Dear StarCityGames.com reader…
It is nice to finally be on the other side of the glass. I remember sitting in the seat you’re in right now and wanting, more than anything, to be the person people go to for entertainment, information, and education about the game of Magic the Gathering. I have had a lot of good times on this website, like the time I first read a Tim Aten rambling, or when I finally discovered the power of The Philosophy of Fire, or the time I got banned from the forums for berating Evan Erwin, or the time I got banned from the forums for berating Nick Eisel, or the time I should have gotten banned from the forums for berating Todd Anderson, but I hope to now produce a successful column to add to my StarCityGames.com memories.
By law, I need to go door to door in my new neighborhood whenever I move in order to give the public the proper warnings about me and the content I produce. As you’ll soon find out, I have a very distinct writing style that many may not find… “comforting,” but the truth is that I don’t care. I am not trying to appease everyone; I am more about maximum impact than mass appeal. I am a high-level competitive player, and I write as such. If you are a PTQer trying to make it to the next level, I probably have a thing or two to teach you. If you are an FNMer who grab-bag drafts and plays one archetype in every format because it’s your favorite, then you should probably look elsewhere. It may seem harsh, but it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love this game; it’s just that I may love it in a different way than you.
Cedric Philips is a good example of the sort of brutal honesty that you should prepare yourself for when reading an AJ Sacher article. Cedric is a very good man, and one of my favorite people on the tour. He has excellent taste in humor, TV, food, women, suits, and of course, vintage corncob pipes. Musically he may be a 13 year old teeny-bopping suburban girl, but he is still an all-around awesome person. He gets berated in his forums nearly every week by people who either don’t get him, or just aren’t his target audience at all and think they are. This whole introduction may come off as harsh, but I want to be upfront and clear so that there aren’t any misconceptions.
I also like to make a lot of subtle and obscure references in an attempt to alienate a majority of the audience while delightfully entertaining a few, so, you know, watch out for that. And be careful when somebody loves you.
Essentially, I write essays. The essay is a beautiful thing because it is so ill-defined. Prose to propositions, as long as it is semi-coherent and makes a point, it can be labeled as an essay of some sort. I like to rant about whatever topic hits me at the moment, and that’s the way I create a majority of the content I publish. You see, essays are like miniskirts; they are long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep things interesting. These essays/rants are also a rare glimpse into the psyche of a decaying mind, which we all know is a valuable life experience.
I don’t write for a paycheck or recognition of the community. I do it as a medium to express myself. I have been writing my whole life, and it is pretty much the only thing keeping my brain from unraveling. It is not just putting pen to paper or words on screen to me. Every essay is a search into one’s self, and that carries an emotional toll, like a 13 year old suburban girl writing in her diary about the cute boy in her class. Magic writing is no different. At least, not for me. I guess I shouldn’t try speaking for every single Magic writer in my very first article here.
Tournament reports are an art-form that I truly respect. I don’t find much value in generic deck-review articles, but from time to time they are necessary. The trouble is that most people are looking for the latest technology when what they really need to be doing is learning the basics and focusing on improving their technical game. The true enemy is often in the mirror.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s do a little bit of background and then we can talk about Magic. My name is AJ Sacher. I have been playing Magic for a little over 3 years and have been on the Pro Tour for about half of that. I am Level 4 pro again this season, and am excited for the new year despite my slow start. I have been writing ever since I can remember, but it has been about Magic for about two years. I used to work for another site, and recently made the switch. My last name is correctly pronounced like the sport Soccer, but Satcher or Sayker or Sacker or Sasher are all pronunciations I am capable of responding to. I’ve even heard Shrader a couple of times, which boggles my mind. In my non-card-playing free time, I do a lot of sleeping, eating, writing, sleeping, making fun of 13 year-old suburban girls, and sleeping.
I am looking forward to putting my work on such a prestigious site, and I hope you enjoy it. I think we have a lot to teach each other, and hopefully we will have some laughs along the way. Finally, onto my historic first article for StarCityGames.com.
The card seems so simple: simple cost, simple stats, simple ability. And yet, it is probably one of the more skill-testing Limited cards of the set. The truth is, Bog Tatters has multiple layers to examine. You know that Hellkite Charger is good, and you understand what a card like Journey to Nowhere does to your deck, but Bog Tatters are where champions are made. Bog Tatters is an onion.
People ask me to help them build their sealed decks fairly often, which I usually have no problem with. I see it as more practice plus an opportunity to help a friend. The problem is that my suggestions are occasionally ignored or disregarded, or, arguably the worst, they blindly follow the advice without understanding it.
I didn’t cut your Vampire Lacerator because it is a bad card. I did it because you have a Giant Scorpion, a Kraken Hatchling, a Gomazoa, an Ior Rune Expedition, a Sphinx of Jwar Isle, and a Sorin Markhov in your deck. Some people look at interactions such as “I should play my Narrow Escape, as even though it is not the greatest card in the world, I have a Journey to Nowhere and a Kor Hookmaster to combo with it.” This is a fine start, but you also need to examine interactions that aren’t just obvious “combos.”
The perfect example is Bog Tatters. Some people never play it. Other people always play it. They are both wrong. Of course, this is almost always the case, as Magic is a complex game and every situation is different and blah blah blah, but the problem with Bog Tatters is that people don’t understand the dynamics of the card. That’s saying something, seeing as it’s a pretty basic card. I don’t know what that says more about; the complexity of the game, or the stupidity of us, the players. Either way, it speaks volumes about how much we have to learn.
Let’s take a closer look at the card. What is a Bog Tatters? (And don’t say “a Magic card” because we’re going for more of a Nietzsche level of philosophy rather than Descartes level, if that analogy is apt.) After you answer a part of that question, you have to ask yourself, “What does that have to do with our decision to play it in our deck?”
Bog Tatters is Black. (Are we playing Black? I started with a freebie. You know, to get the ball rolling)
Bog Tatters is a creature. (Do we need another creature to up our guy-count? This of course leads to other questions, such as how many animals is the right amount, which is a far more complex question that we should cover some other time.)
Bog Tatters is a five-drop. (Could our curve use/handle a five-drop?)
Bog Tatters is good against Swamps. (Are we going to be playing against a lot of Black decks?)
This is the basic stuff that I am sure you are all familiar with, and if you weren’t, well, now you are. The next levels are what separates the grinders from the winners. The types of things you need to be considering when deciding on whether to tatter up someone’s bogs or not.
How is my deck against Black decks? If you have cards like Vampire Nighthawk, Quest for the Gravelord, and Soul Stair Expedition, then you are well suited for the Swamp mirror. However, if you are the guy with Hideous Ends, Guul Draz Vampires, and Surrakar Marauders, then Bog Tatters may be the cure for what ails ya. In non-specific terms, what I am saying is that if you already have an edge for the Black on Black action, then you don’t need a card that is bad in other matchups. On the other hand, if you have an iteration of the big Black deck that is great against the rest of the field but could use some more game in the mirror, then playing a card that shines against Black and is bad in other matchups is the correct thing to do.
Another higher-level thought process is determining how games are going to play out. If you have cards like Marsh Causalities that will clear the way of all of the 2/1s and 2/2s, then Bog Tatters goes up in value as it is more likely to trade with a 3/3 or bigger, or just get through for a fifth of their life total a pop. Also, you’ll have ways to deal with small guys like the aforementioned Marsh Casualties or perhaps Disfigures, so you will really only be threatened by 3/3s or bigger, which Bog Tatters is more likely to be capable of profitably blocking.
If you have cards like Giant Scorpion, however, then Bog Tatters greatly drops in value. This is because they won’t be trading off their 2/2s with your 2/1s as easily since they can’t attack into the Scorpion, meaning they will have plenty of small guys that can trade up to your Tatters if you even tried to get it into the red zone. That is why Giant Scorpion and similar defensive cards make Bog Tatters a less attractive filler option.
Another onion of the set is Quest for the Gravelord. So many people draft it very highly when it really isn’t that good in their deck. I understand that it is a powerful effect for a low cost, but the conditions aren’t automatic. The card’s power level greatly varies. A friend came to me complaining about 0-2ing with a very good Limited deck, but when he showed it to me, two deck-building mistakes were fairly obvious. The first was simply that he was heavier Red and was playing Crypt Ripper over Hagra Crocodile when the Kenny “Big Croc” Castor would be a much better fit in his deck. The second mistake was that he had Quest for the Gravelord in his deck and a Zektar Shrine Expedition in his sideboard. First, he was heavier Red, which is quite relevant, but just as important is the way his deck was configured. He had two Plated Geopedes and two Bladetusk Boars along with a Surrakar Marauder and such for creatures. Almost every single one of his guys had some sort of evasion or blocking-deterrent, which is essentially the same save for the ability to get chump-blocked (chumpability?). He then had a decent amount of burn as well.
So why not play a one-mana 5/5 over the two-mana 7/1? Because his deck is poorly set up to utilize the Black card. Quest for the Gravelord doesn’t want you to have to spend your Burst Lightning on a crappy guy in order to give you a third of a 5/5. Quest for the Gravelord wants you to trade off your own crappy guys for their crappy guys in order to make two thirds of a 5/5. Quest for the Gravelord wants Highland Berserkers and the like, not Plated Geopedes and Bladetusk Boars. Those cards are far more compatible with a card like Zektar Shrine Expedition that can either close out a race, or take down a random fatty that would have otherwise changed the math, allowing you to maintain a hold of a winning position in the race. (One of my next few articles is going to be all about race situations, so we’ll be talking about examples such as this in more depth soon enough).
The natural response is “with two Burst Lightnings, isn’t the Quest better than the Expedition because you can kill guys and give it counters?” That argument doesn’t hold much bearing for two reasons. First, the same argument could be made for Bursting THEM and wanting 7 damage instead of some big dumb zombie. Second, we aren’t losing to 2/1s and such with this kind of deck, so Bursting those guys would be a waste of a removal spell. To get value out of the Quest, you would have to settle for less than optimal value of your removal spell a lot of the time, which is pretty much unacceptable as the removal is going to be more premium than a guy, no matter how big for how cheap.
I’m not saying that you should always play Zektar Shrine Expedition, or that you should never play Quest for the Gravelord. I am merely saying that thinking of cards in absolutes as good or bad is damaging to your game, and the alternative is to envision how the games are going to play out and what effects your deck could use the most.
Finally, sideboarding is a very good opportunity to alter these mistakes after you get a feel for your deck. Also, against, say, removal-heavy decks, the Quest should probably come in, as even though it isn’t as good against a random deck, once you know what they are playing makes evaluating the value of your individual cards a lot easier. A lot of people take sideboarding in Limited for granted. Kenji used to say that if you aren’t drafting for your sideboard and boarding about 2 cards in a match, then you were almost definitely missing out on value. Don’t miss out on value.