad guy every time something happens that you don’t like is unhealthy, and doesn’t lead to realistic improvement.

Hasbro is a corporation, but that doesn’t make them bad. It is easy to use them as scapegoats, but just remember they would not have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into Magic if they did not believe in the game and want to see the game succeed.

Of course, the M10 changes should not be given a free pass just because it is useful to give Hasbro or Wizards the benefit of the doubt. Rather, the changes should be weighed on their own merit, as well as what history has taught us about major rules changes.

First, major rules changes don’t end the world nearly as often as people predict. Second, everyone always argues that they are “dumbing down” Magic, and generally they are wrong. Third, if one particular card or another is weaker, so what? Every card that gets weaker makes another stronger. If you think that Wizards should sit around “preserving” the value of the cards you bought, you are confused about what Magic is. Wizards should most definitely not be a bunch of cowards sitting around trying to figure out how to suck up to some vassal that they would leech off. They should continue to make the best game they can, and let whoever wants to play enjoy it.

There are always going to be countless people who will claim the sky is falling every time there is any change in any aspect of life, Magic or otherwise, but I would suggest that it may be wise to slow for a moment and not get caught up on the bandwagon that is bashing Wizards for ruining Magic. Do you think this is the first time people have thought that? How do you think it turned out every other time ever? Try to understand the motives of the people making the decisions that you may agree or disagree with. Do you think Wizards is changing for change’s sake? To spice it up and make things more interesting? Why would they do this? If your logic requires that Wizards behaves foolishly because they are supposedly a bunch of idiots, perhaps you should check your premise. I know a lot of Wizards R&D people, and I assure you, these are some of the smartest people I have ever met. This doesn’t mean they are infallible, but to suggest a theory that is predicated on them all being fools seems suspect at best.

I have tried to express to a variety of people in a variety of forums and emails my perspective, but posterity’s sake, I will present the crux of my position here, with thanks to Patrick Sullivan, Sam Black, Sean McKeown, and everyone else contributing the voice of reason.

“Some people are just so unreasonable, it is unreasonable…”

First of all, just about every new rule but one is clearly superior to the old system. Battlefield and Exile are fine names for zones that need names. Regardless of if you like the names and flavor or not, you must admit that it is silly to have a RFG zone and a “in play” zone. You are playing with a Library and a Graveyard. What is the problem again? If you are embarrassed to play Magic because of names like battlefield, perhaps you should look inside to examine the real insecurity. Do you think the producers of Transformers or X-Men sat around and second guessed if people would think they are nerds for liking a story about robots that transform into cards or mutants with super powers? Cast is similarly fine and actually clarifies confusion (as it is absurd that “play” means four different things).

Resolving mulligans at the same time is obviously good for tournament play. Why would one not applaud Wizards for this? The change to token ownership is obviously a strict upgrade as well.

Mana pools clearing and mana burn being erased is at least debatable, but honestly, mana pools clearing is more logical. Mana burn was an interesting aspect from a strategic standpoint, but the complexity contributed little compared to what it cost the game from a design standpoint and from a tracking information standpoint. If your problem comes from cards being ruined, like Power Surge, take comfort in knowing that new cards will be born that never could have existed before. if your problem is the loss of strategic depth, be aware that the game can only handle so much complexity, and mana burn offers little compared to what it costs the game.

As I said elsewhere, think of it like this: what would you prefer to exist, Planeswalkers or Mana Burn? There can only be so much complexity, and mana burn is not worth what it costs. Even if you disagree, which is fine, it would behoove you to remember the wisdom of trying the new system before passing judgment. It is going to be really funny in 18 months if people look back to these conversations. What do you think it was like when they introduced 6th Edition rules? I bet 80% of the people reading this article can’t even imagine playing Magic under the old rules… Old rules, let alone the original rules. Do you realize that when Magic first came out, Power Sink used the window, as did tapping lands, but once you started a stack, you had to finish it? Try to imagine paying for Power Sink. The point is, the game is continuing to evolve, and we are lucky to have the R&D members that have spent months testing out this new system, a system that is not being introduced for change’s sake, but rather to improve the intuitive grasp of the game as well as push the game in more sustainable direction that operates under the best structure possible, reaching the most players, providing the most fun, and being a part of the best game it can be.

It would seem that very few reasonable arguments can be brought forward for any rules change beyond the new combat system. I also agree that Rule 5 is drastic, and a little scary. I even admit that my initial reaction towards this combat was one of anxiety. My fear was that there would be a loss of strategic depth when it came to attacking, as demonstrated by a lured Trained Armadon attacking and my opponent blocking with three Hill Giants. If I have an Infest, why can’t I kill them?!

However, upon further examination, I realized that while there is loss of strategic depth in some areas, there is actually an increase in strategic depth in others. For instance, an attacker than can correctly determine what “trick” the defender is up to is at an advantage when ordering blockers. Similarly, a blocker than can correctly anticipate the ordering of blockers the attacker will choose is at an advantage, let alone the possibilities increasing for bluffing actually impacting combat regularly.

For instance, let’s say my opponent attacks with a 5/5 Enlisted Wurm. I want to block with a Rhox Charger and two Dragon Fodder Tokens. This is a pretty realistic scenario. Now, how does my opponent order the blockers? The battle of wits has begun.

If they place the 3/3 first, they get blown out by a Constricting Tendrils. That’s right, combat tricks are not strictly worse. In this case, the spell saves the 3/3 AND the tokens.

So what if they place the 3/3 last? Well, now they stand to get blown out by Naya Sojourners. In this scenario, a Naya Sojourner leaves me with a 4/4 Rhox, on account of the poor assignment by the attacker.

Perhaps then you suggest the 3/3 in the middle? Well, now what if I have Jund Charm? See, obviously I can’t have everything, but the point is, the attacker is rewarded for correctly identifying the trick that I do have. Under the old rules, if they have it, there is generally nothing you can do, as you are going to get blown out. Under the new rules, if you can anticipate what “it” is, you have a different sort of way to play around “it.”

On the flip side, if you are defending, the order that your opponent arranges your blockers can reveal information to you. Perhaps them ordering one way suggests Magma Spray, whereas another way suggests Sigil Blessing. In addition to the information from this, as well as the opportunities to meaningfully interact, there is also the fact that a defender that can correctly anticipate the ordering the attacker will choose gains an advantage. Let’s not even delve into the games within games that will take place when I order the attackers in such a way so as to indicate that I have a Giant Growth, because I KNOW that you will realize this and behave as I anticipate, so clearly I cannot choose the goblet in front of you. Of course, you must have known that I would know, and that I would use this information against you, so clearly I cannot choose the goblet in front of me…

As far as damage on the stack goes, just remember all of the people who cried out when Wizards first suggested putting damage on the stack. People who are mad that Mogg Fanatic doesn’t bend the rules anymore need to remember, when it was designed, that was not how it was supposed to work anyhow. Sure, Sakura-Tribe Elder was, but really it is much more interesting this way. Think about it:

Under the old system, when a Savannah Lion attacks and I have a Sakura-Tribe Elder, there is only really one play. Block, damage on stack, sac. This is the same play that every “trick” revolves around. The correct play is 99.9% damage on the stack, do the trick. That is not strategic depth! You are not a good player because you know that you should always put damage on the stack then do the trick. You could teach a four-year old that!

Now there will be some tension. Do you kill the Lion or get the extra land? It may be an easy decision most of the time, but before the change it was never really a decision at all. If you are imaging all of the times you won’t be able to damage on the stack and sac anymore, just remember, your opponents will be in the same boat. The ADDED strategic depth will probably favor you because, if you are the type of player that reads StarCityGames.com, you are probably going to be favored in games that require real decision making. If you are imagining being the guy with the Sakura in this example, imagine it from the perspective of the guy with the Lion. Before, you could not attack. Now, you actually have a realistic option.

The new system is more intuitive, no question, but it is not at the expense of game play. The cards can be designed under either system, so just have faith that the cards to come will be costed taking into consideration the new rules. The changes will take a little getting used to, but the theory behind them is good.

At the core, what it comes down to is that these rules changes are healthy for the longevity and expansion of the game and improve a rules structure that by its very growth every 3 months is always at risk of growing out of control. Change is always hard for some people and some will claim that the loss of strategic depth is a major downside. I agree it would be if not for the increase in strategic depth in other areas.

For real, try the new rules before being so quick to insult the men and women who spend their lives making this great game we love. Do you really think they would make these changes so recklessly?

The sky isn’t falling. Wizards aren’t idiots. Give the new rules a chance.

If you are one of the people going wild, complaining about the new rules to anyone that will listen, I challenge you to copy/paste everything you are saying into a word document and reprint it 18 months. Combining this with an honest assessment as to the accuracy of your statements will probably provide some interesting food for thought.

Personally, I am looking forward to my December 13th, 2010 article. We will see what time has to say on the subject.

Wizards got rid of interrupts, and somehow to worked out.

Wizards got rid of the draw on the first turn, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards changed the mulligan rule, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards invented Standard, making some cards “banned” for good, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards got rid of ante, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards “forced” people to start drafting, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards got rid of classics like Counterspell / Dark Ritual / Lightning Bolt / duals, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards changed the frames, the borders, the expansion and tap symbols, and somehow it worked out.

Wizards invented foils and mythics, and somehow it worked out.

Do you even know what batches and bubbles were? People thought they would never be able to live without them. What do you think the phases of the turn were in 1993?

The point is, sometimes the changes don’t work out that well and Wizards adjusts them again at some point (rotating out Serra and Sengir) but most of the time, however, everything works out fine and the game continues to improve. In fact the majority of the time, 18 months later, the majority of people have trouble imagining the game being any way other than what it has become.

Wizards is not selling out Magic or Magic players. They are doing this because they honestly believe that it is in the best interest of the game. They are certainly not infallible, but this particular change was tested for a long time, and they are smart people who have a highly vested interest in doing this right. Might it turn out to be “less good?” It is possible. I for one am seeing more and more, however, that it is probably a very good thing for the game, and I am certainly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I cannot say for sure how the new combat will pan out in the long run, but I can say that the arguments presented by the opponents of Rule 5 sound oddly similar to the arguments of those that proclaimed that Wizards was ruining Magic by removing interrupts, introducing Standard, Paris Mulligans, or putting damage on the stack in the first place.

I guess all I can say is that it might be wise to reserve judgment until you have had a chance to try the system and understand it before the spitting hateful venom with little reason or logic. Think about it. What are you trying to accomplish? The only reasonable motive behind such venom and hatred is to try to change the rules. First of all, if you advocate changing the rules, why not these? If you are arguing to change them, don’t you think it would be wise to TRY them first? And I mean more than a night or two of drafting with friends. If you try them and 6 months from now still think they are bad, argue to change them then.

What is wrong with these anyway? Here, the only possible rational defense I see is loss of strategic depth, but I think it is fairly academic to demonstrate that there is much more strategic depth in other areas, as shown above. If you think that this combat purely simplifies and removes strategic depth, I think you will be pleased to discover that Magic is not as simple as you may suspect.

The depth is there, you just have to appreciate what is really going on.

Anyway, have faith, the sky isn’t falling, R&D has smart people, and remember what history has taught us.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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