Levelling Up – Ten Things I Hate About Magic

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Tiago has a couple of things he’d like to get off his chest. Today’s Levelling up takes us through ten aspects of Magic that really grind his gears. We all know Tiago as a rather happy fella, without a bad word to say about anyone. This time, he lets loose with both barrels. Mana screw, Magic Online, and even getting out of bed… nothing escapes his wrath. And everyone who’s missed a Pact trigger will understand what he’s saying…

I wanted to name this article “Ten Things I Hate About Magic, And What To Do To Stop Them Happening (Or At Least To Stop Them Bothering Us),” but that was obviously a little too long.

Don’t let the title fool you. I love Magic. It’s a great game, and it has given me many good things, which I try to repay. I’m not a grumpy person by nature, and I usually accept whatever decisions are made for Magic. Not only is there largely nothing I can do about such things, but I believe in those people whose job it is to improve the game. Yes, that includes decisions like Two-Headed Giant. But just like in real life, there are some things that annoy me. Some are little irrelevant things, others are not. To show you what I mean, I listed all the things I could come up with, and asked for the opinion of many Magic players about the things that bothered them the most.

Will any of them stop happening to us? Most unlikely. Will any of them stop annoying us? It depends on how much it bother us, and how we choose to react. In no particular order (since I wrote them down and shuffled them), here are the ten things I currently hate about Magic.

1- Future Sight Pacts

Thankfully, thus far I’ve never forgotten to pay for a Pact. I’m not sure what the rule is, since I’ve only played one Grand Prix with Future Sight, and in the few rounds I played before dropping no one in my match forgot to pay a Pact. However, the rule is very debatable from PTQ to PTQ. Among the players I questioned, there are two opinions on the matter. Some say that if you forget to pay for the Pact and move to your draw step, then you automatically lose the game. Others claim that it’s both players responsibility to maintain the game state, so if both players fail to notice immediately, but they’re still in the same turn, they simply rewind back to the Pact trigger. The most amazing thing is that no one ever calls a judge on this, because when a player forgets to pay for a Pact, he automatically scoops.

I will ask for the exact ruling off the Head Judge at Grand Prix: San Francisco just to be sure. I’ve read that the rules have changed, and they now allow you to put a “reminder object” close to (or on) your deck. This seems to indicate that you have to remember things or else face the consequences. If I’m honest, I don’t care what the rule is… I’ll accept what has been decided. What bothers me are the cards themselves, not the rules. I think the concept of the Pacts is not a good one: pay this later or else you lose, because sometimes it’s the only way one has to lose a game.

I recently watched a game where player A had a huge tremendous advantage over Player B. I would say it was impossible for Player B to win. Player A attacked with Shadowmage Infiltrator, suspended an Aeon Chronicler for three, played Slaughter Pact on Player B’s only creature, and passed. On his turn, Player B – who had done nothing relevant on the past turns, and was mana flooded, holding only one or two cards – thinks forever. He picks up his graveyard. He picks up his opponent’s graveyard, and then says go. Player A removes a counter from Chronicler, and draws a card from it. He draws another for his turn. Those of us who have suspended Aeon Chroniclers know what it’s like. Player B immediatly says, “hey there buddy, what about the Pact?” In my view, Player A should’ve won the game. Player B’s only chance was for Player A to forget to pay the Pact. If the rules say Player A loses, then so be it. But if the rules said that no one ever loses due to not paying Pacts, would you be happy if your opponent never paid the Pact on his upkeep and nothing happened? As I’ve said, I’m not against the rule (whatever it may be), I’m against the cards that create this situation, and the people who try to take advantage of it.

2- People who ask to borrow decks

I should be more specific. I like helping my friends prepare for their tournaments, and that includes giving them advice and lending them cards. I don’t like people that, tournament after tournament, ask to borrow a full deck with sideboard a few days before the event, already sleeved, and just show up the morning of the tournament with nothing. Should I bring a filled out decklist for them too?

I respect people who build their own decks, even if they need to proxy some stuff, and then try to find the cards they’re missing for their decks. I don’t like when people ask me to build decks for them on the assumption that, since I’m not playing, all my cards are available. First, if I’m not playing Regionals or PTQs, that means I currently don’t have any decks built for that format. Second, my cards are usually in decks for the upcoming Grand Prix and Pro Tour formats. Third, I don’t own all the cards, so they’re giving me the task of not only building the deck, but also finding the missing cards. Usually, if it isn’t one of my best friends who don’t play that much anymore who have sold their entire collection, I ignore such requests.

Pro Tour: Geneva was the first Pro Tour after Worlds, and since it was in Europe many Portuguese players attended for the Extended PTQs. One of them wanted to play Boros and asked me if I still had the Boros deck I played at Worlds. I still hadn’t unsleeved it, I just returned some cards I loaned to complete it. So this guy actually asked me to find those cards and bring the deck to him. At Geneva, he gets to look at the deck for the first time (that’s how lazy he was… he never even asked me what was in it, or checked the version on the Internet), and he starts saying how awful the deck is, saying it had too many creatures and he wanted more burn, Volcanic Hammers and Chars. I ignored him.

After the PTQs he hands me something like 45 sleeves and 60-something cards. As for the sleeves, they’re worn out since I had played with them at Worlds (and in countless playtest sessions for Grand Prix: Dallas), so judges asked him to replace them. He managed to lose half of them. As for the missing cards – around 10 out of 75 — he’d changed my deck and borrowed other cards, so he had no idea of the initial contents of the deck I gave him. He said he didn’t have any cards in his pockets or bag, so everything on the pile was mine. I had to rebuild the deck to see what was missing, and have him search around to get cards he’d accidently returned to other people.

3- Huge Grand Prix Tournaments

I consider a Grand Prix to be huge when it’s above 900 players, so it’s pretty much every European Grand Prix. If you start a Grand Prix 3-0, it’s the same play level when you start round 1 of a Pro Tour. It’s a tough field. But at Pro Tours, you have some breathing room for bad luck and bad pairings, since many times you can go 11-4 or 12-3-1. At huge Grand Prix tournaments, you have to go 13-2 or 12-2, drawing the last one. It’s getting harder and harder to Top 8 Grand Prix tourneys. Even the very best players, who used to regularly make Top 8 Grand Prix tournaments, are doing it less often nowadays.

Apart from that, I also dislike the problems in organization. Every round takes forever to finish, and starting a new one drags along. When time is called on the round, you have to wait for something like forty extra minutes until new pairings are up. And when that happens, in a 1000-player Grand Prix, there are something like ten pairing boards. But once you’re in Day 2, with a cut to 128 players, all of those pairing boards dissapear. Only one or two remain, so there’s still the same problems in checking them. Another thing that annoys me about Grand Prix tournaments is the reduced amount of sleep you have if you make Day 2. If Day 1 ends at 2am, and you have to been seated for Day 2 at 8am sharp… do the math. It’s even worse for judges, who have to leave the site at night after the players, and be there in the morning before them.

4- Being forced to wake up early for tournaments

I’ve already finish my studies, and right now my job is Magic. Even when I was studying, I had night classes because some of my teachers were working during the day. I graduated in Journalism, and most of my teachers in the final years were journalists, therefore they were working during the day. It was better to have a night class than a Saturday class, because Saturday is a kind of “Magic Day.” This means that in the past years I haven’t been waking up in the early hours of the morning (those night classes ended well past 11pm).

When I’m at home, I pretty much sleep on American time [I hear ya… — Craig, yawning]. When I go to Magic events in America, I’m never jet-lagged. I’m always bright in the morning, and going to bed at the exact time I’m used to. When I’m in Japan, it doesn’t matter because the time difference is so large that I need some time to adjust. But what really bothers me are Pro Tour and Grand Prix tournaments in Europe, where I have to wake up at 7am. Playing jet-lagged in my own timezone is something that annoys me.

5- Being 9th before the cut for Top 8

In Portugal, and all over the world, we have some characters we label as “Pro Whinners”. The’re not Pro Magic players… and they are so good at whining they could make a living out of it. Among their many repeated stories are the ones where they finished 9th, several times, and one Portuguese guy even calls himself “Master of 9th Place” because he’s finished 9th three or four times at PTQs or Trials. I have already finished 9th on tie-breakers on PTQs, in Grand Prixs, and in Pro Tours. In all those occasions I won my last match and had to hope my tie-breakers were good enough to help me in. At the Grand Prix, I tied with the 8th and some other guys below me. On the Pro Tour, I tied with the 7th and 8th plus the 10th and 11th placed finishers. Although I was a little disappointed at not making it, in one way I was happy because I had won my last match and therefore I had done everything I could to try to position myself there. That’s very different from those situations when two players are paired in the last round, standing on a X-1 score, and decide to draw without looking at the standings. Sometimes one makes it while the other doesn’t. If you ID into ninth place, then it’s well deserved and you shouldn’t complain.

One interesting story involves a Portuguese player that finished 9th at Nationals in 2005 and 2006. In 2005 he was already out of contention for Top 8. His opponent would make it in with a win, and asked for the concession, which was refused. That player won the match and ended the tournament in 9th place, on a clean cut for the Top 8, just like everyone else had told him before. In 2006, the same player, with two rounds to go, needs three points to secure a top 8 slot. He was paired up in the second to last round, and his opponent convinced him into drawing. The draw put his opponent locked for Top 8, and left him depending on several things. First, he needed to be paired against someone who wanted to draw in the last round, and he wasn’t guaranteed in the Top 8 with those two points. He took and Intentional Draw both rounds, and ironically, he finished ninth. If he choose to play in the second to last round, assuming he has a 50% chance of winning, then he actually had a 75% chance of making it. Going for the draw route, his chances decreased a lot. So the next time you finish in 9th place, think if you made the right move before you complain about it.

6- People who think they’re better players than they actually are

Let’s face it. Most competitive Magic players are incredible egocentrics. Some of them I can’t even share an elevator with, because there’s not enough room for the three of us (me, him, and his ego). My mom always told me that no one should ever praise or think highly of themselves… when you do that, it’s a sign that no one else does it. I compare it to when the soccer team I support (Sporting Lisbon/Club of Portugal) hires some cheap unknown player, and in the press conference he starts describing himself as a fast player, a good header of the ball, a restless fighter, a technically gifted player with both feet, aiming to score around fifteen goals over the season. Usually that’s all lies, and he’s gone to another club come the next season.

This shouldn’t bother me, as everyone is free to say or to think whatever they want, but these people never admit they made a mistake or played badly. There are many times when winning is not a valid argument to defend your plays as the best.

7- Portuguese Nationals

I hate Portuguese Nationals for several reasons. Most of them are due to bad organization year after year. I hate it because I believe it to have too many invites. We have close to 200 invited players, and last year it was larger than any other Nationals (I checked on the sideboard coverage). This is due to all Nationals Qualifiers awarding slots for all the Top 8, including those with thirteen players. Despite having such a huge attendance, we only play twelve rounds, while others play fourteen. I would say more rounds equals less variance, and more players equals bigger variance, so if you add more players you should probably add more rounds.

Like I said before, I accept whatever is decided as long as chances are equal for everyone. But there are many more things that annoy me about this tournament. For example, Portuguese Nationals is the biggest tournament of the year in my coutnry, since we rarely have Grand Prix tournaments (we had one in 2000, another in 2002, and the last one in 2005). And Portuguese Nationals doesn’t award anything, while almost every other National Championship in the World award cash, and everyone else is fine with that.

Then we have the multiple organization mistakes that happen year after year. One time, at Portuguese Nats, we had to play at our local store. It was so funny, because the store only had room for one hundred and something players, so no one else except Judges and competitors were allowed inside. During Top 8, they expelled everyone from the site because it was past the closing hours, and if the police came there would be big trouble. Another time, also at Portuguese Nats, there were no English or Portuguese packs for us to draft. There were no more in stock, so they had to get them from Spain… but they were in Spanish. It was so funny, because some of us couldn’t read them and had to draft based on the pictures. Another time, again at Portuguese Nats, some guy won the whole thing… and won a T-shirt, a pen, and a handshake. That’s not quite so funny.

This year, there are rumours we’ll be drafting Tenth/Tenth/Tenth because there are loads of cases of Tenth that weren’t sold, and they’re out of Future Sight packs. I hate Portuguese Nationals…

8 – Magic Online (in parts)

As a professional player, I have to use Magic Online or else I’ll fall too far behind the rest of the pack… but it doesn’t mean I love it. Actually, I don’t hate Magic Online. I love playing Magic, but there are some minor things that annoy me, like misclicks, the secondary market, queues that take thirty minutes to fill, people who keep joining and exiting queues, timing out due to Urza’s Factory and Urborg, and people who try to time me out just because my computer has 256 MB memory and MTGO runs slowly. And rude people who act like idiots… but that’s not a problem of Magic Online, it’s a problem created by the anonimity on the Internet. The unbalanced pack distribution, which makes Future Sight packs worth virtually nothing, also annoys me. I also hate losing to bugs, and it annoys me when the server crashes.

9 – Needless cliques

I was born in Lisbon, where I spent my childhood. I moved to a small town after elementary school. At first I didn’t know anyone, but after a couple of years I already knew everyone in the school, both younger and older children, by their first name, and I also people from other nearby schools. I moved back into Lisbon in my senior year of High School, and found a different reality. The school population wasn’t a single body. It was split into sub-groups who didn’t talk to each others. I felt very out of place, and I didn’t fit into any group. If I remember correctly, the main cliques were the “sons of good families” group, the “computer related stuff” group, the “people who played instruments and were in a band” group, and so on. Eventually I found myself with the slackers, people who had no problem skipping classes to play snooker or pool, usually hanging out at some bar outside the school just goofing around. I didn’t felt accepted anywhere else, and the slackers were kind of outside the established school hierarchy.

While I can understand this happening in a public school, I don’t see any reason why this should happen inside the Magic community. Of course, at a Pro Tour, it’s more likely to see the Portuguese with the Portugues speaking players, the Japanese with the Japanese, and so on, according to nationality, because of easier communication. But other than that, there shouldn’t be any gap between Magic players. After all, we’re part of the same community – we love the game with the same passion, albeit from different angles.

10 – Mana screw / mana flood

When I was asking others about the things they hated the most about Magic, unsurprisingly, this was the first answer everyone came up with. Lots of things have been said and written about mana problems. I think many players play with too few lands in their decks, Every time someone hands me a decklist to try, I feel the need to add a land, which is the best way to fight mana screw. It may increase your chances of getting flooded, but there are cards to prevent mana flood, like Compulsive Research and Careful Consideration, or Rakdos Guildmage in aggro decks.

I believe that in order to make the correct sideboard changes, you need to be able to change the number of lands in your deck, either by having one extra in the sideboard or by having one extra in your main deck, to board it in or out according to matchup needs. Every time I’m torn between using X lands or X+1 lands, if I choose the X land configuration I’ll have one land in my sideboard, which is a concept many people can’t understand. The same applies for the 18th land in Limited. Many times, that extra land will be better than the 15th card in the sideboard, or the 23rd card in your Limited deck.

Those are the things that currently annoy me in Magic. Some of them might be the same as yours, while others won’t. Maybe you too have your own things that bother you, so feel free to share them. By exposing them in a constructive way, and thinking how to prevent them or how to react, you may find a solution to solve them. Keep in mind that, despite everything I’ve written, I wasn’t attacking anyone. I intended for this article to be written in good spirits.

Don’t worry… I still love to play Magic. And I’m sure you do too.

Thank you for reading,