Magic University: Tempo is Really Interesting

Personally, I think that Tempo is probably the topic in which I am most interested as far as Magic theory goes, and I am always trying to apply Tempo and Tempo-related ideas to my actual play. But what is tempo? It seems to me that Tempo is kind of like pornography. Much as you would like, you can’t quite put your finger in it… but you sure know it when you see it.

Magic University: Tempo is Really Interesting

… but it’s hard to understand.

Personally, I think that Tempo is probably the topic in which I am most interested as far as Magic theory goes, and I am always trying to apply Tempo and Tempo-related ideas to my actual play. But what is tempo? It seems to me that Tempo is kind of like pornography. Much as you would like, you can’t quite put your finger in it… but you sure know it when you see it.

Speaking of pornography, here is a pwetty picture that the Rabbit sent me that I sent the editor: Fa-reaky on Fa-riday.

All right. Truth time. That’s not the picture. I had to run it through Photoshop so prudish editors Knut and Ferrett would run it. Send hate mail to Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2. [Like I need any extra hate mail after the banning article. – Knut]

Speaking of Lindsay Lohan, Osyp and I agreed that she is better than Hillary Duff, who seems a little wide. Not fat, clearly, just wide, like a square rather than a rectangle.

Anyway, my own conception of Tempo comes from Mirage block, when Flank Knights ruled the draft tables and the Dickheads started playing too few lands and taking Mtenda Herders over Kaervek’s Torches. Other players would have more powerful cards – anything from a gigantic Giant Mantis to an even more gigantic Canopy Dragon – but would be invariably demolished by Dickhead drafting and careful allocation and measurement.

To understand where this conception comes from, you have to understand the resource war of 1997. Think to the resource war that you understand today, that of Skullclamp. Now turn back the clock about seven years. In 1997, no one knew how to draft or play sealed deck; no one but a couple of Canadians and the Dickheads, that is. To give you an example, Worth Wollpert, eventual PT gravy trainer (not to mention my trainer) was telling me to play forty-two cards and sixteen lands or something awful like that… And Winning Ptqs With Ease using this build model. altran and I were fairly unstoppable in our local area playing with twenty-land sealed decks, and Stormbind was considered to that point the best Limited card of all time (Brian Schneider, arguably the greatest deck designer of all time, would a year or two later tell me that he thought Stormbind was only marginally good in Limited, ever). To give you a little perspective, I Was Also Winning a PTQ or so using some seriously awful theories. That’s how bad people were at Limited.

Now in 1997 the resource war was about Tempo, so it makes sense that Limited fighting from this era is the model from where I get my idea of the concept. The baseline unit of measurement was the Flank Knight. Examples of the Flank Knight are Cadaverous Knight and Burning Shield Askari, but there were a ton of different ones in almost all of the colors (even Green had one, but it was a Centaur rather than a Knight). Almost every Flank Knight was a 2/2 for three mana and had Flanking and one other ability. Flanking is a ridiculously difficult mechanic to understand that says that if you smash with a Flank Knight, any creature blocking it will get -1/-1 if it itself doesn’t have Flanking. Back then, that meant that Rainbow Efreet could never properly block a Flank Knight, one trillion Deadly Insects would all be killed by a single Flank Knight before ever getting to combat, and that Flank Knights in general stomped around with much bigger shoes than your average Grey Ogre 2/2 for three.

The secondary unit of measurement was the Hill Giant. I will not go into details about what a Hill Giant is, but suffice it to say, if your three drop is tearing up their four drop, you probably have three (if not four) mana ready to tap again and they are bereft of a four drop… i.e. that is a good trade for you.

As I said, the Dickheads were the uncontested masters of Limited in 1997; their draft strategy can be summed up as taking the cheapest Flank Knights possible, following up with Man-o’-Wars and Undos or some burn spells and attacking with everything every turn, only peppering occasionally with non-Flank Knight spells, until their opponents were dead. Fallen Askari was the king of what Hacker called the”Sacred Cows of Black and Blue,” followed closely by his good friend Man-o’-War.

Now imagine you live in a universe where it is right to over-emphasize the 2/2 element of your deck and smash every turn. The fundamental turn is going to be turn 3, when the first Flank Knight comes online. Obviously going first is going to be a huge advantage because you will be able to send your Flank Knight into the opponent’s Flank Knight first… it’s kind of like a morph fight, but with fewer surprises. Because you might be able to give your Flank Knight first strike or regenerate it (or today, phase it out after stacking the damage), your opponent is typically not going to be in a great position blocking (See? I told you it was like a morph fight!). So he will just take two and you will miss your fourth land drop (you are only playing sixteen), but follow up with some other 2/2.

Now what if your Flank Knight costs two? This is the power of Fallen Askari. Nobody wants to mess with him. Trading with Fallen Askari is like wasting your last twenty bucks on a lap dance from a fat stripper. Sure, technically you got a lap dance and technically a lap dance costs twenty bones regardless of how much the stripper weighs, so technically you got a one-for-one and traded your 2/2 Flank Knight for his 2/2 Flank Knight, but when Fallen Askari trades with almost any other Flank Knight, the guy who spent three mana got a raw deal.

Mana is like cards. You want to trade less of it for more of the other guy’s. When you play a Barter in Blood and kill two of your opponent’s valuable creatures for just one sorcery, you are up a card. You have more options, because you have more cards with which to deal with his remaining cards, of which he has one fewer via this relative exchange. Every single person reading this article probably understands this.

Similarly, when you trade a lower costed card for a more expensive card, you are similarly rewarded. That Fallen Askari might get a couple of beats in, generating utility for you, and then trade with a full grown Hill Giant down the line. Man oh man is that a sweet deal for the Black mage. Need a more up-to-date example? The opponent taps out for a huge Fireball or spends his Urzatron on a”game ending” Mindslaver. You casually tap two mana for a Gilded Light – stealing his entire turn – and leaving yourself a ton of options for the rest of your mana. Maybe you tapped eight of your own on your main phase for Akroma, Angel of Wrath. Maybe it is held in reserve for Pulse of the Fields or a cycled Decree of Justice. What really matters is that because you traded a minutely costed Gilded Light for a ridiculously costed Fireball or Mindslaver, you had mana left over to forward your own agenda while simultaneously trading with the opponent’s threat card.

Have you ever had that feeling? You know the one I am talking about. All you did was run a one-for-one trade, but now you know your opponent’s plan is ruined. Why? You ask. All I did was run a one-for-one. Many times, especially when you are trading lower-costed answers for expensive yet powerful threats, the answer is Tempo.

Maybe the most concrete answer I can think of was Kai’s Chicago (okay, okay, Kai’s Rebel Chicago), where Kibs ran the Red Zone. Fires of Yavimaya was probably the most popular archetype and young Kibs, sneaking in on the last ratings-based invite, played a Fires-like – but Fires-bereft – base Green fatty deck. If his opponents were all attacking with haste (yes, yes, we’ll get to that) and out-classing his symmetrical Armageddons with Saproling Bursts, how did Brian win? The answer in large part was Tempo.

Given an even game, on his four mana turn, Kibs could lead with a Blastoderm with no haste to match (or be matched by) the opponent’s 5/5. Because the opponent probably had Fires of Yavimaya and Kibler had”only” a Chimeric Idol, dollars to doughnuts he traded. Now Kibs plays a Jade Leech (or maybe he played them in reverse order, who knows?) and sends his Idol into hostile territory. Now the opponent sees victory, lays his fifth mana and runs a Saproling Burst, places it lovingly next to his Fires of Yavimaya (probably drooling all over both cards with some pseudosexual Green enchantment predilection), and proclaims”The Fix is in!”

Brian calmly hits the Burst with a Wax/Wane with his one reserve mana, as the stunned Fires player’s jaw hits the table.”Is that all?” he might ask from behind a set of vampire fangs, possibly sucking some sort of candy necklace suspended above his tie-dyed shirt.

Now whether or not Brian has the Armageddon becomes irrelevant. He probably has a 3/3 and 5/5 to bagel advantage on the table. Armageddon, that symmetrical stains, will unconditionally the game… but if I know the Dragonmaster, he has something else, something somehow both more and less dramatic – but infinitely greedier – planned for this particular turn with a potential six mana.

As far as I understand it, that right there is half of everything you need to know about Tempo. More accurately, it is at least half of everything that I know about the same.

So on the subject of haste, Suq’Ata Lancer was among the most desirable Flank Knights to have. Though all the Flank Knights but Fallen Askari (which had a drawback) had an additional special ability, Suq’Ata Lancer’s was the most practical in the early game. Going first, it could attack uncontested and going second, it could run into the opponent’s Flank Knight without any fear of first strike, phasing, or regeneration shenanigans. Was it as good as Fallen Askari? No. Cards that cost three are not as good as cards that cost two for the same thing. Was it overall a very good tempo card? Definitely.

Suq’Ata Lancer advanced a player’s proactive board development plan in a mana efficient way. It stifled the opponent’s options at least in the very short term and got the beats on, which was very very important in this Tempo-based format.

But what about ye olde second half of everything I know about Tempo? For that element, look no further than Hacker’s second Sacred Cow: Man-o’-War. Man-o’-War was basically the most ridiculous beatdown available in the arena of fighting Flank Knights (despite its lack of Flanking). Why? In a world of Flank Knights, Man-o’-War is like Hesh Rabkin on the Sopranos. Being Jewish (or lacking Flanking) he can never be a made man (i.e. a Flank Knight), but is still an important part of the crew. He’s the same size and he’s the same cost so he fits right in… even though he doesn’t quite fit exactly. Man-o’-War was great because he reversed the utility that a mana efficient card like Fallen Askari or Suq’Ata Lancer would provide for you, and put that burden back on your opponent.

Look at what Man-o’-War does going second. Damn it. I’m going second. He’s got a Flank Knight first. How awful for me. All I can do is run my Flank Knight and he’ll attack me and there will be no good trade for me. What’s this? Is it a Man-o’-War? I’ll run that instead. Look! His Flank Knight is back in the grip! He’s grumbling grumbling. Now he’s re-playing his Flank Knight (it doesn’t matter if he missed his land drop or not – though to be honest he probably did – even if he hit four, he probably had a fist full of Flank Knights).

What’s this? I can Attack Him? But my Man-o’-War doesn’t even have Flanking! What’s that, you say? Flanking is only useful on offense (unless, of course, you are being Attacked by a creature with Flanking – I told you it was messy)? Then if he blocks, he basically lost a turn? What’s that? I can now advance my own next play and he will be behind on the board? Wow. What a good card this Man-o’-War is!

Man-o’-War actually ended up being a Constructed creature on the order of Wild Mongrel for its era; like Wild Mongrel, it took us far too long to figure out how good it actually was.

As far as I can tell, everything you need to know about Tempo can be extrapolated from the Sacred Cows Fallen Askari and Man-o’-War. The less you pay for something in terms of relative mana, the more Tempo you have (all things held equal, of course). The more you make the opponent pay for something (like six mana for a Flank Knight), the worse off his development, the less Tempo he has.

But why does any of this matter? The answer to that is similarly buried in the resource war of 1997. By now it should be clear to you (if you weren’t playing back then) that this was a beatdown format. You played your guys, hoped not to draw too much land, and attacked Attacked Attacked. If you couldn’t get Black and Blue, Red was the best support color (to either) because you could finish with a Torch or something similar, not to mention the supplemental excellence of Suq’Ata Lancer at your common three slot, and the large number of available Hill Giants to fill out your post-Flank Knight curve (should you ever hit your four, of course).

Tempo is all about time.

In almost every game, time is the limiting factor to establish your game. If you take too much time to develop and you never do: your opponent just kills you. If you spend two mana to play a threat for which your opponent is spending three mana for essentially the same thing, you can develop more. You can develop a turn faster.

But why does this matter? Why is it good to push an essentially equal threat that costs two mana in to one that costs three? If the opponent doesn’t answer, that two-drop is going to do some chomping. At some point, you get chomped twenty times – or get pulled into the range of something with longer teeth – and stop playing the game.

Why is it good to make the opponent re-play a creature? Sometimes it’s not. You don’t see a whole lot of Regresses used for creature control. But when attached to a Man-o’-War, a Boomerang effect allows you to simultaneously develop your own plan while setting back the opponent’s. When you make him spend three mana and another three mana for his first threat, you can attack without hesitation: You, my friend, have already got two guys of the same size already on the board. At some point, he will have to answer your cards. He has limited land due to limited land drops due to limited time to do that answering. If he gets into trades where his six mana 2/2 trades with your three or even two mana 2/2, you are going to be able to lock and load the next threat while he is still back scrambling for his first (again). At some point, if he doesn’t get into trades against your superior Tempo, he is going to run out of life points and he will not longer have the option.

That’s the advantage of Tempo.

Card advantage is nice, but when you’ve got the Tempo, you dictate the terms of the game. I like to talk about situations where you generate so much Tempo that you have such overwhelming virtual card advantage that your opponent can never win. Look at a game from Constructed Magic from this same era. Two of the most popular decks in Mirage Block Constructed were mono-Red beatdown and U/w creature-based control. Look at how lopsided a game can be based on Tempo.

Goblins going first:

R1: I got nothin’.

U1: I got nothin’.

R2: Goblin Elite Infantry.

U2: Still nothin.

R3: Viashino Sandstalker. Smash for six.

U3: Ouch. I’m on fourteen. You’ve sure got a lot of Tempo. Man-o’-War your Goblin Elite Infantry.

R4: What a poor decision you were trapped into! Re-play Goblin Elite Infantry. Wait a minute…

U4: Hazerider Drake. What happened to your Tempo?

R5: I better draw a lot of Fireblasts.

Blue first:

U1: I got nothin’.

R1: Same.

U2: Go.

R2: Goblin Elite Infantry.

U2: Memory Lapse that.

R2: How sickening.

U3: Ophidian.

R3: Miss my land drop due to Memory Lapse. Re-play Goblin Elite Infantry.

U4: Send.

R4: This is not going to be good, is it?

U4: Draw. How revolting… for you. I could Man-o’-War your Goblin, but what’s the point, really? Ophidian.

R4: Well, I’ve got to do something. Hammer the Ophidian.

U4: Disrupt. Draw again.

Much as Masques Block was single-mindedly about controlling the board, whether it was by Rebel advantage, limiting mana with Rising Waters, or playing twelve Dark Banishings, Mirage Block was about controlling time. All the best decks – the Natural decks anyway – were about creating an imbalance in Tempo development. Memory Lapse became, for the first time, a tournament staple because of both its primary effect of forcing the opponent to re-play his previous turn, and the incidental ability of making him many times miss his next land drop. Man-o’-War, as we have seen over and over again, did the same thing. Though it did not actually generate card advantage, the mighty Boomerang Bears would make the opponent take the same turn a second time. It was during this era that everything became a Time Walk. Boomerang… undo your first land drop and make you discard, Time Walk you. Memory Lapse… make you draw the same garbage again, Time Walk you. Man-o’-War… make you take the same turn again, Time Walk you. Hazerider Drake… invalidate your Red men attack (and since attacking is all that matters, Time Walk you). Abeyance… actually Time Walk you… draw a card.

The Red decks would try to constrict time via haste and efficient burn. They made Suq’Ata Lancer redundant by pairing it with Viashino Sandstalker. They added Incinerate to clear away blockers while playing another cheap creature. They, for the most part, were not as good at controlling time as the Blue decks.

Now think of a fight between a modern Ravager Affinity deck and Goblin Bidding deck. In essence, this matchup is also about Tempo development. Whichever player is able to develop his board wins. Goblin Bidding has Inevitability… if it can trade Trade Trade into a huge Patriarch’s Bidding, victory is assured for the Goblin deck. But because of constraints in Tempo, the games don’t usually allow for this kind of win.

Initially, I thought that Goblins would be heavily favored. Affinity’s card advantage hinged on Skullclamp with only a little help from Thoughtcast, whereas the Goblins also had Skullclamp, but additionally had the incredible power of Sparksmith and Goblin Sharpshooter. But Affinity is generally favored. Why?

Goblins, focused and robust as they are, are still bound by time. They have to spend two for their Sparksmith and three for their Sharpshooter (assuming they’ve made their relevant drops on the relevant turns), and wait another turn before these cards come online. Affinity can play out its hand. Almost always. Affinity can sometimes have a poor color draw, but the mechanic itself says that the hand will hit play. Are Affinity’s cards all that amazing once they are out? Frankly, no. They have twenty guys, the vast majority of which are 1/1 creatures, some of which have no remarkable abilities…

But. They. Hit. Play.

It’s just like a fight between a Fallen Askari and a Teferi’s Honor Guard. Pick a creature. Which one is better? Teferi’s Honor Guard is absolutely amazing. I run it quite often in Mental Magic. It is about five thousand times better than Fallen Askari once it is out… and you have ample mana. When I run this card in Mental Magic, I do so only if I have five or more lands. Fallen Askari doesn’t ask for anything. He says”Put me in, coach,” and hits the board on turn 2. He will selflessly and courageously ram straight into any three-drop the opponent wants to play. Arcbound Worker and Frogmite are like that. They aren’t fancy like Goblin Sharpshooter or Siege-Gang Commander. They come online in the first turns and start hitting and don’t ask for any help… In fact, they help bring down the old Myr Enforcer a turn early and make Arcbound Ravager look really good when he starts playing to the crowd. But these kids know their time is limited. They plan to get in there, to make the most of it, before becoming Skullclamp food.

At some point the sheer number of unremarkable permanents in play (and a copy or two of the very good permanents, of course) creates an avalanche that can overwhelm even a board control conscious Goblin Bidding deck. The quick development of the Affinity player works exactly the same way as the quick development of a B/R Flank Knight draft deck. Run out some guys. Attack with them. No, no, the opponent won’t block. Doesn’t he know what’s going to happen to this +1/+1 counter? All of a sudden, it’s like 1997 with a Fallen Askari and a Suq’Ata Lancer softening up a ponderous Green deck. It doesn’t matter any more that the opponent has a Crash of Rhinos out, or a 6/5 four winged Dragon Legend for that matter. Your fast development in the early game will allow you to toss your Red spell directly at the head, whether that is a Volcanic Geyser, Kaervek’s Torch, a freshly cast Disciple of the Vault, or a pair of Shrapnel Blasts.

That’s the power of Tempo. You use your mana. You use your mana to do more stuff, and faster, than he does with his mana. You develop your board. You attack more, and earlier. You take away his options. You laugh at his better spells. You kill him.

Now here’s the thing about Tempo: It’s really easy to out-think yourself and screw up. Because I want to use my mana efficiently, it is anathema to me to leave leftover mana if I can help it. Unspent mana is wasted mana. It’s mana that is making the other guy laugh at me.”Nice curve,” he is probably thinking as I play my Grizzly Bears on turn 3. It’s like I paid Grey Ogre prices for that guy.

So you want to tap all your mana every turn. It’s just better, all things considered.

So I’m sitting undefeated at Regionals last week (3-0, not a big deal), and, after dispatching a B/G Cemetery Cloud deck and a pair of Ravagers, I was deep in Game One against Tooth and Nail. I drew a lot of Wing Shards and was way ahead due to constant Eternal Dragon recursion. Three times already I had bought back a Pulse of the Fields in concert with taking out two creatures – five of them Darksteel Collossi. So there I am at twelve mana. My opponent’s board is almost barren, with a Vine Trellis and a Solemn Simulacrum.”I’ve got to tap all my mana,” I think. For some reason I play Wrath of God before playing and smashing with the Angel of Wrath.

What was I thinking?

So obviously my opponent had to Wrath me or lose, meaning my Wrath was utterly meaningless (besides the fact that I had wasted it, of course, which has a great deal of meaning in terms of being the right play). Worse yet, he played Decree of Justice two turns later, and I was without the Wrath. I could have won that match 2-0; instead I didn’t. There are a lot of ways to make mistakes. Usually, even when a player makes a wrong play, he has some sort of justification for it. Just like when you waste your first pick on a meaningless two-for-one of the opponent’s irrelevant Myr, the best I can come up with this time around is”I wanted to tap all my mana.”

Much like with card advantage, sometimes seeking Tempo advantage is not the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to let the opponent have the Tempo in the short terms so that you can catch him with a big Akroma’s Vengeance or pull him deeper and deeper with a Pulse of the Fields as you slowly snatch his Tempo away.

As I said originally, Tempo is really interesting, but also notoriously slippery and hard to handle (but would we have Magic’s element of speed any other way?). I don’t think I’ve ever found an exact definition that I liked in any article. It seems to me that Tempo is a quality that you can have, like the initiative, priority, or Inevitability, and that it can slip away. You seize Tempo by developing your board, using your mana, and advancing your proactive strategy. Because defensive control decks often have few if any non-land permanents, sit back on untapped mana, and never start attacking before they have their opponent’s hopelessly buried in card advantage, it should make sense that none of the above generally apply to a Draw-Go or Counter-Post deck, at least until the late game.

Tempo is used to leverage time. Skillfully seizing and holding onto Tempo will take turns away from your opponent and can even generate card advantage; suppressing the opponent’s efforts in advancing Tempo can buy you the turns you need to execute on your Inevitability: very often, the successful beatdown deck will shut the door on its opponent just one turn before that player seized control of the game with a powerful control effect.

Look at Eric Taylor’s classic example: If I curve out with an Ironclaw Orcs, Suq’Ata Lancer, and Lava Hounds, and you answer with a Wrath of God, you have done much more than just netting a three-for-one on me. You have stolen a lot of my momentum. My game as a beatdown player was there, on the board. I spent nine mana on trying to kill you – and let’s be honest, Mr. Tapped Out White Mage, your life total can’t be lookin’ much higher than eight – but you spent just four mana and one card to undo my development on the board. Now if I am a very good Red mage, I am holding a Fireblast and a pair of Incinerates, so my early game Tempo is going to be able to overcome your powerful play, but if I am just a turn shy, it means that your sweeping sorcery, your 3-for-1/4-for-9 got me on the numbers, and that you are going to follow up with a Gerrard’s Wisdom that hits me for another four-for-nine and all of a sudden you are the guy with all the Tempo (whether or not you actually want it), which anyone can clearly see, given the fact that it’s you who have all the tapped mana and I’m the guy sitting on my hands doing nothing, no better than a Tempo-free control player.

The last thing I want to say about Tempo I have already touched upon with the previous examples. Especially as we think of Tempo as a quality belonging to the beatdown deck (just as, ideally, card advantage is a good espoused by the control player), the goal of Tempo, the reason we tap all our mana if we can, and the purpose of sending our little 2/2 creatures perilously into the Red Zone, is to reduce our opponents’ life totals to zero. That is – and as recently joined Star City columnist Chad Ellis would remind us – Tempo is not just measured by how we utilize our mana in relation to how our opponents do: it is also a function of life total manipulation. We don’t curve out just because it is good to curve out: hitting a perfect mana curve up until the fundamental turn is good because it means we are advancing our proactive beatdown strategy: the opponent is getting knocked around, and we can see exactly how badly by the position of his die or the scratches on his note paper.

Life gain, therefore, also has a significant effect on Tempo. The most concrete example I can think of in the current environment is a fight between an White control deck and a Cemetery Cloud deck. In my experience, the White control deck should let the Cemetery Cloud deck do whatever the hell it wants in terms of threat development. Let them lay out every Rotlung Reanimator and Ravenous Baloth that they will (card advantage, on the other hand, has to be managed meticulously… don’t let them get Oversold Cemetery online, and kill every Skullclamp you can, and they only seem to win if they get an advantage through Solemn Simulacrum). The reason is that they have to commit more and more to the board in order to do anything, and gutless White can just Pulse of the Fields effortlessly. In order to stop that Pulse of the Fields, they have to play Death Cloud for a significant amount, which will in all likelihood hurt them more than it hurts you (as long as you have been managing the correct card advantage resources).

This is an issue of Tempo, and as usual, comes down to Who’s the Beatdown. The Cemetery Cloud deck prefers to be the control, but because of the White deck’s advantage with Eternal Dragon and much higher land count, the Cemetery Cloud deck is forced into the beatdown mode. As the beatdown deck, its goal becomes winning the damage race, so it has to commit attackers to the ground and start pounding. But those attackers become invalidated by Pulse of the Fields. That is, though Pulse of the Fields is not, in and of itself, generating card advantage in the short term, it is erasing all the mana taps and attack phases that the Cemetery Cloud deck is desperately executing to be the beatdown. The Cemetery Cloud deck wins when it gets to be the control deck; that is, when it gets Skullclamp, Oversold Cemetery, and especially Solemn Simulacrum online. These cards allow the Cemetery Cloud deck to out-card the White deck such that it can eventually play a profitable Death Cloud. The card Death Cloud should frighten and horrify the White deck more often than not, but if the B/G control elements are not online, the Death Cloud will actually put the B/G deck in a worse position than the White deck, which has more land to draw (and use to recover), which has Eternal Dragon, as well as dramatic sweep defense.

That is the power of life gain: When it is working, it’s much like a Man-o’-War. Really strong life gain can make the opposing deck take the same turn over and over without ever advancing its own strategy. Life gain is less good in the sense that it doesn’t in and of itself seize Tempo, but it can take the wind out of the opponent’s Tempo sails.

Next time, we will count in half-turns and try to unify Card Advantage and Tempo.


Bonus Section Numero Uno: Seth Burn and the G/W Deck

I know I know, no one likes to read about Magic in the bonus section. Sorry about that. Seth Burn convinced me I had what Mr. Paskins calls”the fear,” and, in an effort to not seem like a gutless little girl, I cut all my Sacred Grounds and one Naturalize from the sideboard in favor of four Duplicants, writing”NO FEAR” in big letters across the top of my registration sheet. How awful. If I beat the one Tooth and Nail opponent I played, it wouldn’t have had anything to do with Duplicant. I was able to play better than my B/G opponent, meaning that the Sacred Ground deficit didn’t hurt me very much, but I got smashed by a mono-Red haste/burn deck because I didn’t have them.

Game one he has Dwarven Blastminer, which slows me down, but I eventually crush him.

Game two he opens with turn 1 Chrome Mox, imprinting Miner, no land drop, go. I Oxidize the Mox. Then he plays another Mox, imprinting Flashfires. It is now obvious that he has at least one more Flashfires, so I Naturalize and pray to keep him off four.

We are in a position where he has MMM (Mountain) and I have FPPPPP (and Akroma in hand). I pray for the Temple. I get the Dragon. Is it right to cycle Dragon here and hope for the eighth next turn? I decline, which is right, as he Flashes my fires and I lose.

Game three is the weird one. He smashes three of my Plains early again, but I recover so he’s not really winning despite having active Viashino Sandstalker. I have a Pulse in hand but only PPP and some sundry non-White lands to use it. I sense a burn flurry and Pulse on my own turn, effectively tapping out. So on his turn, he imprints his Sandstalker on a Mox in order to play Flamebreak (putting me to four), and plays a second Pyrite Spellbomb with RR open with no cards in hand. Now I don’t understand any part of that whatsoever and expect to die… When He Passes The Turn.

Now I untap and draw a second Pulse of the Fields. My kingdom for a Plains! He has no cards but I’m not dead. Do I Pulse? Clearly if I Pulse he should just respond by killing me, so I pass. He draws land and passes. I draw non-Plains, cycle into non-Plains and pass. He draws Pulse, Pulses me, I respond (finally) with Pulse and he (finally) kills me.

Did I make the right choice?

Clearly I shouldn’t have ever lived to untap (not to mention the choice of imprinting Viashino Sandstalker in order to play Flamebreak), but if he missed the kill the first time around, maybe that signals that I should have just Pulsed under the reliance that he will miss the kill again. If the first Pulse resolved putting us at eight-to-twenty with his Sandstalker now gone, I think I have a clear win unless he draws another Flashfires. I dunno.

Side note: I know he is probably reading this. If I was a bit gruff, I didn’t mean to be a jerk but this sequence of plays sort of, you know, infuriated me, so that’s why (if I was).

The other thing is that Seth contended that I”split games” with Osyp playing Affinity. That’s not entirely true. We were sideboarded and he had the very good Genesis Chamber and I was still comfortably (if not dominantly) favored. I played a variety of games against many very good players (well, if you include Ken Krouner, Josh Ravitz, and Adam Horvath – all of whom have GP Top 8s – as good players), and none of them even took a game from the G/W, especially pre-sideboard. Ken, though, says I’m too greedy with the Wing Shards. He also says he would have brought the G/W in lieu of Affinity, had he seen it in action prior to Saturday.

I think that if you play only three Tooth and Nail in the side and don’t cut the Sacred Grounds (playing maybe one Duplicant), the deck is reasonably good. [I played three Teeth, three Duplicants, and futzed around with the maindeck a bit, but definitely had Sacred Grounds, thank God. – Knut, who faced three LD decks at Regionals] Had I made that choice, I could well have been in the Top 8 given the raw numbers of Affinity players, none of whom were Osyp. The deck cleanly loses only to Goblin Bidding and is heavily favored against the best deck. The G/W is not, as a Natural deck, the objective best choice, but I can easily see Jon Finkel repeating as US Champ if he played it. Jon is very good at draft and would get paired against four Affinity decks and/or mise against Tooth and Nail, I’m sure.

Bonus Section Numero Dos:

Chad Ellis is a Liar. I’m sorry but it’s true.

Despite being a liar, Chad Ellis is one of my favorite people. Not just one of my favorite gamers, one of my favorite human beings. He is all about hugs. Befriend Chad if you can! He has a stately manor similar to Bruce Wayne’s and has gotten people laid in the past. It’s true. Would I lie?

Speaking of thinking about getting laid, here’s that LL picture again.

Did you click? She Is Seventeen, Man! You are a pervert. Like Chad Ellis (who is also a liar).

In honor of Chad Ellis as well as recent acquisition Dan Paskins, I might next time run”Why Dave Price Chooses to Go Second,” which will talk about actual attrition (as opposed to the misassignment of Chad’s wife’s name), which would make me a liar as well, given the fact that I said that I was going to talk about the (yawn) topic of the unification of Card Advantage and Tempo (which Knut would prefer, I’m sure, because he likes theory articles), but what can I say? Obviously I am a liar. Much like Chad Ellis.

Does anyone read these bonus sections?

Speaking about theoretical articles, with Chad joining Dan and others, Star City has quite ye olde schoole thinky thinky staff. You’d almost think that edt were joining the teame. Oops! Did I say that out loud? Never mind. edt. Did I mention that? Oops. Did I say oops? [I think you did. – Knoops]