Magical Hack – Watching History

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Friday, February 22nd – This past weekend we saw the first Pro Tour of the 2008 season come a-knocking, and the events of the weekend seemed quite impressive. After a few near-misses at the Pro Tour camp, where even Day 2 wasn’t in the offering, it seems that the fire has come back to one Jonny Magic as he went from 2-1 to 16-1-1 between the end of Round 3 and the final play of the event.

This past weekend we saw the first Pro Tour of the 2008 season come a-knocking, and the events of the weekend seemed quite impressive. After a few near-misses at the Pro Tour camp, where even Day 2 wasn’t in the offering, it seems that the fire has come back to one Jonny Magic as he went from 2-1 to 16-1-1 between the end of Round 3 and the final play of the event. Already we have seen a draft walkthrough of Jon’s Top 8 Draft courtesy of Nick Eisel, but poring through the coverage does give you quite a few drafts you can watch. If the story of that Top 8 draft was Jon’s innate ability to think nine picks ahead with his first-pick, and thus his advantageous leap onto the back of a ninth-pick Goldmeadow Stalwart, I can tell you already that his was not the only one. While it is of course awesome to watch history in the making, as Jon Finkel leaps to the top of the Player of the Year leaderboards, and happens to also be the first Hall of Famer to actually step off the Pro circuit then come back and win a major event, the story of that Kithkin deck coming together was replicated more than just that one time.

Watch, for example, Fried Meulders’ first draft pod, which involved such momentous first-picks as Thorntooth Witch over Guile for those who ask, “What would Kenji Tsumura do?”. If you are the kind that says “I love it when a good plan comes together,” then you may very well cheer when you see how late the Cenn’s Heirs come to Fried in the first draft just like they would to Jon in the last one. For a rather different take on how these things can play out, you need look no further than Draft Five’s Shu Komuro… who leads with Wort, Boggart Auntie and ends up in a W/R Kithkin deck. Kithkin weren’t the break-out stars of the tournament, but they were certainly a big deal compared to where they rated in triple-Lorwyn draft.

My personal drafting nightmare continues with this set unabated, as I can attest to exactly four match wins out of about 15 or 20 played so far. This means thankfully you’ll be spared the hubris of a personal look at drafting in this format… I’ve learned a lot from observation here, most importantly that I was aiming to ‘force’ an archetype much too hard and that I still hadn’t accurately gauged how to weight the new Classes against the existing tribes. When you can step out the door one Friday afternoon for a small draft tournament against some of the worst players you know of, and still can’t win a match, it’s pretty clear where the fault lies. However, there’s a lot of story to this Pro Tour besides just the physical actions of flipping cards, and so this will come across a little like an “Issues” article.

Falling On Your Sword

Interestingly enough, my article last week about some of the fun psychological interplay that can happen even within your own head in this game was followed on Monday by Tom LaPille look at giving yourself permission to win. Tom’s look at the internal psychology of trying to do your best comes to me as an eerie mirror of my own experiences, as I have found in recent weeks that I have been actively undercutting myself by giving myself secondary victory conditions to the PTQ. At the first one down in Maryland, the secondary victory condition was ‘if I don’t do well, I’ll get to go have lunch with a cute girl I’ve been flirting with,’ resulting in a 3-2 final performance when I probably could have battled harder and done better. (And no, I didn’t get to go see the girl.) At the second Maryland PTQ, I was willing to accept the secondary victory condition of ‘earning some rating points to get over 1900 before the Grand Prix in Philadelphia.’ I started 4-0 before I started thinking to myself “Yeah, that should really help the rating some…” and summarily losing the will to win when I faced a mirror matchup where I felt somewhat unprepared… but also the weight of ten years of a personal belief in inadequacy that has seen me dodging any situation where my opponent might have the ability to outplay me with the exact same tools. Some careful self-examination and a readjustment of both belief and philosophy later, I’m 4-0 again the following weekend and crested to an “acceptable” by many standards 6-2, upset to finish lucky number 13 out of 150+ gamers. Now, I can be happy to be one of the top 10% of any room of very intelligent nerds trying to defeat each other in a battle of wits… but I’d actually performed a Brian Davis to get to 6-2, as I was 8-0 in matches as they should have happened, and ‘only’ 6-2 as the standings tells it.

Funny how I can design myself a Goblin deck, relying heavily upon the past experiences of others to show me what works, and still have an angle of testing with the matchup showing how very inexperienced I am with it. I lost the Ideal matchup twice in a row due to pilot error, specifically inexperience in the combo matchup (i.e. how to use the Goblin deck as a combo deck). In one instance I had to defeat a hard-cast Form of the Dragon before it defeated me, and holding Siege-Gang Commander with a passel of Goblins in play I found I fixated on the “Sharpshooter” aspect of the combo finish. I tried to use that last Matron in hand to get a Ringleader, since I needed to assemble Sharpshooter + Warchief + Prospector to overcome the Form in play. Cleverly, if I’d just gotten a Prospector, the opponent died immediately… but instead I lost the match and never got the chance to win the third game.

“Being willing to win” might perhaps have been a factor at the Pro Tour, in the Top 8. I know stripping the opponent of the will to win can be a powerful thing, and I saw that happen to my hapless opponent on the very first game of my very first round this weekend when he opened with Tarmogoyf, I followed with Piledriver, and his third turn was a technically-legal casting of Threads of Disloyalty. I stuck the Threads on the only valid target, and that was the match: my opponent defeated himself in his own mind, because that stupid mistake should cost him the match. I for one am a stubborn bastard, and refuse to concede… when I am at least aware of it, since I do make a minimum of one significant mistake a match, just from watching my PTQ play recently. But if that one mistake deflates you and you go off and give yourself ‘permission to lose,’ of course you won’t win. Look at the following exchange, from the last game of the finals match of the Pro Tour in Kuala Lumpur:

This is where things got ugly. Pascoli drew his card and sent in with his Fire-Belly Changeling. When Finkel blocked with his Captain, Pascoli seemed surprised. He pumped it once and then passed priority to Finkel. “Sure. First strike damage,” Finkel asked.

“Oh, first strike. I’m stupid,” Pascoli replied in disbelief. He put his head in his hands for a few seconds before dropping his changeling into the graveyard. He played a Seething Pathblazer and then passed the turn, still visibly upset.

Finkel attacked and Captained out a Kinsbaile Skirmisher. He followed that up with a Kithkin Harbinger setting up a Kinsbaile Balloonist that would probably get Captained on the next turn. Using the last of his mana, Finkel played out the Harrier that the earlier Lash Out had revealed. Pascoli talked quietly to himself while considering his next turn’s play, obviously still shaken from his earlier mistake. He regained his composure, but after a bit more thought, frustratedly scooped his deck up in the face of Finkel’s insurmountable force.

Don’t you have to wonder, in the finals of the Pro Tour, facing down Jon Finkel as the last barrier between him and his historic and meteoric rise back to the pinnacle of the game… did Pascoli ever have a chance, even before he left the confines of his own skull? Was Pascoli even willing to believe he could win, or do you think no matter how much he told himself he wanted it, that the battle to win Pro Tour: Kuala Lumpur was lost long before the decks were even shuffled?

Psychology can be an interesting thing. Trying to figure out why it is you do what you do, and noticing how very different things can be if you look at it from a different perspective, begs some very interesting questions. I for one have found I am tired of falling on my sword… and suddenly I am in Top 8 contention a good deal more consistently than I used to be, with the only thing I’m noticing keeping me out of the Top 8 being not my opponents, nor their decks, but my own hand upon the wheel of destiny. Makes me want to hand Tom LaPille a copy of Neuro-Linguistic Programming For Dummies and see what happens.

Players Of The World… Unite!

First and foremost we have the lingering issue of “Is Magic Dying?” that seems to have cropped up recently. To the casual observer who collects information and worries about it as it sits in their heads, I do have to say it doesn’t look happy. Combine a few otherwise disparate-seeming facts… one, the sudden presence of banner ads on MagicTheGathering.com to get a revenue boost out of the fact that it is the flagship Magic strategy website on the Internet. Two, the sudden and seemingly inexplicable change to the Pro Players system, slashing benefits that a large contingent of some of the best minds in the game have hinged their end-of-year 2007 financial decisions on with the expectation that some money spent now would be at the very minimum recouped in 2008… it’s very hard to invest in yourself, if the rules of the game change suddenly to turn that cost-benefit ration from ‘profitable or at least neutral’ to ‘negative.’ Three, to make up for losing these financial benefits, other tangible but non-financial benefits were thrown to the Level 3’s (now Level 5’s) who just had their financial plans shredded out from under them… benefits which affect the casual tournament player, to their detriment. Four, to top it all off the 2008 tournament calendar got shook up drastically, with inexplicable casualties like the death of the State Championships.

As a response to the sudden loss of Pro Level benefits, an information-sharing effort was put together so that this disparate group of players from all across the world could attempt to at least provide a unified front, in the desire to get answers and to reassure themselves that even if they just did get a bad beat, and one there was nothing they could do about, that from here on out the bad beats would not continue to rain down upon them. It’s a very reasonable response… and, unfortunately, one that is ultimately doomed to have any little noticeable impact upon the financial status of the professional players that are its ‘constituency,’ despite the fact that in realizing their mission statement they sought to broaden their approach to far beyond their own little narrow scope of ‘wanting financial security as players of the game.’ Rich Hagon goes into depth about this here in what I would deem an impressive analysis of these forces lining up against each other… even moreso because it was written before the players’ meeting between the quasi-“union” of professionals and Wizards of the Coast’s policy-making team. In summation, the analysis is this: the players who have locked themselves in for financial gain at the Pro Tour level would like to at the very least establish a situation where they can avoid future losses incurred from ‘banking’ on the payout system currently in place, so they don’t, say, spend $2000 flying to Australia where they can’t possibly win more money than they spent even if they win the Grand Prix, just to kick their Player Level one notch higher and collect what they had thought would be very specific financial gains. (Hi, Steve Sadin!). Wizards, on the other hand, has noticed that there is effectively zero ‘trickle down’ benefits for the Pro Tour: putting $40,000 in one guy’s hands, and another who knows how much into everyone else’s, doesn’t actually see much of any of that money return to their coffers… and the players who do spend money on the game are for the most part more greatly swayed by the cool fun of the latest set than they are by the existence of a professional tournament circuit.

Now don’t get me wrong… having the Pro Tour does amazing things for the game, allowing us to pretend it might just be some kind of intellectual sport instead of ‘just’ a lunchtime hobby like Yu-Gi-Oh! at high schools the world over. Seeing Jon Finkel strike out from seemingly nowhere to take down the latest professional-circuit trophy is an amazing thing, especially if that lights the fire within to take advantage of his early lead on the Player of the Year leaderboards and turn this season into the kind of season we used to remember seeing… one with Kai or Jon on top. But as a financial investment, I can’t claim to be at all surprised if Wizards can think of a better way to invest in the growth of the game than by handing a very elite few significant financial support.

After all, players get a vote according to the amount of dollars they spend on Magic. Personally, I’ve been playing the game since 1996, and spent most of my dollars on the game between 1996 and 2000. By 2000, I was a college student who had to focus on his studies rather than continue to maintain any sort of a job, so my spending power dropped pretty close to zero. Since 2001 or so, I’ve been coasting… working for Gray Matter Conventions as a scorekeeper at their pre-releases to get a box or two of each new set to work with. I could spend more money on the game, now that I’m more financially stable than I was in those troublesome college years… but certain other poor choices have left me with less expendable income than I would truly like. I can afford to play the hobby because I can make it ‘free’… but when it comes to impacting Wizards of the Coast’s policy, I have no votes. It’d be pretty shocking to learn just how few votes those players at the top of the circuit are, how small a percentage of those large sums of money are spent in a way that actually brings returns to Wizards of the Coast. Their analysis, then, was to note that even the existence of such an elite cadre of players was not having an effect commensurate to the finances invested in creating that elite… and really, pretty much anyone who was given a million dollars to work with as an advertising budget for a year could think of a better way to grow new players and new spending excitement than to hand astonishingly large chunks of it to people who for the most part don’t pay to play… or at least don’t pay Wizards, regardless of what they pay American Airlines and retailers like Star City Games.

The idea of a ‘grassroots’ campaign to grow excitement in Magic is one I find I can wholeheartedly approve of. For me, at least, my other hobbies teach me a thing or two about that… I run the New York City chapter of the Camarilla Club, a ‘fan club’ of White Wolf games that throws live-action roleplaying games based on the White Wolf universe. Two or three years ago, the entire universe reset, and everyone who was playing had to start over from the ground up with something completely new… and in one of those “ZOMG!!!1! Magic is DIEIIIING!!!” moments, about a third of the entire club walked off ‘in protest’ to start their own little group to do the exact same thing as they used to be doing instead of running with the change. And while it’s all well and good that we have a concentrated group of die-hards as part of our association, without a continuous influx of new players we’ll never replace the old ones who straggle off from time to time or move somewhere else… and it can be quite difficult to manage a ‘grass-roots’ campaign to grow enthusiasm in something that a significant portion of the adult population holds a significant bias against as ‘nerdy’ or ‘weird.’ Imagine how much worse that must be, when marketing to a younger group is a key aspect of your business plans.

But Couldn’t You Just Tell Us?

Ultimately, what the Players Union is trying to settle on is sufficient advanced notice to make future financial plans based on accurate information. After all, they’re not exactly a large constituency of the game… and as has been accurately noted, just like that 1/3 portion of my global role-playing group, they are not actually a ‘majority’, and worse yet they are an amazingly miniscule percentage of Magic players. As sad as we can honestly be, that some rather nice folk had banked their financial decisions on something that frankly didn’t work out despite being a very good bet, they don’t have the advantage of bargaining power for having an impact on the spending aspect of the game and you don’t really have a lot of leverage when you threaten to leave because you’re unhappy but you are, ultimately, replaceable in the grand cosmic scheme of things (at least as far as the game is concerned). Hopefully, things will work out for them… and there has been a good amount of communication back and forth now, as well as what seems to be a burgeoning information networking system for getting future changes out and widely-known in advance, and the willingness to make these sorts of judgments significantly further in advance so the financial impact of spending thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to chase the topmost tiers of the professional circuit aren’t spent wastefully because the system changed after the fact.

What we are seeing, however, is that this sudden and abrupt sort of change is permeating not just the topmost level but the entire structure of the yearly tournament circuit. Abrupt changes to the Pro Player payout scheme affects about a hundred people in the world, and yes it’s sad that those hundred people are suddenly looking at the time and financial commitment they’ve put in so far and wondering whether they’d be better off without it. Equally abrupt changes to the States circuit, with a noticeable impact among what Wizards has called 3-4% of their total market, has a much larger effect… but to me the troubling thing seems to be the abruptness of the change, not merely the existence of it.

In my line of work, up until recently I’d been working in a lab doing third-party product testing for Underwriters Laboratories. Specifically, I was the R&D fellow who was helping to work on test methods for restricted substance testing… like lead in toys, for example. And having seen something of an insider’s perspective on the lead-in-toys issue that was a slaughter on product recalls, I have to wonder at the abruptness of the need for change within the Organized Play division. It’s an established fact that sometimes corporations don’t make the wisest long-term decisions when short-time budget gaps are at the forefront of their attention, and a very harsh Christmas season for Hasbro followed by Wizards Organized Play making what appear to be very hasty, very badly implemented decisions to change the 2008 calendar. Large chunks of money being slashed out of the budget always raise an eyebrow, especially when we are being told it is being reapplied elsewhere but can’t yet see where as none of the ‘new’ implementations have had time to really raise a noticeable effect. So while it certainly seems as if the Organized Play response of “We cannot tell you how we are budgeting these re-allocated funds” is reasonable on its face, alongside what I presume to be true about Hasbro’s response to the low quarter profits I find I am quite suspicious that most of those reallocated dollars were saved from the budget instead of spent elsewhere. After all, there is nothing that looks better to someone far away with no effective knowledge but an awful lot of authority than an instantaneous savings on the bottom-line of a budget expense report, and “slash 20% across the board, you choose how, we don’t care” is not exactly unknown in the corporate world.

What is bothersome to the home viewing audience is not that States was cut… after all, we only have 4% of the votes on what Wizards does… but that we are promised vague and nebulous offerings of future pleasure to replace the pleasure we thought we had not so long ago. Even if we want to presume that Wizards loses nothing if the topmost pros leave – there will still be a second batch just as ready to chase those same dollars, even if there are fewer of them – it’s harder to think that purposefully disenfranchising 4% of your purchasing population is a good idea. Even if you can survive with them leaving… which, by the way, is why the foolishness of the ‘eBay strike’ is something the Pros should look at long and hard if they are thinking they have a leg to stand on… you set a very bad precedent for the next group looking to be made happy by the next plan if you have a known history of changing things in an unsatisfactory fashion and with little notice and no immediate replacement.

The lack of an announcement about the new plan leads me to think there may not be a new plan, yet. And thus the reaction to “We promise, this was just a change from the old plan to the new plan!” is to feel bothered with the poor timing of the thing, and thus lending credence to the theory within my own mind at least that budget slashing is the driving reason behind every change and the rest is just planned to clean up the messes made. And I am not made happy by this theory… but hey, I get no vote.

We are watching history in motion as far as the game is concerned… the first rock-solid performance from a Hall of Famer after their inauguration (… well, at least among the ones that went away, sorry Raph!), the return of an old titan at the top of the Player of the Year leaderboards instead of the ‘new’ titans like the Ruel brothers and Kenji Tsumura, and unfortunately a time of troubles when it comes to Wizards of the Coast maintaining their sparkling reputation that they can do no wrong and print literally money coming hot off the printing press in fifteen-card foil-wrapped packages. I maintain hope that things will be far better afterwards than they were before; having worked hard in other ventures to work up new support and enthusiasm from the bottom up, this focus on the grassroots of Magic over us jaded old tournament players can’t help but be the best for everyone, if it is implemented in a way that actually does what they want it to. But as time continues to pass without a hint for us, the 4%, the imprint of this moment upon the history of the game is not a happy one to sit through as the line between ‘trusting soul’ and ‘corporate shill’ is moved about by the venomous naysayers.

On a somewhat brighter note, then, I will leave you with this… because apparently the trend lately is to make sure that every article should at least in some way still somehow manage to be about goblins! There has been quite a bit of enthusiasm for those little Red folks and these articles, so I’m going to turn the microphone… or would it instead be ‘keyboard’… over to a guest.

Hacking With Goblins – by Joe Lossett

This was a fun experience; it has been a few years since I last won one of these. I posted in the forums here to thank Sean for the list, and he asked if I wanted to write a report to include in his weekly article. There are not a lot of places to submit a random tournament report anymore, so I jumped at the chance.

The PTQ in Anaheim, CA on Feb 16 was a very large 186 players, possibly the largest Southern California Constructed PTQ ever held. Despite moving to a new venue, a few players were apparently turned away after capacity was reached. The day almost ended right there for me, since my car got lost and ended up making several U-turns on the way. We got a call from a friend at the site who signed us up over the phone, and I guess we were the last two spots. Once inside I could immediately see that the place was packed. I was intending to play an exact copy of Sean’s deck, but in the scramble to put everyone’s deck together I ended up with only three Auntie’s Hovel and two Cabal Therapies. The missing copies had to be replaced with a Blood Crypt and a pair of Duress. Although I think a full set of Hovels is correct, I did end up fetching out all possible targets in one game where I would have been short a land with the correct build.

The event was to be eight rounds of Swiss. This was common in 2007, but prior to that if the over/under on rounds was seven, I would have picked the under. California and Las Vegas events seem to be steadily increasing in size.

4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Mountain
3 Auntie’s Hovel
3 Mutavault
2 Blood Crypt
2 Wooded Foothills
1 Pendelhaven
4 Chrome Mox

1 Warren Weirding
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
2 Earwig Squad
4 Skirk Prospector
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Gempalm Incinerator
4 Goblin Piledriver
4 Frogtosser Banneret
4 Goblin Matron
4 Goblin Warchief
4 Goblin Ringleader

4 Tormod’s Crypt
4 Shattering Spree
2 Duress
2 Cabal Therapy
2 Earwig Squad
1 Goblin King

I’ll have more to say about the deck afterwards, but it does run pretty smoothly. I mulliganed a lot more than expected but most of my six-card hands were good enough to win games. I can summarize the manabase in just a couple of words – it works. I will say it was lucky to never draw two lands that did not produce Red in any game, but with only four in the deck that should be fairly rare anyway.

The events of the Top 8 are probably of more interest to readers, so I will only highlight a few things from the Swiss. I went 6-0-2 playing against (in order) Doran Rock, Ideal, Affinity, Goyf Deck Wins, Elf Opposition, and the mirror.

I am a fairly (read: extremely) cautious player sometimes, but I found myself staring at risky hands almost from the start. Game 3 against the Rock player in round 1, I was going first and staring at a possible first turn Warchief followed by second turn Ringleader. That sounds great, but if my opponent has a discard spell on his first turn then I am dead. He showed both Therapy and Thoughtseize already but I let myself assume that he boarded out Thoughtseize. If he did have Therapy, the intelligent call would have been Ringleader. I decided after a minute to keep the hand… and his first turn play was Treetop Village.

Round 2 against Ideal, I hit with a Squad in the early turns. There were only two Forms in the deck so I assumed there was a third in his hand. I capped him for the remaining Forms plus his Blue Shrine. From this point his only play is to cast his other Form and hope it goes all the way. After being shot once I was able to dig up the Goblin Sharpshooter and kill him.

I do not spend time scouting the room until the very end of an event, but obviously some people try to get an advantage by knowing in advance what they are playing against. I have no problem with that, but I took great amusement from round 3. My opponent sat down while telling someone else about his matchup against me. He thought my deck was very fast but was certain he had a good shot. After keeping his hand and playing a Seat of the Synod, he flinched when I cast Mogg Fanatic. Apparently he was certain that I was playing Dredge and had kept a hand with Arcbound Ravager and virtually nothing else, hoping that eating Bridge From Below would be enough to win. This was not the case.

The Goyf Deck Wins player splashed for Black. The turning point of the first game happened with my three men facing down a Kird Ape and a Tarmogoyf. My life total was not real high and he had an active Barbarian Ring. I cycled a Gempalm Incinerator on Kird Ape to try and bait out the Ring. He happily shot down one of my men, but in response to that I activated Mutavault so his Ape still died. Game 2, here was the only time on the day where I had to play against Engineered Plague. A turn or so later I found Goblin King, which didn’t live very long but helped get through a little more damage and it ended up being enough. If he drew Tarmogoyf like he did the first game, I would have had a much harder time chump blocking it without access to Fanatics and Matrons.

Elf Opposition fell into a huge hole right off the bat when I played turn 1 Goblin Piledriver. He had a Birds of Paradise, but I cycled on turn 2 to kill it, and dropped either a Prospector or Fanatic. Opposition itself is not real good at stopping a pair of Piledrivers.

The next two rounds I played were both against the same Goblin player, separated by two draws in between. His build had Patriarch’s Bidding which is obviously weak in the mirror. We played the full six games, so my memory of what happened when is shaky. I do know that both of the games he won I was short on mana because of Tin Street Hooligan blowing up one of my Chrome Moxes. I was fortunate to draw Cabal Therapy in two of the games, since I only had two to bring in. Game 2 of the Top 8, it completely destroyed him by grabbing a Ringleader and a pair of War Marshals on turn 3. Another game essentially ended when he played his Sharpshooter without a Warchief in play. I killed it with a Gempalm, and later on played mine with haste and mowed him down.

Now we arrive at the Top 4 and my most difficult match of the day. I was facing Nathan Waxer, an experienced player, with Ideal. The only card I really want here is Earwig Squad. He isn’t a total blowout, but it is the best thing I can do. I won the roll and looked at a hand that could play turn 1 Piledriver and turn 2 Squad, if I drew a land. My hand also had an Incinerator, so if I missed the land I would cycle to try and find it for the third turn. Not only was this risky, but the card to imprint on the Mox most likely had to be my Siege-Gang Commander, who I very much wanted to have available later on in case I had to shoot my way over a Form of the Dragon. I might get a more reliable six-card hand, but if it did not have Earwig then it would not really be an improvement. I decided to keep.

Things got more interesting. After we both decided to keep, I was still contemplating the mulligan decision. I had already chosen, but I was nervous about drawing the land I needed and also about imprinting the SGC. The judge gave me a warning for slow play on turn 1. Now, I don’t play fast enough under regular conditions, so this was not the best way to start the semifinals. I play my Piledriver and pass the turn. Nathan was probably worried so he stopped to plan out his next few turns, and then he gets a warning for slow play. I asked and the judge told us that a second warning would be a game loss. Nathan plays a land and a Lotus. I rip Mutavault on turn 2 and play my Squad. This is the best possible start I could have ever imagined. I pick up his deck planning on taking all his Forms. Does this work? Of course not, there are only two in the deck. Now I have to think about what to do, and I don’t want the judge to get impatient. I have a ton of damage coming his way soon, so I decided to win this game right now and concede a longer game. I strip a Fire/Ice and a pair of Orim’s Chants and hand the deck back. From behind, I hear someone quietly ask if I chose the correct cards and then an emphatic answer in the negative. Whether or not the decision was correct, I kill him before the Lotus comes off Suspend and am happy to be up a game. Then I lose game 2 in approximately twelve seconds. He makes mana and casts Ideal.

For the final game I could have played a Prospector and Fanatic on turn 1 followed by Goblin King on turn 2. This seemed fast, but on second thought it’s obviously terrible. I do not remember what my six-card hand looked like, and the game was long enough that I cannot recreate it. I played some stuff that included a Piledriver, and then got Fogged five consecutive turns while he built up mana: Chant, Chant, Confinement, Chant, and Confinement. He had a Sensei’s Diving Top and fetchland so he was looking at several cards, but I also drew five cards so my hand was bursting with stuff. While that last Confinement was holding a turn, I used Goblin Matron to get the Sharpshooter. I had an extra Prospector in hand but no Warchief yet. If he did not find a Form or Ideal (which had to get Form) then I win. If he does, I have a couple turns to find a Warchief. Matron and Ringleader increase my odds enough that I expected to win no matter what happened. He let the Confinement go again and then drew his card. He then drew using the Diving Top. After drawing he looked startled (I couldn’t tell what had happened), but the judge who was sitting next to him reached over and separated the two stuck together cards that Nathan had just accidentally drawn. I felt bad suggesting this since it was the end of game 3, but I reminded the judge that he had already told us that getting a second warning would be a game loss. I have always been under the impression that drawing an extra card was a game loss by itself anyway. In this case the ruling was that because this was a warning for a different penalty, a game loss would not be given out. After all that Nathan cast the Form that I already knew he must have drawn. I got my Warchief on the first draw, so that was that.

In the finals I crushed a Ninja deck. I got to see it with a Squad, and honestly I find it hard to imagine that he played many decks with removal on the day. The creature base was pretty unimpressive with Mothdust Changeling and Spellstutter Sprite, Ornithopter, and a full set of the little Blue Ninjas. He also had some Vensers and Trinket Mages. It didn’t take long to realize that as long as I controlled the flyers, one Piledriver was enough to defend against the whole deck. He could not acquire Umezawa’s Jitte counters through the protection from Blue or the sacrificing Goblins. I played pretty cautious and built up an unstoppable force both games.

So what can you take away from this if you want to play Sean’s deck this season? The maindeck is very well built. I would experiment with different cards in place of the Warren Weirding. I only drew it once on the day and never even considered tutoring for it. If you really can’t find a card you want to play (and I can think of several) then I would replace it with a land. And speaking of land, I would play a fourth Mutavault ahead of Pendelhaven. This may be influenced by the 3/1 ratio, Mutavault seeming more useful because I used it more often, but Pendelhaven just isn’t that large of an effect. The sideboard also works well, enough but make sure you have all the Therapies. Earwig Squad presents a lot of options when it hits. Having thought about it for a couple days, I think the correct Ideal targets are their source of card draw, followed by any removal. As long as you know it is coming, you should be able to defeat a Form, and without the draw you do not have to worry so much about Solitary Confinement. When I say removal, I mean Pernicious Deed. If they don’t have that, then you can take whatever else seems likely to bother you.

Joe Lossett
oarsman on MTGO

(My note on the Warren Weirding: It is amazing in creature-based matchups and the worst card in the deck when you aren’t having to stare at things like Doran, Tarmogoyf, or for that matter large Grave-Trolls or an angry Akroma. Personally I have loved having it in about 50% of my matchups, and not worried about it at all because one-ofs hide very nicely for the most part the rest of the time. I’ve drawn it once at an awkward time… in the Goblins mirror… and once when it became the thing I stuck under a Chrome Mox. So overall even if it is the weakest card in the decklist, it does something unique enough that I am always happy to have it aboard to kill things that your Fanatics, Gempalms, and singleton Sharpshooter or Siege-Gang Commander can’t handle in anything approaching an economical fashion.)

And hopefully this has given you something to think about, as we find ourselves in a precarious moment in the history of the game… on the threshold of greatness, watching greatness rise again, and tiptoeing over the abyss of despair hoping that if we just don’t look down that the chasm will disappear of its own accord, and in time trust in the corporation that makes all of the decisions will ultimately be restored.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com