The initial intent of this article was that it would be composed absent flagrant namedropping and savage barning. This proved impossible, so be forewarned.
My plan is to talk about “playskill:” what it is, how it manifests itself throughout the course of the game, and how different aspects of skill (or lack thereof) can impact a person’s ability to do well at competitive Magic.
I was actually inspired to start talking about the subject courtesy of a forum thread here at StarCityGames.com. Bennie Smith wrote a solid article about Split Second a few weeks back, and to my surprise a flurry of impassioned pleas both for and against the mechanic erupted to a degree that I hadn’t seen before. I happen to be a strong proponent of Split Second, as I am of Time Spiral’s mechanics and flavor in general, but in the course of examining the arguments I realized that many people have a mistaken – or at least limited – idea of what play skill actually is.
Before I get to that, though, I’d be slacking if I didn’t at least mention some of the things I learned at Pro Tour: Kobe, and some of the experiences I lived. Man, there were some good stories. SAHN-CHEZ. But it was also a very interesting tournament because of the degree to which knowledge evolved over the course of the weekend. For instance, a few of the biggies:
– One mana suspend spells are basically all insane regardless of their text. Yep, take that Deepwalker, because he’s not tabling. And don’t get me started on Big Gargadonsies.
– You’re not getting Fortify later than fifth.
– Mana Curve is that important
– It is that amazing to mise an exit row seat on the Dallas/Osaka flight only to realize you’re on a plane with PV, Billy, Paul, and Luis, and that consequently you can draft the entire time.
There are two or three more specific things I’d like to mention about Time Spiral before moving on.
In any sizable Limited tournament, I would wager that you’ll win or lose at least one match due to proper or improper sideboarding. There are a whole lot of cards that are just nuts out of the board, and knowing what they are can give you a decisive tactical advantage. A few of my particular favorites, beyond the obvious “bring in Molder against artifacts and enchantments colon b!!!1derf.”
This card is just great in Green mirror matches, where it’s very likely that someone’s going to have to alpha strike for the win. Tim Galbiati squeaked out a narrow victory over Katsuhiro Mori with this one, and it was literally the only card in the format that could do the job.
Man, is this a hot one. I had absolutely, positively no respect for the card until I lost game one of my first pod from twenty life, to it and nothing else. I was absolutely blowing my opponent out with sick bombs and a bunch of two-for-ones, but I sure took 21 to the face when an ill-timed Funeral Charm from me led to the Coal Stoker/Ignite for three/hit my Errant Ephemeron three times combination. I learned my lesson, and boarded it in against a G/W deck with two Thrill of the Hunts and a cornucopia of fatties. Oh, double combat trick blow out my team? I’ll eighteen you, thanks.
There are some decks with infinite 2/1 creatures. This guy is obviously good against those, and gives you something constructive to do with your Dream Stalker (who is a very fine man, by the way) on turn 2.
This card probably ought to be in your maindeck anyway, as it actually does everything, but I’ll go ahead and state that it’s led to some of the biggest blowouts I’ve ever seen in my life. Like, play it on a Pirate Ship, counter your Strangling Soot, and hold off Stronghold Overseer. I don’t know how that must have felt, but whoever is currently hooking up with Keira Knightley can probably tell me, since I’m sure it’s a similar feeling.
Cards I love
(Whether or not pointing them out is terribly obvious.)
I’m of the opinion that this guy is the fourth-best common in the set, behind Strangling Soot, Errant Ephemeron, and Rift Bolt. Yes, he’s better than Lightning Axe. There are so many decks that pack it to this card – namely, almost every deck in the format – that it can literally win the game by itself in a fashion normally reserved for bomb rares. Those of you who played during Apocalypse remember just how ridiculous the Penumbra mechanic was, and it’s even more obscene on something that’s so difficult to kill in the first place. Also, as a bonus, the dead version of this guy blocks Corpulent Corpse. Must be nice in G/W decks. Temporal Isolation is honestly the only good common answer to Biggie Webs, and there are a lot of clever ways around that card.
I was taking so much flak for running this guy, and I don’t really understand why. I actually take him very highly. I can’t recall off the top of my head any three-mana two-power creature with evasion that was ever bad, unless it had some kind of heinous drawback. Plus, it’s flying in Red, a color that rarely has it. Yeah, it costs one mana to Jump it. So did Morphling*.
The boy is also very good in concert with…
This man is just a stone blowout. When you cast him, it’s like having suspended a Lotus Bloom on turn 1. This format is so tempo-oriented anyway that you might as well be Time Walking. It doesn’t hurt that between Buzzardiers, Flowstone Channeler, Blazing Blade Askari, Orcish Cannonade, Empty the Warrens, some nuts Timeshifted cards, and Morph creatures, you’ll always have something completely unfair to do with this guy. My favorite, of course, is Undying Rage.
I played more of these at the Pro Tour than any other card. You won’t meet an individual who likes casting guys on turn 2 more than me, and God forbid you start chaining these. I hear that’s actually illegal in some municipalities.
Everything I know about Magic says this card should be bad, because it’s basically the most circumstantial spell known to man. But honestly, every time your opponent has something Suspended and you don’t, unless the board is heavily in your favor you’re probably just going to lose. That’s largely because there’s no way to deal with Suspended spells that doesn’t cost you tempo – except for this. It’s also removal – kind of – in White, which is something to pay attention to in a world of Ephemerons and Baloths. Sure, it’s also cute with flashback.
I’m sure this is out of the bag already, but this little gem is one of the best commons in the set. Just warning you.
Cards that make me want to cook my own organs and sell them to players in the Kobe Lounge who are sick of trapezoidal fish and old donuts
I don’t really understand why so many people windmill slam this into their playables pile without a second thought. Sure, sometimes it makes decks. But – especially with Snapback in the format – it’s really a rare occasion that you need this effect. It’s hard to gain tempo with this card, and bounce inherently puts you down cards. On the other hand, if you’re using it aggressively, Temporal Eddy is just leagues better.
This card is so bad in Limited. Now, Chris Fennell likes it, and I genuinely respect his opinion. But… land destruction is bad in Limited. Four mana 2/2s are bad in Limited. Echo is bad in Limited. I don’t really understand why putting all of these bad effects onto one card all of the sudden makes it not only playable, but desirable.
I saw two different people running this card, and I just sat and scratched my head the entire time. I still don’t understand what it actually does. I mean, I have read the card, I can tell you the text and how it interacts with the game state. But when I include a card in my Limited deck, I do so under the assumption that it will do something to assist me in winning. Then you get to this card, and you realize that three turns after you’ve spent four mana to suspend it, you’ve managed to destroy one whole land. Man, what a blowout. Call Rosewater, boys, it’s time for emergency errata.
Just some tidbits here and there. As for Time Spiral draft in general, all I have to say is that you should always be looking to be as aggressive as possible. There aren’t any Horned Turtles to give Blue decks good ways to stall the ground, so any control deck you face is going to have to rely on Spiders, Gorgons, or tons of removal to keep itself alive. What I’ve started to see, though, is a tendency for decks that would formally assume the control role to race instead. Suspend makes this a very realistic possibility, especially with Morphs and giant common fliers. The pendulum has the potential to swing wildly after one key turn.
What this translates to is a format where if you miss your two-drop, it’s moderately likely that you’ll lose. If you miss a three-drop, you’re probably going to lose, and if you’re on the draw you might as well go ahead and sign the match sheet barring something dumb like Sulfurous Blast.
Of course, I am a little biased, as I did play exclusively dumb aggro decks featuring dumb cards like Sangrophage and Skulking Knight (insane) for four out of my five pods. Every pod I drafted that deck, though, I 2-1ed. When I deviated, I 1-2ed, and my win was a concession from Tim Aten who was being a genuinely good man and trying to help me qualify for Geneva (fortunately, I’m there on rating — I think!).
The 1-2 is of course worse because my opponent offered me the draw when I was down a game, and I declined. “Bummer.”
None of my teams lost a “casual side draft” on the weekend, either, so I’d like to think that the “be real aggressive” strategy has been working reasonably well. I mean, to be fair, I teamed with Tim Aten something ridiculous like five times, and when I was not with him I was either with Paul and Luis or Scheel and Cheeks. Those guys can draft their booster packs. On the other hand, though, I did do three drafts with Evan Dean, so it all balances out in the end.
I also rip Disintegrate like a champ.
Aside on Paul and Luis: Anybody who is talking shit about the U.S. National Team needs to watch these guys play. Sure, this wasn’t their best Pro Tour – though they did win some Kobe Beef, mmm – but they are very good. Lundquist is obviously a “nice one” as well. All I’m saying is that I’ll have my money on these guys for Worlds, even though I know exactly how good the Dutch are this year.
Okay, that proved to be a lot longer than expected. I’ll be back for Round Two, when I actually dive into the playskill waters, very shortly. I’m excited to talk about it because “what makes a Magic Player good?” is just such a difficult question to answer. At the same time, well, it’s obviously one of the most important issues I could possibly address!
Won’t be too long. I promise.
* This might be one of the poorest arguments ever constructed, but hey.